Ash Wednesday

I think it was Rabbi Blue, who told the story of the two Jewish men who went into the synagogue to pray. The first one knelt down and cried out to God, “O Lord, I am nought but dust, and to dust I shall return!”,

The second man cried out even louder saying, “O Lord, I am nought but dust, and to dust I shall return!”

However just then, in walked the caretaker of the synagogue, a weak and frail man who had the least important job in the building, and he knelt down beside them.

They heard him pray just as they had done, “O Lord, I am nought but dust, and to dust I shall return!”

Having said these words , he got up and hobbled out.

The first man turned to the second, with a look of astonishment on his face and said, “Look who thinks he’s dust!”

Pride, power, position contrasting with humility, frailty, nothingness all in one story.

How do our lives compare?

Look at these words in our readings today.

Christ died.

Christ died for sins once for all,

Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

This sentence in our N.T, lesson sums up Jesus.

He was a good man, he laid down his life, that we all might know the forgiveness of God.

There was no need for him to be baptised, he was without sin, but he submitted himself, and entered the wilderness by opening the door which was to lead to his death for us all. He embraced the way of the cross, and gave freely his own life, that was all he had.

When I was preparing my sermon yesterday morning, I looked into my file to see what I had said last year in Lent, so that I didn’t repeat myself, (not that anyone would remember). Anyway in the process, I wiped clean two hours work, and the sense of loss at losing even a little sermon, was a real shock to the system. I certainly wouldn’t have given it up willingly, not two whole hours of my life.

Yet here was Jesus giving up his entire life, for me and you.

I have a friend, who is a priest, who, because it was Ash Wednesday, last week, went into his local C of E Primary school, to mark the children’s foreheads with ash. He took with him, not a set of palm crosses to burn for ash, as is tradition, but he took a paper crown, and burnt that instead. He did this to explain why it is we mark our foreheads with ash, and he felt it was better explained this way.

He asked the children, “If I said to you the word KING, what would you think of ?”

“Wealth, Power, Fame” they replied.

“Jesus could have had all those things, yet he gave all of them up to become a servant,” he said, “and by accepting ash on our heads, we are telling the world who and what is important in our lives.

It is Jesus who is important, and to be like him, and to imitate his lifestyle.

And so he burnt the paper crown in front of them.

Many of us seek wealth today, we want to be secure in our later years, we want to save up and hoard, keep it for a rainy day, win it, gamble it, make more and more.

Jesus did NOT seek after wealth, indeed he told his disciples how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, he warned against serving God and money.

If it is WEALTH that we value most; if the desire to become richer and richer dominates our lives, we need to ask ourselves this Lent if we are willing to give of that wealth sacrificially, so that God’s kingdom can grow in terms of helping the needy?

Jesus did not seek POSITION and POWER, he told us not to desire the important seats at a banquet, he taught us the way of humility, by rubbing shoulders with the down and outs of his day, yet was given the title King of Kings.

If we value position and power, we must ask ourselves if we have forgotten how to serve.

Jesus did not seek to be POPULAR. If he had he would not have tried to break down barriers which separated Jew from Gentile, men from women, sick from healthy, he would not have antagonised the religious hypocrites nor argued with his critics.

If we value POPULARITY, would we

be willing to put that to one side to stand up for the truth, disagree with those we love on real issues, or even enter situations where our love for the outcast would make us unpopular?

Jesus did not seek fame,or to glorify himself. He made God known he hid himself away from the crowds and prayed to God, he avoided the glare of publicity, until such a time as he himself was hauled into the public eye. Yet today he is a name known to all.

Do we value being well known, and well thought of or are we known for magnifying God?

Do we seek a crown of glory or will we embrace a crown of thorns.

How real is our own baptism to us, to die more and more to self?

How strong are we in the wilderness at fighting off the very temptations Jesus himself faced?

It’s not that Christianity has no challenge attached to it, the challenges are real and they are there, it’s more a question of how will we respond? Is our faith a comfortable one, if so why?

God surely echoes those words he spoke to Jesus at his baptism, to us this morning, “You are my child, whom I love”

But I sometimes wonder... is he well pleased?

Lord God we are dust and to dust we shall return,

In this dust sandwich of life, Lord, let the filling in between be to your satisfaction.

Amen.

The season of Lent is upon us. It began last Wed…..and lasts 40 days (not inc Sundays) until Easter.

Lent is associated with the time Jesus spent alone in the wilderness, after he was baptised by John in the river Jordan.

It’s a time to look honestly at ourselves, to confess our sins, to be aware of our frailty as humans.

But it is also a time for planning what direction our lives will take in the future, a time for surrendering and moving on.

It would be such a shame if all we did was wallow in our sins, and feel sorry for ourselves.

In our gospel reading today we find Jesus surrendering to John for baptism in the waters of the river Jordan. He didn’t have to, the bible tells us that he was without sin, so who really knows why he did. But because he submits to God’s will for him, he hears a voice from heaven saying “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” He doesn’t remain there basking in his Father’s approval.

He moves on……..

Into the wilderness

Where he has time to reflect upon his mission and the road that must ultimately lead to his death. There he is tempted by the devil, and he surrenders to the very cunning and devious whispers of the devil. He does not remian there worrying about the implications of each temptation. He doesn’t become weighed down and tormented. He resists, and moves on…….

Into Galilee, proclaimimg the good news of God.He surrenders himself to God’s word and preaches to the people, even though he sees John arrested. He does not remain there confused, or deterred, he moves on….

From there to his destiny, buffetted by the crowds, threatened by the religious elders, cross-examined by the experts in the law, plagued by those who wanted him to lead them against the Romans.

Still he moved on, even though he was weary and fearful. He moved on surrendering himself in the garden of Gethsemane, and embraced death itself. The ultimate act of surrender, the cross.

Our NT lesson describes it like this:-

Christ died for sins once for all the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but…. He moved on.

He was made alive by the Spirit.

As long as we are surrendering and moving on, and turning our repentance into positive action, then God will speak those words to us too, You are my child, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.

Mr Levin*

Lent is not for us to wear hair shirts, and beat ourselves, indeed to be lashed, and deny ourselves life in all its fullness. It’s about moving on. It’s about surrendering to the challenges of the gospel message today, it’s about living the gospel out in our lives.

So we’ve all made mistakes…

We’ve all been tempted to do wrong….

So we’ve all embraced the gospel, as long as it has not challenged us too much or made too many demands of us. But perhaps we need to ask ourselves what the uncomfortable bits are.

This Lent we need to die to ourselves by squarely facing up to that which disturbs our still pool of thought. Examine it, surrender to God’s will through prayer… and move on.