Ash Wednesday Sermon February 14 My prayer closet

Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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I want to find the space in my prayer closet this Lent.


This is not a cozy place in Lent, but like a time-out chair that really does make you think.



Today’s entry is a day of repentance, where our limitations, cruelties, misplaced loyalties, unhealthy habits, and active apathy are exposed for what they are.


Jesus’ use of the word hypocrite refers to the masks that we wear, the face that we present to others that hide who we really are.  Today which marks the 40-day period we are steeping into is a time for self-examination, to in effect pull the masks off and yank our insides out, which is not really a pleasant thought, is it?


We present to God in the company of one another that we fall short, we have fallen short, and we will fall short of who and what we were meant to be.


To do this means we have to stop our frenetic activity.  We have to live with vulnerability.  We have to drop our defenses. 


This is what I plan to attempt in my prayer closet, in Lent, alone, and with others.  To live with humility, which is as good a word as I can use. 


Susan Briehl writes about being in the presence of God being compared to her father inviting her and her siblings to notice natural wonders, a mice’s nest in the basement, a papery wasp next, the first lily of spring poking through sodden leaves.  In her writing she suggests that to see what Gerard Manley Hopkins calls the “grandeur of God” one has to bend low, kneel close to the ground, knowing that within and below the muddy and rotting stuff of the earth the Holy Spirit is summoning life from death.


This is what she says

Bending earthward is the best way to appreciate many natural wonders; it’s the only way to watch a team of red ants carry a crumb six times their combined weight. But this simple movement also embodies the essence of being human, merely human. Bowing low puts us in our proper place; it grounds us. The first human is called Adam, or earth creature, from adamah, the Hebrews word for earth or dust of the ground. The words human and humus, meaning rich soil, are related in a similar way. From the same Latin source we get humility, which as its root means knowing where you come from and what you are made of. “You are dust,” God reminded the first human beings, “and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).

–from “Living in the Presence of God,” from On Our Way: Christian Practices for Living a Whole Life, edited by Dorothy C. Bass and Susan R. Briehl (Nashville: Upper Room Books, ©2010) pp. 202-203.


So we trace our foreheads to mark this time, this season, our selves with humility.  We smudge our earthy bodies with what used to be palm branches reduced to humus, ashy organic dirt.


And when I sit in silence, which is one of the spiritual practices I will be attempting as a daily discipline, I will be opening up myself to God.  It won’t be, as I said at the beginning, cozy.  But in the end, I pray that it will be life-giving.


I know that spiritual practices, praying, fasting, and giving generously take time and intentionality.


I invite you to try out your own Lenten practices alone or with others.


Read a book together.


Walk outdoors.


Pray Table Prayers from Bread for the World.


Let me send you weekly devotions.


Sit in silence.


Give extra money to World Hunger.


Take time for a friend.


Come to dinner church.


Know that you are human, which is humbling, and may also break open receptivity to God.


As we enter our Lenten prayer closet, we will also tell the story of the majestic and invisible God bending earthward and coming close to us in Jesus, into human time, breathing this earth’s air, but also taking on limitations, becoming crushed like grapes, and pouring out his life and love.


Let us be together in our posture with ashes and prepare for a renewal in baptismal waters, which wash us off, and pull us out of the ground, standing, filled with compassion, and sharing the new life that is promised.




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