“On the Journey” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell
As we start this Lenten journey together I was asked to share my homily from the Ash Wednesday night service. I hope you enjoy. The scripture it is referencing is Matthew 6:1-6. This Sunday we will be in 1 Peter 3:18-22. I hope that you will sit with this text and listen to the way that God is calling us to love and serve each other. I give thanks for each of you. – Rev. Stephanie
Ash Wednesday – Homily
February 14, 2018, 6 pm
Park Avenue Christian Church
Rev. Stephanie Kendell
I remember the first time I received my ashes.
It was Ash Wednesday of 2011 and I went to the noon service that my church had. It was a rather ordinary service
and I got my ashes and then went back to work.
About an hour into work, someone came by my office and after we were done talking he said, “oh you have a little something right there on your forehead.” I said thanks and wiped my brow without thinking about it…until I thought about it.
My first ashes had lasted on my head…maybe two hours.
And as I realize what I had done, I had this feeling of guilt.
I hadn’t given the ashes the proper time to sink in both physically and emotionally. I felt ill equipped to handle this mark on my head, I had just wiped it off. Was I supposed to do something more with it?
Was there a proper way of cleansing the skin from your ash?
I felt a little helpless.
So, as was my practice for Lent that year. When I felt hopeless, I prayed.
I prayed that I would know what to do with the ash.
I prayed…until I realized, the ash isn’t the point.
The fact that I forgot I had a smudge on my head means nothing in comparison to the fact that I felt lost and turned to god.
It is like this verse from Matthew that we read just a moment ago.
God isn’t looking for these grand gestures.
God is looking for us to connect.
To live in the humility of God’s love and give of yourself to the challenging work of building the kin-dom.
The gift of intimacy with god and with each other, is the reason that we are here, not to receive ash, but to connect to each other in a shared and mindful experience. I rubbed my head at the office because I had forgotten that it was there, because I felt alone in a journey that I was taking.
But here and now, looking around, I remember that I am connected.
I am connected to each of you and through that I am more deeply connected to God.
But aren’t we are always connected to god? I hear you asking?
Yes of course, but there are things that we can do to grow that love by growing closer to each other. Because part of what we are setting ourselves up for, is loss. These forty days lead us to Easter and Jesus’s resurrection, but first we have to go to the cross.
Meaning first we have to be willing to sacrifice a piece of us for the whole of all of us. But this isn’t a sudden shift.
We have been doing this. Protesting at federal plaza saying I stand with Ravi. Asking why there aren’t the same systems of support for different students at the same school. Speaking out against systems of injustice and oppression. Staying silent when you have taken up too much space. Or Giving regularly to organizations that align with your values. All of the things that we as a community are already doing, are great first steps on this Lenten journey.
We are already sacrificing a bit of our power to bring everyone closer to god. Because this world is broken and part of what Lent calls us to do is grieve the brokenness that is ever so present in the world. Grief that we have to fight to belong in our bodies, in our country, on our families, and in our churches. A grief that calls us to action when our children are being stripped of their healthcare for tax breaks. A grief that seems so far from the hope of Jesus that we aren’t sure where our faith will lead us.
11 years ago, my friend Anna’s dad died. And although she wasn’t someone who regularly prayed, she found herself writing letters to her dad regularly the year after he died. Birthday’s, holidays, good days and bad, she wrote him cards and shared her love with him.
On the year anniversary of his death, she burned the cards on the place where he died and scattered his ashes on the place where he was placed to rest.
Anna’s ashes and our ashes today are not the end of a story but a beginning. So often we think of ash as the end of the fire, but really it is the renewal of our passions. We offer this act as a space of renewal not finality. Our finite beings are incredible not insignificant. When we return to the cosmic dust from that which created us, it is an opportunity to become god’s eternal grace anew. But we also take this time to be mindful about how we are wonderfully created. So often people talk about what they are “giving up” for lent. Or they talk about fasting or systems of abundance. Friends, our Lenten season is a time of reflection and love. It is meant to be challenging but it is also meant to be met with a spirit of care and grace.
There was a twitter thread today about Lenten fasting and anorexia.
It started with a woman saying how she has to learn to fast while also dealing with an eating disorder. She finally shared that her Lenten fasting would mean that she ate three full meals a day. It was a moving reminder that god is calling us to be mindful in this season, but to also be loving towards ourselves… always.
There are many ways to connect with God because there are differences in each of us that connect uniquely to our creator.
Friends, let’s fast…but let’s fast from unkind words toward ourselves and others.
Let’s give up…but let’s give up apathy and complacency and offer more support.
Let’s deny…but let’s deny systems of oppression and injustice.
Let’s pray…and pivot ourselves toward god.
So that all the we do, and all that we know will be met with the grace of god found in each one of us in this time of reflection and renewal.
Friends, from dust we came and to dust we shall return.
We will all pass back into the stardust that made us, but until that time we are called to live.
To live fully.
To live deeply.
To live with each other.
To live and love ourselves.
I leave you with this piece from Mary Oliver.
“The Witchery of living
Is my whole conversation
With you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.
Look and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.
It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life-Just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another,
and maybe still another.
Church, thanks be for the god of days and dust.