March. 2, 2022 Ash Wednesday

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Isaiah 58:1-12

1Shout out, do not hold back!
  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
 Announce to my people their rebellion,
  to the house of Jacob their sins.
2Yet day after day they seek me
  and delight to know my ways,
 as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
  and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
 they ask of me righteous judgments,
  they delight to draw near to God.
3“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
 Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
  and oppress all your workers.
4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
  and to strike with a wicked fist.
 Such fasting as you do today
  will not make your voice heard on high.
5Is such the fast that I choose,
  a day to humble oneself?
 Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
  and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
 Will you call this a fast,
  a day acceptable to the Lord?

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
 when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing shall spring up quickly;
 your vindicator shall go before you,
  the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
  you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

 If you remove the yoke from among you,
  the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
 then your light shall rise in the darkness
  and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
  and satisfy your needs in parched places,
  and make your bones strong;
 and you shall be like a watered garden,
  like a spring of water,
  whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
  you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
 you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
  the restorer of streets to live in.

Psalm 51:1-17

1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your | steadfast love;
  in your great compassion blot out | my offenses.
2Wash me through and through | from my wickedness,
  and cleanse me | from my sin.
3For I know | my offenses,
  and my sin is ev- | er before me.
4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil | in your sight;
  so you are justified when you speak and right | in your judgment. 
5Indeed, I was born | steeped in wickedness,
  a sinner from my | mother’s womb.
6Indeed, you delight in truth | deep within me,
  and would have me know wisdom | deep within.
7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I | shall be clean;
  wash me, and I shall be pur- | er than snow.
8Let me hear | joy and gladness;
  that the body you have broken | may rejoice. 
9Hide your face | from my sins,
  and blot out | all my wickedness.
10Create in me a clean | heart, O God,
  and renew a right spir- | it within me.
11Cast me not away | from your presence,
  and take not your Holy Spir- | it from me.
12Restore to me the joy of | your salvation
  and sustain me with your boun- | tiful Spirit. 
13Let me teach your ways | to offenders,
  and sinners shall be re- | stored to you.
14Rescue me from bloodshed, O God of | my salvation,
  and my tongue shall sing | of your righteousness.
15O Lord, o- | pen my lips,
  and my mouth shall pro- | claim your praise.
16For you take no delight in sacrifice, or | I would give it.
  You are not pleased | with burnt offering.
17The sacrifice of God is a | troubled spirit;
  a troubled and broken heart, O God, you will | not despise.

2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10

20bWe entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, 
 “At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
  and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
  2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

As we approach year three of the global pandemic, nearly 6 million deaths globally and now we lament Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, even as we know there are many armed conflicts around the globe, I come to this year’s Ash Wednesday service feeling covered in ashes. Unlike Ash Wednesday 2020, we do not so much need ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality. The reminders are everywhere. Can the cross of ashes on our foreheads remind us of mortality and something more this year? 

One thing I love about symbols, particularly in the life of faith, is that there is often more than one meaning, at least if it’s a good symbol. The waters of baptism both cleanse us and drown our sin. When we drink the wine of Holy Communion we remember Christ’s blood, shed on the cross, but we also remember the wedding at Cana when he turned water into wine. This makes us recall the vineyards here in the Treasure Valley and the notion that Holy Communion is a foretaste of the feast to come. Candles remind us of the lights in the sky which God created at the dawn of creation, the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the Red Sea, and that Christ is the light in the darkness.

So, back to ashes. Ashes, in addition to being a sign of mortality and repentance, are a symbol of cleaning. They were once used as a cleansing agent in the absence of soap.  So, ashes tell of both death and renewal. It is that symbolism of cleansing and renewal that I am drawn to this year. And cleansing and renewal are all part of the season of Lent.

Lent translates from a Middle English word that means “spring.” We might all be on the cusp of doing some spring cleaning in our homes, that yearly ritual of polishing things, washing windows, dusting corners, and airing out blankets and pillows and rugs in the warming air. 

One writer notes that soul-cleaning does not need to imply that we are filthy, worthless people who must be made pure in order to know God or do good or be worthy. We are not impure in that way. In the same way that my house is not impure at spring housecleaning time. It is simply dusty and a bit stuffy. So it is with our lives. Winter can foster spiritual complacency, perhaps. With so much inside time, our souls revel in coziness, warmth, and comfort. Winter spirituality can let us settle in. Things get disordered, overlooked.

And we do not have simply winter but two years of regular quarantining, time when we were sick, time when people we live with were sick. Regular faith practices were turned on their heads. We learned to worship first by looking at a screen, then with social distancing and no singing. Some of you found new disciplines or faith practices, or you adapted old practices. Adversity can produce opportunity and I am confident that happened around the globe. Individuals and pockets of people found new ways to pray, and read scripture, and serve their neighbor with acts of love. 

Lent is always a time to shake things up and I think Lent 2022 might be a particularly appropriate season to reflect on how we have grown in faith, or how we have struggled, how we have adapted, and what it means to follow Jesus in the next chapter. What needs to be purged, scrubbed, or opened up?

Those ashes remind us that this is a new season. It’s time to get off the sofa and poke in neglected corners and open windows. It’s a great time to take a look inside ourselves and our collective whole. And, as with every Season of Lent, it is a time to try new practices. Our gospel passage from Matthew has much to say about what the church calls, the discipline of Lent, which sounds sterner than it is.

Jesus highlights three religious practices common to first-century Judaism that continue to be practiced today by people of many faiths, including Christianity: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Jesus is particularly concerned with setting side by side the human perception and God’s reception of our religious activities. In other words, what motivates our actions is very important. In the end, the passage presents this question, “Why do I do what I do, during this season?” 

The journey through Lent, through this spring soul cleaning is ultimately characterized by caring about others and the world, whether it is popular or unpopular, applauded or criticized. It is a season to do what we do as faithful people because it deepens our identity and rootedness in what is central to God. That includes care for the poor, the voiceless, the disinherited, and the exploited.

So, with the goal of spring soul cleaning, deepening faith, and with the three disciplines of Lent already laid out in the gospel, what kind of Lenten disciplines might we take up this year?  I’m not speaking in the abstract; I’m talking about each of our lives for the next 40 days. 

What change can you make in your own life that will impact your corner of the world? Yes, you can give up the excess of something you maybe need less of physically—sweets, soda, junk food. And certainly, that helps you become a good steward of the physical body God gave you. You might end up with more energy for bringing in the reign of God. What will that new work look like? You might give us some screen time in favor of face-to-face connections. You might give up a favorite beverage and save the money and on Easter donate your savings to a refugee resettlement agency. 

Perhaps you could spend some time cultivating one of the many community gardens in Nampa. There is the discipline of reading through the Book of Psalms, or you could read through the Gospels of Luke or John, which we will hear from on Sundays during Lent. You might add to your daily prayers and intentional prayer for the people in your life who are the most difficult. Another wonderful discipline taken up by people is journaling gratefulness. That has been a transformative experience for individuals, changing not just their minds but the way they end up encountering other human beings and all of creation. Whether we give something up, change our financial giving, pray, or do some combination, the possibilities for Lenten disciplines are infinite. 

The other symbolism within the ashes is transformation, for ashes themselves are a product of transformation. When something is burned, when a thing meets fire, ash is created. Ashes are about cleaning, creativity, and change. Today, Ash Wednesday, offers a new start, new possibilities, and a pathway of transformation. Thanks be to God.

Prayers of Intercession

Drawn close to the heart of God, we offer these prayers for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

Renew your church, O God. When we have drifted from our call to proclaim repentance and to guide your people toward justice, lead us back to you. Encourage believers who hold the church’s doors open to those who have felt excluded. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Renew your creation, O God. Transform parched places into watered gardens and preserve every creature that awaits the arrival of spring. Turn each of us from practices of environmental exploitation to become responsible stewards of all you have made. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Renew our civic life, O God. Teach those in authority to advocate for the liberation of all who are oppressed and grant them courage to make difficult decisions. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Renew our lives, O God. Spare your people from diseases of the body, mind, or spirit and send healing to those overcome by illness or grief (especially). Restore to us the joy of your salvation. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Renew this congregation, O God. During these forty days of Lent, confirm our sense of mission and expand our imagination for ministry. Deepen our faith, increase our love, and draw us into your unfolding work of healing and restoration. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

As we mark ashes on our foreheads, we give you praise, O God, for all the saints who died and yet are alive with you (especially John Wesley and Charles Wesley, whom we commemorate today). Receive us with them into your eternal embrace. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Accept the prayers we bring, O God, on behalf of a world in need, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.