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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Ash Wednesday February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday February 17, 2010

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 103

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6;16-21

Every year, we gather to begin the season of Lent. We take ashes which have been made from the palms used on Palm Sunday last year, palms which were used to welcome our Lord with Hosannas in a procession appropriate for a hero. Those palms have been burned, and now they are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross, the very sign that marks our foreheads in baptism, marks us as Christ’s own forever. Only now the words which are said are, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And we do this to remind ourselves that we are frail, we are flawed, we are mortal. That is the absolute truth. Here, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is tempting to forget this. We can do so much. In some ways, we are so powerful. We know so much. We humans have achieved so much. Yet it is crucial for us to remind ourselves of how much we need God.

And even as we focus on this dust, we remember the creation story in Genesis, that old, old story which contains so much truth. In that story, God makes humanity out of the dust. And God breathes God’s breath into that dust in order to make it live. Within each of us is the divine breath, the divine spark. And so, as we face that fact of our limitations and our mortality, we also have hope because the spirit of God is with us and within us.

Isaiah calls the people to a corporate repentance. And that is what we are called to on this day. We are reminded that to be true followers of Christ means to care for our fellow human beings, to feed and clothe and care for our brothers and sisters. If we claim to love God, we need to be reaching out to others. “Shout out,” Isaiah says. There is an urgency to this call to let our lives be transformed, to let our actions speak the love of God.

And there is also an urgency in Paul’s letter. “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” In the preceding part of the letter, Paul has been talking about Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. He has been saying that, though we humans are the ones who have moved away from God, God is the one who has made the first step to close the gap we have created. So there is a certain urgency in our responding to this generous action.

Paul also acknowledges his own frailty and shortcomings. He does not pretend to be perfect. But he also points out that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s power is made perfect in weakness. As we contemplate our own mortality, Paul’s faith in God’s ability to work with us imperfect humans can be a great comfort.

The gospel for today is the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking about giving alms, praying, and fasting. He is asking us to look carefully at out motives. Do we give so that people will think well of us? Do we give to boost our egos? Do we contribute generously to an organization in order to gain power in the structure of that organization? Are we contributing for selfish ends or in the service of God?

Our Lord even calls us to look at our motives for praying. We pray in order to take time to be with God, to listen to God, to sense God’s love for us, to open ourselves to God’s guidance and direction. To paraphrase Martin Smith, our prayer time is a time to let God’s love surround us and seep into our beings.

We are dust. We are full of mixed motives. We humans know so much and yet we know so little. It is a good thing that we take time on Ash Wednesday to act out the drama of our mortality by placing cross-shaped smudges of ashes on our foreheads.

In a profound way, this clear acknowledgement of who we are and who God is is the perfect beginning for a Lenten journey that will bring us more closely in harmony with God’s will, both individually and corporately. I believe that is why we are gathered here. Because we all want that. It isn’t easy or fun to look at our dark places, but we know it is necessary. And we trust the light of Christ to illumine this journey and to bring us to the wholeness God intends for us. That is the light that brings us out of the darkness to begin the celebration of the Easter Vigil, the feast of new life. And it is the light that will be with us every step of the way as we embark on the journey of transformation this Lent.

O God, may your creative love and power be with us as we journey. O Spirit divine, who lives within each of us and enlivens your whole creation, be with us. O Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, lead us on the Way you have walked for our sake and help us to walk in your light. In your holy name, we pray. Amen

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