Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Return to the Lord

Today is Ash Wednesday which has always been an important day for me.  It is the first day in the season of Lent and I have felt over the years that I set myself back on course on this day.  For me, it has always been a day for reflection and recommitment.

Sunday I preached at a UCC church where the worship leader invited people to the Ash Wednesday service and made a point of saying that it would not be gloomy and negative.  It would be positive and uplifting. As I sat there and listened I thought how much I like the Ash Wednesday service to be what others might call "gloomy and negative."  For me, confession is central to my faith and Ash Wednesday is a service of confessing the ways in which we have fallen away as we recommit to returning to the Lord.  Before we "return" it is helpful to explore the ways in which we have wandered away. 

Today as I read through the readings I looked again at Jesus words to his disciples saying:
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them;"  His teachings show his awareness of how easily our wily ego can take over so that we end up playacting our faith instead of just living it. 

So, here I am beginning again today and in my own way - returning - to the one who continues to invite me into deeper living.  I will spend time in my "prayer closet" in confession today and hopefully attend church this evening.  The ritual of ashes on my forehead speaks to my soul and is emblematic of my recommitment to this challenging and amazing walk of faith.  The text that I carry in my heart today is these verses from Joel

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.

What is most important for me to focus on is not my sin or my faith practices.  I need to remember who God is - "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love."   It is my hope and prayer that dedicating myself (through prayer, worship, reading, writing, serving) to centering on the presence and character one who calls me into new life  will give me life.

May it be so.

Here is an Ash Wednesday Prayer by Jan Richardson

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—
Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.
–Jan Richardson

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