Sermon: Ash Wednesday – “My Confession”

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning quotes from another who writes, “One saint used to say that she was the type of woman who advances more rapidly when she is drawn by love than when driven by fear.  She was preceptive enough to know that we are all that type of person.  It is possible to attain great holiness of life while still being prone to pettiness and insincerity, sensuality and envy, but the first move will always be to recognize that I am that way.  In terms of spiritual growth the faith-conviction that God accepts me as I am is a tremendous help to become better.” (p.49)

Brennan sums this up by saying, “Love is a far better stimulus than threat or pressure.”  This understanding leads to the realization that God loves us for who we are.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t seek to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy, but it does mean that we learn to accept God’s grace and mercy, so that we don’t become discouraged and fall away.

That said, I’m always encouraging you to make a proper confession, whether that be to sit down with a priest or on your own, but as I have also told you, I hate going to confession.  I’m very well aware of weaknesses and faults and I don’t like having to put them out there, but today… a public confession (and everybody says, “Well, this just got interesting!”  Not like that, but maybe worse.)  Here goes, two parts…

Part one: many struggle with being hard on themselves and many struggle with accepting God’s grace and mercy.  The more those types of feelings persist, the harder that person is on themself.  Friends: I am not good to myself.  In many different ways I punish myself for my shortcomings.  I am a priest that knows—for a fact!—that you are loved by God and so very deserving of God’s grace and I will do anything I can so that you can experience that love and grace, but… I have refused to accept it for myself.  That’s part one.  Part two: I’m tired of feeling this way.  I’m tired of standing outside the banquet and missing out on the celebration.

That’s the confession.  (Not very juicy, I know.)  So, during this season of Lent, what am I going give up?  I’ll probably give up something more tangible (that one is between me and God), but I think what I’m really going to give up is the act of pummeling myself and kicking my own backside.  I think I’ll give up being a shield to God’s grace and allow him to soften my heart toward myself.  As I said, I’m tired of being on the outside of the banquet, trying to make myself worthy to enter in, all the while, forgetting that this is a work that Jesus has already accomplished.

We always think of the ashes on ash Wednesday as a sign of penance and our mortality, our death.  They are, but Thomas Merton looked at them from the other side.  He wrote, “The ashes become a health-giving medicine and they bring wholeness, cleanness to the body as well as protection to the soul, both of these availing for the remission of sins.  They bring the grace of that humility which they signify, they bring also the pardon which we implore by the fact of receiving them.”

The ashes are a sign of penance and death, but when we receive them with true humility, they are not only a sign of sin and death, but of forgiveness and life.

I invite you to continue on the path for this Lent that you have set for yourself, but, if you find yourself in the boat with me, then I invite you to join me in recognizing the fact that God accepts you as you, so that you can then experience His grace and love.

Sermon: Ash Wednesday

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The Bureau of Labor came out with some statistics on how we spend our time.  It breaks down like this:

Working and related activities:  8.7 hours

Sleep:  7.7 hours

Leisure and sports:  2.6 hours

Household activities:  1.1 hours

Eating and drinking:  1.1 hours

Caring for Others: 1.3 hours

Other: 1.5 hours

This means that over half the day is gone, with over 12 hours a day devoted to working, eating, household and caring activities.  Then there is the time for sleeping, 7.7 hours, which leaves only a few hours remaining for anything else.  The majority of that extra time would seem to be assigned to the La-z-boy and the TV.  However, of that “other” category, 16 minutes are given to “organizational, civic, and religious” activities.  If we were being generous with the religious aspect and gave it 50% of that time, we would have 8 minutes per day or 56 minutes per week that we give to God.

Now, the unaware and self-righteous side of me would like to rail against those statistics, start telling folks that they need to get their priorities straight and all that.  Truth is, if I weren’t a priest – receiving a stipend so that I could spend time with God on behalf of the people – if I had a job in the secular world, children to care for, school and family functions, if I had all these things and more, then I’m fairly certain that my minutes per day that I spend with God would be less than eight.  Heck, even as a priest there are days when 8 minutes with God seems like a lot!   But that doesn’t make it right.

Much of our life with Christ is about sacrifice, the giving up of who we are and replacing it with who God is.  It is about a relationship and with any relationship it requires time, nurturing, giving, and sacrifice.

In the time leading up to Lent there are always discussion about what we will be “giving up,” that which we abstain from.  However, this giving up is not about an act of will power: “I’m giving up coffee for Lent or smoking or whatever.”  Heck, I gave up beer one Lent and really learned to enjoy red wine.  The point of abstaining from something is so that you will be able to give that time, those resources, etc. to God.  I’ll give up half an hour of TV a day so that I can spend that time with God.  See how it works?

I read our Gospel today and it speaks of doing certain things for God: giving alms, serving Him, praying, and fasting.  It talks about how we rightly do these things, not in public and not for show, but with a world that is constantly demanding more and more of our time, before we can do these things properly we must first learn to simply DO them.  We discover how to give God more than 8 minutes per day, to sacrifice something of ourselves so that we can enter more deeply into that relationship with Him.  This time with God is not just one more thing that we have to accomplish, as a Christian people, time with God, serving Him is our joy!  Thomas a Kempis understood these things.  In his Imitation of Christ, he writes, “I WILL hear what the Lord God will speak in me… Blessed is the soul who hears the Lord speaking within her, who receives the word of consolation from His lips.  Blessed are the ears that catch the accents of divine whispering, and pay no heed to the murmurings of this world.  Blessed indeed are the ears that listen, not to the voice which sounds without, but to the truth which teaches within.  Blessed are the eyes which are closed to exterior things and are fixed upon those which are interior.  Blessed are they who penetrate inwardly, who try daily to prepare themselves more and more to understand mysteries.  Blessed are they who long to give their time to God, and who cut themselves off from the hindrances of the world…. Consider these things, my soul, and close the door of your senses, so that you can hear what the Lord your God speaks within you, ‘I am your salvation,’ says your Beloved. ‘I am your peace and your life.’”

The Lord is your joy.  Your salvation.  Your peace.  Your life.  During this Holy Lent make the sacrifice, take the time, and hear what the Lord your God will speak in you.

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