Sermons 2006
Ash Wednesday , 1 March 2006, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Home | "Light and Darkness", Christmas 2C, 31 December 2006, John 1:1-18 | Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2006 | "What then shall we do?", Advent 3C , 17 December 2006, Luke 3:7-18 | "Luke's Gospel", Advent 1C, 3 Dec 2006, Luke 21:25-31 | Which Jesus? Proper 29B 2006, 26 November 2006, John 18:33-37 | Apocalypticism and Fundamentalism, Proper 28B, 19 Nov 2006, Daniel12; Mark 13:14-23 | "The Widow's Mite: All and Everything", Proper 27B, 12 November 2006, Mark 12:38-44 | "The Commandments to love God, Neighbor, One Another" Proper 26B, 5 November 2006, Mark 12:28-34 | "Sight -- and Seeing" Proper 25B, 29 October 2006, Mark 10:46-52 | "Baptism: Overwhelming Washing", Proper 24B, 22 October 2006 Mark 10:35-45 | "God's Transforming Love", Proper 23B, 15 October 2006, Mark 10:17-31 | "Divorce", Proper 22B, 8 February 2006, Mark 10: 2-9 | "Hard Sayings and Sharp Words", Proper 21B, 1 October 2006, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 | "First or Last?" Proper 20B, 24 September 2006, Mark 9:30-37 | "Unintended Consequences", Proper 19B, 17 September 2006, Mark 8:27-38 | "Ephphatha! Open up!" Proper 18B, 10 September 2006, Mark 7:31-37 | "Rituals", Proper 17B, 3 September 2006, Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 | "Choices." Proper 16B, 30 August 2006, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25; John 6:60-69 | "Come to the Table." Proper 15B, 20 August 2006, John 6:53-59 | "Do not be afraid." Proper 12B, 30 July 2006, Mark6:45-52 | "General Convention and Jesus' Compassion", Proper 11B, 23 July 2006, Mark 6: 30-44 | "Basics for the Journey", Proper 10B, 16 July 2006, Mark 6:7-13 | "Jesus and Rejection", Proper 9B, 9 July 2006, Mark 6:1-6 | "Trust, Faith, and Belief" Proper 8B, 2 July 2006, Mark 5:22-43 | "Storms, Fear, and Faith" Proper 7B, 25 June 2006, Mark 4:35-41 | Mighty things from Small, Proper 6B, 18 June 2006, Mark 4:26-34 | Trinity, Pentecost 1, 11 June 2006, Exodus 3:1-6; John 3:1-16 | The King Jesus Fire-Baptized Holy Spirit Church, Pentecost , 4 June, Acts 2:1-11; Jn 20:19-23 | "That they may be one" General Convention 2006, Easter 7B 28 May 2006, John 5:9-15 | "Friends, friendship, and love" Easter 6B, 21 May 2006, John 15:9-17 | Mother's Day, two mothers' love!" Easter 5B, 14 April 2006, John 14:15-21 | "Interesting, this Good Shepherd!" Easter 4B, 7 May 2006, John 10:11-16 | "How do you prove you are alive?", Easter 3B, 30 April 2006, Luke 24:36b-48 | "Do you believe because...." Easter 2B, 23 April 2006, John 20:19-31 | "He goes before you to Galilee...." Easter B 2006, 16 April, Mark 16:1-8 | "Journey into darkness", Palm Sunday B, 9 April 2006. Mark 11:1-11, 14:32-15:47 | "Sir, we would see Jesus!" Lent 5B, 2 April 2006, John 12:20-33 | "Miracles and Faith, Ordinary and Not", Lent 4B 2006, 26 March 2006, John 6:4-15 | "Rage, Rampage, and Outrage", Lent 3B, 19 March 2006, John 2: 13-22 | "Images of the Cross", Lent 2B, 12 March 2006, Mark 8:31-38 | "Baptism, Temptation, Redemption," Lent 1B, 5 March 2005, Mark 1:9-13 | Ash Wednesday , 1 March 2006, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 | ""Nanny McPhee' and transfiguration", Epiphany Last B, Mark 9:2-9 | "Jesus, leprosy, and the law of Moses", Epiphany 6B, 12 February 2006, Mark 1:40-45 | "Healing, wholeness, forgiveness, and love", Epiphany 5B, 5 February 2006, Mark 1:29-39 | "Haints, Unclean spirits, and demons" Epiphany 4B, 22 January 2006, Mark 1:21-28 | Epiphany 3B, 22 January 2006, "God's Call -- and Our Response", Mark 1:14-20 | Epiphany 2B, 15 January 2006, "Call and Response", John 1:43-51 | Epiphany 1B, 8 January 2006, "The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours", Mark 1:7-11 | The Holy Name, 1 January 2006, Luke 2: 15-21

Ash Wednesday 2006B Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Did you know that Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday because the Church, probably around the year 1000 AD added the extra four days of the week so that there would be a full forty days of Lent.

The use of ashes as a sign of penitence has a much longer history, however. It comes into the Christian tradition from our Jewish roots in the Old Testament: Both Isaiah – our passage for today -- and Jeremiah speak of sackcloth and ashes. But Daniel (9:3-5) has the clearest indication of the penitential tradition as we understand it on this day:
“Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.””

At some time in the earlier church in Rome, when the discipline of public penitence was in force, penitents sometimes ceremonially sprinkled ashes on their heads or received fro a bishop a rough garment – sackcloth – on which ashes had been sprinkled. This day became known as the Day of Ashes. The current custom of marking foreheads with ashes in the sign of the Cross was probably introduced for the Day of Ashes by Pope Gregory I, who was Bishop of Rome from to 590 A.D. to 604 A.D.

In the Eleventh Century, when this primitive individual penitential discipline had become obsolete, the general penance of the whole congregation took its place. After the Great Schism between the Greek Churches of the East and the Latin Church of the West in 1054, our current custom of Ash Wednesday was enacted in its generally final shape as a universal practice by the Synod of Benevento in 1091 AD.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Even in life, we live with death. We strive to live well, provide for ourselves and others, and love God, but it’s just as hard to focus on the important things now as it was in the day of Jesus.
In the Gospel reading we hear of the hypocrites, seeking to show they are doing the right thing and in actuality accomplishing another. They are engaged in the public penance and yet the public nature of the act removes the focus from God and reunion with God to a "How I am doing?" audience oriented act. Jesus is offended by this type of self consciousness, the focus is on accruing attention to one’s self, and not on awareness of self, awareness of God, and the amendment of life that can emerge from the encounter with God. Jesus is impatient and angry with these public displays. There's no bread, no true food here. A reward yes, but it's fools' gold compared with the real thing. False piety is an enormous Kingdom blocker, and Jesus is painfully aware of this.

Jesus wants the real thing for his disciples, then and now, and so his teaching in Matthew is pointed and direct. Stay away from false piety. It names God wrongly and we’ll never get to God that way. If we want to meet God in the Ash Wednesday and Lenten actions of giving, praying and changing, we have to stay focused on God, for the joy of being with God. Lent is not for dark depression, its for enlightenment and healing.

Lent gives us the opportunity each year, and each day if we dare, to experience God's power over the forces against life. There is a reason sin and death are mentioned together so frequently. Not just because one leads to the other, but also because God knows that belief in the resurrection is a bit of a leap for us and so graciously has provided us a way for us to build our faith. Sin is the little death. The alienation, pain, separation and destruction sin causes in our life is legion. Sin can kill our dreams, our relationships, our health and our hope. The lived experience of true repentance, of placing oneself in the hands of the living God is awesome, scary, loving and liberating. Experiencing God's power and faithfulness in our lives builds our faith that the resurrections and liberations we experience now are a foretaste of what is to come when we face bodily death. We know surely and clearly that pain and death is not the end of the story. Resurrection is.

God doesn't expect faith out of nothing. God became human in Jesus in part to show us how and what humans need to do and focus upon in order to experience union with Divinity. Jesus life and words are a roadmap to encounter the living God. If we give ourselves into God's hands we will experience the power of God. And if we don't do any of this, we won't.

Jesus' instructions to the disciples on how to approach sacrifice, prayer and fasting is to put ourselves into that place where God wants us to go spiritually. Go to health, sanity and gladness. Take neither the way of self-aggrandizement and ego inflation or self-denigrating acts of asceticism. The temptation is to make a big public spiritual show because we're afraid that God won't, that God doesn't act, in our lives. That will take us from the place that God would have us be, a preparation of self for an encounter with Truth. Ash Wednesday is a gateway to the encounter. The Ash Wednesday helps us to get to the interior place where we can be clear, be true, be humble and hear God.

Doing the work of Lent, having the experience of Lent, of repentance and liberation, is what makes Easter Morning real. God has changed the story, death is not the end.


Adapted in part from Selected Sermons for Ash Wednesday 1997

Wicomico Parish Church
PO Box 70
Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579