At the Ashes to Go service that we and San Romero fellowship offer early in the morning, Father Uriel and I don’t just provide the Imposition of ashes alone, but offer a prayer as well. I don’t know what Uriel prays, but I pray with the person that these ashes be a reminder that we are formed by God from dust and therefore our dependence is on God alone. Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we must not turn to the world’s false comforts and to our own way of doing things; but rather turn to God, our Creator. These are not just words. They are facts. Because we all turn to the world’s comforts and to our own perspectives, rather than God’s. And of course we do this, because God’s way, God’s perspective, takes a lot of intentional work on our part to discern. So we take the easy way.
Isaiah’s words are timeless. They describe a people in exile in Babylon that are turning to their own way of doing things rather than holding to the way of God that has been taught them over generations. They’re frustrated, angry, and afraid as they are forced to live in this foreign land by their Babylonian captors. So Isaiah offers comfort as well as a stern warning to turn from their own way to God’s way. Those Isaiah is writing about are infighting and quarreling. They are giving themselves over to worship that breeds no good deeds. Yes, these words are timeless, because we fall into the same trap, even as church-going Christians and good people, we fall into the trap of taking the easy way, our own way, rather than God’s way. And it inevitably causes tension and quarreling with our brothers and sisters, and as our prayer book perfectly states: anger at our own frustration. For this, Ash Wednesday is most important. And for this, I almost wish Ash Wednesday was once a month rather than once a year. Because we all stray from the path.
One of the many things that I love about this first day in the season of Lent is the Litany of Penitence that we will say together in a few moments. Listen to the words you will be saying. The Litany really calls us out on going our way rather than God’s way. The Litany reminds us of our need for God and most importantly, our need for God’s grace. As we discussed the Isaiah passage at the Rector’s bible study yesterday, I thought of my own mantra of sorts for myself and for you this Lenten season: Let’s try things God’s way. If we acknowledge that we are sinners, than we can say this in earnest.
My favorite scientist and astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, talks about us being space dust. Following the lead of astrophysicist Carl Sagan who said we are all star dust, the very stuff of outer space, Tyson makes a beautiful point. He says that the very element of iron (the element on the Periodic Chart) is the same exact element of iron found in our blood. The iron found in space matter throughout the universe is the same iron found in our blood. We are one with God’s creation my friends. We are the very stuff of the universe.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We are God’s immediate creation and it is in God that we live and move, have our being and purpose. So…we turn from our own way this day and turn to the God who created us, rather than to the stuff we create. Today we turn and seek God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness, rather than depending on our own solutions.
Today we remember that we are offered God’s love in times of hardship, affliction, and tumult; in times of hunger, calamity, and sickness; and in times of peace, surplus, and prosperity. We are offered God’s love both in times of distress and in times of accomplishment; in times of triumph and in times of failure; in times of righteousness and in times of sin. Perhaps especially when we sin. Because when we sin, we need God even more. We need courage to turn away from darkness and to face the light. We need to turn away from the world’s temporary false comforts and to accept the enduring grace of God. And we need faith to turn away from death, and face the new life that is freely given to all of us.
Today we remember that we are human. We remember that we are dust. We remember that God made us of the stuff of earth and that we will return to God in God’s own time. We remember that we need God and the saving grace that he offers us in Jesus. Amen.