Ash Wednesday
14 February 2024
II Cor. 5.20b-6.10; Mt.6 1-6,16-21
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and it’s place shall know it no more. But the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever on those who fear him, and his righteousness on children’s children. Amen.
– From Psalm 103

For most of us, it starts every January with an awareness that on some level we are not living life as our best selves. It’s clear as we step on the scales and look in the mirror that we overdid it during the holidays with too many carbs, too many sweets, and a bit too much to drink. Reviewing the other areas of our lives we find ourselves being called up short there too!

Thus begins a litany of resolutions for the New Year – ‘surely, we can shake off the monkeys on our backs and in our brains, and finally nip our demons in the bud. However, as the year wears on our resolve wears thin and by December, we are back at it all over again. St. Paul summed up so well the plight of our human condition I read it from the Message Translation; “For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it. I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”[1]

“That something which has gone wrong deep within us,” hmm, this is what keeps hordes of billionaires in business. “That something which has gone wrong deep within us” is the target of many corporations marketing strategies. Marketeers think ‘How can we leverage these flawed parts of humanity and manipulate them into buying our products?’ There are many manifestations of this and we have a multitude of vulnerable places for attack, from our educational level, our socio-economic levels, our need for human touch and connection, our need for spiritual connection – bombarded by the false messages: “we’re not smart enough, rich enough, thin enough, beautiful enough, tough enough, gregarious enough – we’re not enough.”

There are a plethora of gurus waiting to take us by the hand and by the pocketbooks with a promise to fix whatever is not enough with us. Just think of the trillions of dollars generated each year on diet plans, collagen, Botox, tummy tucks, face lifts, hair dye, cosmetic surgery, and the list goes on and on. All are based on the myth that we can cheat old age and death.

Today on Ash Wednesday we are confronted with our denial of these falsehoods and are challenged and encourages to confront these hard truths head-on, and to fully embrace ourselves, warts and all. We are each given permission to see the truth that we humans are all mixed bags of light and dark, part Gold, part shadow, with egos striving to convince ourselves that we are enough, while being beloved to our cores by an Awesome God whose very name is LOVE.

Lent points us towards living a life in solidarity with Jesus Christ as he offers to walk with us in solidarity. Rather than trying to become more righteous, we receive Christ’s righteousness, rather than trying to make ourselves more acceptable to God, we acknowledge that we have already been accepted – now the journey becomes one where we are given the grace to accept our acceptance. Starting from a place of acceptance by God presents spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, repentance, reading of scripture and almsgiving in a whole different light. We aren’t invited into these practices in order to earn or keep Gods love but as avenues of friendship with God. The Good News is that God who is more than enough knows just what to do with our ‘not-good-enoughness.’

God plans, hopes, and dreams for us are far beyond what we can imagine. In fact, we often resist these invitations thinking that if we turn our lives more fully over to God that God is somehow going to mismanage our lives and bully us into a way of life that’s counter to our gifts and desires. But the truth is that God wants to work with us utilizing our unique gifts and desires to serve the greater good of the world, the earth, and the Kingdom of God. St. Paul describes this kind of life as one where we “work together with him.” Not so much as a master and slaves but as friends and co-creators bring his love to all the corners of our dark worlds.

There’s an old Native American story that has probably been told by the campfires throughout the generations and it goes something like this: A chief was sitting by the campfire with his grandson when suddenly they saw two wolves locked in mortal conflicts. One wolf was red and the other was gray. Fur and blood were flying as they howled, tore, bit, and clawed each other. Then the grandson asked, “Poppie, which wolf will win?” The wise grandfather said, “My son, the one we have fed the most.”

May we eat heartily and drink deeply of the spiritual riches that God offers to us this Lent. Amen.

[1] Romans 7.17-20 The Message Translation of the Holy Bible, Eugene Petersen