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    Feb 26, 2020

    Ash Wednesday

    Passage: Matthew 6:1-6

    Preacher: The Rev. Greg Farrand

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Lent

    Detail:

    As you know, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.

    The liturgical season of Lent is 40 days, not including Sundays, and it represents the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. If you remember, at his baptism, when Jesus came up out of the waters of the River Jordan, the sky opened up and the Spirit descended on him like a dove, and the voice of God boomed out, “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

    He walked out of the river and into the wilderness where he spent 40 days fasting and praying. And we are invited to follow Jesus into the wilderness. That’s what the season of Lent is all about, following Jesus into the wilderness.

    And all through the Bible, the wilderness is a powerful space. It is a place of desolation where there are no distractions. It is the place of utter simplicity.

    Where flash and glitz and noise dissolve… and we are remined of what is real.

    Most poignantly it represents where transformation takes place. In the Bible, when someone walks into the wilderness, they walk out profoundly changed.

    In the wilderness, Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved soaked into his bones and his mission became clear. He walked out of the wilderness and started his public ministry.

    Remember the most famous wilderness time in the Hebrew Scriptures? When Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

    And just as a side note… Jesus didn’t randomly pick 40 days. He spent a day in the wilderness for each of the years that Israel wandered in the wilderness.

    And those years in the desert were profoundly transformational for the Israelites. They entered the wilderness with a consciousness of slavery… after generations of oppression in Egypt. When they emerged from the wilderness and entered into the Promise Land, they knew they were God’s beloved chosen people.

    In the distraction free spaciousness of the wilderness, the coins drop, where we shift from mere intellectual belief to actual inner experience, where we are transformed.

    And so again, this season of Lent is an invitation to spend the next 40 days walking into the wilderness. But what does that mean for us?

    First let me say wheat it is not.

    Obviously it does not mean a literal wilderness.

    It also does not mean, as I have heard taught, a season of critical self-evaluation. As if this season of Lent is about turning on the microscope to pick ourselves apart. Religion, over the centuries, has often been used as a weapon to beat people up and beat ourselves up.

    Lent is not a time to turn our already powerful self-critical lens on high power.

    Most people I know already have a very loud critic in their mind reminding them of what a failure and mess they are. You know that voice that rises up when you wake up in the middle of the night. That voice that reminds us of our regrets and the dumb things we said and all the things we should be anxious and guilt about. That voice in the night usually does not tell you what an amazing person you are. So, Lent is not a time to become even more critical of ourselves.

    That guilt based, self-critical perspective has permeated Christian history for centuries.

    In fact, a large part of the mess can be traced back to an unfortunate moment in church history in the 4th century.

    St. Jerome was commissioned with translating the Greek New testament into Latin. When he got to the word “metanoia,” what we often translate as repentance… Jerome translated it into the Latin word “paenitentia” meaning “do penance.” This mistranslation impacted and colored the gospels ever since.

    Franciscan theologian and author Richard Rohr writes that “This misunderstanding contributed to a puritanical, externalized, and largely static notion of the Christian message that has followed us to this day. Faith became about external requirements that could be enforced, punished, and rewarded, much more than an actual change of heart and mind.”

    Too often we have turned the life transforming message of the Gospel into a sin management system. Trying to rein ourselves in or beat ourselves up to become good, moral people. Well, the gospel invites us to something far more wonderful and far more difficult than that. Because the Greek word metanoia, that St. Jerome mistranslated as “do penance,” means something far different.

    Metanoia is made up of two roots. “Meta” which means greater or larger. And “noia” which means mind or consciousness. So when Jesus was preaching metanoia he was inviting you to “change your mind” or “enter into a larger consciousness.”

    He was inviting us to a whole new way to see everything!

    Jesus wasn’t trying to create an army of puritans, he wanted to transform hearts and minds. To see people experience new life from the inside out.

    And metanoia requires us to create space for the Holy Spirit to transform our view of everything. This season of Lent is a season of repentance… not of puritanical paying penance but in creating space for metanoia… for the Holy Spirit to change the way we see everything. That is how we follow Jesus into the wilderness.

    So, with that in mind, let me end on a practical note… Most of us have been taught to give something up for Lent that we really enjoy… like chocolate or wine or social media.

    And that is all well and good. But the point is not self-denial. There is no intrinsic value in denying ourselves something we enjoy.

    The point is that by removing things that occupy our time and attention, we create space in our lives for the Spirit to work and move.

    So if you give up chocolate or wine or something else you love, when the craving hits, when the impulse to grab some candy arises, that is your reminder to take a breath. It is an opportunity to step into the wilderness. That is your reminder to ask God to open your heart and clear your mind. To ask the Spirit to allow you to see through the eyes of Christ.

    And in that vein, maybe during this season you should not give something up. Maybe consider adding something that helps you step out of the noise and busyness of life and into the spacious wilderness.

    Maybe commit to riding in the car with the radio off. Allow your driving time to be wilderness space where the angels minister to your heart, mind, and body.

    Maybe commit to a few minutes each morning to stepping into your yard and simply listening to the birds in the morning. Perhaps it’s a few minutes in the evening with a gratitude practice where you write down 3 things you are truly grateful for in your life.

    Again, Lent is not about paying penance or earning God’s favor… you already have God’s favor completely. It is a time to step out of our normal routine so we can experience metanoia. It is a time to create spaciousness so that the Spirit can move us from mere intellectual belief to actual inner experience.

    In a few moments you will be invited to the alter for the imposition of ashes… where you will hear the words, “Remember that are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s not every day we choose to be reminded of our mortality. But in these words we are invited to step away from the noise and flash of our normal routine and follow Jesus into the wilderness during this season of Lent so that when we emerge, we see all things new.