Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes III - Sermon

Turn to the Living God
There is but one way to turn to God on Ash Wednesday, and that way is to allow your heart to be broken open. 
Stand still, and silent, and watch as your heart breaks open into a thousand glistening pieces, the pieces marking a person who has turned entirely in the direction of God.

There are other ways, on other days, to encounter God.  There are paths of calm and repose, there are mountaintops of joy, there are rivers of energy.

But on Ash Wednesday, on this day on which we recognize and reverence the fragmentation of human life, there is but one way to approach God, and that is with a broken heart. 

For what is your heart broken tonight? 

For the world, God’s world?
in which warfare does not cease?
in which water and air fill with the oil and smoke of polluted waste?
in which animals go extinct every day as a consequence of human greed and destruction?

For what is your heart broken tonight?
For human society?
in which poverty and disease claim thousands of lives every day?
in which hunger and illness limit human potential
in which bright-eyed children are denied their basic educational and health needs?

For what is your heart broken tonight? 
For the human family?
n which divorce and conflict run rampant
in which strife and envy are more prevalent than love and compassion?
in which people repeatedly choose themselves over those they love? 

For what is your heart broken tonight? 
For yourself?
for relationships ground to dust?
for deep desires abandoned by the wayside?
for losses and heartaches for which it seems no remedies exist

We don’t want to recognize, let alone reverence, these broken, fragmented slivers of heart. 

We don’t even want to look at them, strewn in the paths we hope we have left behind.

And yet, in order to receive the blessing of Ash Wednesday, as the pastor-poet Jan Richardson tells us,

all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go. 
all you have to do
is let your heart break.

“All” you have to do? 

I have had times in my life – long, long times – when I have wondered how one would ever, could possibly, return to God with all of one’s heart.  Times when the broken pieces are so many, they would fill an entire desert.  Times when those pieces are so scattered that no one could gather them into a basket and they could not possibly be pieced together, not even by God.

So what could it mean, to return with your whole heart to God? 

To repent, to change your entire orientation,
 to spin in a complete circle and then to keep going,
until you were face to face with the living God? 

Isaiah tells us.  The prophet Isaiah tells us that it is when we are most broken, when we are a people in exile, when God seems far, far away: 

We are to share our bread with the hungry. 
We are not the only people starving for hope, for comfort, for peace. 
We are not the only people longing for shelter from the cold, from loneliness, from grief, from oppression. 
We are not the only people who feel that life is unfair, that we are unappreciated, that our gifts go to waste and our desires remain unnoticed.

We are to look toward others who share our brokenness, and to share our bread with them, 
 and then, as Isaiah says,

“God will satisfy [our] needs in parched places, and make [our] bones strong; and [we] shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

When we, each of us, return with all of our heart toward God, we do so by turning not solely to God, but to all in need of God’s justice, for God’s justice means food for the hungry, freedom for the enslaved, comfort for the hurting. 

We cannot sweep up our millions of broken pieces, we cannot paste and glue them back together, we cannot save the world from sin, or creation from destruction.

But God can.  And Ash Wednesday serves to remind us that,
into the ashes of human death,
Jesus Christ comes to restore a universe and a humanity
to the beauty of shining, beloved wholeness
which our God has always intended and toward which God continues to labor.

There is a beautiful song, the words of which go like this:
Turn, turn to the living God,
The God of healing and comfort,
And in delight, God will turn to you,
In delight God will turn to you.

Tonight, with the imposition of ashes and the reception into our bodies of the bread of life and the cup of salvation, we turn to the living God. 
We allow the pieces of our broken hearts to be gathered by the one who will mold and meld and solder them into new life. 

We allow ourselves to be reminded that the bread offered to us is given us for sharing. 

We affirm, gently but without reservation,
that in delight God turns to us
and that, with healing and comfort
Jesus brings resurrection life. 


  1. Oh god Robin. That's beautiful.

  2. Gorgeous. Glorious. Blessed. Thank you.

  3. Just when I was wondering how to deal with the pain of Ash Wednesday you offer this healing reflection. A real blessing. Thank you