Faithlife Sermons

Ash Wednesday 2022

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A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that when explained proves to be well founded. For example: the statement “less is more” is a paradox. So too is, “you must spend money to make money.” They seem to contradict one another, but after a little examination, the statements hold up.
When we take a moment of reflection, I think all of us would agree that our life on earth is a paradox. Our lives are a paradox because they are both beautiful and tragic. They are wonderful and laden with sorrow. Human life is a paradox.
According to the Scriptures, here’s what it means to be human: to be human is to be lovingly made in the image of God. You have been crowned with glory and honor as God’s royal representative on earth. You are loved. You are wanted. You have immense value and worth in the eyes of God, and He has gift you a world filled to the brim with beauty and potential, and He made specifically for you to enjoy. This is what it means to be human.
But that is sadly, not all. To be human is to have an immense, God-given capacity for good, but to be tragically drawn to sin - tragically drawn to acts of selfishness and injustice and violence. And according to the Scriptures, and according to our collective experience, the consequence of that sin is death. This is the undeniable reality of what it means to be human. Every one of us dies, and it never feels right. It always feels tragic.
And so we’re back to the paradox. Our lives are filled with beauty and wonder, and they are also filled with tragedy and pain. Life is beautiful and life is tragic.
Understandably, we do not like this paradox. We do not want to think about death. We prefer to avoid thinking about our mortality, because it brings with it feelings of grief and sorrow. We do not like those things, and so we try our best to ignore the tragedy of life as much as possible.
But when we do this, we are not living biblically - because the Bible fully embraces the paradox of being human. Take for example the Book of Psalms - the largest book in the Bible. This was the book of worship for the early church. It is filled with songs and prayers and poems that run the gambit of human experience - but do you know what is the most common category of Psalms? It’s the psalm of lament, where the writer is grieving the pain and sorrow that they face in life.
We don’t see that much in our modern worship services. We don’t hear a lot of lamenting on Sunday morning. But as Tish Harrison Warren observes in one of her books, “If our gathered worship expresses only unadulterated trust, confidence, victory, and renewal, then we are learning to be less honest with God than the Scriptures themselves are.”
There is value in facing the reality of death head on. In fact, I would say that it is vital that we do so. Because if we avoid the reality of our death, than we will miss out on the joyful news that Jesus brings. If we ignore the reality of death, how can we possibly embrace the victory of Christ’s resurrection? We must admit the problem for the solution to be of any value.
And that is the where Lent comes in.
Lent is a gift to the church, because it is a chance to intentionally not check out. It is a chance to face our humanity head on. Tonight you will hear these words spoken over you: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Tonight we’re not going to glaze over the painful reality that we’re human and therefore are destined to die.
But by facing our mortality, we prepare ourselves to fully receive the immensity of what Jesus has done for us. By facing the tragedy of a fallen world, we prepare ourselves to fully receive the good news of Christ’s triumph over evil. By facing our greatest enemies - sin and death - we prepare ourselves to celebrate the victory that is our’s in Christ who has trampled death and Satan under his feet.
Jesus walked through the valley of death before he entered into the glory of resurrection, and during the season of Lent, we join him in that journey by facing the reality of our humanity, and finding our hope in him.
Now, how can you draw near to Jesus during this season of Lent? Let me give you three suggestions: 1) Give something up, 2) Pick something up, 3) and Press into community.
So first: give up something that helps you check out or distract you from your humanness. All of us have things that we turn to in order to cope with the reality of our lives. We are creatures of habit. So think about it: What do you turn to when you have a moment of quiet in your day? What do you turn to when you feel stressed out or overwhelmed? What do you turn to to alleviate your boredom or discomfort? Is it your phone? Is it television? Is it food? Consider giving that thing up. Consider giving up the use of your phone at night. Consider giving up Netflix. Consider giving up fast food. Whatever it is that distracts you from the struggle that life can be and helps us avoid our humanness, consider giving it up, in order to press into Jesus instead. To find your comfort and adventure and satisfaction and relief and hope in Jesus. So that’s the first thing. Give something up.
My second suggestion is to take something up. Lent is best known for a season of fasting, but it is and has always been also a season of formation - a season of intentionally taking up a new habit that helps us draw closer to Jesus. Formation does not happen by accident. Rather, we are formed as Christians as we engage in rhythms or habits that bring us closer to Jesus. So what is a practice that you can take up this Lent? It might be a completely new practice or one that you are revisiting with increased intentionality. One practice that you can take up is committing to a rhythms of Scripture reading. We’ve provided you with a 40-Day Reading Plan that will take you through all four gospels in preparation for Easter Sunday. Another practice you can take up is a rhythm of daily prayer. Consider taking advantage of resources like the Book of Common Prayer or the Daily Prayer app. Consider spending five full minutes each day in quiet prayer - examining the health of your heart and listening to what the Lord has to teach you that day. Another practice you can take up is a rhythm of generosity. How might you be more generous with your money or time for the sake of others? Whatever the case may be, use this time to take up a new rhythm of faith in order to be formed in the way of Jesus.
Finally, press into community. Fasting and Formation requires Community. You need the accountability and encouragement that is only found in community. So first, let us commit to weekly worship. Prioritize Sunday morning worship during Lent and be present in this family of worship. Also, consider attending the Table Group that’s happening every Thursday night. It is a weekly rhythm of community, prayer, and Scripture - exactly what we need to lean into Jesus during Lent. Fasting and Formation requires Community, so press in.
Each of these suggestions: Giving something up, taking something up, and pressing into community - they are not about earning God’s favor. They are not about meriting Christ’s grace. They are simply a way of re-orientation. We’ve become so used to ignoring and avoiding the tragedy of our human condition, that we’ve normalized our pretense. But tonight we say, “Not more.” No, we can be honest about our sin and our death because we honestly believe that Jesus has conquered both by his death and resurrection, and by grace we share in his victory.
And so, I want to end with where our service began, with these words form our liturgy: I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
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