Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ashes and Hearts

When my wife realized that Ash Wednesday was on the same day as Valentine’s Day she asked me, “Whose crazy idea was it to schedule those two things on the same day?”
I think she thought that maybe I had done that on purpose.
I can assure you that I did not.
But it does seem like an odd paring.
Ash Wednesday is a day of solemn remembrance of our sin, of our mortality.
Valentine’s Day is a frivolous, almost comical, over the top celebration of love.
Ash Wednesday is about ashes, dark and foreboding.
Valentine’s Day is about roses, red hearts, cards, candy grams, strawberries, and the celebration of love.
No one planned it this way, but it does seem silly to have these two things on the same day.
It does seem impossible to celebrate them together.
It would seem that we have to choose.
Be sad and depressed about our sin, and sit in our ashes.
Or be joyous and happy about love, eat strawberries and smell the roses.

I think that this view does a disservice to both Valentine’s Day, and to Ash Wednesday.
I would like us to consider tonight that they are not as far apart as we might think.
That it would do us good to have more Valentine’s Day in our Ash Wednesday, and more Ash Wednesday in our Valentine’s Day.
So let us look at both and see how they can help each other.

Let us start with Valentine’s Day.
The problem with Valentine’s Day is that it celebrates love on a very superficial scale.
If you have ever really loved somebody you will know that it has very little to do with how you feel about them.
It has very little to do with romantic notions of candlelight dinners, long walks by the moonlight.
Sure, it starts at that place, but it cannot live there.
Every couple I council before they get married I try to warn them about this.
Your love will not be about hearts and flowers.
It will be about the everyday struggles that you will face together.
It will be in death that you will find your strongest bonds of love.
When my Dad died it was my wife that I clung to for support.
It was through that tragedy and other along the way that we learned to really love and care for one another.
Even more it is through our sin that we have really learned to love, because if we couldn’t forgive each other our love would not last.
We need those moments of death and sin to really deepen our love for each other in human relationships.
I wish that Valentine’s Day was a celebration of this kind of love

The problem with Ash Wednesday is that it has always been interpreted to us in two ways.
One, it is about feeling guilty for all the bad things we do.
Two, it is about self improvement, correcting the bad things we do, or even the little things that are simply not good for us.
Both of these are not the full story.
Ash Wednesday is about God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ.
It is about God’s grace.
All of the things that we might do in lent are meant to draw us closer to this truth.
We don’t confess our sins so that we feel guilty, or we end up feeling bad about ourselves.
We confess our sins so that we can again remember the promise of God’s forgiveness.
So that we might remember that at the foundation of the world, of our lives, is a loving God, a God of grace.
We also don’t confess our sins because it will make us better people.
We don’t give up Chocolate so we can shed a few pounds left over from the holidays.
Whatever we do as our Lenten discipline the purpose has only one goal, to remind us that our lives are in the hands of a loving God.
If we give something up it is to remind us that we don’t need that thing to live, all we need is God’s grace.
If we confess our sins, it is only to remind us that we are dependent on God’s grace.
Our Ash Wednesday and our lent would serve us better if we had more of God’s love, and less of guilt and self improvement.

Our Gospel for today points us in this direction.
We are not fasting, praying, or giving alms for ourselves.
We don’t do it to make ourselves feel more holy, or look more holy.
If we do those things they are supposed to remind us that behind everything are a loving God.
A God who already sees and knows everything there is to know about us.
God already see what we do in secret, God knows what our intentions are.
God only desires is for us to have a close relationship that relies on God’s grace and love.

So we can see that our Valentine’s Day celebrations are really about celebrating that people in their brokenness, in their peculiar ways can love each other in spite of and because of their brokenness.
We can love each other through the ashes that make up our lives.
And our Ash Wednesday is not about coming to church and looking dire, but about seeing again the depth, width, and strength of God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ.
God’s love is so strong that he has loved us through the ashes, through the sin and death, and into eternal life.
That is the promise that we have received that no matter what God’s love is dependable.

Some of you may know that tomorrow night our Church is having a beer and hymns night at Tandy’s bar and grill.
When the outreach committee was planning this originally we wanted to have this event on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
In planning this event we couldn’t have it on Tuesday, because the room at the Tandy’s was only available on Thursday.
Someone on the committee asked the question, “Can we drink beer and sing hymns during lent?”
“Isn’t that disrespectful?”
It was a good question to ask.
But here is my response, “Yes!”
Actually I can’t think of a better thing to do.
What is better than us being together as a community sharing joy together, and signing our favorite hymns that remind us of God’s love and grace!
Why do we have to be sad while we do this?

Don’t misunderstand me there is times and places for us to be contemplative.
There is times and places for us to mourn, and be sad.
I hope this Lenten season you have those times too.
But we don’t have to do it all the time.
That is not the only way to remember the awesome grace and love of God.

So this lent I am hoping you have more Valentine’s days.
Days of deep love.
Days were you care for each other by offering forgiveness, and a caring shoulder to cry on.
I also hope for you to have more days of Ashes.
Days of remembering God’s deep love for you.
Days when you remember that God’s love is always there offering you forgiveness, freedom from sin, eternal life, and comfort for all of the ashes of your life.
Days when you will sing with the psalmist, “Restore unto me the joy of your salvation!”

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