Ash Wednesday, 2017

O God,

Give us the grace to discipline ourselves when we need it
and the wisdom to be gentle with ourselves when we need it.

Amen.

+++

Those of you that have been with me for the last couple of years know that I love to remind us that we are creatures in need of our creator. I am also quite convinced that this identity – our identity as creatures before the creator – is one in which we are given grace through our limits. That is, the limit we have as finite fragile creatures is a means of grace if we let it be.

So I am particularly fond of our liturgy today, which may sound odd given its penitential tone. We remember that we are dust, that we are limited, finite creatures in need of our Creator. We are called to repent of our repeated attempts to reach beyond our limit – beyond our need for our Creator.

This message of Ash Wednesday is one of humility, one inviting us to shake off the burden of trying to be our own God. It often comes as a call to recognize that we do not have control over our lives the way we thought we did. It comes as a reminder that we need food and water, we need shelter and care, that it is difficult to control our impulses and desires, and that often times our desire are what control us. This is a humbling message.

We are often challenged in this season to take on disciplines and fasts that remind us of our need, that remind us of the limits of our humanity, that no matter how much food we eat, how much money we make, how many hours we clock, we still tire, we still need sleep, we still get hungry, we still need.

This practice of taking on disciplines and giving up different things is a good practice. Fasting reminds us that, no matter how secure our pantries and refrigerators make us feel, our bodies are limited and need the giver of all good things to sustain us with basic necessities. Taking on disciplines like prayer and silence remind us that time itself is a gift that we do not control. Giving more generously to the poor reminds us of the gifts we have been given, that we are not here by our own will, and that we owe our lives to the many people God has given us. These can be good things, good reminders that we are beloved creatures sustained by our Creator alone.

But when the circumstances of life have brought us low, when our conditions and our context has done the job of humbling us and reminding us of our deep need, it may be that this reminder of our limit, of our identity as God’s creatures takes a different shape because we have come to this season with a different set of burdens.

If Lent is about remembering that we are finite, limited creatures, it may also mean that we are called to respect that limit when the pressures of our circumstance bring us to its edge.

Given what this community has gone through in the last month, I find it very difficult as your pastor to ask you to take on another burden, to take on another discipline, to deny yourself something else. I find it difficult because it doesn’t seem like it would be humbling in any helpful way. It seems like it’d be cruel.

Some of us may need to take on disciplines and fasts this season, and that is right and good. I hope to be an encouragement to you as you endeavor to remain faithful to those commitments. But for some of us, remembering that we are creatures means respecting our limit enough to be gentle with ourselves this season. If you find yourself at this point this season, I encourage you to find disciplines that remind you that you are a beloved creature of God. Do something that reminds you that God wants you to flourish, that reminds you of the joy of being the desire of God. Maybe this means committing to take a nap every day. Maybe it means taking time to read a good novel each day. Perhaps it means calling a good friend or sharing a glass of wine together at least once a week. That discernment is up to you, and I am here to help you in that if you need.

Lent is about arriving at Easter ready to meet our resurrected Lord. We cannot meet our Lord in good faith if we have not humbled ourselves of our own conceits. But we also cannot meet our Lord if we cannot believe that God loves us enough to go through death for us. So, if discipline and fast is what you need this Lent, I encourage you in that. But if the circumstances of this moment in our life together leaves you with a deep need to remember that you are beloved dust, take this season to go out of your way to be gentle with yourself.

Remember that you are dust. Sometimes that we means we remember that we aren’t as great as we think we are, but sometimes it means remembering that we are more loved than this world would have us believe. Amen.

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