Please join us for Ash Wednesday Worship with Holy Communion and the Imposition of Ashes at 6:30pm. Come early for soup supper at 5:30.

Here we begin our Lenten journey, the 40 days of preparation for Easter. It is the beginning of our journey to the cross. Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the coming of the wise men to see the new born king. Lent comes early this year and we are barely beyond the start of the new calendar before it is upon us.


Ash Wednesday

Lent really is an odd season. I’ve heard some people compare it to off season training for an athletic sport. Like baseball players who go away to spring training to work on the fundamentals of the game, we take time during our Lenten spring training to work on the fundamentals of our faith; the skills of what it means to be a Christian. Many take Lent to be a somber, serious time intended for self-reflection, repentance and returning to God humbly to ask for forgiveness. Some fast during Lent and some add a practice like additional daily prayer or bible study. Some might perceive Lent as that time when we determine which addictions we may still have some sort of control over. And some Christian denominations find it too problematic and skip Lent altogether, opting to begin the celebration of the resurrection as early as possible, well before Easter Sunday actually arrives.

A friend of mine seriously questions the practice of giving up something for Lent and said, “I don’t get what fasting is going to do for you. God gave us good things! God does not want us to suffer and we can’t earn God’s love by doing anything like that, so what’s the point? Makes no sense to me!” Well, he has a point. No amount of sacrifice could ever earn us God’s love that is already freely given to us. So, what IS the point of Lent?

In many ways, Lent is about losing. I know that is not a popular idea; losing. We avoid it desperately. But Lent won’t let us forget it. The big symbol of the beginning of Lent is a cross made of ashes, an unmistakable image of loss. But it isn’t that we are supposed to make a sacrifice or perform an act to appease God during Lent. We cannot out-sacrifice God. Lent teaches us that regardless of what we lose, give up, or give away, God has given us all that we need. No matter how much of a loser we are, in God all our needs are fulfilled.

It seems like we panic when we think we can’t have something. It can sometimes even make us think that God wants to punish us when something is taken away. Our culture is very good at teaching us how to win, acquire, obtain, maintain, and horde, but not so good at teaching us how to lose graciously, how to give up, release, surrender, or grieve.

There has been much made over Cam Newton this week, the Carolina Panther’s quarterback, and his behavior at an interview just following the SuperBowl. So many people judging him as a poor sport for abruptly leaving a post game interview, calling him a pouting adolescent. Others pointing out the loud conversation going on behind him, which included the boasting words of a Broncos player, mitigated his behavior. Regardless of the hows and whys, Cam Newton had lost. A really big, really public loss, perhaps the most public of losses possible these days, and did not know what to do or how to escape this loss.

He has no doubt spent his career focusing on winning. Professional athletes do not get paid to lose, they get paid to win. That is really all there is. But he and his fellow celebrity athletes are not alone. We in this constant consumption, moderation-is-for-idiots, “winning”, desperately searching for a perfect hero to worship, shame driven American culture are just like this. Even if we have a stoic and less emotional response, most of us do not know how to stand in the presence of loss and still know it is well with our souls. Even though it is.

For most of us at best, the practice of being a good loser is nostalgic, a remnant of a bygone era and while we expect our heroes to know how to lose gracefully, the truth of it is that none of us know how to do it.* We don’t know how to do it because it is a practice and when we are faced with losing, the suffocating shame of losing, we too will do nearly everything to avoid it.

We blame others. We get angry; angry with them, angry with those people who did this to us, angry with God. We resist it. We fill the holes in our soul with anything we can to staunch the emotional bleeding, usually with things that make us feel like winners anyway, illusions that make us feel like we were wronged or new ways to win at any cost.

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

………. the remainder of this sermon can be found here

OR join us for worship at 6:30pm Wednesday, February 10th.

Ash Wednesday Service

This serashmon was originally crafted to be preached after the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday 2/18/15. However, with the dangerous weather we are having, this was not possible. I will deeply miss this remarkable moment I get to experience each year–standing in front of a congregation marked with the cross of Christ. And yet, it is important to remember that these dark crosses are merely the outline of the cross we bear always. Even without the Imposition of Ashes, God still impositions us at Lent. Thanks be to God!

It is always a remarkable moment to stand in front of the congregation on Ash Wednesday and see all of you looking back at me with the dark, cross-shaped smudges on your foreheads. It is like holding up the bread and wine at communion and seeing, in a sense, the people of God through communion; to see the body of Christ amongst the Body of Christ. Tonight we see the cross of Christ upon the Body of Christ.

The word for that part of the service when we receive the cross is called the Imposition of Ashes. Imposition is the word that describes the act of applying them to the forehead and it is a very curious word. We do not say “Blessing with Ashes” although the cross is of course a blessing and knowledge of our mortality and reliance upon God is, too. We do not say the “bestowal” or “gift” of ashes, though it surely is the bestowal of a gift. No, instead we say imposition.

Imposition means to inconvenience, to put someone out in some way. Such as, the road construction in front of the church is such an imposition! Or, could I ask you to read the lesson for worship tonight if it isn’t an imposition for you?
Ash Wednesday IS an imposition. Actually, all of Lent is an imposition. It is not something we asked for and it probably isn’t something we really want. We are supposed to come to worship twice a week, Sunday AND Wednesday nights, too! We are encouraged to give something up, usually something we really like, and to give it up from tonight through Easter Sunday. Certain joyful words and hymns are to be put away until the end of Lent and, let’s face it, all that confessing stuff is a real downer!

God presumes to imposition us!

When I was serving my internship year at Mt Olive Lutheran in Hickory, my friends from Charlotte, Nancy and her husband Don, came to visit and see the church. I was giving them the tour and when we opened the doors to the worship space, Nancy nearly ran smack into the baptismal font. It stood just inside the door in the middle of the isle. “Well,” she said, “what a terrible location! It is right in the way!” Yes, it was in the way. On purpose.

God does that. God gets in our way, impositions us, will not be ignored, slows us down, makes us think, change direction, consider what we are doing, pay attention. Lent is unapologetically an imposition on our lives in a far more overt way than the rest of the year. Lent makes us slow down, think, change direction, pay attention to what we are doing. God gets in our way on purpose.

We are speeding down the road of life, doing pretty much whatever we want and then suddenly.. BAM.. there’s a speed bump in the middle of the road! BAM there’s a baptismal font standing right in the middle of the way into worship. BAM there’s Ash Wednesday right in the middle of the week, right as we are entering into spring. We might all be thinking about blooming daffodils, lawns that will soon need to be mown, hope for warming weather, plans for planting the spring garden and all those other early spring things and then BAM we are IMPOSITIONED by ASHES!

We stop. We consider what we are doing. We look around and consider one another, seeing the Body of Christ, each Christian, marked with the cross of Christ. We see the cross of Christ when we look at one another. Look around at each other now and see. Each face you see is one that is loved by God. Each person you see bears the image of God, the image of Christ’s great sacrifice and love.

A speed bump is something you can just fly right on past if you want, perhaps even slam over at full speed. But a speed bump is also something that can slow you down so that you can see the child running across the street in time to stop, so you can be seen by the other driver at the intersection and not have a wreck. Maybe there are other reasons for speed bumps too, like being able to notice the world around you.

These crosses of ashes are speed bumps designed to be in the way so that we cannot look at one another without realizing that other is someone God loves, would die for, bears the image of God just as we do. We look at ourselves in the mirror and see this imposition on our own body. How many times a day do we belittle or beat ourselves up over our mistakes and flaws? How often do we have an inappropriate self-esteem that is ether too low or too high? How frequently do we choose poor stewardship of ourselves by treat ourselves poorly or over indulging in self-harming habits? When you leave tonight, look at yourself in the mirror before you wash off the ash. See that cross? See that mark of Christ’s love and sacrifice for you? It’s on there all the time, just as it is for everyone here, it is only that on this night we can see them for ourselves. This is God getting in our way of judging our neighbors, our enemies, and even ourselves. This is God’s speed bump that makes us slow down and pay attention to what we are doing, how we are treating one another, how we are treating ourselves, think and observe our own actions and, perhaps, change direction.

The other thing that the word IMPOSITION means is to place a burden on someone. We are given an imposition of ashes, the burden of this cross, for many reasons. Most importantly, however, is the burden this cross symbolizes that is lifted from us and borne by Christ instead. Remember, o mortal, you are dust and to dust you shall return. Christ has taken this burden on himself; our burden of death upon himself. And destroyed it. Remember, o mortal, you are dust and to dust you shall return. But not forever, for Christ has ultimately destroyed death and graciously granted us eternal life. These ashes are but a shadow of what death once was.

We are called by God to be imposition by Lent. We could just speed right through it like one of those frustrating speed bumps. But there is probably a good reason, both for ourselves and for others, for us to consider this particular speed bump. So I invite you to embrace the imposition of Lent. Slow down a bit and look for the ways that God is getting in your way. Pay attention to the crosses, both visible this night and invisible but still present on other nights, which are on the faces of those around you and on your own.

May we all be able to see God’s imposition upon us as God’s blessing for us.