What Are You Waiting For?

(sermon 3/24/19)

make that change

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

=====

It seems to happen time and time again. There will be some kind of tragedy – a flood, an earthquake, a hurricane, a wildfire – and within hours some know-it-all TV preacher or blogger will be claiming that the disaster was a sign of God’s wrath; it’s God’s judgment against the people who are suffering. According to these self-proclaimed experts, God was punishing these people because of something or someone they’d voted for, or voted against, or how they worshiped God, or how they didn’t worship God at all, or how they parted their hair, or some other equally ridiculous reason. It’s always seemed odd to me that these experts could discern that when these kinds of things happened to places like New Orleans, or Miami, or somewhere else they considered sinful, the disaster was God’s punishment, but wen a string of tornadoes cuts a swath somewhere through the Bible Belt, it’s just some terrible, inexplicable tragedy that doesn’t indicate God’s judgment at all.

These supposed divine mind readers are really only channeling a misguided way of understanding God and life that’s been around for a long time. Pretty much throughout human history, and across pretty much all cultures and religions, some people have believed that the disasters, large and small, that we experience in life are signs of God’s displeasure with us. The different authors of our own scriptures offer a kind of split opinion on the idea, so proof-texting one passage or another without reading them through the lens of the totality of scripture can offer support for those mind readers.

But it’s here, in today’s gospel text, that might give us the most important insight into how to think about that issue.

In this text, we’re stepping into the middle of an ongoing conversation that Jesus was having with his disciples as he’s headed toward Jerusalem and his own execution. You can imagine that the very short length of time he has left himself is weighing heavily on him, and that it’s the point of origin of his conversation with these disciples.

It came up in conversation about a group of Galileans that Pontius Pilate had killed, apparently for political reasons and apparently while they were in the Temple, based on the way the disciples had described it, as mixing their blood with the blood of their sacrifices. They also discussed people who were killed when a tower, a part of the wall around Jerusalem, had collapsed and fallen on them. It must have come up in conversation that, as many people then might have believed, that maybe these victims were in some way greater sinners than others, and that was why these things had happened to them.

Jesus’ response to their comments was actually a beautiful thing. It’s one of the most simple, elegant, efficient theological statements in the gospels. When this idea comes up – just as it did 2,000 ears later when some televangelists claimed that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment of New Orleans for its sinful reputation – Jesus swats the whole idea away as if it’s nothing more than an annoying fly circling around his head. What? That’s silly; of course God doesn’t work that way; it isn’t even worth wasting any time at all considering that kind of nonsense.

And then, having dispensed with that ridiculousness, he takes the disciples’ comments and spins them in a different direction. What happened to all those people was a terrible tragedy. But learn something from that tragedy. Imagine each of those people. They woke up on those days just like any other and went on with their normal routine thinking they’d get up again the next morning, and the next morning, and many mornings after that. What things in their lives do you suppose they’d put off until some later time, always thinking there would be plenty of time, there would always be another day to do it, until suddenly, there wasn’t? All those things they’d wanted to do, all those changes they’d wanted to make in their lives, all the good they’d wanted to accomplish for others, all of them went to the grave along with them.

Fully aware that he didn’t have much time left himself, Jesus tried to wake up these disciples to the fact that the time they had left to break out of their own normal routines and make similar kinds of changes – to “repent,” to use the old English term – was, in relative terms, just as short. Don’t wait, he’s telling them. The right time to make those changes is now.

Several years ago, I was talking with someone – a very successful person in a respected profession, and a very nice person on top of that – who told me that they were running themselves ragged in their professional life. They’d actually grown to hate what they did for a living; it didn’t seem to have much redeeming or lasting social value. But it did pay very well, and they told me that that was why they kept going – because it was enabling them to save up a big nest egg, and that once they retired, they’d be able to use their savings to allow them to finally do something good and have lasting benefit for others, to finally accomplish something meaningful in their life.

I knew that they sincerely meant well, but I couldn’t help but think to myself what a terrible and tragic plan that was. Beyond the fact that hungry, homeless, hopeless people needed help now, and couldn’t wait a few decades for help, you don’t have to live too many years in this life to know that next year, or next month, or even tomorrow, is never guaranteed to us. In this passage, Jesus is waning us not to live our lives betting that they are, because at some point, sooner or later, we’re all going to lose that bet.

Lent is a perfect time to think about these things. What is it in your own life that you know, as a follower of Christ, you should be doing that you’ve been putting off until some uncertain future time? Why not use this season to finally make that change; to take that turn? Reach out to that estranged brother, sister, child, parent, friend. Reconcile with them, make peace, now, before it’s too late. Restructure your schedule, maybe even giving up something else, so you can have the time, now, to work at the food pantry. To teach kids how to read. To help build a house, or to mentor a struggling teenager. Plan that trip; reconnect with that faraway family member or friend you haven’t taken the time to see in years. Finally carve out the time to go on that mission trip you always wanted to. Work on building and strengthening relationships with others, because those human relationships are of God, and by strengthening and deepening them, you’ll also strengthen and deepen your relationship with God.

The time is now – there’s not time to wait. And by the same token, there’s no excuse in thinking it’s too late, either. Remember, even though it wasn’t a particularly spiritual pursuit, but Ed S_________ started taking piano lessons when he was 95 years old. Jesus is telling us that there’s no time like the present, because it’s the only time we’re guaranteed.

This season of Lent, let’s try to think about what’s holding us back from making those kinds of changes – those kinds of improvements, in the name of Christ – and to ask why we allow them to keep holding us back from hearing Jesus’ words of warning here, and to living the life he’s calling us to.

When you think about these things, remember that God understands where you are. Through Jesus, God has experienced all the same kinds of pushes and pulls and pressures that can work to keep us from turning toward the fuller, more eternal, more kingdom-oriented way of living that God has created us for and is calling us toward. And God knows that sometimes, making those kinds of changes can be hard. But we can always have assurance, and confidence, that the one who continued on that road, making the hard journey to Jerusalem and who endured all that played out there, will always be with us – loving us, guiding us, helping us as we try to follow where he’s leading. And it doesn’t take a mind reader to know that.

Thanks be to God.

Stoichi Mujic

(sermon 3/1019)

bridge of spies

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

=====

This past week, George and I watched the movie “Bridge of Spies.” If you aren’t familiar with the movie, it’s based on a true story, takes place in the early 1960s. Tom Hanks plays an attorney named James Donovan, who is appointed by the court to defend a Soviet spy named Rudolph Abel against espionage charges. Donovan also later goes on to act as the negotiator who secured the exchange of Abel in return for the downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, and an American grad student named Frederic Pryor, who was being held by the East Germans. Early in the movie, Donovan is confronted by a CIA agent who tells him that the CIA needs him to tell them everything that Abel tells him in confidence. Donovan pushes back, reminding the agent that to do that would be a violation of attorney-client privilege, at which point the agent tells him, “Don’t go Boy Scout on me now; there is no rule book here.” But Donovan pushes back, saying there really, there’s one thing, just one thing, that makes us all American – the “rule book,” better known as the Constitution, which establishes that we all have equal rights, equal freedoms, equal justice, and equal protection under the law, no matter who we are.

The scene prompted me to think about what it is, exactly, that you could point to, that identifies us as people of the Kingdom of God. I mean, we don’t really have a single “rule book;” the Kingdom of God doesn’t have a “Constitution.” We can’t say the Bible works that way, since we all interpret it in so many different ways. And the same is true about any of the ancient creeds and confessions, since when you, or I, or anyone else, recite them, we can be saying that we believe very different things even though we’re reciting the exact same words. Fundamentalists tried to identify a basic “rule book” a little more than a hundred years ago and failed miserably. And in one way or another, every tradition tries to do the same – in the past couple of weeks, we saw in the news the United Methodist Church going through the painful process of arguing about their own “rule book” regarding who’s in, and who’s out, with regard to their own tradition.

In the end, I think that no matter how noble the attempt to have one might be, the idea of a “rule book” of any kind that would define, and unite, and regulate us as people of the Kingdom of God is bound to fail – because ultimately, I think that what really identifies us, in any meaningful sense, as being part of the Kingdom of God is one thing,  just one thing:  that God has unilaterally chosen to instill within each of us the Holy Spirit. The very Spirit of God dwells within each of us, whoever we are – regardless of any of our own differences, beliefs, variations – young or old, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, straight or gay, shy or outgoing, any gender, any race – it doesn’t matter. God has chosen to bestow the Holy Spirit upon us, whether in spite of or because of, all our differences. This is at the very core of our baptism signifies – that God has chosen to receive us, accept us, dwell within us. To comfort us when we need comforting, to challenge us when we need challenging, to strengthen us when we need strengthening.

It’s his same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but in Jesus, that’s at the beginning of today’s gospel text. Luke sets the stage by reminding us in the very first line of this story that Jesus is filed with the Holy Spirit as these temptations begin. As the story unfolds, Jesus is tempted with three things: bread – sustenance. Power and authority, and you can throw wealth into here as well. And safety and security. Truly, pretty much any temptation that Jesus, or we, could ever face is just a variation on one of those three themes. The preacher David Lose has written that what we can see in each of these types of temptation is an attempt to undercut Jesus’ confidence in his relationship with God; to undermine his true identity and to get him to accept an artificial, lesser one.

It’s the same with us, too. When we’re being tempted, it always distills down to a temptation to stray away from our relationship with God and our true identity as a child of God that’s defined by that relationship.

In each of these three instances with Jesus, Satan tries to instill doubt, to undermine Jesus’ confidence in God. Satan tries to get Jesus to feel that who he is, what he is, in his relationship with God is somehow insufficient. It’s lacking something. It isn’t enough as-is. And in each case, Jesus resists the temptation by using scripture to remind Satan, and undoubtedly himself, of his identity as a beloved child of God – and that in that identity, he has enough and is enough. But not only is he merely enough, he’s actually so much more than that – he is precious, and of infinite worth in the eyes of God. And that is everything.

And in the same way, because the same Spirit dwells within us, we share that same identity. Each and every one of us is also a precious child of God. And that is everything.

In countless ways, the world around us tries to make us forget that identity. To forget how precious we are. To think that we’d be better off following another path. The season of Lent is all about taking time, and allowing this one thing, the Holy Spirit within us, to remind us, to refocus us, on our true identity as precious children of God; and reinforcing this truth within us, that there is nothing in this world, nothing, no matter how tempting it may sound, that could possibly compare with what we already have, and already are.

There’s another scene in “Bridge of Spies” where Abel, the spy, has just lost his case. He and Donovan are in a private meeting, and Donovan is going through all their possible options, filing an appeal and so on. As they’re talking, Abel tells Donovan that he reminds him of a man he’d known when he was a child in Russia. He saw this man, along with his own parents, being beaten by a group of partisan border guards. They beat this man and knocked him to the ground, but when they did, he stood back up. This angered the men, so they beat him to the ground again, only this time beating him even harder. But still, the man got up again. This went on several times, beating the man  to the ground and the man getting back up each time. The men beating him couldn’t believe it, and in their disbelief, they called him “Stoichi Mujic” – Russian for “Standing Man,” and out of respect for his perseverance and determination, they finally left him alone.

In this gospel text, Jesus is most definitely a “stoichi mujic” – a standing man, standing again and again in the face of Satan’s multiple temptations. In a few weeks, we’ll hear the account of him being a stoichi mujic again – refusing to deny his identity and standing up against being interrogated by Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pontius Pilate. And finally, we’ll celebrate the morning where he was a stoichi mujic once more time – when he removed the cloth covering his face, and stood up against death itself as he rose to his feet in the darkness of his tomb on that first Easter Sunday.

This Lent, let’s remember the reality of this one thing that unites us – the Holy Spirit who dwells in Jesus and who dwells in us, too; and that with the help of that Holy Spirit, we can be “standing people” ourselves – standing up to temptation, and even more importantly, against whatever else the world might throw at us, holding on to our true identity as God’s own beloved.

Thanks be to God.

What If? (sermon 3/1/15)

what if

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”    – Mark 8:27-38

=====

(In passing, I suppose you need to know that earlier in the service, I did a Children’s Message based on the classic kids’ story “Stone Soup.”)

A good story has a good structure to it. It has twists and turns, and highs and lows, calculated to add intensity and emphasis to the storyteller’s point. Today’s gospel text is the high point, and the turning point, in the overall story that the author of Mark’s gospel is trying to present. It’s the end of the first part of the story, that tells people about Jesus and points to who they’re supposed to understand him to be, culminating with Peter’s proclaiming here, in this passage, that he’s the Christ, God’s specially blessed and anointed one. That’s the peak of the whole gospel. And then it turns, and becomes all about Jesus’ journeying to Jerusalem to be crucified.

In this passage, Jesus and the disciples have traveled to the area of Caesarea Philippi, north of the Sea of Galilee. This is the site of the origin of the Jordan River, and for many years it had been a place of great significance to the worship of numerous deities. It was a place of religious pilgrimage, and talk about the various gods who had temples or other places of worship there was commonplace. And that provides the setup for Jesus’ famous question to the disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?’ and then, “Who do *you* say that I am?” followed by Peter’s statement, making him the first person in the entire gospel to call him the Messiah.

But right after that, Jesus starts to talk about all the trouble that’s going to come his way; that he’s going to be arrested and killed, but that then he’d rise from the dead. And Peter scolds Jesus that he shouldn’t say those kinds of things, that people would think he was nuts, that saying things like this was going to have a negative effect on recruiting new believers into the fold. It just wasn’t going to look good.

And here Jesus turns the tables and scolds Peter, saying that he needs to stop seeing things from a human perspective, but rather, from God’s perspective. And that God’s perspective includes some hard truths, hard realities, things that people were just going to have to accept if they want to be among Jesus’ followers. According to the writer of the gospel, Jesus put it in terms of taking up one’s own cross, just as he himself was going to take on a cross for the sake of God’s kingdom. He said that if you worried too much about saving your own life, you’d have missed the point of his message, the whole point of the kingdom of God, and that people who lost their lives for the sake of God’s kingdom would gain real life in that same kingdom.

It’s hard to read this passage and not think about the Christians who were kidnapped and executed by ISIS recently. Or the countless other Christians around the world who are persecuted every day for their faith – and I’m not talking about the ridiculous claims of persecution by some crybaby Christians in this country who claim persecution because they want the right to pray a Christian prayer at the beginning of the school day in a classroom filled with kids from all sorts of religious backgrounds; or who claim they’re being persecuted for their religious beliefs when they’re told they can’t use their religious beliefs to discriminate against people in the public workplace. I’m talking about real persecution; life and death persecution. It’s hard to not think about the fact that there have been more Christians killed for their faith in this century than in all the previous centuries combined since the beginning of the faith.

From our own place of relative safety, we tend to understand Jesus’ words as allegorical, metaphorical. We don’t have to think about losing our lives for the sake of our faith. But maybe during Lent, and the deeper reflection of the meaning of Christ’s life and our relationship with God that we’re called to be having during this time, we might ask ourselves if we were in such a place of risk, what would we do? Would we have the strength of faith to do it? What if Jesus were serious about us needing to be willing to lay down our lives for the faith? It’s a very difficult question to think about, let alone to try to answer. I’d like to think that I would have that strength, but in the actual moment, would I? Or would I find some way to justify why it’s better for my family, or my congregation, or whatever, that I should survive, so I should do what it takes to save my life? And in so doing, would I have just lost my eternal life? What if Jesus was serious about that?

Maybe, as part of that process of reflection, we could ask a related, but more manageable question: even if we don’t know if we’d give up our lives for our faith, how much would we be willing to give up? How much of our comfort are we willing to sacrifice for the kingdom of God?

How much of our financial security would we give up? A lot? A little? Did you know that this year, the congregation is budgeted to run a bit of a deficit, but that if every pledging household committed to giving just another eight dollars a month, the deficit would disappear. Eight dollars a month; not even an extra hundred dollars for the year. Would we be willing to sacrifice and discomfort ourselves to the tune of eight dollars a month? What if Jesus was serious about that?

How much of our time and effort would we give up? Would we be willing to designate space, and to participate in fundraisers and donate our time to take the first bay of the basement in this building, level the floor up, put in a dropped ceiling, and let it become the place where the congregation re-starts its youth ministry, showing the current youth that we believe they matter, and showing the kids in the Children’s Worship Center that they have something to grow into, to look forward to as they get older? As the church, the scriptures tell us that we have an obligation for the nurture and development of disciples in the faith, especially including the youth, who aren’t the church of the future but who are the church of today, and they need every bit as much attention as part of the congregation as anyone else. Would we be willing to put ourselves out to that degree? Jesus said following him wasn’t always going to be easy or comfortable. Jesus said take up our cross. What if he was serious about that?

And what if we did make that space, and we had another bitterly cold winter like this year? What if someone suggested that at least a couple of days a week, when the youth weren’t using it, that we could open that room up for homeless people to at least come in and get warmed up for an hour or two, and maybe get a bowl of soup and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Would we be willing to be discomforted enough to make something like that to happen, to help the neediest in our community? Jesus said to take up our cross. What if he was serious?

I’m offering those scenarios as reflection exercises, in order to spur the Lenten reflection, “How far am I willing to go personally for my faith? How much am I willing to be discomforted personally in order to follow Jesus, the one I profess to be my Lord and Savior? Where are my personal lines in the sand? And is that where they should be drawn? Because the truth is, I think we all realize that yes, Jesus was serious about that. None of us are likely to risk death for our faith, like many others are. But where are our supposed sacred cows, or our lines in the sand of comfort or familiarity that we aren’t willing to go beyond? These are extremely important points to consider, certainly for our own lives, our own awareness, and our own personal spiritual growth, but they’re also very important things to ask ourselves as a congregation, especially right now as the Mission Study Team is in the middle of its work, and as you’re getting your surveys to help the Team identify our congregational mission into the future.

Keeping our congregation vibrant, and keeping our own personal faith healthy, always requires stretching outward into new areas, into areas that can and will initially cause discomfort. The townspeople in the Stone Soup story I shared with the kids today didn’t originally want to share their own vegetables and meat for the soup. But once they did, they ended up experiencing the joy of having done something good, and that the whole community benefited from. By allowing themselves to be stretched into a place they didn’t originally want to go, their lives, and the lives of others, were made better. That was the high point of the kids’ story today. And it’s the high point of the kingdom of God, too.

Thanks be to God.

Ash Wednesday Meditation (2/18/15)

Ash-Wednesday-Forehead-1

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. … And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

=====

Why do we do this? Why do we come together every year, and begin the season of Lent, by taking ashes and marking ourselves with the sign of the cross? What is it supposed to represent or symbolize?

In the Jewish tradition and in many other traditions too, the placement of ashes on a person’s body represented a spirit of humbleness in the presence of God that comes from recognizing our own human mortality and our brokenness. It was a way to symbolically profess what was in a person’s heart. And so it is with us, too. When we specifically place ashes on ourselves in the shape of the cross, we’re doing several things.

The first thing we’re doing is being part of a tradition that goes back almost to the very beginning of the faith. So by continuing this tradition we’re making a connection with all the community of believers, all the faithful of every time and place, similar to the way we connect with them through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But what we’re doing is more than just connecting with tradition.

When we mark ourselves with ashes, we’re making a public expression of our mortality and our humility, but when we do so making the sign of the cross, we’re making that profession specific to what we profess about Jesus Christ. We’re not only recognizing our brokenness, but we’re making a statement, to ourselves and to all who can see us, who our Lord and Savior is – who we’re professing our complete loyalty to. From the standpoint of humility, we’re saying that we’re willing to publicly look a little odd, with this funny-looking smudge on our foreheads for other people to see, in the name of professing the Lordship of Christ to our family, and friends, and neighbors. It’s a way of showing solidarity with the millions of Christians around the world who profess their loyalty to Christ at great danger, even to the point of being killed for their profession of faith. We’re blessed to live in a place where our life isn’t at stake because we follow Christ, and in some ways maybe it’s too easy for us to be Christians. Being willing to receive that silly little smudge, that will last only for this day, is at least one very small way to show that we’re serious about our faith, and being willing to at least put up with the smallest of consequences, of people looking at us funny, in the name of Christ. It’s a sign of us willing to show that we’re not ashamed of our faith.

But to say that we aren’t ashamed of our faith isn’t to say that we’re full of pride. We don’t mark ourselves with ashes in an attempt to say that we’re better than other people. We’re not doing it to call attention to what good or pious or enlightened people we are. We aren’t doing it for the self-serving reasons of the hypocrites Jesus talked about in this evening’s gospel passage. We aren’t doing it to call attention to us at all. We’re doing it to call attention to the one who died on the cross that we’re marked with, the one who died in order to show God’s love for all people. And we’re doing it with ashes, the timeless, universal symbol of humility. It’s customary during Lent to fast, or to “give up” something. If we don’t give up anything else, let’s allow receiving the ashes to be a sign of us giving up our pride or ego or vanity or being embarrassed to publicly profess our loyalty to Christ.

So I invite you to receive this mark tonight. Receive this funny little smudge. Receive it to connect with all the faithful across time. Receive it to show that you’re at least willing to face public curiosity or ridicule in the name of your Lord. Receive it to show your thoughtfulness and humility, as you prepare to walk together with Christ during this season of Lent, on his cross-bound journey that has to lead to Good Friday and crucifixion and death, before it could get to Easter and resurrection and life. Amen.