Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

Repentance, Readjustment and Renewal

Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2021 based on readings Isaiah 58:1-12 and John 8:1-11

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today is Ash Wednesday, a specific day in the church calendar on which we enter the season of Lent. A season that is dedicated to three things: Repentance, Readjustment and Renewal. A season that requires not one, but all three of these things to happen in our lives. A season which can last beyond the next 40 days (47 if you include the Sundays, which I think you should, to be consistent) into the future.

The first thing about Lent is the need to gauge a starting point. This involves a period of inner reflection on what we have done and said that requires forgiveness. It’s a way of clearing the decks or wiping the slate clean and putting ourselves right with others as well as God. The things that we do wrong, that go against God’s will and purpose are what we call sins, and there’s no real difference between the degree of sinfulness that we experience, the fact is we are all sinful.

For the women caught in adultery her sin was obvious, but it was the unobvious and unobserved sins of those who were about to launch their own form of physical justice who were restrained by their knowledge of their own sinfulness. In the same way, we are called to acknowledge our own sinfulness and to ask for forgiveness.

Just so with the House of Jacob, and God’s instruction to Isaiah to very loudly pronounce their lack of consciousness of their sinful behaviour. For them, as for us, the practise of faith is not in the rituals and laws, but in the knowledge and understanding of God’s way.

Acknowledgement of our wrongdoings is only the first step, the second is to change our behaviour to avoid repeating those mistakes, to turn away and to turn back to focus on God, to repent. For the woman in John’s gospel, there was no condemnation, but there was an instruction, ‘Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’.

If we do the same then we are readjusting what we need be like; and in doing so we can ask ourselves, what are the things that get in the way of us focussing on God, are there too many distractions in our homes, in our work and leisure, in the world around us. Some of us counteract this, during the season of Lent, by abstaining from some of the physical pleasures, but it’s often just a temporary abstention.

However, a fast is not really a fast unless some long-term readjustment takes place. The real idea of fasting is just that, to take our eyes off of the things of the world and instead to focus on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with him.

For the people of Isaiah’s day, it was clear that their fasting was never going to improve their relationship with God and was merely a cellophane cover that didn’t make any difference to their attitudes towards those they held responsibility over, and it was certainly not acceptable to God.

Of course, fasting is also about humbling ourselves and the imposition of ashes will serve as a visual reminder of our repentance, but the real difference will be in readjustments and choices that we make as our focus coincides with the things that God wants to focus on; injustice, relief of oppression, charitable provision and family harmony.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Luke 4:18-19

If we are in any doubts that these are the most important things on God’s heart then we only have to recall Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in Nazareth, when he opened and read from the scriptures his mission statement, ‘to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to the captives; recovery of sight to the blind and to set free the oppressed’

When these things are our focus then renewal can take place; instead of gloom and darkness there is new light brought into our lives and into the world, and with God walking alongside us as our guide our lives are reinvigorated, and ‘parched places… shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose water never fails’.

For the adulterous woman, her encounter with Jesus brought about repentance, readjustment and renewal and the same would have been assured if the people of the house of Jacob had taken notice of Isaiah’s offering of redemption, and for us, this Lent or at any time, we too can receive this reassurance.

So, make this Lent not just a season of sackcloth and ashes but one that lays a strong foundation for ourselves and for the future as we look forward to the joy that will be Easter.

Amen  

Lent And How To Give It Up

The 40 Days of Lent

The 40 Days of Lent

This morning I finished my Parochial Placement with St Thomas’ church in Fair Oak and Horton Heath. It has been a useful and at times challenging experience with much to reflect on; but more of that in a later blog. However, today, Ash Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to preach at their 10am morning communion service and I took my reading from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today sees the beginning of the Lenten season, when we concentrate our thoughts on the journey toward the cross. I would hope that our focus is always centred on the passion of Christ and ultimately his resurrection, but for the next few weeks we are asked to try to set aside and deny ourselves some of life’s worldly pleasures. But how might we do that?

Well I wonder how many of us have started the day having already been shriven? … In order to be shriven we need to have made a confession – a confession that we’ve not always got things right; that we’ve held back our love from those most in need of it; that we’ve failed to live up to what is expected of us as followers of Christ.

Do we need to shout out how sorry we are from the rooftops? No, our confession is to be done quietly, honestly and simply between God and ourselves and although he already knows everything we’ve done, by admitting it before him he will know just how repentant we are. We need to have done this so that we can approach Lent unburdened, forgiven and with open hearts and minds.

Of course a good many people have translated this unburdening to mean an emptying of the larder… To deny ourselves all the goodies such as sugars and fats in chocolates, biscuits, cakes, etc.  I suspect that fewer people would have known yesterday as Shrove Tuesday – rather it was Pancake Day – and jolly nice they were too!

But we shouldn’t feel smug that we know it more than as a chance to lose a few pounds in weight, because it is hard to give up things we love; and don’t you find that the more we deny ourselves the more the shops, magazines and television seems to be full of images and examples of our favourite treats – no wonder we might look dismal instead of joyful.

I wonder also if we don’t – and you’ll pardon the pun – ‘make a meal of it.’ How many times when we’ve been offered a forbidden treat have we answered ‘Oh I can’t eat … I’ve given it up for Lent’ thus declaring to the world how good we’re being, rather than a simple ‘No thank you.’

This period is also a time for considering offering financial support with a donation to a charity or cause – perhaps with the money we’ve saved on buying all those goodies?  Maybe there’s a special Lent appeal, or Lent programme that puts a cost against the many blessings we already receive – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in doing something like that – in fact I would encourage us all to take this opportunity to review our sacrificial giving – but an anonymous donation will mean so much more than an official thank you note.

We undertake this journey with Christ just as his disciples did on that first Lenten journey and I don’t expect Jesus was worried about how much sugar the disciples were putting on their breakfast cornflakes. He was more concerned that they understood what was going to happen, what they needed to know about and how they were going to continue his work – because time was running out.

We also only have a limited time, and I don’t just mean these six weeks, the rest of the year or even our lifetime, in which to make a difference and to really appreciate what we are being called to do. That time starts right now when we need to draw closer to God and so begin to gather up those imperishable treasures of goodness, mercy and love. In that way we will not only discover our own hearts but God’s as well.

Amen

I would like to finish by reading you a poem called Lenten Days

Lentern Window

Lenten Window – from the old to the new – from death to life

Lenten Days

God Breathed Speck of Dust

God Breathed Speck of Dust

From dust you came, and to dust you shall return. Turn from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent – a period of 40 days, when time is taken to take a long hard look at ourselves; to strip away all that overindulges our minds and bodies and to focus on the days ahead which lead to the joyfulness of Easter. However you chose to mark this Lenten season I pray that it will be a worthwhile time of reflection and renewal.

Lenten Days

A God-breathed speck of dust –
the cosmos expanded to fullness,
then contracted its atoms
moulded and shaped,
quickened by the Spirit.
Alpha – the beginning…

Burnt palms, transformed to carbon silk,
mixed with Holy oil
to anoint the faithful.
A smear of dirt; bisecting lines
not brushed aside, but fade;
absorbed in mental flesh

The Paschal mystery re-centres our thoughts
on the pain and suffering;
and the human world reaches out
with eager hands to grasp
the nettle of contradiction
seen in purple packaged symbols

Self-control required; temptation fought,
leads to a time of reflection and reckoning;
to draw nearer, only to discover
how far there is still to go.
Casting off of habits that cloy appetites,
to cleanse palates and souls
in sparse Lenten days

An anticipation of joy, subdued;
made lean by abstinence
and sharpened senses attuned
to rhythms of restraint.
While lengthening days bring light,
and hope springs in bud and blossom;
announcing promise to the earth
of new life to come