Ash Wednesday 2014: Rend Your Heart

heart holeAsh Wednesday

Rend Your Heart

 Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 

Opening Prayer        

Lord of All, we call to You tonight.

We call out for the God that pulled Adam up from dust.

The God who formed and crafted his body from a handful of clay.

We call out for the God who breathed life and purpose into what was once so still.

Tonight, as we consider dust, we ask that You enter the hearts that you had so carefully crafted… and we ask that you break them!  Break them back into dust.

Break them apart so that there are no more secret places, no more hidden corners, no more closed doors to you Lord.

Give us strength, as we hand ourselves over to the journey of Lent.  Give us strength to confess our sins…

Make us dust once more…   To the Lord of All we pray.  Amen.

Rend Your Heart

I told the congregation over at Hampshire Colony, that they had to join in the worship tonight if they wanted to hear the end of last Sunday’s sermon.  I left them hanging a bit…

So, if you don’t mind, I’ll take just a moment to transition.

Last Sunday we (and I think many of us here tonight) were talking about the Transfiguration, that moment when Jesus along with Peter, James and John climb a mountain and Jesus is transfigured, meaning that his appearance changed.  And in this change the disciples saw him clothed in glory and light… Elijah (the prophet) and Moses (their forefather) joined him, standing one to the left- another to the right.  And God’s great voice emerges from a cloud that had settled on the mountaintop: “This is my Son, whom I love.  With him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  Clearly, this was a very dramatic scene for this special group of disciples to witness.

For up to this point in their journey with Christ, the disciples had seen Jesus the worker of miracles, heard Jesus the wise teacher, they had praised Jesus the Promised One.  But now, while alight with glory… they now see Jesus- Lord of All!  Clothed in brilliance, light and love.  Standing high on the mountaintop, surrounded by Old Testament rock stars like Moses and Elijah and God’s own presence. Jesus, Lord of All!

But what happens when the light fades- when Jesus is clothed again in simple robes (sweaty from the mountain climb), rather than light?  What happens when the cloud dissipates- when Moses and Elijah turn back into fantastic history?  What happens when you are left standing on that bald rocky peak of a mountain?  What happens… when reality settles back in?

Jesus (and his disciples) as soon as they step down from that mountain peak their feet will be pointed towards Jerusalem –  towards the hill of Calvary.

They all know what’s coming.  Jerusalem is the place where they are least welcome.  Jesus had already painted the picture of what awaits them:  Suffering, brutality, the death of the Lord of All…

Calvary is waiting.

When the light fades and reality sets back in… Calvary is waiting… As soon as they step down off that mountain peak.

Now, the season of Lent is about a different kind of Transfiguration.  Our own.

While Jesus put on light and glory to prepare for the journey ahead – we do just the opposite: we are to put on dust for the journey ahead.

Today we celebrate the beginning of our Lenten season.  We mark that moment when we step down off the mountain – step away from our comfortable and protected sanctuary – by becoming broken.  Unmade.  Dust.   Tonight is about examining our hearts.  Acknowledge our sins… and marking ourselves for the journey to come.  A journey that will take us all the way from the glory of the mountain of transfiguration through the dark valley below, all the way on to Calvary.

The Prophet Joel says…

“Return to me with all your heart

with fasting and weeping and mourning.

Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Return to the Lord your God…”

Rend your hearts.  God says.  Tear them open for the road ahead. Now is the time for being unmade for the sake of our God.

Our Lord said through Joel that this is a time for ‘fasting, weeping and mourning.’

And in response to that our Christian community has turned Lent into a time of pursuing, what we might call, ‘right living.’

During lent, many of us try and be on our best behavior.  With the events of Good Friday in sight… we try and clean up our act for forty days.  We put on our pious person hats for a while.  We do this by fasting from sugar or soda.  By turning off the TV.  We watch our language.  We steer clear of the time suckers known as Facebook and Pintrest, we promise that we will pray and read our Bible everyday… we clean ourselves up.  Polish ourselves for “right living.”  And all of this is good.  Each of us need time and opportunity for personal/spiritual spring-cleaning.  We all need reminders to check in with our actions, attitudes and habits.  And to think about how they reflect Christ.

Yet, God says “rend your hearts and not your garments.”  We must go deeper.  This is not a season for perfecting one’s self… Lent is a time of becoming completely unmade, torn open at the foot of the Cross.

So I ask you to think about what is left at the end of a sugarless, swear-less, TV-less, Facebook free day?

Is it a heart that is broken for our Lord?

Or, perhaps, what is left over is a since of personal accomplishment or an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Nice job!  You were a great Christian today, keep it up!”

But what is left?  Truly?

I now for me… my own deepest sins, the hidden corners of my heart, have little to do with sugar, or TV, or Internet time wasters… and perhaps that is true for you as well…

When God says, “Return to me with all your heart.”  The implication is that we give our hearts to a whole lot of things that are not God.  We chop up/ piece up our hearts and give bits away to self- indulgences, false promises, idols… we give our hearts away.

So what is left at the end of the day?  When God has asked for our heart?  Do we offer the Lord of All (still) a heart riddled with holes? One with big gaps from where we have given away pieces of it.  Given away pieces to things that are not of God.

Once a year, we embark on a journey that seeks out the truth of how we piece out our hearts, how we sin and fall short, how we rely on distractions and idols to fill us up… rather than God.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus told us to look for where our treasures are stored up, because it is there that we find our heart.

Where is your heart?

A little piece might be hanging out at the bank… keeping watch over your savings account.

A little piece might be closed off in the fridge waiting for a moment when you are lonely enough to reach for it.

A little piece might still be at the office shuffling papers while people that you love are waiting for you at home.

A little piece might be hanging out at the bottom of the pill bottle in the medicine cabinet.

Another little piece might be clinging to your browser history online.

Where is your heart?

“Return to me with all your heart

with fasting and weeping and mourning.

Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Return to the Lord your God…”

God wants all of us. This means that we have to go to these places and things that have our heart- take back our pieces… and bring them all to God!   As scary as it is to look shame and sin in the face… We have got to go there, confront those things and collect our heart pieces.

God has asked for all of it.  All your heart.

Fasting, weeping and mourning… do not sounds like pleasant ways to spend our evening.  But it is through those things that we let God in to do our Lord’s healing work.  Jesus said in our Gospel reading… give, pray, and fast… same thing.

If we give ‘til our hearts are rend…

If we pray ‘til our hearts are rend…

If we fast, deep down, ‘til our hearts are rend…

It is through these things, that we let God in to do our Lord’s healing work.

When we stepped down from that mountaintop, we embarked on a journey with our Lord… one that will lead us to the foot of the cross.  That is where we must take our heart pieces.  To feet of Jesus.

It is there, and there alone, that they can be healed.  Where our Lord, can pick up the pieces of our sin-ridden, bruised, battered, fractures, dust-like, aching hearts… and put them back together again.  Clean and whole.

“Return to me with all your heart

 with fasting and weeping and mourning. 

Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Return to the Lord your God…”

And because today is not only our first steps into a dark valley of fasting, weeping, and mourning… but it is also out first steps towards the glory of Easter Morning… I would like to tell you a story of dust and hope.

A few years ago, I was serving at a mission in the Dominican Republic.  While I was there I filled my time with the usually mission trip kind of things:  I helped out with the building projects, played with the children at the mission school.  I worked the clean water delivery truck (which was pretty neat)…  But one day I was offered a very unique opportunity.  I was asked if I was interested in going to the local Leprosarium, which is just a fancy way of saying a facility that housed and treated people with leprosy. Immediately I was intrigued.  I didn’t even know that Leprosariums still existed.  So, I and several others for the mission were packed up on an old school bus and we drove out of town.

As we were pulling up to the gate outside the compound, a man was sitting there (just inside the gate) in his wheel chair waving at us.  Greeting us with a huge grin on his face.  He had no feet, there were thick bandages around his arm and his hand that he was waving to us had only one finger. So if there was any doubt as to where we were going, that cleared things up.

We got off the bus and the little group I was with paused to pray and to talk with the doctor that cared for the community there.  He greeted us with a lesson on what leprosy really was, and how history has bred misgiving about the disease. He said that in the 40 years that he had been working there, he never heard of a visitor contracting the disease, so we could rest easy.  In fact we were encourage to hold hands and to wrap our arms around the patients there as much as possible.  For if there is one thing that these people craved it was physical touch, because that was so often denied to them.  But he closed his lesson on Leprosy with telling us all about what he called leprosy of the heart.

He had seen in his work there, too many people whose family and friends turned their back on them, because they had such a disease.  He had seen too many people, holding secrets in.  Seen too much mistrust… too much hatred… too much disgust.  He said that these things – these: lies, sins, secrets… grew to be leprosy of the heart.  Turning what was once fluid, loving, and powerful – and turning it into an unfeeling stone that died and turned into dust.

With that lesson in our minds we went into the facility and put our hands, arms, minds to work.   Even though I know zero Spanish… I thankfully wasn’t rendered entirely useless.  I walked up to a woman that was sitting alone and I reached out my hand to her.  Upon seeing that I was willing to touch her… she grabbed me with a fierce kind of strength.  And she held me and laughed, smiled, cried.  She had no feet, very few fingers, was heavily bandaged from surgeries… but a beautiful child of God nonetheless.

One of the mission volunteers brought a guitar, and began to play in the middle of the courtyard.  She sang a song about how Christ would one day make all things new. How even though we were lost in sin, and burdened with life’s struggle and brokenness. That Christ still would bring forth life and hope from our dust.

All around me, residents of the leprosarium, lifted their hands and waved their arms, and swayed to the mini-concert that was happening in their courtyard… Bandaged arms, broken bodies… testimonies to Christ’s promise to one day make all things new.

They were turning into dust.  But this was not the end of their story…  For God would one day make them new.

Children of God, we all have hearts that are broken by sin, bruised by the struggles life sends our way, shattered and fractured by our wondering souls… but from our dust… God will make all things new.

I invite you, tonight, to begin your journey through the dark valley of lent.  To fast/pray/give in ways that rends your hearts completely to God.  Search out your sins.  Collect the pieces of your heart.  Begin your journey to Calvary, knowing that at the end of this long and arduous walk, there is your Christ.  Ready to heal.  Ready to mend.  Ready to make new and whole your heart.

“Return to me with all your heart

with fasting and weeping and mourning.

Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Return to the Lord your God…”

Closing Prayer

Let us pray.

Lord of all, it takes great strength to search our own lives and hearts.  It takes great strength to own our sins.  And even more to let go and commend them over to you.  Grant us all that we need to walk that path.  Remind us, Lord, that all that we have and all that we are is temporary.  But you are the one that breathes life into dust.  Redeem us Lord, In Christ’s name.  Amen.

Benediction

“Return to me with all your heart 

with fasting and weeping and mourning.

Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Return to the Lord your God…”

May our Lord of All, strengthen you and walk beside you on the journey ahead.

Go in Peace.  Amen.

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