Reverend Rebecca Newland
Ash Wednesday—5 March 2014
Isaiah 58.1-12, Psalm 51.1-17, 2 Cor. 5.20b-6.10, Matt 6.1-6 (7-15) 16-21
I want to show you what life is like a lot of the time; it's like this …
Imagine a man who goes to a shop to find a picture frame.
"I have this one," he says, "8 inches wide and 10 inches high," showing it to the assistant,
"… but I need one like it that is 10 inches wide and 8 inches high."
Gently taking the frame from him, the assistant turns it like this:
"Is this what you need?" she says.
"Oh, yes," he replies.
You may notice many things about this little story. You may think, "What a stupid customer, how ridiculous." Or you may notice how easy it is to get confused, to be somehow disconnected from reality and not be able to see clearly. It's like when I go into an unfamiliar supermarket and try to find the aisle with the tea and coffee. After rushing in and becoming completely thrown by bright lights, people, noise and colour, I can't find anything. Eventually I ask someone where my product is, only to find out I am one aisle away—and they look at me like I am an idiot.
I am not—at least that is my story and I am sticking to it. I am human. It seems to be part of our nature to be disorientated, to be out of touch with reality, particularly when we most need to be. At the very heart of this is I think a spiritual fact: we are disoriented from God.
The Orthodox talk about sin in this way—sin is chaotic disorientation from God. When one is disconnected from God, disoriented and going off into all strange pathways, it is next to impossible to see clearly, to act wisely, to have any serenity or to love as we are meant to love.
And so at the beginning of this season of Lent I am calling us all to reorientate our lives to God.
Our readings for today in fact point us to one goal—the goal of returning to God. The task of Jesus was to reconcile humanity to God and human beings to each other. During Lent we look seriously and honestly at the ways in which we are disconnected and how this effects all parts of our lives—how effects our health, our relationships, our integrity, our charity and our internal state. On Ash Wednesday we consciously turn to God and are honest about ourselves.
We need to acknowledge that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes that we miss the mark when we attempt to do various things. That is actually the original meaning of harmatio, to sin. It is to miss the mark, like an archer whose arrow sails past its target and embeds in something else. Not because we choose to hit something that is not the target but because most of the time we are simply too disoriented from our own centre wherein God dwells. When, dear friends, was the last time you listened to your heart or your body? When was the last time you turned to the teachings of Jesus Christ to make an important decision? Psalm 51, the wonderful penitential psalm we have just read, is a prayer that honestly acknowledges our sin. The symbol of ashes imposed on our foreheads is a powerful symbol of our humanness and therefore our imperfection.
It is I believe, when we are reoriented to God that we can begin to see the world as God sees it—as good. Or see other human beings as God sees them—as beloved and beautiful. From that place of reoriented reality—the world set right in our perception—from that place we can help bring the kingdom values of peace and justice for all creation. Scripture is very clear about this time and time again. As the prophets write, God is not looking for prayers and psalms, incense and sacrifice. God is looking for the beloved, each and every one of us, God is anxious for justice and peace for all.
The words of Jesus in our Gospel hold up to us our confusion about the religious life—that we say one thing, and it all sounds really great, but it is fake. Jesus says it is far better to say nothing, be seen to do nothing and actually do something behind the scenes, than to look like we might be good people. God sees into our heart and it is the heart that is important and what comes from that: not fine words, rituals, hymns, prayers and all the rest by themselves. They are meant to live in our hearts and help in that life-long process of reorientation to God so that we can have taken the journey into wholeness, reconciliation and oneness. So Christ can truly live in us.
This Lent, get back on track. Get reorientated to God
Make the choices in your daily life that enable you to be connected to God.
Get rid of what does not work; embrace what does
And know that God yearns for your company, your presence and your love. Amen.