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Ash Wednesday: Be Reconciled to God

Each of us is made in the image of God and beloved by God, but we also fall short of God’s dream for us. So the church invites us to use the season of Lent to remind ourselves of the gift of God’s love for us, as well as the gift of God’s grace, and to look at our lives in light of those gifts.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul begs the early Christians in Corinth -- and all of us -- to be “reconciled to God.” The lesson reminds us that through Christ, we can become the “righteousness” of God. Righteousness in our culture might sound like “self-righteousness” or arrogance, but Paul used it to mean “right-wise with” or “right relationship” with God.

So how is your relationship with God? Can you imagine being the “righteousness” of God?

The Greek word Paul used for “righteousness” is the same as the word for “justice.” “Righteousness” and “justice” are the same in many languages. In Spanish, the word is “justicia.” And so, in Christ, we may become the “justice” of God.

Active agents of God.

One phrase from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” has become something of a bumper-sticker sound bite: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But we don’t hear the sentence that follows nearly as often, perhaps because it can be hard to face.

King wrote: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

  • Your and my destiny depends on Haiti getting more than emergency assistance. Haiti needs rebuilding as a strong, healthy, just nation.  
  • Our destiny also rests on all children having access to adequate food and to health care.
  • Our “inescapable network of mutuality” includes being in “right relationship” with whatever people we just want to ignore -- whether they are out on the street, in our families, overseas, or in the office next door.

In the midst of a culture that encourages us to “have it our way,” we are caught, needing each other. And despite products that would have us believe we can control our lives, we know “right relationship” is only possible through God.

So we will have ashes put on our foreheads, in recognition that we cannot do it ourselves.

  • Ashes are a biblical sign of mourning and repentance;
  • Ashes symbolize our mortality -- we don’t know how much time we get;
  • Ashes remind us of loved ones we have buried.
  • Today’s ashes were made from palms distributed last year on Palm Sunday -- when we remembered how Jesus rode into Jerusalem and people thought he might be a worldly king after all.
  • Ashes because to get to Easter we need to go through Good Friday and the cross; something must die for a new thing to be born.

But also, the ashes on our foreheads are made in the sign of the cross -- to symbolize that through Christ we find right relationship with God.

Perhaps you already know ways you are falling short of God’s dream for you, and so you will give up something that isn’t so good for you, or instead add something new to your routine. Or maybe you feel out of touch with God or confused about your next steps and need to spend Lent seeking, or discerning.

Right relationship with God isn’t ours to earn, but it’s ours to accept.

In Lent we don’t practice our “piety before others in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). Nor do we look dismal or disfigure our faces “in order to show others” that we are fasting.

But many of us today will carry a smudge on our forehead, as a sign that, however it's going, we value our relationship with God.

R. Carter Echols is senior local church outreach associate at Bread for the World. This is excerpted from a sermon she delivered today at Church of the Epiphany in Washington, DC. Download or order a free copy of Bread's Lenten Prayers for Hungry People.

 

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