Well, hello there.
I did not consciously give up the blog for Lent, inasmuch as Lent coincided with the global Covid-19 pandemic. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, church was shut down, the economy basically collapsed, lots of people were sick and the president is telling folks to drink bleach.
So, rather than updating my sermons on the blog, I’ve been moving the whole church enterprise online since the start of March. (Come hang out with us on Facebook! Or YouTube! My brother wants me to get a Twitch channel also but so far I am resisting!)
I will try to go back and update my sermons, however, since I have found that for some, reading the sermons just works better than watching them (or hearing them–we also have a podcast.)*** I just can’t promise that it will be super-timely. And from time to time, as always, it will be interspersed with my Thoughts and Opinions on the times in which we find ourselves.
For starters: I tell you what, come Advent 2020, I better not hear a single preacher complain about the apocalyptic texts. At least, not if they do not care to hear a long rant from me about how “our world ends all the time” and “when our way of life comes crashing down, that reveals in a real way truths that often we would rather not face”, complete with a slideshow about these last 6 weeks.
***Really, I am straying frighteningly close to becoming a media mogul. For a person who decided she never wanted to be an actress on screen, because it would mean having to listen to the sound of her own recorded voice, this has been a particularly neurotic making turn of events.
Here’s what I said on Ash Wednesday. Roughly 950 years ago.
There’s a lot that’s fascinating about Ash Wednesday. Even here in the year 2020, Ash Wednesday has become a strange sort of evangelism tool—of all things! Clergy venture forth into the streets and crowded city squares to smear ashes on the foreheads of passing strangers, and declare that you are dust, and to dust shall you return. Of all the parts of Christian life to select in order to bring to others, the part where we proclaim that we’re all going to die is kinda strange.
Yet, the strangeness is what is compelling about this day. We gather together in church, and fess up to all the things that we spend our lives pretending aren’t true. We are going to die. We are pretty imperfect. We are fairly messed up and the world itself is really messed up, and in fact, we are not sure how to fix any of it. Today is when we come together and tell a lot of truth.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus asks his disciples not to parade their piety before others. Don’t be hypocrites, he tells them. Don’t say one thing and do something else. The word he uses throughout the gospels for hypocrite is a specific term for actor. He’s asking his followers not to pretend in their devotion. Don’t act out a part in order to impress others. God knows the truth; you’re not helping anyone. Your faith should be between you and God—not a show for the benefit of others.
After all, it is the world that asks such pretending from us. The world demands that we have it all together. The world puts a premium on perfection in all things, while it quietly promises that if we do have secret failings, well, there’s something we can buy for that. And as we continue with such posing, we begin to isolate ourselves from each other and from God.
God, however, wants no such pretending from us. God seeks after the truth of our lives, because the truth is what God already knows. And the more we find ourselves able to authentically be present to ourselves, with all our imperfections, the easier we find it is to connect with God. Acknowledging our brokenness doesn’t make us unworthy; it makes us truthful. And it opens the door for us to meet Christ.
Lent opens a space in the church where we can be really pretty imperfect. We don’t have to be happy, we don’t have to be confident, we don’t have to have perfect lives—Lent in fact assures us that God knows we do not have these things. Lent gives us space to come to church, lay our questions and doubts and struggles down at the altar and say, “I have very little idea what I’m doing in this world and everything seems overwhelming and awful.” And when we do that, we discover not just that it is worth it, but that there’s a freedom in that, and in our vulnerability, we meet find God.
God, recall, comes to us in the person of Jesus—who was fully human so that divinity might understand what it was to be a confused ash-creature like us. Jesus was confounded, and frustrated, and overwhelmed by a broken world, too. Jesus faced mortality, and grief, and suffering. And in Jesus, God comes to us—ashes and all! And guides us through.