Puppy, monkey, baby and sin, death, and ashes.  Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Again this is an oral event, the text mostly matches the preaching. I had created a large cross in the front of the sanctuary using blackboard paper.

Ash Wed 2016
Just awful. Puppy, monkey, baby. Puppy, monkey, baby. That was just about the most awful freaky commercial I’ve ever seen. Of course, it’s freakishness has also made it the
most watched Super Bowl commercial on Youtube. It’s made the news, and now even a sermon—awful but perhaps very effective advertising. Now, If you have somehow been lucky to miss this commercial, the idea behind it is that a new Mountain Dew drink, which is a combination of Dew, juice, and I guess more caffeine is like this creature this baby, monkey, puppy creature in the commercial is three awesome things combined.
Kind of like tonight, Ash Wednesday–a conglomeration of ashes (dirt), sin, and death. Now wait you might be thinking. Those are not three awesome things-ashes, sin, and death. And you’d be right. Truthfully, we would much rather avoid and ignore ashes, sin, and death—these things of Ash Wednesday. Is it any wonder there aren’t millions of people talking about, posting, tweeting, or even doing Ash Wednesday. For most people ashes, sin and death are awful in their own way.
We don’t want to do these things, talk about these things, admit these things. Until we’re forced to.

That is what artist Candy Chang admits in a TED. After the sudden death of someone she loved dearly, she created a community art experience in her neighborhood in New Orleans. She turned the side of an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard and stenciled these words on it, “Before I die I want to _______________. People filled that wall their thoughts, their hopes and dreams. Like: Before I die I want to hug a sloth. Before I die I want to be someone’s cavalry. Before I die FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderI want to hold her one more time. During her TED Talk, Ms Chang states, “that two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with people”. She challenges us to continually remember that life is brief and tender. Preparing for death, she says, is the most empowering thing we can do, thinking about death clarifies life.

That got me thinking. You see my relationship to death has changed after my mother died. Even though she had become ill with diabetes and congestive heart failure, I just never thought about her dying. But my mother had expressed at least several times that she looked forward to to outliving her husband, my father. She had plans and dreams and wanted to do all sorts of things. I don’t even know what they all were, but I knew she was waiting. As it happens sometimes though, death didn’t abide by her plans and she died before he did. Of course, for me she died way too young at age 63. Nathan was only 1, and she never met her other grandson Micah.
The gift of Ash Wednesday of tonight is that we talk about, we get to be honest about ashes, sin and death. There is no “if” in death—only when. Now some might see this as being a Debbie Downer. But like Ms. Chang, my faith tells me that this is actually pretty cool. Our faith does not allow us to be oblivious to the precious, tender, and importance of life—of all of our lives.
As Christians, as followers of Christ, I believe we are doubly blessed–in the sense that not only do we admit the finality, but it is doubly precious to us. Belief in the God of the cross moves the time we have from being just another opportunity to experience stuff, to the opportunity to be part of God’s beating heart for this world. We get to say “Before I die, God wants me to ___________ . So, tonight we admit that death is real, but as people of faith, people of cross and resurrection, we also live in the hope that death is not the end.
That, actually, it is ok that we will not accomplish all of our plans; it is ok that we will forget sometimes, that we will become distracted—that we sin. It is ok because we do not go through this alone. It is not all up to us, we are part of the life of God that is combining of all of us together throughout all time and place, and even beyond. That God throw’s her life in with ours. And, I don’t know about you, but this night is actually pretty cool. You see, instead of being awful. Ash Wednesday is the awe filled combination of sin and forgiveness, ashes and hope, of death and life. Amen.

So tonight in addition to receiving the ashes, we are going to have our own opportunity to think, pray, and share, to Before I die I want to _______. And also Before I die God wants me to _____________. This black cross is chalkboard paper and there is chalk here. and so, when it is time for the ashes. You will be invited to both receive ashes and write on the cross.

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