Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2021
We have a future!
Jesus is asking us to do the impossible. Are you surprised?
In fact, this whole enterprise is asking from us something that is nearly impossible for us to actually do: to act today in such a way as to create a better future for ourselves.
Human beings are terrible about thinking about and acting in the best interest their future selves. Scientists believe that we treat our future selves so poorly because, when you "imagine your future self, your brain ... stops acting as if you’re thinking about yourself. Instead, it starts acting as if you’re thinking about a completely different person." In fact, scientists theorize that not only do we treat our future selves like a completely different person, but also as a person we really don't care about very much.
The neurologists and psychologists conducting experiments with MRIs are looking for an answer to the question of why we're so bad at acting in the best interest of our future self, especially when we seem so good at looking out for number one. It seems that incredible instinct toward self preservation and self indulgence actually works against us in the long run. The selfish us in the present ends us doing that hurt future us ... and we don't really care.
Jesus' teaching, in fact what we find in all the readings we heard tonight, challenge us to do the impossible -- to let go of self-gratification for the sake of someone and something completely different than us. Let's face it we understand practicing our piety before others to be seen by them and rewarded by them ... of course we do. By the way, we also understand not practicing any piety at all because it does nothing for us. The showy pious and the impious are two sides of the same coin. We're in it for ourselves at a deep psychological level ... and because of that its easy to be either visible saint and a public sinner. Just follow the rules and follow your heart.
What Jesus is teaching his disciples to do, however, is something else entirely. He is instructing them to give up their own self interest for the sake of completely different other -- for the God who created us and the neighbor who needs us.
Jesus is teaching us to pray without being self-conscious about what others will say or think, about us for the sake of being in conversation and communion with God.
Jesus is teaching us to give without being self-conscious about what others will say or think, out of love for God and for the sake of our neighbors.
Jesus is teaching us to fast without being self-conscious about what others will say or think, but as way to actively deny our present self what it desires for the sake of some future benefit for our self or even our neighbor.
Finally, Jesus is teaching us to invest our whole being in the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He teaches us to live our life now as child of God, a citizen of God's kingdom, to live now as if God's future were present.
None of this is easy. It's downright impossible. It is also the way of Jesus, the way of God's kingdom and the goal of the higher calling to which we have been called in Christ Jesus through our baptism into his death and resurrection. All that is to say that we will never get there on our own. It doesn't come naturally.
Maybe that's why we return to this place again year after year. We come back to Christ and back to the beginning to learn again the basics of this life in Christ, a life that leads us away from ourselves as we know ourselves to be now -- trapped in our sin, unable to free ourselves or even think beyond today. From the moment we emerge from the waters of our baptism we become a people with a future. It is time we learn to live like a people with a future.
You have the order of service in your hand.
You can see that soon we will confess our sin -- not just those things we have done, but those things we have left undone and the secret hidden motivations that have broken our relationship with God and our neighbors. That is who we are now. That is the world as it is. And things being as they are we will be reminded that we, as we are, have no future, that we are but dust and ashes and soon we will revert to form. And then there will be silence.
In that silence, we will hear God speak and breath life into these bodies of dust and ash. We have a future. In the love and faithfulness of God on full and public display in the death and resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ, we have a future.
And in that miraculous moment we will be invited to apprentice ourselves to Jesus by picking up the disciplines of Lent, a way of living meant to reshape us and teach us the way of life in the world to come. And if you need a vision of what it is that God is creating in Christ simply read that litany confession upside down and backward. Imagine a world where the impossible becomes reality, a world where we love God with all our heart and soul and mind ... and the other completely different, including future us, as we love ourselves.
And it all starts now ... in Jesus.
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