An Ash Wednesday Sermon
Year B, , 2 /18/15
Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 51:1-17;
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
E. Stanley Jones was a missionary in India. While there, he established a Christian Ashram. An Ashram is a sort of spiritual community and retreat center. Jones recounted this story:
In the Ashram, we gave the servants, including the sweeper, a holiday one day each week, and we volunteered to do their jobs for them. The sweeper’s job included the cleaning of the latrines before the days of flush toilets. No one would touch that job but an outcaste [the lowest of the low in the Indian caste system], but we volunteered.
One day I said to a Brahmin [upper caste] convert who was hesitating to volunteer: ‘Brother, when are you going to volunteer?’ He shook his head slowly and said: ‘Brother Stanley, I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.’
“I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.” You’ve got to appreciate the honesty. Here we are again - Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This is the time in the spiritual rhythm of the church year when we take an honest look at the state of our faith and ask ourselves, How far am I converted? Is my conversion limited? What limits it? What holds me back from loving God with my whole heart, mind and strength? From loving my neighbor as myself? Do I live each day shaped by the knowledge that God’s kingdom has broken into the world and into my life; God’s kingdom of love, truth and joy; justice, freedom and peace. I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.
Where am I storing my treasure? Am I caught up in the madness of accumulating more and more or am I learning to let go, learning to give more and more? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.
Am I dying to self so I can enter more fully into the joy of God and live for others? Do I see every person I meet, every encounter, as a gift? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.
Do I receive each day with expectancy? Have I made peace? Is there forgiveness I have yet to give? Forgiveness I have yet request or accept? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.
In the reading from 2 Corinthians, we are told that, for our sake, God made Jesus to be sin - he who knew no sin. Jesus took on our humanity and, in so doing, took on the end result of human sin disconnectedness, brokenness, suffering, and death. He defeated Sin and Death and everything in-between. Now, by the power of his victory, in him we can become the righteousness of God.
To be the righteousness of God means to live according to our original purpose - right with God, right with one another, to be free to live in the direction of our truest joy.
This is the Gospel. This is the Gift (which is what grace means in the passage). But, we are free to live into that gift or to not live into it. We can receive it in vain - to no effect. We are converted, but not converted that far.
Paul encourages us - entreats us - to be converted farther, to become the righteousness of God.
Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. The gift is free, but the full experience of it depends on openness and preparedness.
I want to suggest briefly five things we can do to enter more fully into God’s purpose for us:
1. Pray – Set aside five to ten minutes a day during Lent for prayer. Try doing Morning Prayer. If your time is too tight for that, try doing the Daily Devotions on pages 137 – 140 in the Prayer Book. Or try sitting quietly and repeating the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
2. Read the Bible – Pick up one of the Day By Day booklets (or some other Lenten devotional guide) and read the lessons each day along with the meditation. Read the Gospel of Mark during Lent.
3. Find someone you can talk to about what you are learning in prayer and scripture.
4. Act on what you know – serve others, love with abandon, seek the welfare of the least of those around you. Develop a specific “action plan” for serving others during Lent. Serve the poor. Give more financially to aid the poor. Think of people you know who could use some encouragement and visit them or send them a card.
5. Reconcile. Seek reconciliation with a person who you need to forgive or of whom you need to ask forgiveness. Or reach out to a person from whom you have grown distant.
During Lent, let us never forget that the gift of God’s grace is free. But let us look carefully at where we have fallen short, and at what hinders us from receiving more of the gift and from living it more with those around us.
We will be reminded again, in a few minutes, that life is short and that we are not our own.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
We are converted, but not converted that far.
Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.