To our core – Sermon for Ash Wednesday

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

At the heart of today’s observance is confession. When we confess something, we admit something. We declare something. We own up to something. We acknowledge something. That is to say, in acknowledging something, we recognize the truth about it. Confession takes that acknowledgement and we articulate it, we speak. We give words to the truth…We own up to the truth.
That’s at the heart of this day, this Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, six weeks when we take time to intentionally step back and consider the many, many things in our many, many relationships—our relationship with other people, our relationships with things, our relationship with God, and even our relationship with ourselves.

Our relationships can get bogged down in so many distractions that we can forget the fundamentals. Or perhaps another way of looking at our lives is to think of them as a concentric ball of relationships, like an onion. At the core are the most intense relationships, the most potent ones. We have so much going on in our lives though that the core can get covered up by many, many layers. These other layers can hide the core, but when we peel back the layers, we get deeper and deeper to our core. And it’s these core relationships that are the most powerful—and the ones that when exposed bare have the potential to make us cry the most when we see them for what they truly are. Lent is a time for us to intentionally step back, peel back the layers, and get in touch with our core relationships.

In a few moments, we have a time to make confession. We will confess our sins—the things in our lives that draw us away from good relationship with life the way that God intended it to be, the things that draw us away from good relationship with other people, with things, with God, and with ourselves. And after that confession, after that acknowledgement, we will come forward to receive a physical sign of our true nature—ashes, dirt, dust. In the beginning, when God fashioned us, he took us up from the earth, the same elemental “stuff” that makes up things, all people, all of everything. We come forward, and we receive on our foreheads dust, and we are reminded, like the first man who was made from the dirt, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Those words are a reminder that we aren’t somehow significantly and inherently better than anyone or anything else in the grand scheme of all the things God has made. They are also an affirmation of our confession of sinfulness, our acknowledgement of all the things in our life that draw us away from the life that God desires for us and everything he’s made. On this Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge the truth of our situation. We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We are at the mercy of God, our Maker. We lament our sins. We cry over them because we recognize them for what they are when we peel back the layers from that most fundamental core.

Those are words are meant to remind us that all our relationships hang together with all the relationships of every one and every thing else—even God, in Jesus Christ, who although he was in the form of God didn’t regard his equality with God as something to be taken advantage of for his own sake, but became one like us, a man of the dust, and lived life like us—even dying like us, no, dying for us, dying on a cross. This season of Lent is a time for us to not only consider our own lives and the relationships we have in them, but also to consider the relationships that we have with God.

And that consideration that should also lead us to an important acknowledge this night, to an important confession…to an important truth.

In the mercy of Almighty God, we are forgiven of our sins. Not for our merit, not for our goodness, not for our deserving. We are forgiven because of God’s mercy—because of Jesus Christ. It’s precisely because Jesus came to live among us that we know that God is not only merciful, but God is mercy. It’s precisely because of Jesus Christ that we know that God is not only hopeful, but God is hope. It’s precisely because of Jesus Christ that we know that God is not only loving, but that God is love. God is the embodiment of all goodness, a goodness that surpasses our understanding most of the time, a goodness that we call peace.

And it’s this peace that we seek after in peeling back the layers that cover the core of our who we are. At our core, we are truly earthen creatures, dirt people, dust who will return to dust. We are sinners, in need of God’s loving mercy—but we are beloved sinners, creatures created by God and filled with his very own Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who moved over the face of the waters at creation and called forth life in all its forms. God loves us so completely to give up life, the greatest thing we or anything else in all creation has—for our sake, for the sake of a relationship with us free from worry, doubt, anxiety, suspicion, showboating, greed, and exploitation.

That’s this forgiveness God gives us—a reconciliation, a restoration, a return to peace with other people, with things, with God, and with ourselves. On this Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge the truth of our situation. We are beloved creations of God, made in his image. In the mercy of Almighty God, our Maker, we are loved so deeply and so completely that nothing will ever stop God from seeking out good relationship with us, time and time again. We rejoice in God’s love. We cry over it because we recognize it for what it is when we peel back the layers from that most fundamental core.

When we confess tonight, when we acknowledge who we are, when we own up to the truth, we will admit that we are sinners. And we acknowledge, accept, and believe that God loves us. We make this confession, we acknowledge this truth, we own up to this because of Jesus and what he means for us. We are both sinner and saint…to our core.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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