Lentil Soup

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday; Joel 2:1-2,12-17, or Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103 or 103:8-14, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

 Sometime after the first of the year, it came to my attention that Easter is on April Fool’s Day which means that Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day. This concurrence raises the delicate liturgical question is the proper color for the day? pink? or that deep purplish red? I asked a couple of deeply knowledgeable liturgical colleagues of mine. The first answer was to be sure and use red glitter for ashes and make the shape a heart on penitents’ foreheads. The other suggested using the little chalky heart candies for Communion wafers. Alas, I have waited too late and the traditional ashes and communion wafers lovingly baked by the sisters of Monastery of St. Clare will more than suffice.

Over these many years, have preached on the dire warning the alarm horns and gathering clouds of darkness and gloom from Joel. I have preached on Isaiah’s exhortation to announce God’s people their rebellion, and to the house of Jacob their sins. I have mentioned that the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever. One way or another it is always necessary to remind us that now is the acceptable time to be reconciled to God. I’ve even preached on what you should do in secrete and maybe that God already knows what you do in secrete.

None of this inspired me. But only because Monday a week ago I was inspired by the Daily Office reading from Genesis (25:19-33). It includes the birth of Esau and Jacob, how Esau grew up to be a great hunter who loved the field and that Jacob became a quiet person who preferred a tent. It also includes the story of Esau coming in from the fields famished. Jacob is cooking some stew that Esau wants to satisfy his enormous hunger. Esau is so famished he sells his birthright to Jacob for bread and bowl of lentil stew. The divine muse nudged me, laying two questions on my heart and soul: How does lentil soup manifest itself in our lives? What have we sold our birth right for?

But before we can get to the depth of those questions we have to understand our birthright. As Christians what is our birthright? In the Episcopal tradition the go to liturgy is Baptism where we are washed in Christ’s baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We are one with Christ. It is Christ who stands with us before God. It is through Christ that God’s unconditional love is made fully known. A long-time colleague of mine wrote this week and reminded us of Henri Nouwen’s wisdom:

We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.

God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold on to the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God’s ever-present love. (Adams-McCaslin)

Our birthright is that divine love which endures all the approval driven silly, wrongheaded, selfishness, hateful, violent, evil, that has ever resided in our hearts, in secrete, or boldly there for all to see.

It is such a precious thing. And yet we seem to follow Esau’s path far too often. Our desire for the lentil soup of the moment takes precedence over everything else. Our momentary desire seems more important than what is right, than what is just, than our birthright. Sometimes our desires are manifest in the behaviors of others who speak and act publicly what is secretly in our hearts and are secretly joyous. At times such persons are from the margins. At times such persons are our leaders; social, educational, business, political, and religious. Sometimes our desires are manifest in our own words, and actions; spoken or unspoken, done or undone. Sometimes our words and actions are the public manifestations of what is secretly in the hearts of others and one way or another, we welcome slight approving smiles, nods of heads, and other small signs of approval.

As we have for a life time this Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a time of inner reflection. A time to acknowledge the ominous dark clouds not so very far from the center of our lives. A time to raise our heads at the blaring sound of the trumped alarm. A time, with naked vulnerability, to explore the depths and strength of God/Jesus/Sprit. A time to acknowledge all our secretes trusting that our father, who see in secrete, will welcome you into your acceptance of your birthright of unconditional love, from God, for all that is made in God’s image, you and all of creation. A time to leave aside Esau’s path and embrace your birthright. A time to see the truth; every day is valentine’s day; because every day is the acceptable time to receive and reflect God’s unconditional love, secretly, or boldly and publicly; for every day is the day of salvation.

So today, I invite you to with both fear and trembling and with trust explore just how does lentil soup manifest itself in your lives? and what have you sold our birth right for? for knowing this truth will set you free to receive the depth and strength of God’s eternal unconditional love.


God selfies

A sermon for Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2,12-17, or Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21, Psalm 103 or 103:8-14

Some weeks ago a discussion among several priest colleagues, raced across the web about whether one makes a cross or a smudge during the imposition of ashes. Some argued for an ash cross, as a reminder of our own duplicity in the actions leading to Jesus’ death on the cross, and Jesus’ resurrection which leads to our redemption. Others, including myself, argued for a smudge as a reminder of our sinfulness. At least I am wary of getting ahead of ourselves with an Easter reminder. Although we know the Easter is real, the journey needs to be complete, and that includes the difficult road to Good Friday.

Last Thursday David Brook’s Column Ease and Ardor [i] contrasted the essayist Michel De Montaigne and Samuel Johnson. Brooks writes that Montiagne grew up in a polarized, religious worn torn France; suffered the death of children and his best friend. This external disorder is reflected by internal disorder. Montiagne attempted to study his own mind. Brooks notes:

He observed himself with complete honesty, and accepted his limitations with a genial smile.

His honest self-examination lead to an emotional/ spiritual balance.


Brooks writes that Johnson

was charming but not amiable  … [and he] sought a life of improvement and ardor [passion].

Johnson’s life had its own disorder,  likely Tourette’s syndrome, a fear of insanity, and nighttime fears and jealousies. Johnson’s efforts for self-control were external, and social. Brooks notes:

he was moralist, writing essays on vices and pains that plagued him: envy, guilt,, boredom and sorrow, … he battled error and vice. … His goal was self-improvement and the moral improvement of his readers.


In concluding Brooks writes:

Montaigne was more laid back, and our culture is more comfortable with his brand of genial self-acceptance and restraint. … but Johnson was a witty but relentless moral teacher in a culture where people were likely to grade themselves on a generous curve, …

It struck me that both made life time honest self-examinations. The connection between the Books’ column and the web discussion is the appreciation of true self-examination, by whatever method is honest and works for the individual. That is core to this day and our intention of beginning a Holy Lent.


Rev. Dr. Amy Richter asks: So why the ashes?  She believes ashes 

remind us that we are mortal and echoing the creation story where God lovingly made human beings from the dust of the ground …  Humility is about being grounded in the truth of who we are [and that] we accept ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality and the truth of who we are. [ii]


Ash crosses or smudges, Brooks and Richter sent me back to the creation account of Genesis 1. [iii] The idea of people in God’s likeness, is borrowed from the local custom of kings erecting selfies, then known as statues, reminding subjects who has dominion. The New Interpreters’ One Volume Commentary notes:

Given this background, humans are called to be living images or likenesses of God and extensions of God’s dominion over all the earth. God entrusts humans with responsibility to exercise their dominion (1:28) in God’s image of care and concern for all creation, including its most vulnerable members [iv]

That’s a long way of saying we are to care for each other, and all of creation, the way God so loving made us from the dust of the earth.


And so it’s back to what Jesus is getting to, what you do matters. Crosses or smudges, who cares if it is a sign of honest self-examination and the beginning of being more like the people we are made to be. Internal or external examination, who cares if it is a sign of honest self-examination and the beginning of being more like the people we are made to be. Give something up, take something on, 100 days of… or 7 weeks of … who cares if it is a sign of honest self-examination and the beginning of being more like the people we are made to be. And just in case any of us begin to think we are there, and Matthew indicates there are some who do, well the journey to be the people we are made to be continues … all the way to Jesus feet, nailed to the post of a cross.


[i] David Brooks, New York Times, Opinion Pages, op-ed columnist, February 27, 2014
[ii] Amy Richter, http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/02/18/ash-wednesday-abc-2014/, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2014 What audience?, March 5, 2014 
[iii] My preference for Genesis 1 over of the more familiar Genesis 2 is a topic for another day.
[iv] David Petersen, Beverly Gaventa, The New Interpreters’ One Volume Commentary, Abingdon Press, 2010, Genesis 1:28), 

Ashes and the Storm

Ash Wednesday’s orders of service – done.

Ash Wednesday’s sermon – done.

Ashes on Main – location secured.

Ashes on Main – handout – done.

Ashes on Main – paper article, front page!

Ice, sleet, snow, and frozen stuff all over the place.

Thousands still without power.

I55 south bound traffic at a  s-l-o-w crawl.

Police Chief tells people without four-wheel drive to stay off the roads! If you find yourself in a ditch, towing and impound fees will be assessed.

And so for the second time since December and only the second time in twenty years services are being canceled and rescheduled. Tonight’s Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper has been postponed. Tomorrow’s 7 am Ash Wednesday service is canceled, conditions will worsen overnight. We do plan to offer Ashes on Main, though conditions are still a concern, and so we will offer imposition of ashes just prior to Sunday’s Eucharist, for those whose desire to begin Lent so be-smudged.

All of which is very disappointing. However, Sunday’s reading from Genesis causes me to ask Why? The great challenge in the garden is to trust God, or not. Eve and Adam chose not. We can allow our customs, traditions and liturgies to grow to such magnitude they are no longer iconic, but either idol or something akin to occult. So, we are ensnared in a winter storm that has trapped thousands in their homes and cars and our treasured traditions and liturgies will not happen, but if we trust God then all is well. If we trust God, we will not presume we are so important we can ignore request of officials who are doing their best to look after everyone; we will have inquired how we can help those in need.

In it’s own way this winter storm is an interesting way to begin Lent. The disruptions it causes should cause us to first ask: Do we trust God? and then decide what actions to take. That is a good Lenten exercise.


Divine selfies

To be honest my mind has been on freezing rain, snow, a garage door frozen t the ground, church doors frozen shut (or so I’m told), the postponement of  Shrove Tuesday’s pancake supper. Ashes and the advent of a holy Lent has been the farthest thing from my mind. Nonetheless responsibilities are responsibilities so I set about pondering, ash crosses verses ash smudges, Ease and Ardor [i] and regal selfies.  It seems the idea of us being made in the image of God has roots in kings leaving selfies (statues) around the realm to remind folks who was in charge.  I have no idea where this is going, but I can’t wait to get there.


[i] David Brooks, NY Times, February 27, 2014