Ash Wednesday 2017

Lent: Call to an Altared/Altered Life

Ash Wednesday

Romans 12:1-2

12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  (The Message)

Lent is a time in the church year when we walk with Jesus to the cross. It is a season in which we learn that God is a God who cries – for his wayward and rebellious people, for his soon to be crucified Son, for his suffering creation. God cries not out of futility or powerlessness, but of love. And love means change. God means to change what has happened to us and to his creation.  And he means to change us as agents of his reconciling and restoring work. As we walk with Jesus to the cross we draw nearer and nearer to pain-riven heart of God, to his tears over us and for us, to that cruel nexus where “sorrow and love flow mingled down.” Thus we get caught up in God’s own passion and come to realize as never before in how much we need to change (but can’t) and how much God desires our change and will do everything necessary to effect it.

Paul shares this passion too. After extensively spelling out all that God has done from the beginning and through Christ to his day (and ours) in the first eleven chapter of Romans, he turns to the change all this means for us as agents of God’s transforming mission. Romans 12:1-2, as powerfully rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message, brings us to the threshold and into Lent with its image of our being “living sacrifices” which entails an “altered/altered life.” Both at our core and in our way of life we are changed. Changed or, as Paul put it earlier in Romans 8, “conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.”

This text, then, Romans 12:1-2, phrase by phrase, will focus the Lenten call for an altered/altered life for us.    

                                                                                                                                                                                 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you.

Lent is a call for us to act. And to believe. Or to believe and to act. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous epigram, “Only the believers obey, and only the obedient believe” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 63), is spot on here!

Belief, or faith, is an integration of our passions, priorities, and practices. No one part or two without the other(s) is true belief or genuine faith. Imagine three people walking arm in arm down the street. As long as they move in the same direction and at the same pace everything is fine. But if each moves off in a different direction and/or at a different pace, their arms will separate and each person will go off on their own way.

We know we’re scattered and fragmented much of time. Our passions, priorities, and practices are too seldom aligned. Lent is an occasion to offer these fragments and our lack of alignment to God trusting that, “God helping (us),” we will be able to act in more integrated and properly aligned ways.

-“God helping (us)” does not mean that we do our part and God does his part – a joint effort.             

-Biblically, God’s “help” (literally, “mercies”) is what makes possible our doing in the first place and gives us hope that our doing will bear any fruit.                                                                                                               

-God initiates (unconditionally offering his help), we respond by accepting and embracing it.

We stand on the threshold of Lent. A journey to Jerusalem and death lie ahead of Jesus. We know the peril and the promise of this journey. God’s help is there for us. Are we there for God?

Ash Wednesday Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1979 Book of Common Prayer


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