Outward Rites and Inward Reality

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Picture by Mickie Smith, Ash Wed service 2014

Amos 5:6-15; Heb. 12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14

Ash Wednesday certainly snuck up on us, didn’t it!  With Easter coming so early this year, that also means counting back 40+ days, Lent begins quite early too.  I was reminded of the famous words that echo on Bourbon Street at midnight – “CLEAR THE STREETS….MARDI GRAS IS OVER.”  For Bourbon Street, used to partying all night, a midnight curfew is certainly a shock, especially to out-of-towners who just got to that party a few hours ago.  But this is what Ash Wednesday is – a sudden shift.

Today, the sudden shift to a more spiritual, disciplined life has begun.

Ash Wednesday: our readings not surprisingly take a sudden turn and we find ourselves in Jonah, one of my favorite books.  Jonah is almost comical when you understand how he grudgingly goes to Nineveh, and with only a few half-hearted words becomes an agent of transformation for that town.  It is a powerful story.  The king and the town follow this up with action, including sitting in ashes.  Outward rites reflect the inward reality.

I will talk more about ashes and their connection to Lent tonight at our service.  5:30 dinner, 6:30 Worship with the Imposition of Ashes. I hope to see you all there!

Luke’s passage is of Jesus telling the story of the Pharisee and tax collector, one who stands where all can see him saying, “God, thank you that I am not like other people….”  The tax collector was standing far off, not even looking up to heaven, beating his breast and saying, “Have mercy on me a sinner.”

Repentance and humility are key themes for Lent.  It is clear that God wants us to take seriously our actions and do the best we can.  Yes, grace abounds, but that does not exempt us from serious introspection and a genuine turnaround in the areas of our lives that need it.  Outward rites to assist the inward desires.

This is the essence of Ash Wednesday.  And so as we take this day to seriously consider any Lenten discipline that may aid us in repentance and humility, self-sacrifice and introspection, may we look to the people of Nineveh or to the tax collector, both who come to understand inwardly and outwardly that change for them is important.

-Matt

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