St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"Cleaning Our Our Hearts": A Sermon for Ash Wednesday, Year C

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

​Today, we step forward into our yearly Lenten journey.  The rhythm of the church year moves us through the celebration and contemplation of our faith...the celebration and contemplation of our Lord’s journey from life to death to life again...the celebration and contemplation of our own journeys from life to death to life again.

This rhythm not only reminds us, but immerses us in that journey as we walk through it ourselves and with one another.

This Holy Season of Lent stops us in our daily routines.  We come to church in the middle of a week, we worship, we contemplate the mysteries of life and death and resurrection. 

There’s nothing that stops our daily routines and plans like life and death...even the contemplation of life and death.

The very act of coming to church on a Wednesday in the winter to have someone put ashes dipped in oil in the sign of a cross on our foreheads is unusual to say the least. 

There’s nothing else we do like this in our lives.  We stop for just a short period of time to pray, to examine, to repent, to receive forgiveness.  And we are reminded that we come from dust and that we shall return to dust, a stark reminder of the fragile nature of life. 

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is continuing the beloved Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus is certainly no stranger to the knowledge that life is fragile and it is precious.

It’s so precious that his teaching is urgent.  Not in a threatening sort of way, but in a way that says that the Good News is our salvation.  The Good News of God’s love will not only save us in the future, but it will save us here and now.

Jesus teaches us that the whole point of all of our rituals, all of our worship, all of our lives is about loving God...living in a way that fills us with the love of God...living in a way that fills those around us with the love of God. 

This love compels us...it’s irresistible...it draws us into that love and takes hold of us. This love calls us to share it with everyone we encounter...every...single...person. 

I know it may sound strange, but I always look forward to this Holy Season of Lent.  I’m grateful that we follow a church calendar that is steeped in these rhythms of life. 

This season of Lent invites us to, as the Prayer Book says, self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and reading and meditating on God's holy Word.

And honestly, I need a period of self-examination at least once a year.  The returning again and again to a season of penitence and forgiveness reminds us that we don’t do just “do this” once and we’re done. 

This life is so precious that we do need examine it, to reflect on it, to look carefully at it again and again.  We need to ask ourselves:  Where have we gotten off track?  Where are we being faithful?  How can we get back on the right track?

Not only do we need the opportunity to focus again on our own brokenness and desire for forgiveness, but we need to experience that God is always there for us, over and over and over again. 

We need to know fully that God forgives us no matter how many times we need it. 

On the surface of it, this process of self-examination and repentance may sound depressing and oppressive...thinking about what we’ve done wrong, the mistakes we’ve made, the things in our lives that distract us from turning toward God. 

I’m not always sure I want to think about these things.  But in reality, it’s a really liberating process.

This “cleaning out” of our hearts and our minds and our spirits, this repentance, leads to freedom.  It leads to greater peace.  It leads to a sense of connection with God and all of God’s creation.  It creates in us “a right spirit and a clean heart.” 

And as we engage in this “cleaning out,” we are reminded that gratitude and joy are a part of Lent as well.  When we can face those thoughts, words, and deeds we have done and left undone, we can receive forgiveness.

We can give thanks for the mercy of God.  We can lay those burdens down and rejoice in knowing this amazing, immeasurable love of God. 

And because of this amazing love, we walk also this journey with one another as the Body of Christ. This isn’t just a season of sadness and lament, it’s a season of joy and gratitude.

So, I invite you to enter into this Lenten season with a repentant and joyful heart to share the hope and love of Christ with everyone we can.  Amen.  


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