A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

By: David H. May, Rector


In keeping with the spirit of this day, I have a little confession to make. I don’t want to overstate it. I think it’s really just sort of ‘garden variety’, human kind of a stuff. I bring it up, only because it seems to ride ‘shotgun’ in a lot of our lives. Although, maybe I’d better just speak for myself. Sometimes, these little thoughts will pass through my mind like: I wonder why that person talks so much and doesn’t seem to notice that maybe other people would like to have a chance to talk too. Or, that person clearly has way too many grocery items to be going through the express lane. I’d never do that. Why can’t that person think of other people’s feelings, Or, why won’t that person play by the rules? And why does that person always have to talk about how their glass is always half empty? Well, that’s probably enough. Maybe more than enough.

The only conclusion I can reach for that kind of thinking is that it rests on the simple question of why people, family, co-workers, the town council, (why stop there?!), the Governor and Congress, oh what the heck, why can’t everybody behave a little more like me. I’d never do any of those un-thoughtful things, heaven knows.

Or would I? Or do I? Am I one of those people others would like to do a little fixer-up job on? Is it I Lord?

Last fall, I decided to do something I’d been thinking about literally for years. I took all of the spices out of the cabinet in my kitchen and wiped down the shelves and the spice racks. And I put them back into the cabinet – in alphabetical order. Ancho chili powder, basil, cumin. It was magnificent. Now when I need oregano, I thought, there it will be right next to the paprika. No more pushing those containers around and knocking some of them off onto the counter in the process and then finally finding the dill shoved back behind the tumeric.

That happy arrangement lasted for about two full days. I don’t want to name names but in short order I was briefing or trying to brief others in my house about why this was important to me and why it’s really simple and please just help me.

I saw three pairs of eyes were staring at me, not looking annoyed, but something closer to…I think I’d have to say concerned.

And then it hit me: maybe they’re not the problem. Maybe I am.

Maybe the season of Lent with its invitation to self-reflection and repentance isn’t for someone else to do, but for me too. Maybe I’m the problem. Which is actually a moment – when it comes – of shimmering grace. Instead of trying to get everybody lined up and in order and alphabetized, maybe what God is calling me and you to do is a whole lot simpler. The calling of this season is that we have permission to care for each of our own soul’s health.

And what a relief that sounds like.

What about that rude cashier? Nope. How about my children, or my grandchildren – just a little work around the edges. No, not them either. What about that clueless neighbor of mine – I’ll eventually wear them down I’m sure. Nope. God has God’s own work to do with each of them and God has God’s own work to do with each of us.

So if grace strikes and you should wonder, ‘is it me?’ then welcome aboard, glad to have you with all the rest of us. Lent is the perfect season for you because Lent provides us with the path countless generation have trod. The Christian faith is not just about believing a set of beliefs; it is also about a set of practices. In this holy Lent, give alms, pray, and fast. In the gospel reading,

Jesus assumes that is what we are doing.

Now in another sermon I might be expected to expand on how each is beneficial and try to entice you to take up these practices for yourself. But really, God alone knows what it is time for you to learn this Lent. The act of giving alms is what will teach you what it is time for you to learn this Lent. Actually praying for yourself – however the Spirit leads you to pray – will teach you what you need to learn. Actually making a fast and feeling hunger in your own body will teach what God knows is ripe for you to understand.

What each of these practices gets us round to, at the heart of each, is what lies at the heart of what all true spiritual wisdom points us to do: surrender. Though “not the surrender of submission to an enemy, but the opposite, the laying down of resistance to the One who loves you infinitely more than you can guess.”
Surrender to the work God has to do with each of us. Give alms, say your prayers, make your fast.

And so the answer to the question: is it me? Is it I, Lord?, the answer is, yes. Yes, it is you, you who are beloved of God, a treasure stored up in the heart of the One who is more on your side than you are yourself. Amen.