Ash Wednesday

On February 14, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ash Wednesday, Feb 14 – Affirmation Readings: F. Bernadette Turner wrote: “Affirmation-prayers can be successfully used in building a rich consciousness. They help you vitalize your words and feelings in communicating with Cosmic Center because they are strong declarations of your beliefs. Affirmation prayers have a tonic quality. These prayers as mantras add a variation […]

Ash Wednesday, Feb 14 – Affirmation

Readings:
F. Bernadette Turner wrote: “Affirmation-prayers can be successfully used in building a rich consciousness. They help you vitalize your words and feelings in communicating with Cosmic Center because they are strong declarations of your beliefs. Affirmation prayers have a tonic quality. These prayers as mantras add a variation to your prayer-method. Affirmation prayers are an investment, enriching your consciousness and making life less forbidding in disquieting times.”

We read in the Psalter (Psalm 23, NKJV): The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [God] makes me to lie down in green pastures [and] leads me beside the still waters. [God] restores my soul; [God] leads me in the paths of righteousness… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.

Prayer after readings: Good Shepherd, we trust you to lead us, guide us, and provide for us. With you we find serenity, courage, and hope. You help us see and seize the possibilities in life. We continue to move forward assured by your constant care. Amen.

SERMON
23rd psalm is the most famous of all affirmative prayers.
In it the psalmist affirms:
God takes care of me, my needs are met.
I am entitled to inner peace.
God restores me and leads me, and helps me overcome my fears.
God comforts me and celebrates me.
There is goodness and kindness available to me every day, and there is no time that I shall not be in God’s loving presence.

The psalm is a series of affirmative statements reminding the one praying of God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, and of the wonderful possibilities that exist for all of us.

It’s a good prayer to kick off Lent. I want us to think of Lent as a time of possibilities, and a time when we can affirm possibilities. Lent can be a time of healing, a time of spiritual growth, a time of recommitting to the spiritual path, a time of giving more of ourselves to life and of being willing to receive more blessings from life. I call us today to practice an Affirmative Lent.

In a few moments we’ll receive ashes. Why?

Because ashes are an affirmation; but what do they affirm?

1. Ashes affirm our unity with all life.

All living things have a life cycle and all life forms expire eventually.
Our shared frailty is a call to compassion, a reminder to love ourselves and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are all fragile, and we all deserve and need comfort and encouragement.
Remembering our shared lot calls us to care for one another.
Ashes remind us that we are all one.

2. If ashes affirm our shared frailty they also remind us of our resilience.

It is from the ashes of destruction that the phoenix rises to new life.
It is from the ashes of ruin that structures and communities are rebuilt.

Abraham once said that he was but dust and ash, and we know today that while we are from dust, we also return to dust. Our bodies return to the elemental, physical source and our spirits return to the universal, everlasting, spiritual source. The dust of the ground, the dust of the air, the star dust of the cosmos…dust is ubiquitous and enduring…that’s what we are.

We are part and parcel of a divine life that never ends.
Our forms change and eventually return to the earth, but the life expressing through these forms is eternal, without beginning or end.
That is something to celebrate, and affirming this cause for celebration can give us strength, courage, and hope.

3. Finally, ashes affirm that change is possible.

John the baptizer preached repentance. He said, “repent, for the divine kin-dom is near.” Repentance is change: to change a habit, to change one’s way of thinking, to change a behavior, to turn from one course of action and embrace a new one, to turn from an unhelpful attitude and embrace a new thought. The divine kin-dom is near, is at hand, in our hands, and if we aren’t acting as if such beauty is within us, we can change, we can start demonstrating the goodness that is our Truth.

The prophet Isaiah talked about positive change. He asked people to believe that they could change from sorrow to joy, from despair to hope, from pain to peace.

The prophet wrote that God would provide for the bereaved, giving them crowns in place of ashes, joy in place of grief, praise in place of discouragement, and that they would be strong as oaks.

Ashes represent repentance, but that just means positive change, and that is always possible. Our sadness can be changed into happiness, our fear can be changed into hope, our regret can be changed into gratitude, our pain can be changed into wisdom.

Compassion. Resilience. Positive change.
Those are what we can see, seize, and share in an affirmative Lent. I affirm those possibilities for us, and this is the good news. Amen.

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