Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-17
Psalm 51
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6,14-18

REFLECTION: "Taking Out the Trash"

Perhaps I am stretching things a bit, but does anyone remember last year's Ash Wednesday homily? Do you recall the topic?

(Last year's homily may be read at this link)

No takers? Last year, we discussed the concept of Spring Cleaning, comparing it with the practice of cleaning for Passover in a Jewish home. You'll perhaps recall that leaven is routinely used in Scripture as a symbol of sin, and that it is vital to Jewish practice that all leaven be out of the house and, frankly, off the property of a Jewish family before the sunset that marks the Passover, which begins the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Now, one thing I didn't really discuss last year is what they do with all the leaven. 

Generally, in this day and age, the leaven is tossed out on the curb in the trash can, taken away by the garbage man. In some places, the final bits of leaven, especially those that the children are sent to find just before sunset, are burned outside and the ashes buried. Dishware and Cookware that are not to be used for Passover are still cleansed, but they are locked away and don't see the light of day for the whole week. 

That said, It's not unheard of for some individuals to engage in elaborate agreements in order to be free of leaven for the week of the Feast, and take it all back again at sunset on the final day. Those making such accommodations will write up a deed for all their chametz and will then 'sell' it to a Gentile through their rabbi for a token sum. Then, after the Feast, they buy it back through the rabbi, and take their stuff home. Granted, the Wonder Bread is probably going to be moldy by the time it makes it back to the dinner table, but the yeast packets, baking powder, boxes of crackers, and all the other goodies with leaven are still perfectly usable and in the same condition as when it was sold off.

When we look at these two contrasts, and we recall that leaven is equated with sin, we should pose ourselves a sincere question... which practice do we want to emulate? Selling and buying back the chametz is, in Orthodox circles, a perfectly acceptable practice. But the practice is, in essence, doing the minimum. All that leaven returns to you, nothing really changes - except that, for a week, you don't have the use of it. If leaven represents sin, is this really the path we want to take? Or, perhaps more importantly, is it the path that we hope and pray that God wants to take?

My brothers and sisters, we call today to a God who promises to remove our sins "as far from us as the east is from the west." (Psalm 103:12) Because our world is a sphere, you can run west and keep running forever... you'll still never run out of west. God promises to cast our sins away from us at an infinite distance. He will 'remember them no more'. (Isaiah 43:25). Yet many of us still, effectively, buy back our chametz.

Sometimes, we do it because we want to appear holy, but don't want to make the real sacrifices necessary to forsake sin and deepen our relationship with God.

At other times, we find the chametz we though we left behind... we come across it by chance. And because we haven't sent it away for good, we find it far too easy to revel in it.

Admittedly, there are times where the proverbial trash truck has started down the road with our spiritual chametz, only to see us run after the truck and pluck the bag out of the hopper before it can get onto the main road. Yes, even with the best of intentions, sometimes we crave our sinful nature... and will go to great lengths to recover it.

But the most damaging way that the leaven of sin undermines us, my friends, is when we fail to accept that the psalmist is right in saying our sins are put away... when we refuse to believe that Isaiah's words 'He will remember them no more' are true. We refuse to let go, because we believe that we can never be forgiven... that our own sins are so horrid, so terrifying, so filthy that God could never, ever, ever forgive me.

Beloved... today is a day, though wrapped in signs of mortality and penance, that should give us great hope. Today is a day that speaks to us, in Word and at this Table, of mercy, or forgiveness, and of peace with God and with one another. Do you understand that? I mean really? Do you understand that? Do you know in your heart that  "if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness"? (1 John 1:9)


If you do, then I beg you to confess your sins... and I also beg you, with absolute earnestness... let go of them for good. Don't buy them back after Easter. Don't suddenly forsake yourself and sell yourself back into slavery to your old sins, sins you have rightly confessed and laid at the feet of the Savior. Don't surrender to the gnawing doubt that might say to you, "God can't possibly forgive me!"

The cross of Jesus Christ stands as eternal proof that God WILL forgive all who turn to him with faith, whose hearts are impelled by the Spirit to rightly confess and lay their sins at his feet... and then walk away.

So, today, I urge you to take out the trash. Leave it in the can. Don't even bother to watch the garbage collector pick it up... and certainly, don't follow it down the street. Don't seek to get it back, don't give it a second thought... 

And finally, when you have trouble with this precept... I am here. Your own pastor is available to you. Seek out those of us who have been called to minister the healing and the reconciliation of God in Christ in a unique way. Don't feel that you have to journey and struggle alone, because you don't!