An Unspoken Truth 2-26-20

Tonight’s Ash Wednesday sermon, based on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, reveals a sense of urgency in our invitation to be reconciled to God. Christ has made it possible, and he has given us tangible signs that we are able to hold on to that give us God’s grace.  This partnered with the ashes we receive on our foreheads speak a truth into confession and forgiveness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-014-an-unspoken-truth-2-26-20

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May God’s grace bring you comfort and peace on this night. Amen

About a week and a half ago I was able to not only attend, but also to participate in a service of ordination for a fellow pastor down in Council Bluffs.  After many years of serving as a minister and slowly working his way through the educational piece, James Rut was ordained into the office of word and sacrament.

Now James is a native of South Sudan…and the congregation that he serves is made up of members of the South Sudanese community from around the Metro area…and his ordination was a celebration, not only for that individual congregation…but really for the entire South Sudanese population around the upper Midwest…and there were visitors from as far north as St Cloud, MN and as far south as Kansas City for what was…in EVERY way…a celebration.

Now I’ve been to ordinations before…and for the most part, they follow a pretty set liturgical flow…there are personal embellishments of course, but the general flow is pretty common.  But that was not the case for James’ ordination…it was a glorious mix of cultures, with MANY aspects coming out of nowhere in comparison with the very general order of service that had been prepared.

The other aspect that made this interesting for me personally, was the invitation to serve as assisting minister to the Bishop…pretty much right before the service started…in this capacity I ended up leading a fair bit of the service, but I had to be on my toes because we never knew just when one of the Sudanese embellishments was going to pop up.

Now it all went fine, but it really made me aware that I’ve grown comfortable with worship not always going according to plan…but that wasn’t always the case…back in my earliest days of preaching and leading worship, even before I’d begun seminary…I would provide monthly pulpit supply to a small country congregation where 10 people on a Sunday was a good crowd.

They were a fun bunch who graciously put up with my lack of experience…and we also joked around that if I skipped something in the liturgy, they should throw a hymnal at me…a joke that was all well and good…until the day it actually happened. (pause)

On this particular Sunday…we wrapped up the opening hymn and I jumped right into the Kyrie…something we really only do here in Underwood on Maundy Thursday but it’s the part where I chant “In peace let us pray to the Lord” and go back and forth with the congregation.

About midway through the Kyrie…one of the guys raised his hand and interrupted me…Scott…you skipped the brief order…and sure enough I had.  We always started with the Brief order of confession and forgiveness…and I had missed it.

Now this threw me for a loop to be sure…and my mind was racing in that instant…and admittedly, my first thought was “oh well…we do that every week…what’s it going to hurt.” But I could also tell that it was important…that this aspect of worship…of the flow of the service…this was something that was vital to them…and in the years since then…I’ve come to recognize that importance as well…to feel the necessity of coming before God…of confessing our brokenness and sinfulness and need for a savior…to admit these thing to one another and with one another…and then to immediate hear those words of absolution…the announcement of God’s grace and forgiveness for each of us.

I can’t help but think that this is something that is absolutely central to our Lutheran heritage…to our understanding of faith…and the vital sense that WE bring into worship as well…certainly our liturgy or order of worship is different here at Underwood than in other Lutheran congregations…but we’ve got that same bit don’t we…as we turn to page 56 in our hymnals every Sunday morning to share in this practice together.

But tonight we don’t do that do we? (pause) Tonight’s worship is different…and even though we will share in a time of mutual confession together a little later in the service…we’re not using the brief order…and you might notice…we won’t have the usual announcement of forgiveness that typically comes with confession. (pause)  And this is because of the setting…of the day that we find ourselves in today…Ash Wednesday. (pause)

Today, as we kick off the season of Lent…as we begin moving towards Holy Week…and the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, not to mention the culmination of the Christ event itself…as he is betrayed and tortured and ultimately killed on the cross…but as we start off this season, it is good for us to reflect on our part in it.

And tonight’s focus…tonight’s service…and especially the action which we all join in a few moments from now…all of this serves as a tangible reminder of our brokenness…our sinfulness…the part that we play in whatever it is that God is up to through Jesus.

Tonight we use ashes…and tonight we hear words that remind us of our mortality…that we are made up of dust…that the building blocks of our physical bodies are quite literally the dust of the earth…which is also quite literally star dust…we remember…perhaps with a great deal of humility…that as God made EVERYTHING in our reality…the same materials went into making you…and as amazing as that is…we are also reminded that when this life is over…when the spark that makes you…you. When it runs out, then we will return to the dust that we came from.

And in addition to that, we are reminded of the cause of this cycle…the brokenness that we are a part of…and that is also a part of us. (pause) Now I’ve got a love/hate relationship with this particular worship service every year.  On one hand, I am blessed to look each of you in the eye and for just that brief instance…to be aware of the relationship that we have formed and we share…I think about the history we have in common…the highs and the lows…the good stuff and the hard stuff…and that is wonderful…but at the same time that those thoughts are running through my mind, I’m also hyper aware that I am saying words and taking action that refers to your death.

And as we think about the reality of death…we are also aware of how little control we have over it…which, when we’re honest with ourselves…we know is actually zero…we have no control…and death comes for us all…and as we know…as we have seen time and time again in our community…it can, and often does strike without warning.

And that sense of the unknown…that recognition that tomorrow, while expected…is not guaranteed…THAT keys us into the sense of urgency present within Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we have shared tonight.  This brief portion of the letter reveals a great deal about Paul’s experience in ministry…the hardships and the persecutions that he was familiar with…while at the same time the hope and the joy and the benefits that he regarded in the eternal sense…but even in the midst of all that which we can find in this short passage…there are two phrases that really jump at me as we consider all of this tonight.

Now is the time…now is the day…right now…in this moment…and what are we called to do?  He lines it out in the very first verse…be reconciled to God. (pause) Now before you think I’m going all fire and brimstoney on you…let me clarify.

I do not believe that this call to be reconciled…this call to turn away from our brokenness…this call to repentance…I don’t believe that its fear based…or that we should hear it from the perspective that “you might die tomorrow, and aren’t you afraid you’ll go to hell?” I don’t buy that because I believe with EVERY atom of my being…every bit of dust that somehow forms me…I believe that the spark that makes me me, and that makes you you…I believe that originated from the one who made us in the first place…the one who made us bearing the divine image…the one who calls us very good in the first place…I believe all of that which makes us individuals and yet unites us in our common humanity…I believe that reveals an inherent need for relationship with one another and with the one who made us in the first place.

And yet I also recognize that the brokenness of this reality and of me, hinders that relationship…and yet…despite this…that same God has made it possible through Christ to be reconciled…and that happens as we give voice to the sin that resides right here. As we turn from it and turn back to the one who has promised us to always receive us back.

This is the promise of the gospel…this is the truth revealed in the parable of the prodigal son…that no matter where we are and what is standing in the way, our perfect parent is always seeking us out.  (pause)
And thanks be to God, that this is not just some batch of words that we say…but that Christ has also given us tangible signs of this promise.  Through the waters of baptism…we are claimed by God as beloved children…heirs of the promise of grace and love and forgiveness…and then as we gather around this table, united in our common brokenness…and tonight literally bearing a mark on foreheads…we hear those words, and we receive the body and the blood of Christ which is broken and poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.

This happens tonight and I love how they are paired up together. We hear the words of our mortality and limitations, and then we receive the elements of forgiveness.  Keep that in mind tonight, as our liturgy lacks the announcement of forgiveness…because tonight…God is literally handing it to you for you to receive.  Amen

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