Ashes are more than Ashes

By now Our Ash Wednesday ashes are long wiped clean from our forehead.  Heeding Jesus words not to show off our repentance, I wiped them off before going out to eat at Golden Corral after the service.

But in some reading today I was reminded that those ashes are more than a smudged cross on the forehead.

Poet Elizabeth -Anne Vanek wrote: You thumbed grit into my furrowed brow, marking me with the sign of mortality, the dust of last year’s palms.

Thomas Merton wrote: The cross, which the ashes traced upon us, is the sign of Christ’s victory over death.

Another poet, Mary Claire van Orsdal wrote that though the ashes puts us in touch with death, she ties them also to birth, “dirt mixed with blood of woman giving birth.”

Ashes are a sign that we are born of dust, we live as dust, die and return to dust, but the cross shape is our victory over death.

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Ash Wednesday Musings

It’s not about the ashes.  It’s not about whether you like those dusty particles on your forehead or hand.  It’s not about where the ashes came from.  The ashes are a reminder that we are mortal; that if we didn’t have waterproof caskets and sealed vaults, we would readily return to the earth from which we were made and be of some use to creation while we awaited the resurrection and the gift of new bodies.   It is about heeding the call in the prophet Joel to return to the Lord with all that we are.  It includes everyone, the leaders, children who would rather be playing video games, nursing infants who may disrupt the adults.  Yes, even the couples on their honeymoon, who in Israel got a year off from community responsibilities in order to get to know one another.

Ash Wednesday is about remembering that for your sake Jesus who had never sinned, that is, never made a misstep in his relationship with God and his fellow human beings, took all our missteps with God and one another upon himself.  God made him your sins that you might be brought back in line with God’s will with all our errors taken off the scoreboard.

Therefore, we mortals pray to the all-powerful and eternal God that He “forgive the sins of all who are repentant.”  Furthermore, that He recreate us with new hearts which are sorry for our misdeeds and readily fess up to them. In order that “we may receive full pardon and forgiveness through Jesus Christ who is alive and rules the universe and our lives along with the Father and the Holy Spirit who are one God now and forever.” 

Listen to Him

On the Mt. of Transfiguration, Peter, who always had something to say about anything, was babbling on about capturing the moment by building three tents or booths to remember Jesus, encounter with Moses and Elijah.  As he was speaking a cloud engulfed them, much to their fright.  Then a voice spoke from within the cloud, “This is my Son, my chosen One; listen to him.!”

Moses knew of the presence of God in the cloud at Sinai and at the tabernacle during their 40 years in the wilderness.  Elijah knew the power of God in the cloud on Mt. Carmel.  A cloud the size of man’s hand as it drifted in from the Mediterranean and blackened the sky as it grew into a storm breaking a long drought.  But now the voice in the cloud calls attention to “my Son”, who is greater than and existed before, those former leaders.   He is “my Chosen One.”  From now on “Listen to Him.”

The Greek word for listen is “akouo,” which means hear or listen, but also hear and follow, hear and respond.   Negatively the word is used, “They hear but do not hear.”

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday when in Joel 2:13, we will hear, “Return to the Lord…he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  St. Paul will tell us, “(God) made (Jesus) to be sin even though he had never sinned.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) And Jesus reminds us (Matthew 6:19-21) Don’t count on the things you think are most valuable on earth because they won’t last but count on the things from heaven which will last forever.

Listen to Him.

Let me Inveigh

Let me inveigh and say

It’s cold out there

For those of us who have no hair

Or even for the frontyard hare

Four degrees in Sunset Hills

Robin redbreast has frozen it’s bill

Minus eighteen in Turtle Lake

Folks can’t find a winter’s break

But the risen sun is shining bright

Spring can’t be far away, right?

Jesus’ Exodus

On the Mt of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared in glory before Jesus in his glory.  The three spoke of his death (Luke 9:31).  Luke uses the word Exodus.  That word reminds us of Moses leading the people of Israel (Jacob) out of bondage to freedom. Elijah, representing the prophets, was a prophet to the people of Israel in captivity in Babylon.  Both the Torah and the prophets foretold of the One who would lead the people out of bondage and captivity.  As Jesus told the folks in his hometown synagogue, the spirit of the Lord had anointed and sent him to proclaim gospel to the poor, freedom to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and liberty to the oppressed.  God cares so much for those under the weight of poverty, spiritual and physical blindness, or captive to enslaving powers or those exiled from God, that God would send his only Son to suffer and die that they might be free and filled and exalted above those who press them down.  Thus, the three spoke, “Of his Exodus which he was destined to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  That is what the Spirit had anointed Jesus to do.

Not long after he and the three disciples came down from the mountain, Luke reports, “his face was set for Jerusalem.”  He was headed for the city of peace where he would find no peace.

Psalm 99 and the Transfiguration

Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday.  Eight days after announcing he would be killed in Jerusalem Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain where they seemed to have promptly fell asleep. It won’t be the last time.   As they snoozed while Jesus prayed, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Luke 9: 28-36)

Psalm 99, the appointed Psalm, gives us a vivid image the true identity of this metamorphosized man named Jesus.  He is the king of the universe enthroned on the cherubim which overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant in Holy of Holies of the temple. “Let the peoples tremble…Let the earth quake.”  As we look across the purple valley of Lenten repentance, we see in the distance that the peoples and earth will tremble and shake on a Friday when this king of the universe named God Saves is enthroned, not on the cherubim but on a crude cross.  Nevertheless, this One, who is proclaimed three times as holy in the psalm, makes that cross a Holy of holies.  A couple of days later, on a Sunday morn, when the day is barely born, again the peoples of the earth and earth itself tremble and quake.  God Saves will burst from the tomb, alive and ready to claim the glory which he briefly showed to three drowsy disciples on the Mt. of Transfiguration.

A Tumor became my Mother

I may have told you before about how on March 1, 1912 on the homestead of August and Johanna Glaubitz a rumored tumor turned out to be my mother.
How at age 46 Johanna was preparing to take the train to the Twin Cities for surgery. How pains she hadn’t felt in eight years sent son Bruno on horseback to fetch Dr. Tanner. How Dr. Tanner came out by sleigh. How a snowstorm prevented him from going back home that night. How their oldest daughter, Ida, gave birth to her third son on Feb. 28. How both my mother and her nephew missed being leap year babies by a day. How they were both baptized on May 25. How my mother, Esther, married my father, Victor. How her nephew, Bernard, married dad’s sister Mildred. How their son Monte is both a second and a first cousin.
In other news, Autumn begins in Australia and New Zealand today and its St. David’s Day in Wales and this day is the first day meteorological spring whether you believe it or not. No I don’t know who St. David was in Wales. Google it.

A Day that takes the Breath Away

Normally when we hear the phrase, “It takes my breath away,” that’s a good thing. The photos of the snow in Wisconsin are breath taking.  That’s not taking into consideration digging out.   In the St. Louis area, it’s a beautiful morning with the sun shining brightly, an unusual thing for winter here.  For me it’s literally a breath-taking day. With wind blowing, 25 to 60 miles mph, I wouldn’t be able to get my breath outdoors.

But the Epistle lesson (I Corinthians 15:21-42) for this week is also breath taking.  As we labor through winter; as we approach the purple season of lent, we have a bit of Easter.  The good news of Resurrection.  If are wrapped up in politics, struggles in the church for control, at work, personal ambition, or power struggles within us, then consider this breath-taking news.  “Then the end will come, when He hands over the Kingdom to God the Father, after He has put an end to every government, authority, and power.”  All the political power struggles, all those power difficulties among followers of Christ, all those we encounter at work, or within ourselves exist in the realm of death which came through that first man Adam, the man made of dirt. But resurrection has also come through a man, Jesus Christ.  He is the first fruits of the harvest of the resurrection and we will follow him.  As Paul wrote to the Philippians, Everyone and everything will kneel before the true and lasting power in the universe and proclaim, “JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.”

That will be a day that takes the breath away.  

Good News from Beginning to New Beginning

The Epistle lesson for this weekend is a bit lengthy, I Corinthians 15:21-42.  It begins and ends with some great good news. “For since a man brought death, a Man, also brought the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (Vs 21-22)”

Then at the end you will hear, “That is how it will be when the dead are raised.  When the body is sown, it decays; when it is raised, it cannot decay. (V. 42).”

It’s in between the beginning and the new beginning where life is challenging.  The entrance Psalm (Ps. 37) begins and ends with, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way.”

The gospel lesson from Luke 6 begins, “But I tell you who are listening:  Love your enemies, be kind to those who hate you.”  Near the end of the lesson, “Stop judging, and you will not be judged. Stop condemning, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

The Old Testament lesson from Genesis 45 tells of the occasion when Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers who had sold him into slavery several years ago.  They are dismayed.  But Joseph invites them, “Come near to me, please.”  He invites his brother to come near not to take their life, in return for what they did to him, but give them life.  Joseph tells his brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Indeed, good news from beginning to new beginning.  What will we do with such good news this week?  Will we heed it in the week ahead or will we rationalize it away?  Pray the Spirit that we read, learn, mark and digest it. 

King Saul went Crazy. You can read about it in the first book of Samuel About corrupting power of power, it’s a manual Concerning David, Saul who’d grown paranoid He declared the life of that upstart null and void He placed his replacement under a curse Made plot and plan to send David home in a hearse. Saul’s own children, daughter Michal and son John Knew David was as innocent as a swimming swan Tried to make their father see some sense And believe their defense of David’s innocence But all their words only made Saul more sure To bury David’s body in a pile of manure When David came to a priest of Nob, Ahimelech David hoped a meal of bread he might fetch The priest gave him the day – old bread of Presence For from the fresh loaves arose savory scents David said, “Have a spear or sword at hand that if attacked, I might make a stand?” Said the priest, “I have the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” David said, “With that I can do any enemy in.” But lurking about was Doeg, chief of Saul’s herds He tattle-taled to Saul what he saw and heard. Saul summoned Ahimelech and all the priests of Nob Saul, of eighty-five priests, their lives he robbed. And he commanded his horrible authoritative word All, whether woman or child suffered the sword. Still we live in that same terrible world Where evil around us continues to whirl And where is God, our creator and Savior To permit this endless human behavior? We can but look to him who hung the cross Who paid with His life for Judas’ double-cross? For in Christ we come to the intersection Of death and life, of hope and resurrection.