Wednesday, February 22, 2012

“Full length mirror” Ash Wednesday 2012

“Full length mirror”
Ash Wednesday 2012
@Union UCC

Do you all have at least one mirror in your house?  Looking at your neatly combed hair and nice clothes, I suspect you might have more than one.  Maybe you have one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom for getting dressed.  And maybe one by the front door so you can check yourself one more time?  Most of us have a variety of mirrors in our house and we probably don’t even think about them
The prophet Isaiah is holding up a great big mirror in front of the nation of Israel.  He says, see this- look at yourselves, you fast and then exploit your workers.  The fast ends and the fights break out.  You can’t continue like this and expect God to be silent.
Isaiah is holding up a full length mirror forcing them to look at themselves.  He is forcing them to see their injustice.  Forcing them to see where they are the oppressors.  He is forcing them to see that they are the hypocrites.  Forcing them to see that their judges pervert justice, their priests abuse the privilege of the office.   Isaiah wants them to take a real good long look at themselves.
I dare say, we spend most of our lives looking in fun house mirrors.  You know the kind.  They warp reality into their own shape.  If I looked long enough, and hard enough, and maybe put American pickers on the job, I’ll bet I could even find a fun house mirror that would make me look tall and buff and handsome.  It might be a stretch, but I’ll bet there’s one out there.  I’ll bet each of you could find one to your liking that would make you taller or shorter, thinner or plumper.  I’ll bet you could find one that would fool you into believing just about anything about yourself.
I’ll bet you could find a mirror that would make you look a better Christian too. 
Do you want one that will make you look more faithful?  One that will make you look like you know the bible better,  one that will make you look more prayerful, one that makes you look more loving.  If you look long enough you can find a fun house mirror that will enlarge or shrink, lengthen or shorten, or just plain hide the parts of you that you would rather not see.
The only real truth here is that we people who don’t really like the truth.  The truth?  “We can’t handle the truth!”  Or maybe we just don’t want to.

Ash Wednesday is here and it looms in front of us like a mirror.  UN fortunately for us, it is not a fun house mirror. Ash Wednesday would be a lot more pleasant if it were.  That’s really the original reason for Mardi Grass.  Mardi Gras (which means Fat Tuesday) was the last day to eat drink and be merry as our old deluded selves before Ash Wednesday and lent hit us square in the nose with the unpleasant truth of our idolatry and sin.

In verse 6 of our Isaiah reading, God begins to reflect the image God wants to see in us: to lose the chains of injustice and the cords of oppression, to share food and shelter and clothing with the hungry, homeless and naked.  In other words, behavior matters.  Good intentions, spiritual thoughts, holy hopes don’t count in God’s eyes.  Faith and lived faith are the measures of holiness.
The mirror I brought tonight is a special mirror.  When you look into it you will not see if your hair is messed up, or your tie straight.  It is rather a call to self reflection, self evaluation, and self examination. It is a call to reflect on our corporate sins, our corporate injustices, and our corporate violations of Gods intended order.  It is a call to reflect on our private sins.  The private thoughts, actions, and obsessions that damage your relationships with other people and most importantly with God.
You will each have an opportunity to look in the mirror tonight.  But let me share a few things you might see.

·         Starting at the bottom, you might see the faces of those upon whom your feet have trod.  Persons whom you have kicked aside in your rush to comfort and convenience.  The faces you used as rungs on the ladder to get you where you wanted to go.  The faces of the children who work in sweat shops to make your tennis shoes. Pregnant women who breathe heavy metal dust to make your TV.  The young man dying of cancer caused by the pesticides absorbed through his skin as he picks your tomatoes.
·         Looking up to your knees, you might see that they are supple and soft, because they are rarely used for sincere prayer.  We say “I’ll pray for you,” but do you?  Perhaps your knees remind you of all the opportunities you had to change a life by prayer that you passed up.  Perhaps they remind you of the hours you spend in front of the TV or the slot machine, and the few seconds you spend with God in real communion.  Perhaps your knees remind you of the children you see every Sunday in church and the lost opportunities to kneel down and say, “I’m glad you’re here.”  Or “you did a good job.”
·         As we move up perhaps, you are reminded of how your affair hurt your spouse.  Perhaps you are reminded of the impure thoughts you have about the young woman across the street.  Perhaps you are reminded of the ways you have neglected, injured, or failed to love your spouse.
·         Our abdomen reminds us of our gluttony.  If not gluttony than it remind us that we eat plenty while others starve.  Perhaps it reminds you that you never did make that donation to the food pantry.  Perhaps it reminds you that you were silent while the woman in front of you with two children had to put some of her milk and meat back because her food stamp card didn’t have as much money as she thought.  You would not have even missed the few dollars.  On the other hand, maybe your abdomen reminds you of the knot of anger that lives there… the hatred you harbor toward someone, or some group.  Perhaps it reminds you of the venomous person in your life who hurt you and the knot of unforgiveness you carry in your belly.
·         Then look at your chest.  Imagine seeing your heart, cold to the guy next door because he never bathes.  Imagine seeing it empty- devoid of compassion for the little ones, the hungry ones and the children of prisoners.  It is frozen with a grudge you have carried for years?  Is it racing with anxiety for fear that your deepest secret will be discovered?
·         Let your mouth and throat remind you of the opportunities you had to stand up for someone and didn’t.  Let it remind you of the lies you heard through the grape vine and the scars they left on others because you failed to speak up.  Let your mouth remind you of the angry words you said to your children and how sad their eyes looked afterwards. Let you lips remind you of the times you could have encouraged, blessed and built up someone.  Instead, you sent them away empty.  Or worse, filled with your venom.
·         Let you eyes remind you of the times you close your eyes to the wrong you see.  Perhaps you don’t want to get involved.  Perhaps you chose your own safety rather than speaking up for what is right.  Let them remind you that perhaps you live with one eye shut to the hurt and hopelessness of those around you.
·         Let your brain remind you of times you pretended to know more or understand more than you did, just to get someone off your back.  Let it remind you of the clerk who had to make up the difference in her cash register because you though no one would ever know that she gave you change for a 20 instead of the ten dollar bill you really handed to her.
·         Let the cross on your forehead remind you that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Let it remind you of your own mortality.  Someday you will die.  And so will I.  We just act s though there is no end in sight.  We just act as if we will live forever.  Let the ashes remind you of the times you thought you were pretty hot stuff.  Let them remind you and all that you are is a gift from God and that gift will vanish as fast as it appeared.

As you come for communion tonight.  Look in the mirror.  This mirror is OK, but I really want you to look in the mirror of God’s judgment.  Examine yourselves.  Bottom to top, inside and out.  From one end to the other.  Examine yourself.  Put away your fun house mirrors and face the truth in Honesty and humility, in simplicity in clarity and relying on the grace of God- and the grace of God alone.

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