Ash Wednesday – A Challenge

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Ash Wednesday
February 10, 2016

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday

You’ve had that dream. You know, that dream when you are running. You’re running from someone, from something, but you just can’t bear to turn around and look at it. It’s like your legs want to run, but they can’t. You know that dream.

When you wake up, you tell yourself that everything is okay. It was just a dream. You get up, you get a glass of water, and you go back to sleep. It was just a dream.

Except, it’s not. You are running from something. I know you are, because I am running from something, we all are. We’re running from a memory, from something in our past, from something in our future. We are running for our lives and that thing, that something, is always right behind us.

So what we do, is we try to run faster. To somehow escape the presence we feel behind us. We buy more things. We take another drink. We don’t pick up the phone when that person calls. We numb ourselves with another order of french fries and a diet coke. We run. And the problem is, this is a dream from which we never wake up. We run and run and run. I know that you are exhausted. I am exhausted. All this running from our fears and from our past is doing us no good. It’s killing us.

What Ash Wednesday does, is that it reminds us that no matter how hard we run, or how fast we run, or how much we try to tell ourselves that it was just a dream, that thing behind us is very, very real. Ash Wednesday makes us stop dead in our tracks and turn around. And face the truth. To face what we are running from. It’s a scary proposition, but it’s the only way to break this cycle in which you have found yourself.

In a few moments we’ll pray the Litany of Penitence. And get ready. Because what you are running from is right there. And you’re going to have to acknowledge your worst nightmare. “Our intemperate love of worldly goods.” “Our self-indulgent appetites and ways.” “Our exploitation of other people.” “Our anger at our own frustration.” “Our blindness to human need and suffering.” “Our indifference to injustice and cruelty.”

This is the truth of repentance. The first step toward repentance is to examine our conscience. To stop running, to turn around, and to face whatever it is. And whatever it is, is the sin from which you are running.

And more than that. Not only to stop running, but to understand why you are running. Brene Brown, a sociologist and author, puts it best: “instead of running from your gremlins, you have to take them out for a cup of coffee and get to know them.” Instead of running from your sin, you have to peel back its layers. To figure out why you are running in the first place.

As you contemplate your spiritual journey this Lent, I have a challenge for you. Do not give up chocolate, or Facebook, or any of those trite little things. This Lent, stop running and turn around. As Jesus says, go lock yourselves in a room and pray.

And when you are in that room, with just you and the Holy Spirit, I challenge you to write your spiritual autobiography. With just pen and paper, sit down and physically write about your relationship with God. From your first experience with God to now. Be honest. Face the thing from which you are running. Give honest gratitude for how God has already worked in your life. Do not hold back, but write the truth. When you do this, you will face all of your fears, all of your sins – but God will be with you. In that locked room it will just be you and the Holy Spirit. And whatever it is, or whoever it is you are running from, will no longer be that scary. That nightmare that is chasing you down will become nothing. And then, finally, you can stop your worrying and find true peace.