Ash Wednesday Sermon: The Crap We Give Our Hearts To

Ash Wednesday Sermon: The Crap We Give Our Hearts To February 14, 2013

Yet even now, says the LORD,

return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

rend your hearts and not your clothing.


Today we begin a 40 day period of wilderness wandering.  40 days because that’s how long Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.  Even those in our society who have never really observed Lent know that it’s the time of year when us pious people suffer and give things up so God will be impressed with us.  So that passage we just heard from the prophet Joel – return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; seems to set things up pretty well.  Fasting weeping Mourning.  For those of us who act like Lent is a competitive sport, this text from Joel is a pretty awesome starting place.

But, this week I began to wonder why God says to return to God with all of our heart rather than return to God when we get our crap together. I mean in Lent we tend to really focus on our behavior, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if God says return to me with all your heart, I think that maybe the implication is that we give our hearts to a whole lot of things that are not God. So if we think Lent is about giving things up so we can impress God maybe we should ask ourselves: which is harder – the fasting part or the returning to God with all our heart part?

Because I don’t think that my problem is that I eat too much sugar or I spend too much time on Facebook.  My problem…and maybe yours too is that I sort of piece my heart out to things that cannot love me back.   Don’t we piece our hearts out to the unrequited love of so many false promises and self-indulgences and doesn’t the toxicity of all of it all seem to preserve those little pieces of our heart like formaldehyde.

I mean, by the time I even get to the table of God’s grace I’ve made lovers of so many things and ideas and hopes and doubts – I’ve given myself to them so completely that there’s so little left.  So little to be fed by God’s grace since my starving little heart is doled out in so many pieces trying to get it’s own needs met.

And so, thank God once a year we gather to speak the truth of how we piece out our hearts, how we sin and fall short, how we rely on every single other thing to love us – everything but God.  How we love each other and are loved by each other so poorly with the small leftover bits of our hearts after we’ve given most of them and time to career advancement and saving the world and saving for our future and destroying gems and buying fake cows on Facebook and the dull pain of chemical dependency and internet porn and sugar binges and crossfit and the next spiritual practice or restricted diet that promises to make us whole. It’s not our time that’s so wasted with all of it…I think it’s something so much more valuable… I think it’s our hearts.

So together again this Ash Wednesday with the faithful all across the world we gather all the pieces of our broken selves…all the broken you deserve a break today pieces of our starving little hearts and we come again here to be told, of all things, that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The very thing we are trying to pretend is not true.  Because I think we give our hearts away because we’re afraid of the limits of our self-hood… so we create endless ways to either avoid our self-hood or expand our self-hood.  In other words, we sin. And all of it…and I hate to be so cliché, but basically, when it comes down to it, all of it is about the fact that we’re afraid to die. And as a giving our hearts away afraid to die people you’d think hearing you are dust and to dust you shall return would be pretty bad news, but not so.  Because here’s the thing: in the creation story in Genesis 2 it says that the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

So, yes, children of God…you are dust and to dust you shall return.

But remember this:  it is from dust and the very breath of God that you were created out of divine love. A divine love which mends the pieces of your heart back together whenever you return to it.   Always, always always.

And to do this, to gather the given away pieces of our hearts so that in returning to God God can make them whole, well, there’s a term for that …it’s repentance.

I used to think that repentance meant to feel so bad about being bad that you promise to not be bad anymore.

But now I see repentance as just returning again to God. Our contemplative in residence, James Wall tells about how difficult a certain Carmelite nun found contemplative prayer to be because her thoughts would wander a thousand times during a 20 minute prayer session. She was sure her teacher Thomas Merton would rebuke her for such a failure, so she was surprised when instead Merton said that her wandering thoughts were just 1,000 opportunities to return to God.

That’s what Ash Wednesday and Lent is…a thousand opportunities to return to God with all you heart. Returning again to the only thing in which we have any true self-hood …and that is the eternal and divine love of God. The eternal and divine love of God which created you from dust and breath.  The eternal and divine love of God to which you will return after your last breath when again you are dust.

12Yet even now, says the Lord,

return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

13rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the LORD, your God,

for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.




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