I recently watched an episode of Modern family in which the Dad Phil was in charge of making his teenage girls clean their bathroom Of course they swore they had done it so they could run off and go be with their friends. Then he opened a door and everything spilled out We’ve all experienced some version of this Whether it be with our children or ourselves. You get a call that someone is coming to visit who you didn’t expect. You scramble to get all your junk out of sight so everything looks real good for the visit, being sure that you don’t have to open the door or drawer for any reason while they are there because of the inevitable overflow. Otherwise your visitors will see more of the truth of you than you would like – that you are not quite as neat and organized as you appear to be. Well, it happens. We all have some sort of clutter that accumulates and it has to go somewhere whether it be a back room, a drawer or a closet.
Today we begin a season of the year that is a gift to us, an opportunity for us to clean things out rather than stuffing them out of sight. It’s not always as simple as it seems.
Recently I took some time to clean out one of my closets. Believe me I didn’t really feel like doing it because I had done over time what many of us do. All those pieces of paper that I didn’t quite know what to do with, all the items that had no use but I couldn’t quite throw away, because they were familiar but they were in the way, it was time so I got out the garbage bags I made a pile of things to be filed I made stacks of things that I really did want to keep. For the afternoon the room itself looked like an overturned dumpster , pretty bad initially but eventually the clutter decreased and as I sorted through things I made little discoveries, photos I had forgotten about letters from family and friends that reconnected me with good memories. Eventually there was clear space on the floor and a new order in the closet where I could actually find things. It was no longer a dread to open the door and be confronted by the mess inside. It really does take some time to sort through things to get rid of what’s in the way, to clean things out so there is new space for a new order.
In a way that’s what this season that begins today is all about. It’s about taking out some of the stuff that we shove in drawers and closets and corners of our lives and cleaning those areas out so we can rediscover the treasures of our lives, the gifts we have been given as God’s holy people, and creating a space to see once again who we are and whose we are. We are called to a time of self-examination. What are those behaviors and practices that get in the way of seeing what’s really important, that clutter up the treasures that we have in our lives, that prevent us from seeing how we are called to serve.
It’s good then that Lent lasts 40 days because that’s a good chunk of time to get our personal spaces in order. We have the time to ask ourselves what in our lives gets in the way of our relationships with our God, our neighbors and even ourselves. What clutter has to go in order that our relationship with God self and other can have a new order can have some space for God’s light to shine in, for growth to happen, for us to step back and see the landscape of our lives in God.
Our gospel tells us that we are called to be intentional about this process without calling a lot of attention to ourselves. This same gospel gives us three main places to focus our efforts, almsgiving, prayer and fasting. In regards to almsgiving we can ask ourselves, “Is there some special cause that we feel drawn to give to locally, nationally, internationally” or is there a specific individual or family that could use some of the resources that we have. The second is prayer. It is easy to go from day to day and try to do our best with the tasks before us without connecting to God or even if we come to church on Sunday to pray, to let that intentional prayer be a once a week thing. Lent is a perfect time to change that, to connect with God through daily prayer. That doesn’t mean being on your knees all day It might mean Saying the Jesus payer, whenever you think of it during the day picking up one of the meditation books or simply carrying a cross in your pocket. Take time to walk the labyrinth. It might mean integrating those three prayers that author Anne Lamott talks about Help, Thanks, Wow throughout the day. The third practice mentioned is fasting giving up something so that we actually hunger and feel that empty space inside – There are many of us who cannot fast from food because of medical conditions or age but there are other things we can fast from like too many hours on Facebook, habits that harm our bodies or souls, gossip or negative self talk anything that clutters our relationships with God, self, other.
It can be quite challenging to repent to clean up our acts on our own. So many of us like to procrastinate. But as our Epistle tells us, “now is the acceptable time now is the day of salvation.” Martin Smith has said that “Lent is the season for the Spirit of Truth, and the freedom (the space) that is gained only through exposure to the truth.” (A Season for the Spirit) This is what begins today facing the messiness of our lives and cleaning up our acts but the blessed thing is that while we each will have our individual variations of self examination we don’t have to do this alone. We enter into this season with the whole church and we make our way together as a community of faith Let us receive this season as a gift as a gracefilled space for us to draw nearer to God and to let God to grow nearer to us.
sermon written by: the Rev. Joy A. Daley
February 18, 2015 | Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58: 1-12 | Psalm 103 | 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21