Sermon for Ash Wednesday in San Jose, Costa Rica

February 25, 2009

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

In my calendar for this month there is a cartoon, of a priest imposing ashes and saying, 'Remember that you are dust, but a very fine kind of dust. It is true, as we are God's creatures, created from the earth, made of the same dust that comes ultimately from the stars. At the same time we are sinners and the image of God. Lent begins by recalling our sinful part, but God will not let us forget that we are created in his image.

We are dust, given life by the spirit of God. We are dust, hoping to be worthy of the image of God. Lent gives us a chance to recall our vocation, a vocation that we find on the road toward God. As sacks of dust, on our pilgrimage to the reign of God, we need to start our spring training, as baseball players do. But this training is for life, not just a game.

Our training is with the other members of the Christian team, including the rookies preparing for Baptism during the Easter Vigil. Both, old and new, need to recover the practices of our faith. That's why we are going to hear the invitation to a holy Lent. Those Christian practices of people on the way are self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on Scripture. Today we have a chance to remember about Christian actions, and to increase our commitment to do them.

Self-examination essentially is a call to nurture a heart open to the spirit of God. An open heart can hear the voice or the spirit of God. How are we closing the ear of our heart? Prayer is more than anything else the ability, the aim, the desire to hear the spirit. Having heard the spirit, whenever we perceive something wrong or closed within ourselves and we return to the path once again, we are doing repentance. The word penitence means to return to God. No more, no less.

Fasting and self-denial are not just so that we might have skinny bodies or have better physical health. They are signs of our participation in the body of Christ, and even more, in the body of Gods creation. Our hungers and desires, whatever they may be, affect our sisters and brothers. Whenever we consume too much food, water, energy, carbon, or space, we impact them negatively. We are telling others that they are not worth as much as we are. We are denying their image of God. For this reason Lent is an opportunity to value our neighbors as ourselves, and fasting is a good way to increase our capacity for loving them.

Reading and meditating on the word of God is another opportunity to hear the spirit. We need to focus on the history of our faith, especially in the story of God's love for all creation, and the life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus.

Lent is our opportunity to bless this dust so that it can shine even brighter than the stars  like the light of Christ. Our world needs that light, resurrected from dust.

We'll take a few minutes to ponder the possibilities Lent offers. How can we increase our capacity to hear, and to turn back toward the Kingdom of God? How can we live with love for all people?

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return dust of the earth and of heaven.