Ash Wednesday Meditation

Isaiah 58:1-12

I have been doing an unofficial sermon series
on my colleague’s, Brother Anthony Zuba’s,
song, “After the Summons.”

Tonight,
I want to share with you one last verse.
In his song,
Zuba writes,
“Many years I trod until I heard you call my name
Many voices and I thought that yours was just the same.
Light of works and light of grace! It has shone upon your face.
Time is powerless to erase the word you wrote in me.”

I am captivated by that last line,
“Time is powerless to erase the word you wrote in me.”

Wow.

What word, I wonder, do we write in one another?
What word do they write in us?
Do we realize the impact of the words we share
or the word that we are?

I have mulled over that question this week,
as I considered the story of the Woodchucks.
As part of a church in rural Virginia,
the Woodchucks is a group of people
who cut and split wood,
and then deliver it to local families
in the cold winter months.
They support 45-50 families in their county
and deliver in excess of 200 pick-up truck loads
of wood each winter.
Their mission is this:
to relieve the suffering of the poor
by giving them firewood to keep their families warm.

One Woodchuck wrote about his experience, reflecting,
I thought it would be easy.
However,
it is an act that involves snakes, bees, ticks,
hazardous equipment, heat, cold,
snow and ice.
Yet,
he continues to do it,
because he has seen the need in his community.
He has seen the tears of joy that come
when someone can by Christmas presents
because they now have wood to heat their house.

Recently,
a Woodchuck recipient wrote,
“As I sit here in my home,
warmed by my wood stove,
filled with fuel provided by you,
I wonder if you realize how much
I appreciate what you have done in my life,
not just right now, this Christmas season,
but all winter long for a long time now,
so long I’m not sure how long it has actually been.
I’m humbled by the actions you have taken
to help me with a need I could never repay.
Your kindness and never failing to ensure
I’ve had what I needed
will never be forgotten or
gone un-realized how much hard work is involved
as I took care of this need myself for many years
before my debilitating accident
that took so much away physically from my life.
God has kept me here through some things
I sometimes wonder why I’m worth even being here.
I have a story, as we all do.
The older I get, the more I’m shown by the actions of others
what I am able to do.
I realize how much time I’ve wasted sometime
when I’m actually still able to give back.
In a large part because of you and the actions
you’ve taken to help me has made me realize
how much I can still do to help others
and I have tried to do that.
I can’t cut and load firewood,
but there is so much I am capable of.
I don’t mean to go on and on.
Thank God for all I have,
there are so many with so much less.
I now know my job is to look for those I can touch
and I’m trying,
with God’s help,
to be a better man,
and do what I can when I can.
I will never get even with the blessings I receive.
Thank you again for what you’ve done in my life,
my humble prayers are with you.
Thank you so much for the help and kindness
you’ve extended to me.
May God bless you all, as you have blessed me.
With love and thanks.”

Suddenly,
my mind comes back to Zuba’s song:
“Light of works and light of grace! It has shone upon your face
Time is powerless to erase the word you wrote in me.”

The recipient’s words make me wonder:
Are we aware of the impact of the word of God
that write in one another?

What word are you? I am curious.
What word have you written,
in me, in each other, in the community?

Mercy. In my life, you have written mercy.

I see the word every morning,
when I wake up,
and make a cup of tea,
in the house that
this congregation built.
I look at the backsplash in the kitchen,
and think of Gordon putting it up,
I look at the screen in my door that Jim helped put in.
I look at the garden that Sam and Sharon helped to put in.
I look at the details that Nina and Mark attended to.

I hear it when I sit down to coffee with you
and hear how are you helping students,
and neighbors, cats, horses, bunnies,
the hungry, the homeless, the sick,
the dying, the waiting or the forgotten.

I feel it in the
the prayers you offer,
the grace you share,
the time you give,
the service you pour out,
the care you embody.

You have written a word of mercy in me
that time cannot erase.
I wonder: are you aware of the impact
of the word you write in others?
God can do a lot with even the tiniest mustard seeds
and it has surprised me,
when I have taken time to:
send something to a sick friend,
read a written piece by a loved one,
listen to someone’s story,
and they have replied: It means so much.

The words of God we write in one another mean so much.

It means so much
as we pause together
to remember,
to celebrate,
to give thanks,
that time cannot erase the Word that God writes in us.

Time may try; the years may try; many voices will try.

I was reminded of that as I read today’s Scripture,
which tells the story of a fasting people
who are more worried about
their appearance than their actions,
their performance than their connections.

Even in this moment of failure,
God is saying, I am writing a new word in you,
one of grace, because I see even now,
you can turn around, you can throw off
your limited focus on yourself,
and put on instead
an expansive focus on tenderness, on love,
on your neighbor who is hungry and shivering.

Don’t you see, God is asking,
that it means so much?

Throw off, God beckons,
everything else that tries to claim you:
too much to do and not enough time,
imperfect selfies,
imperfect lives,
the comparison game,
the success game,
the never-measuring-up game.

Put on instead the mantle of God,
which is justice,
which is integrity,
which is dignity,
which is refreshment,
which is abundance,
which is love.

No time to waste.
Life is precious. You are precious.
The time is now! The day is today!

Die to everything that separates you from others
and rise to new life in Christ.
Rise to love, to community, to joy beyond measure,
Rise to a life of meaning and agency
and wonder and flourishing.

In the words of the Woodchuck recipient:
“I now know my job is to look for those I can touch.”

Look long and hard for acts of mercy,
no matter how small.

For love is an exchange of gifts,
even it is just a smile to someone on the street.

The root of the word community, munis, means gifts.
As a community,
we commit to sharing our gifts,
being part of an exchange,
having a conversation
as we move and are moved
We commit to learning, growing and dancing together.
This is what it means to be companions on the Way.

This dance of grace came to life for me
in a story I heard about Amanda Palmer,
a musician who for a long time made her living
as a living statue in Harvard Square.
As a living statue,
Palmer would stand for long periods in the square,
and when someone would give her money,
she would respond by handing them a flower,
and saying, “Thank you.”
Palmer writes that, on good days,
people come back and bring her flowers,
saying, “Thank you”,
and she would respond by saying, “Thank you”
and giving them another flower,
and the thank you’s would continue, on and on,
until at last she lost track of who was thanking who.

The exchange of mercies continues on and on
until all that is left is love.
Love never ends. Everything else fades away.

This is the Great Exchange to which God beckons us,
abundantly filled with forgiveness and fresh starts,
the endless exchange of gifts
to which we are invited with one another.

In honor of that truth,
these roses are for you.

Roses were handed out.

Take a rose and know that you are part of this wondrous conversation,
that God writes a word of mercy in you,
again and again and again,
and now may you go forth
writing a word of mercy in one another,
exchanging grace upon grace,
until, in the end, all that remains is love.

Amen.

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