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by Susan Russell

Lead us, Holy Spirit, beyond narrow concerns into the land of peace, justice and wholeness for all creation. Though the path is in the desert, lead us through the temptations that test us — and the trials that burnish and refine us for your service. We ask in the name of our brother, Jesus who shows us the way. Amen.

The prayer offered for meditation in our liturgies this morning marks the beginning of yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter as we hear again the words as familiar as their outward-and-visible signs etched on our foreheads: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On this Ash Wednesday, as the liturgical season shifts from Epiphany to Lent, we are called to make a shift, too. Our focus shifts, as it does every year from stories about those outward manifestations of God’s presence among us to a more interior place as we journey with Jesus on the road we know leads to Golgotha – to the cross – and ultimately, to the resurrection. And so, on this Ash Wednesday, here is my annual advice for the journey ahead:

Do not give up epiphanies for Lent!

Do not become so inwardly focused that we forget to notice – to give thanks for – to respond to – those encounters we can and will have with the holy in the next 40 days. Do not become so focused on our own “journey with Jesus” that we forget that as long as there are still strangers at the gate, walking humbly with our God is not enough. Not even close to enough.

These words of my colleague Scott Gunn of Lent Madness fame struck me this morning: “We live in a world that is gripped by fear and hatred. Too many of our national leaders seem intent on steering to the low road. Time seems to be in short supply as jobs, families, and various electronic gizmos compete for our attention. Now more than ever, we need Lent.”

I think that calls for an “Amen.”

I actually had two epiphanies last Sunday. One was in the rector’s sermon – as he talked about the process of finding clarity in the stillness that comes “underneath the quiet.”

Now this may come as a shock to many of you, but I am an extrovert. I have to work at being quiet – and just because I’m not making noise at any given moment doesn’t mean I’m actually quiet … it usually means there is a whole cacophony of lists, challenges, bog posts to write, things-done-and-left-undone – even the occasional show tune – bouncing around in my head.

I need the intentionality of sitting long enough in the quiet to get to the stillness below – and Lent is both the excuse and the opportunity to do precisely that.

When our friend Gene Robinson preached here at All Saints just a few weeks ago, he offered a brilliant summation of Jesus’ journey from his baptism through the wilderness and then out to the other side and his first public sermon in his hometown in Nazareth. If you missed it you totally need to go to our YouTube Channel and catch it. But here – for me – was the bottom line – the “AHA!” – the Epiphany:

The narrative, as Gene offered it, was that at his baptism Jesus not only heard the outward words “You are my beloved” he also heard the inward question “Now what are you going to do about it?”

And that’s what the wilderness was about. That’s what the forty days of temptation were about. That’s what Lent is about.

It is about claiming the fact certain that we are utterly beloved of God — loved beyond our wildest imaginings. And then about finding the stillness below the quiet to find our own answer to “now what are you going to do about it?”

What are we going to do in response to a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another? What is the fast we choose for this Lent 2016?

In the stillness below the quiet hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly.

If we are to be a people who have bread to share with the hungry we must challenge those who would balance our budgets on the backs of the least of these.

If we are to serve the God whose fast is “to let the oppressed go free” we must keep speak out against the policies and the politicians enshrining and proclaiming fear, division and polarization.

If we are to choose the fast Isaiah offers us this Lent, we must continue to undo the thongs of the yokes of the racism and sexism; of Islamophobia and homophobia – of anything and everything that continues to keep this country and this church from being all that God would have them be.

And if we are to live up to our baptismal covenant we must advocate for just immigration and living wage policies that will truly respect the dignity of every human being.

I want to close with the second epiphany I had last Sunday. This one came during the anthem the children sang at the 9:00 service … which was in itself a “glory attack.” But these were the lyrics that stayed with me:

There has to be a song —
To make our burdens bearable,
To make our hopes believable,
To transform our triumphs into praise.

And this morning – as I worked to find the stillness under the quiet – there was a song. It was this one I learned from Ana Hernandez:

Another world is not only possible
She is on her way
On a quiet day you can hear her breathing
She is on her way

Today my prayer is that on this Ash Wednesday – as we begin our individual and collective journey with Jesus on the road we know leads to Golgotha – to the cross – and ultimately, to the resurrection – we do so knowing in the deepest core of our being that we are utterly loved by the God who created us in love and that all God asks in return is that we love absolutely everyone else the way God has loved us.

It is absolutely that simple. And the greatest temptation of all may to make it more complicated. To make it so complicated that another world seems impossible to imagine as we look around at all that ails and afflicts this human family of ours.

My goal this Lent is to resist that temptation. To not only believe that another world is possible … but that she is on her way. And then to get quiet enough to not only hear her breathing, but – in the stillness under the quiet – to find my part in clearing the path into the land of peace, justice and wholeness for all creation.

Amen.

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