Summary: Ash Wednesday sermon
February 26, 2020; Ash Wednesday
Lenten Sermon Series 2020: Discipleship
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Rev. Mary Erickson
Enter the Dance
Nicholas Copernicus was a Polish astronomer in the 16th century. He was the first person to propose that the earth is NOT the center of the universe. We are, he said, a solar system, not a terra system. Our planet is but one of many revolving around the sun.
This was an outrageous proposition to the people of his day. It hadn’t been all that long ago that they’d needed to jettison their long cherished Flat Earth model for the spherical one proposed by Columbus. And now this upstart astronomer actually had the gumption to propose that everything didn’t revolve around us!
Copernicus’ views caused a tremendous uproar. His theory was downright heretical. But with time people had to recognize its simplicity and beauty. They had to admit that he was correct. We’re not the center! Everything doesn’t revolve around us! The earth is one of nine planets. It partakes in a perpetual and graceful dance. Like a whirling dervish, the earth spins round and round its axis. And at the same time, it slowly do-si-dos around the sun.
But Copernicus was just the beginning! With the creation of stronger telescopes we discovered our place within the Milky Way Galaxy. We came to see that our solar system is but a mere blip in one of the spiraling arms of our galaxy. And our great sun is just one of the dimmer bulbs among the 200 billion stars in our galactic home. It’s dwarfed beside the red giant Betelgeuse. It’s a dim refrigerator bulb next to the intense blue-white wattage of Vega.
And then, with the advent of ever more powerful telescopes, we’ve come to realize that our seeming huge galaxy, 90,000 light years in diameter, is but one of billions of such galaxies! With every advance in technology place in the universe grows smaller and smaller.
Our theme for Lent this year is discipleship. A disciple is a student. The root of the word disciple literally means “learner.” A student isn’t the source of wisdom. Part of being a student, a disciple, is to admit, “Hey, I don’t know. There’s a lot I have to learn. And I look to you, my teacher, for wisdom and understanding.”
Disciples admit what we don’t know, what we lack. If we had all of the answers inside of us, we wouldn’t have to look outside of ourselves.
But we don’t have all the answers! And not a day – not a minute! – goes by when we are self-sufficient. We need the baker to bake us bread, Xcel Energy to provide us with electricity. We need the sun to warm our earth, the ozone layer to protect us. We need the trees to supply oxygen and the polar ice caps to maintain planetary equilibrium. We need family and friends to love us; we need honest neighbors. We need doctors to care for us, national leaders to protect us and be our advocates. And, most of all, we need God!
It’s so easy for us to leave God out of the equation. We go about our business and make our plans. But all of these plans would collapse like a house of cards if God didn’t give us daily life. Day after day after day, as faithful and as steady as the sun and earth, God provides us with life.
Today is Ash Wednesday. And this day of all days acts as the portal to our examination of discipleship. On Ash Wednesday we come face to face with our limited nature. We receive a little smudge of ash on our foreheads. We hear the accompanying words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They remind us just how fleeting our existence is. So we must confess: We are NOT the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, the source, the ending. We are creature, not creator.
And so that little smudge of ash drives us to look for the one who is the source and ending. We look to the hand that gives us all things. We come as disciples.
At first blush that little smudge of ash on our forehead may seem a little outdated. It might seem like an embarrassing remnant from the Medieval Church. But it actually pays us a huge favor, for until we recognize what we are NOT — that we are NOT the center, the all in all, we won’t be able to see the One Who Is.
This is the gift of the ashes: What a relief it is to know that it isn’t your gravitational pull holding all things together! It’s not up to you to keep everything in your universe spinning in perfect concert! There is Another; there is a Center.