Summary: Grace is to be given
The Lord Be With You.
Here’s my parable …
There once was a caterpillar that just about gave up his changing into a butterfly. His momma would tell him over and over again to be patient. His time would come. But the caterpillar thought it was taking a lifetime. Way too long for his impatient self to wait. All he could talk about was how great he would look when the change occurred. And, after a long time, he finally went into his cocoon with the full expectation that he would emerge that beautiful butterfly he bragged about and expected. But things didn’t go as planned. The weather changed abruptly and the caterpillar’s cocoon was torn from the tree branch that it was on. The caterpillar was still in there but he couldn’t get out and he was in there on the ground. Then a small child happened along and found the cocoon, reached down and put it back in the tree where it continued its metamorphose. After a bit, the caterpillar did emerge a beautiful butterfly. It looked like the rest of those butterflies but it could only have changed with the help of someone who took the effort to help it along.
Here ends the parable.
The Greek word for righteous is “dikaiosu,nhn” – dia-kaio-so-non. It means literally to have uprightness, mercy, and charity. But it also mean to have justice and equity. Today is Ash Wednesday. The day that we’re to remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. What happens to our other selves is what drives us into God’s house frequently. There are experiences that I had when I served as a chaplain in Chicago. Some of them you may already know.
But there are some that go to the root, or the core, of our heart of hearts. That keep you awake at night not with terror but with a deep sense of missed opportunities and also with those people that could reach to you beneath the rough exterior. Ash Wednesday is our day to reflect on our lives and the lives of those around us because this day is our day to place the ashes on our foreheads to symbolize our worship of Jesus Christ and to understand that without His sacrifice on that cross firstly, we wouldn’t be here secondly.
Ash Wednesday came about from the early church as a time to allow us to relook at this righteousness we are called to and attempt to reconcile our unwillingness to completely give ourselves over to our neighbor with what we’re called to do by God. This day is the start of forty days of Lent, not counting Sundays, that allows us to relook at our mission within this body as it pertains to its mission outside these walls. It allows us to relook at how we approach our Savior in light of the passion that He took to the cross with Him. This day is also to look inward to our own relationships. To accept that transformation that comes with the ashes. The ashes of Jesus and the cross of Christ.
Of course, relationships are hard. On this day, we’re called to look at our own relationships. Sometimes, those relationships can be quite daunting. Sometimes they need work. Sometimes what we think we should do to build them up becomes a bit muddled. And sometimes we think what we need to do isn’t what we need to do for those relationships after all. Sort of like the story I’m reminded of …
A priest, a minister, and a rabbi wanted to see who was best at his job. So they each go into the woods, find a bear, and attempt to convert it. Later they get together.
The priest begins: “When I found the bear, I read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his first communion.”
“Well, I found a bear by the stream,” says the minister, “and preached God’s holy word. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him.”
They both look down at the rabbi, who’s lying on a gurney in a body cast. “Looking back,” the rabbi says, “maybe I shouldn't have started with the circumcision.”
Now I’d like to relate a story to you that goes to the heart of how our own relationships and meetings with others have an impact on their lives whether we know it or not or whether it’s fully understood. It’s a story where transformation through the righteousness of others makes an impact that might seem absent at the time but the impact ends up being profound to many.
Billy Moore grew up in a tough city in Ohio to an impoverished family. He got involved with crime when he was very young. He smoked dope, got drunk and participated in all kinds of petty theft. Then he joined the army, got married, and had a son. After a while though, his wife left him and took his only child with her. Billy was broke and he was desperate.