"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
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Why Ashes? And Why give things up for Lent?
Perhaps the two most commonly asked questions about Ash
Wednesday and the season of Lent are, "why do we put ashes on our foreheads?"
and "Why do we give
things up for Lent?
Let me take a stab at answering those questions today:
We put ashes on our foreheads because ashes have long
been a sign of our mortality. "Mortality," means, of course, we are mortal. Human. Not divine
or angelic. We are "formed of the earth, and to earth we one day
return...ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
Ash Wednesday is a kind of Christian Yom Kippur - and as Rabbi
Alexis Roberts says of that day, "Many say we're practicing to be dead:
looking over our values, accomplishments, and failures as though it was all
over and now we have to make an accounting."
Because most of us live fairly busy lives and don't take much
time for deep reflection, Ash Wednesday is a good day to ask questions we don't
often pause long enough to ask. Questions like author Steven Covey encourages
us to ask:
"What kind of wife, mother, daughter -- what kind of
husband, father, son, would you like to be remembered as?"
"What contributions, what achievements do you want people
to remember after you're gone?"
"Think of the people around you -- the people you are
closest to, the people with whom you spend the most time -- what difference would you like to have
made in their lives?"
Talk about beginning with "the end in mind" -- that's
THE end, our end,
that ashes can help keep in mind.
So ashes on Ash Wednesday remind us of our mortality, and are
therefore a good chance to start, or restart our lives with "the" end
So, why do
we give things up for Lent?
Why are we encouraged, during Lent to take on the ancient spiritual practices of prayer,
fasting, and almsgiving?
Why the customary emphasis on giving up sweets and/or alcohol
and/or tobacco for the forty days (and nights!) of Lent?
We take those practices on and we give those things up for Lent
for the same, very simple reasons:
To find out what has a hold on us.
To find out what we have become unduly attached to.
To find out what lesser things, people, and habits we have settled for as
substitutes for an adventure with God.
The point of prayer, fasting, and giving away
more money is not to make ourselves suffer; the point is to learn something
The point is to learn what we have become enslaved to; what has
been robbing our freedom, or making us less than fully free and joy-filled.
The intention of discipline like prayer, fasting, and
alms-giving, in other words, is meant to help us explore the mystery of our
hearts. They are meant to force us to ask questions about
ourselves...wrestle with things about ourselves we normally don't.
And so here's a radical thought (and by "radical" I
mean rooted, rooted in the Bible and in Christian history) -
The practices of prayer, fasting, and giving away money, like
the practice of worship, are not
meant to be ends in themselves. Those
practices, like all religious practices, are meant to be means to an end, and the "end" is to
kick up questions like the ones above: questions about our end purpose in life,
and questions which, if we stick with them long enough, will transform our
behavior and our life.
Turns out that ashes and spiritual practices have the same
purpose, then: to help us love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.
If they aren't doing that, then they aren't serving their
purpose. And neither are we.
No one can -- and I certainly don't want to try -- to unpack every tweet the person currently holding the office of President of the United States sends out.
No one has the time to respond to every one of his tweets on just one issue. Although I wish I had the time on the issue of the Executive Orders recently issued in regard to refugees.
But every so often I feel I MUST respond to at least SOME of those tweets, lest I grow accustomed to them as normal. And I refuse to normalize the abnormal.
Take one of Saturday's tweets, for example: in response to Judge Robart's temporarily stopping an Executive Orders, there was this:
“What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?”
Let's unpack: "What is our country coming to..." Does that lament sound familiar? Ask yourself: who often says it, where do you hear it from the most? Is it a positive, hopeful line of thinking? I wil…
A sermon preached January 29, 2017 The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the p…
Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal Falls
Church, Virginia James
7:24-37 In case you’re confused by the service leaflet,
where it says Kelly is supposed to be preaching today, well, she was, and she
was planning to. But yesterday she came down with the stomach flu, and of
course we encouraged her to stay home until she’s 100%. (And to think I came this close to getting out of having to preach on a couple of very tough passages…) (Kelly’s sermon, by the way, was written well ahead
of time and is, as we have already come to expect, excellent. And inspiring – I
was inspired reading it.* Hard copies are available, and will be made available
on line.) What you’re going to get from me today is a little
different than a normal sermon. Today I want to tell you a story – a bit of my own
family history -- and then read you a poem. And then show you how I think that
story and the poem relate to today’s lessons and to current events. …