Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

Beginning Lent

Ash Wednesday Sermon

The Rev. Stuart Schadt

In the Ash Wednesday message
I hear that time is short and you need to figure out who you are what you’re
about and offer yourself in relationship to God. In clearer language Jesus
calls us to authenticity. But emerging as the authentic me is a hard journey.

 I don’t think it is a hard
journey because we are naturally duplicitous or that we are naturally hypocrites.
I think one of the reasons it is hard is because sometimes we are naturally
unconscious. We are unaware that there are dimensions to us that we have yet to
explore or yet to unleash or that we even need to explore. If you are like me
the alarm may have to go off two or three times before I really wake up in the
morning. Fortunately Lent comes around every year saying wake up.

 It is a hard Journey because
sometimes we don’t like what we see. We would rather live with the myth of who
we are, rather than the reality. I have recently started reading a book called
the Twenty Five Books that Shaped America. Fortunately for you I am only three
chapters into it but each book so far has talked about one or more of the
mythic character types that have shaped our American identity.

 The first was Benjamin
Franklin’s Autobiography. While there was some of the historic Franklin present
in the book, mostly Jefferson offers himself as an iconic image of what an
exemplary American would be. It is just as we might try to project ourselves as
an exemplary employee, teacher, business person…It leads me to note that the
difference between a biography and an auto biography is that a biography tells me
who the world thinks I am and in an auto biography I tell you who I want the
world to think I am. Neither is called a reality.

 The second book is the Last
of the Mohicans. The lead character is described as “all sinew, endurance,
woodscraft, warcraft, instinct, and power.” This gives ride to the silent male
hero. The cowboy who is more comfortable with his thought and his horse than he
is with the girl in town, the solitary soldier or spy or whatever type of hero
we want to cast.  Giving us commands such
as never show weakness never let them see you sweat and surely never let them
see you cry.  So yes we are a society
with some iconic types that are anything but a fully integrated self -capable
of a full relationship with God or others.

 It is a hard journey because
I am often very comfortable with my status quo; my mix of good and bad habits.
My self-image, the way I perceive myself and the way I want to be perceived. This
is a bit of an exaggeration but unfortunately not much of one. Every morning
when I look in the mirror I am for a moment confused because in my self-image I
am twenty five and about 40 pounds thinner with more hair.

 Fortunately I have a wife and
Jesus both who say, “Get real.”

 So Lent comes along and
offers us a time to get real

 In the called to a holy lent
we are called to self examination and repentance – Self examination means to
take a real look at ourselves, an honest look and that look means that there
are some things we want to repent of which really means to turn away from. But
I hope in that self examination we will also find some things we want to turn
toward and embrace. Our higher and better self is also in there to be
discovered and celebrated.

 In the called to a holy lent
we are called to prayer, fasting and self denial. This really means to spend
some time alone with our selves and with God. It is amazing that we keep
inventing ways in which we never have to be alone. My TV has what seems to me
to be an endless number of channels that run 24/7.  I have my computer, my radio, my cd player,
my phone, all of which can talk to me and keep me from being alone. We can say
to ourselves I was just at prayer Sunday which is good but mean the kind prayer
where we are alone with God.  IN an
interview many years ago a reporter asked Mother Theresa about how she prayed.
She says when I pray I sit and listen. The reporter then asks, “What does God
do? She replied that God mostly sits and listens. It is almost frightful to
dare to think of sitting and listening in the presence of God.

 Fasting and self denial is
about discovering that these things beyond us have more power over us than we
admit and it is about striving to be released from that power. Through fasting
and self denial we can come to realize the strength of our desire for food or
alcohol or drugs and then find the strength to break that control and discover
freedom in God.

 Reading and meditating on
God’s word – and finally the word the scripture. I find it very illuminating to
ask very simple questions when I am reading scripture. Just two questions,
Where am I in this story? What does this message have to say to me? And if your
answer is always I don’t see myself in that story I don’t hear a message for me
you are not looking deep enough or listening hard enough.

 All this is about finding our
true selves to offer to God.

 So what about Jesus

 Jesus is the one who calls us
to our true self, our higher self our better self.

 And most importantly Jesus is
the one who loves us long before we ever get there and who makes it safe for us
to try.

 So hear the call of Lent. The
call to get real.