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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

1st March 2006

Fr David Shepherd

Ash Wednesday

Dust and Ashes – sweeping the house, cleaning out the ashes from the grate – the morning after the night before – sunlight showing up the dirt – such are the everyday images conjured up by Ash Wednesday. Our faith is to be lived out amongst the ordinariness, the drabness even, of our daily lives.

Dust and ashes to remind us of our beginning and our end, of our frailty and mortality – dust you are and to dust you shall return. Thus we are to be humble, to have humility in the presence of God as we accept our true nature. As we do this, as we turn away from sin in faithfulness to Christ so we receive the gift of life, eternal life.

It is the mundane ordinariness of Christian faith that can fail to attract an age that seeks excitement and is drawn by the esoteric in matters of religion. Christianity is not all about ordinariness it is also about the possibility of transformation and the glimpse of glory. And yet all to often the Church has lost sight of the simplicity of much of Jesus’ teaching that connected the things of God to the everyday. Do you want to pray then say the Lord’s Prayer, do you want to forgive then forgive your enemies? What laws should we keep, what commandments should we follow? Jesus’ teaching is deceptively simple.

The directness of Jesus’ teaching in giving his summary of the law to the sophisticated young lawyer is not a bad place to begin as we ponder our keeping of Lent. Love God, love your neighbour and love yourself. The worldly pattern is reversed.

  1. Love God. It’s not easy to put God first, to worship and to serve him. It never was although may be it is harder today in our fragmented society with all its competing agendas. If we do by God’s grace then our lives achieve a true balance and perspective. Worship, bible reading, sacraments and prayer all are means by which we give and receive the love of God.
  2. Love our neighbour. This really means loving everybody, not necessarily liking them, but loving them in a Christ like way, seeing them as God’s creation, bearing his image. Human beings in all the variety and complexity are a proper Lenten focus. We can give up to give to others.
  3. Love yourself. Loving me, we might put it. Despite all our thoughts about human selfishness and talk of the ‘me generation’ most of us don’t find it all that easy to love ourselves. It’s a sin not to, because God loves us, just as we are. Guilt is something to own and eject in Lent. ‘Just as I am with out one plea but that thy blood was shed for me’, so we sing in the hymn. In Lent we repent, we do a u-turn and we receive forgiveness. If we find it difficult the sacrament of penance can sometimes help. If we don’t love ourselves we will find it hard to love God and neighbour, in loving God and neighbour we come to love ourselves.

Dust and ashes, ordinariness and yet also about God, life and death, guilt and forgiveness such is Ash Wednesday, such is our keeping of Lent.


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