Ash Wednesday 2022
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In the Name of God, the Creator, Jesus, the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer. Amen.
As I prayed and reflected on the season of Lent, I thought about its purpose for us as Christians. What are we called to do in this season of Lent? We are called to a season of penitence and fasting, to a season of stripping away those things which are not of God, those things which are not important. In essence, we are called to clean out the clutter in our lives. The image that immediately came to mind was a closet in my house where I and the rest of my family, throw and shove the things we don’t know what to do with, can’t bear to part with, and don’t want to deal with inside the closet. For you it may be your basement, your garage, and if you are a tidy person, maybe it’s only a drawer. But for me it’s a closet.
Inside this closet are random things – some old sporting equipment (baseballs I have found on my runs, a bowling ball of Patrick’s and some awful looking bowling shoes, a childhood wooden baseball bat), a box of homemade masks (thank you, coronavirus), some really unfashionable hats, scarves, clothes and worn out shoes from every family member, unusable umbrellas because we always have hope they might work in an emergency, and gadgets and tools of every kind, some to make life easier (the thing to reach high things but I never remember to use them). There are old chewed up dog toys because maybe, just maybe, the dogs will want to play with them one day. In essence, my closet is filled with junk that I need to discard to make the space clean and usable. But for some reason, I keep holding on to these things and adding more to them on a regular basis. Do any of you have closets, drawers, basements, or garages filled with junk?
I think many of us have things buried in our souls and mind that are much like the junk described in my closet. We have stored things in our soul or in our mind that don’t encourage our growth as Christians and in some cases, may prevent us from being the person we are called to be. For example, we may hold animosity toward someone in our past or present. We may have feelings of jealousy, envy, shame, anger, resentment, or other similar feelings and emotions toward people directly connected to our lives and those from afar. We may harbor hatred toward a political leader or an organization that espouses a different ideology from our own personal views. We may have negative feelings stored in our souls from broken relationships in our lives. A marriage that went amiss, a son, daughter, a relative or friend that we are estranged from over a dispute or conflict. Perhaps we have not loved another person as we love ourselves. Or perhaps there are feelings of loneliness, low self-worth, or esteem inside the closet of our soul. Perhaps, we have not loved ourselves as God loves us.
My dear friends, Lent is the time to open this closet – our soul and see what we are storing in there that is not serving a purpose. We need to see what we are holding on to that we need to let go so we can become the person that God created us to be. Now I am not suggesting that we should open this closet of our soul and dump everything out at once. If we did, we would have a mess on the floor or chaos in our life. We need to look deep inside the closet of our soul and intentionally, carefully, and prayerfully remove those things which are weighing us down. I don’t want to pretend that it will be easy and that we will instantly feel better. In fact, I would bet that the experience will be difficult and even painful depending on the emotions that we are addressing. That is why we need to be intentional, careful, and prayerful about what we are removing. We need to think about three things as we tackle each item or feeling in the closet. First, why does this feeling exist. Why is this feeling in the closet in the first place? What happened in our life that caused us to harbor this feeling? We need to ask the question of where is God in this feeling, in this situation or circumstance? If God is not at the center, then our self, our ego is there. Second, we need to understand why this feeling needs to be removed. If the feeling does not allow us to bear the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our life, then it needs to go. We only want feelings that cultivate love for God, for others, and for ourselves. We must remember that we are created in God’s image, loved passionately by our Creator, and worthy of love.
Third, how do we go about the task of emptying out the closet of our soul, of things that prevent us from being the person God calls us to be? How do we get rid of the junk and keep only the feelings that cultivate the fruits of the spirit? This part is simple. We need to ask for help. We need to pray to God for the strength to let go of these feelings, these emotions, the things that clutter our lives and hold us back. We need to believe with our whole heart, soul, and mind that God will help us, will strengthen us, will never forsake us. God will give us what we need to do to clean out the closet of our souls. God is faithful in giving us the tools that we need to do this inner work of the soul. It may be in the form of a person, a community, nature, or in Scripture. We need to simply pray and ask God to help us.
I ask that we take a moment to consider the feelings, the emotions, the things we need to remove from our life during Lent so that we can grow closer to God and feel is boundless love for us. This Lent, as you clean out the closet of your soul, remember the words of Moses to the people of Israel.
Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord you God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). Amen.