FACING THE CROSS (Part 1) Luke 18:31-34 Pastor Carey February 14, 2018 Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the penitential season of Lent. Its true name is actually not “Ash Wednesday” but “The Day of Ashes.” Whichever name is used, the reference to ashes comes from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead in the shape of the cross as that Pope Gregory I introduced in Rome the 6th century. It was enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom in the 11th century.

Gardeners know that ashes can be used to help grow plants. But basically ashes are worthless. In fact they are actually a hindrance and a liability.  You can’t make ashes pretty by painting them, and you can’t make ashes smell good by spraying perfume on them. Ashes are just ashes.  And people are just people. When all is said and done, no matter how we try to cover ourselves with paint or perfume we are left with thoughts, feelings and actions that are best buried and forgotten.

So why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads?  Why do we gather and remember what we are on Ash Wednesday?  The answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, more importantly we gather to remember who God is – and what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ.

Ash Wednesday begins one of the most important parts of the year…Lent.  Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, begining on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, meaning “spring.” The season is a preparation for celebrating Easter. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians. So Lent is a season of Spring inviting us to prepare to “jump” or “spring” onto life.  But first, we must germinate, develop roots and grow.  That is what these next 40 days are for – to help us develop so we might grow strong.

I believe that Lent is our time to return to focusing on God more than we have.  We live in such a distraction-filled world today.  Everything screams at us bidding for our attention.  We are so busy, so pre-scheduled, so over-committed that the things of God can slowly be forgotten, ignored or become not important at all.

During Lent 2018, we will focus our attention on how Jesus faced the cross and now invites us to do the same – to determine over these 40 days what is not in line with the cross.  What things need to be eliminated or crucified in us, what things need to be resurrected or begun in us to live into the disciple of Jesus calling upon all of us?  It starts with remembering who we are, who we are not, who we are supposed to be and who we are called to follow.

In Luke 9:51 it says that when the time drew near for Jesus to leave this earth, he set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross he would encounter on our behalf.  Tonight’s scripture from chapter 18 comes from the first moments when Jesus tells his disciples that they are going back to Jerusalem and what will happen to him.  In essence, this passage fulfills what is written by Luke earlier.  Jesus “set his face”.

What a great image! We have all set our faces for one thing or another in our lives – regardless of our age.  Little children set their face before going to the Christmas tree on Christmas day. We set our faces just before trying to hit that perfect golf or tennis shot and on and on. Sometimes we set our face when angry or frustrated.

Last night I watched Shawn White’s final run in the snowboard competition to win the gold medal.  He was behind and had only one more chance to outscore the Japanese competitor.  And he completed the run of a lifetime!

Since Jesus has done the work for our salvation and new life, our task is to live into and out of his sacrifice by the way we live, love and care for others and ourselves that reflect Jesus to others in everything we do. But first we have to set our face for the Lenten journey. Can we set our face this Lenten season toward holiness of heart, mind, body and soul?  Can we set our face to be purposeful in addressing those things that hinder our full commitment and connection to Jesus?

We are all a work in progress as a disciple of Jesus – we are “under construction”.  Ruth Bell Graham was driving in her community and saw a road sign that made her smile.  It read, “End of Construction, thanks for your patience.” She told her husband Billy about it and said she would like that on her gravestone.  After her death in 2007, her grave marker bears the Chinese symbol for righteousness (she was born in China) and the words of the road sign that made her smile.

So let’s set our faces toward Easter and see where the journey takes us with Jesus!  Have a holy Lenten Season!

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