Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Post It Notes & Ash Wednesday


Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday

Years ago a man working for the 3M Corporation invented a kind of sticky paste whose properties allowed one thing stick to another thing and then be peeled off without harming either thing or leaving behind any residue.  No one could think of a useful application for this paste and so it became just another idea buried in some file drawer.  3M thought so little of the invention they didn’t even bother to take out a patent on it. 

Well, one person believed the paste might be useful for office notes.  So he bought the rights to the sticky stuff for a little bit of money and began to market a product he called “Post-It Notes.”  The rest, as they say, is history.  Now we all use these little yellow pieces of paper to remind us of various things we don’t want to forget: phone numbers, appointments, grocery lists, etc.

Today, Ash Wednesday, might be called the “Post-It Note” day of the liturgical year.  We come here today/tonight because we want to remember something.  In a few moments I will take ashes, mark the sign of the Cross on your forehead, and say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Think of it as an ancient, spiritual Post-It Note with a message you should not forget.

I hear people say, “I can’t wait for Christmas,” or “I’m ready for Easter,” but I have never heard anyone say, “I am really looking forward to Lent,” or, “Gee, isn’t it wonderful Lent is finally here.  Lent, with its Post-It Note reminder we are dust and will someday return from whence we came, is about as welcome and refreshing as an ice-cold shower.  We spend our lives trying to feel good about things, trying to get as much out of the moment as possible, and trying to stay focused on the positive.  The Ash Wednesday Post-It Note runs against everything we are trying to do.  When I put the ashes on you and ask you to remember you are dust, there has got to be at least a small voice inside you whispering, “Thank you Father Keith for that piece of cheery news.”

One question we might want to ask is this: what is the danger of forgetting we are dust?  What happens if we miss the Post-It Note or simply avoid its reminder?  And what difference does it make if we are mindful of this truth and vigilant to its implications?

If we forget we run the risk of thinking time will never run out on us.  We put off until it is too late the things of ultimate concern.  If we forget we lose sight of our limitations and become frustrated with our imperfections.  If we don’t embrace we are dust we miss out on an essential connection to the world around us.  Ultimately, if we forget we do not recognize a fundamental part of our make-up.  We end up trying to be something else… something we are not.  We lose sight of our calling, our purpose, our capacities, and our limitations.

For Christians Lent begins with a disruptive and deeply disturbing message which abruptly interrupts the richness and pleasures of day-to-day living.  Lent begins with the grim reminder we are dust, but it moves forward with an invitation to a journey.  One image of Lent is that of a pilgrimage.  A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place undertaken with a devotional manner.  For Christians the sacred journey of Lent looks like prayer and fasting, and committing oneself to acts of charity and occasions of public worship.  While the journey may not take us to a far off holy destination, it leads us on a spiritual path to the Cross and empty Tomb.

As you make your Lenten pilgrimage this year I invite you to do so with today’s Post-It Note kept squarely before you.  As with every pilgrimage, you always know where you are going… be it a holy place like Jerusalem or a holy moment like Easter Sunday.  The thing you don’t know about a pilgrimage is how it will affect you.  Even though you know your destination, you cannot predict who you will be when you get there.  The people you meet along the way, the prayers you utter, the way God’s Spirit speaks through the biblical lessons you read, the wonders you see, and the dangers you engage all work together to reshape you on your pilgrim’s way. 

Post-It Note: We are dust and to dust we will one day return.  But God is a potter who fashions and refashions our dust when we place ourselves in God’s skilled hands.  We begin our Lenten journey by remembering we are only dust.  We engage our Lenten journey by putting our dust in the hands of Master Artisan.  We trust when our pilgrimage is complete God will have shaped our dust in a way which allows us to be more like who God has created us to be.