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Paul Burkhart

Homily: Ash Wednesday 2017

TEXT: Psalm 90.1-12


90 1
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3
You turn us back to dust,
and say, Turn back, you mortals.
4
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
5
You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
6
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
7
For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
8
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
10
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11
Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
12
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
Leader: This is the Word of the Lord
All: Thanks be to God.
HOMILY OUTLINE
COLORS: (a) Me? Dull Blue, Burlap Grey
(b) Maybe Black, because life is good for you
(c) Maybe Gold, because life is toil and trouble

DEATH & LENT: (a) We all bring different things, but it is death that unifies us.
Great Equalizer
(b) Lent is a time we meditate on our sin and weakness
(c) Ash Wednesday: focus on where we are most weak and most finite: Death and
mortality

WISDOM & GOD: (a) Not for its own sake but in hope for two things:
(b) Wisdom: Pressing into death, we learn how to live
(c) God our Dwelling: place in the rhythm of life and death
(d) Jesus: Encountering his own death. Lent does not draw us away from God, but
more deeply

GRANDFATHER: (a) Six years ago, Peep died.


(b) Weirdest tension. In the living room, Christmas as usual. In the back bedroom,
death.
(c) Most of our life is lived in the living room. In Lent, we sit in the bedroom with
death.
(d) God is the dwelling place that encompasses the new life and death.

So Liberti Church, may we use this Lent to learn to count our days, that we
may gain a wise heart. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit. AMEN.

HOMILY
Color the Text
(a) Me? Dull Blue, Burlap Grey
(b) Maybe Black, because life is good for you
(c) Maybe Gold, because life is toil and trouble

I help lead a home group here at Liberti. Sometimes, when Im feeling artsy,
to help us start a discussion on a certain text from the Bible, Ill ask my group
a question: what color is this text? As in, whats the emotional tone? When
you close your eyes, and let its words sit in you, what color are the images
that come to mind? Its a good diagnostic to know how youre coming to a
particular part of the Bible and how its speaking to you.
So let me ask you tonight: what color is our text this evening? Whats its
emotional tone? For me, its a sense of helpless resignation. A dull, pale blue;
or maybe a burlap grey.

But maybe for you this text is the deepest, darkest Black. Things are going
well for you. You have deep relationships, meaningful work, and enjoy so
much beauty in the world around you. So this text terrifies you and inspires
more despair than anything else. Or perhaps it just inspires immediate
distraction. You hear this text, and your mind just inexplicably jumps into
overdrive thinking about anything else but death.

Or maybe you find yourself in deep depression. Maybe youve lost so much
in your life recently, or youre drowning in poverty, or suffering under the
weight of suffocating affluence. You cant kick that addiction or connect with
others or make ends meet. And for you, maybe this text shines the brightest,
Golden Yellow. You hear these words and they signal for you rest. All this pain
will come to an end. All the running will stop.

Death & Lent


(a) We all bring different things, but it is death that unifies us. Great
Equalizer
(b) Lent is a time we meditate on our sin and weakness
(c) Ash Wednesday: focus on where we are most weak and most
finite: Death and mortality

These verses hold within them an entire rainbow of human experience. And
yet the one thing unifying them is the experience of Death. We will all die.
And Lent is a time to meditate on this.

Much of Lent is focused on looking deep into ourselves and our world,
looking to those dark whispers that haunt us. All those voices buried deep
that we so often ignore, medicate, and distract fromand we turn the
volume up. We give name to those sins, addictions, and anxieties that haunt
us and hurt us, and we use those as a starting place to lean all the more on
God. They remind us of where we are limited and finite, and it reminds us of
our need for God.

And so to kick off Lent, we take Ash Wednesday to turn our focus on that
place where we are most finite and most needy: our mortality. No matter
whether you are the lowest pauper or highest king, we will all die. We will all
turn to dust. Like the grass, in the morning we will flourish and be renewed
only to fade and wither in the evening. So we take on dust and Ash upon our
foreheads to remind us, from dust we came and to dust we will return.
Wisdom & God
(a) Not for its own sake but in hope for two things:
(b) Wisdom: Pressing into death, we learn how to live
(c) God our Dwelling: place in the rhythm of life and death
(d) Jesus: Encountering his own death. Lent does not draw us away
from God, but more deeply

But we do this not for its own sake or out of some masochistic asceticism. We
do it in hope and anticipation of two things in our text. First, our text says
that as we learn to count our days, we gain a wise heart. Taking time to
meditate on our sins and mortality actually leads us into a greater sense of
life here and now. It throws us all the more onto one another and to God, and
we then begin to seek those things in life that hold ultimate meaning and will
echo out beyond death into eternity.

But we also do this to, as our first verse says, root ourselves all the more into
the God who has been our dwelling place in all generations. God has been
the dwelling of his people, the safe place for their fears and failings from
generation to generation. Gods is the context within which life and death
take place. Generation after generation after generation has unfolded within
the care and life of God.

We see this most clearly in Jesus, as he meditated on his own mortality and
death. In a darkened garden, hours before his crucifixion, he prayed to his
father, perhaps using these very words. Gods wrath hung over him, the sins
of the world stood before him. And as he died, God in Jesus experienced
death within him, so as we meditate and press on into this Lenten
meditations, it is not drawing us away from the life-giving parts of relating to
God, but actually drawing us all the more deeply into Gods own life and
experience in Christ on the Cross.

Grandfathers Death
(a) Six years ago, Peep died.
(b) Weirdest tension. In the living room, Christmas as usual. In the
back bedroom, death.
(c) Most of our life is lived in the living room. In Lent, we sit in the
bedroom with death.
(d) God is the dwelling place that encompasses the new life and
death.

This past December was the sixth-year anniversary of my grandfathers


death. To date, he is still the closest person to me that has died. He was the
quintessential man of his age. The quiet, stoic, Texas mans mana John
Wayne type. Due to a mispronunciation by the first grandchild, we called him
Peep.

The middle of December he experienced complications with throat cancer


and when it was clear that the end was coming, all the family began
traveling back to Texas to spend his final days at his side. They placed him in
a hospital bed in the bedroom he had shared with my grandmother for
decades, now accompanied by constant hospice care.

It was the weirdest tension in that house. On one hand, it was Christmas
time as usual. The decorations were up, we made all the classic food dishes,
opened presents, told stories and made jokes. My aunt read the Christmas
story out the Bible for all of my cousins kids, and we all watched as they
played and danced and fought on the floor before us.

But every once and a while someone break down into tears, or go to the
back room to spend time praying or talking with my grandfather. People
would show up to visit the house and everyone would start crying again. This
rhythm and pattern continued, until Peep died the day after Christmas.

Most of our lives our spent in that living room sort of space, where we
laugh, dance, and celebrate life and beauty. We do this all while we know
that Death is in the back room. And occasionally a friend dies, we lie awake
in the dark of night, or maybe a piece of art moves us, and were forcefully
brought into the room with Death.

Lent is the time that we intentionally set aside to move to that back room, sit
with our weakness, sin, and mortality and see what rises and moves within
us.

And we can do this because God is the dwelling place that encompasses life
in both the living room (no pun intended) and the bedroom with death. Life
with God encompasses the new life and death, the dancing and crying, the
youth and the old, the innocence and cynicism, the doubt and faith. God is
our dwelling place for generation to generation. He is big enough to hold it
all. And so he invites us to know him as a refuge, as a safe place, a dwelling
place, a home.

So Liberti Church, may we use this Lent to learn to count our


days, that we may gain a wise heart. In the name of the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.