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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Ash Wednesday: Isaiah 58 - 03/01/2017

The events of the week just since Sunday have been bringing the scriptures alive as I read them this week.

The gospel reading we traditionally have on Ash Wednesday has been in the background of discussions Larry and I have had with each other and others about what our Lenten disciplines will include this year. We chuckle through some of our typical practices. I'll give up french fries. Larry jokes about giving up swearing. The conversation does take on a little more seriousness pretty quickly though … As we commit to reducing our sugar intake and our footprint on the planet.

And I have to say I enjoy the Lenten practice of looking inward and cleaning house a bit. I enjoy Lenten worship and its call for us to honestly look at where our treasure truly is and to make sure we have placed our hearts in God's care – not the care of more earthly lures and temptations.

But I also have to say that it's the Isaiah reading that has really jumped off the page in the midst of what has been taking place around here in these last few days.

A reading from Isaiah 58:

58Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

This is what took place in Munising last night, as people from Eden, the Tribe and the Tribal Center and the Moose Lodge collaborated on a benefit for Candace. It was very successful and we pray that the community's generosity and love serves Candace and Michael and Violet well, so they can focus on healing and “coming alive,” as Candace so compellingly witnessed to us last Sunday.

It isn't the first time – and I think it's safe to say it won't be the last – this type of community outpouring has taken place around here. And I just want to suggest that what happened to organize and host and support the benefit is a picture of a “nation that practices righteousness” and “does not forsake the ordinance of their God.” It is yet another witness and I think as people of God and disciples of Jesus we do well to frame it in that way and speak to others about it in that way – to let people know that this is the work of God. And in that framing … our witness of loving of God and loving neighbor continues.

We need all these kinds and layers of witness in this world. It's through that witness that we let God breathe and act through us into the world. And what does God work through us? Love for one another. Invitation to come and worship God. Courage to face up to our brokenness and sin; where we have been hurt and where we have hurt others. Permission to name these things, to lament them. Forgiveness for all the ways, known and unknown, that we contribute to that brokenness, so that in spite of our brokenness, we are not weighed down by it – we are actually free to dance like there's no tomorrow.

And again from the Prophet Isaiah:

3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Much of the world is as dried up and thirsty for the hope of life as the sand in our baptismal font during this season.

We fast during this season in a number of ways. Some I've already mentioned.

We also fast here – There are no baptisms during Lent. It reminds us not to take these baptismal waters for granted. It reminds us of this truth we live and die by as Jesus people – that our sins are forgiven and in Christ we are made whole.

At the same time, our scriptures for Sundays in Lent will speak to our baptismal waters and by the time we get to Easter, we will hopefully be very thirsty for that water and relieved when we see those waters from God in our font again.

The prophet Isaiah talks about another kind of fast – one that God is particularly interested in, it seems.

“Is not this the fast that I choose,” God says. “To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

We are often so good at following God's ordinances in these ways – we do what we can to feed the hungry, to protect and support people, to educate ourselves about oppression and resist it – even though there is always more than can be done.

But I met someone today who brought a different face to this social fasting that God is seeking here. He had a different kind of yoke, he was suffering from a different kind of oppression. This man was downtown when Marion Luckey from St. John's and I were offering Ashes to Go outside the bank.

We asked him if he would like to receive ashes – he looked at us like surely we wanted something from him in return – a contribution maybe, or a promise to come to church. We explained that we didn't want anything but a chance to bless him. You could tell he just couldn't grasp what we were saying – it was so foreign to him – the whole thing … the ashes, the prayer, the blessing and all for nothing? No hidden agendas.\? No bait and switch?

I wondered, how many people like him are out there. People who don't know about Jesus, about these waters, about any of this and wear the yoke the world has placed on them – a world that often teaches us to live believing in scarcity, not abundance; fear, not hope; judgment, not grace.

I prayed that God planted a seed in that man as he walked away without ashes, without prayers. We blessed him as he left us.

Then the Prophet Isaiah said:

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

The light broke forth beautifully in this place on Sunday, as we hosted Marked!, a gathering of about 50 confirmation students from the synod, each one of them a light of Christ. The students worked together on service projects, ate and made these beautiful little votive holders that our our students agreed to leave behind for us tonight.

And they also worshiped together … praying, singing, reading powerful words from Ephesians – words that remind them and us of who they are and whose they are. Again Isaiah's words were jumping off the page for me and coming alive as I read them and thought back to the Marked!, event. Our children and young adults are the future this Isaiah reading points to. They are light in the darkness. Baptized into this Christian journey that we pass on to them, they are the next generation, the next set of witnesses who will preserve the ancient truths of our faith and bring it to life in new ways too as they grow and walk in the way of Jesus.

We have much inspiration and hope to sustain us as we begin our Lenten journeys, as we listen with Lent-tuned ears to the Word of God in this season of repentance and hope, ash and baptismal waters. And so I'll close with a prayer for this journey.

Let us pray.

God of truth, God of hope: We know you walk with us in our Lenten journey's. Help us to be witnesses to your truth and hope in every-bolder ways. Guide us to speak words of love and forgiveness to those who rarely hear such words. Equip us to raise up new generations in your light and your waters – for the sake of all in your creation. Remind us continually of who we are and whose we are, your people brought lovingly from the dust and destined to return to it again one day, when we enter into your fully revealed Kingdom of love. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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