March 2, 2022 ~ Ash Wednesday ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
God has been at work around here! Have you taken note of that? There have been many signs of God’s activity. The one I noticed as I prepared for this service involves the message title: “Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace: RE-COGNITION.” The collaboration that created the “Roll Down Justice” worship series took place in 2017. I have wanted to use this series since then, and even attended a training event utilizing this series in the winter of 2017. But, the timing never seemed to be quite right for the congregations I served. So, I tucked it away in my mind and in my file drawer, until I came here to St. Paul’s. Here folks seem to thrive in an environment of justice-seeking. Here folks seem to understand the call to be peace-makers. Here, where we are blessed with some of the most stunning waterfalls in the world, we can visualize what it means for “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” And here, we love Mark Miller’s music!
So, late last summer I shared with some of our worship leaders that I intended to utilize this series during Lent. Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, the theme before us could not be more timely or poignant: “Make me an instrument of PEACE: RE-COGNITION.” This year as we repent on Ash Wednesday, we are called to turn from our apathy, and turn from religiosity devoid of spirituality in our lives and worship. This year we pray to be active instruments of peace and agents of change in the world. We begin the journey toward renewing our baptismal covenant identity as the hands and feet of Christ by “re-cognizing” – turning our minds and hearts toward the world and its people.
RE-COGNITION. Realization. Understanding that we have come from dust, and we will return to dust. We need to own that reality. Cognition is the act or process of knowing; perception; knowledge. Recognition is the act of recognizing; or, the identification of something previously seen, heard, or known. Yes, we have heard before that we have come from dust and we will return to dust. But we need to hear it again, we need to see the ashes, to feel the ashes, to know this reality in our souls.
And then there is the reminder that:
There is a God, and you are not it!
There is a God, and you are not him!
There is a God, and you are not her!
Any way we state it, we need to know that it is not our role to rule over others. For when we do that, we make God in our image, and that is the beginning of injustice. Injustice strips the dignity of another human being, or a group of human beings. And then two kinds of people arise: the oppressor, and the oppressed. It has been said, “You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge.” Unless we acknowledge our sinfulness, our culpability in systems of injustice, our lack of standing up for the oppressed, we will not be faithful to God’s call to restore God’s image in every human being on earth. Repent – turn around – change!
I heard a young woman on the news this week ask the reporter covering those fleeing from Ukraine, “Who will make justice for us?” I also read on a sign carried by protestors in Russia, “Justice for Ukraine.”
We pray, “Make me an instrument of peace.” We pray, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Do we realize what a dangerous proposition that is? Do we re-cognize what we are praying for? The places where peace is needed are places of conflict, crisis, chaos, injustice. When we utter these prayers, we are asking God to lead us into the conflict, crisis, chaos, and injustice. It is there that God will use us to make a difference by filling everyone with peace and justice. For there is no peace without justice.
The prophet Amos shared God’s message that God was not / is not pleased with the people. He starts with the way people worship. That is because they were practicing hollow religiosity, the kind that is devoid of spirituality. And they were living their lives that way, too. God was not pleased.
Make me an instrument of peace, YOUR PEACE, O God.
Rev. Joseph Lowry is a black pastor who worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. In Rev. Lowry’s younger days, in the south, during the time of segregation, would often go to the lunch counter in the local department store. The signs told him that Negros would not be served there. He would sit on a stool where the same server worked every day. Some days she would remind him of the message on the sign. Some days he would try to order a sandwich, and she would refuse. Other days, she just did not even acknowledge his presence. This happened a couple of times each week for six years.
Finally, the laws changed. Businesses were not supposed to act in a segregationist way any longer. Rev. Lowry went back to the lunch counter where he encountered the same server. She asked, “What kind of sandwich would you like?” He ordered a club sandwich. The server replied: “I will be delighted to serve it to you. I have wanted to give you a sandwich all these years, but I wasn’t allowed to.”
Injustice makes us all prisoners. Both the oppressed and the oppressor needed to be set free. Peace with justice can set us all free.
As Pastor Ed Volfe tells about the time he traveled the freeway toward the Baylor Medical Center to visit a newborn baby there, he saw a car pulled over on the shoulder with a flat tire. The woman was on the cell phone as he drove past. As guilt swept over him for driving on by, he decided to swing around and offer to help change the tire. He pulled up behind the disabled vehicle, turned on his flashers for safety, and got out of his car to go and offer help. A woman, wearing a hijab, and her daughter were in the car. It was clear that they were part of a Muslim family.
Pastor Volfe admitted that his voice started shaking as he offered to help. The woman had already pulled the little jack and the donut tire out of the trunk. She thanked Pastor Volfe and told him that she had called her brother who would be there soon, so they didn’t require any assistance. Pastor Volfe, who is black, then introduced himself as one of the pastors of the UMC in Plano, and said that he really just wanted to help. The woman became very excited and told the pastor that she was going to Dallas to lead a seminar on mosques and their meaning for the Muslim people. She invited the pastor and his family to attend the seminar. But gently refused his offer to help.
About that time, the woman’s brother pulled up, and approached the car and the conversation with a look of hesitancy. Pastor Volfe again introduced himself, and offered to help change the tire. The brother suggested that they work together. While they were changing the tire, as Pastor Volfe was replacing the lug nuts, he felt hands on either side of his head, ever so gently pulling his head into the man’s chest, where an embrace ensued. The man was weeping as he thanked Pastor Volfe for his kindness. Before long Pastor Volfe and the woman were weeping, too. And many hugs were exchanged before they parted ways.
In a situation which on the surface may have appeared to be a setting for hostility or violence, hugs and tears brought peace.
The first questions asked of those being baptized and those presenting a loved one for baptism are:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
Reject the evil powers of this world,
And repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
In whatever forms they present themselves?
We pray, “Make me an instrument of peace.” We pray, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Yes, we re-cognize what a dangerous proposition that is. Do we know what we are praying for? So where is God leading us? Perhaps it is to seek out Ukranians and their loved ones in our area to offer signs of peace, kindness, and solidarity. Perhaps it is to seek out Russians and their loved ones in our area to offer support and care.
God hears our cries of repentance. God knows the desires of our hearts to change. God is leading us to the waters of justice and righteousness. Let’s go!