Homily shared at the noon Ash Wednesday service at Lakewood United Methodist Church, February 10, 2016, by Rev. Kerry Greenhill
We live in a culture that does not encourage truth-telling.
There is so much more pleasure in a well-told story,
whether in a novel or on TV or in a theater,
with linear action and dramatic revelations,
characters undergoing the exact transformation they need
to become who they are capable of being.
There is so much more appeal in the home and garden magazine
that depicts the complete fulfillment of potential
for each and every room,
the perfect composition
of height and depth and color and texture
for landscaping and outdoor living spaces.
There is so much more affirmation in our social media self-portrayals,
only sharing the most presentable moments
captured amidst dozens of less flattering vignettes
so that no one sees the bad-hair days,
the screaming toddler
or the perpetual kitchen table clutter.
Or maybe that’s just me.
There is so much more money to be made in selling us promises
of personal fulfillment and social desirability
if only we will buy this car, these clothes, this makeup,
this surgery, these diet products, this lifestyle,
paid actors and airbrushing and unknown long-term side effects notwithstanding.
What would it take
for us to admit the truth
about who we really are,
who we want to become,
how we actually live?
I’ve been reading a book called
Lessons in Belonging
from a Church-Going Commitment-Phobe.,
The author, Erin Lane,
talks about the gift of disillusionment.
When we say we’re disillusioned with something
(like the church)
we usually mean that something
has failed to live up to our expectations.
So we are disappointed, maybe even jaded,
because others have let us down.
But actually, we should want to be dis-illusioned,
because illusions are not ultimately truthful
Lane writes that the church should be a vehicle of disillusionment,
that we as the Body of Christ
have the potential to be a community
that encourages truth-telling and truth-seeing,
clear vision to pierce through the fog
of all the lies we tell ourselves and others,
all the falsehoods our culture tries to sell us.
Ash Wednesday is a day well-suited
to laying down our illusions:
the illusion of perfection, of immortality,
of control, independence, or power.
We tell the truth about ourselves:
that we are dust, and to dust we will return;
that we are dependent on God and each other;
that left to our own devices,
we fail and fall short of who God desires us to be.
And as our illusions fall away,
we receive the gift of seeing more clearly:
Seeing what is necessary to be in right relationship
with God and with others, at last.
Seeing the grace that surrounds us and carries us
even when we feel like we are at the end of our rope.
Seeing that all the fluff and sugar and glitter that tempts us
will not satisfy,
will leave us hungry or nauseous or in debt
or even more insecure than before.
Seeing that the path that seems so difficult at first—
the path of following Jesus
to love and serve others,
to give the best of ourselves,
to live with integrity and courage in the face of suffering—
is the path most worth traveling,
and that we do not travel it alone.
The psalmist prays to God,
“You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.”
As we enter this holy season of Lent,
let us open our hearts to God’s truth and wisdom,
to recognize the illusions that tempt and guide us,
to name them for what they are
and to reject the lies they have been telling us.
Let our hearts and spirits be renewed
to see Christ more clearly,
love Christ more dearly,
and follow Christ more nearly,
day by day.
And may the Holy Spirit grant us deep assurance
that God loves and accepts us just as we are,
so that we may overcome our fears
of telling the truth about ourselves and our world,
and live more truthfully
throughout these forty days
and beyond. Amen.