On this day we face death and sin and evil.
These things we usually either deny or ignore as we go about our day to day lives.
But on this day as we confess our sins and as we receive the ashes we name the reality of these things both in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Although this is not a day without hope.
As I spoke in my sermon on Sunday we have hope in what God can and will do for us now and in the future.
We have hope that God will bless us now, today on this Ash Wednesday and that God will bless us on our Lenten journey that we will be taking together these next forty days.
In many ways Ash Wednesday serves as a wakeup call for us.
This day reminds us that there is a time limit on life, on grace, and on love.
This day moves us to embrace God’s blessings and presence upon us.
Today is a call to return to God and to God’s ways.
It is a call for us examine our lives and to look for ways to bless others as God’s continues to bless us.
During this season of Lent I encourage us to consider what it means to bless others and what it means to receive God’s blessings.
God blesses us with God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy.
In living more deeply into God’s blessings this Lent how might we bless others?
To bless someone is to speak well of someone or to positively affirm someone.
A blessing affirms a person’s original goodness, that they have infinite value and worth in God’s eyes.
It is to wish for God’s best for someone.
To bless is the opposite of cursing someone.
To curse someone means that you wish them harm.
Cursing only calls forth the darkness, destruction, pain, and death.
While to bless means you hope that someone will receive and experience fullness and abundance in life.
The spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen tells a beautiful story of what it means to bless someone.
Here is his story:
Shortly before a prayer service, Janet a member of the faith community, approached Henri and asked for a blessing.
Rather quickly Henri gave Janet a blessing.
But instead of being grateful Janet protested and said, “No, that doesn’t work I want a real blessing.”
Suddenly Henri became aware of the coldness of the blessing.
He says to her, “I’m sorry.”
“Let me give you a real blessing when we are all together for the prayer service.”
Janet nodded with a smile.
At the prayer service Henri said, “Janet, has asked me for a special blessing. She feels that she needs that now.”
As Henri was talking Janet got up and walked over to Henri.
Spontaneously, Janet put her arms around Henri.
Henri returned the hug and then said these words,
“Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s beloved daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your smile, your kindness, and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful person you are. I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and by all the people here with you.”
After Henri said these words Janet raised her head and looked up.
With a warm smile on her face Henri knew that she had really heard and received the blessing – words of love and of God’s favor for her.
Then as she returned to her place.
Another person raised her hand and said I would like a blessing too.
She stood up and came over to Henri.
Henri again embraced the person and offered those words of blessing.
Soon a line was formed of people wanting to be blessed and Henri spent the rest of that evening blessing the people there and speaking words of affirmation and grace.
Later Henri reflected on that evening and how that evening became a sign for him of the great importance of what it means to truly bless others.
The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessings that rests on us from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We live out our faith in the world by the way we bless others and by the way we receive God’s blessings in our lives.
Because of our fears, our anxiety, and our insecurities we fall into temptation and sin.
But remembering that we are God’s beloved people, who are indeed blessed, causes us to rise out of the darkness and into the light –into the light of blessing.
This Lent who might you be able to bless?
Who might you be able to speak words of grace and affirmation?
How might you pray for others and ask that God bless those people in your life who you are close to.
Often the people we are closest to in life are the people we take for granted the most.
And often the people we hurt the most.
People are not disposable and in our sin and fallen nature we act sometimes like they are.
In our sinfulness we wish people harm and act in ways that tear people down.
But on this day we are reminded to examine our hearts and to respond accordingly to how the Lord is calling us to live.
On this day as you receive the ashes and remember that one day you will be dust may you be awakened to find new ways to bless others.
No matter how different we may think that we are from others there is one thing that we all hold in common.
One day each one of us will be dust.
We will go back into the earth.
We share that common fate with every person that has ever walked on this earth.
The theologian, Richard Holloway, once said,
“Our brief life is but a beautiful spark in the vast darkness of space. So we should live the fleeting day with passion and when the night comes, depart from it with grace.”
As followers of Jesus we embrace death as a constant traveling companion who reminds us to not take God’s blessings and God’s love for granted, that we are not to take each other for granted and that we are called into a larger purpose which is to bless each other.
May God bless you. Amen.