The View From Bolton St.

Ash Wednesday ‘Get Dirty’

You may have notice a trend in our common life lately.   A trend towards purity. 

Everybody needs to go on a cleanse diet. To rid their body of impurities. To sweat out their ‘micro-toxins’.  We don’t drink water we drink High PH water. Or anything that is high in Anti-Oxidants. We plan our meals not just on whether it has the right amount of protein and carbs and fat — but does it have enough roughage to scrape our bowels — enough potassium electrolytes — Does it have enough Ketos?!?  I admit I have no idea what a Keto diet is. Do you?  There even is a new rage now in clean eating — its called, get this ‘fasting’ — Obviously these people need to read their bible more.  

Now there is nothing wrong with eating healthy. 

But I would argue that this trend towards ‘purification’ towards ‘clean eating’ or ‘cleanse dieting‘ is not good for us.  

BUT a lot of people a lot of good people are going to start doing these things during lent!  They are going to embark on these as good spiritual trends to follow in lent BECAUSE they have a mistaken idea of what God is looking for in sacrifice. ( this might even be one of you! You are forgiven! Don’t worry I’ll help you redeem it —- because what does Isaiah say “If in your fast day you found pleasure while all your affairs you pursued  —— Your fasting THIS day will not make your voice heard on high’. 

If these cleansing, purifying, sanitizing diets are done only for US.  Only for OUR needs. Then they aren’t for God. They are for us - and are ultimately selfish and shameful.  

And it gets worse — if your focus in Lent is on purifying yourself? Cleansing yourself? Sanitizing yourself?   How might you respond to this less than sanitary city around us? 

You might try and keep yourself a little farther away from that panhandler on the corner.  From that addict mother outside the church doors.  A little farther from the corner boys down the street and the users looking for a sandwich or a hot cup of coffee in the parish hall. You might try and push away anything unclean this lent and seek to ‘elevate yourself’ above all that ‘mess’ out there. 

If you don’t think this is in our blood already witness how we responded to the Jacquelyn Smith story. The poor woman whose husband reported she had been attacked and stabbed by a panhandler and his pregnant wife.  We believed it right away!  Because she was us and those, now we know fictitious panhandlers, were them. And we never want to associate with them. 

AND our need for purity might get even more holier than thou! Right?  Because its not just the corner stores and stoplights that are dirty in our city.  Its the halls of power — and we might say we’re not going to get involved in politics.  We’re not going to engage with the mayors office, the city council, the police. We’re not going to engage with a new Hopkins police force, with our city schools, there’s too much corruption, too much incompetence, too much too much... We’re going to pull OUT of this city all together. We’re going to keep ourselves CLEAN by not getting close to all of THOSE problems. 

And pretty soon its just you. And Jesus. And your Juice Cleanse. 

Except.... friends.... Jesus.... isn’t there!

No!  Jesus is out there with the kids on the corner.  Jesus is out there with the teachers in the school systems.  Jesus is walking that Median at Mt Royal and North, he’s with that man in his blanket on MLK, he’s even working on the hearts and minds of those who leverage power in this city and God forgive me but I’m going to say it anyway Jesus doesn’t care about your KETO. 

“Is not this the fast that I choose, to unlock the shackles of wickedness, and loosen the bonds of the yoke.  To set the downtrodden free and to break every yoke? 

Is not THIS the FAST that I CHOOSE — Yes to offer bread to the hungry, and bring the wretched poor into your house, when you see someone naked you should clothe him, and your own flesh do not ignore.” 

Jesus doesn’t want you to purify yourself this lent! Jesus doesn’t want you to be clean!  

Jesus wants you to get Dirty. 

To get Dirty and to to do the work of God. 

The point of this season of lent is not ‘self improvement’ it is ‘Spirit improvement’.  I don’t mind if you take some time over the next 40 days to work out at the gym  — But work out with the Bible too. I don’t mind if you cut back on chocolate - but cut back on fear of your neighbor as well.  

Because The only way for our fast to be pleasing to God is if they serve to right some of the many wrongs of this world.  We have to get our hands dirty, we have to put a little bit more of ourselves on the line if we are to have our fasts, our sacrifices, our penance be pleasing to God.  If we want it to work Be like ‘incense’ to the Lord on high. 

And the only way to do THAT is to - in the words of Bryan Stevenson - ‘Get Proximate’.  In this season of Lent friends we should seek to get proximate to those in need in our city.  To the panhandlers on our street corners. The squeegee kids at stop lights. The kids and teachers in our schools and in our playgrounds.  We should see them not as other or as foreign or as a problem but as Isaiah says as our own flesh.  As brother and sister. As mother and father. As friend and neighbor.  

Friends this Ash Wednesday - in our Episcopal tradition we mark our foreheads with ashes. And we do this to remind ourselves that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  that as important or unimportant as we may seem. As high or as low as we came here today we are all headed for the same fate.  And all will have the same wait ahead of us at those pearly gates.  We are all merely ashes and dust. 

BUT.... this year.... we do it for another reason too.    We mark our heads with ashes to remind ourselves to ‘get dirty’ this lent.  

To get dirty — challenging our civic leaders to do right by this city. 

To get Dirty — providing food, water, clothing, shelter to those in need. 

To get dirty — praying for the drug users and the drug sellers on our street corners. 

To get dirty — praying for the victims of violence FAR TOO many of whom meet their fate up and down Druid hill ave.  

To get dirty — lighting up the eyes of children at the head start program here. Or at Eutaw Marshburn Elemetary, or Furman Templeton. 

To get dirty — inviting a new person to church this lent.  To this preaching series this lent.  

Most importantly — we mark ourselves with ashes because we remember that whether we are 27 or 72 ‘Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be swift to love, make haste to be kind’  so we should spend this precious time - this holy season of lent seeking to get as close to Jesus as possible. Knowing that Jesus is found not in the purifying of our physical bodies — but in the outpouring of our soul — our love, our heart, strength mind faith out into the world.