Full to the Brim

St. Philip Lutheran Church
2 March 2022 + Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17; Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21
Rev. Josh Evans

I had become the very thing I usually crossed the street to avoid.

I had become … a street preacher. Well, kind of.

It was my first Lent with a new church plant in Chicago, and on Ash Wednesday, instead of a traditional service in a church building (like this), Urban Village Church was taking Ash Wednesday to the streets. “Ashes to Go,” they called it. A trio of people would station themselves at CTA stops, intersections, and other hot spots across the city, offering ashes to any and all passers-by.

What an odd bunch we must have looked like — offering ashes to random strangers, telling them they are dust, and reminding them of their mortality. Standing outside the Damen Blue Line stop that morning, I replayed my “elevator speech” over and over again in my head, always ready to remind people we’re not those kinds of Christians and that this was in fact an authentic expression of an affirming faith and a ritual that was meant to remind us of God’s extravagant love for us, no matter who we are, what we look like, or who we love.

But you can understand their skeptical hestitation. After all, Lent is traditionally a more somber, if not altogether dismal, season on the church calendar. It’s a season of giving up — chocolates, social media, “alleluias.” Or it’s a season of taking on — devotionals, spiritual disciplines, extra church services in the middle of the week. We hear talk of confession and repentance, sin and guilt, sparseness and wilderness.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things — giving things up or taking things on — and it’s a fundamental part of our Lutheran theology to acknowledge our sin and shortcomings and even our mortality, and our need for God’s mercy and care in the midst of it all.

But that’s not all Lent is. In fact, if that’s all we focus on, we miss the point of Lent.

Matthew reminds us, “When you fast, do not look dismal! Put oil on your head and wash your face!” (So much for ashes, right?)

God is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love, the prophet Joel declares.

The psalmist also speaks of God’s steadfast love and great compassion and the delight God takes in us.

These are messages of grace!

Deep, profound, abundant, extravagant grace.

Grace that is full to the brim — and overflowing.

The Rev. Sarah A. Speed puts it this way in her poem, “On My Way”:

You said return to me
so here I am
skin and bones held
with memories and a little
bit of
duct tape. I am bringing
the worst of me,
consider yourself warned—
the furrowed brow,
the achy back,
the slew of judgments,
a pocket full of
the track of negativity
that runs
laps in my head.
I am bringing it all
because you said
return to me,
edits not required,
so return I will.
And not all of it will be bad.
Some of it will be lovely.
I will bring
a wagon full of nostalgia,
a melody that won’t
let me go,
a million stories that start
with the words,
“Oh it was beautiful!”
I will bring a mended heart,
a glass half-full,
two lungs, out of breath
from dancing too long,
and dreams that taste
like honey.
I will bring my whole
human self
because I know,
I just know,
deep in my bones,
that you are already
running to meet me.
There are no cuts on
this team.
You said you’d take it all,
so here I come.
Me and all my humanity.
We are on my way.

Full to the Brim invites us to experience a different kind of Lent —

a Lent that invites us to bring all that we are, our full, authentic selves,

trusting in God’s abundant grace and extravagant love for us,

a grace and a love that is always ready to welcome and embrace us, wherever we are on the way.

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