Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God…

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

—Isaiah 58:1-3; 6-12

A Homily on Ash Wednesday

During Lent we will follow Eric Elnes book, Gifts of the Dark Wood, and take a closer look at the study of the seven blessings for soulful skeptics. We will meet on Sundays for a sermon and on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. for dinner followed by worshication or eduship.

Eric Elnes is pastor at Countryside United Church of Christ in Omaha.

Dante’s Commedia: first lines

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

Elnes: “I realized that nearly every one of my accomplishments in life was directly or indirectly the result of some failure, loss, or disappointment that forced me to look at my situation differently and produced a creative result. What I experienced as loss, proved, in hindsight, to be the loss of an old way of life that was in the process of giving way to something new.”

“Could it be that right failure is more important to Jesus than right belief?”

That is to say, as we look back, reflectively, at the life that we have lived, or even while we are in the middle of difficult or stressful or fraught circumstances, we should keep open minds about the relative bane and blessing of these happenings. What we think of as blessings might not always be blessings, and what we think of as curses might turn out to be opportunities.

Elnes calls the Holy Spirit “The Unexpected Love”

Maybe so. Maybe not. We’ll see.

A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

And every year on the first day of Lent, the first challenging experience that may turn out to be a blessing is facing the truth about ourselves.

If you are a wife or a husband or a mother or a father or a son or a daughter, you know that you cannot have a good relationship with your beloved if you are pretending to be someone you are not.

Dishonesty and opacity hinder intimate relationships.

You have to say, “I’m sorry.”

You have to say, “Here are my growing edges.” “Here is what I am currently not very good at.”

The same is true of God.

Ash Wednesday is not a grim holy day, but it is a serious holy day. It is the one day a year where we acknowledge our finitude.

We acknowledge that our days are numbered. Their supply is not limitless. So we make haste to love, and we are quick to be kind, because we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us. Because we are dust, and to dust we will soon return.

And we acknowledge that our virtues are limited. We are far from perfect. And we tell God what amendments we need to make in our lives.

Tim Keller is the senior pastor at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. Tim says, “The only character flaws that can really destroy you are the ones you won’t admit.” Your therapist has probably already told you that, right?

So we begin this Lenten journey in the darkwood of our own finitude and mortality. But for all the 40 days of this Lenten season, we will keep an open mind about what constitutes bane and blessing. Bad luck to lose a horse. Maybe so. Maybe not. We shall see.

Good luck to get five new horses. Maybe so. Maybe not. We shall see.

All the while, we will trust that God is working God’s purpose out as year succeeds to year.

Or, as the wise innkeeper of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel puts it: “Everything will be all right in the end; if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”