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Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Last Sunday our readings gave us a good lead-in to the season of Lent: in the first reading, Isaiah was in the temple when he had a vision of God in all his holiness. So holy was the Lord that Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am doomed. I am a sinner and I have looked on the face of God.” But one of the angels around God’s throne flew to Isaiah and touched his lips with a burning ember, and told him that his sin had been cleansed. Then the Lord said, “Whom shall I send?” And Isaiah answered, “Send me.” And Isaiah went out to speak the Word of God.

In Sunday’s Gospel, Peter and the others are in a boat with Jesus, who is teaching people from the boat. Then Jesus tells Peter to put out into deep water and let down their nets for a catch. Well, the guys had been fishing all night and they knew their stuff — they were fishermen by trade — yet they hadn’t caught anything. But because Jesus said so, they put out into deep water and let down their nets — and caught so many fish that they had to call for help from the other boat, and even so, both boats nearly sank under the weight of the catch. And Peter fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” And he did.

An encounter with the Lord — whether Father, Son or Spirit — changes us. And Lent is a set-up. It is a time of the year designed to put us in situations again and again where we can encounter the Lord and be changed. It’s not about changing the amount of chocolate we eat or reducing the amount of sugar we put in our coffee.

It’s about prayer — attuning our hearts and minds and spirits to God, quieting ourselves and actually listening to God’s still small voice inside us, which can be drowned out by cell phones and iPods and computers and large-screen televisions and all the other noise in our lives. If we listen, we might just encounter God — and we might just be changed.

Lent is about fasting. Not just chocolate and sugar or desserts or ice cream or smoking or whatever. Lent is about setting some priorities. You received with your worship aid today a Lenten Litany on Fasting and Feasting. There are some pretty good ideas in there. Pick one or two, and practice them during Lent. If we do that, we might just encounter God — and we might just be changed.

Lent is about alms-giving. It is about looking into the eyes or the lives of those who do not have nearly as much as we do, and sharing with them from our bounty. It is about sharing money and material aid, but also about sharing time and talent, and about developing true compassion for others. In doing so, we might just encounter God — and we might just be changed.

I don’t much like coffee, but I learned to drink it with a lot of milk and sugar so it almost tasted like hot liquid candy. Then I could tolerate it. One year, many years ago, I gave up putting sugar in my coffee for Lent. It was pretty gross, but hey — it was for God. With great anticipation, on Easter Sunday, I loaded up my coffee with sugar — and it was awful. I’ve never put sugar in it again. I was changed.

Well, big fat hairy deal, as Garfield in the comics would say. That’s not change. Change is what happened to Isaiah last week — in the temple. Change is what happened to Peter and his companions last week — in a fishing boat. Change is what could happen to each and every one of us in the coming seven weeks — if we open our hearts, make space for God in our busy lives, and listen to the news with the ears of the poor. May our coming forward to receive a gift of ashes — something a little out of the ordinary! — may that gift be the beginning of a blessed Lent for each and every one of us.