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Sermon and Liturgy for Ash Wednesday - Year B
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2 and Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
"Just A Little Ashes"

READING:  Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2 and Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
SERMON :  "Just A Little Ashes"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-ashwsu 872000

   Portions of the Eucharistic Prayer are from "Living with Christ
   Sunday Missal" Novalis, 2000, page 22.  The general structure and
   much of the wording of the service follows that of ancient tradition
   with the exception of the placement of the prayer of confession. 
   The homily is drawn from and based upon the work of Rev. Alex
   Stevenson, "Just a Little Ashes", Sermons For Ash Wednesday 
   February 12 1997.

   Ashes can be prepared either in the Sanctuary at the beginning of
   the service - or (and it is often the best option given fire
   regulations and problems with smoke) earlier in the day.  The ashes
   should be prepared, in part, from palm leaves and crosses used in
   the preceding year's "Palm Processional".  Anointing oil is often
   mixed with the ashes both to remind us of the blessings of God and
   to help provide a good smudge.  If ashes are prepared ahead of time,
   those who bring their palm crosses to the service are invited to lay
   them upon the communion table as they come forward to receive the


L  The grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the
   fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  The Lord is merciful to all and hates nothing he has created.
P  Our God overlooks our sins to bring us to repentance.
L  He is the Lord, our God, and is greatly to be praised.
P  Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil.  
   As we begin the discipline of Lent
   make this day holy by our self-denial.
L  Let us pray.
P  Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and
   forgive the sins of all who are penitent.  Create and make in us new
   and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and
   acknowledging our brokenness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy,
   perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, he
   who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
   and ever.  Amen

HYMN:  "Just As I Am"                                              - VU 508

L1  In our first reading the prophet Joel points to the fact that works of
   penance, if not related to that inner conversion to God in love, are
   worthless.  Whatever has happened in the past, God is merciful and
   willing to forgive.

L2  A Reading from the book of the Prophet Joel....  

       (NRSV)  Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all
       your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
       {13} rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the
       LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to
       anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from
       punishing. {14} Who knows whether he will not turn and
       relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and
       a drink offering for the LORD, your God? {15} Blow the
       trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;
       {16} gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble
       the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.
       Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
       {17} Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the
       ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, "Spare your
       people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a
       byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the
       peoples, 'Where is their God?'" {18} Then the LORD became
       jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

L2  This is the word of the Lord.
P   Thanks be to God.

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 51 and Refrain #1                        - VU 776

THE EPISTLE READING:  II Corinthians 5:20-6:2
L1  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins.  The Apostle Paul
   reminds us that forgiveness is available now to all who ask for it and
   that now is the acceptable time.

L2  A reading from the Second letter of Paul to the Corinthians...

       (NRSV) We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his
       appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be
       reconciled to God. {21} For our sake he made him to be sin
       who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the
       righteousness of God.  As we work together with him, we urge
       you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. {2} For he
       says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a
       day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the
       acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

L2  This is the word of the Lord.
P   Thanks be to God.
THE GOSPEL READING:  Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
L1  The gospel message is similar to the one in the first Bible reading. 
   External works of penance have no value in themselves.  We must relate
   them to the real penance, our conversion to God.

L2  The Lord be with you.
P   And also with you.
L2  A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew....  

       (NRSV) "Beware of practising your piety before others in
       order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from
       your Father in heaven. {2} "So whenever you give alms, do not
       sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the
       synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by
       others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
       {3} But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know
       what your right hand is doing, {4} so that your alms may be
       done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will
       reward you. {5} "And whenever you pray, do not be like the
       hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues
       and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by
       others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
       {6} But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the
       door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your
       Father who sees in secret will reward you.  And whenever you
       fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they
       disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are
       fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
       {17} But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your
       face, {18} so that your fasting may be seen not by others but
       by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in
       secret will reward you.

L2  This is the gospel of the Lord.
P   Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


   This meditation is based almost entirely on that of Rev. Alex
   Stevenson, "Just a Little Ashes" (Latimer United Methodist Church,
   February 12 1997)

Just a little ashes that's all it is.  And what are ashes?  They are the
product of burning something away.  They are what is left over after fire
passes over or through something.  They are the waste after the heat and
light are gone.

I remember when I was growing up and we had a fire place.  It was my job to
take the ashes out.  They were useless so we would dispose of them as just
so much trash.  Now that I am much older and live in home with a wood stove
I find myself doing the same thing I did as child - taking out the ashes
and throwing them away.

So why, tonight, do we put this (for lack of a better word) garbage on our
foreheads?  Where did this strange tradition come from and what does it

First of all these ashes are a reminder of who we are.  The Bible tells us
that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return.  The first
human was formed out of the dust of the earth by God and then God breathed
life into that dust.  That is a powerful image.  One that is meant to
remind us that without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are
just like these ashes: lifeless - worthless.

These ashes are also a sign of repentance.  Lent is a time of mourning our
sins.  It is a time when we are called to repent and change our ways.  In
Bible times it was common for people who were mourning to dress in
sackcloth and put ashes on their heads.  There are several stories in the
Bible where the people come to God and sit before him "in sack cloth and
ashes" to show their repentance and to seek his forgiveness.  These ashes
tonight are meant to be for us symbols of our repentance and signs that we
truly seek to follow in God's path.

The people in the Biblical stories probably put the ashes on top of their
heads - so why do we, instead of putting these ashes on our heads, put them
in the sign of the cross on our foreheads?  

We do so because it is a reminder of how we are sealed for Christ.  In most
churches when a baby is baptized the minister or priest uses oil to mark
the child with the sign of the cross.  This anointing, and the cross of
ashes, are both reminders of the mark of the Lamb as it is described in the
Revelation of John.  The Book of Revelation tells of an angel marking the
faithful before the tribulation.  These faithful would then be protected.
The mark of the cross is a mark of ownership.  These ashes tonight remind
us that we are Christ's - that he died so that we might live.

It is also significant that we use palm branches to make these ashes.  The
palms are a symbol of victory.  By making the ashes from the palms of Palm
Sunday we are reminded of how  all our victories are but ashes before the
glory of God.  We are also reminded of the events of Holy Week - and of how
the victory of Jesus over sin was won for us on Good Friday.

These may be just a few ashes but they mean a lot.  They are a symbol of
our need for God.  We are nothing but dust and ashes apart from God.  

They are also a symbol of our repentance and mourning.  They are a way of
showing on the outside what is happening on the inside.  We are truly sorry
and mournful for the evil and hurtful this we have done.  Our trust in our
own powers and abilities have tarnished the image of Christ in us.

Yet in the midst of our repentance we are forgiven and marked as Christ's
own.  The very burning away of our sin by the fire of God's love makes us
God's won.  And as his own we are stamped and certified as children of God
through the cross.

So as you come today to have the sign of the cross placed on your foreheads
rend your hearts.  Repent of your self reliance and self-seeking.  And
accept the grace and forgiveness that marks you as a redeemed child of God. 

L  Let us now in silence reflect on the gospel message and make our
   confession and our vows of repentance and new life before the Lord
   .......... (silent prayer and meditation) ..........
L  Lord forgive our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us.
P  I confess to you O God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I
   have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in
   what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.  I am truly sorry
   and humbly repent.
L  Lord, hear our prayer of repentance and bless us that we might walk in
   the newness of the life that you offer.
P  Amen.

L  Dear friends in Christ, let us ask our Father to bless these ashes
   which we will use as the mark of our repentance.
P  Lord, bless these ashes by which we show that we are dust.  Pardon our
   sins and keep us faithful to the discipline of Lent, for you do not
   want sinners to die but to live with the risen Christ.
L  Almighty God, from the dust of the earth you have created us.  May
   these ashes be for us a sign of our mortality and penitence and a
   reminder that only by your gracious gift are we given eternal life;
   through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Amen.
       Those who desire to receive ashes now come forward.  Place
       your palm cross upon the Communion Table.  The Minister will
       sign you with ashes saying "Remember you are dust and to dust
       you shall return".  After all have received the service
       continues with the following: 
L  Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation that we may show
   forth your glory in the world.
P  By the cross and passion of your Son, our Lord, bring us with all your
   saints to the joy of his resurrection.
L  Hear these words addressed to penitent believers: "If anyone does sin,
   we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and he
   is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the
   sins of the whole world."
P  Praise be to God for his grace and mercy.  Amen.
SHARING OF THE PEACE:  The people are asked to exchange a sign of peace,
saying as they do: "The peace of the Lord be with you"

* HYMN: "Let Us Break Bread Together"                              - VU 480

L  The Lord be with you
P  And also with you.
L  Lift up your hearts.
P  We lift them up to the Lord.
L  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P  It is right to give God thanks and praise.

L  Father, all powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and
   everywhere to give you thanks and praise.  Through our observance of
   Lent you correct our faults and raise our minds to you.  You help us
   grow in holiness and offer us the reward of everlasting life through
   Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through him the angels and all the choirs of
   heaven worship in awe before you presence.  May our voices be one with
   theirs as they sing with joy the hymn of your glory.
P  Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
   heaven and earth are full of your glory.
   Hosanna in the highest.  
   Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
   Hosanna in the highest.

L  Blessed indeed, O Lord, is the one who comes in your name.  We remember
   in thankfulness how Christ Jesus came among us, how he lived and how he
   died so that we the chains of sin and death might be struck from us and
   how he rose again so that we might never die.  We thank you for his
   sacrifice on our behalf - for his love - for his courage - for his
   strength - for his suffering.  We praise for how you listened to him
   and granted to him the prayer of his heart.  
P  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

- Words of Institution
- The Lord's Prayer
- Distribution of the Elements

   Communion will be received by passing the bread and the cup from one
   person to the next.  At each stage the person passing the elements 
   will say "The body/blood of Christ broken/shed  for you".  The
   response is "and also for you".

P  God of compassion, through your son Jesus Christ you reconciled your
   people to yourself.  Following his example of prayer and fasting, may
   we obey you with willing hearts and serve you and one another in holy
   love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
* HYMN: "Dust and Ashes Touch Our Face"                            - VU 105

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks - 2000 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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