Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Psalm 103:8–18
2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10 Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today we gather to prepare ourselves for Lent and all to which it leads. One of the things we do is to receive a mark of ashes on our foreheads to start Lent, to remind us of our moral frailty and our need for a Redeemer.
Marking certain people is an ancient tradition. The first person to be marked was Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son. First sons were always honoured, they got a double portion of everything, but in spite of that (having more) Cain did the unthinkable in an outburst of jealousy he killed his brother Abel. Now that would normally have been punishable by death but our merciful God saved Cain from death, although God didn’t let him completely off the hook. Cain was fated to roam the world a nomad. God doesn’t like death so to protect Cain from being murdered in revenge for killing Abel he received what we call the Mark of Cain. It is thought that it was the Hebrew letter tav, the equivalent of our letter ‘T’, which placed on his forehead for all to see. God saves sinners, always has !
Centuries later Ezekiel had a vision (Ezekiel 9:4-6). Ezekiel was instructed to mark with a tav, that letter ‘T’ again, to mark all the people who opposed the bad behaviour of the majority of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thereby all the righteous people of the city were saved from the wrath of God.
Then we come to our baptism when we hear these beautiful words “I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own for ever”. From that time on we are Christ’s own, we can never be separated from Him, we are saved. We may have to wander like Cain in the wilderness but we are never lost. The lesson we learn when we are in the wilderness is that we are never alone, never deserted. God is right by our side, sometimes on our blind side but nevertheless there with us. We have been marked. God has you on His GPS and you will not go too far astray.
If we had made something and it didn’t work out quite right, we almost certainly after trying to fix it, like the potter reworking clay, would probably scrap the whole project, and go read a book or watch something on the tv. Why does God bother giving us multiple chances to get it right and eventually accept us as we are, a little flawed and nowhere near God’s expectations for us ? Well I think the psalmist has the answer, he says “For [God] himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust”. It’s almost as if God maybe chose the wrong raw material, instead of the dust of clay maybe God should have chosen sand after all it is made from sturdy rock and would withstand temptation, or maybe He should have chosen a good rich loam, think how they would have made things grow, or maybe wood ? No that would make them like Pinocchio, we lie enough already. Or what about a new plasticky material ? No that stuff is not good for the Earth, it has to be natural. So dust it is ! We should have known that God would have chosen the right material from the beginning, He is God after all !
God knows our failings, shortcomings and transgressions, that we are imperfect, that He made us a little lower than the angels and that He shouldn’t set the bar too high, or at least pick it up and let us start again with a clean sheet, that is having no goals allowed to be scored on us by the Devil. That must really tick the Devil off but then it never was a fair fight he was in. It reminds me of a boxer with a long reach holding his flailing opponent at bay.
So today we come to get a clean sheet and to undertake to not allow temptation or thoughtlessness to govern our actions. And we do it with humility and piety, not being marked to show that we are better than anyone else but to show that we know our own failings and are starting out on our Lenten journey with the goal of putting ourselves right with God by repentance and thoughtfulness.
And so it begins. Amen.