Ash Wednesday Service 2018

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
February 14, 2018
Ash Wednesday

I wonder if anyone remembers experiencing an Ash Wednesday service on Valentine’s Day? Anyone? Or when Easter collided with April Fool’s Day? The year was 1945 and by Easter, approximately thirty-nine million deaths due to World War Two decimated generations of families. I wonder how many clergy then dared to call out the true April Fools who had brought such death and destruction to the earth.
What have we as Christians learned from our faith since 1945?
Sadly, I think the Christian church focuses more on sin than love.
For the next few minutes, I invite you to let go of all that your mind brings forth when you hear the word, “sin.” If you’ve ever been beat up by the church because of the word “sin,” then what if I told you that you’ve been duped? Fooled. Fooled by those who use religion to camouflage fear. Fooled by those who are afraid of the unknown and therefore seek to manipulate God by changing the way you think…by telling you what to know rather than how to know. By telling you what to see rather than how to see.
We see this paradox play out more clearly in what we term “propaganda”— be it the way the 2nd Amendment is touted to protect our right to bear arms so we can feel safe, or North Korean cheerleaders at the Olympics, or television ads that promise happiness if you buy their product, or our political state that embraces truth by repeating lies so many times that they become credible. Scriptures are not immune to propagandistic interpretations.
The last six months I’ve ventured into the writings of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who embraces a mystical interpretation of Scriptures. What does that mean? It means he approaches the Scriptures with contemplation, refusing to give in to the propaganda of polarized thinking and reductionism. Imagine reading the Scriptures with an open mind and open heart that sees without labeling or categorizing. What would the church look like now if Christians were so contemplative that judgment vanished?
In his book, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Rohr describes sinners as “People who do not know who they are and whose they are, people who have no connection to their inherent dignity and importance. They have to struggle for it by all kinds of futile performances (21).”
What if religious leaders are the sinners who utilize religion as a disguise for their own self-identity crises? Since 1945, I wonder if the convergence of poor Biblical teaching and leadership that created religious organizations promoting fearful propaganda will require years of reverse psychological conditioning.
During this Lent season, what if we recondition the way we seek God? What if we seek a mystical vision of life? What if we seek a mystical vision of our faith? What if we seek a mystical vision of our Creator? What if we seek a journey of how to know, not what to know. Of how to see, not what to see?
It would mean rewiring the brain.
For me, it would mean letting go of all that I hold on to that helps me feel important. It would mean letting go of being defensive, so I am able to grasp vulnerability and love. It would mean letting go of self-interests and grasping community interests. It would mean a radical change to where I devote my time. And that sounds radical because Christianity is about following a radical teacher named Jesus Christ. He was so radical that his vision put fear into the powerful organizations around him. In 2018, powerful organizations continue to thrive on fear and propaganda in order to maintain the status quo. And yet the vision of Christ still has a heartbeat.
As the words, “Remember you are dust of the earth and stardust of the heavens, and to there you shall return,” are said as ashes are placed on your forehead, begin to think differently so that the next time Valentine’s Day and April Fools occur on the beginning and culmination of Lent, the year 2029 will feel your impac