Tag Archives: Repentance

Lord, Son of David

Biblical Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the Canaanite woman’s request. In a week of Nazis and violence it would have been harder to pick a better text. The sermon explores the relationship between Christ and Tribe or between Christ and all the various things that we base our identity on. The text, with its blunt sayings, allows us to work in two direction. The woman’s repeated title of choice is “Lord”. Jesus’ responses to the disciples and then the woman allow us to understand just who this Lord is. He is not OUR lord, the Lord of created to back up our preferred identities, but He is THE Lord. The Lord is also the Son of David. Salvation comes from the Jews. It is that joint truth that is a God large enough to save, but particular enough to be human. I believe that in such a week this sermon offers both truth and hope.

I don’t address it in the sermon, because it is a speculative or allegorical reading, but it is a reading that captures this religious imagination. This anonymous woman has been called the mother of the gentile church. The woman’s request is for the healing or exorcism of the her daughter. The woman herself as a Canaanite from Tyre and Sidon stands in for the entirety of the Gentiles. In the OT time period the nations were given over to the idols. The woman’s request is to drive the demons or those idols from her daughter – the church growing. At that allegorical level where characters are not just themselves but stand for larger entities or truths, the request is to make the gentile church clean. Even more so, admitting being “dogs”, being outside the old covenant, to still share in the new. Does the Christian have to become a Jew first, the question of Acts 15, is addressed allegorically here. The Canaanite woman’s faith in the abundance of the Lord Son of David, that the lost sheep of Israel includes Canaanites, spurs Jesus to grant the request. Hence the mother of the gentile church. Not provable in a modern way, but it rings a lot of poetic images.

Landmarks

When you spend a lifetime reading the bible, there are always parts of it that are intriguing but make absolutely no sense, until they do. There is a thread in the Old Testament, rooted in the Torah, mentioned in the prophets (Hosea 5:10), and echoed in the writings (Proverbs 22:28), that has intrigued me since I first fell upon it as a child. I was the goofy, bookish, slightly macabre child that found cemeteries fascinating. If you ask me why, I think it was just the mystery. The biggest hill in town that nobody talked about. Markers stretching back to “times before”. In the closest cemetery, that “before” would simply have been before IL was a state, but in the big town, before the US was a country. This was an actual weight of time, combined with all the epitaphs people used on stones. My pious favorite, “In the hope of the resurrection”. The touching “beloved mother”. The cryptic masonic and other odd symbols. Proud obelisks, and the sentimental despair of weeping angels or cloak draped urns. So when I ran across this:

“You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the Lord you God is giving you to possess.” – Deuteronomy 19:14.

It peaked the imagination. Why would God or Moses give such a commandment? Why did God seem to care about stones? And why are they connected with that important biblical word neighbor? Just who is my neighbor?

In our modern formatted texts, that verse is probably set apart like its own little sense bubble having nothing to do with what came before or after. I think it would be a mistake to treat it as such. The first piece of context is Deuteronomy itself. These are the commands given right before Israel takes the promised land. Israel is going to take the land, expel the Canaanites (or they are supposed to do so), and parcel it out. They will be making new boundary lines. God isn’t telling Israel to not make new boundaries, but they don’t get to remove the old owner’s boundaries. Strange. The second piece of context is the law immediately before it which concerns sanctuary cities. These sanctuary cities are to be established to protect those guilty of accidental manslaughter from revenge killing. They do not protect the murderer, they simply create a neutral court to determine the motive. “If anyone hates his neighbor” the lex talionis is in full effect. The third piece of context is the law immediately after which regulates witnesses. A single witness shall not suffice. Also, a malicious witness (i.e. a false one) shall fall under the punishment he tried to procure for his brother. Again the lex talionis is invoked. Again, neighbor and brother.

Landmarks are part of discerning judgment and refuge. Landmarks give a dual witness. They judge and the give refuge, and it is up to us to understand both from the witness of those not present. And that witness moves in both directions. They witness to us their judgments, but they also elicit from us our judgments. They witness where they found refuge, and ask where we find ours. If we are righteous we enact justice in our own day. We provide to the living refuge and judgement. That is the point of the invocations of the lex talionis. Moses knows that there will be many times we don’t wish to do so, but in both cases, the murderer and the false witness, he says “your eye shall not pity”. Landmarks often become what Jesus chides the Pharisees over. “Woe to you! You build the tombs of the prophets your father’s killed (Luke 11:47).” Landmarks can be witness to the times we did not do justice. The landmarks of a people no longer in the land, like the Canaanites, can be a witness to the fragility of our hold of it. “God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones (Luke 3:8).” Landmarks can be a refuge in a troubled time. This is the toughest to maintain in a sinful world, but I think it is the point of Jesus’ cry “My house was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it into a den of robbers (Mark 11:17).” If a place is consecrated to the worship of the Father in spirit and truth, it should remain so, for all nations. If they don’t, they witness against us. If those consecrated places do, we find the peace of Christ resting on them. But even the grandest Cathedral is but a temporary refuge, a landmark which points to our eternal refuge.

If we go about in spasms of iconoclasm moving landmarks, it is not that that their witness it no longer true, but that we can no longer discern its voice. “Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing (Luke 11:44).” We become even more unclean, because we have removed that which would have witnessed to someone who might have heard, and understood, and repented. We ourselves are cursed, and our actions curse others.

I wish I could take down every statue of Robert E. Lee. I wish I could remove the markers of a racist past. I wish that I didn’t know now what I didn’t then about Sally Hemmings. I wish that I could return to the graveyard of my childhood awash in mystery. But when we become men, we put away childish things. The most childish of those things is believing that anything straight was ever made from the crooked timber of humanity. It is such a tempting fantasy that we can remake the world in our image. That by moving a few landmarks we can make the land new. That by taking the body off the cross, we can return to divine impassibility. That by taking the crucifix off the altar we can have our best life now. That by whitewashing the tombs everything will be beautiful.

But the Lord says, “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark.” Why? Because the Canaanites, the racists, the slaveowners, the crucifiers, these are my neighbors and my brothers. If they can’t be saved, neither can I. But Christ came for sinners. Even the stones cry out. Every landmark gives a witness – some soft and some brash, some welcome and others a scandal. This land we held, which is yours now, is fleeting. This land is not the promised land. Don’t wait, don’t hold on to it. Do justice now, love righteousness now, walk humbly with God now, that you might enter into eternal dwellings.

Witnesses to Easter

Biblical Text: Acts 5:28-42
Full Sermon Draft

This is typically the Thomas Sunday, but the first lesson from Acts just struck my imagination too well this year. Gamaliel’s tolerance and wisdom typically gets pride of place, but I think that discounts Saul in the background. The sermon attempts to tell both the foreground story of Peter preaching repentance to the High Priests who a month ago crucified Jesus and the background story of Saul (soon to be Paul) who wouldn’t listen to his teacher’s advice. The point of preaching, of Peter’s and of ours, is repentance and salvation. It is not justice or balancing the scales. It is not getting back at anyone. It is simply repent and believe. That repentance is a gift. It is part of faith. Caiaphas or Annas, the High Priest, heard the preaching and knew what was going on, but they did not repent. Saul, did not repent, yet. The call of those who have repented is to be witnesses to Easter. Pray for the repentance of the unbeliever while bearing the cross for those who won’t, yet. In this we witness to Easter and the Great Easter to come in the resurrection of all flesh.

Ash Wednesday Meditation


Text: Matthew 6:19-34

The assigned Ash Wednesday gospel would have included the lines on prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we read a couple of Sunday’s ago, and stopped with the aphorism “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of those items are a build-ups. The payoff comes after the “therefore”. “Therefore I tell you…” That is the introduction to a summary point based on what came before.

The piety practices aren’t because we need to eat our veggies. Just think for a second what each of those practices force us to do. Prayer forces our attention, our meditation, away from this world and toward the Kingdom of God. Fasting forces us to think about our hungers – physical and spiritual – and how they are satisfied. What is true food. Almsgiving forces us to give away what is probably our biggest rival idols, money and what we spend it on – ourselves. We give our own in support of someone else. The practices move us out of ourselves and toward God and others. Augustine would call sin the “incuvatus in se” the turning inward on ourselves. The practices, straighten us out.

Why? Why should we not care about old #1?

Jesus answer, listening to the ‘therefore’ is twofold. You are going to die, and your Father knows this.

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Peter Theil thinks he can, or at least he’s throwing hundreds of millions at it, but Jesus didn’t expect and answer. Instead Jesus makes two comparisons to things whose lifespans are shorter than ours. The lilies of the field which are here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire. Not even Solomon could rival their dress. God showers a day or a short season with his finest – you think he doesn’t see you? Take the sparrow. It flits from here to there. It doesn’t have the flashy red of the cardinal. It doesn’t’ have song of the best songbird. It doesn’t have the size of the ostrich. It is a sparrow. Two a penny. Yet Matthew would say just a bit later that not a single one falls without your Father’s knowing. They neither sow nor reap, yet they eat. You think you Father doesn’t notice you?

Like Sparrows, like lilies, we are going to die. Instead of turning inward and attempting to horde what we can in an effort to avoid that, we should do what we were made to do.

Don’t lay up treasures in this world, but love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and strength and spirit. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Don’t be devoted to ourselves, or money or our status. The gentiles do all these things. The gentiles love those that love them. Instead love your neighbor as yourself. Like the lilly was made to give beauty to all, we were made to Love God and our neighbor.

Ash Wednesday has the most direct memento mori – “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Sometimes we are so sick it takes such a shock. But don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Your Father knows. Seek first the Kingdom, and all these things will be added. God work through death and resurrection. Amen.

The Threshing Floor

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Biblical Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

The season, Advent to be specific but you could say the extended Christmas season, begins for me when I hear “On Jordan’s Bank”. That was our opening hymn – LSB 344. The funny thing is that hymn reflects some of the theological turns that obscure the Baptist’s message. It turns from the direct and present cry of John on the Banks of the Jordan toward a spiritualized understanding. “The Lord is Nigh” becomes “and let us all our hearts prepare For Christ to come and enter there.” Charles Coffin, the hymn writer, was a French Jansenist. What that means is a Catholic Calvinist. The Jansenists eventually were repressed and died out within the Catholic church, but in Coffin and Pascal they remain in the Church Universal. His Jansenism dominates verses 2 and 3, but he returns is verse four to the Baptist’s message which is not a retreat to a spiritual realm, but the coming down of the Lord.

The sermon attempts to get us to hear John the Baptist. True religion is not a matter of choice – something those Jansenists would understand. True religion in the reign of Christ. Today that is the reign of grace. Christ has taken our deserved baptism of fire and given us his baptism. This time the people of God don’t cross into the promised land across that Jordan on dry ground with swords for conquest. This time we cross by water and by our absolute repentance which is our acknowledgement that before the Lord we’ve got nothing. Coming right behind, is the final baptism. The Holy Spirit which we have as the down payment will be set free to recreate everything. Those sealed in the living water shall live, those without perish in the refining fire.

The final hymn – LSB 345 – Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding is a old Latin hymn that captures well that progression. Hear the Baptist; hear the solemn warning. Today see “the lamb of God with pardon. Let us haste with tears of sorrow, one and all to be forgiven”. Tomorrow, “when next he comes in glory, the world is wrapped in fear, He will shield us with his mercy, and with words of love draw near”. The Lord has treated us with love and solidarity. We have nothing to fear in his drawing near. Come Lord Jesus.

Remembrance (October Newsletter)

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. – Isaiah. 44:21

I’ve never been a specific date person. If you asked me how old I am, I’d have to calculate it. Probably after looking at my driver’s license to check the date. And I recognize that there are people who get offended when you forget specific dates, but such things to me have usually been abstractions. It is real hard for me to fix emotion to an abstract calendar. There are concrete things that make me recall past events. For example walking around Darien Lake this summer one of the things that is unmissable is the strollers and little kids being carried on shoulders. Ethan is now past riding on shoulders. But that concrete experience brought to mind the three-year-old we might have been carrying around. Another one would be an upcoming happy event. By the end of the year we will have the car paid off and be back to no car payments. Seeing as the car I drive is almost 14 years old and well over 100,000 miles that might mean it’s my turn. I haven’t driven a new-ish car since the one I leased in 1998 when I got my job at IBM and kids were still just a thought. But I’m in no hurry to lose the Santa Fe. A practical reason is I’m cheap, let’s say frugal to be nice. But that car was my brother’s. He had just finished paying it off when he passed away seven years ago already. Time like an ever rolling stream, soon bears us all away.

Remembrance is a tricky thing. The young are unburdened by it. The old can wallow in nostalgia over things that never actually were. The constant drumbeat of crack church consultants is relevance. Stay in the now looking to the near future. But that has never been the way the people of God have operated. The proclamation of the Kingdom – OT and NT – has always started with the call repent, and repentance is an act of remembrance. It is a remembrance of whose we are – “remember these things, O Jacob…I formed you.” It is a remembrance of His words and His ways – “you are my servant”. Repentance is always an act of memory.

But if that was all it was about, to hell with it. My remembering ends the day I do, maybe earlier. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may as the poet says. But when the bible talks remembrance it may start with repentance, but it always points to something bigger. “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD (Psalm. 25:7)!” “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke. 23:42).” Our remembrance ultimately fails. As much as I might be willing to fix the Santa Fe, eventually I won’t be able to, as Jerry’s experience with a model year newer recently reminded me. What the Psalmist begs for is not his ability to remember, but that God would remember him according to his steadfast love. Like the thief on the cross asking the innocent lamb, “remember me”. That is the promise. “Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.”

The church’s remembrance is not a false nostalgia, neither is it focused on a myopic short term relevance. It is sustained in the now, by looking far. By looking to the fulfillment of that promise that all Israel shall be remembered. By looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Rally Day

decalogue-windowThe second use of the law is as the mirror. It shows us our sins. One of the old Rabbi’s ways of using the Decalogue was to line up one through five on the first side and six through ten on the other and use it as a diagnostic. (Sorry any reformed/evangelical readers, Calvin and Zwingli messed up your order because two commandments on coveting offended their reason and they needed to bolster their iconoclasm. The numbering used is the Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran.) If your community or society was engaged in rampant adultery (sixth commandment), the deep problem was idolatry (1st Commandment). That particular insight is often found in the prophets where Israel is compared to the harlot. Likewise if your culture is driven by coveting stuff (“ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”, 10 Commandment), the deeper problem is with the 5th (don’t murder). The presenting problem may be late stage capitalism, but we are willing to make commodities of everything because we have already made commodities of each other. We can see this in cases big and small, the over 1 million aborted a year to the Chicago murder rate. And if you take Jesus in the Sermon in the mount at his word that hating your neighbor is murder, well our every 4 year festival of hatred where the people wearing the other color are compared to Hitler and real friends are sacrificed should be troubling.

A particular outgrowth of that media cycle that I find almost like cat-nip is the attributing of the worst possible meaning to whatever the red/blue flag bearer said yesterday. Charity assumes that what was said has some reason behind it, that there is some way in which it captures truth, until the pure malevolence of the speaker is proven. I may not understand it, but it is my moral obligation to attempt to or at the least assume there is one. This is the 8th commandment’s territory. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor which Luther glossed with a positive force of “defend him, speak well of him and put the best construction on everything.” Not being a Pollyanna type, more specifically being a hyper-analytical person who likes winning, I have too often put those traits not in the service of charity but destruction, of figuring out the worst possible meaning and imputing that to the speaker. It has been a conscious effort and struggle of mine to control that impulse. It is depressing how often I fail.

That might be the sin that lives in my members, the battle against the flesh, but if I look at the parallel commandment, the 3rd (Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy), I think I am staring at what the world is attacking. When asking what does this mean Luther wrote that “we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” That Sabbath commandment to Luther is about our handling of the Word of God. As Jesus would say “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Word of God is given to us for our good. If I am willing to intentionally distort my neighbor’s words, that stems first from my willingness to impugn God’s word. When God’s Word is not taken as sacred, it is real easy to treat my neighbor’s word as trash.
We can lament that the world does not take the Word seriously as Alan Jacob’s article in Harper’s a few weeks ago did, but we really should have no expectation of the world doing so. That was part of my response a couple of weeks ago which I posted here. It is another thing when the church neglects the Word. This interview with Kenneth Briggs, the “godbeat” editor for many years at places like the New York Times, talks about what he has seen. His pungent phrase is that the Bible has “become a museum exhibit, hallowed as a treasure but enigmatic and untouched.” Until the church is willing to reform its house back into what Luther called “God’s mouth-house”, the place where the Word forms us deeply, we will find it tough living with our neighbors. The church is the salt of the earth. If we can’t treat each other with charity, how will the world know?

I occasionally get asked why I insist on or put so much effort behind things like VBS, Sunday School, Bible Class and confirmation when the numbers are few. My response is usually something like “that is the call”. If the Pastor doesn’t put the Word first, then who will. Do I worry, especially around budget season, that someday that focus will leave me without a paycheck? I’d be lying if I said no. Another thing to repent from – “each day has enough trouble of its own, don’t fret”. So I turn back to the call, to call out all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is near, and to proclaim that now, in your hearing, is the year of the Lord’s mercy. Or taking that out of the high Biblical register, it’s Rally Day. Sunday School and Bible classes are starting again. I’d invite you to set aside a Sabbath to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn that Word.

Pronouns

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Biblical Text: Acts 2:1-21 (Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:22-41)
Full Sermon Draft

Pentecost, especially in the readings this year, is a day about language. For all we depend upon it, language is something that we don’t really think much about. We let writers and preachers do that. But if we don’t have the language for something there is a question how long it can actually exist, or if we can truly experience it. That is one of the spurs for stealing words from other languages – to experience and describe experience more precisely. One of the deep lessons of Babel is that when language breaks down, that is God’s punishment. Babel is God’s Punishment, Pentecost is God’s salvation.

The Jewish Pentecost was the receiving of the law at Sinai. That is the start of our salvation. It starts to make things clear, but the law itself has no power. That is this later Pentecost, when the Spirit is poured out.

The title comes from the diagnosis of a Babel and a call to a new Pentecost.

Our concluding Hymn is my favorite Pentecost one. LSB 500, Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid. The text is an ancient chant from the 8th century that comes to us through John Dryden the English poet. It displays both a sacramental view of the world and worship. At the end of verse two: Your sacred healing message bring, to sanctify us as we sing. But the jewel of it for me is verse three in how it describes the work of the Spirit abiding in us.

Your sevenfold gifts to us supply
Help us eternal truths receive
And practice all that we believe
Give us yourself that we might see
The glory of the Trinity.

Through the working of the Spirit, through His sanctification, we receive the eternal truth which is Jesus Christ. Receiving Christ and repenting, we then seek to follow him, to put into practice the love we have been give. And we do this because of our hope in the resurrection, that we might see the Trinity face to face. Just a beautiful hymn that maintains a bit of its chant origin.

Give Him Another Year

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Biblical Text: Luke 13:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

Today is one of those days that stuff happening in the service is real important. We had a baptism this morning, and when you have a baptism you have an invaluable object lesson. That is absent from the recording, but you will hear it used a couple of times in the sermon.

From the text there is an overriding theme in the spirit of Lent – repentance. But the gospel text itself is abrupt. A report of a happening, a strong reaction to that report by Jesus and then a parable. This is one of the places where we as readers and hearers of the gospel really have to puzzle it out. Why would they bring this report to Jesus? What was their point? Jesus’ response gives us some clues, but the larger context of Luke which last week’s sermon look at as gives us a good idea of what was being asserted.

The crux of the issue is line drawing. Where is the line drawn that creates the division Jesus claims to have brought? Jesus’ answer is grace. The sermon examines the difference between mercy and grace and attempts to show why grace is that line of division. But the people of that day, just like the people of our day, like drawn their own lines. We draw lines that place us on the deserving side. Whether those are lines of race, or class or language or people or behavior. It can’t be grace, because we are on the right side.

Jesus answer is a clear nobody is on the right side. “Unless you all repent, you likewise will perish.”

The application of this is my attempt at encouragement and example of a proper repentance.

Worship Note: I have left in two of the hymns sung today. Lutheran Service Book 611 Chief of Sinners Though I Be, and LSB 610 Lord Jesus, Think on Me. It was a day of rich hymns because I loved our opening hymn and the baptismal hymn as well which all spoke the same gospel, but I left these two in the recording in their places as hymns of the life of repentance.

Repentance Walk

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Ash Wednesday

I like the church year because along with Christmas and Easter and the days that you naturally blow the trumpet it has days like Ash Wednesday. Days that force us to think about things we don’t want to think about.

I’ve been told that the word sin has no meaning in modern English. That what sin means to the vast majority of Americans is an understandable indulgence. The sinful chocolate. The scale says you don’t need it, but hey. The sinful car. Yes, the payment is a little more, but you’ve always wanted that badge and now can swing it. Biblically those really aren’t sins. They might be foolishness, or they might even be just enjoying God’s creation. Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton by the Pharisees.

Sin biblically is dominated by two metaphors. There are the purity metaphors – clean and dirty. And there are the special metaphors – missing the mark, walking the wrong way, ever before me. A common division of the Jewish law is between the ceremonial and the moral. The ceremonial law is what governs what is kosher and non-kosher. The breaking of the ceremonial law was cleansed by the ceremonial washings and the sacrifices. Purity being the primary way to talk about it. And purity – clean and dirty – tends to be digital. You are clean or dirty, there is no space in between. Eat a bacon cheeseburger and you are ceremonially unclean. Offer the sacrifice and you are restored to cleanliness.

The sacrifice of Jesus fulfilled that ceremonial law for all time. That cross has made us clean. It has washed us, created in us a clean heart.

The other portion of the law is the moral. The 10 commandments are the shorthand for it. This is where those spacial words start to take over. Cast me not away from your presence. Uphold me with a willing Spirit. The word that becomes resurrection is literally stand up, be put aright.

When you read repent in the New Testament, there are couple of different words used. Metanoia, which focuses on the mental. The recognition that we by ourselves are unclean. And the first call of metanoia, repent, is believe. The other word is epistrepho, which is spacial and means turning around and walking in the other direction. We start walking in the ways God intends.

Luther said in the first of the 95 theses, When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. That is not a life of constantly changing our minds, but of constantly walking in the correct direction.

And here is where Ash Wednesday is unique. Our justification is immediate. We are made clean by the righteousness of Christ by faith. But because we went wrong, we wandered a far distance “east of Eden”. And the consequences of sin are death. Abraham never possessed the promised land. Moses never entered it. David’s kingdom fell apart. Dust we are and to dust we will return. However far we walk in the way God intends, this flesh is not going to make it.

But this flesh is not our hope. As the writer of Hebrews says in the chapter of the heroes of the faith.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Heb 11:13-14)

Our hope is not here and now, but then and there. Our repentance walk here and now, turns into a triumph then and there. When we are no longer clothed with this mortal flesh, but we receive the resurrection – are stood aright. There are plenty of days on the calendar to celebrate that. But Ash Wednesday is on the calendar to remember that it is not yet a full on triumph. We only share in that triumph to the extent that we seek a homeland. To the extent that we pick up our cross and follow him past Calvary. Amen.