Wednesday, February 26, 2020

February 26, 2020
Ash Wednesday
(Joel 2:12-18; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
We live in a "throwaway" culture. We throw away just about everything.
Not that we haven't noticed. We've been using this expression since LIFE magazine published an article in 1955 about a new phenomenon that emerged in the prosperity of the 1950s. "Throwaway Living" the article was called.
Instead of blowing our noses using washable handkerchiefs (as did our eco-friendly grandmothers and grandfathers), we use tissues and throw them away. (I still carry a handkerchief – I get weird stares now and again.)
We diaper babies' bottoms, and then throw them away -- the diapers, not the bottoms. We buy a pair of shoes and throw them away. We buy water packaged in plastic bottles, drink the water -- and throw the bottles away. (Probably just as well, because apparently the plastic bottles leach harmful chemicals. And they still manufacture them why?)
Almost everything we purchase comes in what many call excessive packaging which ... is thrown away. We buy small and large appliances and when they break down we buy new ones and throw away the old ones. We buy TVs and throw them away.
In an era long past, small shops existed to repair items that consumers were then loath to throw away. Used to be that a small repair shop could provide a modest income. You could get your TVs, toasters, radios and irons repaired for a small charge and they were good to go.
The archetype for such small businesses is Emmett's Fix-It Shop in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, as depicted on the 1960s television series "The Andy Griffith Show." Emmett Clark fixed clocks, lamps, radios and more. Usually, a TV merely needed a new tube. Tubes are long gone – at least I assume they are, because the thickness of TV’s today, I don’t see how one could fit. Thus, these shops, for the most part, have disappeared.
This is why an organization called Repair is so interesting.
Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they're all about repairing things (together). At a Repair Café, you'll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need on clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, and even toys. You'll also find expert volunteers with repair skills in all kinds of fields.
According to their website, "Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It's an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else's repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table -- by leafing through books on repairs and DIY. There are over 1,300 Repair Cafés worldwide.
Interesting as that may be, we throw away more than clocks, lamps, bottles and diapers these days.
We also throw away friendships, values, traditions, manners, decency and common sense. Some might say that we too often throw away our souls in pursuit of some elusive dream we hold dear. We cast aside the spiritual component of our lives thinking, possibly, that we will focus on spirituality later.
Then, one morning, we wake up wondering who we are and where we've been and where our life has taken us. "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," according to Beatles John Lennon.
Whatever you want to call it, we sense down deep that something is wrong. Something is broken. Something is in desperate need of fixing.
Let’s take King David from the Old Testament as an example. A small snipet from our longer form of the Asperges (Psalm 121) for our mass in the Antiphon has a piece of Psalm 51 which is said to have been written by King David. King David is broken. (Read Psalm 51:1-17)
In this psalm, we see David taking his sorry soul to God's repair café.
David -- this towering and impressive figure of the Old Testament, the greatest king in Israel's history, the monarch who reigned at the height of Israel's glory -- had developed a throwaway mentality.
He threw away the laws of God. He threw away the sanctity of the marriage bond. He threw away his self-respect. He threw away a woman's honor and reputation. He threw away a man's life -- the husband, Uriah. He recklessly threw away and abandoned the person God called him to be, the person the ancient Samuel had anointed when David was but a lad tending sheep, writing poems and playing the lyre.
Here in Psalm 51 is a man ruined, a man whose life is in tatters, a man who is utterly lost. His spirit is broken. His soul is wounded. He is sick and distressed.
He's been given a diagnosis. He knows the disease. He knows who he really is. It's not pretty. And it nauseates him.
He lied. He raped the neighbor lady. He ordered the murder of her husband. He tried to cover up the crime. To say he abused his authority and position is a gross understatement. (Sounds like someone else we know in our very own country!)
He needs relief. He is in a downward spiral of destruction. He needs redemption. He needs something! He needs to be fixed, and so he goes to God, the Great Fixer, the Great Repairer of Souls, the Great Weaver of Broken Threads.
Our Epistle today from Joel says, “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”
God is in the repair business.
David knows a lot about God, and right now the most important thing he knows about God is that God doesn't throw away things. He knows that "For gracious and merciful is he (God), slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” That's why David can pray, "Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11).
God will not cast us away from the divine presence. When we feel far from God, it is not because God has moved. We're the ones who have moved. It could be because we have had a "throwaway God," a God to whom we listen when it's convenient, a God to whom we pray only when in distress, a God who has become largely irrelevant because we really don't apply the knowledge of God to our day-to-day lives. So many people are throwing away God when they should seeking Him. We blame the Church, and thus God, when we shouldn’t do either. Blame a person if you must, but not God.
God does not cast us away. God repairs and redeems. "For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 30:17).
"I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25-26).
There are many more I could choose, but the point has been made. I frequently turn to the Scriptures when I am in a state of needing to be thrown away myself.
But I need – we all need - repair. This is what God does. We should take our sorry souls to God's Repair Café because God knows how to make things new!
What does a repair job cost? The cost of a repair job at God's Fix-It Shop?
Nothing really. But you do need to know that something's broken. There's no point stopping by God's Repair Café just to say, "Hey, I'm good," and then go on your way.
Notice David's attitude. He knows he needs some treatment. Submitting to treatment is also important. David asks for specific remedies.  He wants the mercy treatment and some blotting done. He also asks for a wash and cleansing session. He wants to do a purge. He wants the complete restoration treatment.
Finally, he wants a new heart, which is the key part of the treatment. The old heart, the old engine, the old nature -- whatever you call it -- is beyond repair. David asks for a replacement. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (v. 10).
If there is a cost, this is it: acknowledging that we need help, and accepting the help that is offered. Let's remember that David's remorse was all about his own brokenness, not someone else's.
God is in the repair business; we're not. At least, we are not asked to go around fixing people. This is dangerous stuff. People stay in abusive relationships believing they can fix the abuser. No, they can't.
Some people think other people need to be "fixed." What they really mean is that they disapprove of their behavior. We are not the judge, only God is.
Some people don't want to be fixed, don't need to be fixed and certainly not by any of us!
Going to God's Repair Café is personal. This is about our recognition of our own brokenness -- not someone else's.
We begin our observance of Lent with Ash Wednesday. This is a day of penitence, and this is a penitential season. The Psalm I read is a penitential Psalm. This service can be considered a sort of Repair Café experience. We come together to do our private business with God, but we do so together, with the support and encouragement of others.
We say our Confiteor together. We get blessed and cleansed by virtue of the priest pronouncing the absolution that comes from God and God alone. God forgives and forgets. We are the ones that remember and torture ourselves. God has made the repairs. After our ashes have lain the sins to the grave, we now go forth in the season of Lent and accept our repair and go forth attempting to not break again.

God is a great healer. There is nothing and no one God cannot restore. Let us remember this during our journey through Lent!
God of our lives, out of the dust of creation you have formed us and given us life. May these ashes not only be a sign of our repentance and death, but reminders that by your gift of grace in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, we are granted life forever with you. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA