Out of the Depths

There’s line from the hymn we will sing today, “I will Arise and Go to Jesus,” that is so very true for me.  In part it says, “If you tarry ‘till you’re better, you will never come at all.”

The fact is, we meet God out of our need, not out of our sufficiency.  Out of our extremity we come.  That’s my story.  When my life was going nowhere, caught up in our family’s turmoil, missing class after class – only then did I take up a friend’s offer to attend a campus religious group.  There, at this Wesley Foundation meeting, I caught a glimpse of a loving, forgiving God that challenged my intellect as well as my spiritual distress.  Catching a fulsome vision of what God might intend for me, I kept coming back.

It is out of what is often called “rock bottom” that an addict comes to a recovery group.  If there is enough desire to live, that person might catch a glimpse of an entire new way of life.  But it all begins with the admission, “My name is — fill in the blank — I’m an alcoholic.”  It’s the realization, too often after family has left, after the job is over, after self-respect is on empty, that one’s life is now hopelessly out of control.

This period of Lent is our opportunity to deeply consider what it is that gives life, and to choose for abundance – not in things but in connection to the Author of Life, to one another, to our deepest self.

James Baldwin tells of that afternoon, in his darkened father’s Pentecostal church, where as a young adolescent, he slowly came down the center aisle.  He knelt at the communion rail and there offered himself to Jesus.  As James tells it, the deal was, “Jesus knew all the secrets of my heart and would never let me find them out.”

“But he was a better man than I took him for.”

Lent is our opportunity to discover the inner secrets of our hearts, to accept that, whatever they may be, Jesus calls us into his presence – a Presence overflowing with welcome, with compassion, with forgiveness, with challenge to go deeper.   Much as did that first meeting of Wesley Foundation I attended so long ago as a very lost soul.  Much as the alcoholic finds at a first AA meeting.

We only have one crack at this life; my father and Jack Benny to the contrary, all of us have an expiration date.  We only go around once.

As I was moving down the aisle imposing ashes with the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, I came to my young son.  As I repeated those time-worn words, there was an audible gasp.  “No, not me.” 

Yes, even you my dear son.  Even you.  So, fill your days with love.  Fill your days with connection.  Hold tight to those whom you love and those who love you.  Hold tight to this wondrous blue-green creation spinning through the emptiness of space.  Hold on.

Remember the One who brought you to this earthly feast and honor that gift.  Remember the precepts that bring true happiness and joy to you and to others – and your cup will overflow with abundance.

During Lent the journey is renewed, is sustained.  Our deepest longings are laid open before God.  This is church as solace, church as an opportunity to live into the fullness what is intended for each one of us.  This is church as challenge to discover and fulfill your unique vocation – where your talents and deepest desires intersect with the world’s greatest needs.

Take these days, to look deep within, to dare, to reach out, to delight in the splendor of God’s creation. 

I wish for you, my friends, the blessing of a Holy, Renewing Lent.  Amen. 

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103:4-18; II Corinthians 5:20b-6-10;
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Out of the Depths”

Preached at St. Francis Outreach Center, San Bernardino
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney
February 22, 2023

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