Monday, November 12, 2018



Some musings on Rogue one: A Star Wars story. Jyn Erso’s call that “rebellions are built on hope!” is lingering in my heart. Having preached on Romans 5; suffering produces endurance, endurance character character hope. Yet while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For me, each day is a rebellion against despair and suffering. But they are grounded in our source of hope, Jesus the Christ.

Which led to these:




And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5: 2b-5,8

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Chaos has Descended.

Today was a rough day. It was the one year anniversary of the suicide of a resident in my CCRC. One of my flock. I spent a good chunk of the day with this persons widow, as well as the couple that witnessed the events unfold. 
In light of Lent, My heart yearns for the resurrection, and my heart is continually broken for God's people. But we are Easter people; and Easter is coming! 

Below is what I shared with my team that week last year:

I walked my people through a trauma this week. And they walked me through it. So in light of Good Friday, this is what I shared with them:
"It has been a rough week. Chaos has descended.(Oh, yeah, yeah it’s Holy Week.) Death’s sting has stung. Death is a Liar. It’s Friday! BUT that IS the good news; cause Sunday is coming!
Nothing, NOTHING is outside the redemptive reach of God. We ARE Easter people.
See you at the empty tomb!
Rev. Sal"

Monday, March 20, 2017

Come to the Well

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”“I have no husband,” she replied.Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”-John 4:15-18 NIV

             How many of us have every done a Google search on our computers or smart phones? If you have, you may know that each time you open your browser, that browser keeps a record of you searches and the websites you may have looked at. In tech talk this is your browser history, or just your history.  And security experts say you should routinely erase or clean out your “history.” But, guess what, we all have a history. And not just a google history. And every now and then we are reminded of or look at that history. And sometimes, like if our computers get hacked, people find out our histories. 
             To be found out or discovered without being known can leave us dry and desolate. It leaves us thirsty and dehydrated, thirsty and longing for something different, something more, but always returning to the same well hoping be quenched. We all have a well in our life that we keep returning to. For some of us, like the Samaritan woman who mets Jesus at the well, it is the well of marriage. Guilty. For some people, it is the well of perfectionism. Some go to the well of hiding and isolation. Others drink for the well of control or power. For many, there is the well of addiction. Or the well of busyness, denial and anxiety. 
            Jesus invites us to be "found out." He invites the Samaritan woman drink from the well that is eternal, life giving recognition. He knows us, he knows our past and he yet accepts us, internet histories and all. He doesn't care about your past, only your future, a future that involves being filled with the living water that is the presence of Christ. And we should want to offer that well to others. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Get lost! With Jesus.

So we are in Lent. Where has this year gone? I feel like I just finished digesting Thanksgiving dinner. But we are in Lent. We are journeying together to Easter. The joy and celebration of Easter.  But first we have to go through Lent. A season for Christians, whether it is a new found practice or one of liturgical tradition, it is the most beautiful season of the Christian year.
Our reading for today I think is a great for the beginning of lent. I, like countless preachers around the country, even the world, are preaching on it if they follow the Lectionary. Which is a cycle of Scripture that allows us to preach and listen through the bible for the year. (If you follow it through the 3 year cycle you will have read 80% of the bible.) The past few weeks or months the lectionary has been leading us through Matthew but will switch to John for the remainder of Lent. I think the choice to use Matthew 4 for the beginning of lent is  a wise and beautiful one. 
What does the 40 days wandering imagery bring to mind? What does it invoke in you? Typically scholars speak of how Jesus’ temptation in the desert connects him to the Old testament. The Israelites too, where led into the wilderness. Through out scripture it acted as place for people to be tested and God to be found and encountered. And Matthew emphasizes that Jesus like the Israelites, was called out to the wilderness to be tested and he passed that test. 
In Matthew, Jesus had to exit society, to leave people and go to dessert to experience the divine. He often does that if you know the gospel story. The desert, as you might know, is not a pleasant place, and might be a place where one might face their demons. And literally, it is an unforgiving, dangerous and inhospitable place. Think scorpions, snakes, etc. 
The important lesson that I glean from Jesus’ wilderness experience, that I think is important for the next few weeks of Lent is this. That like Jesus, God is calling us into the wilderness. Into those inhospitable places in our lives and inner being to be tested. IF God is calling you to something, you will be tested. It may be as Martin Luther said, I’m paraphrasing, that the devil will show up and “throw you sins in your face and tell you that you deserve hell and death. And you can respond: what of it, I have Jesus Christ on my side, who won my satisfaction.” 

Jesus has already been to the wilderness, he’s already faced death and hell for our sakes. When he calls us do the same, his spirit empowers us. We just have to face some scary stuff. Cause really, self reflection is scary. But we are being called to be better, more empathetic Christ followers. So will you join me in the wilderness? 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Love is as deep as the tears in our hearts that no one sees

Joel 2:13
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Rend your hearts and not your garments. Well what the heck does that even mean!? Well good thing I went to seminary and barely survived, I mean studied Hebrew! Well the Hebrew word qara (kaw-rah) actually means to  tear, so Joel here is telling us to tear our hearts, and not clothes. Um, no, that would hurt! 
        But the prophet Joel is talking here in the 2nd chapter about coming to the Lord with fasting, mourning and weeping and to tear your heart and not your clothing. In ancient Israel, tearing your clothing was an act of symbolism, it expressed grief and morning. So Joel is telling the people to come to God when in grief not ripping your clothes in an outward expression of sorrow, but in a inward looking, self reflective, self aware act of submission and mourning. 
         So we are entering the Lenten season. Christian’s worldwide mark the beginning of this season with Ash Wednesday. A day we make a visible mark on our foreheads with ashes, to remind ourselves of our mortality and need for repentance and look forward to the redemptive work of the cross. It is a beautiful and meaningful day.
I have had the privileged to spend Ash Wednesday the last few years in the health care centers dispensing ashes as part of my work as a health care chaplain.I always feel the Holy Spirit moving on Ash Wednesday. I always find by the end of the day that God is still moving, still speaking to me. I have had some amazingly intimate and divine moments on the past few Ash Wednesdays.      
Today was no different. In between the rounding and walking areas of the building with ashes and worship services, I made a visit to a certain resident of my community. This person lost their husband last year during Holy Week to a suicide. Needless to say we have had some deep grief and pain filled pastoral counseling sessions in the months since, and will again as the anniversary comes closer. Today was no different. I impose ashes, and as we hold hands to pray, both with tears in our eyes, she whispered "you are so good at what you do." I was blessed to enter into this woman's grief with her, and together we rended, we tore open our hearts to God. This is the deeply profound and deeply exhausting work of a chaplain.       
I was then called, after coming home to debrief and eat dinner, called back to the community to be at the bedside with a family as their father passes. In laying of hands and praying over him, I was able to bless him with Ashes. The meaning of the day came full circle.I rest in and was reminded of the power of Paul's letter to the Romans; where sin increased, Grace abounded more; and nothing in life; NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
      What I appreciate the most about Ash Wednesday is it calls us to reflect on our shared frailty and brokenness. We come together and confess our sins, as a community, and visibly display our recognition that we are mere carbon based beings that return to that dirty red clay. (That's a Genesis reference) 
        Jesus tells us that when we pray or fast, to do it in private, unlike the hypocrites who put their piety on display. It is true, we are making a public, visible mark that we are beginning a time of penitence. Aren’t we kind of like, well the hypocrites? I hope not. But that is a question you must ask yourself as we begin this Lenten journey. Am I personally, in my heart seeking truly to turn to God in prayer and repentance, tearing open my heart to Jesus? Am I looking to the road to the cross and living to be a better person? Are we trying to be a better follower of Jesus? Because if we are to follow Jesus; we must follow the road to the Cross. And that takes a deep, inward reflection on ourselves. And it takes deep inward commitment to others.  And we mark ourselves, collectively as individuals, together yet separately, journeying towards Christ knowing full well that we return to the very dust that God breathed life into. 
But that is the great thing. We follow a gracious God. A God that took on our brokenness on the Cross of Jesus. And it's the road to that cross, and the resurrection story that we begin to reflect and pray about on Ash Wednesday.  We take the time to reflect on the sacrifice and the service of our savior Jesus Christ and to attempt, however much we fail, to live a life that models his grace and love.

Romans 5:20

But where sin increased, Grace abounded all the more.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Salt and Light

            I based this post on a familiar scripture from Mathew.(5:13-20) Familiar even if you haven’t read it because of the song based on it, “This little light of mine.” This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine. We have all sung the lyrics to the familiar hymn. How many of us have relegated this to the children's sermon. Along with Jesus loves me. It’s ok, you can raise your hand. It falls in the larger section that is the Sermon on the Mount. There, Christ speaks of those who are blessed, but in our passage today he continues on what the responsibilities of those who are blessed is.
            Our passage falls after the well-known beatitudes, where Jesus expounds on who is blessed. It is Christ’s rule for how those who are blessed should live. Their lives are meant to be transformed but this is not a simple list of rules. He calls the disciples to be Salt and light. Today’s passage comes in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. A sermon that was most likely preached to his disciples, but heard by the larger crowd on that hill. Jesus begins by saying that his disciples were to be like the salt of the earth. Think about it. Salt, for much of human history, and Jesus time is no exemption, was used to preserve food just as much to flavor it. Granted salt in Jesus time was not always pure, and could lose its taste and effectiveness. Salt, in of itself is not a really effective substance, unless it is applied to something. Jesus is telling his disciple that they are no good unless they are applied to each other, unless they are added to those around them to preserve and enhance each other.
            Jesus goes on to encourage his disciples to be a light unto the world. Just as you wouldn't hide your lamp under a bushel or bush, why would you not let your light, the light of Christ shine? Oil lamps in the ancient world were the only source of light after dark, and had to be maintained overnight. It would be foolish to light one and then hide it. It literally was the only brightness shining in the darkness.
                        So what do Salt and Light have to do with each other, and why is Jesus talking about them to his disciples.  Salt purifies, it preserves and it flavors. Light is meant to be seen, it guides us, and it can warn us. If we are to be people of integrity and shine forth the light of Christ, we must be people who live by God’s commandments, not allowing for those around us to see us without integrity. Too often I heard in my work as a college chaplain in Iowa that people chose to not gather for worship with us because of the hypocrisy and lack of integrity they saw from the church as a whole.  Jesus warns us of this in our passage today, that even in breaking of the least of his commandments, we teach others to do likewise. We must stand firm in our faith in the commandments and the integrity of the cross so that those looking in from outside the church can learn that we are living, striving for the promise and hope that is in Christ. Our lives shine for the world, good or bad. We are to stand firm in Christ and let our lives reflect that. Love and not law is the rule of the kingdom of God. Christ calls us to live and act in love.  When we read the Gospel of John, we are assured of the True light that came to enlighten the world. Just as John the Baptist did, we are called to testify to that True light, the Light of Jesus.
            Our lives shine for the world, good or bad. We are to stand firm in Christ and let our lives reflect that. Out of Darkness came the Light of Christ on the cross. When we walk and talk in the integrity of the Cross, we allow the light of Christ to shine through all of us and be an influence to all around us. If we can lead on person out of the darkness into the warmth of the Grace of Christ we can influence them for a lifetime.

I encourage all of you, let your light shine. BE that City on the hill, be a guiding light to anyone you meet, letting your light strengthen and purify you and the world. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

        What Are we afraid of? What are you afraid of? I am afraid of heights, and growing up, I was always afraid of fireworks. Until I was about 8, I couldn't enjoy 4th of July festivities. Silly I know, but loud noises scared me. They still do, if I am not expecting them. That’s part of why I don’t like horror movies, not so much the blood or gore, but the unexpected noises and surprises.  But we are all afraid of something. 
We read psalm 46. A psalm I have prayed at countless bedsides before surgery, at the time of death and times of grief. A simple passage that directs to not fear, to trust and hope in God; to trust in his providence, his power and his grace in even the worst of times. This psalm imperils us to trust, to trust with confidence who God is. HE is our source of refuge, our strength and very present help in times of need. 
I have sat at the bedsides of so many people in the times of need, at times when they have joined the cloud of witnesses. And it is at these times that God has spoken the words written here in Psalm 46. Be still and know that I AM GOD. I believe he says that when I sit with people at the hospital and on our healthcare unit. And I know folks hear it too at the end of their lives. If you do a quick survey of scripture, ok maybe not so quick,  and you will find that: “do not fear” is found 57 times. The phrase “do not be afraid” 46 times. Fear not in one phrase or another is in scripture 365 times. That works out to one reference for every day in the year. FEAR, will always be present. But the kicker is this. God always responds, fear not for I am WITH YOU. Scripture assures us that our days are filled with the love and the hope that we have in Christ. A love and hope that has embraced all of us, and a love that will sustain us and carry us as we continue until we meet him again. God is Love. And love is as BIG as heaven. Love is as small as the crack in our hearts that no one else sees. But Love always wins. 

          I feel like we are forgetting God's imperative to not fear, and in doing so we are forgetting the very core of what Jesus taught us. The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that the greatest rule that comes through the scriptures is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as our self. (Mt 22:37-40, Mk 12:30-31, Luke 10:27) But Luke is the only one to tell us specifically who our neighbor is, ie the hurt, the stranger, and the outcast. And why do we forget to love our neighbor. Because of fear.
          I believe in a graceful God. Where my sin has abounded, God's love has abounded more. Even in my brokenness, God in Christ has accepted me for who I am. And it is in this grace that I have responded. God's grace is so powerful that I cannot help but to respond.
         And how should I respond? In gratitude, by Loving God. And we love God by loving and honoring our neighbors; the lost, the stranger, the outcast, those thirsty and seeking refuge.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I encouraged people I have visited as a chaplain  to remember that people are always nearby. I was reflecting on Mark 6 recently for a chapel service. The portion in the "in between," between the feeding of the 5 thousand and Jesus walking on water to meet the disciples. And the miracles were not so much that Jesus multiplied the food or walked on water, but that he took compassion and made the disciples the hands of that compassion. When was the last time you thought of yourself as that? 
But in Mark 6, we see that Jesus again wants to retreat to pray….He’s always doing that! In my chaplain positions, often after long visits with people, I find that I need to retreat. Retreat back into my office. This does a few things practically. It allows me to go make notes or chart what happened during the visit. But it also allows me to breath, process my feelings and the experiences I just shared and to recharge spiritually. This is common for people whose personalities are on the introverted side.
And in my reading of the Gospels I read that Jesus does this often too, he goes out to minister, and then comes in to recharge. Goes out, comes back in. He expends himself, then retreats and invites in God.   He’s an introvert, I’m telling you.
Often, in my work as a chaplain, i experience the rhythm of christian life and the struggle to come to Jesus genuinely. One of the hardest thing to learn in both seminary and chaplaincy training was learning to actively do rest. To do self care. For if we do not rest or take care of ourselves, we can’t earnestly approach Jesus with our whole selves. Which is the aim of the rhythm of the Christian life. And Jesus will meet us there, we just need to give it a rest. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

I walked my people through a trauma this week. And they walked me through it. So in light of Good Friday, this is what I shared with them:
"It has been a rough week. Chaos has descended.(Oh, yeah, yeah it’s Holy Week.) Death’s sting has stung. Death is a Liar. It’s Friday! BUT that IS the good news; cause Sunday is coming!
Nothing, NOTHING is outside the redemptive reach of God. We ARE Easter people.
See you at the empty tomb!
Rev. Sal"

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Love is an active noun.

If you have ever read my blog, I hope you have, you may know that I attempt blog my way through Lent. So beginning with Ash Wednesday I may post a reflection, or a thought, or maybe a video that has a spiritual or religious meaning I feel fits with Lent. Sometime, because of the busyness of simply being clergy I may only post a scripture verse. 

In looking over my blogs (Black Belt Spirituality and Yes We Can) I noticed that they were written in my own wilderness experience. A wilderness experience of divorce, self doubt and feelings of worthlessness. And not that they were clouded by that experience, they were definitely shaped by that. Ok, they were clouded a little bit. 

I am amazed at how walking through the season of Lent for the past few years has shaped me and given me a deeper understanding of what it means to walk through the darkness of the valley of ones spiritual life and death. Lent will continue to be a valued time of year for me, and I feel blessed that my experience over the past few Lents has given me a deeper understanding of compassion and empathy for those I walk with in my ministry. 

Ministry will continue to be a series of glorious peaks and devastating valleys. You cant invest yourself, physically, emotionally and spiritually into another’s life and not expect it to be. But that is the honor of what God has called me, us, to do. 

And I am in a season of life where God has placed in my life a woman who gets that, and chose to actively be part of it.  I have been blessed with someone who has decided to love me; and I her, despite our selves.  Fred Rogers, every generation X’ers favorite Presbyterian minister once said:“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”


I would say today, that for Lent, pray on love.  Love is an active noun. It takes work. Lent is about self reflection and self improvement in light of the active love that is the grace of God.  Unearned and unwarranted favor placed upon us by God even though we don’t deserve it. But Grace wouldn't be grace if we didn't act upon it. Accept that we have received it. And try to return the favor. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Remember you are Dust.


Growing up as a kid, like many kids, I paid no mind the the church calendar. Unless it was Christmas. I was a kid after all. When I was in high school, I began to explore my faith. I was enrolled in a Catholic school, while being confirmed into a Presbyterian Church.  That's when I began to notice the weird (to me) practice every Lent of my classmates walking around with smudges of ash on their forehead. 

So what exactly is Ash Wednesday.  For some of my Protestant friends, yes I agree, there is no biblical directive for us to celebrate Ash Wednesday. Just like there isn't a directive to celebrate Christmas or Easter. But there is at its core a great biblical theology of creation, sin, our mortality, grace and death.  It calls us to community in our shared brokenness and the humility of our mortality. 

The last few Ash Wednesdays I have spent imposing ashes in a major Hospital in the City. The same hospital that I did my chaplaincy training and now work as a per diem chaplain as an ordained Presbyterian chaplain.  I now also impose ashes at the continuing care facility were I am a chaplain. By the end of the day, my thumb is black, coated with ashes. A visible reminder that life is dirty. That I get to walk with people through the dirty crude that is life.

What I appreciate the most about Ash Wednesday it calls us to reflect on our shared frailty and brokenness. We come together and confess our sins, as a community, and visibly display our recognition that we are mere carbon based beings that return to that dirty red clay. (That's a Genesis reference)

But that's the great thing. We follow a gracious God. A God that took on our brokenness on the Cross of Jesus. And it's the road to that cross, and the resurrection story that we begin to reflect and pray about on Ash Wednesday.  We take the time to reflect on the sacrifice and the service of our savior Jesus Christ and to attempt, however much we fail, to live a life that models his grace and love. 

As I  will say to those I met today, I say to you today: Remember that you are dust; and to dust you will return. And remember that our God is with you. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015



It is Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene has just come to the tomb, still grieving, wanting to perhaps fully prepare the body of Jesus for burial, and she found it empty. We don’t know why she came so early.  It was dark, maybe early dawn, but also dark emotionally.  In the darkness, she runs to tell Peter and John (the disciple Jesus loved) that they, someone, has taken Jesus and he’s gone. Jesus is gone. 
John’s gospel account of the resurrection is for me, the most intimate, the most personal.  While John may differ from the other gospels on how many women came to the tomb or when, only John shows the raw emotion that Mary was experiencing at the tomb. I can see this account being a performance as in a great play or movie. But half way through, being left at the tomb by Peter and John, Mary simply weeps. 
Mary; This woman who had loved much. Arriving at the sealed tomb of the teacher whom she loved. And it is empty.  She is in shock. The tomb, which we told had been sealed by the authorities, was open. And it was empty. In her grief she could not handle this on her own so she turns to return to Peter and John.
Many of us may have lost loved ones. A father or mother; brother or sister; aunt or uncle; a husband or wife. The experience of loss, it can be shocking. There is a sense of disbelief leading to numbness or depression or loneliness. As a chaplain, I sit with people in this loss. 
 The home of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a noted Harlem Renaissance poet, is open to the public in Dayton, Ohio. When Dunbar died at 33, his mother left his room exactly as it was on the day of his death. At the desk of this brilliant man was his final poem, handwritten on a pad.  After his mother died, her friends discovered that Paul Laurence Dunbar's last poem had been lost forever. Because his mother had made his room into a shrine and not moved anything, the sun had bleached the ink in which the poem was written until it was invisible. The poem was gone.
We see Mary, so taken by grief at the tomb that she does not see the angels for who they are. Perhaps it is because they asked her why she wept, an odd question to ask at the graveside. She weeps because her lord has been taken away. 
Even Jesus asks her the same question. Why do you weep, who do you seek? Mary is so overcome with grief she does not recognize Jesus. She even asks Jesus where he moved the body, thinking he was the gardener. 
And its at this moment that there is a turning point. It is here the most intimate and compelling. One commentator called it the greatest recognition scene in all of Literature. This exchange points to her love and her grief. Through her tears of grief, she cannot recognize who this “Gardner” is.  In her loving grief she pleads to know where he has taken the body
Jesus calls Mary by name. With one word he calls out to her. Mary! He even exclaims it.  He claims her as his own. He found her and yet she sought him. You can imagine this moment, when grief turns to joy, when tears of loss turn to tears of joy.  She responds with one word, Rabbouni! Rabbi.  Mary embraces Jesus.  There are two things here: 1. Naturally, in her tears she couldn't recognize Jesus in her grief. But while tears are natural, we cant forget to look towards the Glory of God. 2. When sorrow comes, we mustn't lock our eyes on the grave, but point them to the heavens. I remember my grandmother always said: Never say goodbye, say until I see you again. 
And yet, Jesus tells her not to hold on to him. Don’t be afraid. He tells her to go and tell the others; for he is returning to the father. Mary is the first to share the good news. Jesus is Risen, and that good news is not to be held on to, it is to be shared. And like Mary, the first disciple who proclaims the Risen Christ, we too are called to share in this mission. As a people called to become disciples; we are part of the body of Christ, and we learn and grow together to know God more fully. 
As this small community ... we share together the friendship we have found in Christ. We share our joys and sorrows together ... and we try to love each other as Christ first loved us ... and as a community of disciples we are called to share the presence of Christ with others ... to let others know that Christ is indeed with us ... he is risen ... and he is present ... we need only look and Jesus will find us ... and when he does, he will call us by name ... and then we will know that he has claimed us as his own and welcomed us into his kingdom .
In our daily lives, our daily walks we can take comfort that our hope is not lost. The story of God’s love isn’t finished. It continues with us daily as we love one another and do the work of Christ. Whether we are welcoming the birth of a child, a positive prognosis of recovery, new job or we are faced with the loss of a job, the death of a loved one or the anxiety of illness; Christ is faithful, he is alive, and he walks with us through our daily joys and daily struggles.  
Christ is Risen!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What's with all the smudges; OR Why we Celebrate Ash Wednesday

Growing up as a kid, like many kids, I paid no mind the church calendar; unless it was Christmas. I was a kid after all. When I was in high school, I began to explore my faith. I was enrolled in a Catholic school, while being confirmed into a Presbyterian Church.  That's when I began to notice the weird (to me) practice every Lent of my classmates walking around with smudges of ash on their forehead. 
So what exactly is Ash Wednesday?  For some of my Protestant friends they find the day odd, and very Catholic. I do agree there is no biblical directive for us to celebrate Ash Wednesday. Just like there isn't a directive to celebrate Christmas or Easter. But there is at its core a great biblical theology of creation, sin, our mortality, grace and death.  It calls us to community in our shared brokenness and the humility of our mortality. 
So we are entering the Lenten season. Christian’s worldwide mark the beginning of this season with Ash Wednesday. A day we make a visible mark on our foreheads with ashes, to remind ourselves of our mortality and need for repentance and look forward to the redemptive work of the cross. It is a beautiful and meaningful day.
Two years ago I entered into Ash Wednesday full of doubt and anger. I was angry at a few things. I was angry at things going on in my family, my marriage and my journey to ordination. I was angry at God. Expectation that it had for my life, my journey, my marriage, my calling to ministry were not, did not go the way I thought they should. I was racked with self-doubt. 
Doubt in my abilities, and ultimately doubt in my faith in a God that I have deeply come to know as loving and accepting.  Forget it I said; forget you God for not living up to MY expectations! (I was tempted to use another F word)
I have the privileged to spend Ash Wednesday the last few years in the hospital dispensing ashes as part of my training and work as a hospital chaplain. That first year; I was tired, I was beaten, and I was discouraged. I came into the week on the heels of being passed over for a pulpit position. But I came into Ash Wednesday open. Open to see if God was still active. I dropped my expectations. The Holy Spirit was moving within me.
As I stood in the chapel of the hospital for the last hour of my day, I had two experiences that quelled my doubt and anger, that reminded me that Jesus has already accepted me for who I am. The first was with a hospital employee. Whether she was a nurse, doctor or administrator or even just visitor, who knows, but we shared an intimate divine moment. She approached for ashes, I raised my hand, and as I spoke the words "Remember you are dust, to dust you shall return" our eyes were locked. They say the eyes are a window to our soul, and I was looking at a fellow soul. Tears were welling in her eyes. For those brief seconds, deep emotions and intimacy were brought to the surface, and then gone.
The second event happened shortly after. A young family came into the chapel; a father, young son (4 or 5) and a visibly pregnant mother. The father spoke gently to the son "do you want to get ashes?" The boy nodded gleefully. I smiled and ask "do you want to go first?" The boy shyly said no, "I want daddy to go first." Ha, ok I give the father ashes. The mother says ok your turn, I ask the boy if it’s his turn. Again, no, I want mommy to go first. Well, ok then. Mom and dad have now received ashes.
Ok it’s your turn now I say playfully to the boy. Softly I make the sign of the cross and whisper the phrasing (Remember you are dust). The look of Joy in his face was priceless. The parents ask him if he wants to pray, he joyfully says yes and they sit and the boy leads his parents in the most beautiful, honest and innocent prayer.  I rested in and was reminded of the power of Paul's letter to the Romans; where sin increased, Grace abounded more; and nothing in life; NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
What I appreciate the most about Ash Wednesday it calls us to reflect on our shared frailty and brokenness. We come together and confess our sins, as a community, and visibly display our recognition that we are mere carbon based beings that return to that dirty red clay. (That's a Genesis reference)
So how does this relate to the passage that we read from Matthew? Where Jesus tells us that when we pray or fast, to do it in private, unlike the hypocrites who put their piety on display. It is true, we are making a public, visible mark that we are beginning a time of penitence. Aren’t we kind of like, the hypocrites? I hope not. But that is a question you must ask yourself as we begin this Lenten journey. Am I personally, in my heart seeking truly to turn to God in prayer and repentance? Am I looking to the road to the cross and living to be a better person? Are we trying to be a better follower of Jesus? Because if we are to follow Jesus; we must follow the road to the Cross. And that takes a deep, inward reflection on ourselves. And we mark ourselves, collectively as individuals, together yet separately journeying towards Christ knowing full well that we return to the very dust that God breathed life into. 

But that is the great thing. We follow a gracious God. A God that took on our brokenness on the Cross of Jesus. And it's the road to that cross, and the resurrection story that we begin to reflect and pray about on Ash Wednesday.  We take the time to reflect on the sacrifice and the service of our savior Jesus Christ and to attempt, however much we fail, to live a life that models his grace and love.
"By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19