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Ashes of Repentance

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What will I see and what will I wear. What will I see when I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror of the world? A nine year old boy gunned down in a random, senseless act of gun violence by a man in Oakdale. A Missouri man killed by police in a home in St. Paul when he stabs and kills a police K-9 dog. A county sheriff killed and another wounded in a gunfight with a murderer in California, who was also killed. Seventy five gun deaths a day in this country, eight children killed each day by gun violence. That’s what I see. What will I wear today? The ashes of repentance.

When I look in the mirror of the world, I know that I will see the signs of global warming; warnings of a three year old drought, extreme storms, glaciers retreating, ice-shelves melting, sea-levels rising, walruses and polar bears in search of new hunting and fishing grounds, deforestation in the Amazon, desertification in North Africa. What should I wear today? The ashes of repentance.

Awake in the morning, and shower and shave, and look in the mirror of the world and see: families that struggle to get by,… over a billion people living in absolute poverty worldwide, children who grow up with malnutrition and food-insecurity even in our own country. Homeless people who on cold winter nights over-run the available shelter space in Minneapolis and St. Paul. So, what shall I wear today? Today, I wear with others the ashes of repentance.

Look in the mirror of the world today, at your relationships: those that are torn and those that are tattered, those that are worn and those that are frayed: Husbands and wives who struggle to communicate, Parents whose children are estranged, siblings who are lost to each other, high-school and college friendships that have gone astray. There’s brokenness all around: in our families, in our friendships, in our workplaces. Repentance and forgiveness are so sorely needed in our own lives. What shall I wear today? Today I will wear the ashes of repentance.

How much does that mirror show of my own vanity? How much does it reveal each day of my ego and my pride, my self-centeredness and reluctance to share. How much does it show my greed and my indifference to the suffering of those around me? We wake in the morning and in that mirror of truthfulness we see ourselves. What shall I wear? Ashes, ashes, ashes of repentance.

Yet there is a word that comes to us each day, that breathes its whisper into our ears so that we hear, even though we dress in ashes, there is hope. There is another vision that we see beyond the mirror of this world that gives us hope in a yet more glorious vision, of a world redeemed by God.

Remember you are dust, it says. Ashes to ashes. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. There is peace in this. And there is hope. Because we know the voice that speaks to us. The earth is the Lord’s, it says, and the fullness thereof, the land and all who dwell in it. There is a word that says to us, that we are loved. We are dust, it’s true, to dust we shall return, but there is one who takes the dust and molds it in his hands and breathes into it new life and says that it is good.

And so what shall I wear today? The ashes of repentance and the ashes of new life. We know what God can do.

Thanks be to God.


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