Sermon, Uncategorized

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Justin Thornburgh

Gethsemane Lutheran Church

IAM Ash Wednesday

Luke 7:36-50 (Series Theme: Tears)

5 March, 2014

Shadows and Tears


She had been lurking in the shadows; following behind Jesus and his band of disciples, she blended into the back ground. Since the miracle when he raised that boy – the dead son of her mother’s friend. She hid. Watching. Listening. In the dark, behind doors, hidden she prayed. 

Her life had been fraught with abuse and scorn. Outcast as a result of sins she had committed – and that had been committed against her. Her days were constant ridicule. Her nights doing what she needed to do to survive. Shame followed her in to the shadows. Guilt hung around her neck. Often, before Jesus arrived, she would stay in within the walls of her home – safer there than streets. The streets where the pharisee would see her and point her out. “You do not want to be like this woman. This worm.” When the pharisee would open his mouth it gave free reign for others to abuse her. This was her life. A struggle day to day. A result of decisions she had made, and decisions thrust upon her.

In the shadows behind the door, she prayed. In her hands, an alabaster jar filled with costly ointment. Ointment used to anoint the dead. Sweet perfume, an offering. She prayed in the shadows. Something had moved her when she had seen Jesus return the dead boy to his mother. She saw tears in his eyes as he restored not only the son’s life, but the life of the widow who had nothing. She saw tears; compassionate; joyous; angry – angry at a world where such a woman would be left with nothing. Ignored by the community that was supposed to support her. The woman in the shadows saw his tears and her life was changed.

Jesus entered the home of the pharisee. The smell of the roasted lamb filled the street – the pangs of hunger stabbed her gut. They sounds of laughter rang out in counterpoint to voices in her head – the jabs, the taunts, the derision from the very host of Jesus. The weight of the jar in her hands began to make itself known as the shame and  guilt in her heart brought her to her knees. She knew this was the time – now or she may never see the man whose tears gave her hope again. She knew he did not remain in towns long. 

Uncovering her head – a sign of humiliation and humility – her auburn locks fall down her back.  Gasping for her breath; inhaling courage and hope, he emerges from the safety of her shadow and breaks her way into the house of the man who heaps hate upon her. She breaks through and falls on her knees behind the guest of honor and without a word begins rubbing the ointment from the alabaster jar upon his feet. As she does, the tears flow and she uses them to wash the hard and cracked calloused feet of the man of hope.

She feels a hand rest upon her. A peace that she had never known. She hears the sound of her accuser speaking to Jesus, but can’t understand the words. She continues wiping the feet of the traveler. The hand of peace never leaves her. The hand of blessing. Then the words, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in Peace.” Through her tears, she sees the face of love. Feels the hand of grace; the touch of blessing. And a tear lands on her head; a saltwater tear washing her of all that had come before. The tear of love, baptizing her anew. Having anointed, she has been anointed.


Sisters and brothers, we are here this evening to begin our Lenten journey together as the Irvington Community. We gather this evening from the shadows of our lives. The shadows of shame. The shadows of guilt. The shadows of hurt. The shadows of hate. The shadows that wrap around us and give us a sense of security. We gather this evening emerging from those shadows to remember that we are frail and broken humans. Flawed and imperfect. We gather to remember that from dust we have come and to dust we will return. We being this Lenten journey together emerging from the shadows.

The shadows of our lives offer us protection from the forces around us that are out of our control. For some of us, the shadow of protection of our families in a time of uncertainty offers the safety we need. When we received the diagnosis that means everything we know is now going to be different, for many, wrapping ourselves in the shadow of the family or friends give us one thing we can cling to.

When the echoes of gunfire ricochet down our streets; the shadow and safety of our isolation offers us the insulation we need to feel a modicum of protection. It is dangerous outside, so it is better to remain closed up and secure.

For some of us, there are shadows that we can not get out from under. Placed there by powers beyond our control. The shadow of abuse shrouds us like the shadow of death -weighing down on us until we can not breath. The shadow of depressions, slowly strangles us as we gasp for any thing that gives life. The shadow of discrimination as we are constantly told we are less than because of who we love or the color of our skin or the language we speak -the shadow blots our our humanity –  our image Dei. Shadows beyond our control that offer no safety, but constant heartache and pain.

These shadows. These hidden havens or caverns of despair are so prevalent that it is nearly impossible for us to climb out, and yet here we are. Braving the light we have come together because we have seen something in that wandering teacher. We have seen something in how he has touched our lives of the lives of those we love. We have seen how tears of hurt are transformed into tears of joy. We have seen light lift the shadows. And that is why we are here tonight. To come before the one, Jesus, who gives to us hope and joy; transformation and healing. We come this evening to acknowledge that we are not the ones in power – we are dust and to dust we will return. We come to eat a meal that has sustained a body for over 2,000 years. We come with heart ready for this new journey. And as we come and as the ashes are put on us as a reminder of our humanity – our lives and deaths, we come to be marked with the sign of the cross. The sign that cuts through the shadows that we carry with us and marks us as beloved. Anoints us a blessed. 

And as we begin these forty days, days of repentance and remembrance of our humanity and our brokenness. Days where begin to name the shadows that overcome and overwhelm. Days where we shed tears and offer prayers, we do so with the hand that blessed the woman with the alabaster jar firmly on our heads. We do so washed in the tears of love from the one who at that table was anointed for his death. We do so marked with the sign of the cross. We do so with the love of Jesus. Love so deep that it says, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Thanks be to God.


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