Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2011

 Text: The Reverend Clint Schnekloth
Music: Dr. Robert Mueller on organ
(audio available soon)

I imagine a plague of locusts as a mash-up
Of the worst aspects
Of a flood and a tornado

Inexorably darkening the landscape,
Localized ravenous wind,
Small wings clacking and crazing the mind.

Faithful Paul, like a migrant worker gleaning grain
Following the voracious locust harvesters
Limping against hope, against God

Imagine such a poor, pathetic man offering
Living water, piercing word, and fragrant meal
To a starving, barren, needy world.


Endurance. Afflictions. Hardship. Calamity.
Beatings. Imprisonments. Riots. Labor.
Sleepless nights, hunger, punishments, dying.

Mercy. Mercy. God.

Earthquakes. Revolutions. Famines. Floods.
Dictators. Confusion. Distance. Disorder.
Prayer-less nights, lonely mornings, deadening days.

Mercy. Mercy. God.


Although our constant, caring, shading trees
Have, as of yet, not martyred
Themselves of leaves at the ravishings of locusts,

Nor have our prayers burnt to ash
the fire of our passion,
Or lofted incensed and desperate to heaven.

Yet we have been spared. Good God, we have not even fasted
Moderately or immoderately. We are those lukewarm ones
John’s vision declared you would spit out.

Reconcile it, God.


Paul can claim purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,
Holiness of Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech.
The power, the power, the power of God.

The weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.
Drive, passion, a heart for the lost, travels upon travels,
And foolish boasting in a life not his own.

He can go even further, into ecstacies, tongues,
Preaching, apologetics, epistles, collections for the poor,
Tents, yes, even tents. The man built tents.

Return it to God.


Joel has seen how barren a field can stand
Like Samson’s shaved head shorn of every hair,
Weak and abject and pitiless.
He suggests trumpets, not the bugle boy of company B,
[something bugle boy like here]
Not the long slow blast of Taps
[play taps here]
But the long pure blast of a messenger,
“Call the fast, gather the people, assemble?”

As if there were safety in numbers.

Because maybe, just maybe, if we all stand here in this place together
And huddle close like Emperor Penguins in the bitter Arctic Cold
And if we repent, even the very old and infants at the breast,
If we call out, loudly, even the newly married or otherwise occupied,
And if our pastors weep, loud, and long, like inconsolable starving babies.

Maybe, just maybe, that will be enough. To appease what?
To make up for who? To get us where?

What then? What comes after all the loud repenting?

Actually, nothing. Nothing comes after the repenting,
And nothing leads up to it.
There is, simply, just enough to weep about. Just think.

Christchurch. Egypt. Columbia.
Haiti. Sudan. Uganda. Libya.
Afghanistan. Iraq. Iran. Ivory Coast.
Malaria. AIDS. Slavery. Violence.
Cancer. Plagues. Droughts. Disaster.

Return to the Lord your God. Return it all to the Lord. Who else can take it?


There are faithful ones who stand firm in honor and dishonor,
Bad reputation or good, counted as hypocrites but are not,
Completely unknown yet should be famous,
Taken for the dying but are alive in Christ.

Punished, but all the more rejoicing for it.
Owning nothing, so that others might have great wealth.
Owning nothing, yet having everything.

Loving, just loving. Loving each other. Loving God.
For what else is there in the meantime but loving?
Loving Jesus. Jesus loving. Loving God. Godding love.

So in the end we return to Christchurch, for though
There are other disasters and other plagues,
There is a symmetry on Ash Wednesday
To an earthquake in Christchurch, to which a Maori Christian could say,

"Why do we wait for a crisis to realise just how precious we are to each other? We've got a whole society out there saying, "Love me before I become a statistic! Don't wait till something goes wrong. Love me today!" I hope that out of the rubble, not just materially, but spiritually, psychologically, that the lessons we learn from tragedies like today, and there will be more . . . lets love each other! Lets not wait.

Be reconciled to God.
Return to the Lord your God.
Have mercy on me, O God.
Be reconciled to God.
Return to the Lord your God.
Have mercy on me, O God.
Be reconciled to God.
Return to the Lord your God.
Have mercy on me, O God.

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