Make Room in Your Heart for Love

Ash Wednesday

March 6, 2019

Make Room in Your Heart for Love

Matthew 18:1-9

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 

Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and be drowned in the bottom of the lake. How terrible it is for the world because of the things that cause people to trip and fall into sin! Such things have to happen, but how terrible it is for the person who causes those things to happen! If your hand or your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter into life crippled or lame than to be thrown into the eternal fire with two hands or two feet. If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter into life with one eye than to be cast into a burning hell with two eyes.

* * * * *

What do we need to hold onto, and what do we need to let go?

What do we need to throw away, to keep us from falling into sin?

And what do we need to shed in order to “enter into life”?

This Lent, we’re inviting people to walk the journey toward Easter with the poetry of Mary Oliver. Each week pairs reflections, scriptures, prayers and practices with poems in her book, Devotions. You’ll find copies of the Lenten booklets at the door, if you’d like to take one home. We’ll use these devotionals as the basis for our weekly Lenten suppers, as well.

The first poem, the one for Ash Wednesday, is called “Storage”

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room

for. What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

 

As I grew older the things I cared

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything.

 

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden is finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own

nothing – the reason they can fly.

 

When I read that I thought, isn’t that exactly what Lent is about?

We accept these burned ashes, and begin on the journey…

      Let go of the things that weigh you down.

            Let God take everything!

Let there be more room in your heart for love!

You’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo - her book and Netflix series have gained a huge following. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a global movement of re-examining possessions, what’s worth keeping, and what weighs you down. As one author describes it,  

Thousands of people are reexamining dresser drawers, folding T-shirts into more manageable rows. Thrift stores welcome an influx of overstuffed bags of stuff for which we say “thank you” and goodbye. But Kondo’s work digs deeper than superficial home organization…. Through the KonMari method, she invites you to evaluate which items cultivate—spark—joy. Then she urges you to let go of the physical and emotional baggage that is weighing you down.[i]

When we purge our life of what no longer matters, there is room for lightness and life. Tear it out, and throw it away.

The truth is, getting rid of ‘things’ is far more complicated than most of us expect it to be. As one person put it, “Many [people] are ashamed and confused by the fact that their stuff means so much to them.”[ii]

This sorting through things is often emotional work. And somehow we never expect it to be. ‘Things’ have a power in our lives. They carry emotional freight. Sorting ‘things’ becomes a process of sorting through life.

The tablecloth I bought in Greece thirty years ago; I remember that trip and how happy I was, though I can’t remember the last time I used it. The jewelry I inherited from my mother, though I know I will never, ever wear it. The artwork my grown kids did when they were young, that’s crumpled and faded.

Why do I hold onto it all?

Because they carry my memories.

Because they show me my past, who I was, my identity then. 

Because I’m afraid I will forget my own life.

Because it feels like a betrayal to throw something away.

But holding on – what if that’s costly, too; it’s own burden? 

When is time to let go, and fly free?         

Lenten disciplines are a chance to rid ourselves of the things that get in the way, hold us back, hold us down. The “stuff” of life that hides God’s light shining through us. The distractions, the pettiness, the “baggage” we carry. We travel lighter, more full of Light. 

As the Apostle Paul said, we “reflect the glory of the Lord as we are transformed to be more and more like Jesus… changed into his glorious image.” [2 Cor. 3:18]

More full of beauty. More full of joy.

The great artist Michelangelo was asked how he carved the beautiful statue of David. How could he look at this formless slab of marble and know how to make it into this beautiful creature? How did he know what to carve away and what to keep?

“I simply take away everything that isn’t David,” he said.

Which is exactly what God can do with us, in this holy season.

God can take away everything that isn’t really you.

And leaves what brings joy and beauty within you.

I don’t know what it is that gets in the way of your God-designed, God-inspired self. Maybe it’s physical stuff’. Or maybe it’s other kinds of baggage you carry…

  • Maybe for you it’s feeling you’re never enough. Maybe it’s a habit of people-pleasing. Being down on yourself. Comparing yourself to others and always finding yourself coming up short.

  • Or maybe it’s the opposite habit of the heart you need to break: a pattern of anger, resentment, or simply knee-jerk irritation that sucks the joy out of life. Maybe it’s a storm-cloud you carry that hurts your relationships, especially the ones that matter most. 

  • Maybe it’s mindlessness that you need to shed; addiction to work, or to technology, or just busyness. Those habitual ways you walk through the day without thinking, the ones that numb you to experiencing life with your whole self.

  • Or maybe it’s a spiritual emptiness that’s the root of the matter for you. Taking God for granted. Or not expecting God to show up at all.

  • Or maybe it is simply stuff. What you consume, and what you possess; and what consumes you.

In this time of silence, I invite you to consider your own Lenten Discipline. What is the journey you need to take, to be free?

Let these ashes be a sign of that for you: God burning away everything that isn’t of God. If something causes you to sin, cut it off and fling it away. If something’s causing someone else to sin, all the more reason to be rid of it.

Trusting that God will be with you as you let go… 

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love!

God of dust and fire, help us lay our burdens down, so our hearts may be set right – and so we may fly!

[i] KonMari Your Spiritual Life

https://www.luthersem.edu/stewardship/default.aspx?m=6667&post=5293&utm_source=bm23&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Cultivating+%26+Letting+Go+This+Lent&utm_content=Cultivating+%26+Letting+Go+This+Lent&utm_campaign=20190226+-+Stewardship+Newsletter

[ii] Kathryn Reklis, “What makes KonMari different,” The Christian Century, February 27, 2019, 44-45.