Reflect, Repent, Reboot

Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:12-18, Matthew 6:1-15

Let me begin with a couple of silly questions: How many of you use a computer?

How many of you have had your computer crash?

I imagine many of us have experienced this throughout the years. If you use a Mac you dread hearing what’s known as the “Chimes of Death” – because it’s quickly followed by an icon of a “Sad Mac” – a frowning Mac with X’s for eyes. You know it’s time to say goodbye to whatever precious material you had stored on your little Mac.

For the PC user, it’s the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death” that announces that all your files are now nothing but precious memories. No matter which one you see, you knew you and your data are doomed.

Both of these harbingers of data death are so harsh. Instead of Chimes of Death or a Blue Screen of Death, why can’t computers give you the bad news in a more pleasant way? I found a Web site that had error messages in the ancient Japanese poetry of Haiku. Here are a few:

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

The file you need
might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

Windows XP crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.

With searching comes loss
and the presence of absence:
File not found.

Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, reboot.
Order shall return.

So often, however, it’s not a computer crash that happens – it’s our whole lives that crash. We hear the Chimes of Death and experience the Blue Screen of Death almost on a daily basis when things seem to go out of control. We may feel lost, alone, helpless – unable to find our way back home.

Life doesn’t have to be that way. The prophet Joel tells us how to change our lives – we simply must come back to God. Chaos reigns within when we wander away from God – when we try to take control of our own lives and live apart from God. For order to return, the steps are simple: reflect, repent, reboot.

Take the time now to reflect on your life – what areas of your life have you taken control over? What areas of your life have you taken away from God? Are there areas where you’re in the driver’s seat and God is your co-pilot instead of the one guiding your life?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a season of reflection and self-examination. We take this time to pray – and often to fast – as a reminder of the 40 days Christ spent in the desert enduring temptation. We all know temptation well. We face it everyday as the chaos reigns within.

Take this season to reflect on where you have forsaken God in your life. Reflect on the chaos within. Then we move to the next step: repent.

We have this idea that repentance means we have to grovel before God and confess all of the terrible, horrible things we’ve done. We feel like the prodigal son, who comes home in shame, and tearfully tells his parent, “I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your child ever again.” If you look closely at that story in Luke 15, you find the father calling his servants to get his child new clothes and fix a feast. The father isn’t even listening to his son’s confession.

We don’t have to throw ourselves upon the mercy of an angry, vengeful God. That’s not what repentance means. Repentance means to stop going in the direction we’re going and turn around. Just the act of turning around and coming home, the act of changing our mind and setting our sights once again on God is enough. God isn’t interested in hearing about how sorry we are or how we’ll do better next time. We’re already forgiven in the moment that we turn toward home. Even before we get there – God is already running toward us, bringing us new clothes and setting up a banquet.

That’s the good news of repentance. There’s no need to beat ourselves up or be mad at ourselves for yet again messing up. God is simply elated that we’ve realized our mistake and turned around.

To tame the reigning chaos, we must reflect, repent, and then reboot. We must start over. God forgives us, gives us a fresh slate from which to start anew.

Tonight, as we receive the ashes, we are reminded of our mortality – from dust we came and to dust we shall return. But, in the meantime, God has given us radical grace – the ability to end the chaos within – to have order restored. The ashes remind us that life is precious – and even when we crash – God is ready to pick up the pieces, forgive us and give us a fresh start.

When chaos reigns within, don’t despair. Jesus has given us a prayer designed to help us reflect, repent and reboot.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.

This is our reflection.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

This is our repentance.

Next we reboot.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, reboot.
Order shall return.