Amid the scourge of a rampaging pandemic, we launched the holy season of Lent yesterday. Ash Wednesday begins for us our Lenten journey through the wilderness of life to the ultimate glorification at an empty tomb on Easter morning. The Ash Wednesday service is peculiar in so many ways, and I have not thought as deeply about it as I did on Tuesday during the Coffee Hour. If you have not as yet tried the Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday Coffee Hour, I encourage you to do so.
One of the regulars at the Tuesday Coffee Hour, Fred Alford, gave me something to think about. He said that Ash Wednesday was the most important day for him on the liturgical calendar. The reasons are very simple; it is the one day that we are all reminded of our own mortality. It is the one day that we are reminded that we are but dust. It is the one day that shakes our egos and reduces them to size. It is the one day when there is that stark reminder that here is not home - try as you may want to make it your home, this is not home - but that you, like everyone else, are on a journey. The question then is, if this is not home, then where is home?
It is convenient and satisfying to look at Easter or Christmas as the most important days, which is fine because they also tell the incredible story of God’s redemptive acts. But there is something about Ash Wednesday which puts life into perspective. It is not necessarily about an emotional state - whether melancholic or joyful - but it is about what you are as a human being... fragile, limited, earthy, impermanent, empty, lost, and fleeting.
I recently read about Mickey Mantle, a true legend of baseball. He played two thousand four hundred and one games for the New York Yankees from 1951 until 1968, hit a record eighteen homers in twelve World Series, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
Mickey was loved by baseball fans across the country. He became famous and rich. But in spite of all his successes and satisfying comforts, Mickey still felt empty deep within himself. He found nothing fulfilling enough, and so he turned to alcohol - one of the destructive agents that we deal with.
In a Sports Illustrated interview, he once detailed his long battle with alcohol and his heartbreaking problems with his family. During the interview, he was asked, "So how are things going with you today, Mickey?"
He replied, "I haven’t had a drink in eight months. I’m starting to get my life back together, but I just feel like there’s something missing."
That is precisely the void we carry with us when we keep searching for what we already possess. I wonder if that is how some of you feel today. Have all of the things you have achieved or acquired failed to satisfy you?
Mickey Mantle finally discovered how to fill the hole in his soul. Near the end of his life, he found what he had always been looking for – Jesus Christ. He was blessed to have had a former baseball player, Bobby Richardson, lead him to Christ. Bobby understood this question from Mark’s gospel “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” I wonder if, like Bobby, you also understand this question.
At Mantle’s memorial, Richardson shared the story of being the bearer of the good news of God’s salvation to Mickey. More importantly, through his testimony, he was able to help Mantle receive the Lord Jesus as his personal Savior. On his death bed, Mickey Mantle said, "I am trusting in Christ’s death for me to take me to heaven." Home run!
I cannot, in any way, question Mickey’s faith nor his trust in God’s heaven. This is because I am very much aware that faith, in itself, is a process. Some of us come by faith in Jesus much sooner than others, and some much later than others, but the real gift is the joy expressed by Paul in Philippians when he says “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” The real question this Lenten season is, what are you prepared to lose in order to gain Christ Jesus our Lord?
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a unique Lenten journey for you and for me. In a sense, it is a journey of self-reflection that leads to self-improvement. It is a journey of looking in the mirror. This journey makes it possible for us to recognize our shortcomings with the hope of becoming better versions of ourselves each day.
And so during this Lenten season, make it your goal to know your weakness, give up something, spend time each day to meditate, read scripture, fast, pray, and reflect on how you can make those little changes you need to be a better version of yourself.
Your goal is not to be perfect, but to take the steps which will bring more value to who you are and what you do.