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Ash Wednesday, 02/13/2013

Sermon on Psalm 103:14, by Amy C Schifrin

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 103: 14

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

"I am his mother," she said. "I am his mother. This is what a mother does." Adelaida Rosado, mother of John Rosado, convicted sex offender who was likened to the devil incarnate...Adelaida Rosado, "I am his mother. This is what a mother does," she answers the reporter from the magazine who wants to know why and how she continues to visit her son week after week. In snow, in ice, in rain, in eighteen years she has only missed the weekly twelve-hour round trip three times. She is over eighty, and she slides on her overcoat at 1:00am to catch a cab to the bus station, she pauses to make the sign of the cross + before a cardboard crucifix beside her front door.

John Rosado belongs in prison, of that there is no doubt. After spending fourteen years incarcerated for a horrific sexual assault he was freed on parole, and then committed a string of crimes even more ghastly. Steve Lopez, the reporter who interviewed him said upon meeting him, "You want to stand up and throttle him-first for what he did to his victims, and then for what he has done to his mother. And then you want to reach down inside him and get to his father, too." He refers, of course, to a father who beat a son and his mother from the very beginning.

But week after week she comes on the prison shuttle, buys his favorite foods from the vending machine, wipes the gray Formica table top clean, and embraces him through tears when they meet. "I am his mother," she says. "This is what a mother does."

Tonight you come to shed your pride, your vanity, your sense of superiority of others, and to be made again in the image of another criminal: the One whose actions warranted death in the world in which he lived; the One whose death became the means of life; the One whose life was not lived like John Rosado's, but lived in obedience to the will of his Heavenly Father. He ate with sinners and outcasts. He prepared a table for adulterers and thieves; he put himself above no one; and empty of all pride, he served prostitutes and tax collectors. He'd give his life for any of them. He'd give his life for all of them. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgression from us......He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust......Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who all heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.

"I am his mother," she said. This is what a mother does: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, embrace the lonely, bring in the homeless poor, visit those who are in prison. "I am his mother, "she says. This is what a mother does." Are there any among you this night who would swallow your pride and acknowledge such a connection to a known sinner? Yet in making the sign of the cross upon our foreheads, Jesus is acknowledging his connection to us, to all of us who would have vanished before the cock crowed three times.

And it is precisely in that acknowledgement, in his acknowledgement that our hope takes its cruciform shape. It is in his coming to us that our hope for repentance and transformation takes place, that in the burning away of our sin we might actually begin to live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name. That's why we need to wear the ashes on our brows his night, because in these ashes placed upon us in the shape of his cross, we know the truth about our human frailty, about our weakness, about our iniquity, and we know the truth of his resurrecting love. In these ashes, those who waved palm branches upon his arrival and then turned their faces from Jerusalem are exposed. In these ashes, the whole human enterprise is called to a halt by a man hanging on a cross, battered and bruised.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember you are nothing on your own but dust, and in these ashes placed upon your brow, the God who creates out of nothing is being seen with you. Hanging from a cross, in the company of known sinners, he is loving you.

Remember you are dust. God remembers that you are, and just as he took a handful of dust and once breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so now he will take the likes of you who are marked in dust, and do the same.

Wear the cross of Jesus on your mind's eye + this Lent, wear it on your lips +, wear it on your hearts +. Take the next forty days and lay your lives bare before God, not that he doesn't already know what's going on with you, but so that you might know that he is with you in all of it. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

And when you've laid it all out, trusting his steadfast love and mercy more that you've trusted anything in this world, he'll wipe down that gray Formica table and set a feast before you. And like Adelaida Rosado, through the tears in his eyes, he will embrace you forever. Amen

The Rev. Dr. Amy C Schifrin
Strawberry Point and Monona, IA
E-Mail: amyschifrin@yahoo.com