Ash Wednesday Sermon by Sharon Watkins after her visit to Haiti
Sharon Watkins shares about her trip to Haiti in her Ash Wednesday sermon: “I am just a week back from a pastoral visit with our partners in Haiti. Like everyone who goes to Haiti, I suppose, I was much affected…”
February 21, 2007
General Commission on Ministry
Isaiah 58:1 to12
By: Sharon Watkins
I am just a week back from a pastoral visit with our partners in Haiti. Like everyone who goes to Haiti, I suppose, I was much affected:
By the many, many people on the streets of Port au Prince, walking. Because that’s the only transportation they can afford – no matter the distance.
By the visit to the House of Hope where children domestics receive an education and learn a trade that may set them free from the quasi-slavery into which their desperately poor parents left them – never to see their child again, believing the lie that the person who took the child in would provide schooling and a future that the parents could not.
I was affected by the building after half-built cement building with one story complete and the rebar of the next story already pointing up toward the sky testifying to a hope that eventually there would be the where-with-all to complete that next floor.
Probably the most striking thing about Haiti – after the poverty – is the hope. The refusal of the human spirit to give up -even after hundreds of years of dashed hopes and international betrayal – most particularly by its super power neighbor to the north.
Hope was palpable in the graduation and commissioning of 13 nurses and in the ordination of 110 pastors all related to our partner CONASPEH – each pastor dressed in a black suit and white shirt and red tie – yes, even the one woman ordained that day – each one of them solemnly, some of them tearfully, receiving the oil of anointing from an older pastor and the laying on of hands, clutching their Bible, kneeling, making ready to go back to their communities to preach and teach and organize for a better life. We experienced of their determination that the fruits of the spirit are to be born on earth, not served up at some later date as pie in the sky. We experienced their hope as a beautiful irony in the face of so much struggle and need.
Today, as I read the text from Isaiah, it’s pictures of Haiti that flash across my mental screen. Is this not the fast that I choose – to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke?
As we enter into Lent this year, we will put ashes on our foreheads. We may give something up – or take something on: a new discipline of spirit or body. All in an effort to make ready for the spirit of hope that is the resurrection celebration just around the corner, 40 days and a few Sundays away.
Part of my Lenten discipline will be to reflect on Haiti – to be challenged by the hope, convicted by the teaching, and spurred to action, I pray, by the need that Haitians themselves are ready to tackle if only some partners would pitch in to help pull barriers out of the way.
The whole sign act of Ash Wednesday has a rather nice ironic touch to it. The ashes which we use to symbolize our mortality before God are traditionally the ashes of the burned palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Those palms which we waved at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, waved, calling out Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Those palms turned to figurative ashes as we moved from crowds lining the streets in praise on Sunday to crowds calling out “Crucify him!” on Good Friday. Those palms now turned to literal ashes become today the sign of our deepest confession of sin.
Thanks be to God what we do here today with ashes and confession is not the final irony. The final – and better – irony is represented by the rebar of unfinished buildings in Port au Prince reaching up to the sky, not in surrender but in hope, reaching for fulfillment, volunteering to take the next step into a future that still seems far away. Ironic that you would go to Haiti in the midst of such need to find a sign of such hope.
But it is exactly such a sign that represents the magnitude of the hope we share today. It’s the same hope we share as we begin to prepare ourselves spiritually for the journey of Lent leading to the long walk of Holy Week when we will experience again the betrayal and death of Jesus only to experience again the empty tomb and resurrection of Jesus.
As we confess our sin today, may we be spurred on to a Lenten fast – no to a lifelong fast – of justice, May we receive assurance that Jesus died even for us and lives again that we, too, might live in hope.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
May it be so.
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins serves as the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.