19 Feb Truth in the Ashes
By: Paul Detterman, National Director
for The Fellowship Community
It happened last night. A few hundred people came out in the middle of a cluttered week when the local collegiate basketball team was playing (competing gods in this town!) to be reminded that we were going to die and that we could choose to truly live.
It was Ash Wednesday. The size of the congregation was remarkable, especially when the thermometer was flirting with single digits. Far more amazing to me was that I (at age 57) was among a minority of “older” people in the room.
Young couples were there, young families with their children, single people, business people directly from work. And then came a flood of elementary children from the evening music ministry, many complete with light shoes, lovingly shepherded by their young adult mentors. We were there to receive a mark of our mortality—a reminder that, before God’s breath, we were dust, and we would end up there again. But we also came to be reminded of the greater truth of Christ’s death and Resurrection—God’s astonishing grip on his beloved children.
What drew so many younger people? Honesty. Authenticity. Truth. (This is quiet time for “church growth” experts.) There was no rockin’ praise band—simple, elegant music for oboe, flute, ‘cello, and voices in various combinations punctuated the liturgy. There was no sliver-tongued orator, projected larger than life, and holding us spell-bound. Our Minister of Formation simply, directly, and with self-effacing honesty, laid out the problem—we’re lost. And he gave the solution—we need to make a U-turn. It’s hard to admit that we need God’s transforming grace—harder than it is for some men to stop and ask for directions(!), and yet Grace persists: “God will transform your world if you will allow God to transform you.”
That’s what we needed to hear. An authentic witness to the power of the Cross—nothing more, nothing less. Followers of Jesus know the Truth. The world needs the Truth. Younger adult generations are magnetically attracted to authenticity—in relationships, in teaching, in our life together. So should we all be.
We were invited to observe a holy Lent, to invest ourselves in the ancient disciplines followers of Jesus have known for centuries: Word, prayer, sacrificial acts of kindness. And then came the eager procession—coming forward to receive the outward sign of our inescapable inner reality. Truth in the ashes.
Simple gospel truth, made visible in the ashes, brought us together last night. It is what we all needed to hear. With that Truth comes a persistent challenge to make the U-turns we need to make, to live as those who have been redeemed, to show by the words and actions of our lives every day, even more than by our smudgy foreheads on one chilly February night, evidence of God’s claim on us, and of God’s transformation at work in us, as we attempt to love and serve a world that seems allergic to making U-turns.
The ash smudge vanished in the morning shower, but the challenge remains. Truth is our commission as followers of Jesus—simple and yet profound, authentic, and desperately needed. How will you show God’s redeeming in your life today?