Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Ti Amo" -- An Ash Wednesday sermon

Preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Amen.

25 years ago – I just can’t believe it was that long ago but it was – a wonderful romantic comedy called Moonstruck hit the theatres. Cher and Nicolas Cage starred as the unlikely lovers Loretta Castorini and Ronny Cammareri but it was Olympia Dukakis who really stole the show.

Olympia Dukakis played Rose Castorini, Loretta’s mother. Rose was at the point of her life where she was seeing more behind her than ahead of her. Her only daughter was about to get married and move out of the family house. And she began to suspect that her husband, Cosmo, who had been her faithful partner for decades, raising a child together, building a home together. She began to suspect that Cosmo was having an affair.

And she wanted to know – why?

And so throughout the movie she keeps asking this question: “Why do men chase women?” She asks … but in her heart, she already knows the answer. She’s just waiting for one person to confirm what she already knows to be true.

So at the end of the movie, Rose is sitting in her home with Johnny Cammareri, Ronny’s brother. And she asks him the question:

Why do men chase women?

And at first Johnny says, “Well, there’s a Bible story … God … God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Now maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a big hole there, where there used to be something. And the women have that. Now maybe, just maybe, a man isn’t complete as a man without a woman.”

Now Rose thinks this is crazy and now she is getting frustrated because she knows that’s not the answer. And so she pushes back:

“But why would a man need more than one woman?”

And Johnny pauses, and shrugs and says, “I don’t know. Maybe because he fears death.”

And Rose looks up, her eyes wide: “That’s it! That’s the reason!”

And Johnny tries to back off, “I don’t know…”

But Rose has found what she's looking for, and she shouts with delight, “No! That’s it! Thank you! Thank you for answering my question!”

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Tonight we do something that we just don't do in this country. We acknowledge that we … are going … to die. You are going to die. I am going to die. Every single one of us is going to die. With apologies to Benjamin Franklin, death is even more certain than taxes because there are people who get around paying taxes … nobody gets around death.

It’s not that this is news to us. But talking about it, even thinking about it, is not something we do. Because we fear death. We live in a culture that is in deep, deep denial and fear of death. Where we will do seemingly anything to trick ourselves into thinking we will be that one exception. Or that maybe if we can’t live forever, that somehow we can hold onto youth longer, let the past not slip into the past but keep prolonging it into the present, if not the future.

There are entire industries built around this culture of fear and denial … and as the Boomer generation moves into its 60s and beyond, it is gearing up for a huge offensive. American Express, AARP and countless other companies are rebranding themselves to sell the idea of recapturing youth and denying aging as not just an option but as an entitled right.

In 2009, Medicare paid $55 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients' lives . And it has been estimated that 20 to 30 percent of these medical expenditures may have had no meaningful impact.

And that’s just the stuff Medicare paid for!

Why do we do these things? Why can we somehow find ways to talk about anything else … sex, religion, politics, even race … and still be so silent when it comes to death. As if somehow how if we don’t talk about it, even if it does happen someday, at least right now we won’t have to deal with it.

Why? Because we fear death. And unlike other fears, this is a fear of something that cannot be avoided. Unlike other fears, death is a destiny over which we have absolutely no control. We are all going to die. One morning the sun will rise and we will not be around to see it.

And the world will go on without us.

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.

So why do we do this? Why this day, this night, do we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Why do we remember that we’re going to die?

As a check against our egos?

To remind us that God is God and we are not?

Because Lent is supposed to be a king-hell bummer and we want to get a head start on our depression?

No, no and most definitely no.

We remember that we are dust. We name and confront head on our greatest fear, the thing we most hate to even think about much less talk about … because the truth God in Jesus Christ brings to us is that we do not need to fear death. Not because it won’t touch us. Not because it isn’t waiting for each one of us without us knowing the day, the hour or the minute … but because we have a promise that everything that has ever really mattered or every really will matter about life cannot be touched by death.

We remember that we are dust to break hold that fear has on us. So that we can make choices and live and love out of gratitude for life not out of fear of death. This night the ashes that are placed on our forehead are reminders that Jesus frees us to be completely unafraid of death. They are reminders that Jesus promises us that we can be completely unafraid because our lives are built on a foundation that is even stronger than death itself.

At the very end of Moonstruck, Rose is sitting at the table with Cosmo, her husband. And she looks at him and asks:

“Have I been a good wife?”

“Yeah,” Cosmo says.

And Rose steels herself and says, “I want you to stop seeing her.”

And Cosmo gets up, slams the table once, and sits down again. Exhales and says:

“Okay”

And Rose says, “and go to confession.”

And then Cosmo sighs with this look of deep resignation and says, “A man understands one day that his life is built on nothing, and that’s a bad, crazy day.”

And Rose, with a voice full of love and pain, grabs Cosmo’s hand and says “Your life is NOT built on nothing!”

“Ti amo”

“Ti amo”

I love you.

Today we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, not as people resigned to a life of sound and fury signifying nothing, but as people who in Jesus Christ know that our lives are built on a foundation of the deepest meaning in the universe. Because even as we say and hear that we are dust and to dust we shall return, God is repeating the words that tell us that truth is nothing to fear. God is repeating over and over again the words that tell us that even though our bodies will turn to dust and the sun one day will rise without us, our life for all eternity is NOT built on nothing.

For God has sung these words since our birth. God will sing them to our death. And the song will go on throughout eternity. And because of the deep truth of this song, we can claim our death and not let it stop us from celebrating our life.

God sings, “Your life is not built on nothing. Your life is built on me.”

Ti amo.

Ti amo.

Ti amo.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.

Ti amo.

Amen.


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