Ashes & Gasoline

I have recently discovered a whole other level of panic. I was filling up gas cans for my snowblower and the pump wouldn’t stop pouring out gasoline. In the event that this experience has never happened to you, you’ll have to take it from me… it. is. terrifying. The handle on the pump would not release. And so, there I stood at 9:30 at night in a lonely parking area, dispensing gallons of gasoline onto the cold concrete.

What made this level of panic different than others is that I really felt completely and totally helpless. After what seemed like an eternity of showering my shoes with lighter fluid it dawned on me that I could put the handle in my car and hopefully get the automatic shut off to kick in. Luckily, it worked. (Side note: since this happened 1,383 people [or so and counting] have told me that I could have just put the handle back and some mechanism would have shut off. I did not know or think of that. It wasn’t my brightest hour.)

Afterwards, I entered the station reeking of gasoline. Emotionally, I was caught up somewhere between extremely embarrassed and unbelievably mad. Before I could say a word, the attendant spoke up:

“You smell like gas,” he said.
“No kidding!” I shouted back. “I just got doused with gasoline. The handle wouldn’t shut off.”
“Which pump were you at?” he asked as nonchalantly as humanly possible.
“That one! Right there! The only one with a car at it,” I shot back.
“Oh yeah,” he said while chomping away on his bubble gum, “we’ve been having trouble with that one.”
“You’ve… been… having… trouble… with… that… one…?” I calmly questioned trying to process what I had just heard.
“Yeah… it’s a little bit broken,” he said – proving what I did not believe was possible: he could be more nonchalant.
I snapped, “Well, where do we go from here? What’s the plan? What do you do? What do I do?”
He replied, “For starters, (insert three chomps on the bubble gum) you should avoid matches.”
My brain broke and I could not form a sentence.

This event occurred after worship on Ash Wednesday. As I went to bed later that evening, I could not stop thinking about how little that employee seemed to care about the broken gas pump 20 feet away from him. Moreover, he didn’t seem all that concerned with how that pump might affect others as well. It made me wonder, what is broken in my life that I’ve learned to live with? When am I “avoiding matches” so things don’t blow up? And, most importantly, what can I fix or work on?

As we journey through Lent, I invite you to consider those same questions. What in your proximity is broken and in need of repair? What relationships, patterns, and systems aren’t working? When in your life are you “avoiding matches” so the brokenness of the world around you doesn’t become too apparent (or end up hurting you even more)?

See, Lent is a time in the church year when it is safe to admit that things aren’t working. Lent is a season in which we recognize that we really do need Jesus. Our confession in Lent is that we have wandered, we have turned away, and we have strayed. Like the attendant who recognized the broken gas pump and did nothing, sometimes we are the ones who turn a blind eye to our neighbors in need. We pretend like things are fine, when they very clearly are not.

We can no sooner fix ourselves than I could fix that gas pump. However, we are called to return to the Lord our God the healer of our every ill. And, we are invited to repent (which is an acknowledgement of the broken) and to rejoice in the restoration and renewal that comes from the one who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

God promises healing to the hurting. God offers consolation to the grieving. God grants paradise for thieves and throws parties for sinners who haven’t done anything other than come home. When self-righteous people pretend like things are great, God rolls his eyes. When sinners confess that things are broken, the angels rejoice. And so, this Lenten season may we all return to the Lord our God. In doing so may we watch and witness as God tends and mends the broken.  

As I was leaving the gas station the attendant called out to me and said, “Hey, man, I don’t want to embarrass you or anything, but you have grease on your forehead.” It wasn’t grease. It was ashes. He didn’t have to worry. After that moment I ceased to be embarrassed and angry. Humiliation is the fastest track toward humility. I smiled as I thought to myself, I’m dust and to dust I shall return. Still, for now, I’m avoiding matches.



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