Ashes & Temptation
It was dark when I stepped outside to look for the Sunday paper. But my nose woke me up quickly. It smelled like Africa, the smudging aroma of wood fires that were everywhere when Martha and I visited in 1994. But I immediately knew this was not Africa, but Santa Barbara, and some neighbors must have let a camp fire burn late into the night. After breakfast, shower and changing, I walked over to church, and the sky was way too dark for 7:00 am, and it had a yellow tint. That's when our Director of Music Arts, Dan Bos, told me that this was smoke from a fire in the Los Padres National Forest, being blown from the inland wilderness South and East over the mountains across the coastland and out into the ocean. These are the Santa Anna winds that fuel California's fires. A thin layer of dust covered everything. As the sun rose, it was framed by the smoky air.
Worship today focussed on Jesus' temptations in the wilderness, with vivid images of the rocks placed on the altar. Diana Trautwein preached a powerful sermon identifying with Jesus' temptations and inviting us to write down on a blank piece of paper our wildernesses, our temptations, and our identity. During the last songs we were invited to bring those slips to the front and drop them in a basket. At the last minute, I offered to take them out into our hard-dirt courtyard and burn them as offerings to God.
When I lit the pile of paper, many from the congregation gathered around, watching their temptations turn into the smoke of confessed sins and forgiveness. So what began as a nuisance smell clinging to us, ended as the sweet smell of forgiveness and hope.