2/26/2020 Ash Wednesday The text is Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
(Jesus said), 1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we come together this evening to begin our Lenten journey, let us take a moment to reflect on the need to acknowledge our sins, practice repentance, ask forgiveness, and trust in God’s mercy and grace.
We are aided in our pursuit of these things by the sacred Word of God, as set forth by the Scripture writers who understood our frailties and longings eons before. The Hebrew prophet Joel exhorts the people to repent, reminding them of God’s slowness to anger and God’s abundance of steadfast love. The Psalmist reiterates the need for the people’s repentance, acknowledging humankind’s sinful nature; while imploring God’s cleansing of the transgressions of the individual. Fast-forward to the New Testament; humanity’s brokenness hasn’t improved all that much, likely, not at all. Saint Paul finds it necessary to plead with Christ’s followers in Corinth that, no matter the state of the human condition, they have everything they need in Jesus, even if they currently have nothing but earthly suffering.
And finally, Matthew recounts that Jesus tells the disciples, and us in the Sermon on the Mount that our piety and practice should be done in ways that only God is a witness to. Almsgiving, fasting, and prayer; symbols of repentance and thanksgiving for God’s mercy and forgiveness are to be carried out in private. Yet, as acknowledgement of our sin and penitent hearts we will soon bear the mark of the cross of Christ on our foreheads. Isn’t this in direct opposition to Jesus’ command to avoid public display of our show of piety? Thankfully, no. We do not bear the dark image of Christ’s cross for others to see, but as a reminder to ourselves of our mortality and our utter dependence on God’s grace.
During Lent we are urged to self-examine, repent of our sin, and pray for forgiveness, knowing that we are called to share Christ’s death. And with the smearing of ash upon our faces we will hear that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Yet, this sooty reminder of our mortality and our absolute dependence on the mercy and grace of God is also our reminder that the new life promise of Christ’s Easter resurrection is also promised to us.
The prophet Joel, David the Psalmist, Paul the Apostle, and Jesus the Christ have all reminded us that we are to repent of our sins this Lenten season. Yet, Jesus alone has secured for us the way of our salvation. We shall bear the ashen mark of his cross, assured that in spite of our sin we are loved, accepted, and washed clean. Christ’ rising from his cross is the life-giving response to the grimy ash that we bear as the remembrance of our sin before our God.
Let us travel the Lenten journey with introspection, repentance, and heartfelt prayer for forgiveness. But, may we never lose sight of the mercy, grace, and love that await us at the end.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, be with us this season of Lent. Help us to honestly examine ourselves, acknowledging our sins before you and before your people. Help us to grow in faith and keep us in your mercy and grace, for the sake of your Son, the symbol of whose rising from the cross we bear now upon ourselves.
And in Jesus’ name together the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.