March 2, 2022 Ash Wednesday The text is Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 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, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Some years we read Luke on a particular Sunday, on others it’s Matthew or Mark, and often John’s words are presented to us to ponder. But, a few times during the liturgical church year the same gospel reading is assigned for the day, and the three-year cycle of lessons is ignored, in order to focus on a specific passage. So, you might recognize these verses from the 6th chapter of Mark, since this is the lesson we Lutherans read every Ash Wednesday. And this repetition of readings from year-to-year can be a source of trepidation for preachers, as we gather our thoughts about what we should say to those assembled to hear God’s Word. It can be challenging to come up with something unique to share with the congregation, since this same gospel was preached on last year, and the year before that, and so on and so on.
But the situations the world has faced over these last three Ash Wednesdays have certainly provided plenty for us to speak about. Just a few weeks after Ash Wednesday in 2020, Covid raised its ugly head and we were forced to worship remotely. On Ash Wednesday last year, I noted that we had been suffering through an unusually “long” Lent; one that caused us and the world to “give up” so many things, for over a year. Another year has passed and illness, death, and the negative impacts caused by the virus have continued to wreak havoc on the world’s people. And, thus we find ourselves even more directly facing the truth of our mortality. In a moment, we will hear the words, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As we enter into the Lenten season, we are tasked to consider our own impermanence in this world, as we accompany Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross.
This is a time of reflection and expectation for us; we are called to examine our relationship with God while we reflect on the knowledge of our mortality. At the same time, we recognize and rejoice that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem did not end with the cross, but his eternal life continued, and ours began on the third day when he rose from it. We are Resurrection People! While we reflect over these 40 days on the grief and sorrow of the world, we must always keep in mind the suffering endured by Jesus. And, while all that has beset the world over these three Ash Wednesdays has caused great suffering, we are reassured once again, that in spite of all that we struggle with, that the glory of Christ’s resurrection awaits us all.
Let us not neglect to be introspective during this season of Lent, but more importantly, let us remember that no matter what we have faced, or what we might be called to endure, that God’s kingdom will prevail, and that we will once again rejoice in the resurrected Christ Jesus on Easter.
Will you pray with me? This evening I would ask you to pray for the people of Ukraine, with the words of the prayer that was composed by the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. Good, and gracious, and holy God, we your sinful children turn to you with humility in our hearts and bow our heads low before you. We beseech your loving kindness and abundant blessings upon the nation – the people – of Ukraine during these days of great danger to their safety and well-being.
Our brothers and sisters, Lord, are once again threatened by aggressors who see them only as obstacles blocking the path to the complete domination of the precious land and resources of the country of Ukraine. Strengthen the people as they face this great danger, turning to you in the immeasurably deep faith, trust and love they have placed in you all their lives.
Grant unity of mind, heart and soul, O Lord to all leaders in public service with those they serve. Unite them all into one, great Christian family, so that together, as brothers and sisters, they may glorify your majestic name – God in the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.