Ash Wednesday 2015
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
February 18, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Who of us could even begin to guess the number of cartoons we’ve watched so far in our lives? It’s funny to think about the particular episodes we remember best. I don’t recall which cartoon series it was (maybe Bugs Bunny?), but there was a prison inmate who looked like he had a giant wart in the middle of his forehead. Only thing was, it wasn’t a wart! It was a bottle cap that he and his friends used to scrape an escape tunnel between their cell and the outside world.
“What could this possibly have to do with Ash Wednesday?” you’re wondering. Well, our Gospel ends:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal…
The original actually says, “where thieves dig through and steal,” because in Jesus’ time the walls of many homes were baked clay and robbers broke through the walls rather than entering by doors or windows. Jesus cautions us not to place the highest value on anything that time or theft can take away from us.
…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
That’s what Lent is all about: examining our hearts to see what or who our true treasure is… investing time thinking about where it is we invest our time – and energy – and earthly treasure.
Many people associate Lent with giving something up. In the beginning of the Gospel reading Jesus does refer to fasting. Usually we think of fasting from food. For instance, some of us grew up not eating meat on Fridays (though it doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to have lobster tail or coconut shrimp instead of a burger!). If you plan to keep Lent by subtracting something from your life for the next 40 days, be careful discerning what it should be. It’s not going to glorify God to give up something that’s going to make you miserable to live or work with! (And here’s a scary thought: if you think giving up chocolate will make you holier: is chocolate evil J??) It’s only worth getting rid of something if its absence makes more room for God’s presence.
Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord rejects outward show without inward change: “Is this the kind of fast that makes me happy?” (Isaiah 58:5) Whatever you choose to make your Lenten discipline, let it be something that will draw you closer to Jesus’ heart, not make you grumpy. Maybe you should continue to eat the pizza or cookies you were considering giving up and fast from petty resentments instead. Or give up using the Lord’s name in vain instead of giving up soda. And if the sacrifice of filling a thermos with home brew instead of stopping at Wawa or Starbucks is your choice, seriously think about giving the money you save to a favorite charity. Padding the vacation fund through Lenten sacrifice isn’t the idea. Giving alms, gifts to the poor, is.
Again: the only good reason to give something up is to make more room for God. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the “sacred tripod of Lent” that we heard about in our Gospel, are tried and true ways of clearing spiritual clutter and making space for God, the true treasure. Maybe adding something to your schedule will please God more than deleting something from your diet. Set aside 5 minutes each day to read the on-line devotions posted on our website or the one page daily reflection in Christ in Our Home. Get up a little (or a lot) earlier on Wednesdays and join us for 7 a.m. Holy Communion. You’ll easily be back on the road by 7:30 if you don’t stop for “coffee and” in the kitchen afterward!
Thankfully I have neither a wart nor a bottle cap in the middle of my forehead. I have the cross of Christ that Karen traced there this morning. It reminds me of the words of John Newton, former slave trader and composer of Amazing Grace, spoken toward the end of his life as his memory failed. “I have forgotten many things. But I remember what is most important. I am a great sinner. And I have an even greater Savior.” It is He who releases me from the prison of my sin and who has suffered the death sentence I deserve.
During this Lenten springtime of the soul may our Lord draw you ever closer to His heart. May the Holy Spirit show you what must go to make room for Him or what you might add to welcome Him more fully. If there is something in your life that crowds Him out, by all means put it aside. But if that’s the case, fast from it forever, and not just for the next 40 days. Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham