27 Feb Sermon: Ash Wednesday
February 26, 2020
Sermon: Ash Wednesday
Scripture: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21
Today is Ash Wednesday, which means that our celebration of the Lenten season has begun. So, why ashes? Ashes were important in ancient Israel. Ashes would mark times of personal loss and national tragedy. They were an outward sign of inner devastation. And, ashes symbolize what was once a fire that burned bright is now extinguished. In ancient Israel, ashes were a powerful reminder of their sinfulness, mortality, grief, and lack of humility, and I believe for us Christians, humility is a major part of Lent. So, during the season of Lent, we take an inward look at our lives in relation to God and his purpose for our lives. When we speak of Ash Wednesday and Lent, the subject of giving something up is usually a topic of conversation.
So, why give up something for Lent? It’s to remind us of others, who lack what we take for granted. It’s to call us, for a moment, to a life of simplicity. And hopefully, Lent can prompt a modest, but significant, shift in our priorities.
In the gospel reading today Christ is begging us to be humble in our acts of kindness, praying, and fasting because God does not call us to gloat or brag about how good we are. Or how good we think we are. How many times have we thought we were doing the right thing, and loved to tell people about it? It’s seems natural to want approval from others doesn’t it. In today’s scripture, Jesus is telling us be humble. He is telling us to fast, pray, and give to others in secret. Jesus wants us to look at our Christian actions not as something to be bragged about, but something very commonplace that are done without needing the approval of others. No one likes a bragger, and neither does God.
Since humility is a big part of Ash Wednesday and Lent, what does humility mean? A common definition of humility is: the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others. However, I don’t like this definition. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus tell us that we are to be less than or submissive to anyone else. So, when Jesus tells us to be humble, he is not saying to be quiet and timid and bow to the will of others. But He is telling us to get over ourselves and help others without any want, or desire of recognition. In this scripture Jesus is saying that humility has more to do with having a clear perspective on life and respect for one’s place in context to our creator, and to our neighbor. Humility is recognition of the self in relation to God. It is acceptance of one’s defects, and submission to divine grace. By making ourselves humble and by having ashes placed on your forehead this is a way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.
Today we are called to put our self-serving aside and reflect on who we are at the deepest level. Matthew chapter 6 verses 3 and 4 say3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then God, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The most satisfying giving is that which is done and forgotten. Giving is done in love, and out of response to a need. And when the need is met, the giver goes on about their business, not waiting for, or wanting, any recognition. Whether the person we help is grateful or ungrateful should not matter as far as our own purpose is concerned.
If the recipient is ungrateful, we are sorry for his sake, not our own.
We did our part and that is what matters to God. Matthew 6:3 has often been interpreted to mean that all good works are to be done in absolute secrecy. But true righteousness cannot be kept entirely secret, and should not be.
Earlier in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had specifically commanded, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven”. The question is not if our good works should be seen by others, but whether they are done for that reason. When our good works are done in such a way that attention and glory are focused on the recipient rather than on us, God is pleased. But if good works are done self-righteously and hypocritically then are rejected by God. The difference is in our purpose and motivation.
I believe the Lenten season is also a time for us all to take a spiritual inventory. A spiritual inventory can enable us to see if we are being misled by some outside influence, or are we misleading ourselves. Whatever we find during that internal investigation, the purpose is not to discover if we need a scolding or to beat ourselves up, that we need refreshing. This is a time for the kind of prayer where we are honest before God — with all our questions, skepticism, pain, disappointment, and failures.
And we ask God to help us find answers to our question, alleviate our pain, replace disappointment with joy, and help us to realize that we can fail many times before we are successful.
God is not here to scold us, “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and steadfast in love. But God does awaken within us the sense that we need to repent of where we’ve failed to live out our faith.
I will leave you with these final thoughts. As you go about these next 40 days please be humble in your promise to God. Today we come before God, and each other, to recognize that we are mortal and sinful creatures. We humble ourselves by allowing a cross to be formed on our foreheads, saying to the rest of the world that we are in need of God’s grace. The act of having ashes placed on your forehead is a way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation. When remembering the words of Christ to be humble, let us then move forward in service and humility as we start the journey of Lent together.
Also, Lent is a very real time where we can once again, in an intentional and disciplined way, seek out the presence of our creator. During this season of Lent, if we give God the opportunity, God will lift us out of our over grown egos. And place us in a position to focus our efforts on God’s grace and the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. By admitting that we are sinners and we want to change, real change will occur. Our eyes will be opened to the truth about exactly who Jesus is, and we will be set free. For us, the sign of ashes is our admission that we are not perfect, but we have come together in the presence of God to change our hearts, our minds, and our lives. Amen.