Posted on Thu, Feb 11, 2016
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
February 10, 2016
Gospel Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 – “Just Worship”
‘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.
Have you ever wondered where our ashes come from, or at least, where they are supposed to come from? What do you think? … that we just go down to the local church supply store to get our Ash Wednesday ashes? … Well, we actually can do that, but what we are supposed to do is burn the dried out palm fronds from last years Palm Sunday service. We are supposed to hold onto some of those branches, let them dry out, and then burn them to ashes to prepare for this years Ash Wednesday service.
Some years we have done that, but most of the time, the palm fronds are lost, or the ashes don't turn out right, or it just becomes such a mess, we let the professionals supply our ashes. Tonight, we have the good stuff.
But think about all that has happened since one year ago. The world is a different place. The world sure seems like a more dangerous place; whether that is from actual events, or profit based hyped up news providers, I am not sure. Within one year, we have violence in the Middle East and in some countries of the continent of Africa occurring in ways that were unimaginable; there are scores of refugees moving across dangerous waters desperately trying to escape violence and a confused compassionate but limited countries doing what they can to receive or at least document the throng; politicians villianizing entire groups of peoples and religions and a planet screaming out for compassion and caring yet is quickly being slaughtered because its rescue can’t turn a profit… That is the world we live in, and there are so many other events, people, and issues we can lament, but those are issues it will take a society to change and correct.
Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season was a season for personal reflection, cleansing and preparation. At one time in our church history, Lent was one of the final times of preparation for those who were preparing for baptism. Those preparing for baptism would fast for 40 days, much like Jesus did in the wilderness. Or for the number “40” coming from the bible passages about Moses’ stay on Sinai for 40 days, the 40 years of Israel wandering in the wilderness, Elijah’s fast on his way to the mountain of God.
Ash Wednesday was originally a day for the expulsion of penitents from the church. It was like a time of temporary excommunication. In the fourth century those undergoing church discipline had to endure several stages of excommunication and reinstatement: There were ‘weepers,’ who stood outside the church door asking the prayers of those who went in; then there were ‘hearers,’ who were in the narthex (the entrance of the church); then there were the ‘kneelers,’ the kneelers were required to kneel with the standing congregation; the ‘standers,’ were ones who stood with the congregation but had to leave before Communion. Several years might be spent in each of these stages. In later centuries, however, this public penitence was joined to Lent; and at the beginning of Lent (Sunday) or on the Wednesday before Lent (40 days before Easter), the penitents were placed under discipline. This time was called “quarantine,” for “forty” in Italian 17th century. It was during this time they were admonished, prayed for, given the laying on of hands, and expelled from the church before Eucharist. Ah, the good old days…
But simply, the ashes as well as being a symbol of cleansing, they are also to be used to help us remember who we, as individuals are, we are mortal. And the word, “mortal” comes from late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin mortalis, from mors, mort- ‘death.’
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Be thankful that your heart has brought you to this worship service tonight, as most of the values of our modern world cannot even talk about the fact that we are living, but we are mortal, and one day we shall return to dust… not able to produce a profit for someone else…
The ashes we impose on our foreheads symbolize the same Palm Fronds that were waved by the people as they welcomed Jesus, the Messiah they assumed would look more like the mighty King David of Israel’s great military days, but were disappointed and within a short while, their “Hosanna! Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!” would turn into a bloodthirsty “Crucify Him!”
Green Palm Fronds full of life, waving in the air with joy and anticipation. We read the story and picture the people welcoming Jesus with such ignorant joy, and then with the encouragement of the religious leaders full of fear, the same crowd demands blood for their disappointment. They truly wanted a king who would spill the blood of the Romans, a king who would show no mercy against the oppressors, and reinstate a religious kingdom…
We know the end of the story, and we can read it with judgment and even righteous scorn for those who crucified our savior… but the story of 2000 years ago is our story too.
We confess to God, forgive us for the things we have done AND the things we have left undone; the words we say that cause pain and hurt; the assumptions we make about people without speaking with the person, leading to judgment and broken relationships. The list can go on and on, and we can continue to beat ourselves until we resemble the penitents of the fourth century, and we find ourselves saying to ourselves this prayer to God, “Unto whom shall we go, (ONLY) you have the words of eternal life = forgiveness.”
We find our Gospel, our Good News in our Old Testament reading from the prophet of Isaiah…
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
Our salvation comes from the Lord, our salvation is God’s doing. The point of Lent is to open our eyes and ears to God calling us by name and proclaiming, it is God’s good intention to free us from our sin, and make us the people of faith we are meant to be. Amen,
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