Ash Wednesday (2/22/2012)

Lessons:Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12 Psalm 51:1-17 2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[Jesus said,] 6.1 "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."

St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Lent: A Time of Growing in Faith and Faithfulness

Ash Wednesday is a day that is more widely known than understood. For some, it marks the end of the drunken revelry that passes for Mardi gras. For others it is a somber day, darkened by ashes and talk of death. For yet others it is the beginning of forty days of abstaining from certain earthly pleasures. Yet for the Christian (at least those of us who maintain a connection with the liturgical history of the church), Ash Wednesday begins a time of making ready to receive the greatest joy human beings can know: a time filled with the promise and the presence of our God.

The practices of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent date to the earliest decades of the Christian movement. Initially a time of preparation for converts, it eventually became a time for the whole church to enter into worship, prayer, meditation, study, fasting, charity, and service. These “spiritual disciplines” were intended to help the believer better understand human sinfulness, God’s grace, and the new life that comes from receiving the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ. For many, Lent has been a time when their faith has been renewed, and their spirit has been rekindled.

For others, Lent has mostly been experienced in terms of obligation. Adherents have accepted these obligations, without the benefit of knowing what they intend to accomplish. Something was given up for forty days. Something was taken on for forty days. But the deeper meaning is missed. This approach makes Lent a dreary season, and its greatest gift is when it comes to an end.

That is what Jesus is dealing with in today’s lesson. The same was true in his day: some were doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. They were giving charitably, they were praying, they were fasting, but it was all in order to be seen by others. And so he warned them that if they did all the right things for all the wrong reasons, they would receive all the wrong benefits from their efforts. When all is said and done, the only thing they will have to show for their efforts is the momentary notice of their peers. But, Jesus said, if they participated in these practices in order to renew their relationship with God, then the benefits they receive would be nothing less than eternal.

Our church continues to practice the Lenten disciplines with great hope. We encourage people to take these days before Easter as a time to be more intentional about the faith. Spend extra time each day in prayer and devotion. Take advantage of the additional opportunities for worship between now and Easter. Make a personal inventory of those areas where forgiveness is needed, and those aspects of life that need amendment. Attend a Bible Study, or some other class that allows believers to reflect on the life of faith. Become involved in a particular service project or charitable cause. These are ways in which we remind ourselves of what our faith is all about, and open up our hearts and minds to the movement of God’s Holy Spirit.

For those who see Lent as a chance to grow in faith and in faithfulness, it can been a significant time of growth and transformation. May this year’s Lent be a time of transformation for all of us. May our times of worship, prayer, study and service draw us nearer to God, and deeper into the life of faith that we share.


Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are some examples of when Lent (or participation at church) has been little more than following the rules?
  2. What are some examples of when Lent (or participation at church) has been a gift to those involved?
  3. How might the church best communicate the possibilities that Lent provides?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How will Lent be a significant experience for me this year?
  2. What Spiritual disciplines will I choose to help me experience what Lent is all about?
  3. What are my hopes for this season, and for the season of Easter that follows?