February 25, 2004
The Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Sermon: "Ash Wednesday 2004"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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. "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. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what you right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "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. 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. "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. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 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. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 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 6:1-6, 16-21
Ash Wednesday 2004
Wednesday - February 25, 2004
Sunday was the Last Sunday of Epiphany. The Gospel reading was Luke's account of the Transfiguration. Jesus is transfigured and he talks with Moses and Elijah on the mountain. After he talks with them he comes down from the mountain and turns towards Jerusalem. He is on a journey to the Holy City of God to fulfill God's plan. Furthermore, the disciples are invited to go along with him. They are told by God to listen to Jesus.
Today is Ash Wednesday. The reading from Matthew is a part of the Sermon on the Mount. The particular is concerned with piety. In the reading we are taught about how to practice piety through acts of charity, prayer and fasting. One of the major aspects of this teaching is how we do these activities. When we do an act of charity we are to do it without fanfare or notice. We draw no attention to ourselves in order to make ourselves look good. Because if we draw attention to ourselves then we are blowing our own horn so to speak. I knew a lady who used to deliver meals from the church for pastoral care. She took the meal to a person's home but did not tell them the meal was from the church. There was no tag to indicate the meal came from the church either. So without any other indication where do you think the person receiving the meals thought they originated? They thought she was bringing the meals. She was accidentally taking credit for something the women of the church did. Acts of charity are to be done for God's glory and not our own. Acts done in this fashion remind us of our dependence on God and God's grace to supply our needs.
Similarly we practice prayer in the same manner. We do not say our prayers loudly so that others might look at us. Personal prayer time with God is not an event to draw attention to ourselves. Personal prayer time is precious time spent with God. It is a time to bear our hearts and our souls to the One who created us. It is a time to ask for direction and purpose. It is a time to listen for God's still small voice and follow God's direction. Personal prayer done in this manner is a true act of piety.
Finally, fasting is also a special act of piety. It is done quietly and not with fanfare, sad face, or pronouncement. I have a friend from seminary who fasts every Monday. He does it quietly. The only way one knows he fasts if he is asked directly. His fasting in this manner is a witness for God. He believes in God so much that he is willing to sacrifice eating on Mondays. Some people even carry it a step further. They give the money they would spend on that day to an outreach program. Fasting is another form of personal time with God.
I believe this teaching is very appropriate for this day. First of all it reminds us of our dependence on God. We are reminded that we are created by God to worship and glorify God. Secondly, we are reminded that our actions matter and that they have significance. They are a witness to our faith in God to others. Most importantly, they help build our own faith daily. Finally, this teaching is important because we are on a journey. When Jesus came down from that mountain he turned his face towards Jerusalem. The disciples were invited to join him. They were invited to walk with him and learn from him. Like the disciples of that day we are invited to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem over the next forty days. We begin our journey with a teaching on our life with God, our piety. This teaching is meant to help us as begin our journey, sustain us as we walk with Christ and support us when the path gets troublesome and rocky. By doing acts of charity, prayer, and fasting we continue to develop and strengthen our life with God. Today is the first day of the journey to Jerusalem. While we are looking ahead and walking with Christ, we can still hear those words of God from the mountain to us: "This is my Son, my Chosen, Listen to Him."