Grace and Peace to you from God Our Creator, and from His Son Jesus Christ Our Savior and Lord. Amen
It’s not about how you do it, or where you do it but rather whether or not your heart is in it.
( I shared the stories with the congregation about growing up and Sundays being sacred in my Mother’s house and therefore always going and experiencing worship service. Sometimes the worship services would be at a local non-denominational church and sometimes we would go back to our family church, which was a Baptist church on the Southwest side of Chicago where my grandfather served actively as Deacon and Elder. I Recalled how, sitting small in the pews I would observe quietly and with confusion at people in the congregation throughout various points in the service and especially during the sermon who would shout out, who would stand up and wave their hands, who would get up in the middle of the aisle and flail themselves about, who would weep and cry, kneeling and praying outwardly to God, who would faint and have to be fanned and carried out by women in starch white dresses and hats. Also recall how the tithing was taken, as the Pastor would publicly shame everyone to come down the aisle with their pledges while the choir sang some old Gospel tune that nothing belonged to you and everything belonged to the Lord, and I watched as people brought up their checks and dollar bills. Talked about the conversation that I would have with Mother then, and how she would laugh when I asked about people “falling out” in church and add about my daughter’s own firsthand experience when she spend the weekend with her best friend and attended her church).
How very strange this experience is to me still, as people of faith unashamedly fall upon their knees in the aisles, to publically confess their sins and shortcomings, to testify before the community of faith and cry out to God, Our Healer
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity”
“Purge me with hyssop”
“Create in me a clean heart”
“Have mercy on me, O God”
How utterly raw it seems to expose ourselves to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ….
How peculiar it would be for someone in our church to unashamedly stand up and sway
And beg God for forgiveness
Yet, how peculiar then, we allow these ashes upon our foreheads marking and proclaiming our bondage to Christ openly…
And yet, Jesus seems to be cautioning against these public acts of piety this Ash Wednesday evening in our Gospel text.
Or is He?
Jesus remains on the mountain continuing to pour His wisdom, His teachings and God’s Love into all who have gathered to listen, to learn, to simply be in the presence of this Son of God.
“Beware of practicing your piety, your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them….”
These ancient people of God have had the experiences of being a very comfortable and content people, to being ragged, run down and subservient to the oppressors who darkened their doorways and overcast their rugged streets. In these times, these ancient men and women clung to their faith and to one another; worshiping and celebrating the Creator God was the one (word?). In these times, coming together as a community meant caring for one another because God had commanded their ancestors so many generations before…
Random acts of kindness…
Sharing a meal…
Sharing of blankets and coverings…
Sharing Sacred space….
Sharing a hearth and home…
Sharing of their own small treasures…
If not their own, then who?
…..because certainly the occupiers, these oppressors were not motivated or concerned to do so, even though in the center of Roman life you could find them lavishing in sacred temples to their gods and goddesses, flinging coins to the poor in the streets proudly, or bragging openly about how much time and money and devotion they had paid for favor of wealth, of status, of longevity, of perfection from their particular patron god.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who pray in the streets so that they may be seen by others.”
Prayer allowed these ancient children of God, poor in status, stamped as the impoverished, pushed to the edges of nothingness…
…..to be acknowledged, affirmed and accepted by God, Our Redeemer.
Prayer was the only place these people of God could stand in the Light of the Creator…
…..and every wound, every pain, every fault, every sin……
Their lives were already exposed and scrutinized so they had nothing to lose from living and praying publically..
Because they believed in their Faith
Lived out their Faith
Emptied out their Faith for others to see and to share….
Martin Luther definitely had no qualms of sharing his testimony
Luther prayed defiantly
He bore the burdens of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ openly
Luther acted fearlessly
Because of his Faith
He had nothing to lose!
But as people of Faith, as this season of Lent approaches…
…why do we enter it as if we have lost everything?
We as a people of faith sometimes equate Lent void of anything joyful…
We drag our scarred feet over the roughness of a dry wilderness,
We wrap ourselves in scraps of hastily sewn cloth
We abandon our community and move down hidden roads away from their healing light
We weep and mourn about what we have failed to do and throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus
We hastily run ourselves ragged trying to make up…all on our own……
We whisper in far off dark corners our fears, our flaws, our sins, our pain…
….so that no one knows of our imperfections….
And that no one has the ability to reach out their hands….
……and holding us close to them….
….bearing our burdens….
…raising their own voices in prayer……
This journey of Lent is not about hiding who we are!
This journey of Lent is revealing who has claimed us
This journey of Lent allows us to freely live out our FAITH
Through Faith we have the ability to do for others, pray as a public witness for others, give to others
……because of the presence of Jesus Christ whose Love fuels our FAITH
And that is Good News!
The Good News is that we do not have to wander endlessly through desolation
Because in those secret places God has heard our pleas
“Do not cast me away from your presence”
In those moments when we are removed from the community
Hunched over, withered away
God sees our broken spirit…
Because God has not forgotten about God’s People….
He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ
Who has already walked that treacherous path!
And At the end of that journey, when we are heavy with sufferings too deep for words…
Jesus Christ stands there waiting to welcome us…
Renewed, reborn, washed clean…whiter than snow..
The Good News is that God, Our Deliverer cleanses our souls
And so when we pray publically
When we shout joyously
When we share freely what God has given to us, for others
We are faithfully showing the world what the healing power of the Good News of Jesus Christ means and can be for all of God’s Creation
Through our Faith fueled through God’s Love, Mercy and Grace.
Because we know that death has no hold on Jesus Christ
And neither on us.
Lent, as our Music Director Bryan reminded me the other day “is not about a six week funeral for the baby Jesus”
But there is some truth in that, right?
Lent is not being ashamed of our Faith
So allow your ashes upon your forehead to be that public witness of Faith.
A reminder of what the Good News of Jesus Christ means in our lives.
Thanks Be to God.