Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Preached Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Lent is a 40 day period that commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness tempted by the devil. During those days, Jesus was trying to figure out, as Frederick Buechner writes, “what it meant to be Jesus.”
In the weeks that follow Ash Wednesday, the Gospel readings tell the rest of the story. Jesus walked from town to town, ate with tax collectors and outcasts, talked to women, healed on the Sabbath. People did not know what to make of him. Who is this man who even turns water into wine, makes the winds and the waves obey him, breaks bread and feeds thousands?
I don’t think Jesus knew what being the Son of God really meant. It seemed as if he discovered it, step-by-step, as he walked, and waited, and laughed and lamented, healed and helped, taught and was tempted. As he walked, he found his path and his purpose, and he wrote his story. He found the truth and it set him free.
The story of Jesus unfolds before him in the streets of Jerusalem, where crowds welcome and worship him on Palm Sunday, and shout “Hosanna!” By week’s end, the crowds taunt and terrorize him and shout “Crucify him!” The story does not end with death, though, it ends with an empty tomb and a resurrected Christ. God wrote the last word of the story—and it is a story of new life!
This is our story. And the ending is our beginning. Ultimately, we are promised new life.
Lent is an invitation for us to journey with Jesus in trying to figure out what it means to be who we are. It is a chance to rewrite our own stories.
But before a new story can be rewritten, the old one needs to be examined.
This examination may take different forms.
--It can be an emptying out—a time of fasting and penitence. To let go of what is overwhelming you and suffocating your spirit.
--It can be a time of filling up—a time of praying intentionally. Set your phone alarm for the same time everyday—maybe noon time—and when it goes off. Take 1 minute. Take 5 minutes. Take 20 minutes. And just sit and breathe. Allow God to fill you with the Holy Life-giving Spirit. Be still and get to know yourself better—who you really are, the one God loves and cherishes.
As the Gospel says, 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.
The reward is a deeper knowing of yourself—but in order to get to that place of knowing, we have to go through a time of unknowing—of asking hard questions, and not assuming we know the answers:
Who are you when no one is looking? Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?
Where are you putting your time and attention? What’s your story?
What will your next chapter be?
As the Gospel says, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where our time is spent, where our attention is given, there our heart will be also.
Who we are when no one is looking, is who we are, truthfully.
Truth chases us during Lent. The Truth will not let us go. The Truth will not be silent.
It will pursue us until we face it, embrace it, and allow it to set us free.
As we walk through Lent together, may we follow Jesus, may we face the Truth, and in so doing, find our path and our purpose and write the rest of our story; or better said, allow God to write it with us.
The good news, my friends is that the end of the stories that God writes do not end in despair and death; they end with resurrection and celebration, with new birth and new life. That’s the Truth!
And that’s the only thing that has the power to set us free to live fully and to love freely.