February 22, 2023
February 22, 2023 – 7:00 PM
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isa. 58:1-12; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
From the Gospel according to Matthew, “(Jesus said), ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’" I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
For Christians, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day journey in two simultaneous and yet, very different directions. On the one hand, our journey is outward as we take time to slow down – perhaps even stop - in order to both see and hear more clearly not only the needs of others, but also to build upon our sense of community through worship and service. In so doing, we more fully embrace our baptismal covenant promises of mission and loving service that is at the core of what is known as The Church of the Holy Cross.
And just as our journey is outward, so it is also inward: an invitation to explore the very depths of our souls, our own selves. Lent invites us to search our hearts and our minds, and discover or recognize what we truly treasure and then lift up those discoveries – whether they are good or ill – to the power of God’s redemption and grace. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And so, these 40 days of reflection and amendment of life are not just God’s invitation to us, but very much our invitation to God: an invitation for God to search our hearts, to forgive and restore, and enable us to uphold God’s ways so thoroughly that they become our greatest treasure.
In a few moments we will receive ashes across our foreheads symbolic of our admission that we are, indeed, sinners and mortal; that we are human and that someday we will die. We will recite Psalm 51 acknowledging that for all our intelligence, skills and abilities, we are nothing more than dust and to dust we will return. But those words that “we are dust” are offered knowing that we are God’s beloved dust. Loved so deeply that God never ceases to call us into wholeness and grace. So, our ashes, while urging us to both acknowledge our mortality as well as, our need for God’s grace and forgiveness, affirm that God will always answer the prayers of the penitent. That’s why our ashes are pressed on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. They are a reminder that redemption in Christ is always available to those who will seek him.
So, in many ways, tonight’s donning of ashes marks the beginning of our journeys. Journeys that offer to be sacramental if they go beyond outward signs. As the Prophet Isaiah affirms, outward signs mean nothing if they don’t signify a change within, a change in how we think and act. Jesus, in the Gospel according to Matthew, echoes Isaiah’s words when he says that true repentance, one’s contrition, is not realized through outward signs. Lent is not about putting something on, but rather, about God’s grace transforming us from within. What matters to God is not outward acts of contrition, but rather, changed hearts.
And so, the donning of ashes is very much an invitation to our own selves to admit that if God is indeed to become our greatest treasure, then we need to daily not only nurture our relationship with God but also when we sin, call upon God’s forgiveness and grace. St. Paul, in our reading from his second letter to the Corinthian Church, says that deepening one’s relationship with God is always a choice. “Now is the day of salvation … be reconciled to God,” Paul says. So Lent invites us to allow these outward and visible symbols of our repentance to become more than symbols, to let these outward signs affirm our desire for God’s grace to work within us. And, beloved, when outward actions become signs of God’s grace within, then Lent becomes sacramental. And when Lent becomes sacramental, God’s transforming work within our hearts and minds will go far beyond 40 days. It will become a way of life: God’s way of life. A way of life that fosters God’s grace, reconciliation, mercy, redemption, forgiveness, justice, love and wholeness in every relationship whether that relationship is with God, with a friend, or a stranger.
May this Season of Lent – this time of self-examination – reveal not only what each of us must do differently to nurture our relationship with God and be reconciled to our neighbor, but also, grant us the courage to embrace God’s invitation to be changed from deep within so that it affects who we are and how we live. That invitation, friends, is a treasure to be sought after, a treasure to be explored, nurtured, celebrated, and perhaps, most all, shared. Jesus said, “… where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.” May that be true for us, and in us … all of us. Amen.