March 5, 2003
The Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Sermon: "Ash Wednesday 2003"
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 2003
Wednesday - March 5, 2003
Ash Wednesday signifies the beginning of the Lenten season. In the history of the church this season has often been known as the season to give up something. Often people give up chocolate or coffee or something along those lines. The belief comes form the early church practice of denying one's self certain things.
In actuality, the church was not simply defining a period of time for us to deny ourselves of something. The church actually prescribed three possible ways for us to practice piety in a healthy way. These possible ways to practice our piety were by denying ourselves luxuries, increasing almsgiving for the poor, and taking additional time in prayer. If we take a look at the reading from Matthew, we see where the church found its prescription for piety.
In the reading Jesus warns the disciples not to be flagrant about their religious practices. They are not to flaunt their offering at the altar before others. They are not to pray rudely or boastfully. They are not to look sad and hold their stomachs when they are fasting. If someone does these things inappropriately they are not practicing piety. Instead, they have fallen into the sin of pride. This sin is the deadliest and it is the easiest one in which to fall.
Jesus warns the disciples about pride and gives them some ideas and training on how to avoid the pitfalls. Jesus suggests that when offerings are given that the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing. Jesus did not mean that literally. The practice in the synagogues was to come forward and pray as you gave your offering. Some people were including in the prayer what they gave or they would slight someone else who did not give as much as they did. The warning was to make one's offering to God without the fanfare or the building up of one's own self. The concept of not letting the right hand know what the left hand was doing involved making the offering without drawing attention to one's self.
The same concept is true of Jesus' teaching on prayer and fasting. Pray in solitude so that one will not be tempted to draw attention to one's self. Keep a pleasant look on one's face so that the temptation to tell people about your religious practice of fasting does not become an issue of pride.
During Lent the church recommends these practices to us. We are encouraged to give up luxuries, to increase our offering to the poor, and to increase our prayer time with God. These practices are not to draw attention to ourselves. We do these religious practices as aids for our reflection and our meditation. We do these things to increase our time with God, to recognize God's sovereignty, and to acknowledge our own mortality. If we attempt to follow these practices we might find ourselves growing closer to God. We might find ourselves seeking God more and our own pride and selfish ambitions less. Walking with God is the definition of piety. I pray we all might have an observant Lent that we may reflect and grow in our relationship with God.