February 9, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Sermon: "Ash Wednesday 2005"
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 2005
Ash Wednesday - February 9, 2005
Piety is a word that has an interesting definition. It means that one has a reverence for God. It also means that a person has a sense of duty towards God. So being pious is really a good thing.
I think we often tend to see it negatively. I believe we see it negatively because we see people acting out their piety in the wrong manner. It isn't the piety we see though. What we see are the acts of piety people want us to see. The scripture gives some good examples of negative piety.
The acts of piety described in Matthew include giving money to charities and churches. Prayer and fasting are also acts of piety. Giving away to others instead of hoarding for one's own self is another act of piety. In the scriptures we see people practicing their piety in a bad manner. Some people give to charity only so others can see them and applaud their acts. They are not giving from their heart or truly because they care. They want others to see how influential they are. They pray loud and long prayers so others will hear their words and praise them for their eloquent words. When they fast they make faces so that others will see that they are doing without food for that day. Finally, some people will continue to gain wealth and prestige for themselves when they already have a gracious plenty. We see these acts of people today. They might be slightly different, but the actual reasons are the same. They really want others to believe they are more in tune with God than they are.
However, we as followers of Christ are asked to live out our piety differently. We are asked to do these acts quietly. There is a good reason. The acts of piety are not for everyone's salvation. We do acts of piety to develop a closer personal relationship with God. These acts of piety are not for others to see. They are for ourselves. They offer us the opportunity to deepen our own spirituality.
The church has recognized the importance of these acts for years. The church has also recognized that we need help in performing these acts. Lent is an opportunity to develop these acts of piety and carry them through the rest of our lives. So today we begin the possibility of increasing our relationship with God through an act of piety. We can choose an act of piety for the next forty days and practice it. Hopefully, we will find ourselves continuing the act beyond the forty days. So, giving up chocolate might not be the best act of piety to use.
For Lent is a time of deep introspection. It is a time when we examine our relationship with God. The acts of piety are intended to aid us in our desire to deepen our spirituality. They are intended to aid us in our daily walk with God. For one day we will come face to face with God. We are mortal. Dust we are and to dust we shall return. And on that day when we do come before God it would be nice to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." AMEN