Ash Wednesday
March 1, 2006
The Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Sermon: "A Tale of Two Men"

The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

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

A Tale of Two Men

Ash Wednesday - March 1, 2006

In a moderately sized city not so long ago lived two artists. These two men had comparable talents in doing various crafts from carpentry and woodwork to stained glass and works of metal. Yet, their talents were about the only way these two men were alike.

One man lived in the downtown area of the city. He owned a fancy workshop in the very heart of the business district. He displayed his exquisite furniture in the beautiful shop windows. The side windows were adorned with samples of his work in stained glass. The center of the store held showcases of his smaller carvings and his metal craft. Each piece was exquisite and on each piece was an exquisitely high price. He was known throughout the city for his works and people came and paid the price on the tag. They never asked about the cost. They chose what they liked and paid the price in full.

Many people wanted to learn from this master craftsman, but he turned them away. He was very prideful. It was his opinion that no one could ever be as fine an artist as he. Some people came and asked him for samples of his work as donations to raise funds for many needy projects in the town. He always turned them away with a sneer. He was apathetic to the needs of the poor. In fact, he often forced them to leave the area around his store. The poor tried to gather in front of his store because there was a heating vent and it was possible to get warm in the winter cold. His awning also protected one from the snow, ice and wintry mix. He would have none of it. He moved them away from his store into the cold.

He was also very selfish. It went along with his pride. Not only would he not share his talent. He felt no one could ever be gifted with his talent. As a result he looked down on everyone around him. It wasn't a hatred. It was a subliminal loathing. He could barely stand to even talk to the people who purchased his beautiful works of art. He saw himself well above others.

The other man was every bit as talented as the man in the city. However, he lived on the outskirts of town. He sold his wares out of his small shop close to his own home. Larger pieces he placed in his barn in a protected area from the weather. His artistry was very beautiful. People came from far and wide to see his work. There were no price tags on the pieces. People came, saw something they liked, picked it up and talked with the maker about the price. The price was always agreeable to both parties with every one being satisfied with the outcome. Sometimes he accepted produce for his pieces. Eggs and butter, canned goods and smoked pieces were accepted as payment just like money if the situation warranted it. This man also had a special place in his heart for the local children. He made toys for them and sun catchers of beautiful pieces of stained glass. He gave them to the children and the price was a smile.

Several people came to him and asked him about his work. He showed them how he did it and some he even tutored as he continued to produce his lovely pieces of artwork.

This man was not prideful. He was humble. He was not apathetic. He was compassionate. He was not selfish. He was loving.

As we begin this season of Lent, I ask us to hear again the last words of the Gospel lesson. "Do not store up for your selves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not consume and thieves do not break in and steal." Often times we hear these words of Matthew and we think about money. Most of the time we hear these words just before we take up the collection on Sunday morning. These words, however, are not just about earthly possessions and material things. They also include the treasures of our hearts, our spirits and our souls. What is a person without love? How can we be with others without compassion? How can we receive love from others and, yes even, compliments without humility? The person who lives and practices these traits is very rich indeed. For the person who practices these traits has truly learned how to live in God's world. For the humble person knows the existence of God as creator. The compassionate person knows the needs of others and responds. The loving person knows how to give love to God and to others, and most importantly, knows how to receive love from God and from others.

Today is the first day of Lent and we are reminded of our own mortality. It is the first step of a journey, an inward journey into our own spiritual lives. Pride, selfishness, apathy and riches are things we can't take with us when we die. They are of no use and of no value. They are so useless they are better to be consumed by moth and rust. Humility, love, compassion and generosity can always be taken with us wherever we go. They are traits worthy of God. They are traits of God. Therefore, they exist forever. These traits can not be consumed by any source. They are traits worthy of development on our earthly pilgrimage. As we walk on this pilgrimage this Lent we can remember this story of our two artists and the lives they lead. Which life would we like to lead? Which artist would we like to be? Both paths are open to us on our journey. One is easy to follow. The other is only achieved with practice. The first step is humbling oneself before God and then asking God for help along the way. Perhaps the next forty days could be the beginning of a new, incredible spiritual journey, a journey where we choose to live for God and die to our own selfish ways. God, please be with us on the journey. AMEN.

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