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February 18, 2015
Joel 2:12-17a CEB
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 CEB
The Math of Lent
As we enter this time of Lent, we remember that it is a time of self-reflection, a time when our hearts turn towards the journey to the cross, a time when we ponder on the gift that God so freely gives to you and to me…the gift of redemption and forgiveness wrapped in a cross on top of a hill from so long ago. As I reflect on my life and walk with God I am reminded by the reading from Joel that it is not the outside that God is concerned with, it is not my outward appearance but the appearance of my heart…how is it really with my soul. God is waiting for the day when all of His creation turns back to Him as He had planned for it to be from the very beginning.
There is sort of a Math having to do with Lent. There is a letting go…a subtraction of the things that bind us and there is a picking up of…an addition of the things and practices that bring us closer to God. It’s like packing for a trip…you see sometimes we pack too much for the journey…we get a little carried away with the just in case stuff that there is either no room for the important or we are so waited down that we are too tired for the journey. So…we decide to let go of what we feel we need to let go of but that in itself can be a problem. Let me read to you about some subtraction and addition in scripture…listen to what can happen if we get too much of this addition and subtraction math…the scripture is found in Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21…
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 New Living Translation (NLT)
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
There is a danger of adding too much and we want to show how religious we are to those who are around us…all this addition and subtraction can make our heads explode…but then you have to add in the multiplying that we may feel we need to do…take on more projects, do more than our share of different new and improved things that will make us super Lenten warriors , and the like, only to wind up frustrated and overtired and not even sure what this whole Lent thing is about…It becomes all about us and what we do and less about what God did, has done and continues to do…
How fitting it is that we begin our Lenten journey in ashes…the thought brings us back to the reality it’s not about us…Titus tells us that it is not by what we do that we are saved but by God’s grace we are redeemed. There may be reasons why we need to unpack or add in our spiritual life and that’s OK…as long as we don’t lose sight of what the Lenten journey is…it’s our journey of reflection and hope…it’s the road…our means of access…we travel to the destination at the end of our 40 day journey. The place where God showed His greatest compassion and mercy…the place where He gave His Son to die in our stead so that we may have life renewed and redeemed…the foot of the Cross of Calvary. It is good that we begin in ashes for it is by ashes we were made and to ashes we will return. Wednesday’s ashes…God transformed into the beauty of the cross for me and for you.