Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (New Revised Standard Version)
[Jesus said,] “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.
2“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. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5“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.6But 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.
16“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. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so 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.
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Book of Faith Devotional Questions:
- What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?
- What delights me in this text?
- What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?
- What is God up to in this text?
This text is the gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday. We hear it every year, and it was chosen as the text for this day because, I believe, it helps us to do two things: 1. commit to the traditional disciplines of Lent (giving alms, prayer, and fasting) and 2.examine our motivations. As I have been speaking to members of our parish so far this Lent, I have discovered that there hasn’t, in the past, been too much of an emphasis on the disciplines of Lent. Please let me take this opportunity, then, to say a bit more about them.
The purpose of the season of Lent is, in part, to prepare us for the feast of Easter. In the Bible we learn that the resurrection of Jesus at Easter could not occur without the self-sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday. Because this is God’s ultimate sacrifice for us, we commit, during Lent, to deepening our relationship with God in specific ways. We all already have a relationship with God in baptism. However, just like any important relationship in our lives, we only get out what we put into them. This doesn’t mean that God loves us any less if we don’t practice Lent, but I do believe that we miss the opportunity to know God better if we never practice.
Three disciplines that have been helpful over the years have included the giving of money to the poor, prayer, and refraining from certain foods or activities during Lent in order to help others or draw closer to God. You may already give money to the church, which in turn gives money to the poor through such organizations as Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Family Services, but Lent is a time to examine your budget and see if where you are giving your money is truly where you want your heart to be. My family and I will refrain from going out to eat a few times during Lent (this is actually fasting) so that we might be able to give more of our weekly budget to the causes supported by our Lenten meals and Lenten Wednesday offerings (almsgiving).
During Lenten Wednesdays, our theme will be “Jesus, teach us how to pray.” Our confirmation students have spent to whole fall and winter intentionally engaging in different prayer practices which have helped them to have a deeper prayer life, and they are looking forward to leading all of us forming a deeper relationship to God through prayer. We will also soon have a temporary prayer labyrinth set up in the basement of St. Peter for those who wish to deepen their prayer life through a bodily experience. Three devotional resources in print form are available at all three churches, and our parish website will also have several links to prayer practices that you can commit to trying out during Lent.
You might have noticed my intentional use of the words “discipline” and “practice.” We are not a perfect people, and we will not keep Lent perfectly. Please don’t use that as a reason to despair and give up. The purpose of Lent is not to show God what a perfect Christian you are, but to do the work of deepening in your relationship with him. Discipline yourself to trying something new; if you do it five times over the course of forty days, that’s five times more than last time! You may be trying something new with your prayer life this Lent. Consider it a practice, and give yourself the grace to know that it doesn’t have to be perfect for God to hear you and respond. Practice makes progress, right?
Wherever you find yourself, and wherever God is calling you this Lent, my prayer for you is that God will work in your life to deepen his relationship with you, beloved child of God.
Pastor Breen Marie Sipes
Tri-Saints Lutheran Parish
Byron and Hardy, Nebraska
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.