Ash Wednesday Matthew 6:16, 16-21 March 2, 2022

Tonight, we enter a sacred journey.  It is the journey of Lent.  It is a time of honest self-appraisal, and soul searching to discover who we really are, and the person God is calling us to be.  To enter that journey, we will need to be willing to allow God to lead us through our own Good Friday so that the new person in Christ might be born on Easter.

To help us enter that journey ashes were affixed to our foreheads in the sign of the cross with the very difficult words; “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.”  Every one of us will one day physically die and go through all sorts of pain and suffering before we get there.

But there is a second word each one of us will hear when we come forward for communion.  The ashes will be washed off our foreheads and we will be told: “Remember you are baptized.”

Every Christian needs to be reminded of this reality from time to time.  Yes, you will suffer and die, but you also have an eternal relationship with God that will never die.

Lent is an opportunity to do just that, Die and rise in the Lord.

Our gospel lesson for this evening provides some guidance on things we might do as we take this sacred journey.

First, whatever you do, it needs to be something between you and the Lord.  An important part of Lent is to give sacrificially to something beyond your normal giving.  One great place to possiby do this giving this year could be Lutheran World Relief, earmarking our offering for refugee resettlement of the people fleeing the War in Ukraine.

But it terribly important how you do it.  The scripture advises to not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Secondly, it is a great season to deepen your prayer life.  There are some great aids.  This church offers daily devotional guides.  Take one home and make certain to use it every day.  Another way to pray is called contemplative prayer.  You pick a time of silence every day.  Start out with being totally silent for 5 minutes in a place where you will not be distracted.  The goal is to gradually increase the time of total silence to at least 20 minutes.  The most difficult part of this for me is to shut off my brain.  I am always thinking and planning.  A part of that planning is asking myself what would the scripture and the Lord want me to preach at the next worship service?  I like to do grocery shopping.  I find myself making a mental note of what do we need to buy this week.  I spend a lot of time asking myself, “Who in the congregation do I need to contact, and what should I say?”  The list goes on and on.  But contemplative prayer is a time where I shut down my thoughts and listen.  I start with listening to the sounds around me.  As the weather gets warmer, I plan to sit on my front porch and listen to the sounds of the season.

It helps to keep your eyes shut.  If a thought comes to your mind gently ask yourself if that is God speaking or the imagining of our heart.

I find reading devotionals on the internet by Richard Rohr, or in honor of Henri Nouwen. But the more time I can just shut me down and listen, the better.

The warning in the text reminds me not to get too flowery when offering petitions in prayer.  The focus needs to be getting in touch with God and God’s will.

Fasting is a great discipline of Lent.  There is a pastor I know who loves Snickers bars.  So, during Lent he does not eat any chocolate at all.

There are those who pick a day to eat nothing until the evening, and then only what they absolutely need.  And when they feel hunger pangs, they remember Christ’s suffering.  Since anorexia, and bulimia are eating disorders perhaps it would be wise to consult with your family physician before entering a fast.

Those who do this as spiritual discipline report they feel their body has been cleansed of all toxins while eating no food but making certain they get enough water.

But it is terribly important to do your fasting in secret not boasting about it in the hopes of impressing someone.

The hope of Lent is we more deeply realize everything we have is a gift of God.  No matter how hard we try to do it on our own efforts.  It is God who supplies our daily bread.  It takes seed, fertile ground, an appropriate mix of sunshine, heat, and water that causes food to grow.

Treasure spending time growing in the Lord as a disciple of Jesus during Lent, and you will never regret the time you spent.

Another discipline that had helped my spiritual life is to take a book of scripture to read during this season.  Read no more than a chapter a day and then reflect on it as a love letter to you from God.  I have been amazed how much this has helped me grow spiritually and better see where each passage of a book of the Bible fits into the total message of God.

Let’s reflect on this verse. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.”

The scripture is not saying pay no attention to the future.  We need to live responsibly saving for the day we retire.  But the things we spoke of this evening cannot be taken away.  An attitude of giving, praying, and disciplining our appetites are gifts that cannot be taken away, but are treasures that will lead you closer to the Lord and eternity.

Tonight, the sacred journey has begun.  Let us now prepare to celebrate our baptism and to receive the Holy Meal.  Amen.