Episcopal Church of Wise County
LENTEN DEVOTIONAL 2017
On Ash Wednesday, Fr. Tony offered the homily you can read below. It is a wonderful reminder of why we celebrate Lent, and might give you some ideas about how to refresh your relationship with God during Lent. I have re-read it, along with the Gospel reading. It has helped me feel more committed to my Lenten practice, and maybe it will encourage you, as well.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Ash Wednesday is all about reminding us of our mortality; it doesn’t exactly put us in an upbeat mood. When we start the season of Lent, there’s no pussyfooting around – we go straight to the grave.
Which makes the Gospel lesson from Matthew that we read each year an interesting choice, because Jesus was most definitely not being morose when he said the words that we just heard – and it’s difficult to pick up on that when you’re supposed to be acting penitent.
This evening’s Gospel text is from the Sermon on the Mount – it covers several chapters in Matthew – and I think that Jesus is really having some good-natured fun with the overly-pious church people of his day. Here come the alms-givers with trumpets announcing their arrival! There are the pray-ers, making sure that everyone knows that they know the right way to pray! Here are the fasters – boy, do they look hungry!
As much as I love the Episcopal church and our liturgy and ritual, this passage of scripture is squarely pointed at people of our ilk. It’s a reminder that it’s very easy to get so caught up in our ritual that we begin to confuse religion with God. And that’s when we start to lose our focus on what Lent is all about.
That being said, there is nothing inherently wrong with the pieties which Jesus spoke about; Jesus is simply reminding us how to practice them so that they don’t create a barrier in our relationship with God. We’re not to do these things to glorify ourselves or to impress others; rather, the intention is to draw closer to God by engaging in practices which remind us of our relationship with God and our responsibility to each other.
So how does that look as we embark on our Lenten practice? Well, some of these pieties we practice as a matter of course – take, for instance, almsgiving. Our Mission of the Month for March – donating to the 4 Saints Food Pantry – is a perfect example, and the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. But Almsgiving doesn’t only mean donation of money or goods; donations of time and talents are also appropriate. Giving alms, especially in person, gets us closer to the need. It exposes us to a side of life that we usually don’t see. Need becomes a reality rather than just a statistic. And our ability to feel compassion is fed.
The second piety which Jesus mentioned is prayer. Lent is an ideal time to work on our prayer life; it’s a time for introspection and self-assessment, both of which are excellent reasons to improve our communications with God. Prayer – at its heart, removes us from the busyness of our lives and forces us (hopefully) to stop and listen to God. But – we have to listen – it’s not supposed to be a monologue. When we listen, we can find ourselves better understanding the generosity of God, and share in God’s recognition of who we are.
The third piety on Jesus’s list in fasting. Self-denial – it’s always the go-to piety for Lent; even as little children, we asked each other what we were giving up for Lent. Self-denial brings home the realization or our total dependence on God. It reminds us that we are not in control and points us toward the One who is.
The three pieties that Jesus calls out in Matthew’s gospel aren’t just about self-denial. Practice of each opens opportunities for us to develop new avenues in our relationship with God and with each other.
And now, I invite you to the observance of a Holy Lent. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.