Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (NRSV)
"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 your 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.
Today begins our Lenten Journey. As you may know the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days, not to include Sundays.
The forty days of Lent remind us of Moses’ forty days and forty nights up on the mountain of God as he awaited the gift of the Ten Commandments. It also reminds us of the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness at the inception of his earthly ministry.
Lent is a time for confessing our sins, renewing or making baptismal vows, and practicing the spiritual disciplines of daily prayer and bible reading, weekly worship, service toward the least of these, care for our personal relationships, and the faithful giving of our tithes and offerings.
Whilst Lent is a very solemn time for Christians, it can also be a joyful one.
I try really hard to distinguish between happiness and joy. For me, happiness is contingent upon our circumstances. I am certainly not happy about my sin. I am certainly not happy that Jesus had to make the painful journey to the cross and I am certainly not happy that Jesus’ death was so painful. The Lenten themes deprive me of a feeling of happiness and they should.
But, Lent does not steal our joy. Joy is not contingent upon our circumstances. Joy is a condition of the soul. Joy is the birthright of every Christian. And joy is a gift that God gives and the world can’t take away.
I am not happy about my sin, but I am so joyful about the free gift of our salvation.
During the Lenten Season here at Atonement, we will be studying the Bible, as well as the book entitled, The Disciples’ Joy by Michael Foss.
In this book we will discover that God is the author of our uniqueness and takes joy in us, just the way we are. We will take delight in learning to live beyond ourselves in love. We will find excitement as we commit to living into our God given passions and purposes. We will renew our spiritual zeal as we practice Christian spiritual disciplines. And, finally, we will uncover life’s greatest lesson which will set us free to fully live in love and joy.
As a church family, we will undertake this Lenten Journey to Easter, together.
We will worship together. We will pray together. We will study together. And ultimately, we will go the way of the cross together, as we follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death, where we will fear no evil, for our God will be with us, wherever we go.
As we journey, we are made increasingly aware of our sin. We recognize that sin and death are smeared upon us, just as ash has been smeared upon our brows.
As we cry out to God, “"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions," we trust our loving God to create in us clean hearts, allowing the smears of sin to be washed clean through the love of Christ.
This is a most amazing journey…It is one we undertake with great humility. It is one for which we seek no fame, fortune, or accolades.
Jesus invites us to travel in humility. Perhaps this is why the Gospel lesson is so powerful. It is a reminder to allow all reward to come from God, and no one else.
See, in Jesus’ day people wanted the praise and adulation of the crowds. If they prayed, they prayed loudly and publicly with big words, seeking big attention. When they fasted, they screwed up their faces and wore trashy clothes so that people would declare them pious. And when they gave money in the temple, they announced the good that they were doing and sought a pat on the back from others.
In 2011, most of us would never think of doing such a thing, but we do have to admit that the spirit of pride still has a way of rising up in us, if we are not careful.
Lent is about finding joy in Jesus and no one else. It is about finding joy in doing God’s work with our hands, whether anyone notices or thanks us at all. It is about slowing down and finding joy by returning to the simplicity of our spiritual disciplines and remembering to invest only in that which is eternal.
Earlier in our service, we placed ashes upon our brows as a sign of repentance for our sin. But, I am so glad that the ashes don’t get the last word. Although we come on this day with ashy hearts, we are ever grateful for the call to “Return to the LORD, our God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…”
The good news is that despite our sinfulness, God still loves us! God still delights in us! And God still cares for us…
This truth is the reason that we can boldly come to the Lord’s Supper in a few minutes. Holy Communion is a constant reminder that although we sin and fall short of the glory of God, God still loves us, and gave Jesus to die on the cross to make atonement for our sin and gift us with eternal life.
Although we put our “Alleluia’s” away during Lenten Season, each Sunday we will continue to joyfully lift up our voices in praise of our God who loves us so much.
Let us begin our Lenten Journey to Easter, determined to find joy with the help of God.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @ http://bit.ly/JVhaLta
As early as the mid-fourth century, Christians have observed a time of preparation before the Easter celebration. The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days (not counting Sundays). The forty days of Lent recall the 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:1-2) and Moses' 40 day fast on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). It is a time of simplicity and preparation.
- Baptismal renewal
- Preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil
- Prayer, fasting, and service
- Confession of sin rooted in the promise of God that comes through the cross of Christ
Color of the Season
- Purple, suggesting somberness and solemnity.
*Taken from http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Planning/Lent.aspx
Christians often renew their commitment to our Spiritual Disciplines during the season of Lent. Below you will find a helpful acronym to hep you remember these disciplines:
PRAYER: Daily Prayer (and Fasting)
WORSHIP: Weekly Worship
READING: Daily Bible Reading
SERVICE: Serving in and beyond the congregation
RELATIONSHIPS: Nurturing Relationships
GIVING: Giving a Tithe and Beyond
*Taken from Real Faith for Real Life: Living the Six Marks of Discipleship by Michael W. Foss. Available from Amazon.com at http://amzn.to/iiCyKQ