Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis' Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; Ash Wednesday, o1 March 2017
Year A RCL: Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Jesus says: Store up treasures in heaven, not on earth.
What a brief stewardship talk!
Look around at us about to get ashes on our foreheads. What are we thinking?
“I've got to go the store. Do I leave the ashes on?”
“Oh no! Will we take up an offering? I forgot my checkbook.”
“How long is worship going to take? I've got so much to do.”
We can have so much on our minds that we have too little time to do anything. We can have times that take forever, like watching the car heading at us for a head-on collision or sitting near a loved one's bed as they slowly die.
Lent reminds us to shift our perspectives.
Lent offers us time to focus on stewardship, to be good stewards of ourselves, our assets, our gifts & skills. Our scriptures today point us to the refreshment & the renewing Lent offers. This refreshment & renewing require change in what we do & why we do it.
In our scriptures we hear Isaiah & Jesus use many action verbs to show us the connection between WHAT we do & WHY we do it.
What we do & why matter to the individual, to the Body of Christ, & ultimately to the world.
Isaiah tells us what God's justice looks like. What does it look like in our context? What does it look like when we loose the bonds of injustice? When we help free the oppressed? When we share food with the hungry, provide housing & clothes for the poor?
It looks like St. Francis parishioners gathering supplies after Hurricane Matthew; working at the Soup Kitchen; collecting money for the refugee family we helped years ago, who now have health issues.
What about when we are the ones who need to have bonds of injustice loosed by family members? What about when we are oppressed, hungry, poor in spirit, hungry for time for ourselves, oppressed by our self-imposed demands?
Isaiah reminds us: We are to build relationships among people – with our brothers & sisters in the human family, God's family.
Jesus echoes Isaiah & tells us to practice our religion for the right reasons AND to be joyful in what we do.
Jesus' words make me ponder why we impose visible ashes today. His words make me ask: Where is my treasure? Where is my heart? What do I have to change? How long will change take?!
When we get lost as we drive somewhere [something most of you know I do easily!], it takes longer to get to our destination. I can't count how many times I've had to turn around & get back on track. Even using GPS, I can get lost like after Hurricane Matthew when it wanted me to take a route where a bridge was out. Humans [who appeared in answer to my prayer for help in the restaurant parking lot I pulled into] told me where to turn around to get on the right road.
Lent offers us a fresh opportunity to turn around, to change what needs changing, to give up something & to take on something to get on the right road.
Remember: When Jesus sends the disciples out, they have to leave some things behind & take some things with them. As Jesus' disciples, we must keep what we need to do the work God calls us to do. We must give up what gets in the way of our ministry.
Taking on something & giving up something we hold dear is hard. How long did that New Year's Resolution last? We know from experience it takes at least 21 days for a new routine to become a habit.
We are blessed! Lent gives us 40 days to take on & to give up. This can seem so long. I encourage you: Be patient with yourself as you walk into a new reality during Lent.
How you use your time is part of stewardship. Stewardship is part of all aspects of our lives: our money AND time AND how we use our other gifts & skills.
Writer C.S. Lewis says our self-discipline's reward can be “self-mastery...[and] its danger [is] pride.1
Writer Henri Nouwen speaks to this, saying: “God's mercy is greater than our sins.”2 He warns: “There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self-preoccupation.”
We need balance.
He says: “Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins & failings & so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says: 'I am too sinful to deserve God's mercy.' It is the guilt that has become an idol...a form of pride. Lent is the time to break down this idol & to direct our attention to our loving Lord.”3
Lent is a time to consider God's perspective. As you travel this Lent in your disciplines, guided by the Holy Spirit, remember the difference between human perspective & God's perspective. For example: Think how God views time.
We read in Plato & a Platypus Walk into a Bar:4
A man prays & asks God if he can ask a question. God says: “No Problem. Go ahead.”
The man asks: “Lord, is it true that to you a million years is but a second?”
“Yes, that's true.”
He asks: “Well, what's a million dollars to you?”
God says: “A million dollars to me is but a penny.”
“Ah,” the man says. “Lord, may I have a penny?”
God says: “Sure! . . . . . . Just a second.”
I pray each of you has a positive Lenten experience.
I hope not one of us is giving up joy & laughter!
Embrace what Lent offers us:
a new opportunity to grow in grace.
Ashes to Go. http://ashestogo.org/about/. Accessed 5 March 2014.
A Clean Heart Create in Me: Daily Lenten Reflections from C.S. Lewis. Ed.: Mark Neilsen. Creative Communications for the Parish. 2003.
Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar....Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. New York: Penguin Books. 2007.
Christ Our Hope: Daily Lenten Devotions of Henri J. Nouwen. Ed:: Paul Pennick. Creative Communications for the Parish. www.creativecommunications.com.
Douglas-Klotz, Neil. Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meaning of Jesus's Words. New York: Harper One. 1994.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Words of Our Worshop: A Liturgical Dictionary. Compiled by: Charles Mortimet Guilbert. New York: The Church Hymnal Corp. 1988.
1 A Clean Heart Create in Me: Daily Lenten Reflections from C.S. Lewis. Ed.: Mark Neilsen. P. 4.
2 Christ Our Hope: Daily Lenten Devotions of Henri Nouwen. Ed.: Paul Pennick. P. 3.
4 Cathcart, Thomas. Daniel Klein. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar. P. 173.