February 26 – Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2,12-17 OR Isaiah 58:1-12 | 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 |Psalm 103 OR Psalm 103:8-14
6 “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. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so 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. 6 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.
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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[g] consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust[h] consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.(Mat 6.1-61;16-21)
On Ash Wednesday we are confronted with clear instructions from Jesus about fasting, giving and prayer. The key word, “whenever” reveals Jesus expects these three spiritual practices to undergird our lives of faith. Lent is a time, then, to return to the essentials of the Christian life. It is comforting that he makes these things so very clear in his teaching. How often do we try to complicate our spiritual lives, taking on more and more in order to find some kind of new means to find the peace that only God can bring in Jesus Christ?
What do these practices accomplish? “By themselves, the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing,” says Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline. Foster tells us that disciplines such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving simply, “get us to a place where something can be done.” In the holy space of intimate prayer, our hearts are opened to God’s love. In humble and generous giving, we step into the very nature of God which is self-giving love. In the quiet and intentional sacrifice of fasting, we let go of our grasping at things other than God to comfort us and we are united to Jesus in his once and for all sacrifice. Grace abounds as we seek God for no other reason but to be with God.
We are offered during this holy time to engage in the simple and humble acts of prayer, giving and fasting. These disciplines are certainly not means of earning a reward from the Father, but rather put us in the position to receive the reward of God’s transforming presence that has been offered all along. When we let go of the need to please others or to distract ourselves from whatever it is that burdens us, the ever-offered reward of God’s very life, given to us is the death and resurrection of Jesus, is awaiting us. It is pure gift.
February 27 – Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Psalm 1 | Deuteronomy 30:15-20
The Collect of the Day
Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
One of the great gifts of Jesus for his followers is his life as a human. Jesus came and dwelled among us. He ate with friends, worked alongside women and children, listened to foreigners. He experienced all the joy and pain of an earthly life and death. Jesus understands intimately the beauty and challenges of humanity. Fundamental to the human condition is choice. You and I choose each day, each moment, how to live, who to follow, where to go.
Today’s readings and collect remind us that as we travel this 40-day Lenten path, each day we choose. Each day we begin anew our work building the Kingdom. Each day we choose who we will glorify. Each day we choose how we will shine God’s love in the world. Each day we choose to take up the cross.
The gift and beauty of this daily walk is that through our Baptism into new life in Christ, we can begin new each day. Jesus longs for us to choose a pathway forward into life. Each day we begin again and with the help of the powerful Spirit of God, we can glorify Jesus through our life and work.
Lord, where will you have me go today?
Lord, what will you have me do today?
Lord, who will you have me love today?
February 28 – Friday after Ash Wednesday
Matthew 9:10-17 | Psalm 51:1-10
And as he sat at table in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ Matthew 9:10-13
A childhood friend was born with a disabling birth defect, and throughout her childhood, she underwent many surgeries. We lived in a rural area, and to see the specialists she needed, she had to travel to the city. Sometimes I went with her. That would mean a day of going to the doctor’s office and then perhaps a bit of shopping for things our small town could not offer. We usually went to a restaurant which was a special treat. Because her physical appearance was different from those around her, strangers would tend to stare at her. She would smile and say hello as a response. Being different was what she was used to in her life, but rather than withdrawing from people or feeling hurt, she always had a smile and greeting for everyone.
Most of us, at some time or other, can probably understand the feeling of being different: alone at lunchtime in a restaurant or school cafeteria; traveling to an unfamiliar city; not being selected for a sports team or an acting role in the school play; left out when friends went somewhere without inviting you. Being different can cause pain. When Bishop Lloyd Allen spoke a few weeks ago, he reminded us that although Jesus was Jewish, he welcomed gentiles—those who were different and outside of his community. In these verses from Matthew, Jesus is sitting with those with whom others do not wish to sit. They are different; alone; perhaps shunned. Jesus chooses to sit with them. Jesus loves every one of them.
During Lent, we sometimes chose disciplines that cause us to omit certain activities or foods. Instead of denying yourself of certain things, open your heart to something new. How about choosing to be with those who are “different:” look into their eyes and give a smile, a hand shake or hug, a greeting, or how about patting the seat next to you and inviting that person or group to sit with you? You are being “merciful” and not “sacrificing” as Jesus says he desires. And maybe you just might find a new friend – a friend in Christ – a forever friend like mine was to me.
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. Isaiah 58:8-9
“Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, where you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”
Thanks be to God.
February 29 – Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Luke 5:27-32 | Psalm 86:1-11
Isaiah 58:9b-14; Luke 5:27-32
The first reading from Isaiah is part of the prophet’s larger reprimand of the people of Zion for their sin and hypocricy. However, these particular six verses are positively focused on the opportunity we all have to turn away from our earthly sins and focus on God. I know that every day I fall to earthly desires and my human flaws. I am critical of how others behave, I desire to have new material things and I am quick to let pride get in the way of my love for others. Despite this fundamental weakness inside of me, I have always found, particularly as I’ve gotten older, that when I can put God first in my life and really focus on loving and helping others, my spiritual health is renewed and I am much happier.
Isaiah is speaking to this as he talks about the renewal that God offers each of us if we turn our lives towards His light. I am certain that tomorrow I will sin again and I will find myself believing that I deserve the gifts I have been given, but I remain hopeful that God is patient and I can always turn back to Him.
This offer of renewal is manifested in Jesus, and in the Gospel reading from Luke, we have the well-known story of Jesus eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners”. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that He has been sent to call “not the righteous but sinners to repentance”. Jesus’ actions and teachings remind all of us that although we are sinners and would be perfectly in place at that table of tax collectors, He has come to save us all.
We are all so blessed by this gift of forgiveness and renewal, and I look forward to the opportunity every day to live my life for God.