An Ash Wednesday Homily

First preached 3/6/19 for Ash Wednesday services at West Linn Lutheran Church. This is an expanded outline of sermon, not complete. For recording of complete sermon, email me. 

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 Mother who is in secret; and your Mother 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 Parent who is in secret; and your Parent 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.

– Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Today I come at this text with two reminders stuck in my head:

  1. The first is a reminder a dear professor, Gordy. He taught my spiritual formation class and we would read this text weekly as our devotion and it served as a lens to whatever spiritual practice we were going to focus on that week.

  2. The second is the reminder of what happened last Ash Wednesday in Parkland Florida, where 17 precious, beloved children of God died in another school shooting.

On this day where we talk about and confront the reality of our mortality…we have this text about prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. On a day where we put a big black mark on our forehead for the whole world to see, we have Matthew telling us to do these things in secret…weird.

But what it boils down to is our intent…don’t do these things so that you may be SEEN by others.To just be seen, begs question of authenticity – In this social media age, do we post a picture of us with a cross on our forehead or at a rally for “likes” or do we do it because that is how we are truly living into God’s purpose for us?

Luther’s theology of creation. We are created by God to be in relationship with God and the primary way we meet God is through relationship with the other. Through unselfishly living for the glory of God meaning the glory of the other.

Almsgiving for the glory of God and your relationship with Her creation

Prayer for the glory of God and your relationship with Their creation

Fasting for the glory of God and your relationship with His creation

Lent about examining our motives for doing things, for realizing “Paisley, this isn’t about you. This is about God and bringing in God’s kindom”

My professor, Gordy taught us a Lakota term that has impacted my understanding of how the Spirit moves through me – and all creation – to bring in the kindom of God Mitakuye Oyasin which means “All are related.” This is how we learn to turn from a selfish purpose for action to a selfless purpose.

When we have this mindset that we are completely bound together,  we cannot help but turn outward and see that the Spirit calls our heart to be for the sake of the other. It is a recapitulation that understands that all our almsgiving, prayer, and fasting is not to boast of ourselves but to give glory to God and to the other.

The Holy Spirit binding us into communities of faith, centered around God is indeed the treasure that we are so freely given.

But the hard reality we face this day, is that treasures, even treasures of the Spirit, given on earth are subject to decay…

That day in Parkland, Florida the treasure of 17 families ended up in caskets because the ideological treasure of the second amendment placed in the hands of a man set on violence claimed the victory over the lives of children. Thieves do indeed steal our treasures.

On January 5th, a rare and aggressive lymphoma claimed the life of Gordy, a beloved teacher, pastor, father, and spouse. Moth and rust do indeed take our treasures away.

But, even facing this hard reality this day, we are reminded that our treasures, our relationships with others through the gift of the spirit, are stronger than the power of death. We are reminded in this cross of ash that we are claimed, forgiven, and redeemed. We are reminded that though death is relentless, we are bound by something greater that transcends this earthly realm. Gathered by the Spirit into the Communion of Saints, a community that cannot and will not ever be broken.

And that is why I receive these ashes this day every year. I need this reminder in this unpredictable and dangerous world.

So I ask you, beloved community, I ask you to ponder in your hearts before the music starts, why are you receiving these ashes today? What purpose do they hold for you? What change do you hope they will inspire in you this Lenten season and into the rest of your life?

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One thought on “An Ash Wednesday Homily

  1. I continue to think on your question since hearing it last evening. I don’t have a complete response; this is a difficult question. The best kind, in this context. Here are the words that came up and have sat with me since you asked it: “…sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

    Liked by 1 person

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