A Noon Day Ash Wednesday Meditation

“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.

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

My sermon from Ash Wednesday Noon Day Worship (February 14, 2018) on Matthew 6:1-6,16-21. No audio recording. Read my manuscript below.

David Bryne, former lead frontman of the pop band The Talking Heads, has a pretty neat theory about how music works. He thinks that the music we created, from African drum beats to Gregorian chant to Rock and Roll, was determined by the space it was performed in. So if you’re outside, far from the walls of buildings, the complex rattle and rumble of drums reverberates freely; and it grows in beauty the farther the sound travels. Much of the hymns, chants, and music we sing in church was designed for a specific kind of place. Cathedrals in Europe, with their large ceilings, needed the right kind of sound filled with long notes to fill the space but it couldn’t sound messy. Even the contemporary music we sing on Sundays at our 9 am service is designed to be played in a concert venue or a large auditorium where the stage is the most prominent feature. I haven’t spent much time with David Bryne’s theory but it feels, to use a phrase that contradicts his 1984 concert film, it feels like it actually makes sense. And I think this because I experience these same thoughts when I’m preparing to preach. The space I preach in plays a role in what I actually preach. And the space matters so much that when I began to setup this chapel for worship this morning, I realized the sermon I planned to preach wouldn’t work. This space isn’t designed to be a place where I stand up front and talk at you for 12 minutes. This is a space filled with movable furniture, bright lights, and wonderful colors. It’s an intimate environment that, I think, invites us to worship in a slightly different way. And so, I’m going to invite us to do just that. But instead of music or a loud sound to start us off, we’re going to start with silence.

If you are able, I’d like you to make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor. Then, put your hands on your lap or on your knees in a position that is comfortable but won’t make you fall asleep. Sit up straight, if you can, and in such a way that you are noticing exactly where your body connects with the chair. And once you’re set – close your eyes. And, for a moment, we’ll sit in silence.

(A brief silence).

Now I’d like you to pay attention to your breathing. Notice the breath as it goes out and comes in. And if this silence feels a tad awkward, and random thoughts keep entering into your brain – that’s okay. Notice them. Pay attention to the fact that they are there. But don’t dwell on them. Watch the thought come in…and then out while you focus on your breath.

(A brief silence)

And now I want you to hear something honest and true – something we will share together very shortly.

Remember that you are dust –

And to dust you shall return.

(A brief silence)

And since you are dust – you are mortal – know that you were created by a God who cares that you exist, by a God who knows you, and by a God who loves you right now.

(A brief silence)

And in those moments when you feel alone, know that Jesus is there. And in the moments when you do not know where to go, know that Jesus is there. And in the moments when life is difficult, I promise that Jesus is there.

(A brief silence)

And I’d like to end with something our presiding bishop wrote for today:

“The history of salvation is one extended love story between God and God’s creation, between God and humankind, between God and God’s people. We were created in love for love. Real love. Love that is solid and deep and unflinching. Love that is true enough to be honest….

God’s work of reconciliation in Christ is God’s eyes-wide-open acknowledgement of human rebellion and sin, the undeniable fact that all is not well no matter how hard we try to fix it or deny it. The remedy was the all-in, complete love of the incarnation, crucifixion and death of Christ. Jesus meets us right in the middle of our pain – the pain we feel and the pain we cause others – and without minimizing the depth of our offense, offers forgiveness and new life…”

So on this Ash/Valentine’s Day, know that “Ash Wednesday is [your] valentine from God, one that invites us to enter deep into the mystery of true love, honest examination of our lives and the possibility of real repentance. The Ash Wednesday valentine starts us on the journey to the cross, to the passionate love of God shown in the Passion of Christ. And after the cross, the resurrection.”

(A brief silence)

You may open your eyes.

Jesus Christ is all-in with you.