my miscellany

Ash Wednesday, 2023 — 22 Feb 23

Ash Wednesday, 2023

Moyers, Mike. Ash, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57140 [retrieved February 21, 2023]. Original source: Mike Moyers, https://www.mikemoyersfineart.com/.

RCL Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2 and 12-17, Psalm 103:8-14, II Corinthians 5:20b–6:10, Saint Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21

“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.”[1]

What Jesus has just said in the Gospel notwithstanding, I shall invite you directly after this sermon to practice your piety and to observe a holy Lent. Specifically, after that invitation, we shall bless ashes out in the open, set them on our foreheads for all the world to see, and march back to our places and be visible as we do so. And, so long as we do these things and the other things for a purpose other than to be seen by others, we are beginning a holy fast. Well and good; we are in line to be rewarded by our Father in heaven. We shall have begun a holy fast and a holy Lent.

The real work, however, will come later, and we best do the real work alone, in the privacy of our closet, in the secrecy of our study, and in the refuge of our bedroom. That real work is self-examination, when we search up and down our souls for the wrongs that we have done lest we forget and overlook them. That real work is repentance, when we express to God the true sorrow that we feel for the wrongs we cannot shake from our consciences. That real work is prayer, when we empty ourselves of our sins before God and ask to be refilled with God’s forgiveness. That real work is reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, when we face squarely the fact that God’s Word is God’s Word because it is not only true but true to the spiritual dna of every human being who has ever lived. And that most certainly includes each one of us. None of us is exempt from being human and frail.

Lent is the tried-and-true remedy, the antibiotic prescribed by God for the cure we need, the cure we must have to make any spiritual progress, and the cure that rids us of any desire to do our real work before others to be seen by them and replaces it with the desire to do our real work for the love of God alone.

I have preached this Gospel for almost as many years as the thirty-eight years the paralytic lay by Beth-zatha in Saint John’s Gospel. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”[2] I ask you the same question. If you want to be made well, take your ashes and go. And do the real work that every human being must do to be made well.

[1] Saint Matthew 6:1.

[2] Saint John 5:6.

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