- Forms | Resources
- About Us
- Give / Donate
Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
March 02 2022
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21Worship Service Video Worship Bulletin Sermon Video Sermon Audio Sermon Text
Grace to you and peace from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you’re someone who makes New Year’s resolutions, Ash Wednesday sometimes acts as a reset of sorts. Because it’s the day that people typically look at the calendar and say, “Oh yeah – I did say that I would or wouldn’t do that…” Usually when we forget about those intentions, it’s less about not wanting to do them and more about losing track of why they were important to us to begin with.
As Christians, we know that the same thing can happen in our faith practices. We know that we ought to begin and end each day in prayer, and love our neighbor, and work on getting along with someone who disagrees with us, and take a step back and talk to God – and then listen – when things get overwhelming.
But we get caught up in our daily lives and it’s easy to lose track of why all that matters. When that happens with our faith practices, instead of losing sight of a New Year’s resolution, we end up losing sight of the things that are important to our relationship with God – and if we aren’t careful, we can end up turning away from God.
And we certainly aren’t the first people in history to face this dilemma. The Bible is filled with stories of God’s people turning away from God, and then back toward God throughout their lives. We hear the calls to return to God echoed in the prophets, and spoken anew in Jesus.
But in those calls, there are also notes of caution. There are calls to pay attention to why we do what we do, and to make sure that we aren’t going through the motions or doing it just for show. To make sure that when we turn toward God it’s because of what’s going on in our heart.
In the section of the Sermon on the Mount that we read today, Jesus is instructing people on their spiritual practices – how to approach them and how to live them. Because the intent is even more important than the actions themselves. Why those things are done, matters.
And to illustrate, Jesus contrasts giving publicly in a way that calls attention to the act with giving anonymously without fanfare. He does the same thing with praying publicly as a performance versus praying quietly in God’s presence. And if someone chooses to fast, Jesus says to simply do it without whining or complaining about it.
In other words, for Jesus, it was vitally important that people’s spiritual practices come from the heart. Because, ultimately, it’s a reflection of what’s going on in the heart as it relates to our relationship with God.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve each had to reshape our spiritual practices because of the pandemic. We’ve had to learn how to nourish our spirituality on our own or in smaller groups or even in different ways altogether. And it has forced us to wrestle with the question of why we do what we do, and also – what does it mean, and what does it look like, to authentically practice our spirituality.
For some, our spiritual practices have been fine-tuned and a lot of what we might think of now as “extra stuff” has gone by the wayside as we’ve discovered what truly matters for us. For others, we’ve taken on new practices. We’ve learned to ask different questions, such as “what do we need from one another to make these practices authentic or meaningful?”
And now, as we are transitioning out of the pandemic and returning to more public worship, we’re able to consider what we’ve done in the past and hold it up against what we’re currently doing, and ask we might do as we keep moving forward.
But our relationship with God is at the center of it all. That’s what we’re called back to on this day and during this season. That’s what Jesus calls us back to every day.
When we allow our relationship with God to be at the center of our lives – and whether we like it or not, it is our choice – but when we allow our relationship with God to be at the center of our lives, we come to understand the importance of our spiritual practices. It frees us up to wrestle with the question of why we do what we do.
Do we live out our faith, in order to gain notoriety, power, and influence? Do we do it just because we’re supposed to? Or do we live out our faith from the heart? Do we live out our faith because of the reward that comes with being in God’s presence, regardless of what other people might think?
I admit, I’ve struggled with the Ash Wednesday readings – all of them – because of their emphasis on authentically living into our relationship with God. Doing from the heart what God asks of us without calling attention to ourselves. And then walking out of church with a big, smudgy cross on my forehead for all the world to see.
But that cross reminds us not only of who we are, but who God is – and why our faith practices matter. And whether you receive ashes today or not, we bear that cross every day because it’s the one we received in our baptism. It’s a tangible reminder of who God calls us to be.
It reminds us of the promises we’ve made to God and, more importantly, the promises God has made to us. That God loves us so much that God wants to be in relationship with our whole heart, our whole selves.
That’s our “why.” It’s what we’re called back to on this day and during this season. It’s what Jesus calls us back to every day. Thanks be to God! Amen.