Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Sweetness of Life

Ash Wednesday, 2016
Matthew 6:16, 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. 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. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so 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.6But 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. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so 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 consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What really counts in life? What’s important?
In this last week, several people in our community have been ill, some of them to the point of being in the hospital. Some have been in poor health for a while, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. But I didn’t expect Will’s four-year-old niece Violet to be in the ICU this week. All this news of people being in the hospital has reminded me that human life is fragile and so, so precious.
Reminders of human mortality somehow teach us the sweetness of life here and now. It reorders our priorities. That’s something most of us realize after we’ve been with a loved one in the hospital or after a car accident. We see the world with new eyes, we give thanks for small blessings of which we are freshly aware, like the feeling of being able to take a shower after being sick in bed for days, or the smell of fresh air after being cooped up, or the gratitude you feel after surviving a car accident. Those experiences change us and inspire us to live better, to be more grateful, to treat one another better, to say I love you more often.
In a little while, I’ll invite you to receive the ashes that give this day its name: Ash Wednesday. As I put the ashes on your forehead, you will hear these words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is a sobering reminder of our mortality- we are all dust, and to dust we shall return.
These words call us to be more mindful of how we are living our lives. Are we living kindly and generously, in the way that God calls us? Have we attended to our spiritual life, how is our relationship with God? Are we distracted or numb or too busy, when God invites us to slow down, have a chat, and take the time to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of those around us?
For Christians, the six week season of Lent invites us to remember that human life is short and fragile and precious. Lenten disciplines call us to re-order our days so that at the top, we spend time in sharing what God has entrusted to us through almsgiving, listening for God through prayer, and in fasting, which calls our attention to our hunger for God. Whatever kindness you can give, whatever gentle words you can speak, whatever wrong you can put right- that is what God asks of us in Lent. God asks this, not because we need to earn God’s love, for that is already ours in Jesus, but because God looks at us and sees how precious we are. May we begin now to live the full and abundant life that God longs for us to live.

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