ashes to ashes marked with the sign of the cross brokenness and grace Sermon

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1 TO BE SEEN BY GOD Ash Wednesday March 9, 2011 This Sundayʼs Lessons Joel 2:1-2, 12- or Isaiah 58:1-12 Psalm 51:1- (1) or Psalm 103: Corinthians 5:20b 6:10 St. Matthew 6:1-6, Pastor David J. Risendal facebook Dave Risendal Twitter: drisendal Saint Peter Lutheran Church 9300 East Belleview Avenue Greenwood Village, Colorado voice: 303/ fax: 303/ facebook Saint Peter Lutheran Prayer of the Day Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. ashes to ashes marked with the sign of the cross brokenness and grace Sermon Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Well here it is: Ash Wednesday again; the beginning of our forty-day march, through the season of Lent, and towards the celebration of the resurrection. It is in some ways a dark and dangerous journey. It is a time when we discipline ourselves to look within, and take stock of our need for God s grace. That s not an easy thing to do, and so we don t dare do it alone. We gather here on Sundays and Wednesday to encourage one another, and to provide company for the journey. This year, we are also asking you to find a faith partner to walk these forty days with you. Out in the narthex you ll find a gift (some of you may have already picked one up): it is a Lenten devotional booklet, written by forty members and friends of Saint Peter. I hope you ll spend some time with it this season. There are some very helpful suggestions in that book, and as you read through it this season, remember those who took time to write these daily meditations: it will remind you that even when you are by yourself, you are not alone. We walk this journey as a community of faith, because we know that all of us need the grace of God that ultimately is the hope of our journey.

2 Ash Wednesday; Year A (March 9, 2011)! 2 The journey begins, of course, with this awkward day we call Ash Wednesday. It takes its name from the central liturgical action of the day. Shortly, we will invite you to come forward and receive the sign of the cross on your forehead. At baptism, we mark the baptized with a virtually invisible cross, made with just a trace of olive oil. But on Ash Wednesday, as we remember our baptism, we receive a thick, dark, crumbling cross made of ashes; ashes that come from the burned remains of last year s Palm Sunday processional palms. Ashes that ring home the words you ll hear as we administer them: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. For some of us, simply receiving these ashes is a bit awkward. We re not quite sure what to do with them. Do we leave them on all day, if we ve received them in the morning? Do we wash them off as soon as we get home in the evening? Or do we leave that task until we are ready to retire for the night. We have a hard time remembering not to scratch our foreheads. We are occasionally startled by seeing other who have been marked in the same way. I have to tell you a funny story: I attended a Pastor s conference in January, and the focus of the conference was Ash Wednesday and Holy Week liturgies. On the first day, morning prayer was actually the Ash Wednesday service, and we were all marked with ashes. That afternoon, we had some free time, so I ran over to the shop of a local craftsman who makes beautiful banjos. His daughter was giving me a tour of the facility, when she finally, awkwardly, said, There s some grease on your forehead. Once I explained it to her she was even more embarrassed, since she had grown up Catholic, and thought she should have realized that. But, of course, nobody is expecting that in the middle of January. There is a deeper awkwardness about this day, though, than simply dealing with a smudge on our foreheads, and it has to do with today s Gospel lesson; a lesson that begins with these strong words: 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. (6:1) The Greek is even stronger. I d translate it: Pay attention, so that you do not practice your righteousness in the presence of others, so that they might see you. Jesus seems to be very clear in saying that if we are going to be involved in righteousness, it should not be so that other will see us. It reminds me of the story of Mr. Simpson and Widow Jacobs: A man moved into a small town and bought a little house across the street from the railroad tracks. Every morning he noticed an elderly woman walking along the tracks picking up something and putting it into a bag that she carried. The man got curious about this woman and so he went to the corner grocery story that had been there forever and asked the owner about this lady. "Oh, that's the widow Jacobs. Every day she comes half way across town to pick up the coal that is spilled on the tracks when the early morning train runs through town." The new resident said, "But there hasn't been a steam locomotive using coal on these tracks for years." "That's right," said the store owner. "When the steam train stopped running, old Mr. Simpson who runs the hardware store was concerned that the Widow Jacobs would no longer have coal to heat and cook with. He knew she was too proud to take charity, so he decided to get up early every morning, take a bag of coal and drop it along the tracks. The Widow Jacobs still thinks the steam train runs by here once a day. I think Old Mr. Simpson has been doing that for about 5 years now. 1 Jesus would be pleased with the way Old Mr. Simpson practices his righteousness, wouldn t he? He wasn t doing it to impress others. I d guess that in time, most of the residents of that town had completely forgotten about his pre-dawn ritual, if they had ever known about it at all. Yet it was a way that he could quietly and faithfully go about the business he felt God was calling him to do. That is what leads us to the most awkward aspect of this day. Old Mr. Simpson may have practiced his righteousness under the cover of early morning darkness. But we ll leave this room today with a great, gaudy black smudge on our foreheads that says, Look at me. I went to church today. We will leave this place, visibly marked with the cross of Christ, for everyone to see us. Now you might 1 Pastor Ed Markquart, Don t Show Off Your Faith.

3 Ash Wednesday; Year A (March 9, 2011)! 3 conclude that what we are doing runs directly counter to what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, except that just one chapter earlier, he says exactly the opposite. It is a familiar passage because we quote it every time we celebrate baptism here at Saint Peter. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says,...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. So what are we to do? Are we to refrain from practicing our righteousness so that others might see it? Or are we to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works? The interesting thing is, neither of these passages is about what we do. They are about why we do what we do. They are about who the intended audience is. In the New Testament, seeing is a very important concept. What we see is important. And what is seen about us is important. Why is that so important? Professor David Lose of Luther Seminary, in a reflection he recently wrote about this passage, suggests that, to be seen is not simply to be noticed, but to matter, to count, to have one's sense of self validated in the eyes of another. 2 What Jesus teaches in today s Gospel lesson is that if we worry about how other people see us, then the greatest reward we can ever hope to receive is their admiration. But if we focus, instead, on how God sees us; if we base our sense of self on this One who is less interested, frankly, in the actions we take, and more interested in the character of our hearts; if that is most important to us, then the reward we receive will be a living and growing relationship with this One, who knows the secret thoughts of our hearts, but who, at the same time, loves us enough even to die for us. The key to this passage, really, is Jesus final advice for us in today s Bible passage: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. We enter into the disciplines of Lent, including the act of having ashes smudged on our foreheads, in order to focus on the greatest, most enduring treasure we will ever be given: a relationship with this God who knows us, who loves us, who forgives us, and who has given us promises that will outlast even our own deaths. So we receive these ashes today, and we bear them as a sign of our brokenness and sinfulness. We do so, not in order to impress our neighbors or one another. We do so, in order to remind ourselves of how important it is to acknowledge our need, receive God s grace, and invest ourselves in the one relationship that is most important to us: the relationship we have with God. May that be what matters most to us today. May this season draw us even more deeply into that promise. Amen. David J. Risendal, Pastor Gospel Lesson; English Text: 3 [Jesus said,] 6.1 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. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so 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. 6 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. 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. 2 David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, Commentary on the Gospel; Ash Wednesday (3/9/2011). 3 A list of Bible lessons for the coming weeks is available at

4 Ash Wednesday; Year A (March 9, 2011)! 4 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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. 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 4 Greek Text: 6.1 Προσέχετε [δὲ] τὴν δικαιοσύνην ὑµω ν µὴ ποιει ν ἔµπροσθεν τω ν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τὸ θεαθη ναι αὐτοι ς εἰ δὲ µή γε, µισθὸν οὐκ ἔχετε παρὰ τῳ πατρὶ ὑµω ν τῳ ἐν τοι ς οὐρανοι ς. 2 Ό ταν οὐ ν ποιῃ ς ἐλεηµοσύνην, µὴ σαλπίσῃς ἔµπροσθεν σου, ὥσπερ οἱ ὑποκριταὶ ποιου σιν ἐν ται ς συναγωγαι ς καὶ ἐν ται ς ῥύµαις, ὅπως δοξασθω σιν ὑπὸ τω ν ἀνθρώπων ἀµὴν λέγω ὑµι ν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν µισθὸν αὐτω ν. 3 σου δὲ ποιου ντος ἐλεηµοσύνην µὴ γνώτω ἡ ἀριστερά σου τί ποιει ἡ δεξιά σου, 4 ὅπως ᾐ σου ἡ ἐλεηµοσύνη ἐν τῳ κρυπτῳ καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῳ κρυπτῳ ἀποδώσει σοι. 5 Καὶ ὅταν προσεύχησθε, οὐκ ἔσεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταί, ὅτι φιλου σιν ἐν ται ς συναγωγαι ς καὶ ἐν ται ς γωνίαις τω ν πλατειω ν ἑστω τες προσεύχεσθαι, ὅπως φανω σιν τοι ς ἀνθρώποις ἀµὴν λέγω ὑµι ν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν µισθὸν αὐτω ν. 6 σὺ δὲ ὅταν προσεύχῃ, εἴσελθε εἰς τὸ ταµει ον σου καὶ κλείσας τὴν θύραν σου πρόσευξαι τῳ πατρί σου τῳ ἐν τῳ κρυπτῳ καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῳ κρυπτῳ ἀποδώσει σοι. 16 Ό ταν δὲ νηστεύητε, µὴ γίνεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταὶ σκυθρωποί, ἀφανίζουσιν γὰρ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτω ν ὅπως φανω σιν τοι ς ἀνθρώποις νηστεύοντες ἀµὴν λέγω ὑµι ν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν µισθὸν αὐτω ν. σὺ δὲ νηστεύων ἄλειψαι σου τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον σου νίψαι, 18 ὅπως µὴ φανῃ ς τοι ς ἀνθρώποις νηστεύων ἀλλὰ τῳ πατρί σου τῳ ἐν τῳ κρυφαίῳ καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῳ κρυφαίῳ ἀποδώσει σοι. 19 Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑµι ν θησαυροὺς ἐπὶ τη ς γη ς, ὅπου σὴς καὶ βρω σις ἀφανίζει καὶ ὅπου κλέπται διορύσσουσιν καὶ κλέπτουσιν 20 θησαυρίζετε δὲ ὑµι ν θησαυροὺς ἐν οὐρανῳ, ὅπου οὔτε σὴς οὔτε βρω σις ἀφανίζει καὶ ὅπου κλέπται οὐ διορύσσουσιν οὐδὲ κλέπτουσιν 21 ὅπου γάρ ἐστιν ὁ θησαυρός σου, ἐκει ἔσται καὶ ἡ καρδία σου. 5 First Lesson; English Text: 2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. 12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, Where is their God? 6 4 St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, New Revised Standard Version Bible ( 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America). 5 St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, The Greek New Testament, Aland, Kurt, Black, Matthew, Martini, Carlo M., Metzger, Bruce M., and Wikgren, Allen, ( 1983, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart). To display the Greek text correctly, choose Palatino Linotype font. 6 Joel 2:1-2, 12-, New Revised Standard Version Bible ( 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America).

5 Ash Wednesday; Year A (March 9, 2011)! 5 Another good story about righteousness that can t be seen: There was a rich Jew who never gave alms to the poor or contributed to charitable causes. People in his small village never called him by name. They simply referred to him as The Miser. One day, a beggar came to the door of The Miser. Where to you come from? The Miser asked. I live in the village, answered the beggar. Nonsense cried the Miser. Everyone in this village knows that I do not support beggars. In that same village, there lived a poor shoemaker. He was a most generous man who responded to every person in need and every charitable cause that was brought to his attention. No one was ever turned away empty-handed from his door. One day The Miser died. The village leaders decided to bury him on the edge of the cemetery. No one mourned his passing. No one followed the funeral procession to the place of burial. As the days passed, the rabbi heard disturbing news regarding the shoemaker. He no longer gives alms to the beggars, complained one man. He has refused every charity that has approached him, declared another. Has anyone asked about his change? inquired the rabbi? Yes, replied the first man. He says that he no longer has money to give away. Soon the rabbi called on the shoemaker. Why have you suddenly ceased giving money to worthy causes? Slowly the shoemaker began to speak. Many years ago, the man who called The Miser came to me with a huge sum of money and asked me to distribute it to beggars and charities. He made me promise that I would not reveal the source of the money until after he died. Once every month he would visit me secretly and give me additional money to distribute. I became known as a great benefactor even though I never spent a penny of my own money. I am surprised that no one questioned me earlier. How could anyone who earned the wages of a shoemaker give away as much money as I have all these years? The rabbi called all the villagers together and told them the story. The Miser has lived by the Scriptures, keeping his charity a secret, the rabbi told them. Then they all walked to the grave of The Miser and prayed. Before the rabbi died, he asked to be buried near the fence, next to the grave of the man known as The Miser. 1

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