Lectionary Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year C
February 10, 2016
For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also. Matthew 6:21
Here we go again! The 40 days of Lent are upon us and so, too, will be the ashen crosses on our forehead that mark this beginning. The lessons offer rich possibility for proclamation–everything from piety and spiritual practices to returning to God with broken and contrite hearts, to the cost of discipleship, and (of course) stewardship. If you’re looking for last minute thoughts on how to approach the lessons, here are a few “nuggets” for prayerful consideration.
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Sound the alarm! The day of the Lord is coming, and we are not ready. Thankfully, God who is merciful invites us to return with broken and contrite hearts. We are called to gather in community and to enter into this season of Lent to do the hard inside work of reorienting our spirits, hearts, and minds to the way of God. You might use the idea of how a serious health scare can call a person to do the hard inner work of turning to a healthy diet, regular exercise, and good lifestyle habits of rest, relationship, and Sabbath-keeping. It is so easy to slip back into familiar, unhealthy habits, but when one enters into an accountable relationship with friends, family, and physician, life changes are not only possible but more likely to occur. We as a nation are patently unhealthy, so using this lesson to call for not only a return to God with humbled hearts, but also for a renewed commitment to care for our human bodies and relationships can set a tone for an entire Lenten focus on “fit faith” in body, mind, and spirit.
Isaiah 58:1-2 (alternate first reading)
Ouch! This lesson addresses the practice of faith that is self-serving rather than God-serving. Sure the people are fasting and seeking God and wondering why God’s not noticing them. The fast that God requires of God’s people is one of humility and “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” and to “share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house” and to cover the naked and not ignore one’s own extended family. The passage finishes by lifting up God’s requirements in a positive light that shows this reorientation of life and faith leads to real life.
If your congregation is working on renewal, revitalization, or redevelopment, this lesson is rich in possibility to hold up as a lesson upon which to meditate throughout Lent. It can serve as a lens through which to explore your progress. Is your life together “life as usual” or “the way things always have been,” or is your life together marked by this kind of radical reorientation to faithful discipleship, risk-taking mission, and service to the widening margins of society?
Consider using this psalm in antiphonal fashion, alternating verses either male and female and all voices or dividing the congregation into parts (two sides of the aisle). Then build your homily around the idea of what it means to offer the sacrifice of a “broken and contrite heart” to God. How can we as individuals and as the Body of Christ in community acknowledge and bring our brokenness to God and then open our lips to praise and worship during this season? If we allow our hearts to be broken open by our own sinfulness and repentance, broken open by the suffering and the pain of the world, then can we also allow God to knit us back together where we will be scarred but stronger, sinners but everyday saints-in-the-making? Invite your congregation into 40 days of prayer for personal and congregational renewal using each week’s lessons to guide the way.
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
It’s a hard-knock life for sure! At least according to what Paul says in this passage. The life of a disciple can be downright tough, although it has its rewards. Paul has experienced many challenges to his ministry among the people of Corinth, and he’s making his defense here. The word for ministry in this passage is “diakonia” and the context is service. Paul is a slave to Christ, and a servant to all. That is our call today, but it runs counter to our culture of individualism and exceptionalism. So the tension we experience is similar, although most of us don’t face the same level of sacrifice that Paul has experienced; we are not beaten, imprisoned, or killed for our faith–at least not in North America. If anything, we are ignored and written off as irrelevant. Consider a homily built around this lesson, but craft it for your context. Consider crafting a dialogue sermon in which you have contracted with a consultant firm and the Apostle Paul shows up to guide your congregation to renewal. That would be a controversial conversation! Discipleship is not for the faint of heart (thankfully even our faith is a gift of God), but the rewards are eternal. Lent is an excellent season for contemplating the call to renewed discipleship.
Ah, dear people of God! Beware public displays of affected piety. Do your good deeds and give generously without expectation of recognition and reward. Pray to God not only on Sunday during the intercessory prayers, but spend time with God daily and listen. Put on a pleasant face and perhaps even be joyous in worship. No need to be so somber. And if that’s not enough to contemplate, the real kicker is the stewardship message at the end: don’t over consume and get all caught up in possessing. What you value is where you also keep your heart, and it’s a whole lot tougher to focus on God and serving others when you’re all worried about carting around your excess possessions and managing a debt load. The ashen cross on our forehead will remind us that we’re but dust in the wind, and all of our stuff will decay and go away. The question is how can we refocus our lives and hearts on that which matters so that our treasure is found in God and in the Body of Christ.
Consider using this lesson as a spring board for a weekly Lenten stewardship “Treasure Hunt”:
Week One: Stewards of Worship (How can we ensure that our worship is focused on what pleases God and not on what makes us comfortable? Where are our worship treasures? Are they found in liturgy, prayer, communion, song, word, everything?)
Week Two: Stewards of Prayer (How can we deepen our prayer time with God? How can we learn to listen for the divine voice? Where is our treasure in prayer?)
Week Three: Stewards of Fasting/Feasting (How do we hold in tension the concept of fasting with the concept of feasting? From what do we need to fast? How can we learn to feast better and more fully on God’s goodness? How do we experience finding treasure in both denying ourselves and in celebrating through feasting at Christ’s table and at the dinner table?)
Week Four: Stewards of Stuff (We have lots of stuff, and stuff gets in our way. Consider how simplifying one’s life and possessions can lead to greater freedom. How might we move toward greater simplicity and a life with less stuff? How is our “treasure” preventing us from finding real “treasure”?)
Week Five: Stewards of Generosity (How might having addressed worship, prayer, fasting/feasting, and stuff equip us to be more generous? How can we feed others as Christ has fed us? Where is our treasure, and therefore, where is our heart?)
Photos: dimdimich-fotolia.com, BobBob, SOLI, Creative Commons. Thanks!)