Lament, Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2018

[RCL] Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

After the sermon ends in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, it is customary for the minister to invite us, “in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent.” The Church invites us to self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial, and reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word. Many of us recall what we have “given up” in Lents past: chocolate, wine, social media, even meat. Or maybe we remember gathering for soup and bread suppers in the fellowship hall. Or trying to decide whether we keep the ashes on our forehead all day or wipe them off.

Most of us have associations with Lent, and often they focus on ourselves. After all, the Church’s invitation to a holy Lent includes two references to the self: self-examination and self-denial. This focus on the self makes sense to some degree; there is truth in the slogan that “the only person you can change is…yourself.

But I wonder if this Lent, we might expand the focus of our Lenten discipline – nudging beyond the boundary of self, or even our church communities, toward the wider world, toward society. None of us exists in a vacuum apart from societal influences, and societies are collections of selves. If we change ourselves, we change society. And the reverse is also true: if society changes, we are changed, too.

While this understanding of porous boundaries between self and society is not especially apparent in the Church’s invitation to a holy Lent, it is evident elsewhere. The ancient baptismal liturgy is a good example; in it, we renounce evil on three different “levels,” if you will: the cosmic level, by renouncing “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God”; the social level, by renouncing “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” and, of course, the personal level, the level of the self, by renouncing “all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God.”

Lent provides a concentrated period of time—40 days—to do all we can, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to “get right with God.” God can do some pretty amazing things with us in 40 days’ time. And this year, one marked by excessive political rancor and a torrent of natural disasters, you are invited to expand the focus beyond the self with the traditional practices of praying, fasting, and giving alms, as presented in Matthew’s Gospel, toward a practice suggested by the prophet Joel: communal lament.

Joel writes, “Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.” Try to imagine this in your mind’s eye: instead of a somber procession with the priest following the cross expressionless, she is weeping and wailing as she goes down the center aisle! Most of us would probably want to run for the hills, or at least get her a tissue so she could get it together. Crying in public is something that most of us try to avoid…we don’t want to be accused of getting overly emotional.

But Joel encourages weeping priests – priests who can cry out, mourn, lament over the tragedy playing out in society. In the first chapter of Joel alone, either God or Joel, speaking on God’s behalf, prescribes or describes lament, mourning, crying out, or groaning no fewer than seven times. Even the animals and the soil are mourning and crying out!

Why all of this lamentation, this mourning, this crying?

Well, we don’t know exactly what prompted Joel’s prophecy. We do know it was a time of tremendous crisis: the land, literally the soil, the foundation supporting all life, was being destroyed either by locusts or a foreign army. Joel sounds the air raid siren: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble” (Joel 2:1a).

Perhaps lament is the first step toward repentance, at least on the social level. And maybe the weeping priest models for all of us how to lament. We lament as we approach the holiest place in our lives: the altar.

The place where we remember Christ’s death, proclaim his resurrection, and wait for his coming again.

The place where we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection to new life.

The place where we receive a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where there will be crying no more, and nothing, personally or socially or cosmically, to weep about.

Of course, lament is not something we do easily in our culture. In fact, it is almost anathema to us. One of our favorite ways to avoid lament is to play the blame game. Recently an editorial cartoon came out, poking fun at both the political left and right. It showed a man complaining about President Obama and a woman complaining about President Trump, and at the bottom their complaints were identical: “And because of him the nation is divided.” Instead of looking at the growing partisan divide and feeling the pain of it, we often prefer to blame “the other side” for it and stoke our anger.

Another popular way to avoid lament is to deny that there is any pain. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think about ways we deny our pain – substance abuse comes to mind first. And not just street drugs or the opioid crisis, but the significant increase in alcohol consumption we see across the board and especially among women, minorities, seniors, those with less formal education, and lower incomes. Instead of feeling the pain and offering a lament to God, many of us choose, consciously or not, to become numb.

But what happens to us and for us when we lament, instead of denying our pain or blaming something or someone for it? And what, might we imagine, happens to God?

When we lament, we recognize the limits of our ability to control the world around us. We are at our wit’s end, as the Psalmist put it, and out of desperation cry out to a power greater than ourselves; we cry out to the Lord. We allow ourselves to feel the pain of social problems and injustices that result from systems that are too complicated, too entrenched, too big, for any one of us to fix. We air our complaints, we tell the truth of our suffering, we question God’s love, we confess our despair, we cry our tears. And we beg. We beg, and we plead for God to intervene, to act, to have mercy on us, to help us “turn and be healed” as the Prophet Isaiah has put it.

And for God’s part? Well, the testimony of Scripture shows us that God has responded in many and various ways to lamentations. In the Book of Lamentations, God is silent. More often, however, God’s response is one in which both judgment and salvation seem to happen simultaneously. And sometimes, God intervenes and saves us in ways we hope for. That’s what happens in the prophecy of Joel. In the midst of the great social crisis, the people lament, not about their personal sins, but about what has happened to their society.

Together they fast. They pray. They beg. They return to God.

And they discover, again, in their own time and place that God is “slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,” a God who is eager to leave a blessing behind.

So today, we hear the Church’s invitation to observe a holy Lent – to pray, to fast, to read God’s Word. Let’s remember Joel’s invitation to us to lament. To cry aloud, to mourn, to weep, to feel and express the pain of the world. What is that pain for you, in your place? Is it violence? The political divide? Addiction? Is it generational poverty that we can’t seem to legislate our way beyond? What does your community lament? And how might your community cry out together to God about it?

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning…Who knows whether [the Lord] will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind…?” (Joel 2:12, 14). 

The Rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer serves in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina as Rector of Grace Church in Waynesville.

Download the sermon for Ash Wednesday.

Give Alms! Ash Wednesday – March 1, 2017

[RCL] Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

On this day, may we consider together just what sort of gift we ask for when we pray in the Collect for “new and contrite hearts.” Just what sort of hearts does God want us to have? In the name of this God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The poet Robert Bridges was experiencing difficulties in matters of faith. He read many books of theology. He spent hours in reflection. Yet he found himself unable to believe in God. Bridges wrote to another poet, his friend Gerald Manley Hopkins, asking for advice. Hopkins wrote back this terse reply: “Give alms.”

Give alms. In other words, Robert Bridges, don’t sit there alone with your doubts and your theology books. Reach into your pocket, pull out your wallet, and give away your money, your precious money, so that the hungry can be fed and the homeless housed, so that the ignorant can learn and the sick be helped back to health. If you have trouble believing in God, then don’t stew in your own thoughts, but act as though you already believe. Give alms, and the little you lose will be far exceeded by what you gain.

Gerald Manley Hopkins’ advice to his friend must have done some good. Bridges became ardent in his faith.

The advice was on target, not only for Robert Bridges, but also for us. The call to give alms is rooted in the Gospel, in the gospel for Ash Wednesday that we heard moments ago. There Jesus speaks about three of the central religious practices familiar to those around him: prayer, fasting, and the giving of alms. He wants these practices to be done in the right spirit, but there is never any question whether they should be done. Jesus does not say: “If you give alms.” What he says is: “When you give alms.”

Gathered here in worship on the opening day of Lent, we may wonder about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as well as other practices appropriate to this season. What good are they? They point to the insistent need we have to put our faith to work, and not let it be a head trip or an emotional indulgence.

Almsgiving is of undeniable importance in this regard. Which we do we love more: God or money? Are we making our own the priorities of the kingdom, or are we bending to some other standard? Through the alms we give, we pay homage to Christ present where he told us he would be: in the person of the poor, the hungry, the sick.

Yet something else also happens. No matter how generous our giving, we soon recognize that the need far outreaches our resources. Our giving does not make wants disappear. Instead, as we give we recognize how serious and indeed inexhaustible are the needs that our alms address.

So then, alms release us from a poisonous focus on ourselves, and they do so in two ways. We come to recognize the need of our sisters and brothers, people made in God’s image, people for whom Christ died. At the same time, we are humbled because we realize that what we can do is but little.

When alms are given in the right spirit, we do not believe we gain any merit with God. Instead, we recognize how, in the face of human need, we are poor yet privileged. Poor, because we are equipped to do only a little. Privileged, because though it’s little, we can do something.

The importance of almsgiving is emphasized in early Christian literature. Listen to John Chrysostom, a pre-eminent preacher of the ancient Church. In his “Homily 50 on Matthew” he declares:

“Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that?

“Tell me: if you were to see Christ lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold, would he be grateful to you or would he not be angry? What if you were to see people clad in worn-out rags and stiff with cold, and were to forget about clothing them and instead were to set up golden columns for them, saying that you were doing it in their honor? Would they not think they were being mocked and greatly insulted?”

In a single phrase this great father of the Church sums up his message: “God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.”

Here and now our temptation is not what tempted Chrysostom’s congregation. We are not likely to go overboard in adorning altars and churches. Our characteristic mistake may be spending on our luxuries what might otherwise be given so that others can survive.

But the point remains the same: God wants golden hearts, hearts willing to give alms, to show faith in action, to give not only of their wealth, but of their talent and their time so that others may have a life worthy of the name.

My friends, this Lent and every Lent, the saints of past centuries and indeed our Lord Jesus himself call us to the practice of giving alms. In this we demonstrate our family resemblance to God our father and Jesus our brother, for what is revealed in Lent and Holy Week and Easter, but the self-emptying of God so that we may have life? The cross is the divine almsgiving so that we, poor in our sins and our mortality, may enjoy abundant life. We, in our turn, can also give generously.

This year, during this opportunity that will never return, may we all live a holy Lent marked by generous almsgiving. The point is not to gain God’s favor. Instead, we are to act on our faith, or even act on our desire to have faith. We are to give generously so that others may live. We are to give freely so that, through our poor efforts, they may experience something of God’s immense love.

I have spoken these words to you in the name of the God who knows we are dust, yet still believes we can have hearts of gold, hearts like God’s own: the One known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is rector of St. Paul’s Parish, Baden, Maryland. He is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications). Many of his sermons appear on sermonwriter.com. Email: charleshoffacker8@gmail.com.

Download the sermon for Ash Wednesday.

Becoming a Place of Resurrection, Ash Wednesday (C) – 2016

[RCL] Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Jesus warns us to practice our piety in secret. We are not to give alms, to pray, or to fast in a way that plays to an audience of other people. Instead, we are to do these things in secret. And in each case a blessing is attached to this secret practice. As Jesus tells it, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Hearing these words now, on this opening day of Lent, means that whatever we do by way of Lenten practices is not done for a human audience, whether others or ourselves. The significance of these practices appears at a different level, that place where we encounter God. This is a hidden place, concealed certainly from others, and in a real sense, a secret even from ourselves. God meets us in our depths, in places that remain beyond our conscious sight.

Yet still it is easy for us to look on our Lenten practices as an area where we can earn rewards, the frequent flyer miles of the spiritual life. If we do well at keeping our Lenten practices then God is pleased with us that much more. If we do not do well, if we make scramble of Lent, then God, who sees in secret, is that much less pleased with us.

It’s easy to regard our Lenten practices in this way. Perhaps it is unavoidable, but to do so is to miss the point. What God sees in secret is something more than our accomplishment.

Almsgiving, prayer, fasting – these are classic practices of Lent. There are others as well. But all of them, I have come to believe, lead us to the same place. For the sake of simplicity, let’s consider only how almsgiving, prayer, and fasting take us there.

So you give alms to help people in distress. Perhaps you donate to our local food pantry to assist suffering people in your community. Perhaps you write a check to Food for the Poor or Episcopal Relief and Development. Maybe your almsgiving in expressed in action. You visit the sick, the lonely, people in prison. The giving of alms can take these forms and many more. However it’s done, almsgiving brings us much closer than usual to the raw edge of human need.

What happens when we go there? We find out that human suffering is not a problem to be solved like an arithmetic exercise on a blackboard. Instead, we give alms and we find ourselves keeping company, directly or indirectly, with people whose suffering we would rather not have to consider. We lose our innocence about the state of the world; we trade satisfaction for solidarity.

Somebody else is fed or housed or comforted, but we are transformed. That’s the real cost of almsgiving for us. Not only do we empty out a little of our treasure, but we are made a bit more compassionate, perhaps against our better judgment.

This is how God, who sees in secret, rewards us. We would have settled, say, for a framed certificate of appreciation and instead God changes our lives.

So you pray more than usual during the forty days of Lent. Perhaps you sit in silence before God for a specified period of time, you attend a weekday service, or you say a certain prayer once a day. Keep this up and in time you may make a discovery, it may be thrust upon you, that our prayer is something poor, dust and ashes, before the majestic reality of God.

The devotional practices we engage in may be eloquent, orthodox, time-tested, and even enjoyable. But the doing of them is full of distraction, characterized by uncertainty, an exercise in always starting over.

People of prayer are likely to have experiences like what Mary Lou Kownacki describes for us when she says:

“On my morning walk
My fingers move mindfully
Over the wooden beads
In my pocket.
Jesus, have mercy.
Jesus, have mercy.

“Stopping on the street
To talk with a crazed woman
Who has twenty-two cats
I forget the beads
I forget the mantra.

“Once again,
I fail to follow
The prescribed meditation technique.
After forty years of practice
I still do not know
When I am really praying.”

We pray, or think we do, and what we discover is the poverty of our prayer, the emptiness of our words, the shallowness of our silence. Yet through prayer we are made a little more capable of recognizing the generosity of God.

Once, we may have believed that prayer changes God, aligns God with our view of the world. In Lent, we find that through our prayer God changes us, lets us recognize ourselves for who we are. It is in this way that God, who sees in secret, rewards us.

Then there is fasting. Maybe it’s a meal regularly skipped or certain kinds of food abstained from. There are other fasts as well. People give up alcohol, television, book buying, or grumpiness as part of their Lenten observances. But all forms of fasting resemblance abstinence from that which feeds us. This traditional religious fasting is not done to make us trim, though it may do that; it is done to make us empty.

A food fast deserving of the name will leave us hungry. We will recognize our frailty, that our lives encompass not only the spiritual but also the biological. We are dependents of the food chain. We are based in our bodies. We cannot live on bread alone, that’s true, but without bread, we cannot live at all.

The fleshly hunger that we feel as a result of such fasting reminds us of the spiritual hunger that we need to feel to be truly alive. Yet often this spiritual hunger is sated, concealed due to the ingestion of one form of junk food or another that lust for our allegiance.

Hunger for God is our healthy state, yet often our hearts are stuffed with what cannot nourish us. An empty stomach will give us hope that our hearts may become empty enough to receive the God who is our only satisfying food.

Through our fasting God changes us. We are reminded that we are constituted not by our achievements or even our failures, but by the need for God. Our hunger is not for bread alone, but for the holy.

The practices of Lent are good for us, but not if we see them as achievements. They are instead ways in which we become aware of our poverty and awake to the generosity of God. What we seek is not a successful Lent, a checklist of what we have done. What we seek instead is a holy Lent, an exposure of our emptiness, so that each of us can be a place of resurrection.

Download the sermon for Ash Wednesday C.

Written by The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is rector of St. Paul’s Parish, Baden, Maryland. He is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications). Many of his sermons appear on Lectionary.org. Email: charleshoffacker8@gmail.com

Good News in the ashes, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2015

February 18, 2015

Joel 2:1-2,12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

There’s something compelling about Ash Wednesday, something that draws us here in both numbers and intensity quite unusual for a weekday. It’s more than just habit or duty – somehow more than just the beginning of Lent. What we say and what we do on this special Wednesday has power.

A large part of that power probably lies in the fact that today the church speaks words of truth, words that cannot be ignored, or disputed, or evaded, or denied. Today we say – and confirm with a touch – “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” There it is. Much else that we say in here we may hope is true, or fear is true, or believe, or doubt. But this we know: We are mortal. We were born. We will die.

From dust, to dust. As if hearing the words were not enough, they are literally rubbed into our faces. Ashes mark us – and our fate is strangely visible.

Then Jesus goes one step further. He reminds us that dust is the destination, not just of our bodies, but of most of what we consider to be worth living for, as well. Moth and rust and thieves can – and will – reduce to dust virtually every goal, every dream, every value, every treasure we hold dear. And we know that to be true, too. These words of simple, absolute truth give us a perspective the world tries both to hide and to deny – and that we usually do our best to ignore.

Dust and ashes. These are what we see if we look ahead far enough and honestly enough. These are the final return on virtually every investment we make. Today we say this, and we know its truth and its power.

And that looks like bad news – unmitigated bad news – even though we have known it all along. These grim, honest words can be devastating.

We all know the personal crisis that comes with that first mature realization of the absolute certainty of our own death. We know how jarring it is, and on this day we are reminded of this, and brought closer to this.

From dust, to dust.

To find the Good News here, we need to begin with the past, and with a conviction we Christians hold as firmly as we know the certainty of our own death. This Good News is the conviction that we are created by God – that we did not just happen, that we did not emerge willy-nilly by some cosmic fluke. The dust of our beginnings – that dust from which we came – is not just a matter of chance; it is not without meaning. Our lives are gifts from God. Nothing less. Our dust was molded by the very hands of God, and his Spirit breathed life into it.

So, part of the Good News is that we have been made from dust. The grace and power of God are present at the beginning of our existence. Our dust is holy, our ashes are blessed by the power of God. What appears a threat – “you are dust” – becomes, if we pay attention, a promise. The grace and love present at our creation will see us through our physical disintegration and beyond. God is with us from our very beginning, and before. Our dust is holy; it is cherished by God.

Notice something else. These ashes on our forehead are not just tossed there, or scattered at random. They are placed in the form of a cross – so today we mortals are connected with both Good Friday and Easter morning. Today we remember the promise that, as we have risen from dust to this mortal life, so, with Christ, we will rise from the dust of death to eternal life. Yes, to dust we shall return, but with Christ.

Dust and ashes are Good News: They point us toward the power and love of God – both at the beginning and at the end. And they remind us that, because of this Good News, we are called – as we live between dust and dust – to repent and to return. To return to our risen Lord. That’s what “repent” means: to turn, to change the direction in which we are looking and moving, and to look and to move in a new direction.

If you’re in Chicago and you’re driving to New York, going west, then you just won’t ever get there – no matter how many times you pull over to the side of the road, stop the car, get out and apologize. To “repent” is to turn around.

And today’s call to us to repent doesn’t center on fear – on what will happen to us if we don’t; and it doesn’t center on guilt or duty – on what we think we ought to do. Instead, this call centers on divine love – on the love that is the heart of our creation – on the love that is seen most fully on the cross. It centers on the love that transforms ashes into a symbol of hope.

At the same time, such turning – such repentance – is not something we can think ourselves into; it is not something to which we can pay lip service – or forehead service – and have happen. It depends on concrete action. We don’t think ourselves into a new state of being. We live and we act ourselves into it.

Both Holy Scripture and the accumulated spiritual insight of our tradition tell us that the classical and ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving are powerful helps as we hear and move toward obeying God’s call to return. They are universally recognized ways of keeping our journey moving in the right direction.

Jesus commands these three, and he goes the extra step of insisting not only that we practice them, but also that we do so privately – indeed, secretly. By the way, Jesus is being quite straightforward here, quite literal. God simply ignores the actions of those who deliberately attract attention to their religious deeds.

That’s why we’re counseled to wash our faces and to go about in quiet obedience. In that way our reward – our growth into Christ and his growth in us – will be something quite safe from rust, and moths, and thieves – and the admiration of others.

So, remember that you are dust – and rejoice. For God is with us – in the beginning, at the end, and even now as we live in between. And repent, return to the Lord – in joyful obedience. For he who created us is calling us to him. To this end, we are given the special gift of Lent – a time to allow us to hear that call with some real depth, and to respond.

 

— The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

What audience?, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2014

March 5, 2014

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Today’s gospel text almost comes as a relief: Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them. It’s a relief because we can be fairly reluctant to show signs of piety before others, especially when we’re outside of our worship service. If you want to get strange looks, read your Bible in public, pray aloud in a restaurant or talk about what Jesus means to you to the person next to you while you’re waiting for a bus. So a gospel lesson in which Jesus says it’s better to practice your religious duties in secret may elicit a sigh of relief.

But it’s odd, isn’t it? Especially when a few weeks ago when we read Matthew 5:15, Jesus talks about letting our “light shine before others, so they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.” Why the emphasis today on secrecy? And why the emphasis on secrecy today, on the one day of the year when we actually receive a visible mark, the imposition of ashes, that unmistakably says, “Something different is going on here”? Are we trying to show something? If so, to whom?

We have to start by noting that the ashes are not for God. We’re not trying to show God something by wearing ashes on our foreheads. In Isaiah, God says it clearly: What I want from you is not sackcloth and ashes. I don’t want you sitting around looking miserable. I want you to get up and do something. Something good. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. House the homeless. Give to the poor. Change the world. That’s the kind of religious offering I’m looking for.

Does God want to see something? Yes. But it’s not ashes. It’s us getting busy. Doing God’s work in the world.

Jesus wants to see action too. His message today is about practicing our faith, linking our spiritual lives to action, through almsgiving – giving money for the care of people in need, and through prayer and fasting. These were three very important demonstrations of spiritual devotion in the Judaism Jesus practiced. Notice that Jesus assumes his followers do these three things. He says, “when you give alms,” “when you pray,” and “when you fast” – not “if.”

Living our spirituality through action is an important way to respond to God. So why does Jesus say, “Beware of practicing your piety before others”?

Jesus’ words highlight two things that can rule human life, two things that can distract us from having a right relationship with God. Jesus knows we can be motivated and misled by concerns over audience and reward. By audience, we mean, for whom are we acting? For whom are we doing our religious activities? Who is our audience when we give alms or do any charitable act? When we pray? When we deny ourselves anything? For whose benefit do we do these things? Who are we hoping will notice?

Who is our intended audience? The word Jesus uses in his instruction is “hypocrite,” from the Greek word for “actor.” Jesus warns us against being like hypocrites who draw attention to themselves when they put their check in the offering plate or say maybe too loudly as they wave the plate away, “I give online”; who make a show out of praying in public, who clear their throats before taking their Bibles out to read in front of you. The hypocrite acts for others. The hypocrite plays a role, and may not even realize it’s only an act.

The other concern that goes along with audience is reward. When the hypocrites do their religious duty as an act for the benefit of being seen by others, they have received their reward: They have been seen by others. That’s it. They have been noticed by people. Jesus invites us to put our faith into action, not so we can be noticed by people, but so we will receive our reward from God. Three times he says, “and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you.”

Is it wrong to be noticed by others? No. If we let our light shine, if others see the good we do, we can be powerful witnesses to God’s compassion, mercy and love. But Jesus says if we’re motivated by being noticed by people and rewarded by people, that will be our only reward. If all the attention you want is from other people, help yourself. But why settle for less than the reward God wants to give us?

So why the ashes? If they’re not for God, and they’re not about being noticed by others, why do something so visible and exterior?

Ashes are a reminder of humility and honesty. Sometimes we get confused about what true humility is. It’s not beating ourselves up. It’s not denigrating ourselves and saying bad things about ourselves to bring ourselves down a notch. It is not some strange reverse pride where we say, “Really, no one is as bad as I am, no one is as stupid, foolish or forgetful as me. I have achieved the bottom-most rung of human reality. How can God possibly love someone as lowly as me? God couldn’t possibly love me; I’m just dirt.”

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we will hear as we receive our ashes, reminding us that we are mortal and echoing the creation story where God lovingly made human beings from the dust of the ground. If we are dust, we are beloved dust, and God can do great things with just plain dirt once it’s filled with the very breath and Spirit of God.

Humility is about looking at what is true and real. Humility is about being grounded in the truth of who we are: finite, flawed, dependent on God, and completely, utterly, totally loved by God, nonetheless.

As we begin our Lenten journey, we accept ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality and the truth of who we are. We are invited to spend this Lent learning to trust that God is gracious and kind and forgiving and merciful, and that what humans think of us isn’t as important as our relationship with God and what we do for others because we are loved by God.

We are invited to take on a discipline of doing some action solely for the purpose of pleasing God, or giving something up in order to make room in our lives for God’s Spirit to come in and move around it us.

God wants to be the focus of our attention and longing. God wants to be our audience and our reward. Let’s not settle for anything less.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Amy E. Richter is rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Md.

Letting the mask fall, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2013

February 13, 2013

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Christians are hypocrites. That is the word on the street about us, demonstrated in survey after survey. A prime example is a landmark study by the Barna Group, which found 85 percent of young people outside the church surveyed agree that Christianity is hypocritical. Even when they asked only youth who attend church, 47 percent still agreed that Christians are hypocritical.

Jesus’ clear words of warning on this Ash Wednesday, repeated three times, are that we are not to be like the hypocrites with regards our almsgiving, prayer and fasting. When Jesus says “hypocrite,” this was the common term for an actor. In the theatre, actors pretend to be someone they are not, and so it is a natural extension to describe as an actor anyone whose outward actions don’t match the content of their heart.

In classical Greek theater, actors wore masks to portray characters. And it was in this dramatic tradition of Aristophanes and Xenophon that the word “hypocrite” came to be the word for an actor. Actors spoke behind a mask, and the audience could not read the emotions of the actor on his face. In time, as all realized that we can wear masks figuratively as well as literally, the term “hypocrite” came to be used, as Jesus does here, for someone who says one thing and does another. The inner character does not match the mask.

We all wear masks, and it should be noted that this is not always bad. Bank tellers and grocery store clerks and even priests don’t always need to reveal every inner thought on their faces as they work. Putting on a brave face to visit someone in the hospital for whom you have grave concerns is a good thing. And who would want a doctor whose uncertainties over a diagnosis came through at the bedside? Better to put on the mask of professional confidence with a patient and then go consult colleagues and revisit research to make sure you’ve got it right. Wearing a mask is not all bad in and of itself. Perhaps the problem with a mask depends more on who you are trying to fool and why.

The mask to which Jesus takes exception in our gospel reading is a mask turned toward God. And there is no sense pretending with God. God knows that you don’t have your act together. God knows the bad thoughts behind the pleasant persona. God knows the confused motives behind the seemingly innocent remark or gesture. God not only knows the real you, God loves the you that lives behind the mask.

So Jesus warns that there is simply no point in going out in public to show others your faith. Do not blow trumpets announcing your gift to the synagogue or pray out loud standing on a street corner or make yourself look dismal so that everyone knows that you are fasting. Jesus states clearly that his followers are to give to the needy, pray and fast, but these actions are between the disciple and God alone. Acts of piety and are not a show we put on for the benefit of others. As Jesus says three times, it is your Father who sees in secret that will reward you. This makes it clear that outward acts done to impress others don’t make one holy. Outward acts done for show can, at best, make you appear holier than thou, which is the opposite of holy, just or righteous.

The scripture reading is, of course, intended to be at odds with the liturgical actions of this day. For on Ash Wednesday, we can head to work with an ashen cross on our foreheads as an outward sign of our worship this day. Together with Good Friday, this is one of two fast days for the church. So when Jesus warns that we are not to disfigure our faces to show others we are fasting, yet we head to church to put ashes on our foreheads, there is a disconnect. The choice of reading this gospel and the lesson from Joel in which the prophet says, “Rend your hearts and not your garments” are both counseling us to pay more attention to the content of our hearts as we enter this season of preparation for Easter. Do not worry about the outward actions, so much as the you behind the mask.

It is only natural that Christians are seen as hypocrites. We say we want to live like Jesus, and yet we go around acting little different, if at all, from those who are not Christians. We have a high ideal and we fall short of that mark. The answer is not to wear a mask showing the world that we have our acts together. What Jesus says clearly is to not be like the hypocrites at all. Don’t worry about the public face you put on. Concern yourself with God’s view of you rather than other people’s.

This is the perfect place to let the mask go. Part of every Eucharist is designed to let the mask slip before approaching the altar. The confession of sin is the time when, having already considered the person you are behind the mask, you offer up all your pretensions, all your bad thoughts, wrong motives and evil desires. Confession is the time for letting go of some of the baggage you carry around, in thought word and deed, in things done and left undone. Having laid aside the mask that could separate us from God, we then approach to be nourished once more by the One who knows us fully and loves us anyway.

For the personal baggage is what leads to the unhealthy use of a mask. You never could be that daughter your father wanted you to be. You never quite measured up as a son for your mom, compared to your siblings or to her ideal. You never quite got it all together the way you hoped you might, and so you wear a mask that tries to cover the real insecurities hiding just below the surface. If people knew the real you, you think, they wouldn’t like what they saw.

All of these messages are wrong, as each of them misses the point that you are a child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made. Of course you have fallen short of the mark set by God. And yes, you do need to repent and return to God. But you don’t need the mask. Not with God.

In the words of the prophet Joel, God is telling us, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.” What would happen if your mask slipped to the floor? When it comes to letting go of pretensions and getting real with God, there is no time like the present.

 

— The Rev. Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Georgia. He blogs about Congregational Development at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

We are welcome to rest, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2012

February 22, 2012

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Ask people how they’re doing, and often the answer begins with a single word: “Busy!” This one word is then followed by a recital of all the projects and tasks that have been demanding this person’s attention. The tone of the response may suggest that the person doesn’t want to be reminded of these manifold obligations, or that the person is desperate for someone to empathize with their troubles, or both.

When the question is: “How are you doing?” and the answer is “Busy!” and the tone is full of weariness and regret, then there’s another question floating around that begs for an answer: “Who’s running the world?” Because when we say, with weariness and regret, that we’re busy, then the implication is that the world is ours to run, and it’s a job too big for us.

Today begins the forty days of Lent, which prepare us for the great fifty days of Easter. These seasons equip us to deal with the question “Who’s running the world?”

Lent and Easter make it clear that the world is not ours to run, and that if we think it is, then no wonder if regret and weariness fill our hearts and voices. Lent and Easter make it clear that such a job is too big for us, and that the world is, in fact, God’s to run. Lent and Easter show us that our misunderstanding is forgiven, and something far better awaits us than an impossible task.

The way that Lent sets us free from this tragic and avoidable mistake is through the practices characteristic of this season. The three most important are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices are central to Judaism. Jesus endorses them in today’s gospel even as he reveals their interior significance. As practices, he almost takes them for granted. He does not say, “If you pray, if you fast, if you give alms.” Instead, he says, “When you pray, when you fast, when you give alms.”

These characteristic Lenten practices have this in common: each one helps us learn again that we’re not running the world; God is. Done in the proper spirit, as Jesus recommends, each practice enables us to let go, to rest, to have something more to say than “Busy! Busy! Busy!” And each of these three practices does so in a different way, in regard to a different relationship that we have.

Consider prayer. Prayer concerns our relationship with God; prayer is when we allow God to engage us. Insofar as we are praying and our prayer is true, then we simply cannot believe that the world is ours to run. Prayer takes us away from a false sense of responsibility that can turn us into driven people. The frame for our prayer is always that petition from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” We are free to rest, to rest in God.

Consider fasting. Fasting concerns our relationship with ourselves, as we are creatures of body as well as soul, flesh as well as spirit. Fasting from food or alcohol, television or shopping, makes us less dependent on those things. When fasting, we don’t claim to run the world, we allow some emptiness in ourselves and invite God to fill that emptiness with divine life. Not so much energy as usual is spent digesting, consuming, analyzing. We are free to rest, to rest in God.

The third practice is almsgiving. This means giving of what we have to meet the needs of people who otherwise would go without. Almsgiving concerns our relationship with other people and all of creation. It is a practical expression of God’s justice. When we give alms, we admit that we are not owners, but trustees: trustees of our possessions, our time, our lives. We’re not running the world, because the world is not ours to run. Together with everyone else, we are recipients of mercy. We are free to rest, to rest in God.

When we engage in these practices properly, then they bring rest. Not collapse from exhaustion, not even a lack of activity, but a deep restfulness that spares us from being so driven, distracted, and busy. We are able to find the joy that waits for us in what we do. We get a taste of resurrection in our flesh and bones, our moments and our days.

There’s a cycle at play here. The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can bring us rest, and rest can make these practices meaningful, channels of grace rather than burdensome tasks.

I recall an essay about Desmond Tutu, retired Archbishop of Cape Town, in South Africa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and leader of the struggle against the old order in South Africa. He is portrayed as an outstanding example of the Benedictine spirituality that is such an important part of our Anglican tradition. In the essay, there’s a quote from his confessor, Francis Cull:

“As I ponder the prayer life of Desmond Tutu I see the three fundamental Benedictine demands that there shall be: rest, prayer, and work and in that order. It is a remarkable fact, and it is one reason at least why he has been able to sustain the burdens he has carried, that he has within him a stillness and a need for quiet solitude. … The ‘rest’ of which St. Benedict speaks is not a mere switching off; it is a positive attempt to fulfill the age-old command to rest in God.”

Consider for a moment, my friends, this man Desmond Tutu. He served as archbishop of the Province of Southern Africa, a Christian community including millions of people in several countries. He was a principal leader in the fearsome, demanding struggle to free South Africa from the legalized racism known as apartheid. Upon retirement, he took up the responsibility of chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of his country, and thus led its burdensome work of restoring health to the soul of a sin-sick nation. And this man found it possible to rest, to rest in God. Indeed, were he among us here today, I’m sure he would tell us that doing these things would have been utterly impossible for him if he had not found rest in God.

Desmond Tutu’s example invites us to enter into the same cycle. Each of us in our unique way can give priority to rest, rest in God, and allow divine life to fill our spiritual practices and everything we do and everything we are. And each of us can engage in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in a way that leads to deeper rest, a rest closer to the heart of God. That this is possible for us is the good news of Lent and Easter and the entire Christian life.

The forty days of Lent that begin today call us to leave behind the spirit of “Busy! Busy! Busy!” We are welcome to rest, then to pray and fast and give. We are welcome to pray and fast and give, and find these practices to be channels of grace, ways by which we can rejoice that – thank God! – we do not run the world and God does.

— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications, 2003).

What to do about Lent? , Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2011

March 9, 2011

Joel 2:1-2,12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Ever since the bottom fell out of the sackcloth and ashes business, we’ve not known what to do about Lent. “What do I give up?” seems to be the primary question, an inversion of Jesus’ call for us to give. Lent isn’t a time to slim or to save money by not buying chocolate or going out to dine. Too easily our resolutions begin to look like holy variations on New Year’s resolutions, and we know how long they last!

Part of the problem is that we individualize Lent. We begin with me. Because we begin with me, the whole thing slides into another form of personal spirituality, perhaps somewhat ruined by our sly hints to others about just what it is we are sacrificing.

Sacrifice in Christianity, as with our Jewish ancestors, means the offering of life. Its culmination is Jesus’ offering for us on Calvary. The central way we commemorate this is in our offering of the Eucharist, a corporate offering “together” of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. In baptism, each of us is joined to those who “in Christ” offer the sacrifice, the life-offering of the Savior. We make this offering through Jesus for the world, in all its reality: for the homeless, refugees, those starving to death, those terrified by war and civil war, and even the rich living hopeless lives of denial and indulgence. In short, we get involved with the reality of life as it is.

Lent’s forty days prepare us for the Cross and the Resurrection, and no good intentions about giving up something gets us to that “Green Hill far away.” True, once our goal for Lent is established, fasting and abstinence is a way to keep us on track, but the goal comes first. The goal is simple but profound. It begins with our parish church. How does our community of the faithful intend to spend Lent together? What extra acts of worship or study will be added to the calendar? In what ways will the parish reach out to the world? We begin there. These extras on the calendar are not for the holy few. They determine how each of us may spend Lent, and guide us to choose individual acts of love that fit into that wider program.

At the same time, we remember that what we do doesn’t earn us God’s love. The question rather is how may I, and we, as a parish, become worthy of Christ’s death and passion? How do we deserve His conquering death for us and giving us eternal life?

On the one hand, we can’t earn and can never deserve God’s love for us in Christ. But we can open ourselves to the gift and seek to rid ourselves of those things that get in the way of God’s redeeming grace. We used to call these impediments the Seven Deadly Sins. Obviously gluttony was among them. Those old sins – do look them up or Google them – were neat ways of reminding us just how “self” gets in the way of service. Now, of course, you may feel you do pretty well in avoiding these failings and fallings. But just ask your partner, your children, your parents, or your best friends. With a little nudging they will come up with examples of bad temper, feeling sorry for yourself, being envious, or angry.

The point isn’t that we dwell on these things, but that we offer them daily to God in our devotions, certain that God forgives and strengthens us.

The gospel today reminds us that the smudge of ashes on our foreheads may either be a boast, or it may be a sign to us and to others that this Lent will be about more than giving up chocolate; it will be a time when God’s redeeming work transforms each of us and our parishes.

So may it be.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also dean of the Michigan City deanery.

Our hearts and our treasures, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2010

February 17, 2010

Isaiah 58: 1-12; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Reading Isaiah 58 knocks the breath out of our self-righteousness. The prophet’s words are addressed to all people and nations who claim belief in a God of justice and love. As citizens of this country and as people who carry the name of Christ, we are commanded to listen carefully. Ash Wednesday is a time for repentance, not just for us as individuals, but also for us as a people, a nation.

The words of Isaiah fall on our collective soul like a whip:

“Day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that
practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the
ordinance of their God.”

The prophet continues by zeroing in on all aspect of our failure to do justice:

• Serving our own interests
• Oppressing workers
• Quarreling and fighting among ourselves

How well we recognize all these failings, especially at this time of national unemployment and home foreclosures while the rich thrive.

We no longer practice fasting as the ancient Hebrews did – a fasting that God rejected because it was done only as a ritual by those who ignored the poor. We may not fast, but we do attend church, and we do claim to be a righteous nation – “the greatest nation in the world” is a phrase used across the land.

Yet we allow voices of hate, voices that despise the poor and the oppressed, to populate the airwaves. What would the prophet say about those voices? What would he say about the millions who listen to those voices? How many of us make it a Lenten discipline not to listen to voices on the radio or on television that spew hate and racism, that show admiration for the rich while despising the poor?

The prophet’s words were echoed centuries later by Jesus of Nazareth who responded to the call to loosen the bonds of injustice by the way he lived his life and by his death. Jesus, who called citizens of God’s kingdom only those who fed the hungry, who gave water to the thirsty, who clothed the naked, and who visited prisoners – not those who made a show of praying and giving alms.

On this day, when we allow ourselves to recognize our own faults, our manifold sins, our mortality, we are asked by the prophet and by Jesus to look at what really matters. We should not feel satisfied that just because we may have followed certain rituals, we have done what is just before the eyes of God.

On this day, the words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew, remind us not to be gloomy when we pray or when we work for the kingdom. He wants us to be joyful. Jesus wants us to remember “the least of these” not as a show but because we cannot do otherwise when we are faced with God’s demands and with God’s love.

Above all, in this cultural climate when the very rich are rewarded with bonuses while the poor lose their jobs, we are asked to remember where our treasure lies. Do we treasure things that perish, or is our treasure doing the will of the Father, a will that is never corrupted or co-opted or rewarded with gold?

Oh, let us on this Ash Wednesday wear the ashes with humility and repentance and with a determination not to be silent when the oppressed are ignored, overlooked, or despised. Let us put our hearts where our treasure is – in the love of the One who called us to be God’s righteous people indeed.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of Walking the Way of Sorrows: Stations of the Cross (Morehouse Publishing, 2003), also available in audio form.

To become more merciful, Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2009

February 25, 2009

Joel 2:1-2,12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

In the epistle we just heard, St. Paul beseeches us to be reconciled to God. And his way of being reconciled may surprise you. Paul does not suggest a confession, or propose any self-examination, or lay out a lengthy program or exercise. He tells us that we should simply accept the grace of God when the time is right, and, behold, now is that acceptable time.

This is not a message many of us are ready to hear. Most of us were taught that the lengthy period of Lent was one of penitence and fasting, a time provided for those who were separated from the church by their sins, so they could be reconciled by acts of penitence and forgiveness. In fact, we will hear words very similar to those following this. That is, of course, one meaning of our Lenten season.

For most of us, Lent is the time of sometimes painful self-examination, during which we scrutinize our habits, our spiritual practice, and our very lives – hoping to make ourselves better, trying to make ourselves worthy of the love of God.

We “ramp up” our prayer, fasting, and self-denial in order to remove worldly distractions from our lives. And we take on Bible study, classes, and service projects in order to add meaning and depth to our existence.

For some children, Lent means no candy. Or a coin in the box whenever they say a bad word. For adults, it may be consuming less meat or alcohol, or attending that Lenten program at the church.

However we go about it, the goal is pretty much the same: Lent makes us ready for Easter. Quite simply put, we are better able to appreciate Resurrection joys come Easter Day by enduring these Lenten disciplines now.

Except, just a moment. St. Paul says we need to be reconciled to God – now, today.

Not after enduring a forty-day fast. Not after lengthy Bible study. Not even after we pray, but now, here, today: Be reconciled to God.

And the blessed apostle not only invites us to be reconciled to God, he actually beseeches us. That is, he pleads, implores, presses, begs, and demands. “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. … Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.”

For many of us, this could mean a whole new kind of Lenten discipline. Instead of putting our hand into the refiner’s fire, we would be dancing in flames of love’s delight. Instead of seeking to squelch the voice of sin within us, we would be cultivating the sounds of joy. Instead of wallowing in our guilt, we would be reveling in our gratitude.

For not only did God create us, and everything there is; not only is all of creation wonderfully good; and not only are we offered the grace of God; but we are also offered that again, and again, and again.

We are offered God’s love in times of hardship, affliction, and tumult; in times of hunger, calamity, and sickness; and in times of peace, surplus, and prosperity.

We are offered God’s love both in times of distress and in times of accomplishment; in times of triumph and in times of failure; in times of righteousness and in times of sin.

Yes, that’s right: even when we sin. When we do things we know are wrong; when we hurt ourselves or others; when we lie, cheat and steal: that is when God loves us most.

Because when we sin, we need God even more. We need courage to turn away from darkness and to face the light. We need daring to turn away from the world’s false comforts and to accept the enduring grace of God. And we need faith to turn away from death, and face the new life that is freely given to all of us.

To paraphrase the blessed Apostle, God has put no obstacle in anyone’s way. God finds no fault in anyone’s ministry. And so, as servants of God, we are called to commend ourselves in every way. We are called to seek those qualities St. Paul writes about: purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.

Some of these are character traits we can cultivate in ourselves. We can commit ourselves anew to promote forbearance through patience, to emulate purity through simplicity, to encourage knowledge through study, to foster kindness through gentleness, and to nurture truthful speech.

The rest are not things that are up to us, really. They are not results of our labors, or products of our will. The Holy Spirit, genuine love, and the power of God are not up to us. There is nothing we can do to create these, nothing we can do to snuff them out.

But we do have a choice. And that choice is whether to allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, whether to let genuine love enter our heart, and whether to open ourselves up to the power of God.

And in this we have an entirely new idea for a Lenten spiritual discipline. Not giving up things, if such a discipline makes us miserable. Not taking on things, if that makes us miserable. But cultivating good qualities and opening ourselves up to the power of God, because only that can make us truly satisfied and content.

So, let’s go through that list of St. Paul’s in detail.

First, forbearance. What can we do to increase our patience, to cultivate self-control, tolerance, and restraint? The list of specific steps will be different for each of us, but the objective is the same: to become more merciful.

Next, purity. Now, we can’t become more pure, we cannot restore innocence – but we can cultivate decency, transparency, and simple cleanliness.

Then there’s knowledge. This may be more like a traditional Lenten discipline than many of the others, for we can increase our knowledge and love of for the divine by meditating on God’s holy Word. We can increase our knowledge of the church through reading. We can devote ourselves to learning more about who were are as Christian people.

After this comes kindness. This Lent, let us all seek to be more compassionate, more gentle, more considerate. It can be our aim to set aside all spite, viciousness, and harsh talk – no matter how people treat us.

Last among the virtues we can work on, is truthful speech. Honesty, candor, and integrity can be elusive. It is sometimes easier to tell a white lie than to maintain fidelity to truth. But if we take a few tentative steps in that direction, we will be better for it.

To become more merciful, more pure, more knowledgeable, more kind, more truthful – these cause us to behave more like God. And how can we do this? How can we emulate perfection, how can we aspire to the goodness that is the divine?

That’s where the second part of this discipline comes in: to allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, to let genuine love enter our heart, and to be open to the power of God.

The only way any of this can work, the only means of making this a life-changing season, the only method for making permanent changes from destructive patterns of behavior is to seek divine assistance.

And that is what we are especially called to do in Lent. To acknowledge that we are not doing the best we can, to aspire to do better, and then to seek God’s guidance and God’s help in the lifelong process of becoming all that we can be.

For in each one of us is a spark of divine goodness that compels us to persevere with great endurance through afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, and hunger.

We do this because we know at our core we are called to something better. As Christians, we are called to cultivate purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, and truthful speech. And this we do through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in the force of genuine love, and by the power of God.

So, this Lent, may we all be reconciled to God; for, behold, now is the acceptable time.

 

— The Rev. J. Barrington Bates is rector of the Church of the Annunciation in Oradell, New Jersey.