Wednesday, February 13

Beyond Appearances and Good Opinion - Ash Wednesday Sermon

Isaiah 58:1-12
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
This sermon was preached at the shared Ash Wednesday Service between Immanuel Lutheran Church, St Elias Christian church, and Reconciler
As we begin Lent, we have been called to repentance and reconciliation.  We will receive ashes.  In this and in our Scriptures this evening there is both challenge and comfort.  Challenge because we are reminded that our ways aren’t God’s. We are reminded that our inclinations are sinful, that is that we move away from the best and the Good, which God wishes for us.  These passages are a comfort because in the end they reveal to us that God’s expectations aren’t about our living up to these rituals and rules.  None of what we do will make us right before God.  Comfort and challenge because God invites us into something more fulfilling then keeping up appearances, and a religiosity of protecting our image.  We are called to an authenticity that is deeply relational and thus untouched by outward appearances and good opinion.
The repentance we are called to, and a life of fasting and penitence we undertake in this season of lent, isn’t about turning to rules, those external things that we and others can check off on a list to say we are living a good life.  The repentance we are called to is to turn from a false sense of self and of religiosity to turn to an open relationship with God that then transforms and orders our relationship with others.
This repentance can be tricky for us. Since, as both our Isaiah passage and the Gospel point out, we often seek to have relationships with others through our accomplishments and seek to protect what we have, we seek to protect our faith and religion and our wealth and property, from incursions from the other.
To us who struggle with these things God calls to us. God lovingly calls us to give up on appearances. Don’ stop doing, but stop being concerned how others will receive what you do. Even go so far as to hide your works of righteousness.  In the end it really is about your relationship to God, and thus by being in relationship to God being able to then love others, and to do justice in our relationships, our business dealings and management of our property.
Now is the time to shed those things that get in the way of the Gospel and to embrace a life without measure.  Embrace a righteousness and justice and generosity that is humble and thus is beyond appearances, of numbers or success or being a good person.  The Gospel offers us such a freedom that we can be so in tune with God and God’s ways that we are so generous and live in relationship with others in such an open and free way that it is like we don’t know what our right or left hand is doing.  That is, we are simply living with God and others without thought of reward or benefit, or even success.
We are called not to follow rules but to turn to an extravagant, generous, forgiving, and faithful God, who invites us into that same extravagant life of God.  God doesn’t expect us to be able to do it on our own resources.  But God does expect that we admit our limits, admit our sin, to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, so that we may be in relationship and love, love without thought, love with such authenticity and generosity that we care not if others even notice.  Be open to God’s extravagant love- repent and be reconciled to God. Begin again.