Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday Sermon

We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.

Those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed Thy grace.
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.

This Lenten poem by Wendell Berry invites us to consider what is God’s necessity for us and what is it we really need in our lives. We have had so much of plenty, so many things that we are ruled by them, things we do not need. We have failed the grace given to us by God.

Ash Wednesday can begin a time that is a gift from God, revealing God’s necessity in our lives. By paying attention, it gives us pause to consider who we are and how we love God (the ground of our being) and love our neighbors as ourselves.

For Jesus, it came down to four simple words.

Pray, Fast, Give alms.

Very simple devotions.

Pray, fast, give alms.

Jesus encourages their use with the right heart.

Pray, fast, give alms.

To pray is to connect ourselves with the source of life. Our prayers to God are a two way street, where we entreat God for others and ourselves and where God speaks to us. Prayer places our fellow human beings and us in community with God for it is where our heart, head, and soul communicate.

To fast is to deny ourselves, so that we can better see our lives in the midst of this world. This self-denial is for our sake and for the world, we live in. To truly see the need that is inside the world and us, and to fast from things we truly don’t need.

As Peter Chrysologus said in the 5th Century, “fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. If we have not all three together, we have nothing.” Fasting is to prayer, as giving alms (an act of love and mercy) is to fasting. For these three interplay and create opportunities for us to love and to see our mortal selves connected to all of humanity.

To give alms, is to deny ourselves and to give out of our abundance to a world in need. In a way, it is to reject the tyranny of things for the sake of love. As John Chrysostom said in the 4th Century, “almsgiving is the mother of love.”

Like God’s gift of grace, our almsgiving is a free gift we give to others in need. A gift offered out of love and hope for a better world.

It is this hope that we hear in this passage from Matthew. For the passage tells us, that Jesus wants us to place our heart and mind with God so that what we do is good for others and ourselves. Jesus tells us not to outwardly show our piety because we can lose the intention that unites us together with God. Whether we are alone or with others, the intention of our heart is what matters. For if we pray, fast and give alms out of a heart that is love, than we are living as God intended, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. So that what we give to others is from God’s grace and necessity in our lives.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our Lenten journey. We are invited to pray, fast and give alms, storing treasure in heaven and not on earth, for where our treasure is, there is our heart, and our heart needs to be set on love, for God is love.

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila,

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing make you afraid,
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God
You will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

Let us pray, fast and give alms so that we know and feel that God alone suffices, and that we can share God’s gift of love with the world. Amen.

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