“Rend your hearts and not your clothing” – the prophet Joel tells us. It’s not about the outward appearance, it’s about our hearts, how we open them up to our God.
“Return to me with all your heart.” Our God seeks us out, wanting to restore our relationship with the one who created us. This is grace. But there is an expectation that we will also need to act – “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”
Our God of mercy and love awaits us. This time of Lent is our time to ponder anew our baptismal faith, to consider again all the easy, conventional compromises that we make with our faith and how discipline, respect, and gladness for God’s grace and mercy is turned to the ones who return to their faith, who make use of this holy season.
Likewise Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew cautions us about how we live out our faith. It is not for show. It is not for others. It’s for ourselves and our relationship with God.
In Matthew, 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. 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.
For Jesus, it was not outward displays of faith that he wanted his followers to do but instead to have a change of heart when they give alms, when they pray and when they fast. For with the right heart, giving alms, praying and fasting can help us live faithfully. Let me give you an example of such faithful living and giving…
Those who knew Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars founder and Detroit Tigers & Red Wings owner who died a few weeks ago, have spent the time fondly remembering his impact on friends, on Detroit residents, and on the sports community. Ilitch also had an impact on the daily life of one of the most iconic figures from the civil rights movement.
Rosa Parks, who after her famed defiance of segregation sparked the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, moved to Detroit and became an important presence in the city for years afterward. But in 1994, Parks was robbed and assaulted in her home at the age of 81.
Ilitch read the story in the newspaper and called Damon Keith, a Detroit native and federal judge, who was finding a new and safer home for her, offering to pay for Parks' housing indefinitely. With no fanfare, Ilitch continued paying for the apartment until Parks died in 2005, Keith said. (CNN)
Such faithful living is what we are called to do. Without fanfare but with much love. May this season of Lent, be an opportunity for us to rediscover our faith through the practices we use, to rend our hearts, break them open, and to seek out our God who stands ready in our very midst and calls us each by name. Amen.