The Pas Ash Wednesday
March 5, 2014
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbours. Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In the letter to 2 Corinthians, for this evening, Paul, speaking to the people of Corinth, and he gives us guidance on how to live our lives of faith, and how to encourage faith in those around us in a world where Christianity is no longer the dominant religion of society.
Now, normally we tend to interpret this passage as how to encourage faith in others, and I would hope that hearing Paul’s words, Isaiah’s words, we can encourage a growth in our own faiths, but having said that, there are many in the world who are openly not Christian, nor do they adhere to a faith system of any kind.
And interestingly enough of those who fall into this category many know an great deal about a great many religions because representatives of a great many religions or denominations have, over time, sought to encourage those who have no belief in God to choose this or that religion or denomination, but generally with no success.
In fact I find it interesting how many, in society, and even in the life of the churches who seem to view even Ash Wednesday, or observing the season of Lent as something that is “C” Catholic and not universal or “c” catholic.
Although this is the season when we acknowledge that it is our errors, or sins, our faults that Jesus takes to the cross on our behalf so that sin and death are not the anchors that keep us from God’s love.
So, this is an interesting train of thought with which we enter the season of Lent this year. We do so with Paul’s words in our ears, Paul’s encouragement to “put no obstacle in anyone’s way,” and the knowledge that there are those who walk amongst us who know much more than we do about our religion, but do so with no faith to give Paul’s words life.
Meanwhile, tonight, Isaiah urges us to be sincere in our actions and in our Lenten practices, and to work toward justice for everyone who lives without justice in and for their lives, in the world around us. But also, this evening, as we listen to Jesus who urges us to do what is right what is good, but not to be flashy or showy about what it is we’re doing.
So, as we begin the season of Lent, as we follow Jesus from the mount of the transfiguration, last Sunday, to the grave, on Good Friday, and beyond at Easter, I want to encourage each of us to take this season to become better acquainted, and hopefully more informed with an aspect of our faith, of our liturgy, that we recite weekly. But at the same time, one that has the ability to be so much more a strength, a reminder for the ways in which we live our lives to help us to meet the challenges that come our way, that try to rob us of our faith when we face injustice or oppression in the world around us.
And I’m talking of our Creed, our most basic statement of faith that has been handed down to us from generation to generation since the early days of the church; and how it has the ability to guide us, instruct us, uphold and encourage us, and yet at the same time it wraps up our faith, our belief, and everything that Christianity is based upon, in three reasonably brief paragraphs
So, this should be an interesting Lent, then, exploring the Creed, our declaration of faith, during the time of the year when we focus on repentance, on seeking forgiveness, yet at the same time, seeking justice in society for those who are without. When we have the opportunity and the encouragement to find or renew our focus or our lives in faith.
The Lenten themes of sackcloth and ashes, of open fasting and the giving of alms are certainly still popular, in our society, although we no longer understand why.
In a way a Lenten discipline is like making New Year’s resolutions, we choose a ‘something’ to give up, and we ensure that everyone around us is aware of the practice that we’ve given something up for Lent. We want the encouragement of others, but at the same time their commiseration. We want them to know what we’ve sacrificed in our lives as much as the Pharisees who blew the trumpets to announce to all that they were giving alms to the poor.
But when we do that, we are following what the prophet Isaiah has said, tonight when he says: “’Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” (Isa 58:3-4)
The common practice, for lent, then is to give something up, but we can also do the opposite and take something on, for the season of Lent: a new spiritual discipline; a new study; a new volunteer opportunity; or just to strive to look at the world in a new way.
So, might I suggest that we, as the people of Christ church, take the season of Lent and examine our creed, our basic statement of faith, where it leads us, how it supports us, and what it means for each one of us? That we embrace this basic teaching and all of the ways it upholds us, strengthens us, teaches us, and helps us to know who we are as the children of God.
We have this opportunity to examine what it means to say “I believe.” To understand what to believe means for each one of us, and how that belief is a core value to us as Christians, as Anglicans, as followers of Christ.
As the 10 commandments are the core of Judaism, the creed, our statement of belief, and our decision to believe is what has upheld and supported us since the early days of the church when all interpretations of Christianity came together in order to better understand each other and devise these all-encompassing statements of our faith.
And in today’s world where to believe, to have faith, and to live with that faith exposed to the world is becoming a rare commodity. We return to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and hear his words again, with new ears. “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way … but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way.” (2 Cor 6:2b-4)
As we strive to come to a deeper understanding of what it means to have a faith life and all the ways God encourages us each and every day. And we, who believe and are able to grow in our faith, in our belief. We are able to better understand the love of God, of Jesus Christ in and for our lives better when we are urged to a fast that encourages justice in the world for all peoples, when we listen to Paul’s words and understand that people will learn and respond at their own pace as long as we don’t place a stumbling block before their feet, and as long as we help them to understand the faith we have, anchored in the words of the creed.