a meditation for Ash Wednesday: Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”

Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Luke 18:9-14; MSG

On this Ash Wednesday, as we enter into Lent, it is indeed a season of reflection and preparation. An important aspect of it is the acknowledgement and confession of our own sins. And of how we fall short of God’s perfection and will. We should never think we have a leg up on others. Yes, some sins are more devastating than other sins; we can’t escape that reality. At the same time, we too sin, and are sinners in that sense. We’re no longer sinners as before, as those declared and made righteous in Christ, so that we’re on a new path, the path of righteousness (Psalm 23). Yet we still have sin and sin (1 John 1).

It is particularly important during this time when some may think they’re better than others given what’s happening in our nation. We need to face the fact of our own complicity. Even the sin of simply not being present, of excusing one’s self, or not making the effort to understand what’s wrong, and how it affects actual people, including possibly some of our neighbors.

The point is that we need to accept that we too are in need of ongoing forgiveness, and a deeper repentance, which gets right to the heart of our own need, as well as the need around us.

This is not something we beat ourselves with again and again. But in a sense it’s where we live and is actually for our good. In the process we’ll more and more come to find the special place God has for us. In God’s love for all. In and through Jesus.

prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

keeping a secret between you and God alone

Jesus talked about keeping one’s good works and sacrifice between one’s self and God, not letting others know, as if for show (see Matthew 6). For me, engaging in liturgy, especially liturgical services such as Ash Wednesday is relatively new. Father Michael Cupp at our Ash Wednesday service this past week pointed something out which hit home to me, a new thought in its context. Simply put, that we should not be concerned, but even happy if the ashes into the form of the cross on our foreheads is covered by our hair, though in Michael and my own case, we have no (or not enough) hair to cover it. The point was that even over something I might be enthusiastic about, which I like to share, it is good to keep between myself and God as far as my actual practice of it is concerned. Of course I can share with others in answer to their questions, or even beyond that if I think I’m led to do so. But it is on the safe side to work on keeping acts of righteousness hidden, between us and God, lest we fall into the sin of wanting to be seen by others as good and righteous, the old way of putting it, pious.

What we do and don’t do does end up mattering much more than we could imagine. We may think something bad we’re doing in secret is okay, but God sees it, and it does impact us and through that, others, in ways we little realize, or in fact don’t understand at all. In the same way the good we do before God as those in grace devoted to him will end up being part of God’s good work in the world. Whereas when we do it with ulterior motives, to be noted by others, then that reward is all we have, and if God uses it, it will be inspite of that.

And so, just as we know that all we do has meaning only in reference to God, but out from that, for everything, we go on in our Lord Jesus. As we look forward to the day when everything will be done out of sheer joy and love with no danger of empty show.

forgiving others

At our Ash Wednesday service we read prescribed passages, Father Michael including the verses in between the sections of Matthew 6. In keeping with one major theme of Ash Wednesday, forgiveness of sins and reconcilation, Father Michael impressed upon us our need to forgive others. He noted that having been raised in the evangelical tradition (true of all of us present, with himself), we were strong on the reconcilation of the world, or more prescisely in our theology, individual sinners to God, but we weren’t as good at applying the theology of reconcilation to each other. The passage he emphasized here is our Lord’s words after the Lord’s Prayer:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

Father Michael challenged us this Lent to focus on forgiving someone we might still be holding something against. Our Lord’s words here certainly are not in keeping with some of the popular theology present. We think we’re forgiven period, as long as we are reconciled to God. But that very reconciliation means that we’re reconciled to each other in Christ as well, that is to our brothers and sisters in him. And that we live as those who would be reconciled even to our enemies.

I am aware of what I consider a situation in one relationship which is not entirely closed, though the other person might think so. For me a key to forgiveness is living insofar as that’s possible, in the reconcilation of God in Christ which means a reconciliation with each other. Another key word on this from the same Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5:23-24 (and see the immediate context, including in the link):

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

This is not easy, and we struggle with it at times. But the same grace which forgave our sins is the grace by which we are to forgive each other’s sins. We may need to work through a process of acknowledging our guilt, because forgiveness of real sins is what’s being talked about here. Oftentimes we simply choose to ignore something, since “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter). But other things may well need to be talked through. While we all have work to do on our character in and through God’s grace in Jesus, full reconciliation to each other should be immediate. I am referring to normal situations. There are those relationships with which we must proceed with wisdom, for example one who may still fall into patterns of abusing others. But insofar as it depends on us, we should be fully given to forgiveness and reconcilation with them in and through our reconcilation with God in Christ.

Not always easy. Something I want to be praying and thinking about during this Lent.

prayer for Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

 

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent

Today on the church calendar is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is the period from this day to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It is a time of preparation for remembering Jesus’ suffering and death and celebrating his resurrection. Penitence, meaning a sorrow over our sin, and repentance, which includes confession along with renunciation and forsaking of sin, is to mark this time. This is a time to especially focus on our sins, asking God to search us so that our darkness might be exposed by God’s light, so that we might confess our sins and receive both cleansing and forgiveness. And through that live differently. In doing so, we’re seeking to honor our Lord by responding in whole hearted faith to what he has done for us in his death on the cross. So that we might be enabled to rejoice completely in his resurrection, as we share in his resurrection life even now.

Ash Wednesday is also a day of remembering our mortality. We are dust, and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).

The priest or pastor takes ashes which are watered down (perhaps with holy water or olive oil), and marks the sign of the cross on the participants. The ashes are previously blessed by the priest or deacon for the purpose which they serve to draw us to confession of sin and the salvation of the cross of Christ. As well as reminding us of our mortality.

prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer