Lent as Invitation: Ash Wednesday Sermon

Text: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21.

So I find our reading today interesting for what it LEFT OUT.  Notice that the reading is verses 1-6 and then 16-21.  What’s sandwiched in between are 10 verses that make up what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  So, why does that matter?

I think it matters because without those words of prayer, the text today makes things about what WE DO.  It’s about whether we do “religious life” – praying, charity, and fasting – in the right way, or with the right intentions.  And I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing….the Christian life is a life of questioning motivations and intentions behind our actions.  But this season of Lent we’re entering into is more than that.

And if we include the Lord’s Prayer, I think it helps us see what is at the heart of Lent, and why it matters.

Most of us think of Lent as “giving something up” or “doing something religious related.”  We give up chocolate, TV, maybe a night of eating out a week….remove some unhealthy habit from our lives.  Or we attend one extra worship service during the weekdays, do special Lenten devotions, or give extra money to a food bank or area shelter for the homeless.

I guess what I’m saying is that those things…..they’re not bad.  Those are meaningful ways people have observed Lent throughout generations.  But here’s the thing: those things, they are still things that WE DO.  And last time I checked, this whole good news, this gospel, it’s not about us.  It’s about what God does.  It’s about God’s tremendous love and grace shown to us in Jesus Christ.  It is about a God who comes down to be with us in our suffering and in death and who comes down to be for us in our sin and brokenness.  The Lenten journey is not a journey WE make on our own…but rather, it’s a journey that Jesus makes…..with us and for us.

And so, I think that’s why those 10 verses that make up the Lord’s Prayer are important.  Because the Lord’s Prayer is about inviting God into our lives – “Thy Kingdom come, Your will be done.”  Prayer shows us that Lent is about invitation – making space for God to dwell in our lives and change us.

Lent as invitation….inviting God into those “secret” spaces of our hearts and working in us and through us.  This invitation is about a complete and radical change in your life – in the way you see, the way you hear, the way you think, act, and live….in every aspect of your life.

And when I think about Lent that way…..I’m both hesitant and hopeful at the same time.

I’m hesitant because that might mean some changes in my life.  It might mean I have to admit I’m missing the mark, I’ve fallen short, and I’m too reliant on myself and like being in control a little too much.  It might mean I’m not listening enough, not loving enough, and not empathic enough to others around me….especially the weakest and poorest in our community.

I’m hesitant because then it means I have to admit I’m human after all.  I’m dust, and to dust I will return.

But I’m hopeful too….I’m hopeful because three days later, God raises Jesus to new life out of that same death.  I’m hopeful because with that same dust, we’re marked with the cross of Christ – the same cross where God shows his deep love for humanity, for dust like me…..like you.

As the chorus of a favorite song of mine goes: “You make beautiful things, out of the dust, you make beautiful things….out of us.”

And as I sing that, a thought just came into my head….that line sounds like an invitation, like I’m making space for God to dwell and work within me.  I am dust…we are dust….and God, make something beautiful out of me, out of us.

That invitation….that sounds a lot like a prayer.

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done.”  Pray the Lord’s Prayer as invitation.

Or from Psalm 51, what we read responsively at the beginning of worship: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.  And put a new and right spirit within me.”  An Invitation.  Asking, inviting God to create and place in our hearts…a new and right spirit.

Here’s another thought: What if for the next 40 days through Lent we simply just prayed one of those lines, over and over….asking and inviting God into my thoughts, into my heart, into my life?  What might happen?  Do you think God might do something in you?  How would that change how you see, hear, think and act in your life?

Here’s my proposal:  Let’s pray over the next 40 days.  But let’s pray simply.  Let’s just pick a line or two to say, over and over in our heads….”thy kingdom come, or thy will be done,” or “put a new and right spirit within me.”  And just wait.  Wait, but pay attention to what God might be doing within you as you pray that.  Invite God in, make a space for God over the next 40 days and see what happens.

In your trials, in your troubles, in your joys, in your hopes….invite Jesus to walk with you….for you….within you.  Invite Jesus to journey into those secret places of your heart and see what he can do with dust like us.

The best part is, I can’t tell you what will be, because I’m not you.  But I do know this: in this invitation, in making space for God, you just might end up noticing that God has been present the whole time, and doing something – raising up new life in us – all along!  Amen.

 

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