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Status: I'm Fasting--Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2013

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Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2013

Text from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


On Sunday we had a reading from Second Corinthians that talked about how Moses veiled his glowing face so that the people of Israel wouldn't have to be exposed to the glory of God in it, but being Christians, when we are filled with the Spirit, we can let our light shine into the world. In the sermon, Pastor Steve talked about being out as a Christian, letting people know who we are. In fact we had some experience with that today, offering Ashes to go to people on the street at 9th and Irving and at Market and Castro.

When we do things that a Christian is supposed to do, it lets people know who Christians are, a way of sharing the good news with others who are not in our little church community, a form of evangelism.

But now I've heard, as we've been approaching Ash Wednesday, people who look at this Gospel reading for today and say, wait a minute, this sounds like a completely different message than what we've been talking about? What does Jesus mean by doing these things in secret? What has this got to do with putting ashes on our forehead?

The people who Jesus was talking to were of a completely different time and place, with different cultural experiences than we have today. And also, fasting, prayer and almsgiving are not something that are exclusive to Jews and Christian community, we share these disciplines with people with other faiths. The key thing that we need to remember, however, is that as Christians, while we're doing these things, we're doing them not for the sake of doing them, we're not doing them to impress our neighbors, our friends, to look good to others, we're doing these things for the sake of our relationship with God

What Jesus is telling us here is to perform these acts in light of our relationship with God! Not as a way of showing everyone else how wonderful and faithful and good we are.

While I hate labels, when I hear the term "progressive Christian" it sounds like something I want to consider myself as. Open minded, justice seeking, looking for the liberation of people on the earth, green thinking. As a progressive Christian, I find that we can fall intoa trap of express ourselves in a way that demonstrates to the world that we're the ones who have a clue as to what the Gospel is about, and that the things that we do are what Jesus Christ really would have wanted us to do.

And there is some history and rationale behind it. On Sunday evenings I am involved with an emerging church community in Emeryville. We have been working on determining our identity there, but we have had some definitive goals in mind as far as who we want to be particularly open to. And quite often the very people who we want to reach out to are people who have been injured in some way or another by the church. And it becomes so very easy as an emerging community to point fingers at those other churches, we know those churches.

The intolerant churches, the ones who want to tell everyone "love the sinner, hate the sin". The ones who like to pray the gay away and pastors who stand in the pulpit and tell their parishioners who not to vote for. And we...the progressive church movement... want to fit into that mold and say in one hand, "But that's not who we are. We're not like them." And yet "Church is one body and Jesus Christ is the lord of all."

And, yes, I know that other church bodies might withhold the sacrament from ELCA members, to name a few, the Missouri Synod, and the Roman Catholic Church...in fact, there's one church in Ethiopia who recently announced they were ending their sacramental relationship with ELCA and the Church of Sweden over their position on human sexuality--as far as we are concerned, we are not going to turn those people away from receiving sacrament here. That doesn't make us "better Christians" it is just what we believe we're supposed to be doing.

We cannot truly say that we are better Christians than they are. Because we are truly as broken and separated from God as any of the rest of them no matter what denomination, what body. And the only one who can fix that is God.

So I have to wonder why when I hear people--in the progressive church movement--say, "oh, we're not like those other Christians. That's not what the church is about" I have to wonder about the message that is being sent. The church is about schisms and disagreements and irreconcilable differences. Not the one true body of Christ that we're working ourselves for. Isn't it a lot easier rather than being "not like those other Christians" by just being the Christians that we are? Centered in Christ in Word and Sacrament and loving God and in mission to the world. We're doing this for God, not for ourselves, and not to grow our church.

But Jesus was talking to a group of people in a world different than the one we live in now. If Jesus was speaking to his followers today, how would it sound?

Do not share on Twitter that you just handed a dollar to a homeless person, or check-in too frequently at the Food Bank on Foursquare, like the hypocrites and the politicians do in order to receive praise and adoration. Just do it, God knows.

Do not Instagram yourself in prayer and repose and share your diligent meditations on Tumblr, for all of your followers to see, like the football players and the pop music stars. God is the one who sees you praying in secret and God is who matters, not all your Tumblr followers.

Do not update your Facebook status to tell everyone in the world you are proud of how good you are fasting, but that you are so famished and could eat a horse. And do not blog how much of a difference keeping off of chocolate is making to your figure. Your reward is not a body to die for.

And do not profit by these ruminations in Google Ads, because the money saved up from those clicks will just be spent supporting your iPhone. But store up the treasure in heaven, where neither taxes or service charges or overages apply. Because where your treasure is, there your heart is also.

So when I fast, when Jesus says what he says to make myself not look particularly like I'm fasting it's to underscore the fact that fasting is done not for the benefit of other people. When I'm praying, to do it so that it doesn't matter who may be watching, because it's not for them to see it. It's about me and God. When giving alms, it's not about telling the world what a good and generous person I am, but it's to help remember that I am but a humble human being completely dependent on God's abundant love and care.

None of this, is about keeping this to ourselves or hiding our faith, but about making sure we're doing it for the right reasons.

We pray, fast and give alms because there has got to be some time for us to take a step back at our lives and let God work on us and bring us back into alignment with him. For us to realign our hearts and become the people we are meant to be.  

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on February 13, 2013 2:00 PM.

Unexpected Places - Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 2013 was the previous entry in this blog.

Ashes to Go. is the next entry in this blog.

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