Welcome to worship for this Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023.
The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin will have our order of worship, the words of the liturgy with your responses in the bold faced type, the hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. The words that you need to know should also appear on your screen and the sermon is posted on this page below the worship video.
As this is an Ash Wednesday service, there will be the imposition of ashes. If you wish to participate, you needn’t have actual ashes in your space, but anything of the earth that could leave some sort of marking. Things like certain cosmetics, dirt or soil from a potted plant, or even some baby power should you have some. Feel free to be creative!
May the hope of God’s peace and joy move you through this season of Lent and always!
God of mercy, we need the light of your Word to break forth through the darkness and guide us in even the parched places of life into your waters of blessing and grace. May your love be revealed to us throughout this season and always, spoken to us by Jesus through the power of your Spirit. Amen.
Another Ash Wednesday. I think I start every one of my Ash Wednesday sermons with those exact words in that exact order. It’s just that it’s hard to get these days in the church calendar that are big enough to have a service for but not big enough that people would actually show up to them. And it’s especially hard when the texts for the day are the exact same year after year, no exceptions. And while there are few enough people that I could probably get away with using the same sermon as last year, I’m just not a “reuse my sermon” kind of guy. Actually, I might have used that joke before, so I’m just a “reuse old jokes” kind of guy. No sermons, just jokes.
Anyway, so it’s hard to come up with something new with the same familiar texts. It’s hard to look at the same words and see something different. It’s hard to say something about this that hasn’t been said before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or anything, mostly because God is good and something jumped out at me this time around. And that is how the Jesus concludes this text with, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I know what you’re thinking, “That’s it?!? That doesn’t sound special at all. Any cereal box or fortune cookie could have told us that!” And I’ll admit that I didn’t say that it was super profound, but it’s just something that jumped out at me because of the context in which this line comes.
Again, we’re familiar with it. Jesus tells us to give, pray, fast, in secret, don’t showboat all the churchy stuff that we do. Well, except for getting ashes on Ash Wednesday, you can wear that loud and proud. But for everything else, Jesus says do in secret because God who sees in secret will reward you. The reward we assume would be these treasures that Jesus talks about stored in heaven and not on earth. And that is where he drops this line, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”
Because honestly? For me to make sense of Jesus’ teaching I would think it should be the other way around. I think Jesus means “where your heart is, there your treasure will be.” Now it’s a bit more profound, right?
I know, it’s like a chicken or egg thing. There’s no real answer, is there? Well, we might think so with Jesus’ words because the grammar is just there, we can’t deny what he said. But akin to the chicken and egg debate, I start to wonder if there even needs to be a distinction of what comes first? Are they mutually exclusive concepts? I mean with the chicken and egg, I would argue that the egg contains the chicken and the chicken contains the egg. We can’t say what comes first because they’re part of the same thing. Sure, maybe the state in which they appear might be different, but it still it’s just a chicken.
And so when Jesus talks about where to store treasures, I believe he’s talking about where to put our heart. As in, where do we put our trust, our faith, our hope? Because where we put our heart helps us to see the treasures we’ve been given. Treasures of grace, mercy, and love. If our heart is in the ways of the world, then we will yearn for the things of this world. But if our heart is in God, then our eyes will be more open to seeing how we can live the life that truly is life, one that is full of the joy of the Lord and blesses us with God’s presence in and through our community.
But what does all this have to do with Ash Wednesday and this season of Lent? This season is usually about letting go of the things that bring us joy and fasting from the things that fill us. The discipline for this time of year is usually more about scarcity than it is about riches. We associate Lent usually as a time of want, not a time of plenty.
I think I just figured out why this day and season aren’t all that popular, guys.
But that is just how Lent seems to be advertised, right? We’re told that it’s a time of reflection, of repentance, of relinquishing something that we love as a fast and discipline to “prove” our devotion and discipleship. Not really big selling points. We like what we like so giving it up isn’t pleasant. We enjoy the things we enjoy and not being able to enjoy them anymore is just not enjoyable. We want what we want and we’d rather not have to give them up.
Well, unless our heart is in a different place.
See there isn’t anything wrong with liking things, enjoying things, or wanting things. There isn’t anything wrong with having things, doing things, and being things. There isn’t anything wrong with living in the world. But the point is that the danger is when these things define us, drive us, and determine our joy. The problem is when they possess our thoughts, pervade our dreams, and have the sole proprietorship on who we are. The hardship comes from these things of the world having the handle on our happiness, our hope, and our heart. When this happens, Jesus promises us that we will have our apt reward.
And so Jesus also tells us that perhaps our happiness is perhaps better found in things not as fleeting. Jesus tells us that maybe we should put our hope in things more eternal and everlasting. Jesus reveals to us that having our hearts in heaven releases us from the pressures of the rat race, the stress of keeping up with the Joneses, the guilt of not appearing to be good enough, rich enough, or faithful enough for this world.
This is what Lent does for us. It reminds us that we needn’t hold on so tightly to the world, for it will pass. It reminds us that we needn’t put too much emphasis on the image that we put before others because that doesn’t affect our position and identity as God’s beloved people. It reminds us that our joy needn’t be found in our possessions and pleasures, as we are defined by God’s Spirit, saved by God’s grace, and marked by God’s steadfast and eternal love.
For we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.
See even in the temporary life that we have here on this planet, we continue to be loved. Even in the midst of all the temptations and indulgences that we fall for, we continue to be forgiven and saved. Even in all the places we might find ourselves putting our hearts in, we continue to be blessed with the treasures of heaven, the treasures of truth, peace, and hope.
In a few moments we will be receiving the mark of the ashes on our foreheads. May that mark serve as a reminder of this season of Lent and all that it stands for, a reminder of who we are and whose we are, a reminder that where our hearts are, so also will our treasure be seen.
And so on this Ash Wednesday, this season of Lent, and beyond into the rest of the church year, may we always see God working in and around us, loving us both as saint and sinner, and redeeming us that our hearts be empowered to serve God and others living in community together as the body of Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.