Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Are Ashes a Public Statement of Faith?

 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

   "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

   "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

   "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (NRSV) 

If you, like me, have been on Facebook over the last few days, you have probably been overwhelmed by the number of postings about Ash Wed and Lent!! People are talking about what they are giving up and particularly those that are giving up Facebook for Lent have been posting that they will not be around for several weeks.  People are sharing the things that they are going to do during the next forty days and the things that they are NOT going to be doing, like eating chocolate.

Since Facebook has come along, it seems like there is more PUBLIC sharing of faith-related things.  Maybe it's just because of who my friends are on FB. Although, I have to say, I have plenty of friends who aren't religious that are my FB friends. I wonder sometimes if their feeds are filled with these religious posts...

But, when I thought the opening verse of this passage from Matthew, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them," I wondered about religious posting.  Do some of us just do it to be "seen" by others?

What about the ashes that you have seen on other's heads today?

Is wearing ashes on our head today is that parading in public?
Like standing on the street corner to pray?

I saw a great quote today though that I want to remember..
"We don't wear ashes to proclaim our holiness,
But to acknowledge we sin."

When I was in college, I would often give up Soda during Lent. And usually, Spring Break would fall during the season of Lent. I sang in a choir of college students and we would go on "tour" during Spring Break, we would visit various churches and perform. After the performance, we would stay in homes of church members. Invariably, when we would get to someone's home, they would offer us something to drink and usually it was "soda." (Now, you have to remember this was in the Midwest-they didn't serve tea-much less sweet tea.)  So it was always Soda...  I would feel awful refusing. I felt like I was refusing hospitality. And then I would want to explain. "Well, I gave it up for Lent."  And then I'd feel bad for acting "holier than thou" by saying I was giving something up. It was a catch 22.

But, how many of our Lenten "give ups" ARE things that are public?
When we make the choices that we are, are we making them for ourselves?
Or for others?  For show?

I came across a really cool posting and I bet you have seen it. 20 things to give up for lent.

Here are a few of the things suggested to give up:
  • Impatience,
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Bitterness and resentment
  • Blame
 Those are just four of the twenty...

When I looked at that list, I realized that it includes SPIRITUAL things-things that push us spiritually to be better people. The things listed are qualities that could be sinful.

Keeping a holy Lent has to do with moving deeper spiritually. For me, it has often involved doing something like not eating any sugary foods. But in order to make this a "spiritual" practice, I had to take an extra step. When I would crave a sugary snack, I would say to myself something like this, "you don't deserve that, you are a sinner."

But, what if I were to work on my tendency to blame others? That really is something I should be working on all the time.  But what if during the coming 40 days, I consciously made an effort to do this less often. It's not something that you would see me doing. I wouldn't have to refuse a drink or dessert from someone. NO ONE but me would know what I was working on.

Perhaps that is one way to keep a holy Lent and to keep a sacred space for God to enter in and transform me.

Are you looking for a way to keep Lent Holy?

Here's the link to the post mentioned above:
Give up things like:
  • Impatience - God's timing is the perfect timing.
  • Sense of entitlement - The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace.
  • Bitterness and Resentment - The only person I am hurting by holding on to these is myself.
  • Blame 
VERY different focus from Nadia Bolz Weber
Day 5: Take 5 minutes of silence at noon
Day 6: Look out the window until you find something of beauty you had not noticed before
Day 7: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill
Something geared to Teens:   Weird Lent Ideas that will make you holier

 For those into Social Media:  United Methodist Rethink Church
 Here's how it's going to work: Every Sunday, we'll post a theme that we're asking you to sit with that week. As you think about the questions and images revealed in that theme, share them with us on social media using the # for that week. Perhaps you'll share a photo of how that topic speaks to you. Or maybe it's a Vine or Instagram video you created. Whatever it is, we hope these 40 days of Lent will be a time to open your eyes and heart to what's already at work around you.

40 Ideas for Lent from Rachel Held Evans

Ashes to Action Calendar is a two week devotional calendar that is dated for the 2 weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday but can be used any time. 

A two minute video explainer about Ash Wednesday.
a short video explainer

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