Homily for 22 February 2012 – Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

In the lesson from the Prophet Joel we heard “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” And in St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth we heard “We implore you, in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God!” These two statements give us the meaning and purpose of the Season of Lent. I think, sometimes, we forget this. In the real food and health community it is not uncommon for someone, seeking to improve their health, to begin to restrict their diet. Trying to find the perfect way of eating for perfect health, they restrict and restrict until there is nothing left to eat – they have forgotten that the whole thing started with a search for health. This can sometimes happen in our Lenten practices as well. We fast, we pray, we increase our discipline, until it becomes an end in itself – we forget that the purpose behind it is health, spiritual health, reconciliation with God, joyful union with the Most Holy Trinity.

In the Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude V, the Shepherd says to Hermas, “You do not know how to fast to God, and this useless fast you are keeping for him is not a fast….God does not wish such a futile fast as this, for by fasting in this way you do nothing for righteousness. But fast to God in this way: Do nothing evil in your life, but serve the Lord with a clean heart, keeping his commandments and following his orders, and let no evil desire arise in your heart. Believe in God, because, if you do these things and fear him and abstain from every evil deed, you will live to God. And if you do these things, you will complete a fast that is great and acceptable to the Lord.” Fasting, abstaining from food, however stringently we do it, is useless unless we also abstain from sin. Unless we also live to God. Not eating meat means nothing if we do not also practice the virtues – kindness, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, humility. I am not saying, if we are physically able, not to keep the fast from flesh and rich foods, just that by itself, it doesn’t mean anything.

The word Lent is from an old English word meaning Spring, we can look at it as a Spring cleaning for our lives and hearts. What are we doing, or not doing, that is making our way to God more difficult? What are we doing, or not doing, that is making someone else’s way to God more difficult? Do we live every day in thanksgiving for everything in our life? Knowing that whatever is happening God is allowing for our ultimate good. In a book by Harriet Beecher Stowe I read this, “The blessing of the Old Covenant was prosperity, Adversity is the blessing of the New.” The reason for this is that we are called to a higher life, the life of the Kingdom of God, that we can live now, but not without struggle. In this life, in this world, we strive to fit ourselves for the next. Not that we can earn or merit our salvation, but in gratitude for our salvation, we don’t want, by our own carelessness or foolishness, to lose that precious gift.

So, during this Lent, this Spring, as we work to fit ourselves for the Kingdom of God, let’s not forget why we struggle, that the struggle itself is a means not an end. Our end, our glorious goal is union with God.

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