Homily for 5 March 2014 - Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18; 2nd Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Psalm 52; Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

In our first lesson, from the Prophet Joel, we heard, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning; rend your hearts not your garments…” And In St. Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth, “We implore you, in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God!” And from Psalm 51, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Lent is a season of repentance, acknowledging our faults, failures, foibles as well as our deliberate flouting of God’s will and love. We ask for mercy and forgiveness, and we should, but repentance doesn’t stop there, repentance includes amendment. We have asked God to forgive us, and he has, so now what? What do we do next? What is the aim of our repentance? Hopefully it is not coming back next year with the same sins. What we do now is change. And what we need to change is our hearts. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” A clean heart and a right spirit should be our goal this Lent.

So how do we do that? We need to change not only what we are doing, but why we have been doing it. Behavior only changes permanently when the mind and heart are changed, when we allow our mind and heart to be transformed by the power of Christ. For some crazy reason we resist this, we all do. We resist out of fear; fear of the unknown, fear of losing our illusion of control, fear that we will not be ourselves anymore. We also resist out of sheer stubbornness, of wanting to “do it myself”, and not wanting to be pushed, even in a direction we want to go, a direction we have asked to go. Outside of direct intervention by God, which I do not discount, we cannot change all at once, it begins with small steps. Auntie Leila suggests, to young mothers, the Lenten discipline of getting better at one job: dishes, laundry, closets, dusting, whatever it is, just commit, this Lent, to improving it. We can all benefit from this advice, especially if we expand it beyond household chores. Take one thing, one behavior, and work on it every day. Is there one person in our family, school or workplace with whom we have difficulty? Are we more impatient, or judgmental, or critical of them? Make that our project. Is there one element of our devotional life; doing offices, prayer, reading that we stumble over? Work on that. And while we are working on our behavior, we are working on our hearts as well by submitting the behavior to God, every day, every minute if we need to. As St. Paul writes, “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!”

In our Gospel lesson, Our Lord warns against making our interior spiritual work public. How ever hard our struggle is, we must struggle even harder to be cheerful, to be joyful, to be grateful that our “Father who sees what is hidden” knows how hard we are trying. My one caveat about this is that the Church is not the public. Of course our struggles should be known here, and we should know everyone else’s. This is the training camp, the M.A.S.H. unit, that is: Mobile Army Spiritual Hospital; where we are patched up and strengthened to continue the fight.

Another reason it is so important to include amendment with repentance is that if we do not replace the fallen behavior with transformed behavior, we will, at the first opportunity, return to it, as our default position.

And if that happens, we will feel even more defeated. If we sincerely desire to change, sincerely desire a clean heart and a right spirit, we will be given them, but we must make room for them. We must break our hearts of stone, and surrender our spirits of selfishness, for as St. Paul says, “For our sakes God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.”

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