Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“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. 2 “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. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “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. 6 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. . . . 16 “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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
We talk a good talk as Christians. We confess our faith, we believe in God, we come to church, we pray for things. Does our belief in Jesus actually reveal itself in ways that look compassionate and merciful? Are our lives different as our relationship with God grows? Is God’s vision of compassion and love in the world more realized by us than it was a year ago?
In other words, are we actually growing in our discipleship? Are we discovering more about Jesus and God’s vision for the world? Have there been any changes in our lives, our attitudes, our activities to reflect that growth?
Today, Ash Wednesday, we have the opportunity to begin a deliberate journey of growth in our faith and our discipleship. Today, Ash Wednesday, we will be marked with the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads. A sign of our commitment to change, to grow, to more fully join the journey. In other words, a sign of repentance.
This is more than just being sorry for our sins so God will love us and we can go to heaven when we die. No, repentance literally means “to change direction.” Repentance is actually more about changing our minds, changing our lives, changing our direction as people committed to God’s ways revealed in Christ.
The gospel text makes clear to us that we don’t show this sign of repentance—of change—to impress anyone. We don’t wear this ashen cross proudly, but in honest humility. This is a sign to ourselves, to one another, and to the world that LCM is committing ourselves to God’s compassion and justice in the world. So much so that we are willing to begin a journey of change in our our lives in order to follow Jesus more closely.
Jesus was so committed to God’s vision of life and peace that he was willing to be killed for it. Just as the cross is a symbol of that commitment by Jesus to love and mercy and grace, the crosses on our foreheads are a symbol of our commitment to that same vision for the world.
So our first step in this Lenten journey tonight centers on the real, biblical meaning of repentance. That first step is committing to a change in our lives. This is repentance, a willingness to change and to grow.
We enter into Lent tonight. A journey of the cross. A time to deliberately grow in our discipleship. And we begin by using language and symbols of repentance. We begin with a commitment to change.