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Almighty and Everlasting God…, Ash Wednesday – 1998

February 25, 1998

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you , the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

“Pray to your Father who is in the secret place and He who sees in secret will reward you accordingly. –“
Matthew 6:6 paraphrased.

Ash Wednesday is a very special Holy Day for all who wish to prepare themselves for the agony of Christ’s death at Calvary and the excitement of the empty tomb and the joy of His resurrection!

The Season of Lent is not a happy time.

–Some would say it is a downer.
–Some throw up their hands and ignore it.
–Others work overtime trying to make things right which may not be wrong. It is hard to find the balance between beating up oneself in seeking repentance and being “pollyanna” about our sinful nature!

Here is where God comes in!

Let us briefly look at three specific concerns we should have as we prepare ourselves to experience a meaningful and life restructuring Holy Lent. We need to look at 1) our charity, 2) Our relationship with “the evil one” and 3) our prayer life.

1) How charitable is our giving?

There are two people I know who are stark contrasts in their approach to giving.

Many of you probably know similar type folks.

Acquaintance #1 is Joe. Wealthy by today’s standards. Self-made in the best sense of that term. Devoted to church, family and business. A man with an entrepreneurial spirit. He gives much of his wealth away with no fanfare: helping young people with college, providing a van with a wheelchair lift to a family with a crippled child, giving generously to social needs, quietly providing special gifts to colleges and universities to be used as needed.

Acquaintance #2 is John. Far wealthier than Joe, he has used his wealth primarily to build buildings (dormitories, libraries, student unions) on college and university campuses which carry either his name or the name of some family member. These gifts have met great educational need and are to be appreciated.

On the surface of Matthew 6:1-3, Joe will receive the greater reward from God. But God in His secret place sees far more than we do. We can only be responsible for our own actions of charity — whether it is money, time or a kind word.

There is a church in Kansas which for the past seven years has been operating on what is calls a “blind pledge.” Members of the congregation write an amount on a blank sheet of paper, place it in a sealed envelope and together the members on Steward Sunday place these envelopes in a small box which is blessed and remains on the altar for the entire year. The pledge is between the giver and God. The parish has never failed to meet its budget and to reach out into the community and do additional ministry.

Giving is a matter between us and God.

–and He can evaluate our motives and our level of faith.

Secondly, let us look at the lesson from 2nd Corinthians.

We see a welcome to stressful living.
But, who needs stressful living?
Christians seem to abound in stress as they go about their lives trying to obey the commandments of God and the examples of Christ. Take hope! That stress is preparing us for the richness of Christ’s kingdom which we will enjoy with him in eternity. Paul described the life of a servant of God in verses 4 & 5 as tribulation, distress, tumult and sleepiness. Moving through to verses 6 – 10, Paul links these stress producers to purity, kindness, sincere love, honor, good report, joy and peace.
Lent is a stressful time.

But it brings peace when we meet it in prayer, in giving to His glory and in keeping focused on our future with a risen Christ on Easter morn.

Finally, we need to look at our attitude both about prayer and what we pray. In my mind there is nothing more powerful than the privacy of prayer. Certainly there is the appropriate time for community prayer in corporate worship. There is time we when need to be in agreement with others about the needs of individuals and society and nature. There are many great prayers — in the Prayer Book and elsewhere — handed down through the ages which express for us needs far greater than we might do.

The Season of Lent is a perfect time to cleanse our souls of wrongful thoughts toward God, our friends and our neighbors. It is a time to get right with God. Find a quiet time — 5 minutes or 50 minutes — and listen to Him. Let Him speak to you. He already knows your thoughts… He knows better than you do the point of any pain.

In that quietness…listen to Him to tell you how He loves you…

how He want you to be whole…
how He wants you to be healed…
how He wants your body, mind and spirit to be filled with His understanding and His forgiveness.

It is a time to be reconciled with God… and in the process being reconciled with those with whom we have struggled.

When the priest signs of the cross, using the burned ashes from the palms we waved in triumph the year before on Palm Sunday, remember those ashes are a sign of our mortality and penitence. We are likewise given the gracious gift of everlasting life through our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to reflect this Lent on our walk with Christ. We are forgiven, healed and restored in His name. Believe it…Receive it….and allow our lives to reflect the promise. Amen

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Christopher Sikkema