By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
Ash Wednesday – February 16, 2010
Read: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others..” Jesus tells us. And we hear the word hypocrite more than once. What do we make of that?
One of the reasons why masks are a part of the Mardi Gras celebration has to do with this. We tend to present ourselves one way to others – in other words, put on a mask – while deep down inside we know someone who is just a little different. The taking off of the Mardi Gras mask marks the intention to enter into a Holy Lent: A season where we intentionally focus on our personal relationship with Christ, with God. A 40 day period of self-examination and reflection, where we do our best to look deep inside ourselves; at the parts of us we don’t like so well; those thoughts and feelings that are kind of ugly. Those parts that we try to cover up with a mask. The season is about acknowledging their existence and turning it over to God so that we may be renewed and changed by the experience. To be self-reflective requires real prayer.
About one hundred seventy-five years ago James Montgomery wrote:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast . Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.
God looks upon the heart and acknowledges sincerity, or authenticity.
There is a helpful illustration of an authentic act that comes from a children’s book called The Frog and Toad Treasury, by Arnold Lobel.
Frog and Toad are good friends. In chapter after chapter, Lobel describes ways they pass time together, explore the world together, and support one another. One chapter is titled “The Surprise.” The action in it takes place in October. The leaves are falling. Frog decides to go to Toad’s house, secretly, and rake his leaves for him.
“ I will rake all the leaves that have fallen on his lawn. Toad will be surprised.” Toad has the same idea. Both manage to arrive at the home of the other unseen, ascertain that no one is home, rake the leaves, and return to their own houses unnoticed. On their respective ways home, however, a wind comes. The wind blows and blows. The piles of leaves do too, so that the leaves are scattered everywhere. At the end of the day, neither Frog nor Toad realizes what the other has done, because both return home to leaves strewn across their yards. Both pledge to rake their own leaves the next day.
When Frog got home, he said, ‘I will clean up the leaves that are all over my own lawn. How surprised Toad must be!” Toad echoed Frog. “That night Frog and Toad were both happy when they each turned out the light and went to bed.”
The sense of purpose each derived from his acts of love and service was not dependent on a public response or acknowledgment; it was not, in the end, even dependent on the accomplishment (given the wind). The acts were, in a word authentic.
Ashes remind us of our humanity and our sinfulness: that we are dust and to dust we shall return. I invite you once again into a Holy Lent.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.