Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday, Series B

Sermon on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 22, 2012 (Ash Wednesday, Series B)

Image is nothing.  Thirst is everything.  Obey your thirst.  This is the slogan of a  television advertising campaign from several years back for Sprite.  The point of the campaign is that the important thing about a soft drink is not the image the soft drink has in people’s minds, and it isn’t whatever special offers or contests go along with buying the soft drink, but whether or not the drink quenches your thirst that is important.  The campaign was aimed at members of “generation X” who have grown up with manipulative advertising campaigns and who have a built in resistance and even hostility toward being manipulated by advertisers or anyone else for that matter.  It’s not the advertising or the image that’s important, it’s whether or not the product does what it’s supposed to.  Of course, by doing this, Sprite is trying to project a “generation X” image for themselves, and so they’re still doing what they criticize.  Such is the way of the world.  But it is common sense.  Products should be evaluated on how well they do their job, not on whether the brand name is popular or by what kinds of gimmicks and contests the company attaches to the product.  Image is nothing.

In today’s text, Jesus is also making the point that image is nothing.  But He isn’t talking about advertising and commercial products.  He is talking about the things that people do in connection with religion.  Too many people do things in connection with the worship of God that aren’t really directed at God at all.  Instead, often people do things to look pious or holy to other people.  They do things like fasting or giving up something for Lent, or even something as simple as going to Church, not because it’s a good thing to do or because it’s a good spiritual discipline, but because they want to be able to say, “Look at me!  Look at how good and holy I am!”  But that’s not the reason to do these things.  We aren’t supposed to be concerned about what others think of us; rather we are to be concerned about our relationship with our Father in heaven.

Today is the first day of the season of Lent.  During the next forty days we will be focusing on repentance and renewal of our Christian faith and life.  One way that many Christians do this is to give up something during this season, whether it be desert or smoking or drinking or not eating meat on certain days or whatever it may be.  It might also be that you give a little extra to the Church during this time, and in so doing you have less money for yourself and are able to discipline yourself that way.  All of these different ways of observing lent can be good and beneficial for us as we observe this season.  Unlike certain other denominations the Lutheran Church doesn’t require anyone to give things up for Lent.  It’s up to you what you want to do.  But whatever you do, don’t make a big deal out of it.  Don’t make yourself look like you are suffering in order to make yourself look more holy to other people.  Fasting and giving up things for Lent is something that is done to benefit you in your relationship to God.  It is not something that is done in order to impress other people.  If you do something to impress other people, you are still focused upon this world, and that defeats the purpose.  We give up things in this world to remind ourselves that our true happiness, our true treasure, is in eternal life.

And that’s the point of today’s Gospel lesson, too.  We are not to be concerned about what we look like to other people in this life.  We are not to be concerned with whether or not we have blessings and happiness in this life.  This life is passing away.  We will return to the ashes and dust from which we were made.  That’s why today is known as Ash Wednesday.  Now, at the beginning of Lent, we remind ourselves that no matter how great the blessings we have in this life, we will leave them behind.  Our bodies will return to ashes, and all the blessings of this life will be ashes as far as we are concerned.  Our true treasure is in heaven.  Our true home is in heaven.  You can’t take it with you, the old saying says.  Everything that God has given us on this earth will pass away, and those who we so often try so hard to impress will die just like the rest of humanity.  And so we see that if we focus our attention on this life, if our treasure and our heart is in this world, all we will inherit in the life to come is ashes and dust.

But if we are supposed to have treasure in heaven rather than on the earth, what does that mean?  What is the treasure in heaven?  The treasure we receive in heaven is the fellowship of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Father.  We will eternally be with a God who loves us and cares for us and provides our every need.  He will not allow death or sickness or hunger or pain ever to touch us again.  Even the richest, most content person in this world will be seen as very, very unhappy compared to the person who is living the eternal life with Christ.  We cannot imagine what this will be like for us, but it is there, to eternal life, that our attention and our priorities are focused.

But we’re not just talking about something that’s a long ways off in the future.  The first and foremost blessing of eternal life is being with Christ and His Father.  But our God is already with us even now.  Our heavenly treasure, our heavenly banquet of fellowship with our Creator, is already ours through Baptism, His Word, and His body and blood.  Already now we have the beginning of that eternal life.  We may not be able to see or hear or taste Christ’s Presence among us in His Preaching and His Supper.  But He is here, and He is real.  What we see and hear is the Pastor and his words, the bread, the wine.  These things will pass away.  But the Christ who comes to us through these things is more real than anything that exists in this old sinful world.  In, with, and under earthly things that will be destroyed on the last day, Christ comes to us and gives us a new life, a new reality which will not pass away but will last forever.  Christ has now caused you to hunger and thirst for His own body and blood through the preaching of the Word.  Image is nothing.  Eternal life, for which you hunger and thirst, is everything.  Obey your hunger and thirst.  Receive Christ who is your true heavenly treasure.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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