Last Lent, knowing it was my first, I admit I had preconceived notions about how Lent should be observed. Growing up, I had noticed friends of other faiths not eating meat on Friday or looking for things to abstain from during the Lenten season. I thought maybe I should choose to give up wine or chocolate… both felt like a sacrifice. But I was moved when Molly and Heather had other ideas and suggestions. Not so much about what we would “give up”, but what we could contribute. These ideas were appreciated and Bryant and I adopted several of them as we entered this season of reflection and preparation before Easter.
Father Michael Marsh of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in West Texas describes Lent as a time of recognizing that everything matters. He asks What if it’s about remembering and reclaiming our treasures? What if it’s about re-treasuring the things and people we’ve forgotten, taken for granted, ignored, devalued?
Marsh suggests that this may not be how we usually think of Lent or hear today’s gospel from Matthew. More often than not we focus on what’s wrong and how we’ve taken hold of the wrong treasures or our heart is in the wrong place. He encourages us that perhaps this year we should come at Lent in a different way. Maybe we should look for and reclaim what’s right. To re-treasure the things of our life that are of ultimate importance, the people and things that are of infinite value, worth more than money, prestige, position. Maybe failing to treasure is the sin from which we need to turn away.
In thinking about the words of Father Marsh, it gave me pause to think about the things that I treasure and how they might require more focus. Am I focusing on things that really matter or things that are merely expedient or things that feel necessary? If you were to ask me what I treasure most in life, I would instantly respond that it is my family, my marriage, my friends, my relationship with the Lord, my health. But a full reflection would show that perhaps that is not always where I expend my time, talent, and treasure. I don’t say this to discount the requirements and realities of life. It is important that I stay employed and engage in the practical aspects of every day living, but do those people and things that I truly treasure know of my commitment and love for them? Or do I just assume that they do?
Marsh encourages us to evaluate --Who or what are the treasures that hold your heart? What is of ultimate importance in your life? I like Marsh’s suggestion to take this Lenten season as a time of re-treasuring. To re-treasure people and relationships, to re-treasure justice and compassion, to re-treasure love, forgiveness, hope, beauty.
As we reflect on our Gospel this evening from Matthew, I am struck by the opportunity for reflection that this presents. The commandment of giving alms or other gifts in private is a corollary to this type of private reflection in consultation with the Lord that takes place in the Lenten season. A truly unique partnership with a loving God that knows us and our hearts; he sees what is commendable and what might need redirection in a way that no one else can… even those who know us and love us best. Taking time to assess the actions of our minds and hearts is key to determining what our desires and intentions are.
To me, Lent seems like an invitation for greater self-awareness and self-reflection. Two things that often do not come naturally. One phrase I have come to love in the Episcopal tradition is “With God’s help”. I know I will be seeking God’s help as I enter this period of self-reflection. I am grateful to know that there is a loving God who knows I can be better and will help me continue to grow.
The website Anglican Compass has a section call “Lent for Rookies” which seemed to be a good spot to find myself. They suggest that “Ash Wednesday and Lent remind us that we still live in a fallen world, and that we are a part of that fallenness. No one is free of sin. It gives us permission, in fact it calls us, to acknowledge the reality we see within ourselves, and around us.” It gives us the invitation to refocus and re-treasure. I thought this was excellent advice.
During this season, we remember that we are dust and to dust we will return. This is an inevitable part of our eternal life. But as we continue down the earthly portion of our journey, we are blessed with the constancy and timeless nature of the scriptures. In Matthew, we so sagely learn “That for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21). How often do we see this play out in our own lives and the lives of others?
In closing, I wish you the beauty and grace of this important reflective time. My first Sunday at Saints James and Andrew was an Easter Sunday and I was struck then by the quote from Ephesians “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself in offering and sacrifice to God.” I didn’t know at the time that I would have the pleasure of hearing that favorite scripture each week – but as we enter the season of Lent I pray that we will all continue to walk in love as Christ loved us. I say these things in Jesus’ name, amen.
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