Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In the play of life,
what role are you playing?
What character do you act out for the world?
Perhaps it’s the role of dutiful worker
that you bring to life
or enthusiastic student
or maybe you’re trying to play that fictional character
the one who can do everything effortlessly and to perfection.
You have multiple roles in life,
facades that you put on and take off like masks
and you’ve been doing it for so long
that it seems to be a part of who you are,
you’ve become so good at playing these characters
that you have trouble distinguishing
where the character stops and you begin
we all do it,
we get so caught up in the expectations and fantasies of a society
that tells us we have to act a certain way
and buy certain products
so that our lives will be better,
we’ll feel younger, live longer,
be one of the attractive people without worries,
that if we make smart decisions or vote for this party or that party
that everything will be okay
and if we don’t everything will be horrible.
Into this whirlwind steps Ash Wednesday and says
‘Stop. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
and with those words
and a smear of ash on our foreheads,
we are brought back to the fundamental truth of life
that we all started as dust
and will end as dust
and nothing we do,
no role we play
will change that fact.
It’s a sobering moment
and it serves as an invitation,
an invitation to return to God,
who molded us at the beginning,
who breathed life into us
and who knows exactly who we are,
no matter what we tell ourselves or others,
and who loves us as we are.
The invitation of Lent
is an invitation to return to authenticity,
it’s an invitation to see ourselves as we are
without the masks and characters
because that is who God loves,
that is who God goes to the cross for.
Jesus teaching his disciples tonight
points out the hypocrites,
I think our general definition of hypocrite
is someone who says one thing and does another
and that’s relatively easy to disassociate ourselves from,
we generally see ourselves as consistent in what we say and do,
it’s easier to see hypocrisy in someone else
than in our own lives,
but what Jesus is pointing to
has more to do with the intent behind actions
than the consistency of word and deed,
In the Greek language, a hypocrite is one who plays a part,
especially on the stage,
a hypocrite is an actor who changes masks with the change of a character.
The flaw that Jesus points out in the hypocrites
is not their actions,
giving alms, praying and fasting
are all good honorable actions in and of themselves,
what Jesus is critiquing
is the reason the hypocrites are giving alms and praying and fasting,
they want to be seen by others.
They are playing the role of a pious person,
it’s a character acted out on a stage
so that others will honor them as a pious person,
rather than actions that are intended to care for the poor,
build a genuine relationship with God
and heighten spiritual awareness.
Rend your hearts and not your clothing
says the Lord in our first reading
and when we look at it this way
we begin to see ourselves in the people Jesus is pointing to,
we think of the time when we went to church
because we wanted people to see that we went to church,
or the time when we smiled and said ‘I’ll pray for you’
and then did no such thing,
or when we went and did a service project
and made sure that pictures of us working were pasted all over social media.
Beware of practicing your piety before others
in order to be seen by them;
Stop. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
In the end it doesn’t matter what other people think.
What matters is your relationship with God
who formed you from dust,
who loves you so much
that Jesus, the Son of God
died on the cross, for you,
who in the waters of baptism
joined you to the death and resurrection of Jesus,
marking you as God’s own
in the shape of the cross on your forehead
so that death will not have the last say,
so that freed from the fear of death
we no longer need to try to escape from it
by playing a variety of characters
but instead we turn around,
look death in the eye
we mark it on our foreheads
and then we walk through it
to the new life on the other side
because with God
death is always followed by new life. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.