Sermon for Ash Wednesday
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
On this holy day of Ash Wednesday, the Church calls us to reflect on our own mortality. To consider our own death. And that is an uncomfortable exercise. Americans have removed and sanitized death from everyday life. We have come up with all sorts of innuendo for death: passing away, expiring, going on. We clearly have an unhealthy relationship with death, and Ash Wednesday brings this into full focus. Death is not brought up in polite conversation, except for today. We will place ashes on your forehead and say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
But there is one topic that is even more tacky to bring up in polite conversation. And that’s money. Nobody likes to talk about money – how much they have, how much they want, how much they need. Yet Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So I figured that today we’ll just get all of the uncomfortable stuff out of the way, and talk about both death and money. Because believe it or not, they are tied together.
See, our society values us based on how much money we make. We value ourselves based on how much we make. If the guy down the street has just bought a new car, then he must be more successful. If that girl is always wearing new, brand name clothing, then she must be doing something right. If I buy a new house, a new television, then I must be doing pretty well for myself. Perhaps you even heard recently, that one millionaire came up with a clever idea. He believes that the wealthier you are, the more votes you get during elections. This is simply the way society weighs us – money equals value.
But not on Ash Wednesday. For death is the great equalizer. Billionaire or penniless – you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
And Jesus says to us, “show me your treasure, and I’ll show you where your heart is.” Ash Wednesday calls us on our bluff. All of the televisions own will one day break. The cars we drive will be towed off. The clothes we wear will fall apart. We will die, and meet our maker.
So I ask you uncomfortable questions about your death and about your money. Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? How does your monthly cable television bill stack up against your gifts to the church? Do you give more money to the Houston Texans or to the Lord Jesus? Is your financial commitment to the mall or to the Kingdom of God? Show me your bank statement, and I will show you where your heart is. Show me your credit card bill, and I’ll tell you what you really love.
You may be rolling your eyes and saying to yourself, “Father Jimmy is just meddling.” Yes. I am meddling. I am concerned about your financial priorities, because I am concerned about your souls. And your checkbook is probably the best indicator of your spiritual health. Jesus said, “Show me your treasure, and I’ll show your where your heart is.” I want your heart fixed on the Lord Jesus. I do not want your heart fixed on the other gods that go by other names – Macy’s, Lexus, Spec’s, the Aggie Association of Former Student, the Longhorns’ Texas Exes, Disney. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Is your heart with Jesus?
Now, you can count up these hard questions to some meddling priest. And you may think this is a ploy for you to give more money to the church. It’s not. But if you’re thinking that, then maybe God is telling you something. Maybe God is asking you to use Ash Wednesday to get your priorities straight.
Or you can shrug this all off. That’s fine. But death is coming. You are dust, and to dust you shall return. And then it won’t be me asking the questions. It will be God. And your money will have no value. I hope it does not happen, but death could come for any of us today. Tonight. Tomorrow. You could be killed in a car crash. You could choke on a raisin tomorrow morning at breakfast. If that happened, would you be comfortable showing your recent bank statements to Jesus? Would your treasure, your hearts be here on earth, or would your treasure and your hearts be in heaven?
In a few moments, after we all have ashes upon our foreheads, we will say together a Litany of Penitence. In that litany we will confess “our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts.” And after we confess that sin, we must do something about it. I ask all of you to take the time this holy Lent to pray about your money. I implore you to print out your credit card bill or your bank statement. Then, with that piece of paper in your hands, I ask you to meditate on these words:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I promise you, this will change your life. You will see that you are not valued because of your money. You will see that you are valued because you are a child of God. Your enslavement to those other gods will be broken. And your treasure will and your hearts will be with Jesus.