Sermon Ash Wednesday March 1, 2017
Joel 2:1-17 Psalm 103.8 – 18 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
What are those treasures in heaven that we are to accumulate away from moths and rust and thieves ? Paul in his first letter to Timothy gives us a definition in two words “good works” (1 Timothy 6:18). ‘Good works’ of course does not just mean doing a job well. The adage “if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well” speaks for itself about work and we should always strive to do our best. Paul’s definition of ‘good works’ in no way denigrates the use of our skills in things such as a fine quilt, a beautiful design, a straight furrow, a bountiful crop, a lovely garden, a well-crafted sentence, finely styled hair, a cake that melts in your mouth, these are all wonderful things for us to use our God-given talents on in the best way we can. But we also have other uses to which we can put our abilities. Some of us have used our abilities to accumulate wealth. Although none of us would say we have too much, most of us say we have enough. Apart from wealth, we all have time, which like our money, we usually spend in the ways we choose. We can spend our time productively making or doing things; volunteering, taking care of children or the aged, or on the other hand unproductively fretting about something or other. When we get to that stage we can turn fretting into something good by praying about it, praying our anxiety, opening it up and laying it at the feet of God for resolution. Unproductive fretting then surprisingly becomes a ‘good work’ and therefore a treasure in heaven. Treasure in heaven then is anything that involves God, which by definition must be a ‘good work’.
As you see even what might be considered a waste of time, like fretting, can be turned around. So what about productive things, how can they change from earthly to heavenly ? Using our skills to make or do something for others is surely a ‘good work’ which leads us inevitably back to thinking about charity or ‘benevolent love’ which I spoke about a couple of Sundays ago.
It is all well and good to make charitable gifts to the Church, they are necessary to keep our worship spaces and ministry going. But every Sunday we sing “All things come of Thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given Thee”. If we mean that, where is the charity, the benevolent love ? We are acknowledging that God created everything and God owns everything, we are just the beneficiaries of His abundance, who make an offering in appreciation. Now here is the problem. Everything comes from God, everything is God’s, so where is the merit in our offerings ? Well, it keeps the Church’s presence here, which is surely a ‘good work’ and we do that by not clinging greedily to every last dollar that God has put our way. Treasure in heaven is the gift from you and of you to God and it is the ‘good works’ that you do for others. So by giving ourselves to serve others we store up more treasure. Our treasure is also our Faith in God because we are justified by faith (Romans 3:28).
We are now in the time of preparation in the Church Year – Lent. A preparation for the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us and the ultimate triumph over Evil, Death and the Grave. It is usually thought of as a time when we are to make sacrifices too – give up this, give up that – to emulate Jesus’ sacrifice for us. But look at it another way. It is not really a time for giving-up if we want to emulate Christ but a time for giving, as He did. He gave His life for us. Should we not at least give some of our time, some of our life to help others ? And consider that as time is the most valuable asset we each have, more valuable than money, in fact time is priceless, you stand in the way of getting an eternity full of it, if you put your treasure in heaven.
It can be very simply done. Do something a little extra, perhaps for a stranger, someone who does not ‘deserve’ it, on the face of it. A cautionary word, it must be what you would like, if you were they. It’s no good reading to the deaf, or painting a picture for the blind, but the opposite may be most acceptable. Instead of giving a dollar or a toonie to a beggar for a coffee, go and have one with him. Take the time to share you because you are most valuable and worth sharing. Giving one’s self is difficult because it exposes our vulnerabilities but go for it, the rewards are mighty.
Lent is not only a time for giving but also a time of preparation. The enormity of the gift we are given at Easter by Jesus needs preparation time. It would be all well and good to win a million dollars, but most winners are not prepared for it and they soon lose or squander their new found wealth. We are given the gift of Eternal Life by Jesus at Easter and that is worth far more than millions and millions of dollars, and therefore we need serious preparation.
Our preparation should include doing ‘good works’ for others but we need to prepare ourselves for the riches to come. Yesterday we cleaned out our larders and ate sumptuously of pancakes, butter, sausages and syrup, and the sweetest pies and jello you ever tasted, which represent the richness of our lives, that we will set aside for the next few weeks. Today we have to look inward to see what needs to be cleaned out of the Cold Cellar of our inner-beings. Are there a few jars of resentment you’ve been keeping for the right occasion ? Or is the fruit of your anger ripening there in the dark ? Is there a bag of flour ground from your stinginess to others, which you want to keep for yourself ? Are there some bones of an old argument, which you will boil-up one day and enjoy ? Is there a sin that you hoped would dry up and turn to dust, but it won’t ? Is there only one small jar left of the preserves you made from the Faith you used to have in abundance ? If so it’s time you took it out and enjoyed it, and then made plans to make more this year. Empty your pantry again today, throw out the stuff that is bad and prepare for Spring and the new fruits of the Spirit, which come in abundance to us at Easter. Do this and you will have a blessed Lent and treasure in Heaven always. Amen.