Ash Wednesday
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

 


Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is a day and a season that calls the Church and all Christians to a different tact—to shift our way of thinking, and doing, and being.

Every other time of year Christians are called to look outward from themselves, to focus our attention on the other rather than ourselves, to devote ourselves to service and sacrifice and care for others. And, certainly, in all times, our ministry to others is an important part who we are and what we do as followers of Christ and members of the Church.

But during Lent, Christians are called to look inward. Not that we should forsake our outward responsibilities, but our focus, during these next 40 days should be primarily on reflection, meditation, self-examination, personal prayer, Bible study and all those things that attune us and bring us closer to God and a godly life.

We look inward at ourselves to determine where we are in our relationship with God and where we might be—where we could be—how we might change—to better respond to God in that relationship.

Preparing ourselves, for a season, in this way not only helps our relationship with God, but it prepares us and empowers us and equips us for our outward ministry to the world the rest of the year.

Yet, there is an outward purpose in Lent—an outward goal and focus. And all that we do inwardly flows toward that outward end. It is seeking God himself. It is prayer for the sake of communicating and speaking to God. And prayer does not ultimately begin with self. It begins with God. God initiates that conversation by grace, and then calls us, through an innate sense of longing, to be present in that grace. To respond. We are drawn to God’s love, to God’s light, almost irresistibly so.

And so what we have is the Lenten circle. By turning inward for self-examination and self-reflection, we are drawn outward toward God and then inward to God – and God’s grace and God’s love – through prayer.

“Pray to your Father,” is the advice of Jesus.

In today’s gospel, we are warned about prayer that is directed not to God but to impress others or to satisfy our own egos. Such prayers do not link us to God, but are self-defeating, since they keep us from looking to and communicating with our Father who gives and sustains life.

Likewise, we are told to give in secret, to fast in a way that no one knows what we are doing, not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, but to give and fast and pray in a way that gives glory to God and to trust in God, from whom all blessings flow, to reward his faithful people with the riches of his grace.

On this Ash Wednesday and on every day of this Lenten season, may our disciplines be aimed at pleasing God and on what God sees, not on what impresses others—what others may see or think of us.

May all our prayers begin and end with “Our Father.” Pray to your Father, who hears, and is waiting to respond.

Let us pray.

Gracious and holy Father, give us wisdom to perceive you, intelligence to understand you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate on you, and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.