Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor

 

 

 

 “In My Room”

Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008

 

 

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21


Dee

DeeAnne Lowman

 

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is the day when we admit to God, to one another, and to ourselves the places in our lives where we have fallen short. We have come here to publicly marked repentance and regret on our foreheads. We also come here and receive the words from Matthew's gospel – Jesus warning against practicing our piety in public. We stand together praying long prayers in this gathering, not in closeted privacy, and we mar our faces to show that we are observing the true tradition of Lent. Our sin is visible.  Ash Wednesday is a contradiction, an irony, a paradox.

 

Likewise Matthew’s Gospel also says that if we choose to fast, we should make sure that we still look good – wash our faces and put on moisturizer and not scrunch up our faces so that no one can tell that we have not had a morsel to eat.  Yet here we are, about to receive a mark of ash on our heads that most folks will notice on our way to work or on the street and say, “Excuse me, you’ve got something right here on your forehead.” 

 

Jesus told the crowds to “go into your room and shut the door,” praying in secret to God. What does God wish for us to do when we draw away from the crowds and practice our piety in private?  What is it I am to do “in my room”?  As a pastor, I always assumed that what I was to do during the Lenten season was to help others prepare for their journey into their rooms or out into their wilderness.  This week I was struck by those words, “into your room” – was I supposed to go into my room and practice acts of piety in private?  Don’t people look to me for the example of what they can do?  How do I provide the kind of leadership as a pastor if I’m “in my room”?  And what am I supposed to be doing “in my room”?  Those words “in my room” remind me of the Beach Boys.  You know…

 

There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room, in my room
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
In my room, in my room

Even the Beach Boys understood on some level the importance of having a place for reflection and quiet – a place to “do our dreaming and scheming/lie awake and pray/do my crying and my sighing/laugh at yesterday.” As followers of Jesus, we are encouraged to spend time apart from the more earthbound concerns and focus on our spiritual lives.  In contrast to the public act that we are engaging in today, Jesus didn’t want to see the exterior manifestation of our obedience or to make public the interior work we do in our rooms.  Jesus encouraged and, in this passage, demanded that we focus on ourselves and not be concerned with our outward appearances. 

 

Is this day about displaying our guilt or our lack of alignment with God – or whatever this is – for all to see?  We do need to live into the paradox of public and private piety.  We desire to mark this day and recognize our separation from God’s way, but we are also aware that while we do this publicly, our own righteousness and rightness is something that we must examine in private – between God and us alone.  The Beach Boys again had it right, sort of…

 

Now its dark and I’m alone
But I won’t be afraid
In my room, in my room

We don’t need to be anxious about this time alone – AND we’re not alone in our room.  God is present and willing to support us and guide us through this period of self-examination.  We don’t need to be afraid to be exactly who God made us to be before God.  We can be honest about where we have fallen short, where we have become misaligned or off track.  And we aren’t alone.

 

Likewise as we go away from our rooms and into the world, we are conscious of the smudge on our heads – the mark that says we don’t always get it right when it comes to our living. This is a public confession, a common acknowledgement that we trust that God loves us and God cares, even when we get it wrong.  Perhaps the smudge is not so much about a public act of piety about us but a public act of assurance that God can love us – flaws and all.  The ashes remind all of us that, while God greets us and loves us where we are, God doesn’t leave us there. We are invited to go deeper and live abundantly in this state of grace.  This is the paradox; this is the irony; this is the promise.  Thanks be to God. 

               

 

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