Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022, Come As You Are, Thoughts About An Imperfect Life and Faith, by Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 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.
A Word of God that is still speaking,
Thanks be to God.
Act of Praise - Come as You Are
Thoughts about an Imperfect Life and Faith
“Perfectionism is impossible. Transformation isn’t.”
“Look Mom, watch this! Look what I can do!” My three brothers and I performed endlessly growing up - showing off what we thought were great acrobatic skills, dramatic talents, comedy, - even just trying to be good. My mother had endless patience - telling us we were good. “Yes, I see. Yes, I was watching. OK. Do it again.”
We competed for attention and when my mother wasn’t looking, we tried to take each other out in various ways - a little jab, a snide comment. But we were gluttons for attention. And that’s how I became a show-off and at times, a perfectionist. It’s pretty much what Jesus was warning against in our passage for this evening - “practicing piety before others in order to be seen” It may not always be practicing piety, but it was definitely wanting to be seen.
This evening each of us receives a smudge of ash on our foreheads that is a symbol of mortality. It is also a symbol of imperfection. An hour after that ash goes on your forehead, we forget that it’s there. We go about our business as that we look just fine. Other people notice though. Other people see our imperfections, sometimes more often than we do ourselves. Some of us want to be noticed, but we all pretend that that smudge is not as visible as it often is.
Some of us work really hard to look good, to try to get other people to like us and think well of us. Richard Rohr writes in his book Falling Upward about two halves of our lives. He hypothesizes that the first half of our life is a striving for success, trying to look good and make good things happen, to accomplish things.
The second half of life, Rohr insists, can be more about spirituality and self understanding. If we stop striving so hard and accept ourselves and accept God’s love, we can fall upward into knowing that we are good enough, loved by God, even with the obvious smudge on our forehead. Our mistakes and failings themselves become part of our spiritual insight. We become more aware of the smudges by not being as self-conscious about our imperfections, knowing that unconditional love and acceptance of the Spirit, and then we can become more accepting of others as well.
Our Lent series, “Good Enough,” is based on a book of devotions by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie. Kate Bowler is a seminary professor whose research about the history of the prosperity gospel and self-help movements in the US laid the groundwork for her latest NY Times bestselling books about dealing with the pressure to “live your best life now” when life throws you curveballs that make constant upward achievement very difficult… like the cancer she has dealt with over the last few years.
In the Good Enough book of devotions, she and Jessica Richie offer graceful invitations to seek alternatives to the pressure of perfectionism. We at St. Luke are going to make reading these daily devotions part of our Lent practice. We will use them in the LIFE groups or other small groups for debriefing and deepening your experience of Lent. Maybe folks from Ardmore will take up a similar practice.
Here’s an excerpt from the book appropriate for today: Kate and Jessica say in their book, “a fast is giving up something—anything—to make more room for God. It might be a break from social media or Netflix, caffeine, unkind words, alcohol, or holding a grudge. If you are someone who has a complicated relationship with restricting food, skip that for now. Try something else instead. Remember, this isn’t about punishing yourself or a thinly veiled version of a diet. Share your intention with a friend to reinforce your commitment, but do your fast in secret—just between you and God. Try it out for a week, and then reassess.” (we’ll have a prayer from the book later in the service)
Jesus used the word “hypocrite” to describe those who put on airs in public to make people believe that they were holy, that their religious practice was...... perfect. But their hearts were actually not in the practice, rather in the rewards that public approval could bring them–which is here today, often gone tomorrow. Sometimes it is life itself that robs us of the shiny, perfect life that we had planned for ourselves. A diagnosis. A broken heart. A lost opportunity.
During this Lenten season, we are going to take it one day at a time to reach for a ‘good enough faith,’ not trying to show off or be perfect, but to make time to be with God, to reveal all of who we are, even the wounded and discouraged parts. God loves us, even though God sees better than anyone, the smudge on our face.