To my young daughter on Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday,
Today is a special day. Today is Valentine’s Day, a day (at least in the secular world) when we take time to offer gestures of love and appreciation to the people we care about the most. Simultaneously, today is Ash Wednesday a day (at least within the faith community) we are reminded we are dust and to dust we shall return. Ash Wednesday is also the first day of Lent. The Lent season lasts 40 days and is an opportunity for us to reconsider our relationship with God and our calling to follow Jesus. On this rare occasion when these two different holidays land on the same day, I thought I would write you a letter and share some insights into the scriptures in hopes that it might speak to you one day. I also hope the love that I have come to know in God through Jesus is made a bit more real for you too.
Before we get into the fives sections of scripture assigned for today, you need to know one thing that is most important: God’s love for you in unconditional and a free gift. There is nothing you can do that will take away God’s love for you.
Now for the sections from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount found the gospel of Matthew.
“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."
Religion, and more specifically the Christian faith, is a private practice. It is through prayer, silence, meditation and trust you will come to know God’s voice and affirmations of love for you. At the same time your faith is part of a larger public community of faith. Everyone has their own connection to God and can articulate it in their own way, but we also need our community of faith to share their insights, be supportive of one another, and serve the community as we collectively gather for inspiration from the words and deeds of Jesus. Knowing everyone’s faith is different, take time to honor your neighbor’s faith rather than proclaiming the quality of your own.
2 “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. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Our God is a God of abundance. For some reason, maybe it’s fear or insecurity, we tend to fall into a mindset of scarcity. What is even more unbelievable is the fact that this feeling of scarcity creeps up on us as we live in a country of vast wealth. When you feel like you don’t have enough, I encourage you to look to mother nature for example upon example of the way God provides for all creation. You will need this renewal so you can give out of abundance and with a generous heart. If you need a good rule, go with 10 – 10 – 80. Give 10, Save 10 and Spend 80. Of course, if you can go with 15 – 15 – 70 all the better. When you give, give with your whole heart and without regret. There will be many opportunities to give, but know when you give to the church you have the full force of the Holy Spirit behind those resources. Trust in God’s use of your donations, and remember there is no need to broadcast what you give.
5 “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. 6 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."
You mom and I have tried to teach you good prayer habits with prayers before bed and always taking a moment to be grateful for any amount, or type, of food (even if it isn’t your favorite) God has provided throughout the day. We hope you know that you are encouraged to pray often, and listen often. Prayer provides an opportunity for you to pause the fast pace of life and center yourself with the divine. It is true God knows your prayer and the condition of your heart, but it is in the moments of prayer that will help you hear God’s affirmation and direction.
16 “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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.
You are too young now to know about fasting, but we hope you will come to love the discipline. Fasting offers several helpful insights, like; an appreciation for our complex farm to table food system, the many hands and people in the food and farm industry, the diversity of taste within God’s creation, a sense of gratitude for the food in front of you; and the incredible amount of food waste that also contributes to climate change, and the many people who do not have enough food to eat both locally and internationally. When you do fast, act as if nothing is different except your awareness of the previously mentioned items. Then, when the fasting is over, be reminded that food is a way to gather people together and share. Which leads me to the final section of scripture.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Treasure. Jesus is right, where your treasure is, your heart will be also. When you read this, take a moment and answer this question: When you look around at all the stuff that fills your life, what is the one thing that is not an earthly treasure? What is the one thing you can have lots of and take with you into heaven? The answer is not money, property, jewelry, or any other physical item here on earth. When Jesus says, “store up for yourself treasures in heaven” he is talking about one thing: people. Jesus came into the world so all people had a place for eternity, but that also means life is filled with opportunities to embrace and share love with the people around us.
On this Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day please know your mom and I love you so much, and that we hope you hear that often and know it deep in your heart. You should also be reminded that as much as your mom and I love you, Jesus loves you even more. So, when you hear today you are dust and to dust you shall return, know God’s love for you in Jesus’ death and resurrection makes it possible for us to love you now as our treasure on earth, but also some day as a treasure in heaven.