14 February 2024Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' (v. 21)
Today two Christian festivals collide. Valentine’s Day, celebrating love, is an opportunity to surprise a loved one by telling them just how much you care. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and is traditionally a time of fasting, prayer and abstinence from life’s luxuries. What an unfortunate coincidence – surely someone could have organised the calendar differently!
Today’s reading (incidentally taken from the 'Sermon on the Mount' – continuing this week’s mountain theme) fits perfectly with Ash Wednesday. It speaks of prayer and fasting, things associated with Lent, but is relevant at any time of year. Perhaps we assume that if we deprive ourselves through Lent, we can enjoy ourselves for the rest of the year in good conscience. And of course we know that Easter comes next, so for some people (including you?) Lent is an opportunity to diet in preparation for your hoped-for stash of Easter eggs!
Of course, that’s not what the passage is about at all. Jesus is talking about the things he expects all his followers to do as part of their daily lives. So he says “whenever you pray…” and “whenever you fast…” the assumption is that you do these things anyway, just as you brush your teeth. Jesus is saying that praying and fasting, which are about living closely to God, are so much part of the routine for his followers that they are no big deal. You pray because that’s how you listen to God and respond to God’s Spirit speaking to you. You fast to help you to focus on prayer and to cut out the distractions. So praying might include silencing your phone and leaving it out of reach while you pray.
All of this is summed up in that last verse "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (v. 21) None of us can hide our real passions. If we love someone, those close to us will certainly notice. The things we care about will be obvious in the way we spend our money and time. So maybe today’s two festivals are linked more than we thought. They’re both about love, and how we demonstrate love by the way we live.
- Lent is about refocusing our commitment to God, and Valentine’s Day is about showing our commitment to the person we love. Why not spend some time today thinking about the people and the things we really care about – what Jesus calls our 'treasure'. You could jot down your thoughts, or make a picture to represent these people or things. You could then use them in your prayers through Lent, adding to them as the Holy Spirit guides you.
Almighty and merciful God, You hate nothing that you have made,
And forgive the sins of all who are penitent.
Create in us new and contrite hearts,
So that when we return to you and confess our sins
We may receive your full and perfect forgiveness.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(A prayer for Ash Wednesday from The Methodist Worship Book)