February 22, 2023*
By Pastor John Partridge
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
Old Testament Reading
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion;sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heartand not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,declare a holy fast,call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders,
gather the children, those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
New Testament Reading
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
February 22, 2023*
By Pastor John Partridge
Ash Wednesday is a day to remember and to repent of our sin. It is a day to remember because we so often drift from God’s path slowly, like a ship sailing across the sea with a compass that’s just a fraction of a degree out of calibration. It isn’t much, it’s barely noticeable but, over time, slowly but surely, we drift off course. Other times we convince ourselves that little sins don’t count, or a certain kind of sin isn’t really sin. We’re good at ignoring our own faults and believing that what we have done is okay.
But that isn’t God’s message at all. In Joel we heard God’s proclamation to blow the trumpets to announce a day of judgement but before that happens, God calls his people to return to him with all their hearts. God’s advice is not to rend their garments in a common cultural sign of outward mourning and repentance, but instead to rend their hearts, to be personally, and emotionally broken so that real forgiveness, and real healing, can happen.
The reverse is also true. In our reading from Matthew, Jesus teaches us not to do good as an outward display of our righteousness but instead, just to consistently, quietly, and privately, do good. Certainly, you can hire a brass band, parade through town to the local food pantry and, in front of the television cameras and the local news media, present them with one of those giant six-foot checks that everyone can read from a block away.
But Jesus says that doing good in that way is an action that benefits you, and that your motivation for doing it was to boost your reputation rather than obedience to God, or any real sort of goodness or righteousness. In other words, in God’s eyes, it doesn’t count. Instead do good… for the sake of doing good. Do good because it’s the right thing to do. Do good, because you want to be obedient to God’s commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the poor, but to do that, you don’t need everyone to know that you’re doing it. Your goal is to build up your investments in your heavenly bank accounts, and not your earthly ones. The ledgers that God keeps are the only ones that matter.
In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes these words of instruction (2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10).
20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Paul says that while he and his ministry team were in Corinth, they did everything they could to insure that people saw their work, that they heard the message of Jesus, and saw Jesus in them and didn’t just see a group of people who were trying to draw attention to themselves or enrich themselves. And when I say that they did everything they could to point to Jesus, that included being beaten, thrown in prison, run out of town by rioters, working from dawn to dusk in their tent shop so they didn’t take a penny of the church’s money, going without sleep, going hungry at times, but despite their hardships they still remained pure, understanding, patient, and kind to the people around them, and that included the people who were beating, imprisoning, and ridiculing them. We all understand how we can get irritable when we’re hungry and we joke at the description of being “hangry,” but Paul said that they didn’t do that. They kept their cool and showed kindness even in situations where we could easily forgive them for being grumpy.
We can’t do follow God half-heartedly, halfway, or in half measures. We can’t convince ourselves that “white lies” aren’t lies, or that shoplifting from the grocery story by “tasting” the grapes or taking a “sample” from the barrel of peanuts is okay. Our culture likes to say that if it feels good, then it must be okay. But that isn’t at all what God says. We can’t deceive ourselves into thinking that gossiping about others isn’t a sin, or that gambling doesn’t hurt people, or selfishness isn’t that bad. We must instead grapple with scripture and struggle to live lives that are holy and righteous. We must wrestle with our understanding that what God calls sin, is sin, and that there’s no such thing as an acceptable amount of sin.
When you’re sailing across the vastness of the ocean, having a compass that’s just a fraction of a degree out of calibration could mean drifting hundreds, or thousands of miles off course and could mean the difference between life and death. Ash Wednesday, and the season of Lent, is a chance for us to check our calibration. To check our moral and spiritual compass. To set aside any false ideas that we had about God overlooking some of our little sins, or convincing ourselves that God didn’t really mean it when he said that thing that we like to do is sinful.
Let us take the time to tell God that we got it wrong, that we have made mistakes, that we have fallen short, and have drifted off course. Let us take the time say we’re sorry, to confess our sins, to repent, and to ask for God’s forgiveness.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™