“Love of Relationship with God”

 

March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday 

Joel 2: 1-2; 12-17/ Psalm 51: 1 – 13 /2 Corinthians 5: 20 - 6: 2 / Matthew 6: 1 - 8; 16 – 18

 

         Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos

Ash Wednesday signals the start of the Lenten Season.  As a Church, I want to set the direction for us.  From the gospel today, Jesus gives us the meaning of fasting, praying and doing works of charity.  He warns us that these are not for show or to punish ourselves because Lent is a time of regeneration not depravation.   Lent is a time of conversion, not of destitution or self-starvation or self-abasement.  We do this most effectively by putting down some of our regular needs and faculties so that we would be more effective in listening to God’s voice and heeding it and learning to discern.

 

Last Sunday’s gospel was about the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Three of His disciples went up to the mountain with Him and they saw Him in His resplendent glory.  God the Father, out of the cloud, says to them, “This is My Beloved Son, listen to Him!”  We need to learn to listen.  We need to recognize His voice, see Him and watch Him intently.  The word ‘intently’ appears eight times in my Bible translation.   Each time, it is preceded by either ‘look’ or ‘gaze.’   There was one instance where Jesus healed a blind man. He did not spit on the ground and made clay out of the spittle.  He spat directly on the eyes, and He healed the man, but he was not healed instantly. Jesus first spat on his eyes, and then prayed for him.  The man then said, “I see some movement.  I see what looks like trees moving about.”  Jesus again prayed for him, and this time, the blind man looked ‘intently’.   When the man looked intently, he was healed, and he started seeing clearly.

 

Do you want to see clearly?  Do you want to hear the voice of God clearly?  Listen to Him! Look intently!  We need to learn to do this.  Sometimes, we need to concentrate and to set aside things that distract us, but we cannot do this all the time.  We cannot go the mountain all the time and not face our everyday responsibilities.  We need to study; we need to face the traffic; we need to do household chores and the others.  We need to retreat once in a while, but even in the midst of noise and other distractions, we need to learn to discern the voice of God and recognize Christ in every situation.   

 

After Jesus had risen and He was on the beach, the disciples went fishing and then they saw somebody on the beach cooking fish and preparing breakfast for them.  It was John the Beloved, the disciple closest to Jesus, who said, “It is the Lord!”  He recognized Jesus from afar while the others disciples did not.  Maybe, they got frustrated because they did not catch fish all night, but from afar, in the midst of their frustration and lack, it was only John the Beloved who recognized Him.  Jesus would always say to His disciples when they were anxious, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”  When we recognize Jesus, we would not be afraid. 

 

Where my home is situated, there are impending talks that it will be affected by an earthquake. I am not mocking the scientist who may see something coming.  If we are in Jesus Christ, we do not need to be afraid.   If we listen to His voice, and we know that we are inscribed on the palm of His hands, if we know that our lives are with Christ in God, we don’t need to be afraid.  We probably should prepare, and there is nothing wrong with that; but we do not need to be afraid because it is Jesus down in our hearts.  Recognize Jesus!  Sometimes, He is already in front of us, and we don’t even see Him.  Because we don’t see Him, we are afraid.  Jesus said, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”  

 

Jesus talks about fasting in the gospel reading.  During His time, there were people who were hypocrites. They pray, they fast and they give alms; but they make a show out of these things.  The reaction of some is, “I won’t do those things anymore because it is hypocritical.”   People may be hypocritical, but not doing the works of charity.  Just because some people do it for show, it doesn’t mean that it is bad.  What Jesus is saying is, “Do pray. Do give alms. Do works of charity and do good, but do not be like the hypocrites doing it for show.  Do it for effective usefulness.” 

 

I have defined ‘holy’  and it means set apart for God’s exclusive use.  God will use us, so we pray, we fast, we listen to Him, and we look intently at Him in order that we can be more effective as He uses us. 

 

A meditation on Lent written by William Arthur Ward “Keeping a Holy Lent” says: 

Fast from judging others; Feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; Feast on the unity of Life.
Fast from apparent darkness; Feast on the reality of light.
Fast from the thoughts of illness; Feast on the Healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute. Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; Feast on optimism.
Fast from worry. Feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; Feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives. Feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-absorption; Feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; Feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragements; Feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress;
Fast from lethargy; Feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; Feast on prayer that strengthens.

 

From our old self, let us be converted to what God made us to be.  It is an everyday transformation.  There are many things that we can fast from, but we do not fast so that we can punish ourselves or lose weight.  We fast because we want to be God’s instrument that He can use more effectively. We have been made holy; and holy means set apart for God’s exclusive use.

 

In Psalm 51, the Psalmist asked for God’s grace and mercy to cleanse him, to blot out his transgressions, to create in him a clean heart, to renew a right spirit within him, to not cast him away, to not take the Holy Spirit from him, and to restore to him the joy of his salvation so that he can be used as an ambassador.  After God does these things which he had asked, he, as a former sinner, wanted himself to be able to teach other transgressors of His ways, but he asked to be restored first.   We need to yield ourselves to God to be cleansed and restored first; and then be used as ambassadors and teachers of His way.  2Corinthians says that we have been made new creatures so that God can use us exclusively as messengers of the message of God’s awesome forgiveness and His desire for everyone to be reconciled to Him.

 

We may point to others as sinners, but so are we.  God graciously cleansed us and blotted out our transgressions and restored and gave a new spirit in us.  He did not take away His Holy Spirit from us, but He cleansed us, restored us, and reconciled us to Himself.  We are glad to also be an instrument of reconciliation for others.

 

The Collect for today says, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have  made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

  

An elderly couple was asked about their secret for their long marriage. They answered, “We belong to a generation that fixes things and did not throw them away.”  God created us.  He does not hate us.  If something is wrong with His creation, He does not discard them and get new ones, but He patiently fixes them.    Before, toys were made of metal; now, they are all made of plastic.  They break easily and we buy another one.  Manufactured cars today have parts that are almost disposable and we need to replace the whole assembly, not just weld or fix a part of the car.  

 

This is not God. God fixes. If we do something wrong, He will fix us.  He will not throw us away because He does not hate His creation.  He forgives, and He fixes.  He does not reject them.

 

Mignon McLauglin says, “In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing.”  One plus one equals everything means that two agreeing on earth can do a lot of things. There is nothing impossible to them if they agree in God’s name.  Two minus one is nothing meaning that in the spirit of divorce, we cannot accomplish anything.  God does not hate His creation even if it is failing or falling.  What He does is fix it.  He redeems, He restores, and at the end, all things will be made new, all things will be resurrected, and there will be a new creation, new heavens, and a new earth.  We are Gods’ family; God’s Ohana.  God’s heart is family and nobody gets left behind. He doesn’t will that anyone should perish because we are His family, and He wants us reconciled back to Him.

 

What we need to do is to rend our hearts and return to the Lord for He is gracious, He is compassionate and He is slow to anger and abounding in mercy.  He has made us ambassadors for Christ, so that we, too, will have His heart.  St. Paul says that we don’t just ask people to be reconciled to God.   We don’t say, “It would be a good idea if you are reconciled to God in your own sweet time, in your convenience. No pressure!”   St. Paul says, “We beg you. Please, we beg you! Be reconciled to God as ambassadors.”  This is like God is making an appeal to us to be reconciled to Him.   This is the good news for us.  Jesus who knew no sin became sin on our behalf so that we can be the righteousness of God, in Christ. 

 

This is the message of reconciliation.  This is why we fast.  This is why we observe certain things, so that we can be more effective for God’s use and proclaim the message of forgiveness, reconciliation with God and returning to God. 

 

As ambassadors for Christ, we must understand that forgiveness is a beautiful thing.  We see this in receiving it.  May we see that it is just as beautiful in granting it and proclaiming it to others.  This is our privilege as ambassadors, to be used by God.  Do not receive the grace of God in vain by withholding God’s love and forgiveness from ourselves and from others.  Now is the acceptable time.  Today is the day of salvation because this is God’s love. This is God’s heart.  This is God’s will and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.

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