top of page

Ash Wednesday - Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Once upon a time, an astute church member asked why we read this gospel on Ash

Wednesday, the day we smudge piety all over our face.

It’s not exactly praying in secret.

I think the intent is not to showcase our piety, but our mortality and true identity.

It is not to show the world how faithful we are—if that’s why we do it, we too are

hypocrites who have fallen into the same trap Jesus warned about—but to show

the world who we really are and how faithful God is.

We are dust, and to dust we shall return.

We are space dust: we are in the universe, and the universe is in us.

We’re made of the same stuff; human beings and the rest of creation are in this together.

We are also earth dust: we humans come from and return to the humus, and when we remember this, we are humble.

The people Jesus calls the actors—the hypocrites—are pretending to be something else.

They are distinguishing themselves by their pious efforts and religious theatrics as

holier than thou, better than you.

Thank goodness social media came along to help us overcome this temptation.

Perhaps our greatest, most basic, most widespread sin is self-absorption, which

comes out in so many different ways: chasing the approval or praise of others, disregarding others, comparing ourselves to others (body image, net worth, social behavior, child’s percentile, circle of friends, intelligence, athletic prowess, resume...what measuring sticks do you use?)...

It comes out in stereotyping others but expecting understanding for ourselves (among

other double standards), in unconcern for the suffering of others which can be dismissed with the lazy lie that others get what they deserve but I’m the victim of other people’s mistakes.

“Well, pastor, in my case it’s true...” okay, but why do we feel the need to defend

ourselves at all?

Martin Luther would say it is because we sinners are in curvatus se – curved in on self.

At the center of the word sin is the real problem, the letter I.

When I am the center of things, my world becomes pathetic and small.

When I am the center of things, I quickly becomes Idol.