Lenten Reflection: Searcher of the Heart
April 11, 2017 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Searcher of the Heart
As we near the end of Lent 2017, we offer you this sermon from Fr. William from Ash Wednesday 2016. How has our Lent been this year and where has it led us? Let’s carefully read this sermon in the light of preparing ourselves for the Triduum this week.
– Blog Editor
✠ In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is a solemn day that invites and propels us into prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time for us to reflect on our lives and to examine the things that get in our way of turning towards God. It is a time to look at how we can redirect and reorient ourselves away from our selfishness, from our self-centeredness and towards God as the center.
At the beginning of most services of Holy Eucharist, we pray the Collect for Purity: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
This beautiful prayer reminds us that God is the searcher of the heart. In it we ask that God would purify our hearts that we may love God and praise him perfectly. This is a summary of what Lent is all about. It is about being open to God, the searcher of our hearts, that we may, as Reinhold Neibur says, “have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That is what purification is all about.
When something is purified, something is removed…something is taken away. During Lent, God calls us to examine what needs to be purified in our lives that we may be reconciled to God, as Paul commands us in our lesson from 2nd Corinthians. If we are to be reconciled to God, we must first confess our sins. Before we can confess our sins, we have to figure out what they are. Lent is a time for us to spend time doing the challenging work of genuine self-examination.
Self-examination is best achieved through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In prayer, we can be our truest selves to God, because from him, there are no secrets hidden. We don’t have to worry about the facades we put up for each other and we don’t have to worry about the walls we build up to protect ourselves from other people’s criticism and judgment. In prayer, we can just pray to God as we are and know that we are loved without condition.
Fasting and self-denial are not meant to harm us. They are meant to make us more keenly aware of what basic things we need, especially when we live in such a consumerist-centered world. Fasting reminds us that our daily bread is a gift from God – and is also reminds us of what the poorest among us endure daily. As the Gospel lesson reminds us, the intent of our fasting is everything. If we do it for show and to attempt to impress others with our piety and devotion, God is not honoured. If we fast and deny ourselves in order to become closer to God, then we honour him. People may see your piety, but if your intent is pure, then God is still honoured.
With intents oriented towards God and away from ourselves, we are then provoked to almsgiving. Giving of our time, our gifts, and our abundance to God’s service in this world reminds us that all we have is not ours, but is Gods. It keeps us from storing our treasures in places “where moth and rust consume.” If we give back to God of the goodness we have been given, we bless God as God has blessed us. This reinforces our knowledge that God’s love for us is everlasting.
And if our love for God is genuine, and the acknowledgement of our sins is thorough, then we will truly be contrite for the things that get in our way towards God. When we are truly sorry for the grievous things that get between us and God, we can only then be truly reconciled. It is also important to note that this is not something we could ever achieve on our own, but has been shown us in love of Jesus on the Cross. It is through Jesus that we are reconciled to God.
Today we will receive ashes as a sign of our mortality and of our sin, the things that keep us from loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind – and our neighbor as ourselves. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These words are a reminder of what we all as humans fear most: death. Being a Christian is not an easy thing. But nothing easy is ever worth it. Anything that promises you something easy will always let you down. Lent teaches and reminds us that we do not live for ourselves alone, but for Jesus, who lives for us.
Lent is a time for us to draw nearer to God and to be reconciled to God and to each other. May our self-examination, self-denial, and our heartfelt desire to be God’s beloved children bring us closer to God, the searcher of hearts — that we may be purified in the fire of God’s love.
✠ In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
– The Rev. William Ogburn