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[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The Marks We Bare
We bare ourselves to you tonight
And to one another, Lord.
Mark as your own
Mark us with the dust that you
Have been known to create stars
I love the juxtaposition of these two days, Carnival and Ash Wednesday. As I told the staff yesterday, Carnival is where we celebrate mortality, our propensity to gorge these amazing bodies and find new and delicious ways to celebrate and wear ourselves out. And today, tonight, well, tonight is where we contemplate mortality.
Where we honestly recall that the fleeting pleasures of Carnival are just that: fleeting. They run away in the face of the sober reality that we are here only for a short time, relatively speaking.
Ash Wednesday is where we bare our scars, if you were, the scar of mortality that we all wear. It is a gift, too…make no mistake about that. But aren’t many of our scars, in the end, gifts, too?
Where were you when the scar was bared, Beloved?
I was 11. We were up in her room and she told me in hushed tones that the men in that house, her step father and grandfather, did terrible things to her. She just laid it out there, bare, and told me not to tell anyone.
Well, I think I must have told someone, who told someone, who eventually did something about that. At the time that scar was too much for either of our young bodies to bear without help.
I was 30. He called me around 5am, a simple message left on the phone: “Pastor, I’m a coke addict.” And so we went to the hospital and began that death defying journey. He couldn’t bear it anymore, so he had to bare it.
Where were you when the scar was bared?
I was 19. We were sitting on the back porch when she showed me where she cut herself because she wanted to feel again.
And then there are the times and ages where I’ve bared my soul to others…too numerous to recount tonight.
Here’s the thing, Jesus, we get that we aren’t supposed to practice our piety in front of others. We get that we’re to go into the inner room, lock the door, and not let anyone hear our prayers. But, by God, sometimes they have to be said! So where do we go, Lord, to practice baring our scars so that they might become more than pain, so that they can move toward healing and purpose?
The reward for baring you scars is sometimes derision. It’s sometimes alienation. But more often than not, in my experience of both being shown scars and showing scars, the reward is love and community and a grace that cannot be imagined. Because I don’t want to do it on a back porch or in a locked bedroom afraid of who is listening or on a phone message. I will if I have to, but I’d rather do it here. Here in a community that follows the Man from Galilee, the Man of Sorrows, as he gathers up all our scars into his arms and feet and head and redeems them once and for all.
Ash Wednesday is the day when Christians gather to bare their scars, to bare the scar of mortality, because we cannot bear it alone in this life, and only the Man of Sorrows, whose scars look just like mine. And just like hers. And just like his and his early morning phone call, can carry them with us.
And these scars we bare tonight, they are not just in any shape, but the shape of that ultimate scar, that ultimate tool of death that we Christians have reclaimed as a symbol of hope and life, through God.
I will, as I have since their birth, mark those two little boys who sleep quietly in my house every night. I know they will face times in their life that will scar them, and so I know that from the earliest age they must learn that this scar helps to carry all those other scars and, by God’s grace and a loving community’s openness, will learn that they can bare their scars here.
And the community only learns to be so loving when they’re honest about their own scars, when they learn to bare and be with one another as we all carry the cross on our brow.
We play dress-up sometimes at the house. A shark. A pirate. A fireman. A chef. An animal doctor. Adults play it, too, right? Successful business. Free-loving bahchelore/bachelorette. The perfect marriage. Aging gracefully. Never fight with our kids or partners.
But all masks fall, Beloved. All roles comes to an end in this sordid play the we perform before the world and ourselves.
And tonight Christ encourages us to seek a different reward than the ones those masks give us. We are told to seek after the reward of bare naked truth: scars on the brow, marking each one of us as flawed and redeemed in one fell stroke.
Where were you when the scars were bared? Tonight I say it like this: I was 36, and we are all together, young and old, faithful and doubting, stomachs full and some hungry, rich and poor, gay and straight, and we all bared our souls together, and were given healing grace for it.
For God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in a steadfast love that can take all our scars onto his, no matter what they are.