This sermon was preached for the people at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 17, 2021, Ash Wednesday.
It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 51: 1017
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21
The concept of the word “secret” has always made me squirm. That is, rarely in my life have secrets, even the presumably “good” secrets, been a positive experience. For one, I’m terrible at keeping secrets or lying; I don’t have a poker face at all. Growing up, I would occasionally try and mislead my parents and other adults in my life, either pretending that I had indeed practiced my piano for 30 minutes already or that I couldn’t possibly have made that mess in the kitchen. But one cursory glance at my face and the jig was up. I would be terrible at a Vegas casino. Or as a spy. After nearly a whole year of seeing myself on Zoom, I have come to understand how my face nearly always betrays what I’m really thinking. I humbly apologize, as yes, you’re right, it’s not always charitable. It’s my best/worst trait. It sometimes serves me well, and just as often gets me into trouble. I don’t always mind the trouble, which could be an issue all unto itself, but there are occasions that I wish I was a bit harder to read, harder to predict, was more of a mystery, and had a few more secrets. I’m sure several people around me wish the same thing!
But Jesus isn’t the least bit squeamish talking about secrets, as the word “secret” is used six times in our reading this evening. That’s a lot of secretiveness! For a gospel that tells us to be a light on the hill, to go and tell all nations about Jesus and baptize everyone into the mission of bringing God’s kingdom, why tell us to keep our piety in secret?
I don’t think that Jesus is trying to purposefully confuse us or to suggest that we should never share our faith. I DO think that Jesus is concerned that we are often more concerned with what other’s think of us, or that we make our faith practices a competition. He’s challenging our notions of what a religious person, a true believer might look like. Jesus is revealing that we are revealed. No matter how hard we try and hold that poker face, or that face of piety, God sees what’s really going on: God sees us only giving money from our comfortable excesses, God sees our social media posts that make us seem like Mother Teresa, God sees us praying loudly at restaurants so that everyone hears how close we are to God, God sees our t-shirts, jewelry with Christian symbols and sayings. None of those things are wrong or bad, but God sees what we do and think when no one is looking, what we think we do and think in secret and the actions don’t always match the motivation.
Jesus is aware that we have secrets, and he’s aware that the secrets we hold, are we probably aren’t very proud of. Jesus sees that we try to be generous but knows our secret that we don’t want to be TOO generous. Jesus sees our attempts to show others how we love Jesus but knows the secret that we compare other people to ourselves and put others down to elevate ourselves. Jesus sees what we think is important, what’s our precious treasure and knows our secret, that it is often us.
It’s no secret that Jesus’ presence in the world and in our lives reveals us, and it’s no secret that we don’t know what to do with Jesus who sees our secrets, who we really are, and loves us anyway. It’s no secret that in Lent, we hope that by giving up a favorite food, or drink or questionable habit or by adding daily prayer and scripture reading that we will distract God and deflect God from knowing our real secrets of competition, greed, worry and lack of self-worth. The good news is that it won’t work. God knows all of our secrets; God knows that we try and fail to live in the footsteps of Jesus. Here on Ash Wednesday, we mark ourselves with the cross that reveals this secret: we try, we fail, we try again, and we are loved the whole time. The cross of ash, tells the world that God’s redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of all creation, is not a secret and is out in the open for all to see and participate. Maybe God has a poor poker face as well, for in Jesus, we see God’s love and care for all people clearly. God sees the secrets we keep but doesn’t keep the secret that we are all, each one of us, beloved people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.