Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21 (NRSV)
Chapter 6"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. Verse 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. Verse 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, Verse 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Verse 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. Verse 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.
Verse 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. Verse 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, Verse 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.
Verse 19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; Verse 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. Verse 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Will you attend a service of worship today to begin Lent with prayer and ashes? Sociological studies and Scripture alike tell us that a vital, living faith thrives in community and withers in isolation. In today's increasingly fragmented and individualistic culture, coming together to confess our sins, to pray for God's mercy, and to commit ourselves again to the loving way of Jesus is a radically countercultural act.
As we enter Lent together, let's not forget, though: it's not going to church, or receiving ashes, or any of the faithful things that we do in public or in private that put us right with God, but God's gracious Spirit at work within us. It is the Spirit who leads us to pray and to seek God, the Spirit who calls us together into community and makes us the body of Christ, and the Spirit who is already at work among our neighbors, teaching us all how to love.
Sweet Lord, help me to let go of the ways in which I hope to impress others. Turn me only toward you, so that my whole life is filled with your goodness to overflowing. Amen.