ASH WEDNESDAY – FEB. 10, 2016
TEXT – MATT. 6:1-6, 16;21; JOEL 2:12-19; 2 PT. 1:2-11
YOUR FATHER WHO SEES IN SECRET WILL REWARD YOU
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. Amen.


I remember my kind teacher and that day in the first grade – she noticed I was squinting at writing on the blackboard. She had me move my desk from the back (where W’s sat) to the front. A note to my parents – a quick trip to the optometrist - and the verdict was in – nearsighted! He sees things close up but the big picture -things at a distance – just a blur. Glasses from then on - nearsighted!


St. Peter wrote – Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. The qualities not to lack to avoid nearsightedness include virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. With whole-hearted effort these are to be brought alongside God’s gift of faith. Without them, the big picture – the things that really matter are just a blur! In fact, this spiritual lack of vision can become so severe that blindness to Christ results.


The word for godliness in this list of virtues is often explained as living with reverence and respect and devotion to God. Dr. Luther explained godliness as our whole outward life in what we do or suffer – conducting ourselves to serve God and not seeking our glory or advantage. In other words, doing everything for God’s sake!

 

Luther was reflecting Jesus’ teaching - When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…when you pray…pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others…And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

ASH WEDNESDAY – FEB. 10, 2016
TEXT – MATT. 6:1-6, 16;21; JOEL 2:12-192 PT. 1:2-11
YOUR FATHER WHO SEES IN SECRET WILL REWARD YOU
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. Amen.


I remember my kind teacher and that day in the first grade – she noticed I was squinting at writing on the blackboard. She had me move my desk from the back (where W’s sat) to the front. A note to my parents – a quick trip to the optometrist - and the verdict was in – nearsighted! He sees things close up but the big picture -things at a distance – just a blur. Glasses from then on - nearsighted!


St. Peter wrote – Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. The qualities not to lack to avoid nearsightedness include virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. With whole-hearted effort these are to be brought alongside God’s gift of faith. Without them, the big picture – the things that really matter are just a blur! In fact, this spiritual lack of vision can become so severe that blindness to Christ results.


The word for godliness in this list of virtues is often explained as living with reverence and respect and devotion to God. Dr. Luther explained godliness as our whole outward life in what we do or suffer – conducting ourselves to serve God and not seeking our glory or advantage. In other words, doing everything for God’s sake!

 

Luther was reflecting Jesus’ teaching - When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…when you pray…pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others…And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


In simple terms – God does not want us to be nearsighted – with attention and hearts curved in on ourselves – doing things for our sakes. Return to me with all your heart, declares the Lord, rend your hearts and not your garments. On Ash Wednesday God calls us to repent – both by way of outward actions and especially hidden motives. We are to do acts of mercy. We are not to be concerned that others notice or even notice such actions ourselves. The world gives ribbons, bracelets, award badges, bumper stickers. Jesus does not!


We are to personally and daily pray – for God’s Name to be holy among us – for God’s kingdom to come – for God’s will to be done. We are not to advertise the fact that we are praying to the world around us. Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed fine outward training. Consider how fasting might aid your self-control – in eating, praying, time usage? Would fasting perhaps deepen your desire to study God’s Word with your fellow Christians – for man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? Jesus here did say – when you fast – not if. But whether frequent or infrequent His people are not to call attention to their fasting or self-sacrificing.


In simple terms – God does not want you to be nearsighted – with focus on yourself – trying to impress others or yourself. Your Heavenly Father does not want you to do good things with one eye on the good things. He wants you to be good at keeping good secrets about yourself – silencing that desire to broadcast good intentions or display good deeds.


That is a bit unsettling – just like the black of Ash Wednesday. It can be disturbing like the blunt reminder – remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. For, we do wrestle with concerns of self-awareness and self-promotion and self-pity. We want to be sure that the value of our presence and our actions are known by others. We don’t want the nearsightedness of others to overlook us and our contribution in this world. We want to make a difference – and would like that difference to be recognized an our effort known.


That desire to be noticed is part of your being created in the image of God. Man was made to notice and to be noticed by the Holy Trinity – in a full and perfect way. But sin has poisoned the desire that was created good. You will be like God – Satan deceived – and ever since the human heart has noticed itself too much. Self-centered concern is so constant that Scripture uses it as the basis for dealing with our neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself.”


How easily pride of self surfaces – hurt feelings – thoughts of under-appreciation! How steady the desire is to justify ourselves – before others – before God. Our hearts do not by nature trust God to give our standing and our worth. Without even intending to we can compare ourselves with others and maneuver for position. Adults do it. Children do it. Students do it. Pastors do it. Congregations do it. In our publicity conscious age a church’s visible deeds or programs can easily be displayed as that which really matters. Look at us. See what we’re doing. See how active the Holy Spirit is in the charity, the sacrifice, the praying that’s happening in the person – in this place.


Dr. Luther commented on this matter once with an unusual request. Quoting him, “May God in His mercy save me from a Christian Church where there are none but saints. I want to be with that little company, and in the Church where there are faint-hearted and weak people, the sick and those aware of their sins, misery, and wretchedness and who feel it and who cry to God without ceasing and sigh unto Him for comfort and help” (Day by Day We Magnify Thee, p. 226).

 

That doesn’t mean charity isn’t done by the weak or that prayer isn’t offered or that self-discipline isn’t exercised. Nor does it mean that it isn’t noticed. Jesus ended each of His exhortations about giving and praying and fasting asserting that such actions are noticed. He declared – your Father who sees in secret will reward you… This is a wonderful and gracious gift!


Dear Christian Jesus doesn’t crush your desire to be noticed – He elevates it! Your Father loves you! His desire is for you to have so much more than the fleeting recognition of those who are dust and will return to dust. Your Father sees in secret. He is impressed by the unimpressive. He has noticed you and notices you now! He esteems you as He esteems His own Son having clothed you with Christ in your baptism. There is no need for phoniness – no need for the treadmill of angling for the right look. Your Father sees in secret and He has you covered. In Christ He sets you free from the chains of impressing your neighbor and gives you the charge to love your neighbor as yourself. In Christ He gives you the cure for nearsightedness that leads to blindness.


The treasure that accomplishes this transformation in sight is Jesus. Recall the reason the Holy Spirit caused St. Peter to state for the lack of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.


That is always the key! God’s gracious forgiveness in Christ! Where your treasure is there your heart will be also. Beloved, your treasure is Jesus. His perfect charity – His perfect praying – His perfect fasting is part of the infinite and perfect payment He made at the cross. He does not deal with you according to your sins. Don’t forget. He does not repay you according to your iniquities. Don’t forget. In compassion He comes speedily to meet you again this evening bearing forgiving gifts of body-bread and blood-wine. His blood cleanses you from all sin. Don’t forget.


Where your treasure is there you heart will be also. Your treasure is Jesus. His heart is turned toward you in steadfast love and He is the answer to your nearsightedness.


As you enter this season of Lent – Repent! Behold, now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation. God give heart to your sorrow (sorrow over sin that clings so stubbornly) – and strength to your repentance (repentance that turns daily from sin and to the total forgiveness Jesus bestows in faith) – turning your heart toward Him.


Though great our sins yet greater still is God’s abundant favor. He is so very farsighted – seeing you at last – free from sin and sorrow – with no secret place – but only your place with Him. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you with His love in Christ forever.


With that clear vision for the completion of your life – not forgetting that you are cleansed from all sin – God gives you clarity in seeing the things so near right now. There is much to do in virtue and knowledge and self-control and steadfastness and godliness and brotherly affection and love. You are right to trust Him for your standing and your worth – now in regard to these virtues and forever. Why? Because -.His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through him you may become partakers of the divine nature.


Your treasure is Jesus and with Jesus God freely gives you all things. Don’t forget. He is the strength of all repentance.

 

In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a