Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Ash Wednesday, March 2nd : Psalm 51:1-17; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; and 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
One aspect of Lent, which begins today on Ash Wednesday, is confession. In the spirit of Lent, I want to confess that over the years I have enjoyed watching The Simpsons. I am now tired of the program after so many years, but I did enjoy watching Homer and the others. I remember one episode in which Doomsday was approaching and Homer and the gang had made it into Ned Flander’s survival shelter. Eventually, however, Homer chose to live on the outside instead because what value is surviving if you must live with the knowledge that everything else has been destroyed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LSIsy6YEXQ).
The Simpsons is a cartoon, but in the real world, people of great means have prepared sanctuaries to survive a doomsday event, and they have invested great sums of money in these survival shelters where they will try to outlast cataclysm and keep out all others. They will hunker down in them with artificial pictures of oceans and forests, parks and cities, … and people, to help distract them from remembering that everything is destroyed outside of their self-imposed prisons (https://www.cnn.com/style/article/doomsday-luxury-bunkers/index.html).
Today’s Bible selection from Matthew is far better represented by Homer than by billionaires. Jesus says to us today on Lent’s first day: “‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”
When the Gospel speaks of heaven, it need not be confined to the hereafter. Heavenly treasures may be found in this life. When Homer by his example leads his neighbours out of the protection of the shelter to join Ned Flanders and to stand together, their shared community (and Que Sera, Sera to boot) is a lived heavenly treasure. When the billionaires live locked underground in an artificial normalcy, they have stored up for themselves worthless treasures – says Jesus.
The apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians in Corinth that what looked to the world like failure was the unexpected up-building of an unworldly reign. He writes: “… as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” Lent asks us to look at the world and our priorities differently. Sort of like looking at life as living outside a doomsday shelter rather than just breathing inside one.
Let us use the blessing of these 40 days to examine what the treasures are in our lives and to see if they match the definitions of the world or of Jesus, if they will fade or whether they have substance. And if you so choose, you are invited to join with us in person at the Whately Congregational Church this evening at 7PM for the Ash Wednesday Service or you may join us via Zoom. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for the login.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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