Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, 2 Cor 5:20-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
May I speak in the name of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Ash Wednesday is a time for stock-taking and beginning a journey in which we deepen our faith. We focus on three crucial things during the coming weeks:
• Repentance and
• A Return to God.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our dependence on God’s grace and the need for transformation as we prepare for Easter. Today’s Gospel reading (Matt 6:1ff), is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus amazes his disciples and the multitudes around him with a teaching totally at variance from the examples set by the Pharisees. He says happiness does not depend on possessing material things, and being famous and honoured by society are not something to be coveted. Jesus says do not to store up treasures on earth, meaning that we should focus on God as the source of righteousness; that we should give in sincerity for the benefit of the poor and suffering, and in our fasting not allow ourselves to become self-centred.
In summary, the kind of fasting God wants is one in which we focus on opposing injustice, oppression and crime, anger and envy, negativity and deceit.
Friends, service rendered to others with sincere hearts brings great recompense. By the lives we live through the grace of Christ, our characters are formed. We become more and more in his likeness – as Paul says, God acted through Christ so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. We need to be humble and prayerful, to return to the roots and source of our faith, to recognise our own ills and our need of His love. We need to be emptied of all that hinders us, to be refilled and then to be sent out in compassionate service of God. To help us, take a resolution to put aside at least 20 minutes of your time in prayer each day, and to let go of the things we like most.
As we look forward to the elections on the 8th of May, what attributes are we as Christians bringing to the nation? Can we be trusted to take South Africa to a better tomorrow? Do we have what it takes to recover the noblest aspirations from our struggle against the injustices and oppression of the past, to look beyond the commissions of inquiry which are at present uncovering so much wrongdoing, and to heal and rebuild our country on sound moral values into the future?
Yes we do, I would argue – if we follow the example of Vernie Petersen, a former staff member of this Diocese, whose fight against corruption was celebrated at a rally here in St George's last weekend. His example constitutes a call to all of us, to re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle against greed, corruption and nepotism, to the struggle against the pursuit of narrow self-interest, personal gain, status, power and hunger for material wealth – in short the struggle for true justice, including economic justice. Put simply I invite you to turn to Christ’s loving ways and to the channels of His peace.
It is my hope that we use this Lent prayerfully – and most importantly for our country, to recover the hopes we have lost, to ensure that we have peaceful elections in which all can freely express their preferences, and to recommit ourselves to the New Struggle, a struggle for justice, solidarity and sharing, so that in the words of John's Gospel, all may have life and have it in abundance.
God loves you, and so do I. God bless South Africa. Amen.