Lent begins with Matthew 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." That verse serves as prelude for a litany of otherwise holy behaviors in which the Gospel writer elucidates that doing something, even something good or holy, has a prerequisite of proper intent if it is to be efficacious.
That Ash Wednesday's Gospel lesson for today is always this reading is no accident. Like me, perhaps today is the mark in time on your calendar to begin doing something or to refrain from doing something. In this age of persistent self disclosure at least, and full on TMI at most - fueled by the ease social media, the caution of Gospel today places us in a bind.
For heaven's sake--we want to share everything we do and where we do it.
To be sure, some of our Lenten "disciplines" make mockery of what the season is about. Chances are if you're giving up something for Lent it is likely something you do disproportionately anyway. Let's say you're fasting from something for Lent. That's all well and good. How much of what you're giving up for 40 days has such hold during the normalcy of life that it rises to the top of your list when considering what to give up? And, how quickly will that from which you fasted rush back in come Easter? Or if for Lent you're not fasting from something but taking on something...to what end, and why only now, if it's something good, did you wait until today to start?And then there's the biggest question: Will having fasted from it or taken it on clarify who Jesus is and who you are as his disciple?
Historically, Lent leads catechumens to the waters of baptism on Easter. It leads them not only to the water but into the community of Christ. It is here, in Christian community, that we begin to take on the practices of faith, together...to stand with and for those pushed to the margins. And why? If Lent's purpose is to draw us closer to Christ in community, then rest assured that to find him, that's where we've got to go.
John Wesley ministered among the poor in no small part because he experienced Christ among them.
Who's on the margins in the places where your Christian community exists? Want to find Jesus this Lent? Go there and you'll discover a depth of presence that will overwhelm. Make those otherwise excluded a part of your Christian community. Bring their context into your own not because they need you, but because you need them.
Or, you could just give up chocolate, Diet Coke, cussing, and to decide to exercise and eat right for 40 days and show us all how you're doing. As Jesus says in Matthew "truly I tell you, they have received their reward."