The Goal | 5th in Lent

Philippians 3:4b-14

4b If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. 6 With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless. 7 These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. 8 But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ 9 and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

The Goal

We live in a credentialed world. When my wife was working toward her credentials as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, she had to get a Bachelor of Science degree, complete required internships, and pass a test. Only after she met the right criteria could she put the letters CTRS behind her name to show that she had the right credentials in Therapeutic Recreation.

Many fields require credentialing. The credentials are why we believe people when they talk about their area of expertise. The credentials are why we trust people like doctors, nurses, lawyers, therapists, pastors, teachers, meteorologists (sometimes), firefighters, police officers, and so many others. When they have the right credentials, we can trust that they more-than-likely know what they’re talking about in their particular field.

You might not know this, but one of the steps for a person who’s seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church is that we are certified. We are certified as a candidate for ordained ministry. I think it’s an accurate term—despite the negative connotation—because you almost have to be crazy to go into ordained ministry. But they check that too through psychological examinations to make sure that, while we’re certified, we aren’t certified.

There are many autobiographical passages found in Paul’s letters. I think they’re powerful because Paul takes the little story about his life and makes it meaningful by showing us how his story connects to the bigger story of God’s activity of salvation. In this text, Paul lists some of his credentials.

Yet, for us, the idea moves beyond credentials. Because, if we’re properly credentialed, we should become a success. How do we judge our lives as successful? Maybe we can hold up our list of personal accomplishments and achievements. How do we judge others as successful? We probably hold up their list of personal accomplishments and achievements. We might also look at what kind of car they drive, how well they dress, or how big their house is.

This practice of judging successfulness is most visible in the world of professional sports. Before the Colts won the Superbowl in 2007, the commentators all said that Peyton Manning, as great as he was, needed to win the big one in order to be considered one of the elite quarterbacks ever to play the game. After he won, the commentators started to say that he needed to win two Superbowls to be considered “elite.” Even winning it all is never enough. What do all sports commentators still say about Dan Marino? He’s the greatest quarterback who never won a Superbowl. For all the things Dan Marino accomplished, his successes are all tempered by this one lacking achievement.

Let me tell you about myself. How would you judge me?

I grew up at Central United Methodist Church where all the Romains worshipped as a family.

I was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Web Garrison, the former Dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

As to zeal, I hardly ever missed a Sunday of worship or Youth Group unless I was too sick to go. God called me to ministry when I was a child so young that I didn’t understand what it meant, and God continued to call until I was old enough to answer.

I graduated from Evansville North High School in 1995, which was the year Redbook Magazine ranked my high school as the #3 academic high school in the United States of America.

I was accepted as a Certified Candidate for Ordained Ministry by the Evansville District of the South Indiana Conference in 1998.

I attended The University of Findlay and graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree. I majored in Environmental and Hazardous Materials Management with an emphasis in Environmental Policy and Compliance, and I had two minors: one in Political Science, and one in Religion. I was even voted the 1998 Homecoming King by the student body. (I have the crown to prove it).

I continued my education at Duke University: The Divinity School, and I graduated in 2003 with a Master of Divinity degree.

I am a United Methodist of United Methodists.

I was Commissioned as a Probationary Elder by Bishop Woody White at the 35th Session of the South Indiana Annual Conference at Bloomington, Indiana on June 06, 2003.

I was ordained as an Elder in Full Connection at the 38th Session of the South Indiana Annual Conference at Bloomington, Indiana on June 09, 2006. Two bishops laid hands on me at my ordination: Bishop Michael Coyner of Indiana, and Bishop Hans Vaxby of the Eurasia Area. Others who laid hands on me were Rev. Craig Duke of the United Methodist Church, and Pastor Will Miller of The University of Findlay who is ordained in the Churches of God, General Conference.

I have served in ministry at a North Carolina state institution, a mission agency of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and multiple local churches, large and small across North Carolina and Indiana.

I’m 42 years old. I have 3 amazing children, an intelligent and capable wife (which is, of course, the singularly most important thing on my resume).

As a family, we have always given the full 10% tithe to our churches, and we give to other charities as well.

So, what do you think of my résumé? Would you judge me as successful? Or would you say that I’ve not really been successful until I become a bishop?

The thing is, everyone here could give a story of your own grand successes—much grander than mine—be it in business, or farming, or education, or the medical field, or parenting, or volunteer work, or whatever else. We all have something on our résumé that speaks of our success.

Paul says, “If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless” Philippians 3:4b-6 CEB).

If it is all about success, Paul has it made! He’s got every important detail on his résumé. He has all the right credentials. We know that he was educated by Gamaliel, the son Hillel, who of one of the two most influential teachers in the last 2000 years of Jewish history. His heritage and religious achievements are unparalleled!

But then Paul gives us a reevaluation of his life in light of knowing Jesus Christ. He says, “These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11 CEB).

Let me give you a reevaluation of my résumé. Compared to knowing Jesus Christ, it is all rubbish. My education, my ordination, my financial situation, everything in my life is counted as loss compared to gaining Christ.

Will my education save me? How about my ordination? Won’t my ordination save me? I mean I’m a pastor, for Pete’s sake! No. No. No. In the light of Christ, what the world sees as important becomes unimportant. My life, my achievements, mean nothing without the presence of Jesus Christ in my life. And I can say with all certainty that I would never have achieved a thing in my life had God not provided the way and the means for me to achieve it. Everything I have done has its root, its beginning, in God. Rather than what I have done, any accomplishments I might claim are what God has done in me, what God has accomplished in me, and what I expect God to yet accomplish in me.

In coming to know Jesus Christ, Paul gained a new lens through which he viewed life differently. Paul uses the commercial terms of “gain” and “loss.” Knowing Jesus Christ, to mix the metaphor a little, rearranges the price tags of life in such a way that items we previously thought of as valuable are recognized as worthless, and items once regarded as having little importance are cherished.

The surpassing value of knowing Christ means having a relationship to God that is based on faith in Christ. No credentials of success in life or religion will determine our status before God other than that of knowing Jesus Christ and following his example in faith. We are accepted by God not because of our achievements, but because of the faith we have in—and the obedience we show to—Christ.

You see, knowing Christ is spelled out in terms of participation with Christ, of knowing the power of his resurrection and sharing his sufferings by being conformed to his death. The way Paul writes this is arresting. I would have thought a different order was more appropriate—of suffering and then resurrection, of Good Friday and then Easter, of anguish endured and then resolution. Instead, the reverse is suggested: that the power of Christ’s resurrection leads to and is known in the obedience of our faith and the inevitable strife it brings.

Karl Barth puts it this way, “To know Easter means, for the person knowing it, as stringently as may be: to be implicated in the events of Good Friday…The way in which the power of Christ’s resurrection works powerfully in the apostle is, that he is clothed with the shame of the cross” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year C, p.234).

So a question for us to consider is: do we see ourselves as being clothed in the shame of the cross?

Paul then tells us his intentions for how he’ll live the rest of his life because he knows Jesus Christ. He says that he hasn’t reached the goal or ben perfected, but he strives to grab hold of Christ because Christ grabbed hold of Paul for a purpose that is bigger than Paul. He said, “Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 CEB).

Like my story, and like your story, Paul’s story is—at the time he wrote this—unfinished. God’s future beckons to us to press on and strain forward to what lies ahead. We have not yet arrived, but we are on our way. God has accepted us, and this acceptance by God can energize us to continue to press forward, to pursue the vocation to which God has called us. Our motivation comes from God’s grace and the promise of our participation in the resurrection. Paul’s story provides a paradigm of the Gospel. It shows us how the Gospel works to powerfully change our view of life and create in us a renewed sense of expectation for the future.

God’s plan for us is not to make us successful according to the way the world views success. God’s plan is to make us faithful, to make us holy, to reveal the power of the resurrection in a fragile body which is subject to death. Whether any of us are successful according to the judgment of the world, or not, it doesn’t matter. In light of Christ; in light of knowing Christ; in light of participating in Christ; our worldly successes and accomplishments are all rubbish anyway.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Thanksgiving | 1st in Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

1 Once you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and are settled there, 2 take some of the early produce of the fertile ground that you have harvested from the land the LORD your God is giving you, and put it in a basket. Then go to the location the LORD your God selects for his name to reside. 3 Go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him: “I am declaring right now before the LORD my God that I have indeed arrived in the land the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”

4 The priest will then take the basket from you and place it before the LORD your God’s altar. 5 Then you should solemnly state before the LORD your God:

“My father was a starving Aramean. He went down to Egypt, living as an immigrant there with few family members, but that is where he became a great nation, mighty and numerous. 6 The Egyptians treated us terribly, oppressing us and forcing hard labor on us. 7 So we cried out for help to the LORD, our ancestors’ God. The LORD heard our call. God saw our misery, our trouble, and our oppression. 8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with awesome power, and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land—a land full of milk and honey. 10 So now I am bringing the early produce of the fertile ground that you, LORD, have given me.”

Set the produce before the LORD your God, bowing down before the LORD your God. 11 Then celebrate all the good things the LORD your God has done for you and your family—each one of you along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among you. (CEB)

Thanksgiving

This text brings several important questions to mind for me. Why do we worship? How does memory shape us as a people? Why do we give? To whom do we belong? These are, at their heart, deeply theological questions. One of the first things Dr. Teresa Berger, the professor of my Introduction to Christian Theology class, taught her students was that we are all theologians. Theologians are not limited to pastors, seminary professors, and seminary students. Every Christian is a theologian because thinking about God is theology.

It’s Sunday and we’re in church, so I’m guessing most of us have thought about God today. At least, I hope we have. By my professor’s definition, you are a theologian.

Deuteronomy 26 begins with an act of giving that is really an act of thanksgiving. This is a liturgy—an act or work of the people—that they should continue to do (c.f. Deuteronomy 26:16-19). The people of Israel were given this liturgy so they could remember their story. For the Jewish people, memory often proved itself the mother of faith for the way in which God’s promises were, not merely retold, but rehearsed and relived. The word re-member means to put something back together, as opposed to dis-member which is to tear something apart. This liturgy made the people remember who they are, where they came from, and whose they are.

If you look at the liturgies of the Old Testament, they almost always give instructions for what the people are to do and recount why they are to do those actions. There is purpose behind acts of worship. And there is purpose behind our acts of worship. It’s the memory that frames that purpose in our hearts and minds. “Deuteronomy knows that when a people forget their past, they lose their present and future” (Archie Smith, Jr., Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2, pg.28). If we forget that God has saved us, how can we live as salvation people?

Worship helps us re-member to whom we belong. God is always the one who acts first on our behalf. God delivered the people from bondage in Egypt to liberty in the Promised Land. God delivered us from bondage to sin and death to freedom from sin and a new life that is eternal in God’s presence.

How closely do we pay attention when we work through the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving? We declare that we are all made in God’s image, that our very life comes from the breath of God. If we’ve ever wondered who we are or whose we are, our liturgy of worship declares that we belong to God, that we were made by God so that we could be loved by God. Even when our love for God and each other failed, God’s love for us remained steadfast and unwavering.

Deuteronomy also makes clear that Israel was the victim of suffering and oppression in Egypt, and God delivered them. God chose them. God moved them from a land of oppression to a land flowing with milk and honey. Are we not victims of the oppression of the evil one, sin, and ultimately death? Yet, God has come to us, claimed us, and made a way for us where there was not a way. In Jesus Christ, we have become God’s own possession and people, and we are heirs to all the promises of God alongside Israel. In Christ, we are healed of the oppression of sin, and death, itself, has been defeated by resurrection.

Then, there’s the question about giving to God. In this liturgy from Deuteronomy, the act of giving culminates in celebration with Levites and immigrants—the priests and the aliens, the insiders and outsiders. In some parts of the world, the church erupts in celebration when the pastor invites people to give for the offering. Wouldn’t that be amazing to see here? That kind of celebration can only happen when the people who give remember that everything they have is a gift from God. That kind of remembering makes people want to give; excited to give. People who understand that they are the recipients of abundance can’t wait to acknowledge that gift by returning the first fruits to the one who first provided the gift to them.

In Deuteronomy, the word most often used regarding the land is “possess.” The people possessed the land, but it is abundantly clear that the land still belonged to God. The people do not own anything. They merely possess. In a sense, they are eternally beggars who reside in a land that is not their own, who rely utterly on the unfathomable generosity of God-the-landowner. I think that’s why God tells the people to celebrate with the Levites and the immigrants because such a celebration reflects the people’s own situation as immigrants residing in God’s land, living off the bounty only God can provide.

Due, in part, to American culture, our giving has become a private, inward moment instead of the communal, outward celebration described in Deuteronomy (and found in other Christian congregations of the world). How would our own sense of what we possess and how we give be altered by the memory that we are resident aliens, that what we have is God’s, and we’re living every day on God’s gift of abundance? What kind of remembrance might it take to get us celebrating an invitation to give our first fruits and tithes to God?

I think it would take a radical shift in priorities and how we organize those priorities. Because, it’s easy to forget our identity as God’s people. The world is full of distractions that draw our attention elsewhere. In one sense, we can get comfortable with our wealth, but in another sense we can get so tied up in worrying about our wealth and the fear of scarcity—that we might not have enough—that we’re pulled away by one of the many worries of the world. That’s why Jesus told us, “Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 CEB).

When we forget—even for a moment—that all we have is from God, that we are beloved of God; when we forget whose we are; when we forget our deliverance from the bondage of sin and death; then our acts of worship, thanksgiving, and praise, themselves, can become meaningless. And we might question why we’re even bothering to show up in this place on Sunday mornings.

For example, in Deuteronomy, the giving of the first fruits of the harvest and the reciting of the story of deliverance are inseparably linked. The meaning of the people’s giving of the first fruits is found in recounting of the story of God’s liberating act for the people. Without the story of liberation—without the remembering—the act of giving would hold no meaning for the people making the offering. If we forget the story—our story—then our worship won’t make sense. It’ll feel empty.

So, how do we organize our lives, our sense of worth, our sense of self, our sense of history, and our sense of priority? How do we remember who and whose we are?

One way we can begin is by remembering our own story.

Do we remember our own story? And by that, I don’t mean our personal history—though that certainly plays a part. What I mean is, do we remember that we are a people who were utterly lost and broken (and by “we” I mean all people, not just us in particular), we were created in the very image of God yet turned away from that glory in rebellion so we could chase after our own devices and desires, we were born to live in sin and to die because of it. But God intervened in our human mess by sending the Eternal Word to be born among us, to live, to teach, to suffer, and to die on a cross for us so that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

Do we remember our story? Do we remember where we’ve been as a human race and, by God’s grace, where we’re being led?

It’s important to remember. There is joy in remembering because—no matter what hot mess is going in in our lives right now—the memory reminds us how deeply we’re loved and how deeply present God is with us right now.

Why do we worship? Because more than any other thing we do, worship forms us as a people who live according to and unto God’s rule and reign of love and peace for all creation. Worship helps us to re-member whose we are, why we give, and how we’re called to live as people of the promise.

We must remember God’s work of creation, because we were created. We must remember God’s work of redemption and salvation because we have been redeemed and saved by a God who loved us before we were formed in our mother’s womb. We must remember, because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

With such a remembrance of who we are, whose we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re being led, what can our response be but celebration? How can we not rejoice with priests and immigrants, insiders and outsiders, friends and enemies?

In a way, the journey of Lent prepares us and helps us to remember according to this same pattern. The psalmist reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NRSV). Suffering comes before deliverance and salvation. This journey to the cross must be undertaken before we celebrate the joy of Easter. We must remember what God has done for us, how God has suffered for us, because it’s part of our story. The great invitation of Lent is to remember again the depth of God’s love, and the profundity of God’s overflowing grace. We were once outsiders. But now we are God’s people only because God has opened the way for us.

Do we remember our story?

How shall we respond?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Lenten Daily Readings 4

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Psalm 130 | Romans 8:6-11 | John 11:1-45

Monday: Psalm 53 | Leviticus 23:26-41 | Revelation 19:1-8

Tuesday: Psalm 53 | Leviticus 25:1-19 | Revelation 19:9-10

Wednesday: Psalm 53 | 2 Kings 4:1-7 | Luke 9:10-17

Thursday: Psalm 126 | Isaiah 43:1-7 | Philippians 2:19-24

Friday: Psalm 126 | Isaiah 43:8-15 | Philippians 2:25-3:1

Saturday: Psalm 126 | Exodus 12:21-27 | John 11:45-57

Lenten Daily Readings 4

Fourth Sunday in Lent: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 | Psalm 23 | Ephesians 5:8-14 | John 9:1-41

Monday: Psalm 53 | Leviticus 23:26-41 | Revelation 19:1-8

Tuesday: Psalm 53 | Leviticus 25:1-19 | Revelation 19:9-10

Wednesday: Psalm 53 | 2 Kings 4:1-7 | Luke 9:10-17

Thursday: Psalm 126 | Isaiah 43:1-7 | Philippians 2:19-24

Friday: Psalm 126 | Isaiah 43:8-15 | Philippians 2:25-3:1

Saturday: Psalm 126 | Exodus 12:21-27 | John 11:45-57

Lenten Daily Readings 2

Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 12:1-4a | Psalm 121 | Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 | John 3:1-17

Monday: Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42 | Exodus 33:1-6 | Romans 4:1-12

Tuesday: Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42 | Numbers 14:10b-24 | 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Wednesday: Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42 | 2 Chronicles 20:1-22 | Luke 13:22-31

Thursday: Psalm 63:1-8 | Daniel 3:19-20 | Revelation 2:8-11

Friday: Psalm 63:1-8 | Daniel 12:1-4 | Revelation 2:8-11

Saturday: Psalm 63:1-8 | Isaiah 5:1-7 | Luke 6:43-45

Lenten Daily Readings 1

A lot of people talk about what they’re giving up for Lent but I want to encourage you to add something. Part of what we do in Lent is rededicate ourselves to practicing various spiritual disciplines. Reading the Scriptures is one spiritual discipline that is fairly easy to do. Below is a list of the Lenten daily readings following Ash Wednesday (the Ash Wednesday readings are in a post HERE) through the first full week of Lent. I included readings for the days past in case any adventurous souls want to catch up. If you want to start with today’s readings, however, look for Tuesday.

Except for the Sundays in Lent, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week, the daily readings begin with a Psalm that is the same for three days in a row. The readings continue with an Old Testament and a New Testament reading which change every day.

If you have questions about any of the texts, you can always post below and I’ll do my best to respond in a timely manner.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 | Exodus 5:10-23 |  Acts 7:30-34

Friday after Ash Wednesday: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 | Exodus 6:1-13 | Acts 7:35-42

Saturday after Ash Wednesday: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 | Ecclesiastes 3:1-18 | John 12:27-36

First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 | Psalm 32 | Romans 5:12-19 | Matthew 4:1-11

Monday: Psalm 17 | 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 | 1 John 2:1-6

Tuesday: Psalm 17 | Zechariah 3:1-10 | 2 Peter 2:4-21

Wednesday: Psalm 17 | Job 1:1-22 | Luke 21:34-22:6

Thursday: Psalm 27 | Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18 | Philippians 3:2-12

Friday: Psalm 27 | Genesis 14:17-24 | Philippians 3:17-20

Saturday: Psalm 27 | Psalm 118:26-29 | Matthew 23:37-39

Ash Wednesday Readings

In case you missed Ash Wednesday worship, or just want to read the texts again, here are the lectionary selections and the invitation to Lenten discipline.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

 1 Blow the horn in Zion; give a shout on my holy mountain! Let all the people of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is near– 2 a day of darkness and no light, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread out upon the mountains, a great and powerful army comes, unlike any that has ever come before them, or will come after them in centuries ahead.

 12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow; 13 tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive. 14 Who knows whether he will have a change of heart and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God? 15 Blow the horn in Zion; demand a fast; request a special assembly. 16 Gather the people; prepare a holy meeting; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the groom leave his room and the bride her chamber. 17 Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the LORD’s ministers, weep. Let them say, “Have mercy, LORD, on your people, and don’t make your inheritance a disgrace, an example of failure among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (CEB)

Psalm 51:1-17

For the music leader. A psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him just after he had been with Bathsheba.

 1 Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! 2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! 3 Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. 4 I’ve sinned against you– you alone. I’ve committed evil in your sight. That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict, completely correct when you issue your judgment. 5 Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin, from the moment my mother conceived me. 6 And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

 7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and celebration again; let the bones you crushed rejoice once more. 9 Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds! 10 Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! 11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. 12 Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.

 14 Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation, so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness. 15 Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. 16 You don’t want sacrifices. If I gave an entirely burned offering, you wouldn’t be pleased. 17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God. You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed. (CEB)

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

5:20b We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. 6:1 Since we work together with him, we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 He says, I listened to you at the right time, and I helped you on the day of salvation. Look, now is the right time! Look, now is the day of salvation!

3 We don’t give anyone any reason to be offended about anything so that our ministry won’t be criticized. 4 Instead, we commend ourselves as ministers of God in every way. We did this with our great endurance through problems, disasters, and stressful situations. 5 We went through beatings, imprisonments, and riots. We experienced hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. 6 We displayed purity, knowledge, patience, and generosity. We served with the Holy Spirit, genuine love, 7 telling the truth, and God’s power. We carried the weapons of righteousness in our right hand and our left hand. 8 We were treated with honor and dishonor and with verbal abuse and good evaluation. We were seen as both fake and real, 9 as unknown and well known, as dying–and look, we are alive! We were seen as punished but not killed, 10 as going through pain but always happy, as poor but making many rich, and as having nothing but owning everything. (CEB)

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 1 “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

 5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

 16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 19 “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (CEB)

Invitation to Lenten Discipline

 Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.

 During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church.

 In this way, the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer and fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

 To make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now bow before our Creator and Redeemer. (United Methodist Book of Worship)