Ash Wednesday, 2020 – February 26
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So what is your treasure? And where is your heart? What we treasure determines where our heart will end up. What we invest in, what we value, what we spend most of our time doing, what takes most of our energy and attention, that is where our heart, our identity, is headed. And some very good news is that we can learn to alter what we treasure and our hearts will follow.
In my first church, there was an elderly couple who had scrimped and saved all their lives. They were widely known as being frugal and careful with their money. Their plan for retirement was to travel the world. But when they actually did retire, they were in such a habit of saving and scrimping, that they just couldn’t bring themselves to spend money on travel. It seemed too irresponsible to them, so they just stayed close to home and kept on saving their money. It wasn’t a horrible outcome for them. I don’t think they were miserable people. But I wonder what sort of joy and happiness awaited them that they never got around to. Their treasure was locked up tight. And their hearts got a little locked up too. They developed an overly cautious approach to life.
It is definitely true that our hearts follow our money. But what we treasure isn’t always money. So what is your treasure? There are lots of things we come to treasure in life: peace; security; control; success and achievement; being right; family or relationships; affection or affirmation. Ash Wednesday is a good time to begin to identify just what it is we have put in the center of our lives. Lent is a good time to reflect on how that is affecting our hearts.
Some of the things we come to treasure are more shallow. My treasure has historically been success and achievement. A result of that quest is being overly concerned with how things look. A deeper result is a basically deceitful approach to life. If things aren’t looking as good as I want them to, I’ll just pretend they look better. Most of the time you will notice that as unfailing optimism. But the shadow side of that optimism is pretension and denial. Sometimes bad things sneak up on me because I don’t really want to face them. Treasuring success leads to a deceptive heart.
Other things we come to treasure seem more admirable. Many of us treasure peace and harmony. God knows we need more peace and harmony. But even those more admirable treasures can lead our hearts astray. If I value peace, I will end up discounting who I am. I’ll focus on the conflicts outside myself and try to make things more comfortable for you. Resentment will grow in my heart because you won’t respond perfectly to my efforts to make you comfortable and peaceful. If my job is to make things less conflicted, every conflict is a reminder that I’m not doing my job. Resentment builds. And to handle that, I’ll pretend I don’t have any conflicts in my own life. In order to do that, I’ll zone out and fill my time with activities that cover up my discomfort. Pretty soon I have no idea who I am at all. I sought peace but I ended up with absence and withdrawal.
Whatever we treasure affects our heart which then leads to a particular lifestyle and identity. While we tend to think of sinfulness as doing something wrong, our sinfulness is more a matter of the coping skills we have learned. The best use of Ash Wednesday is to identify what we have come to treasure. The best use of Lent is to spend time reflecting on how our hearts are following our treasure. And the point of all that is to enter into a deeper relationship with that power which is greater than ourselves and allow that power to cleanse us and make us new. As we learn to treasure God’s love for us above whatever coping skill we have adopted, then our hearts grow in the image of Christ.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We don’t rub ashes on each other’s heads to remind each other how horrible we are. We proclaim that we are created by God and that we will be re-created by God. By admitting our sinfulness we admit that we are unfinished products. Our hope and promise is that God is working to bring us to wholeness and salvation.