Your Treasure Chest: An Ash Wednesday Call to Reëvaluation

"Where your treasure is…" In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us a way to picture our blessings and our values and priorities. He gave us the treasure chest. And I can’t think of a better way to begin Lent than to place that image before us right now. For it’s our treasure chests that’ll help guide us through our Lenten discipline.

Let’s begin by imagining ourselves with our treasure chest in front of us. Each of us probably has a different chest, but mine is one of those big old wooden ones— the kind that pirates always have in adventure stories. Whether yours is wood or metal or some other material, whether it’s big or small, new or old, think of it with the lid closed. Because I want us all to open our chests together.

Let’s do that right now. Does yours open silently or with a squeak, a creak, or a groan? The noise it makes in our minds might tell us how often we open our treasure chest. And however often we open it might indicate how often we share what’s in there, or whether it’s something that we openly admit we treasure, or something we idolize only in secret.

Now that it’s open,
it’s time to look inside to see what it is we’ve kept since the last time we took stock of our treasure— that is, our blessings, our values, or our priorities. What do we see? Do we see gifts of God that we’ve been letting lie dormant? Or do we see gifts of God that we are well used? And if they’re being used, the next question is by whom? Who’s benefiting from the gifts we’ve been given? The church, the community, the world? …or only ourselves?

But what if when we open our treasure chests, we don’t see the blessings of life, but other stuff? Are we hoarding things we don’t need, things that are bad for us? Addiction, self-indulgence, abuse— these are words that might describe some of our attitudes not just toward the things in our life, but also our attitude toward people or even thought patterns.

As we begin our journey toward Easter, perhaps the image that Jesus has given us this evening is the one that will best help us discern our approach to a life of repentance. It need not be the same way we approached it this time last year. And it probably won’t be the same way we’ll approach it next year. Real repentance results in change, so it’s a good thing if Lent is different for us from year to year.

And repentance is what Ash Wednesday is really about. Most of us conjure up memories of revival meetings or caricatures of preachers telling us to be saved when we think of repentance. But at its root, the word is supposed to mean simply a turning around, an about-face in our lives. Repentance is an acknowledgement that change is needed if we’re going to have a meaningful relationship with God and with our neighbors.

And the church through the centuries has made this day— Ash Wednesday— an occasion to tune our ears to Jesus’ call to repent. That’s because the new life of Easter is nothing new at all if we’re still stuck in the same old rut we were in before Easter.

And so in just a few minutes, I’ll issue the call to receive a sign of repentance. And that sign is an ancient biblical one— the sign of ashes, a symbol of sorrow for the way things are. And in that sorrow there is built-in hope, for what else is there to do when things are bad, but hope they’ll get better?

Let’s each therefore exercise that hope in one of two ways, depending on what we saw when we opened our treasure chests tonight. If what we saw reminded us how blessed we’ve been, let’s engage in a Lenten discipline that makes us more thankful. This might mean giving up something that isn’t hurtful to us, but that we enjoy—something that, when we notice it’s missing, will remind us how blessed we’ve been, and that we need to be more thankful. For a lack of gratitude is as hurtful to us and those around us as a multitude of other sins. Something we “give up for Lent” under these circumstances can be enjoyed once again come Easter— or even on Sundays before Easter, since Sunday is always a feast day and never a day of fasting. (That’s why there are actually 46 days between now and Easter.)

But if, when we opened our treasure chest, we saw in there selfishness or over-dependence or unhealthy patterns, then perhaps our Lent should be spent in giving up something that we need not take up again. A happy Easter might then bring us the joy of being free from something we were in bondage to a few weeks earlier. This is different from a New Year’s resolution. For New Year’s resolutions take determination and commitment on our part. A Lenten discipline acknowledges that our own strength is what got is in this mess in the first place, and that it is to God’s power that we need to look for deliverance.

So let’s spend a few moments in prayerful thought, and when you’ve settled on an image of what’s in your treasure chest, and the Holy Spirit has given you a notion of what you might do with (or about) that image, you’re invited to come forward and receive a sign of repentance.

Thus may we each find new meaning in our faith journey as we follow the road to the cross and the empty tomb…
—©2018 Sam L. Greening, Jr.