As we begin this Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, Jesus is asking each and every one of us an important question. Jesus is asking, “Will you walk with me?”
Jesus begins looking toward Jerusalem and he begins looking toward the Cross.
Jesus is asking us to walk with him. Jesus understands what this journey to Jerusalem is all about and he is preparing those who travel with him for what is to occur after we reach our destination. We don’t always understand the full meaning of what awaits us, and Jesus is fully aware of this, for he knows we travel in faith and in trust. He loves all who travel with him and he provides all that we need with understanding and grace. To do this he is asking everyone to not take their eyes off of him. Do not take your eyes off Jesus. Keep your eyes, your gaze on him. We can’t afford to remove them for a moment. Keeping our eyes on Jesus is what will make all the difference for us as we move closer to the cross and through this season of Lent.
We must begin by asking ourselves a very important question. Are we willing to walk this journey that Jesus is walking? Will be dare to be brave enough, have faith enough, have trust and conviction enough to walk with Jesus along this path to the cross?
The scripture, Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21, at first I thought was odd for Ash Wednesday. It is out of the Revised Common lectionary specifically for today and I had to sit with it for awhile to understand how it speaks to us as we begin with Jesus this liberating journey with him to the cross.
And then as I continued to sit with it and meditate upon it, it all began to make sense. Jesus is giving us instructions for our behavior and for our thinking as we start out tonight to walk with him.
Jesus is asking us to dwell on those spiritual things that have real meaning and that have true purpose for our walk. Earthly things can be too weighty and they can just slow us down and burden us. Those things we may think we need for the journey are not necessarily the things that are truly important. Human things may serve us well in our earthly lives and define our humanity, but all too often they can become an encumbrance to our understanding of who we are a spiritual beings.
The human things that often prevent us from experiencing fully all that we are as spiritual creations of a loving God Jesus has spelled out in our passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t practice your piety, your faith, your mercy and compassion so that it would be on display for all to see in order to get the applause and approval of others. That is what others might do, but not true followers and students of Jesus who understand and desire so much more. Who desire to live from their spiritual center, not their human center.
Our relationship with God and our prayer time is too important to treat lightly and without deep inner reflection. No need to be like so many humans who need to put their prayer time on display with false prayers spoken -not to help lift up others with the truth of God – but so that those praying with loud and “notice me” voices, will seem more righteous than they really are.
Our prayer and meditation time is one of the most holy experiences we can have. It is meant to be personal, and it is meant to be joyful. No need to put on a face that makes us look burdened so that others will say we are devout.
And our treasures – those things we hold sacred and dear. These things Jesus reminds us are gifts from an unconditionally loving and merciful God. We are to store those in our hearts and in our praise to God with thanksgiving, not set out before the world as a display of our own false sense of our own grandeur. Let your spiritual self, that comes from God, be your guide, Jesus tells us, not your human self that comes from a place of ego and self-importance.
These are the first instructions of Jesus for how we are to begin our journey with him. Jesus understands our humanity for he himself came to walk a journey of life on this earth in human form, so he tells us lovingly, “keep your eyes on me, so that your journey is good and your way is clear.”
When we come from our spiritual center, when we allow that spirit that dwells within us to take over and be our guide, our polar star, amazing and miraculous things happen to and through us that seem out of the ordinary for humans, but completely in keeping with the fullness of Spirit.
I am reminded of the story of Jesus walking on the sea towards the disciples who had set off before him by boat. Jesus had remained behind on the seashore to pray and now he sets off to meet his disciples.
This from Matthew’s account: “And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Peter had taken his eyes off Jesus. We must not take our eyes off Jesus on your journey. For he will keep us safe.
In his humanity Jesus had to look about him at the state of the world, with its mistrust and its wars and its defeatist attitudes and he had to think: “life – the world – it doesn’t have to be like this. People can live a life of so much more.” Our life doesn’t have to be one of fear and doubt, war and defeat. A life, lived from ones spiritual center can always be so much more.
Do not take your eyes off Jesus on your walk.
Our relationship with Jesus is one of experience. We pray, we listen and then we walk together with him to experience life and experience God in, through and as our life. Jesus says walk with me to know me and that I can know you. He longs to show us how life can truly be, but we must reach out and grab it with our faith and our trust and our belief in possibility. First through our decision to take this journey, and then through our faithful experience of each and every moment walking with him. Sometimes life is a struggle and our fears can start to overwhelm us, as they did Peter on the water, but that doesn’t mean we stop walking with Jesus, stop where we are, and stay in that one place. We keep moving forward, together.
Jesus looks at life lived today and says, “It doesn’t have to be like this.”
He beckons us forward, through all that we experience. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
We forge ahead, and soldier on, because Jesus has assured us that through it all, with our eyes on him, new life, new hope, and new possibility is our spiritual truth.
We are always making choices and we choose to walk together with Jesus, so that when we stumble we have the assurance that we are picked up, set back on course, and told everything is going to be all right. We choose to be loving students of Jesus and we choose to be teachable. Our eyes remain on Jesus.
Don’t be like those who put on display those things that are for vain glory, but humbly fall on your knees and know that the living, breathing presence of God is dwelling within you. That is what will sustain you when the fears and doubts of modernity seek to overwhelm. Jesus could continue to walk with eyes on the cross because he knew that those things of this world do not have the final word. They are not the final say. They are not the final chapter in a life lived with God. He could look with eyes toward the cross because he knew that the cross is not the end of the story. If anything, it is just the end of the prologue of life and that there is so much more to experience and live that pales in comparison with what has come before.
I love this quote by the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale: “Often we are faced with events that fill us with dismay. God loves us and wants to be near us in times of trouble and change. And Peale quotes Isaiah (63:9) assuring us, “In all their (human) distress God too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them….” And then Peale quotes from Matthew, (11:28), Jesus inviting us into his loving care: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
We will not experience anything that Jesus is not also experiencing. As we experience it we have the assurance of Christ’s healing power, love, compassion, strength and direct connection to God, our creator.
I remember during the Civil Right’s movement of the 1960s the slogan was “Keep your eyes on the prize.” Keep you eyes on where you want to be. Keep your eyes on what you truly wish to have be your experience. If you keep your eyes, your thoughts, your faith, on the victory, no matter how many battles you may think you lose along the way, you will ultimately be victorious.
Jesus is asking us to remember this and to trust him along our walk.
Why is this a journey to liberation? Because after the journey to the cross comes the journey that begins with resurrection. The slate is clear – the new morning bright with possibility because the journey was taken and our gaze was ever pointed heavenly.
Keep your eyes on Jesus as you walk this walk of Lent. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Treasures in heaven where there is no pain, no sorrow and no defeat. Treasures in heaven where the human self is subservient to the spiritual self. Store up for yourself belief in a God who can never be defeated. Jesus asks us to trust him on this walk. If we can do that, what we will experience will change our life forever.
“Walk with me,” Jesus says. “Keep your eyes on me,” Jesus says.
Today we begin that walk.
Rev. Jefferson Beeker
We live our lives one thought at a time. Let each of those thoughts really count for something wonderful.