Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
The lectionary gospel text for Ash Wednesday this year is Matthew 6:1–6. The first verse of which is: “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.”
This is an interesting verse to think about when you leave a worship space with ashes smeared on your head. What does the ash cross on our forehead say to others? I suppose that people who are Christians have some idea what it is about. Many times we forget that it is there and wonder why people are looking at our heads.
So it is that we start Lent by practicing our piety before others. We then make a promise to ourselves and God that we will do more of that and less of this. It is a sincere promise as all of our promises are with God. But someone or something or really most anything crops up and the promise gets mediated, shrunk to size, or in the better luck next time category.
I wonder if it would not be better to intentionally practice our piety before others. The goal would not be to win a piety contest. The hope would be to ask the community known as the church to hold us true. In the congregation we seek the best discipleship for each other. We don’t always think about that. Is Mrs. Jones praying for me? Did Mr. Smith just give me the high sign?
Presbyterians promise at infant baptism to help raise this child as a whole congregation. I think we tend to think that ends at confirmation, college, or some other milepost. But I think it is a lifelong commitment to a long life. I think most of us would confess we could still use some community nurture in our adult journey of faith.
So let’s practice our piety as a community. Let us continue to imagine we see that cross on each other’s forehead. Say a prayer for each other. Give a thumbs up of biblical encouragement.