Some of the beautiful aspects of the Lenten season are that they represent new beginnings in our spiritual growth while continuing our commitment to living through the values of Jesus Christ, our Savior. In Matthew 6, Jesus Christ encourages a private relationship between each of us and our Lord. The message from Jesus to his disciples is that when we give something to someone in need, we should avoid showing and telling others about our good deeds. In other words, we are encouraged to be humble. We’re not doing these good deeds to gain publicity or become famous. In fact, through our Scripture from Matthew 6:4, Christ says, “they may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Sure, it’s human nature to want to tell at least somebody when we do something good. Some of you have likely considered what you may give up to the Lord during this Lenten season. Our 21st century world tends to focus on giving up material things or sweets, like chocolate, or maybe smoking. Some may commit to stop complaining or becoming impatient with others. But regardless of what you consider giving up, it is important to remember that your commitment is between you and God. The commitment we make to Christ during this Lenten season is spiritually symbolic of the sacrifice Christ made for our salvation when he was crucified, laid in the tomb and was resurrected.
In addition to the theme of humility, another message from Jesus in our Scripture from Matthew taught the disciples about treasures. Jesus was explaining the vast difference between earthly treasures – material things which, of course, are only temporary, and heavenly treasures, which are eternal. So how can we as Jesus says, “store up treasures in heaven?” While many answers may enter your mind, I believe Jesus is telling us that our treasures are gained by all of our acts of obedience to God. In other words, our intention is to seek the fulfillment of God’s purposes in all we do.
Last year, pre-COVID-19, during a worship service in Tremont, Ohio near Cleveland, an anonymous donor wanted to spread kindness throughout the city during the month of Lent, so the donor gave enough money to give everyone in the congregation at Pilgrim Congregation United Church of Christ a $100 bill, with the hopes of creating a ripple effect of good during the season of Lent. During her sermon, Pastor Kelly Burd asked the congregation to picture the ripple effect that occurs when a pebble is tossed into a still pond. She compared this effect to when someone does good in their community, it creates a ripple effect of kindness. It gets bigger and bigger with each act of kindness. She concluded the sermon by asking everyone to take opportunities during the Lenten season to create their own ripple effect.
What happened next surprised everyone sitting in the congregation, and even brought some members to tears. She called everyone up - about 137 congregation members - to come forward and receive an envelope. She said, “What you hold in your hand is a gift from an anonymous donor. It comes with an invitation to prayerfully and mindfully look for someone who could use a blessing right now. Just listen to where the Holy Spirit is leading you. You may be in the right place at the right time to bless somebody because you have this money. Notice what happens in your heart as you give it away. Watch for the ripple effect that you can see, and imagine the ripple effect that you are creating, that which you won’t see.”
This is a wonderful reflection of today’s Scripture where the donor remained anonymous – he/she did not need to be praised or recognized for his/her good deed. But what he/she did is take some of the treasures he/she has been blessed with here on earth and, through the pastor’s words, encouraged each person who received $100 to give the money to someone else who needed it. The Ripple Effect was making someone’s life better. That’s the Heart of the Treasure – a treasure in heaven, a treasure that fulfills God’s promises. In the words of our Savior, Jesus Christ, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21).
As we reflect upon what the Lenten season means to each of us, the popular theme is what WE are giving up during the 40-day period leading up to Easter. And our individual Lenten gifts can be revealed to God through a private prayer. But really what is most amazing is what has already been given up for all of us - Our Lord, Jesus Christ becoming flesh, Our Lord, Jesus Christ allowing our sins to die with him, and Our Lord, Jesus Christ giving each of us the gift of a new life celebrating the Heart of the Treasure with our Father in eternal heaven.