“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Jesus said it. We read it at the beginning of Lent.
He puts the challenge about treasure and heart to each of us this season. As we heard on Ash Wednesday, it’s a season marked by a call to devotion. That means that Lent is really about what we love, about where we give our hearts. The flip side of Jesus’ statement was posed in the first centuries of the church by Abba Poemem, a desert father, who said: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”
So where do you give your heart? What are indicators of the things you treasure? Calendars and credit card statements are often a good place to start to get a read on those questions. Where are precious, scarce resources of time and money going?
Where do you give your heart? Said another way, what gives you joy and deep gladness?
The season of Lent, also intended as a period of self-examination, invites us to answer these questions. The Confession in our Prayer Book notes that we always have growth opportunity, that we have not loved God with whole heart, soul, and mind. We have not loved neighbor as self. That is all that is required of us, but in my own life, there’s not a day when I don’t fall short. The commandment is simple, if not necessarily easy.
In the work we do with congregations, we seek to make spiritual growth the focus of congregational life. We describe spiritual growth as a matter of love, the increase in love of God and neighbor. It’s all about devotion. So to channel my inner Tina Turner, what’s love got to do with it?
Conventional wisdom would suggest that you either love or you don’t. You feel or you don’t. Maybe that’s true. Maybe not. For one thing, it seems to me that this kind of growth can only unfold in the conviction that love precedes and undergirds and surrounds. Love was from the beginning. Love remains at the center. As the psalmist says: The earth is filled with your love. Instruct me in your statutes. Or as the New Testament puts it: God is love. We love God because God first loved us. By grace we have been saved.
And then I come to the writings of Howard Thurman, which have been my focus this Lent. In the book I’m reading, Disciplines of the Spirit, he quotes Oswald W.S. McCall:
Be under no illusion, you shall gather to yourself the images you love. As you go, he shapes, the lights, the shadows of the things you have preferred will come to you, yes inveterately, inevitably as bees to their hives…As year adds to year, that face of yours, which once lay smooth in your baby crib, like an unwritten page, will take to itself lines, and still more lines, as the parchment of an old historian who jealously sets down all the story. And there, more deep than acids etch the steel, will your heart, your sense of conscience, your response to duty, what you think of your God and of your fellowmen and of yourself. It will all be there. For men become like that which they love, and the name thereof is written on their brows.
What is written on your brow? Where are you giving your heart? How is that offering shaping your character? How does your praying shape your believing? These are questions of Lent, a season of challenge, but also a season of formation that leads to new life.
So we end where we began: Where are you giving your heart this day?
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.First and last stanza of a favorite Holy Week hymn:My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take flesh and die?
Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine: never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.
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