In our staff meeting on February 19, all things Lent was part of the conversation. Preparation for Lent is a tad bit different than prepping for Advent.
After the staff meeting, I walked out to the front grounds of Trinity. I was looking for my old friend–a zinc coated handle buried in the top of the turf.
The handle is attached to a 4×4 post. The post goes into the ground a few feet. It marks the spot where the cross will be placed during Lent. It took me a few minutes, but the shy midday sun eventually peeked out the handle. I appreciate the assist from God. He saved me from wandering aimlessly for hours.
In that same staff meeting, Matthew 5: 43-48 was read and discussed. For some reason verse 45 stood out to me: “So that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
Despite how I think, live, and act, God’s sun and rain are cast upon us all. God doesn’t provide the sun and rain for only the good and righteous. His raindrops and sunrays claim us all.
I hope I can hold those words tight to me for the remainder of my life.
And, I also hope during Lent, this devotional booklet will give you something to hold on to as well.
…therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Truth be told, I had to be sold on the idea of our 7:00 AM “Drive through Ashes.” I don’t mind the time so much (as long as I’ve already had my coffee!), but the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday should be in church in a service with lots of confessing and lamentation and hymns played in minor keys. Why can’t people do that?!
Ah, but then I thought about Jesus preaching to the multitudes on the hillside and at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And then (you knew this was coming) John Wesley preaching on his father’s gravestone when he was turned out of the church and preaching in a wheat field. There it is, God’s truth intersecting with the pathways of our busy lives.
Our scripture reference Job 42:6 call us to “repent in dust and ashes.” We must repent, that is to say we have to recognize our need to change our hearts and lives, and live on a path that leads us to God and God’s love. “Dust and ashes” have always been associated with mourning and repentance because of Genesis 3:19 “you are dust and to dust you shall return”. Ash Wednesday teaches us that we are mortal. Without God we are dust and will return to dust. With God there is spirit, we have life and in God eternal life. It is an important lesson, truly a matter of life and death.
I’ve become a fan of our “Drive through Ashes.” With the ashes, we offer a blessing. We also hand out a card, explaining the meaning of Lent and Ash Wednesday. We also give out free coffee as an act of hospitality. It’s been well received and many people truly seem to appreciate it. I still like to see lots of people at the services, but starting your day recognizing your own need of God and wearing ashes all day as a silent, but very real witness – it’s not a bad idea.
We need God. This is our day of dust and ashes. What difference will Lent make in your life?
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18
Division, that is what I see in this picture of our church. The division between the light and the dark. The church is cast into the darkness, with only the cross being surrounded in light. We as a church have fallen into the darkness of the world, what Paul calls foolishness. Our siblings in Christ that were a part of the church in Corinth were divided. Squabbling about to whom they belonged, and who were better than the other. All while forgetting about the good news of Christ and his crucifixion on the cross.
Let us take a look at the passage from Isaiah, chapter 29, that Paul is referring to in this part of his letter:
13The Lord says: Since these people turn toward me with their mouths, and honor me with lip service while their heart is distant from me, and their fear of me is just a human command that has been memorized, 14 I will go on doing amazing things to these people, shocking and startling things. The wisdom of their wise will perish, and the discernment of their discerning will be hidden.
Have you forgotten about the message of the cross? Are you living in foolishness and perishing in the darkness of the world? Are you honoring God with lip service? Is your heart distant from the Lord? Do you think you are better than others? Is your opinion, always right? Is your comfort more important than preaching the good news to the vulnerable trapped in darkness?
I have forgotten, I am foolish, I talk a big game, my heart is guarded, I think I am superior, I am comfortable. The season of Lent is a time of turning, changing our hearts and lives and living into the Kingdom of God. Lord give me the strength and perseverance to bring the light in the darkness.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
I just love this picture. Here you are able to see the beauty of spring bursting forth within the shadow of the tree. Amidst shadows, there is beauty.
This past fall my husband Eric went through a corporate restructure with Food Lion, his employer for the past 26 years. He was told his current position would be eliminated, but he would be allowed to apply for new positions within the company. The first job he applied for was his dream job: Director of Merchandising for the Northern Division. To say he was devastated when he didn’t get it is an understatement.
And through the shadows, new life has taken place.
Last Thursday Eric called the person who got the Director of Merchandising job and told her that he wanted to have a good relationship with her, that anything she needed, he was ready to help her with, that he was in her corner, that he wants her to be a success. By the end of the day the magnitude of that gesture made its way back to Eric as both his old boss and new boss had heard about the phone call he had made and each called him to tell him so – and to thank him. An example of Eric’s character? Yes. An example of grace personified? Indeed.
In the shadows of life, we find refuge with God, and with God new life takes place. May we seek times of refuge with God this Lenten season, anticipating the new life that is to come.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
We all know how this goes, no one cast a stone including Jesus. Instead Christ sent her away saying, “Go and sin no more.”
Sin and forgiveness, tough topics. I guess that’s why the Bible is filled with teachings on these two inextricable acts. With the many facets of these two human actions I will narrow my focus by attempting to describe my own reaction to forgiving others.
To begin, I will admit forgiveness can be a struggle, and it often takes time. Frequently, when faced with the feeling of being wronged my initial response is to withhold forgiveness. Instead to wallow in its unfairness, to engage in some self-indulging anger and resentment bringing some temporary satisfaction. Praise God, that it is not permanent, and the satisfaction is replaced with an overflowing of negative emotions, and a deep need for serenity.
This is when I must go to God in order to be freed of this internal disruption. This is only possible through God’s graciousness and peace. It is essential to restoring my soul, re-stabilizing my spiritual equilibrium, and healing my heart.
How others process and respond to the act of forgiveness I do not know, but I believe it can be a challenge for all humans. During this 2020 season of Lent shall we dedicate ourselves to the practice of extending grace to others? Christ did this until his last breath when he uttered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Rest … it conjures up different images and desires for each of us as we contemplate safe havens and a space where we can take a deep, relaxing breath. So, what do we need a respite from? Maybe we seek rest from our everyday routines, a time out from those who don’t quite measure up to our image of perfection, the continual banging in our head reminding us of our never-ending to-do list, the weariness from sleeplessness, sickness and grief. There is no lack of heavy loads and weary souls that are desperately in need of a good rest.
As the sun rises and sets, our Trinity community is that place of refuge and rest. Look up as you whiz down Forest Avenue on your way, running errands, to and from school, to practice and meetings and you will see the never changing tower, carillon and steeple. These unchanging centennials remind us of God’s enduring offer to rest within, wrapped in his arms of grace and peace.