Message in Lieu of Worship
February 22, 2023
Grace and peace to you, which comes from God to each of us decisively in Jesus of Nazareth, Amen.
It is Ash Wednesday, our entry point to the Lenten Season. Unfortunately, due to weather and concern for safety, we have made the decision to cancel the Potato Bar dinner and worship service this evening. That decision made; the significance of this day is worth spending some time with.
For most of my adult life, Ash Wednesday and Lent passed with my recognition but without much attention. That changed when I came back to the church in my later adult years and recognized the need to be more deeply connected with God and the need to rebuild my life surrounded by a loving community, the church.
The Lenten season has a similar meaning. As the gospel narratives describe Jesus turning his face toward Jerusalem and embarking on a journey that would eventually take his life, we too can spend these next 40 days considering how our life might be more oriented toward our relationship with God and others. Prayerfully, our journey has a better end point than it did for Jesus, although resurrection is pretty darn cool!
Scripture readings for Ash Wednesday call us to the season. The call to return to the Lord (Joel 2:1-2, 12-17). A call to repentance (Psalm 51:1-17), and a call to keep our spiritual practices between us and God, not make a public display of our piety (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21). Some brief excerpts:
Joel 2:12-13, Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from punishment.
Psalm 51:1-2, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
The Lenten season weighs heavy on me. We practice the imposition of ashes with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” There is an unrest in the pit of my stomach. I don’t like it. To me, it seems like the longest of the church seasons. But, that said, it is the most meaningful as well. It is a time of introspection. A time to consider my life, my thoughts, deeds, and spiritual practices. It is a time to consider my relationship with God and how I am or am not allowing God to guide my life. Easter Sunday is not only the joy of celebrating the resurrection, but also the joy of knowing that we are no longer in Lent! The season is long and can seem heavy but brings liberation as well.
The words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” are a great liberator. No matter how successful or how challenging life on earth might be, these words apply to all of us. We will not take our possessions, our hurts, pain, sorrows, accomplishments, or anything else into the spiritual realm. Returning to dust is a great leveler. We return to God in the same way, every single one of us.
In Protestant faith traditions, our Lenten practices are all over the map, and that is ok. How we spend the Lenten season is as much a personal as a corporate journey. I encourage you to make the season meaningful. Do something different. Do something less or do something more. Whatever you do, consider the liberating words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Remember that this is a journey back into the loving embrace of our Creator.
I encourage you to consider the daily devotionals that we have offered at Immanuel, UCC. I find this my “do more” for Lent. Attend our Wednesday community gatherings and reflections, when possible. Abstain or fast from things only as a reminder to spend more time in conversation with God.
I look forward to sharing the joy of Easter Sunday with you knowing that we have all deepened our relationship with God, celebrating the resurrection, and knowing that we are no longer in Lent!
May God bless you and keep you,
Rev. Jim Schleif