Happy Lent

Last night, the anchor on our local news said that many Christians around the world were celebrating Ash Wednesday. It struck me as an odd choice of words. Do we really “celebrate” Ash Wednesday? It’s a day of repentance – a day to remember that we were created from dust and to dust we will return – a day to be humble. Ash Wednesday kicks off the liturgical season of Lent, which is 40 days (plus Sundays) that Christians observe to prepare for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial.

Sounds like a party to me!

“Don’t need nothin’ – but Contrition”
(sung to the tune of the Poison song, Nothin’ but a Good Time.)

Many Christians traditionally give something up for Lent; like carbonated beverages, chocolate, or desserts. Others add something to their routine; like an additional bible study, devotional, or prayer. Some attend special Ash Wednesday services where they may participate in a ritual of receiving the mark of ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance and mourning. All of this is an effort to get their hearts and minds focused on the upcoming Holy Day of Easter, or the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. (THAT I can understand referring to as a celebration!)

Here’s the thing though: All of this is great, as long as you remember that it’s a human device – a ritual designed and perpetuated by imperfect people. In the end, God isn’t going to ask if you observed Lent properly, or call you out on eating a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup after giving up chocolate for 40 days. That isn’t what’s important to Him.

What He ultimately wants from us is exactly what He has always wanted: for us to love Him with all of our hearts, minds, and souls – and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And if observing Lent or Ash Wednesday in whatever way we think is necessary helps us to do that – then that’s exactly what we should do.

I went to Ash Wednesday service last night, received the mark of ashes, and prayed a little extra. I am doing a couple of extra devotionals for the time being. I will be reading and writing more intentionally for spiritual reasons. I might even deny myself something that I really like. And I encourage you to do those kinds of things too. But I mostly encourage you to (as they say around Christmas) remember the reason for the season.

Prayer for the beginning of Lent:

Lord, help us to use whatever rituals and devices that we choose to do nothing more than strengthen our commitment to you, our families, our churches, our communities, and our world. Help us to love you more, and to learn how to love your people.

Amen.

remember that thou art dust

I suppose many people – especially non-Catholics – have conflicting concepts about what Ash Wednesday is or why we – especially Protestants such as me – would celebrate it. I have done my share of struggling with it in the past too. It is not the most welcoming of holy days. Let’s smear some ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality and our sinful natures. Uh… how about we don’t.

I do not need to be reminded that I am a sinner – that we are all sinners. And as I get older I certainly do not need to be reminded that I am going to eventually die.

Or do I?

The tradition of Ash Wednesday is derived from the biblical practice of using dust and ashes to symbolically express remorse for sins and as an outward sign of repentance. (See Job 42:3-6, or Daniel 9:3). Plus we get the added bonus of being reminded of our impending death, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19).

For many years I only thought of Ash Wednesday as the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to that most holy of holy days on the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday. This is the time that we are traditionally asked to give something up – to fast from something specific as an act of penance. Often times in today’s society people try to give up something that they perceive as a vice; like coffee, chocolate, fried foods, or red meat because they see it as a way to eliminate a barrier between themselves and God.

Personally I find it more edifying to take something on rather than give something up. In the last few years during Lent I have attempted to take on more study, prayer, acts of kindness, etc. And this year is no exception. This year I plan to participate in our Conference’s Lenten devotional series every morning, as well as read more scripture especially at night. I am also going to try to pray more and blog at least weekly about my Lenten journey or something else of a spiritual nature. And finally my wife and I plan on taking care of our temples during this time by walking for more exercise at least three days a week. Sounds simple enough, right?

Actually – as I read through this list I am thinking, “I should be doing these things all of the time – not just during Lent”. And I guess personally I hope that forty days is enough to make some of these things more of a habit.

So as we “celebrate” Ash Wednesday to kick off this season of repentance and self-denial in preparation for Holy Week, my prayer is that through it all we all learn to walk closer with God, to remove the things that stand in between Him and us, and to experience His amazing grace.

Like the words of the praise chorus, Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary – Pure and Holy – Tried and True…

Jerks

A church in Texas is raising some eyebrows and getting some national attention because of a billboard advertising an upcoming sermon series. Why? Because they very bluntly admit how the world sees Christians…

What a bunch of Jerks!

I guess it seems odd to some that a church would step up and declare that the church has failed. But it’s true and it’s a sentiment that I have been feeling and vocalizing for a while now. We were created to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We were called to follow the example of Christ; to be compassionate, loving, helpful, humble, and hopeful. But instead we have been prideful, hypocritical, selfish, and judgmental jerks.

Who exactly do we think we are?

How do we expect to be able to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” when the reputation of the current disciples is sullied and splintered at best? Who would want to be a part of that?

I like this church’s approach:

  • Take responsibility.
  • Apologize.
  • And then start taking steps to turn it around.

We have failed. We have failed our God. We have failed each other. And we have failed the world. But most importantly we want to do and be better.

Let’s follow their example and make a conscious, public decision to not be jerks.

Maundy Thursday

In my opinion Maundy Thursday is one of the most important days of Holy Week, and it is often overlooked. Pretty well everyone knows and understands Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday but many people haven’t even heard the term Maundy Thursday.

A lot happened on Thursday. It was most likely Passover so Jesus and his disciples broke bread together in the upper room; a meal that we refer to now as the Last Supper, from where the institution of Eucharist or Holy Communion comes. This is typically the area that most Maundy (or Holy) Thursday services focus on.

It was Thursday night that Jesus spent in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane praying. It was also the night of Judas’ betrayal; when he turned Jesus over to the Roman authorities for thirty pieces of silver leading to his arrest and crucifixion.

But one of the most powerful moments for me comes from the Gospel of John. Instead of focusing on the Last Supper as the Synoptic Gospels do, John recounts an evening when Jesus kneeled and washed his disciples’ feet as a sign of servanthood and humility. Then he taught them one last lesson.

Jesus washes the feet of the Disciples

The term Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum which means “to entrust” or “to order”, because it was at this time that Jesus gave his disciples a “new” commandment. I see it as a kind of summation of His entire ministry. I can almost hear Him saying, “Listen to me – if you remember only one thing from our time together, remember this.” It all came down to three little words: Love One Another.

We live in a world divided by hate, bigotry, inequality and ignorance. Political parties are content to spew hatred based only on the principle of being on opposite sides and ignoring the fact that they’re all trying to reach a common goal. The mass media reaps enormous profits by selling the fruits of virtually all of the deadly sins – and we are obviously more than willing to buy it. Even our fellow Christians are too concerned with worshiping the idol of being offended by what everyone else thinks, believes or feels in order to make them feel better about themselves or evoke an air of false righteousness to even understand what Jesus tried to teach us.

It’s really not that difficult.

Jesus said it in three words.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

This is how they will know you’re a Christian. (John 13:35) Not by your Jesus t-shirt, or by the plastic fish on the back of your car, or by the big Bible that you carry with you everywhere you go, or by your anti-same-sex marriage picket sign. Nope. They will know you are a follower of Jesus by the way you love one another regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, economic class, geographical location, political affiliation… regardless of anything!

LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

These are the three words that I try to live my life by – the three words that shape my faith and the brand of Christianity that I feel is genuine.

So if you remember absolutely nothing else from this Maundy Thursday, remember this; “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

The Best God Joke Ever

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.  I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “ME, TOO! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “ME, TOO! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “ME, TOO! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “ME, TOO! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “ME, TOO! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “ME, TOO! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

emo philips ~~ Emo Phillips

Voted best Religious Joke of all time in 2005 by Ship of Fools.

Lenten Prayer – Good Friday

Almight God,

we ask you to look with mercy on your family

for whom our Savior Jesus Christ was willing

to be betrayed,

to be given over to the hands of sinners,

and to suffer death on the cross;

who now lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

(Reprinted from the UCC Book of Worship.)

 

dali_crucifixion_hypercube.jpg

Thank you for allowing me to share with you these prayers throughout this season of Lent. Honestly, it was mostly for my benefit during my own Lenten journey. I feel like it helped me reconnect spiritually which I guess was the whole point of this exercise as I have been waning in that area of my life lately. So, for whatever its worth, Thanks!

Have a wonderful Easter and may God bless you and your families!

daffodils20040415.jpg

Lenten Prayer – Maundy Thursday

lastsupper_.jpgThis is a wonderfully appropriate yet dark prayer for Maundy Thursday posted by Reverend Mommy in 2005, titled Tonight is a Night of Darkness. But Maundy or Holy Thursday really is a dark and melancholy day when put into the perspective of the Passion. And tomorrow is even darker. But it always gets darker before the dawn, doesn’t it?

Tonight is a night of darkness.
We gather it together like gauze and wrap our souls in it.
Tonight is a night of final things.
We gather together in the darkness and hold hands for one last meal.
Tonight is a night of water.
We gather together to cleanse and prepare.
Tonight is a night of tears.
We gather together and pray that the tears can wash away the betrayal yet
tonight is a night of betrayal.
We gather together to support one another, but one of us will destroy.

The cup comes to me at the table – the cup of the last meal
I will drink of it deeply and
remember all the good times; the teachings, the laughter, the love.
The cup comes to me at the table – the cup of new beginnings
I will drink of it deeply and
Hope that the new covenant will not hurt too much as it is carved on my heart.
The cup comes to me in the garden – the cup of my Father’s will
I will drink of it deeply after
I ask that it pass from me.
The cup comes to me as He is on the cross – the cup of bitterness
I will drink of it deeply even
If it comes in a form that is alien to me.
The cup comes to me tonight and I will drink.
I will drink deeply and enter into
Atonement with Him.

This is the dark night of the cup.
Dark is the wine, dark are the shadows, dark is my soul.
Together we enter into this night; we will leave separately in silence.
Can I be at one with Him? Will I stand watch with Him tonight?
Or will I too sleep at the gate?
Will I embrace and kiss only to betray?

Lenten Prayer – Week 6

Reading the BibleBack when I studied Lectio Divina, a monastic practice of literally praying the scriptures, I learned that there really are no limits to the variety of ways that God can speak to us. My pastor at the time, who led the group, said that his most basic definition of spirituality is simply “paying attention”. If we open our minds to the possibility of God’s voice & pay close attention to Him – basically shut up & listen – then He could penetrate those obstacles & boundaries that we have erected and speak to our very being.

I don’t necessarily practice Lectio anymore, but I do still try to apply many of the principles to my prayer life & study; listening intently for God’s word. And there’s not a more appropriate time to do just that than Lent.

Here is the scripture passage I am “praying” today:

Psalm 130 (the Message)

 Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help!
Listen hard! Open your ears!
Listen to my cries for mercy.

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings,
who would stand a chance?
As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit,
and that’s why you’re worshiped.

I pray to God—my life a prayer—
and wait for what he’ll say and do.
My life’s on the line before God, my Lord,
waiting and watching till morning,
waiting and watching till morning.

O Israel, wait and watch for God—
with God’s arrival comes love,
with God’s arrival comes generous redemption.
No doubt about it—he’ll redeem Israel,
buy back Israel from captivity to sin.

I want nothing more than my life to be a prayer.

Amen.

Lenten Prayer – Week 5

Prayer to make poverty history

Christ our Lord,
your light shines into the shadows,
and shows us where the obstacles to change lie.
We know that often they are in our own hearts,
in the way we live,
and in our daily choices and actions.

We pray that we may accept the light of your love
as a challenge to change ourselves and our world.

We pray that, each day,
we make the choices and take the actions
that will bring an end to poverty and hunger,
and lead us all towards a fairer world.

Be with us, Lord,
as we face your challenge
and learn how to live our lives in love.

Amen

© Linda Jones