A New Direction

I began writing on these pages on November 11, 2005, and this will be my 2, 996 entry.  Over the years the blog has taken several different directions, but the focus was always on some topic associated with religion and theology.

Past writing have included sermons and other spiritual writings, and that will continue but as part of the email newsletter that I send out and the focus of these pages will shift slightly in a new and fresh direction.

The header proclaims that I am a Minister, Living Historian, and Cultural Commentator.  I do not see that changing but the focus is going to shift more towards writings and research on the topic of American Religious History.

I envision interviews with authors and book reviews as well as an “On This Date in American Religious History” section.  I will continue to write from my perspective, but I will also include sermons from some of the great preachers of history as well as biographical material about the religious leaders of our American History.

I truly appreciate all of the support you have shown me over these years of writing, and I hope that support will continue with the new direction.

Low Sunday

A Sermon on 1 Peter 1:3-9

Many years ago, I was sitting in a church the Sunday after Easter, and as the service began, the minister welcomed everyone who had come out, looked around, and said, “well, it’s just us again.”  Of course, this was about the fact that just last Sunday the church was relatively full and that this Sunday, this “low Sunday” it was just the regulars.  Now, it is important to note that it is always nice to see people in church whether it is once or twice a year or each and every Sunday, but it is a little thin in here today.

The Sunday after Easter has often been called by many different names. The most common is the unofficial designation of Low Sunday. You’ll never see it listed that way in the newsletter or bulletin, but behind the scenes, that is how it is called.

On Easter Sunday, most every pew and chair is full, the choir is in full voice, there are “bells and smells”  the church is abloom and garlanded with decorative flowers and greens, and everyone is dressed up to celebrate the occasion.

But by this Sunday, though, things have changed. Most of the decoration is gone, the choir may have taken the day off, the bulletins are a bit shorter and less ornate, and there are a lot of empty pews. Families who spent Easter together have returned to their homes and hostesses who have had a full house take the chance to sit down, find the last bit of fake grass from Easter baskets, and plan another meal of leftover ham or roast.

In the early church, new prospective members had to undergo a lengthy period of instruction before being admitted for Baptism and inclusion in Communion. When their time of study ended, they put on white garments and were baptized at the Easter Service. They could then join the community. At the end of the octave (Easter and the seven days that succeeded it), they exchanged their white robes for regular clothing at church, marking the end of their being set apart and the beginning of their life as full Christians.

However it is called, this Sunday After Easter is a continuation of the Easter season, 50 days that lead to the feast of Pentecost. During the Easter season, we celebrate Jesus’s appearance to the disciples, Doubting Thomas being shown the wounds in Jesus’s hands and side, the road to Emmaus, and the Ascension. In short, the Easter season has a lot going on.

But we have to stop a minute. We are taught that every Sunday is a little Easter, no matter at what time in the church year it occurs. People forget that quite often during Lent but a quick count the number of days in Lent comes out to 46–if the Sundays are counted in. Subtract those six Sundays, and there are 40 days left. When it comes to Easter season, every Sunday after Easter itself is a little Easter and should be celebrated as such, if not with the full panoply we reserve for the actual Easter Day.

Several times during Lent someone would approach me to tell me what they were “giving up” for Lent.  We would have a discussion about how difficult it was, or not, and how they were looking forward to the days when Lent was over so they could go back to whatever it was.  I reminded them that Lent did not include the Sundays that came along during that period of fasting and penance and that each Sunday, no matter the time of year, was considered the resurrection and therefore not a Sunday that we should all go around wearing sackcloth and ash.  Each and every Sunday of the year is a little Easter, the day of resurrection.

The reading from the Letter of Peter that we heard proclaimed this morning is a continuation of that proclamation of Easter, “Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”

This is the Gospel of Easter and the Gospel in miniature: we begin with praise, we see acts of God, and those actions enable us to do something, in this case, sing with joy.  But this passage also reminds us of the faith that we must have and what the object of that faith must be.

We believe that our salvation comes from God and the mercy and grace of God acting in our lives and moving us towards to place of repentance.  Acceptance, if you will, of the fact that we cannot do this thing we call life alone and that we need God in it.  We do not earn this salvation it is a gift freely given to us, but it comes from knowledge and a deep trust in God, a wholehearted trust, coming from the Holy Spirit acting in and through our lives, that we know that we are forgiven of our sins and welcomed into everlasting life.

But what must our faith be, what is the object of our faith?  Scripture reminds us not to put our faith in princes or in mortals who are also lost and are of no help.  Sure, we can lead someone to the place where they are ready to acknowledge they need God, but we cannot save anyone.  The object of our faith, as clearly stated in verse 8, is Jesus Christ himself.

“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your living souls.”

The Salvation of our souls is a multi-dimensional experience that is not just a single event but a series of life-long events that we have to keep working. The resurrection of Jesus Christ took place in an instant, but the message of that resurrection continued and continues in each of us.  Acknowledgment that God is the ruler of your life is the first step that will bring us joy, but the most important message of the resurrection is that God loves you for who you and where you are on your journey and you are forgiven and redeemed.

The Mind of Christ

A Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11

As many of you know, I am a living historian.  What that means is, I try to recreate, or reenact if you will, a certain period.  To do this, I need to not only know historical events of the period but I need to understand the people that lived during that period.  Understand how they thought, and what they thought about events of the day, help to fill out the character otherwise, it is just the spout off facts, and no one is interested in that.

I have often said that any real study of Scripture requires us to fully understand that was going on at the time that the passages we read were written.  Who wrote the passage we are reading?  Who was it written too?  Who would read it?  What was the socio-economic situation like for the people that would be hearing these words?  How did they live? Historically what was going on at the time?  You see, these words we read today were written by someone to someone about a very real situation in their lives and if we understand that situation and the people, we will better understand how that applies to our lives.  What I am saying is we have to get inside their heads and see what is going on.

The Scripture reading we heard this morning comes to us from the letter that Paul wrote to the people of Philippi and in this letter he tells them, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” He then goes on to tell his readers what that means.

Paul speaks regarding a self-emptying, “although he was in the form of God he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” As Trinitarian Christians, we believe that the Father and the Son are one, but in this instance, Jesus took on our human form and became a slave or a servant to all.

He gave up his will for that of the Father’s.  He took on a mindset of selflessness and a humble regard for others and their interests.  There is not one instance in Scripture where Jesus puts his interests ahead of the people he has come to minister to.  Paul tells us that Jesus did not exploit his equality with God, Jesus could have snapped his fingers and changed all of us, but he did not, and does not, do that.  He emptied himself of all of that to minister to us as we are.  For Jesus, and for us, to be faithful to God’s will, he had to empty himself of all that he wanted.

The summation of all of Paul’s teaching on the issue is found in this idea of self-emptying and becoming a servant in the service of all.  In confessing Jesus as Lord in our lives, we subdue the authority of the Lords of privilege and violence, and we take on a thirst for the reign of God and not the reign of man, in our lives.  To be in the form of God, and to have the mind of Christ, is not to exploit one’s superpower but to manifest God’s free and dispossessing love toward all of humanity and all of creation.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that the divine life is found in dispossession, a giving up of what we want and a radical care and concern for the other, but the Trinity does this is an eternal circle of unrestricted giving to the other.  Each part of the Trinity is different, yet each part gives freely to the other for the sole benefit of the other.

If I had to choose one of the Apostles that I would call my favorite, it would have to be that Apostle John.  John was the youngest of the Apostles and wrote the Gospel and the letters that bear his name. In the famous painting of the Last Supper, John is the one leaning against Jesus and has his head on his chest.  The artist of this famous work, painted John in this position because the Gospels tell us that John was the Apostle that Jesus loved so to show him in this position emphasizes that. But that fascinating part of this is that in that position John was able to listen to Jesus heartbeat, or rather he was listening to the heartbeat of God!  The heart is the very essence of our being; it is the very essence.

In a sense, Jesus is the heart of God and in him is revealed a willingness to empty himself in radical humility and a desire to be identified with the “least of these.” This is what it means to be of the mind of Christ, and we have to have this idea of a radical self-emptying, this radical idea of “not my will Lord, but your will” and a willingness to identify with those around us in their need.

To have the mind of Christ, to aim towards the goal of living a divine life, means we have to be willing to empty ourselves of our selfishness, our ego, our pride and make the decision to live our lives by the example that Jesus left for us, a life of radical otherness, or care for the “least of these” among us.

Today we celebrate Jesus entry into the City of Jerusalem.  He comes riding on a donkey, a humble beast of burden that shows that he comes in extreme, radical humility as a peace giver and not a warrior.  The people lined the street and laid palm branches and items of their clothing down in front of him to mark his path.  The end of the journey was not praise or adoration but of death, his death, a death we went to willingly because it was not for himself that he was doing this but for all of humanity.  He emptied himself and took on the form of a servant and was in the service of all.

As this coming week unfold, this holy week, meditate on what it means to have the mind of Christ, ponder how we can empty ourselves of ourselves and fill up that space with the very essence of God and the radical care for the other around us.

Midweek Meditation: Poverty of Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

These words begin one of the most famous sermons preached during the time of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.  I say sermon, but biblical commentators are not in agreement as to whether this was one sermon or a collection of sermons preached over the lifetime of Jesus.  Either way, there is much for us to learn from these words.

So what does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”

The poverty of spirit means that we are open to God rather than playing God in our lives.  The poverty of spirit is not something that is easily practiced, and we have to give over some, if not all, of our wants and desires to that of God in our lives.  By doing this, we acknowledge our needs in the hope that they come in alignment with what God wants for us in our lives and we begin to live for others and not just for ourselves.

When we give over a portion of our lives, and eventually the entirety of our lives, to God, we encounter the Kingdom of God right here on earth.  Acknowledging this idea that we cannot do it alone, we open the door to a greater awareness of, and a willingness to respond to, God’s presence around us.  We also begin to acknowledge the needs of others around us, the blinders come off our eyes, and we start to see the other in the world around us.

Our culture raises us to be independent and instills in us the idea that we do not need anyone, but our Christian life asks us to become interdependent with God, with our fellow human beings, and with all of the creation.  In other words, we need each other, but we have to be able to see the value of the other in our lives.

Being poor in spirit has nothing to do with material wealth it has to do with the interior of the person and how we see the other.  If we see others as things that can be possessed and used for our needs and discarded after we use them, then we are not living as the poor in spirit.  We have to have a concern for and support the “least of these” in society.  As Christians, we have to have the heart for those who suffer from “material poverty” and not judge them for it.

The very heart of Christianity is a concern for those around us, to be poor in spirit is to have that concern, but it also means that we, as individuals and as a community, need to rely on God in our lives.

Sermon: Thirsty Voices

John 4:5-42

It always amazes me how, with just a few words, Jesus can flip things on their heads. It was high noon, the hottest time of the day.  Jesus, weary from his long travels, stops at a cool spot to rest while his friends go off into town in search of food.  While he is sitting there, a woman with a clay jar approaches to draw water from the well.  Jesus made a simple request that would change her life forever, “will you give me a drink?”

Now in our 21st-century mind, there is nothing wrong with this question, but this is not the 21st century, this is the first century Palestine and Jesus is not only a man but a Jew and a rabbi. Jews were not supposed to speak to Samaritans. Men were not permitted to address women without their husbands present. Rabbis had no business talking to women such as the one before him. But, Jesus, once again, breaks the rules to speak with her.

We do not know much about her; John does not even give her a name in this story.  She is a total outsider, a woman in a man’s world, a stranger to Judaism. She comes at high noon, the hottest time of the day, to draw water, so she will not be seen by others; her reputation is well known around the town. She is a nobody, but not to Jesus.

With all of the societal issues facing him, Jesus does not turn away from the woman he engages her in conversation.  After he asks for a drink, she questions him about why he is asking for it. “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman,” she reminded him. “How can you ask me for a drink?” Although she is unfamiliar with most of the teachings of Judaism, she is well aware of her place in society, and it comes as a shock to her that Jesus would ask this question of her.

The conversation continues and takes a turn she was not expecting.

Jesus starts to share the Gospel with her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” But she is clever and thinks of things in practical terms and asks how he would draw water from such a deep well without a bucket.  He tells her, “Everyone who drinks of this water,” the water from the physical well, “will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them,” spiritual water, “with never be thirsty.”

Now she is interested, and she asks him for the water, then the tricky but happens.

Jesus asks her to go and call her husband and when she replies that she does not have a husband Jesus relates her entire life story to her.  Jesus, and following Jesus, can be challenging and requires us to face things we don’t want to face. He is honest with her and lays open her past but does not judge her; he shows her compassion and love.  She is not shamed by Jesus about her past, and so she is willing to continue the conversation and eventually comes to the point of confession about her past.  Because of this gentle, loving treatment, she is now free for discipleship and to become a witness for the Gospel.

But imagine if the story had gone another way. Imagine if Jesus just ignored her when she approaches.  Society would have said nothing, he was a man, and she was an unaccompanied woman.  What if he screamed at her that she was a sinner and she was going to hell if she did not change her ways.  What if he followed her home and set up a picket line outside of her house.  Or what if he just sneered at her and gave her that look.  If he had done any one of those things, this woman would have continued to be a nobody and disappeared back into the shadows of her life.

But that is not what happens, what we see here played out in the Gospel today is a dramatic transformation of this woman from and outsider to a witness, she has become a model for those of us who feel like outsiders and nobodies.  She is a model for those who are new to the faith and have questions but might be afraid to ask.  She is a model for those of us with a past that maybe feel like if we step foot inside of a church, we are going to be judged for that past and deemed not worthy of the kingdom.

But let’s get back to the conversation.  The conversation begins with a question, not from the woman, but from Jesus.  Jesus is the one who is thirsty in the story. “Can a little thing like a cup of cool water, offered in love, be the beginning of a salvation journey? Yes, and we will never know until we meet the stranger, and tend to the human needs first.”  Jesus had a human need, and it was that need that drew her into the conversation that would change her life.

This story can be a challenge to us because it reminds the church and us, that people who are nobodies to us are somebodies to Jesus.  Who are the nobodies? The people we ignore. We often prefer to leave out the nobodies, but Jesus does not do that, he welcomes the outsiders, as well as the insiders into discipleship and so must we.

The woman leaps up and runs off, back to the town she lives in, a town that barely tolerates her for the way she has been living her life.  A town that forces her to go to the well at high noon to draw water when no one else is around.  She returns to this place and exclaims, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did…” She does not complete that sentence, but we can, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did and loved me anyway.”  She does not say those words, but they are implied by the joy that she now has in her heart. For the first time, someone saw her as a person and not as a sinner, and loved her anyway.

For Jesus to know what she had done in her past, and still love and forgive her was new and radical for her. The man who told her everything she had ever done… and loved her anyway… is what saved her life. At that moment, she saw God, she received Christ and leaped up to tell everyone.

Jesus supports us as we move toward him and grow in faith. He wants us to deepen and extend our faith, to recognize and acknowledge him for who he is and for what he has done in our lives. Jesus encounters and welcomes many into the household of faith, and he does it with love.  He welcomes the outsiders and the insiders, the sinner and the saints and he welcomes the most unlikely, he even welcomes us.

Sermon: Abundant Grace

A Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11

It all starts in our minds, a little thought, a little idea that flies around inside our minds while we are doing something else. At first, it seems harmless, just one more of a million things that our minds try and come up with each day. But then, without warning, it comes back, a minute or an hour later. Now you feel as though it is something familiar, and perhaps even a little enticing. If I claim travel expenses for that trip, even though I had a ride from a friend… if I had a chance to say that really cutting remark to the man who’s always been mean to me… if I played my cards right, I might persuade my friend’s spouse to spend an evening with me, and then maybe…

We have all been there; we have all faced thoughts or ideas that tempted us in one way or another.  These are very human interactions we have with ourselves and in and of themselves are harmless, until we act upon them.  So how to do we resist them and where do they come from?

The Scripture lesson today places Jesus in the wilderness. This wilderness was between Jerusalem, on the central plateau which is the backbone of Palestine, and the Dead Sea. The Hebrew Scriptures calls it Jeshimmon, which means the Devastation, and it is a fitting name, It stretches over an area of thirty-five by fifteen miles.  It is an area of yellow sand, of crumbling limestone, and of scattered rocks. The hills are like dust heaps; the limestone blistered and peeling; rocks are bare and jagged; often the ground sounds hollow when a foot falls upon it. It glows and shimmers in the heat like some vast furnace. It runs out to the Dead Sea, and then there comes a drop of 1,200 feet, a drop of limestone, through crags and corries and precipices down to the Dead Sea.  This is the wilderness that Jesus chose to go to be alone prior to the start of his ministry.

All three Gospel writers that include this story place it right after the Baptism by John in the Jordan.  This is the time in Jesus’ life when he was going to start the mission he had come here to do, and he needed to be alone to plan out what he was going to do and how he was going to do it.  Jesus often retires, by himself, when he needs to think and to plan.  Advice is a good thing, but sometimes we just need to be alone with our thoughts and our mind where we can listen and ask God what we are to do next.

But, as the Scriptures also tell us, Jesus was not truly alone or was he.

The first clarification that has to be made is the phrase “to tempt.”  In English the word tempt usually has just one meaning, it means to entice to do wrong, to seek to seduce into sin, to try and persuade to take the wrong way. But in Greek this phrase has quite a different meaning, it means “to test” far more than it means “to tempt” as the English sense of the word.

One of the great stories in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of Abraham narrowly escaping sacrificing his son Isaac.  In Genesis 22:1 we read, “And it came to pass after these things that God di tempt Abraham.” The word tempt here cannot mean, to seek to seduce in evil.  It is unthinkable that God should try to make anyone a wrongdoer. But the point is very clear when we understand that it means “After these things, God tested Abraham.”  The time had come for a supreme test of the loyalty of Abraham. Just as metal has to be tested beyond any stress and strain before it can be put to use, so people have to be tested before God can use them for his purpose.  A less extreme example of this is when I was called to the Ecclesiastical Council where I was tried and tested, in this very place, to ascertain my suitability for the ministry I was called too. God called me, but the Church verified and authorized that call.

Now here is the great uplifting truth, what we call temptation is not meant to make us sin, it is intended to enable us to conquer sin. It is not meant to make us wrong; it is intended to make us good. It is not meant to weaken us; it is meant to make us stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal. The temptation is not the penalty for being human; temptation is the glory of being human. It is the test to those that God wishes to use. So, we must think of this whole incident as being not so much the tempting as the testing of Jesus.

As I have already mentioned, the three Gospel writers that include this story has it taking place right after the Baptism in the Jordan by John.  It always seems in life that right after we experience a high moment, that moment on the mountain top as I mentioned last week, and our spiritual resistance is at its highest that suddenly, and without warning, it takes a nosedive and we are at our lowest. This is when the tempter comes in and attacks.

Now let me just say that I am a firm believer in the spiritual both with heavenly mountain top experience spiritual and the spiritual warfare kind when we wrestle with the evil one.  Make no mistake about this, evil exists in this world and is around us all the time.  When we profess we are Christians, when we experience the mountain top, the tempter is right there telling us we are not good enough and this is exactly what was going to happen to Jesus, but we know that is not the end of the story for Jesus conquered the tempter and so can we.

As we read the story we think of this as an outward experience of Jesus, but this was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul, and that is the same for us. The proof of this is found in the Scriptures itself; there is no possible mountain from which all the kingdoms of the earth could be seen, this was an inner struggle.

It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. The attack is launched in our own minds. The very power of the tempter lies in the fact that our defenses get breached, and we are attacked from within. The tempter finds allies and the weapons used against us are our very own inmost thoughts and desires.

So how can we overcome this, well the first is by prayer.  We have to adopt a habit of prayer, not just on Sunday but every day.  I have said this before; we need to start and end every day with prayer.  It does not have to be some long and involved prayer that takes hours, start each day off with the Our Father, the very prayer our Savior taught us. This is the perfect prayer, and since Jesus taught it to us, it is all we really need.  Start and end each day with this prayer.

The second way is forgiveness.  Again, as I have said before; forgiveness, or the lack of forgiveness, will eat away at our very souls.  Not forgiving someone gives them power over us and allows them to control a portion of our lives, but when we forgive, we take that power back, and we regain control over our lives.  The tempter will tell us that we should not forgive the other person or persons that harmed us, that if we forgive they win.  But Jesus tells us that when we forgive, we are forgiven.  Again in the prayer that he taught us, forgive us our trespasses, sins, debts whatever word you wish to use, as we forgive those who, sin, trespass, against us.

The third way, and I think one of the most important, is to have a spiritual guide.  I don’t believe that we talk about this enough in our Reformed Protestant Theology, but a spiritual guide is critical in our lives.  I like to think of this in the sense that the ancient Celts used it as an Anamcara our Soul Friend.  Not a director but a guide, a fellow traveler on the spiritual road.  This is the person who we get to know, and they get to know us over time.  We share our inmost thoughts and desires with this person, so we are not alone with them, and in turn, they guide us along the path.

I have been blessed to have several Soul Friends in my life, and I have been doubly blessed to have been, and continue to be, Soul Friends with several people.  If you lean into the relationship, it can be an excellent experience.

But the message I want us to take away from all of this is that we are never alone.  Jesus never promised that our life would be easy.  He never promised his followers that if they followed him their life would be without temptation, persecution and all the rest, heck 10 of his 12 died in unspeakable ways.  But the one thing he does promise us, that he covenants with us, is that we will never be alone he will always walk with us, right beside us, and yes, sometimes he carries us.

I cannot say this enough; God loves each and every one of us in good times and bad, and there is nothing we can do that will ever cause God not to love us, nothing.  I am not sure about much, but I am confident about the absolute love of God for all of us.

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith. Romans 1:16-17

I am not ashamed of the Gospel.  None of us should be ashamed of the Gospel.  I am however ashamed of how some Christians have used the Gospel more as a weapon than a healing balm for the people.  Sometimes we forget that we are all sinners and in need of God’s grace and that our mission is to make disciples or lead people to Christ, and then get out of the way and let God do what God does.

But this passage is even more remarkable because when Paul was writing this, he had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Beroea, laughed at in Athens and Corinth his message was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.  With all of that in his past, it is surprising that he would declare that he was not ashamed of the Gospel.  I don’t think anyone would blame him if he had said the opposite.

One thing we can learn from what Paul has written is that we cannot give up no matter how difficult things might get for us.  Jesus never promised us that we would be loved by everyone and that our lives would be perfect if we followed him, in fact, he preached the very opposite.  However, the one thing Jesus did promise, and the thing that Paul held on too as he was going through his trials, was that no matter what we are going through, not matter what desert we might be crossing, God will always be with us.

That is the promise I hold on too, and that is what allows me to proclaim in a loud voice that I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

Lent as Training in Resilience, Practice of Resistance

The Progressive Redneck Preacher has some good tips for his fellow Progressives about approaching Lent.  Here is a little sample:

This week begins the season of Lent.

For many in the progressive Christian world, Lent can feel a bit weird. It can feel like a return to the guilt-ridden life in churches of our childhood, as if we are being made to feel guilty for pleasure, for joy. We can ask ourselves “what is the point?”
As I reflect on the beginning of this year’s Lenten journey, a few ways of approaching this season stand out as positive ways to look at this season.

First, we can make this season focused on reordering our lives to better emulate Jesus. One often hears in progressive Christian circles that a problem in the wider Christian world is that we are so busy worshipping Jesus as God, we fail to pay any attention to how he says to live our lives. Progressive Christians, by and large, deeply identify with the human Jesus of Nazareth, a man like us who struggled to live out a life of compassion and justice. Beginning with focus on Jesus vulnerable in the desert, being tried by his own inner demons and the dark psychological forces at the heart of society, Lent calls us to deeply identify ourselves with the struggle and life of Jesus.

Read the Rest Here

Ash Wednesday a Time of Reflection

Ash Wednesday is not just a time to meditate on our mortality or to confess our individual sin and failings, but it is also a time when we should focus on our social sins and sins against other people in the things we have done and the things we should have done and the things we left undone.

Ash Wednesday is a time when we are reminded that in the Lenten Discipline God’s desires for us have nothing to do with what we “give up” but has everything to do with taking on a more disciplined concern for meeting the needs of the afflicted concretely.

Isiah makes it clear that the worship God desires is both inescapably social and compellingly personal. Lent calls us to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke… to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless person into our homes…

“Authentic worship is not a matter of elegant ritual of self-congratulatory piety. It is a matter of both social justice and costly personal concern for the bruised and broken world.”

Psalm 51 reminds us that Lent is a time of self-reflection and penitence, a time to acknowledge our sinfulness and the constant need for God’s grace and mercy in our lives and the lives of others.

The Psalm reflects our reality as Christians. We are sinners. We do things that drive us away from God, and we do things that hurt others in our lives.

This time of Lent is to be a time of thoughtful reflection and penitence.  Although we practice this all throughout the year, Lent lends itself to a more careful examination. We are called to confess the ways we “have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” We need to come to the realization of our utter dependence on God.

The recitation of Psalm 51 is a central part of the service of Ash Wednesday as well as a Litany of Penitence or a Prayer of Confession. The Litany and Prayer are reminders to us of the ways we have separated ourselves from God and one another.

Almighty God, we confess that we are often swept up in the tide of our generation. We have failed in our calling to be your holy people, a people set apart for your divine purpose. We live more in apathy born of fatalism than in passion born of hope. We are moved more by private ambition than by social justice. We dream more of privilege and benefits than of service and sacrifice. We try to speak in your name without relinquishing our glories, without nourishing our souls, without relying wholly on your grace. Help us to make room in our hearts and lives for you. Forgive us, revive us, and reshape us in your image. Amen.

May the Almighty and merciful God, who desires not the death of a sinner but that we turn from wickedness and live, accept your repentance, forgive your sins, and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life. Amen.

The culmination of the Service of Ash Wednesday is the imposition of ashes with the minister making the sign of the cross on each forehead with the words, “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shall return.”

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, so that we may remember that only by your gracious gift are we given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

As we begin this season of self-reflection let us follow the Psalmists example by focusing on how we are failing to live as God calls us to live and how we are in constant need of salvation and redemption that can only come from God.

Shrove Tuesday

 

The practice on the day before Lent begins is to use up all of the items that will be fasted from during the season of Lent.  This day is known as Shrove, coming from the word shrive meaning to absolve, falls just before Ash Wednesday.

The period prior to Ash Wednesday is referred to Shrovetide and prior to the Reformation lasted for an entire week. The practice of making and serving pancakes on this day dates to the 16th century and according to “Ecclesiastical Institutes” from around 1000 AD “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive (absolve) him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]”.

Rich foods such as butter, milk, and eggs would often be given up for Lent and so these items needed to be used up prior to the start of Lent so they would not go bad during the time of the fast.  Making pancakes was the easiest way to use up all of these items.

But, like most everything in Christianity, these forbidden items also carried a spiritual significance to them. In a 2015 article in the International Business Times, Philip Ross writes that in addition to an easy way to use up rich food items such as butter, eggs, and milk, pancakes also represent the four pillars of Christianity, “four pillars of the Christian faith—eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.”

So when you are eating your pancakes today remember the spiritual side of each bite and enjoy it for tomorrow we fast.