Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist context, I never heard of Lent. I had no idea the Christian Church had “seasons” or its own calendar. That was unfortunate. Discovering this in my college years came as a great surprise and a benefit to me ever since. For it became apparent to me that my navigation of this world and my life would be –if not easier then–more meaningful simply because I could comprehend my life as developmental, evolutionary which is to say, an unfolding mystery and journey.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the formal beginning of the season of Lent and that season is one of reflection, examination of our consciences and souls and repentance. We do this especially as we recall the testing of our Lord in the wilderness, just after his baptism. I sometimes get myself down to an Episcopalian church to have the sign of the cross made on my forehead with ashes. Baptists do not hand out ashes or participate (as a rule anyway) in this ritual act. I can tell you from my own experience, it is a powerful moment to have a priest rub those ashes onto your forehead as she says those solemn words, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Whether or not you participate in such a rite, the truth of those words should stir us to a season of contemplation and repentance.
Ashes as a sign of sorrow have been with us for a long time. In the ancient book of Job, we find that the stricken man “sat among the ashes.” This was a sign of grief and sorrow.
Leon Wieseltier in is book, Kaddish, wrote in his book about rending one’s clothes as a sign of grief. He pointed out that the mourner who rends thus gestures outwardly what has in fact takenplace inwardly. “This act of violence,” Wieseltier writes, “dignifies the external truth and the internal truth of what has happened.” So with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads: it is an outward sign of an inner sorrow and grief: for our participation in the ruin of the world, for our grief for life that is short and brief, and a declaration that we will live more faithfully and justly in the days to come. As the Book of Common Prayer declares:
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, Lord.
This Sunday, February 7th, begins our observance of Black History Month. Pastor Bledsoe will be speaking on the topic, “History As A Weapon of Defiance” (a reference to an excellent essay by Drew Gilpin Faust, “John Hope Franklin: Race & the Meaning of America, “ New York Review of Books, December 17, 2015). An excerpt from that sermon to be delivered:
Our city was recently buried beneath more than 20 inches of snow in two days. It wreaked havoc and continues to interfere with commerce and transportation, weeks after the event. People comprehend this. It is not complex. How is it possible then for our nation and in particular, for Christians, to pretend they cannot comprehend how the effects of slavery, lynching, terrorism, segregation, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and untold suffering continue to destroy Black lives? Slavery and White Supremacy have been apocalyptic catastrophes. Hence, we need a Black History Month to plow through the blizzard of lies that not only sustained these systems but continue to this day to erase, injure, and destroy.
Join us in worship Sunday as we tell the truth boldly about who we are and as we embrace across the chasm of human alienation and despair and find one another, made in the Image of God; and as we dedicate ourselves to protecting one another, loving one another.
~See you Sunday
One might easily overlook someone confusing a communion plate for an offering plate if that person has seldom if ever entered a church. Even so, a communion plate as passed along in a Baptist Church or an Evangelical Church (and I do not equate the two denominations as some do) will have bread of some sort in it. How do you put money into a plate filled with bread? But as I say, this is easily overlooked when the error is made by someone without experience in such churches. But when you are someone who is running for the presidency of the United States and have loudly claimed the bible is your favorite book, though you cannot seem to recite a verse from it, and you make a point to embrace Christianity and especially Evangelicals in Iowa who are about to caucus, well, that is a different kind of error. It too is forgivable but it cannot be overlooked.
That is exactly what Evangelicals seem to be doing, however, as they flock –as Jerry Falwell, Jr. has done—to embrace a candidate who claims to be one of them but betrays in quite glaring ways that he is as a matter of fact quite clueless when it comes to their religion. But elections in our country at this point in time require enormous sums of money, outrageous lies and promises and lots of whining in the face of the most straightforward and obvious questions. The failure is not just one candidate but the convention of which he is part finds it nearly impossible to counter misogynist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric spewed on a weekly basis by this candidate. The wholesale cowardice is actually frightful. I won’t blame the media. The media should confess its own complicity. But I will, as a clergyman, say that having religious spokespersons and entire swaths of Christians embracing a megalomaniacal candidate who borrows Christian symbols to promote himself is shameful.
We, the Church, are a table fellowship, a covenant people and we practice—or at least we should—a radical table fellowship that does not discriminate. We take the words in Ephesians from the Apostle to the Gentiles as true: Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. When a politician arises in the land who promotes hostility, division, rancor, intimidation of women, and xenophobic hatred then it behooves all of us but especially Christians to note the incongruence. Putting an offering in the communion plate is the least of the problems.
Come, now is the time to worship. Sunday January 31st, 10 a.m. Let us gather for prayer, for song and praise, for confession and repentance, for declaring that which is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, standing together shoulder to shoulder and shining like bright lights in a darkened world.
Hebrews 10:24-25: Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…”
~See you Sunday!
So on this Sunday, the third and final day of the Blizzard of 2016, I did something I usually do not do on a Sunday: I stayed home. And let me say this–staying home on a Sunday left me empty. People can yap and complain all they want about church-goers and hypocrisy but they miss a deeper point. We need each other and being in a holy place together on a weekly basis goes a long way to resolving the issue of hypocrisy. It may not cure it, but it blunts it. Besides, you can’t talk about hypocrisy unless there is some standard of holiness and justice.
What do people do on Sundays? Laundry, grocery shopping, shoveling snow, watching way too much television and maybe a football game with talking heads and politics thrown into that drab mix. What a formula for cynicism and despair.
Keeping Sabbath–worshipping in communion with others on a specified day of the week where we rest from work and contemplate the gift of our lives–that is remarkably energizing and empowering for a meaningful life. I missed singing with you, praying with you, hearing the Word of God read and declared in our midst. Didn’t you? And if you haven’t been to church in a long time or ever, then you don’t know what you’re missing. The snow day is over, let’s come together for sabbath rest and empowerment this coming Sunday, January 31st. The Holy, Just and Loving God of Jesus Christ stand guard over us and give us peace. ~See you Sunday
SUNDAY SERVICES CANCELED
Stay safe, read or listen to a sermon under the sermon tab, pray and return to us Sunday, January 31st. The Lord bless and keep you +
So my snow shovel from the last two years is pretty worn and I thought I might buy me one on Weds, two days before the end of the world as we know it (this is actually a song by R.E.M. and I think you might want to listen to it as you watch the blizzard roll in, while drinking some hot cocoa of course)… so I was hoping to buy me one (I admit this is poor grammar) and Home Depot was completely out of snow removal implements. Like there was a rapture, but only snow removal tools were taken and we’re left behind (that is a title too of a bad movie about “THE rapture” but I’m not linking to it). This got me thinking: if the world were really to be near an end then would people rush to churches to care for their souls? And the answer to that is, I’m afraid, no. How would I know this? Because even if people as a rule (at least in America the united states of entertainment) do not believe they have a soul much less that their souls might be in any danger, they do know beyond any measurable doubt that their lives are limited. Finite. Brief. The world is ending every day. People know this but… yeah. Life pretty much goes on until it doesn’t and lots of people ponder at that moment why they didn’t prepare for the fact that their lives end, that life is very precious and might should be lived justly and in harmony with God. Yes, you could use a shovel in DC this week-end but you need your soul any day and anywhere.
Be careful. Stay tuned. If we must cancel church then we will post an announcement to that effect right here. Check in on Sunday morning before you head out. If the meteorologists are wrong and it just rains then I look forward to seeing you Sunday. You can put your snow shovel back in the shed or wherever you store it and bring your soul into a holy place. Because we need soulcare. Just look around: the warnings are up, the evidence is glaringly obvious: something is awry.
Leave the “tournament of lies”* (*R.E.M. in the song noted above), turn off the talking heads, and enter a sanctuary of peace. ~ See you next Sunday, January 31st, snowflakes.