Any other year Ash Wednesday would begin with a solemn service in the sanctuary, complete with the dispensation of ashes followed by Communion’s observance. Unfortunately, this is not the typical run of the meal year, where we celebrate customs in quite the same way. COVID-19 is still a large part of the conversation, and we do not worship in the sanctuary. This past year brought a new thought to our church. We had to reimagine worship while in a pandemic. I hope that, upon closer inspection, we may continue with some of the good things that came out of this horrible time in our history.
One way we approach Ash Wednesday this year is not to dispense ashes on our foreheads. Instead, each family will receive some ashes in a small container. They should set them in a prominent place in the home, office, or car. When someone catches a glimpse of the ashes, they remember that they are human, and their bodies will be laid to rest, back in the dust. They hold fast to the promise that the perfect lies within each heart will find its way back to the Creator. The image of God that lived within us from the very beginning carries our souls back home. Perfect must return to perfect.
On this first day of Lent, let us be grateful for our Creator, who gave us life. Traditionally, this day is a somber one, but let us create a new way of looking at things. Could we transform this day into a time to express our joy for taking an active part in this world? Imagine how the heaviness of this day may give way to a celebration. Lent is a time to reflect on mortality, but never does it say that we must stop living. I hope that we turn our thoughts to places of hope and a remembrance that we journeyed through some very dark times. We celebrate that we have seen a great light.
How appropriate that Valentine’s Day falls on Transfiguration Sunday. We encounter eros (romantic love) with agape (the love of God), two different expressions to explain connections with those we adore and Divine grace. At first glance, both words appear separate; however, some characteristics complement the other upon closer examination. Eros concerns unwavering passion for a person. The energy in the devotion to someone is all-consuming, fiery, and boundless.
Where I see a crossover between the two expressions occurs in our commitment to God. I hope to have the elements of an all-consuming, passionate dedication to my Creator. The Transfiguration indicates a moment where agape flooded the hearts and souls of the disciples. In response, they wanted to show the moment’s holiness by responding to a type of love (eros) that limits itself to humanity. Jesus provided them a new way, agape, to share in the joy of a relationship with the Divine. This new way of loving moved past passion and into wonder and awe.
So, this coming Sunday, let us worship with awe combined with a passion for devoting our hearts and minds over to the care of God. May our faith find vitality and strength as we understand the idea of transformative love. Valentine’s Day may introduce us to love, but Transfiguration Sunday fulfills it. Our glimpse into perfection gives us the sanctifying grace of God to enhance our worship.
Let us learn the strengths discovered in love directed to our Creator. The One calling us to ministry is the author of our lives. The Divine is the giver of our dreams and the source of our devotion. We share in the reality that we return to Him what He gave to us. Such interdependence wraps us in complete adoration to the wellspring of endless hope and promise. May you have a wonderful holiday filled with transformational love. May it call you passionately and boldly to live a life in dedication to the One who created us.
As a pastor, one of the most challenging things to do is to observe the Sabbath. The command to do so is one of the top ten ordinances written by God’s hand to the people. Ancient communities took people outside of the city walls and stoned offenders for not taking the time instructed by the Creator. That is how serious honoring Sabbath is to God and the people. The time offers us a break to move from the mundane into a time of special attention to rest in God’s arms. Psalm 23 reminds us that He leads us beside still waters. The Holy leads us to a place of quiet.
One of the things with which parishioners struggle is understanding that Sunday is usually not a pastor’s Sabbath. Clergy work on what others perceive as a day of rest. Faithful adherence to maintaining a particular time must occur some other day. We must remain diligent in seeking out time that pulls into close relations with God. We must observe a day of rest and renewal, a chance to refuel our spiritual tank.
We must define what it means to take time to grow closer to God. It is not catching up on chores around the house or any other honey-dos. True Sabbath means opening ourselves up to the possibilities of hope and rest, all in the presence of the Holy One. In other words, are there things that you do that bring you joy? For me, I love to put together puzzles. I find peace and a sense of quietness in my spirit. I reflect on all kinds of things, but eventually, I realize that I rest beside still waters. I do not know what brings you closer to God, but whatever it is, follow it with your whole heart.
I remember hearing about what it means to be a born-again Christian when I was a teenager. The idea confused me as I struggled to find my way in my part of the world’s religious landscape. As I grew older, I never rested on the idea of being reborn. Nicodemus seemed to voice my concerns with such imagery. How is one born a second time? It is impossible to have a second birthday.
Years passed, and as I continued my theological studies, I realized something about my faith, the born-again idea did not work for me. The imagery regarding what Jesus meant by such a strange notion continues to offer debate today. For over two centuries, people attempt to make sense of the nature of being born anew. I hear Jesus reply to Nicodemus, “The wind blows, and you do not know from where it comes.” In other words, there is a ton of unexplained happening that can only find their definitions in holy mystery. In other words, I do not know how, but I do know the who. God is the source of all things.
My conversion did not require an answer concerning being born again. I found comfort when I realized the Divine presence in my life and how God actively participates in the world. I discovered a wealth of love and support from the Creator of the Universe. No strange gimmicks scared me into discipleship, only faith, and holy love. Acceptance into the family of God does not depend on a recitation of a prayer or any other tangible experience. All that is required is the realization that the free grace of the Divine awaits our acceptance. Our commitment to a new way of being in the world transforms our hearts and minds to offer ourselves to God. A desire to be made whole leads to absolute peace.
As a pastor, I hear from many parishioners who pledge to make changes in their lives, hoping to connect with God. I see the resolutions fade and with unfulfilled hopes and dreams, I see a sense of loss. There is nothing worse than making a promise to myself, only breaking my commitment within a week. I feel like a slide back into the darkness that I so desperately want to leave. I start out with the best of intentions, only to surrender when things get difficult. Little do I realize at the time, but my ability to rebound from defeat gets more challenging with each try.
It continues to be my experience that I must have a plan of action to succeed. Writing a resolution on paper is one thing but charting a way to achieve is another. I spend time in prayer and contemplation before moving forward with a spiritual discipline. For instance, a couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to read the Bible through in one year. Looking at how large the Bible is caused a little anxiety and fear that I could not achieve such a huge goal. I had to plan comprised of many smaller goals to reach the larger. Planning a course of action set me on a course by which I could find success.
This year add to the idea of making resolutions. Make a list of goals and plan a way by which you can accomplish your dreams. Spend time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide you on your journey. Write down and mark off smaller successes as you move to the big enchilada. In time, you find a sense of hope, purpose, and meaning. The way to the summit of achievement teaches valuable life lessons. Let the Spirit guide you, always taking time for prayer.
Happy New Year, and may God continue to guide you on your journey. Find joy in the greatest times of strife and remember to always look forward. Never surrender to the darkness but embrace the light. Remember, the darkness will never conquer it. Praise be to God, who brings us out of our greatest trials and into wholeness.
Hallelujah! The waiting is over, and the Messiah bursts through the darkness and into the light. “Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you” (Is. 60:1 NKJV). Love makes its presence known. We look back over the land of darkness and stand amazed at our growth. The One who brought us into the land flowing with milk and honey stood by our side during the darkest days of searching and hoping. Now the new day dawned, and our faith experiences renewal.
The prophet Isaiah instructs us to arise and shine, thus implying action. We are not to remain still and say, “Jesus came, cool!” The coming of the light moves us to stand and become part of the glory given to us. We must proclaim the good news of our God and not remain idle and let others do our work. Discipleship demands something from us. Our job is to act as the hands and feet of Christ. Our call to faithful living must begin with our willingness to answer God and respond to the needs of those who hurt in our community. How else can people climb out of the darkness without giving our brothers and sisters our hands? Our limbs are not our own, but an extension of Divine grace, freely given to our world.
On this Christmas Eve, let us respond to God’s deliverance by celebrating what our Creator did, and still does, for us. As people of the light, our call to action sets a captive world free. We reach into the darkness, holding out glimmers of light to a world that needs the hope found through our God. We come to the end of waiting and into the joy of our salvation. Merry Christmas, everyone!
In some religious circles, I hear people speak about finding Jesus. I question the notion that the Savior of the world lost His way. The Gospel of John teaches that the Word (Jesus) was at the beginning with God. When we come into the world, the light is already here with us. Perhaps our faith does not rely on “finding” Jesus but acknowledging the presence of the Messiah. Our greatest joy is discovering that our amazing God remained with us through the most desperate of times.
Conversion does not depend on one experience of heightened awareness but a transformation of the soul. We realize the Savior remained with us, and in our moment, or series of moments, we embrace this reality. In our confrontation with perfect love, we agree to turn the care of our lives over to the One who gave us life. We agree that we place our trust in the Divine and continue to share the good news of faith.
On this next to last day of Advent, we see new life right around the corner. The darkness no longer lays hold over our lives as we experience a rebirth into the light of God. Hope is now our guide as despair loses its grip on us. Our lightness creates in us a place in which joy raises its voice in our souls. Our new purpose in life rises far above our cries and into service to God and humanity. We discover new ways of being, livening, and loving. We become new creations.
Last night I saw a star. It shined brightly in the New Mexico sky. Little did I know that what I saw were two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, coming closer together to shine brilliantly. I stood in back yard with reverence for the miracle that I saw, knowing that the last time the planets came this close was during the Medieval period. Maybe the event will happen in another thousand years. Such a rare opportunity left me speechless as I took in the incredible view.
The ancients called what they saw in the sky a miracle, something holy and set apart. I cannot blame them for acknowledging the amazing sight led me to the same conclusion. I wonder if the wise men witnessed the same event that I saw. The site compelled learned men to action and invited them to follow something beyond reason, something that spoke of Divine intervention. They had to follow the light in the darkness.
Taking in the beauty, I could not stop thinking of a favorite poem written by Robert Frost. “So, when at times the mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far, we may choose something like a star to stay our minds on and be stayed” (Choose Something Like a Star, Robert Frost). The light of Christ starts as a small, beautiful star. Something big enough to capture our attention and hold our imagination; it compels us to follow its beauty. We surrender our hearts to the One who gives us signs that overwhelm us with a reminder of the vastness of Holy love.
Through the season of Advent, I invited parishioners to celebrate Communion each Sunday. I find power in observing the sacrament more frequently than usual. I also reflect on why I find participating in Communion is an essential part of my theological practice. The sacrament is more than a simple memory exercise, but a way to be in the room with Christ at the last meal before His death and resurrection. The Spirit invites us in to feed us and provide for our daily sustenance. As mentioned in prayer, divine guidance offers us the assurance that what we need to live is provided, “Give us this day, our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11 KJSV).
For one moment, we find ourselves present at the table. Jesus looks us dead in the eyes and says, “This is my body, broken for you.” We respond to our Lord by joining in the feast. The table is not fixed in ancient Palestine, but comes to us, right here, right now. The implication that it is not a simple act we do independently for ourselves, but what Christ offers us, is the central part of the sacrament. We focus on the eyes of our Savior, who proclaims through the meal that we are holy children, set apart for acts of service to each other and reverence to our Creator.
As we approach the promised Christmas season, let us use these last days of waiting to reflect on who Christ draws near to us. Be guided by the One who called you out of the darkness and into et lux perpetua (light that never dies). The next time we feast at the banquet, imagine that we sit at the table, invited by Jesus. How does our acceptance of the gift of bread and wine change us? Let us take the experience in and move forward as our waiting is almost over.
As I looked out at the crowd of cars lined up for the parking lot service at our church, I could not help but think that this is my last Sunday with the congregation until the new year. Next week I plan a ski trip and honey-dos. We will celebrate Christmas with all the celebrative bells and whistles that we love, but something touched me about this being the last Sunday of Advent 2020. Maybe I lived in a mode of expectation for so long that I cannot imagine what life holds in store for the future. Perhaps the fear of leaving the darkness and embracing the light that comes into the world frightens me.
The truth is, I know how darkness feels. I see the anxiety and unsureness of not knowing, and leaving it behind brings panic. The procedure repeats itself repeatedly, move from darkness into light. The Savior of the world makes His presence known, so step into the freedom found in Christ. The journey starts with one first step, that is all.
On this last Sunday of Advent, let throw away the negative issues that we continue to carry from the darkness. We surrender everything, and in return, the light of Christ meets us where we are, ready to transform us into the sons and daughters of God. Let us celebrate our gratitude by sharing our story with a world that needs our life-giving narrative. Christmas comes this week. The light shines, families gather, and we celebrate the birthday of the Messiah. Let us not forget that we have several days of work to do as we continue to wait until the day of dancing.