Inviting others to walk this journey through Lent with us, yesterday Michael posted “Day 33” on the 4th and Race St. fences. Interrupting the long row of purple, white and black reflections, he then posted the Holy Week schedule. Because everyone is invited. And because the suffering humans bear would be crushing were it not for the promises buried and rising in the tragedies and triumph of Holy Week & Easter. See you at our Palm Sunday celebration tomorrow.
WOMAN, BELIEVE ME, THE HOUR IS COMING WHEN YOU WILL WORSHIP THE FATHER NEITHER ON THIS MOUNTAIN NOR IN JERUSALEM… THE HOUR IS COMING AND IS NOW HERE WHEN THE TRUE WORSHIPPERS WILL WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND TRUTH.
My friend laughs: “you take such joy from composting, the process of green matter becoming rich soil. But you find no wonder in your body’s aging and breakdown.” Not entirely true. I like that eventually — when I don’t need it anymore! — my body will return to the elements from which it was made. But while my body is still habitable, it is a bit unsettling to recognize it already turning to dust!
FOR DUST YOU ARE AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.
Forest Fires..Floods. Blizzards. Warm Spells. Hurricanes. Heat waves. Tornadoes. Arctic vortex. The weather gets increasingly erratic. Certain political voices get louder “there’s no such thing as “humanly-caused climate change!”. But the seas are rising. And you can’t sleep at night because it upsets you so.
THE EARTH LIES DEFILED UNDER ITS INHABITANTS; FOR THEY HAVE TRANSGRESSED THE LAWS, VIOLATED THE STATUTES,BROKEN THE EVERLASTING COVENANT. THEREFORE A CURSE DEVOURS THE EARTH AND ITS INHABITANTS SUFFER FOR THEIR GUILT.
Nearly 400,000 died of violence, starvation & disease in Yemen’s Saudi-Iranian proxy war.. We cannot imagine that measure of devastation, or threat. Stability and security we take for granted. But today’s headlines – COVID and climate change; war, Russia, China; banking crises and inflation; anti-democratic politics and authoritarianism — worry us. More vulnerable than we’re comfortable with, how safe are we really?
THE LORD IS MY LIGHTS AND MY SALVATION – WHOM SHALL I FEAR? THE LORD IS THE STRENGTH OF MY LIFE – OF WHOM SHALL I BE AFRAID
An awful break. Permanently. A relationship broken off. Maybe a lifetime ago. But you can’t let it go, get past it. But it still haunts you; almost hunts you. Instead of a relationship supporting your life, it‘s your lacuna, the empty hole in your life – somehow playing a bigger role than all the people who are there for you? A constant absence is always present.
CAST YOUR BURDEN ON THE LORD AND GOD WILL SUSTAIN YOU.
Insomnia. Much worse than a late night cookie still warm from the oven. Everyone has it sometimes. But for a few, it feels life-threatening. “I’ve come to dread night time.” “I fear becoming an old person who never sleeps?” Sleepless nights and even longer exhausted days make for a hard life. Medical or emotional, or just a cross to bear? Insomnia leaves you plenty of time to pray (often asking God desperately for sleep…).
WHEN YOU LIE DOWN, YOU WILL NOT BE AFRAID; WHEN YOU LIE DOWN, YOUR SLEEP WILL BE SWEET.
We often cobble together ‘a self’ from what we’re missing. No one to care for you, you’re self-reliant. Someone constantly threatening you. you’re quiet, even ‘invisible.’ Mechanisms for survival. Can new needs / opportunities make you a new person? Or do you keep playing the old bag of tricks in all the later games? A closer relationship with God could remake your identity.
IN HIM WE HAVE REDEMPTION THROUGH HIS BLOOD, THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE RICHES OF GOD’S GRACE.
You may or may not have seen it coming. But your heart started racing as soon as you crossed the line. What a horrible, painful misstep. You know better. You’d do anything now to undo it. No one else’s… it’s all your own BIG mistake. You should have done better. How to fix it? Or to live with? Or live with yourself? Or others you have hurt?
BE KIND AND COMPASSIONATE TO ONE ANOTHER, FORGIVING EACH OTHER, JUST AS IN CHRIST, GOD FORGAVE YOU.
Remember: this Lent, we’re working at acknowledging the shadowed valleys we walk – our humanness in a broken world – on the way to better appreciate God’s love at Easter. The poet wrote, “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY… BECOME PERFECT, BUT I PRESS ON SO THAT I MAY LAY HOLD OF THAT FOR WHICH ALSO I WAS LAID HOLD OF BY JESUS CHRIST.
To a friend: ”I had this COVID-y tightness in my chest. It wasn’t physically hard to breathe, but I couldn’t catch my breath?I think it was panic.” The friend: “That’s what it’s like living with my anxiety. Always fearing I can’t breathe.” Many of us live with emotional struggles and mental illnesses day in and day out. Perhaps unrecognized by others. They can be isolating, alienating. But not from God (even when we fear they might be).
CASTING ALL YOUR ANXIETIES ON HIM, BECAUSE HE CARES FOR YOU.
You look put together. Particularly so. People admire, count on you. Most of the time, you meet their expectations. Others don‘t see, but you know, you‘re a mess. Not sure who to tell. Not sure how to get your stuff – self – organized. Pray, because God can help! God knows your condition inside and out.
MAY GOD, THE GOD WHO MAKES EVERYTHING HOLY AND WHOLE, PUT YOU TOGETHER — SPIRIT, SOUL AND BODY — AND KEEP YOU FIT FOR THE COMING OF OUR MASTER JESUS CHRIST.
Far from home. Geographically or figuratively, Distance and longing are real. Some live out their whole lives in a strange and bitter land. No assimilation; just missing the ancestral home they will never again visit. But no place is so distant to God. You need never end up too far away – if you were to go the ends of the earth, God would still be there with you.
WHEN I SCATTER THEM AMONG MY PEOPLES, THEY WILL REMEMBER ME IN FAR COUNTRIES.
Daily, people in our church and city are short the resources needed to survive. Not enough for food, shelter or healthcare. In our familiarity with the urban poor at Old First, we risk accepting want as normal. We know “why“ people are hungry and homeless. But there are also people who go broke from medical debt. Or when they lose their job or can‘t work any longer. Material want in a world where there’s enough for everyone is aching stomachs and pained bodies.
THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE HAS ANOINTED ME TO PROCLAIM GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR.
We are always having to let go of something or someone. Not liberation, but losing what is dear to us. For consolation: “it’s making room on a limited plate for something new.” Better however is to grieve deeply who or what you have lost. That pain and sorrow are signs of how blessed you have been.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN, FOR THEY WILL BE COMFORTED.
You’re being pulled from all sides and your middle can’t hold. Raising children and caring for aging parents. Moms working in and outside the home, particularly since the pandemic. Overload is structural or situational. Or of our own making. But it’s never tenable. Or healthy. Even God needs a sabbath break and time to rest.
COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND BURDENED, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.
Outrage (or tears) at the world’s cruelties is warranted, appropriate. It’s human… and motivation to improve things.. But when anger grows fists; tries to get even; to make someone pay for their political or religious offense, there’s the problem. We can disagree vehemently and live respectfully. We can’t co-exist with anyone – even ourselves – when our rage harms others and poisons our own hearts.
THEREFORE, HAVING PUT AWAY FALSEHOOD, LET EACH ONE OF YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, FOR WE ARE MEMBERS OF ONE ANOTHER. BE ANGRY BUT SIN NOT; DO NOT LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOUR ANGER.
Death gets us all. We work hard to forget, but in certain heart-racing moments, we can’t dodge the fact. Thankfully, these can be few and far between. Most days, there’s only a suggestion in our aches and pains, the limits of our bodies. Still, we experience little deaths daily – disappointments, failures, losses, leave takings. But mortality isn’t your defeat. Instead, it’s the stage God provides for your faithfulness… or even for your promotion.
FOR I SWEAR, DEAR ONES, THAT I FACE DEATH DAILY. THIS IS AS CERTAIN AS MY PRIDE IN WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE IN YOU.
ASH WEDNESDAY SERVICES —There will be TWO simultaneous services, both at 7 pm.
In the Sanctuary, the Rev. Diane Kessler (one of our newest members), with help from Holly and the choir, will lead a Taize’ service that includes the imposition of ashes (on the forehead or palms).
Online, I will lead an Ash Wednesday service using zoom and powerpoint slides. Please prepare something to use for ashes – burning a dry plant or paper to make ashes (you can add a touch of oil to moisten them), or simply a smudge of dirt from a potted houseplant.
We know Easter is God’s answer. Why then so many sorrows before the happy ending? Is there sense in the brokenness that is part of our human condition? Lent reminds us – there’s something not only holy, but also necessary about being frail, fallible, mortal. Appreciating the limits of being human opens us to grasp and receive God’s response..Join us for these next 40 days.
BUT WE HAVE THIS TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS, THAT THE EXCELLENCY OF THE POWER MAY BE OF GOD AND NOT US.
Lent is full of wild beasts, haunting visions, long shadows. But first it’s Donut Day (PA Dutch for Mardi Gras / Carnival in the rest of the world).Today: relax; breathe; enjoy. Eat too much fat or drink too many calories (or both). Tomorrow we get started on a journey: we’re going to explore some of our limitations being human. But first it’s Donut Day!
GO, EAT OF THE FAT, DRINK OF THE SWEET, AND SEND PORTIONS TO THOSE WHO HAVE NOTHING PREPARED; FOR THIS DAY IS HOLY TO OUR LORD. DO NOT BE GRIEVED, FOR THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH.