Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 10.35.40 AMI love the start of lent. “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection…Christians focus on relationship with God, growing as disciples and extending ourselves, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of ourselves for others.”

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: our sinfulness before God and our human mortality.

Now my go to story of lent is a personal tale of humor but also trauma that happened where my family, some cousins, and I nearly died… yet the past few years we do not need to hear stories to be reminded of our own mortality. We have seen this played out with the covid 19 virus.

This past week brought war to Europe in a way we have not seen since World War II. The U.S. Secretary of Defense has ordered the deployment of 3,800 Fort Stewart soldiers to Europe. This is in response to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Phylis Smith, a teacher on the base, was talking about listening to kindergarteners processing how their fathers got on a plane but they were not allowed to go with their dads.

Once again we are reminded of our mortality and how fragile the world can be.

So what do we do with an awareness of our mortality? In Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World the author examines how fitness culture is becoming a new religion. They use a company called Soul Cycle as an example. They say: 

“It’s selling a double ideal of purification: one simultaneously characterized by material improvement … and by spiritual transcendence. You’re not just peddling on a bike to lose weight. You’re peddling to become a better person”

Yet as Jesus followers, we do cheer on being good stewards of our bodies… we also acknowledge how real purification, salvation, is not found in what we can achieve.

In Jesus prayer book, Psalm 51 says

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,  and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,  and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,  and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed, I was born guilty,  a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;  therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;  wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Tonight, as we prepare for the season of Lent, I am inviting you to remember your own mortality. Remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return. 

But we do not just reflect on our brokenness to think of ourselves as bad… we do so to better understand and receive the joy that is offered in Christ.

In the same way that the psalmist confesses their sin they also ask God to change them. To create a clean heart. That’s what God does. That’s what God wants to do over lent and for the rest of your life… and that is what God is doing in your life right now.

Over the next 40 days I have a challenge for you. I am going to give you a pocket cross as you leave tonight. I invite you to put this in your pocket until Easter. And I want this to serve as a reminder of God being with you each and every moment (If you are reading this and would like a pocket cross please let me know).

And then I also invite you to a moment of having ashes imposed on your forehead and then for a moment of prayer and reflection. 

Ashes are a biblical sign of repentance and can be traced all the way back to Genesis. Using ashes for lent can be traced back to the 10th century.

You will hear me say either “repent and believe the gospel” or “from dust you came and to dust you will return”. Regardless of what phrase you hear, I invite you to pray at the altar or return to your seat for prayer. I encourage you to pray for global peace, examine your life and where God may want to change your heart, or pray however the Lord leads you.

 

I am so excited about our new series How to Talk to God. Each week in September we will look at the Old Testament book Psalms. We will ask how does the ancient poetry apply to our lives today and what does it tell us about God. I hope you will join us at Hagan United Methodist or Daisy United Methodist this month.

As I transition to Senior Pastor at Hagan and Union United Methodist Churches I am re-evaluating how to do some things I regularly practiced as a youth director. For one twitter was  one of the main ways to communicate. I imagine I will be still tweeting regularly, but the urgency of tweeting will be probably decline as a primary way of communication as well as move down my priority list. This twitter info-graphic I saw on Orange Leaders blog helped shed some light. Mainly, my main demographic (rural) is not really on twitter. Does this help you consider ways to manage your tweeting?