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Pastor's Pen

lent

March 2018 Pastor's Pen

In just a few short weeks we will be celebrating Easter.  We will make the journey of Holy Week from Palms to an Upper Room to a Cross, and then to an Empty Tomb.  So often when we leave the church on Friday we do not reflect on the time between that dark night and the bright morning of Easter.  Yet, perhaps God is calling us to pause and reflect in this in-between time.
 
We know about Good Friday and the cross, about sorrow and death.  All humankind knows about suffering, brutality, and injustice, about tragic endings, about death, all of which are part of the human condition, in our private lives and in the life of the world.  We Christians also know about Easter Sunday and the promise, the hint of resurrection for the rest of us, because Jesus is risen from the dead.
 
However, our lives are not all about Good Friday or all about Easter Sunday.  We experience suffering and abandonment, exile and loss, and we face death, our own and the deaths of those we love.  We know ourselves as sinners, and our lives as broken.
 
And we also taste forgiveness, we taste hope, and we taste new life, we catch sight of it here and there, get word of it, listen and wait and hope...we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, and yet we know ourselves also as destined for glory...pain and hope, dying and rising again...all humanity waiting, waiting, waiting...and we understand a little more why faith is best described as trust. We live most of our lives in that in-between, Holy Saturday-feeling time, the longest day as it is often referred to.
On that longest day we come face to face with the reality of our powerlessness. We couldn't stop Friday from happening, and there is nothing we can do to make Sunday come any quicker. We must face that emptiness (even if we choose to ignore it with plans for Easter dinners and Easter egg hunts.)
 
In the emptiness of waiting, we begin to learn something that the gods of this world cannot bear, the knowledge that they do not want us to know: at the very point of our failure and betrayals, when we taste our own impotence and limit, if we are not afraid to live in the absence, we discover God.
 
The in-between time is God's time. It is the time when we learn to trust Jesus' sacrifice of love which death can neither conquer or understand. In this in-between time we begin to see that it is God who has made death not an instrument to terrorize us into submission, but to call us more intimately to God's side. In the darkness of Holy Saturday we discover the power of our waiting. We come to the end of our way and the beginning of God's way. It is only Christ who can carry us over into Easter morning.
 
So let us journey, focused not on the end point, but on the journey itself. Allowing God to become present to us in an ever-new and ever-more intimate and personal way; and on that bright Easter morning our cries of “Alleluia! He is Risen!” will rise with even greater passion and joy.
 
 
 
 
With the Greatest of Hope!

Erik

March Pastor's Pen

Lent is a season of awareness of sin and death and of the possibilities of new life in Jesus Christ. For many, it is also a time of increased devotion – extra prayer services, added prayer disciplines, and fasting from a certain meal, food, or other indulgence. We begin Lent with the public act of placing ashes in the shape of a cross on our foreheads as a remembrance of our own mortality.
 
Within this attention to devotion and discipline, we must also be aware of Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount: the dangers of sin are as close as the expression of piety to which we are called. “Beware,” Jesus says, “of practicing your piety before others. (Matthew 6:1)
 
Jesus assumed his disciples would fast, pray, and give alms; these were the marks of a good Jew and would have been deemed worthy of praise in both Jewish and Gentile society. They are commended also for the followers of Jesus and the church in Matthew's day. The difference for followers of Jesus was not the acts themselves but rather the motives and manner in which they were to be carried out.
 
Instead of being done with fanfare that would attract attention and admiration from other people, these deeds were to be done modestly and in secret. In that way they became a challenge to the “honor” and competition, the desire to be seen and rewarded that characterized Roman society and that Matthew accuses the local synagogue of adopting in his gospel.
 
What reward are we seeking in our fasting, our generosity, our busyness? Of each of the pious people Jesus describes – the almsgivers sounding their horns, the pray-ers piling up words, the fasters in ashen misery – Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” They have been recognized for the religiosity. That recognition is their reward.
 
The “treasures” Jesus warns against storing up on earth include not only literal treasures that can be stolen or destroyed but also the praise and honor accorded by one's culture, which can prove utterly fickle. “Treasures in heaven,” on the other hand, do not refer to reward reserved for after death, but the valuable treasures that one find in company with God and in accord with God's sovereign will. The quest for that kind of reward is what guides our devotion to God during Lent and throughout the year, as we prepare to follow Jesus in a life committed to God's reign.
 
With the Greatest of Hope!

Erik