Entering Lent Grieving

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is a day of holy contemplation and reflection. Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a time when we begin the season of Lent by remembering our mortality and need of God to redeem us. One of the most important practices of this day is the imposition of ashes as a representation of our mortality and sinfulness.

In Scripture, the practice of wearing ashes connects to the expression of grief. When someone is mourning, whether it is Job or the mourners outside of Lazarus’ tomb, they would often place ashes on their head to represent their grief and sorrow.

As we begin this particular season of Lent, I recognize there are several places of grief that I am experiencing.

I am feeling the grief of the aftermath of General Conference. In the days since General Conference has ended, I will be honest and admit that I’ve not wanted to think too much about what took place other than what I need to share with you all. To be present in St. Louis was humbling and an honor, but it was also hard to watch. As I shared with our Town Hall meeting Sunday, I felt as though I was watching my church come apart along nearly the same divisional lines we see in the political arena. This breaks my heart. So, I am grieving where we are as a United Methodist Church, global, today.

I am also grieving this pastoral transition. While in my heart I know that my family and I are making the right decision for Noah and as much as we are excited about being in Huntington and closer to family, these realities also come with it a lot of grief. With every ministry ending there comes with it sorrow for relationships that will come to an end. So, please know that while my heart is looking ahead to the season to come, it is mournful for a season that is coming to a close.

I grieve where we are in our conversations with one another. Our conversations often represent the divides we experience today. We are living in one of the most divisive times that I can remember. Sociologists will try to come up with reasons for this – social media, political divide, etc. – but I don’t believe we spend enough time sorrowful for how we treat one another. If you are a progressive, there is a tendency to assume the worst among those who are conservative. The same goes with conservatives in how they view progressives. We dismiss those, with our words, the very people we disagree with. It often comes as a result of our inability to find common ground with one another, and this grieves me.

There is much more that grieves my soul, today, but these are just a few. My soul is heavy as we enter this holy season of Lent. As such, I recognize that within my own self is a need for God to heal these places of brokenness, to allow me to see my own contributions into these areas of grief, and to let God lead me into a path of deeper discipleship.

That is my prayer for my own life, today, and I hope it is also your prayer. Lent provides us an opportunity to recognize these places of grief that we have because the world doesn’t match up to the desires of God. For that matter, these places of grief come about because we know we don’t always live into the purposes God has for our lives.

We cannot carry on and act as though these places do not exist. That is a heavy temptation that hovers over us. To ignore common realities, these places of grief, and to move on as if nothing is wrong is something that we all face, because we live in a world that would rather move on that deal with the deeper realities of life. In doing so, we prevent the work of God’s holy love to heal us, renew us, and reshape us for deeper living with the Lord and one another.

The deeper walk calls us to experience the work of God’s love in the midst of the grief and to remember God is always present. We cannot ignore grief, but we can see them as an opportunity for us to grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord.

As we embark on this season of Lent, yes, I am mindful that there are several places of grief in my life. Yet, I remain hopeful, because God is present to heal, renew, and reshape these places of grief into opportunities for new life to shine through.

That is the promise of the Resurrection, after all, that Lent guides us towards.

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Sermon: Teach Us to Pray, Our Father

It was a busy time for Jesus and his disciples. Since Peter, James and John experienced a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, Jesus and the disciples were traveling with a purpose. They were on a mission to get to Jerusalem. When they get there, the disciples believe Jesus will lead a revolution to overtake the religious authorities and Roman Empire. Instead, Jesus is on a journey that will take him to the cross.

This season of Lent allows us to experience what took place on this journey. As Luke describes it, this journey to Jerusalem featured a lot of different ministry. Previously, Jesus sent out two groups of people – the 12 disciples and a larger group of followers – into the mission field. He also taught the Parable of the Good Samaritan and visited Martha and Mary.

We join the journey at a place where we will remain for this season of Lent. It is here where we find Jesus after a time of prayer. It was typical for Jesus to spend time in prayer after a time of intense ministry. The disciples listened to Jesus as he prayed. They are curious. They want to have the same kind of prayer life Jesus has. Continue reading

Why We Fast at Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is a day that we remember our morality and our need of God in all things. It also marks the beginning of Lent, which is the season that prepares us for the celebration of Easter.

More than that, however, Lent prepares us to receive the Good News of Christ’s love. One of the ways that we prepare ourselves for Lent is by getting our hearts ready through the spiritual practice of fasting. In fasting, we are giving up something that has control over our lives in order to grow closer to God. Continue reading

Good Friday Homily: It is Finished!

When we think of the word “victorious,” our mind goes immediately to celebrations that take place in life. We think of what transpires following a basketball or football game when the victorious team celebrates. We think of what takes place when a new born child arrives to a family that has struggled to get pregnant. We think of the celebrations that occur when someone is declared cancer free.

Those are victorious moments, filled with glorious celebrations, and moments of triumph.

Nothing, my friends, about this moment that we have arrived at tonight seems victorious. At first glance, nothing about that moment on Golgatha’s hillside seemed like a victorious moment.  Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: I Entrust My Spirit

On this Palm Sunday, we began our celebration by going back to the beginning of that Passover celebration so many years ago. Jesus and his followers triumphantly entered Jerusalem.

It was a celebratory scene of great jubilation and anticipation. The people expected Jesus to come and fulfil the promises of the Messiah and restore the Kingdom of Israel. So, they brought out the palm branches and laid them on the ground – an act that is something like laying out the red carpet today – and shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” All while Jesus humbly rode into town on the back of a donkey. Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: I am Thirsty

As we move ever so closer to Good Friday we are positioned to look at, truly, the final words that Jesus said from the cross. For what now dominates our attention are the most immediate words that were on Jesus’ lips in the moment before his death. Two of those words will come from John with an emotional word, which we will look at next week, coming from Luke.

None of these truly final words seem as simplistic as the one that is before us today. Three words that, on face value, do not seem to have much significance. The normalcy of these words might keep us from seeing the depth of its meaning for us. This is a typical writing tactic that John uses in his gospel. What might seem to us like a toss away passage or a word with little to draw upon is often rich with significance that teaches us about the life of Christ and what this life means for us today.

This word from John 19:28-29 is one of those seemingly quaint little passages that provide so much more than what we may initially believe. As we hear this word read, this morning, try to sense what is going on in this moment. Jesus has been on the cross, as we said last week, for about six hours. He is nearing his death. His body is weak. He is in pain. He is exhausted. Picture what this might look and feel like as we come to these words, especially the ones from John 19:28.  Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: Why Have You Abandoned Me?

There is no need to beat around the bush. This is a difficult passage of Scripture to engage.

A lot of aspects to this passage make it difficult for us to interact with. We have the uncomfortable aspect of hearing Jesus cry out in pain from the cross. There is the word “abandoned” or “forsaken” that leaves us wondering about the emotional and spiritual pain that Jesus felt in those moments. We hear these words and we want to move past them quickly, act like they were never said, and go to another passage.

We cannot hide from difficult passages of Scripture. In the examining the harder passages we find elements of truth that speak to us in the difficult moments of our lives. The good thing is that, today, we will walk through this difficult and challenging passage from Matthew 27:45-46 together. Continue reading