Lord, how good it is for us to be here -- Matthew 17

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Feb 23, 2017

Dear friends,

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me!

We start our Lenten journey this Wednesday, let us pray for each other that we may come closer to the God who created and cares for us.  Our Liturgy Committee has chosen the Lenten theme of “Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me!” realizing our all of us have crosses to carry, including our own sinfulness and our own inability to extend and receive forgiveness.  Here are some thoughts about forgiveness (an important element of Lent) and some basics of the Lenten Season.

Forgiveness, letting go of the lingering pain of new or past hurts to allow for inner peace, has been on my mind these last few weeks.  We often cause a hurt without even realizing it.  The hurt may be the result of ‘a look’ that we gave or a passing word that someone misunderstood.  Whether the injury is large or small, whether the hurt is individual or communal, the practice of forgiveness calls us to face the pain and work through the grief and anger.  The only promise as we work through the hurt and pain is the promise of God’s grace.

I have been thinking about this for two reasons.  First, I have been talking with individuals who are trying to deal with the sudden loss of a loved one, either because of death or because the loved one has moved on to a different place in life – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Second, I have also been talking with people who are having a difficult time forgiving.  They know intellectually that they must forgive, but their hearts just aren’t ready for forgiveness.  In both cases they know they may never forget the loss and hurt because forgetting is nearly impossible.  But they would like to get on with the healing process and deal with the loss, the sense of betrayal and hurt. 

I assure the individuals that they have made a gigantic step toward healing by recognizing this need for healing and peace in their lives.  Please know that my ear and my heart are open to you if and when you need to address some type of brokenness in your life.  Also, please pray that we, as a community of believers, respond to the calling we have been given to live with forgiving and peaceful hearts. 

We begin Lent with Ashes on our foreheads, which serves as visual reminder that we should abstain from meat on all the Fridays of Lent and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  This means that those of us who are healthy and are between the ages of 18 and 59 are instructed to eat sparingly - two simple meatless meals and one main meatless meal, with nothing in between.  Fasting – or intentionally doing with much less – can be a great discipline in our well fed American lifestyle.  Allowing ourselves to feel hunger puts us on the ground floor of what it is to be humble – and humility is an important virtue for a person of faith.  It takes us out of the center of our own little universe and allows us to be still for a moment so we may know God and know ourselves better. 

Self-knowledge moves us next to prayer, which is open communication between us and God.  Prayer is a two-way street, of course; we don’t do all the talking.  Exercising humility ought to enable us to do some thoughtful listening, and our prayer well be richer as a result.  Such reflection also helps us become more conscious of the many ways in which we are blessed by our gracious God.  Money, time and talent – we truly have more than we need.  That realization may lead us to greater generosity towards those who have less.  We call this almsgiving

Fasting has a long history within our Judeo-Christian tradition.  It was during a forty day fast that Elijah heard the “still, small voice” of the Almighty. In the gospel passage from Matthew that we will be hearing on Ash Wednesday, Jesus advises us to be discreet while we fast.  It should not be a way of advertising our austerity, he points out, but rather a private matter between us and God.  The fast that Jesus undertook in the desert before he began his public ministry, is the basis of our modern Lent – forty days (not counting Sundays because on Sunday, we are always celebrating Resurrection). 

In past centuries, monks were expected to make their Lenten “fast” by eating just one meal each day.  For those monks who desired to do more – to fast completely, the rule provided for them to read scripture aloud to their brothers during the community meal, taking their own nourishment solely from the word of God.  Although we are not monks, we are sisters and brothers living in a community of faith, and so the fasting of one helps the fasting of all. 

We encourage one another in our efforts to live more simply, and we too, are to be nourished by the Word of God.  This Lent, instead of giving something up, try doing something extra, like reading from scripture each day.  Perhaps this is something you can do as a family: take a little time around the dinner table to read and discuss something from scripture before or after your meal. 

Let us continue to pray for peace and for the end of terrorism in our world!

In peace and courage,

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