Due to the weather and road conditions, all activities at Marshfield Christian Church have been cancelled for March 1, 2015. Please stay warm and safe. We hope to see you next Sunday.
I was fairly “bummed” that we had to cancel the Ash Wednesday service last night. It is truly one of my favorite worship opportunities of the year. I enjoy the quiet, reflective atmosphere and the almost chant-like music; it puts me in the right frame of mind to draw closer to God during the 40 days of Lent.
But, rather than being disappointed in not having the service, I decided I would share some of my reflections with you here. I hope they are a blessing as we begin this journey called “Lent” together.
“The Journey Begins” – Jonah 3
The story of Jonah is familiar to most of us. But, we usually stop the tale too early. Some of the most interesting parts of the story happen after Jonah is spat out by the whale. We read some of that story in the third chapter of the book (the link is above to “The Message” version of the story.)
Jonah finally does as he has been commanded by God and he enters Ninevah. After walking for one day, not even reaching the center of the city, Jonah preaches one of the shortest sermons in the history of the faith. “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”
From what we read in the story; that is all Jonah says. He turns around and leaves the city. As amazing as that short sermon might be, I find the reaction to it even more amazing. The people of Ninevah change their ways. They put on sackcloth and cover themselves with ashes as a sign that they understand that their fate lies in God’s hands alone.
And, not just the men symbolize their repentance. Not just the working men. But the king, all of the people, regardless of their status. Men and women alike. The cover themselves in sack cloth and ashes, and they fast.
But that’s not it, either! Not just the people. The animals are cloaked in the evidence of death, the evidence of the sins of the community.
That’s one of the most powerful parts of the story for me. Ninevah’s reaction recognizes both the sins of the individual, and the sins of the community.
Ash Wednesday reminds me that I have sins in my life with which I haven’t dealt. Ash Wednesday reminds me that not only am I responsible for my own sins, sins I commit, but I am also responsible for the sins that I knowingly allow to happen without saying anything. When I see someone abused verbally, I’m as guilty as when I lie.
On this day that begins Lent, we are reminded of the sin that burdens our lives and keeps us from doing God’s will. Often, I feel that it is easy to confess my sin and ask for forgiveness. It is not easy, however, to fully understand the weight of sin and fully turn away from it. It is easy to think my sins are small in comparison to the rest of the world around me. However, when I consider the weight of sin I begin to realize that I am just as broken as everyone around me and that I need a Savior just as desperately as the next person.
That is one of the things we see in the story of Jonah. The story continues after the people of Ninevah repent. We learn about how Jonah feels about Ninevah’s reaction to his sermon. Now, if I could get that kind of a reaction to my preaching, I’d be overjoyed. But not Jonah.
Jonah, God’s prophet, is dismayed when the people of Ninevah realize their evil ways and turn to God. Jonah becomes irate with God and says, “This is why I didn’t want to come here in the first place. I know you are a loving God and would forgive Ninevah.” The sub-text is that Jonah doesn’t want Ninevah to be forgiven. I believe that is because it is always easier to feel good about ourselves when we have someone at whom we can look and say “At least I’m not like them!”
Ash Wednesday confronts us with what we have become and prods us to do better. Indeed, Lent, we learn on Ash Wednesday, is about realizing that God is a forgiving God. It is about realizing that we need that forgiveness not more and not less than everyone else. Lent is about opening our hearts one more time to the Word of God in the hope that, this time, hearing it anew, we might allow ourselves to become new as a result of it.
As we open ourselves to God and realize the sins that impinge on that relationship, it is good and right for us to confess our brokenness before God, to turn from our wrongdoing and to seek God’s forgiveness.
If we had been gathered together to worship, we would have symbolized this confession of our sins by writing or drawing them on a piece of paper, then symbolically offering them to God by burning those papers. That’s an option for you, today, as well. If you have a way to safely burn a piece of paper, you can make your own “burnt offering” to God. If you don’t have that option, or are worried about setting your home on fire (PLEASE DON’T!) there are other ways you can confess before God:
- You could type your confession into a document on your computer, then delete the file
- You could write your confession on a piece of paper, then tear the paper into tiny shreds
- You could simply set aside some time of prayer, beginning by actually confessing to God, then spending time listening for God’s voice and feeling God’s forgiveness
- You could chose to confess to a close friend or spiritual leader (whom you trust to keep your confession confidential)
- Or you can choose any other way to practice confessing your sins before God.
The goal is to somehow acknowledge your brokenness and then offer that to God as you seek God’s help in healing and restoring your relationships, with God, with others, and with yourself.
My prayer for you is that you sense God’s loving presence in a special way this Lent, and in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Come, let’s journey together through these 40 days, and beyond.
We have chosen to cancel our Ash Wednesday services due to the bitterly cold wind chills this evening. Please stay warm and safe and we hope to see you in church this Sunday!
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:2 (The Message)
I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to deal with one of the most popular books and movies of the past few years. I really wanted to just ignore “50 Shades” altogether. But then the opening weekend happened and records were set and … well, I just can’t ignore it any longer.
I need to preface my remarks by saying that I have NOT read the book, have NOT seen the movie, NOR will I. And, I have multiple reasons for those decisions. My major reason for boycotting the book and film, is that (from what I have heard and read) the entire premise of the film is based on the misuse of power in a relationship. That this abuse of power extends into the realm of sexuality only amplifies the issue.
I didn’t want to address 50 Shades because it exemplifies, for me, the brokenness of this world. It is not something I want to talk about. In John 15 Jesus tells the disciples that they are not part of this world: “If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason.” (John 15:19, The Voice) And in Romans 12:2, Paul admonishes the Roman church to fix their attention on God, not on the culture around them.
But, I don’t believe that we should sit silently by and watch our culture slide further and further from God. I believe it is our duty, our calling, to stand up for what is right. Thomas Jefferson once said “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” This, is NOT a matter of style. For me it is a matter of principle.
And the principle is how we, as followers of Christ, deal with issues of power. And, I believe (from the very core of my being) that we have a Biblical mandate to handle power in a certain way. And it is NOT how power is predominately handled in society. Society uses power as a way to manipulate and control. Powerful people get away with all sorts of misdeeds precisely because they are powerful. The more money, or influence, a person has, the more likely they are to believe they are “above the law.”
And, this is nothing new! Jesus addresses just this issue in Mark 10:42-45; Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” (The Message)
The issues of power and relationships are vital to our witness as followers of Jesus. They permeate our lives. Power and relationship are everywhere you look, at work, at home, in government, in the church, everywhere. These issues are so important that I’m going to dedicate the next several newsletter articles to just these topics. As people of faith we simply must understand, and put into practice a decidedly Christian way of treating others. “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:35 – The Message)
Wednesday, February 18, 2015 @ 7pm
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It takes it’s name from the ceremonial imposition of ashes on the foreheads of worshipers as a sign of human sin and mortality. This ancient tradition, going back at least to the tenth century, communicates the human condition before God by solemn word and sign. The silence and solemn tone of the service, along with the texts and songs, are all intended to focus our lives on the dual themes of sin and death in the light of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.
While the use of ashes as a sign of mortality may be new to some, it has a significant history in Jewish and Christian worship. The imposition of ashes is a powerful experiential way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation. This day can become, in some manner, a Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, for the Christian community.
They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
Mark 12:14-16 (NRSV)
Sometimes the questions we ask are more important than the answers. I found that to be true as I began to work on this article. I was asking myself “What should I write?” And I was coming up with precious few ideas. Then I stumbled across an article called “New Questions for a New Day” by Jeffery Jones. In it he says: “It’s time to start asking new questions. Better answers to the same old questions about the church will not get us through the tumultuous times in which we live. This is a time for out-of-the box thinking. Old questions keep us in the box. New questions invite us to move outside.”
And that got me thinking. What new questions do I need to ask? Rather than thinking about what I should write, I began to think about what I felt others may need to hear. And as I did, I remembered the encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees and Herodians in Mark 12. They came with a trick question, and Jesus knew it. So his “answer” was a question. Jesus knew that changing the question was vital to getting to a productive, and insightful, answer.
So, what questions do we need to change? What might we learn about ourselves if we ask different questions? In his article Jones offers some suggestions. I’ll share a few of those here, and add in a couple of my own.
Jones writes; “one question that has been asked consistently through the years, and even more so in these days of declining church membership is, ‘How do we bring them in?’ It would be better for us to ask, ‘How do we send them out?’”
He also suggests that “when congregations have financial struggles, they ask, ‘How do we survive?’ Instead they might ask, ‘How do we serve?’”
I’ve been asking myself, and others, “How do we find teachers for Sunday School?” When maybe the question that needs to be asked is “Why is Sunday School important?” And, maybe even more importantly, “What do we want to learn during that Sunday School time?”
There is a problem with questions like these, however. Namely, there are no easy answers. There is some instruction on sending people out to do ministry (Luke 10), but how that plays out in our current context is a little uncertain. Jesus talks about the importance of service (Matthew 20), but we still don’t have concrete “step-by-step” instructions on how God is calling us to serve in and around Marshfield, MO. And, I have never found a reference where Jesus talks about Sunday School in the Bible, but he does talk about the importance of teaching others about God (Matthew 28).
So, without any clear-cut answers we are left to live into the questions. We are left to journey together, with one another, and with God. As Rainer Maria Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet, “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.” May God guide us as we live into the questions of life and faith.
We have an Ash Wednesday Service planned for Wednesday, February 18, in our sanctuary. This will be a quiet, reflective service that allows us to confront our brokenness and encounter God’s grace and mercy. It is a moving time of worship with the chance to begin clearing space in our lives to encounter God in a new, fresh way in the coming weeks. The service will begin at 7:00 p.m. and the community is invited to join us at the Marshfield Christian Church for this special service.
Our next Commodities Distribution will be next Friday, February 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. All volunteers are asked to park at the Church of Christ (on Wildwood Drive north of our church).
If you would like to volunteer, please contact Lacey Stokes. We appreciate all of our volunteers.
Bread of Life will be hosting a ‘Sweetheart Progressive Dinner’ TOMORROW, February 7th. Tickets are on sale now for $20/couple ($10 /person) in advance and $25 at the door (tips welcome). Seating will start promptly at 5:00 pm and go through 7:00 pm. All proceeds raised will go to help support the Bread of Life. Childcare will be provided by Miss Kelli.
If you have further questions or to purchase tickets, please contact Lacey Stokes.