The Lenten season begins on Valentine’s Day!! Can you believe it? Ash Wednesday is February 14. Valentine’s Day offers us the chance to tell the one(s) we love just how “ga-ga” “over the moon” “gooshy” and “sweet” we are for him or her. Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent which is a season used by the church to focus on our need for repentance from sin and change in our ways to align our lives with that of God’s commands and desires. What will we do to bridge the two: love & repentance? The words of the Psalmist may help. From Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
The poet of scripture asks God who has created the original heart to recreate it, clean it, dispose of any bad feeling or sin and by this a restored relationship based on love is formed. God who is love is in love with the created: you and me. Forgiveness is the heart of this relationship. Through Psalm 51, the poet reveals the places in the heart where there is need for redemption and reconciliation. We reveal. God redeems. Between God and us there is reconciliation. Forgiveness is the heart of our Lenten Season at First UMC. We all need help when it comes to learning about forgiveness and the sacred practice of revealing, redeeming and reconciliation.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter ran for a second term as president against Ronald Reagan. According to David Wallis in the New York Times Magazine, prior to a televised debate between the two candidates, columnist George Will came upon Carter’s debate notes and sneaked them to the Reagan camp. Reagan won that debate, and went on to win the election. Carter did not forget what George Will had done to him. In a 1987 interview with Wallis, Carter said:
“I was teaching forgiveness one day in Sunday school, and I tried to go through my memory about people for whom I had a resentment. George Will was one of those people, so I wrote him a note. I asked myself “What do we have in common, and I had known that he had written a book about baseball, which I had refused to read. I went to a bookstore and found an old, unsold copy. Paid $1 for it. I then wrote him a note: that I had a feeling of resentment toward him, that I had found his book delightful and I hoped that we would be reconciled. He wrote me back a nice, humorous note. He said his only regret was that I didn’t pay full price for his book.”
In passages from the Gospel of Luke (the prodigal son/graceful father, loving our enemies, Jesus on the cross between criminals, and the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet) we will learn about the power of forgiveness as an outgrowth of our relationship with God who in Jesus Christ is purest love. Our season begins on Valentine’s Day with Ash Wednesday services at Noon and 7 pm, and continues until March 24. Let us discover what love can do and how forgiveness can become the key to a clean heart and renewed spirit.
See you in church,
Did you notice in the Alabama senatorial race between Roy Moore and Doug Jones, that there was a significant amount of God-talk, Christian-ese and quoting scripture. Each professes to be Christian (Moore is Baptist, Jones is United Methodist). What I heard were very different understandings of the faith from these two men and their supporters and subsequent commentaries on the nature of politics and faith.
In politics, who gets to claim the identity Christian? Is it the more conservative, the more liberal, the one who can quote scripture, the one who lives by the Word, the one whose allows and desires the principles of faith to guide him/her in crafting a political agenda? Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons’ article from December 11, 2017 in the Washington Post “Roy Moore isn’t the only Christian running for Senate in Alabama” is a helpful diagnosis of this confusion of mine – and maybe America’s.
It made we wonder what it means to be a Christ follower in this day and age. Am I Christ-ian or Christiany or Christianish? What do we know of Christ Jesus: the first century, Palestinian Jew from Nazareth, who came upon farmers and fisherfolk in Galilee, called disciples to learn of his understanding of God’s word, law and living in the world, who sought to remain faithful to his roots but challenged the religious “powers that be” to be more just and merciful in the interpretation and application of Holy Scripture, moral teachings and serving the needs of God’s people? Let’s find out! And as we do, let us pray for the Holy Light to shine upon us – one of wisdom for our searching, listening, praying and learning.
Enter into January and our worship series “Being Christ-ian” with an open mind and heart. Begin again to learn of the Christ who is king & refugee, the baptized one, the calling one and the healing one. Who are we in turn? What of our presence, speech, actions, service and even our politics (politics = “the total complex of relations between people living in society,” Merriam-Webster) and how well do these communicate our Christian faith in our relationships, family life, interactions and presence in the world?
May our searching be inspired and our serving Christ touch the world in a new way.
See you in church,
And so the new church year begins on the first Sunday of December. We breathe in crisp cold air with each morning and listen to cranes flying and hooting overhead as they migrate to warmer regions. How do they know the way? Is it instinctual? Yes. Born of thousands of years of evolution, trust and need. Our Advent season is born from the hope of the ancient church; a hope for the return of Christ even as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Advent honors the expectations Christians have for both events. We honor with listening, breathing, praying, watching.
Scriptures from the Common Lectionary afford us the chance to listen to the voices of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist which summon God’s people to wait with expectation for the One who is on the way. We breathe in the passion by which our ancestors believe God was able to bring a peaceable kingdom to the earth through the Messiah, God’s anointed one. We pray that His way will lead to the dawn of justice and peace for those who place their trust in the Saving One. As we wait, we watch for signs of God’s hope, peace, love and joy. May they be in abundance now and with every season.
Our way leads from the wilderness, to Bethlehem and then to Egypt. It is the way of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. If we follow we won’t get lost, but we will be blessed. Follow with others around the globe who choose this time to honor a Holy Advent.
Come my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as give us breath: such a Trust, as ends all strife: Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast: Such a Feast, as mends in length: Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move: Such a Love, as none can part: Such a Heart, as joys in love.
– – – George Herbert, 1593-1633
Rejoice in this season of Christ’s coming.
Check your color.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I offer you this personal story and an article from United Methodist Communications published August 15, 2017 just a few short days after the events of Charlottesville, VA in which a young woman Heather Heyer was killed and Deandre Harris a young African American man was brutally attacked by white supremacists at a rally in the heart of the city. As I read articles, watch additional news coverage and seek answers from our leaders as to ways forward, I must pause also to contemplate the condition of my own heart and confess my ongoing sin and struggle with racism and white privilege.
It was sometime during my first year of seminary in Evanston, I was riding with my friend and classmate to get gas near Howard Street on the border between the suburb and the city. As we parked his car at the station and entered it to buy a snack and pay for gas, and then returned to the car, my friend reported to me that one of the attendants had followed him around the store, watching him around every corner. I said “Oh, that didn’t happen to me. Why would he do that to you?” “Check your color, David. Check your color.” And I haven’t stopped. To “check your color” means that I recognize the freedom I experience, the “unchecked box,” at any store, restaurant, event, bar, bank, gas station and other places including church where my skin color isn’t a means by which I am discriminated against in our society like it was for my friend and is for so many of our non-white fellow citizens.
I cannot disavow the white privilege of my existence nor my contribution to the social systems perpetrating racial injustice so very present in our country. United Methodist Bishop Karen Oliveto writes “If we are to effectively oppose and defuse the movements of white supremacy and nationalism, the starting point must be with our own collusion with racism. Until we do this hard work, we will keep in place the social fuel that will allow these movements to flourish.” The starting point is found at the beginning of each day. The starting point is to recognize God is able to help us in all things – including our need for confession and removal of sin.
As I am tempted to grow in my hopelessness that our country’s quest for racial equality will finally find its day in the sun, and as I find myself with increasing indifference towards our President and a broken administration, I pray for God’s blessing of increased faith in the American people to become united in voice and action to the essential values we hold. I pray for an even greater faith in our God who blesses us with wisdom and energy to commit to the higher way of love without regard to human classifications of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, ability, religion and country of origin or citizenship. I invite you to join me in increased faithfulness to the kingdom values of God.
Grace and peace,
Rev. David P. Aslesen