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Ash Wednesday

Written by Bonnie Scranton. Posted in The Seed

There is a lot I didn’t know about Ash Wednesday. Here is some information the ELCA has included on its website. Perhaps there is something new here for you as there was for me.

“Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday of the seventh week before Easter and the first day of Lent. The day is named for the practice of imposing ashes. Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient practice, often mentioned in the Bible (e.g., Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21). The early Christians adopted the use of ashes from Jewish practice as an external mark of penitence.

Ashes symbolize several aspects of our human existence: Ashes remind us of God's condemnation of sin, as God said to Adam, "Dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Ashes suggest cleansing and renewal. Even in this ashen mark of death, we anticipate the new life of Easter. Ashes remind us of the shortness of human life, Ashes are a symbol of our need to repent and return to God.”

When we come forward to receive ashes we are saying that we are sorry for our sins, and that we want to use the season of Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with great joy.

Lent is a season for changing our lives, for turning things around, for getting back on the right path, for living the life to which God has called us.  Ash Wednesday isn’t a cheerful celebration, but if we take it seriously Ash Wednesday can be the beginning of a changed life.  A life of deeper faith, stronger community, and a closer relationship with God.

Lenten Wednesdays: Speaking of change - change is a constant in our lives. Some changes mark gradual transitions, as when daytime shifts toward twilight. Others happen in the blink of an eye, separating time into “before” and “after”. We choose to undergo some changes while others are forced upon us. In the weeks, days, and hours before Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples also experienced change: a change of venue as the gates of Jerusalem approached; a change of plans as their long-awaited Messiah was arrested and tried; a change of circumstance as the crowds shouted “Crucify!”

Change can be hard. We long for the expected and familiar, but all too often find ourselves in the midst of uncertainty and the unknown. We cannot predict how things will turn out. During our mid-week Lenten services we will explore the following ways in which change can affect our lives.

Change of Season: “For everything there is a season.” We hear those familiar words telling us life is full of changes. Jesus’ parables are filled with images of life transformed. Just as yeast turns flour into bread, we too are called to be agents of change in the kingdom of God.

Change of Habit: Bad habits are hard to break. The word of God urges us to replace them with the fruits of the Spirit. Love, patience, generosity, and self-control are just some of the good habits practiced by those whose foundation is built on Christ.

Change of Circumstances: We move from elementary to middle school, or from our hometown to a new community. We lose a job, or gain a child, or accomplish a goal, or relinquish a dream. Through it all, we learn to give thanks to God.

Change of Heart: Jesus’ words to the Pharisees give us pause: “You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me.” Jesus invites us to experience a change of heart that will change every part of our lives.

Change of Plans: God’s ways are not our own. We expect a conquering king and hero, but Jesus instead leads us down the road to Jerusalem and humbles himself on the cross. God changes our plans and replaces them with a love broader and deeper than anything we could imagine.

If you feel called to speak on one of these aspects of change, please let me know. We are looking for four volunteers to share a message on how such change has impacted their lives. Are you one of those four?

This Time of Epiphany

Written by Bonnie Scranton. Posted in The Seed

Resurrection CrossI’ve been pondering for a number of days now exactly what I wanted to focus this article on as we enter a new year celebrating the time of Epiphany. Should I take this space to write about all we accomplished in 2019 (it was a lot!), or should I focus on where we think we’re headed for 2020, or should I focus on what the Epiphany means for us, as Christians? I suddenly had my own epiphany today when I realized that the Epiphany of our Lord we celebrate this Sunday has a great deal of significance to us as a congregation as we enter into the new year.

To be honest, I have not always paid enough attention to the Epiphany of our Lord and what it really means. In doing some reading recently I now have a much clearer understanding of how the arrival of the wise men, sent by God to see the Christ child, was the beginning of the Epiphany or “revelation” to the world of Jesus as God’s own son, sent to save us from sin as God had promised throughout the ages.

These Magi left their homes seeking truth. Theirs was a simple faith, established and solidified by God’s Word. And through this simple faith God led them to see His word fulfilled through Christ’s birth and instructed them to proclaim what they had witnessed, to proclaim this revelation, to witness to this Epiphany.

The wise men trusted God, and because they did God’s grace was revealed to man. So exactly what relevance does this Epiphany have for us as a congregation entering into this new year with no pastor? A prayer that I came across recently in my Council notebook helped to provide me with some insight in answering that question. “A Prayer of Thomas Norton” reads, “My Lord, God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.” If we substitute “we” for “I” in Norton’s prayer we can take comfort in being reminded that our future as a congregation is in good hands, as it is in God’s hands. In God’s time we will have our own epiphany as He makes our next pastor known to us. In the interim, we wait with faith in God’s grace.