Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Ash Wednesday Meditation (a little late)

Here are my thoughts from Ash Wednesday, last week. I thought I'd share them here, as we continue on our Lenten journey this year...

It’s Gonna Take All of Us!

Ash Wednesday Meditation

March 9, 2011

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The contemporary Christian music group Jars of Clay released an album last fall called “The Shelter,” with songs based on an Irish proverb, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Though Ash Wednesday and the call to observe a Holy Lent is in many ways about personal penitence and self-examination, it takes all of us to get through the journey from now to Easter.

Our scripture lesson from Matthew calls us to remember that our acts of piety, of personal discipline, are best performed out of the limelight. We are not called to make a big show of our piety. We are not called to bring attention to the things we sacrifice during Lent, or the ways we make changes in our lives. But we are called to make changes during Lent. Whether you may give up a favorite food or spend more time than usual studying scripture, doing something different is a big part of observing Lent.

The reason we do something different at Lent is not because it makes us better than people who don’t observe the season. We take time to offer ourselves to God in a new way during Lent, to let God work on us in different ways from the “norm,” to make us into the people God is calling us to be. It is a time of self-examination—we may find stuff we don’t like about ourselves, and that “stuff” may be exactly what God is working on changing at this time. We need to take time to pray, fast, study scripture, and get into the disciplines of our faith, during Lent, if during no other time in the year.

But we come to church on Ash Wednesday to worship together. We sit together, while we hear the call to observe a Holy Lent. We covenant together to embark on this journey toward Easter—toward the celebration our own redemption, our own hope, once again. We are truly always on a journey, but during Lent, perhaps, we realize it more than at any other time of the year. And it’s gonna take all of us to get through it! The prophet Joel told the people to come together, to fast together, to call a solemn assembly, in order to get God’s attention. It would take the whole community—newborn babies and the “chronologically gifted”—meeting together, crying out to God, for their redemption, for forgiveness, for hope for the future. And Joel says, maybe, just maybe, if we all get together and meet in God’s house, God will hear us and turn back to us and change our situation.

The Israelites knew that they were in this thing together. As much as each individual was responsible for living up to the expectations (laws) of the faith, they were God’s chosen people, together. As we face our own mortality this Lent, our own sin, our own need to confess and be turned by God back onto the right paths, we come and do that together. The road ahead of us, through Lent, through unseen trials and temptations of any season, may not look easy. We may get tired. And that is why we remember that we go through Lent together. “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Members of our faith community are already going through difficult times, and we are called to be their shelter, as people who all need forgiveness, change, and hope.

This Lenten season, make your personal commitment to the disciplines God is calling you to. Learn to practice your piety with sincere motives, in private places, for God, not the whole world, to know. But find at least one other person to help keep you accountable, too. And remember, we are all still in this together. It’s gonna take all of us to get through this—and we’ll come out on the other side of Lent rejoicing—together. The song says it this way:

Come away from where you’re hiding

Set aside the lies that you’ve been living

May this place of rest in the fold of your journey

Bind you to hope that we will never walk alone

If there is any peace, if there is any hope

We must all believe, our lives are not our own

We all belong

God has given us each other

And we will never walk alone

None of us will do a perfect job with our Lenten disciplines this year, most likely. We may find ourselves complaining about whatever we’ve decided to do or not do. We may completely forget about it, some day. But we have come together tonight to commit to trying to be different people, at the end of these 40 days, and it will take all of us together to make that happen. If you received ashes on Ash Wednesday, or even if you didn’t, know that you are human and sinful, made from dust—as the ashes remind us, but also God’s—marked by God’s own sign. And we are in this together. Let’s go through this journey, together, with God at our side the whole way.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I learned this morning that February 2nd is the day the church traditionally observes the presentation of Christ in the temple. Luke describes this significant moment in Luke 2:22-40, when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple, with the "poor people's" offering of two doves. There, they encounter the priest Simeon and the prophetess Anna, who both proclaim amazing things about this baby boy. Can you imagine what it was like to be Simeon and Anna, to know you've been waiting for something for almost your whole life, and to finally behold it with your own eyes?! What a thrill! What a wonder! But what was it like for Mary and Joseph? Sure, they'd heard from angels, and lots of crazy things had happened, that should have clued them in that this child was not any ordinary child, but to hear it from the mouths of two different people, in the temple, when they came just to do an ordinary ceremony? I bet it was scary. I bet they wondered what they were in for. I wonder if they doubted, if they were uncertain of what to do next. I think I would have been, if I were in their shoes.

Isn't it kind of like that for each of us, after we learn who Jesus really is? We may wonder at the stories we read and hear, and we may try to wrap our minds around a Savior of the universe who could come and be born as a little baby, just like each one of us. And then, when we read what he taught and we see how he lived, we're just a bit uncomfortable. We might read Anna and Simeon's claims and wish that we, too, could be so sure, could feel the Spirit so strongly as to be certain of who this Jesus is. Our faith is always a journey. Sometimes we know who Jesus is, are sure he is Lord of our lives, and then other times we stumble and feel like he's left us behind. Sometimes we can proclaim his good news, can know for certain the salvation he offers, and other times, feel like we're completely unsalvageable.

But Jesus is still there. He's still all the things Simeon and Anna claimed he was. He's still offering us grace and love, asking us to change our hearts and lives and follow him. It's never easy, but it's a blessing to try.

Who is Jesus, in your life? I pray for his peace for you today, friends. Let him be what scripture claims him to be...and follow him along the way. He'll surprise you, I bet. But he'll also be right there with you, no matter what. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gracious Words

Now that you can find our churches on Facebook, by searching for Bethel UMC, French Broad UMC, or Huckleberry Springs Administrative Center and Chapel (UMC), you can check out a daily (or almost daily) devotional on any of those pages. Here's the daily thought/devotional from January 11th, which is a response, of sorts, to the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona, on January 8th. Feel welcome to share your thoughts by commenting here.
The apostle Paul gives the early churches a lot of instructions on how to be the people they are called to be, as this new Church, as followers of Christ, as members together of the Body of Christ. In Colossians 4:6, he instructs the people at Colossae, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone."

This verse has challenged me since I was in college. Often prone to bitter words, and sometimes easily angered, I wondered how to use more gracious words with the people around me. I am still challenged by this verse today, though I've learned a lot more about being gracious and showing grace since I started college almost 14 years ago.

Recently, people in our country have had reason to examine their words more closely. Following the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona, on Saturday, lots of things have been said about people's words and how others translate them into actions. Last night, Jon Stewart addressed this issue on his nightly news parody show, _The Daily Show_. He pointed out that trying to blame Saturday's tragic events, or the choices of the shooter, on what any one person or group has said or done is fruitless; there are many factors that make people act out the way the shooter did, and though placing blame is always tempting and can make us feel a bit better or perhaps "safer," in some sense, in reality, doing so very rarely brings resolution or positive results. Trying to make sense out of something senseless is, to say the least, futile.

Now, I realize it may be questionable to refer to a self-identifying political liberal (and one who is Jewish) in a devotional writing, but Stewart's comments brought me back to Colossians 4:6, as I reflected on them this morning. We are called to use "rhetoric" that is gracious and loving, not because of our nationality or our political leanings, but because we are Christians. We know the political climate in this country is full of words that hurt, despite the childish mantra we were all taught to recite--"stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." As Christians, I believe we are called to something better, not for the sake of democracy, but for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Whether we identify with a particular political party or ascribe to a particular leaning theologically, there should be no room in our churches and communities of faith for words that are ungracious. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, not to place blame or use words to cut people down. Using gracious speech, seasoned with salt, should be an aspiration for each of us, not because of anything about who we are or where we live, but because we know the one who offers us salvation, whose gracious words, even in the midst of agony--"Father, forgive them..."--speak life into our broken hearts.

Today, wherever your find yourself, and whatever conversations you're involved in, pray for gracious words, use language that is life-giving, and give thanks to the one who offered grace to you--to each of us, if we will only turn and accept it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bible Study News

Coming soon: A brand-new Bible study! Betty Newman and I will be co-teaching the new Immersion Bible Study of Matthew, written by Ellsworth Kalas, using the new Common English Bible, beginning Wednesday, January 19th. We'll meet at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, at Huckleberry Springs Chapel and Administrative Center. The study lasts for 8 sessions, so we will conclude on Wednesday, March 9th. Drop me a line at betzy.elifrits.warren@gmail.com or comment on this post to let us know you want to join us. We're looking forward to this!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reading Material

Looking for something to read in the new year? I've got just the thing for you, then! I'm hoping to do more reading this year (other than commentaries!), and I've already picked out one book for each month that I think you might enjoy reading with me. This month, I'm looking at Mark Batterson's In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. I'll create a post at the end of the month with some thoughts and questions on the book, but if you'd like to read it, too, and discuss it with me in person, just comment here or email me at betzy.elifrits.warren@gmail.com. I plan to have a "book club" type meeting each month, but the details of this meeting haven't been set yet because my "book club" is missing one important thing--you!! Will you come along on this journey with me? I hope to hear from you soon!