Tag Archives: repentance

Tonight We Remember

An Ash Wednesday sermon – February 17, 2021
preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Queens

Beloved people of God,
every year at Easter
we celebrate the new possibilities
God provides through the life, the death,
and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
During Lent, we prepare for this celebration
and the renewal it brings to our lives.

For many years we have begun
Our Lenten journey with ashes,
often made by burning the palms from the year before.
Mixed with a little oil,
the ashes are traced on our foreheads
in the sign of a cross.

This year we physically distance
while we spiritually gather one Christ,
I, as the pastor, will not impose ashes.
If you have received ashes
in the congregation’s Lenten worship bag or
if you have gathered “loose dust” from in or around your home,
and you would like to use the dust or ash
to make the sign of the cross  
on your head or hand,
we will pause to allow you to do that.
We will take a minute of silence,
which my friend the Rev. Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes reminds us
is an eternity of silence for Presbyterians.
You may also decide to impose the sign of the cross
later in the service – when the sermon gets boring, for example.

Whether we impose the sign of the cross or not,
dust and ashes will play a role in our service.
I invite you to take the ashes you received
or the loose dust you have gathered.
If you have neither, image ashes and dust you have seen.
Look at them.
Consider them.
Think about one of their functions
in Ash Wednesday services.

Ashes, loose dust
jog our memories.
They help us remember what is;
they help us remember what will be.

Tonight we remember.

We remember our mortality.
From dust God makes us.
In the marvelous words of James Weldon Johnson:
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
God kneeled down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till God shaped it in God’s own image;
Then into it God blew the breath of life,
And the human became a living soul.

We come from dust.
To dust we will return.
We are mortal. Limited. Finite.
One day our time on earth will end
our race will finish,
our part in God’s great story will close,
the final curtain will fall

and God will welcome us.

Tonight we remember.
We remember our need for repentance.
We remember how we fall short.
How we hurt one another.
How we tolerate social injustice.
How we wound God’s good creation.
How by our actions
and by our failures to act,
we break the heart of God.
We remember our need to turn and follow Jesus Christ
more faithfully this and every day.

Tonight we remember.
We remember those who have gone before us.
We remember people we knew and loved fiercely.
We remember people we never met but whose stories we have learned.
We remember people whose stories have never been told.
In this age of COVID-19, we remember countless people,
who have died from this pandemic.
We remember people killed by the state and racism.
People whose God-given breath was taken from them.
Whether we remember names or not,
we remember each person was and is a beloved child of God,

Tonight we remember.
the unending mercy of God,
the unbreakable grace of God,
the unflagging patience of God.
We remember the incredible love of God
who refuses to give up on us,
and who persistently awaits our return
eager to pour the Holy Spirit afresh upon us
that we might make a fresh start.

Tonight we remember.
that Lent is a time to give up.
Perhaps, like my friend the Rev. Gradye Parsons,
we make a supreme spiritual sacrifice
and give up kale.
More realistically, we seek to give up
that which truly separates and distracts us from God.

Tonight we remember.
that Lent is a time to stand up.
A time to
remove all yokes of injustice,
disrupt prejudice and systems of oppression,
feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
visit the sick and the imprisoned
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.
A time to:
raise the foundations of many generations
repair breaches
restore the streets.
Following Jesus, we stand up in Lent.
We stand up to love.

Tonight, my friend the Rev. Shawna Bowman reminds me,
that as we begin the Lenten journey
of repenting and turning back to God
of prayer and fasting
of commemorating Jesus’ journey to death – and beyond,
we remember.
We “are all made from the same dust
That busted forth at the birthplace of creation,
And [we] belong, In life and in death,
to the one who calls [us] beloved.
[We] belong to God.”
And whatever challenges life brings
and however we may fall short,
God, who raises Jesus from the dead,
will have the final word.
And God’s word will be a word of
love and
life and
hope and
joy.

Tonight we remember.
Thanks be to God.

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Filed under Easter, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Lent

Lent 2017, day 28

lenten-reflections-on-the-confession-of-belhar“Today, as you walk this Lenten journey, pay attention to the daily news and social media. Pay attention to testimony that we human beings still engage in partiality. The hash tags #blacklivesmatter and #blackgirlmagic emerged as a protest against partiality based on race, gender, and other aspects of human incarnation. Yes, it’s still true: everybody does it, even Christians. Our worship services are still segregated, as are our social lives. But, our brother James and our South African siblings call to us: ‘Repent.’ We must hear them, and we must stand in solidarity against discrimination. To do less undermines the credibility of the gospel. To do less violates the royal law. To do less, sisters and brothers, is sin.”
Margaret Aymer
Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar

This Lenten season I am using a new resource to explore the Belhar Confession: Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar, edited by Kerri N. Allen and Donald K. McKim. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in which I serve as a teaching elder (pastor), added the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions in 2016. This confession came from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church during its historic struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Books, Lent, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Let me be … a tree

Worship at a recent staff retreat included the poem “More Beautiful than the Honey Locust Trees Are the Words of the Lord” by Mary Oliver. This poem appears in her book Thirst.

It explores themes of worship and nature and church and creation. Filled with rich, surprising images, the words and structure give much to ponder.

Tree 2One sentence jumped out at me as I read it. It stays with me:

Instead I went back to the woods where not a single tree turned its face away.

And I wonder. When have I turned my face away? Who are the people, my brothers and sisters, from whom I have turned my face away? Why have I turned my face away? What does it say about me that I turn my face away? How can I learn to be like a tree and not turn my face away?

And I wonder. When has the church turned its face away? When have members of a congregation, some, a few, many, all, turned their faces away? Who are the people, God’s beloved children, from whom the church and congregations turn away? What does it say about the church, about a congregation, that faces turn away? How can the church learn to be like a tree? How can a congregation learn to be like the woods?

I know, to my sorrow and shame, I know some of the times I have turned my face away. I know some of the people from whom I have turned away. I understand in some situations; in others it is not so clear why I turned away. I know some of the times that the church, and members of a congregation, have turned away.

But I don’t know all the times.

So I pray that I may be aware of my face and never turn my face away from my sisters and brothers; that I may have the grace to know when I turn my face away, because I will; that when I turn my face away, I may have the courage to repent and turn my face back to my brothers and sisters.

So I pray that I may be aware of when the church turns its face away; that I may be aware of when a congregation turns its face away; that I may have the grace and courage to work with the church and with congregations to repent and turn ts face back to my brothers and sisters.

So I pray let us be the woods let me be a tree. Amen.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Poem, Worship