Monday, February 22, 2016

Psalm 27 - Finding God's Strength

Some Monday mornings I wake up and the world seems too big. There is too much to do, too much that will never be done. There are too many things outside of my control. It seems I can never be the person I long to be. It seems that I will never be the pastor I wish I could be. I may not have evildoers assailing me or adversaries or foes, but I do sometimes feel surrounded, overwhelmed, there is a host encamped against me, in a not so literal way.

When I wake up on a Monday morning, in the wake of a busy Sunday, I ask of the Lord just one thing, one things I seek after, that is to live in the house of the Lord, rest content in the presence of my God, knowing that my God is my shelter, my rock and my refuge. Even when the world around seeks to overwhelm and drown me, find myself in sheltering, protection of my God.

I seek the face of the Lord, I cry out to my God and I am heard. I find shelter and strength. Here in God’s presence I am able to learn, to be lead. I learn what it means to follow the Lord God, I learn what it means to rely on God’s strength.

Each time I find myself here, I know better what it means to live in the house of the Lord, what it means to sit under the instruction of my savior. I can face my troubles, I can confront my fears and I know that my God is with me, beside me all along the way. I am comforted and I am strengthened.

The world around me does not disappear, concerns I feel do not go away, the troubles I face to not melt before my eyes, but with God it is manageable, I can make it through this day. I can make it through this week. I will not fear, I will not die, I will live! I live in the house of my God, surrounded by God’s strength, on which I will rely even as my own fails.

I am sure we all have mornings that are hard to face; weeks that loom before us unsurmountable. There is too much! The hurts we are to carry are too big. And that is when we can hear the Psalmist say to us, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Getting Dirty - a post Ash Wednesday Reflection

Yesterday, morning I burned the palm crosses from last Palm Sunday.  I put a metal can in the middle of my stove and lit two or three of them and quickly dropped them in the can.  As I watched them burn I attempted to pray solemnly over them while at the same time keeping a close eye on them to be sure I did not catch my kitchen on fire.  I have to admit that my concern for my safety and the fear of fire (Top News this evening: Pastor burns down house making Ashes for Ash Wednesday) distracted me more than I would like.  Once the small flame had burnt itself out I set about crushing all the ashes, putting them in a small round dish and using my the pestle us usually use grind spices to pulverize the dark ashes and then carefully siphoning them into the small container I use to distribute the Ashes during the service.

When I was finished, screwed the lid on the small container and placed it carefully in my pocket so I could not forget to bring it with me to the service.  I took the can and threw it out and then I cleaned up the top of the stove, surprised at how little of a mess I had managed to make.  Then I took the pestle over to the sink to rinse it off and was struck my my hands.  My hands were black.  The dark sooty ash was all over my hands, under my finger nails and in the creases of my finger prints.  I scrubbed my hands and nails but I could still see the remnants of the ash up under my nails hours later.  As I went about my day the image of my hands covered in the soot from my Ash Wednesday ashes stuck with me.  The image floated around my mind trying to find a place to rest.  I went about my day, working on my sermon and preparing for the service my daily routine.

Then there was the service, in all its solemnity.  As we were singing the final song, I looked down at my right hand . . . ashes.  Ashes on my thumb forefinger and ring finger.  Sooty, dirty.  As I shook hands and spoke with people at the conclusion of the service, I was conscious of what I touched, who I touched.  I did not want to get them dirty.

Dirty.  I had just said that.  "Remember you are Dust and to Dust you will return" Dirt is really what we are made of.  God reached into the dirt of the new creation and made humanity.  We are dirty, we are dirt.  Part of Ash Wednesday is remembering that it is the breath of God that changes us from dirt into people who bear the very image of God within them.  We are but dirt, made alive by the breath of God.

The last sentence to the imposition ritual is to say, "Repent and believe in the gospel,"  We are remembering that we are dirt, and we are also remembering our need to repent and thus remembering that without repentance we are dirty.  Ultimately it is the breath of God which changes this as well.  It is the death of Christ, that washes us clean, allows us to pure and holy.  On the cross, the climax of the journey which we begin with these Ashes, the scriptures tell us that right before he died, Christ expelled the very breath of God.  It is Christ giving up that blessing of creation which allows us to stand before God clean, no longer dirty.

So here I was at the end of Ash Wednesday, after ministering to the people of God, dirty.  Covered in the very Ash which was for them.  As I went about the work and the ministry of God, as I prepared for the service, as I touched each forehead, I had become dirty.  Some days even the most holy things we do in and among the people of God results in us getting dirty, when we walk among those who are dirt it rubs off on us, and I am sure there are times when our dirt rubs off on others.  Ministering, working, doing the will of God is dirty work, but it is also blessed work.

When I washed my hands and face that evening, I watched the soot darkened water go down the sink and I prayed (perhaps this was the prayer I could not pray while I was envisioning the parsonage burning down) for dirt, I prayed that in some small way I had relieved each one I had touched that evening of some of the dirt they carried around with them, that each smudge, that the particles of soot which still reside under my nails, has allowed one more person walk away cleaner, more holy, better able to be the person God has called them to be.  I prayed that each day I would take on the dirt of those around them unburdening them of that which keeps them from God, distorts their vision of God at work in this world, or acts as a barrier keeping them from being able to truly love God and fully live as God dreams they can.  Let me end each day, filthy, dirty, covered head to toe.