I once heard about a self-professed, unashamed atheist named Fred who regularly attended worship services. Someone finally got up the nerve to ask him about it one Sunday after worship. “Fred, we all know that you are not a believer in God, and we can’t help but wonder why you bother coming to church? We are glad you are here, but it can’t help but give us pause to wonder.”
Fred smiled and pointed to a man standing on the other side of the sanctuary. Then he said, “Do you see Mr. Simon over there? He comes to worship every week to talk to God. I come to worship every week to talk to Mr. Simon!”
As a pastor I certainly hope people come to church to talk with God. But I also hope people come to church to connect with one another. Building friendships and relationships – being a ‘one another’ kind of church – is a crucial part of a healthy faith. And it is one of the very reasons that I continue to believe the message that Christ is the hope of the world.
Over and over in the New Testament, we are reminded of what it means to be a ‘one another’ kind of people:
- “Love one another” (St. John 13:24)
- “Accept one another” (Romans 15:7)
- “Serve one another” (Galatians 5:13)
- “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “Encourage one another” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
But what does that really look like? This coming Sunday, as we come to the table of Christ for Holy Communion, we will be reminded in a powerful way that at this table where God’s children are welcome, we participate in a meal that embodies what it means to be a church for ‘one another’ as we gather as the family of God to remember and celebrate the embodiment of God we experience in Jesus Christ. This will be a time when I will also share the concluding sermon – “We Are Called To Be A ‘One Another’ Kind of Church” – in my current series.
March 6 at 7:00 p.m. is our annual Ash Wednesday worship service. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the penitential season of Lent. It is also identified by the ancient, historic church as “The Day of Ashes.” The reference to ashes comes from the sacred observance of placing ashes on the forehead in the shape of the cross using the burnt branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. This holy ritual was introduced by Pope Gregory I, who was Bishop of Rome from to 590 C.E. to 604 C.E. It was later enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom by the Synod of Benevento in 1091 C.E.
Think of it like this: Gardeners know that ashes can be used to help grow plants. But other than that, ashes are basically worthless. In fact, they are often less than worthless – they can be a hindrance and a liability. You can’t make ashes pretty. Ashes are just ashes. And so it is with us – people are just people.
So why do we bother smearing ashes on our foreheads one night of the year? Why do we gather and remember what we are on Ash Wednesday?
The answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, more importantly, we also gather to remember who God is – and what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ. Thus, Ash Wednesday is something of a “stop sign” that signals we shouldn’t rush to the glories of Easter and bypass the solemnity of all that Jesus went through in the final weeks leading up to his betrayal and crucifixion. Lent reminds us that life is not easy. It wasn’t for Jesus and it is not for us. But if we stay focused on the hope that we have in God, the light can break forth in the darkness, and life can triumph over death. Hallelujah!
I wanted to also let you know that beginning the First Sunday in Lent, March 10, I will be launching a sermon series entitled “The Great I AM!”
The Gospel According to St. John records what are known as the “seven I am statements of Jesus” – declarative testimonials attributed to Jesus during his earthly ministry that reveal clearly how Jesus understood his message and ministry.
Throughout the five Sundays of Lent, Palm Sunday, and Easter Sunday, I will consider each declaration in turn and interpret how Jesus uses vivid images that capture our imagination, revealing more about the identity of Christ and our purpose as Christ-followers.
So much of our religious emphasis today focuses on feeling more fulfilled or improving our relationship with others. While these are important and have their place in our spiritual life, I want in this new Lenten sermon series to place the emphasis as Jesus does on the place of a gracious and loving God in our lives. I hope you will bring a friend and join me for our exploration in to the “I Am” sayings of Jesus.
I sincerely hope you will observe a holy Lent with me, and I anticipate seeing you in church this Sunday. Make sure and stop by after worship and greet me at the main entrance to the sanctuary. It makes my day to see your smiling face!
P.S. Together in one special volume, selections from the best of beloved bestselling author C. S. Lewis’s classic works for readers contemplating the “grand miracle” of Jesus’s resurrection.
Preparing for Easter is a concise, handy companion for the faithful of all Christian traditions and the curious to help them deepen their knowledge and consideration of this holy season—a time of reflection as we consider Jesus’s sacrifice and his joyous rise from the dead.
Carefully curated, each selection in Preparing for Easter draws on a major theme in Lewis’s writings on the Christian life, as well as others that consider why we can have confident faith in what happened on the cross. Check it out and join with me beginning Ash Wednesday as we engage each day of Lent in a devotional reading on our journey to Good Friday. Remember: you give back to Asbury each and every time you purchase items (like this book) on smile.amazon.com.