God Meets Us Where We Are

Hello and Happy Ash Wednesday!  I hope you all had a blessed day and are ready for Lent with an open mind and heart.  Here is my reflection from tonight’s service …

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Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
March 1, 2017

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

God Meets Us Where We Are

This morning I had the opportunity to join my colleague, Greta, at the Middleboro/Lakeville train station, where her church was offering “Ashes to Go” to early morning commuters. She has done this for the past four years, setting up a table with free coffee, donuts and ashes and offering any combination of the three to anyone walking by.

I have noticed over the past several years that more and more of my colleagues are doing this. Some are doing it in lieu of traditional Ash Wednesday services and some are doing it in addition to. The idea is that people are so busy – with work, family and life in general – that rather than forcing them to carve out one specific time of their day to receive ashes, the church can go to them; meet them where they are and give them a blessing and a sign of grace.

At one point in between trains, Greta and one of her parishioners and I were commenting on the different reactions we got from people. They ranged everywhere from, “Don’t make eye contact,” to, “Oh, that’s a really nice thing that they are doing,” to, “Can I get a donut without the ashes?” to, “I’m so glad you guys are here again – ashes, please!”

One of the things we all noticed was that no one was rude to us or seemed upset that we were there. I said to Greta, “Well, maybe they would be upset if we were chasing them onto the train with ashes.” We all chuckled at the image and then the next train showed up and we got back to work.

I was pouring someone a cup of coffee when I saw two girls, probably in their mid-twenties, heading towards the train. Greta offered them ashes and one of them said, “No thanks, I’m not practicing. I would feel like an imposter accepting ashes.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Greta pick up the ashes and say, “Wait a minute, get back here!” and run over to her, explaining that she is, in no way, shape or form, an imposter; that ashes are blessing from God, available to every single one of us, no matter who we are or where we are on our journey through life.

My first thought was, “Well, I guess we are chasing people onto the train with ashes.”

But then I thought to myself, what a powerful moment I had just witnessed. Someone felt like an imposter; unworthy of the grace that is receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday and we were there – at her train station, part of her morning routine, ready to show her just how powerful and profound God’s love is.

God really has a way of working out the details sometimes, Amen?

A few hours later, I was reading through the scriptures for this evening and almost fell over as I read this passage, 2 Corinthians 6:8:

We are treated as imposters, and yet are true.

Imposters.

Do you know what I love about Ash Wednesday? Ashes are the great equalizer. It does not matter if we are rich or poor, male or female, Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Protestant, practicing or wandering, affirming or questioning, we all bear the same sign of the cross. We all humbly claim our sins before God and then boldly wear the ash of the burned palms that we once waved while shouting, “Hosanna!” Together, despite our differences, we admit our own brokenness, but also hold fast to the unchanging truth that we are true; that we are not imposters.

My prayer for you all on this Ash Wednesday, is that you not only feel proud to receive these ashes, but that you feel worthy as well.

In participating in this ancient practice of imposition, we remind ourselves of our humanity – from dust you came and to dust you shall return. But in using the palms that we once laid down for Jesus impose these ashes, we also remember that God came to us in human form; that God meets us in our humanity. This is why Jesus walked on this earth; this is what Lent is preparing us for. God came into this world in human flesh so that we can all bear witness to the life-changing reminder that where there is hatred, God’s love is more powerful, where there is darkness, God’s light shines brightly and where there is death, there is always resurrection.

In the same way that God made sure a couple of church folk were on at a train station this morning with coffee, donuts and ashes to meet somewhere where they were at on their journey, God always meets us right where we are on our journeys, as well.

And God is meeting us here tonight, as we prepare to enter this Lenten season.

So let us begin our Lenten season, receive the grace and blessing that is the sign of the cross and know that God is with us.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Ash Wednesday Altar | Water In The Desert

As I was preparing our Ash Wednesday service this year, I was really drawn to images of the living waters of baptism.  I’ve never been able to think about the confession of sin without the assurance of forgiveness and grace – and it is through those living waters that this assurance is possible.  As I prepared to impose ashes last week, I kept thinking that I wanted to bring together images of baptism and wilderness (using the wilderness because, after all, that is what Lent is all about).

I had the idea of using fabric to bring water through the desert and decided to go with it for two reasons …

1. It did the trick of combining the waters of baptism with the imagery of the wilderness.

2. I LOVED having water running through the desert, because doesn’t God always provide us with what we need?  AMEN.

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I decided not to burn all the palms to bring in a few of the dried out ones on the altar because it is such a great visual reminder of how the ashes come to be!  I was kind of wishing that I had a different vase to put them in, but it was at home and I was short on time because two hours before the service started a hose had exploded in the women’s bathroom, and water went everywhere, causing a flood into one of the classrooms.

So the vase in my office had to do.

I love how there are so many different things you can do with Ash Wednesday!  We really tried to have good quality music in the service and I think people enjoyed coming to a quiet service that was more about visual/arts/music than a long sermon.  I’m think next year I might not even preach and just let the scriptures and visual/arts/music speak (preach?) for itself!

Wearing Ashes As A Sign Of Grace

Peace to you all, friends, on this Ash Wednesday!  Here is my meditation from our service tonight.

Photo Mar 05, 8 05 03 PM

Before I left for church today I was watching the Pioneer Woman on the Food Network and she was making some sort of green bean dish. As she dumped the beans into the pot she explained that she had trimmed and washed them. “They’re not perfect, but they don’t need to be,” she said as the dish started to come together on the stove.

Now I realized she probably just said this to fill dead air time while the beans were being transferred, but for some reason I could not get that sentence out of my head.

“They’re not perfect, but they don’t need to be.”

A few weeks ago, several of us gathered for Pat 1 of our discussion on the book, Practicing Balance. During our time together, we all shared the different ways that we feel out of balance in our lives. We talked about feeling out of balance at work, at home, in our relationships and with our children. One word that seemed come up over and over again was “guilt”. People felt guilty that they worked too much, but – at the same time – not enough. People felt guilty when they spent time with their spouses because they weren’t with their children and their children because they weren’t with their spouses. People felt guilty because they didn’t take time for themselves, but then felt guilty when they did take time for themselves. We were all kind of in a lose-lose situation.

I don’t know if it is the society that we are living in or how connected we all are, but now, more than ever, people seem to feel guilty that they cannot do enough or be enough. They feel guilty that they fall short of some unrealistic standard set for them by perfectly edited magazine articles, blog posts, news reels and pinterest boards.

But that is not reality.

The reality is that we are not perfect – but we do not need to be. Because God is within us and working through us – not despite these imperfections, but through these imperfections.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day when we wear a tangible and visible reminder of our sins and imperfections.

People often look at Ash Wednesday as a “dark” day, as a day clouded by our human sins and immortality, to make public our confessions.

But I think Ash Wednesday gives us a wonderful opportunity to look in the mirror and see the beauty of what is truly there – an imperfect human being, touched by the grace of God. The ashes that we wear do not symbolize some sort of punishment; rather they symbolize an awareness that God will continue working through us and through our imperfections no matter what.

This is grace alive in one of the most spectacular ways.

One of the greatest musicals I have ever seen on Broadway is The Lion King. The song, “He Lives In You” is performed at a point in the musical when Mufasa, Simba’s father, is trying to show him that he will never be alone. Through this song, Simba sees that the spirit of his father and of all the Kings who came before him will always be within him.

In a way that only music can, this song reminded me that God is within us always. God lives within us. God gives us strength when we are weak, love when we feel hate and grace when we stumble. God does not make us perfect; rather God uses our imperfections in a way that only God can.

Before we receive our ashes this evening, I invite you to hear the song, “He Lives In You.”