March 29, 2020
Fifth and Last Sunday in Lent
Sermon: “The Consuming Altar”
Scripture: 1 Kings 18:30-39 and Hebrews 12: 25-29.
1 Kings 18:30-39. 30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32 with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33 Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, 35 so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water. 36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”
Hebrews 12: 25-29. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Note: Some have asked why I spell G-d in that way. This practice is not new; Jewish people have done so in their own way for years. It is a daily reminder to me that His name is most holy. That I am not worthy to speak it or even spell it out. I started this practice as a Lenten devotional last year and it has stuck. (But I do not redact the way that the Bible words the text.) I am not suggesting that others follow suit. It is just a reminder to me as I prepare that my Lord is most sacred.
The people of Israel had been in the land of Canaan for awhile now. As they entered the Promised Land they had set up 12 witness stones at Gilgal. Stones that would commemorate what G-d had done for them. Stones that would memorialize their faithfulness to their children, and the generations to follow.
Joshua had been their leader for years, but now he was getting old. And he noticed that way too many of his people had started toying with the local deities. Apparently, worshipping these little deities with their fertility rites was more fun than worshipping G-d. And so, the people were violating the first Commandment.
So Joshua told the people to make a choice that day:
14 “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be pleasing to you O G-d, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In response to Joshua’s challenge, the people declared that they would put away their idols and they would serve YWHW only. And when they said that, Joshua took a large stone, and set it up in the sanctuary and,
Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” (Joshua 24: 27)
When it comes to who or what we worship, who or what we declare to be sovereign in our lives, we must make choices. Sometimes we choose well. And sometimes, we choose poorly. And sometimes we build those false altars to base and worldly things. Our Lenten journey is a time to refocus and rededicate and once again announce our choice to serve the Lord. Especially this hard Lent we are living through. I do not think that the Lord sent this pestilence among us. But I sure think G-d will use it to sharply refocus our priorities.
Because too often, we get off in a mess. We get sidetracked. And we look for a less consuming, a less demanding G-d to serve. We remember that while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, Aaron and the people stayed behind. And like children left alone too long, they began to misbehave. They began to look away from the smoking, scary mountain where G-d was sovereign. They looked for a more manageable god. A tamer god. And they pooled together their gold and Aaron, the priest who was supposed to be babysitting these wild Hebrew people, made an image of a calf. Not a bull, not a powerful ram, not some mythical looking creature to frighten the children.
But a calf.
A little god that could be led around on a rope.
And for this insignificant idol, Aaron built an altar and offered sacrifices. When Moses came back and confronted Aaron, Aaron said “Well Moses, the people wanted a god, so we got all of the gold together, melted it in the fire, and out came this calf”. Just popped out of the fire. That is what Aaron said. (You can’t make this stuff up).
And G-d punished the people. And it wasn’t the last time the people went after idols. Solomon’s son Rehoboam did the same thing in the Northern Kingdom after the split of Israel. He built a new capital at Shechem, built a new temple and he fashioned 2 golden calves, once again making livestock into gods.
Once again trying for a tamer and less demanding god. A god that would stay put. A god that asked nothing of us. A god that did not require changed hearts and changed lives. I doubt that it was by coincidence that Shechem, where Jeroboam crafted his little cow gods was the same place where Joshua, years and years before, had told the people that they had to make a choice.
It was the same place where Joshua had challenged the people to renew their covenant with G-d.
It was the same place where the people cried out, “We will serve the Lord”.
And it was the same place where Joshua had placed a stone to witness to the covenant they had with G-d. And in that place where the witness stone had stood, in that place of renewal, the Northern Kingdom chose to deny G-d and worship idols.
We are also called to choose who or what we worship. We are way past the golden farm animal thing, but the temptations are just as deadly. Jesus said this,
24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Let us not make a mistake here. Money is not the issue. Wealth is not the problem. The issue, the problem, is how we treat money. It is the same problem for those who seek celebrity, status and those other works of the flesh Paul wrote about in Galatians.
Today’s Old Testament lesson is about Elijah, one of my favorite characters of the Old Testament. And indeed, he was a character. The context of our reading today is that Elijah met up with King Ahab. Ahab of that Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ahab who married evil Jezebel. Ahab who allowed and maybe even encouraged the worship of Baal. And in the 17th chapter of First Kings, the Prophet Elijah bursts onto the scene and Ahab’s life took a decided turn for the worse. So Elijah sets up this little challenge with the Baal priests.
He tells them, you build your altar to Baal. You set the wood. You put the sacrifice on it and then call for your god to light the fire. And Elijah would build an altar to G-d. Let’s see who serves a real G-d and who is just toying around with worthless idols. And the people of Israel assembled at Mt. Carmel for the face off.
“21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word.”
He is saying, as did Joshua so long ago, it is time to make a choice. And so the Baal priests built their altar, set the wood and the sacrifice and then called on Baal to light the fire. Nothing happened. 450 frenzied Baal priests marched around this altar, yelled for Baal, mutilated themselves with knives, and nothing happened. Of course, Elijah taunted them.
27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
29 As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
Then it was Elijah’s turn, and there would be no mistake about G-d’s presence or his power. Elijah repaired and built the altar to the Lord, using 12 stones for the 12 tribes of Israel, just as Joshua had done so many years before. 12 tribes from G-d’s covenant of blessing. 12 tribes which, in varying degrees, had forgotten the vows made when they crossed the Jordan River.
Then water was poured over the altar three times. With Christian eyes, we would see a Trinitarian baptism in the name of G-d the Father, his Son and the Holy Spirit.
And when Elijah called out, there was a voice, there was an answer and there was a response.
The sacrifice was completely consumed by fire, even the very stones themselves. Those stones that witnessed for the entirety of Israel became part of the sacrifice. And the Scripture says that the people who witnessed this sacrifice confessed that that the Lord is indeed G-d.
The G-d who can’t be tamed. The G-d we don’t lead around on a rope. The G-d who has expectations of us and the G-d who expects us to behave.
The G-d who is a consuming fire wanting to be part of every aspect of our lives, wanting our devotion and requiring our obedience.
Our scripture from the letter to the Hebrews tells us of a G-d who speaks to us from the prophets of earth and from the heights of Zion, shaking heaven and earth so that his kingdom will be established. And this kingdom we receive by G-d’s grace won’t be shaken, it will not be dismissed and it will not be replaced by the little idols laying around and causing mischief far beyond their importance. And the witness stone that has been set up in heaven for this Kingdom, the witness stone of G-d’s love for us, the witness stone of our salvation is the cross of Jesus Christ.
And so, with the people of the New Testament, the followers of the Way, we are called to choose.
And when we choose G-d.
When we choose to follow Christ, we set up our own witness stone.
Our baptism is our witness stone.
Our confirmation is our witness stone, our service to G-d and neighbor is our witness stone.
Our worship offered to a Triune G-d is the witness stone we set up to tell the world what choice we have made, who we are and whose we are.
Friends, we serve a consuming G-d who gives much and expects much.
G-d is not done with telling us it is time to make a choice.
And when we do make that choice, when we are born that second time, when our lives are sanctified and changed by G-d’s amazing grace, that is when the Kingdom of G-d draws near to us.
Like those witness stones in Elijah’s altar, we just might be consumed by G-d’s love.
His grace will overwhelm us.
Our joy will have no bounds.
And as we are consumed by G-d’s love at the altar he has built in us, our focus on the cross;
our focus is on serving others.
We are refined.
The chaff of our sin is burned away.
And we are purified and made right in the sight of our G-d.
To G-d be the glory. Amen.
March 22, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Lent
“The Restoring Altar”
Scriptures: Ezra 3:1-6 and 1 Peter 5:8-11
Introduction to “The Altar Builders” Lenten sermon series. In the ancient days, as our forefathers in faith encountered G-d, they would stop all they were doing, halt their journey, and build an altar to the Lord. In this Lenten series, we have explored the kinds of altars G-d is building in us as we journey through Lent. And so, Ash Wednesday was about “An Acceptable Altar”, responsive to 2 Corinthians 6:1 “As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” Then, on the first Sunday of Lent, March 1, was a warning about “False Altars” as we considered the false altars laid before us by the world. On March the 8th was “The Providential Altar” was about not worrying, that G-d provides what we need. On March 15, “The Costly Altar” was about how building our altar is not easy and the materials are not cheap. Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered us a word and costly grace. And now comes:
The Restoring Altar
Ezra 3:1-6. 1 When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem. 2 Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the G-d of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of G-d. 3 Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices. 4 Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. 5 After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred festivals of the Lord, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the Lord. 6 On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, though the foundation of the Lord’s temple had not yet been laid.
1 Peter 5:8-11. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the G-d of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O G-d, our Rock, our Foundation, our Redeemer.
Last week, we left King David just as he had built an altar on a threshing floor. He built on land he had paid for. He had refused to accept the land for no price. He would not offer a sacrifice to G-d that had cost him nothing. So the place where oxen had tread the grain became holy ground. It was in the same area where Abraham had built his 4th altar that he named “G-d will provide”. It was where Solomon would later build the temple of Jerusalem.
The foundation stones of the temple were massive.
“1 Kings 5:17-18. At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple.”
In my studies, I don’t find that Solomon ever rebuilt or even added to David’s altar when the temple was constructed. Apparently, the altar also had a good foundation, as did the temple. But in 586 BCE the armies of Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city and he burned the temple that Solomon had built. The army breached the walls, looted the city and captured its people. According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, the temple of Solomon had stood for 476 years, 6 months and 10 days and then it was destroyed.
The altar David had built was knocked down. Josephus says that the city was destroyed right down to its very foundations. As the armies marched away, they left only rubble in their wake. The people who were not killed or carried off would live there among the wreckage. In my mind’s eye, I can see the people of this broken Jerusalem walking among the ruins of their city. They would go to what was left of the temple and weep. They would see the scattered stones that once were the altar where they worshiped, and they would feel defeated.
But would they see only what was broken and fail to notice that the mighty foundations of the altar were still there? That where there is a foundation, there could be a hope of rebuilding.
I believe that some of the most important altars we re-build, day by day; prayer by prayer are our own lives. We live, we love, we are showered with G-d’s grace; we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are born again, and we are walking that path of sanctification, and then sometimes things can go all wrong. In our lives, we sometimes get broken. Life works us over. Sometimes, we make bad decisions and suffer the consequences. Those whom we love pass away or sometimes they just leave. Our health can fail or we can wind up caring for someone who is sick. Economic setbacks and pandemics shake us. Jobs and careers can suffer and we can find ourselves suddenly insecure. The altar that is our life, that has been blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, that has been consecrated to G-d, gets knocked down and trampled on.
And we just don’t know if we can ever worship G-d again with this broken altar. But take heart. In our Old Testament lesson, the exiles finally returned to Jerusalem. It had been about 50 years, or around two generations before the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians who then ended the exile. King Cyrus issued his decree that the exiles could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. A priest named Joshua was one of the people who led the exiles home. So, they came back to Jerusalem and their towns and found devastation. Some of them probably wondered why they had even left Babylon in the 1st place. Some of them probably thought about just turning around and heading back.
But instead, they went to work.
You notice that Cyrus allowed the people to go home with the purpose of rebuilding the temple. But what the people did first was to rebuild their altar to G-d. Why was that? I can only guess. But the main purpose of the temple itself was to house the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was the place where only the high priest could enter, and then only on certain days. This temple was not as much a place of worship as it was a place of refuge for the priests and storage for an Ark that was now lost. The grand temple was a symbol of the faith, but not the center of their faith.
The center of their faith was the altar. That’s where the people came to worship. Where they came to sacrifice. Where they came to sing praises. Where they came with their offerings to G-d. So, on that foundation, they rebuilt the altar and began to worship G-d.
That foundation had been waiting. That foundation that was still strong. That foundation that was more than sufficient for the people to build on.
Sometimes, we have to rebuild. We have to assess the foundations of our own faith and see if they will bear the weight of rebuilding. We have to see if those foundations are firm. We have to check and make sure that the rock stands solid.
And if our foundations of faith were built on prayer and devotion.
If our foundations were laid on the bedrock of Scripture.
If our foundations are anchored in service to Lord Jesus Christ,
Then they will hold.
No matter that our altar has been knocked down and its stones scattered. No matter if our temple was burned. If our foundation is intact, then we can rebuild.
Sometimes we need a little help. For the people of Israel, coming back and rebuilding on the old foundation was a community activity. It was the work of the people, helping each other. It wasn’t a job they hired out. It wasn’t some mail order, build to suit project. It was a work they did together. It was hands on, get your hands dirty, make your back ache, kind of work. It was a redemptive work in their lives, that frankly, as a people, as a church, as individuals, they all had to do it themselves.
Except one important thing. We trust G-d to do the heavy lifting. We know that G-d has a set of plans for us. We believe that G-d is with us every step of the way, picking us up when we fall, giving us rest and nourishment as we labor. And if we have this belief, if we gain this confidence, if we let go and let G-d, if we let our friends in the faith lend a hand, then this restoration of our altar will be a redemptive act in our lives too. Our faith will be stronger than ever before. Our confidence in the power of G-d and what he will do in our lives will restore our altar even better than it was before.
I know it isn’t easy to rebuild, even on a good foundation. But Jesus had a word for us.
“Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.” (Luke 6:46-49)
For various reasons, not everyone will support our rebuilding projects. As the people of Israel rebuilt their temple after the exile, their neighbors schemed against them. Some, not so kindly, offered to do the project for them so they would be in control. Some out and out harassed them. Not just a few attacked them because they did not want to see a strong Israel again. And there might just be a few people who like us just as we are.
Broken, scattered and dependent.
Peter has some good advice in his letter today. He says that we should be alert. Watch out for those lions that want to devour us. Steer clear of the people who would drag us down. He says to keep our eyes on Christ, who will restore, support and strengthen and establish us.
And with these warnings. With this advice in mind, we build or re-build our altars to the Lord. Some are building their first altars. Some are working on their second or third or even more. Some are in the process of restoration and renovation in their faith. No matter which altar you are working on; it is still holy and living. Each might be different. But each is built on the same firm foundation. A good foundation built on the Rock.
When I built that first altar for the Seguin church, it was pretty rough. I did not have the right tools for that heavy stock. I didn’t draw a set of plans. I just dove into the work. Sweated through it. Burned up some blades and bits. It was a work of passion, much like our first love of G-d. Much like our time of salvation.
And so I wondered. If I built another altar, would it be the same? Would my faith and passion be rekindled? So, I set out to build a new altar table. But I knew from the start that it would be different this time. This time, I needed plans, so I scaled out the plans on drafting paper. I would use dimensional oak rather than rough stock. I would use mortise and tenon joinery instead of the lap joints I most often use. Because now I have better tools. I have much more experience. I have UTube. And I have learned a great deal from others.
And so, this altar table came together differently than the last one. But as I thought about the tabletop, I knew it could not be just a plain top. The cross in the first altar was small and silver. Embedded in a void. This cross would be large and bold. Inlayed into the top of the altar.
And as I crafted that inlay, the praise music filling the shop, the Lord touched my spirit. That inlay is of 9 pieces, and they came together just right. And so, I stopped everything, folded my hands, and I worshiped. That table was incomplete. It needed final sanding and finish. And yet, I was called to worship at an incomplete altar. And for that time, I stood on holy ground worshiping a most worthy G-d. I praised his Name. I gave thanks for the direction he had set in my life. I asked for more faith to serve him better.
Some of us might just be starting out in life; maybe we are early in our walk in faith. Or perhaps, for whatever reason, we think that our altar is too incomplete. We think it is unfinished or too rough. Maybe it is broken or even has been knocked down. Friends, still we can worship and our relationship with G-d can strengthened. Even restored.
Whether we are building a rough altar, or a more refined altar; whether our tools are sharp and adequate, or old and not the best; or we are building from our passion, or we are building from our experience, we serve a loving G-d who honors our work and then gives us more. Our altars might be rough and incomplete. Or maybe more sophisticated and better made.
Makes no difference.
We are called to worship and serve. And in that worship and in that serving we are restored. If our altars are broken, G-d will put them back on their foundations. G-d has a way of giving us what we need. He has a history of showing how we can make do with what gifts and graces we have. He has a propensity of giving us the plans to tackle the jobs that need to be done.
Whether it is literacy; health care; food insecurity; Christian education; community outreach or whatever needs doing, this church has never waited for the Bishop to point out what matters. You haven’t waited for the Superintendent to anoint your ministry. You just have seen a need, taken what was at hand and you went to work. Prayed G-d’s courage and help and got to it.
In every case, our work was begun at an incomplete altar that was made complete by the love and providence of our G-d. And we find that as we built our altars to G-d, G-d built up his people of faith.
Our altars may have been incomplete, but the cornerstone, the foundation was more than adequate to do G-d’s work. As Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Ephesus,
“Ephesians 2:19-22. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of G-d, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for G-d;”
So we check our foundations and see if the cornerstone is in place. If that cornerstone is Christ, we are in good shape. And with this cornerstone in place, we can worship at a broken altar and we can rebuild that altar. With this cornerstone in place, we can serve at an altar we think is incomplete and not yet ready. And with this cornerstone in place, we can prevail against all of the storms of life, we can survive all of the earthquakes that shake our world and we can trust that no matter what happens, our altars built to serve G-d will stand firm.
To G-d’s glory, Amen.
February 16. 2020
Spiritual Gifts Series- Mercy or Compassion
Sermon Title: “Spiritual Gifts- Compassion”
Scriptures: Colossians 3:12-17 and Matthew 9:35-38
Colossians 3:12-17. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Matthew 9:35-38. Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Let’s Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be pleasing to you O G-d, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Now, this was a sermon that that went in an unexpected direction. A sermon about compassion and mercy should be easy for this church. Should be sweet and predicable because you are such a compassionate congregation. Always willing to help others. Going the extra steps to see about folks. Showing people kindness.
Should have been an easy sermon to write. But as I set into writing and researching, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had just blown past. Almost unnoticed. Dr. King’s dreams for a better country, his message of peace and compassion; they all got lost in the mess coming out from Washington. And I got to wondering, when does compassion and mercy turn into action? When does compassion and mercy call us to be bold in our ministry?
I got to thinking about the movie, “Hidden Figures” and how just a few compassionate people could make a difference. It takes just a few people to speak up. Just a few people whose eyes are opened and then put words into action. The 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” is about the contribution of a team of African-American women to the NASA space program. For the United States to get a man into space. We were in head to head competition with the Russians. In 1957, I was too young to search the night skies to see Sputnik in orbit, but many did. And so began the space race. And we needed all the bright young minds we could find to get the job done. Trouble was, some of those bright young minds happened to be African American women who were so smart, they were human computers. So smart, they could do the complex computations it would take to get a spacecraft into orbit.
The time period was 1961 and it fell right in the middle of the national turmoil over desegregation. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to go stand in the back of a bus. The schools were desegregated by the SC in 1957, and the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 guaranteed the right to vote and was met with opposition in many parts of the nation. Against this backdrop, our country was emerging as a world leader in the space program and was on the way to the moon in 1969. There was this huge national and even world stage on which this was going on, but million upon million small stages on which lives were being played out. And upon which stage G-d was insisting that we show compassion and mercy to all his children.
It was only later that we were to hear the stories of the women in “Hidden Figures.” The story of Al Harrison as he was stunned by the fact that people had to walk a mile to use a bathroom because of their color. Now, did Al know about discrimination and segregation before then? Sure, he did. But until he was confronted by Kathrine Goble, segregation did not have a face. Segregation did not have a name. Segregation did not have a home. When Al saw that segregation had a face, had hopes and dreams, he became indignant and took one step to end it at NASA. He boldly took the step he could take. And with that step, one wrong was made right.
As I watched that movie clip, I wondered. Did Jesus look like that when he overturned the money lender’s tables in the temple? When he called them out and He said to them, “It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” did he have some fire in his eyes? Was his anger kindled because the witness of the temple as a house of prayer was being diminished to be just another place for the merchants?
Now, Paul wrote that As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. And I wonder, does compassion and mercy, this Spiritual Gift we consider today, always hold hands with humility, meekness and patience? Or is there a time when we must become courageous and even audacious in our compassion? Is there a time for us to speak up in our empathy for others, and as best as we can on our little stage, do what we can in the name of justice and right?
The prophet Micah wrote 6: 6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah is reminding us that there comes a time when we are called to action. To do justice and love kindness with our hands, and our feet and with our voice, walking with our G-d and seeking the good for others. When our walk turns into a march as we go to bat for folks who need an advocate. But to be an effective advocate, we first must seek to put a face to those who are suffering. Learn their names and circumstances. Recognize them as human beings. As beloved children of G-d.
When I first started practicing law in Seguin, I was appointed by the court to represent a juvenile offender. Now, I knew the law. I knew statutes. The kid was in detention for criminal trespass. Obviously guilty from the reports. So, I went to see my client. Back then, the juvenile detention was on the same floor of the jail with the adults. Just around the corner. They could hear everything. That little boy was scared to death. His crime was that he had broken into an abandoned warehouse. He was shooting pigeons with a pellet gun. Not for fun, but for food.
My heart was broken, my spirit was stirred and I was that boy’s advocate not just by appointment, but by conviction. You might be thinking, what kind of police officer would throw a kid in jail for shooting pigeons in an abandoned warehouse? The answer is a compassionate officer. I was pretty indignant when I first talked to the arresting officer. And he said, “counselor, I wanted to just take that kid home, but I found that it was not much of a home. The children had little in the way of care. The jail was the better alternative.” In our desire for justice, sometimes we run into complicated situations. Things are not as they seem to be. We must be smart as we act.
Last Sunday, we were invited to look around our towns and see what it is that breaks our hearts. And today, once our hearts are tender, we are invited to see the faces of suffering with compassion. One of the more compelling stories of the civil rights movements is that of C. P. Ellis and Ann Atwater. It was 1971 and it was North Carolina. The schools were in a mess. The old rundown school for the African American students burned down and the city leaders wanted; they needed the people to talk with each other and figure out how to desegregate the schools. Mr. Ellis owned and operated a small garage and filling station. Barely making ends meet. He had been raised in a prejudiced household and had risen through the ranks of the local KKK. His title was Exalted Cyclops of the Durham chapter. He was proud of that title. And he did not like black people. Ann Atwater was an African American woman in Durham and was active in the community. As G-d would have it they were both picked to co-chair the committee on school desegregation. And there was a ten-day community meeting to help resolve racial tensions in schools. Long story short, neither started out liking the other at all.
But as those 10 days went by and they were forced to talk with each other, and they found out that they were not so different. Ellis saw that Ann shared the same problems of poverty as his own and that their real enemies were the people who pitted people against one another and exploited the working poor.
Ellis recounted that as those 10 days went by, ‘Somethin’ was happening to me. It was almost like bein’ born again.’
Ellis, that is exactly what it was. On the final night of the community meeting, he stood at the microphone in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card. C.P. Ellis later became a famed civil rights campaigner and labor organizer for a union whose membership was seventy per cent black. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives. A movie came out last year, “Best of Enemies” that chronicles this relationship and how G-d can break down our prejudices, our prejudging selves, and show us the value of our spiritual gifts of compassion and mercy.
As the civil rights movement proves, compassion does not come easy for us at times. We do good with our friends, families and neighbors, but not so good with those we don’t know. We tend to get defensive about this, maybe ashamed and had rather talk about something else. But G-d does not let us be. G-d is not satisfied with the status quo. G-d does not want his compassion to simply remain kind words and works of mercy. G-d wants more from us.
In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus had been healing folks right and left. He had brought Jairus’ daughter back from the dead. Had healed the woman with a hemorrhage for 12 years, restored the sight of two blind men and restored the voice to one who could not speak. And then Jesus set off teaching and healing and preaching the Good News because he had compassion for people. He saw that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he told the disciples, ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. And so, Jesus gave them authority and sent them out. They went to places where they were received and a few places where they were rejected. And so, Jesus warned them. There are wolves out there. People who do harm. Jesus told them to be wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. Don’t take money. Eat what you are given. Stay where you have been welcomed. Be the shepherd that the flock needs. Be bold but be wise. Don’t just go slinking into town but go proclaiming repentance, salvation and redemption. Preach the Good News and minister to my people. Make a difference.
Friends, Jesus is still sending us out to make a difference. Sending out his laborers into the harvest. Having us use our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others.
And so, this sermon, this message was cooking. This message was writing itself. My fingers were flying across the keyboard. And I thought, I need to call Herman Harris. Herman is an old friend, an African American and he knows a thing or two about boldness and compassion and the Gospel. Yes, I’ll call Herman and invite him to church that Sunday. Then came a phone call from Mom the next day. She asked, Had I heard that Herman Harris had passed away? She had gotten a call and wanted to be sure I had heard. And I was so sad that I had not talked with Herman for way too long.
Now, you might wonder how my mom knew Herman. See, Herman was in and out of my law office for years. And he met my Mom and they talked lots of times. Herman was always kind to Mom and she liked him very much. Herman was a very good oil and gas land man and helped my clients with many projects. He was a friend for many, many years. He was one of the people who would eventually encourage my going into ministry.
And Herman was a man who lived a life of bold compassion. He defied the stereotypes of what we expect of people of color. Herman was one of the people here in Luling that helped keep the community together when the high school was integrated. He was the kind of person who mentored younger men and was not shy about telling them that they were headed down the wrong path. At his funeral, person after person came forward and said what difference Herman made in their lives.
And friends, that is what compassionate boldness will do. It makes a difference. Helps folks not just for their needs this day, but gives them direction and purpose so that the challenges of this day will not continue to be the struggles for tomorrow. And that boldness might mean that a hurtful sign might sometimes need to be knocked off the wall. Might mean that we drink from the same coffee pot. Might mean a tough love lecture for a young person who is thinking about a trip to that far country. Might mean that we speak up and speak out for those who have no voice and no status. Might mean that we serve on boards and committees that advocate for the vulnerable.
And it does mean this.
That we don’t see color, identities, status, wealth; instead we just see people. That we pray to our G-d to develop in us the spiritual gifts of compassion and mercy. And that we pray to our G-d for the courage and strength to put those gifts to work. To be bold in our ministry, compassionate in our work and speak up for folks who need a voice.
In Jesus’ name and for his sake. And the people said, Amen.
And a footnote. If you are thinking about calling an old friend you have not talked to in a while, pick up the phone and call them today.
September 8, 2019
Scriptures: Jeremiah 18:1-11, 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 and Matthew 11:28.
Jeremiah 18:1-11. The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
NIV 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength
Matthew 11:28. 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
The Prophet Jeremiah was issuing G-d’s warning to Israel. Just as a potter may choose to remake a spoiled vessel, so may G-d choose to remake a spoiled nation. A nation that has become unwise.
A nation chasing after its idols. But a nation that can avert a disaster if it repents and turns back to G-d.
September 11, 2001 seemed to be such a disaster for this country. Every one of our age remembers that time with great sadness. Two days after the terror attacks, Frank Silecchia was working to excavate the rubble at ground zero. He had been working around the clock. He was physically exhausted. He was emotionally drained. Then he saw it. It was standing upright, but at an angle. It was draped with the debris of the destruction, yet it was clearly identifiable.
There was a priest working in the wreckage. By that time Father Brian Jordan was blessing remains, offering comfort and prayer to the workers, and he was just barely hanging on. That is when Frank found him and asked him to come see. It took a minute, but then Father Brian exclaimed, “Oh my God, I see it”. Standing in the rubble was a 17 foot iron cross. It was a massive T-Beam that the explosions, the fire and the destruction had shaped into a cross.
A few days later, Father Brian enlisted the help of some volunteer union laborers, including a crane operator. Together, they lifted the cross out of the rubble and put it on a concrete stand.
Then Father Brian blessed it. And that cross became a center of worship for the people there.
For 10 months, Father Brian held Sunday services in its shadow. People would come to the cross to pray. Families of those who perished came to the cross to seek comfort. The workers often found their rest there. When people on the site were worn out with grief, they went to the cross.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
These are the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28. That is our Gospel lesson for this day. The power of God through the cross calls to us to come. To lay down our burdens. And to find God’s peace. To avert the disasters in our lives.
The World Trade Center cross was moved over to St. Peter’s church as the Memorial was built at Ground Zero. The plans for the Memorial included a central location for the cross and, of course, the atheists fought it tooth and nail.
They said it was an ugly piece of wreckage.
They said it was repugnant.
They said that it connoted horror and death.
And to some extent, what they said was true.
It was pretty much what people said 2,000 years ago when they saw a cross. It was an ugly instrument of capital punishment. It was repugnant to all but the cruelest sensibilities. Indeed the cross was associated with the horror of an ugly, prolonged death. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals, and the Romans had perfected the process. They didn’t crucify shoplifters or petty lawbreakers. But they did make a public spectacle of executing the worst criminals in order to deter others from committing crime. And so, death on a cross was a scandal for the entire family. It was a shameful way to die. It was also a symbol of the power of Rome to take a life. It was a sign of the powerlessness of a people to resist Roman law. To even consider that the crucifixion of a person could bring redemption or salvation to a people would be foolishness. It would be shocking.
And so Paul wrote that Jews demanded a sign. But not this sign.
Paul wrote that Greeks look for wisdom. But not this wisdom.
The world’s wisdom could not encompass God’s wisdom. The world’s wisdom could not explain such a sacrifice. And so, any association of redemption with the cross would be foolishness to those who look to the world for their own self-image.
To those who are perishing, the message of the cross is incomprehensible. But to those who are being saved, the message of the cross is central to our faith. It is the potter lovingly making a vessel, shaping it with his hands, bringing it to life. Reconciling the clay unto himself, just as sinners are reconciled to G-d through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. That instead of judgment and punishment for our sins, we could be forgiven and in God’s forgiveness, we can have hope and joy and comfort and peace. That we can be changed and remolded and made new.
That we could have salvation.
So Paul says, “we preach Christ crucified” as the message of the cross.
And so, all of the theology, all of the preaching, all of our praying, all of our faith can condensed down into the simple image of the cross. The image that brings to mind all that God has done for us is the cross.
The cross stands as a challenge to those who hate.
The cross denies the power of violence.
The cross confronts evil and wickedness.
The cross defies injustice.
The cross pushes back against the idols and the idolaters and the evil that G-d so despises.
Even as the cross brings to mind God’s grace at work in our lives. In Paul’s letter, he wrote that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. God’s power in Jesus to walk to Jerusalem knowing full well that the cross was waiting for him. God’s power in us to face the trials and hurts of this world. G-d’s power to save the world.
But even as we read Paul’s words separating the perishing from the saved, there is something in those words that offer hope. There is something in those words that offers redemption for those who are perishing. There is something in those words that pierces the barriers, that breaches the boundaries of our foolishness and points to the possibility of a new way of life. There is something that tells us that G-d just might not crush a spoiled pot and start over.
That “something” is G-d’s power to transform us.
It is G-d’s grace calling to us, giving us hope, pointing to Christ and marking the way to salvation. It is the invitation to all to join and sing the hymn of Philippians 2, “that Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore G-d also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of G-d the Father.”
When Father Brian, the priest who ministered at Ground Zero, was interviewed, he was asked about those who came to the cross. Father Brian said that all faiths came. Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, nonbelievers, all were drawn to the cross to seek out G-d’s peace and comfort. He said that the cross took the grief and took the loss and took the pain. The people were able to lay their burdens at the foot of the cross.
G-d’s peace and comfort that we find at the cross is not a talisman against tough times. The cross is not a good luck charm.
Rather, it symbolizes a way of life. Even of our own sacrifice.
Of our own service in the name of the crucified Savior, so that in the words of Christ, in Luke 9:23, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”
So, the way of the cross is not easy and was never meant to be. But the way of the cross is true.
And in following this way we find true joy and fulfillment.
Salvation is not just an end times alternative to judgment.
Salvation is not just our being saved from eternal death.
Salvation is a present hope and comfort in this life, offered daily.
Many of the workers at the World Trade Center were welders. Cutting apart the twisted iron.
Undoing what heat and gravity had done to the frame of those towers. I read that as they took rests, welders at the Ground Zero spent time cutting little replicas of the cross from other beams.
Hundreds were cut out and carried or set up as personal devotions, Reminders. Remembrances.
Something they could hold in their hand and seek G-d’s comfort and peace.
There is something special in holding a cross. There is something that helps us focus our prayers to our G-d.
A few years ago, my friend Ron was in my office and I had a hand cross on the table. He picked it up and held it. But it really did not fit his hand. The angles were too sharp. The size was all wrong.
So I told Ron, I would make him new one.
Some years ago, I received a hand cross on the Walk to Emmaus. It has curves that fit my hand.
It is smooth and seems warm. So I made a template and then I made a cross. Then another. And another.
Cutting, shaping, praying, sanding, staining, waxing and praying some more.
I could not stop. And I prayed, Lord G-d how many? How many crosses should I make?
The Lord’s answer was 100.
Start with 100.
So I made 100 hand crosses and started giving them to whoever asked for one. Some people got them who did not ask, but I was drawn to give one to them.
Then I started making more. We are over a 1,000 now and the inner voice that calls me is as urgent as ever. Lord G-d draws my eyes to planks of wood and I see crosses. I see the empty hands of people who are hurting and I want them to have a cross to hold. And the time I spend in my shop making the crosses has become sacred time to me.
When I wonder how many I need to make, I remember the words of my friend Andy Smith.
He said I should make them until no one needs one anymore.
So, if you want a cross, please come get one. If you know someone who needs a cross, give them one.
In 2nd Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul wrote:
“Praise be to the G-d and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the G-d of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from G-d.”
Sometimes we pray for ourselves and sometimes we pray for others. And that is good. That is right.
Paul wrote in Colossians 2:14.:
“G-d made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”
And James wrote in Chapter 5:15-16,
“15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. ”
We don’t need to hold a cross when we pray, but we must pray. For ourselves and for each other.
When the World Trade Center memorial was completed, the cross was moved back there. Despite the objections of the atheists.
Despite the lawsuit they had filed.
Despite it being an ugly piece of wreckage in some eyes.
The cross was moved back to where it needed to be at Ground Zero. Someone had put a rough plaque on the cross.
Blessed October 4, 2001.
Temporarily relocated October 5, 2006.
Will return to the WTC Museum
A sign of comfort for all.
And Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
“Because of Winn-Dixie”
July 21, 2019
Summer Reading Program Begins
Sermon Title: “Because of Winn-Dixie”
Scriptures: 1 Peter 5:5-7; Luke 11:9-10
1 Peter 5:5-7. 5 In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “G-d opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of G-d, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
Luke 11:9-10. 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Because of Winn-Dixie is about a dog and a little girl, but really it is about life. It is about asking and receiving; searching and finding; knocking and having doors open for you.
Opal is a 10 year old girl living with her dad in a trailer park in Naomi, Florida. Her dad is the new preacher at Open Arms Baptist Church. Her mom left them when Opal was 3 years old and Opal misses her so much, even though she barely remembers her mom.
The story begins at the local grocery store on a summer day. Opal is there to get a few things, and there is a ruckus as a stray dog ransacks the store. The manager was going to call the pound, but Opal claimed that the dog was hers. That it got in the store by mistake. And so she called the dog by the first name she saw. The store name. Winn-Dixie.
So, Opal took Winn-Dixie home, and told the Preacher that as he is always telling folks to help the unfortunates, she has brought one home. That big, scruffy, smelly stray dog with a smile. A suffering unfortunate. He dad said that she really did not need a dog. But she said, “I don’t need a dog. But this dog needs me.” So, the Preacher saw something that only a dad could see, and the dog found a home. And little Opal said, “And I have to admit. He stunk. Bad. He was an ugly dog, but already, I loved him with all my heart.”
And so, the book is about unconditional love and acceptance. That deep, devoted unquestioning love that only a child can have. That only a parent can have for their children. In his first letter, the Apostle John wrote, Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from G-d; everyone who loves is born of G-d and knows G-d. Whoever does not love does not know G-d, for G-d is love.
And I believe that G-d gives us pets so that we can learn how to love and therefore know G-d. Now, the thing about Winn-Dixie is that he was terrified of thunder and stormy weather. Many dogs get scared from the thunder, but Winn-Dixie went nuts and Opal and the Preacher learned to just hold him tight when the weather hit. To give him that most comfort they could.
So, the book is about our need to be comforted in the rough times.
It is about loneliness and isolation.
It is about fear and abandonment.
The fears of a little girl, her dog and all the rest of the people in the story and their need for someone to offer them comfort and friendship. To hold them during the storms of life.
As children will do, Opal talked things out with Winn-Dixie. She told him how she missed her mom. How she missed her friends in the town they had come from. And the same was true for other characters in the book. They all seemed lonely. Opal said, “Sometimes it seems that everyone in the world is lonely.”
There was Fanny Block, the librarian in the little town. Surrounded by books, but there was no one to hear her stories. That is, until Winn-Dixie and Opal showed up one day, and then the next until finally Fanny told her the story of her great grandfather. Littmus W. Block. A civil war veteran who, after the war was over, decided that the world needed some something sweet. So, he built a candy factory and the Littmus Lozenge tasted a little like root beer, some strawberries and something else. Something a little sad. Fanny said that Littmus had a special ingredient that took all the sadness from the war, mixed it into the candy, so that people could taste the sweet and the sad of life, all blended together. And in that tasting, they could find peace.
And from scripture, Romans 8, We know that all things work together for good for those who love G-d, who are called according to his purpose.
The good and the bad, the sweet and the sad, all shape us and make our lives what they are.
And there was Gloria Dump. She lived alone in a spooky looking house with an overgrown yard. The Dewberry boys from down the street were about the same age as Opal, but they had no idea how to talk to a girl. So they teased her and taunted her a bit. Those Dewberry boys had declared that Gloria must be a witch and that Opal should not even go near her house. That Gloria would even eat her dog if she got a chance. But Winn-Dixie took off into her yard, and Opal followed. And deep in that grown over yard, she found Gloria feeding Winn-Dixie a peanut butter sandwich.
Gloria was full of wisdom. Full of patience. And full of love. And every day, Opal and Winn-Dixie visited with Gloria. And Gloria would teach her about getting along with others. Not judging others about what they had done but trying to appreciate who they are now. Trying to understand them.
And Gloria listened.
And one day Opal thought, “Because Winn-Dixie was looking up at her like she was the best thing he had ever seen, and because the peanut butter sandwich had been so good, and because I had been waiting so long to tell someone everything about me, I did”
And here is the part I like. Opal said “I could feel her listening with all her heart and it felt good.”
Friends, there is no better gift we can give than to listen to people with all our heart. To give them our undivided attention and hear their stories. St. Peter wrote in his first letter, 4th chapter, Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of G-d, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
Listening to people tell their stories is an act of love.
Listening is a grace.
Listening is a gift.
We might mess up a lot of things. We might have a bit of sin in our lives. But love and G-d’s grace will cover over a multitude of the things we do wrong.
Sometimes listening is hard. Stories get repeated. Real or imagined grievances get aired again and again. Hurts are replayed. Anger can surface and then dissipate. And we are called to listen to all of that.
And so, Paul would write to the church in Ephesus, Chapter 4, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
And Paul also wrote to the church to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as G-d in Christ has forgiven you.
And Paul also wrote to the church in Corinth, 13th chapter, that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And Paul wrote to the church in Colossi in the 3rd chapter, Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
And so, we might discern a trend here as Paul writes to his churches to tell them to bear with each other. Because apparently, the churches were not doing a great job of that and were not listening to each other very well. And so, Paul had to fuss at each one of his churches to do a better job of listening with their whole heart; forgiving each other and bearing with each other in love. And across the centuries, the church today needs to sharpen up our listening skills so that folks will say, “I could feel her listening with all her heart and it felt good.”
And once it was clear between Gloria and Opal that theirs was a trusted conversation, a conversation of the heart, then Gloria shared a bit of her story. Gloria showed Opal her “Mistake tree”. A tree with bottles hung from the branches. They were not soda bottles. The tree reminded Gloria each day how she had to fight her battle and that story hit home with Opal. Because her mom had also struggled with alcohol and had made some mistakes in her life. At some point, Opal wondered who held and comforted Gloria when the ghosts of those bottles began to rattle in the wind. Opal could hold Winn-Dixie as the storms thundered, but who held Gloria?
But, let’s move on to Otis. Otis was the manager of the pet store where Opal went to get Winn-Dixie a collar and lease. So that he wouldn’t look like a stray. Opal did not have enough money, so she asked Otis if she could work it off at the store. Otis was worried about having a big dog in the store. In fact, there was a sign on the door. “No Dogs Allowed”. But Winn-Dixie won his heart with that smile, and Opal had a job. But there was a loneliness about Otis. A sort of caged look, and eventually he confided to Opal that he had been in jail. That was why he let the animals out of their cages and played his guitar for them in the mornings.
And the cast of characters includes little Amanda Wilkinson. She was described by Opal as “Pinch faced”. But later Opal would learn that her scowl was a mask for her pain from the death of her little brother. That she too needed a friend.
Finally, there was the Preacher. We never learn his real name. Opal just thinks of him as the Preacher. He is still missing his wife. Hoping that she would come back. But knowing that she likely would not. Opal described her dad as being like a turtle. His head drawn back into a shell. Afraid to come out and experience life.
And so, it was because of Winn-Dixie, who, in one way or another, brought these people together. Out of their loneliness and into fellowship. Out of their anxiety into peace and contentment. First with Opal and the dog, and then with each other. See, Winn-Dixie would not stay by himself. He would not let that little girl out of his sight. He howled and clamored and threw a fuss, and so that is how Winn-Dixie started going to church. And to the library. And to the pet store. Over to Gloria’s house. And everywhere in town, sharing his goofy dog smile and bringing people together. And so, Opal was to say to Winn-Dixie, “You are better at making friends than anybody I have ever known.”
And so, you might be wondering if the story of Winn-Dixie has a plot. Is there a mystery that has been solved? Is there an ending where Opal’s mom comes back and they lived happy ever after? And there is no such ending. Instead, Opal and Gloria planned a party at Gloria’s house. The guests are those Winn-Dixie who has brought together. Gloria made egg salad sandwiches and punch. Fanny brought a bowl of Littmus Lozenges. Otis brought his guitar and they found out that he could play any tune and sing any song. The preacher came to bless and be blessed. Amanda came and no longer looked pinch faced. The boys came and they were no longer teasing or taunting.
The only drama was that a sudden storm came up and Opal thought that Winn-Dixie had run off. So, she and the Preacher went searching all over town. And when the Preacher finally said that they had done all the searching and calling they could and it was time to go back, Opal’s little heart broke. She cried out to her dad, not to give up like he gave up on mom. “I bet you just let her run off too.” Opal said. Then the Preacher cried, and they shared such a tender moment. Opal asked her dad if he ever thought mom would come back and the Preacher confessed, finally admitted, that she likely would not. But that they had each other in this sweet/ sad thing called life, and that would be enough. That their love would get them through.
But this is a children’s book. Opal and the Preacher went back to Gloria’s house and Winn-Dixie had been hiding under a bed. So, the party continued inside. And they sang songs together. The Preacher offered some hymns they might sing and that Otis could play.
And after a while, little Opal slipped out back to that mistake tree. In her imagination, she talked to her mom. Shared what had happened. Vowed to learn more about her mom. To keep loving her. But she knew her mom was not coming back, and that she and the Preacher would continue to miss her. But she told her mom. “my heart does not feel empty anymore. It’s full all the way up.”
When we open ourselves to others and listen to their stories. Trust them enough to tell them our stories. When we stop judging and start accepting others and understand that they each have their own gifts and graces. When we learn how to take the sweet and the sad. When we learn how to love.
Our hearts get full all the way up.
Not because of Winn-Dixie, but because of Jesus Christ.
Who loves us without condition. Who turns our anxiety into peace. Who holds us and comforts us in the storms. Who listens with his whole heart. And who accepts us just as we are, but with a divine intent that we will become better.
I hope that you take a minute to read Because of Winn-Dixie. There is much more than I was able to share. More wisdom from Gloria. More love from that little girl. And more to read about that doggie, Winn-Dixie. Friends, wisdom comes from the strangest places. Even from the pages of a children’s book.
To G-d be the glory.
Sunrise Service at William Taylor UMC
“The Message of the Cross”
Pastor Bill Knobles as guest preacher
Scriptures: Luke 24:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
1 Corinthians 1:18-25. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of G-d. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not G-d made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of G-d, the world did not know G-d through wisdom, G-d decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of G-d and the wisdom of G-d. For G-d’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and G-d’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women were the early witnesses to the Resurrection according to Luke’s gospel. They came to the tomb early that morning with the spices and ointments they had prepared for Jesus’ body. As a final act of devotion, they would do for him what tradition required. Even though he had died a scandalous death by crucifixion, his body would be treated with respect and love. So, they had prepared the spices and had prepared themselves for what they would find.
But they were not prepared to find an empty tomb.
They were not prepared to find the stone rolled away.
And they were not prepared to find angels saying, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
And so, they went from being perplexed to being terrified. From being sure that Jesus was dead to trying to figure out what had happened.
Now Peter might have said that the tale was foolish; an idle tale. And he might have thought that the women were delirious, but he got up from his grief. He got up from his shame. He got up from his guilt and he ran to the tomb. And he was amazed at what he found.
And so, we add “amazement” to the list of what they were feeling early that morning.
Perplexed, puzzled, confused, confounded. Then frightened and terrified. And then amazed.
And friends, people receive the message of the cross the same way today. Puzzled, then frightened and then, by grace, amazed. Puzzled because the wisdom of the world says that the story of the cross is foolishness. Frightened because the reality of our sin is terrifying. Amazed because G-d would even consider saving his sinful creatures from judgment.
And so, they look for signs and seek after wisdom. They search after fulfillment and pursue the treasures of this world. And in the end, unless they understand the message of the cross, they will come away empty. Their pursuits wasted.
One thing we might wonder about that first Easter morning was whether the women had wasted the spices they had prepared. Did they waste their money and resources in purchasing the aloes and the myrrh or even the nard used to prepare a body for burial? These items were not cheap, and you opened the containers by breaking them. The contents could not be saved. So, was their preparation wasted? I think not. Because the preparation was a time of devotion. The preparation was a time to consider and think and to pray and to grieve and then to settle into the task that lay ahead.
And G-d honors such devotion. G-d values our intentions. And G-d uses such a task to focus us, orientate us and consecrate us to do his work. As those women prepared the spices, G-d prepared their hearts to receive a message that would otherwise have been foolishness to them.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of G-d.
And so, it is good and right on this Easter morning to seek understanding of the message of the cross. To prepare ourselves to help others seek that understanding. And to reject the world’s definition of wisdom. But we start with a scandal. Crucifixion was a scandal. The cross was an ugly instrument of capital punishment. It was a symbol of the power of Rome to take a life. It was a sign of the powerlessness of a people to resist Roman law. And it was repugnant to all but the cruelest sensibilities. Indeed, the cross was associated with the horror of an ugly, prolonged death. And it was reserved only for the worst of the criminals and done in a way to humiliate the family and friends of the victim.
People of faith did not wind up on a cross. The religious leaders did not wind up on a cross. And it was foolishness to even suggest that G-d would use such a scandal to redeem his people from their sin.
Foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews.
And so, Paul would write that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of G-d.
Paul presents us with these opposing positions between what the world accounts as wisdom and what G-d tells us is truth.
The power of G-d vs. the power of sin.
The power of reconciliation vs. the cancer of division.
The power of justification vs. the ugliness of condemnation.
The power of hope vs. the agony of despair.
The power of love vs. the sickness of hate.
Each of these dynamic, important and lifechanging alternatives wrapped up in the single most powerful proclamation we make.
That we proclaim Christ crucified. That we proclaim the cross is more powerful than our sin. That we proclaim our faith is more powerful that what the world tells us is important.
And which Paul says is the message of the cross. A message so powerful that it separates those of us who are being saved from those who are perishing.
So, what is the wisdom that the world offers? What is the wisdom of the wise? The discernment of the discerning? What are people running after in their fear and their puzzlement?
Some folks listen to the Hollywood celebrities and the New York power brokers to know what to seek and adore. And they tell us that it is ok to cheat on college admissions. That if you have money, it is justified to spread a little around so that your child is a step ahead of the kid who has worked and earned that slot in school.
They tell us that wealth is power. That might makes right. That status is all important. The world tells us that we should idolize celebrities, worship athletes and pay homage to the royally born. The world tells us that it is ok, even more than ok, to claw your way up and use people as your stepping stones.
That world of wisdom puts us in debt. It stretches us beyond our means.
It comes between us and our church. Even between us and our families as we sacrifice for a bunch of stuff that is just going to break anyway.
And, Oh the wisdom the world has for our children. That it is ok to bully.
It is ok to use mean words on social media. That to be popular, you have to dress a certain way, be with certain people or do certain things. And when it all goes bad, some wisdom that is offered by the world to our children is to just take their own lives.
And when we speak out, the world tells us that we ought to keep silent about our faith because we just might offend those with no faith. This is just a bit of the wisdom the world offers. This is what the world wants us to believe.
And when we say that idolatry, infanticide, pride, cheating, coveting, and hating and snarking and judging and mocking and hurting are wrong, we are called foolish. We are called out of touch and old fashioned. We don’t know how things are and how things are done.
Because the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of G-d.
It is the power to redeem.
The power to save.
The power to heal.
The power to love
And it is the power to live.
Not just to exist and chase the worldly pursuits, but to have life and have it abundantly and joyfully.
The message of the cross, the heart of the Gospel, the meaning of the empty tomb, is that G-d loves us so much that he gave his one and only beloved son to die so that we might be saved. The message of the cross stands opposed to the message of the world. And the message of the cross is the only answer to our sin and our way to redemption.
When I read my Bible, I am mindful that it takes only 3 chapters before we get into the business of sin and rebellion against G-d. Actually just 2 chapters and then half of a paragraph. And we fall from G-d’s grace. Sin enters this world. And we are evicted from paradise.
And then in Chapter 4, actually it is only the 2nd paragraph of chapter 4, humankind gets into the murdering business as Cain kills his brother Able.
And so, we have our Bible, that from the very start until the final victory in Revelation, is the epic story of G-d trying to get his kids back. Trying to redeem his sinful, foolish children who had much rather look to the world’s wisdom and our own devices for salvation.
So first, G-d calls his people Israel as a sign of his grace in the fallen world and claims them as his people. He rescues them time and time again. He gives them his law and his love. He gives them land and prosperity. And eventually, they become just as foolish as ever. And so, Lord G-d announces through his prophets that he is coming down here to get his kids back. That he is going to make a way of redemption for them. And that he was going to do so in a way that would never be forgotten. A way that was so shocking that people would know of a love so big, grace so divine, that we would confess our sins, repent and submit to G-d’s will.
And so, the message of the Cross is that Christ died for our sin. Taking our stripes. Restoring our relationship with G-d.
The image of that Old Rugged Cross is a sign of what G-d has done to rescue us once and for all, at least those who are being saved because we have faith in our G-d. Some folks might say to us that the message of the cross is not as enticing as what the world offers. That the empty tomb is not as compelling as a full bank account. That faith is not as fulfilling, not as certain, as the material things the world gives. That we will never sell the message of the cross in today’s world.
And to that I say, “baloney”. I say that is truly foolishness. Because I have sat with those families who thought they had it all, only to find out that what they had was an illusion of prosperity. I have visited with rich folks who would give all their money for just one day of sobriety. We all have wept with people who found that money could never replace what they have lost. That in the end, it is only the message of the cross, the power of G-d, that offers comfort and peace, joy and life.
Friends, our job as faithful Christians is to be a witness to that message. In how we live, how we act, how we worship and how we love.
And just as that first Easter morning the women prepared to serve Jesus, prepared their devotion to their Christ, we prepare this Easter to go and tell the message of the cross. So that people might not perish, but have everlasting life.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of G-d.
But friends, they might be perishing, but they are not gone yet. They might be sinking low, but they are not finished yet. As long as the unrepentant sinner has breath, there is a chance that what seems foolish to them is what will save them.
That what has been rejected will become their cornerstone.
And that they will be saved by the very power of G-d.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And the people said amen.
06 MAR 2019
Ash Wednesday Sermon, First United Methodist Church of Luling
Pastor Bill Knobles
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 and Luke 18:9-14.
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17. 2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near-2:2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. 2:12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 2:13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 2:14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?
Luke 18:9-14. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
By 70 A.D. Rome had had quite enough of the rebellious Jews of Israel. There had been battles and skirmishes throughout Judea. Entire Jewish cities had been destroyed and the people killed. And now, the Roman army had laid siege to Jerusalem. They had built ramps up to the walls and put their siege engines into position. Battering rams pounded the gates. Jerusalem did not stand a chance. It was a rout and the panic and killing seemed to be without end. The temple was plundered. All of this was chronicled by Josephus, the Jewish historian in his “Wars of the Jews”. And in the end, Caesar ordered the complete destruction of the city of Jerusalem. That no trace of the temple be left. It was to be an object lesson for other provinces with a rebellious streak.
Then, years and years went by. The fighting continued periodically, even as the city was slowly rebuilt. The Romans, Persians, the Jews, the Christians, all loosely wrapped into the Byzantine Empire continued to fuss over the city. But in 636 a.d., the Muslim Caliphate laid siege to Jerusalem and captured the city. They laid claim to Temple Mount and built a mosque where the temple used to stand.
Then came the crusades and the world wars, the creation of the state of Israel and then 1967, the Six Day war when Israel took Jerusalem once again. And the Jews began the excavation of the Western Wall. It was all that was left of their beloved temple. Its probable location had been known for a long time, but years of garbage and junk piling up, haphazard building, had all but buried the wall. Now, it was unearthed and exposed once again.
The Western Wall of Temple Mount is not a wall to keep people in or out. It is simply a retaining wall to create a flat surface for Temple Mount. But it is a holy site to the Jewish people and they come to the wall to pray. In olden times, it was called the Wailing Wall, because the Jewish people came there with their desperate prayers, their cries, their lamentations over the destruction of their Temple. Now, people from all over go to the Western Wall to reverently seek God. To slip their written prayers between the stones. To open themselves to Lord God in a place where they feel that he is near.
Not too far from that wall, Jesus told a parable about two men praying in the temple. One man, a Pharisee, was congratulating himself at how good he was. How generous he was. How faithful he was. How pious he was. The man was self-satisfied, and his prayers were shallow. He asked nothing of God because he believed he had need of nothing from God. He was not convicted by his sin. He felt neither the wrath nor the love of God. He might as well have been standing around the coffee pot chatting with his friends.
But there was another man. A desperate man. A man who knew his sin and it was ever before him. He could not even look up to heaven as he prayed. He felt unworthy and so he prayed away from the others. Tax collectors in Jerusalem were compromised people. They were in league with the Roman tyrants. Their contract was to collect a set amount of taxes for Rome and they could keep any excess. It was a system fraught with abuse. The Romans suspected them, and the Jews hated them. And sometimes, the tax collectors hated themselves. And if they were people of any faith, all they could do was to pray to God for mercy. To repent and plead to God for forgiveness. To try to turn their lives around and extricate themselves from the web of deceit and excess and abuse that they had gotten themselves into.
Such a life was hard to get into and even harder to get out of. It still is. We find ourselves in messes and we wonder how we got in so deep. This season of Lent will be a good time to lay out our prayer life and examine what we find. To see what we have gotten ourselves into.
Among our prayers will be those of praise. Of thanking God and celebrating his goodness. That will probably be a large, orderly stack of prayers right in front.
Over here, we have our prayers, our vows, to serve our God. It is not a real large stack, but the prayers are well intended.
But over here are our prayers of supplication. Our prayers for others. For the neighbor who is fighting cancer. For the child who is wandering. For the friend who is lonely. For the world that is in chaos. For the church that is struggling. This stack is not orderly but is a little scattered. The prayers seem incomplete. Some are even dampened by our tears. Wrinkled by our heartache.
Then, over there is a crumpled mess of prayers for our self. Our hurts. Our shortcomings. Our sins. Our confessions. Our repentance. Our pleas for forgiveness. They are a sodden lump of prayers, anointed by our weeping; baptized by our fears. Some prayers have but a single word of “help!”. On others, there are no words at all. Just a sound of our groaning.
These are our desperate prayers. Prayed while we are under siege. Prayed while our temples are torn down. Prayed while our loved ones are scattered. I think that when God hears our prayers, these are the ones he turns his attention to first. These are the prayers which are like an emergency room. They need some attention now, and not later. We are not distracted when we pray these desperate prayers. No, these hurts have our full attention. These needs are urgent. Our sin is ever before us, accusing us and trying to curse us. These are not prayers for around the coffee pot. These prayers are not for show. These are prayers from the gut, offered to God with trembling hands and on the knees of our hearts.
Paul wrote about such prayers.
In the 8th chapter of Romans, verse 26, he wrote Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
What does God do with our desperate prayers? Jesus said that the tax collector went down to his home justified before God. Justified is a rather curious word here. In common English, it means that a person’s actions are proven right and reasonable and just. But that definition does not hold true here. The sinner is not declared right, but forgiven. In the Christian sense, justification is an act of God. It is an act of God not based on the work of the sinner, but on the work of Jesus on the cross. And it is that work, through our faith in Christ, which is imputed to us. Claimed by us. Grasped by us and held tightly by us. Received by us through faith. And by which God declares that we are no longer guilty of our sin. We are released from its penalty. And restored as righteous before God. In a right relationship with God.
Some might think, even believe, that it is too late for them. That they are too far gone for forgiveness and restoration. That their desperate prayers cannot be heard by God. And they would be wrong. Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart. These are the words of the prophet. Even now. After the sin. After the recriminations. After the heartbreak. Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.
Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing
Even now. That “now” has come in this time of Lent. And the now is the taking of the ashes. Ashes of repentance. I am asking folks, if you were in Jerusalem, at the Western Wall, what would be your prayer? There is a prayer wall in the Narthex. Fashioned after the Western Wall, with places to add your prayers. Slips of paper to write on. Cracks and niches to receive them. There is no need to sign your name. They will remain personal to you. I will read them and pray over them. We will do this throughout Lent. Paul said that we should pray without ceasing. So, we will all add prayers, joys, concerns, prayers of celebration, prayers of heartbreak, even desperate prayers all through Lent. But as we prepare for this time of deep prayer in the church, we first take on the ashes of our repentance. (and we continued worship with the litany of the imposition of the ashes.)