Ash Wednesday (2/25/2009)

Lessons:    Joel 2:1-2, 12-17     or     Isaiah 58:1-12     Psalm 51:1-17     2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10     St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Prayer of the Day:     Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[Jesus said,] 6.1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Well, they've gone and done it again at Saint Peter. They've messed with the way our chairs are set up. For years, the chairs were pointed straight forward, the way God intended chairs to be at church. Then that Methodist Preacher came up from Highlands Ranch, and convinced them to angle the chairs in towards each other. It was a nuisance (hard to take the offering, confusing when it was time to come forward for communion...). It was nice to be able to see other worshippers, and the singing improved quite a bit. But it was unsettling for those of us who were comfortable having it the old way.

Of course, just when we were starting to get used to the way it was, they've gone and done it again. Now they've moved the musicians up where the altar is supposed to be, and they've set up the whole room in the round.

Saint Peter Lutheran Church Worship Center

People are going to be bumping into each other getting up to communion and back. The Pastor is going to be spinning around like a dreidel when he preaches. Those of us who have been around for years will be as "on edge" as someone who is here for the very first time. It is going to completely change the way it feels to be involved in worship for the next few weeks.

Change is hard for some of us liturgical Lutherans. (Remember the old saw - Question: "How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?" Answer: "Change?") But change is essential, now and then, if we want to grow in our awareness of God, and in our understanding of what it means to be God's people.

The Season of Lent is a time of growing in our awareness of God (and in an awareness of our need for God), and in our understanding of what it means to be God's (sinful and broken) people. So during this year's Lenten season, on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday evenings, we are going to experiment with a new physical setting for worship. We are going to gather together around the foot of the cross and remind ourselves that:

  • We come with gratitude, awed at our Savior's willingness to give his life for us.
  • We come with grief, kneeling at the foot of the cross and acknowledging our deep need for forgiveness and new life.
  • We come with humility, remember that in the eyes of God we are all equally sinful - all equally in need of grace.
  • We come with hunger, gathering around the table to be fed with the real presence of Christ.
  • We come with peace, knowing that God welcomes us just as we are, forgives us and renews us despite our unworthiness, and strengthens us to be sent into the world as a reflection of Christ's love.

Join us for Lent this year at Saint Peter, or find a community of faith where you can gather in gratitude, grief, humility, hunger and peace. And know that the God who meets us at the beginning of this Lenten journey with those ancient and haunting words, "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" is also the God who commands us to speak to one another, at the conclusion of this journey, with those grace-filled and freeing words, "in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins."

A good Lent to you all. May you grow in God's grace. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. Why was Jesus concerned about hypocrisy among believers?
  2. Why did Jesus teach that generosity, prayer and fasting be done in secret?
  3. How did those practices deepen a believer's relationship with God?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. When have I been more like a hypocrite, and less like a saint?
  2. What disciplines might I adopt that could increase my generosity, strengthen my prayer life, and deepen my hunger for God?
  3. As I imagine myself kneeling at the foot of our Lord's cross, what sin would I offer to him for healing and forgiveness?