Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Service of Penitence and Confession

Ash Wednesday, in the Western Christian calendar, is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of repentance.

Last night, February 17, we gathered at New Life Covenant to share a meal and then celebrate our Ash Wednesday service. A spirit of thoughtful reflection and simple informality made it a special experience. Here are a few notes from that service.

Pastor Brad called it A Service of Penitence and Confession. Ash Wednesday is the commencement of Lent, a time of healing and restoration. He also said it was a time to feel sorrow for our sins while recognizing and acknowledging the power of the Cross.

Sometimes we move so fast through life that we do not take time to be broken. Brokenness is an important part of becoming useful for God. Brad cited examples. Horses need to be broken before they can be ridden. And a baseball glove needs to be broken in for maximum usefulness.

There is a power in borkenness. Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount with these words:

3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted."

Ultimately, God wants us to be whole. This service is a step toward that wholeness as we acknowledge our sins and receive His grace.

Darlene's introit was especially suited for the occasion, helping transport us away from our busy days to a place of quiet thoughtfulness and receptivity. After a hymn, Brad read to us from Joel 2:1-2 and 12-17.

Our responsive reading concluded with the statement, "Cry, and God will answer. Call, and the Lord will say, 'I am here.'"


The meditation for this service began with humorous examples of words that aren't really words, but which could be. Ginormous, which is a combination of gigantic and enormous; Parentnoid, which is the fear of becoming like one's parents; Yoguy, what you are when you're the only one in the yoga class, and several others. The last was variation of hypochondria in which people who are not well always say their' fine. How are you? "I'm fine." Even though their not sleeping for weeks from depression, addiction, anxiety. Brad calls these people "hypo-fine-iacs".

This intro led easily into the story of the lame man whom Jesus encountered in John chapter 5 near the pool of Bethesda. The man had been lame for nearly four decades trying to get healed here, but Jesus asks him a strange question. "Do you want to get well?"

It actually isn't a dumb question. Many people find their identity through their illness. Brad noted, however, if you do want to get well, this is the place to get back to whole. God has the ability to break the chains that hold us back.

What's holding you back? Anxiety? Fear? Panic? The list was lengthy.... Bitterness, gambling, bigotry, alcohol, drugs, addicitions, porn, criticism, co-dependency, workaholism, bulimia, anorexia, other eating disorders, relationship issues, depression, insecurity, unresolved guilt... Brad threw out a wide net to catch as many of us as possible, but we all know our weaknesses, our hidden fears and struggles. The point is, this is a community of strugglers.

But God, who sees us and knows us, is on our side in this struggle, as noted in this passage from Isaiah 57:

18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him,
19 creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,"
says the LORD. "And I will heal them."

Do you want to get well?

Many of us are tired of the spin cycle we're on. Try hard >>> Fail >>> Feel Bad >>> Try Harder >>> Fail >>> Feel Bad >>> Try Hard, etc.

The result is that many of us live in denial. Instead we focus on image management, making sure we look good in others' eyes, even if we're lousy inside. Or we lean on prideful self-help programs. But the addict's biggest fear is this: fear of being found out.

David, in Psalm 32 wrote about this when he said,

3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD "—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.

Self-deception and self-reliance leads to self-destruction. How bad does the hurt have to get before you take a step to get well? See the light today, and start to move toward God.

The first step is to admit, "I am powerless."

Brad cited the popular Eagles song Desperado to bring home his point. "Desperado, why don't you come to your senses, you been out ridin' fences for so long now."

In the parable of the prodigal son, there is likewise a point where the son "comes to his senses" and returns home.

There's a power in powerlessness. "Blessed are the broken," Brad declared. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God."

And in James, it says, "Humble yourself and you will be filled. God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Blessed are the broken.

At this, we prepared our hearts for the imposition of ashes. Ashes are not only a symbol of our mortality, but also of cleansing. (Matthew 11:21) From dust you came, and to dust you will return. Repent and receive the Good News.

Lent is a time of penitence and restoration. Life is short. This is the way to live it to the fullest.

Recommended reading: Psalm 51

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