Sunday, February 21, 2010

1st Sunday in Lent - Pastoral Prayer

Dear LORD,

In this season
We remind ourselves that
We are dust
And to dust
We shall return.
We remind ourselves that
We will die

O God, Some of us are all too familiar with this fact—
Through illnesses, natural disasters, accidents,
violence, aging, and the death of loved ones.
Some of us do not need to be reminded that
“the grass withers and the flower fades.”

Still others of us, O God, deny this fact,
Filling our days to the brim
With activities and entertainment.
We fight our mortality with busyness.

But in this season, O God, lead us
And surprise us
Into still, quiet places
Where we may realize that
Even though we are dust
Even though we will die
We are upheld by your Holy Spirit,
Which gives us courage and comfort
To sort through the tears, uncertainties, and trembling.

Help us to know and trust that—
Whether we wake up in our own bed,
In or beside a hospital bed,
Or in heaven—
We have never left your sight,
We have never left your arms.

We give you thanks for the assurance
Of your love made known
In your son, Jesus.

Who taught us to pray with boldness,
saying, "Our Father..."


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Remember that you are dust...

A few months ago our church, like many others, was making budget preparations, deciding how much we would allocate to this and that function of the church. And one day I found myself reflecting aloud to a fellow pastor about the extent to which long-time members of the church were invested in keeping the church, both its life and its building, exactly as it was or continues to be. We are all guilty of this to some extent, though some more than others. Wanting to hold on to an experience or atmosphere or style of being church that works for us, we can become attached to our traditions and place of worship. The problem is that the church is not meant to be a static institution, but a dynamic organism (the Body of Christ!).

So I began to wonder if part of the problem had something to do with an inability to accept our mortality. I wondered if the desire to preserve the building and the life of the church “the way it’s always been” for us ignores or denies the reality that we will not always be alive to enjoy it. This desire ignores or denies the reality that the Church is constantly changing—dying and rising—with new members who have new gifts and talents and ideas for ministry. I am convinced that churches that consist primarily of elderly members have succumbed to this desire and have become ingrown—forgetting to invite and welcome new members or preventing what new members there may be from exploring and expressing their gifts for ministry. And they are dying physically and spiritually as churches, even as they secure themselves in their beautiful places of worship, telling one another that they will live forever.

I believe that Ash Wednesday provides a way out of this scenario, a wake-up call, if you will: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” When those ashes are placed on our foreheads it can/should impress upon us the sometimes shocking reminder that we are finite beings with relatively little time to concern ourselves with things that do not matter. For however much we may want to ignore or deny it, we will return to dust. Therefore, let us spend our life’s energy striving for the kingdom of God for ourselves and those yet to come, because it alone endures forever.