I used to talk often as a local church pastor about the need to go through all of Holy Week. Most of our churches or at least our communities have services for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Experiencing each of these days and the worship services that go with them are a “package deal!” My hope is that each of us will take time to be a part of this very special week in the life of our Christian Community.
Each of these days represent for us an important event and, more so, an important aspect of our faith. I hope you are looking forward to each of these services throughout these days. I trust that worship teams, pastors and the whole church body are preparing well to journey though these events together. May God lead us and bless us as we engage this very special time with our whole selves so that we might receive all that God has for us in them.
I have been cleaning out files on my computer. It is amazing to me how fast files and folders — designed to make life more efficient — can become unruly! I’m certain I had a plan when I set up a given file structure. I had a purpose and an understanding of how that structure would work and benefit me moving forward. But somewhere along the line I forgot what I had done, and I started a new folder with a different file system in another place that made sense in that moment! Consequently, as I’m working my way through the cleanup process this morning, I’m discovering that there are four locations of folders that should be in one place, and sometimes multiple copies of the files in each of those areas!
I think I’m getting a handle on it and I’ll probably have a much cleaner structure soon ─ at least for a while!
As I’m doing this work, I’m also thinking about the worship service tonight that begins the season of Lent. Through the years I have engaged a number of different practices during the Lenten season. Sometime I have removed things from my life to allow a deeper focus on God. Other times I’ve added things with the goal of enabling a richer connection during these weeks. Lent is a time for sorting. It is a time for evaluating where we are, and what in our lives has gotten perhaps a bit unruly and needs cleaning up. It may be that as we take stock, we will discover that we need to become more involved. Maybe we will find that our level of commitment to our faith and path of discipleship needs to be enhanced by activity. Maybe we’ll discover that our life is filled with too many activities, even at church, and what we need to do is create some space for God to speak.
Whatever it is that you sense God calling you to this Lenten season, I pray that you will choose to follow and discover the richness and renewal God longs to give. May God bless all of us as we give ourselves to this year’s Lenten journey.
I was thinking about blessings today. I was thinking about it in terms of the weather. For while it’s been grey and somewhat dreary this January, every day that I don’t have to drive on snow I count as a gift this time of year, and I celebrate it as one more day closer to summer!
Now I don’t know what blessings you might be experiencing these days. I don’t know where the places are in your life where you are finding joy and hope and new life, but I hope those things are present for you.
And as I was reflecting again today on the many gifts present in my life, I was also recalling how sometimes I have heard folks approach gifts and blessings with some level of hesitation. Instead of giving thanks and enjoying the positive elements of life and receiving them as a gift, there is this apprehension that, as some put it, “they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.” There is this understanding that if things in our lives get going too well, “look out,” there’s trouble around the corner!
I’m not suggesting that life doesn’t have its troubles of course it does. There are tragic things that come into our lives, there are heartbreaks and griefs that are real and cause us significant pain at times. But friends there is something wrong with a theology that expects trouble whenever things are going well. There is something wrong with a theology that struggles to receive and bask in blessing because of the dread of what bad thing is coming down the pike. There is something wrong with a theology that lives in fear.
Again, I am not suggesting that life is a bed of roses, that there won’t be days when we have to drive in the snow, but for goodness sake, God is good! God’s blessings are new every morning and even when those troubling days arrive, the blessing of God’s presence is always there. So, give thanks this week with joy, with celebration, with an overflowing heart for all that God has done and is doing, and don’t fear what’s behind the next door.
I remember I had been in my first appointment for about eight months and I was beginning to worry. And as I sat with another new pastor, a good friend of mine, I confided in him my fear. “I feel sometimes like I’m running out of sermons,” I said, and it was true. While in seminary I had experienced various inspirational moments and my Scripture study had produced a number of ideas I wanted to pursue, but the fact was eight months in, I was beginning to have weeks where I wasn’t sure what I was going to say come Sunday morning at 10:05am when the sermon began.
Now pretty soon after that I began to develop the discipline of sermon planning and I laid out the messages for Sunday mornings a year at a time and that helped to alleviate the fear and enabled me to be much more productive. The process helped me to accumulate material for messages well in advance of the preaching moment and allowed me the privilege of sorting the wheat from the chaff ─ I hope anyway ─ rather than having to take whatever I came up with.
I am a huge believer in planning. In fact, much to the contrary of the man who once suggested my year ahead planning disallowed for the Spirit’s work, I believe working well in advance enables the Spirit to hone the messages much more so than winging it at the last minute, and trusting God will show up in our vulnerability.
These days I don’t preach every week and that reality has, I think, dulled my sermon sense a bit. Without that file full of upcoming messages, I miss things these days that would have made it into folders in the past. I don’t hear comments or read a story or see something in a movie, (or on the West Wing!!!) and respond, “There’s a sermon in that!” But I am grateful for all the ways God continues to bring inspiration and life to the work and ministry I am doing. And I pray this is true for all of us whether lay or clergy.
May we plan in all kinds of ways to do our ministry well, to do our absolute best to make what we do for God relevant and rich with Good News. May we do our part knowing that God will surely do God’s part. And the partnership we share will indeed create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.