“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins…” Isaiah 58:1
Most people hate it when preachers talk about sin. But has been a reality from the beginning (see Genesis 3). Sin creates lots of problems in this world.
This Wednesday is known throughout the Christian world as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.
Some Christian traditions include the imposition of ashes, where the
celebrant makes the sign of the cross on the people’s foreheads with ashes. This tradition is taken from the Old Testament, where the placing of ash on the head meant you were in a period of repentance.
It also hearkens to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.
Whether you observe the ashes or not, the 40-day period of Lent can be a great opportunity to stop, to contemplate your relationship with God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Over the Lenten season take time for more prayer. Take time to give up a bad habit or form good ones. Fast from those things that take you away from God. Create an environment where you can hear God’s voice.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
This verse is one of the many scriptures where Jesus goes away to be alone in prayer. Prayer is one of those interesting concepts. There are times when we should pray together and there are times we should pray alone.
Our corporate prayer, such as the Prayers of the People during worship are important times that we join together praising God and asking for God’s intercessions. That prayer time is a special time we are connected in our godly communication.
Then there is the personal time that we must spend with God. We need those moments to get away from all distractions including other people. This prayer time allows us to truly be with God and allows God to show us His will for our lives.
And, unfortunately, many of us get so “busy” doing things that we sometimes miss out on this prayer time.
As you begin this new week, find a few moments to get away. Turn off the phone, tune out of the world and seek God in prayer. Allow God to speak to you and experience God’s presence.
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Sunday night was a viewing followed by a Monday morning funeral. The family put together a ton of pictures as well as a digital photo display on a screen. Many people came in to visit with the family, to pay their respects and to mourn.
I was looking at the pictures, as well as the visitors, and the passage from Hebrews struck me. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, not only those mentioned in Hebrews, but also those who have gone before us. I was looking at pictures of people who I have conducted funerals for, and shaking hands with people who attended those funerals.
I also saw pictures of weddings and births – another wonderful part of the cycle of life. They too are witnesses of God’s gifts. Every time a child is born, we rejoice. Every time a person is baptized, we rejoice. A wedding brings joy. And so does a death. While we mourn the loss we also celebrate the joy of our lives with our loved one. And we celebrate the victory of eternal life through Jesus.
In this latest round of illnesses and funerals, I am again reminded of that great cloud of witnesses and their example of faith.
As we begin the journey that is 2020, I am taking some liberty with the vision idea and that in this New Year we use all of our senses to experience God’s presence.
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 6:5-6
The past two Sundays we have ordained and installed new officers. In the Presbyterian Church, Elders, Deacons and Ministers of Word and Sacrament are ordained. We do this by laying hands on the person as we pray over them. And just like Baptism, when I lay hands on someone, and pray over them, there is something special going on. God’s presence is felt much stronger as a person is ordained and commissioned for their special calling.
But laying hands is not just for ordination. Throughout scripture the laying on of hands means healing (see Luke 4:40), receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17), and a general blessing (Mark 10:16).
The sense of touch is incredibly important. From birth to death, holding someone brings comfort. We can use touch in our daily lives to bless each other, whether holding hands during prayer, or touching someone you visit, or laying hands to pray over your children or pray for one’s healing.
Teresa of Avila is attributed with saying “Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world…” Yours. As you continue this new journey into 2020, consider how you can bless others with your hands.
As we begin the journey that is 2020, I am taking some liberty with the vision idea and that in this New Year we use all of our senses to experience God’s presence. Today we talk about the sense of smell.
May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2
All it takes is a grape vine. If I walk under a grape vine and smell the grapes, I’m taken back to my youth, visiting my aunt Marie who had grape vines in her back yard. The smell reminds me of a different time. In historic worship, incense has been used since the Old Testament and if you walk into a church that still uses incense, you can tell immediately something holy is present. Aromatic oils and scented candles can help us remove ourselves from the busy-ness of our lives and enter into a more worshipful experience. The scent creates a spiritual atmosphere of cleansing and healing, and studies have proven that some incense actually does purify the air with antibacterial, fungicidal and insecticidal properties! Maybe you can create a more spiritual prayer area through scent. See if it changes your prayer time.
Malachi 1:11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3
No great meditation today. No lengthy exposition or eloquent writing. Our congregation and community is filled with sorrow and grief. We have a lot of people sick, hurting and grieving; we have had some deaths and are expecting others. We, quite frankly, need God.
So this morning no meditation, only my sincere prayer for you. May God be with you, may God bring you healing, may God bless you this day.