Join us at Bethany House for...

Mass on Saturdays - at 5:00pm (casual attire is our style)!

Rosary Prayer Group - at 6:00pm on the first Wednesday of the month!

Bible Study - at 6:30pm on Thursdays (the Life of Jesus - Serendipity Bible Study)!

Come and join us!

Click the picture for directions...

Click the picture for directions...
We’re located at 408 Levee Road in Mount Sterling, across from the MCHS football stadium.

Contact us at...

Saints Mary and Martha Church
at Bethany House
PO Box 502
Mount Sterling, KY
40353

859-404-8374
mamachurch4you@yahoo.com

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Vicar’s Victuals: Second Sunday in Lent - Sermon

“Moving Forward in Christ:
When Remembering Gives Rise to Examination”

Have you ever had anyone tell you that they actually liked taking mid-term exams?  No?  Good, because what I’m about to do will be a first in your lives!  Maybe I should qualify it, though: I usually liked to take mid-term exams.  I liked them because they were not the final exam!  I liked them because I could see what I hadn’t learned.  I liked them because I knew what to re-study and what not to re-study.  And I liked them because they were a second chance in the making.  I knew I could aim for better in the weeks that remained.

Even so, I dreaded the work that lay ahead of me.  Did I really want to learn those lessons?  What if I couldn’t master the subject?  What if I fell prey to procrastination?  Maybe I didn’t like those mid-terms as much as I thought I did.  Maybe there was more fear and stubbornness in me than I realized.  And maybe I even resented the less-than-flattering picture of my abilities that those mid-terms gave me.  Kind of a strike to the ego?!

If I go back a few years earlier – let’s say to elementary school – there was a sort of mid-term exam that I feared even more than my grades.  It came under the heading of “citizenship”, “social skills”, “behavior”, and “attitude”.  My mid-term grades in elementary school assessed what I was learning.  But these other categories assessed who I was becoming, how I was integrating knowledge into my choices.  My parents always looked at the grades first, but the longest lasting conversations were always about my progress as a person.

Isn’t it funny that as we grow up we’re measured more by what we know and less by who we are?  By the time we reach middle school, we’re assessed mostly by our grades.  By the time we reach high school, it’s completely about the grades – unless, of course, there’s some sort of unusual behavior problem.  And by the time we reach college or the workplace, nobody’s really allowed to tell us that we’re not the person we ought be.  Now, either we give signs that we don’t want to hear it, or they’re simply afraid to point it out.

So here’s the unfortunate truth: Way too many people spend way too many years in attitudes and behaviors that are indifferent or hostile to the self-examination that leads to personal growth.  Catch that?  Let me say it again: Way too many people spend way too many years in attitudes and behaviors that are indifferent or hostile to the self-examination that leads to personal growth.  By the time they get to the mid-point of life – the “mid-term exam” that comes when they hit the big 4-0 – many of their habits and attitudes are malformed.  Their ability to receive honest, personal assessment is almost non-existent.  They’ve put so much time and energy into living an unexamined life that there’s nothing left over for self-assessment and self-correction.

And this – this – is the primary failure in our society.  There are so many who live so deeply within themselves that no outside influence is allowed to speak truth to them.  And if no there’s no outside influence allowed to do it, it’s not likely that they’ll do it themselves.  The Greek philosopher, Socrates, said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  He was right.  All around us we see people who are indeed not living.  They’re dying – spiritually and emotionally, they’re dying.  The life that could’ve been theirs – the life that would’ve otherwise bloomed and flowered – has been choked off.  They’ve insulated themselves against the exams of life.  They’ve done it so successfully that there’s no growth – and where there’s no growth, there’s no life.

So much for the society around us.  What about the Christian community?  Do we fight the same battles?  Do we do all that we can to avoid self-examination, too?  Here’s where we might object, “No.  I’m a Christian.  I read my Bible.  I say my prayers.  I go to Church.  I think about God and I kind of listen to him – even though I don’t really know what that means.  And when I can and how I can, I do the best I can.”  Okay, fine.  But where’s the truth that’s found only in self-examination?  Where’s the progress that arises from God’s challenges in our lives?  Where’s the assurance that real assessment is taking place?  Where’s the proof that God’s call to personal growth is being heeded in our lives?  Maybe we should ask this question differently.  Maybe we ought to find out why it is that God’s people are so often indistinguishable from the rest of the world.

I’d like to take an unusual risk this morning.  I’d like to share a word of assessment that applies to each of our lives.  Now, it will apply to each of us differently because each of us has lived different lives.  But it will apply equally to all of us in powerful ways.  And, since most of us in this Chapel are at the mid-point of life or beyond, it’s probably time for a mid-term exam!  Turn with me, if you would, to the epistle lesson on page eight in your bulletins.  Saint Paul is writing to people who are not only his brothers and sisters in the Lord, they’re his close friends.  So, what he writes to them in today’s lesson becomes all the more powerful and poignant.

Paul calls them to examine their lives as Christians.  He wants them to compare what they’re thinking and doing against the example that is being set before them.  He says, in verse seventeen, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”  Why does he do that?  Why does he point to an example of holy attitude and holy living?  Well, we find out in verses eighteen and nineteen.  He says, “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.  Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”   Paul’s trying to speak truth into their lives.  He’s trying to help them see the fruit of self-examination.

New Testament scholar, William Barclay, tells us that the people Paul speaks of in verses eighteen and nineteen – the ones doing things they should not be doing – are actually fellow Christians.  They’re not pagans.  Yes, some of whom were involved in the Gnostic heresy, but not all.  Barclay says, “There were in the Church at Philippi men who whose conduct was an open scandal and who, by their lives, showed themselves to be the enemies of the cross of Christ.  Who they were is not certain.  But it is quite certain that they lived gluttonous and immoral lives and used their so-called Christianity to justify themselves.”

Barclay goes on to say, “They turned Christian liberty into unchristian license and gloried in giving their passions full play.  There were those who distorted the Christian doctrine of grace.  They said that, since grace was wide enough to cover every sin, a man could sin as he liked and not worry; it would make no difference to the all-forgiving love of God.”  This, my friends, is the fruit of an unexamined life.  This is what happens when we profess one thing and then live, act, work, play, vote, talk, and teach something completely different.  Does any of this sound familiar?  It’s the same litany of heresies taking place in the Church today – taking place because of the break between belief and action.

Paul then reminds us, in verses twenty and twenty-one, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”  So, in other words, Paul’s calling us to do three things: First, (in verse seventeen) he’s calling us to compare ourselves against a godly example – to conduct a self-examination, if you will; second, he’s setting before us (in verses eighteen and nineteen) a picture of what can happen if we fail to do that examination, if we fail to do away with the blind spots in our lives; and, third, he’s reminding us (in verses twenty and twenty-one) that we live and breathe and move in the power of Jesus – for it’s  Jesus who has redeemed us and it’s Jesus who promises to make us holy as he is holy.

Beloved, the greatest danger facing us today is not found in the heresies that surround us, it’s the temptation to assume – to not examine and to find out – but to assume that all is well with our souls.  No matter who we are – whether drug dealer or Church committee member – there are areas in our lives in need of God’s healing touch.  Each of us needs to spend time in self-examination before the Jesus.  Each of us needs to discover the areas of our lives in need of healing and transformation.  Each of us needs to allow the infinite grace of God to do his work within us.  That’s why, during this Lenten season, we’ve been called to return to the Lord with mourning and weeping.  That’s why we’ve been called to remember – to call to mind – where we’ve been wrong.

If we should choose to not examine our consciences, then we must face the fact that we’re living a life of, what Bonhoeffer calls, cheap grace.  But there’s nothing cheap about the price Jesus paid for us, is there?  Pastor, theologian, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes that “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.”  He goes on to say that, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

The absence of self-examination means, then, that we are asking Jesus to save our souls without transforming them.  We’re asking him to give us a ticket to heaven, but to not touch us in the process.  It means that we’re seeking to meander rather than move forward on the pilgrim pathway.  And how, in heaven’s Name, can we do that with a straight face?  How can we possibly approach the Throne of Grace as if we’re in some fast food restaurant, saying, “I’d like a ticket to heaven, but hold the difficult work of inner transformation, please”?

The price Jesus paid was indeed costly, and so must our participation in his holy life also be.  Bonhoeffer goes on to say, “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy, for which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.  Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”

If that’s not enough to spark self-examination within us, then perhaps we should consider both the warning and longing coming from Jesus’ heart.  Look with me, if you would, at today’s Gospel lesson on page nine in your bulletins.  Jesus has been asked whether only a few will be saved.  He responds by urging the people to strive to enter by the narrow door – a striving that will, I’m convinced, include some time spent in mourning, remembering, and self-examination.  Then he says this (beginning at verse twenty-five): “When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’”

Beloved, he will know us or not know us, you see, based on our intimacy or lack of intimacy with him.  He will recognize us because we’ve taken the time to let him into our lives.  He will open the door for us because we’ve lived daily in his Word, sought his counsel in prayer, availed ourselves of his Sacraments (including the Sacrament of Confession), because we’ve spent much time pondering the way of Christian life (in his Word and in the writings of his faithful teachers), and because we’ve surrendered daily to his love.

And if all this isn’t enough to convince us of the need for self-examination, let’s consider the broken heart of Jesus.  Let’s consider his mourning over the fact that there are those who’ve shunned the life and transformation that he’s offered them.  In verse thirty-four Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  See, your house is left to you.”  Jerusalem (the people of God) chose to assume wellness in their souls when, in fact, there was sickness.  They chose cheap grace.  And wrapped up in the words of our Lord are his thousands of years of offering to them the more excellent way, only to find rejection from them.

And so now we come to the point of personal decision.  How is it with our souls?  How are we each faring on the pilgrim pathway?  Are we moving forward in Christ?  Are we asking (from time-to-time, at least) the difficult questions?  Are we ready to take our mid-term examination?  I wish for us a life of wholeness in Christ.  I wish for us a life in integrity in the Gospel, a life of self-examination and growth and unimaginable blessing.

In the Name of the + Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Let us pray.

Father, we talk about giving things up for Lent.  And we do it casually, until we come to read your Word and understand the sacrifice that gave life to us.  Father, send us home today to do the difficult work of self-examination, that we might draw closer to you and that we might be tools in your hand to draw others closer to you, as well.  Let these words from your Word reverberate within us, let your holy Sacrament fill us and nourish the thoughts that you give us.  We ask this in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Vicar’s Victuals: First Sunday in Lent - Sermon

“Moving Forward in Christ: Remembering and Letting Go for the Sake of a New Beginning”

I don’t know how to describe how it made me feel.  I suppose it felt like being punched in the gut.  I’m sure my mouth was hanging wide open.  I asked myself, “Wait, did I just hear that?!”  I had turned the radio on for my commute home – I was listening to “All Things Considered”.  At first it came across as, “Blah blah blah Plymouth University.  Blah blah connecting humans to a computer.  Blah blah blah gauging heart rates, muscle contractions, respiration rates blah blah while subjects watch a movie…(this is where they caught my attention)…changing what happens in a movie based on the physical reactions of the audience?!!”

My first reaction was to cry out, “No!!!  It’s the story that should change us, not the other way around!”  We’re becoming such an ego-centric society!  But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  We’re constantly having our egos stroked by advertisers; we’re constantly being told by so-called experts that we have to do whatever makes us happy (no matter who it hurts); we’re being told that if the rules don’t suit us, then we can dump everything from people to relationships to our respect for human life itself.  Everything seems on track to be tailored to the whims of each individual.  The boundaries of living, both internally (in our thought life) and externally (in our interactions with others), are disintegrating before our very eyes.

Do we know what we’re losing?  I’ve asked myself that question repeatedly over the past few months.  And at the same time, I’m coming to the conclusion that that’s the wrong question to ask.  Yeah, I understand the grief and the mourning of those who were raised to believe that God is the ruler, that Sunday means Church, that dinner time is family time, that children should play by using their imaginations, and that having stuff isn’t as important as enjoying each other’s company.  But grief and mourning are meant to help us heal and then move forward; to help us remember and then grow.  That’s just the way of it.  What was will never be again – not in the same way, at least.  And the call that the Lord has been laying before his Church in recent years (whether Anglican, Roman, Reformed, Evangelical) is for a new evangelization; an evangelization that seeks to create new life in Christ rather than re-create the good old days.

Over the past few weeks, during our times of worship, the Holy Spirit has been echoing that call with us.  A few weeks ago we gathered around the Word and we heard God call us to take up an “inside-out” hospitality.  Last Sunday he showed us that, if we’re going to participate in this new evangelization, we’ll need to understand the inner struggle between sensuality and obedience.  And this week, at the Ash Wednesday Mass, we looked at how the Lord wants us to stop our meandering and to start moving forward on the pilgrim pathway.

I don’t know whether you feel it (and I certainly don’t know whether my words have faithfully communicated it), but there’s something profound happening among us.  I’ve never felt more alive in Christ.  I’ve never sensed his hand nudging us (nudging me) as in these recent weeks and months.  There seems to be something just beyond the horizon that he has in store for us.  So, if that’s true (and I believe it is), what’s he nudging us to be, what’s he nudging to do?

I think he wants us to say good-bye to the non-essential parts of our past, to let go of it and stop clinging to it.  The forty days of Lent are all about mourning and repentance; about surrendering ourselves and returning to the Lord.  And while it’s true that overtly sinful things can become idols, so can the blessings of bygone days.  The only unchanging thing in our lives should be the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the old order of Christendom.  Just as we sometimes have to tell a loved one that it’s okay to go home to Jesus, we sometimes have to tell ourselves to let go of what was – so that the Gospel can be proclaimed faithfully, here-and-now.

And that’s where we meet today’s Scripture lessons.  On Wednesday night, the prophet Joel called us to “return to [Lord] with all [our] heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning,” and to “rend [our] hearts and not [our] clothing.”  He called us to break free of the things that keep us from obeying God’s will.  And today, Moses calls us to do the very thing that goes hand-in-hand with mourning and weeping: Remembering.  We can’t mourn what we don’t remember, and we certainly can’t give thanks for what we don’t recall.  So, if our mourning during Lent is to be real, we must remember…with all our heart.

As Moses gives instructions from the Lord to Israel just before they enter the Promised Land, he calls them to remember.  He tells them, once they arrive, to gather the first fruits of the land – the first fruits of God’s promise consummated.  He tells them to take these first fruits to the Tabernacle, and to present them to the priest on duty, and to say “We have arrived in God’s promise.”  Then, when the priest has taken up these first fruits to the Altar of the Lord, they are to recount (to remember aloud) all that the Lord had done for them in order to keep his promise.  They are to remember how he took Abraham and Sarah and made them into a great nation, how he heard the voice of Israel in their affliction and bondage, how he saw what was happening and freed them from their oppression, how he performed miracles and wonders to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.

So where are the grief and mourning in the midst of this remembering?  It sounds more like celebration than anything else.  Where’s the catalyst that will make them think deeply and move forward in God’s love?  Where’s the sting that will for ever remind them of why they need a Savior?  Well, it’s right there, between the lines and underneath the thanksgiving.  It’s squeezed into each word that they’re speaking.  Step by step, as they recount God’s faithfulness, they’re forced to remember their unfaithfulness.  It’s the lingering shadow of their lack of faith in God.  It’s the fact that they were skeptical about God freeing them from Egypt and sustaining them in the wilderness.  It’s their unfaithfulness demonstrated in the desire to make and follow other gods.

Yet, in a time of great celebration, are they likely to hold on to what is revealed in their remembering?  No, probably not – but neither are we.  When it comes to God, our fallen human nature seems to love the gifts more than the Giver.  It’s no less true for us than it was for Israel of old.  Time and again, God had to struggle with his chosen people to help them see what was good and desirable.  For more than a few centuries, God has had to struggle with his new Israel (the Church) to help us understand what is good and desirable.

Early in my ministry I used to shy away from the penitential litanies and confessions like the one we used on Ash Wednesday.  I thought they were too harsh.  I felt uncomfortable in bringing God’s people close to those kinds of words, asking them to speak in such a way.  Yet, as I’ve grown in my faith, as I’ve seen my transgressions, I know that we need to speak those words from time to time.  We need to remember how we flirted with the offers Satan – the kind of offers he brought before Jesus in the wilderness.  We need to see that exchanging trust in God for bread, power, and arrogance must not only be mourned over, but remembered and thought about, confessed and dealt with.

This is why we need the mourning and weeping and remembering of Lent.  We need a time of separation from the comforts we love.  We need to be separated from the crutches that have held up a weak faith within us.  We need someone beyond ourselves to ask us some difficult questions.  And we need removed from us those things that would keep us meandering in our “life as usual” routines.  This is why we hear the Church calling us to a holy Lent.  This is why we are supposed to give something up for Lent.  This is why our celebrations of the Mass take on an overtly penitential tone.  This is why the crosses are veiled.  This is why our daily life during these forty days should be subdued and deeply thoughtful.  God is calling us to remember.

For forty years the people of Israel were led in the wilderness by God’s faithful hand – even though they showed themselves to be unfaithful.  For forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness, preparing himself for the three years to come – three years of arduous ministry that would culminate in the cross.  Will we show ourselves faithful for forty days, for forty months, for forty years?  It’s time to move forward in Christ.  It’s time to do the difficult work of Spirit-led assessment.  It’s time to become who and what God created us to be.

In the Name of the + Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Vicar’s Victuals: Ash Wednesday - Sermon

“When Mourning Turns into Movement:
Pilgrims on a Litter-Strewn Pathway”

The image was vivid.  Anyone who was alive in the 1970’s will recall it.  A Native American standing by a roadside looking at the litter left behind by careless people.  The tear running down his cheek spoke volumes.  And the announcer, his voice full of emotion, implored us to care for this land.  I sometimes wonder what happened to public service announcements like that.  The reminders they offered seemed to work.  People began to take care not to litter.  The “just say no” campaign of the 1980’s actually did have an effect on drug use.  The reminders in the “words can hurt” commercials were much needed and, to a certain extent, heeded.

There’s a sort of spiritual public service announcement that has also been neglected in recent decades: The call to put on sackcloth and ashes and to mourn.  The call to rend our hearts and not our clothing.  The call to lay aside our self-directing tendencies and to heed the voice of the Lord.  We’ve been directionless (as a Church, as a society) for so many years that we’ve gotten used to doing our own thing.  We’ve become accustomed to the chaos.  We’ve even become accustomed to lamenting the results of the chaos.  And, in certain quarters at least, we’ve secretly enjoyed the lack of godly reminders from our spiritual leaders.

The problem with all of this is that we’re a pilgrim people.  We’re not a stationary people.  We’re a people who are supposed to be on the move, going in a certain direction, following a certain pathway.  Our tendency, individually and in the Church, to meander is completely contradictory to the public service announcements we used to hear from the pulpit.  There was a time when we were constantly reminded to move forward in Christ.  Then that gave way to a time when we were told to spiritualize our own dreams and make them the focal point of our pilgrimage.  But spiritualizing our lust for money or immoral behavior couldn’t satisfy us for long.  And, by God’s grace, we’ve come into a new era of public service announcements in the Church.  We’re once again hearing the call to repent, to think deeply, to align our lives with Jesus, and to make forward progress in our pilgrim journey.

And so, we hear tonight the call of God to “return to [him] with all [our] heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning...”  If the purpose of a public service announcement is to make us think and, hopefully, change our behavior, then hopefully fasting, weeping, mourning, and heart-rending are going to occur.  The more deeply attached we are to meandering, the greater our sense of mourning when the call comes to move forward.  And what we hear through the prophet Joel is just such a call.  It’s a call to move in a certain direction: Towards the Lord.  It’s a call to take up certain actions: Repentance.  It’s a call to look at our former meandering in a certain way: With mourning and weeping.

Meandering is the attempt to make the Christian life easier.  But there’s nothing whatsoever easy about the Christian life.  We’ll see this if we attempt to move forward in the pilgrim journey.  All we have to do is look around to see the litter along the edges of the pathway.  It’s the fallen debris from the lives of those who’ve chosen to meander.  Instead of pressing on toward life, they’ve died in the journey.  They thought they found heaven.  They only found the end of their wasted years.

Ironically, their energies were spent and depleted as they searched for easy answers.  Not so with the saints who persevered.  There’s no litter to mark their death along the way.  The battle to keep moving forward in Jesus, rather than depleting their energy, strengthened it.  They proved the Word of God when he said, “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.  Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Saint Paul touches powerfully on this in our epistle lesson.  The message of mourning a meandering past has touched him, and his companions, in a deep way.  It compels them to move forward and to encourage others to get up and get going.  Saint Paul says, “…as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: Through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God…”  There’s nothing they’ve held in reserve.  Their mourning, weeping, and heart-rending were complete.  They gave themselves over to moving forward in such a way that they could endure being treated as imposters, as unknown, as dying, as punished, as sorrowful, as poor, and as having nothing while still persevering as pilgrims and giving glory to God.

This kind of death to meandering is what Lent is intended to help us with.  And even though we may be able to help many others join us in this pilgrimage, we ultimately do it for an audience of One.  Jesus reminds us tonight to keep it real, to keep it focused.  He says, “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.”  He tells us to journey forward in such a way that what we do “may be done in secret; and [our] Father who sees in secret will reward [us].”  He calls us to “store up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where [our] treasure is, there [our hearts] will be also.”

Having heard the call rend our hearts away from meandering, to put our time and energy into mourning through persevering, and to do it all as an act of communion with God, we can begin to see the truth.  The debris from our broken lives won’t litter the pathway of pilgrimage because the God who calls us to live for him will give us his life.  He’s caught our attention.  He’s moved us to see who we are.  He’s moved us to mourn what we’ve been.  And he’s moved us to get moving down the pilgrim pathway.

Never forget that you were created and set in this world to find your way home.  Never forget that the struggles you face in being freed from the entanglements of this world are as nothing when compared with the glory that is set before you in Christ Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Vicar’s Victuals: A Letter from Our Bishop

A letter from Bishop Roger to the people of the Diocese of the Great Lakes (including, of course, Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church)...

Lent, February 2013

Return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he. (Joel 2:13)


Dear Sisters and Brothers,

So! Are you ready for Lent to begin? Have you decided what you’re going to give up? Have you ramped up your new, more aggressive schedule for prayer and Mass attendance? Have you decided how much money you’re going to give to the poor? Have you done enough? Planned enough? Resolved enough?

If these questions are making you anxious, take a deep breath. The last thing anyone wants to do is reduce this season of grace to a to-do list.

If you want to find the right tone and focus for this Lent, you don’t have to look any further than the first reading for Ash Wednesday. Your heavenly Father is gracious and merciful. He is calling out to you so that he can bless you. Yes, there is “fasting, weeping, and mourning,” but not out of fear or anxiety (Joel 2:12). They are meant to arise from a heart that wants to know a deeper freedom from sin and fear—a heart that is looking to God for more of his love.

Here is the key to finding God this Lent—a soft heart. That’s why we are encouraged to fast, to pray, and to give alms during this season. They help prepare our hearts to receive God’s blessings. We don’t do them to prove ourselves to God or convince him to bless us. We do them because they can help us feel the presence of God. We do them because they can change our hearts and make us more like Jesus.

For the next forty days, we will have opportunity after opportunity to discover just how gracious and merciful our heavenly Father is. We will also have countless opportunities to respond to his grace and mercy—through repentance, generosity, worship, forgiveness, and acts of service. So let’s try our best to keep our hearts soft and open to the Lord, because that’s when the changes really happen. Be radical lovers this Lent. Allow the mystery of our Lord's passion to so transform our lives, that we as His Body will help to transform our world by His love.

Let us pray,

“Father, thank you for inviting us to come to you this Lent. By your Spirit, help us to soften our hearts toward you and the people around us. We ask this all in your son Jesus' name and by the power of the Spirit and let the Church say...Amen.”

Peace and All Good,
I remain yours in the Lord,

+Roger
Bishop, Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes