Lent and Hungering and Thirsting for God
Matthew 5:6; Psalm 42:1-2
- Prelude – “God So Loved the World” by John Stainer, Arr. by Tedd Smith and Don Hustad; Pauline Olsen, organ; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Welcome – Rev. Dr. Kathleen Charters
- Hymn 452: “My Faith Looks UP to Thee,” by Ray Palmer; Cyntia Zenner, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Prayer time – Rev. Dr. Kathleen Charters
- Special Music – “He Touched Me” by William & Gloria Gaither; Ken Lillagore, accordion
- Scripture – Matthew 5:6; Psalm 42:1-2; Dennis Westeren
- Sermon – Lent and Hungering and Thirsting for God, Rev. Dr. Kathleen Charters
- Hymn 2112: “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley,” American folk hymn; Cyntia Zenner, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “But The Lord Is Mindful of His Own” by Felix Mendelssohn; Pauline Olsen, organ
What is Ash Wednesday, and what does it mean to us as Christians? Ash Wednesday is the symbolic day when the season of Lent begins. The Ash Wednesday service is designed to symbolically remind us that we are so much less without God in our lives. It is to remember that God continually seeks us, loves us, and offers us grace and forgiveness. Our role on this day is to open ourselves up to that. It is to confess those things and those times when we haven’t allowed God to do what God does best; love and forgive us.
During the service, a pastor will often take the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday service, and burn those to create the ash. That too is symbolic in that we are entering into that time of remembering Jesus, and what Jesus did for us; the sacrifices he made on our behalf and his willingness to risk everything to love us. When Pastor Brad burned the palms, he added anointing oil that included frankincense symbolizing the healing Christ offered. Pastor Brad added water from the Jordan River as a symbol of our baptism and mixed it all in the midst of the service.
This year, we cannot do that, but the symbolism is still there. We are offered grace and forgiveness. We are called to live sacrificially for others. We are called to remember our baptism and our relationship with our Creator. We are called to take the kinds of actions that renew our relationships. The service of Ashes reminds us of all of that.
Toward the end of the service, we do what is called, “The imposition of ashes.” As people come forward to receive the imposition of the ashes; they commit themselves to spend this time to remember that we are not God. The Pastor would say, “From dust you came, to dust you shall return, but thanks be to God for Jesus Christ.”
Friends, we become alive in Christ, and this ritual is a reminder of that. This is the beginning of a time when we intentionally remember and reflect on the meaning of the ash that is placed on our foreheads.
Lent is a forty-day season of contemplation. The number “forty” when found in the scriptures always refers to a time of a new beginning. The number forty is used in the story of the flood, the story of the Hebrews escaping Egypt and traveling in the wilderness, and the story of Jesus’s time in the wilderness. It refers to a time of taking the old, or what had been in existence before, and moving through something that allowed it to become new again. Lent is such a time. Lent leads us toward Holy Week and ultimately to Easter; the day when it all comes together, and we are truly reborn.
Note that the forty days do not include Sundays. Sundays are a day to find renewal and rest in the midst of the rigors of the Lenten Season. Please be aware that Pastor Brad and I are praying for you, and we will be throughout this season of Lent. Also, please be aware that both of us are taking on this season so that we too might be renewed.
To help you get the most out of these forty days Pastor Brad and I offer a perspective of increasing rather than diminishing, of creating space for building a stronger relationship. What is it we are to do in Lent? First, Lent isn’t simply about giving something up. We don’t give up chocolate or other elements simply to give them up. The purpose of giving something up is about creating space: to create a deeper focus on our faith and to create more time with God. It is to spend time focusing on Jesus in order to create a closer relationship with Him. It is about taking time to make sure the relationship is whole and sound, even to ask forgiveness for the things we’ve done that have created separation.
For example, we might choose to give up a television show each evening in order to instead, spend that time in prayer. We might give up a meal each day to spend that normal mealtime focused instead on being fed by Christ. The purpose of Lent is to deepen our faith, to be “blessed” as we kneel, physically in posture or emotionally in our heart, before our Creator. Lent is a time set aside each year to search ourselves, so that we can become something new. Lent is designed to be a quiet season, contemplative, and focused. We encourage you to take this on. There are several Scriptures that can help us reflect.
If you are interested in deepening your understanding of the imagery of dust, consider Genesis 3:19
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
and Ecclesiastes 3:20:
All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Consider the call to turn again toward our Lord. Joel 2:12-13 explains:
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
Rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
If you want to know how God wants you to fast, Matthew 6:16-18 tells us:
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Clearly, fasting is a spiritual practice between the person fasting and God. It is not meant to be a way to draw attention to the person fasting so that they might be held in high regard by others.
The test of Jesus being tempted by Satan is described in Mark 1:13:
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted by Satan, and Jesus will help us when we are tempted by Satan.
Matthew elaborates on the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Three times Jesus uses scripture to refute the temptations Satan offered. We too can use this as armor when we are tempted.
Finally, consider the promise in 1 Peter 5:6:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
This brings us full circle, back to the beatitudes. In Matthew 5:3 we learned:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The beatitude for this week is Matthew 5:6:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Spending time during Lent to intentionally grow in a right relationship is a blessing. It is through God’s grace that we have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. The blessing is that God wants to fill us with that right spirit.