Lent is not a season of the Church Year that I focus on as much as others times of the year. But I did go to a couple of Ash Wednesday Services yesterday and I am glad I did. I have some things to think about for the next days, weeks, months, whether they qualify as actual Lenten devotional practices or not.
David Hill, the Pastor of First Church (UCC), led the Wednesday morning hymn sing, which coincided, of course, with Ash Wednesday. It was a very simple and helpful service (is spite of the construction racket that was taking place somewhere nearby). He read what is the classic Psalm for Ash Wednesday, Psalm 51, and particularly lifted up what is perhaps the best known verse in that Psalm, v.10 which reads “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” David pointed out how that verse keys into the very basic desire all of us have who want to live our lives more in accordance with God’s purposes and ways.
During the day I thought about how basic Psalm 51:10 is to the Christian life, and how maybe it wouldn’t hurt any of us during these days of Lent, or simply in the days ahead, to think about some of the other basics. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength and your neighbor as yourself.” “You are his witnesses.” The Beatitudes begin (and the Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew 5 with, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God,” and they outline more of the basics that come with following Jesus. “You are the body of Christ.” “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God: everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” “Be kind and tender hearted to one another, forgiving each other as God has forgiven you in Jesus Christ.” “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” “He is alive!” “Follow me.”
Then there were some hymns I was thinking about, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that save a wretch like me.” “Come and fill out hearts with your peace, you alone, O God, are holy.” And the one we sang in yesterday morning’s service, “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.”
There are a couple of prayers that also point us to the basics. “Our father/mother in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive us our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for yours is the kingdom, the power, the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
And I’ve been thinking about St. Francis a lot since coming back from the Global Baptist Peace Conference in Italy. What more basic prayer than “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood and to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.”
So it’s kind of a back to the basics for me during Lent. And I know there are a lot more basics out there. I also know that basic doesn’t mean simple. I’m going to put this meditation on our web site. If you have comments or thoughts you would like to contribute just go to pccoberlin.org and click on The Sermonator Page. Find the Back to the Basics post and post your own comments. It’s easy to do and others would benefit.
I also know that during Lent and the days ahead, people will be working on a variety of missions and ministries, including visiting those who are sick, feeding and caring for the vulnerable, working to end the death penalty in Ohio, hauling and inviting folk to church, sharing your faith, working to help gay and lesbian people enjoy the same blessings of marriage that others of us receive, teaching youth about peacemaking, and a dizzying cornucopia of ways you are being the living presence of the living Jesus and proclaiming his gospel of peace. That is all the stuff of the basic Christian life that we like to know about.
By the way, thanks to all of you (Mary Hammond, Susan, Justin, Phyllis, Kristen, Franklin, Linda, Roger, and whoever else I have forgotten) who made the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper possible. It was a wonderful time, and a good start to Lent. And also my thanks to Anna, Tim, Bethany, Greg, Brian and whoever else planned and helped with the Noon Ash Wednesday Service. My stomach and spirit have been filled these past couple of days…