Ash Wednesday 2019

by Pastor Tracy Paschke-Johannes
Matthew 6:1-6 (NRSV)
Concerning Almsgiving
“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. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Concerning Prayer
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:16-21 (NRSV)
Concerning Fasting
16 “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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.
Concerning Treasures
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Like many people, I watched in grief and sadness as wildfires raged in the western states in 2018. I couldn’t imagine the pain of families evacuating with only the clothes on their backs, only to return and find their homes, and their neighborhoods reduced to ashes. To understand the scope of the wildfires, news websites created interactive maps–I typed in my zip code, and a map with the square miles of the fire was superimposed over our region. One fire destroyed an area that would span from Middletown to Kettering. It is humbling and terrifying to imagine that everything you have, all that you worked for, could be gone in an instant.
This harsh reality is not limited to victims of wildfires. In 1997, I watched as flood waters washed away my hometown of Grand Forks, ND, leaving only the foundations of some homes, and leading to a fire that destroyed our downtown. We also experience the pain of unexpected deaths–loved ones and friends who we speak to one day can be gone the next. Loss is real, it stings, and it leaves no one untouched.
And this is why we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Because the dust is all too real to us. From wild fires that destroy homes, to accidents and diseases that take our loved ones, we experience sudden endings to the ones and the things we hold dear. Ash Wednesday is a day to remember, to pause, to consider our mortality, and the mortality of everything and everyone around us. As uncomfortable and unpleasant as this can be, it also brings us comfort. When all else falls away, when all we love is turned to dust, our God STILL remains. In time even the Earth, and all God has created will return to dust. But God STILL remains.
I pray peace for you amid these ashes. Know that you are not alone. Know that you are loved by the dusty people that surround you. And know that the ashes and dust of this world will not have the final word. For the WORD, the TRUTH endures forever. Amen.

Lenten Resources for Families

From Priscilla Stapleton and Sarah Richter
Ritual/Tradition: Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts for six weeks leading up to Easter. The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten”, which means “spring,” the lengthening of days after winter is over. This was a period of spring fasting. The forty days during Lent represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. Lent is typically a time of repentance, reflection and preparation for the coming of Easter. On Ash Wednesday, we attend a church service to prepare ourselves for the 40 day journey of self-examination. An outward show of this solemn service is the placing of ashes on our foreheads. As the pastor places the ashes on your forehead, the following words are spoken, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The foundation of this saying is found in Ecclesiastes 3:20. We are reminded that we came from dust and we will return to dust but it’s not without hope, because we have eternal life in Jesus Christ.
If you are not able to attend the Ash Wednesday service as a family, you can start your own family tradition by drawing a cross on each other’s foreheads with your index finger. As you draw the cross, you can say, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Take turns putting the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads as a symbolic gesture, remembering the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Share: Begin by sharing your highs and lows for the week. For instance, a high may be something that made you feel happy, delighted, joyful, or glad. A low might be something that made you feel sad, regretful, disappointed, or heartbroken. Allow each family member to share without feeling forced or pressured to say something. Make sure that sharing can be done in a safe and loving environment.
Read: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 Family worship or devotion time sets the tone in the home that God is ever present, and God’s spirit guides the decisions and relationships within the family. As you read this text, stop to discuss any areas that you feel are most important to your family. Reflection (Read Aloud): Lent is the church season during which we prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. It is a journey toward the cross. A journey takes us from one place to another and usually takes a long time. Lent is a journey that lasts forty days. During this time, we will explore that God is good in our life, learn about Jesus’ journey to the cross, and reflect on how Jesus’ life and our lives intersect to form that cross.
Lent is a season in which many people choose to give up something, such as chocolate, meat or caffeine. For others, it is a time to refocus their attention on their faith and personal spiritual growth by choosing to take on a service project. As a family take some time to decide how you are going to approach this Lenten season, whether it be giving up something, reconnecting with your faith, or choosing to spend more time together as a family serving in your community.
Talk: Keeping the lines of communication open as a family is so important, no matter what the ages of your children. Home should be a safe place where your children can talk with their parents, sharing their thoughts and feelings in a judgment free zone.
After attending the Ash Wednesday service or if you have a service within your home, perhaps you might consider discussing the following: How did it make you feel when you received the ashes of the cross on your forehead? How did it make you feel when the following words were spoken over you, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return? What do these words mean to you? Lent is a journey. What do you expect to learn on this 40-day journey? Do you think you will be able to give something up for 40 days? If not, then what could we do together as a family instead?
Activity One: Create a devotional space or family altar. Creating a Family Altar in your home will help center your family during this Lenten journey and remind you that home can be a place of worship, too. Work as a family to create a space where you can share time together reading the word of God and talking openly in faithful conversation. First, find a space that is peaceful and where the whole family can come together for devotions or where you will make your Family Altar Engage everyone in the family to come up with ideas on how to make this a special family space, perhaps adding candles, a Family Worship Bible, a CD player for spiritual music, a devotional book or daily devotional calendar and a cross. Add any other items that make your altar special. Perhaps make a family crest or shield that lists your family values and goals, or gather some stones or rocks and write inspirational words on them and lay them on your altar. Be creative. Begin each family devotional time with lighting the candle/candles on your altar or devotional space and with a prayer to focus your attention on the cross.
Activity Two: Make a Family Lenten Journal. Once you have established your family altar, here is an activity that you might want to add. Place a notebook on the altar, and for the next 40 days, write down any observations that you have made about your family. It could be that one person really went out of their way to help another family member, or you may have noticed that your children were cooperating and sharing with one another. It could be that you noticed that your children have not been helping around the house as they should, and this would give you an opportunity to set the expectations so that the following week you could see if there has been a change in expectations and behaviors. You may want to leave the journal open on the altar so that throughout the week, family members can write down their thoughts before your weekly family devotion or worship time. This could be your family’s 40 Day Lenten Journal that will be read for years to come. Creating family memories makes a strong family unit.
Pray: As your family worship or devotion time comes to a close, have everyone join hands and take turns praying for one another. End your time together by saying the Lord’s Prayer. You may want to include the following in your prayer time:
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for our family, for the many blessings you have given to us. We acknowledge that we have not always treated each other with love and respect, and we ask your forgiveness. We ask that you be with us during this season of Lent, and give us your grace as we serve each other and those in our community. We thank you for this time together and ask that your hand of mercy be upon us until we are together again. Amen. Bless: As the first family worship or devotion time comes to a close, be sure to make the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead and repeat, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. God loves you and so do I. Peace be with you.”

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