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Pastor's Message

December 2018

posted Nov 28, 2018, 11:57 AM by Christine Rice

The second verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” says:

                O come, O Wisdom from on high, embracing all things

                Far and nigh: in strength and beauty come and stay;

                Teach us your will and guide our way.  Rejoice! Rejoice!

                Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

Yes, Emmanuel (which means “God with us”), come among us this season and teach us your will and guide our way.  Starting on Sunday, December 2nd, we are into the season of Advent, which merges into Christmas.  Advent means “the coming” or “the arrival”.  We are, of course, preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ our Savior.  During Advent and Christmas we can actually talk about and celebrate three comings, three arrivals of Jesus Christ.

                We prepare to celebrate Christ’s first coming among as a child.  This is Jesus’ soft and sweet coming as a human baby.  This coming already happened more than 2000 years ago, so we are actually celebrating Jesus’ birthday, rather than his birth.  Nevertheless, Christmas is the miracle of God in the tender flesh of a newborn: the incarnation of the Son of God for us.  During the four weeks of Advent we prepare our hearts and minds to receive again this miracle of God’s love and grace for us.

                The Sunday Bible readings in Advent actually concentrate more on Christ’s second coming: his return as Savior and judge of all humanity at the end of time.  We read some apocalyptic (end time) verses urging us to watch, prepare, and be alert at all times (Luke 21).  We hear the voice of John the Baptist calling us to repentance and crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Luke 3:4. 

                During Advent and Christmas we also celebrate Christ’s “third coming”.  This is Jesus’ constant presence with us in the here and now: in worship, in bread and wine, in Christian community and in our hungry and needy neighbors, whom we reach out to in love and caring.  Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20.  Jesus also says, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40.

                On Sunday December 2nd, we begin a new church year: the year of Luke’s Gospel.  Last year our Sunday gospel readings were mostly Mark.  This year is largely Luke, rounded out with some readings from John.  It’s a three year lectionary cycle.  The idea being that we hear most of all 4 gospels over the course of 3 years.  Luke is often referred to as “Good news to the poor” and the “Gospel to the Gentiles”.  (If you are not Jewish, you’re a Gentile).

          Some major themes to watch for as we read through Luke this year are the  journey, salvation, the Holy Spirit, hospitality and food, women, the socially marginalized and the here and now.  In Luke, Jesus does major teaching on his journey to Jerusalem and he is nearly always “on the road”.  In Luke, salvation is more than forgiveness of sins: it is liberation from oppression, the reversal of status and full restoration of life.  Jesus is always eating with people in Luke and relationships take shape as hospitality is extended.  In Luke, “disciples” is a big group and includes women.  Elizabeth, Martha, Mary and others are women of great faith.  In Luke, Jesus reaches out to and saves widows, Gentiles, tax collectors, poor people and the physically challenged.  In Luke, salvation does not happen just sometime in the future, but takes place “today” and discipleship is a daily reality.

                And of course Luke gives us the beloved Christmas Gospel.  “And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7

                “O Lord, how shall I meet you, how welcome you a-right?  Your people long to greet you, my hope, my heart’s delight!  Oh, kindle Lord most holy, your lamp within my breast to do in spirit lowly all that may please you best.”  ELW 241

                                                                                                

O come, o come Emmanuel,   Pastor Dennis

 

November 2018

posted Nov 1, 2018, 11:33 AM by Christine Rice

            For those of us in Northern climates, the month of November means the dying of the landscape. It’s colder, darker and the leaves and flowers are gone.

            Beginning with All Saints Day on Nov 1st, the scripture readings for November remind us of our mortality and predict war, disaster and end times.  It’s enough to make us yearn for a savior or a king—and we get both as the time after Pentecost draws to a close on Christ the King Sunday (Nov 25).

            On the surface, there is not much good cheer in the Sunday gospel readings.  But buried beneath the darkness and death of November is the promise of resurrected life; an end to sadness and tears; the opportunity to give thanks for, share, and partake of the rich harvest of the earth; and a chance to renew our unwavering, confident trust in God.

            All Saint’s Sunday (Nov 4) and November in general are ideal times to acknowledge that although death is a part of life, death does not have the final word.  In a society that keeps people alive at all costs, sanitizes death, and even demands that the grieving “move on,” this is our time to collectively pause, grieve, and remember.  Our national Day of Thanksgiving comes later in the month, but we might consider All Saint’s Sunday a “little Thanksgiving” for those who have gone on before us and for those on whose faith shoulders we stand.

            On All Saint’s Sunday I will read the names of First Lutheran Church members who have died within the last year or so:  Adeline Swan, Alan Keith, Cheryl Barnhart, Sylvia Nelson, Harry Kukes, Louise Danton Fennerty and Don Ringe.  During the prayers that Sunday, there will be time for you to name aloud your loved ones who have died in the faith recently.  

            We hear “saints” and we naturally think of famous saints like Peter, Paul, Francis, or Mother Theresa.  But as the reformer Martin Luther would remind us, we are all at the same time saints and sinners.  We are all sinners for sure, but at the same time saints, because of the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

            Christ the King Sunday wraps up the church year on Nov 25.  On the final Sunday of the church year, we celebrate Jesus Christ as the goal and redemption of humanity and all creation.  And as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day with family and friends, we thank and praise God for daily bread and for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

                                                                     

Serving God and Neighbor with you,  Pastor Dennis

 

October 2018

posted Sep 24, 2018, 12:00 PM by Christine Rice

Dear People of God,

 

              October is always a beautiful month in the Kittitas Valley.  The days are usually sunny, the nights are cool and good for sleeping and the leaves are turning beautiful shades of gold, orange and red.  Ministries at First Lutheran are in full color as well: preschool, Sunday School, quilters, choir, adult Bible studies and Sunday class, confirmation classes and youth events.  Sacks of nutritious, easy to fix meals are packed up on Thursdays, delivered to Lincoln Elementary and sent home on Fridays with hungry school children.  And don’t forget the big rummage sale on October 5th and 6th!  All the proceeds go to worthy charities.  And thanks to everyone for keeping the soup shelf at our FISH food bank well stocked.

        CWU students have arrived in droves.  Our town of Ellensburg always becomes more active and busy once fall classes start up at CWU.  The reformer Martin Luther said, “Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” 

            On the last Sunday of the month, October 28th, we celebrate Reformation Sunday.  We give thanks for the faithful witness of Martin Luther and other reformers of the church.  Luther rediscovered the Bible truth that our salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, which we receive through faith.  Luther emphasized the Bible truth that we do not somehow earn the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.   Rather, these are freely given to us through the precious blood of Jesus, who died on the cross and rose again to save us.  Our lives are a “thank you!” to God as we share the love and good news of Jesus with other people.  We work not to be saved.  We work because we are saved through Jesus.  So our faith is not an idle thing.  Faith is a matter of the head (intellectual belief), but also of the heart and the hands.  As Martin Luther said, “Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.”

            Luther and other reformers of the church also emphasized, “The church reformed and always reforming.”  We are not stuck in the 16th century.  The church always needs to be open to the new ways that the Holy Spirit is calling us to love God and love and serve our neighbors in need.

            Here at First Lutheran, October 28th will also be Confirmation Sunday.  This year there are 4 young people who are ready to be confirmed in the Christian faith.  Hannah Campbell, Kathryn Merten, Lydia Blaisdell and Kassidy Winter are ready to affirm their baptisms.  They are ready to say “Yes” to the promises God first made to them in Holy Baptism.  So, come celebrate with these wonderful young people and hear their faith statements and have a piece of cake with them after worship.  This prayer will be said for Kassidy, Lydia, Kathryn and Hannah  as they affirm their baptisms.

            “Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake, stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm their faith, guide their lives, empower them in their serving, give them patience in suffering, and bring them to everlasting life.”  Amen.

                                                                       

Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, 

 

Pastor Dennis

 

September 2018

posted Aug 28, 2018, 8:47 AM by Christine Rice

Dear People of God,

 

             Hot and hazy!  That was the weather pattern in August.  We continue to pray for firefighters, all who have been devastated by fire and those who are still in the path of fire.  Despite the heat and smoke, I enjoyed some good vacation time with my family and visited relatives.  I also enjoyed some overnight backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail and some great day hikes in our nearby Cascade Mountains.  I had some good kayaking days with my brother, Brian and son, Kyle.  I also got my bicycle repaired and enjoyed some rides along the Yakima River part of the Iron Horse Trail.  I hope you all had some time for R & R and visiting with family as well.

            The month of September always brings cooler temperatures and big changes to the rhythms of life.  For students, teachers and staff it is, of course, back to school time.  But first comes the fabulous Ellensburg fair and rodeo!  At First Lutheran Church we move from the quiet relaxed pace of summer to more opportunities for learning and service.  The quilters have been going strong all summer.  But Sunday School (Middle & High School) and Adult Education begin meeting September 16th from 8:45-9:45am.  Elementary age Sunday School happens during the worship service as usual.  The Thursday morning prayer and Bible study group meets again starting September 6th at 9am after a 3 week break.  Both the Sunday and Thursday groups are, of course, open to anyone.  Confirmation classes resume with a plethora of pizza on Wednesday, September 12th at 6:30pm.

            This year we will also have a potluck lunch on “Rally Sunday”  September 16th.  Please, bring some food to share after worship.  A fun and silly idea I have, which council approved, is to have a zucchini dish contest.  I think council members have offered to taste and judge.  Perhaps there will be 2 categories: Desserts/bread and everything else?

            One worship change which I personally am excited about is to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  The council approved this.  Most ELCA congregations do this.  And every “Lord’s Day” (Sunday) holy communion was definitely the worship practice of early Christians.  We have been almost there for a while and I’m glad that we are taking the next step to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  We all need regular feedings of God’s forgiveness, life and salvation for us offered through the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Peace in Christ,   Pastor Dennis                                            

 

July~August 2018

posted Jun 27, 2018, 10:23 AM by Christine Rice

Dear People of God,

            “Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom. July is dressed up and playing her tune.  Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”  I know we don’t have a lot of jasmine around here, but the old Seals and Croft song has been running through my head ever since the weather warmed up.  I recorded it onto cassette tape from my seminary roommate’s album my first year at Luther seminary.  Mark had quite a music collection and I had none.

            After my first year of seminary in St. Paul, I looked forward to driving home to Kent, WA.  I had just bought an older pick-up truck with a canopy on the back.  My folks sent me a little money to help pay for it and at the age of 23 this was the first vehicle I ever owned.  It was a fun solo adventure.  Even with all my worldly possessions, (books and clothes), there was still plenty of room to roll out a pad and sleeping bag in the back at night.  I had a little backpacking stove and cook kit.

            I camped out in the Bad Lands and saw Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills.  The truck overheated going over a 10,000 foot pass in Wyoming.  I sat and let it cool off for a while, then made it over the top and coasted down the other side into Ten Sleep, Wyoming for minor repairs.  I picked up a hitchhiker. Not really a good idea, kids.  He was an old guy headed to eastern Washington to pick fruit.  He claimed to be the prophet Elijah!

            I tried to go through Yellowstone, but snow, yes snow at the end of May forced me to take a different route.  So I stopped in at my grandma & grandpa’s house in Twin Falls, Idaho for a visit.  I let the hitchhiker off before I got to grandma’s house.  The next day I made it home to my parents’ house in Kent, Washington.  The old pick-up truck worked great for hauling ladders and paint for my little house painting business that summer.

            Adventure:  especially when you are young, life is an adventure. Most of us need a little adventure in life from time to time.  I’m reading “Paul” by scholar N.T Wright.  Thanks to Art Neslund for loaning me the book.  The Apostle Paul: now there is a guy who traveled much and led an adventurous, often dangerous life.  My solo trip from St. Paul to Kent was just a fun sight-seeing adventure, whereas Paul was led by the Spirit and suffered much as he shared the good news of Jesus Christ.  Reading can be a great little adventure in your mind.

            I think most people need a little adventure in life: a change of scenery: a chance to travel somewhere new or different.  Summer is a great time for that.  I guess that’s why I enjoy hiking in the mountains so much.  It’s a little adventure and you don’t have to drive very far from Ellensburg to have a great adventure around here.

            Whether you travel somewhere this summer or enjoy the beauty of the season right here in Kittitas County, know that Christ is with you.  The Spirit of the living God is with you.  “Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom.  July is dressed up and playing her tune.  Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”

            May the Holy Spirit be blowing through your mind this summer and refresh you.

                                                                                                     

Peace in Christ,  Pastor Dennis

 

p.s. Big thanks to Ethan Bergman, Michael Goerger and Joe Johnson for preaching this summer on Sundays when I’m away on vacation!

 

June 2018

posted May 31, 2018, 8:55 AM by Christine Rice

Dear People of God,

 

             Renewal: Life is about constant renewal.  We have been in our little house on Cora Street for 15 years this summer.  As all home owners do, we have had to gradually replace things over the years to renew the house: things like the refrigerator and the stove.  Last year it was the hot water heater.  This year we needed to replace the gas furnace which was 28 years old, and was making more and more noise.  We upgraded from an 80% efficiency to a 95% efficiency and added air conditioning while we were at it.  The AC will definitely be refreshing and renewing this summer!  By the time you read this, hopefully the patio slider door will be fixed.  The rollers need replacing, (we are waiting for parts) and it’s a major effort to get it open.  I’m surprised the original dishwasher is still working. The wooden deck out back is rotting and definitely needs replacing.  I’m still dragging sprinkler hose around.  Maybe next year we will invest in a sprinkler system or repair the crumbling driveway. Everything in or on a house eventually needs renewing.

            Throughout the month of June we are in the “Sundays after Pentecost” in the church year.  This is the long, green growing season of renewal, which lasts clear up until Advent.  The lawns and gardens, fields and orchards are green and growing with the warmth of summer.  As Christians, we are also growing, renewing, yet still green, in our spiritual lives.  What keeps you growing in the Spirit?  What gives you spiritual refreshment, renewal and growth?

            I will be at Pacific Lutheran University June 11-13 for three days of continuing education.  PLU always puts on some good continuing education classes for pastors.  This refreshes me spiritually. Our son Kyle will be home for the summer from college and we always enjoy spending time together: walking the dog together and talking about life.

            In the summer I enjoy puttering in the garden and yard.  There is something about getting my hands in the dirt and working with God’s marvelous creation which is life-giving and spiritually refreshing and renewing to me.

            And of course I enjoy hiking.  You knew I was going to say that.  One of my favorite things in the summer time is going hiking in our nearby beautiful mountains.  As the snow melts off, I look forward to getting into the high country.  It lifts my soul to hike familiar trails, explore new ones and see God’s beautiful forests, peaks and mountain lakes.  I am renewed and refreshed by spending time in God’s creation.

            I also like to sit in the shade and read a good book in the summer.  And I enjoy eating breakfast outside on the deck with my devotion books and Bible.  The quiet prayer time is refreshing and renewing to me. 

            What keeps you growing in the Spirit?  What gives you spiritual refreshment and renewal in the summer time?                      

 

Peace in Christ,  

 Pastor Dennis                                            

 

May 2018

posted Apr 25, 2018, 10:28 AM by Christine Rice

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

                During the first half of May we are still in Eastertide.  That is, we are still in the full seven weeks of the Easter Season, which celebrate the resurrection of our Savior Jesus.  Christ’s victory over sin and death by means of his own death and resurrection is the best news ever and worth celebrating for a full 49 days: a week of weeks.  On May 13thwe also celebrate Mother’s Day.  As a friend from my past always reminded me;  “If you are not a mother, you have a mother—so everyone celebrates Mother’s Day.”  Truth is, most of us probably first learned what love is from our mothers.  So on Mother’s Day we honor and celebrate our Moms.  God bless you Mothers as you reflect God’s wonderful love to your children!

                Ascension Day falls on the 40th day of the Easter Season.  Ascension Day always lands on a Thursday, this year May 10th, so it doesn’t get a lot of Sunday morning publicity.  But it is at least worth reviewing Luke chapter one and giving thanks to God.

                Luke 1:3 and following: “After his (Jesus’) suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God….It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses… When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

                After proving himself alive to his followers for 40 days, the resurrected Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, returns to his rightful place beside God the Father Almighty: the place from which he came before time began.  But the risen Jesus does not abandon his followers.  He sends them the Holy Spirit and promises to be with them always through the Holy Spirit.

                Fifty days after Easter, the church celebrates Pentecost: the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all of Jesus’ followers.  The gift of the Holy Spirit empowers them to be Jesus’ witnesses “In Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(Luke 1:8).  Originally, Pentecost was a Jewish thanksgiving-type festival celebrated 7 weeks after Passover.  It also celebrated the giving of the 10 Commandments.  But in the New Testament, Pentecost is given whole new meaning as God’s Holy Spirit is poured out on the followers of Jesus.  “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:2-4.

                Though they were all Galileans, suddenly the disciples of Jesus could tell of God’s mighty acts in the many, different, known languages of the Mediterranean  world.  It’s true that some skeptics dismissed the miracle simply as drunkenness.  But Peter speaks truth in his Pentecost sermon when he interprets the miracle as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel.  “In the last days it will be, God declares,  that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams….Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:17&21.

                As Christians today, we are all Easter people and we are all Pentecost people.  We are all given forgiveness, life and salvation through the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus.  And we are all given the Holy Spirit to help us share the saving good news of Jesus with other people.  The Holy Spirit empowers all Christians to share the love of Jesus with others  through word and through compassionate care for our neighbors in need.

                                                               

Serving God and neighbor with you, 

Pastor Dennis 

 

April 2018

posted Mar 28, 2018, 11:01 AM by Christine Rice

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

 

            Christ is not risen.  April fools!  Jesus is still in the grave.  April fools! There is no hope for you. April fools.  I know, these are bad April fools’ jokes and, of course, completely false.  Christ is risen!   The grave is empty! We too, live with God now and for eternity!

             One can’t help but notice that Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, falls on April 1st this year: April Fools’ Day.  Bad jokes aside, we can definitely say that Almighty God pulls off the greatest April Fools’ joke of all on death and the devil by raising Jesus the Son to new and everlasting life.

            The Apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”          

            We celebrate Easter Day, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Sunday, April 1st.   On Resurrection Day we pull out all the stops and celebrate with trumpets and choir and great music and lilies and banners and resurrection scriptures and a message and the Lord’s Supper and even Easter breakfast.  This is as it should be on the big day.

          But the resurrection of Jesus, the event which changed human history forever, is far too good of news to be confined to one day.  So Eastertide, the season of Easter, lasts a full 7 weeks: a week of weeks: 49 days: right up until Pentecost.  And of course, every Sunday is really a “little Easter”:  a little celebration of our Savior Jesus’ resurrection from death to life.

            Christ is risen! The grave of Jesus is empty! Death is defeated! We too shall live with God now and for eternity.  And that’s no April Fools!

                                                                         

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

                                                                                                           

Pastor Dennis

 

March 2018

posted Feb 27, 2018, 9:56 AM by Christine Rice

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

            During the month of March we are in the season of Lent.  With Spring officially beginning on March 20th, many people start to do some spring cleaning at home: dusting, washing, some yard work, (bathing the dog at Messy Mutts)—all those things that are just too hard to do in the cold and dark of winter.  In the church year, Lent is like spring cleaning for the soul.  During the 40 days of Lent we are asked to intentionally struggle against all those things that get in the way of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Repentance and forgiveness, prayer, fasting, Bible reading, worship and acts of loving charity toward our neighbors in need are all good ways to go about spring cleaning for the soul, heart, mind and body.  In the early church, Lent was a time of instruction for people preparing for baptism at Easter.

            Holy Week begins the last week of March.  During Holy Week we come to the main things of our Christian faith: the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  On Palm Sunday, March 25, we remember that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem as a humble king.  On Maundy Thursday, March 29, we remember that Jesus washed his disciples feet, ate his last meal with friends and began the Lord ‘s Supper.  On Good Friday, March 30, we remember that Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sins of the whole world.  And on Sunday, April 1, we celebrate the day that changed the whole world forever, the Resurrection of our Savior Jesus.

           We are in the year of the Gospel of Mark this year.  Mark devotes more than a third of his 16 chapters to the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  This is the story, the good news, which the gospel writer Mark really wants to tell and hastens us toward right from chapter one, verse one.  This “kerygma”, this essential main thing, is what Mark, and all the gospel writers want us to know: the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, God’s Son.  Jesus’ death for the world and all people means forgiveness of sins and new life.  Jesus’ resurrection from death means the defeat of death and the devil, and it means new life now and everlasting life with God in his full kingdom forever.  In other words, in the words of Rob Bell’s book--“Love Wins”.  The love of God shown to us and all people through the death and resurrection of Jesus is the winning word. Though death and evil still prowl around in our world causing misery and mischief, there is no doubt about the final outcome.  Sin, death and the devil are defeated through the cross of Jesus.  Love, life and salvation are assured through the resurrection of our Savior Jesus. 

            Let us follow our Savior Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross through the disciplines of Lent.  Then we shall be able to truly celebrate his world changing life and love at his resurrection from death.                                              

 

Serving God and Neighbor with You,   Pastor Dennis

 

February 2018

posted Feb 1, 2018, 12:11 PM by Christine Rice

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

            We are having a much milder winter this year.  Remember all the snow, ice and cold of last year?  I saw my first robin already on January 20th while out walking the dog on the Iron Horse Trail.  A few purple primroses and pansies began blooming in the church garden right after Martin Luther King Day.  Of course the day after I wrote this, it snowed just to remind us that it is still winter.

            Lengthen: the word “Lent” comes from an old English word meaning to lengthen.  The days are starting to get longer and there is actually some warmth in the sunshine. The season of Lent begins this year on February 14 with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday comes early this year, because Easter Day comes fairly early this year on April 1.  Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring Equinox on March 20.  To find Ash Wednesday, we then back up 40 days from Resurrection Day, but don’t include Sundays, which are always “little Easters”.  (Many pastors hope that Easter will be standardized to perhaps the second Sunday of April sometime in the near future.)

         But why are there 40 days in Lent?  Well, forty is a very biblical number.  Noah and family were in the ark for 40 days.  The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness while they learned to trust God.  Jesus was tested for 40 days in the desert by Satan.  And our Lord Jesus spent about 40 hours in the grave of death before God raised him up to everlasting life.

            Lent is a time to struggle against everything that gets in the way of our Christian calling to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Repenting of our sins, prayer, fasting, worship, Bible study and works of love and charity are some of the disciplines of Lent.  These are ways to help us deepen our faith walk with Jesus.  They are not ways to earn God’s love and salvation for us.  Forgiveness, life and salvation are always God’s free and gracious gift to us through Jesus Christ.  But the disciplines of lent are ways to be intentional about our faith walk with our Savior Jesus.  We journey with Jesus to Jerusalem to his trial, his cross and his grave.  We think on the extreme sacrifice Jesus made to save us from sin, death and evil.  Then when Easter comes we will be able to celebrate his resurrection and life with true joy!

            Many Christians receive a cross of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday.  Since Old Testament times, ashes have been an outward sign of inner repentance.  For Christians, it’s also a reminder of baptism: that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and marked with his cross forever.

            It’s hard not to notice that this year Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday and April Fool’s Day falls on Easter!  Valentine’s Day and Ash Wed. seem at odds with each other and yet they are both about love.  Valentine’s Day is about human love, romantic love, which is important.  And Ash Wed and Lent are about God’s great love for us, which spills out of us as love for others.  As for April Fool’s Day being on Easter:  God surely fools death and evil when God raises Jesus to fresh and unconquerable, everlasting life.

            Joel 2 is always one of the readings for Ash Wed.  The prophet writes, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  Joel 2:13.  Lent is a good time to intentionally return to the gracious mercy of God.  Loving good works towards our neighbors in our church families and in our communities and world help us to do this.                                                                                                

 

Peace in Christ, Pastor Dennis

 

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