Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Making a Mess of Ash Wednesday

How did a former Baptist pastor end up in this mess? Well, he created it. By the time I was finished with my assignment I had gathered an aluminum roasting pan, a can of vegetable oil spray, a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid, a hand-held propane lighter, an eight pound Jr. high shot put, a screwdriver, a pair of left-handed scissors, a plastic baggie, and a half dozen dried palm branches. It started simple enough- keep the palm branches from last year's Palm Sunday service to be dried and burned to make ashes for anointing those wishing to participate in an Ash Wednesday service. I had no previous experience with doing this. Last year's Ash Wednesday was my first. I sought the advice and help of a retired Disciples of Christ minister in our church who is on top of nearly everything. He went to a friend who lent him some ashes our service. I thought that added meaning to the term 'lent.' This year we would make our own ashes from our own palm branches. Progress. So I find myself in the garage this morning. Its thirty-seven degrees in there. I have a roasting pan to burn the branches in. I did an internet search and found an entry stating that spray vegetable oil worked well. I backed my pick-up out of the garage. I cut a few dried leaves and dropped them into the pan, sprayed them with a little oil and placed them at the opening of the garage. It was protected from the wind but far enough back to provide good circulation-I thought. So I put the lighter to them. Fizzle. It's not lighting. Okay, go get some lighter fluid. I pour some of that on the leaves and whomp, its burning. Man is it ever burning. Are those gas cans for the mower over there? I can see tomorrow's headline 'White Bluff Volunteer Fire Dept. Chaplain burns own house down...' Why isn't the smoke going out? Finally it dies down. Hey, this doesn't look too bad. The ashes are kinda long and stringy. What did that guy on the internet say? Oh, yeah you have to crush them. With what? I'll use the butt of a screwdriver. So on my work bench I get to crushing ashes with the butt of a screwdriver. It is taking forever. I'll just use my hand. That worked much better but most of the ashes stay on my hand. I get one teaspoon of ashes and drop them in a baggy. Second round. More branches this time, cut into smaller pieces. I use a little more vegetable oil and a lot less lighter fluid. Closer to the door this go 'round and farther from the lawn mower gas and a little whomp later I'm in business. This batch looks more promising. But what can I crush these ashes with? My hand is great but messy; the screwdriver is ok but slow. I know, I'll get one of my shot puts and roll it on the burned up branches. Viola! So I'm rolling out ashes thinking I'm probably breaking some ecclesiastical laws and I'm watching for the Orthodoxy Police and the fire department when I see all this stuff I've pulled out. What a unholy mess! Then it hits me-I'm my own metaphor. I'm trying to do this religious stuff, I'm not sure how and I'm not very good at it. I'm getting it done in one manner of speaking but I've made a mess of things in the meantime. Who shall rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:25) In a few hours people will come and hear an Ash Wednesday message. They will receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads from my thumb and from my DOC friend. They won't know about my messes either with living life or in making ashes. Some will come out of habit, some will come out of curiosity, some will come to try and make a connection with God again. Some will come and who knows why, but come they will. They will hear an explanation of the history and meaning behind Ash Wednesday. They will hear me say that it doesn't make God love them any more if they receive the ashes or any less if they don't. They will hear me say the Bible no where tells people to fast on this day but they will hear me be pro-fast if in giving up some daily, ordinary habit they can then turn their attention to the extraordinary Christ and think more of Him. They will hear me say that there is nothing which will give you more power with God by taking the Ashes but maybe if you stop and reflect enough you may better understand the power from God you've already been given. They will hear me say that nothing in this ritual adds to our salvation but if remembering our mortality and repenting of those weights in life that so easily entangle us (Heb. 12:1) somehow enables us to walk more with our God in humility and devotion ,then receive the ashes. They won't know that of all the services of our year that this one causes me to tremble and humbles more than any other. I feel so unworthy to be making the sign of a cross on these saints. It is I who need to live behind that cross. It is almost too intimate, too close with eyes too searching and hearts too open. It's a Presence I can hardly bear and maybe that is why I need it more than they. Finally they will hear me say to not let the cross of ritual on the forehead keep them from the more important work of this Lenten season: to take stock--to remember to whom they belong and to to whom they answer--to reflect on the relationship they have with Jesus and to not just check off another box of keeping the rules. I will tell them to fall in love again with Jesus and leave off anything that deadens or douses Loves flames. They will hear me tell them that when, at the end of the day, and they wash off the smudge I've placed on the foreheads, to remember that it is much harder to wash off the smudge in the heart. It takes the blood of Jesus to do that. Ash Wednesday 2010 Cos

Monday, February 8, 2010

Saints Alive!

Who Dat dun wan da Soupr Bol? Ya, it be da Saints. I'm happy for the New Orleans Saints on several levels. One, it was just a good, enjoyable football game. It had big plays, bobbles, hard hitting, momentum shifts and just about any thing you could want in a football game, unless you are a fan of the Colts. I personally thought Peyton Manning would find a way to win that game but the Saints were just too much. Some say it was destiny. After seeing Drew Brees with his infant son (that was good thinking to put ear protection on the little boy) and the tears of joy, I may be a believer myself. Birthed the year after the first Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints were a tough luck group. Their faithful had followed their beloved team for forty three years of frustration. I remember fans showing up with bags on their heads to not be seen watching the Saints. I remember them being called the 'Aint's. I recall Archie Manning, one of their earliest draftees, being one of the best scrambling quarterbacks in the history of the game mainly out of necessity. The Saints were the opponent for our Cowboys in the first professional game I'd see when my daddy sprung for tickets. We watched Dandy Don and the Cowboys handily whip the new guys from Louisiana (I did like their uniforms). I really didn't have a heavy emotional tie to either team last night. If I had been forced to pick a team to root for it would have been the Saints, mainly because of Darlene, our Cajun friend, who really wanted them to win it all. Any thing that gets Darlene talking Cajun I'm all for. And who doesn't like an underdog story? There is no guarantee that the Saints of today's football glory will be able to repeat as next year's football champs. In fact, the NFC has sent nine different teams to the last nine Super Bowls. But there is another group of saints you may also want to pull for, since most anyone who reads this is a part of that group. It turns out that this group of saints,the ones addressed in nearly all of Paul's and Peter's letters, plus another dozen or so times in the book of Revelation, has had its ups and downs for the past 2,000 plus years, not forty-three. It's ofttimes even harder than it was for the New Orleans faithful to keep up the hopes of victory for these other long-suffering saints. Last night's Saints said they believed in themselves even after falling behind by ten early on. The saints of whom I speak are the believers, the followers of Christ who remain faithful through the centuries to the Christ that they love and in whom they believe. We have allowed the word "saints" to take on more meaning than was intended by elevating the concept beyond the realm of every-day living for the cause of Christ and by the love of Christ. In the New Testament, these "saints" were the believers, the faithful who trusted Jesus for their eternal lives and lived their temporal ones for His glory. They were set aside not by their extreme acts of goodness or miracles but by their belief in the Risen Lord. They were told to expect hard times even to the point of death but were called to patient endurance and faithfulness (Rev. 13:10; 14:12). The end result of their faithful endurance would be a feast and celebration even New Orleans can't match (Rev. 19:1-10). So you saints of the Lord may have something in common with the Saints of New Orleans football fame but your victory will last longer, have more meaning, and result not just in the joy of an organization or a city, but the entire Kingdom of God. So remember, 'When the Saints Go Marching In' belongs to the Kingdom Saints, not the New Orleans ones. But is there hope for the Texas Rangers? I can't find them in scripture. Oh well........ Who Dat? We Dat! Da ones who go marchin' in......... Cos