We have taken our first few steps into the Lenten season, traditionally a time of fasting, prayer, and reflection, leading up to the solemn events of Passion Week. During our Ash Wednesday service last week, I noted that we were moving from a time of self-indulgence, of stuffing ourselves with Phil’s delicious pancakes, (Shrove Tuesday on Wednesday) into Lent, a season of self-denial. We think of Lent as a time to give something up, that is, making some personal sacrifice in order to better understand the immense sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.
During Lent we also take a good long look at our lives and the way we live them. We try to assess how we are navigating our way through life. Lent is a time when we think about our sinfulness. No one is perfect; as St. Paul says, all have sinned. What is it that keeps us from a closer walk with our creator? Is there anything that stands between us and more loving relationships with others? Lent is very much about turning back to God, and making room in our lives for God.
Michael Brown has written: “Think of your soul as a shelf. It has only so much room. You can place whatever things you wish on the shelf, but only at the expense of other things for which there is not room. Too often the shelf is stocked with hatred, prejudice, revenge, envy, lust, selfishness, etc. But when those things take up our shelf space, no room is left for God and God’s will and love and purposes for
us.” Lent then, can be a time for soul-searching and for “shelf-cleaning.”
The late Peter Gomes has written that Lent is a time for “silence, study, and service.” The world is a noisy place; silence is a rare and precious thing. For us, silence can be the place in which we both seek and experience the presence of God. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the scriptures. Dr. Gomes suggests at least a fifteen minute period of silence each day.
He writes of study. An ambitious course of study and regular reading and ordered reflection helps us to make good use of the 40 days of Lent. And he writes of service. He notes that Lent is not private or personal. So, lest we become too private and self-absorbed in Lent, we should search for ways in which we might give time to some work or kindness which is not only for ourselves. Where can we do some good? Who needs our help? What can we do for others that will make a difference?
Good suggestions all. Simply put, Lent provides the means for us to slow down, quiet down, reflect on our lives, and attend to those parts of our lives we often neglect. I would also encourage us to attend worship each Sunday during the Lenten season, and to attend the special services of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. During those holy days, we will recall the depth of love Jesus has, and how far love was willing to go and why. I am convicted that sharing these moments of worship together will make our Easter celebration all the more meaningful and joyful. Come and worship!
For a number of years, the celebration of Black History Month has been an important component of our February ministry at MHBC. Led by Mrs. Willie King and her team, we have tried to raise awareness of important historical events, achievements, and noted leaders in Black history. To be sure, the contributions of black men and women to our nation and to the world have been many and varied.
Carlyle Fielding Stewart, an African-American preacher, has written: “We have built some of the greatest monuments in the world and have made some of the greatest discoveries and inventions in the world; We have built highways, byways, and bridges on American soil. We have fought America's wars and won her medals.”
Stewart goes on to write, “While our gifts to America are vast and varied, one of our greatest gifts is our spirituality, for it is the raw material, the vital impetus, the true substance, which has fueled our souls and lives and has sustained us through the trials and troubles of the American experience.”
The way has not been easy. Part of the gift of African-American spirituality of which Stewart writes has been the ability to face, adapt to, and overcome insurmountable odds and hardships through an unswerving faith in God. It is has been said that Martin Luther King, when he needed encouragement, would turn to “Balm in Gilead:” “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.” King also found comfort in “Precious Lord, Take My Hand;” “Through the storm, through the night,” it goes, “lead me on to the light.”
Black History Month also reminds us of some of the most challenging days in our American History. Ours is a great nation, but a painful part of our history has included cruelty and oppression toward various races of people. Sadly, that cruelty and oppression can still be found in some circles, yet another reason why Black History month is needed. Recalling the sins of the past, but also celebrating the progress that has been made can empower us to continue to work together so that we do not repeat or relive the past. So may it be.
I encourage each member, friend, and regular attendee of Montgomery Hills to participate in the events surrounding Black History Month. As David Mathis writes, “Black History Month is not for them. It’s for all of us.”
What a blessing this Advent-Christmas season has been! We have been blessed by the music of the season, the beauty of our sanctuary, and the praise, prayer, and fellowship we have shared one with another. Thank God for the gift of Jesus! That gift is still good news! No one among us knows what the next year will bring, so it is truly good news to know that in the face of uncertain futures, Jesus is within us, and we are His.
A new year affords us the opportunity to look back, reflect and give thanks. Together, we have looked for new ways to effectively care for others; we have studied, explored, and grown. We have shared the good news of hope and salvation with the community and world around us. Yet, so much remains to be done.
I encourage us to have a positive outlook for the New Year. There is so much to be thankful for! Let us carry into 2018 a renewed dedication, a deeper sense of purpose, a heartfelt eagerness to share our gifts, and a truly positive attitude. If we accept the axiom that negative thoughts produce negative actions, is it not also true that positive thoughts produce positive actions?
To be sure, everything will not flow perfectly for us in 2018, but as they say, a problem is sometimes just a blessing in disguise. Indeed, obstacles in our path can often be means for growth. As E. Stanley Jones once wrote, “When life kicks you, let it kick you forward.”
I pray for all of you a blessed 2018. Let’s expect the best, put our trust in God and make this corner of the planet a better place. I share a prayer for the New Year with you, written by Lee McGlone: Loving God, as we begin this cycle of years again, let each day belong to you. Let us look forward and not backward. May grace see us through; grant peace to our hearts, and courage your will to do. Give us gentle and kind spirits. In these days of terror and fear, we stand on your Word that is true; your strength our comfort still, your grace sure to see us through. Amen.
Grace and Peace, Joel
Pastor Joel Hawthorne