From the Rector’s Desk
Sermon from Ash Wednesday
We heard him say “follow”, and we took a step. Then several more, carefully choosing our movements so that we could place our feet where he was walking ahead of us. “Perhaps we are going to the City—that place of life, and light and new beginnings. Didn’t we hear him talk about it? The place where the meek would inherit and the hungry would be satisfied? Surely that’s where we’re going”.
We can see the lights of the City in the distance, and our spirits lift. Then, for no apparent reason, he turns, and begins to walk another direction. We hesitate for a moment, then stumble to catch up. He’s walking away, and down, and into the shadows. “Where are we going?” we ask nervously. “Do you really know your way around these parts? If you keep on this path you’ll end up in the desert…a place of dust, and the ashes of countless fires, and unknown dangers. We want to follow, but you’re not doing a very good job of leading, you know. With each step you’re taking us into the wilderness! We wanted to go to the City—the place you told us about, the place you promised”. Then he turned, and with what looked like sorrow about his face said, “You are not ready for the City. This is the only road that will enter its gates. Follow Me.”
And so we are here, entering a season and a path that we have not sought, but that is part of our journey to life. It’s true that we are not ready to enter the place of promise. We’re consumed with our selves, our desires and the many things we do to keep the attention on what we want out of life. We wander and we protest, we disobey and we wallow in the worship of our little selves. Over time we have lost our ability to even feel our distance from God…we are become hard, invulnerable, and we believe we can manage on our own indefinitely.
Of course, we can’t. We won’t. The prophet Joel calls to the people to ‘wake up’ because the day of the Lord is coming, and is not far off. It’s a day of judgment, of reckoning, a time that no one would want to experience—a day when God turns against his own people in order to save them from ultimate doom. In the face of this divine onslaught the Lord keeps calling, pleading. “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” This God that comes with judgment is ready, even at the last, to offer mercy and blessing, to give life in the place of desolation, as the wayward come to know inward repentance, and feel their hearts beat and long again for the goodness of the Lord.
So we take the sign of our own mortality on our foreheads, a sign that is already hidden in every cell of our bodies, that declares we can’t keep it up forever—we are ultimately powerless to find our way to the City on our own, and every selfish step takes us further afield and farther away. With ashes on our faces we turn to follow anew, even into the desert of utter dependence on God, who promises to lead us to reconciliation, hope, and life.
Ash Wednesday is heavy…with the weight of our selfishness and pride and sin. But it is not a deep well into which we are thrown and forgotten, but a door through which we enter a path that will emerge on the other side of the desert. Though we enter with sorrow and perhaps some fear, we follow the Lord to the place of glory—the glory of the cross and resurrection life. As we feel the grit of the ashes, we smell God’s purifying fire, and also catch a whiff of the coals in whose glow Peter denied him, and we wonder if we have the strength to be true. Of course, in the end, Peter himself emerged from the desert into joy, faithfulness and restoration.
To walk the Lenten journey we have some work to do, and some things to face. We must be honest about the state of our hearts—our inner thoughts and actions, and how powerless we are, and have been, to change them. The desert place of Lent has many pitfalls and dangers, but also streams of life. Only the mercy of God and the power of the Spirit, in response to confession and repentance, can lead us through. It’s here that we can navigate the unknown of our own hearts, and receive the peace of God’s comfort and consolation, who, as the Psalmist affirms, has removed our sins far from us.
Several years ago in Norfolk, Virgina, a fire broke out in a family’s home. Trapped inside were two women, an infant, and two small children. The only way to safety was through the flames. As they were led out through the fire, a four-year old girl, turned and ran back upstairs. She was terrified of the flames and the oppressive heat, and sought the only space that was safe to her—her own room. While the flames had not reached, the house filled with smoke, and she was trapped. When rescuers finally reached her she had succumbed to the fire. A terrible tragedy—a little girl paralyzed with fear, not understanding that the only way to safety was through the fire itelf.
As we enter this season of Lent, we seek the courage and power of God to face the desert of our own sin and selfishness. We want to be made new, but are often fearful of the path. After all, this is not a work at the surface of our lives, but a remaking at the foundation of who we are, and who we will be. For in the desert, on the way to the life-bound City, we will be reborn and renewed. Following the One who carries the cross, we will face death in order to put on life; we will be made ready.
The Rev. Jay L. Greener, Rector
Church of the Redeemer
Now that we have entered Lent, there is an additional opportunity for prayer and worship with an eye toward helping our journey together in this season. Each Thursday morning at 6:30am we’ll gather for Morning Prayer, a liturgical service that lasts about 20 minutes. For more information talk with Pastor Amanda .
Two Important Events on Saturday, March 12
Choosing Great Children's Books:
9:30 am – 11:30 am
Our training and outreach event, Choosing Great Children's Books, is tomorrow, March 12, from 9:30 am – 11:30 am! Please invite your friends and join us for this exciting event.
The workshop will have presentations from our very own librarians and educators, as well as introductions to some of the best books for children of all ages. Not only will you find out about excellent resources for choosing books, there will be a raffle to give away some exemplary children's literature! This event is a wonderful opportunity to enhance your understanding of what encourages children to be life-long readers, as well as to welcome friends into our Redeemer community.
Childcare and refreshments will be provided.
Questions? Want to RSVP? Contact me at: Emily.Cool.Greener@gmail.com
Avoiding the Millstone:
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
After the morning workshop, we will offer our annual Avoiding the Millstone Training, AMiA's child protection program, from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm. The AMiA recommends this training for all vestry, staff, and anyone who works with children or youth within the church. If you are in one of the above categories and have never attended this training, please join us tomorrow if you are able. Childcare and lunch will be provided. Contact me with questions, or to RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
Discover Redeemer ?begins this Sunday, March 13th. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about what we believe, why we do what we do, and where you might ‘fit’. We’ll share a light lunch and some conversation over several weeks that will be a real help in your journey to belonging here at Redeemer. If you’d like to participate, or have questions, please communicate with Brocki, email@example.com
Celebrating Sonrise School?
One of Rwanda’s top schools, and a vital part of our church’s outreach for the last dozen years, will be graduating its first students on March 19th. This is a tremendous day for celebration and joy as the first class is released into the life of leadership and service that Sonrise has been preparing them for, since only a few short years following the horrors of genocide.
Representing Redeemer will be our Rector, Jay, and Senior Warden, Pat Daley. Also traveling for the event will be the Rev. Todd Murphy, who is going as part of Bridge to Rwanda and Northwestern University.??Please pray for this journey as they leave this Sunday, for the graduates and for the work of the Shyira Diocese. Also pray for Fr. Jay as he preaches in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on March 20th.
Look for regular updates on our Rwanda blog, and be in worship on Sunday the 20th for a live call-in report from Rwanda.
Prayer for Youth?
Mark your calendars for the next prayer gathering for youth in our church and surrounding communities. On Friday, March 18th from 7:30 – 9pm we will gather at the Vroom’s house in Evanston for a night of dessert and prayer.
Contact Kari for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org; 847-778-8026
Please be praying and inviting as we begin a new season of Alpha, an effective introduction to Jesus and refresher in the faith. Alpha will start the first Thursday in April and will meet each Thursday at lunchtime in Wilmette (at Tom and Ricki Rosengren’s). Stay tuned for further details…
Thank you for your generosity in the spiritual act of tithing and the giving of offerings and support to our various ministries. Giving is part of our spiritual life, and as we grow in this area, we experience the joy of God’s abundance in our lives. Please pray that our work will be fully supported each month.
Tithes & Offerings for March 6: $4,897
Average amount needed each week…$7,100
— Our Lenten journey as a church
— Those in need of employment and other provision in their lives
— the Children’s literature event this Saturday
— Sonrise School graduates, St. Michael's and those traveling there from Redeemer