February 14, 2018
East Rochester United Methodist Church
*Hymn Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days, No. 269, v.1&3
Old Testament: Joel 2:1-17
Epistle Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
*Hymn: Just As I Am, Without One Plea, No 357
Four Prayer Stations
(Individuals are encouraged to move between the four prayer stations set up in the sanctuary and atrium of the church building. Remain as long as necessary until so moved to approach a new prayer station. When completed, rest in silence in the sanctuary until all return.)
- Create “Lent in a Bag”
Create a “tool box” to use on your Lenten journey from
Ash Wednesday to the resurrection celebration.
- John 3:1 Greeting Project
Sacrifice some time weekly to pray for people, then share a
personalized message of encouragement or connection.
- Prayer Net, based on the Lord’s Prayer
Praying the Lord’s Prayer involves trusting Him. Reflect
on where you hope to increase trust and dependence
on Him. As a visual representation of your commitment
tie a ribbon on the net.
- Imposition of Ashes,
(Ashes are imposed with these words: “Remember;
from dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”)
Let us pray a prayer for repentant hearts and lives: These days, the fabric of the world is shredded.
We are coming unraveled in hatred and division.
So many voices are raised in fear, in anger,
We can hardly hear the Spirit who calls to us.
We enter this season of ashes and sackcloth
Standing before the Holy in our brokenness.
Heal us, God of mercy, of our hardened hearts,
Our judging natures, our fears of The Other.
Walk with us, God of Love, through deserts of
Stay with us through valleys of brokenness.
Take us, God of love, and transform us
As we find the path that leads to resurrection.
[By- Beth A. Richardson, 2017 Alive Now]
*Hymn: More Love to Thee O Christ, No. 453
The Lord’s Prayer
As you have been blessed with the mark of repentance
you are now called to go out from this place and live out
Go forth to love and serve the Lord.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Those who are able are invited to stand in body or spirit.
Bold print indicates a congregational response.
Thank you for silencing your cell phone during our time of worship
Writing yesterday’s post about what happened to a friend at church had its cathartic effect on my soul. Writing the words and mulling them over provided space for prayer. And the prayer has led me to mercy.
I am still angry about the injustice experienced by my friend and his peers. In my quest to be angry but not sin, I need to find a way for the anger to become an expression of love. God’s love is serious and strong, not sentimental and mushy. The Message bible says that “Love always looks for the best.” (1st Corinthians 13:6) My prayers, plus my musings about the nature of God’s love and how to express it in this situation, have taken me to the sage advice of a friend: see the innocence.
I absolutely believe that the pastor, who stopped his sermon to tell my friend that he needed to leave the sanctuary because his soft vocalizations were a distraction, did not intend harm. The pastor was not motivated by meanness. He likely believes that preaching and interpreting the word of God for a congregation is a very serious task and should be handled with utmost respect and decorum. His application of the apostle Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in order” is that those who are gathered to hear a sermon must be respectful and that equates to silent. He and I disagree on how the words “Let all things be done decently and in order” are to be experienced.
I see the innocence on his part. I understand that he only intended to maintain a ‘decent and orderly’ service. I attended a church with that culture for many years when my children were young. I lost count of the number of times an usher quietly tapped me on the shoulder with an offer to carry the diaper bag for me as it was indicated that the fussy or fidgety child needed to leave the service to not be a distraction. I, and the other parents of restless little ones, understood the church culture. We were not dealt with in an embarrassing way or publicly signaled out as a disruption to an otherwise orderly service.
Very gradually the culture of the church my family attended began to change. As I sifted through memories in search of why or when the change began I recalled an older woman who had Alzheimer’s disease. She continuously paced at the back of the sanctuary. Inclusion of her may have been the catalyst that led to a change of culture that engaged active, young families in the worship services. The desire to include a woman with a disability and accommodate her unique needs led to open doors for more people in that church 25 years ago. Today that church is a model of inclusive worship.
So, how does this memory and experience guide an expression of love for the pastor who humiliated my friend? In attitude, I am attempting to be merciful and see the innocence. In practice I am not sure, yet, beyond continued prayer. That developing wisdom may make a part 3 of Righteous Anger.
I am angry. I am so angry that I hesitate to write while feeling what I am feeling. But, perhaps putting my anger into words will help me begin to simmer down and be angry but not sin. Righteous anger has its place (Ephesians 4:26).
What has happened to cause my anger? Injustice. Injustice to a friend of mine. I know, the world seems to be flooded with injustice right now, so what is one injustice to one man? One is one too many.
Okay, deep breath. Count to ten. What happened? In a nutshell, a friend, who has a disability, was told that he needed to be removed from the sanctuary in the middle of the service because it was felt that his soft, happy vocalizations were a distraction. My friend, his friends and those supporting them were humiliated when they were told, by the pastor using a microphone in front of the congregation in the midst of a sermon about loving all people, that he needed to leave. His communication style made him unacceptable. Did you get that? In the middle of a sermon about loving all people someone was told to leave. And I am angry.
Yes, his vocalizations may have been a distraction. The support staff who were with him are professionals who are trained to understand how the people they support communicate. They are also trained to protect and promote human dignity. If my friend had been communicating dissatisfaction or discomfort the staff supporting him would have helped him quietly leave the service to address his needs. If they felt that the volume of his voice was a distraction they would have helped him quietly leave the service to protect his dignity in the eyes of his fellow worshippers. In their judgment his quiet, under the breath, vocalizations were not a distraction to the level that he was bothersome to those around him.
I am not angry that he was asked to leave the service. That quietly happens from time to time. I am angry that he was devalued as a person and humiliated in the process. Isn’t there a way that this could have been handled that did not humiliate him? Were his happy sounds so disruptive that the sermon could not be finished and then after the service have a quiet, private conversation to discuss the issue?
I am angry that this man, a person created in the image of God, a man who loves Jesus with his whole body, mind and heart was humiliated by a church leader. I am angry that his friends, who also have disabilities, had to share his humiliation. I am angry that the support staff (who maybe unsure about this whole church and religion thing) felt the rejection and embarrassment as well.
I am angry that in a sermon about love for all people the real message that was conveyed was that disabled lives do not matter.
Life has rhythms and cadences. Rhythms are comforting and soothing. Predictable. It is their predictability that makes them meaningful. Music, rain drops, bicycle pedal strokes, a child’s laugh, heart beats, firing pistons, lapping waves, foot steps, chewing, breathing, chanting, dance steps, hoof beats, skipping rope, swim strokes, clock chimes, labor contractions, sunrise and sunset, and prayer.
The rhythm of prayer speaks to generations of hearts. The rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, unchanged for millennia:
Our Father/ who art in heaven/ hallowed be thy name/ thy kingdom come/ thy will be done/ on earth/ as it is in heaven/ give us this day/ our daily bread/ and forgive us our sins/ as we forgive those/ who sin against us/ lead us not/ into temptation/ but deliver us from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ and the power/ and the glory/ now/ and forever/ amen.
While in Guatemala, worshiping at an indigenous Mayan church, I recognized the beautiful rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer during the service. The cadence was slightly different, but the rhythm, the rise and fall of the voices and the accented words, were familiar in the unknown language that surrounded me. My mother taught me this prayer, using the rhythms of it to break it into memorizable chunks that my five year old mind could remember. A familiar, comforting rhythm of voices, of connection and cadence with generations of pray-ers.
That is why a change in the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer startled me one day when worshiping with friends at their church. I was so startled that I stopped praying, opened my eyes and looked at my praying neighbors who prayed as if there was nothing unusual about the change of the rhythm of their words! What prompted their departure from the familiar rhythm? Love.
Love and determination to include a man who offered them the opportunity to change their rhythm so that he was included in their communal prayer. Love and the willingness to make an accommodation to include a man whose words of prayer were echoes of the words they prayed. Love and the knowledge that the presence of this man and his prayers enriched their community. Love and a desire to be the whole Body of Christ.
Our Father/father/ who art in heaven/ in heaven/hallowed be thy name/ thy name/ thy kingdom come/ come/ thy will be done/ will be done/ on earth/earth/ as it is in heaven/ heaven/ give us this day/ this day/ our daily bread/ bread/ and forgive us our sins/ us our sins/ as we forgive those/ forgive those/ who sin against us/ against us/ lead us not/ not/ into temptation/ ‘tation/ but deliver us from evil/ from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ kingdom/ and the power/ Power/ and the glory/ glory/ now/ now/ and forever/ forever/amen.
I shed some tears today during the Ash Wednesday service at a local church. These were not tears of repentance for sin (although I could shed tears concerning my sins). These were tears of joy for community.
Almost three years ago the congregation at East Rochester United Methodist Church (New York State), dived off the deep end to become an inclusive congregation. They put mission ahead of margin and invited a local human services organization (Heritage Christian Services) to share their building. The organization serves, among others, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The East Rochester church opened their doors to become a day habilitation site for a handful of people who volunteer in the community and use disability services.
Since the doors opened the two groups have sought to become one community. They built bridges of communication, accepted diversity, overcame stereotypes and asked deep questions. The church people invited their new tenants to join their midweek Bible study and potluck luncheons. The new tenants invited the church people to volunteer with them as they made bread for communion and sorted clothing donations for charity. They celebrate holidays together, and (as Methodists are prone to doing) they often share a dish-to-pass meal. There have been some bumps along the way, but they believe that the relationships are worth the effort to overcome the bumps.
The pastor at East Rochester UMC has been diligent about including me in worship planning for the holiday services and events that include both groups of people. When we began our planning of an Ash Wednesday service I made the suggestion that we create a service that would be universally accessible and participated in by all of the attendees. Pastor Todd Goddard did not have to think twice about working together to create a non-traditional service for this traditional Christian observance of the beginning of the Lent season.
The service began with a prayer in unison and the singing of “Have Thine Own Way Lord.” After the song we introduced the four interactive stations that we created in the sanctuary and narthex. The four stations ran simultaneously and the worshippers had as much time as they needed to prayerfully participate in each station. Rocks represent disciplines to commit to practicing; strips of cloth serve as reminders of the work that Christ did for each of us; woven ribbons express love for God and neighbor; and, ashes represent God’s love for us with the ancient words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Here is where my Ash Wednesday tears happened. I watched as these two formerly separate groups of people worshiped as one. They assisted each other, prayed together and loved as one. Where there had been fear their was love. Where there had been distance there was acceptance. Names were spoken. Hugs were given. Ashes were received.
One devout man stood in the center of the sanctuary, gazed heavenward and repeated, “I love you God, praise you God” as the other worshippers silently bowed their heads at the simplicity of his expression of love.
Our Lenten discipline- community. Being the beloved community.