Lent, Dust and Covenant

We’ve entered the church’s season of Lent; and most folks these days have only the vaguest notion of what it is, and how we should feel and act. In the church’s early centuries, a period of time was set for new believers to prepare themselves for baptism at dawn on Easter Day. This was extended to a period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) intended for all Christians to get themselves ready through repentant hearts, and deeds of self-denial and service to others, so as to be truly centered on the celebration of resurrection and new life.

Usual discussions of “what to do” revolve around “giving something up” for Lent, or “taking on” some new form of caring for others.

But at heart, Lent invites us into a way of seeing and knowing ourselves in relationship to God – the most basic way. Poet Mary Coleridge, of the 19th century, may capture this spirit:

Lord of the winds, I cry to thee.
I that am dust,
And blown about by every gust
I fly to thee.

Lord of the waters, unto thee I call.
I that am weed upon the waters borne,
And by the waters torn,
Tossed by the waters, at thy feet I fall.

It’s the cry of a heart that knows how only God can give meaning and life in a stormy world. At the same time, it seems as though the blowing gusts and tossing waters are actually directing the speaker God-ward. That’s a radically different outcome than if we were only “dust in the wind,” to quote the old rock ‘n’ roll song.

During this Lent, our worship will look at the concept of “covenant,” and how it is much more than an old Bible term for God’s relationship with Israel: it is basic to how we can learn about our place in a turbulent world. We’ll explore covenant notions like grace, personal responsibility, judgment and redemption, and future hope, through the journey of Israel and the church.

I hope you’ll join us for all the Sundays in Lent!



Learning never stops

Try Something Different for Lent!

On Sunday, March 13th, the Adult Sunday School class will begin their Lenten study. We’re going to be using Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World. The book has a series of readings and discussion questions about people and happenings in the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. The readings aren’t long, nor are they very difficult and the questions will give us plenty to talk about during our discussions.

If you are interested in joining the class this Lent, please see Mary Anne McDonald for a copy of the book. Our discussions begin at 9:15 am.

If you have any questions, you may speak to Mary Anne at coffee hour.

Why Lent today?

Today, as I write, the spectacular white snowbanks of just a week or two ago have turned to big, grimy remainders. A sure sign that Lent is just around the corner (beginning with Ash Wednesday, March 9).

In A Lent Sourcebook (ed. Baker, Kaehler, Mazar) it says, Lent isn’t tidy. Although the word originally means “lengthen,” referring to longer days of spring’s arrival in the northern hemisphere, Lent reminds us there’s much more to the changing season than a Disney-esque image of flowers, bees and birds. Our windows need washing, our temples need cleansing, the earth itself needs a good bath.

We ourselves are part of this.

Lent begins with a “branding” of sorts, with ashes. It continues for forty days (not including Sundays) before Easter. It was popular by the fourth century, and grew from an earlier, shorter period before Easter which was used to prepare catechumens (converts) for baptism into Christian faith. The tradition emphasizes repentance, prayer, and charity (or “almsgiving”).

Why practice something so somber today? Don’t people need more cheering up in these troubled times? It is so easy to ignore Lent entirely, and focus on Easter’s coming, with its bright clothes, full sanctuaries, and joyful music…

One reason is that, in the long run, it is much more rewarding to be honest about who we are than to accept the culture’s encouragement to think that we are endlessly deserving. Life doesn’t work that way; and living by falsehoods distances us from God.

Another reason is that we are mortal. Again, our culture invites us to obsess about being eternally youthful and able to consume without limits…while faith only reaches depth among those who know that being human means knowing we will die.

If all this sounds depressing, it is redeemed by this: Lent when it is followed can connect us with Jesus, who is the way to life. We remember the stories of his ministering, his parables, and also his struggle with those who couldn’t accept him, and ultimately, his death in which all humanity is implicated. But the final word of this journey is Life!

So, ultimately, Lent is a journey that leads to life, and life in a way that may escape us if we aren’t willing to follow its path.



Months worth of sermons

I’ve been very behind in uploading sermons. These extend through the end of Lent, with a series on bread, and through the spring.

Break Bread in His Name
Bread for the Journey
We Shouldn’t Blame the Pharisees
The Story of Creation
Something Happened on Pentecost
Brace Yourself For Elijah

And in a slight break, here is the entire Cantata sung by our choir for Holy Week:
Cantata: The Seven Last Words of Christ

Bread for the Journey

Bread for the Journey
During Lent

Bread – such an amazing, ancient mixture of God’s gifts and human creativity!

Jesus made common use of bread in his ministry in parables, in feeding crowds, in the symbol of his self-sacrifice he shared with his disciples. Through it all, we are given a taste of the abundance God intends for all people.

During the remaining Sundays of Lent, we’ll be exploring the meaning of bread in Jesus’ ministry. How might this feed us, and how can we feed others, where the pain of need and emptiness are real?

Bread-bakers of our church family have graciously volunteered to make use of their skills by providing loaves – and recipes – each week. Here is a list of the scripture texts and themes for each week:

  • February 21 – Luke 4:1-13. Jesus refuses the tempter’s urging to feed his own hunger by turning a stone into bread.
  • February 28 – Luke 9:10-17. Jesus feeds a crowd with a few loaves, and fish, revealing God’s abundance.
  • March 7 – Communion Sunday – Luke 22:7-20. Jesus’ sharing of bread at a Passover becomes a symbol of his self-giving love.
  • March 14 – Luke 11:1-8. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for “daily bread” and tells a parable of a friend in need at midnight.
  • March 21 – Luke 13:18-21. Another parable: How are yeast in bread and the mysterious growth of God’s kingdom similar? And how do we fit in?
  • I pray that our understanding of God’s presence will be enriched through these weeks. The poet Wallace Stevens hints that the most basic of nature’s gifts to us, such as we find in bread, may hold holy meaning:

    How does one stand
    To behold the sublime?
    What wine does one drink?
    What bread does one eat?

    Grace and peace,


    February Crossroads

    Deacons Corner

    People Helping People is now associated with the Boston Food Bank which will help to provide some of the food needed. The Burlington Food bank has 187 registered clients and 143-150 active clients. Remember to bring donations on the first Sunday of the month or anytime you remember.

    A reception is planned for January 15 at St. Mark’s Church to honor Roberta Damelin for her ten years of service to the food bank. A collection is being taken for a gift.

    The winter weather and other factors have caused a number of health problems within the congregation. Thanks to everyone who provided meals and other assistance for those in need of help.

    The Deacons’ Class of 2013 will be welcomed at the February 3 meeting. Thanks to retiring Deacon Beth Denier. The third member of the Class of 2010 was the late Whitey Graham. Dayse Doliver will be returning to the board for a second term. The newly elected Deacons are Anne Denier and Vida Owusu-Afriyie.

    Ash Wednesday Service
    February 17, 7:30 p.m.

    Join the church family, and help us welcome others, to this traditional service marking the start of Lent. There will be ashes and an opportunity for placing them on our foreheads as the sign of our humility and dependence upon God’s grace (use of ashes will be voluntary). We will gather around the table for communion. The choir will sing.

    This can be an important start, in the right spirit, to the journey of Lent toward Holy Week. Please plan to make it part of your life.

    A Lent Workshop for Everyone
    features “Health Kits for Haiti”

    Sunday, February 28 after worship

    Donations needed!

    This church family event on the second Sunday in Lent will combine several things: a light lunch, a little learning about Lent, a hands-on project for children and adults, and the handing out of One Great Hour of Sharing resources (including fish banks!) for this year’s offering.

    The project will be putting together health kits for Church World Service – a simple activity for kids and grownups, and one way we can respond to the need in Haiti (and/or future assistance somewhere in the world). Between now and February 28, we will be collecting these items for use in the kits:

    *hand towel (approximately 16″ x 28″, no fingertip or bath towels)
    *wide-tooth comb
    *nail clipper (no metal files or emery boards)
    *bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)
    *toothbrush (in original packaging)
    *Band-Aids® or other adhesive bandage strips
    *One-gallon plastic bag with zipper closure

    You may bring any of these – we’ll update the congregation on Sundays about what more is/isn’t needed.

    The lunch and program will start promptly after worship, and end no later than 1:15. See you there!

    Rod and David (Family Ministry Coordinator)