Summary: A Sermon for Ash Wednesday, with outreach to two congregations without pastors.

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Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, this evening we begin another season of Lent, another journey in faith as we attempt to follow our Lord on the road to Jerusalem and the cross. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to appreciate anew Christ’s gift of redemption that he offers us through our baptism into his death and resurrection. Enable us to grasp the truth of your Word, and strengthen our faith in your gift of grace. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

For most of us, the keeping of Lent has become a tradition, which we have learned from an early age. And these mid-week hours set aside for worship, prayer and the study of God’s Word are a blessing to our faith. We have come to realize through the years that this extra time we devote to our Lord enables us to celebrate with renewed spiritual vigor, God’s gift of grace through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Now, I realize that this is an unusual year for our Delaware Township congregations, as John Canon suffered injuries in a car crash, and Pastor Garland has retired. Thus, I and the members of St. John’s, would like to warmly invite the members of Jerusalem and St. Mark’s to join us this year in our mid-week services. In fact, I have chosen as a topic for our mid-week study, a comparison of the catechisms of our two traditions, in the hope that we might deepen our appreciation for our respective faiths.

I realize that I did not attend a Reformed or United Church of Christ seminary. However, I did participate in the Reformed – Lutheran study as a presenter of the Lutheran perspective on the sacrament of Holy Communion in our cluster. These were studies that led to the adoption of the documents that enabled full communion fellowship between our churches. Thus, I will attempt to present a fair representation of both of our traditions. But if I fail, you can certainly correct me.

Our Wednesday evening schedule for this study is as follows. We begin with a light supper, usually centered on soup, at 6:00 PM, followed by a one hour study at 6:45 PM. We then close the evening with devotions. If you wish to come for the supper and fellowship, all we ask is that you let us know, so that we can prepare enough “soup.” However, if you don’t want to come for this brief time of fellowship, please join us for the study, which will be held in the lounge at the other end of the building. We look forward to sharing this Lenten journey this year, with you.

We here at St. John’s have enjoyed cooperative ministry. As you know, a long portion of our history was as a union congregation. And in addition to our joint services on Ash Wednesday and Thanksgiving Eve, we have for the past two years offered a joint Vacation Bible School with St. Mark’s. But our congregation is also involved with 11 other congregations in providing a week-long program of confirmation instruction, conducted at our church camp. As a result, we pastors meet several times a year in order to plan for this adventure.

We usually meet at Josie’s and my camp, because it is centrally located to the congregations involved. We meet for several hours, share a meal, and then enjoy a time of fellowship. Well, to make a long story short, I will skip all of the frills, and get to the point, especially, because, as we pastors age, we might repeat an illustration or two, and I’m not sure that I might not have told this story before.

Following one of our meetings, Pastor Bob, who had just gotten a new fly rod, wanted to give us a demonstration of how good it worked. And since there were a few fishermen among us, we left the table and went out to the front yard of my camp. Bob then put on a show of what that long rod and course line could do – perhaps to entice some of us who were not fishermen, to take up the sport.

With precise movements and stately grace, he stripped line off the reel and cast it farther and farther across the yard. His line, tipped with one of his hand-tied flies, shot out with an elegant rhythm. It traced a perfect arc in the sky. He provided us with a pretty picture of his skill that day. Of course, when given the chance, none of us could come close to emulating his skill.

Of course, there is no pond or stream in the front yard of my camp. It is just thick, tuff grass. For all of the beauty of his casting, all of the grace with which he flung that line – it was nothing but practice. He would catch no fish in the front yard of my camp. In fact, all he did was snag his line in the grass, and have to retrieve it. But when one of the novice fishermen made a comment about his beautiful style, my pastor buddy Bruce, who is also an excellent fisherman, blurted out, “I didn’t see you catch any fish!” And we all laughed, for several minutes.

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