We have arrived at the beginning of the Lenten season. A time set apart the six weeks before Easter to repent of our sins and be in an attitude of prayer before the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning.
The disciples also knew that they had to prepare. Jesus had told them time and time again that something was coming - that he would be killed and then would rise again. Only they didn’t understand it. Not the first time they were told, and not on this instance either. There was something about how Jesus was talking - the mixture of sadness and intensity in his eyes that caused them to be just as afraid as the words he was speaking. What did he mean that he would be delivered into the hands of man?
The disciples knew that not everyone loved Jesus the way that they did. They understood that Jesus seemed to caused a disturbance wherever he went. They saw the ways that the Pharisees whispered about him in disapproval - but how could any of those people hand him over to be killed? And why would he rise again. Dead men didn’t rise. At the very best, God lifted them up into the heavens before their death - but dead people coming back to life, especially after three days, was unheard of.
They needed a distraction from all of this teaching that saddened and confused them so they found themselves returning to their favorite subject - who was going to be the greatest. Who was going to rule with Jesus. Because to rule you needed to be alive and surely their rabbi was going to live for a long time, just to teach them.
Jesus must have overheard them however because he asked them what they were discussing. But no one would answer him. Then he started up with his confusing teachings again - to be first you needed to be last, very last, and be a servant. That was not what they had signed up for. No they wanted to be first. Not a servant.
Then he picked up a child - a child! - and said that only if they welcomed a child, one whom they didn’t even know, they could welcome him. Jesus, we don’t understand! Why do you make things so difficult!
Even with knowing about Jesus’ death and resurrection, even with all of the writings of the church mothers and fathers and two-thousand years of being the church to work in our favor, I’m not sure we understand Jesus’s teachings any better today then his disciples did so many years ago.
One of the things that I am called into ministry to do is listen to stories. Especially the stories of those who have left the church who have been hurt by church. At times I just want to weep when I hear about people who have been hurt by people who, like the disciples, just wanted to exercise their power, to let others know that they were greater than then. This season is our time to repent church of hurting people. To ask God for forgiveness for not putting first things first.
Some of you know that I have a short article posted in a book about the obstacles young clergy face. As my dad and I were recently talking about the book he commented on how hurt some of the authors were, and I said yes, some have left the ministry and other’s have left the church entirely because of the wounds church people cause. Brothers and sisters, we have much to repent of, this Lenten season, for sins of the past and the present, and ways that we have knowingly and unknowingly hurt people.
And now, now is our time to be a people of prayer. A people who pray for those who are broken in this world, including ourselves. Now is the time to pray that we understand Jesus’s teachings a little more each day so we can more fully live into them. Time to pray for the needs that surrounds us.
Some of you also know that one of my favorite ministries at my last parish was the time I intentionally spent on Sunday evening at a local pub, not drinking, but simply sitting with a sign stating that I was a pastor. It was amazing to see the conversations I entered into with people, and I always closed by asking to pray with them. No one ever refused to let me pray for them. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for all people this Lenten season, as we seek to introduce people to the love of our Savior and more fully live into his teachings with our own lives.
But today, on Ash Wednesday, we also remember. We remember that we don’t know everything. We remember that we don’t have all of the answers. And we remember that we don’t fully understand, just like the disciples so long ago.
While I love all types of worship services, the ones that are the most meaningful for me as a pastor are funeral services - a time to remember a person for who they truly are, not just the good things, but the imperfections as well. But then to declare that even in their imperfections, even in their flaws, they were loved by God - not for what they knew and understood, but because they were a child of the Lord.
May we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. May we remember that we are put on this earth to minister to other’s, not to hurt them because of our own egos.
Let us repent, pray, and remember this day as we enter into this holy season of Lent. Amen.