Message from the Pastor

Rev. Sundar SamuelS

Dear Members and friends,

Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent, is a time when we have an opportunity to squarely face our humanness. It begins a season where we have an invitation to be honest with God, with ourselves, and with one another. The season of Lent, which begins this year’s Ash Wednesday, offers us a forty-day time period modeled after our Lord’s forty days in the wilderness.

Some of us may not feel the need to take on extra disciplines during these forty days. Perhaps our lives already feel full of enough challenges that a day of prayer or fasting may seem trivial. Others of us who are just as challenged may welcome the external disciplines of regular prayer, fasting, and acts of service as opportunities to get out of ourselves and away from the messes that for many comprise significant portions of a life.

I believe Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, provides us with an opening to the possibility of transformation. Saint Francis used to refer to his own body as Brother Ass; he was constantly aware of the stubbornness and limitations that comprised his life. There is something very good in the disciplines and work that reminds us to recognize our humanness, our frailty, and our vulnerability. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent requests the honor of our presence in such activities. Our Lord Jesus Christ has personally stamped each invitation with the seal and sign of his own blood.

John’s two oldest children were around six and four years old, when he purchased his first house. It used to be a barn before it was converted to a house by someone far handier than John will ever be. It was in a wonderful location in northern New Jersey. A dirt road ran in front of the house and across the street there was a pond full of largemouth bass. Behind his home was another pond and to the south was a small stream that connected the two ponds, beyond the pond behind John’s home was over 100 acres of wooded land. John never knew who owned that beautiful treed property. John’s home was very near the Appalachian Trail in Sussex, New Jersey. The home was quite roomy though it did have a few problems that reminded them that they were living in the country. They saw rats in the kitchen, on the south end of the home there was an old fruit cellar that was crumbling, and they soon discovered there were significant drainage problems.

The old house had three floors; the top floor consisted of three rooms two of which were joined together. At the far end, they created a chapel, in the middle their four-year-old had his bedroom, and at the other end their six-year-old daughter had a pink bedroom. On the main floor, there was another bedroom, a full bathroom, which they all shared, a living room with a dining area, and the kitchen. The first floor was comprised of another large room that could have been used for a bedroom, but they used it as an office/music room. The only problem was the ceiling was so low John couldn’t stand up straight. There was also a second bathroom, a place for a television, a bar, and even a sink. They were very blessed to have such a fine place to live as a young couple.

John wasn't sure what the occasion was that led to the problem, but they soon discovered that the downstairs sink did not drain very well. Not having too many financial resources, this plumbing problem had to be resolved through John’s own labors. It soon became clear to John that the previous owners had done the plumbing themselves and had violated every kind of building code that there may have been but, after all, they were out in the New Jersey countryside. The line went from the downstairs sink under the concrete carpeted slab floor and out the backside of the house. From there John had a difficult time tracing the line but eventually found a drainage pit full of stones, which it was supposed to drain into. Unfortunately, there was a clog somewhere in the line.

That image to me is the kind of work that we will want to do during the season of Lent. Perhaps years of accumulated potato peels and other roughage had made its way down the sink and finally the liquid had nowhere to go. It sat still, no longer responding the best plunge one could muster. What past hurts, unresolved griefs, and resentments lurk in our lives and clog the flow of the Spirit in us? The only thing we know to do is to dig up the pipe, remove the dirt and follow the pipe until you noticed a particular place in the garden where the soil was wet and muddy. Soon we learn that this particular pipe was not designed for anything but water or other non-congealing liquids.

The season of Lent provides us with an opportunity to experience a kind of personal roto-rooter. It’s foolish to take on spiritual disciplines if we have no expectation or hope for growth, for change, or for transformation in our lives. And it’s equally foolish to take on spiritual disciplines that become badges of honor that we display to others. The kind of spiritual disciplines that our Lord invites his disciples to take on themselves aren’t a whole lot different than cleaning out clogged lines between house and septic tanks.

Our Lord desires us to have a fully functioning system of connection with him. The difference is that we do the work of cleaning our pipes, our lives, so we can connect more easily to the source of grace, glory, and goodness, so we can connect to God our Father in heaven.

The ashes that get marked on the foreheads of those who come to the Ash Wednesday service may appear starling, strange, and even incongruent with the gospel text that invites us not to make a show of our piety. Yet, perhaps the crosses that are sealed upon the foreheads of those who come to traditional liturgical Ash Wednesday services are strangely appropriate. Our children are not our own; in fact we do not even belong to ourselves. All of us belong to God and in the end, unless we let our best gifts and intentions be marked by the cross, we will not experience the joy of growth. Betsy Smith writes “Nowhere do we find this truth more dramatically portrayed than in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Nowhere do we participate more fully in this truth than in the liturgical drama of the Eucharist. Here we celebrate, we touch, and we eat and drink the death and life of our precious Lord. Here we learned the price and the liberation of letting go.”

Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season provides us with an opportunity to let go and to allow ourselves, our children, our parents, our friends, one another- everyone to belong to God. Perhaps this year we can go beyond trivialities as we recognize that God’s desire for each of us is to come into a deeper relationship with him thereby becoming more capable of engaging ourselves with one another and with the world in which we life. And at the end of the day and at the end of the season let pray that our hearts and lives will be fuller, filled with the treasure of a renewed and empowered relationship with the living God, through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

May you and yours be blessed during the season of Lent.

Peace and Joy!

Pastor Sundar