Pause with Pastor Joel – February 20, 2023

This week we will mark Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter and is meant to be observed through fasting or other austere measures.
On Ash Wednesday we have a tradition of marking people with ashes as a reminder of our own sinfulness and mortality. This hasn’t always been a tradition in the United Methodist Church, but within Christianity, its roots go back to the 10th century.
Sometimes to obtain ashes for Ash Wednesday, the palms from the previous Palm Sunday are kept, dried and then burned. I love this tradition and you will occasionally see me out burning palms for ashes.
Yet a funny thing about ashes is that they go a long way. One bunch of palms will provide ashes for several years of Ash Wednesday. This is for two reasons: one, that not many people like to come and observe Ash Wednesday. It’s not fun to remember that we are sinful and that we are going to die.
The second reason is that a little bit of ashes is all it takes to mark a person. Here, I think is an important point. I know some Christians that always want to focus on the sinfulness of people. I’ve generally found that it doesn’t take too much to convince people of their sinfulness. What I do find is that it takes a lot more to convince them that they are capable of being loved and forgiven by God. I know this isn’t true for everyone and I know that some people look around at the world and see a place that sins with no concern for its affects on their souls.
Still, I think that’s something we only see if we simply look. It’s a lie of the devil. The reality is that the world is hurting and convinced they are unforgivable and so they go on sinning because they figure there’s no hope.
We place ashes on our bodies at Ash Wednesday as a reminder that while we are sinful and mortal there IS hope. Our hope is in Jesus. This is the message we have to share with the world.
It doesn’t take much ashes to accomplish this goal, but it does take the power of the grace of God and that is without limit, unlike the ashes  that I do have to replenish every few years. Praise be to God!

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