PLUM Pastoral Message
Love and Lent
Dear Siblings in Christ,
Blessings to you from your pastoral team. Here we are, in mid-winter. We have celebrated the birth of our Savior and the Epiphany of our Lord. In this month, when the secular world celebrates love, many of us will be spending a portion of our Valentine’s Day in church, hearing again those familiar words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” while we receive the mark of ashes on our foreheads. In the bleak mid-winter, we begin the season of Lent.
The season of Lent derives from the ancient Church’s period of preparation for those who were to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. That preparation included instruction, fasting, repentance, prayers and special acts of devotion. Today, the Church uses this same period and some of those practices to prepare for the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ. The word “Lent” comes from the old English word “Lencten” which means lengthen. You have probably noticed that each day is getting longer. Spring is on the way. We are seeing signs of rebirth in the earth; small green shoots are starting to appear. Just as the earth is being renewed, Lent is a time when we can consider our rebirth in our baptism and focus on our spiritual renewal in preparation for Easter. Lent is 40 days long, beginning on Ash Wednesday. We do not include the six Sundays; these are little celebrations of the resurrection. The 40 days identify with Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness as he prepared for his ministry, and with Moses’ 40 days of fasting and prayer on Mt. Sinai as he waited to receive the Law from God.
Lent is a time when we are invited to examine ourselves and determine what it is that leads us away from our love for God and neighbor. This examination will give us areas to focus on during this Lenten season and will direct us to disciplines that will renew our relationships with God and neighbor. Examining ourselves is never easy. Sometimes, we discover things about ourselves that we do not like. Sometimes, we learn that we are not doing things that we should be doing, and we make excuses about not having enough time or resources. We learn that we need to change something about ourselves and change is never easy. It has been shown that, in order for an old habit to be broken and a new habit formed, that it takes at least thirty days for this change to occur. We have forty days before us. What is it that you want to stop doing - or start doing - that will allow you to grow in your relationship with God? What is it that will keep you from experiencing the full joy of the resurrection? What are the disciplines of Lent that you want to practice?
Perhaps one of your Lenten disciplines is to increase and add meaning to your prayer life. The purpose of prayer is to communicate with God, not to God. When you pray, don’t forget to pause and listen for God’s response to you. Take time to be still. Perhaps the answer to your prayer may come as a thought, a phone call from a friend, or something that you observe. Take note of these responses. Be intentional about your prayers; set aside a specific time and/or place. If you are searching for prayers to use, look to the Psalms. They are a great source of prayers for every situation – lament, praise and thanksgiving.
Perhaps you are thinking about fasting. Fasting is a practice designed to strengthen the spiritual life by weakening one’s attractions to pleasures of the senses. Fasting should be coupled with prayer and spiritual preparation. Many people refrain from eating meat on all the Fridays of Lent. People give up sweets, TV and social media. The focus should not be on what is given up, but on what the giving up allows you to do. It should allow you to give more time to prayer and to spiritual work. What else can it allow you to do? Perhaps you are giving up your morning Starbucks coffee. You can donate the money that you are saving to a food bank or other charity. You can pray for God to bless this offering for his use. Remember that it should be a voluntary, conscious decision to abstain from something; that is the discipline of it.
What of our almsgiving? We can set aside an extra offering during this time. Our churches offer Lenten envelopes; these should be over and above our regular offerings. Perhaps there is a cause that you have been wanting to get involved with? Lent is a good time to devote some of your time and talents to this.
We can use this season to devote more of our time to works of love. The possibilities here are endless. You can send cards to those who are sick or shut in. You can visit those in the hospital. Send a care package to the person in the armed forces, who is far away from home. Offer to do some chores for someone who is recovering from an illness. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk when it snows. Bake some cookies and deliver them to the local firefighters or senior center. What other things can you think of that you can do? When you do these things, remember the words of Matthew 25:40, “As you do it for the least of these, you do it for me.”
We are offering Bible Study on Thursdays, beginning on February 22nd. We are using the Lenten Study created by ELCA World Hunger. You will find the materials for this study on our website or can get a printed copy at your congregation. Take advantage of the worship services available to you, where we make our public confession. Our pastors are always willing to offer private confession to you for those sins that are weighing heavily on your heart. Contact us if you would like to make a private confession.
We encourage you to use the next 40 days to prepare spiritually for the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.
May God Bless you during this Lenten season.
Pastor Sue on behalf of the PLUM Pastoral Team
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773