We’re Back! It’s Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hellerich.com is back up and running.  I’ll be using it for a journey I’m taking as I learn from Spiritual Direction.  Carolyn will be using it to post information and photos of her trip to Tanzania for the Nebraska Synod’s pastor exchange program in April-May.          -Dave

Pastor Carolyn’s Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Welcome to Lent.  Lent is the season where we, with the whole church, enter into a time of remembering Jesus’ passover from death to life.  It is a time set aside for spiritual renewal.

There are three traditional disciplines of Lent – Almsgiving, Fasting and Prayer.

Almsgiving means the giving of additional offerings to the poor.  This year our congregation will be collecting personal care kits for Lutheran World Relief.  LWR gives these kits to people who are refugees from war or natural disasters.

The second discipline of lent, fasting, is a form of self-denial.  We have all heard people ask what we are giving up for Lent.  Historically, many Christians have made sure all the fats and sweet foods were gone before Ash Wednesday.  It is traditional to use them up by making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, also know as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.

In recent years, Christians have been encouraged to add a good habit in place of the bad one they were giving up.  Or just add a good habit, and don’t give anything up.

Lent is a time to grow in our faith.  The purpose is not to make you feel guilty because you ate that chocolate cookie.  The purpose is to draw closer to Christ. Perhaps weekly worship attendance on Saturdays or Sundays and Wednesdays could be the good habit you add. You could also set aside a time of daily prayer.

The chancel of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Nebraska on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

The chancel of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Nebraska on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

The third discipline of Lent is prayer.  Prayer was very important to Jesus.  He often took time away just to pray alone or with his closest friends. This is why we make the time on Wednesdays during Lent to come together in prayer as a community.

This year during Lent, I would like to focus on the discipline of prayer.  I will be using a new book written by Michael Rinehart, the Bishop of the Gulf Coast Synod of the ELCA.  Bishop Mike specifically wrote this book as a gift to the church, to help us during this lenten season.  His title is “Learning to Pray Again: Peace and Joy through an Ancient Practice.”

There are many benefits to prayer.  People have said that it makes them feel more a peace.  It lowers their anxiety and brings them joy. It gives focus to their lives.  If you pray in the morning, it feels like it starts your day off right.  Prayer in the evening will help you sleep peacefully.

Everybody prays, no matter what they say.  If you have ever hoped that you would get a good grade on a paper, hoped that you would get a job offer, or hoped to avoid a bad diagnosis, then you have prayed.

If you have ever been overwhelmed by the beauty of a sunset, or the view from a mountain top, or stared in wonder at the stars in the sky, you have prayed.

Or if you have sat or walked in silence, and listened to what your heart was telling you about an important decision, or felt a pull within yourself to do something to help someone, then you have prayed.

If you have done any of these things, you have experienced what people of faith throughout the centuries have called the Holy Spirit.  You have communed with God.

You may not feel all that close to God sometimes, but God is closer than you think.  God is in you and around you in every breath you take.

There are many different ways to pray.  Some of them may work better for you than others.  There is no one way to pray that feels right for everyone.  What will work for you will depend on your personality, and where you are in life right now.  Sometimes something that doesn’t work for you now may be the best thing for you at another point in your life.

Throughout Lent, on Saturdays and Sundays, I will be sharing and teaching different ways to pray.  It is my hope that they will be a blessing to you in your spiritual life and that you will be able to use this Lenten discipline as a time to grow closer to God.

Since this Ash Wednesday is an evening worship service, tonight I want to share one of my favorite nighttime ways to pray.  I have modified it from an Episcopal practice and it uses some favorite Bible verses.

It is a contemplative way of praying that I have sometimes used to help me fall asleep especially in those times when it is hard to get to sleep.  It is the kind of prayer you can use when you go to your room and shut the door.

Don’t feel like you have to write any of these things down.  I will give you the written instructions after worship so that you can keep them.  I just want to show you how it’s done first.

This is a repetitive prayer technique.  Some people have used prayer beads, but I find it just as easy to count with my fingers.

Sit as comfortably as you can and fold your hands together like this intertwining your fingers and just rest them on your lap.

Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply with me.  Yawning is OK.  That’s what happens when we breathe deeply like that.

The Holy Spirit is the breath of God.  The Spirit is in the very air we breathe. The Spirit gives us life and breath. The Spirit intercedes for us when we do not have the words.

Let us begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

As you inhale this time, say to yourself, slowly, and inside your head:

“I lift up my eyes to the hills;”
Exhale: “From where is my help to come?

As you inhale, think to yourself slowly:

“My help comes from the Lord,”
Exhale: “The maker of heaven and earth.”

That counts as one verse.  Do it with me a few times.  We use our fingers to count as we repeat the verse 10 times, inhaling and exhaling slowly each time.  It will be tempting to do this quickly, but it is better to go slowly.  The slow deliberate breathing helps us relax our bodies.  Our blood pressure and our pulse will slow down as our breathing slows down and we will feel more relaxed.

At the end of each 10 repetitions, you can lift up any concerns to God or say a different verse or prayer.

The last time through, close with the Lord’s Prayer or a benediction or at night you could use this night time prayer from our ELW:

Guide us waking, O Lord,
and guard us sleeping;
that awake we may watch with Christ,

and asleep we may rest in peace..

It is my prayer that this Lenten season with be a time of renewed joy and peace as you grow in faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us all to pray in his name.  Amen.


A Form of Contemplative Prayer

Begin by getting in a comfortable position with hands folded, resting on your lap, fingers intertwined.  Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply throughout as you contemplate the words of the prayer.  The repetition will help you be mindful of the presence of God.  Let the rhythm of your prayers lead you to stillness and peace.  Begin with an invitation, repeat your prayer verse ten times, counting with your fingers.  At the end of each 10 repetitions, lift up a brief prayer about whatever is on your mind.

You may choose any of these or use your own favorite verses or  short prayers.

Invitation to Prayer

  • In the name of the Father, and of the Son, +  and of the Holy Spirit.
  • Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
  • Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
  • Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise.

Prayer Verses

  • I lift up my eyes to the hills;
    From where is my help to come?
    My help comes from the Lord,
    The maker of heaven and earth.
  • Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One,
    Have mercy upon me (us).
  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.
  • Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s Holy Name.
  • Jesus, lamb of God, have mercy on us.
    Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.
    Jesus, redeemer of the world, give us your peace.
  • Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Closing Prayer

  • Lord’s Prayer
  • Almighty and merciful Lord, bless me (us) and keep me (us).
  • *This form of contemplative prayer is an adaptation from www.kingofpeace.org/prayerbeads.
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