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LENT 2020: SITTING IN ASHES

Lent is a solemn season set apart to contrast with Easter Sunday, when our alleluias return, loud and clear, in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  Join us this season, for our Lenten Sermon Series, “Sitting in Ashes”.

The Lament is not something that is commonly treated in modern Christian practice.  It is however a powerful tool that God has given us in the Psalms and most especially in Lamentations.  God is not capricious, He does not delight in despair or destruction. He does not even willingly bring harm to anyone. But Life is not clean, there is death and destruction in the world.  The lament takes that seriously and does not dismiss the reality of pain and the question of God’s inaction.  The lament is the tool given to us to not simply address tragedy and pain but to actually process it.  The lament can be broken into six main elements.  The Proposed sermon series will focus on one element of the lament for each sermon ending with Easter as the capstone.

Jesus models how to lament.  He lamented over Jerusalem, in the garden of Gethsemane and even prayed psalm 22 on the cross.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  While this is where he stops the rest of the Psalm is implied:  “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”  It is interesting that we normally treat these words of Jesus like He was the first to say them.  But lament is a language God has given his people throughout time and space to deal with situations that cannot be dealt with easily.  It is a language he still gives us today that can and should be added back into our Christian vernacular.

If you’d like to receive daily lenten devotions, click HERE.

Ash Wednesday, February 26th . 10:00 AM//6:30 PM

Element one: the Complaint

Psalm 22:1-2 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

Lament opens with a complaint.  We know exactly what is wrong when good things die or tragedy strikes.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Creation and Fall, notes the profound connection between good, evil and death:  “What is the evil in good?  It is that the good dies.  What is the good in evil?  It is that the evil dies.”  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has been tasted.  We can and should pour out our anger and confusion before God.  We can even acknowledge that God could have stopped it but didn’t.   We know where the hurt is and what has happened that is not right.  This should be cried out to God, not kept in ourselves or lessened by excuses.  We can and should call for God’s justice, His reparation in a situation gone so horribly wrong.  “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

a Father and a Son – the whole reason why this is happening is because God loves his people (Scripture: John 3:16, Rom. 12: 1 – 2; Gen. 22:2)
Sunday Main Focus: Using the Romans passage, what is Gods will? What is his plan for why Jesus is being sacrificed on the cross? The cross, being made out of wood, could be another form of the “tree of life,” found in the garden.

Wednesday, March 4th 10:00 AM//6:30 PM

Element two: the Affirmation of God’s Holiness

Psalm 22:3 “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”
God is justice. There is no darkness in him. Even though we can let our complaint take its course, it does not change for a second the reality that God is Holy and completely Just. He is a loving God and even though we may feel far away, or like he has not answered, the second element brings us back to remembering the true identity of God.

Wednesday, March 11th 10:00 AM//6:30 PM

Element three:  History of Rescue

Psalm 22:4-5 “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

Hope in past rescue.  God is a God of history and promise.  He has rescued in the past and has promised His care.  Because of this, we have hope for our rescue and assurance that God has not abandoned us.  “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

Wednesday, March 18th 10:00 AM//6:30 PM

Element four:  Our place before God

Psalm 22:6-10 “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

We must acknowledge and confess our sinfulness, utter dependence and undeservedness before God.  We are all sinful and none of us are separate from the sin and destruction that has come out so violently in situations that we lament.  It is humbling to confess that we are not innocent bystanders even in the worst tragedies.  We may not have caused things directly (obviously) but we, as sinners, bow before God who is the only truly just one. We can question and struggle, but ultimately, God is God and we are not.  “I am a worm and not a man…yet you are he who took me from the womb.”

Wednesday, March 25th 10:00 AM//6:30 PM

Element five:  Prayer for deliverance.

Psalm 22:11-21 “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!”

We are stuck, we are hurting, and we need help.  Not help that covers over and makes everything seem fine.  We need true deep deliverance from a broken world, from the evil and harm that has happened, and from the darkness that is inside ourselves.  There is nowhere else that we can find this deliverance, but from God.  There is no twelve step plan, or comforting word, that can bring this, only God himself.  He will bring it in his way, at His time, but we can ask for it, and we should ask for it.  Orienting ourselves toward God and his power rather than our own ability to make ourselves happy or patch together the pieces.  “But you, O Lord, do not be far off!  O you my help, come quickly to my aid!  Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!  Save me from the mouth of the lion!  You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!”

Wednesday, March 25th 10:00 AM//6:30 PM

Element six:  Standing on God’s promises

Psalm 22:22-31 “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

The final step of a Lament does not always tie things up as nicely as we would like.  This step is the most fluid and should be an undercurrent in our lament.  It is not an artificial veneer that tries to cover things up.  This is our statement of hope and faith.  We proclaim that God’s promises and goodness are real even in the depths of our darkness.  We cling to them and hold onto them as a comfort, but not only a comfort.  They are the deep reality.  The place where God has revealed himself to us.  When we look for a place to stand, we can stand on these sure words that have been given.  “All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.  Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

Yet this standing is allowed to be shaky, we can cycle back through the lament as many times, and as often, as we need to bear our souls to God.  The book of Lamentations is a good example of this.  Five separate laments, but the third, at the heart of the book, is one lament focused on the hope found in God.  There are still two after that move back to calling out to God in pain, but the heart should always be centered with hope.  This is the kind of real hope that we can offer people.  Not a cure all, feel better bandage, but a deep abiding hope that can be honest and truly seek God.  We can cry to Him, even question and doubt Him, while still knowing and returning to the hope that He will not leave us buried under the burden of suffering by ourselves.

Lenten Meals Wednesdays 5 pm during lent

In association with our Lenten services, several service and ministry groups at Bethlehem sponsor Lenten meals that are available to everyone before the service. Meals start at 5PM and are served until 6:15PM in the commons. ALL PROCEEDS SUPPORT STUDENT MINISTRY! So join us for food and fellowship in the gym and then stick around for an incredible series of worship services here at Bethlehem.

Below you can see our meal schedule at a glance.

Cost:  $4/adults; $2/child (under 12); $15/family

February 26th – Fried Chicken, Potato Salad and Homemade Brownies sponsored by LifeLight

March 4th – Pizza, Salad, Ice Cream Floats sponsored by Bethlehem Kids

March 11th -Sloppy Joe’s, Coleslaw, Chocolate Cake sponsored by The Table 

March 18th -Mac & Cheese, Caesar Salad and Homemade Pies sponsored by Mary Martha/LWML

March 25th -Chili, Cinnamon rolls and veggies sponsored by our Men’s Ministry

April 1st -Tomato Soup, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Homemade Cookies sponsored by PPC/VIT