Many years ago, I’ve forgotten where and when, I was talking with a woman I had just met. I happened to mention that I am Lutheran and work for a Lutheran church. Her reply gave me pause. “Oh, you Lutherans, constantly confessing your sins. You’re obsessed by sin!” Her remark was rude and dismissive, and I remember being rather defensive. I told this story to Gretchen Pierskalla, our former children’s education director, several years later. With her trademark enthusiasm she effused, “No we’re not! We’re obsessed by grace!”
We are about to embark on our Lenten journey for 2021. Given Covid-19 and its continued presence in our world, Lent 2021 is going to be quite different from previous years. Instead of gathering to worship in the sanctuary on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, we’ll gather on-line. But as this pandemic has taught us, God is still God, God is still good, God is still love, and we are all still part of God’s beloved community of believers, lovers and doers known as Crown of Glory Lutheran Church.
Lent is a time to be thoughtful and prayerful, discerning what God is calling us to do and to be. We confess our sin; we lament the broken systems that bind us. But we also receive God’s grace, God’s unconditional love that enables us to move forward with our lives without being trapped by fear or despair. Obsessed by grace, as Gretchen reminded us, we can grow in our faith and refuel our ourselves with the power of the Holy Spirit, to live as followers in the way of Jesus. As we will sing during Lent:
I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus.
In Him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart Lord Jesus. (Kathleen Thomerson)
Our Wednesday evening worship begins with Ash Wednesday February 17. For the next five Wednesdays we will worship with our beloved Holden Evening Prayer service, and hear about the faith journey of five Crown of Glory members, partners on the journey. It is amazing to hear how someone else wrestles with faith and life, and to realize in our own wrestling, we are not alone.
On the first Sunday in every Lent, Christians around the world read the story about how Jesus is led by the Spirit out into the desert for forty days. Often this story is paired with the story of how the Jewish people, after escaping slavery in Egypt, wandered in the desert for forty years. So, on Sundays, Pastors Reggie and Laura will explore our time in the desert, our time wandering. It seems like an excellent metaphor for life in the time of Covid, when we worship on-line, do everything virtually, and keep our distance from each other. A powerful hymn puts it this way:
Our Father, we have wandered, and hidden from your face;
In foolishness have squandered your legacy of grace.
But now in exile dwelling, we rise with fear and shame,
As, distant but compelling, we hear you call our name. (ELW #606)
We’ll sing this hymn, and many other hymns and songs about confession and forgiveness, grace, healing, wandering and being found.
So, as Lutherans, are we obsessed by sin? Perhaps. But without confession, how can there be forgiveness? Without sorrow, how can there be joy? Yin and yang. Thank you, Gretchen! You always have a thoughtful, compelling perspective. You’re going to be a great pastor!
So, as we wrestle with life and faith this Lent 2021, let’s not let sin control too much of our own story. Instead let’s revel in the gifts of grace and faith. Let’s absorb those gifts into our being that we may grow, body and spirit, in wisdom and understanding. And let us use that wisdom and understanding to make our world a better place for ourselves, our friends and family, and for all people. For all the anxiety of 2020, perhaps we can make 2021 a year of grace. That would after all, be an improvement.
Peace and joy to all of us on the journey,
Tom Paulson, Director of Music and Worship