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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Ash Wednesday 2/25

          Do you think we’re ever going to get this Lent thing right?  Every year we do Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday and repentance, a call to return to the Lord, to give up those things that keep us from being in proper relationship with God, to more fully be who we were created to be.  One of these years you’d think that maybe we’d get it right and then we wouldn’t have to do Lent anymore or maybe at least certain individuals could be excused from Lent in a given year and of course it would be up to the pastor to decide who those people were. 

          I guess though, if history tells us anything, we’ll be back here again next year, I think it’s about a week earlier than this year, February 17th,  we’ll be back to do Lent again, because human nature being what it is, we’ll need to.  Regardless of how seriously we take Lent as a time of repentance and renewal, sometimes it seems like a one step forward, two steps back thing but whatever the case there will be a need for all of us, without exception, to return to the Lord, again.  

          I’m thinking though, that in a way, we might be able to do Lent better this year or at least we might be able to do the Lenten fast better.  One of the traditional disciplines of Lent is fasting, or as we have come to understand it, giving something up.  The reason for giving something up is that it is supposed to be something that gets in the way of us having a closer relationship with God so by eliminating it from our lives we find that we aren’t as dependent on it as we thought we were, and thus we draw closer to the God who we are dependent on.  I think I’ve confessed before that I’ve done the “giving something up” thing in the past but it mostly just turns into a contest with myself to prove that I can do it and I can; but it has nothing to do with God.

          This year though feels different. For many of us, we don’t really have to give something up, because with the economy in the mess that it’s in, something has been given up for us, something has been taken away, that something being what we thought was financial security.  Whether it’s because of the loss of a job or the loss of a large portion of those well thought out retirement investments, something has been given up.  All of a sudden it’s gone and who knows if it’s coming back.

          As this Lent begins though, I find that I am surprisingly not that worried about it and I’m someone who does worry about these things, and I do think that my not being too worried about it is at least something of a God thing, as the loss of many thousands of dollars has made me more aware of the fact that what I thought was financial security is really just an idol that I have created or our society has created, however it works.  Not to minimize the losses that many have experienced along with the resulting hardships, but perhaps the losses do make us more aware of what is really most important in life, and for those who gather in church on Ash Wednesday, maybe it does make our relationship with God closer and more meaningful.  Anyway, it does feel different to me; I do think that this Lenten season has the potential to be a very meaningful one.  I also think that while we tend to think of Lent as a somber time, in an odd sort of way this Lenten season may wind up being more about hope, something of a reversal of expectation.

          Reversal of expectation is not foreign to the scripture readings for Ash Wednesday, especially the first lesson from the prophet Joel.  In fact, Joel does something of a double reverse of expectation.  His proclamation is about the day of the Lord, a day which had been thought of as a day of vindication for Israel as the nations who had oppressed Israel would be called to judgment.  In other words, the people of Israel took for granted that they were God’s people, that God was on their side.  But Joel doesn’t announce vindication; he announces a day of darkness and gloom because these are the people of God, people who have enjoyed God’s favor, yet who now must be held accountable for their failure to be who God would have them be. 

          That’s the first reversal, a reversal that comes with a call for repentance, for a return to the Lord with fasting and weeping and mourning, fasting and weeping and mourning done in an effort to escape the coming wrath of God.  But then comes the second reversal.  Despite announcing God’s inclination to punish these people, Joel returns to the only hope that any of them have, hope in what they understand to be the prevailing nature of their God.  Joel returns to a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He returns to a God who by nature relents from punishing. 

          Joel realizes that if God should relent from punishing, and note that he’s not sure; “Who knows if he will turn and relent,” he says, but if he relents from punishing, if he turns to the people in mercy it will not be because of their righteousness and merit, it will only be because it is in the nature of this God to be gracious and merciful.  Because of that nature though, because of that second reversal, Joel could bring the people back to hope. 

          The situation we find ourselves in as Lent begins in 2009 is not the same as it was in ancient Israel.  What is the same though is the need to return to the Lord and what is also the same is the need for hope, hope in God.  The present financial situation perhaps makes the return easier this year as we become more aware that our ultimate dependence is on God rather than on whatever idols we have constructed, monetary or otherwise.

          In that return we do find hope as Joel announced, because it is a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love that we return to.  Giving us even more hope is the fact that we know more than Joel did about this God.  We have seen the revelation of God in Jesus Christ; we have experienced the turn toward humanity that God made in the incarnation of Jesus; we know about the cross that this Lenten season eventually brings us to; we know what the cross meant for Jesus, we know what it means for us.

          What it means is that there is hope, there’s always hope because our hope lies in the God revealed in Jesus.  It’s not hope that we want to take for granted because our return every year to Lent is a reminder of our inclination to sin, a reminder of our need for salvation, with the cross being a reminder of the price of that salvation.  But then the reversal as the cross brings us back to hope. 

          Whatever happens during this season of Lent, may it draw you closer to the God revealed in Jesus, the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, the God who does relent from punishing.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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