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Love and Remembrance

Rev. Andrew Peck-McClain
Trinity United Methodist Church

(2/2018) Ash Wednesday and Valentineís Day both fall on February 14 this year. A time of remembrance for Christians that "from dust we have come, and to dust we shall return" with Ash Wednesday. A time to remember love on Valentineís Day. A chance to deepen both our love toward God, our love toward neighbor.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a time of preparation for Jesusí death and resurrection. Lent is also a time where Christians commonly take on a spiritual practice. It might be giving something up for Lent, like chocolates, meat on Fridays, or more appropriately for me Doritos! It might also be falling more in love with Jesus through an added spiritual practice.

At Trinity United Methodist Church, we have been examining various spiritual practices with our adult Sunday School class. We hoped to give folks some spiritual disciplines to consider during January, so that one or two might become Lenten practices. Our six-week study has been lifting up the spiritual practices of prayer, simplicity, silence, study, Sabbath, and service. (There was no intention to have so many practices beginning with S, but it just happened that way!) Richard Fosterís book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth has provided a good blueprint for us. Itís a book that I would certainly recommend if youíre considering taking on a new spiritual practice this Lent.

Letís start with prayer. One of my favorite ways to approach prayer comes from Percy Ainsworth, a British pastor in the early 20th Century. Ainsworth wrote, "The end of prayer is not to win concessions from Almighty Power but to have communion with Almighty Love." When our prayer lives are simply petitioning God for this and that, we are lacking depth. Yes, we pray for healing of a loved one and healing in the world. But prayer equally needs to be communing with God. We need to listen to God in prayer as much as we talk to God with petitions.

When we listen to God, commune with God, we fall in love deeper and deeper with God. When we have a deeper relationship with God, our love for others is stronger, more courageous, more bold. Especially with Valentineís Day falling on Ash Wednesday, our love for God this Lent can become more passionate. Our love for neighbor can be more real this Lent.

Our Lay Leader at Trinity, Merri Sayler, is co-leading the class with me. (Thank you Merri for your excellent leadership!) One Sunday, she led us to live more intentionally the practice of simplicity. Our lives can feel rushed, each day seeming like we are tugged in eighteen different directions. Simplicity has us begin to look at what is really essential in our daily living. Money that we spend on gadgets and timesaving devises, really doesnít help us in the long run, writes Richard Foster. Instead, Foster offers up places to simplify. "Enjoy things without owning them." Foster offers public libraries as a wonderful resource if you are an avid reader. He also encourages us toward other spaces we cannot own, like public parks. When youíre there, "develop a deeper appreciation for the creation." In your adoration of Godís creation, you can become still and remember who is God. Much of our busyness comes from our notion that we can take on the role of God.

Related to the practice of simplicity is Sabbath. Again, we try to squeeze all we can out of each day, each week. We forget that the God who created in six days took a day of rest on the seventh. Have we taken on the role of God in trying to stretch ourselves with work, family, community responsibilities, and whatever else makes up our lives?

Sabbath is essential for our minds, our bodies and our spirits. We need that time to simply be. Time to worship God, the God who created the beautiful space that is the Emmitsburg Community Park. Time to be with friends and family without an agenda. Time to claim that your Sabbath day is sacred, and it is important.

What your Sabbath practice looks like will vary. For some, you may remember blue laws and not going to the movies on a Sunday. For others, you may have no problem going to the grocery store with your two-year-old after attending worship. Naps are always good, but if your house is filled with four children under ten years old, it may not happen on your Sabbath. Whatever your Sabbath time looks like, have it center around praising the God who creates. Have Sabbath time honor rest that leads you to remember goodness and wholeness.

Service is an incredibly important practice, and one you could begin today or certainly this Lent. Service can be volunteering one Saturday a month at Habitat for Humanity in Frederick. Service might be folding the bulletins for your church each week. I think service is important for two reasons. One, it helps others. It helps someone in need in a way that is not patronizing or in holding it over whoever is being served. Two, it gets us out of ourselves. It reminds us that we are not the center of the universe, and that others too need the time and attention that we give ourselves. Service allows us to love another because God loves us.

In teaching a class on spiritual practices, Merri and hope to introduce people to new ways to fall in love with God. There are so many ways to be drawn closer to the one who first loves us. The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun has at least sixty spiritual practices! Common practices like Bible Study and Fasting and Holy Communion. Calhoun also includes practices like Labyrinth Prayer, where you "make a quiet, listening pilgrimage to God." Or Unplugging, "to be fully present to and uninterrupted in my interactions with God and others." What a great practice of unplugging as a part of simplicity or Sabbath.

I was privileged with the opportunity to grow more in my spiritual practices by participating in a Personal Spiritual Deepening Program in 2016 through the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Growth. Shalem is located in Washington D.C., and offers a wide range of programs to encourage spiritual growth. The program I attended met one Saturday a month in D.C., with suggested readings on prayer, discernment, listening and community. It was wonderful to discover new ways of being in love with God, new ways of loving neighbor as a spiritual practice.

So with Valentineís Day and Ash Wednesday coming together, use Lent to fall in love with God. Fall in love with God on the yoga mat. Fall in love with God as the purple from the crocuses begins to pop out of the ground. Fall in love with a Jesus who consistently invites the outsider in, as you volunteer at the Food Band. Fall in love with the many ways that God invites us to deepen our relationship with the Divine.

And fall in love with worship at Trinity United Methodist Church. We worship at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings, and are located at 313 West Main Street in Emmitsburg. Come and see what is in store during our adult Sunday School class at 10:30 a.m. this Lent. Maybe youíll have a story to share about your new spiritual practice!

Read other thoughtful writings by Rev. Andrew Peck-McClain