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  • Rev. Annie McMillan

"On Our Knees" Ash Wednesday Feb 14, 2024

I don't remember a lot from my Sunday School days as a child, but there's one story that has stuck with me, and it was intricately connected to the Matthew passage.

A little girl, let’s call her Lisa, was very good. She prayed every night: kneeling beside her bed with her hands folded and her eyes closed, and the door open. As she prayed, she could hear her parents’ praise.

One night she prayed: Thank you, God, for all the good things. For Mommy and Daddy, and I guess for my brother Elliot. Thank you for school, and for all of the girls who like me. Thank you for not making me like Beth- with holes in her dress, and stains!...” She'd finish her prayer with "Amen", and go to bed.

One night Lisa had a dream: she was in heaven, surrounded by all of these beautifully dressed girls and boys in bright white clothes. And there was Beth, in a beautiful, pristine white dress, just a little ways away. Lisa looked down at her own dress and noticed that it was stained all over. Jesus came up beside her, and Lisa asked him: Why did Beth have a beautiful white dress and she have a stained one? She never wore such clothing: Beth was the one who always had stains or tears.

"You made each of those stains yourself" Jesus told her. Lisa touched one, and remembered the time she had yelled at her little brother. She touched another, and saw Beth crying as Lisa and the other girls ignored her. Each stain held a story. Each stain she had caused.

When little Lisa woke up, she went and closed her bedroom door, got on her knees, folded her hands and closed her eyes tight: "Jesus, forgive me. I haven't been as good as I thought.”

What’s in our heart is important. Joel says this in one way, speaking to his time for corporate repentance: the public repentance of a nation for what they have done wrong. They need to come together as a community, not at one of the typical hours of worship, but for a special time of worship, and repent as a community. This type of prayer should be public.

Jesus’ message adds to this: it’s not that we shouldn’t pray together in public. But when we pray, it should be from our heart. And we need more than public, corporate prayer. There’s an intimate part of prayer and repentance as well: between you and your Creator in heaven. God knows our hearts. He doesn’t care about the right words or the right prayer stances. God cares about us coming with our true selves, bringing who we are without thought to what others might think, good or bad. For instance, Joel calls for more than the act of tearing clothes, an action that indicated a posture of repentance. Instead, God wants the actual repentance: “Tear your hearts, not your clothes.” Jesus tells us to pray to our Father who is in that secret place.

So, how might you dive into prayer throughout these 40 days? Because praying is part of our calling: to pray for others, and to pray so that we grow in our relationship with God. Hopefully you noticed the bags at the front labeled “Lent in a Bag”. Take one home. Use the items within and the pamphlet to deepen your time in prayer. Find a place where you can focus on God and take a moment to pray. And consider if there’s something else that would help you with your prayer life: a journal, prayer beads, a prayer shawl- whether praying as you crochet it or praying as you wear it. Coloring a scripture picture, or drawing as you read a scripture passage. Even getting up and praying while walking. We’ll dive a little more into prayer over these next 6 weeks, and starting tomorrow night we’ll study ways to connect with God through different Spiritual Practices.

We are invited to an inward journey of relationship with God. Whether on our knees, behind closed doors, or in the quiet of our hearts; wherever we find ourselves, we begin a six-week pilgrimage to the very depths of our being. So let us begin our Lenten journey together this evening as we prepare our hearts to come before God in humility: to eat at the Table prepared, and remember we are dust and to dust we shall return; we come from Love, and to Love we shall return.


Charge and Benediction

In the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims, go now to embark on your Lenten journey.

Consider how you may simplify your days so that you may travel lightly.

Be alert to all that could side-track you: notice that which beckons alluringly, or with apparently greater urgency, than the pilgrim journey Christ invites.

Do not try to cover more than one good day’s journey at a time.

Know when to stop for food and sleep, so that the journey will not be too great for you.

Walk humbly, knowing that the goal is not recognition, achievement or reward, but simply to have come to know Christ and yourself more intimately.

Be on the lookout for other pilgrims, caring for those who limp, or fall; those who cannot see the way forward: for pilgrimage is richer in community.

Go now: place your hand into the outstretched hand of Jesus Christ.

For though the night is dark, the Light of the world goes before you.

God guides your steps and surrounds your life.

Go in peace, ready to serve the One who has always loved you.

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