The LPC e-pistle is designed for the friends and families of Langhorne Presbyterian Church and any others who happen by. Pastor Bill Teague shares weekly comments on the world, the life of faith and Langhorne Church. A weekly e-mail, sent by request, keeps members up to date on news and prayer concerns within the congregation. Langhorne Presbyterian Church is a warm, Christ-honoring congregation, and we’d love to have you stop by for a visit if you’re ever in our neighborhood. You can get directions to LPC here.
This coming Wednesday, March 1, is Ash Wednesday. We Presbyterians are late-comers to marking the day, and we still don’t do much with Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday. We sometimes join our Anglican friends for a Pancake Supper the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, but are never sure exactly why we are doing so.
There is no explicit Biblical warrant for a season of penitence prior to Easter or for that season to begin with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads. The lack of Biblical warrant was enough for our Reformed fathers and mothers to reject the observance of Lent, and Ash Wednesday as its beginning.
It took a long time for Presbyterians, especially those of us with a little Covenanter and Seceder blood running through our veins, to find some value in the disciplines of Lent and of Ash Wednesday, in particular.
On Wednesday, forty days, excluding Sundays, before Easter, we Presbyterians will gather for an evening Communion service in the Sanctuary.
Our Ash Wednesday service is unlike any other service during the year, save Maundy Thursday. Those who so desire will receive the ashen cross upon their foreheads as they enter. “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” the elder will say as they pause just inside the back doors of the Sanctuary.
There will be no cheery, “Good evening!” from the pulpit, no announcements about potlucks or mission trips. Instead, we will be called to survey the wondrous cross – to count our richest gain but loss and pour contempt on all our pride. We will see that cross towering o’er the wrecks of time.
There is a certain unrelentingness about our Ash Wednesday service. In our prayer of confession we will acknowledge with the Puritan Fathers:
Thou art good beyond all thought,
But I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind;
My lips are ready to confess,
but my heart is slow to feel,
and my ways reluctant to amend.
I bring my soul to thee;
break it, wound it, bend it, mould it.
Unmask to me sin’s deformity,
that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.
This is not a quick pick-me-up service, a mid-week boost. It asks us to go to corners of our hearts we often avoid. It brings us face to face with the reality that we are dust and to dust we will return. This year’s reading and reflection on Isaiah 59 will offer no relief to those of us who simply want a good thought for the day.
There is no doubt that there is a gloominess, something dark and heavy, about our worship on Ash Wednesday. By design it is so. But the service ends as we are invited to that Table standing in the shadow of the cross. As we come to the meal and its gracious host, we are reminded of and fed with the reality of how deep is the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.
We will leave the service spiritually exhausted, but somehow encouraged and ready to follow the One who “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).
Our Ash Wednesday service is far from the best-attended of the year. But it is often one of the best-remembered and best-used for our spiritual good. Might you be willing to join us on Wednesday?
See you Sunday. And Wednesday.
He turned out to have been the perfect storm. At least for me he was. I have not yet talked with our son in Boston. Yesterday’s snowstorm, Winter Storm Niko, we are told, was supposed to hit us hard. 3”-6” became 8”-10”, and we were thought to be foolish if we did not have at least a month’s supply of bread and milk in our storehouses.
Niko was an underperformer for those of us in the Philadelphia area, and that made Niko the perfect storm. Around our house Niko showed up with the low side of his 3 to 6 and just kind of gave up on doing much of anything around 11:00 in the morning. The unmet expectations were fine with me. Continue reading
My older brother John will join us in Guatemala next week. More precisely we, the Guatemala Mission Away Team, will join him in Guatemala next week. John retired to Antigua, Guatemala, about a year ago and he met last year’s Away Team on the last night of the trip when we stayed in Antigua prior to heading the airport in Guatemala City the next morning. After spending time with some of the team members and hearing some of our stories, he wondered if he might join us in our work in San Lucas Toliman this year. The rest is history, as they say.
So next Saturday afternoon, John will greet us at the Guatemala City Airport and become a part of the LPC Guatemala Mission Away Team. John brings a wealth of construction experience and skill to the team – commodities sorely lacking in his younger brother – and will contribute much to our work.
John knows the details of the trip – when to be at the airport and the “what to bring” list every team member receives, and I will be in touch again this week to remind him of those details. But, still, I owe him another letter, a big-picture, why and how, letter. It will go something like this: Continue reading
I look to the morning readings from the Psalter to help guide my prayers for the day. As LPC people know, we have been praying for two faithful women in our congregation, both of whom are in the midst of chemotherapy treatments for the cancer that afflicts them. This past Wednesday morning’s reading included the “Teth” section of Psalm 119 (Psalm 119:65-72). Verse 71 found its way into my thoughts and would not leave even after repeated attempts to send it away.
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
I typically form prayers, prompted by the Psalm, for each of these courageous women and send them along as a morning email. Scripture calls us to pray for one another, and I hope the prayers I send day by day might be an encouragement for the long journey through chemo. Continue reading
I’ve decided to wear my green stole on Sunday. It seems to me like a pretty good act of defiance.
At LPC we don’t pay much attention to vestments and paraments; you know, the decorative stoles a pastor might wear with his robe and the variously colored runners on the communion table or pulpit. In fact, we use no paraments and the pastor can’t seem to decide whether he likes vestments or not.
In the high churches vestments and paraments are very important and for good reason. They serve as reminders of the mighty acts of God, though sometimes the parishioners fret about them as if they should be subject to the tastes of an interior decorator. Among the reasons paraments are not so important at LPC are the architecture and chancel furnishings that discourage their use. And my vestments, modest as they are? Sometimes a plain black preaching gown says all I want it to say.
But this Sunday I’ll be wearing my green stole, and I hope it says all I want it do say. Continue reading