Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ash Wednesday 2020

Yesterday was my first Ash Wednesday in the new appointment at St. Elmo UMC.  I was hoping to be able to offer "ashes to go" again this year in Spanish, "cenizas para el camino", but February has been a rough month for me and I'm just getting my voice back stronger here at the end.  Though I wasn't able to do the extra ashes this year, I was able to plan and do a regular Ash Wednesday service for St. Elmo UMC for Wednesday evening.

Planning the service was different this year, as it was an evening service and entirely Ash Wednesday focused.  The materials came together.  The bulletin came together.  The thought came to me to have us read the Psalm 51 passage responsively from the Psalter in the hymnal before the homily "A Clean Heart".  The message came together on Tuesday.  As it was coming together, I wondered if I could avoid being vulnerable and authentic.  The answer was no and by the time the message was finished with me on Tuesday, I was done for the day, yet I knew it was right.  I knew I would be pouring out, once again, the empyting of myself, as that is my prayer any and every time I am going to share and lead.  I'm good with that because it's not about me.  It's about God.  Yet, it does put me in a vulnerable place, a place where I have the opportunity to trust, where I continue to learn and grow.  It's a good place.  I am leading from where I am living.

I had planned to wear my collar for the service, but my new shirt from the Open Table UMC in Raleigh, NC came this week and I wore it yesterday: "Break all the rules; love everyone".  Being dark gray/ashy in color, I decided (with input from others) that it was appropriate to wear for the service) so I did.

It came time for worship and those of us leading were there last night: Bryant to play the organ, Becky and Scarlet to lead the music, Bill to run sound, and me.  We got the lights set to where we wanted them, the heat turned on (thanks to a phone call and learning how to override the system in the sanctuary),   We got two young and eager helpers, along with their moms, to hand out bulletins.  I had been told that there are usually no more than 20, but since we've been having increased attendance, print 40.  I printed 40 bulletins.  We had 41 in attendance.

From my perspective, the service went well.  I had plenty of ashes to go around many times more (I always prepare too much).  Everything flowed.  I hadn't re-read some of the material in the Book of Worship or the Hymnal prior, so it caught me fresh in the moment.  That was a good thing.  I was able to worship and participate as much as I was able to lead.  I was grateful for having done some hard work of reflecting prior and working through some things, as that was helpful.  I was also grateful for the work I've been doing to intentionally change my wording when it comes to "brothers and sisters" in liturgy.  I opened up the Book of Worship and was about to start reading the Invitation.  And there is was, "brothers and sisters".  Not that the terminology is bad, it's simply not inclusive.  I hesitated, smiled to myself and began with an invitation to the siblings and family of God in Christ.  I've been doing this for a while in prayers for several years, but there was something marked last night, for some reason or maybe for some one.  I don't know.

Imposing ashes was meaningful for me.  I was able to call everyone by name as they came forward.  I did need to ask pronunciation for someone who attends stretch class that I've met just once, but out of 41, that wasn't bad.  Well, I don't think everyone received ashes and that's cool.  Yet still, when my brain can remember that many names at one time without name tags, that's a good moment.  [Don't tell anyone though.  I still want folks to wear name tags on Sunday mornings.  It's a good hospitality thing. :)]

I knew I would need someone to impose ashes on me and that was a plan I hadn't worked out.  I went back to the sound booth to give Bill his ashes.  As I went back there and headed back up front, I was looking around, wondering, praying.  Someone stood up, got out of the aisle, and approached me.  Yep, that works.  God worked that one out too.  That was meaningful to me.

The closing song from the hymnal was "Jesus, Remember Me".  We sang it through three times.  I went to the altar the first time and sang it on my knees.  It's a taizé song I'm familiar with and enjoy.  When it was over and time for the final prayer, I found that my body didn't want to get up from a kneeling position.  It wasn't that I couldn't.  My body wanted to stay in that state of being.  So, I shared that I was going to stay as I was and let's pray this prayer together.  We prayed and then we dismissed in peace and silence.

I'll include the order of worship and the message in this post and some pictures, taken by Riley.

The Order of Worship:

BACK OF BULLETIN (for easier reading): 

The Season of Lent

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten for “spring.” Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts, and then became a time of penitence for all Christians.

In the Ash Wednesday service, we confront our own mortality and confess our sin before God. The service focuses upon the dual themes of sin and death in the light of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ. The imposition of ashes is a sign of mortality and repentance with a long history in Jewish and Christian worship. It is traditional to save the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service and burn to produce ashes for the Ash Wednesday service.

“The season of Lent is like a roller coaster ride with emotions that are down and up again and again as the story or our salvation makes plain our sinful ways and the cost of our redemption.  We begin with Ash Wednesday where we roughly bump up against our own mortality.  Here we know that sin and death are real, and they are real not just for someone else.  Sin and death are real for us. This is where we begin the Lenten Season, with our face pressed hard against the reality of our own sin and death.”
A guide to prayer for all who seek god, page 126


St. Elmo United Methodist Church
February 26, 2020                               Ash Wednesday           Liturgical Color: Purple                                                                              Rev. Debra Dickerson


Prelude                                                                                                            Bryant Lowery

Greeting                                                                                               Rev. Debra Dickerson

L:   The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P:   And also with you.
L:   Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.
P:   May God’s Mercy endure forever.

    Opening Prayer                      “Ash Wednesday”                                                 UMH #353
                                                     (Pray in unison.)         

   *Reflection Song                     Come and Find the Quiet Center          Becky Myatt,
                                                        The Faith We Sing #2128                                leading 

 Come and find the quiet center
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed:
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.
Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us,
knows our being, touches base,
making space within our thinking,
lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we're shrinking,
finding scope for faith begun.

 In the Spirit let us travel,
open to each other's pain,
let our loves and fears unravel,
celebrate the space we gain:
there's a place for deepest dreaming,
there's a time for heart to care,
in the Spirit's lively scheming
there is always room to spare!
Scripture                                        Psalm 51
                                              (Responsive Reading)                       UMH Psalter pp.785-786

Message:                                 “A Clean Heart”                                   Rev. Debra Dickerson

Invitation to the Observance of the Lenten Discipline
Thanksgiving Over the Ashes
 Book of Worship  Pgs. 322-323

 Imposition of Ashes
 Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Repent, and believe the gospel.

Confession and Pardon                                                                                          UMH #893

*Hymn                                  Jesus, Remember Me                                               UMH #488

*Blessing and Closing Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, we enter this season of Lent in penitence and humility, aware of our own mortality and sinfulness.  Encourage us with your presence, we pray, that we may empty ourselves of whatever separates us from you and one another.  Teach us to rely on no strength but yours, as we journey with your Son toward your kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.         ~Ron Kok

Postlude                                                                                                       Bryant Lowery

*Please stand, as able.

We depart in silence…

The Message:

“A Clean Heart” 
Psalm 51:1-17 (Psalter Responsive Reading from UMH)
February 26, 2020 (Ash Wednesday)
St. Elmo UMC

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the 40 day season of Lent.  You can read more about the Season of Lent and Ash Wednesday on the back of tonight’s bulletin. 

Everything about tonight’s service is arranged to help us begin our journey of reflection toward the cross.

We hear about forgiveness, we seek to find the quiet center and silence in the midst of noise and busyness.  We hear the words of the Psalmist David, which we will unpack some in a moment.  Then we will offer a thanksgiving over the ashes, receive the ashes, share in a confession and pardon, sing together, and head out into the rest of the Lenten journey, aware of our mortality and God’s presence.

Psalm 51 guides us into self-reflection as we hear David’s prayer for forgiveness.  As David recognized his need for God’s mercy, we recognize our need for God’s mercy. 

We do things, either by omission or commission that hurt ourselves, others, and/or God (or all of the above) at one time or another.  These things may be small or they may be large. 

We have a need for reflection, confession, forgiveness, restoration.  Lent is a season of reflection, of listening to God and self, remembering who and whose we are and allowing ourselves to be washed by the amazing grace of a Creator who reminds us we belong.

Do you know David’s story here?  Do you know that his actions did harm to himself, Bathsheba, Uriah, those who served under Uriah (because it put them at risk when Uriah was killed), and his actions did harm to God?  How is that you ask?  I see David’s actions as grieving God.  David was a man after God’s own heart, a chosen leader.  Yet, David’s actions took him down another path for a while and that had to grieve the One who created him, who knew him best, and who had called him into leadership.  God was hurt, yet did not abandon David.

David comes to a place of penitence and confession and cries out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.  And renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence, O Lord.  And take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”

David wanted a restored relationship with God.  God wanted a restored relationship with David.  It began with repentance and moved into reconciliation.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like David, seeking forgiveness from someone, from yourself, from God?  The situation itself doesn’t matter.  If it has broken a right relationship, then repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation are needed for healing and wholeness.

It’s not easy to take that step in seeking forgiveness.  Pride.  Ego.  Self.  False self, I might clarify.  They get in the way.

John Rohrs notes: “The more difficult step is seeking forgiveness from the people we hurt, and committing ourselves to the hard, often painful work of reconciliation.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, page 13)

I will always be grateful for the phone call many years ago now (has it been 15?) that challenged me.  She called me to meet up, saying that if I was serious about putting the past behind us, let’s get together.  We did.  She had every reason to hate me, to scorn me, to not forgive me.  But we met and because of the grace and forgiveness of a loving God, we have done the hard work of reconciliation over the years.  It is one of those markers in my life that remind me, like David, God can bring restoration and healing into situations that I’ve messed up.  We are now an extended family, sharing weddings, holidays, graduations, illnesses. 

John Rohrs continues in his thoughts: “true reconciliation requires not only repentance, but also truth and justice and commitment to changed behavior.  This deeper understanding not only aids in the restoration of human relationships; it also may help us more faithfully to respond to God’s love and mercy in our lives.”

This Lenten season, allow the Holy Spirit into your heart, mind, and soul.  Make time to listen.  Consider reading the Scriptures on the Lenten guide and reflecting on what they say to you.  Be open to the powerful and healing work of reconciliation these next forty days. 

May God create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us.  Amen.

A link to listen to the Scripture and the message.


My newest t-shirt from OpenTable UMC in Raleigh, NC

As this Lenten journey has begun, I am grateful and humbled.

I am looking forward to the adventures of the journey with all who allow me to travel with them.

~Rev. Deb

Monday, February 24, 2020

Bamboo Encounter-- February 22nd

This past Saturday was Bamboo Encounter day, the 4th Saturday of the month.  Five of us gathered in the bamboo for our time of silence, Scripture, sharing, and Holy Communion.  It was a beautiful clear day and the being in the space of the bamboo did not disappoint.  My spirit was refreshed from the time of worship in community in that space.

I am grateful to Joel, who led the January service so that I could attend the Resurrection weekend with the youth.  What I regret is not being there to have heard what he had to share.  I look forward to him leading another time when I can be in attendance.

Here are some pictures from yesterday's time in the bamboo, along with the worship service.

Take a moment to read over the Scriptures and the poem by Wendell Berry and reflect on them.  Picture yourself in the midst of the bamboo from the pictures.  Though it's not the same as being there because you don't feel the breeze nor can you hear the bamboo clacking against each other, you can picture the cathedral ceiling cover above you.

Bamboo Encounter is part of the Wild Church Network.  We meet at Reflection Riding, on land that is native to the Cherokee and is part of the Lookout Creek watershed.

Opening Prayer:
Lord, the air smells good today,
straight from the mysteries
within the inner courts of God.
A grace like new clothes thrown across the garden.
free medicine for everybody.
The trees in their prayer, the birds in praise,
the first blue violets kneeling.
Whatever came from Being is caught up in being,
drunkenly forgetting the way back.


Scripture and readings:

Psalm 96:12
“Let all of the trees of the forest sing for joy.” (NIV)
“Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise.” (NLT—New Living Translation)

Isaiah 55:12
“For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

"Woods" by Wendell Berry
“I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
There is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.”          
     ~Wendell Berry

Communion Passage:

Matthew 26: 26-28 (MSG)
26-28 During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples:
Take, eat.          
This is my body.
Taking the cup and thanking God, he gave it to them:
Drink this, all of you.
This is my blood,
God’s new covenant poured out for many people
    for the forgiveness of sins.

Day by Day (Godspell)
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day

(from Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation by Sam Hamilton-Poore, p. 101)

May Christ open your eyes
that you may see the light of creation.
May Christ open your ears
that you may hear the song of the earth.
May Christ open your heart
that you may give and receive love.
Pictures by me:

Pictures by Joel Tippens:

May the bamboo bring you as much peace as it does me,
Rev. Deb

Spirit of Trees (a blog full of resources and writings on trees)
For the Beauty of the Earth, a Lenten Devotional, by Leah Schade

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Rest is a four-letter word

Double entendres. Language play.  I think most will understand what I mean when I say that "rest" is a four-letter word.

However, just in case, let me briefly explain that this expression in the American dialect carries a negative connotation.  The expression refers to words with four letters that are often used as curse words. Read about it here. (There are other dictionary explanations.)

So, why do I say that "rest" is a four letter word?

It is not a curse.

It is life-giving and healing.

For someone who has grown into accepting silence and solitude, this should be easy, right?!  (Easy. Another four letter word.)

Not so much.

I have forced myself to rest my voice and body since Sunday afternoon. I have worked via email, text, reading, and researching. I have barely spoken.

It is good. My voice is returning. My cough is diminishing.

I know that if I am to live, love, and lead like Jesus, then I have to make space for healing of my own body, soul, etc. I can't walk with others if I can't walk.

So, when my mind wakes me up at odd hours, I write myself minimally legiblestuck notes and return to bed.

I take all my medications, drink plenty of liquids, and rest.

Rest is healing and I am grateful for a non-busy week, though there are always things to do.

Instead of doing, I am focused on being.

May I live out what I encourage others to do in their daily lives. May I recognize the beauty of the gift of rest.

One more thing.  I walked to the mailbox and back and checked on my neighbor's crocuses to see if they had survived the rains, snow, rains.  This is what I saw. A beautiful opened crocus, open to receive whatever comes its way.

May it be so.

Rev. Deb

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A (brief) Winter Wonderland in TN

Yesterday morning I slept in because I was trying to give my body some more rest.  I stayed home from a girls' weekend getaway (of which I was only doing one night/two days) because my cough had returned with a vengeance.  I thought I was on the victory lap because I felt so much better Wednesday morning and my voice was returning stronger every day. But Wednesday hit me hard and I knew when I got up Friday morning that I needed to stay home and rest.  I've done a lot of that lately.  I've rested and worked from home.  I've not talked.  For someone who talks for their calling and who taught languages for 24 years, you can imagine how being quiet (as much as possible) these past three weeks has been different for me. :)

But, I digress.

By living into the spiritual practice of listening to my body and staying home Friday and Saturday, I woke up to a slightly covered deck outside my bedroom window and big white flakes falling from the sky. 

I guess I had missed the weather forecast somewhere. 

My husband was on his weekly Saturday ZOOM call, but I couldn't help shouting out "it's snowing" with child-like wonder and surprise. 

I watched the snow pile up throughout the morning, taking pictures of the deck, the trees, my Hebrew alphabet coffee mug, our "love and acceptance practiced here" sign, the tables, and Cliff.  I took LOTS of Cliff pictures.  It turns out that Cliff loves the snow and would sit in it, looking up at the flakes as they fell onto his nose.

I took time to listen to the silence.  You know, that silent hush of falling snow.  It is a beautiful silence that fills the atmosphere, only to be broken by the sound of children laughing and four-wheelers buzzing around.

I didn't spend too much time outside.  I mainly watched the winter wonderland from inside. 

Yet there was something about the outward setting of peace that allowed me to have inner peace.  Much like the sacraments of baptism and communion are outward symbols to remind us of the inward grace that Creator God has provided, the ever falling snow became a sacramental blanket, a symbol, of outward peace for me.

Though I didn't get to really "play" in the snow, I quickly "smooshed" together something that really cannot be considered a snowman and I made a quick snow angle with Cliff's help that he was kind enough to guard for a little while.  There wasn't anyone at whom I could throw snowballs (Riley was off at a meeting and I didn't think that would be fair to Cliff). 

The small amount of play was sufficient.  What I needed more was the peace from the surroundings as the snow continued to fall.

And just as quickly as the snow fell and piled up high, it was gone.  But not the peace.  The peace remains.

Even though I don't have time like I would like to write because I'm focused on reading, studying, and writing for weekly sermons, I know there is a time for everything, just like the gentle and steady fall of the snow.

I really missed getting to hang out with the ones I was supposed to be with on Friday and Saturday, but I am grateful for the time of rest for my body, as well as the gift of snow.

Living into spiritual practices isn't always easy.  Listening to my body, saying "yes" to stopping, rather than pushing myself too hard meant giving up something I wanted and needed.  Yet, I gained some things, some perspective too.

Am I 100% recovered now?  No.  I am still taking time to not talk, to rest my body.  This not talking thing is actually growing on me.  I imagine it is growing on others too. :)

Though the snow came and went, I have the memories and photographs to bring back the sounds of silence, the peace, the joy, the fun.

If you were somewhere in the south on Saturday, you may have experienced the brief winter wonderland too.  What did it do for you?  What were the gifts from the snowfall for you?

I know that those who live in other locations don't quite "get" the magic of a random snowfall like we experienced on Saturday, but here in the south we call out years, such as the blizzard of 1993.  I lived on Long Island for three years and we had a couple of doozies there too. 

Snow will always be one of those things that pulls out the kid in me (it doesn't take much).

My one regret is that my sledding budding wasn't here.  We had a blast a couple of years back on the hill  outside our neighborhood.  There's a video on my Facebook page as proof. :)

Enjoy these pictures of my backyard, Cliff, and deck.

May the journey continue to be adventurous!

Much peace!

Rev. Deb

Resources on the Spiritual Practice of listening to your body:

Honoring the Body as a Spiritual Discipline by Ruth Haley Barton (podcast)
Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit by Whitney Simpson (book)
Your Body is Talking. Are You Listening? by Julie Peters (article)

My snow pictures: