Pastor's Blog

February 19: Giving Up is Hard to Do

Every year during Lent, many Christians talk about giving something up. It’s often something like Facebook, chocolate, or some other indulgence. But Lent is a good time to really think about giving up, because one of the hardest things about following Christ is giving up.

We use words like commit, follow, join, come, and serve.

If you follow, you also leave something behind. In order to receive a gift, your hands have to be empty. What do you have to let go of in order to receive whatever it is you truly need?

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to give up, to let it go, turn it over, to surrender. We believe surrender always means weakness. Surrender has a secret, though: surrender is strength in disguise. It takes courage to give in. It takes courage to say yes to one thing, knowing it means saying no to something else. It takes courage to stop doing what you've always done, stop believing what you've always believed, stop defining yourself and others the way you always have before.

What do you hold on to? Do you hold on to your guilt, perfection, power, security, popularity, traditions, or comfort, to just name a few?

What did Moses have to give up to become a great prophet and deliverer? Home, family, power, comfort, safety.

What did the disciples choose to give up when they decided to follow Jesus? Home, family, livelihood, tradition, control.

What did Saul give up when he decided to start a new life as an Apostle named Paul? Tradition, old anger, long-held religious beliefs, power, safety.

Following Christ is not easy and it is not all about receiving. It is also about giving up, and that is hard. G.K. Chesterton said, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried."

Chesterton was very influential on C.S. Lewis, who wrote in Mere Christianity,

Now we our failure to keep God's law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, 'You must do this. I can't.

What must you give up to follow Christ? If you can name it, God can help you. God does not leave us alone to do this. God helps us, because God's favorite word is with. God is with us, just as God was with Moses, and the disciples, and Saul, and so many others. We follow Christ, but we are not left behind to follow in footsteps. God is with us. God is with you.

What will you give up to follow Christ? Not just during Lent but during your lifetime? Maybe it’s pride or privilege or certainty. Maybe it’s self-righteousness or comfort. Maybe you’ll give up the comfort of just sending thoughts and prayers in the wake of injustices. It’s Lent. It’s a good time to start giving up.

In common calling,

Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker



February 12: Prayer for Ash Wednesday and Lent

Reclaimed by Reformed churches in the last few decades, Ash Wednesday is the entry point for Lenten preparation. It is a service rich in ritual and symbolism. Participants on Ash Wednesday come forward for a minister or elder to mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross in ashes, saying the words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” from Genesis 3:19. With these words, disciples are reminded of their mortality and, when combined with the sign of the cross, they are also reminded of the hope of the resurrection.

Christians do not receive the sign of the cross to attract attention or to be noticed by others; they receive the sign of the cross to focus on who they are as human beings, bound in death and life to Christ. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent provide time to explore the mystery at the heart of the gospel that being a Christian means a new life through Christ.

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 14th this year.   Lent is the period of 40 days, not including Sundays, prior to Resurrection Sunday. The word "lent" comes from the Latin word for "lengthen," because the days of Lent occur during the springtime of the year, when the daylight hours increase. The period consists of 40 days because the number 40 represents a period of completeness in the Bible: Moses and the people of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years; Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days.  Since the days of the early church, in the decades and centuries after the death and Resurrection of Christ, Christians have regarded the period of Lent as a time for repentance and reflection. Derry invites you to observe a Lenten discipline of repentance and drawing close to God. Pray this prayer asking God to help you turn toward God and stay with God from Ash Wednesday to Easter, to our own death and resurrection.

Truly dust we are, and to dust we shall return;

and truly yours we are, and to you we shall return.

Help this to be a time of turning round and beginning again.

Through the forty days of Lent, help us to follow you

and to find you: in the discipline of praying

and in the drudgery of caring

in whatever we deny ourselves,

and whatever we set ourselves to learn or do.

Help us to discover you

in our loneliness and in community,

in our emptiness and our fulfilment,

in our sadness and our laughter.

Help us to find you when we ourselves are lost.

Help us to follow you on the journey to Jerusalem

to the waving palms of the people’s hope,

to their rejection, to the cross and empty tomb.

Help us to perceive new growth

amid the ashes of the old.

Help us, carrying your cross, to be signs of your Kingdom.  Amen

(by Jan Sutch Pickard, in Traveling to Easter with Jesus as our Guide)

In common calling,

Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker