First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720


Washing in the Life-Giving Water

Sermon ~ Patti Ulrich ~ Guest Preaching ~ Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Message – Washing in the Life-Giving Water

Lent draws the faithful – sometimes kicking and screaming – to a period of spiritual preparation and renewal in anticipation of the coming jubilance of Eastertide. Throughout the history of the church, candidates for Holy Baptism would often engage in rigorous study, prayer and fasting during Lent. (while we give up things like chocolate)  It was also the time when those who had committed “notorious sins” and were separated from the church would reconcile with God and one another in order to be restored to communion in time for Easter. Lent was, and remains, a time in which all Christians are called to reorient themselves from the distractions of sin, apathy and mundaneness, and return to the life-giving will of God.

The Gospel of John calls the faithful to do the same. It stands as a powerful and provocative witness to the fact that in Jesus Christ, God has revealed Godself to the world. John’s gospel begins by calling Jesus, simply but profoundly, “the Word.” In that first chapter, John employs powerful theological phrases in reference to Jesus, calling him the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

The Gospel of John describes Jesus, not simply as a miracle worker or faith healer, but rather a worker of signs, each pointing beyond itself to a larger truth. Here in Chapter 9, Jesus works a sign by healing a man who was blind from birth. As word of what Jesus did begins to spread, some Pharisees puff their chests, saying, “If Jesus really was from God, he would have known that the law prohibits such actions on the Sabbath.” But in questioning the legality of what Jesus did, those Pharisees miss the larger point. They focus on the action itself, and not the larger truth that the action reveals.

The blind man receiving sight isn’t the point of the story – at least, not entirely. The man’s physical traits are only a part of the larger narrative. What is more to the point, however, is what the blind man’s relationship with Jesus teaches us about our own relationship with Jesus. John Chapter 9 is a sign that calls attention, not to the story’s resolution, but to the ways in which we find ourselves caught up in the midst of the story. Jesus affirmed the full humanity of this man born blind by treating him with the same compassion and respect that he treated everyone around him.

The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” They assumed, as most people did in those days, that suffering was the result of sinfulness. As the disciples’ question meets our ears, we may find ourselves thinking, not of physical blindness, but of other scourges that plague us. We watch helplessly as the news reports yet another terrorist shooting. We weep as we hear of yet another life cut short by bullying. We feel inexplicable anger at the grim prognosis of a young mother stricken with cancer. “What have we done to deserve this?” we wonder. “Is God punishing us?” we ask. Suddenly, we realize that the disciples’ question is familiar because it is one that we have all asked of God ourselves.
And yet Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question – to our question – is unwavering: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”

Just a few weeks ago, we learned that our niece’s fourth child was born with Down Syndrome. The road ahead will be difficult for them as they grapple with a new reality for their family. But did they do anything to deserve this?

In our Gospel reading today, both the disciples and the Pharisees encounter a “man born blind,” and instead of seeing him as a person, they see him as an object, a lesson to be learned, a morality play to be performed. First, the disciples observe this man and ask Jesus, “Who sinned?” They equate physical disability with moral imperfection and punishment. The Pharisees hone in on Jesus’ apparent violation of Sabbath law by healing this man on a day of rest. But no one does what Jesus does. Neither the disciples nor the Pharisees actually see the human being in their midst. Their treatment of the man born blind exposes their own inability to see.

The history of people with disabilities in the United States follows a similar course. People with both physical and intellectual disabilities have been denied access to health care and education and even spiritual care for centuries. They have experienced physical suffering and social isolation. The general population has suffered the loss of their presence among us, even if we have failed to notice their absence.

On the day that President Trump took office, the White House website underwent a transformation. President Obama’s website had a page dedicated to people with disabilities. President Trump’s does not and in recent weeks, the Trump administration has sought to deregulate education and health care laws that protect some of our most vulnerable students and citizens. Once again, we are in danger of pushing people with disabilities out of view. (†)

And as our niece’s young family and all of our families start to receive love from people like their daughter, Ellyn, people whose gifts are not always valued by our culture, we can start to believe that every human being has gifts to offer, if only we have eyes to see.

Yes Jesus reminds us that the axiom is true, indeed: Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But Jesus goes beyond platitudes: “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Jesus shows the disciples and all of us that, even in the midst of things we cannot understand, God is at work.

And to prove it, Jesus works a sign. He gives the man sight, yes, but he also gives him something much greater. The man couldn’t quite put into words what had happened to him. He didn’t know exactly why it had happened. But he knew the Savior’s voice! And so, when Jesus says to him, “Go, wash,” he does just that. He hears the Savior’s voice, he follows it, and at long last, he sees Jesus. And he cries out, “Lord, I believe!” as he falls down and worships at Jesus’ feet.

This is the story that Jesus invites us into. Who among us has not experienced spiritual blindness in one form or another?

When we put ourselves before others, we are blind.

When we hold grudges and refuse to forgive, we are blind.

When we do what is easy instead of what is right, we are blind.

Blindness affects our communities, as well. Economic, social and political systems turn a blind eye to the poor, the disabled, the outcast and the marginalized in every corner of the world.

And who among us has not experienced suffering at one point or another? Depression, anxiety, abuse, neglect, broken relationships, illness, lost jobs, fear – the list goes on.

The powerful and life-giving truth of the gospel is that our suffering and grief will not have the last word. As our souls and bodies desperately cry out for relief, we hear the faint yet clear voice of the risen Christ calling us; reminding us that, through the cross, death and its trappings have been swallowed up in victory. The final word rests, not with suffering and blindness, but with life and peace.

And then we hear the most sublime words imaginable, “Go, wash.” And as the cool and refreshing waters of life wash over us, our eyes and our hearts are opened to behold the living Christ, standing as the chains of death and hell lay broken at his feet. And our voice cries out at last, “Lord! I believe!”

(†) Source:“Vulnerability: The Gift Not Fully Valued (John 9:1-41)  By Amy Julia Becker”

Want to hear the Audio Version… click on the “Download File Bar” below:

Chance Encounter at High Noon

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 19, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson 

Chance Encounter at High Noon

John 4:5-42

Word had gotten back to him about a rumor going around among the “establishment” that he was “baptizing” more than that wandering prophet John. John had been enough of a thorn in their side now there was this fellow breaking with the customs and practices of the temple. Knowing that that this was not the time to take them on directly, the rabbi from Nazareth gathered his ragtag band of disciples and left Judea for Galilee. It would be safer there, for the further one is away from Jerusalem the fewer Pharisees you’ll run into.

Only one problem some of his followers grumbled, that the quickest way out of town would take them through Samaria, that land of half-breeds and religious mongrels. Hopefully they would be able to bypass that abomination on Mt. Gerizim. The nerve of the Samaritans to build another so called “temple” when there was only one true city of our God, Jerusalem, and the one temple that stood on Mount Zion!

Their way took them just to the east of the hill with its scandalous alternative to Zion’s glory. Midway through their second day they reached the outskirts of the little village of Sychar. The sun was high, about noon, the heat was beginning to build, so the Rabbi stopped to rest at a well-known place where there was a well that was associated with Father Jacob. Those with him decided to go off into town to see about provisioning their company.


Meanwhile in town, earlier that morning, lamps were lighting the windows of homes. In one was a woman, like the rest she rose early to prepare for her day. She went about her usual tasks. As she collected bits of animal dung and a few sticks for the breakfast fire she noted that it was going to be a warm day. But that would be okay with her, this would mean that the other women might fetch their water earlier and she could get to the well before the early afternoon heat. She would still wait, though, that way she would avoid those uncomfortable stares from the other women. And if the women’s glares weren’t shameful enough, the hurtful taunts of the occasional child accompanying their mother which sometimes strike her with a sharpness as if it might cause a welt to raise up on her back.

It is just before noon that she makes her way over the rise and down to the well. She can see that someone is there, resting in the shade of a rocky outcrop. As she gets closer she is a little confused. Could this be? Surely not! But it is, a Jewish man resting by the well.

What was he doing here?

At least she won’t be bothered by any small talk about the heat or the weather in general! After all he is a man and a Jew at that.

“He’ll pretty much ignore me.” she thought as she lowered her water pots to the ground.


The rattling of water pots stirred the Rabbi from his quiet moment of meditation. He looks up to see a local woman pulling the rope up from the well.

He smiles at her.

She sends a guarded glance his way not making direct eye contact.

Still looking her way, with that smile, he asks, “Would you mind drawing a bit of water that I might have a drink as well?”

It surprised her at first that she even responded, say nothing about the boldness of her reply.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

And that’s when it began, a conversation that would break social barriers and forever change her life.

“You are here for water. But wouldn’t you like something more?

A spiritual refreshment, a living water that will satisfy your insatiable thirst, gratify that deep longing for life?”

She dips into her water pot and offers this stranger a sip of her water.

“Sir, you sit here by this deep well, in this hot sun. You have no bucket, no rope and yet you talk of living water? Where does such water come from? Do you think you can draw such water from this well? Are you claiming spiritual superiority over our father Jacob who dug this well?”

“Draw water from this well and you will be back tomorrow and the next day. I wish to offer you refreshment from the wellspring within you that gives life though out eternity. Your heart will never thirst for fulfillment again.”

“Please sir. If I may, would you get me this water.”

The Rabbi from Nazareth changes the subject rather abruptly.

Out of the blue he asks her to bring her husband to the well. To which the woman replies, “I have no husband.”

Again the rabbi smiles, looks straight into her eyes, “Ah, yes, you are in principle correct, for is it not true that you have had five husbands and the one you are with now has not married you?”

There is no harsh tone, no sense of condemnation or judgement, no “repent and change your sinful ways” tone in the rabbi’s voice. No, he’s just sitting there sharing a cool drink with her in the high noon sun.

Once again the woman surprises herself in her response.

Seemingly out of nowhere she asks, “Okay, now I see you are some sort of prophet. So I have this question for you.”

“Where is the proper place to worship God? Up on the mountain, Gerizim, or in the Temple in Jerusalem?”

Apparently she feels no need to explain her situation to this person who seems to know all about her yet accepts her anyway.

Before her encounter at high noon with this Jewish rabbi she had felt ostracized, a cast off.

She met this man who knew her, not just as a woman from Samaria, but knew her inside and out, the beautiful and good, the bad and the ugly. He knew her needs, her dreams and hopes, as well as her nagging doubts, darkness and shame. He knew her bitterness and brokenness, her life of rejection and still spoke with her and listened to her. He saw her not just a Samaritan woman at a well, or a woman with several husbands, but a person thirsty for more out of life, more out of her faith.


There is a quote from one of the Lemon Snicket’s Series of unfortunate Events books: “Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.”

Jesus’ answer to the woman’s question about where to best worship God resonated with her in such a way that she went back to her village and told everyone who would listen about this prophet, the man who knew everything about her, yet still accepted her. Perhaps we might understand it better if we hear it in another version, the Message:

The time is coming” Jesus says, “it has, in fact, come – when what you are called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in worship.

God is sheer being itself – – Spirit. Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

If God so desires to have us worship with such simplicity and honesty of heart, should we not also see one another with such generosity of spirit? If God sees us as we really are, and loves us as we really are, as hard as it may be, should we not strive to love one another in like manner? Can we be simply and honestly ourselves before God and one another?

Can we extend the same compassion, grace and acceptance to those we meet at the wells in our lives?

According to the proper social customs of the day Jesus didn’t have to even acknowledge that woman. And likewise her him.

Yet look what happens when compassion and love become more important than keeping up appearances.

Aren’t we all like this woman? And those you will meet this day and week? Especially those the customs of culture and pressures of status quo are telling us to ignore?

Some time in the near future you’ll find yourself at a well with a Samaritan.

How will you be? Who will you be with them?

Listen to the Audio version by clicking on the “Download File” link below:

In the Darkness Light

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 12th, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

In the Darkness, Light
John 3:1-17

I’ve seen it on signs at sporting events, on t-shirts, on bumper stickers, I believe even once on a license plate! JOHN 3:16 One of the best known and best loved verses of the Bible.
Can you say it with me?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV)
Perhaps it is the popularity of this verse that sometimes can blind us or deafen us to the rest of the chapter three in John’s gospel. It begins

There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus . . . (The Message)
Nicodemus, like so many today, is seeking something, enlightenment, knowledge, faith. He makes the that Jesus is “come from God” a phrase that normally is used only of heavenly messengers, so it hints at his belief that there is “something more” about Jesus but at this point Nicodemus is not quite ready to commit himself. He refers to Jesus as a “teacher” and has questions about the “signs” Jesus has been reportedly performing.
Nicodemus, it seems, is ready for a theological and philosophical discussion with this teacher (rabbi), so he probably was not anticipating Jesus’ rather blunt reply about being “born again (from above or anew).”
“Being born again” has come to have so many negative connotations even with many Christians! Consider the following scenario:

A modern day John the Baptizer type knocked on the door of the local church parsonage. The pastor opened the door and a young man was standing there with a small booklet in his hand. “Are you saved?” were the first words out of his mouth.
To which the pastor smiled and said “Yes, I’m a Christian.”
“Yes, but are you saved?” insisted the fellow pushing the little booklet the pastor’s direction.
The pastor stiffened himself a bit and replied in a gruff sort of tone, “I’ll have you know my good man this is the parsonage of the Congregational church and I am the minister here!”
“Ah yes, is that not just like the Congregational Church. But are you saved?”
Let me ask some rhetorical questions which I invite you to use over coffee today or lunch this afternoon.
Where were you born?
What time of day, do you know what day of the week it was? If you wish to share, what year?
Were you born in a hospital or at home?
How did you celebrate your birthday as a child? Is there one that’s most memorable?
When did you first hear about Jesus?
Can you remember a day when you decided to become a Christian, or did it all happen over a period of time?
It may seem silly to ask now without expecting any answers, but they allow us to talk about being born again. Jesus says that being a Christian is like being born again. It is when you start your life all over again and make a fresh start with Jesus.
In many ways those who have had a dramatic, what is sometimes called a “Damascus road” experience of God are lucky in some ways. Blessed in that they know when that happened to them.

I would like to tell you about the time such an event happened in my life, when I suddenly saw the light, the totality of my depravity, my sins paraded before me and I got down on my knees and prayed the sinner’s prayer. . .
But I can’t. I never had such a dramatic life altering event in my life. But I am aware that during a particular period in my life I had an increasing sense of Christ becoming more real to me.
I assume there are people, here this morning, who know the very moment they gave their hearts to Jesus and there are others, like me, have been nurtured in the faith pretty much throughout their whole lives. For me the confirmation of being born again, comes day after day in the way we journey through life with God. And while I can point to that period of a couple of years when that became more of a conscious choice I was making, I find I have to continually, daily, choose to journey with God.
Which I guess could be to say that being born again, doesn’t happen only once, like God’s love which is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), we all have to start afresh each day, born again into God’s love, it is not only about newness or fresh starts but about being born again into deepening our relationship with God.
For the next few weeks through our gospel readings, we will be finding out more about Jesus from people who got to know him personally, there is the woman at the well and the man who was born blind, and we will learn that they often got more than they bargained for in those encounters.
If you want to find out about a person there are many ways you can go about it. You can ask others who know the person well to tell you what they know about him or her. You can observe how that person behaves – what they do. You can listen to what they say. You can read what others have said about them.
Or you can get to know them personally.
How does one get to “know” Jesus, not know about him but know him? The best way I know is to put your trust in him, by walking with him, by listening to what he had to say in scripture, talking with him in prayer, which also involves listening to what he has to say to you today.
Nicodemus went straight to Jesus, albeit at night, and in the conversation that followed found out more than he was expecting and perhaps wanted to hear. Like Nicodemus our first questions to Jesus might also be tentative ones. But if you are genuinely seeking to know Jesus he will reveal himself to you just as he did Nicodemus.
Be forewarned though, Jesus isn’t much into small talk! We going to want to talk about the weather and he’s going to press us on whether or not we are going trust him! He always moves to the heart of things, he moves swiftly beyond Nicodemus’ opening comment to the real issue. If you want to be part of the kingdom of God, you need to be born anew, born of the spirit. Being a Pharisee or a rabbi or a minister, a church member or leader in the church or a memorizer of scripture does not guarantee being in the Kingdom. New birth through Christ does. On this the young John the Baptizer character at the pastor’s door was correct.
We don’t know how Nicodemus reacted that night but his conversation with Jesus about the work of the Holy Spirit, the new birth and about Jesus himself, did change his life.
Nicodemus became a supporter of Jesus, spoke up for him in the Sanhedrin, tried to stop him being arrested. He was there at the cross. And in the end he helped Joseph of Arimathea lift Jesus’ broken body down and laid it gently in the tomb.
Nicodemus may have come to Jesus by night but he came into the light as a result of the encounter he had with this “One come from God.”
May we seek and be granted the same experience of rebirth in our lives not once but every day as we make our journey with Jesus.

Audio Version:  Select “Download File” below, the audio version will be downloaded to your computer for your listening pleasure.


The Facelessness of Temptation

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 5, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

The Facelessness of Temptation

Matthew 4:1- 11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  

Did you catch that?  The Spirit led Jesus, if not to the devil, then at least to a place and condition where the devil might approach him.  We been shown the closeness of Jesus’ relationship with his “Abba” Father through the recent disclosure of Jesus’ identity as the “Beloved Son” at his baptism, he is then led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness to be severely tested!  Clearly, easy, prosperous living is not part of being the Son of God!  It seems that closeness to God can involve struggle and conflict, that will lay bare one’s deepest passion and loyalty.

Just something to think about! 

“Tempted by the devil.”

There’s a scene in the movie The Usual Suspects where the character played by Kevin Spacey tells the detective who’s  interrogating him,

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

This adaptation of a phrase written by the French poet Charles Baudelaire is the premise of the 1995 neo-noir movie.  It is the story of five men wrongly interrogated for a crime, who then punish the police by masterminding a caper.  Payback leaves 27 dead, 91 million dollars worth of drug money missing, and two dark questions: Who is the mysterious Keyser Soze (Ki-zer Soh-zay) who put these crimes in motion, and what kind of unnamed sinister hold does he have over these five seemingly unconnected men? 

The heart of the darkness in this film is not the crime or death; darkness comes from the fact that evil is unrecognizable – it has no face.  Only at the very end of the film is Keyser Soze revealed to be one of the  men who pretended to fear Soze.  Evil was lurking closer than the audience or the characters ever knew.

There is something captivating about seeing evil incarnate on the big screen. Consider that The Exorcist ranks number 1 in total revenue for “R” rated films when adjusted for inflation.  Also in the pages of a novel, look at the success of a former neighbor mine, Stephen King, or to imagine evil in the names of those said by a nation to pose political and terrorist threats.  It is only human to feel the need to see evil anthropomorphized, to name, to visualize, vilify, and separate us from “it” as an opponent in battle.  This is true in the sacred texts as well.  Evil tests Eve and Aaron, the great high priest, Job and King David, Jesus and his disciples.  Over and over again, in order to live a life that chooses God, a faithful person must face the choice of acting outside God.  It is easier to make that choice if we can put a face on temptation, on evil.

A first glance Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness seems rather out of place, even perhaps heretical.  It’s almost gratuitous that Jesus is tempted, for as we know, he will not submit.  Much like the unavoidability of the cross, the defeat of the devil in this encounter with Jesus is inevitable.  Jesus will overcome; yet this scene stands in a pivotal place in Matthew between baptism and ministry, naming the reality of evil in the face of holiness.

Jesus is tempted by bread for his hunger. 

He is tempted to save himself from danger.

He is tempted to take all the power in the world that devil can offer for himself.

Each time Jesus rejects temptation, he sets up for the reader a way to understand the cross to come.  Certainly God can save God’s self from death on the cross, and certainly God in Jesus can refuse temptation to sin, but in our humanity we need to see God (Jesus) face and refuse temptation in the wilderness and be willing to sacrifice on the cross in order to learn the lesson ourselves. 

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the author writes of a junior tempter-in-training named Wormwood and his mentor Uncle Screwtape.  Young Wormwood’s task is to darken the heart of his “patient,” to train him to love things of the world and reject God, so that Wormwood can finally escort him into what we can only imagine is hell.  The young apprentice tormentor is to keep his patient navel-gazing and self-involved, clueless about who he is as one made in God’s image.

Keep him spiritual, not practical, is Screwtape counsels his nephew, as it is the practical that often brings people to God. 

Encourage him to pray for tangible, desired ends and so direct his prayers to objects and not to God. 

Allow the patient to be overly sensitive until everything, even his own mother, grates on his nerves. 

Keep his prayers formless, as they are easier to manipulate. 

Turn his gaze away from God toward himself. 

Create a subtle conflict when he prays for courage; let him find himself turning boastful.  In the final letter, the patient dies and goes to heaven, leaving Wormwood a failure and Screwtape in a spiral of anger.

The captivating part of this story is not that Screwtape and Wormwood are trying to create an army of ruthless killers; rather they are trying to create a generation of people who are defined by selfishness and insincerity, pettiness and pride, fear and a need to control the things of this world. 

This is true of our own temptations.  Most of us cannot imagine the devil offering bread after a forty-day fast.  We do not know the fear of being held over one of the towers of the Mackinac Bridge and asked to jump so that angels will catch us.   We certainly do not know the temptation of being offered all the power in the world. 

Each one of us, however, understands the temptations Screwtape and Wormwood offer: the temptations of pride, vanity, selfishness, and apathy.  These are just as dark as Jesus’ temptations, and perhaps even more so, because most of the time, like the dreaded Keyser Soze, they do not come with a face.

Temptation comes to us in moments when we look at others and feel insecure about not having enough.

Temptation comes in judgments we make about strangers and friends who make choices we do not understand. 

Temptation rules us, making us able to look away from those in need and to live our lives unaffected by poverty, hunger, disease and oppression.

Temptation rages in moments when we allow our temper to define our lives or when addiction to wealth, power, influence over others, vanity, or an inordinate need for control defines who we are. 

Temptation wins when we engage in the justification of little lies, “small sins:” a racist joke, a questionable business practice we claim is for a greater good, the criticism of a spouse or partner when he or she is not around.

Temptation wins when we get so caught up in the trappings of life what we lose sight of life itself.

These are the faceless moments of evil that, while mundane, lurk in the recesses of our lives and our souls. 

The Lenten practice of penitence engages the dark places in our lives that we may come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them.  It is not about guilt. Lenten penitence isn’t about who can feel the most guilty, which really is just another twisted form of pride.  It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us, about the amendment of life and new beginnings.

Lent can be about reminding ourselves that we are loved by God.  And in many ways we do not have to prove anything.  There is nothing we can do to make ourselves more beloved than we already are.  And with this will come the ultimate defeat of all the faceless temptations we will ever meet.




Ash Wednesday 2017

Let us look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was waiting endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)

As You Gather a prayer you might use:

Almighty and Ever living God, who through your Son Jesus Christ,
provided a way of redemption for all who repent and turn from sin:
Create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast and willing spirit,
that I acknowledge my sinfulness,
may live an upright and holy life by the power of the Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit,
lives and reigns forever, one God, world without end.

“Lectio Divina”, a Latin term, means “divine reading” describes a way of reading Scripture whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. It dates back to at least the 12th century.

The first stage is lectio (reading) where we read the Word of God, slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us. Listen for a word of phrase that stays with you resonates with you.

The second stage is meditatio (reflection) where we think about the text we have chosen and ruminate upon it so that we take from it what God wants to give us. What was that word or phrase? Meditate on it.

The third stage is oratio (response) where we leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.

The final stage of Lectio Divina is contemplatio (rest) where we let go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within.

These stages are not fixed rules of procedure but simply guidelines to how the prayer normally develops. Movement is towards greater simplicity, with less talking and more listening.

Some suggested Scripture for you to use:
Isaiah 43:1-3a Psalm 103:13-17 Luke 9:23-25

A Prayer upon receiving Ashes (optional)
Almighty God, you created humankind out of the dust of the earth.
Grant that these ashes may be to me a sign of my mortality and penitence,
that I may remember that it is through your gracious gift that any receive everlasting life, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

Parting Benediction
Go in peace to live for Christ,
to serve him alone and to walk in holiness and righteousness all your days,
through the grace of our Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God!


Art Work and Lenten Poem by Jan Richardson:

All those days

you felt like dust,

like dirt,

as if all you had to do

was turn your face

toward the wind

and be scattered

to the four corners


or swept away

by the smallest breath

as insubstantial—


Did you not know

what the Holy One

can do with dust?


This is the day

we freely say

we are scorched.


This is the hour

we are marked

by what has made it

through the burning.


This is the moment

we ask for the blessing

that lives within

the ancient ashes,

that makes its home

inside the soil of

this sacred earth.


So let us be marked

not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

not for shame.

Let us be marked

not for false humility

or for thinking

we are less

than we are


but for claiming

what God can do

within the dust,

within the dirt,

within the stuff

of which the world

is made,

and the stars that blaze

in our bones,

and the galaxies that spiral

inside the smudge

we bear.


–Jan Richardson

Jan is an artist, author, United Methodist minister, and director of The Wellspring Studio, LLC.