Ocala First Connection
March 2020!
The following message was shared by Pastor David Fuquay on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020.

Bishop Ken Carter, our resident United Methodist bishop here in the Florida, publish a pastoral letter for Ash Wednesday. I was so moved by his words that I scrapped my sermon for this evening, and adapted the message of his letter instead . . .

On Ash Wednesday, it is the tradition of the church to focus on the cross, in the form of the imposition of ashes, and to read Psalm 51. This is also a spiritual practice for many every Friday, to read this Psalm and to focus on the cross. Without a deep and constant turning to Jesus and the cross, we are always prone to pride and arrogance, prone to using any available means to achieve our ends, prone to become self-centered and self-serving.
A church that loses touch with the spiritual practice of focusing on the cross and reading Psalm 51 will inevitably transfer its trust to institutions and leaders who are always in need of reform and renewal. We lose sight of the sacrifice and humility that are at the heart of our life together as the Body of Christ.
To read Psalm 51 is to be utterly transparent and open to the truth—in our spiritual lives and in our church practices. This leads us — as persons before God — to a deep and constant dependence on God, who has the power to change us, who is finally the source of our hope.
Create in me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right spirit within me
Do not cast me from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Lent is a forty-day journey that can become, for us, an extended conversation with God. God’s power, our weakness. God’s provision, our emptiness. God’s abundance, our scarcity. God’s righteousness, our imperfection. God’s wisdom, our confusion.
And a conversation with God can become the foundation for a conversation among each other. We have real differences in our congregation. And our denomination has differences across the globe. And we have real differences with Christians in other denominations and traditions, even in our neighborhood. Our unity is the cross.

Another traditional text for Ash Wednesday is 2 Corinthians 5. It is a passage about reconciliation. The Greek word for reconciliation is katallage. It is a word that appears only three times in the New Testament, and was a term more commonly used in politics than in religion. It is a word about settling disputes.
God settled a dispute with us through the cross. And God now asks us to move toward, not away from each other, as we take up this ministry of reconciliation. It is linked, Paul will go on to say in the first verses of 2 Corinthians 6, to our salvation.
Our salvation is not in fleeing from each other. The Triune God did not flee from us. Our salvation is the way of the cross, our settling disputes with each other after the example God has set for us.
Our practices of Lent should always move us toward the cross and closer to one another. As we think about what practices we will take up for Lent or as we think about what things we may give up for the season, we should always keep this focus in mind. Will this thing I am doing or ceasing to do, move me closer to the cross of Jesus Christ? Will it draw me closer to loved ones, to my friends, to those in need, and even to my enemies?

Finally, our hope is in the power and providence of God, in whose image we are all created, and in whose church we are joined together. I am thankful for the signs of hope I see in this congregation, as together we form and shape a new generation in our Family Ministries, as we meet countless needs on Tuesday morning, and as we see sustaining friendships and connections across the generations.

God is not finished with us yet. We now have these forty days. We are finite, God is infinite. And this is at the heart of Ash Wednesday—the way of the cross, which is God’s great agenda. That agenda is to resist the forces of evil, injustice and oppression, and to turn to the crucified and risen Lord, our judge and our hope, with convicted humility. 

Here we meet the limits of our own mortality and the hope of our immortality in Christ. Here Christ meets us. In the beautiful words of the song we will sing in just a moment:

There for me the Savior stands,
shows his wounds and spreads his hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.”

"Depth of Mercy" by Charles Wesley, UM Hymnal #355
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