Embers 1: Not alone...

HEBREWS 12:1-14

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children — “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” 7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8 If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. 9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.14Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

When I was thinking about what word I wanted to use for my Lenten series this year, having used Lent, Ashes, and Dust, I thought about another stage in the burning process: embers. The fire has died down but still, the wood gives off heat and is in the midst of becoming ash. Embers strike me as the waiting period of the fire dying out, yet they carry with them the power to ignite another fire anew. 

This passage from Hebrews is one so many of us know, one that is used when we reach milestones to remind us of those who participated in our successes and accomplishments, or when we experience hardships to assure us of the presence of those who love and support us. It's one used on All Saints to help us remember our ancestors of faith, those standing beside and behind us, urging us to stand strong in the midst of what feels like a world becoming increasingly more broken, doing its damnedest to usher out  God's kingdom rather than bringing it in. 

The season of Lent is one that balances solitude with community. There are those who decide to remove something from their life, and those who opt to bring something in that maybe wasn't there before. These practices — not eating chocolate, praying daily, not drinking alcohol, reading our Bibles more frequently — require individual choice. Yet we make them, hopefully, knowing that we have a community of faith to support us and hold us accountable throughout the season itself.

In her devotional reflection for today's passage, Rev. Dr. Cathy Brall says this: 

The danger of a “successful” Lent lies in the growth of our ego rather than growth in humility from a faithful Lent. This passage reminds us that Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. We don’t initiate or continue this journey alone. A great cloud of witnesses surrounds us—saints who have trod a similar path, sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling flat on their faces—whose prayers and testimonies encourage us to persevere. 

Last year, I didn't even attempt to write during Lent. I don't know that I engaged Lent at all, fearing that I might only be "successful" for a couple of days, maybe a week, and then fall flat, ultimately shaming myself for "failure." I had only lived in Vancouver for a few months, and truth be told, I felt very much alone, separated from my previous life by well over a thousand miles. 

This year, I find myself with a significant amount of free time due to being unemployed. Yet as I search for the right job, I'm surrounded constantly by friends who love me deeply and who believe me, my own cloud of witnesses right here on terra firma. They remind me that discipline can sometimes be painful; I don't mean discipline in the sense of being chastised for mistakes made, but instead discipline in the sense of being or becoming steadfast, resilient, and unwavering.

I won't promise that this Lenten season will be a successful one for me as far as writing daily. But I will promise to be as faithful as I can, holding onto the hope that someone out there will encounter me on my journey and be edified or encouraged. 

I leave you with a song from a new musical, Dear Evan Hansen, that I think compliments our Hebrews passage quite well...

**If you want to follow along with the devotional lectionary I’ll be using for this series, you can find it here via Pittsburgh Theological Seminary**

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photo credit:  Graham Dean (via Flickr)