February 26, 2020

Using Your Bean
Signs of Life: Why Church Matters
Ash Wednesday, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

What should we make of the biggest news story of 2020 so far, the coronavirus? Or, as it is officially called now, COVID-19. It’s this: humans can lose perspective even faster than they can jump to conclusions. 8,000 children die every day from malnutrition, and 3,000 kids in America die every year from gun violence, but we haven’t gotten excited about those very preventable deaths. In terms of the flu, in a typical season just in the US, 36,000 people die. On a planet of almost 8 billion people, not even 3,000 have died from COVID-19. Let’s be smart, of course, but let’s also find some perspective. Don’t panic.

Ironically, though, this panic about a new germ helps me make a point: We’re all in this together – whether we like it or not. We happen to be sharing life on the planet in this moment in time, we are all part of something larger than our individual lives. On the one hand, the only life we can actually live is our own. We make the decisions, adopt the attitudes, and take on the habits and practices that shape the nature of our existence. On the other hand, almost everything we think, say and do is going to affect someone else, immediately or eventually.

In describing us as members of one body, different but connected, Paul helps us see we are both supported by and responsible to others. The great focus of Lent, the invitation we are given to observe a holy Lent, is to be intentional about how we live in this body – our personal body, our physical selves, as members of the human family, with whom we are all connected, and, specifically for us, as members of the Body of Christ.

This Lent at the Church of the Good Shepherd, we are focusing on LIFE, the Signs of Life that we share with each other in community, and on why CHURCH MATTERS – the importance of gathering together in community to hear God’s word, to share the sacraments, to help each other find ways to live life intentionally, ways that align us with the kind of life Jesus lived: that care for the lives of those around us, that care for our selves, that care for the lives of those coming after us.

You should all have one of THESE HANDOUTS – let’s look at the front. This Lenten journey is brought to us by our friends at SSJE, the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, a group of Episcopal monks, and by an Episcopal seminary, VTS. They’ve provided a wealth of resources for our Lenten discipline, listed on the inside flap. There are videos, meditations, and weekly thoughts on each of the 5 signs of life we’ll focus over the next 5 weeks. These good folks have also melded the Signs of Life with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s emphasis on The Way of Love, which is a set of practices to develop a Jesus-centered life. It may seem overwhelming, but we don’t have to figure all this out for ourselves! Open it up, and we have a calendar of ideas for simple but thoughtful practices for the days of Lent leading up to Holy Week.

Besides the calendar we’ve given you, you might use the Ash Wednesday bulletin, which I encourage you to take home. In the bulletin are the readings and prayers that tie the Lenten themes together, and a rich and provocative source of Lenten focus: the Litany of Lenten Pilgrimage.

As I’ve said for years, the Litany in the Ash Wednesday service in our Book of Common Prayer, seems to be all about the past and regret, and we can’t do anything about things we’ve done wrong in the past but feel bad. If we spend 40 days thinking about how awful we’ve BEEN, and a simple rule of life is that we get more of what we pay attention to, by the end of 40 days we’re going to feel . . . MORE AWFUL. If we spend 40 days focusing on ways to love and live like Jesus, by the end of 40 days, we’re going to feel . . . MORE ALIVE in Christ. So, we’ve rephrased the petitions in the Litany to focus on the kind of repentance that doesn’t mean to feel bad, but to TURN, to go a new way: the way of Love, the way of Life, the way of Jesus. You might pick one of the petitions in the Litany of Lenten Pilgrimage to work on – for a day, a week, or all of Lent – to bring you closer to being of one heart and mind in Christ.

With this intentionality, we also have a joint goal: to use our beans. Our beans, of course, are our heads; we need to use our heads to achieve a goal. but as someone who doesn’t eat anything with feet, I like the kind of bean that grows on plants, too. Beans are a big source of protein for me. I love them. One of my favorite dishes is bean soup with lots of different kinds of beans.

During Lent this year, week by week, we’re going to ask you to take some beans, one for each day of the upcoming week, to remind you use your bean, to be thoughtful and intentional about your Jesus-centered journey of Lent. Each day that you do something, anything intentional to live and love like Jesus, put a bean in a second pile. Each Sunday, bring the beans that represent the Lenten practices you did and we’ll put them all together in a tall cylinder. And, yes, if you miss a week and don’t get beans from us, you can use your own beans and bring those in. I do recommend you use dried beans, though, not canned.

On March 29th, we’ll make multi-bean soup for Coffee Hour using the amount of beans you’ve brought back over the weeks. (Ewww . . . Don’t worry, we’ll use new beans!) As I said at the beginning, each person counts, AND we’re all in this together. If 15 beans come back, well, it will be mighty poor eating. If pounds and pounds of beans come back, we’ll have a feast to nourish the Body of Christ here – and maybe enough to share – maybe freeze some for our freezer ministry.

This Lent, use your bean to explore the Signs of Life, to follow the Way of Love, and to prepare with joy for the paschal feast on Easter.

For a printable sermon text, click HERE.
For the Lenten Signs of Life Calendar, click HERE.

Good Shepherd’s 2020 Ash Wednesday services were held at 7:30 AM, 10 AM, and 6:30 PM.