Acts 1:8 (NIV)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Today’s Holy Spirit Story comes just in time for Ash Wednesday. It comes to us from the Rev. Stephen Streett, who is the Senior Pastor of the Misty Creek Community Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia. He also serves as the chaplain and bereavement care coordinator at Majestic Hospice in Atlanta, Georgia.
A few years ago, at Hamilton Medical Hospital in Dalton, Georgia, I was the on-call chaplain. It so happened to be Ash Wednesday. I received a call from an over-house nurse that a family had requested the imposition of ashes for their adult daughter.
I carried with me a little bowl of ashes to her room. When I arrived, she was in a comatose state. Her eyes were wide open. Her parents were standing next to her. I introduced myself to them and then said a blessing over the ashes. As I placed the ashes on their foreheads, I said a blessing over them. The dad was reluctant to receive the blessing and the ashes. He told me that he felt useless. He went on to say that he was the fixer of everything in the family. He was angry that God would allow his daughter to suffer in this way. I provided him pastoral care through empathetic listening. He poured out his heart to me with many tears.
His wife then spoke up and said, “I prayed that God would send us a sign that he was with us during our sadness, and you showed up with this bowl of ashes.” I thanked her for requesting the ashes. She looked at me bewildered and then said, “I did no such thing.” I looked at the room number above the door and realized that I was in the wrong room and on the wrong floor. As I looked outside the door of the room, I noticed several nurses and one PA standing just outside the room observing everything I was doing.
I was present with the family to support them for a few more minutes and then to my surprise the medical staff in the hallway asked for a blessing and the ashes. I did as they requested and then decided to go to every floor of the hospital including the ER. As staff rushed past me, I offered to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads and pray for them. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And yet people stopped and received the sign of the cross in ashes. They asked for and received prayer. They talked about their faith, or their faith struggles, or their rejection of God. But they stopped to talk. They stopped to listen.
I did the same for many of the patients and family members. It turns out, a lot of people who never go inside a church were still looking for God. And so many people who were touched by my gesture with the ashes said, “Never before have we had the church come to us,” or “We couldn’t make it to church, but you brought God to us.”
“You brought God to us.” That was Jesus’s mission.
Please don’t believe the lie that you are unacceptable to God. One of the greatest truths Jesus came to teach us is, “God loves you anyway.” No matter what your feelings say. No matter what others say. No matter whether you deserve it or not, God loves you anyway. That’s the whole reason God became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
If you are looking for Jesus—and even if you’re not—I guarantee you, Jesus is looking for you. And if you have received the love of God through Jesus Christ, then someone is waiting for you, looking for you to share the love and hope of Jesus and change their life too.
May the Holy Spirit encourage us as we approach the observance of Ash Wednesday next week and enter the gates of Lent into the forty-day journey of Jesus in the Wild.
Father, thank you for your son, Jesus, who meets anywhere and everywhere. Thank you for this unlikely day in a hospital ward with an uninvited pastor carrying a jar of ashes to a family facing their worst hour. Thank you for meeting them there and now us. We bless this family today wherever they are to remember this encounter with you and to awaken to your love more deeply. Holy Spirit, please prepare our hearts for the journey of the cross ahead. Prepare us to enter through the door of Ash Wednesday with deep sobriety and great faith. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.
What is it about Ash Wednesday and the imposition of the ashen cross on our foreheads that moves us so? Are you ready to enter the season of the cross?
Today let’s sing the Fanny Crosby favorite, “I am Thine, O Lord.” It is hymn 591 in our Seedbed Hymnal, Our Great Redeemers Praise. Let’s make it a hymn of preparation as we begin to turn our hearts toward the forty days of Lent and the cross of Jesus.
For the Awakening,
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P.S. Speaking of Ash Wednesday—Here’s an Invitation
We want you to celebrate Ash Wednesday with your local church as much as possible. That said, there are many churches who do not observe the tradition. For the past few years we have hosted an online observance: Night with New Room: Ash Wednesday. It has proven to be a powerful gathering. We will do so again this year this coming Wednesday. We will hear from Dan Wilt with the launch of our Lenten journey: Jesus in the Wild. All the details can be found here. It is a free event thanks to our Seed Team but you will need to register to get the details on how to join in. And there are several hundred churches who will be livestreaming the gathering. All registrants will be able to participate in the service on demand at their leisure as well.
AND AS ALWAYS—HOLY SPIRIT STORIES WELCOME
I would love it if you would send a story of faith from your life we might use on a Saturday in the future. We will be glad to attach your name or a pseudonym or anonymity—it’s up to you. It can be a story of coming to faith, a story of transformation, a story of healing, deliverance, suffering and sufficient grace, family reconciliation, prodigal returns, answered prayer, and so forth. Word count of 500–800 words works well. We can’t guarantee publication, but assure you of our prayerful discernment. You can reply to this email with your story and it will come to me.
For me, the observance of Ash Wednesday is a stark reminder of our mortality. Without Christ, we’re all just simply the “ walking dead”.
“A lot of people who never go inside a church were still looking for God.” Let’s go beyond church as usual and show Jesus’ bold compassion and love everywhere we go!