Photo by Terri C. Pilarski

What does it mean to observe a Holy Lent?

Does one give something up or take something on?

I’m thinking about giving something up. Or, maybe it’s taking something on?

Which ever, it began on Ash Wednesday when I threw out the sermon I wrote and preached from my heart, right off the cuff. Yes, I knew what I wanted to say, I just wanted to say it differently than I had written it. I’m thinking I may do that for most, if not all of Lent. Pray about the readings. Have a good idea of what I want to say and focus on. But just allow myself the freedom to listen to the Spirit and say what comes to me on Sunday morning.

This week I plan to say something about the chaos that God led Noah into, how difficult it must have been for Noah to take that journey into the deep waters of faith, and how awesome it must have been to end up in that new place. I may mention that God went into that unknown with Noah and in the end made a covenant of love with all humanity. I’ll connect that to observing a holy Lent, which in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer includes the following:




Fasting and self-denial

Reading and meditating on God’s holy word

And for this Sunday I’ll focus on fasting – fasting from the need to know everything, from the desire for control, from hanging on to each step along the way – fasting from all of that and just stepping out into the unknown and letting God be God, letting God take one to a new place.

Then again, maybe the Spirit will lead me in another direction when I finally speak on Sunday. And, just in case I chicken out I have a sermon from 7 years ago that I’ll have ready to go….

What about you? How are you observing a Holy Lent and where is the Spirit leading you?


The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski is an Episcopal priest serving in Dearborn, MI. A member of the RevGalBlogPals and blogger since 2006, she blogs at seekingauthenticvoice.blogspot.com


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47 thoughts on “11th Hour Preacher Party: Observing a Holy Lent, the covenant edition

  1. tomorrow morning we are having the two Sunday congregations worshipping together, happens about 4 times a year, but i am doubling that this year. it is the same service in 2 locations about 5 minutes drive apart. i am also offering a one hour introduction to the Gospel of John, which took a few hours to prepare, so hopefully some people will stay.
    tomorrow is also our covenant service for the year.
    Preaching on John 11, this went a different direction to what i was thinking, and will need checking in the morning as i am too tired tonight, almost midnight Saturday night here.
    here is the sermon link


  2. I’m up. I have spent most of my time and energy preparing to launch our Lenten book study tomorrow using the book, “Always With Us” by Liz Theoharis. Three churches, including mine, are reading this for Lent and while we aren’t discussing it together there is still a sense of solidarity in our three communities engaging this material. The book is founded on the passage in Matthew 26 when the woman anoints Jesus, the disciples complain about “wasting” expensive nard that could have brought in money for the poor, and Jesus replies that they will always have the poor with them, but they won’t always have him. The book builds on the newly revitalized Poor People’s Campaign, first launched by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967, reactivated now in response to increasing poverty and decreasing society support to end systemic poverty, to the increasing division between a small wealthy class and a larger class of poor people.

    I admit to being completely overwhelmed by this book study. One cannot just read this book with a group and discuss each chapter. The book repeats itself too much and builds only in small increments in each chapter. I found it a dull read, even as the material is critical and I agree with the rational and support her argument. I can’t imagine how members of the congregation who are not familiar with liberation theology are going to slog their way through this book. Many have already told me it’s dry and not engaging. So….I am doing a ton more work than I thought to build on the idea of dismantling systemic poverty….

    Even with all that said, I encourage people to read the book and explore its premise. I believe I will have sermon fodder for years to come from it. But be prepared if you want to use it as a congregational discussion book…or, if you have, please share with me what you did to help it be interesting and engaging to your people.

    NOW. for the sermon. Now for brain space to develop what I want to say…


    1. Terri, we are reading a book, too — Slow Church — and I am realizing much the same. I have built a discussion of the first two chapters around big questions they pose specifically to us — the organization of the chapters and the questions at the end of each re not terribly helpful, and the book is tedious to read, but the ideas are important for my congregation. Liberation theology, missional theology — we may think about it all the time, but our folks are thinking about other things.


  3. My first sermon in a Lenten series on covenant is called “The Most Beautiful Place in the World,” which is the place where reconciliation takes place. At my lectionary group of a couple of weeks ago, I was asked what I was going to do about, you know, God’s idea to destroy almost everything, and I said that I planned to skip that. However, yesterday, no doubt influenced by the events of the week, I got bogged down in questions of God’s plan and theodicy (to which my personal basic answer is, “How would I know?”). I am going to go back now and plow through to the end and see what I end up with. This might be one of those sermons I hate after which someone comes up and says how meaningful something I didn’t say was to her.


  4. Winter school holidays here and our baptist congregation doesn’t really ‘do’ Lent in any big way (which is a bit odd for me, but is what it is) Which means tomorrow I’m leading an all-age service to wrap up our last several weeks series on the Lord’s Prayer. Doing a fairly standard romp through Please, Sorry and Thankyou as prayer themes and then suggesting we can also say Wow to and about God (credit for this goes to the revgal hive mind – I have no idea who said it or when, but I think its a fab idea). Rather than a standard service, I am being modular, 5 minutes or so on each of the 1st three themes, hopefully with interaction, then 10 minutes from me on WoW followed by some contemporary worship leading into communion… (we’re non liturgical…..). One of the challenges is including the kids, without losing the adults (simple not simplistic, childlike not childish…) Its all clearish in my mind, but not all yet of paper !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m doing a series on “The Last Week” (jumping off from Borg & Crossan’s book by the same name), taking one day of Holy Week for each week of Lent. So this week is Palm Sunday, and what I have (in my head only, to be clear) is very Bible Study-ish with no real take-away message.

    I’ll be pondering as we go to meet our new puppy today. It’s over an hour drive each way, so surely I’ll come up with something good. (Puppy comes home next week).


      1. Thanks. She’s quite adorable. She’s a black schnauzer, and we’re going to name her Daisy Jo. And I’ve learned that I really need my sermon finished before we go pick her up next Saturday!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Conflicting thoughts here on this Saturday! Was planning a covenant series, but with yet another school shooting, l’m thinking of temptation—specifically the temptation of things left undone like rationalizing that one person can’t make a difference or choosing inaction and not speaking out. Then, with four other churches, we begin a Lenten study of Brian McLaren’s book on the Great Migration—spiritual (a way vs. a list of beliefs), theological (God of love vs. violent, angry God), and organizing vs. organization church. The book is not an easy read for those new to these concepts. But there are very good leaders’ and participants’ guides that boil it down into manageable segments.


  7. Cold temperatures and more snow made for a very small crowd at our Ash Wednesday service. So I am working with the symbols of ashes and the waters of baptism as beginning points for our Lenten journey. Will offer a time of reflection where people can come forward to mark their commitment to Lent with a remembrance of their baptism or the imposition of ashes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Temptation from Mark for me…and I decided only to read the two temptation verses. I love Mark’s brevity and that the exact temptations are not spelled out. As I said in the sermon, maybe that frees up our imaginations to think about our own versus “that was Jesus and I’m not Jesus”. The overall theme is pilgrimage and using Soul of a Pilgrim to frame the Sunday’s. Tomorrow it is packing lightly. And yes, “not my circus; not my monkeys” phrase does occur in the sermon. 😉


  9. It’s my last Sunday in this church where I’ve been for a 9 month placement…Monday I move to my new call. So exciting!
    I am preaching on Genesis 9, and having Mark 1 read as well (but I preached that same text on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, so I don’t want to do it again just a month later). I’ve titled the sermon “redecorating” and plan to talk about how we hang things on the walls as reminders of something—places we’ve been, people we love, moments we cherished, or beauty we’ve enjoyed—and that the rainbow functions in somewhat the same way: it’s hung in the clouds as a reminder to God and to us that violence is never the solution, that love and beauty will win the day, that creative solutions are possible.
    It’s 10pm and I hope to have something written in the next hour, so…..here goes!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I struggled to come up with some kind of unifying theme for Lent this year – I had too many threads that would not weave together. Then a friend suggested “Fool for Christ” to tie into Easter on April 1, and voila! Covenant is certainly a theme, but so is evangelism, as we read through Michael Frost’s “Surprise the World!” with other churches in our United Methodist Conference. This week, as Jesus gets thrown into the wilderness and Noah wanders out of the ark into a different landscape, the title is “A Fool’s Errand.” You can read it here: https://wp.me/p2U45T-qt and help yourself to a bowl of chili from the pot bubbling on the stove.


      1. Here’s the whole series. I jump off lectionary once or twice, but it works: 2/18 – A Fool’s Errand (Mark 1:9-15)
        2/25 – Foolish Faith (Mark 8:31-38)
        3/4 – Fools Rush In (Mark 1:40-45)
        3/11 – A Fool For Love (John 3:14-21)
        3/18 – Foolish Questions (John 12:20-33)
        3/25 – Palm/Passion Sunday – Whose Fool Are You?
        4/1 – Resurrection Sunday – The Last Laugh!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Finally sitting down to write in earnest, about 4:30pm here. Had a beautiful funeral for a wonderful woman this morning, and with the luncheon and committal, didn’t leave church until about an hour ago.

    For tomorrow, I’m planning to focus on the message that Jesus preaches, then describe what the kingdom of heaven is like (and isn’t like), and relate that to the things that dissatisfy us in the world today – school shootings, for starters. Not sure how (or if) it’s all going to come together, but hoping that it writes itself so I won’t be up all night!


    1. I’m going a similar way, kinda, but using Genesis and the idea of being led into chaos, including the chaos of anxiety, chaos of violence, chaos of the unknown, and the challenges of managing one’s self while waiting for God to ease the waters, lead one to safe ground…


  12. I am preaching on the RCL texts with the focus being water. It is for a seminary assignment about my trip to Arizona to learn about immigration. I am tying the Genesis, Mark, and 1 Peter texts together with the idea that when we are wandering in the wilderness (or desert as the immigrants from Mexico and South America do) literal water quenches our thirst and the waters of baptism call us as Christians to care for God’s people. That baptismal covenant may have been made on our behalf, but we are called to carry out that covenant. We have God as our example of keeping covenant. I hope I can pull it all together for God’s people.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Hi gals and pals! I am done with my sermon (I think) on signs in the wilderness, tying together baptism, rainbows, and God’s relentless pursuit of us. But – I am pondering with difficulty how to approach the shooting in the prayers of the people. I want to shout out, NO MORE GUNS! and tell people how ridiculous the “guns don’t kill people” attitudes are. I want to say how one of my thoughts on hearing the news was that I was glad my two school age kids are in two different schools, so they wouldn’t both be in the same place as a shooter at the same time. I want to say that blaming it on mental illness is just not right. But right in front of my pulpit will be the guy who runs the media whom I think is an NRA member. And there are others too, on both sides of this debate. I’m tired of thoughts and prayers. I made a donation to Moms Demand Action this week. What can I say? What are you saying?
    Thank you. Break your Lenten fast and eat some of my Valentine chocolate, please. Blessings to you all.


    1. For the prayers… something like:
      Prince of Peace, we pray for those who can see no answer apart from violence. Guide them into a different path. Protect our children, teachers, worshippers, movie-goers, shoppers, soldiers, and all who are at risk of violence. Teach our lawmakers your ways of reconciliation and peace, so that those values might rule throughout our community, our country, and our world.
      (Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer!)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The Episcopal dioceses in Michigan all passed resolutions banning guns in churches and we have signs and letters stating that at every entrance. I have, in the past, had us pray for every person who has died. Now all I can do is talk about the ongoing dynamic of chronic anxiety and violence in the world and our call by God to be different than that. And yes please, chocolate.


  14. It is Saturday evening, after 6 p.m. I have successfully procrastinated on this Genesis 9 sermon entitled “Re-membering” — to be preached in a colleague’s pulpit — until I have no choice but to prepare it. What does one say about this whitewashed story, typically cute-ed up for children, with all the violence and death conveniently left out, even of the lectionary — on the Sunday following a school shooting? My heart is aching. I, too, want to yell, “NO MORE GUNS!”

    I am grateful for the thoughts shared by Teri Peterson and Terri Pilarski above. The journey into deep waters of faith. That violence is never a solution. These, I pray, will help me make sense of the myriad of emotions and thoughts that are crashing into each other in my head. Tomorrow, I would rather be sitting in the congregation than preaching, and I don’t say that. Ever. But it is true.

    So I am wondering how I can facilitate healing and inspire prayer in people of all ages and from all walks of life tomorrow through the words God gives me to speak. May God deliver sooner rather than later!


    1. The last two times I preached this text, I talked about God’s bow being hung in the heavens – as in, a bow and arrow. God’s weapons are put away, in promise that destruction will not happen again. This is what the rainbow means.
      Since I’ve preached it already at this congregation, I don’t feel that I can recycle it (yet) but perhaps it will provide some inspiration for you!


      1. Somewhere I read that it is important to note the direction of the bow God puts in the sky. The “business end” points away from the earth, not toward it. God hangs up his bow/weapon and says “never again.”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I think that all one can do is speak one’s truth from the depth of one’s heart and let it go. If people are inspired, terrific, but at least I have said my God-inspired truth. And usually I am shaking in by shoes as I do this…’cuz the truth can be like that. So, go for it.

      Liked by 1 person

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