Message from Bishop Wallace-Padgett: Ash Wednesday 2023
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett has written and recorded an Ash Wednesday Read Together podcast. Read Together is an initiative of the North Alabama and Holston Annual Conferences to read through the entire Bible in a year. Find out more and sign up to participate at www.umcna.org/readtogether.
Below are excerpts of Bishop Wallace-Padgett’s Ash Wednesday 2023 podcast.
The holy season of Lent starts today with Ash Wednesday. Lent consists of the 40 days immediately prior to Easter, excluding Sundays. Though Lent was originally a period of fasting and preparation for the baptism of new believers, this significant season of the year has evolved into a time of penance for all Christ-followers. So, as we begin Lent today, I am highlighting repentance.
Repentance sounds like a deeply theological word that is daunting, distant, and discouraging. In reality, though, it is a common and uncomplicated practice! Today, I will name 4 actions that lead to repentance.
Action 1: Recognition
Repentance begins with us recognizing that we are going in the wrong direction. This is what the prophet Isaiah is talking about when calling the people to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free.” (Isaiah 58:6) We can apply this to our social structures. The psalmist personalizes the need to repent when he writes in Psalm 51 “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3)
Where in your life are you going in the wrong direction? During this Lenten season, will you join me in identifying those areas of life where we need to change direction in order to walk more fully in Jesus’ way?
Action 2: Sorrowful Confession
Repentance is about more than recognizing that we are off track. It continues as we experience sorrow for hurting God and others and confess our sin, asking God’s forgiveness. The prophet Joel states this beautifully when he says, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (Joel 2:12)
Where in your life do you feel deep sorrow for hurting another person and/or disappointing God? Will you join me in seeking God’s forgiveness for our wrong attitudes, words, and actions?
Action 3: Forgiving Others
Jesus teaches the disciples to pray. Halfway into the prayer, Jesus says to God, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 9:12) So, repentance requires that we forgive those who have hurt us. True repentance does not allow us to hang onto grudges and ill feelings to others. Forgiving those who have caused us pain is not about earning God’s love and grace. Rather it is in response to all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Is there someone in your life you need to forgive for hurting you or a loved one? Are you harboring resentment toward a person or group of people whose actions or attitudes have made your life harder? Though forgiving others is not always fast or easy, Christ-followers strive to forgive as Jesus forgives us.
Action 4: Change Direction
In his sermon “Salvation by Faith,” John Wesley speaks of repentance as an act of faith that leads to conversion. (Sermon 1: “Salvation by Faith,” III.4) This means that we change direction so that we are walking God’s pathway.
And in the process, we are transformed. This is what II Corinthians 5:20b-21 describes. “ . . . we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” As we repent, we change more and more into the likeness of Christ. And we grow in our capacity to walk in the right direction.
How do you sense God is leading you to change direction? What will it require of you? What is the next step for you to take in turning around?
Welcome to the Lenten season. May it be full of the four actions of repentance I have named in this blog. As a result, we will experience God’s continued transformation in our lives.
As always, it is a privilege and joy to serve as your bishop.
Holston and North Alabama Conferences