Good evening! I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville. Thank you for joining me this evening as we observe Ash Wednesday.

Tonight’s service is going to feel different from our regular Sunday services for a couple of reasons.  First of all, and y’all please bear with me, this service is live on Facebook. It will be uploaded to Vimeo and available on-demand later through our channel there and our website.

Because we are live and on Facebook, I am unable to include music in this service and there will be no Prayers of the People this evening, so the service will be a bit shorter than normal. I’d apologize for the brevity, but I’m pretty sure you won’t mind.


Let’s begin with a call to worship and prayer:

Turn away from the calls of worldly success – Repent, and turn back to God.

Turn away from the desire to have what everyone else has – Repent, and turn back to God.

Turn away from greed and the race for power – Repent, and turn back to God.

As we enter Lent, may we turn back to God, May we seek forgiveness, may we seek healing, may we seek wholeness.

As we enter Lent, may our hearts be renewed in this time of worship.

God, we are dirty and need more than bleach for cleansing.

 For you, Lord God, are able. Able to erase our wrongs.

Scrub away our guilt.

You are the only one able to wash us clean from our sins.

God, you are merciful and compassionate. Your love is everlasting.

We have done wrong—repeatedly—and we continue to violate the commands of your word.

We pause now, Lord, to confess our sins to you. 

You are faithful to forgive.

God, create in us clean hearts and renew your spirit within us. Please don’t take your spirit away from us; restore unto us the joy of your salvation. Be willing, O God, to keep us in your tender care. Deliver us, Lord, and free us from ourselves – our flesh. Help us, Father, to use our lives as a testament to your transformational power. Allow your Holy Spirit to redirect us when we begin to wallow back to the former. We want to be used in your service.

Here we are, Lord. We yield ourselves to you.  

God, you remind us in your word that when we are in Christ we are new creatures, and the old things pass away. This Ash Wednesday we take hold of your promise: Renew us, Lord: a new walk, a new talk, a new mind, a new heart, a new life.

Thank you for the promise that we can truly be made new again. 

Even now, return to me, says God. Let the sirens in the streets rage; let the trumpet from the church house blow. Let those consumed with darkness, gloomy from bad fortunes know that:

Even now, God says, return to me.

Let the abused and abusing hear, the defiant and disobedient revere. Let the sinner and the scornful draw near. Return from your ignorance, return from your injustice. Return from your apathy, return from your agony.

Even now, God says, return to me.

Return from your selfishness, return from your greed. Return from your neglect, return out of your need.

Even now, God says, return to me.

Return to me, with a clean heart. Return to me with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

Return to me, God says, for I am gracious and merciful; I am slow to anger and full of steadfast love. Return to me, God says, for I am your God.


Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.”

A clean heart, create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Joel 2:12 says, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.

A clean heart, create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Jeremiah 24:7 says, “I will give you a heart with which to understand that I am the Lord. You shall be my people and I will be your God, for you shall return to me with your whole heart.”

A clean heart, create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Psalm 95:7-8 says, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts.”

A clean heart, create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

As we reflect on these scriptures, let us pray:

Lord, we are tired of doing things our way. The benefits are temporary, and the effects, not always or even usually good, are long-lasting. So, Lord, we come running back to you.

Lord, we have gone astray. We are guilty of living contrary to your Son, your will, and your way.

Lord, you are coming back soon and very soon. We want to be ready when you return.

Lord, we fear you. This fear doesn’t run us away from you, but it keeps us running back to you.

We cry out to you, Lord. We ask for your forgiveness. We recall the price you paid for us on Calvary.

At this time, Lord, we choose to fast and to pray. We seek to separate ourselves from our fleshly desires in order to concentrate wholly on you.  Hold us fast.

We meet you, here, in this special place and way of gathering together even though we’re apart. We rejoice in knowing that you are able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we can ask, think, or even imagine according to the power which is at work within us.

With our sacrifices of praise and worship, we come running back to you to glorify you. Thank you for not giving up on us. Thank you for not throwing us away or casting us aside. Thank you for not dealing with us as we so deserved. Thank you for love that covers a multitude of sins.

With wide-open arms, you have received us, so we come running back to you.


MESSAGE – Remember

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

 Some of you worshipping tonight may be unfamiliar with Ash Wednesday and possibly even the season of Lent. The only thing I knew about Ash Wednesday as a child was that all the kids from the Catholic school had cross-shaped smudges on their foreheads the day after and we were going to have fish sticks for lunch every Friday for pretty much the rest of the school year, or at least that’s what it seemed like.

No explanations were given to those of us who didn’t attend the local Catholic school.  No big explanations of this day or the season it begins. It would be thirty or more years before I began to have even an inkling of an understanding. And, honestly, even now, it is a season of questions and introspection for me, mixed with bouts of retrospection, anticipation, lamentation, and exclamation.

Lent is the Church’s season of the Four Rs … Reflect, Repent, Restore, and Renew … a time when we take long hard looks at ourselves and begin the process of making any and all necessary adjustments to live a more holy life … the time when we put our own sacrifices before God through fasting as acts of contrition … and it’s a time when we recall our promises to God and His covenants with us. It’s a time we prepare ourselves to follow Christ to the Cross.

Fasting is giving something up. Traditionally, it may have been food. Over the centuries and especially in the last fifty or so years, the concept of fasting has been expanded in some ways and diminished in others. I would imagine at least some of you worshipping tonight have given up chocolate or some other food category for the forty days of lent … or at least stated you would.

For a few years, my fast consisted of a forty-day break from social media like Facebook. That kind of fasting ended for me when a tiny demon named COVID forced every pastor in the nation to become a televangelist reliant on those platforms to deliver the Good News and minister to our congregations. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fast.  It just means I have to find something else … something significant … something that I enjoy or need or want … something that costs me somehow in such a way that giving it up becomes a worthy sacrifice in the eyes of the Lord.

Fasting leads me to reflect … to remember … to think about where my life has been, where it may be headed. To ask myself those W questions … Who, What, When, Where, Why … and then to examine my answers to those questions and look for places that need improvement.

Reflection leads me to repent … through that self-examination, I am almost invariably going to identify people I have wronged and, more importantly, points where I’ve done a disservice to God and for which I need to make atonement, ask forgiveness.

Through this penitence and what literally becomes praying without ceasing through endless conversations with God in my mind, my spirit and soul begin to become restored. As long as I continually repeat the cycle of reflection and repentance, that restoration increases until I am made new in Christ yet again.

Now this can be a sometimes painful process and you may find yourselves asking, “If my faith makes me feel so bad about myself, I give up …” … but don’t. 

While Lent may feel like a time that tests your faith, it is more appropriately a time of rebuilding your faith … building it back better … building it back stronger … blowing out the cobwebs and other distractions that have been getting in the way or leading you off course.

Lent is a time of learning about ourselves in such a way that we are better prepared to be part of the answer. In order to do this successfully, we have to remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. But there is something even more important that we need to remember, and that is what the Holy One can do with the dust that is us. Jan Richardson, the author of Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, said it best:


All those days

you felt like dust,

like dirt,

as if all you had to do

was turn your face

toward the wind

and be scattered

to the four corners

or swept away

by the smallest breath

as insubstantial—

did you not know

what the Holy One

can do with dust?

This is the day

we freely say

we are scorched.

This is the hour

we are marked

by what has made it

through the burning.

This is the moment

we ask for the blessing

that lives within

the ancient ashes,

that makes its home

inside the soil of

this sacred earth.

So let us be marked

not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

not for shame.

Let us be marked

not for false humility

or for thinking

we are less

than we are

but for claiming

what God can do

within the dust,

within the dirt,

within the stuff

of which the world

is made

and the stars that blaze

in our bones

and the galaxies that spiral

inside the smudge

we bear.

I can’t give you the Imposition of Ashes this evening folks. I can’t put that tangible, visible reminder on your foreheads this year … But I don’t need to. We carry that cross in our hearts and in our minds … like an invisible tattoo just there beneath the surface of our skin … and it shows itself as we reflect, repent, restore and renew in this season.

Remember … you are a beloved Child of God. Remember.



Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today.

Now hear this benediction:

Go now, and speak of what you have seen of God’s glory. Do not cling to the holy moments when heaven overshadows you, but as the Lord lives, listen to Christ and follow him from the places of revelation to the places of mission.

And may God shine the light of glory into your hearts.

May Christ be with you and never leave you.

And may the Spirit renew the image of God within you.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, get your COVID vaccination as soon as you’re eligible, really truly love your neighbors … even the ones you’d rather not. Ask yourselves Who, What, When, Where and Why as you Reflect, Repent, Restore, and Renew yourselves in Christ. God be with you. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord,

……..In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.