88 posts categorized "Lent Series"
Friday, March 8, 2013
Lectionary readings:Ecclesiastes 2:1-16
By Spencer Gibbins
The readings for today left me with a sense of bewilderment, but with the assurance that I was joining with others in the centuries-old Christian community in pondering these mysteries. It brought back two familiar adages to mind: that the more I learn, the less I know; and, as Lucy in Peanuts told Charlie Brown, “Stand up for your right to be wishy washy!” (in what I think I know).
It begins with the Book of Ecclesiastes, attributed to King Solomon, but more likely written long after Solomon’s time by a “teacher” to focus on the limits and contradictions of life in order to teach wisdom. The author describes the life of a “king” who masters everything in his environment, only to conclude that “all is vanity”. Ecclesiastes 16: "For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools?"
Even in Mark and the relatively familiar story of Jesus walking on the storm-tossed water to join the disciples in a boat, I found new puzzles. As Jesus walked out on the sea, he saw the disciples and "He intended to pass them by" (Mark 6:48). He joined them only after seeing how terrified they were of him (a ghost?) and the storm. My commentary suggests this may allude to God’s veiled self-disclosure to Moses: "[A]nd you shall see my back but my face shall not be seen" (Exodus 33:23).
The story continues to say that the disciples were "astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves ...but their hearts were hardened" (Mark 6:52). The disciples themselves were confused, not knowing what to believe, though Mark goes on to describe the local inhabitants of the region, then rushing about to bring all the sick to Jesus to be healed by touching Jesus’ garment. For them, there seemed to be no confusion.
In the final reading for today, the entire book of Colossians, which purports to be a letter from Paul to a gentile congregation in Colossae in present day Turkey, turns out to be probably written by someone else. Biblical scholars doubt that Paul wrote it, based both upon some of its theological content (contrary to much of what Paul wrote in more authenticated letters) and its literary style. The author of this letter seems to be making a case that what had been accomplished in Christ gave believers access to God and wisdom. Others felt that access to God was gained only through visions and special relationships with angels. He also describes Christ thusly: "He is the image of the invisible God" (v.15). Think about it, the image of the invisible. Is that not a conundrum?
All of these scriptures leave me feeling a bit befuddled and confused. I join with the Old Testament “king” and with the disciples in pondering the conundrum which is everyday life. When you think of it, the very basis of our New Testament belief system is full of such seeming contradictions. You must lose your life in order to save it. The last shall be first. Perhaps Lent is a good time to sit still and just “be” with these seeming contradictions in our experiences in life and in our beliefs. We are, after all, preparing for the greatest event and conundrum of all, the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Prayer: Almighty God, hear us in our confusion as we live in our daily contradictions. Guide us, calm us and help us find the faith of those who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Amen
By Jayce Hafner
I watched the toddlers shyly advance into the room, peeking out from behind their mothers' winter coats, their faces changing when they saw the stack of books and educational toys laid out on the floor. The children released their parents' hands and rushed toward the play area, quickly sorting through the book pile or trying out the various toys strategically positioned to catch their attention. These children were now officially engaged in Reading, Rhyming and Readiness, a Literacy Volunteers of America program where I volunteered throughout high school.
I loved playing with the toddlers because of their creative spontaneity and their desire to learn. They sat rapt throughout our story hours, constructed new works of art during our craft periods, and conjured up all manner of magical and inventive characters in our free play sessions. Each component of the program nurtured a different aspect of the children’s minds, and all the activities stimulated their desire to learn.
Still, perhaps the most significant activity of Reading, Rhyming and Readiness was snack time, when children received a balanced meal to help nurture their bodies and minds. The program leader realized the important role of nutrition in sustaining the toddlers’ energy for work and play, and empowering these children in their physical and mental development. Eating a healthy meal may be a small act, but it is one that has an enormous impact on the rest of a child’s day, and, over time, a child’s life.
Unfortunately, many families cannot provide regular, balanced meals for their children. The toddlers who attended my program often came from low-income families, with a single mother or both parents constantly working just to make ends meet. Other children were newly arrived immigrants, having recently completed a long and arduous journey from their homeland. Although parents want to provide nutritious meals for their children, life circumstances sometimes thwart the noblest efforts. Reading, Rhyming, and Readiness grants these children one balanced meal per week, and while this gesture is helpful, it is not nearly sufficient for the toddlers.
The Declaration of Independence upholds the “right to life,” and people of faith have a calling to help safeguard society’s access to basic amenities, like clean water, education, and nutritious food. We have both a patriotic and a faithful duty to ensure that our nation’s children are not inhibited in their development, or lacking in the basic building blocks for a successful life. The gift of nutritious food not only satisfies a child’s immediate hunger, but also prepares that child to fulfill his or her own calling in the world. Lent is a time of preparation and meditation, and it seems appropriate that we use this season to reflect on ways in which we can best prepare the children of our nation, and the world, to grow to their full potential.
Jayce Hafner is the office manager for the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations.
Photo: Children in a Head Start class in Tuscon, Ariz., eat a nutritious lunch. (Jeffrey Austin)
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
2 Timothy 2:8-17By Mark A. Zaineddin
In many parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, the New Year has historically commenced on March 21, the first day of Spring. I have often found something comforting and logical about this. For this is a time when the daffodils, crocuses, and, in Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms begin to bloom, when baby lambs frolic in idyllic pastures and robins chirp in the warmth of the day, and when the snow of a long and often bleak winter melts off the hillsides of mountains and the lawns of towns. Spring is a time of rebirth, a time of renewal, a time when the old has passed and everything has become new once again. Indeed, in Persian, the name for New Year’s is Nowruz, or literally "new day."
And yet, to get to this day, we must often experience darkness and despair, death and dreariness. We must go through the season of winter where when growing up, at least in my hometown in upstate New York, gray appeared to be the color of prominence. It was seemingly the rule rather than the exception—skies of dark gray, roads frequently lined with battleship gray ash, and long-standing snow often the color of gray soot. It is no coincidence that seasonal affective disorder is so common in the depths of a long drawn-out winter.
Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the season of Lent, the season that ultimately takes us to Easter resurrection, comes at this time of year. For it is during Lent that we take the time to deeply examine our relationship to God. Individually, we may ask ourselves, “Am I moving toward or away from God? Have I let my pride get the better of me? Have I denied my true and authentic self due to fear or the need for power or as a result of hubris or the temptation for extreme material or economic success?”
It is not easy going through the season of Lent, and its introspective reflection and self-awareness. Yet, we need not do this alone. We can walk with Jesus, knowing that he will be tempted, that he will be denied and betrayed, and that he will be heinously crucified but ultimately resurrected. We can walk with Jesus knowing that the deaths of winter will bring the life of sprin—and that the long Lenten journey will lead to the new Easter creation.
The reading in Ecclesiastes today may seem quite disturbing. To many, it reads like life is meaningless and that in the scheme of things, we really do not matter. But perhaps it is a cautious reminder that the seasons will continue and the generations will come and go long after we have passed from this earth. Perhaps it is a reminder for us to humble ourselves, especially in a world that too often seems to favor strong egos and rampant individualistic tendencies. How often have we tried to be the center of attention, to act as if the world centered solely around us?
And then in Mark, we find King Herod beheading John the Baptist out of a sense of honor and pride. Herod knows that he has betrayed his true self. He grieves because he could not resist his daughter’s wish to see John’s head on a banquet platter. How often have we led masked lives because of how we felt we “ought” to be seen or did things out of vanity or fear?
And yet in Second Timothy, we are reminded that when we die with Christ, we live with Christ. When we die with Christ, we rid ourselves of that falseness and this leads us to truly be the children of God that we are. And when we live with Christ, we endure and we help bring in that new dawn, that new creation here and today.
Prayer: Loving God, let us during this season of Lent take the time to truly examine who we are and who we have become. May we be comforted by you as we trudge through the depths of winter to realize the heights of spring, through the dark days of Lent to the shining dawn of Easter. May our false inauthentic selves vanish so that our true authentic selves may live. Amen.
By Arlene Pimentel
While driving to an appointment on a crisp, sunny morning, a man was thinking of his family's financial needs and tight budget. As his car came to a stop from traffic ahead, he noticed a woman on the side of the road with her car hood open and an infant in her arms.
He drove past the car, but felt in his heart that he needed to help the woman, so he turned around, even though it would make him late for his appointment. He noticed a man was already providing mechanical assistance.
He addressed the lady and she explained that she was on her way to a job interview at the local florist shop when her car broke. He then noticed an empty baby bottle and asked when the baby was last fed. The woman responded that the baby was fed three hours ago and that she was out of baby formula. His heart immediately sank because he had a two-month-old child of his own.
The woman began to get tearful when she realized how late she was for the interview. He offered her and her child a ride to the job interview and she gladly accepted. While she was at the interview he ran to the closest pharmacy to by a container of formula and a bottle. At the register, he began to feel the Spirit speaking to his heart to bring the woman $20.00 in cash. He silently said to God, "But God, my budget is tight." The Lord spoke again to his heart saying, “I am your provider, you provide to her."
After the interview, he drove her back to pick up the car, which the man working on it had repaired. She expressed her gratitude with a big smile. A few weeks later he was informed that the woman got the job and was an great asset to her employer.
This story echoes Jesus' miraculous feeding of the five thousand (feed a multitude) only because a boy shared his lunch with Jesus. This boy did not have much to eat and was asked to give up what he had. By giving Jesus his fish and bread, this boy and the multitude were given more than enough to eat. (John 6: 1-15)
Giving out of generosity operates miracles in the life of the receiver and the giver. Not only did the woman receive a blessing with her new job, but the man also received the satisfaction of using his time and resources to serve a family in need. As we go about our busy days, we all need to stop and listen to the voice of the Spirit as he guides us in spreading God's love and blessings with others.
"The greatest satisfaction is to use your time, talents and resources to serve others."
Arlene Pimentel is Quadrennial Assembly 2014 coordinator for the Disciples Women of the Christian Church.
A Liberian girl sits on her mother's lap during church. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
By Deborah J. McCreary
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” —Isaiah 55:1
What an invitation from our gracious God! He invites all to come! To come and receive the abundant blessings that are his gift of grace to us; to buy without money all things necessary to the spiritual life; to buy with no money what he has already paid for by the death, resurrection, and ascension of his son, Jesus Christ.
We gather, we come and worship and give thanks for the gift that money can’t buy. We worship and give thanks because there is nothing that we can do to make us worthy of receiving him, yet he invites us to come and receive his gift of grace— salvation.
We gather, we come and worship him our King of kings, our Lord of lords, the eternal word, and the bread of life. We come to worship him who offers us these blessings of grace—Word and Sacrament, the spiritual sustenance of our lives.
We thirst. We come to the waters. We come to receive the law and wisdom that we need for our very subsistence. We buy wine and milk without money, we receive the blessings of the gospel which are suited to fortify the soul, as well as to make it glad and cheerful. God gives us his Word and through the proclamation of the Word his judgments and promises actually come into our midst. His Word changes situations, changes attitudes, changes lives. The proclaimed Word is an act of God, a work of the Spirit, a gift of grace.
We are told to come, for all things are now ready (Mt. 22:4). What things? The breaking of bread, the sharing of a community meal, finding strength and hope because our Lord and Savior has said that he will come in and eat with us (Rev. 3:20). Yes, come—enter into the covenant between God and man. Join the Royal Banquet; receive the broken bread and the cup of blessing which nurtures our soul. Worship, give thanks, confess that the Lord is our King and God.
God has given us a spiritual banquet in the Lord’s Supper by which we are able to be sustained by Christ. We are filled anew with his Spirit that we might actually be more like Christ. We who have been fed spiritually are sent out to offer nourishment and hope to the women and children of our communities in need. We are sent out into the world to proclaim Christ’s message to them: “Come, eat and drink. Have food, clean water and milk, vitamins, and health care for you and your child. Come buy without money and receive without price. Hunger and thirst no more, all that we have is God’s gift to be shared with you.”
Deborah J. McCreary, a Reformed Church of America seminarian, is a senior at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Mich.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Judges 17: 1-3
1 Peter 2:1-10
Mark 5: 1-20
By Karen Mills
Jesus completed teaching people gathered on one shore of the Sea of Galilee from aboard a boat, then crossed to the other side, where he called unclean spirits out of a terribly tortured man who lived in the region of the Gerasenes (or Gadarenes or Girgasenes). Gerasa and Gadara were two in a group of ten cities--the Decapolis--southeast of the Sea of Galilee (now modern Jordan). These cities were deeply Greek-influenced, in contrast to the Jewish areas on the other side of the Sea. After Jesus called the demons out of the man, he asked his name. "My name is Legion, for we are many," he answered. Jesus called all the unclean spirits out of him. After that, Legion begged Jesus not to send him away from Him. But Jesus told him to go home to his friends and tell them how the Lord had compassion for him and had done great things for him, and they marveled.
Collectively or individually, sometimes we may be on the shore among the faithful, bathed in the sunshine and the word of the Lord, listening with rapt attention to the Lord's teaching. At other times, we may be holed up in caves, on the margins of things, tortured by demons, and far away from God. Even there, God comes to us, calls us by name, and offers compassion, cleansing, a fresh start, and new direction. What good news! Much as we may rejoice in that and want to simply bask in the safety and comfort that God provides, God calls and empowers us to go forth and share the good news with others, that they too, might know God.
We Presbyterians don't talk much about demons generally, or our own demons. Gerald May, M.D., served on the The Shalem Institute's staff for many years as Senior Fellow for Contemplative Theology and Psychology. In his book Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, May wrote that evil takes many forms.
"It can occur as the theological demonic, in which something other than God becomes our ultimate concern. And, especially in the course of intentional spiritual searching, evil can surface in the form of real spiritual forces (spirits) that seek to divert and sabotage our journey towards deeper realization of God's truth and will.... Whatever its specific manifestations may be, it seems to me that evil always functions to subvert one's surrender to God, seeking to turn it into a capitulation to darkness and willfulness. Theologically, one might see that evil forces are ultimately of or at least permitted by God, but from the standpoint of human experience they clearly work to turn one's attention and intention away from God." "[D]iscernment involves distinguishing among inclinations that may be of God, of the evil spirit, or of oneself." "In the natural course of spiritual growth, one goes through many ups and downs." "One may proceed a way along the spiritual path, experiencing a variety of more superficial ups and downs without being fully aware of the inner changes taking place.... At some point an awareness of this underlying process begins to take place without understanding and without bearings. ...One may feel quite literally at sea, and utterly dependent upon and abandoned to the unknown and unknowable essence of God at the helm.... It is only through grace, I feel, that we are blessed with our blindness to the totality of this process and our ignorance as to its ultimate implications. Were it otherwise, I suspect none of us would have the courage to embark upon the journey in the first place."
As I write this meditation, our church embarks upon a reading with Emory United Methodist and Mt. Lebanon Baptist churches of James Cone's painful book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. In it, Cone calls the Christian gospel "God's message of liberation in an unredeemed and tortured world." "[H]umanity's salvation is available only through our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst." "[T]he church's most vexing problem today is how to define itself by the gospel of Jesus' cross. Where is the gospel of Jesus revealed today? … One can lynch a person without a rope or a tree." Where, indeed….
God, help us to acknowledge and identify the demons that torture us, especially those of our own making, and bring them to you. Even when we do not seek you, find us in the painful places, and draw us close to you—the only place where we may find liberation, relief, and redirection. By your grace, may we escape the bondage of our demons, and live as your redeemed people and a light to all people and nations. Amen.
Friday, March 1, 2013Judges 16:23-31
By Molly Lauer
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, writes that “[b]efore this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (v. 23-29).
The new life that God offers in this passage makes me feel both incredibly thankful and incredibly scared. On the one hand, what a blessing to be freed from the oppressive, impossible nature of the strict Judean law! In a busy life in which I already struggle to clean the bathroom regularly, get my students’ work graded in a timely fashion, and call my mom as often as she’d like, I can’t imagine a world in which I could also find time to bring the right fowl to the Temple at all the right times! With Paul’s message of freedom from the law, I feel like a teenager on the first day of getting her driver’s license, the world an open road in front of me. It is only because of the grace and forgiveness God offers that this faith is even attainable to me at all.
And yet sometimes the freedom from the law feels like an intimidating unknown. In being released from strict adherence to God’s good law, I feel like a shy small child encouraged to try out the big ball pit at a fast food restaurant for the first time, quietly resisting the prodding to just jump in. I feel like a timid deer on the edge of a wide meadow, wondering which way is safe. I feel like a young adult with a generic degree who is looking for a new job and has no idea where to begin the search. Although freedom offers much forgiveness and relief, it offers minimal direction. A world of opportunities opens up, and yet you don’t know which one is best, or even good.
It reminds me of Derek Webb, a musician whom some of you may remember from the 1990s contemporary Christian band Caedman’s Call, and of his song, “A New Law.” In it, I think he plays with this theme when he sings, rather sarcastically,
Don't teach me about politics and government: just tell
me who to vote for.
Don't teach me about truth and beauty: just label my music.
Don't teach me how to live like a free man: just give me a new law.
I don't wanna know if the answers aren't easy, so just bring it down from the mountain to me.
I want a new law
I want a new law
Gimme that new law
This song has always resonated with me in a world in which so many options and so much freedom. Sometimes it seems that if we could just go back to a world where we were governed by a strict law, and all we had to do was obey it perfectly to do right, then that would be easier. Somehow, that seems comforting. Almost.
And then I am reminded what a sinner I am, even with a simplified law, and I am again ever so thankful. I realize the beauty of God’s design of freedom and forgiveness, and how God opens the world to everyone, literally everyone, with this gracious acceptance (Galatians 3:26-29). And I pray that God will simply guide my feet towards the good path and teach me to live like a free man—not give me a new law.
Prayer: Dear God, please teach us to have child-like faith in You, and not lean on a faith that tries simply to follow the rules. Allow us to feel your forgiveness and grace running over us and your Holy Spirit guiding us across the open meadows.
Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013Judges 16:1-22
By Shanna Wood
In the Judges passage, we find the familiar story of Samson and Delilah, the story of the downfall of a man because of his refusal to learn from his mistakes.
Samson, already at odds with the Philistines after the loss of his wife, falls in love with a woman named Delilah. The lords of the Philistines ask Delilah to find out the secret to his strength for a large sum of money and she sets out to do so. Delilah asks Samson his weakness, he tells her, she binds him up in the manner in which he described and tells the Philistines to come after him. Since Samson lied, he manages to get away unscathed. The part of the story that is difficult to understand is why he stays with Delilah. She asks him the secret to his strength three more times, with a repeat of the same sequence of events until the fourth time, when he has finally conceded the truth. At what point should Samson have learned his lesson and decided Delilah may not have been the woman for him? I would say after the first time, but isn’t it human nature to act obtusely and refuse to learn from our mistakes?
In Mark we find three parables. The first is about revealing that which is hidden and the second two about the kingdom of God. These three parables are followed by a short passage stating that Jesus only spoke to the people in parables, but explained the parables when he was alone with the disciples. Jesus knew the parables were difficult to understand and yet he saved the explanation for his closest followers. Are you part of the people, just interested in the story? Or do you desire a deeper understanding of the truth that is only available for Jesus’ closest followers?
The Philippians passage is part of a letter from Paul and Timothy to the church in Philippi. They advise the church to conduct themselves in a manner that is worthy of the gospel, standing firm together in faith and against those who oppose them. They point out that the struggles the church in Philippi is facing are the same that they have faced. Since all believers face similar struggles, sticking together in support and love can help to keep us all on track.
Prayer: God, help us to be wise and learn from our mistakes. Exhort us to grow closer to Jesus to understand the difficult teachings. Guide our path and give us the strength to stand firm in our faith together.
Wednesday, Feb. 27
Judges 14:20 – 15:20
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
By Jenean McKayI am stunned by Paul’s faith in God’s love. Paul was living in joy with no fear of death even though he endured beatings, shipwrecks, and jail. As I’ve ruminated about his life, I have come to some conclusions. It took some time for Paul to get to this stage. After being called by God and blinded, he was taken “under the wing” for several years by a man known as a dedicated teacher. Surely there were others to support him. Then there was his missionary travel with its many adventures, also good learning tools.
Where am I going with this? I believe we are all on a journey of learning and experience that brings us to different faith places. It is important to remember that wherever we are in our journey, God loves us and wants us to live in joy and without fear. So I say, "We are all rookies here." We are all valued and loved, and have something to contribute to help each other learn and grow. No matter our backgrounds, age, and situations. It also means that things take time, so we have to be patient with ourselves as well as others on our journey. And, we must not compare ourselves to others or put ourselves down because we don’t see ourselves as accomplished as others. That is not the point. Paul would have a fit if he thought we were demeaning ourselves because we weren’t shipwrecked, beaten up, or didn’t know Greek!
So let us say to each other as Paul did: "I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith...."
Prayer: Thank you Lord for being with us always, no matter where we are or what is going on in our lives. Give us the courage to accept your love and share it with others as our on-the-job training continues. Amen
"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (Matthew 18:5)
From the moment I knew that I was pregnant, I adopted new habits to protect and nourish the new life within. I started eating breakfast in the mornings. Caffeine disappeared from my diet. Fruits and vegetables replaced chocolate chip cookies and candy bars. I prepared my body to be a welcoming space, so that our unborn child could receive nourishing care.
Each Sunday as I stood at Christ’s table and broke the bread and lifted the cup as pastor, I imagined how the gifts of communion transformed into grace surging through my blood to the growing child. My faith created a spiritually hospitable space where God’s love flourished.
Hospitality of the Jesus kind speaks of creating room for the little ones whether we are the expectant parents or not. To welcome the children in our midst creates receptivity for welcoming the anointed One of God. His penchant for such radical God hospitality brought him into relationship with those who were vulnerable and voiceless, needful of care and protection. If we are to welcome him, we must find a way to offer such nourishing generosity to the little ones.
His welcome of the little ones, young or differently aged, put him at odds with the powers of his day. Such an embrace situated him on the road to Jerusalem and finally to a lonely hill on a brutal Friday.
Jesus beckons us to follow him into places of power to create a gracious welcome for the children. Such hospitality calls for hearts of courage to cultivate life nurturing habits and for voices to speak for those who are vulnerable. To welcome the child is to assure that the pregnant mother can nourish the new life within her and parents can find the resources necessary to feed the developing body and mind of the newborn and toddler. To do this, we welcome the Christ.
Christ, you come inviting the little ones into your arms. How grateful we are that each child is precious to you. Teach us your kind of hospitality that we may make this world hospitable for them. Lead us in the way of generosity that we may offer nourishment for developing minds, growing bodies and tender spirits. Create within us such a steadfast welcome for the children that we open wide our hearts to you. Amen.
Take time today to communicate with members of Congress on behalf of expectant mothers, and advocate for policies that assure young children will receive adequate nutrition and care for healthy development.
Rev. Mary Jacobs is the International Disciples Women’s Ministries President, Transitional Interim Regional Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Northern California and Nevada, and the proud mother of two amazing daughters.
Photo: A mother and daughter enjoy a block party in D.C. (Crista Friedli/Bread for the World)
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