82 posts categorized "Lent Series"
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)
Neelum Chand carries her son, Shuvam, 1, through the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home (NRH) in Dhangadhi, Nepal. The NRH, a project of the Rural Women's Development and Unity Center, a Nepali NGO, works to restore malnourished children to health. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
By Lisa Bos
Many people have a Lenten tradition of giving up something for the 40 days of Lent as a way to show penance. Often, it is a vice or a luxury—something that helps a person make a sacrifice, but may also have the added benefit of a few lost pounds or a little extra money in a bank account. Among my friends, common trends are giving up a food or drink: getting rid of that daily Starbucks coffee, forgoing dinners out, or committing to not eating any sweets.
It’s easy to forget how much these things are luxuries, both for those living in poverty in the United States and around the world. That Starbucks coffee? Most people in the developing world live on less than the cost of that one coffee every day. Millions of children have never had a birthday cake or a candy bar. Hunger is a part of the daily life and struggle of nearly a billion people around the world.
I don’t say this to make anyone feel guilty, nor to make the problem of hunger seem so bad that it is insurmountable. It isn’t. Progress is being made in ensuring that children and mothers in particular have better access to healthy, nutritious food. The long-term impact of this is almost immeasurable. Children who do not get proper nutrition during the 1,000 days from pregnancy through their second birthday are at risk of having underdeveloped minds and bodies, which impacts their ability to learn, get a job, and provide for their families in the future. Undernutrition contributes to 2.6 million deaths of children under five each year.
We can make a tremendous impact on ending the cycle of hunger and poverty during the first 1,000 days of a child's life. Congress, in particular, must recognize the important role of nutrition in a safeguarding a child’s health and well-being and fund nutrition programs at a level that will reach those who are in need. In order to make this happen, we all need to raise our voices to our legislators.
So, in addition to making a Lenten sacrifice, how about sacrificing a few minutes of your time to call or email your senators and representative and tell them to protect funding for nutrition programs both at home and abroad? We need your help to make this an issue that Congress can’t ignore. The fight against hunger and undernutrition is one that is too important to lose.
Lisa Bos is the Policy Advisor for Health, Education and WASH at World Vision US.
Sunday, Feb. 24
Gen. 5:1-12, 17-18
Luke 13: 31-35
Phil. 3:17-4: 1
By Mary Krug
Today’s passages did not hold a great deal of inspiration for me. The Genesis selection is a genealogy, one male after another living 800 years each. In Luke, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ warning that Herod seeks to kill him, telling them that “I must go on my way … for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Paul reminds the Philippians “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” And that leaves the Psalm.
I am always grateful for a Psalm, and I do not know what I would do without them, in fear, or sorrow, and especially in joy and praise. I never feel that I am able to praise and thank God adequately. As I walk up my long driveway from the mailbox each day, flanked by ancient trees towering above me, surrounded by woods and wildlife, I am awed by the setting in which God allows me to live. "WOW!" is a meager and unsatisfying expression of wonder and gratitude. I simply cannot find the right words to express my sense of blessing. And when the curse of depression threatens to overcome me, again words fail me, it is so hard to ask "why?" or beg help.
Thank God for the Psalms. Where would I be without a Psalm? As I contemplated that question, an old song came into mind, “Without a Song,” by George Benson: I'll never know what makes the rain to fall; I'll never know what makes the grass so tall; I only know there ain't no love at all; Without a song! And even emptier, without a Psalm.
At weddings, at funerals, in joy or pain or fear or gratitude, we turn to the Psalms. What we cannot express from the depths of our souls, they do for us. Today’s Psalm 27 covers a gamut of emotions, as David expresses, first, unconditional trust and joy, then a longing to "behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." God is 'light", "salvation," and "strength." But in the second half, verses 7-14, despair and fear set in. Trust continues, however. David is not afraid to reveal his heart and mind to God.
Sometimes, familiarity may make us miss the depths that we find in the center of our Bibles. These are not Hallmark sentiments. They are real, they are emotional, they are human, and they are a gift. They remind us that God is not some distant being out in the stars, but, for the Psalmists, Someone to praise, to worship, yes, but also to wrestle with, sometimes to accuse or harangue, or question, but always trust.
Lord God, thank you for the gift of Psalms, that express for us our deepest feelings, of love, of trust, of awe and wonder, of fear and anger and despair, all of those too-human needs that we cannot find the words to express or comprehend. Amen.
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013
By Leigh Hildebrand
Excerpts from the Judges text: The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. There was a certain man…whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean…No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”Then the woman came and told her husband “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, “You shall conceive and bear a son.”
What people of faith Manoah and his wife were. Sadly, we do not know her name (and that is a different topic of discussion), but we know that God chose to bless her with a son—Samson. The Israelites had been captives of the Philistines for 40 years, but God had not abandoned them. Now if I were this woman—who was not free and who hadn’t been able to bear a child her whole life—I might have laughed out loud if an angel approached me and said “you will conceive and bear a son.” Her response wasn’t “Huh?” or “What are you talking about?” She didn’t even ask him who he was. She had no question or disbelief at all—that is some amazing faith!!
During Lent and other times in our lives when we are feeling low and forgotten by God, we should remember the amazing faith of Manoah and his wife. It was because of their complete trust in God and obedience to his instruction that Samson grew strong and powerful and was able to follow through on God’s plan.
Even Jesus was required to show his faith in God’s plan on the way to becoming our Savior. The Hebrews passage teaches that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Dear Lord, Help us to trust you and have faith in your plan for us, even when we feel alone and when the way forward is hard.
Friday, Feb. 22, 2013
Lectionary passages:Judges 12: 1-7
Mark 2: 13-22
Hebrews 4: 11-16
By Helen Joseph
In studying the three Bible passages above, several important lessons came to light—all of them pertinent today. In the verses from Judges, Jephthah led Israel’s forces in a victory over the enemy, the Ammonites. Shortly after this he was involved in war with the tribe of Ephraim over a misunderstanding. The men of Ephraim were upset that they were not included in the battle against the Ammonites, but Jephthah said he had called them to help. This misunderstanding led to the deaths of thousands. Communication is such a key issue in relationships. So many unfortunate things can happen if we don’t communicate and try to “hear” what someone is saying.
The passage from Mark cites some events in the life of Jesus that help reveal who he really is. The actions of Jesus speak much louder than any words. In those days, tax collectors were hated by the Jews because of their reputation for cheating and their support of Rome. The Pharisees were upset when they saw Jesus dining with many tax collectors and sinners. Are we guilty of avoiding certain people because of generalizations? In the end of this passage Jesus tells us not to put new wine in old wineskins. In other words, be flexible and open to accepting Jesus’ message that will change our lives.
In Hebrews, we are reminded that the “word of God is living and active” and “before him no creature is hidden." He knows us so well, but loves us still. We should take comfort in the fact that when Jesus was on Earth he experienced many temptations, so he can sympathize with us when we make mistakes.The following prayer is from an unknown author.
PRAYER: Lord, I am called to kindness each day, but there are days that this call seems beyond my abilities or my discipline. And there are days when I simply don’t want to be kind— not to him or to her. Or, I simply want to be witty and humorous—even if it is at the expense of another. I want to be smart and incisive, even at the cost of someone’s feelings. Help me to remember that my call is to be kind, as you were kind.
Help me to practice the discipline of kindness—of putting others first and thinking of how I can offer your love to them. May your kindness touch those I meet, through my words and deeds. Amen.
Tammanna Akter and her child Joy, 18 months, pose for photographs in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh, on Thursday, April 19, 2012. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
Thursday, Feb. 21
By Rev. Meagan Manas
Themes of pregnancy, birth and nutrition easily correspond to the practices, rituals, and liturgical cycles of Christianity. We journey with young pregnant Mary through Advent, and rejoice at the birth of her child—even while we notice that he is born without the care that we would want for our own children. Our most common action, participating in Christ’s communion table, is at its core about eating and nourishment. We are nourished spiritually as we literally eat together. But can we find these themes in the season of Lent?
I didn’t grow up in a church that practiced Lent, so for a long time I understood the season as one of personal sacrifice. "What are you giving up for Lent?" my classmates would ask me. "Chocolate? Pop?" That was the extent of our engagement in this liturgical season. Later, when I joined the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I learned about the spiritual elements of Lent. The season was not about just giving up something you really liked just for the sake of doing it; instead it was about removing obstacles standing between you and God. It was about a realization that the things that seemed so important sometimes were not. Still, the gist of Lent was personal, introspective. We heard about Jesus in the desert—alone—for 40 days. We thought about the desert as a place for soul-searching, for looking inside, for individual growth.
This Lent, I am thinking about another story of 40 in the wilderness. This time it is 40 years, Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert. This story might help us reconsider Lent. It is not an individual, introspective story. It is a communal story. And this wandering community, while also considering the big questions about God and their own relationships with God, is concerned with very practical needs: food and water. Remember the manna from heaven?
This Lent, perhaps we could commit to wandering in the wilderness together. Together with women and children around the world. And as we wander together, let us cry out for the food each woman and each child needs to get the proper nutrition—especially in that critical 1,000-day window. Maybe this year what we “give up” will be some of our time, so that we can act in solidarity with our sisters and their children everywhere. Let us cry out through our prayers, through our letters to our representatives, through our conversations with family and friends. Let us journey together, and let us raise our voice!
Rev. Meagan Manas is staff specialist for Justice and Peace, Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and also works part time as program coordinator for World Day of Prayer USA Committee (www.wdp-usa.org).
By Elisa Jillson
In the passage from Judges, we meet Jephthah, who, though a “mighty warrior,” is driven away by his family and people because his mother was a prostitute. Cast out, he holds company with a “gang of scoundrels.” Despite this rejection and Jephthah’s questionable company, God does not reject Jephthah. And, ultimately, Jephthah does not reject God. When the elders of Gilead ask for Jephthah’s help in fighting the Ammonites, he acknowledges that any victory will come from God (“the Lord gives them [the Ammonites] to me”). Jephthah, once scorned and rejected, becomes the “head and commander over them.”
In the passage from Mark, Jesus heals many people—Simon’s mother-in-law, the demon-possessed, a leper. He heals them without regard to whether they “deserve” sickness or healing. Simon’s mother-in-law immediately shows her gratitude by serving him, but the leper immediately disobeys Jesus’ command not to tell anyone.
The passage from Hebrews warns us not to have an “unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” It exhorts us to “encourage one another daily” so that no one will be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
These passages tell us a bit about pain, faith, and encouragement. When we experience pain or difficulty, it is tempting to explain the inexplicable with two fallacies: God clearly doesn’t care about me because God did this to me, or I deserve this bad thing because of something bad about me/something bad I did.
But these are fallacies. God loved and blessed Jephthah no matter his parentage, no matter his rejection by his family, no matter his decision to take up with bad company. And Jesus loved and healed the sick no matter the nature of their illness, no matter how they got sick, no matter what they would do upon being healed.
pain, we can find strength in faith in God’s love for us. Sometimes, as we
believe, the immediate source of pain will go away (Jephthah was welcomed home
as the head of his tribe; illness was miraculously healed). But sometimes it
won’t. That doesn’t make God’s love any less real, but the pain can feel
insurmountable. That’s why the passage from Hebrews tells us to believe and to
encourage one another in our belief. Faith isn’t easy. We need community with
God and with other believers to meet pain with faith.
PRAYER: God, thank you for your unchanging love. Please help me to believe even when I feel rejected, disappointed, or afflicted. Thank you for the encouragement of my church family. Please help me to remember to encourage others in their faith.
Photo: A woman praying during the second day of Bread for the World's 2011 Gathering at American University in Washington, D.C. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)