85 posts categorized "Lent Series"
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)
Fresh vegetables for sale at a local market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Racine Tucker-Hamilton)
Tuesday, Feb. 19
By Inez Torres Davis
I just finished writing a Lenten Bible Study for Bread for the World, and I'm thinking about what it means to live in a nation of plenty. And, well, I feel somewhat ashamed for planning an Easter with special foods. Food snobs take note!
I am obese. Obesity is a problem in our nation even as many, in the United States and around the world, suffer from hunger. The importance of different dietary elements in causing obesity remains controversial. While there are no substantial long-term studies to turn to, short-term investigations indicate that consumption of high-Glycemic Index (GI) carbohydrates may increase hunger and promote overeating relative to consumption of items with a lower GI.
Clearly, we do not live by bread alone! We live by all manner of dietary concoctions. So, I have to wonder—if I could, would I turn stones into bread as evidence that God is with me? If you could, would you? And, each time I bless food that, nutritionally, is not best for my obese self, am I daring stones to try and stub my toes because, after all, God is with me?
Belonging to God and living in the world is a conflict waiting to happen from the start. God is not surprised by the dilemma! But, how often do we pretend we have not succumbed to the desires of our nature while at the same time judging the politician or another neighbor for failing to acknowledge the way of the gospel in the decisions they make?
There are no answers in this blog. Just some reflections since reflecting is one of those things we are asked to do in Lent. Consider it food for thought!
Ines Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Lunch for homeless people is distributed after Mass in the Lafayette Park. The liturgy is part of a program called Street Church, run by Epiphany Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. Crista Friedli/Bread for the World)
Monday, Feb. 18
By Marilyn Lariviere
“What you did not do for one of these last ones, you did not do for me.” Matthew 25:45
This familiar scripture is a commandment to all those who would follow Jesus to reach out beyond their comfort zones. He never told us to build cathedrals or create liturgy—he simply told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners.
In 2007, while working as a youth minister, three of my youth challenged me to begin a program for the homeless on Cape Cod patterned after Ecclesia Ministry in Boston. For all those involved, it was a time of trusting that God would bless our endeavors and that funding would materialize. Today, Youth StreetReach is a vibrant program supporting seven events each year that involve teenagers from area churches and schools working with and for the homeless providing hospitality, food, and clothing.
The key is in providing an atmosphere that is more than a soup kitchen.(although soup kitchens are certainly valuable!) Using tablecloths, centerpieces, homemade casseroles, fresh pancakes, and homemade doughnuts provides an atmosphere of hospitality. Games such as Jenga, checkers, chess, and playing cards are on the tables. Looking out to see teenagers and guests enjoying each other’s company is a living example of the message of Matthew 25.
At first, when new youth come, they are a little hesitant to reach out, but as the morning wears on, the magic begins to happen. As physical bread is shared, spiritual nourishment is provided for everyone. The youth learn through hearing stories from our guests that homelessness is not limited to those who suffer from addiction and mental illness. We meet the homeless who are teenagers, families, folks of all ages, educational backgrounds, and ethnicities. These are the “anawim," the poor folks who need our love and support. And yet, we too are the “anawim” as we struggle with our own spirituality.
We celebrate when folks return to tell us they have moved into housing, and we mourn when others return to the Father. Over the years, the teenagers have moved on to college and employment, but they carry with them the reality that they have seen the face of Christ in those they met. The guests are able to receive a special touch of grace along their journey. The motto for the program is the familiar story of the starfish:
“A young boy walked along the beach, picking up starfish who had washed up on the beach and tossed them into the water. An old man asked 'Why are you doing that? It can’t make a difference, there are too many of them !' But the boy replied, as he tossed one back, 'It made a difference to that one!'"
"Making a difference … one at a time” is a motto we can all adopt in our daily lives.
The following prayer was written by the youth as part of the closing worship for the first Youth StreetReach event in 2007.O Lord, we live in a world where it is often forgotten that everyone is Your child—the rich, the poor, the hopeful, the hopeless, the ignorant, and the open minded. Please help us to obliterate the hurt and the hopelessness in this world. Give us the strength and faith to break through the window and embrace your people, so that we can reach out to those in need to tell them they are loved. In Your name we pray. Amen.
Marilyn Lariviere is the National President of Church Women United, Inc., and the coordinator of the Youth StreetReach Program. She lives in Hyannis, Mass.
Photo by flickr user Luigi Mengato.
Sunday, Feb. 17
Luke 4: 1-13
By Rev. Beth Braxton
A number of years ago I read a little book on Christian leadership by Henri Nouwen, who is a Roman Catholic priest and who had been a professor of pastoral theology at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame. At the time of the writing of this book he had moved from the academic community to the L’Arche Community for the mentally handicapped. The book, entitled In the Name of Jesus, had a profound effect on my own understanding of servant leadership. Uniquely, Nouwen’s model for this leadership came from the temptations of Jesus, our scripture for today!
Nouwen realized how much his own thinking about what is important in life was influenced by the desire to be relevant (“turn this stone into bread”) the desire to be powerful (“I will give you glory and authority if you fall down and worship me”), and the desire to be popular (“throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the temple). Are not Jesus’ temptations universal—our temptations for today? Think with me:
Are we not tempted to do something that gives notoriety? We want to be recognized, we want to do something noteworthy, we want to make a name for ourselves and our families?
Are we not tempted to have as much power and control as possible? We are often seeking power over another—economic power, intellectual power, political power, moral power.
Are we not tempted to seek applause, to do something spectacular, to be a super- hero? We want to do something to be seen by all. We want stardom and individual heroism!
Yet we follow One who did not cling to divine power, but emptied himself and became a servant of love. After his time in the wilderness, Jesus went to his hometown and into the familiar synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news for the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” (Luke 4:18). After wrestling with the demons of the desert, Jesus discerned his true calling— as a servant of love. Is this not the true calling of every Christian?
In the Benedictine Rule it says “only what turns to love in your life will last.” Amen!
PRAYER: O God of the counter-intuitive and the paradox, give us hearts to understand your way – that in surrender to your will is our strength and power. Save us from the temptations of our self-centered ways. Lead us through our Lenten wilderness of lost purpose, sickness, technology overload, broken relationships, difficult children, estranged relatives, spiritual deserts to the resurrection light of new life. We pray in the name of Jesus, who died that we might live! Amen.
Saturday, Feb. 16
By Rebecca Davis
I gave up my car a year-and-a-half ago. Now, each Sunday, I ride the subway—I exit a Red Line train at Metro Center and walk up the escalators on the 12th Street side. Most weeks in the fall, and many in winter, the platform is full of people wearing jerseys for the Redskins or the Caps. They stagger around in groups, clutching tickets, or kids, looking for the transfer line or hopping on my train to move on to the Gallery Place station.
Sports, after all, is the one true religion of the United States, with high priests, special garb, ritual, hefty tithing, and passionate eschatological debate. I subscribe myself, following along the Nationals through seven painful years and triumphant playoff berth in 2012. My friends tell me to lighten up, that this is better than the gladiator alternative from Roman times. (I get it. I really do. Sometimes I find myself misty at sports games, so thankful that we live in a place where we can peacefully gather.)
Lately, however, it appears only marginally better. Between Lance’s painful (if long overdue) admission, Azarenka’s dubious “injuries” during the Australian Open semi-final, the RGIII knee surgery, A-Rod’s denials and the rampant head injuries “under study” by the NFL, sports magnifies our human foibles.
And there is something about the way we follow—with such devotion—that reminds me of the Israelites in the first passage. I don’t blame any of us. It’s impossible to resist the barrage of television, social media, and culture that demands we pay attention. That, and it’s fun. We feel great when our teams win, love the stories, share with neighbors.
The Israelites, truly thankful for Gideon’s leadership, offer the spoils of their battles, and their devotion for a time. It lasts for a generation or two. But soon enough, when Gideon dies, when the magnetism of the leader is gone, the Israelites’ loyalty is no deeper than convenience, and they chase the gods of Baal. “The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side.”
I wonder if my devotion is no deeper than convenience. I’m easily distracted, and often disloyal. I make this decision week by week, as I choose where to spend my time.
I give thanks to the Lord, with my whole heart. —Psalm 9
Friday, Feb. 15
Lectionary passages:Judges 7:19-8:12
By Matt Ford
Life is a journey, not a destination. I could find some manifestation of this maxim anywhere I turn. Advertising, music, film. Stories that remind me to focus on the present, to enjoy the simple things in life; the rest will work itself out.
Usually we only think of the journey when things get hectic—when we don’t have what we think we need. Time, money, experience. Sometimes I catch myself enjoying the journey. Preparing dinner, learning a language, or drawing. For a moment I notice the color of the vegetables, the fluidity of a foreign phrase, and the weight of a line across the page.
Why is it so difficult to live the journey? How do we know which journey is right for us? These questions come to mind as I read the passages. In Hebrews, we find a reassuring answer—our journey is the destination. Like a discipline, it is through our daily actions and our interactions with others that we grow closer to God. Gideon’s triumph shows that our journey is driven by faith and often met with resistance. In John, we also see that God is with us every step of the way.
As we enter Lent, it’s comforting to know that we have God’s grace. It shifts my thinking from outcome to process, and helps me focus more on being open to God. When our own notions of immediacy and necessity are put into perspective, we can live more abundantly through God.
Doctors from a Cuban-Haitian medical brigade treat a young woman and her child in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz)
Thursday, Feb. 14
By Amanda Bornfree
They start their days early and usually end up staying late. With hearts filled with compassion they work with unfailing passion. They have been blessed with hands and minds that heal. Each day they feel the pain, the struggle, and the sorrow of small children, pregnant women, and mothers. Each day they see the hope and the joy of tender young life. They may miss their own meals in order to feed a child or to relieve a mother’s pain. Carrying stories that are documented on medical papers and stored in their souls, they often share a few simply to make room for more. They study and work and then do it all over again, and again, each day. They know the facts and myths surrounding maternal and child health care, and they perform the gracious acts that are part of caring for mothers and babies. They are maternal and child health care.
Community health workers, caretakers, midwives, nurses, doctors, dedicated volunteers, healers—all of them live their lives to heal.
As we pray for the anemic pregnant mother and the malnourished 9-month-old, we must remember to pray for the workers whose hearts, minds, and hands are invested in maternal and child health care. We ask the Holy Spirit to bless them with the strength, resilience, patience, and wisdom required of those who help heal the hungry and cure the sick.
During this season of sacrifice, let’s take a moment to reflect on the work of the many selfless maternal and child healthcare workers. Today, light a candle for them. Say a prayer for them. Talk to your neighbor about them. Give one of them a hug. Thank God for them! Because they are incredibly important in making sure that every child receives the proper nutrition and care during the first 1,000 days.
And for that, we show them love and support while offering our prayers.Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in the church relations department at Bread for the World.
A Liberian girl sits on her mother's lap during church. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
Wednesday, Feb. 13 (Ash Wednesday)
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
By Rev. Sandra Hasenauer
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…” (Isaiah 58:6-8a, NRSV)
And so we set off, into the observance of Lent. Perhaps, more accurately, we creep sheepishly into it, or we cower a bit fearfully as we take that first, tentative step. Lent is not an easy season. It causes us to take stock, to seek forgiveness, to throw ourselves on God’s mercy.
Today’s lectionary passages address fasting, worship, religious observance. I can’t help but think of the times I’ve been asked, “So, what are you giving up for Lent?” I’m not of a religious tradition that practices this ritual sacrifice at this time of year, but I live in an area of the Unites States that is heavily infused with a religious tradition that does, which has turned it into a more cultural thing around here.
Everyone in my community simply assumes that if you’re at all religious, you give something up for Lent. I can see the benefit to it, of course, that idea that we’d spend several weeks without something precious to us to keep us in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. I have often even practiced it myself as part of my own spiritual discipline for the season. However, as is the case with so many things when they become habit, the idea of giving up something for Lent has, for too many people, become simply something you do at this time of year. A health plan, for many; a required bothersome annoyance for others. Many faithful do still hold to the meaning behind the sacrifice, of course, but for many others, as celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is fond of saying, they’ve “lost the plot.”
Isaiah speaks to that here: the fast that God chooses is not giving up chocolate. Rather, the fast that God chooses is to break free the bonds of injustice, oppression, poverty, hunger, homelessness. I am strongly reminded in these weeks that there are those who fast every day, not from religious choice, but from lack of food security. They go hungry not as a spiritual practice, but because they simply don’t have food. There is no “giving something up for Lent” for people who have nothing left to give up.
In these next weeks of Lent, rather than thinking about giving something up, I choose to think in terms of what I’ll take on. How will I engage, in very specific ways, in loosing bonds of injustice? How will I engage in breaking yokes? How will I share bread, cover nakedness, give homes to the homeless? May I then witness Christ’s light breaking forth like the dawn, and God’s healing springing up in the world.
Rev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA.
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