Lenten Meditations

Ash Wednesday

by Suzanne Files

Wednesday, March 1

Isaiah 58: 1-2

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

With all the beautiful Ash Wednesday scriptures to choose from, this verse from Isaiah struck me as appropriate. It reflects this great country and our world along with the heartstrings of many folks at this time.  Every place I turn I hear the words “shout out.” I am as troubled as anyone about the present and the future for my family, and I know we are on unstable ground. How do we navigate through the diversity of messages we hear without a bloody civil war?

As many of you know I am a tennis player.  It is a joy I found later in my life and it has connected me to people from different races, religions and cultures. The friendships that have developed are an invaluable part of my life and together we have found a way to not focus on our differences. We gather, tell stories about our families, cooking, vacations, and laugh often.

Our church is certainly a place where we can do the same.  As we begin this journey through Lent, and watch our Lord Jesus begin his walk to the cross, we must understand that NOTHING is more important. No words can lead us like our scriptures.  We have something much greater to celebrate than a win on a tennis court.  Jesus Christ gave us salvation.  When you reflect on that, nothing else seems significant.

I have read all verses from Isaiah 58 and with help from the footnotes the passages make sense.  The rest of verse 58 talks of fasting as a way for people to strictly observe the Sabbath.  It explains that the Lord does not desire fasting but kindness and justice; that one’s relationship to others reveals ones relationship to God.  I remember a line from Bishop Gray’s homily at a Good Friday service years ago at the Medical Center.  He said, “When you stand at the foot of the cross, the ground is level.”  Those are words to live by as we struggle to navigate these turbulent waters.

O God you have bound us together in a common life.  Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

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Humility and Inclusion

By Greg Crotty

Thursday, March 2

Luke 14:1, 7-14

In these few verses of Luke, Jesus again finds himself teaching in perhaps his most favorite setting, around the dinner table.    The setting is the home of a prominent Pharisee and the day is the Sabbath.   I can imagine the scene somewhat formal and perhaps a bit tense in that Jesus has just been questioned for healing a man on this day set aside for rest and worship.   Nevertheless, Jesus begins teaching with a Parable followed up with a message to his host.   

The first, being the parable,  discussed the concept of Humility.   Jesus suggests one should take the least prominent seat when invited to a wedding to avoid potential humiliation.  Humility is a reoccurring theme throughout Jesus’ ministry.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled and all those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The second message is directed towards the host of the evening.  Jesus addresses the Pharisee specifically about his choice of guests and suggests that he invite those that cannot return the favor.  The underlying theme being one of Inclusion and our payment for doing such will not be earthly but in heaven.   

The message of Humility and Inclusion Jesus delivered that evening seems to be chosen specifically for his audience.   The audience watching Jesus so closely, and perhaps with eyes of judgment,  is one of privilege and possibly not much different than you and me.    Perhaps Jesus is telling us that these two behaviors go hand in hand together.    That as Christians,  we must posture ourselves with Humility (patience & open minds)  and strive to live outside our social norms by Including (loving) those different than ourselves and different than our subcultures.   As a nation today we struggle with these issues.   As an individual,  I too am quick to judgment often in an effort to protect “mine”.

Dear Father,   I pray this day for your help and mercy.   Forgive me for being judgmental and help my heart to grow in tolerance and acceptance.    Open my eyes to different perspectives and give me the grace to treat all your children with respect.   Make me a channel of your peace and love.  In your name we pray.  Amen

Additional Readings: Psalm 95:1-7; Proverbs 16:1-3; Philippians 4:10-13

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Bridezilla

By Dick Lawrence

Friday, March 3

Bless the LORD, O my soul   and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Psalm 103:1

My twin daughters Susan and Mary were married and had their receptions at the Chapel on May 16 and August 8, 2009.  About five years before their wedding, the reality TV  show Bridezilla began.   For those not familiar with the series, watching  Bridezilla to the parents  of a bride  can be  like watching Jaws  to people  who are about to go scuba diving. Typically, in a Bridezilla show,   a spoiled,  overindulged, ruthless, self-centered,  vindictive, demanding, psychotic, pseudo-socialite, self-proclaimed princess of a bride  throws a tantrum (or worse)   when every  expectation of her dream wedding does not  turn into reality.  Unfortunately, while skimming channels,  I inadvertently watched portions of episodes of Bridezilla before my daughters were wed. I remember one episode, in particular, in which the bride threw tantrums despite her parents spending over $1 million on her wedding.

I imagine that the creator of Bridezilla could have written an interesting script about twin daughters getting married and having their receptions during the same year.  But I am happy to say that my daughters and their husbands realized that a wedding is holy sacrament. They focused on the many blessings that we have instead of turning into bridezillas.   And with the help of Pam Manor, Alston Johnston and others, the weddings and receptions were wonderful.

If read literally, the “Bless the Lord.”  portion of Psalm 103:1 can be confusing. Why should mere humans bless God? Of course, the answer is that we are not blessing God, but we are expressing adoration for God.

Moving Forward During Lent:  While working on this mediation, I came across the following from the Talmud which I found interesting: “If you enjoy something without saying a blessing, it is as if you stole it.”  And the following from psychologist,  Dan Gilbert  who observed: “We have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing” i.e. happiness. During this Lenten season, let’s be more mindful of all that is good and  more aware that  God is the source of all  that is good.

Psalm 103:1-4, 13-18; Isaiah 49:5-6; Romans 12:11-17; Luke 9:2-6

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Huffington Post to Breitbart

by Whit Rayner

Saturday, March 4

There were four top-quality scripture passages from which to choose for today’s meditation.  I mean, how can you beat Psalm 100?   But the minute I read from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I knew where we had to go…

I’m tired of politics.  I was a Political Science major and I’m tired of politics.  It seems that everyone in the Country has chosen sides and has squared off against one another.  Gone are the days of polite discourse.  Self-characterized as a “knee-jerk moderate”, I observe that both sides take liberties with the facts, refuse to acknowledge others’ views, and tend to mischaracterize the other side’s position way out of proportion.  Seeking common ground is a thing of the past.  And the polarizing press has done nothing but fan the flames in an effort to gain viewers/readers and provide fodder for their followers.  And literally, as I write this, the Washington Post reports that groups in California are in the process of amassing the required number of signatures to place on the next ballot, a vote for California to secede from the Union!  The mood of a majority of Americans is at a fever pitch and social media has become downright hateful.  Against this backdrop, Paul addresses us today:

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful…”

Wow!  How could Paul have known two-thousand years ago what we would be experiencing today?  Of course, he didn’t.  But, this is not the first time, or the last time, that conflict has ruled the day.  It’s not even one of the first five times in our nation’s history that conflict has ruled the day.  But how are we called to respond to conflict?

What better time than Lent to reflect on the Christian principles of Compassion?  Kindness?  Humility?  Gentleness?  Patience?   I paraphrase William Faulkner, who said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that man will not merely endure; he will prevail… by remembering those verities of the human heart– “the courage and honor and hope  and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past…”   During Lent, I intend to ask myself, in the heat of the daily diatribes, am I following Christ when I allow myself to be swayed by the anger and indignity of others?  During Lent, I intend to “give up” politics as a blood sport, and focus instead on those character traits Paul seeks to instill in us.  How about you?

Additional Readings: Psalm 100; Isaiah 55, 1-5; Colossians 3:12-17; John 16:16-24.

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The Healing Power of God

By Maridine Wall

Monday, March 6

“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’” Luke 8:48

In all of today’s scriptures we hear of the various ways in which God heals and protects those who have faith.

Luke’s Gospel tells of the woman who was healed after having suffered hemorrhages for twelve years. She merely touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment and was healed because of her faith. Luke also shares the story of Jairius, the synagogue leader, whose daughter was thought to be dead but was miraculously healed by Jesus.

The wonders done through the apostles in Acts brought many people to Christ, as people in the countryside brought the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits to be healed.

A different type of protection is seen in Psalm 91 as God provides guardian angels to lead his people safely through danger and destruction. Because the Lord is His people’s refuge, no evil will befall them.

The wisdom of Sirach takes another approach in terms of healing. The wise person is respectful toward and cooperative with doctors and those who provide medicine. They use their God-given gifts to heal others.

So, what do these lessons say to us today? Do we have the power to heal? Has God given us gifts to use in helping others heal? What would He have us do?

Additional Readings: Psalm 91:9-14; Sirach 38: 1-8; Acts 5: 12-16; Luke 8: 40-56

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God’s Got This

By Suzie Pooley

Tuesday, March 7

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 124:8

The scriptures for today all bear the message of deliverance.  Daniel was saved from the lions because of his faith in God.  Matthew tells of the end times and how those who have faith in God until the end will be saved.  Psalm 124 tells of the perils of the Israelites and how they were delivered from Egypt because of their faith. 

It is easy to lose faith these days.  Simply turn on the news or go to your Facebook feed.  Doom and gloom are all around us and evil seems to be running rampant.  It is hard to escape all the bad news.  We are left feeling hopeless and helpless.  However, we must believe that God is there in the chaos.

A couple of years ago, I was consumed with worry over situations that I wanted to control and couldn’t.  I was tense and frustrated at not being able to “fix” things the way I wanted them to be fixed.  Sensing my frustration, my daughter, Ruth, looked at me and said, “Momma, God’s been in control of this world for a long time and he’s much better at it than you are.  Don’t worry, God’s got this.”

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

Additional Readings: Daniel 6:10-16; Psalm 124; Hebrews 10:32-39; Matthew 24:9-14.

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Who Is My Neighbor?

by Betty Ruth Fox

Wednesday, March 8

Luke 10: 33-37: But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

We have all heard the scripture of the Good Samaritan many times. Jesus tells the story of the man beaten by robbers and passed up by the priest and the Levite and then saved by the Samaritan, a person part of a group despised by the Jews.

I thought about this scripture and for the first time I thought about what the poor beaten man would have done once he recovered and by chance came upon one of those who had passed him by, at a time when they were in dire need of help.

One could certainly understand him saying “they did not help me so why should I help them?  I don’t owe them anything.  In fact I am still angry and hurt that they left me to die!  I am sorry but I do not have the time or the money to help and why should I?”

This reminds me of times in my life when I have been hurt or someone I love has been hurt.  One particular time caused me to be completely consumed with anger. The thought of those that caused my pain nauseated me.  But one day, God provided the opportunity for me to forgive, which was one of the most amazing days of my life.  Letting go of my anger was nothing short of a miracle.  It was a decision I made with God’s help.  I am not held captive any longer!

Forgiveness is a gift that I ask God to help me find again and again. And each time I experience forgiveness, I am set a bit more free.

I pray during this Season of Lent that we all have one or more forgiveness experiences and praise be to God for them!

Additional Readings:  Psalm 69:15-20; 2 Samuel 22:1-7 (8-16) 17-19; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; Luke 10:25-37

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Reflections for Young Husbands and Fathers

by Chuck Barlow

Thursday, March 9

Psalm 19: 7-11; Wisdom 7: 24-28; Ephesians 2: 17-22; John 14: 23-26

By nature greatly averse to sharing personal reflections in Meditations, this year I feel compelled to share a few personal thoughts with the young husbands and fathers in our community. Forty years ago, I followed my wife Lena from the Baptist faith into the Episcopal Church following a momentary experience at the altar rail during my first ever communion on Christmas Eve at the midnight Mass at St Andrews Cathedral in 1976. That transforming moment of partaking was saturated with holiness: a consuming, almost blinding white light … filling all space around me….as time stood still during a spiritual moment so hot that it briefly filled me with fear and left me quaking from a forcefulness that has forever changed my life. Eleven years later I followed her from St James to the Chapel of the Cross.

Given my freedom by her faith, over our many years together I have come to understand much of what is important about our life together as part of the Ecclesia. Two of the most important aspects of faith I have come to understand are remembered in the readings assigned for today’s meditation:

1. Our primary relationship … together … is with God. Though we love, cherish and hold them very dear, we do not attend worship services for the fellowship and warmth of long time friends or to enjoy a serene, peaceful aesthetic on Sunday mornings. We attend worship services to be burned; to be re-kindled, set on fire over and again and consumed by the Holy Spirit in the love of God. And to then take that spirit into the world.

2. Wisdom is a woman. She is our wife, the mother of our children and the custodian of our spirit.

Wisdom 7:27 -28

27 Although she is one, she can do all things,

and she renews everything while herself perduring ;

Passing into holy souls from age to age,

she produces friends of God and prophets.

28 For God loves nothing so much as the one who dwells with Wisdom.

Amen

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Giving God the Praise

By Annetta Allred

Friday, March 10

Morning Devotional: Psalm 95, 40, and 54

In all these Psalms we feel close to psalmist.  We often want to sing to the Lord a new song thanking him for the wonder of a new day filled with blessings and opportunities and to share his love with many others.  Sometimes, we also feel as the Psalmist in Psalm 54 and at the end of Psalm 40.  We call out to the Lord to make haste to save us.  We often pray the Jesus prayer:  Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  Make hast to save me; show me your will for my life.  We are reminded of our need for God’s help as we read the 13th verse of Psalm 40.  Please, Lord, rescue me! Come quickly and help me! Grant me your peace.   Help us each day to live with the active love of Jesus Christ, our Lord, in our hearts.

Evening Devotional: Psalm 51, Deuteronomy 10: 12-22; Hebrews 4:11-16; John 3:22-36

As we prepare for the close of our day, let us remember what the Lord requires of us: to listen to the Lord, and follow his commandments. The Psalmist reminds us that the Lord wants us to trust him in our times of troubles, so that He can rescue us and we can give him glory!  When we walk the true paths, salvation will be our reward.  Let us give God the Praise he deserves for all the blessings he has given to us.  God reminds us that He wants us to remember His commandments and to follow them and He will give us rest!  The rest we need which will restore us!

Recently, I have been discouraged, suffering from depression.  I find myself praying the prayers found in our readings.  I am beseeching Him to rescue me, to grant me His peace and show me His will for my life.  I still feel depressed. I know that God is my strength and my redeemer and that my body may be my enemy right now.  I am trying to hold on to the promises of God.  I know, intellectually, that I need exercise; I need to be active in my meditation, but I find it very difficult to be motivated enough to do these things.  I have returned to my knees beside my bed when I pray my nightly prayers. I wake up during the night and have to take a sleeping pill.  My heart cries out to God. I know He is with me and he will not let the evil one win.  I know He will grant me his peace and give me his rest. I know as Hebrews 4: 14-16 says: “But Jesus the Son God is our great High Priest who has gone to Heaven itself to help us; therefore let us never stop trusting Him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, since he had the same temptations we do, though he never once gave way to them and sinned.  So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.”  Just working on this devotional has helped me.  Please pray for me and for my recovery from this demon depression.

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God’s Glorious Garden

By Lynne Stillions

Saturday, March 11

I give thee thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart, before the gods I sing thy praise; I bow down toward the holy temple and give thanks to thy name for thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness; for thy hath exalted above thy name and thy word.

Psalm 138: 1-2

I love spring! We are having a very early one this year. I don’t think I can ever remember my garden in full bloom in the middle of February, with hundreds of azaleas of every color to look at. As I see the palm sized bright flowers of the ornamental magnolias, the camellias drooping with the weight of heavy, lush blooms and the happy to be here daffodils popping up, I just walk around and think: God is good! I watch the tender new growth of lime green fern starting to spread. And oh the birds – how glorious they are. They are busy building nests, darting in and out of shrubs and singing. Their chirps are combined with a woodpecker’s constant knocking in a distant tree. I sit on my deck and watch goldfinches perched on the feeder, listen to the geese honking on our lake and watch mama duck moving her babies along. Wow, it can’t get much better than this!

Spring is my metaphor for Jesus. Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, just like the flowers, we also are born again. We are new, and bright, and fresh. He gives a new and abundant life to everyone that turns to him. Jesus’ unconditional love is never wavering. His love is perfect and constant. Absolutely nothing in heaven or on earth can ever cause God to stop loving us. That love makes us new and shiny too.

Please Lord, in this season of Lent, help us to deepen our relationship with you. Just as we feed and water our gardens, help us to do the same with our souls. Through your grace and love, let us open our ears so that we hear your conversations with us. Help us to spend quiet time with you each and every day and know that you are Lord. Amen.

Additional Readings: Psalm 55; Deuteronomy 11: 18-28; Hebrews 5: 1-10; John 4: 1-26

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The Answer

By Ralph Stillions

Monday, March 13

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”Acts 8: 27-31

At our Friday Morning Men’s Group last week, as is oft the case, we delved into some rather deep theological questions, questions that have no doubt puzzled mankind since creation. I’m not sure why, on this particular Friday morning, we felt we could find the answers to some questions that people have puzzled over and debated for millennia. However, thanks be to God, we gave it the old college try, like we often do on Friday mornings – I am so blessed to have this astute group of faithful guys to discuss such matters.

After a fruitful and enlightening discussion, we ran into a few snags and ultimately concluded that there were some questions that we may never know the answer to for certain. One of the wiser members of our group raised a question that has always puzzled him – something along the lines of: if we, as Christians, believe that the only path to God and Heaven is through Jesus Christ, what happens to those who have innocently never even been exposed to Jesus Christ? How can these people understand the Good News if they, like the Ethiopian eunuch, have never had someone to guide them?

Our group member told us that even though he muses and puzzles over such questions and others like it, he generally does not worry about it too much, because it was not important that he know the answer, what is important is that God knows.

God commanded us to love him with all our heart, soul and MIND. We certainly need to study God’s word and try to discern from His word what we need to do to form a more perfect union with Him. We need to seek and ask God to send someone to guide us. However, we need to realize that there are always going to be some questions that we simply never will be able to answer with certainty. But we need not lose faith because it is not so important that we have all the answers, but God does.

Holy and heavenly Father, like the Ethiopian eunuch, we strive to understand your word and are often frustrated when questions arise that we simply cannot seem to answer. Like you did with the Ethiopian eunuch, please send us a Philip to guide us. But in the end help us to always understand that if we don’t always find an answer, we alawys know you have the perfect and eternal answer. Amen.

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Thanks Be To God!

By Lisa Stutzman

Tuesday, March 14

Psalm 61, 62, 68: 1-36; Jeremiah 2:1-13; Roman 1:16-25; John 4:43-54

Group I: Rock,  Shelter, Refuge, Tower, Enemy, Wing. Salvation, Trust, Belong, Power, Rejoice, Protector, Sanctuary, Mighty, Majestic, Power, Strength, Blessed, Just, Upright, Faith, Miraculous, Signs, Wonders, Believe, Confidently

Group 2: Enemy, Shaken, Disheartened, Oppression

How many of us need more of the first group of words in our lives?  While reading our scripture for today, I was struck at how many times these words were in the above scripture…often multiple times.  It was as if our Lord was yelling at me, “Hey Lisa, here is your road map” to get through the  season of the 2nd set of words.  And then there is a visual in Psalm 68.

Psalm 68:1-2

Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered:

Let those who hate him flee before Him.

As smoke is driven away, so drive them away

As wax melts before the fire

So let the wicked and guilty perish before the presence of God

I take great comfort that in the face of rising, complex problems in this world and in my own life, I can simply say “Jesus” or read scriptures like Psalm 68 and solutions, comfort, healing…whatever is needed, is right there.  Thanks Be to God

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A Merciful God

by Susan Lawrence Hedglin

Wednesday, March 15

“I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, says the Lord; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you have rebelled against the Lord your God…I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”  -Jeremiah 3: 6-18

Some of us may have grown up with the image of an Angry God, nestled amid a thundering cloud of fire and brimstone. The exile from Eden…original sin…even the beauty of God’s Grace can sometimes be corrupted by a well-meaning, but overwrought, focus on our sinful nature.

Yet our God is not an angry God. He is merciful, and He loves us. What he wants more than anything is for His people to turn away from sin, and turn to Him. During Lent, a season of penitence, do not focus on God’s anger about your sins. Focus on understanding your sins, and turning away from them to seek God’s presence. Pay attention to the teachers and moments which  God has sent into your life to show you the way towards the Kingdom of God.

Spend some time in prayer tonight. Recall the events of the day, from morning to evening. Where did you feel God’s presence during the day? Where did you sin, or turn away from what God wanted for you? Seek forgiveness for those moments of sin and ask for help seeing God’s will more clearly in your life.

Additional Readings: Psalm 72; Psalm 119:73-96; Jeremiah 3:6-18; Romans 1:28-2:11; John 5:1-19

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God’s Promise of Eternal Life Through Christ

by Nelwyn Madison

Thursday, March 16

John 5: 19-29

For those who were born and raised in the Christian faith, the verse from John 3:16 is all too familiar.  It was most likely the first Bible verse you learned as a child.  Even if you were introduced to Christianity later in life, no doubt it was one of the first lessons given to you on the tenants of Christianity.  It is the promise that if we believe that God sent his beloved Son to die for our sins and then raised him from the dead, we will receive eternal life.

Our Lenten scripture from John 5:19-29 further assures us of that promise.  It tells us that God gave the power to his Son.  The power to heal, raise the dead and most importantly, the power of judgment, to give life to “whom he will.”  Verse 22 tells us “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to his Son, that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father.”  In Verse 24 Jesus tells us, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

The Lenten season is a period of reflection and penitential preparation for the coming celebration of the resurrection of Christ.  It is only through him that we are given the promise of life everlasting.  Thanks be to God for this gift.  Amen.

Additional Readings:  Psalm 70 & 71; John 5:19-29; Jerimiah 4:9-10, 19-28; Psalm 74; Romans 2:12-24

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Joy in the Morning!

by Becky Herren

Friday, March 17

In 2015 I wrote this meditation and I thought that it was worth republishing for Lenten Meditations 2017.

I know a woman who passed through a period of great emotional distress. She could not sleep at night. She discovered that at three in the morning is the dark night of her soul for the hours of darkness were almost unbearable. Every night she kept watch for the morning! She knew the exact place over the lake, and the exact time, at which the sun would appear. She confirmed the words of the Psalmist, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Another woman went through an even deeper depression and found great comfort in her Christian faith. The brightness of the morning and the light of faith became one in her experience.

My book club recently read Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. The minister, Reverend Nathan Drum, gave a sermon after the death of his daughter. His sermon concluded with these words: “Jesus suffered the dark night and on the third day, he rose through the grace of his loving father. For each of us, the sun sets and the sun also rises and through the Grace of our Lord we can endure our own dark night and arise to the dawning of a new day and rejoice.

As we approach Easter and reflect on our lives and our relationship to our Lord, let us remember that Easter gives back to us everything that Good Friday takes from us! Our Lord has been restored to us as we move from the night to the morning.

Keep us, O Lord, while we tarry on this earth, in a serious seeking after thee and in an affectionate walking with thee, every day of our lives; that when thou comest, we may be found not hiding our talent, nor serving the flesh, nor yet asleep with our lamp unfurnished, but waiting and longing for our Lord, our glorious King, for ever and ever.  Richard Baxter 1615-1691

Additional Readings: Psalm 97:1-2, 7-12; Ezekiel 36:33-38; 1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12; Matthew 28:16-20

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Help in the Valleys

By Betty Ruth Fox

Saturday, March 18

These readings are so rich!  Psalm 23 reads “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for you are with me.”  I am reminded of Rev. Gates Elliott’s sermon the Sunday after the Aurora, Colorado, shootings that occurred in 2012. Gates expressed deep sympathy for the victims of the mass shooting and also for James Eagan Holmes, the perpetrator of the attack.  Using the beautiful passage from Psalm 23, Gates said, Holmes did not move through the valley of the shadow of death.  That analogy made a lasting impression on me.  So many people are experiencing extreme difficulties in their lives… some we are aware of and many we are not.  This reminded me of Will’s sermon on Sunday, February 26, 2017, in which he talked of our comfort places – those places we feel most at peace and free of worry — free to listen to God.  Using the words of Psalm 23, Will urged everyone to not stay in the comfort places but to go down into the valleys to help those in need.  I am convinced that is our purpose on this Earth.  We are the hands and feet of God.  No one can make this trip alone.  I thank God for that!

This season of Lent, I pray that we find opportunities to help people move through whatever valleys they are moving through.  I also pray that we let others know when we are in need which may be the most difficult thing of all.

Additional Readings: Psalm 75, 76; Psalm 27 ;Jer. 5:20-31; Rom. 3:19-31; John 7:1-13

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The Temple

By Amy Barker

Monday, March 20

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

One of my kids recently had the flu. On day three, he had a fever of 104. On day four, his fever had broken and the boredom kicked in. He came into my office and slyly asked, “Why don’t we make a deal?” I raised an eyebrow and asked what he had in mind. He responded, “If I can run a mile in less than seven minutes, then it means I’m well and I can go play soccer.” When I rejected his proposal in favor of more rest and recovery, he proceeded to rephrase his offer in several different ways, in vain hope that I might somehow see it in a different light.

In today’s reading, Jeremiah points out that you can say “This is the temple of the Lord” as many times as you want. If your words aren’t backed up by your actions, those words won’t change the outcome. God is watching our actions, and He calls us to always honor His two greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor. In case that’s not clear enough, this passage further defines what that means. Our neighbor is the foreigner. Our neighbor is the fatherless. Our neighbor is the widow. Our neighbor is the innocent.

I love my kids unconditionally. Nothing they say or do will ever change that. However, that doesn’t change the fact that if they choose to disregard my instruction, there will be consequences. Those consequences won’t change my love. They won’t change my intent to do what’s best for them. Those are unchanging.

Even more so, God’s love is unchanging. However, His unconditional love doesn’t preclude our responsibility to follow His will. It does not negate the need for us to love Him, first and foremost, above all else. And it does not neutralize our obligation to love and care for those around us.

Dear God, please center your will in my heart. Help me remember that your temple and your church are not limited to four walls on Sunday, but instead surround us every day and in every place we go. Please give me the strength and courage to love you and your children without apology. Please show me how to distribute your love to all of your children, especially those you have challenged me to care for. Please help me remember to be just when I deal with every one of my neighbors today and always. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Additional Readings: Psalm 80; Psalm 77 [79]; Jer. 7:1-15, Rom. 4:1-12, John 7:14-36

•••

Truth. Deceit.  How Do We Discern?

by Robert Pooley

Tuesday, March 21

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him.   John 7:40-42

The Gospel reading describes serious division among people’s opinions of Jesus.  Was he a prophet, the Messiah or Christ, or was he a deceiving imposter?   Most had convictions one way or another, especially the chief priests and Pharisees who believed Jesus should be arrested.  Others were probably not sure what the truth was, and Nicodemus, in Jesus’ defense, said let’s give him a fair trial.

Without expressing any political opinion, what comes to my mind in relating to this environment in the gospel is the current climate of divisions in our country today.  More than ever I have observed people today believe their strong convictions to be true, and other people’s convictions to be false, and the news media and pundits are in a more excited frenzy than ever. You may ask, “How can you compare politics to religion? (the forbidden topics of social conversation) There is one truth in the Bible, but political opinions from all sides can be valid.”   Religion has never been that simple. And was not King Herod a politician?

What I love about the Anglican Communion and our Episcopal Church is latitude in conscience allowed for individuals and congregations.  There are extremes of conservative unwavering tradition, charismatic movements, orthodoxy, focuses on activism or being contemplative, evangelical protestant or embracing our Catholic roots.  While Anglicans/Episcopalians can recognize these extremes, we tend to gravitate to the “via media” or middle ground between extremes.  EpiscopalChurch.org defines Courage as the via media between foolhardiness and cowardice.  Despite all the directions in which we can choose to focus our Christian journeys (or politics), there are certain truths, as summarized in the creeds, we can all agree on as Christians: a monotheistic belief in God the Father, the divinity of Jesus Christ who brought us salvation and the Holy Spirit which lives with and in us today.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the diversity in life you bring us.  We pray that among our doubts and uncertainties, you grant us strength, patience and wisdom to discern your will for us, that our divisions be healed, that we may live in justice and peace, to the glory of your holy Name.  Amen

•••

Free Will Rears Its Head Yet Again

Or

Can You Hear Me Now?

By Bill Buhner

Wednesday, March 22

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;  when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous  and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:47-50

You will recall the Genesis account of the fall: Eat the apple, or, not. The First Two CHOSE to have their eyes opened, to be like God, knowing both good and evil.

This reading from Matthew is the third successive parable, after finding it necessary to get into a boat to preach to the ever-expanding crowd, about the Kingdom of Heaven (the hidden field, the pearl of great price, and the fishes). Jesus tells us how, here, in three different ways, how to inherit the Kingdom and, earlier in the chapter, in three of four more.

He is trying to reach us, to make us understand what is necessary to inherit. In the words of the former Sprint Pitchman, CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW!

Well, can we?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us, all sinners. Lord Jesus, give us the ears to hear and the will to act. In your most holy name, Amen.

Additional Readings: Psalm 132:1-7, Exodus 24:1-8, 2 Timothy 2:10-15,19, Matthew 13:47-52

•••

Salt and Light

By Laney Crampton

Thursday, March 23

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  or do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:11-16

The Chapter 5 verses that precede Matthew 5:11-16 are the Beatitudes, the “Blessed are the…” verses which begin Christ’s Sermon on the Mount to the multitudes. Matthew 5:11-16 are additional words of encouragement, more specifically to his disciples. In verse 11, Christ gives them his encouragement by blessing them for being Christians, though religious persecution and conflict might just be around the corner.

Verse 13 says. “You are the salt of the earth.” That is an often used expression that has come to mean that you are a good person. It is more than that. As a metaphor, salt is a preservative and also adds zest to food just as knowing and living a Christ-like life is our spiritual undergirding. But salt is also an antiseptic. Before the pharmaceutical industry created a pill for everything, salt was used to cleanse the body. Have you ever waded in salt water with a minor abrasion on your foot? It is painful as it stings, but it also cleanses.

In verses 14-16, Christ tells his disciples, “ You are the light of the world” “Let your light shine before others.”  I have been a Kairos prison ministry volunteer for seven years. If ever there were a dark place, it is prison. Our ministry imparts that Jesus is the light, and that we, the volunteers and residents, all reflect his light and grow the Holy Spirit in this dark place. Being among a community of believers helps us strengthen our resolve to share this light with those who are not believers.

When we think about the word “evangelism”, many of us conjure up a picture of someone standing on a corner either handing out religious tracts or shouting scripture to an unseen audience. In our Daughters of the King chapter at the Chapel, we  have discussed what “evangelism” means since it is  part of our three-fold mission of service, prayer and evangelism. The national Daughters’ Director of Evangelism wrote, “Evangelism is showing Christ in our everyday walk, in the simple things we do or say and when we may not even realize it. This may cause another to think,  “I want what she has. What does she have that, even though her life may be troubled, she still carries that light within her?”

Jesus expects good works and good words. As one of my prison sisters said, “ If I were being tried for being a Christian, I would want there to be lots of evidence to convict me!” Think about that!

Our Heavenly Father, teach me to shine Christ’s light in my life through my words and in my deeds so that I may reflect your light and your love to the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Additional Readings: Psalm 119:153-160   Job 42:10-12   Acts 17:22-31

•••

Crop Rotation

By Bill Horne

Friday, March 24

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:23-32.

Surely Jesus was using parables to tell us truths that we have to consider and make our own, not just words of stories that are repeated for their singular message. He was masterful at this. His dying grain of wheat points to His impending death and resurrection, but it also directs us to evaluate our own lives, lives that must bury their transgressions and still grow, bearing much fruit. 

We are all getting closer to dying, but I, for sure, am not gleefully anticipating this terminal moment. On the other hand, I do not fear death. I’ve grown to appreciate that a benefit of my senior citizenship is an acceptance of death whenever it might befall me. But this one death will just be the last and final one, ending for me a lifetime of repeated demises and rebirths. I have innumerable times died to my sins and seen life on the other side, more brightly and more delightfully real. Though I was much too young to remember my initial death, it was at my baptism. Surely the prayers offered at that time on my behalf have been answered many times as I have wandered from God’s path, repented, begged for and been given forgiveness and a new life.

Dear Father, Creator of all that is good, please continue to patiently accept and put aside my sins against you and others. See the good in me that I cannot see myself, the good that, to your glory, may bear much fruit. Through Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, hear my prayer and help me to continue to grow where you have planted me. Amen.

Additional Readings: Rev 7:13-17, Isa 2:5-7, Ps 31

•••

The Feast of the Annunciation

By Ben Robertson

Saturday, March 25

‘O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy,

who have made all things by your word,

and by your wisdom have formed humankind

to have dominion over the creatures you have made,

and rule the world in holiness and righteousness,

and pronounce judgement in uprightness of soul,

give me the wisdom that sits by your throne,

and do not reject me from among your servants.

For I am your servant, the son of your servant-girl,

a man who is weak and short-lived,

with little understanding of judgement and laws;

for even one who is perfect among human beings

will be regarded as nothing without the wisdom that comes from you.

You have chosen me to be king of your people

and to be judge over your sons and daughters.

You have given command to build a temple on your holy mountain,

and an altar in the city of your habitation,

a copy of the holy tent that you prepared from the beginning.

With you is wisdom, she who knows your works

and was present when you made the world;

she understands what is pleasing in your sight

and what is right according to your commandments.

Send her forth from the holy heavens,

and from the throne of your glory send her,

that she may labour at my side,

and that I may learn what is pleasing to you.

For she knows and understands all things,

and she will guide me wisely in my actions

and guard me with her glory.

Then my works will be acceptable,

and I shall judge your people justly,

and shall be worthy of the throne of my father.

Wisdom 9: 1-12

In late February, I attended a continuing education conference in Washington, D.C.  The event was fairly heady and content heavy, so between sessions I would often take a quick stroll outside to stretch the legs and process all of the information I had just received.  Our hotel was downtown, on Connecticut Avenue, and so on one of my walks, I found myself in front of the White House.  And considering all that has transpired over the past months, I felt called to do something.  I did not feel called to praise.  I did not feel called to protest.  But, I did feel called to pray – pray for wisdom, for our leaders and myself:

As a father and husband, I prayed for wisdom.

As one of the baptized and a seeker, I prayed for wisdom.

As a priest and leader, I prayed for wisdom.

As a citizen and voter, I prayed for wisdom.

As a student of history and a consumer of news, I prayed for wisdom.

As a traditional and romantic son of the South, I prayed for wisdom.

As a hopeful and patriotic son of an immigrant, I prayed for wisdom.

As an evangelist proclaiming, “God created humankind in His image,” I prayed for wisdom.

As a disciple of Jesus, who taught, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” I prayed for wisdom.

As a believer that, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” I prayed for wisdom.

In this holy season of Lent, I pray for wisdom – less noise, less talking over each other, less frenetic vitriol, less viciousness, and more wisdom.  And then, after bread and wine are blessed, after feet are washed, after Christ is scourged and sacrificed, and after death is defeated forever, perhaps we can bask in the light of Easter morning and have the wisdom to love and listen.  That is my prayer on this auspicious Annunciation Day, when the angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.”

•••

Joyful Repentance

By Will Compton

Monday, March 27

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.  Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13

This verse from Ephesians echoes in our baptismal liturgy (BCP pg 299). In antiquity, Lent was a season of preparation for those who would be baptized at the Easter Vigil. Lent is still a season of preparation. It is a season that prepares us for the joy of Easter.

Since we are preparing for the joy of Easter, this does not relegate Lent to a season of despair and devoid of any joy, but quite the opposite. Joyful repentance! Remember those words. Joyful repentance! We tend to think of Lent as a time of sackcloth, ashes, dung, and weeping and gnashing of teeth. However, that is not the purpose of Lent and to treat Lent in that fashion would not be walking a Holy Lent which we are called to do on Ash Wednesday.

In Lent, we are made very aware of our sinfulness. However, one of the gifts we receive at baptism is the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, since we have received forgiveness of sins, to constantly be mindful and bogged down by our sinfulness, as if we have no hope, is in itself sinful. Even when we do sin, the God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all is still with us. In this season of repentance, do just that. Repent. But, let your repentance be joyful! Let this season of Lent be joyful because we have a Savior who forgives us and loves us.

Father God, who has created and even more wonderfully restored Creation, abide with us as we continue to walk a Holy Lent. May we be joyful in all of your seasons and make us mindful of your love manifested in the forgiveness of our sins through baptism. All this we ask through your Son, Jesus Christ, who with you and Holy Spirit reign, one God, now and forever. AMEN

Additional Readings: Isaiah 56:6-8; Psalm 122; Matthew 9:35-38

•••

The Question is Who not Where

By Julie Ray Brown

Tuesday, March 28 

John 16: 16-22 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles,* they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I;* do not be afraid. ’Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

This is one of my favorite passages in scripture, due in no small measure to Oswald Chambers who writes so eloquently about it (or Mark’s version of it) in his classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest.

If you read around the context of this passage in both the Gospels of Mark and John you will find the disciples and Jesus had had a pretty eventful day, not the least of which was feeding the 5,000. At the end of that day where the disciples had just witnessed that miraculous provision of God they get into a boat and head across the lake. In the Mark passage is says this, “Immediately He made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.”

So here we find our disciples hard at work in the boat, doing exactly what Jesus has asked them to do. They are straining and straining on oars trying desperately to be obedient and get to the other side just as Jesus had asked them.

John tells us that just at that moment they see Jesus walking on the lake and they are terrified. They recognize him and yet they are terrified. Are they afraid because here they are in the middle of the lake and they failed somehow to do what He had asked them to do? As if they want to say to him “Don’t bother us, Jesus, we are just here doing what you asked.” And yet Jesus assures them “It is I; do not be afraid.” In my imagination, they get into a little disciple huddle and try to decide what to do next. Our passage says, “then they wanted to take him into the boat,” another version says “they decided” or “they were willing” to let him into the boat. And then the next miracle happens. They let him into the boat and “immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.”

So, you see, the question in this passage is not “where are we going?” the question is “who is with us?” It is as if the destination is of no consequence. But what is of consequence is that we are able to discern Jesus in our midst, and invite him into our journey, into our work.

Oswald Chambers puts it this way: “God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process – that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God. God’s end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.”

God, give us the eyes to see you in faith in this present moment, in the chaos of our daily lives. And grant us the courage and strength to invite you in and accompany us through this day.

Additional readings: Psalm 95, Jeremiah 17: 19-27, Romans 7: 13-25

•••

Hunger No More

By Janet King

Wednesday, March 29

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ John 6:35

I’m probably like most of you in that I’ve never been hungry a day in my life. There have been times in my life, however, when I’ve hungered for something to fill the emptiness I felt in difficult times, such as when a parent dies, or when a relationship ends, or when life demands make for a change of best laid plans. It’s in times like these that I cling to the words of my Savior – He is our bread of life. And I’m thankful that I will never be hungry. Thanks Be To God!

Prayer for Guidance from the Book of Common Prayer

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our

works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Additional readings:  Psalm 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30; Psalm 119:121-144 ;Jer. 18:1-11; Rom. 8:1-11; John 6:27-40

•••

The Bread of Life

By Courtney Aymett

Thursday, March 30

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51

Envision for a moment that someone you knew just said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  You’d be shocked and confused, wouldn’t you?  This is exactly how the Jews react when Jesus declares this.  They question, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”  They have seen him grown up from a boy to an adult.  They are neighbors and friends of his mother and father.  It’s no wonder why they would be questioning Jesus about what he is saying to them.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “I am the bread of life. . .Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”?  Simply put, Jesus is speaking about the benefits of the coming cross and us believing in Him.  In verse 49, Jesus reminds us that their ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and died.  This would be a physical death, but not eternal if they believed.  He is the only manna or bread that will save us.  He is the eternal bread given for us.  Anyone who knows this will truly live.

I encourage you during this season of Lent to reflect on what bread you are eating.  Are you eating the bread of this world or are you eating and abiding in the bread of life—Christ himself?

Lord, please help us feed on you—the living bread of life. Amen.

•••

Compassion

by Betty Ruth Fox

Friday, March 31

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8: 28-39

The scripture above is inscribed on the granite bench to the left as you walk out of the Chapel. It is in memory of our beloved special sister, Harriett, who died in 2007. Her obituary read:

Harriett Elizabeth Searcy, 51, Thursday, January 25, 2007, ascended into heaven with a piece of the hearts of each member of her family, her tender caregivers, and everyone blessed to have known her. We feel that her mission on this earth was to teach us one of God’s greatest gifts, compassion. Harriett tenderly accomplished this through every aspect of her life, and we look forward to the day we join her.

You see, Harriett had mental and physical challenges from birth. She would always remain a child. She had chronic seizures and later in her life, many of them were grand mal. Each seizure weakened her mind and body a bit more. Despite these challenges, Harriet always had a smile and loved everyone. She never met a stranger.

Our friend who commissioned the granite bench with the inscribed verse had been touched by Harriett as we and many others had. God has given each person unique gifts to share. That is why it is so important that we live as a community, helping each other along this amazing path of life.

During this season of Lent, I pray we all remember someone who has touched our lives and thank God for them.

Additional readings: Psalm 95 and 102 ( morning); Psalm 107: 1-32 (evening); Jer 23: 1-8; Rom. 8:28-39; John 6:52-59

•••

The Poor, Needy and Weak: We Are Our Brother’s Keeper

By Isabel Weathersby

Saturday, April 1

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, …  …and precious is their blood in his sight. Psalm 72: 11-17

Whereas this psalm was written with an earthly king(s) in mind (descendants of David), it definitely has a messianic meaning.  It really does sound like a description of Jesus’ ministry many centuries later, the ultimate descendent of David!  All through his ministry Jesus was concerned with the poor, needy and weak, the least among us, those most easily abused by the powerful.

And now we, as Christians, are called upon to follow his example and help the needy.  At the Chapel we do just that.  We support Stewpot and Our Daily Bread.  A few years ago we helped build a small home in Flora for someone in need.  Some of the money we raise each year from Day in the Country goes to various organizations helping the poor, needy and weak.  I think this is one of our greatest blessings, helping others.

Just as the psalmist exhorted his contemporaries, let us remember the disadvantaged.  During this Lenten season as we meditate on our many blessings and acknowledge our many sins, let us not forget those least among us and the Christian church’s role in sustaining them.  We need to ask ourselves have we done enough.  What more can we as Christians do?  What more can the Christian community and specifically the Chapel do, for we all are our brother’s keeper?

Prayer (BCP page 260)

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

Additional readings:  Genesis 33:1-10; Ephesians 3:14-19; John 18:33-37

•••

Lord, Hear My Prayer

By Susan Lawrence Hedglin

Monday, April 3

Psalm 143; 1 Kings 17:17-24; Acts 20:7-12

“Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.”

In today’s passages, a theme emerges: we cry to the Lord, and seek answers. The Psalmist begs for God’s help in a time of trouble. In Kings, Elijah cries out to the Lord three times, and the Lord answers him by reviving a young boy. Paul’s actions echo Elijah’s in Acts, as he cries out to God and revives Eutychus. Sometimes, we feel God’s miraculous presence. Sometimes, our prayers are answered. And yet sometimes, we may not hear God’s response to our cries.

For years, I always wanted to see big signs that God was working in my life. Forget reviving the dead like Elijah and Paul—I would have been happy with a rainbow on command, or a voice speaking to me! I heard so many people describe miracles in their own lives, or God commanding them to do something. It felt confusing and frustrating to feel like God wasn’t working in my own life, because I didn’t see it the same way as many others did.

What it took me years to understand was that God is with us all the time, in times of miracles and times of silence. We are always, at all times, fully known by God, our creator—more than we can ever know, or fathom. Moments of clarity such as those experienced by Elijah and Paul are few, but they sustain our faith through the quiet times. Treasure moments when the spirit moves you, but know that God is with you in the stillness and silent times, too.

Spend some time in contemplative prayer today. Instead of asking for something specific, “Just Be” with God. Listen to the silence, or perhaps choose a word or two from today’s readings to turn over in your mind as you pray. Trust that God is present and working in your life.

•••

Eyes and Ears

(Mark 8)

By Bill Buhner

Tuesday, April 4

John 9:31   We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

A man born blind is given his sight by Jesus. He knows what has happened, but is taken to task by the Pharisees who are trying to understand who this man Jesus is—and, to them, more importantly, how will he effect that which they believe and, perhaps, again, more importantly, how might he change their station in life.

The man born blind reacts to questioning:

Trying to get the Pharisees off his back he answers as to who he thinks Jesus is with “he is a prophet.”

And later, again to the Pharisees, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

Again, later, to Jesus directly he attests to his questioning: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Seeing and hearing, can we not do the same?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us, all sinners. Lord Jesus, give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the will to act on that which has been laid before us. In your most holy name, Amen.

Additional Readings: AM Psalm [120], 121, 122, 123; PM Psalm 124, 125, 126, [127]  ,Jer. 25:8-17; Rom. 10:1-13; John 9:18-41

•••

The Good Shepherd

By Becky Herren

Wednesday, April 5

“And the sheep hear his voice and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3

“And Jesus said, ‘I came so that they could have life—yes, and have it overflowing. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’” John 10:11

The First Methodist Church in Booneville, Mississippi, holds a special place in my heart as it was the church of my childhood and youth. Inside this beautiful old church is a very large stained glass window of Jesus holding a lamb and surrounded by sheep. You have probably seen similar depictions and as a child I was drawn to the kind face of the Savior and the sheep. I asked my grandmother “What does the window mean?” and she told me the parable of the Good Shepherd. She ended the story by saying that the story says that we must listen for His voice always and follow Him because we are His sheep and children are the little lamb. ( Little wonder I love symbolism so much!)

To this day in the Middle East, a shepherd will go out into a crowded sheepfold and call out his sheep one by one, naming them. They recognize his voice and come to him. The shepherd knows his sheep—their markings, their likes, their dislikes. And what is more, the sheep know their shepherd.

We know that in this parable, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We, the sheep, are important to Him just as Jesus is important to God. This passage points out the close intimate relationship Jesus had with God, his Father. As we progress to the Easter story, we know that Jesus, the shepherd, will express God’s love for the world by giving up his life for it. This beautiful passage says that when Jesus calls, we come and it also emphasizes the compelling power of Jesus’s love.

“Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need they tender care; in thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use thy folds prepare. Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us thine we are. Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us thine we are.” UMC Hymn pg 381

Additional Readings: Psalm 119; 128; 129; 130; Jeremiah 25:30-38; Romans 10: 14-21; John 10:1-18

•••

Contentment

By Pam Allen

Thursday, April 6

Psalm 131: – ‘The Message’ – Eugene H. Peterson

“God, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain.  I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans.  I‘ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.  Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content.  Wait, Israel for God. Wait with hope.  Hope now; hope always!”

Psalm 131 has 7 powerful sentences.  This psalm is said to be David’s profession of humility and thankfulness to God for his grace.

A priest once told our Sunday school class that we were born into the life we have because of luck.  Thanks be to God for his grace.

This Psalm reminds us to be humble as we go about our daily life.  That is a difficult task! Sure we are thankful for our homes, the food we have on our table and our lifestyle. But are we truly humble? I for one need to practice this humility more every day.

For the past 28 years our family was fortunate to be volunteers (interim parents) and keep newborns until they were adopted by their forever family.  We learned how to “cultivate a quiet heart”.  We wanted so much for each of our babies.  We never knew how long we would have them, whether they would be adopted or returned to their birth mother.  We learned “not to meddle where we had no business.” Patience.  We had to trust the agency and the social worker in charge.  We felt God’s grace as we were thankful to be a part of our child’s life.  We bonded, we loved, we let go and we grieved.

“Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content.”  Holding a baby makes you be still-quiet your soul and sing praises to God. Reflecting on God’s mercy that this child’s mother gave birth to her child lovingly and unselfishly.

“Wait with hope.” Oh, how we did that! Waiting, praying, loving and trusting in the Lord that His will would be done.

As we enter this Lenten season may we all be reminded to be content, be humble, wait with hope, and have confidence in God.  We must all become like a newborn—trusting in the one taking care of us. Our Lord and Savior.

Dear God, I give myself to thee this day, thine only, thine ever to be. Amen

Additional Readings: Psalm 132, 133, 140, 142; Jer.26:1-12; John 10: 19-42

•••

Poor Me

By Ann Homer Cook

Friday, April 7

Jesus said… “You will always have the poor people with you, but you will not always have me.”

In Chapter 12, John tells the Mary story where she uses expensive nard oil on Jesus’ feet to the chagrin of Judas Iscariot. Judas is more connected to his desire for the money used to purchase the oil, since he was a known thief; therefore, he missed the connection of adoration and thankfulness for Jesus expressed by Mary’s humble service and being present.

This made me think of how many connections and relationships I may miss due to overuse of technology (IPad, TV, IPhones, Netflix, and Facebook or just thinking of the future to do list.) Mary was connecting personally with Christ. Judas was somewhere else and into himself as opposed to being fully present.

How easy it is for me to not be present or connect one on one by escaping into checking e-mails or watching a Netflix original or checking the calendar concerned about tomorrow. “The poor will always be with us.” Today, am I one of the poor ones when I am not fully present? Mary modeled for us the Rich in Heart. Judas showed us the Poverty of the Mind. Which do I choose this Lenten Season?

God:

May I practice being fully present with all I come in contact.

May I express adoration and thankfulness for your many blessings through humble service.

Amen

Additional Readings: Psalm 95, 22, 141, 143:1-12; Jeremiah 29:1, 4-13; Romans 11:13-24; John 12:1-10

•••

By the Waters of Babylon

By Nelwyn Madison

Saturday, April 8

Psalm 137: 1-3

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.  On the willows there we hung up our lyres.  For there our captors required of us songs and our tormentors, mirth, saying “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

Throughout the centuries the Jews have been held as captives and slaves by one group or another.  In this Psalm the captive Jews wept by the rivers of Babylon and, because of their sorrow, could not bring themselves to sing the songs of their homeland.

After the birth of Christianity, many followers of Christ began to also experience horrendous persecution.  One doesn’t need to listen to more than three minutes of news each day to know that many Christians in today’s modern and “enlightened” world are being tortured and killed for their beliefs.

During this season of contemplation, I thank God every day that I live in the United States of America where I am not threatened by death for my beliefs.  I pray for those believers around the world who are not so fortunate.  I also thank God that I live in a community of many like-minded Christians and pray that we will always be good stewards of this privilege.

Even in the darkest hours for Christians, Christ has promised us forgiveness of our sins and eternal life for our belief in his death and resurrection.  In John 12, verse 50, Jesus tells us that this promise is from God and spoken through him when he says, “And I know that his commandment is eternal life.  What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me.”

For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen Romans 11:36   

Additional Readings: Psalm 137: 1-9; Psalm 144, 42, 43; Jeremiah 1: 27-34; Romans 11:  25-36; John 11: 28-44  or  12: 37-50

•••

Back to the Basics

By Sonny Hill

Monday, April 10

But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake.  Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with him.  I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law.  I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith.  All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of this resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.  Philippians 3: 7-11

We’re only born in the image of God.  There it stops – we came into the world as a little baby just as God came into the world in the Baby Jesus.  But nothing else about us even remotely compares to our Father or His Heavenly Kingdom.  What we consider as great accomplishments of man here on earth are as awkward as a baby’s first steps.  Our Einstein’s, Billy Grahams, Michelangelo’s, or Thomas Edison’s that have inspired us with their talents and accomplishments have been given only tinges of God’s powers.  None of our greatest achievers here on earth can make a tree, or a bird, or a flower or even dirt, so how can we humans be so arrogant, so egotistical, so power conscious, so smug, so thoughtless, so unloving?  When we’re not thinking or living outside our little world into God’s world, it’s human nature to become self-centered and fall into the ‘self-made’ trap.  Why even the homes we live in and care for will house someone else someday, probably a total stranger.

Let’s not forget who the Boss is here and that He has a fool proof plan laid out for us as long as we don’t get in the way.

God, please bring us back to the basics.  Life’s plan is so simple so please don’t let us muddle it. However, when we do, do what You need to do with us to get us back on track.  Nothing on this earth is more important than our life line to You.  Please do not let us cut the cord.  Amen.

Additional Readings: Psalm 51: 1-20; 69: 1-23;  Jeremiah 12: 1-16;  John 12: 9-19

•••

Dying to Self

By Laney Crampton

Tuesday, April 11

John 12: 20-26 is a long passage where Jesus foretells of His own death. In these verses, He gives us spiritual guidance of how we, too, must die so that we might live. Verse 24: The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily I say unto you. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Jesus’ own death and resurrection are also told in this lesson about the grain of wheat. Each time we pray to God, we are dying to self and identifying ourselves as believers in Christ. To some, dying to self is even more poignant during the Lenten season, especially Holy Week, when we reflect on Jesus’ own death so that we might be the fruit of his dying.

A wise woman, my mother, told me not to fear loss because, in the end, we lose everything in this life except the spirit of God within us. In her own way, she was telling me the grain of wheat story and what Verse 25 says, He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. In this temporal life, loss is always with us.

Jesus tells us to prepare now whether it is the loss of loved ones, relationships, jobs, money, youth or anything else we tend to hold on to. Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who hid Jews during World War II and was later imprisoned herself, says, “I have learned to hold all things loosely, so God will not have to pry them out of my hands.”

Verse 26 says, If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. I look around the Chapel, and I see all manner of service and self-sacrifice. You may remember that in our recently completed parish survey, parishioners reflected a desire to extend servant hands and hearts into the community even more. We can all cite in our daily lives when we are given ample opportunities to be a Christ light.

Dying to self. Eternal life. Service. This threefold message of dying to self for an exchange of eternal life is manifested here on Earth through a life of service to God’s glory. The words from The Servant Song say it best. “Sister, let me be your servant. Let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.”

Dear Lord, help me to remember that You are always with me and that I am closest to You when I lose myself in your name in service to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Additional Readings: Psalm 71: 1-14; Isaiah 49: 1-7; Corinthians 1: 18-31    

•••

Treachery

From Psalm 55

By Bill Buhner

Wednesday, April 12

So, here’s what David said happened:

                           12 It is not enemies who taunt me—

                    I could bear that;

                  it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—

                    I could hide from them.

                      13 But it is you, my equal,

                    my companion, my familiar friend,

                      14 with whom I kept pleasant company;

                    we walked in the house of God with the throng.

And, in fine Old Testament fashion, he asks the Lord to do what?

15 Let death come upon them;

          let them go down alive to Sheol;

          for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.

I’ve most certainly done precisely this, and, I’ll bet that you have, too.

But, if we do as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17) asks:

7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

whose trust is the Lord.

8 They shall be like a tree planted by water,

sending out its roots by the stream.

It shall not fear when heat comes,

and its leaves shall stay green;

in the year of drought it is not anxious,

and it does not cease to bear fruit.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus, please take the sword of hatred out of my hand and mouth and let me be like a tree planted by the cool water. Amen.

Additional Readings: Psalm 55,74

•••

The Day of Jesus’ Mandate to His Disciples and to Us

By Bill Buhner

Maundy Thursday, April 13

Jesus, eating with his disciples and knowing what is to happen to him, issues to them a mandate, an order or command:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34)

He issues this mandate to them and to us, knowing full well the words of Psalm 142:

1 With my voice I cry to the LORD;

    with my voice I make supplication to the LORD.

2 I pour out my complaint before him;

    I tell my trouble before him.

3 When my spirit is faint,

    you know my way.

In the path where I walk

    they have hidden a trap for me.

4 Look on my right hand and see—

    there is no one who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

    no one cares for me.

5 I cry to you, O LORD;

    I say, “You are my refuge,

    my portion in the land of the living.”

6 Give heed to my cry,

    for I am brought very low.

Save me from my persecutors,

    for they are too strong for me.

7 Bring me out of prison,

    so that I may give thanks to your name.

The righteous will surround me,

    for you will deal bountifully with me.

On this day, at least, can we do less than to love one another?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us, all sinners. Lord Jesus, help us, knowing what is to happen tomorrow, help us to be strong and stand with you. Amen.

Additional Readings: AM Psalm 102; PM Psalm 142, 143; Jer. 20:7-11; 1 Cor. 10:14-17, 11:27-32; John 17:1-11(12-26)

•••

Forgiveness is Absolute

By Mary Anna Ingram

Good Friday , April 14

Now where there is remission of these things, there is no more offering for sin. Hebrews 10:16-25.    

Over the years, so often, I give deep thought and prayerful thanks to God for the awesomeness of His forgiveness.     As I ask His forgiveness, I find myself, once again, requesting His forgiveness for a few of my past sins.  Not due to a repeat of the transgression, but because I felt the transgression merited another mention, just to make certain He was fully aware of my remorse, and my sincere request for His forgiveness.     Today’s scripture teaches that:

“Now where remission of these things, there is no more offering for sin.”

Not only will my asking His forgiveness be granted, but also, upon that forgiveness, there is no need for me to request forgiveness for that particular sin, ever again.  With His forgiveness, that sin is “blotted” out, completely erased.  I am forever released to joyfully and gloriously look up to God as though that transgression had never happened.  What a blessing! Once I’ve asked Him to forgive me, there is no need for me to spend any time worrying about any past transgression, large or small.  There is no need for me to be concerned that He will think less of me.  There is no need for me to feel unworthy of His love and blessings.  His forgiveness blesses me with more time, which I pray I’ll use through my acts and deeds, for glorifying Him and working to encourage others.

God’s forgiveness is the greatest blessing bestowed upon us. As we embark on this glorious Easter weekend, please let us remember:  Today, we celebrate Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ, son of God, was crucified, dead and buried; the day that set the foundation for our eternal blessing of His forgiveness.   Amen.

Addtional Readings: Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:1-42

•••

Holy Saturday

By Becky Herren

(with help from Frederick Buechner)

Holy Saturday, April 15

Christmas has a large and colorful cast of characters including not only Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, but the Angel Gabriel, the Heavenly Hosts, the Innkeeper, Herod the King, the Wise Men, and the animals in the stable. We have seen them represented so many times we would recognize them anywhere!! We know about the birth in detail. The manger is as familiar as home. We have made a major production of it and we have added minor attractions… carols, Santa Claus, Ebeneezer Scrooge and so on.

The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. The empty tomb does not move people to sing carols and give gifts or string it with lights. However, for believers life has never been the same since. Death was defeated… simple… direct… the heart of the Good News and it is why the cross has become the Christian symbol.

Easter gives back to us everything that Good Friday takes from us. It is Jesus Himself, and he is restored to us and in this wonderful restoration He gives us eternal life. He is ours forever! He holds us so closely that not even death can part us!

O God, Creator of Heaven and Earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN  (BCP pg 283)

Additional Readings:  Psalm 31; Job 14: 1-14; Peter 5: 1-8; Matthew 27: 57-77; John 19: 38-42