Lenten Meditations

Lenten Meditations 2019

Introduction

Following you will find meditations for the 40 days of Lent – Sundays are not included by tradition.  Chapel parishioners volunteered to read the Scripture assigned for each day according to the Lectionary, pray about what they had read, and then write a meditation based on how God spoke to them through the readings. We are most grateful for these persons for their time and thoughtful effort.  Each entry has at the beginning the Scripture reading on which the reflection is based.  Following the message is a suggested prayer (in italics) and  a listing of all the Scripture readings assigned for the day. (The rest of the readings will be added in early April)

 

 

Ash Wednesday

By The Rev. Gates Elliott

Wednesday, March 6

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1

It is a bit ironic that we read a passage about the need to keep our piety to ourselves on a day in which we as a church adorn our foreheads with ashes for all the world to see.  But the ashes we wear are not a mark of our piety, but of our humility and even more importantly to remind us that we are all one.  We are all the same.   

This passage in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel is not specifically about Lent, but the church has chosen to read it on Ash Wednesday to help us set a very important tone to our Lenten observance.  We are reminded that Lent is a very spiritual but also a very personal time.  Lent is a time for us to spend some quality one-on-one time with our God.  God is inviting us through our actions of prayer, fasting, and service to do some hard work on our personal relationship with Him.

We are also reminded that Lent is a great time of temptation for us as well.  Lent provides us many opportunities to seek others’ approval though our commitment to fasting (giving something up), attendance at regular services throughout the weeks or bible studies, as well as our stewardship of the church.  Jesus is reminding us that we do not do these things to get the approval of others, but we do them to be in a closer and more fulfilling relationship with God.

These ashes that we wear on our foreheads remind us of our humility, that no matter what we do, that God will love us the same as the next person.  The ashes remind us that we are no better than any other person out there.  And so, when we begin our Lenten observances we do so, not to be singled out as “good Christians” but to come to a deeper understanding feeling of that wonderful love that God has for us.

•••

Who Is Jesus to Me?

By Betty Ruth Fox

Thursday, March 7

Luke 9:18 – Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

 Years ago, like many kids, our son Drew asked me, “What does God look like?”  I responded the best way I knew–I punted that question to our priest. “That is a question for Father Alston,” I told Drew. The next Sunday as we were walking out of the Chapel and  before I had a chance to give Alston a heads up, Drew asked: “Father Alston, what does God look like?”

Alston looked into Drew’s eyes and said, “Drew, I see God when I look at you.” Totally satisfied with that answer Drew went on.

I have thought about that answer quite a few times.  And I think that Alston was right on.  You see, we all are the hands and feet of God in our thoughts, words,  and actions.  I have heard the parts of the cross described as: the vertical part is our connection to God and the horizontal part is our connection to each other.

This reminds me of the words of Pope Francis: “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others,  and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.”

Dear God:  Help me each day to see You and to seek good in every person I meet.  Amen.

Other readings:  Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20; Luke 9: 18 – 25; Psalm 1

•••

The Hurdles of Hypocrisy

By Greg Crotty

Friday, March 8

Isaiah 58: 8-9a.  Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you;  The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say,  “Here I am.”

Despite the intended recipient of Isaiah’s message, whether Zion, Babylon or prophecy to future generations of Jews and Christians, the message remains timeless regarding the Christian faith walk.    Christ too, often taught on the hypocrisies of his time, particularly as they related to the church and its leaders.   Regardless the offender or example of the day, here we are in our own set of circumstances and equally guilty.   It’s not so much the time or the people, as it remains among many aspects of man’s fallen nature.

Hypocrisy can be found in many forms, but in relations to our faith consider the following.   How often do we find ourselves struggling with reality?  Rowing our life raft upstream only to realize that much of what frustrates can be reduced to circumstances simply not going the way we had planned.   Life is guaranteed to include difficult experiences but that is life and we often question why.   Shouldn’t we have some special dispensation as Christians?  Are we not due some since of Peace based on our sacrifices, good deeds (our “fasting” equivalent) and faith?

The answer is, YES but only if truly faithful and serve God first.   Isaiah and Jesus both taught that the Light shall only break forth when we hide ourselves from our flesh.   Our flesh being what WE want in life or what we expect our circumstances to be at any given moment.   Fallen humanity originated with wanting more than what God has provided.   When “want” births unhappiness, our plans and expectations become idolized and God’s plan is secondary.  God becomes secondary and we feel out of sorts or unhappy.   Perhaps it’s the Spirit’s way of letting us know we’re off course.   Its only when we allow God’s plan in place of our own that we find sustained peace and can focus on something other than ourselves.  That is the true Christian faith walk.

This I believe is Isaiah’s message.    To break the yoke and overcome our burdens can only be accomplished by overcoming our own flesh.   Replacing aspiration with inspiration.   The hypocrisy perhaps found in our thinking that because we are Christians,  we earn the right to chose what makes us happy instead of letting God.   You remember –  Thy will be done and The Lord is my Shepherd.   Do we view our faith much like those of Isaiah’s time viewed fasting?   

Father, please forgive us for prioritizing our plan over yours.   Thank you for being merciful and patient as we learn your way.  Help us to be strong in faith and trust that all we need,  you will provide.   Help us so that we may find peace which will allow us to replace want and desire with love and compassion.  Only then Lord will we be able to cry and You will answer,  “Here I am.”  Amen.

Other readings: Isaiah 58: 1-9a

•••

God Provides

By Searcy Fox

Saturday, March 9

Psalm 86: 1-11.  1 Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, *for I am poor and in misery. 2 Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; *save your servant who puts his trust in you. 3 Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; *I call upon you all the day long.4 Gladden the soul of your servant, *for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, *and great is your love toward all who call upon you. 6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, *and attend to the voice of my supplications.7 In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, *for you will answer me. 8 Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, *nor anything like your works. 9 All nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord, *and glorify your Name. 10 For you are great; you do wondrous things; *and you alone are God. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; *knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.

Wow, this day of scripture is amazing especially if you need a day to marvel at God’s wonderful mercy and love for us! Before I begin, I highly suggest saving these for those times of need, regardless if it is for you or for someone else, these verses really do wonders. This is one of the reasons I struggled to pick which of the three I wanted to write my mediation on, however, I decided on Psalm 86:1-11.

When I read this set of verses, I immediately thought back to when I was in Uganda two years ago. I was on a mission trip with an organization based out of Birmingham, Alabama, called Sozo Children. This organization took in orphans from a run-down orphanage and placed them into homes with Christian leaders from various communities around Uganda. The children ranged from 8 months old to 18 years old and came from villages and slums in Uganda. After a time, the children go back into their own communities and others and try to spark a fire of change in so many Ugandans. Instead of falling into the old ways, they work to empower individuals to try to get out of bad situations and to also turn to God.

Something that always stood out to me when we went into the villages and slums, and also from spending time with the children in Sozo’s care, was that everyone ALWAYS knew God would provide for them. Regardless if it was something as simple as praying for rain (which is rare sometimes) or praying for guidance, they were always so faithful.  Think about a time you were hungry and knew you could stop at any fast food restaurant without any hesitation with no worry about whether you could pay for your next meal. This is not the case for many people in Uganda. They may not eat for days at a time and if they do, it may not be anything substantial or provide enough for the entire family. Each time we went into the villages, I was amazed at even though they were living in so much poverty, the Ugandans would tell me all about how God is amazing and how they know he will take care of them. Similar to Jesus feeding the 5,000 or the manna falling from heaven with Moses, God wants his people to be faithful and know regardless of whatever situation they are facing, HE will provide. It may not be exactly what we want, but it is always what we need.

God does not ever ignore us, even when we think He may not be listening. He hears our every prayer and supplication. He wants us to need him and draw us near to him. If some Americans had to live in the poverty the Ugandan villagers are living in, they may lose hope. We must get out of this mindset and see that no matter what situations or circumstances we are faced with, God is there, and He will always be there for us.  In this season of Lent, take time to draw closer to God and realize that although we do not all have the same circumstances, we all need God, no matter what.  He will provide every time.

Pray with me: O, Lord, grant us the power to know we need you, no matter what. We need you when times are good, and we need you when times are bad. Regardless of the situation, let us know you will always be there. Let us open our hearts to know you are God and we are never alone.  Amen.

Other readings: Luke 5: 27-32 ; Isaiah 58:9b-14

•••

I Choose Love

By Allan Cooper

Monday, March 11

Matthew 25:31-46

This gospel passage about the sheep and the goats always brings to my mind a transformative conversation I had many years ago, long before I came to The Chapel of the Cross.  After my older sister, Carol, was admitted to the hospice I was introduced to the chaplain, Reverend Buddy Hinton, whom everyone called Father Buddy.  I appreciated his manner with Carol when he visited her and all of us liked the stories he told all of us during the course of many visits.  He was a raconteur extraordinaire and I hope he will write a book of his stories one day.  (Recently I learned that several members of the Chapel know Father Buddy.)  One evening after visiting Carol I ran into Father Buddy in the parking lot and I mentioned that I was very worried about my sister’s eternal destiny since she never attended church and asked him plainly if my sister was going to heaven or hell.  The conversation went like this:

“Does Carol love you?”

“Of course she does! She loves all of our family greatly.”

“Yes, I have seen that clearly.  But where did she get that love from?  Where does any love come from?”

“From our parents, I suppose.  It’s just the way we are; it’s the way we’re made.”

“Exactly!  Humans are too mean and selfish to love somebody else unless it’s part of how we’re made.  Look at all the family conflicts and crimes and political and religious wars all over the world where people are killing each other and it’s gone on for millennia.  If that’s all there was to people, humanity would have killed off everybody thousands of years ago, but there’s more.  There’s love.  That’s why I believe in God, I think: because there’s love, even in the meanest of us, even in the craziest of us, even in the hardest of us.  God made us to love, and God loves all of us forever, no matter what.”

“Maybe so, but right now I’m thinking about Carol and every pastor I’ve ever known has said that going to heaven depends on repenting of your sins and accepting Christ as your savior before you die.  And I don’t think she’s ever done that.”

“It’s God that saves us, not us.  God loves Carol whether she repents or not.  And it’s not a limited time offer; God will always love Carol and will always want her to love him, even if she dies today.”

“So what in the world are you saying?”

“I’m saying that Jesus came to save us all—all the saints, and all the sinners.  We are all saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, whether we deserve it or not, which none of us do.  That’s why it’s called grace.”

“But Father Buddy, you know that you’ve never seen her at your church or my church or any other church either.  She hasn’t been in a church since we were kids.  She has always told me that she was spiritual but not religious. Are you sure about what you’re saying? 

      “I believe it.  And I’m betting my life on it.  Allan, in reality there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’, and those to whom God says ‘Thy will be done’.  All that are in Hell, choose it.  Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”

     “But Father Buddy, with all due respect, and as much as I appreciate the care that you’ve shown to Carol and my family, but that sounds like nonsense to me.  After all, who would choose Hell?”

    “Those who don’t want to choose love.  Those who think they are too important to love others or too busy to love others, especially to love people unlike themselves or those who they think aren’t important enough to be loved or who don’t deserve to be loved.  People who think having power, or being filled with hate, or being in control, or wallowing in bigotry, or being wealthy, is more important than loving and being loved.”

At the Chapel we hear Jesus’ great commandment at the beginning of every service: love God and love your neighbor.  Matthew records Jesus teaching six simple, tangible examples of how to do that.  Jesus describes the ultimate separation of humanity into two groups.  He mentions people in various types of troubles: the hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick, and imprisoned and identifies himself with them and calls them “my family”.  Those on the right, like the sheep, who are welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom, were the individuals who saw those in trouble and chose to love Jesus’ family members enough to care for them.  They simply lived the way of love.  Acts of loving care for those in distress turned out to be, unbeknownst to them, acts of love for Jesus himself.  They didn’t know they showed love to Jesus, they just responded with love to those they saw in troubled situations.

And what about those on the left, like the goats?  Well… they must have been so very busy with their important activities and with their important people that they never saw Jesus in a time of need.

Prayer: Help me today and all the tomorrows to choose love. Amen

•••

Another Look at a Familiar Passage

by Maridine Wall

Tuesday, March 12

Matthew 6:7-15. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way:

‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This familiar passage from Matthew’s Gospel account of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount provides us with instructions on how to pray and what to say.  Though it is longer than the version of the Lord’s prayer in Luke’s Gospel, the essence is the same.

In Eugene H. Peterson’s contemporary paraphrase of the Bible called The Message//:Remix, we see Jesus telling us that we don’t have to turn our prayers into theatrical performances by trying to impress others.  We just need to find a quiet place and focus on God.  He knows what we need, so we can pray simply.  He asks God to reveal himself to us, to set the world right, nourish us, forgive us, and to save us from ourselves and the Devil.  We must also do our part, or we will cut ourselves off from God.

The Lord’s Prayer contains a pattern.  We should praise God, pray for His work in the world, pray for our daily needs and pray for help in our struggles.  As we ask God to guide us to accomplish His purposes, we must acknowledge that He is our provider who sustains us.  We must also ask for forgiveness and forgive others.

The guidelines are pretty clear; however, we must avoid just reciting the words we have known for years and actually try to live those words.

Other readings: Psalm 34:15-22 and Isaiah  55:6-11

•••

There Are Only Two Rules To Remember.

By Dick Lawrence

Wednesday, March 13

Psalm 51:10: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

King David wrote Psalm 51 after committing some of the most malevolent acts of anyone in the Bible.   First, he abandoned his duty as king to go with his army to fight Ammon. Instead, he remained comfortably behind in Jerusalem. Next, while his soldiers are fighting, he has someone bring Bathsheba to him and he commits adultery with her.  Then, he tried to cover up her pregnancy by having her husband Uriah the Hittite come back from battle to be with his wife.   And when that did not work, he had her husband murdered by having him placed at the front line of battle where Uriah was sure to get killed. If that were not bad enough, he does not comprehend the magnitude of his sins until the prophet Nathan explains it to him gently in the form of a parable. Despite these and other heinous crimes committed by King David, he is considered the greatest patriarch in the Old Testament. And Jesus is known as the “son of David.”

Perhaps it is not funny when I sometimes joke that in some respects Christianity is simple in that there are only two rules to remember. Love God and love your neighbor as Christ loved us. The rest is fluff.  But one thing the story of King David teaches us is that we must continuously engage in self-examination. We must not be so arrogant that we do not see our sins. Also, we must repent. And we must continuously ask God to renew a right spirit within us. In other words, I must constantly ask God to renew a right spirit within me because I “forget” those two simple rules very quickly.

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of they Word, Jesus Christ. Amen  BCP

Other readings: Jonah 3:1–10; Luke 11:29–32; Psalm 51:11–18

•••

Knock, Knock.

Who’s There?

By, Bill Horne

Thursday, March 14

Matt. 7:7-12. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. If we take our needs to God, He will answer our prayers.

Once again our lectionary intertwines powerful lessons applicable to almost any, if not all, of us. The selection from Matthew rings in my ears and heart going all the way back to my childhood, a half-dozen decades ago. “Ask, seek, knock” as we studied in Sunday school.

“Knock” as you would knock at your closest neighbor’s or friend’s house, with the assurance of being accepted and invited in with open arms and hearts; not as you might at a stranger’s house in the dark of night. Your wishes are already known by God so be not hesitant that your words are not framed exactly as they should be, just open your heart and He will answer your prayers

I have long loved the Psalms for I more easily identify with the earthy and so very human pleas the psalmists share with us. And today’s Psalm is no exception. Have not most of us been “between the devil and the deep blue sea” at least once in our lives? The psalmist is, or has recently been there, and yet he is prophetically sharing with us the really Good News.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.”

These ‘enemies’ are not necessarily evil persons bent on my physical destruction; no, they may more realistically be the many forces of evil that draw upon us all, pulling and pushing us to rationalize and make decisions and choices we honestly know are wrong. All we must do is ask, search, knock, and, lo and behold, He will be standing there, smiling and forgiving us, but all the more, building for us the walls of strengthened faith that will protect us from new incursions of evil wills and decisions.

“When I called [asked], you answered me; you increased my strength within me.”

Praise God; how wonderfully sweet are the words of one who has been pulled from under the thumb of evil Amen. 

Other readings: Esther (Apocrypha) 14:1–6, 12–14, Psalm 138

A Time to Wait

By Susan Lawrence Hedglin

Friday, March 15

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord;  more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Psalm 130: 5-6

I love getting things on demand. I have a weekly meal prep kit that arrives on my doorstep each week, where I choose the meals with a click of a button. I downloaded not one, not two, but three different TV streaming services on my iPad, where I can watch hundreds of shows with just a few swipes. I don’t even have to step foot in the library anymore—I can download library books straight to my Kindle!

And yet, there is one thing in my life which is resistant to time pressure. One thing that cannot be rushed, or hurried along, or done at my convenience—and that’s my relationship to God. He is always with us; but feeling his presence requires some investment on our part. We must show up. And wait.

Sometimes I’m waiting for a response: to prayer, to a cry for help, to a secret desire we don’t dare speak out loud. Other times, I’m not sure what I want but I wait anyway. Lent is a time to recommit ourselves to waiting. To feeling the joy, and the hopefulness, that comes in waiting for the miracle of new life that will come at the end of our waiting season. True miracles are coming to those of us who wait faithfully…is your soul waiting for the right things?

Lord, help me wait with patience during this Lenten season. Help me focus on the coming joy, the resurrection, the momentous miracle that will visit us on Easter. I’m waiting for your renewed presence in my life. Amen   

Other readings: Ezekiel 18:21-28; Psalm 130; Matthew 5:20-26

•••

Love

by Becky Herren

Saturday, March 16

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven.”

This passage is a portion of the “Sermon on the Plain” delivered by Jesus to his inner circle of disciples as well as to those who are gathered around to overhear this teaching. Having pronounced God’s blessing on the poor, having lived out God’s intention of generous blessing by healing all who came to Him, Jesus now instructs those who wish to follow him regarding their behavior, particularly toward their enemies.

This particular verse from Matthew Chapter 5 has always perplexed me UNTIL I discovered that I was thinking of love as a feeling not an act of will.  The Greeks had a different word for the different kinds of love—eros, philia, agape. The basic message is this: do not retaliate against those who wish you harm. Do not seek vengeance. This of course flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which dictates that one should be good to friends and hurtful to enemies. Jesus points not to society but to God’s nature as the model of Godly behavior. God is kind and merciful to all, no matter whether they are good or wicked. God will give more than we ask for, so we should, too. We as Christians are called to a HIGHER STANDARD than that of sinners; we are called when faced with evil to respond with restraint and kindness He is telling us to be willing to work for the  well being  of everyone in our path.

Sometimes people mistake this teaching as an admonition to be passive. But the behavior Jesus calls for is not passive but active. GIVE; LOVE; LEND ( and expect nothing in return); OFFER your other cheek; EXTEND mercy.

Here is the challenge. ALL people are called to be kind to one another– treating one another as brothers and sisters. There is hardly a day in our lives that we cannot offer a smile or a kind word not just to those we know but the people who are strangers.  So beginning today, let us be kind, offering a gentle word or a smile to friends and strangers wherever we are, demonstrating a Christ-like character as a Christian witness in the world. Taking the high road deflects or de-escalates hostilities. Responding with kindness transforms the interaction. Kindness mirrors God’s character! It takes courage and conviction to extend mercy beyond one’s circle and especially to one’s enemies.

Prayer: Please bless me Father as I go about my day and continually remind to be kind to others. Amen

•••

Do Unto Others

By Robert Pooley

Monday, March 18

“I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.”    Luke 6:27-28

For me, this Gospel reading has some difficult teachings.  Don’t resist evil, be submissive, don’t stand for your rights.  Isn’t it easier to reciprocate than to turn the other cheek?  You know, that eye for an eye Old Testament thing.  Do unto others as they do unto you?  Or even yet, “Do unto others before they do unto you”?

A wise person once told me that when someone holds a grudge for being hurt, it is that person holding the grudge that has worse feelings of animosity than the aggressor.  Another wise person told me the best way to overcome hard feelings is to smile.  It is said that a loving smile releases endorphins that make us feel less anxious, and lowers our heartrate.  Loving the unjust isn’t easy, but our Father in heaven loves us anyway, and I bet He is smiling lovingly on every one of us.

Heavenly Father help us love our enemies; to pray for those who mistreat us; to turn the other cheek; and to practice the Golden Rule –Do unto others as we would have them do to us and with a smile. Yo the glory of your Holy Name.  Amen

Other readings:  Daniel 9: 3-10; Luke 6: 27-38; Psalm 79: 1-9

•••

According to His Plan, Not Ours

By: Teri Gleason

Tuesday, March 19

Luke 2:41-52.  41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. 44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. 46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. 48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? 50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. 51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

A child going missing is every parent’s worst nightmare! One cannot imagine the horror when Mary and Joseph realized their son, Jesus, was not with them.  They went back to Jerusalem to search for him. Three days later, Mary and Joseph found him in a temple conversing with adults about his Heavenly Father.  They scolded him for causing them such grief and worry.

God worked through Jesus at the tender age of twelve, giving him the wisdom to preach to his elders.  They were astonished at Jesus’ knowledge. As Jesus was fulfilling the will of God, his parents were frantically searching for him.  Understandably, Mary was upset Jesus put them through such an ordeal.  I wonder why Jesus “went missing” in this scripture? He could have preached at the temple before Mary and Joseph began their journey back to Nazareth and spared everyone a lot of worry and drama, but that is not the way God had it planned.  Many times in our lives, we do not understand why things happen a certain way, or why they happen at all.  Our faith calls us to consider that God has a plan and He works according to His plan, not according to our understanding or expectations.  To God be the Glory!

Lord, strengthen our faith to love and serve You, leaning not on our own understanding, but placing our trust in You. Amen.

Other readings: 2 Samuel 7:4, 8-16; Romans 4:13-18; Luke 2:41-52; Psalm 89:1-29 or Psalm 89:1-4, 26-29

•••

Reshaped by Faith

Susan Lunardini
(from 2013)

Wednesday, March 20

Jeremiah 18:4  Whenever a piece of pottery turned out imperfect, he would take the clay and make it into something else.  Romans 8:5  Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled [shaped] by what the Spirit wants.  John 6:40  For what my Father wants is that all who see the Son and believe in him should have eternal life.  And I will raise them to life on the last day.

The readings from the Psalter today tell of a wretched soul who is crying out to God to bring the equivalent of an “Irish Curse” down on the people who persecute him.  Even as a child I knew these Psalms did not reflect the healthy way to pray to God or to think of another human.  But, they do show us that even before Christ came to us, this poor soul knew to beg God for relief. The potters re-use of clay when his efforts go awry tell us that no human is beyond being reshaped into one “who lives as the Holy Spirit tells them to and who let their minds be shaped as the Holy Spirit wants”.   The mis-shaped pot is like those of us who are ruled by our human nature instead of by God’s design.  If Christ lives within us, then we are right with God; reshaped into usefulness.   Anne Morrow Lindburg, who suffered the kidnapping and death of her child, said, “The day will come when you must get on your knees and crawl through that low door of faith.”  This Lent can be such a journey where we become willing and allow ourselves to be reshaped into the nature God wants for us instead of the human nature we all desire.  God promises He will be with us through this journey and that he will sustain us.  Christ promises us that if we have faith in Him that we shall have eternal life.    What more can we desire or pray for?

God, I offer myself to You to build with me and to do with me as You will.  Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Your will.  Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life.  May I do Your will always.  Amen.

Other readings: Psalm 101, 109: 1-30 or 119: 121- 144; Jer. 18: 1-11; Rom. 8: 1-11; John 6: 27-40.

•••

The Needs of Others

by Nelwyn Madison

Thursday, March 21

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  Jeremiah 17:5

Our primary meditation today is the familiar parable of the beggar, Lazarus, lying at the gate of the rich man as related by Luke in chapter 16, verses 19-31.

It tells us of a very wealthy man who wore the finest of clothes and lived in the lap of luxury, while the beggar Lazarus laid at his gate, covered in sores and eating scraps.

When the two men died, the angels carried Lazarus into the loving and safe arms of Abraham, while the rich man found himself in eternal torment, begging for a drop of water to cool his tongue.  Abraham replied to the rich man that he had received all good things on earth and Lazarus was receiving his now.

So, where did things go so horribly wrong for the rich man? He didn’t do any to harm to Lazarus; didn’t even run him away from his gate.  He evidently never even noticed him and therein lay his fault.  God wasn’t angry with the rich man for being rich.  Wealth was not his sin.  It was not noticing, not caring and not reaching out.

Wealth is a relative thing.  We here in Madison and the surrounding area think of people who live in Hollywood and Palm Springs as wealthy.  Some people in parts of west Jackson and many inner-cities would classify US as wealthy. And, to people in many third-world countries, all residents of North America are wealthy.  And, WE ARE!

Of course, none of us is able to solve all of the world’s poverty nor feed all of the hungry, but there is something each of us can do, no matter how small. What Jesus demands of us is to NOT CLOSE OUR EYES and TO OPEN OUR HEARTS to those around us.  Only through prayer and meditation can we discern what we are able to do and how to go about doing it.

We should pray, “Lord, thank you for our bounty and we pray you will guide us in following your path and never be oblivious to those who are in need around us.”  Amen.

Other readings: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 16:19-31; Psalm 1

•••

The Cornerstone

By Martha Rayner

Friday, March 22

Matthew 21: 33-43

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’ “

Genesis 37: 3-4, 12-28

“So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt”

Our culture places an emphasis on worldly acceptance through material items, people’s approval of us, social media, and so much more. I have found that I so often give myself praise and value when I “succeed” in the eyes of the world, but that is far from the truth and freedom we have in Jesus. Today’s reading from Genesis reminds us Joseph’s brothers did not accept him and sold him, but that was not the end of God’s plan for Joseph. Take a breath and be relieved, you do not have to prove yourself to anyone! Our identity as Christians is rooted solely in the Lord.

In the reading from Matthew, Jesus refers to Psalm 118:22-23, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” I’m far from an architect, but trusty Britannica informed me that cornerstones were originally crucial in supporting the rest of the building. Although there are modern cornerstones, they do not structurally support but are rather used “ornamentally in the facade.” When following the Lord, we must make Him our true, structural cornerstone, placing Him at the root of every action and thought we have. Yes, others need to see His light shine from us, but it must be shining from deep within us rather than just a facade. I am reminded of the hymn lyrics, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord” and encourage you to listen to it today. Trials of this world will come to each of us, but if we have Him as our cornerstone, our entire life is built from that foundation.

I pray during this season of Lent, we are all encouraged to place God as our true, structural cornerstone.

Other reading: Psalm 105: 16-22

•••

We Now Pause for a Little Celebration

By Whit Rayner

Saturday, March 23

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

Well, here we are, firmly within the Lenten season—a time for self-reflection, and maybe a little self-depravation, eagerly awaiting the celebration we call Easter.  And right here in the middle of Lent, we have a celebration, a celebration of God and all that he has bestowed upon us.

“All that is within me, bless his holy name”. There is nothing introspective about this—one can imagine the psalmist literally shaking for joy using all that is within him. I wonder how this passage even made it into the Lenten lectionary?  It certainly seems a little out of place, but let’s go with it.

What follows next is a list of “all his benefits” which cause such joy:  “who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

“He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” Pretty good cause for celebration.

In the Episcopal Church, we often set the Psalms to music, just as they were set to music at the time they were authored. And this Psalm receives wonderful treatment in not only the Psalm tones used in our services, but also in Hymn 411.  But I must say that to me, nothing captures the joy and excitement of this Psalm as did the version appearing in Godspell in the 1970’s (you may better remember the hit song “Day By Day”).   A Broadway musical set on the streets of New York and starring a young, almost “hippy” cast of misfits, including Jesus in a Superman shirt and suspenders, this play and the subsequent movie above the life, death and resurrection of Christ really hit home with me as a young teenager.

And so, in what I believe to be a Chapel first, I have tagged below an internet rendition of Godspell’s “O Bless the Lord My Soul”.  Please take a pause from your Lenten discipline, copy and paste this link to your browser and share a moment of pure joy—let all that is within you bless his holy name.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgjNR0YfZLw

Other Readings: Micah 7:14–15,18–20;  Luke 15:11–32; Psalm 103:1–4(5–8)9–12

•••

Quiet Moments of Greatness

By Laney Crampton

Monday, March 25

Luke 1:26-38

We are called to serve God. That is our purpose. That is our personal call to greatness. In this scripture known as the Annunciation, Mary is being told by the angel Gabriel that she will bear a child, and he will be the Messiah. Mary ultimately responds, “Here I am, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Even as young as she was, Mary did not flinch. Because God was already ever present in her life, Mary was unwavering in her call to serve God. In our own moment to moment lives, we have this opportunity to serve God by showing forgiveness, by having personal and professional integrity, by being kind, by caring for our families, by witnessing God’s love to others.

I have twin sisters who are seven years younger than I. Both of them have experienced tragedy in their lives. And they both have had quiet moments of greatness because of these tragedies.

Janet had a nineteen year old daughter who died from multiple brain aneurysms. Allyson was a beautiful, bright and funny old soul, a tremendous loss in our family. Janet and her husband made the decision to donate her organs. Janet became involved in the state and local chapters of MORA, Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency. She traveled to out-of-state transplant games and was ultimately in touch with the grateful recipients.

Susan was married to a one-of-a kind guy who was a joy to everyone. Dutch was on his motorcycle one tenth of a mile from his driveway when a young neighbor pulled out onto the road and killed him instantly. Susan found out that this young man was in the emergency room several times for high anxiety. Less than a week from the night Dutch died, Susan invited the young man to her home and told him that it was an accident and that it would be a great disservice to Dutch’s memory for him to frame the rest of his life in guilt and anxiety.

My heart swells in the retelling of my sisters’ stories because, in these very tragic moments, they both chose to be of service to others.  Just as Mary did in this scripture, they reacted from that sacred inner space of God’s grace.

Dear Lord, let us remember the calling for our lives is to be of service to others so that we may grow the  Holy Spirit here on earth and in heaven. We ask this in his name.  Amen.

Other readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 45   Psalm 40:5-11; Cantlcle 15 or 3; Hebrews 10:4-10

•••

How Many Times?

By Bill Buhner

Tuesday, March 26

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Reaching back to my EFM days, I recall discussing the concept of “blood revenge”, which, in pre-Biblical times was if someone was wronged, generally, but not limited to, the killing/murder of a family member, the killer/murderer was himself killed by the family of the of the one killed, and, though frowned upon, usually many members of the killers family were also slaughtered.

Then, with the “appearance” of God, via Abraham, a new concept is offered: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In other words, it is wrong to kill the other if you are wronged: Do only what was done to you.

This, at that time, was most radical and hard to accept.

Step forward to today’s lesson, that of complete and utter forgiveness.

As in Matthew 5:43-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven,” this is now the calling.

Again, a most drastic concept, especially for a proud and occupied people.

I suspect that most of us entirely accept the change from Blood Revenge to that of the more evenhanded “an eye for an eye.”

However, this new concept from Jesus of complete forgiveness, even now, yea 2000 years later, is most difficult to accept.

So, what do we do this day: hate or forgive?

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on us, all sinners.

Other readings: Psalm 25:3–10; Song of the Three Young Men 2–4, 11–20a; Matthew 18:21–35

•••

Faithful Obedience

By Suzanne Files

Wednesday, March 27

Matthew 5: 17-19 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

OK, for me, this sounds very much like the Old Testament writings! And as much as I love these scriptures I am a New Testament kind of girl. If you read further you will see that Jesus explains, and as always, context is so very important.  Jesus continues to clarify, “For I tell you, Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In the readings from Deuteronomy Moses appeals for faithful obedience, and from Psalms, God tell us to listen to his teachings and the consequences of faithlessness. We have Mosaic law found in the first five books of the Old Testament in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

But now, Jesus tells us he expects more, much more and begins with the Beatitudes. He tells us that those who mourn will be comforted; the pure in heart will see God; the peacemakers will be the Children of God; and the vulnerable, poor people all around us will be rewarded by the Kingdom of God.  Jesus has drastically changed the rules of morality. Later on in Matthew, Jesus expounds on the Ten Commandments and reveals that his call is not just to not commit murder but anyone who is angry with his siblings must seek reconciliation before they are welcome at the altar.

Really? I grew up with two little sisters and that was simply unrealistic, at least for me.  His call to never lust or hate; turn the other cheek and never judge others are impossible to do perfectly.

And, I think that is the point. Only Jesus can live up to this highly ethical standard. He defines what we should inspire to be as disciples of Christ. When we fail, and we will, he loves us still. And with faith and obedience we pull ourselves up and attempt again to be what our Lord expects of a loving and open heart.  There is a line from writer Mark Nepo that I love; Underneath all we are taught, there is a voice that calls us beyond what is reasonable, and in listening to that spirit, we often find deep healing .”  For me, that healing is grace. It is by faith and through grace that I become a beloved child of God.

O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength.  Isaiah 26:3,30:15.

Other readings: Deuteronomy 4, 1-2, 5-9; Psalm 78: 1-6

•••

A House Divided

by Suzie Pooley

Thursday, March 28

Luke 11:17.  Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.”

I have an addiction.  I also believe I share this addiction with a lot of people, especially the women I see on the cardio equipment at the gym.  All TVs seem to be tuned to HGTV.  I spend my time at the gym exercising, but also watching the Property Brothers take down walls and replace beams and create a dream home for some lucky homeowner.  When the brothers and the homeowner are on the same page with the design and the budget, the work flows seamlessly and the end product is spectacular.  However, there are those difficult times when hidden problems crop up and the budget is spent more on making the structure safe than the aesthetics that the homeowner has dreamed about.  It can make for a contentious episode and while the end product may be beautiful, there is always the thought of what could have been.

We all know from our own lives that when we work as one with a common focus, the results can be spectacular (Just see what we can do in October with DITC!).  Bishop Seage has called us into Being One Church in Mission.  To me this means in spite of our differences, we must work together with a common focus.  The prayer book says that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.  Imagine what could be accomplished if we all came together as one to fulfill that mission and spread the love of Christ to all.  That would truly be a spectacular renovation!

May God bless you with discomfort, at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.  May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.  May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. Amen

Other readings: Jeremiah 7:23-28; Luke 11:14-23; Psalm 95:6-11

•••

Hearing When God Speaks

By David and Pam Allen

Friday, March 29

Psalm 81: 8-14

Our fast paced lives, our everyday worries, and our inability to stay still are all reasons we might not hear God when he speaks to us.  Do we choose to take time to know when God speaks to us?  Have we slowed down enough to listen?

“Hear, O my people, and I will warn you- if you would but listen to me O Israel! “

In these Bible verses in Psalm 81, God is telling His people that if you listen to Him, He can help. He wants to develop a loving relationship with us. If He hasn’t given up on Israel after all this time, He won’t give up on us.

The fact that God speaks is more important than how He speaks.  When God speaks He will give us specific instructions as what we need to do: “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it”.  God is saying we need to trust Him for our spiritual needs as well as physical needs.

Our priests do a wonderful job in helping us understand the scriptures. Through their sermons we build on our understanding and relationship with God and His will.

Verse 11:  “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. Israel did not want me around.  So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas!”

When we “give up on God” and try to live life on our terms does He leave us? No!!  No matter how many times we fail to obey His word, He will go out of His way to lead us back to being a Christ follower. God is faithful.

We have been given the gift of free will.  We have the ability to make our own choices. But sometimes our stubborn desires get us into trouble.  If we turn away from those desires and back to God, He will hear us, and come for us.

“Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths! How quickly I would then subdue their enemies! How soon my hands would be upon their foes!”

Stop, listen, be still and feel God’s presence.

Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our heart. Mother Teresa

Other readings: Hosea 14: 1-9; Mark 12: 28-34; Psalm 81: 8-14

•••

Be Still and Be Silent

by Lynne Stillions

Saturday, March 30

Hosea 6: 1-6.  Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

Lent is the time for all of us to return to the Lord. Just as Jesus used these forty days to go into the desert and to be silent and pray, I also need to silence my busy mind so that I can hear Jesus speaking to me, so I too may be healed. My Lenten discipline these forty days will be a commitment to practice centering prayer every day.

I think of what Ben says on Sundays as we are leaving, “be still and be silent for God is but a whisper”.  Centering prayer is a tool to hear God’s whispers. By being still for 20 minutes everyday and repeating my sacred word, I allow my busy mind to quiet and open up some space for God to enter. Even though I have practiced this type of praying over the years, I have never been consistent with it. When I am praying this way, I am amazed at how much more I hear God’s voice and find I am having so many more conversations with him throughout the day. I wonder, with all the benefits of this type of praying, why I don’t practice it all the time. It has always been hard for me to sit still, to be in complete silence, and to get away from all distractions.  For what ever reason, life seems to always get in my way, and I lose the daily discipline of the quiet time. During this Lent I will commit to listening for God’s whisper thru centering prayer and maybe God will help me to make this a permanent endeavor.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that I may say and think and do all things that will bring you closer to me. I pray that I will find you in silent prayer; and thru this prayer time I will be cleansed and healed thru your Holy Spirit. AMEN

Other readings: Luke 18:9-14; Psalm 51: 15-19

•••

Stories

by Ralph Stillions

Monday, April 1

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” 53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. John 4: 43-53

I have just begun reading a book that the description led me to believe was an historical account of the lives of the twelve apostles, and, more specifically, a physical journey by the author to the locations of where they are all purportedly buried. I have taken what is known as the “Scavi” tour in the catacombs below St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican and have observed first hand what many believe to be the bones of St. Pater in his burial place. Because of my history background, the historical aspects of a book that tried to locate similar burial sites of the other apostles very much intrigued me.

The further along I have gotten in this book, the more disappointed in it I have become. In researching the author, a little more, I find that, by his own admission, he is not a theologian and not a historian. He is a journalist. There is virtually no theology in this book, and, what history it does contain, is mostly pointing out the inconsistences in the New Testament, or in some cases, pointing out that some events occur in only one Gospel and not the others.  In writing this book, it seems his agenda, for like of a better word, is to challenge the validity of the New Testament because of the inconsistencies contained therein, particularly in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

Years ago, in my parish home prior to the Chapel, the priest conducted a class on the Old Testament. In the course of this study, some would challenge well known Old Testament events like Jonah and the Whale; Parting of the Red Sea; Daniel in the Lion’s Den; etc. They opined that, certainly, these events never actually occurred. The priest’s retort was it didn’t really matter whether these events actually occurred; it was the “stories” themselves and the lessons behind them that were important. He enunciated the word “stories” with such passion, it has stuck with me to this day.

In the Gospel reading above, Jesus performs one of his many miracles, the healing of the son of a royal official in Capernaum. I frankly have not checked to see if there are other accounts of this event in the other Gospels and, if there are, whether there are inconsistences with John’s version. To me it is not important. What is important to me is the “story” and the how the “message” contained in the story instructs my faith and my life.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we read and study your word in scripture, help us to look beyond and even ignore the sometimes inconsistency and focus instead on the message you are trying to send us in the wonderful stories contained in your scriptures.

Other readings: Isaiah 65: 17-25; Psalm 30

•••

Water

by Sarah Anderson

Tuesday, April 2

“For they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes”- Ezekiel 47:9

“Its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging”- Psalm 46:3

My earliest memories all center around water; growing up on the Gulf Coast, it was just a part of life.  I remember paddling peacefully and splashing wildly, looking out over calm waters and being shepherded home when the waves got too rough.  I still love the sense of peace that comes to me while happily bobbing up and down in the waves.

I’ve always appreciated the imagery of water in the Bible, because it’s something I can relate to whether it is the life-bringing fountain as seen in Ezekiel or the turbulent storm in Psalm 46.  The ocean has brought me some of the greatest memories of childhood, but also some of the worst.  When I was nine years old, Hurricane Katrina washed over my town like a flood of Biblical proportions and wiped it nearly clean.  My whole life was upended, and for a long time it was devastating.  After time life returned, people rebuilt, and we grew stronger.   

Lent is a time where we reflect on the most trying times of Jesus’ life and the sacrifice he made for all our sakes.  In times of hardship, it’s almost impossible to see the good that will come, but we have to hold on to hope that it will.  Human life will always be defined by periods of great joy and sorrow, but through God’s love, the storm will always die down and the water will be there to wash us clean.

Be the light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Other readings: Ezekiel 47:1-9,12; John 5:1-18; Psalm 46:1-8

•••

Those People

By Maridine Wall

Wednesday, April 3

Romans 2:13 “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

A theme running through today’s scriptures is that of judgment – whether it is asking God to judge our enemies, describing Christ’s role as judge, looking to the end times and a final judgment or treating those who merely cite the law and those who obey it.

Since Lent is a time of introspection, I chose to focus on the Romans’ passage.  It asks us to look at ourselves and see if the sin we accuse others of possessing is something we possess.  In a time when “trashing” others in the media seems so prevalent, are we or “am I” guilty of discriminating against others on the basis of their religion, education, politics, race, ethnicity, and so many other factors?  Do I automatically judge others without looking at the whole person?  Do I label an entire group as “those people”?

Unfortunately, when honest, I often find myself guilty of judging “those people” whom I label as being judgmental.  What about you?

It is much easier to tell others how to behave than to behave properly ourselves.  Perhaps instead of constantly judging and being critical of others, we might look for what is good in them and try to work on what is at fault in our own character.  God gives Jesus the power to judge.  We have enough to worry about when dealing with our own flaws.

Heavenly Father, help me to realize that you love us all equally and that you are the ultimate judge.  help me to be mindful of others and their unique gifts rather than finding fault with the ways they are different.  Amen

Other readings: Psalms 70, 71, 74; Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28; Romans 2:12-24; John 5:19-29

•••

Lent

by Frederick Buechner

Thursday, April 4

In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness, where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

If you had only one last message to leave a handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?

Is there any person in the world or any cause that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are, but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.

•••

The Love of God

Ellen O’Neal

Friday, April 5

Romans 8:28-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough…”

Remember this catchy Motown tune?  I think that is precisely what this wonderful Biblical passage is saying to us. Consider these words again: neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.

Corrie Ten Boon said it another way: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”

What a lovely sentiment. But have we truly thought past the beauty of the words to what they really mean to us? God tells us – promises us — that we can be NO WHERE that he is not there with us – not emotionally, not physically, not spiritually.  There are times in my life when I think, well, I’ve gone too far, it’s hopeless, God can’t help me now, or God’s not going to help me now. But he IS there. It doesn’t mean he will answer our prayers the way we’d like, or that our situation is going to be easier, or that everyone we’ve hurt is going to immediately forgive us. But what God does guarantee us is that none of the terrible things we’ve done can make him not love us. And all those terrible things that happen to us? Well, He tells us that all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. So God works those things “for the good” of me.

We are armed with that assurance as we face this uncertain life. Look at the world today: it would be so easy to believe that God has abandoned us, that things have just gotten too bad, or that we’ve fallen out of His grace so severely that there’s no going back. But we can know, we MUST know, and cling to the knowledge that, HE IS WITH US, He is on our side, and He loves us. Indeed, if God is for us, who can be against us?

Dear Lord, thank you for your blessed assurance that nothing can separate us from you, that in all things, You work for the good of those who love You.  Help me, Lord, to be still and know that you are God, to recognize my own weaknesses, faults, and limitations, but to know that, despite this humanness, you are with me and nothing can separate me from You.

Other readings: Psalm 95, 102, 107:1-32; Jeremiah 23:1-8; John 6:52-59

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Going to Galilee

By the Rev. Ben Robertson

Saturday, April 6:

John 7:37–52: On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ … 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? … Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

What is Galilee?  When we read scripture and hear various geographic terms – Israel, Judah, Zion, Canaan, Samaria, the Wilderness, Galilee – while we know approximately where they are on a classroom globe, we may not know precisely where they are, how they relate to other regions, and what images or stereotypes might have been invoked when a 1st century ear heard one of these places mentioned.  And so, when we read today’s Gospel, and hear once again the fretting of the temple, Chief Priests (priests are always part of the problem!), and Pharisees attempting to find a way to silence Jesus, and they attempt to delegitimize Jesus by pointing out that scripture states that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem and decent from David, not from Galilee.  I guess the Chief Priests did not realize that while Jesus grew up in Nazareth, one of the two larger towns in the region of Galilee, he was born in Bethlehem and Joseph, his earthly father, is descended from King David.  Details, details.

But why was Galilee so derided?  Reading this Gospel passage, you can hear the contempt in the authorities’ voices when they mention Galilee.  They sound like a State fan mentioning Oxford, or a North Carolina (or Kentucky) fan referencing that school in Durham.  What is up in Galilee?

Before being elected our Presiding Bishop, ++Michael Curry served as Bishop of North Carolina and in 2011 he introduced “The Galilee Initiative.”  He explained, “Galilee in biblical times could accurately be described as the land of others.  Scholars and archeologists tell us that the region of Galilee, particularly lower Galilee where most people lived, included a diverse mix – Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews; Gentiles of Roman, Greek and Palestinian origin; wealthy landowners, and the First-Century equivalent of sharecroppers.  It was ethnically and economically a diverse place.”  He went on, “While often portrayed as a bucolic backwater, Galilee was known for political unrest, banditry, and tax revolts.  Galilee was not a stable, uncomplicated territory. Galilee was a hotbed of economic uncertainty and political instability. It was a volatile environment, a place of anxiety and fear.”

Galilee sounds fun.  Galilee is certainly not prim, proper, and socially acceptable.  Instead, Galilee sounds like the real world.  And as our world gets smaller, more connected, more contentious, and more … worldly, it becomes more and more like Galilee.  No wonder the authorities were afraid of a prophet from Galilee.

When introducing “The Galilee Initiative,” ++Michael also remembered Matthew 28:5-7.  The scene is the empty tomb on Easter morning where, “the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’”

As the beloved in Christ, especially as we walk the way of Lent, we are called to go to Galilee.  We are called to bring good news, feed the hungry, stand with the anxious, befriend the lonely, and welcome the stranger.  And we are called to do those things outside our comfort zone, in Galilee.  How are you going to Galilee?  Where do you find Galilee in your life?  Jesus is already there, and if you go too, you will find him.

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