Lent – Wednesday, Day 25

” Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”Jer. 18:6

Introduction

“Have thine own way Lord, have thine own way.  Thou art the potter, I am the clay.”  These first few lines of an early 20th century hymn by Adelaide Pollard have often been sung at the conclusion of an evangelistic sermon.  Surrender to the will of God may include being broken and reworked into a new vessel.  We have the assurance, that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.  He will resurrect us to a new life, both now and in the future.

Scripture

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. . . 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. . .But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Reflection

altar1As a young girl I attended a church that had a weekly altar call at the end of the sermon.  The altar became a safe place where I could go to pray and receive support from my peers and various Christian adults.  In turn, I would pray with my friends and share in their struggles.  We were all in the process of being molded into young women of God.  Today we would call that “group therapy.”

Whenever I hear “Just As I Am”, “I Surrender All”, or “Have Thine Own Way Lord” I return to those precious times and give thanks to God for the privilege of being formed on my knees at the altar.  Today, I have a similar experience when I come forward for communion.

As a young man, my husband woke up every morning and recited the verse, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” Rom. 8:1.  That was his daily altar call.

At times we feel unholy and need to hear, “There is no condemnation. . . Go and sin no more.”  When we are confused about a major decision, we need to know, “Commit your ways to the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  When we are frightened, we are encouraged by, “Fear not, I am with you”.  When we’re lonely, it’s comforting to know, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  The Lord’s invitation is open to all.  He is the potter, you are the clay.  “Anyone who comes to me, I will in no way cast out.”

Prayer

Lord, we submit to your will as clay submitting to the hands of the potter.  It may require being broken and reworked many times, but in the end, we are a vessel that is useful for your purposes and we find fulfillment.  Have thine own way Lord. Amen

Potter Manipulating Clay on Wheel

Lent – Tuesday, Day 24

 

“I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,

and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”Jn. 6:35

Introduction

Jesus’s first miracle was changing water into wine.  The only miracle recorded in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5,000.  In each instance, God is extravagant in his blessings.  Together, these miracles foreshadow communion and the connection to the body and blood of Christ.  Jesus equates himself with bread and living water throughout the gospel of John.  He is there to meet our needs.

Scripture

John 6:27-40

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 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. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Reflection

communion2When we were newly married, my husband and I attended a church that was thousands of miles away from home while he went to graduate school.  We truly felt like aliens.  Week after week we sat in the back pew watching the congregation participate in communion, afraid to go forward because we were not members and we didn’t know the rules. Yet, we continued to attend every Sunday because we were nourished by the music and the sermon.  One Sunday my husband spoke with the pastor as we were leaving the church.  It was the first time we had been noticed and he asked about the graduate program and learned that we were members of another Lutheran church in Canada.  “You are welcome to come to communion.  We practice “close” communion here.”  The next Sunday we went forward at his invitation and received the “body and blood” of our Lord Jesus Christ.  There was never a more meaningful moment than being invited into the “close” family.

All those attending the wedding at Cana or sitting on the hillside of Galilee were invited to participate in the miracle of wine and bread.  Once separated from God, he made his abundant blessings overflow to all who came.  Their hunger and thirst was satisfied, both physically and spiritually. Scripture tells us that there were 12 baskets left over at the end of the picnic on the hill, and the wine at the wedding never ran out.

The miracles transformed a crowd into a community.  The message: “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away. . .This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”  Those who came to Jesus received much more than they expected.  The physical was linked to the spiritual for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.  He draws us “close” in the community of faith.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for inviting us to come to you.  We are hungry and thirsty for a more abundant life.  You draw us into your family and generously offer us eternal life.  We accept your grace.  Amen

Phil Elise 16

Lent – Monday, Day 23

 

” How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ” Ps. 13:1

Introduction

There are times when God is silent.  Often it is in our darkest moments when fear and confusion flood us with panic or despair.  Why does this happen?  Shouldn’t those be the times when he comes in power and might and convinces us of his love?  Yet, it is at precisely those times that God is closest.  If we wait it out, there is often a rich blessing on the other side.  If we walk away, we erect a wall between ourselves and God that is sometimes difficult to break down.

Scripture

Jeremiah 14:1-9

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought:

Judah mourns and her gates languish; they lie in gloom on the ground, and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.
Her nobles send their servants for water; they come to the cisterns, they find no water, they return with their vessels empty.
They are ashamed and dismayed and cover their heads, because the ground is cracked.
Because there has been no rain on the land the farmers are dismayed; they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn because there is no grass.
The wild asses stand on the bare heights, they pant for air like jackals; their eyes fail because there is no herbage.

Although our iniquities testify against us,  act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many,
and we have sinned against you.
O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night?
Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,and we are called by your name; do not forsake us!

Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Reflection

A Franciscan father shared with me a story of the silence of God.  “I was told that I had a 50% chance of surviving my bout with pneumonia,” he said.  “In the night, I called out to God to speak to me and give me assurance.  But it was quiet.  Nothing.  Later, when I spoke with my spiritual director, he told me: ‘In times of silence, God is saying, what you need now, my child, is rest.’”

We interpret silence as a lack of attention, when in fact, it may be just the opposite.  Seeing a mother watch her newborn child as she sleeps, or sitting by your husband while he recovers from surgery may not seem like love in action, but just being present speaks volumes.

In our daily walk with the Lord, we have difficulty listening because we seldom stop asking for healing, help and blessings in our short prayers.  We are threatened by and dread long pauses in the pastor’s petitions.  My husband and I have started going to a “day away” at the retreat centre near our home.  It is a day of silence set aside for us to write, read, reflect and go on long walks with the Lord.  The first time, I approached the day with dread.  I have a hard time praying more than 5 minutes.  But I was empty and wanted to meet with God.  Instead he met with me in the silence.  As I began to write and pause to hear what he was saying, I found inner healing and renewal.  By the end of the day, it was as though I had been to a spiritual spa.  These special days have now become a permanent event on our calendar.  We look forward to the gift of time to reset our lives and give God space to work.

The morning star is the brightest star in the darkest part of the night, just before the dawn.  Silence precedes blessings.

Prayer

Lord, Help us to pause and give you space to speak to us. . .  Amen

Lent – Saturday, Day 22

”You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22

Introduction

The words of Jesus about love and hope and forgiveness appeal to a wide audience.  Gandhi was shrewd enough to tell missionaries, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Jesus was well received until he began to challenge beliefs.  Muslims accept that Jesus was a servant, teacher, and lover of God’s Word, they do not believe that he was divine or the son of God. The Jews rejected him when he equated himself with the great “I am” (Yahweh).  Secularists like the teachings about love, but reject the spiritual.  There are many stumbling blocks to faith.  Still, God calls people to himself if they have an open heart.

Scripture

John 8:47-59

47 Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. 51 Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ 55 though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Reflection

A pastor once told me that a rejection of Christ often has a moral basis.  While there are sophisticated arguments for not accepting the faith, they often sound like hollow excuses to accompany the choice of a more liberated lifestyle. Choosing atheism seems like the intelligent choice, but it is bankrupt of meaning and requires its own leap of faith.  Those who grow up in different religions have difficulty understanding the doctrines of original sin, the trinity, and the atonement.  How then can anyone become a Christian?

It is a response to a call.  Like a GPS guiding us home.  It is the hunger in the night, the awe of a sunset, the cry of a newborn baby.  It is the tears at the graveside of a loved one, the regret for past wrongs, the longing for purpose.  It is the search for truth, the craving to return to a place of peace and hope.  It is an invitation from God.

“Those who come to him must believe that he is and he rewards those who seek him.” Heb 11:6  No one is expected to come to Christ with a sophisticated theology.  It is simple enough for a child. It is responding to the first blush of love, hoping that the lover is worthy of our trust.  It does not require perfection, only consent.  It is the first prayer, “God help me”; the first praise, “Thank you God”, the first confession, “I’m sorry.”  Jesus, the stone the builders rejected, will become the cornerstone of your life.

Prayer

Lord, No matter where we are at in our faith walk, you wait for us to respond to your promptings.  At times we need to be brought to our knees in repentance; other times we need to be held on your knee as a child.  Don’t give up on us Lord.  “I believe.  Help my unbelief.” Amen.

 

Lent – Friday, Day 21

“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36

Introduction

When we give a gift that we have made with thought and care, our hope is that it will be received with gratitude.  If our efforts are tossed aside and we never see evidence that it is appreciated, we’re tempted to stop giving or become critical.  Grace is not like that.  It is not dependent on the gratitude of the recipient, but on the love of the giver.  Those who have been broken by grace want to remain in that love.  In so doing, they fulfill the law of Christ, not apart from the Old Testament Torah, but as defined through it.

Scripture

Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Romans 6:1-10

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Reflection

knittingI crocheted blankets to give away to teachers as a parting gift before I retired.  One teacher politely refused, saying, “No thank you, we’re trying to declutter our house.”  Needless to say, I was surprised by his response, but in retrospect, I appreciated his honesty. I receive joy from working with my hands.  What happens after that is out of my control.

We are the masterpiece of God’s hands.  He lovingly placed us in a world designed to meet our needs and please us.  Through sin and rebellion, the gift was tossed aside and we became alienated from our creator.  The law was given to establish God’s expectations.  Those who tried to keep it multiplied the requirements of the law to ensure that they were righteous.  The burden for living a holy life became so heavy, that the poor, common laborers knew they were guilty and they gave up.  That’s why sacrifices were made for their sins by the priests each year on high holy days.

Jesus summarized the law into love of God and neighbour.  He further reduced the sting of the law by triumphing over sin and death on the cross.  He was our priest who offered the ultimate sacrifice, once and for all.  Grace cost us nothing; it cost God everything.  If that really grabs your heart, you will be so grateful, that love will flow to God and your neighbour.  And thus, the intent of the law is fulfilled.  To knowingly sin, believing that God will forgive anyway, is to miss the point, as the Apostle Paul points out in our scripture lesson.

grace.jpg

“Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less. It means that I, even I who deserve the opposite, am invited to take my place at the table in God’s family.” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?)

Prayer

Lord, We come to you with empty hands to receive your grace.  Help us to live our lives thoughtfully in gratitude for the huge cost of our salvation. Show us how to love. Amen.

 

Lent – Thursday, Day 20

Where sin abounded, grace abounded more” Rom. 5:20

Introduction

We participate in God’s riches, not because we have earned it, but because Jesus paid for it on the cross.  Our sin should have kept us eternally separated from God.  On our own we can not keep from sinning.  Yet God came seeking us.  We are condemned to death, but he has commuted our sentence by dying in our place.  Mercy and grace are freely given through one man.

Scripture

Jeremiah 10:24

24 Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure; not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing.

Romans 5:18-21

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass [Adam] led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness [Jesus] leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by [Jesus’s] obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 8:31-32

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Reflection

paxtonOften the child who has the most difficulty following rules is the first one to cry “foul” when another child breaks them.  As children of creation, we shutter at the punishment administered to Adam for eating the forbidden fruit in the garden.  It doesn’t seem fair that all suffer and die as a consequence of original sin.  Yet, it doesn’t take long before each one of us recognizes our own failures.  As one father said, “I didn’t believe in original sin until I had a child.  No one has to teach my son to sin.  It comes naturally.”

Although it seems harsh that death came into the world as a result of Adam’s sin, we are humbled to realize that eternal life was restored as a result of God’s own sacrifice.  Jesus, who knew no sin, died. By believing in him, we too will participate in the final resurrection.  It is naïve to think that we are “good enough” to go to heaven because we haven’t committed any major sins.  We can point to our virtues and purposely avoid the big temptations.  However, the purpose of the law was not to give us a check list for our righteousness, but to show us that no one could measure up.

When Jesus declared, “Anyone who looks at a woman has committed adultery in his own heart” (Matt.5:28), the bar was raised.  Including secret thoughts, impure motives and failure to do what is right caused his disciples to ask, “Who then can be saved!” (Luke 18:26).  Jesus responded: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt.19:26)  The purpose of the law was to show us our sin so that we would understand the importance of grace., “Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God–something the law of Moses could never do.” (Acts 13:39)

Prayer

Lord, when we are held to your standards, all of us fail.  Rather than walking away from us, you participated in our humanity and took on death, even though, as a sinless man, you were not condemned to die.  Your resurrection is the evidence we needed to believe that God loved the world.  We humbly confess our need for grace and thank you for your sacrifice.  Amen.

gavel

 

Lent – Wednesday, Day 19

Faith is the bird that feels this light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” Rabindranath Tagore

Introduction

When we experience pain or suffering we feel that God doesn’t really love us.  After all, if he were God, he could take away the hurt and restore us to happiness.  Life isn’t like that.  We live in a world that is broken by sin and separation from God.  In our darkness, we need light; hope in despair.  Walking through the pain teaches us that, in the end, God never left us.  He is the suffering servant who understands and weeps with us.

Scripture

Jeremiah 8:18-22

18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?”. . .
20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” 21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 8:12

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life

Reflection by Paul Knudtson

 (Biblical quotations are from the NRSV and quotations from the writings of Julian of Norwich are from: Mirabai Starr, The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2013.)

julianWhen a medieval English woman named Julian of Norwich was thirty years old, she became ill and almost died. At this time, on May 8, 1373, as she hovered between life and death, she received sixteen “showings” or revelations from Christ. These revelations brought her great spiritual sustenance, so much so that she ruminated on them for the next twenty years, writing down her thoughts about the original revelation in what has become known as the “Long Text”.

One theme covered in Julian’s revelations concerns human suffering. Although we know very little about the biographical details of Julian’s life, we do know that she witnessed the devastating effects of black death, a scourge that devastated Europe, killing somewhere between thirty and sixty percent of the population. One cannot begin to imagine the effects of such trauma on the people of Europe, including those in England. Though millions of people survived, many must have been permanently wounded in spirit, carrying forever in their imaginations the nightmare they had witnessed. Perhaps today we would diagnose such people as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.).

But although Julian witnessed first-hand this devastation, and even though she came close to death herself, the revelations from the Lord brought her an ever-renewing source of encouragement and hope and, since she wrote them down, they have been an ongoing source of hope and blessing for people in all ages. Here are a few examples of these words of consolation:

  • Julian writes, “There was not a single question or doubt I raised for which our good Lord did not have a reassuring response ‘I have the power to make all things well,’ he said, “I know how to make all things well, and I wish to make all things well.” Then he said, ‘I shall make all things well. You will see for yourself: every kind of thing shall be well.’” (Starr, 74)
  • “Before these showings,” Julian writes, “I had an intense yearning to be delivered from this life and from this world. I experienced a constant flow of woe here, in contrast to what I knew to be the well-being and bliss that exist in the world-to-come. Even if there were no pain in this life other than the pain of separation from our Lord, that love-longing sometimes felt like more that I could bear. His absence filled my heart with mourning and yearning. When added to my general misery and weariness, I could find no pleasure in living or in performing my ordinary duties.
  • My Beloved responded to all this with words of comfort and patience. ‘Without warning, he said, ‘I will take away all your pain, all your sickness, your anxiety, and your sorrow. You shall come to me, and you shall have me as your reward. You will be filled with love, running over with bliss, and you will never again suffer pain or illness, or any other kind of displeasure or lack of inspiration. Instead, you will have joy without end. Why then does it bother you to endure these things for a while, since it is my will and for my glory?” (Starr, 176)
  • “For the life we have here on earth, and the languishing that accompanies it, are but a fleeting moment. When God suddenly takes us out of pain and into bliss, it will seem that the pain was nothing at all.” (Starr, 177)
  • “Let us take in his promises as deeply and broadly as we can receive them and allow them to comfort us. Let us accept our tribulations are lightly as possible, paying little attention to them, and surrender to waiting. The less seriously we can take our pain, and the less value we place on it for the sake of love, the less suffering it will create for us, and the greater value will we gain from experiencing it.” (Starr, 178)

The 23rd Psalm says, “Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  The key word is “through.” Even our darkest experiences are given light by Christ as he walks with us. Unlike Job’s comforters, he is often silent, allowing us to work through the darkness.  By faith, we trust that he is there. It is in looking back that we see footprints of his presence.  As one saint stated, “It is in the valley where the fruit grows.”

Prayer

Lord, when we consider our own pain and suffering we are tempted to think that we have been deserted.  We have nowhere to turn but to you.  If we hold on to bitterness and despair, we will never find relief and hope. You knew darkness and suffered alone for us on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” echoes the cry of all our hearts in the hour of trial.  Thank you for holding on to us even when we do not have the strength to hold on to you.  Amen.

Robert Wadsworth Lowry 1869 – “How Can I Keep from Singing?”

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

Although the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
Bot though the darkness ’round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging;
Since love is lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

Lent – Tuesday, Day 18

“He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Rom. 4:21

Introduction

Abraham tried to fulfill God’s promises on his own by taking a concubine and fathering a son.  But God had another way—he would make him a great nation through his wife Sarah.  As the years passed Abraham continued to believe even though there was no evidence that the promise would be fulfilled.  Finally, when both he and Sarah were too old, GOD produced a child in her womb.  Abraham is the father of faith because he believed that God was able to do what he promised, despite evidence on the contrary.

Scripture

John 7:37-38

37 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, 38 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.’

Romans 4:

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Reflection

wishWe blow out our birthday candles and make a wish on falling stars.  Lottery tickets are purchased for a chance on a dream; athletes perform game day rituals, and we wish people “good luck” when they are meeting the unknown.  These are vain hopes if we are dependent on the “universe” to reward our requests.  If our dreams come true, it is a result of hard work, random chance or beating the odds.  The universe doesn’t reward us or need our thanks—it is part of creation and has no power.

Abraham believed that he would be the father of many nations even though his wife was past child bearing age and he was over 100 years old.  He knew that God had given his word, and that was enough.  He did not have faith in his own ability to produce a child—all efforts had failed, but rather he continued to believe in the God who could create something out of nothing and raise the dead.

Jesus was there from the creation of the universe and his promises are guaranteed.  When he says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,” he’s there to listen and satisfy that thirst.  In the same way, when we confess our sins, we know that they are forgiven, not because we “forgive ourselves”, but because God forgave us when Jesus died on the cross.  We are assured that there is life after death, not because we want it to be so, but because Jesus rose from the dead and he promised believers eternal life.  “If it were not so I would have told you.”  We have faith because we trust the one who makes the promise and he cannot lie.  To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” (Thomas Aquinas).

Prayer

Lord, we have wants and desires that only you can fill.  Yet, we try, by our own effort to meet all our needs.  When it comes to forgiveness, peace of mind, and hope for the future, only you can give us the assurance we need.  We come to you with meager faith and ask you to teach us to trust in the God who brings something out of nothing and raises the dead.  Amen.

faith

Lent – Monday, Day 17

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” (Mark Twain)

Introduction

Our ancestors hold the key to our identity, just as God holds the key to our purpose.  We can go our own way, believing that we know what is best for us.  If that does not include a relationship with God, we can easily be derailed and end up in a far different place than we expected when we first started.  Ironically, surrender to God is the first step in self-discovery.

Scripture

Romans 4:1-8

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

John 7:16-18; 28-29

16 Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

28 Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. 29 I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”

Reflection

who“Our discovery of God is, in a way, God’s discovery of us.  We cannot go to heaven to find Him because we have no way of knowing where heaven is or what it is.  He comes down from heaven and finds us.  He looks at us from the depths of His own infinite actuality, which is everywhere, and His seeing us gives us a new being and a new mind in which we also discover Him.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 39).

The journey of self-discovery often takes us down many rabbit holes as we assert our independence and look for our own identity.  For some, that takes the form of rebellion against the values and expectations of our home.  Sooner or later, life causes us to come to terms with our roots.  In understanding who we come from, we better understand ourselves.

When I look at my parents I see a love of music, love of God, loyalty and faithfulness, hard work and generosity.  I didn’t always appreciate the feedback they gave me as I was growing up, mistakenly believing that they didn’t understand my gifts and passions.  I explored various possibilities, but in the end, I chose a life that was very similar to one that they would have chosen for me.  I came from them, and they knew me better than I knew myself.  My children would likely say something similar about me.

We come from God; he created us and knows our weaknesses and strengths.  We rebel at our peril.  In him we find peace.  Our true self is revealed in our relationship to the one who made us.  Sin is separation from that self-awareness because it keeps us from our source.  Faith is returning to our heavenly father because we believe, that in him, we will find our true purpose and contentment.

Prayer

Lord, you know us better than we know ourselves.  We run from you when we are afraid that you will hold us back and keep us from enjoying life.  But when we seek your will, we find true joy and happiness.  You know us, just as parents knows their child.  We trust you to give us purpose.  Amen.

name

Lent – Saturday, Day 16

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” Matthew 25:43

Introduction

We strive to follow Christ and to show his love to our neighbor.  It is often easier to love people from afar or ask others to do the work for us.  When we are confronted with the needy, it is tempting to turn away and hope that someone else will reach out to them.  This is not the way of Jesus.  “What you do to the least of these, you do to me.” Matt. 25:40

Scripture

Jeremiah 5:21-28

21 Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear:
22 Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord.  “Should you not tremble in my presence?
26 “Among my people are the wicked who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch people.
27 Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful
28 and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice. They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor.

Romans 3:19-31

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

Reflection

“Sanctuary”

I knew him before his world collapsed.

He shuffled into church alone: needy, poor, broken.

Vulnerability alarms me.

Jesus descends into darkness and stretches his arms to embrace the world.

I approve, but not in this space.

Sickness is death,

Poverty is scarcity,

Mental illness is entanglement.

Keep these away from me.

I will pray for those in the world, but fear them in this space.

Their existence contrasts with my self-righteousness,

Revealing coldness, inhospitality and fear.

Love is easy when it requires no interaction with the unlovely.

The beggar turns to me.

 “The peace of the Lord be with you,” he says as he extends his hand,

Exposing my poverty in this sanctuary.

Thomas Merton says, “It is not filth and hunger that make saints, nor even poverty itself, but love of poverty and love of the poor. . .Many religious people, who say they love God detest and fear the very thought of a poverty that is real enough to mean insecurity, hunger, dirt.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 251).

 

Prayer

Lord, it is easy to pray for the sick, broken and needy in the world, but it is not so easy to extend love.  Personal involvement requires personal interaction. We excuse ourselves for not touching others by promising prayer or money and keeping them at a distance.  Forgive us and lead us in true service. Amen.

who is