Lenten Devotional 3/26/19

March 26, 2019                   John 7:37-52                                  Josh Smith
                                                 Psalm 25

“See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!  Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.”
– Psalm 25:19-21

“Nicodemus…asked, “does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” – John 7: 50a-51

Man I love to talk.  And argue, with spirit.  But after years of debates and arguments in locker rooms and conference rooms and construction trailers, I’ve made few enemies and never been in a fistfight.  Somehow me and the other guy always connect when we take a second to keep silent and listen, at least enough to part ways on fair terms.

But I can have real, unforgiving enemies with just 10 words on Facebook or a news feed.

I think it’s because apps and websites are bad venues for hearing.  People read those first 10 words, peg you as the enemy, and nice goes out the window well before they make the effort to understand you.

Jesus seemed to be in a bad venue for being heard.  He interrupted a party festival, loudly, by proclaiming Living Water was about to flow out of him and if you drank it, that same water could flow out of you.

After that, most people just didn’t want to hear the rest of what Jesus had to say.

Even before the living water comment, a lot of the religious leaders couldn’t stand one word out of Jesus’ mouth, so great was their hatred for what Jesus represented.

Jesus might have prayed the short prayer from Psalms 25.  Maybe he sighed.  People were talking about him, viciously, in the other room.  Some of them wanted to kill him.  Nicodemus, though, asked for his fellow rulemakers to stop and listen, before condemnation.  Nicodemus didn’t understand everything Jesus was on Earth to accomplish, but he knew there was value in listening. 

None of us deserve to be heard less than another, or more than another.  And someone, or some One, might be saying something really important. 

Prayer: Lord God help me to listen more than speak.  Help me to hear others

Lenten Devotional 3/24/19

March 24, 2019                          Mark 5:1-20                        Rev. Erin Counihan

First of all, Heather MacArthur has an app on her phone of Bible cartoon stories, and you really, really need to ask her to show you the cartoon pigs from this story rushing over the mountain’s edge.

Now then, whenever I read this story, I think of this person- someone’s son, someone’s childhood friend, someone’s cousin, someone’s dear one, who was overcome by this “demon”, by this “legion”, by something so terrible they were so afraid of him and for him that the entire town cast him out, chained him up, and left him to live alone in illness and pain. “For safety” I’m sure.

And I always wonder…. Who now are we sending away, chaining up, casting out, holding off in a distance, for their safety and ours, of course…. Someone’s baby, someone’s sibling, someone’s childhood friend….

And how would Jesus find them?

Prayer: God, find them, unbind them, welcome them. And help us to do the same. Amen.

Lenten Devotional 3/23/19

March 23, 2019                          Psalm 143                               Dena Roper

Psalm 143:8

   Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,

       For in you I put my trust.

    Teach me the way I should go,

       for to you I lift my soul.

Sometimes I forget.

I forget that I am not alone. 

It was so much easier before. 

Before my parents died. 

I always knew they were for me. 

I still have extended family, but it’s not the same. 

They all have their own traditions that aren’t mine. 

I have my created family, my church family. 

But I still wake up in the middle of the night alone. 

But then I remember. 

It’s dark now,

but the dawn is coming. 

I am not alone! 

God is with me! 

God is always there with me!

Always there to hear me.

To know me and smile at my quirkiness.

To comfort when the night seems too long.

I know that God’s grace has forgiven my sins.

That that love is Always there.

Dear God, thank you for being there even in the darkest of nights.  You are the morning!

Lenten Devotional 3/22/19

March 22, 2019           John 5:30-47                    Heather MacArthur

                                    Psalm 22

                                  Jeremiah 5:1-9


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest.
–Psalm 22; 1-2

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
    look around and take note!
Search its squares and see
    if you can find one person
who acts justly
    and seeks truth—
so that I may pardon Jerusalem. –
Jeremiah 5, 1

  In September 2017 former St Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. In response, protests erupted on the streets of St Louis. Protests that saw face-offs between citizens of St Louis and those who had sworn an oath to serve and protect them. Some of the images from those protests show how intense and heated these interactions got. Young black men angrily shouting in the faces of riot-gear clad police officers. Taunting them to react…. not unlike Jesus in his taunts of the Jewish authorities in one of today’s readings from John chapter 5. Pastor Erin often says she likes herself some sassy Jesus.  In this reading from John’s gospel we have a taunting, provocative Jesus on full display. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 I do not accept glory from human beings ……Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope”.  This Jesus is going to get himself in some real trouble soon!

That September the police officers did react, but usually under cover of darkness as in the now infamous “kettling” incident in downtown St Louis that saw even one of their own caught up in the beatings, or rushing in on bikes indiscriminately macing and beating protestors who were well behind the front lines, and conveniently out of the media’s camera range! For those of us “nice white folks” who joined the protests in those late summer days and who had no reason to question police authority (“do as you’re told and all will be well”), it was a very rude awakening and a rare glimpse into the injustices experienced daily by our black brothers and sisters. “Do you believe us now”? one young black woman asked wearily of no one in particular, as she administered maalox to the streaming stinging eyes of another maced young protestor.

When we read today’s passages from Psalm 22 and Jeremiah 5, it is hard to glean much in the way of hope, and it seems that justice will remain forever out of reach. The season of Lent further underlines that pessimism as we wait and wait and wait. It would be too easy to finish this reflection by rushing to the empty tomb of Easter and put all wrongs to right in a final flourish of a sentence of resurrection power, like the happy ending of a Hallmark movie. Instead we really need to sit uncomfortably for a long while with the feeling of being forsaken like the author of Psalm 22, or seeking and failing to find justice anywhere, like Jeremiah. For far too many of our fellow citizens who seek justice, the season of Lent has lasted a lifetime and more.

PrayerLord, you have called us to work for justice. Strengthen our resolve when we falter, needle us when we are complacent, and convict us when we are complicit with systems that destroy the lives of your beloved children. Amen.

Lenten Devotional 3/21/19

March 21, 2019             Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28         Rev. Erin Counihan

I’m not sure why….
Okay, actually, I know exactly why,
But I wish it wasn’t so,
I wish we didn’t need these kind of threats.

I wish we could trust wisdom and guidance.
I wish we could accept good and faithful teaching.
I wish we didn’t need God’s terrible, emotional, raw appeals,
Warnings, really.
I wish we didn’t need God to scare us
To be convinced
To change.

And so I hear these cries.
“My anguish, my anguish,
    I writhe in pain!

Oh, the walls of my heart!”

I hear them.
In us.

And still,
we need it, though….

Prayer: Lord, help us listen, help us to hear, help us to change. AMEN.

Lenten Devotional 3/20/19

March 20                       John 5: 1-18                 Rev. Meredith Jackson
                                                   Hunger Program Director, Isaiah 58 Ministries

Sometimes we get very caught up in work. We think that if we are busy, then we are successful. If we keep going, we must be demonstrating our worth. This work can get us so tunnel visioned that we lose sight of the moments of opportunity around us.

In Jerusalem, Jesus approached the place where many people needed healing. He approached a man who had not walked for many years, and the man walked again. While the authorities criticized Jesus for healing someone on the sabbath, Jesus replied that even on the sabbath, “My father is working, and I also am working.”

Jesus knew that his work was work of love. Bringing love to the people and love to the world. He also saw that all around him were opportunities for this work. Work wasn’t something that should be restricted to 9am-5pm. Work was caring for the people, and it was something that could be done in every moment, every interaction. For Jesus, there were opportunities for love everywhere.

What if we approached life like this? What if we knew that in every smile, and every kind gesture, there is an opportunity for love and healing? What if we saw it as our mission to spread this love and healing to all the world? What if we measured our own success by how much we shared loving kindness with others?

This Lent, I pray that we may take the opportunity to pursue love and healing in every moment of our lives. That we may take a deep breath to examine our work and our mission in the world, and that we may take a step away busy-ness, and toward the work of healing and loving all of God’s people.

Gracious God, let me follow in your work of loving kindness. Let me busy myself with recognizing each moment as holy, and let me care for each person who crosses my path. May I be a part of your work on earth, right here and right now. Amen.

Lenten Devotional 3/19/19

March 19              Jeremiah 2:1-13, 29-32            Rev. Dr. Alan Meyers

Why would someone do that — turn away from a fountain of cold, refreshing, life-giving water, and try to drink instead from a cistern, a basin chiseled out of rock to hold stale rainwater, especially if the cistern were cracked and empty and waterless? I don’t know, really. It is something of a mystery about us humans that we so often fail to do what is good and joyful and healthy and rewarding and choose instead something trivial and boring and ultimately worthless. I have looked back with regret on many a lost hour I could have spent taking a walk or reading a book, but which in fact I spent scrolling through nonsense on Facebook or watching a dumb TV show. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters tells of a man who arrives in hell and says “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” When I first read that book I shivered when I felt how much I identified with that man. How often do I waste time doing something that’s not anything I’m obligated to do nor anything I really enjoy?

Is this just laziness we’re talking about here — being drawn to whatever takes the least energy and concentration (Facebook rather than the walk, TV instead of the book)? Is it sheer human perversity? Or is it something deeper, what Christian tradition calls sin? Human beings have a mysterious bent toward turning away from God, the greatest of all goods, and chasing after lesser goods that ultimately cannot satisfy. This is what Paul is talking about in today’s reading from Romans: “they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (1:23). Theologians have said this is the essence of sin: choosing something less than God over God. It is what is called idolatry. Idolatry may involve choosing unGodly values instead of what God cares about: choosing cruelty instead of kindness, selfishness instead of concern for others, trust in our own powers instead of faith in God (Romans 1:16-17). Lack of love for God leads to lack of love for our neighbors.

The best reason for giving things up for Lent is to make space in our lives for concentrating on God and practicing enjoyment of the supreme Good. In moments of devotion during Lent — reading Scripture and good devotional literature, praying, reflecting anew on God’s amazing love for us in Jesus Christ, just sitting quietly and enjoying the presence of God — we may learn to abandon those cracked cisterns that cannot finally quench our thirst, and to run instead to the fountain of living water.

Prayer:  Great God, revealed in Jesus Christ, you are the fountain of living water. May I drink deeply and be satisfied. Amen.

Lenten Devotional 3/18/19

March 18                        Romans 1: 1-15                   Christine Woodward

Reflection:  I specifically reflected on praying to God in these verses.  Praying has been an extremely important part of my life.  I feel like I can have a conversation with God whenever I stop and pray. I can tell God my thoughts, worries, and good news.  Sometimes we fight, sometimes we are best friends, and sometimes God is the parent I need comforting me.  I went through a hard time several years ago, and we had a long battle.  I trusted God but was upset.  We had a lot of conversations about my needs and wants.  It took me a long time to understand God has a plan for me, and I just need to be patient to see that plan.  God trusts us to believe and is patiently waiting for us to share our belief with others.  I am not the perfect Christian, but I have my faith to keep me strong.  I feel the best way I can share my faith with others is just to pray for or with my loved ones. 

Activity:  See next page. 

Prayer:  Hey God!  Thank you for listening to me and comforting me when I am struggling.  This lent, help us to communicate our thoughts and feelings with God.  Help us share our prayers and blessings with others.    

Lenten Devotional 3/17/19

March 17, 2019                          Mark 3:31-4:9                         Carole Adams

I often think of this passage and what it means to be a “sower.” 

During Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Oak Hill, I think of all the “sowers” we had who participated in leading our children.  Some lead in the opening to tell what the scripture was for the day.  Some taught crafts, some read Bible stories, some played games, and some helped prepare the “snacks.”  The Bible story of the day was carried throughout all of the stations the children went through.  In addition, there were the wonderful crew leaders in charge of the same group of children  (crew) each day who took them through these stations.  And the music!  How the children loved the music, singing and dancing to the songs in the sanctuary.  (We had rented a large screen TV so all of the children could see the words and dance moves for the songs.)  Our “sowers” were 16 to 80 years of age.  Each had their own talent and excelled in what they did.

During the “Time for Growing Young Disciples” on the Sunday following VBS the children told about what they had learned during the week.  The pastor made the comment, “I don’t think I need to preach a sermon today, the children have done it for me.”

I have no idea what has happened to all of those children who attended our VBS.  I do know that seeds were planted.  I don’t know if some fell on the path, if some fell on hard rock, if some fell in the thicket, or if some fell on good ground.  I think we have to remember that we were the “sowers” and not the “grower.”  We have to leave the growing to God, and keep on sowing.

Prayer:  Our Heavenly Father.  Please help us to continue to tell your story to our children so they may grow in your word.  Amen

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