Sunday, April 8, 2012

Psalm 148Exodus 12:1-14John 1:1-18

Things don’t look any different today.

There’s the expected bustle of Easter Sunday, of course—making sure everyone’s in their finest spring outfits; phoning ahead for brunch reservations; perhaps looking after company. There’s an excitement, though, an undeniable energy often lacking in our routines…and yet. And yet someone still needs to make sure everybody’s loaded into the car; to make sure that you leave with enough time to get a good seat; to keep everyone happy. There are mental lists to run through, tasks to be dutifully checked off, pressing concerns at work that you can’t quite push to the back of your mind. No, things don’t look any different—our lives go on just as they did yesterday, and the day before. The scenery slides by our car windows, the clock on the desk ticks away the minutes, our many and varied toys distract us just as much as we need.

And yet. And yet here, today, we hear a word that stands out in vivid color against a dull background: Christ is risen.

Risen, indeed—but risen into our world; the world where we go on relatively unchanged, with our plans, our work, our worries. Risen into our world, almost without our noticing, like the tune you can’t get out of your head, quietly playing in the background of everything you do. Risen into our world, inescapably, like a trumpet blast sounding out of nowhere, just behind you. Meeting us unexpectedly on the road to Emmaus, listening to us babble senselessly on, and opening up our eyes to the world around us. Meeting us in the guilt and shame we carry with us; after all, Christ still had scars on Easter morning. Triumphantly he calls to us, letting us know that we are risen with him—even if we haven’t noticed yet. Yes, Christ is risen into our world, but slowly, very slowly, he’s making it his own. Bringing life where there was death; making peace where there was war; charging even our blandest hours with a hope for something more.

Christ is Risen.


— Joe Lenow

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday

Psalm 27Lamentations 3:37-58Hebrews 4:1-16

He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. . .
Apostles’ Creed, Rite I

+ + +

When I was a small child in church I got chills whenever we would recite the part of the Creed that proclaimed Jesus went to Hell. I wanted to crawl under the pew when I heard that line in a creed. Did the adults know what they were saying? Stop and listen to those words of the Apostles’ Creed: “He descended into hell. . . .”

What on earth did they mean by that?

It was not until the fifth decade of my life that I began to understand the line. And when I did it was for me an amazing moment of clarity.

The event called Holy Saturday is the fulcrum between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. On Holy Saturday, the second day of the Easter Triduum, Jesus smashes open the gates of Hell to let everyone out. On Holy Saturday, Jesus has suffered with us, gone to Hell, and robbed it of its power. Death is the enemy, and death is vanquished. The great mystery of Easter—the mystery of the Christian faith— requires Holy Saturday to get there. Holy Saturday connects the crucifixion of Good Friday to the resurrection of Easter. By grasping the reality of Holy Saturday, we can catch a glimmer of new life by passing first through death, whether it is the physical death at the end of our mortal life on earth, or in all of the little deaths we suffer on the journey of life.

The death of Jesus Christ on the Cross does not have much to do with us without Holy Saturday; without Holy Saturday, it is the unjust death of a good and holy man. With Holy Saturday, Jesus not only dies for us; Jesus dies with us and Jesus dies like us—he shows himself as the God-become-human savior to show us a different way to live. Easter becomes not just about the One, but about all of us.

— Jim Richardson

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Psalm 40:1-17Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-331 Peter 1:10-20 • John 13:36-38

“O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me” (Psalm 40:13)

With these words the sisters at Our Lady of the Angles Monastery in Crozet intone the office of Compline, the last worship service of the day before bed time. On Good Friday we can be especially attentive to the way God answered this prayer sounded through the ages not only on the lips of monks and nuns but in the hearts of all who find themselves in conflict with other people, within themselves, and with God. These two plaintive statements point to the deeper reality of the human condition that Jesus’ death on the cross lays bare: the fundamental rupture in human existence that alienates people from each other and God can only be repaired by God himself.

Indeed, on Good Friday as Jesus hung dying on the cross, God came to our assistance. He suffered the deepest depths of alienation, taking onto himself the sin of the world: all of the shame, powerlessness, helplessness, contempt, scorn, abandonment, greed, fear, and hate that rightfully belonged to generations past, present, and yet to come. Uncoerced, he freed us from the accretions of sin that obscured His image in each one of us, a feat no human could accomplish. Ironically, by taking on our ugliness and relieving us of its estranging burdens, he made it possible for us to see and be enlivened by the beauty of His love and the image of His beauty in one another—a beauty of centripetal, reconciling force that draws us closer to Him and each other.

On this day we can proclaim with the psalmist, “may those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’” (40:16b). Let us also offer our thanksgiving of praise: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end, Amen.”

— Heather A. Warren

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

Psalm 102Lamentations 2:10-18 • 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32Mark 14:12-25

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10-16)

The day’s old light is dying now, bleeding in through the windows cut into the walls of the upper room where we have gathered. Orange squares stretch out across the mat on which the elements of the Pesach Seder are carefully arranged – bitter herbs, cups of wine, matza bread, and the lamb. In the dark, following the sun’s burial behind the Judean hills, Mary lights the lamps to mark the beginning of the first day of Pesach – Passover. And as we eat, we recall with wistful words the story of our ancestors’ liberation from bondage in Egypt, and how – on this night – the angel of death passed over the houses that bore on their lintels the blood of the lamb.

During the meal, the wine and food carry us away from the anxieties of the past days. However, as Jesus takes into his hands the afikomen – the last piece of matza – something in his countenance quiets our raucous banter. He speaks, and his words waft through the warm air weighed heavy with the smell of roasted lamb: “This is my body.”

 Holding a piece of the blessed and broken matza, our senses reject the Lord’s words – this looks, feels, smells, tastes like bread. Still in the silence after he speaks, his words begin to transubstantiate us, first our hearts and then our souls and bodies – Mortal, eat what is offered you; eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it (Ezekiel 3:1-3). So we eat . . . and are consumed.

What sense can our senses make when they are not consumed by desire for the Word of truth? What more can our words be but webs of power and weapons for the Pharaohs and Emperors of every age by which others are kept enslaved unless our words are liberated by the Word of God? What nourishment can bread and wine bring to a world under the dominion of death unless it is the flesh and blood of the Lamb?

— Nicholas Forti

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wednesday of Holy Week

Psalm 55Lamentations 2:1-9, 14-172 Corinthians 1:23-2:11Mark 12:1-11

In each of today’s readings, misfortune, abuse, hostility, and even betrayal abound. In Psalm 70, physical abuse and misfortune are the plight for which protection from God is requested (and “hurry, please!”). Insults, being spat upon, and beard being yanked are described in Isaiah 50: 4-9a. Hebrews 12: 1-3 reminds us of the hostility and suffering that Jesus endured. And John 13: 21-32 provides the setting in which Jesus identifies the man who will betray him.

Pain, abuse, ridicule, and suffering could be viewed as the major focus of these readings, and they certainly were clearly depicted in the texts. But to focus on them and the negative emotions they conjure may divert us from understanding what actions we contemporary Christians should undertake based upon today’s lessons.

What might those actions be? Perhaps the first is an attitude check rather than a specific action. Isaiah says it clearly: “The Lord God helps me. . . . Who will declare me guilty? Stand against the attacks. Do not hide your face. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.”

Isaiah also offers insight into the second action to take—to have the “tongue of a teacher” and to sustain the weary with a word. How will the Truth be carried forward into the next thousand years if today’s believers do not sustain the weary with the words describing the teachings of Jesus?

The third action, also suggested in Isaiah, is to have “the ear of a listener.” Listen to the word, and listen to the needs of those around you. Eyes to see, ears to hear, mouth to speak, and hands to work.

— Diane Wakat

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday of Holy Week

Psalm 6Lamentations 1:17-222 Corinthians 1:8-22 Mark 11:27-33

A few years ago at Shrinemont the program leader used poetry to direct our reflections and discussions. This poem by Mary Oliver engaged me powerfully:

By Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond
no matter what its

name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it

to let it go.

— Betty Kerner

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday of Holy Week

Psalm 51:1-20Lamentations 1:1-2, 6-122 Corinthians 1:1-7Mark 11:12-25

Based on John 12: 1-11

I am learning to “be in the moment” to be fully present. In her book Loving-Kindness, Sharon Salzberg writes, “The simple act of being completely present to another person is truly an act of love.”

In today’s Gospel lesson we find Jesus having a meal at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The preceding verses tell us that Jesus is being pursued. People have been ordered to be on the look-out for him and to report his whereabouts to the chief priests and Pharisees. They plan to have him arrested. Ultimately, secretly, they plan to kill him.

 I wonder about the mood at this particular meal. I can imagine a scene where everyone around the table is filled with anxiety and worry; one where the mood hangs heavy as a shroud. Perhaps it is in her heaviness —grief —that Mary leaves the table and returns with the jar of perfume. I wonder at the emotions she experienced as she cleaned Jesus’ feet with it. What did she feel and think as she used her own hair to dry them? It seems to me that Mary knew something about being in the moment—about being fully present.

What cues can we take from Mary? From Jesus? He also knew something about being fully present, didn’t he? What shape might life take—might the world take—if we turned fully towards one another in a mindset of loving compassion?

It has been my practice to give up things I enjoy during Lent. As I write this, I’m still thinking about whether or not I will keep to this tradition this year. One thing I know I will do is to continue to work on honoring each moment of each day.

— Christie Thomas

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday: The First Day of Holy Week

Psalm 24Zechariah 9:9-121 Timothy 6:12-16Luke 19:41-48

One of the most profound truths in any psalm is the verse that begins the 24th Psalm:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

Man’s relationship to God and to God’s creation is starkly and beautifully put in this humbling, respectful and poetic way.

Man isn’t mentioned. Neither are butterflies, smolts or scorpions—or any other specific pieces of the fabric that knits all life in the world together.

People who inhabit the earth are here as a part of the Lord’s creation, and he founded it “on the seas and established it on the waters,” a biological truth taught by science and scripture.

Ownership is not man’s for we are but stewards of the Lord’s creation. We are in it and of it —not above it.

The Lord is above it, and, the psalm asks and answers “who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?”

Those with clean hands, a pure heart and who worship no idols or false god, a tall order.

Most of us will be imagining God. Most will be praying, unknowing and unseeing.

We should lift up our heads and our gates and doors that the Lord may come in.

We are a part of God's creation and should look up.

We are but knots in the fabric that clothes creation.

We are a flash on the runway of life.

— Bob Gibson

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Psalm 144Exodus 10:21–11:82 Corinthians 4:13-18Mark 10:46-52

We begin, with industromilitary encouragement, to think like Psalm 144 so long ago, that God’s solidly our rock and deliverer. Yet this psalm moves on to a distant Almighty God who brings mankind to truer mindfulness within, questioning his significance before God: “. . . what is man that thou dost regard him. . . . Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow.”(Timed) King David praises their ultimate champion, because of [the] Israelites’ faith in Him. Faith in justice by oppressed Jews is marvelous, Arab Spring uprisings too, but do they still get justice, or grace, fighting?

Yahweh avenges through pestilence, and finally dead firstborn. Only then Moses, with the Israelites, angrily leaves Pharaoh. God is evidently just, and decisively giving a new Time to them; here’s no Arab Spring, but Massive Resistance, when God did command distantly to their leader —training them to wait, pack, vacate.

2 Corinthians: “Since we have the same (age-old) spirit of faith, as he had who wrote, ‘I believed, and so I spoke’” (referencing Psalm 144: “I kept my faith, even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’”) Paul adds: “our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an internal weight of glory beyond all comparison . . . things that are unseen are eternal.” On the scales (Justice), the eternal glory within us will outweigh “our outer nature.” So it is with Anne and all our dear ones who have died in faith and personal affliction; so “as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving.” That grace raises unified voices in praise.

Be careful: Bartimaeus, a blind roadside panhandler, called out for Jesus’ mercy. Many shushed him for his disunified voice—think Downtown Mall. Resistance. Louder. Jesus stopped. Looked. Listened. For Bartomaeus’ faith, He gave sight. Note Bartimaeus, upon receiving sight, joining that crowd.

— Frances Lee-Vandell

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Psalm 141Exodus 9:13-352 Corinthians 4:1-12Mark 10:32-45

As I write this, I am thinking of a friend who took her own life a week ago. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul speaks of carrying the light of God . . . “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” It is not in our nature to ponder at length on those who have died. Death is sad, but you grieve and must move on. Pray tell, though . . . how can death work in us? Upon hearing of my friend’s departing, I was keenly aware of how I am not present to those in my life, especially her. I would ‘someday’ get around to having lunch with her when work was not so busy . . . I’ll read the draft book of her life she sent me via email (marked that as a to-do) . . . would join her for those philosophical discussions. Someday. The dark side of the “what if’s” is within reach to hold on to. I can count myself as one of those “perplexed, but not driven to despair.”

I can almost empathize with Pharaoh not listening. I was not listening to her and probably am not hearing many friends in need, much less God. How do I let the light shine out of the darkness on a daily basis? I choose to let the life of Jesus be manifest in my body, as well as all those whom I have loved, and live within me . . . they shine for all who are left on this earth within me. “But my eyes are turned toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; do not leave me defenseless.” Amen.

P.S. For this Lent I plan not only giving up television, but each day taking on meeting with, calling, or writing (computer-related communication not counting) a friend or relative I regularly do not have contact with.

— Denni Conner

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Psalm 140 Exodus 7:25–8:192 Corinthians 3:7-18Mark 10:17-31

When Jesus says to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” is he speaking to me about the modest, relative wealth that I “have”? Or is he speaking about the wealth of options and choices I have in my life—the plethora of opportunities for my life that I still imagine is mine to enjoy? And, as I consider how I want to be and what I want to be doing during life’s third act, as Jane Fonda puts it, is it actually even my choice or one of my options?

I think that time is like the plant, whose flower is love. And I think that the seed is an heirloom to hold as treasure for the future.

I pray that I treasure the plant, the flower and the seeds from this time of inner reflection and outward seeking, lest I confuse these gifts with the material comforts of wealth, which have done little to feed my faith or my capacity to love.

I pray that I may experience enough time, not just as a respite from work, but also as another step in the journey toward and aligned with my God-given purpose on this planet. Amen.

— Leslie Middleton

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Psalm 130Exodus 7:8-242 Corinthians 2:14–3:6Mark 10:1-16

In Mark 10:1-16, Jesus discusses marriage and divorce. Does this passage forbid divorce, or did Jesus trump the Law in Matthew 22:39-40, when he offered “Love your neighbor as yourself” as one of the two commandments on which hang the law and the prophets? I don’t know, but I do know that marriages die in our Church despite the best intentions, and divorces result. And when two parishioners divorce, one or both may leave the parish family, sometimes feeling that the Church has failed them, or that they have failed the Church. Can we reconcile divorcing Episcopalians to, and in, the Church?

Bishop Spong described a “Service for the Recognition of the End of a Marriage.” Two people faced each other in pain and grief, surrounded by friends. They prayed Psalm 130 (coincidentally, today’s psalm): “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; hear my voice.” They asked each other for forgiveness, and pledged to remain friends. Bishop Spong reported: “. . . it was painful for everyone there. All shared the excruciating pain of human brokenness. The divorced couple wept, and so did every member of that gathered group. Hearts cried out for an easy answer. But this service took place in real life, not in fantasy. The pain could not be removed; it had to be endured and transformed.”

One priest ended such a service with these words: “We affirm you in the new covenant (coincidentally, a phrase from 2 Corinthians 3:6, today’s Epistle) you have made: one that finds you separated but still caring for one another and wishing each other good will. On behalf of the church which blessed your marriage, we now recognize the end of that marriage. We affirm you as single persons among us, and we pledge you our support as you continue to seek God's help and guidance for the new life you have undertaken in faith.”

As one minister remarked on reading of Bishop Spong’s experience, “Now that’s a church.”

— Lloyd Snook

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Psalm 122 Exodus 5:1–6:11 Corinthians 14:20-33a, 39-40Mark 9:42-50

Bricks without straw. That was the harsh, angry command from Pharaoh to the captive Israelites. How often do we try to make our own lives without straw? Multitasking, work, home, children, doctor, dentist, music lessons, sports. Oh, don’t forget church! Oh, don’t forget prayer! How easy it is to throw away our straw, the binding agent for our lives. Why do we allow so much into our lives and forget why we’re really here? Others, as Pharaoh did, might call us lazy. Our own guilt may tell us we’re not doing enough.

But the straw. How can we make our lives, families and happiness, our church, neighborhood, city, country and world better without the straw of God’s love and presence? God told Moses to say, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.” God says to us, “Now, you will see what I am doing for you.”

May we pray to restore the spiritual straw we need in our lives that we may perfectly love Him and worthily magnify his holy name in all that we do.

— Lawrence Elliott

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Psalm 35Exodus 4:10-20(21-26)27-311 Corinthians 14:1-19Mark 9:30- 41

In the gospel reading for today from the Daily Office, the Disciples are heading down a wrong path, something which happens frequently in Mark. They are arguing about who is the greatest among them. In response, Jesus admonishes them by saying, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all” (Good News Bible).

This is a message we have all heard in church but we might easily overlook how incredibly radical it is. In trying to come to terms with Jesus’ words I can’t help thinking of a very different expression: “Nice guys finish last.” This cheerful message is generally ascribed to Leo Durocher, the long-ago manager of the New York Giants baseball team, but I think it is much more than one man’s opinion in the context of sports. It is an underlying theme in how affairs of the world are conducted much of the time.

Throughout the New Testament a contrast is often drawn that is sometimes seen as a contrast between earth and heaven, or “flesh and spirit.” But at a deeper level it is really drawn between the ways of the world and the ways of God’s kingdom here on earth. Christians who try to “be the servant of all” will often find themselves swimming against the tide of how the world operates. As we think about this period of Lent, a cynical view could assert that Jesus “finished last” by going meekly to his own death. And yet, in truth, it was the greatest victory of all, overcoming the worst that the world could do, defeating the powers of sin and death. Thanks be to God.

— John Zuck

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Psalm 118 Exodus 3:16-4:12 Romans 12:1-21John 8:46-59

Psalm 51 embodies the truth of our human experience and the core of our Biblical faith. We read it at the beginning of Lent in the Ash Wednesday liturgy and now again on the fifth Sunday as we look toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.”

The Lenten season asks us to pause and look with a terrible honesty at our offenses, the things done and things left undone, the words and deeds that separate us from God, from one another, even from ourselves, and that bring such harm to the entire creation. If that were the whole story it would be cause for profound and crippling despair as we look into our hearts and remember our acts. But in complete trust and faith, with the Psalmist we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Give me the joy of your saving help. . . .”

The joy of your saving grace. Lent renews in us the confidence in God’s grace that is the very foundation of our faith. The Psalmist assures us that we put our trust in the God who comes to us as the God of mercy, of loving kindness and compassion, the God who looks beyond my failures, my sins, my blindness to the needs of others and acts to heal and strengthen me, “for behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.” Deep within us is the knowledge, the assurance that in forgiving us God frees and strengthens us to bring the joy of God’s saving grace into the world.

— Paula Kettlewell

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Psalm 33 Exodus 2:23-3:151 Corinthians 13:1-13Mark 9:14-29

"I believe; help my unbelief!"
Mark 9:14-29

The life of faith is one of yes and no (or maybe . . . ); of advance and retreat; of yearning and suspicion. The Word has been spoken: I am with you always. Do not be afraid. Come unto Me. We want to believe that it is really that simple, but nothing in the world as we know it is that simple. People have agendas, sometimes evident, sometimes hidden. We ourselves have agendas, some noble, some not.

If I say, “I believe,” I reach out for God. I perceive that there is something bigger beyond myself, with which I desire connection. And then comes the unbelief —“Silly fool, those myths are for the uneducated, the masses who need an anesthetic, who need to hold on to hope against hope.” I’m not one of them.

What is happening in this passage is Jesus’ demonstration of the simple fact that we can choose to participate in God’s healing work, no matter how imperfectly.

Jesus never called on people to believe ideas or creeds, only to believe in Him, and thereby to bring God’s realm of wholeness, known as Shalom, into being.

Do we have to wait until we’ve got all the theology worked out, all the questions answered? I don’t think so. In the words of Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., “Over the years I have learned that ‘cleaning up one’s act’ may be far less important than consecrating one’s life. It may be possible (for God) to use everything.”

It’s only a couple of weeks until Easter. Consecrate your life to God, and the belief will come.

— Ann Willms

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Psalm 102Exodus 2:1-221 Corinthians 12:27-13:3Mark 9:2-13

I haven’t read Jefferson’s Bible, but I’m pretty certain the Transfiguration doesn’t appear there, because it’s a miracle, one of many we encounter in the gospels. Singular, however, without any “healing.”

When I was a teenager in the ‘60’s, the Bedford Presbyterian Church dominated the Village Green in my town. They ran an afterschool program for teens in the church basement, known as “the Pit.” I decided to go to the Pit to see what the Bible was about, since I knew nothing about it, having never been taken to Sunday School or church. That particular day they were talking about the Transfiguration. I never returned, since I thought if they believed that, they must all be nuts.

I joined Trinity Presbyterian Church in 1980 so our son, Thomas, could be baptized. I joined the Young Mothers’ Circle, meeting monthly for Bible study. That year, Senior Circle members led our studies; one leader was a widow named Alice Magness. Alice, an Elder, was first woman Moderator of the Mid-Atlantic Synod. She recognized my infant faith as needing guidance, and took me under her wing. One day, I asked Alice, “Do you believe that the Transfiguration really happened? Just the way it’s written?” She looked at me directly, and replied in a single solemn word, “Yes.”

Her faith infused mine, and I believed, because Alice believed. I grew to love the vision of Christ’s garment, “glistering white,” as I chose my word from among the many translations. Yes, it really happened.

Just as the half-faith of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 became more than whole, inspiring an entire people to believe after she met Jesus, so mine met his transfigured form, the booths, the patriarchs, the whole 9-yards, in the zeal of my dear friend, Alice. Can yours?

— Margaret Lee

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Psalm 73Exodus 1:6-22 1 Corinthians 12:12-26Mark 8:27-9:1

As I read through the texts for today for the second time I was reminded of why I declined the opportunity to write a Lenten reflection the first time I was asked. “What would I possibly have to say that would be meaningful to someone else?” or more directly, “I don’t understand the message in most passages so how could I possibly write about them?” Today’s readings land me in that uninspired place.

And in sitting with that I have been reminded of something important: faith is about showing up, especially when you are uninspired. There doesn’t have to be deep meaning or insight, whether it is a passage, a service, any holy event, or really any life event. Being present, whether it is at church, with a friend, at home, at work, with yourself—showing up—can be enough. And if we do that, even in the most uninspired times, the grace that is faith will bring meaning and insight when and where we least expect it. May we all have the courage to show up and receive God’s grace.

“My faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another.

Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew.
Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear.” – Anne Lamott

— Erika Viccellio

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Psalm 109 • Genesis 50:15-261 Corinthians 12:1-11Mark 8:11-26

“Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?”
— Mark 8:18

Jesus is frustrated with his disciples who are still worrying about daily needs like having enough food to eat. Have they not been paying attention to any of his teachings?

We encounter so many obstacles that impede our understanding of God’s message: no time, too many distractions, too many commitments; pre-set ideas, unrealistic expectations, unfinished business. Greed, lust, envy, revenge. Ignorance, judging others. Illness, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and to food, sex, gambling, power. And fear, shame, pain, anxiety. We are unavailable to see, to hear, or to remember God’s word. How can it be otherwise?

When asked to identify times I have known the Holy Spirit, I return to childhood vacations spent in Wales where my family has a small cottage. To be outside there, looking at the hills, the hugeness of the sky, hearing and feeling the wind, the sound of new lambs, was a most precious gift for me. My mother would say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my strength,” and I knew what she meant. I have had to learn to pay attention, to stay in the present, not to miss what is happening now by letting myself be distracted by the past or concerned about the future. I listen for my biases and judgments that prevent me from accepting how things are, from knowing people as they are.

I came across this short piece of Buddhist wisdom, reminding us that a troubled mind cannot know the way.
We are what we think,
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
How can a troubled mind understand the way?
Can we hear God’s word in a new way? Can we clear away the cobwebs? Can we understand?

— Deborah Healey

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Psalm 99 Genesis 49:29-50:141 Corinthians 11:17-34Mark 8:1-10

Feeding of the Four Thousand

What compelled four thousand people to follow, listen, be with Jesus for three days inadequately prepared? I can only try to imagine the magnetic force he was to them and guess that they did not anticipate staying three days. I can easily imagine his “compassion for the crowd” with nothing to eat as he prepared to leave them.

I recall an instance of being inadequately prepared on a hike into the crater of a quiet volcano in Hawaii. Four of us started in the cool of the morning. A couple of hours in, we arrived at a shelter from the hot sun. Taking stock of our situation I realized that I had precious little water to complete this twelve-mile hike which included ascending a zig-zag trail up the wall of the crater. Then I heard a voice of a young woman, “I have more water than I need or want to carry. Could you use some?”

Not only did we now have the water we needed, as we made our way up the crater wall, we each hiked at our own pace. I was alone and noted that I felt fear. I kept my left hand on the mountainside and resisted looking to my right. The distance down was dizzying. A misstep could mean disaster. The girl, well prepared with a personal guide, became a presence as I proceeded, sometimes in front, then behind. Once again I learned the meaning in a phrase I’ve known always, “the Lord will provide.” The girl, who I remember as an angelic presence, cheered as I emerged at trail’s end.

“Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.”—Psalm 99:9

— Doris Greiner

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Psalm 89:19-52Genesis 49:1-281 Corinthians 10:14-11:1Mark 7:24-37

“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

Very early one Sunday morning many years ago, I was awakened by crippling abdominal pains. Neighbors took me to the ER at 3 am. In less than 24 hours I was supposed to be on a plane to Italy! Instead, I was told, I’d need emergency surgery. I asked my neighbors to call a friend from St. Paul’s. When church began later that morning at 10 am, I was already on the prayer list.

By 11:30 am, two dear parishioner friends stood in my room as I was being prepped for surgery. Two more arrived as I was being wheeled down the corridor to the operating room. I was told the rector arrived shortly after I was taken to surgery. Many hours later I awoke in my room to find another parishioner keeping watch.

Throughout that day and for the next five days during my hospital stay, the people of St. Paul’s took care of me. Two took on the monumental task of cancelling all my itineraries for Italy. One friend arranged sign-ups for home delivery of meals after my discharge from the hospital. That same friend spent the night at my house the first night I was home. Throughout this whole time, I had no worries. I was disappointed about missing my trip to Italy, but what I got instead was much more—I got a lesson that the bread and body of Christ go way beyond merely standing around the Holy Table on Sunday mornings.

— Bonny Bronson

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Psalm 66Genesis 48:8-22Romans 8:11-25John 6:27-40

It is said that John is the most mystical of the Gospel writers, yet he has Jesus telling his disciples: “I am the bread of life.” What can be mystical about bread?

Bread has sustained humankind since before the written record of history. It can be made a number of different ways, with many kinds of grain, but it depends on a living organism, yeast, to make it what it is. The yeast takes the dense flour, feeds on its sugars, multiplies, raises the mass into a bubbling sponge, full of air pockets that will make the inside of the loaf soft and cloudlike while the outside, the crust, contains it and absorbs the direct heat, turning brown and stiff in the process. The process is somewhat of a miracle.

Bread has about 60 percent of the amino acids we need to sustain life. (Add cheese and mushrooms and you get as much protein as a chicken breast. Or look for Ezekiel bread; it has all eight essential amino acids in it.)

Yet as good as bread is, it can still go bad. Molds love to grow on bread, an excellent food source for them. Some molds are beneficial, such as penicillin; ergot, another bread mold, causes hallucinations. Some are just toxic.

But Jesus told them of a bread that held no such perils: “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” No wonder the disciples said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

A hymn I often find myself humming is based on this passage:
I am the bread of life
He who comes to me shall not hunger
He who believes in me shall not thirst
No one can come to me
Unless the Father beckons
And I will raise you up
And I will raise you up
And I will raise you up
On the last day.

— Lori Korleski Richardson

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

Psalm 90Genesis 47:27-48:71 Corinthians 10:1-13 Mark 7:1-23

We want to believe that spiritual harm or benefit can be tied to things, to action, to the concrete and external: the right or wrong diet, the careful pursuit of ritual purity, the right or wrong standard of religious observance. But, as Jesus tells us, and as Paul reminds us, “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.”

That which comes from without is temporal and fleeting, and cannot attach itself to our souls. The soul is the only thing which is eternal, and our own hearts are the only source of division between ourselves and the love of God. Food, having no lasting effect, cannot make us forget our love for God, nor can it inspire us to acts of selfishness, cruelty, or neglect of ourselves, others, or the earth. Only in our own hearts can we forget our love for God, our desire to be united with the divine, and it is only in this forgetting that we lose our way, and sink into a fog of dis-ease and preoccupation.

And, to take a more hopeful view, there is no power on this earth, no ruler so great, no authority so strong, that it can dissolve our relationship with God, the bond we have with our Creator. Ultimately, no matter how much we may desire a simple set of rules and answers to life’s questions, a clear outline of things that we can simply avoid in order to be saved, all that matters is the “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit, and our response to it.

— Beth Molmen

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Psalm 91Genesis 47:1-261 Corinthians 9:16-27Mark 6:47-56

The story of Jesus walking on the sea and calming the waves in order to comfort his disciples is disturbing for many readers, especially those troubled by miracles. Some have wondered about the salinity of this body of water, or its depth, hoping to explain the improbable event. But often a story may be profoundly true without being factual. Since the other three gospels offer variations on this mysterious account found in Mark, clearly we’re not to dismiss it!

The scene is very early morning, and the disciples are bobbing in a small boat on choppy waters, an unsettling if not terrifying situation. Into this metaphor of the human condition Jesus appears, initially unknown and frightening, but gradually recognized as he conveys deep calm and peace. This is not the public Jesus, the one who in late afternoon fed 5,000 people. The man who appears on the turbulent sea is their close friend and teacher, and the fantastic story may be meant to reveal how they came to perceive him privately, how his physical presence puzzled and astounded them, how he demonstrated for them a new way of being.

Mark makes no secret of Jesus’ ritual for restoring inner strength and peace: repeatedly the writer tells us that Jesus withdrew to pray. Significantly, Jesus was praying alone on a mountain above the sea when the disciples began their voyage. I believe we’re meant to connect these periods of solitude and prayer with the powerful truth of Jesus’ teachings, as well as the reassurance of his physical presence. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

In this Lenten period let us too be willing to withdraw alone to pray. Perhaps we may find a sense of inner peace and stillness bringing calm not only to our own hearts and minds, but to those souls all around us.

— Marsha Trimble

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Psalm 43Genesis 46:1-7, 28-341 Corinthians 9:1-15 • Mark 6:30-46


“What are you trying to suggest
by this poem?”
a good friend inquired
as I shared a recent effort with him.
I was almost tempted to respond,
but then reckoned
limiting response to my suggestion
might limit its suggestibility—
somewhat like a person requesting
explanation of a work of music.

Maybe better,

“What’s the meaning of that dance?”
The dancer might well reply,
“If I could put it into words,
I wouldn’t need to dance.”
Try it; your interpretation will be
as good as mine—
and thanks for adding to it."

— Doug Vest

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Psalm 81 Genesis 45:16-281 Corinthians 8:1-13Mark 6:13-29
Pharoah said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt.’”— Genesis 45:16-28
Sounds like a plan to me. Sounds good. It turned out very badly for the Israelites, however, the descendents of this old man, Jacob, who merely wanted to see his beloved son, Joseph, before he died.

If we carelessly offer blessings to others without first bathing the situation in soaking prayer, we may be doing more harm than good, in the long run. If, after much prayer, you still wish to offer those blessings and you feel peace in your heart about doing so then, by all means, go forward with your plan. If, as you pray, you feel any hesitation in your spirit, ask Him to show you what is causing that. We are now enveloped in a period of discernment . . . listening to our hearts and what God is speaking to them. When this is over, if you have been diligent in participating in these listening sessions, you should be able to understand this process. It is simple. Don’t complicate it.

Father/Mother God, give us wisdom, knowledge and understanding to do your will in the world, remembering that enabling those who would use us is of no profit to either of us, except to teach us a hard lesson. Show us your face in the needs of others, and let all of our charity lead toward self-sustaining behavior on the part of those we would bless. AMEN Selah

— Mary Carolyn Lawson

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Psalm 78:40-72Genesis 45:1-151 Corinthians 7:32-40Mark 6:1-13

In Mark 6:1-13, we are told that Jesus went home to Nazareth, and on the Sabbath he went to the synagogue to teach. Rather then speaking words of comfort and praise, Jesus spoke of uncomfortable truths, angering his hometown.

As a result, rather than accepting the words and wisdom of Jesus, they ran him out of town. Stunned by their disbelief, Jesus said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin and in their own house.” As I read this scripture, it brings to mind the familiar phase, “It is not fair to judge the past with today’s sensibilities.”

I wonder how did we come to these modern sensibilities? The list is long of what we now deem unacceptable: slavery, segregation, discrimination, and polluting the environment. Why did our views change? The reason we have changed is not from a gradual evolution of philosophies, it is because brave individuals could not accept the status quo. They were compelled to shine light on injustice regardless of personal loss.

It is from these heroic individuals awakening us from our “comfortably numb” complacency that change has come. Like Jesus, these individuals were shunned by their community, threatened, or worse for daring to speak the truth. I hope as I am confronted with uncomfortable truths, I will do my part to shed light on injustice.

— Julie Lassetter

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Psalm 77Genesis 44:18-34 1 Corinthians 7:25-31Mark 5:21-43

The condition of the woman in Mark 5 is not just physically debilitating; it exempted her from marriage, from religious life, it drained her of all of her money, and made her a social outcast. This was a woman who was not just unclean some of the time, as many women of this time were considered to be, but all of the time. She was an outcast in every respect. Much like Jarius’ daughter, at first it seems that she is dying, but it soon becomes clear that in some sense, she is already dead.

Jarius, a leader in the synagogue, falls publicly at the feet of Jesus; but the woman approaches Jesus inconspicuously, her identity protected by the people around Jesus who is, as we know, in the midst of someone else’s story of healing. And yet, even though Jarius’ daughter is dying, Jesus knows the significance of the woman touching his cloak, and he stops in the midst of the rush to make her healing complete. For he does not just physically heal her but calls her out of the crowd in that very moment, bringing her into the open and back into life.

Who is this woman to us today? Do we rush by her, giving in to her social invisibility? Maybe we relate to her. Maybe we feel invisible, excluded, crying out in the words of the Psalm, “Has God forgotten to be merciful?” Today’s passage in Mark not only shows us God’s power and desire to heal us from everything that brings us death rather than life, but also reminds us of Jesus’ particular concern for those about whom others are unconcerned. He cuts through conventional notions of clean and unclean and the social notions of priority and hierarchy: he has time and care for each individual.

God of power and healing, help us to desire the fullness of life that you desire for us. God of the outcast and the excluded, show us whom we exclude, whom we ignore and pass by in our day to day lives. God of the Exodus, help us to find your path through the Red Sea, and to have the faith to walk like Aaron and Moses, being led by you even when your footprints are not seen. Amen.

— Gillian Breckinridge

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent

Psalm 93Genesis 44:1-17 Romans 8:1-10John 5:25-29
“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. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”— Romans 8:5-6
This passage comprises the purpose of many Christian disciplines: to turn away from the desires that distract and destroy, and turn toward that which gives life, peace, joy, and wholeness.

As we find ourselves here in the middle of Lent, let’s check in. What are we thinking about, dwelling on? On what are we setting our minds? Our hearts?

Do we find ourselves looking to something or someone to satisfy our heart’s desire, to soothe the gnawing angst, to fill the abyssal longing? Do we wait and wait for that next email, that next drink, that next job—the one that will make us feel whole and loved and free?

Or do we remember that in Christ we are already free, we are already fully loved, and we receive all that we need—although it is not always what we are looking for.
“For you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” — St. Augustine, Confessions
— Emily Williams Guffey

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Psalm 76Genesis 43:16-341 Corinthians 7:10-24 Mark 5:1-20

Psalm 76, which opens our readings for today, has several instructions for the musical leader of worshipers. The first translated words characterize the psalm as a song. No surprise, for one-third of what we know as the Old Testament is written in poetry_pretty close to song already. The next opening words inform us that stringed instruments are involved_they even have a leader, whereupon I imagine a bank of lyres and such.

That might be a fine guess, but the choice does not explain the word Selah which appears immediately after the first and third verses. No stranger in the Psalter, Selah appears therein seventy-one times_no minor role. And the meaning? Probably having to do with cymbals, or a related instrument which gives out a loud, enthusiastic sound, like adding spice to the cooking. Here is zest!

Do you suppose that our predecessors were lusty in their worshipful response to music? I hope so, for that is a sign of enthusiasm, no matter how much on-key or off. Bear with the argument to remember that ‘enthusiasm’ is just one step from ‘en-Theos-ism’_the coming in of God! What a gift for the musical soul! Right now, how about singing or humming a bit of a favorite hymn?

- Norvene Vest

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

Psalm 95Genesis 43: 1-151 Corinthians 7: 1-9Mark 4: 35-41
“And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. . . . A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat. . . . But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?’” — Mark 4:36-38
Mark’s story of the stilling of the storm shows the disciples terrified by a sudden storm as they are out on the lake of Galilee, taking Jesus “across to the other side” after his long day of teaching the crowds. Which of us has not been terrified by a storm at some point when the forces of nature erupt and we realize our own powerlessness?

When my children were little I strove not to show my fear of thunder and lightning, lest their fear be strengthened. As a sailor when I have been out in stormy seas, I have found comfort in the calm strength of a captain who did not panic. The disciples were so caught up in the drama of the moment and their sense of their own peril that they shook Jesus awake. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I love the eyewitness touch in this story, the picture of the exhausted Jesus “in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” First he rebuked the wind (using the same formula with which he earlier rebuked an unclean spirit) “and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then he rebuked the disciples for their fear. “Why are you afraid, have you still no faith?” The disciples’ fear is contrasted with Jesus’ calm trust in God’s sustaining care. In the dead calm which ensued, the disciples ask, marveling, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

May I remember to trust, when next I am afraid, that the God to whom I have committed myself will be with me, and can bring order out of chaos as Jesus stilled the stormy waters of the lake.

— Jane Rotch

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Psalm 71Genesis 42:29-381 Corinthians 6:12-20Mark 4:21-34

Ever since I was a little girl, I have considered myself a native of forests. Besides growing up in a house tucked inside the woods, I have always felt safe, always in my element, while trudging through trails surrounded by trees that tower over, sheltering me from the outside world. I never quite understood my fascination with trees; all that I know is there does not exist any other comfort in the world to me than being engulfed in never-ending woods while listening to the distant calls of birds. A tree, I suppose, has a history to it that passes all human experience. Trees patiently grow over hundreds of years and stand firm through calamities and disputes, making humans feel so insignificant in comparison. I often find myself staring in wonder at these fortresses, meditating on how they are one of God’s greatest creations in the world.

How fleeting, I then think to myself, for God to create us, with human bodies. If we were to be instruments of God, how can nature appear mightier than us, so flawed with emotion and desire? Where am I to retreat when I feel so distant from God, for I know the strong forest will not always be there for me. In Psalm 71, the Lord is described as a “rock of refuge, a strong fortress,” the tree rooted into the Earth.

In Him, we can find power and righteousness, so long as we “tell of [His] righteous acts.” A similar idea appears in Corinthians, that we can become “one united with the Lord” if we glorify Him in Body and Spirit. I do find it true, in helping the needy and fulfilling Jesus’ call to service, that I feel closer to God in more ways than one. He created my body, or the “roots” of the tree, the kingdom of God growing inside me, starting as a tiny mustard seed, growing so that I may find refuge in myself and for other birds, away from the world.

Even as I grow old with age, I take refuge in myself and know that God has created a mighty fortress that I can carry inside forever. I look for, daily, the strength inside me that the Lord has given, and find my soul flourishing as a tree from a mustard seed, becoming the never ending kingdom of God.

— Wesley Conner

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

Psalm 119:73-96Genesis 42:18-281 Corinthians 5:9-6:8 Mark 4:1-20

Mark 4:12: “. . . they may look and look and see nothing.”

Jesus is describing some followers to his disciples. If God is loving energy within all and around all, as I believe, the Divine is acting in every moment. We need the eyes to see. Perhaps we should reverse the statement, “seeing is believing” to say that “believing is seeing.”

Often stillness or a time away can prepare us to look from the heart—from within. Expectant awareness can help us begin to see life as an exciting spiritual journey. Connections appear. Certain people will “be there” just when we need them. Or, a book will appear that seems to have been written for us to read at this particular time.

Two people can look at the same scene or event. One sees the ordinary. The other sees a miracle. May we help one another to be the latter.

— Brenda Peterson

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Psalm 62 Genesis 42:1-171 Corinthians 5:1-8Mark 3:19b-35

Let that be a lesson to you!

“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools—friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty—and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’ And mostly, against all odds, they do.” 
— Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Cindy: During my life’s construction, I’ve managed to say and do a tremendous number of things I swore I never would (my list of “Things I'll never do when I’m a Parent . . .” must be with those shiny tools I never received). But anyone really handy knows that experience is the most important tool you bring. And experience means you do some things wrong and have grown enough to be able to admit it. I’ve always learned more from the mistakes I’ve made than the things I did easily. I want my kids to know that it’s okay to be wrong, okay to apologize, okay to try again.

John: The minimalist teaching toolbox: the carrot and the stick. (In Japan, it’s “the candy and the whip”—a bit more piquant and relevant to our species, maybe) Great teachers know which tool to wield—Jesus shifts quickly from sharp tongue to quiet allegory depending on the audience, their mood, time of day, etc. I hope my kids have learned good things from me. And I pray for awareness, understanding, and openness to learning. Learning THROUGH teaching. God knows my kids have taught me a lot.
Eternal God, you are our rock, our refuge, our salvation. Grant us the wisdom to be teachers, and to be taught.
— Cindy Cartwright and John Frazee

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Psalm 57Genesis 41:46-571 Corinthians 4:8-21Mark 3:7-19a

Psalm 57 reminds us of those most difficult times in our lives when we are “surrounded by lions greedy for human prey, their teeth are spears and arrpws, their tongue a sharp sword. . . . they laid a snare in my path, they dug a pit ahead of me.” Perhaps our lions come from outside—our co-workers, our families, our wounded past. Perhaps the lions are internal ones—our compulsions, our addictions, our negative thinking.

But what is the response of the psalmist? Anger? The Fight? No. Rather, “My heart is ready, O God. . . . I will sing, and make music for you . . . awake lyre and harp . . . I will make music for you among nations.”

It is no accident that music forms a core part of our worship, and it always has been so. What are the psalms, but ancient hymns of praise, worship, anguish, despair, and hope. What are our Taize chants and our hymns of today? They are vehicles, means, methods for engaging all those “lions” about which the psalmist speaks. No social movement existed without a component of music and art. The civil rights marchers didn’t only march, but they sang as they marched.

We all have the songs of our lives—those meaningful tunes whose messages engaged us in those pivotal moments of our lives. The internet, records, and cd’s provide us with the opportunity to access any of the music that has touched our lives. And each time we celebrate the liturgy in music and song, we let the power of art touch our very being.

Ars longa, vita brevis. The songs we sing, the psalms we pray, can be vehicles for prayer, healing, praise, and hope. Art has the power to slay the lions and heal our hearts.

— David Slezak

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent

Psalm 29Genesis 41:14-45Romans 6:3-14John 5:19-24

In Psalm 29 we are given a vision of God enthroned in peace above the chaos of the earth. As we proceed through Lent, I am struck by this view. Not so much the idea of an impassive king untouched by those outside his castle, but rather the idea of not allowing the hectic world consume us.

During Lent we are offered the chance, the excuse really, to step back and not let our crazy life become our god. We are overwhelmed with information, 24-hour news commentators, Facebook, Twitter and cell phones now provide the constant static of our world. Add to that the worries of a shaky economy, disappearing investments and jobs that cause us to work longer and harder for less. In many parts of the economy you either do the extra work, or you know that there are those who will gladly do so, just to have work again.

But this season of the church year allows us to say NO that I will not let myself be ground down. We are allowed the gift of taking the opportunity to turn off and be quiet. To allow ourselves to collect, recharge, to stop and think. And in this space we may find the joy that the psalmist wrote of; the joy of the young calf, skipping in the pasture in spring.

— Buck Smith

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 138Genesis 41:1-131 Corinthians 4:1-7Mark 2:23-3:6

We journey through Lent with purpose, remembering that we call upon the lord and he answers us; giving strength to our soul—especially in a time of darkness, and Lent is somewhat a time of darkness, a time of soul searching. We are called to be stewards of God’s mysteries, to give glory to God; again, even though we do not fully understand. We are called not to pronounce judgment before the Lord comes, for He will bring light to that which is hidden in darkness and disclose the purposes of the heart.

Then the question arises: What is the purpose of breaking the law—of picking grain or healing someone on the Sabbath? Yet Jesus asks, is it lawful to do good or to do harm? For it is in doing good—in simply following God’s call, in being good stewards of His mysteries— that we find His purpose fulfilled. Even during Lent, while we wait, perhaps in darkness, for the light of the resurrection and the coming of His light into our lives, His purpose for us is disclosed and there is allowance for healing as we journey towards the joy of Easter.
Journey with purpose
With God given strength
Stewards of God’s mysteries
Though we do not know the way

Journey with purpose
Fulfilled with God’s spirit
Waiting with hope
Though there may be darkness

Journey with purpose
With God’s light in our lives
Allowing for healing
Awaiting Easter joy
For the Lord will fulfill His purpose for us; even when we cannot see what that might be, even as we wait in hope of the resurrection, not sure of the way.
— Anne Cressin

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 51Genesis 40:1-231 Corinthians 3:16-23Mark 2:13-22
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. . . . you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
This passage’s use of the word you means the community, but I prefer to give it more of a personal meaning for myself as a part of the community.

There are many times when I am disappointed with myself; why didn’t I express sincere congratulations to a neighbor when her child was elected president of my child’s class? Why did I leave from a meeting early to avoid having to discuss the controversial topic with a particular acquaintance? Why do I sometimes lose patience with my precious spouse or loving, energetic children? Why did I repeat another person’s personal information to others? Why am I afraid to disagree publicly with a generally recognized Leader? Why do I have trouble praying for my enemies?

When I re-read this passage my self esteem is restored. As a part of God’s temple holding his Spirit I know that I can improve. My face-to-face conversation and my body-language begin to look as if I were speaking with another temple-dweller. I wonder if I am aware of the gift I am receiving from the other.

There are many times when I realize that my personal gear-shift is sitting in neutral. Being in neutral provides quiet time for prayer, reflection, and rest, but it also reminds me that as part of God’ temple I have the responsibility to act, to share my gift of love and caring with others. There is sure to be help I could give at the food bank, story-telling I could share at Trinity Pre-school, tutoring I could learn to offer in the public schools, and cooking I could do at the Salvation Army.

St. Paul’s Church is our Christian community; we are the temple that contains the Spirit of God. Here we share God’s blessing and together go out to demonstrate our caring for others. May God grant us the wisdom, patience, and courage to follow through.

— Betz Gleason

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 19Genesis 39:1-231 Corinthians 2:14-3:15Mark 2:1-12

So strong was their faith that the people removed the roof over Jesus’ head to let down the paralytic. The psalmist’s exultant rhapsody of belief sweeps us away in its passion and certainty. We look around us and so many wander the dark alleys of disbelief. How do they survive in hard times without the assurance and comfort of Your abounding love? How do they take the next step without You to guide them?
Help me to bring relief
To those in disbelief.

May they see in
Sunset’s grand theatre
The glory of God the creator.

May they find from
A stranger’s face, amazing,
That God’s love was gazing.

May they feel in their
Friend’s cancer cure
God’s healing work assured.

May they know God’s own love
That mends the broken heart
Gives sinners a second start.

May they sense the mystery
God’s spirit bringing from the night
The brightest day, his glorious Light.
— Alice P. Turner

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 49Genesis 37:25-361 Corinthians 2:1-13Mark 1:29-45

I am struck anew with the Old Testament story of Joseph whose brothers hate him because he is a “dreamer.” While they are talked out of killing him, they sell him to nomadic tribesmen and conspire to tell their father Jacob that Joseph has been killed by animals. From this reading, we learn only that Joseph has survived to be the slave to Pharaoh. Yet we know he is destined for more: Joseph will have a mission to save Egypt.

Jesus, in the reading from Mark, has embarked on his mission, teaching and healing those sick in mind and body. But even the Son of God needs solitude and prayer. If Jesus, that most perfect of men, must seek out a space alone to pray and meditate on his holy work, then surely we mere mortals also need to stop our busy-ness, no matter how noble or good, and let the Holy Spirit infuse and guide us, even re-direct us. Sometimes this may be “doing less” or taking on a task that we had not anticipated. But we can only know what God wants us to do if we allow ourselves to “dream,” to meditate and pray, to be still.

This is true not only in our personal lives but also as we seek to serve God in the world. We need to be guided by the quiet inner voice of God. Our parish is currently undergoing a process of discernment to learn anew our collective task. Likewise, each one of us may need to seek similar discernment to help us on our individual paths. Our true Lenten discipline should be based not on what we give up to the Lenten fast but the extent to which we can find the “lonely” place to replenish ourselves with the Holy Spirit. It is through prayer and meditation that we can discern how God is calling us individually.

Dear God, help me to renew my spirit so that by Easter I can, with the Psalmist, say:
“The meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb.
I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.”
— Kay Slaughter

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 47,  48Genesis 37:12-241 Corinthians 1:20-31 • Mark 1:14-28

Jesus said to them, “ ‘Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And, immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:17). O what power Jesus must have embodied that day to so attract Simon, Andrew, Zebedee and John that they immediately left their nets to follow him. O what love—that in an instant, these fishermen were cloaked with the conviction and surety of the living Christ. They chose to follow. They chose to let Jesus make them become fishers of men. Jesus did not say “Make them fishers of men.” He said, “Make them become fishers of men.” Saying yes to God began their turning toward repentance. The apostles were thereafter tethered to God, anchored and secured for their becoming.

Did they really know what becoming fishers of men meant? Did they hear exactly what Jesus said? Did they have any idea what they had chosen? Yet Jesus’ presence and love was mysteriously encompassing and compelling. They had seen the Lord, “made by God to be their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

This is He whom “even the wind and the sea obey” (Matthew 8:27). This is He whom your demons recognize and obey. This is He who does not forsake you in the dark. This is He who sets the leaves a wavin’ and the trees a swayin’ on a beautiful day. This is He who subtly tosses His head and beckons you to follow. “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This is He whom you seek.

“Tell the next generation that this is God, our God for ever and ever. He will be our guide for ever” (Psalm 48:14).
— Betsy Daniel

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 52Genesis 37:1-111 Corinthians 1:1-19Mark 1:1-13

I Corinthians 1:1-19

Paul here reminds us of the unity that should exist between Christians and between Christian communities, a unity based on our common call “to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”

Our relationship with Jesus is to be the foundation of our identity, calling us to love in a way that is not limited by divisions of social class, nationality, race, denomination, or gender. Picture diverse Christian communities all over the world hearing the call in different ways: a trumpet call, a church bell, a Protestant “call to worship,” a stirring sermon, the sight of an icon, the smell of incense, a friend’s greeting, a moment of stillness, the coolness of water at the entrance to the church . . . and responding in their own ways “to be saints,” remembering Jesus’ saying that being in the kingdom means not “saying Lord, Lord” but doing “the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Paul also reminds his readers that the unity of the group is not to be based on identification with human leaders, even those as great as Paul, Peter, and Apollos.

Paul urges Christians to find their identity in the one Spirit that underlies their community, the God who has called them (like Joseph in today’s reading from Genesis) out of their ordinary identification with family and community into a larger vision of the world, the fellowship of Jesus Christ. And this fellowship is under the sign of the cross—not the statue of Caesar, but the criminal’s gallows that shows that at our lowest moments, when human existence seems dominated by sin, violence, and weakness, God is one with us, God is seeking us out.
Vickie Gottlob

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday of Lent

Psalm 63:1-11Daniel 9:3-10Hebrews 2:10-18John 12:44-50

These verses offer a summary of Jesus’ teaching. However, they can be and have been interpreted in a heaven and hell framework that many no longer believe in. So I turn to Marcus J. Borg, an internationally renowned Bible scholar and author of “Speaking Christian,” for an interpretation that is helpful to my spiritual journey.

According to Borg, modern Christians are steeped in a language that distorts our religion. He uses the “historical-metaphorical” method for understanding Christian language that can restore these words of power and transformation in a way that grounds the faith in its “deep and rich original roots and allows it once again to transform our lives.” In these verses: Jesus says, “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.” Borg says a better interpretation of the word “believe” would be “belove.” So Jesus means that he came so that whoever “beloves” him may not remain in darkness.

Then Jesus says, “If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” According to Borg, the concept of “save” would mean to transform the world rather than save us from going to hell. He sees the work of the church as transformation. The next verse has Jesus claiming that he is saying the commandment that God told him to say. This is followed by verse 50 in which Jesus says, “And I know that His commandment is eternal life.” Borg would ask us to notice the present context, that it does not refer to life after death. It means “the life of the age to come.” Borg says that in John’s theology it is still future and to be hoped for. But it is also present, to be experienced now.

Borg’s summary on this point is: “To know God and Jesus in the present is to participate already in the life of the age to come. Thus in John, this verse is not about believing a set of statements about Jesus for the sake of heaven later. It is about beloving Jesus and beloving God as known in Jesus, in the incarnation, and entering into “the life of the age to come” now. It is not about people going to hell because they don’t believe. It is about the path into life with God now.”

— Helen Reynolds

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Psalm 32Ezekiel 39:21-29Philippians 4:10-20John 17:20-26

Philippians 4:10-20

Doing All Things through Christ: A Compass for Lent

The words of verse 13 of this passage are frequently quoted on evangelical pamphlets and greeting cards. The familiarity of these words can cause us to dismiss them but this year I hope to use them as a compass for Lent. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The words encourage me to ask myself how Christ strengthens me. I believe Christ strengthens me because I trust that I am God’s beloved and I give thanks for that every day. The knowledge and gratitude I speak of is only one step along the way to doing all things through Christ, only one direction on the compass. Let’s consider that direction of knowledge and gratitude “north.”

In the remainder of this passage Paul acknowledges the gifts of the Philippians. In these verses I hear God speaking to me about another direction in doing all things through Christ. I hear God speaking to me about stewardship of time, talent and money. I think that exercising constant prayerful intentionality about being a good steward in all that I do is another direction on the compass. This prayerful intentionality is “south” on the compass for Lent.

Remaining on the compass are east and west. The east and west need to balance the knowledge and gratefulness of being God’s beloved with the prayerful intentionality of reflecting on being a good servant and steward in all things. The “east” leads to a time of extended quiet individual prayer; daily time to listen and engage with God. And the west, the west is home. Home may be literal or home may be a small group or Sunday worship. The “west” is simply a home in which to pray with others.

I hope to use this compass each day of Lent and I pray that it will help me discover how Christ strengthens me so much so that I can do all things through him. You are invited to use it too.

— Darren Ball