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

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Psalm 31Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25:32Philippians 4:1-9John 17:9-19

Reading Psalm 31 from the Book of Common Prayer, I so empathize with the psalmist, falling to his knees in prayer. Depressed and paranoid (I imagine), he’s ashamed of wanting the LORD’s help.

Yet . . . he knows that the LORD delivers us. It’s comforting, knowing that this writer, so long ago, knew my anxiety . . . and more importantly, comforting to follow his lead, toward relief, via Our LORD.

At first, I see the psalmist calling on God by rote, merely hinting at his personal problem, struggling for the courage to spill his woes:
I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy;
for you have seen my affliction;
you know my distress.
Soon, all the pain comes out:
Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble. . . .
All parts of him: eyes, belly, life, years, strength, and bones are miserable. That’s depression. His enemies, neighbors, acquaintances, crowds, cross the street when they see him coming and whisper behind his back. He’s paranoid. “I am as useless as a broken pot”—my favorite line. I know that feeling.

But then . . . remembering why he fell to his knees, he does put trust in the LORD. Recalling the God’s true power to comfort, he just begs for it: “. . . in your loving-kindness save me.” Still self-conscious, he wants help with that as well: “LORD, let me not be ashamed for having called upon you.”

By and by, encouraged, having remembered God’s love, he sings praises to the LORD, the wonderful, loving protector of all who put their trust in Him.

Finally, the psalmist and I, restored in spirit, turn to the world, recommending the love of God to everyone:

Love the LORD all you who worship him;
the LORD protects the faithful. . . .
Be strong and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the LORD.

— Patsy Goolsby

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Psalm 37:19-42Habakkuk 3:1-18Philippians 3:12-21John 17: 1-8

Here I am at the beginning of another Lent. Along with the effort to get me and mine to church on Sunday, to find time and quiet for prayer at home, I will add whatever discipline I can for a holy Lent. I will probably start faltering about day three or four, and I will have excellent reasons for that—small children at home; husband away often; a house we’re fixing up; too tired. I know ahead of time that these things are part of my life. So why do I set myself up for failure? Why do I even bother being religious? I don’t believe that hell awaits me if I don’t go to church, so what draws me to this struggle?

There have been times in my life when religious practice was non-existent and I gave no more than a cursory consideration to the spiritual. At such times, my life was perfectly normal and . . . flat. I found life lacked dimension and meaning, and the additional time I gained was a poor trade-off. I acknowledge a spiritual need in my life, and in that need I require the foundation of a faith tradition and community of other seekers. Saint Paul’s letters show that he understood people like me. I can appreciate his concern that believers in this young faith have support in a world so ready to look askance at them. He states in today’s reading that “many live as enemies of the cross of Christ . . . their god is the belly . . . their minds are set on earthly things.” A god of the belly does not answer a spiritual need. When I contemplate Christ and my life as Christian, when I speak to or read from people who also consider these things, I find support for a grand journey that makes my life richer by far than anything I might find on my own.

So I will strive for a holy Lent and a blessed life.

— Michele Allen

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Psalm 32  Amos 5: 6-15  Hebrews 12:1-14  Luke 18: 9-14

Here comes Jesus in another distressing disguise—meeting Oscar

It was a cold morning and I was looking forward to sitting at the table in Starbucks, reading my paper and having breakfast before our Advent retreat began. I noticed what I thought was a homeless man sitting in a chair near the window. As I sat down to eat, I asked him if he had eaten breakfast and when he said no, I gave him some money to buy some. He shook my hand and introduced himself, thanked me and offered to do work for me if I needed something done. He returned to his chair for a moment and then came to sit with me at the table. We ate breakfast together, shared the morning paper and talked for a bit. As I left I felt more than the food or the paper or the money, he needed me, my companionship, to feel, if only for a moment, that he belonged to someone. As we begin this journey into the wilderness of Lent, let us pray to be open to Jesus in all His distressing disguises.

— Anna Askounis

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ash Wednesday and our Lenten reflections

Please join us this Wednesday for our Ash Wednesday services at 7:30 am, 12:10 pm, 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm (with choir).

We will again bring you reflections each day written by members of the St. Paul's congregation. Each day's  reflection will post at midnight Eastern time for that day.

May you have a Holy Lent.