2018 Lenten Walk – Sympathizer

Today is Friday the 16 March, The Fourth Week of Lent

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Prayer of Presence:

Spirit of the Living God, free my mind from error, teach my heart the living words of Jesus, and inspire my lips to share the Good News, in the name of the Blessed Trinity. Amen.

(Adapted from a Prayer of Illumination, North United Methodist Church)

Scripture: Today’s reading is from Hebrews 5:5-10

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he also says in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Reflection:

Several titles are used to describe the beautiful person and redemptive work of Jesus in the Bible. Some names and titles are God, Rock, Emmanuel, the Alpha and Omega, Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Rock, and the Bread of Life. Other titles are The Resurrection and the Life, Christ, the Bridegroom, Savior, Lord, Healer, Liberator, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Master, Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David, Lamb of God. Still, other titles are King of the Jews, Rabbi, the New Adam, and Messiah.

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews describes and titles Jesus as the high priest of the order of Melchizedek. A high priest functioned as a mediator between God and the people. They were understood to be holy people, set apart for God and careful not to become unclean through contact with people considered unclean such as the sick, sinners, and corpses. They were ministers of the Lord that oversaw the day to day operations of the worship sites. One of the primary roles of the high priest was to intercede for the sins of the nation before God by overseeing and performing the sacrificial rites that would atone for their sins. A high priest would also oversee aspects of the people’s lives; they would discern God’s will as expressed through the Torah, adjudicate legal matters, and pronounce blessings on the people (Numbers 6:22-27).

The uniqueness of Jesus’ role as our eternal high priest is that he understands and sympathizes with our human weaknesses and struggles. Hebrews 4:15 says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus walked among the people in love, listening and sharing in their joys and hopes and their difficulties and sufferings. He preached good news to the poor, proclaimed release to the captives, made the blind to see, set free the oppressed, and proclaimed the kingdom of God had come near. He touched and healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners. He prayed and made supplications to God for himself and for the people he served and loved. With tears, he cried out to God to save him from the hour of suffering. And in obedience, he tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9).

Because Christ lived our lives and suffered our deaths, he sympathizes with our human weaknesses. He does not condemn us but prays for us and helps us in our time of weakness and struggle. When we look to him in our time of struggle and suffering, we find a Savior, our high priest and our mediator, seated at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3) interceding for us. Christ understands us, cares for us, prays for us, and helps us. He is the source of our salvation, now and for all eternity.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How does your understanding of Jesus as your high priest interceding and praying for you in your times of testing comfort you?
  2. Do you come to Christ in prayer to ask for mercy and grace with a spirit of confidence and boldness or fear? Explain.
  3. Does Jesus’ sympathy for our weaknesses imply that He condones the continuation of our sins?

Prayer Focus: For the grace to approach Christ with boldness to receive mercy and find grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).

Closing Prayer:

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

(Hebrews 13:20-21)

2018 Lenten Walk – The Treasured Walk

Today is Wednesday the 14 March, The Fourth Week of Lent

 Walk-in-Gods-Ways-1-Bing-FSU-400x400

Prayer of Presence:

 Almighty God, in you, is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of your Word; and give me the grace that I may clearly understand and freely choose the way of your wisdom; through Christ my Lord. Amen.

 

Scripture: Today’s reading is from Psalm 119:9-16

How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. With my lips, I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

 

Reflection:

The psalmist asks a rhetorical question, “How can young people keep their way pure? Meaning, how can one conduct one’s life in the ways of God expressed and taught through God’s laws, decrees, word, precepts, promises, commandments, ordinances, and statutes? The goal of such a pursuit is to draw near to God, live a happy life, and have a heart at peace with God and neighbor.

Walking in God’s ways or following God’s precepts, asserts the psalmist, produces a right mind and right action that leads to blessing and happiness (Ps. 119:1-3). Conversely, not walking in God’s ways or straying from God’s commands produces a crooked mind, which leads one on crooked paths and into sin and trouble.

With singleness of eye and heart toward God, Jesus came to fulfill the law of God and to show us how to live in the ways of God through his life, words, and deeds. He promised that those who conduct themselves according to God’s ways and teach others to do the same would be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How much time each day to do you spend meditating on God’s word?
  • Are living in God’s ways a burden or a blessing to you?
  • Are you teaching others to conduct themselves according to God’s ways?

 

Prayer Focus: For the grace to walk in God’s ways.

 

Closing Prayer:

O God, your glory is always to have mercy. Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ you Son, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.                                                                                                                       (The Book of Common Prayer, U.S.A., 20th Cent. Alt)

2018 Lenten Walk – Infinitely Worthy

Today is Tuesday the 13 March, in the Fourth Week of Lent

infinitely-worthy

Prayer of Presence:

Tender Shepherd, bring to my awareness your constant companionship, to my weariness your matchless strength, to my brokenness your healing touch, and to my joy your blessing. Amen.

 

Scripture: Today’s reading is from Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore, teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 

Reflection:

This psalm is an individual prayer for help from God. The psalmist understands that all of creation and life is under the oversight and just judgment of God. As such, he has a serious existential and spiritual problem. He has sinned against God and done evil in God’s sight (Ps. 51:4) and experiences the crushing weight of guilt and unworthiness. He is desperate for God’s mercy and for a restored relationship with God from whom he also experiences alienation. He acknowledges his predicament and turns to God for salvation from himself. He is not petitioning and appealing to God for mercy and pardon for one or a multitude of sins he has committed. And, he is not petitioning God for deliverance from the serious consequences he has created and inherited stemming from sinful acts. His petition goes much deeper than that. He petitions God for mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance from the predicament of his human nature and existence as a sinner. He pleads with God for a new heart and a new spirit so his mind and his will could be open and oriented to God.

Perhaps you have experienced the depths of spiritual desperation expressed by the psalmist. There may have been a time in your life when you felt unworthy of being loved by God. The good news is that the nature of God is first and foremost love, mercy, and grace. The basis of the psalmist petition was based on this truth about God’s nature as he appealed to God for cleansing, forgiveness, and restoration.

“God so loved the sin-bent world that he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) Christ came, suffered and died on the cross because no one’s life is worthless; all life is precious, of sacred worth, and worthy of redemption in God’s eyes. The awareness of our sin and the desire confess it is a sign of God’s Holy Spirit at work in our lives, liberating us from the slavery to sin, establishing our worthiness to God, renewing our hearts, and leading us back to a right and joyful relationship with God, giving us a fresh start open and reoriented to God. The assurance of God’s love, mercy, and grace is good news worthy of hearing about, knowing of, and petitioning upon this Lenten season. In turn, the witness of your life will help others return to God (Ps. 51:13).

 

Question for Reflection:
• What aspect of God’s nature – God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace – have you appealed to the most during your life? Why?
• Have you ever experienced God’s healing grace of forgiveness and restoration of communion after a season of alienation from God? What happened? How was your life reoriented to God?

 

Prayer Focus: For the grace to claim our worthiness to God and an openness and oriention to God’s will and ways.

 

Blessing

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:5

2018 Lenten Walk – A New Heart

Today is Monday the 12 March, in the Fourth Week of Lent

 

stone-heart

 

Prayer of Presence:

Tender Shepherd, bring to my awareness your constant companionship, to my weariness your matchless strength, to my brokenness your healing touch, and to my joy your blessing. Amen. 

40 Days with Wesley by Rueben Job, p. 130

 

Scripture: Today’s reading is from Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

 

Reflection:

Betrayal of trust and covenants wreak emotional havoc on all parties involved. The willingness of an offended party to stay in a relationship when trust and covenants are betrayed by the other party is difficult at best. In this text, God recalls the egregious betrayal by the very people he saved from bondage and slavery in Egypt. The house of Israel broke covenant with God and had gone after other gods (Jeremiah 25:5-7). And yet, God reaches out to his people, willing to stay in a relationship with them even though they strayed away and their love for God failed. God promises to give his wayward people new heart that would enable and sustain their fidelity to God. But that is not all. God is so full of mercy, loving-kindness, and steadfast love for his wayward people. In addition, God promises to provide for them a future with hope, to answer their prayers, be present and available, end their captivity again, bring them home after a long exile, and to restore their fortunes (29:11-14).

What is surprising about this text is that God – the egregiously betrayed one – takes the unilateral initiative to forgive, forget the past, reconcile, and start anew! The apology of the people and their gratitude for God’s forgiving grace and steadfast love would be expressed with and through a newness of heart that would sustain their willingness to stay in love with God and not stray away again.

Partaking of Holy Communion as often as we can afford us the opportunity to remember God’s saving acts in Christ Jesus for us.  Communion invites us to examine our hearts, our lives, and our relationships against the light, love, and life of Jesus Christ.  We can carefully look back at our week or month, face up to our shortcomings, seek forgiveness, and ask for the grace to stay in love with God and stay in touch with the presence and power of Christ so we can fulfill our desire to live as a faithful disciple.

 

Question for Reflection:

  • Have you ever strayed away from God? What happened? How did God bring you back and restore the relationship?
  • Do you have an increased desire to stay in love with God?

 

Prayer Focus: For the grace to stay in love with God by attending to the practices that keep our relationship with God vital, alive, and growing.

 

Blessing

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:5

2018 Lenten Walk – The Lifted Life

Today is Sunday the 11 March, in the Fourth Sunday of Lent

 

 

Prayer of Presence:

Living in the Most High’s shelter, camping in the Almighty’s shade, I say to the Lord, You are my refuge, my stronghold! You are my God – the one I trust! … Psalm 91:2

Scripture: Today’s reading is from the Gospel of John 3:14-21

          And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.

Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 

Reflection: The crucifixion of Christ is set within the context of Israel’s salvific history. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to heal the people from venomous snake bites (Numbers 21). In this text, John is saying that the sozo, or salvation and healing of God continue through the crucifixion of Christ. God has sent Christ into the world so the world could be saved and healed through him (John 3:17).

The Greek word sozo is used interchangeably in the New Testament to express the concepts and realities of healing and salvation. Healing could mean the restoration of health in the medical sense. But the more comprehensive understanding of healing as it used in the New Testament refers to a state of human wholeness, completion, and integrity lifted up in the world because of Christ. Christ came to show us the way to live as spiritually and socially healed, wholesome, complete, virtuous, and principled people (Jn. 10:10). When we choose this way of life, we experience abundant and eternal life, not after death, but now!

Refusing the abundant and eternal life Christ offers is equated to living in bleak darkness. Contrary to what many believe, it is not God who condemns humanity. It is humanity which condemns itself by refusing to live in the light of God’s extravagant love for the world in Christ.

It is easy to judge and condemn others. Today’s Gospel text proclaims that Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to forgive, heal, and save it. The good news is that by coming into the true light of Christ, we can participate in God’s divine mission in the world. As children of the light, we are called to lift up and proclaim Christ’s salvation and healing in places where people are snake bit by venomous words and actions that harm, wound and kill human hope, dignity, and opportunity. As we do so, Christ will be lifted up, and people will clearly see that our deeds are done on behalf of God’s love for the world.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Name three people that believed in Jesus by your testimony.
  2. When you came to faith in Christ, did you experience forgiveness for your misdeeds or an awakening of who you were created by God to be? Or, both?    

Prayer Focus: For the grace live more fully in the light of God’s love.

A Simple Irish Prayer:

May God give you … For every storm, a rainbow, For every tear, a smile, For every care, a promise, And a blessing in each trial.

 

2018 Lenten Walk – When God “Buts In”

Today is Saturday the 10 March, in the Third Week of Lent

reversal

Prayer of Presence:

Living in the Most High’s shelter, camping in the Almighty’s shade, I say to the Lord, You are my refuge, my stronghold! You are my God – the one I trust! … Psalm 91:2

Scripture: Today’s reading is from Ephesians 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Reflection: It is considered to be rude when some one joins in on a conversation or activity without being invited. Behavior such as this is referred to as “interference,” “sticking one’s nose in where it doesn’t belong,” “chiming in,” “prying,” “putting in one’s two cents,” “muscling in,” or more crudely, as “butting in.” Scriptures are filled with moments when God “but’s in” (one “t,” not two). When God “buts in,” former hopeless situations are transformed into new hope and life. God’s but ins are moments of reversal. They are -“nevertheless,” “nonetheless,” “even so,” “however,” “even still, and “yet” – moments when regardless of how hopeless things were in the past, God “buts in” and transforms the existing situation or condition into a new hope-filled and life-giving situation for a individual, a community, a nation, and/or our world.

Today’s passage is an account of the miserable spiritual condition the Ephesians were in before knowing God through faith in Christ. The writer says they were spiritually dead and living a misled life.  In their spiritual deadness, the Ephesians were separated from God, oblivious to the life of God, and alienated from the life of God. “But” God, rich in mercy, out of great love and overflowing grace, made them spiritually alive with Christ. Whereas they were spiritually separated from God, now they are united with God and all God’s people. Whereas they were oblivious that a life in God ever existed, much less desire it, now were made aware of it through the Holy Spirit and able to receive the new life in Christ with faith and joy. Whereas they were formerly alienated from God, now they were members of God’s family, included, and heirs to all of God’s promises. All of this is a gift of God. Now that the Ephesians had access to every spiritual blessing through faith in Christ, they could serve and honor God with their lives so that others could come to know the rich mercies, great love, overflowing grace, and new life in God through faith in Christ Jesus.

The message of Ephesians is a timely call to mission in the world for the Church and each individual disciple at a time when our world is deeply divided by factions and struggling to address and resolve systemic causes that perpetuate injustice, human suffering, and hoplessness. Like the Ephesians, we too are drawn into the life of God by the heart of God’s mercy and love in Christ. Christ reconciles and unites us to God and God’s people. The elusive peace and harmony we seek is found in Christ, who holds all things together through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20). As God’s people in the world, we can live our lives using our gifts to bring healing and wholeness to a broken world. We can be God’s “buts” in the world who see brokenness, factions, and systemic problems “but” then work to heal the brokenness in our world, unify deeply divided factions, and work to right systems of injustice that create suffering and hopelessness.

Whenever we talk or even think about engaging a vast and broken world, we become overwhelmed. How in the world will we ever make a difference amidst so much brokenness? Well, we do it one small action at a time. This week, reflect on on how God calls you right now in the particulars of your day to “but in” in Christ’s name for the sake of healing, wholeness, reconciliation, unity, justice, goodness, and to alleviate suffering. Do not worry about making big decisions or taking big actions, that may come later. Instead, listen to the whispers of God in the busyness of your life and in the still moments of your prayer life. If listen close enough, you’ll know how and where to “but” in in your world.

The prayer by John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) helps us understand the importance of God’s call to us to “but in.” He writes:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. … I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. 

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work; I shall be angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, If I do but keep his Commandments. … Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am. I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness will serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. 

He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Think about a time when God reversed your situation. What happened?
  • What good work has God created you for in the world?

Prayer Focus: For the grace to confidently turn our eyes and lift up our hearts toward God for help in times of trouble.

A Simple Irish Prayer:

May God give you… For every storm, a rainbow, For every tear, a smile, For every care, a promise, and a blessing in each trial.

For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share, for every sigh, a sweet song.

2018 Lenten Walk – Beyond Our Wits

Today is Friday the 9 March, in the Third Week of Lent

wave_storm_by_alcove-d5ems9n
Prayer of Presence: 
Living in the Most High’s shelter, camping in the Almighty’s shade, I say to the Lord,     You are my refuge, my stronghold! You are my God – the one I trust! … Psalm 91:2
Scripture: Today’s reading is from Psalm 107:23-32
          Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end.
          Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.
          Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
Reflection: This portion of Psalm 107 is symbolic of the troubling storms and seas of life from which the redeemed have been delivered by God’s saving grace. The only basis for deliverance from this inadvertent calamity is that the people in distress and at their wits end cry out to the Lord which in turn sets the Lord’s saving action into motion, bringing them out of their troubles and into haven.
          No one is exempt from the reality of tragedies, troubles, suffering, and pain that are a natural part of the world in which we live. In Job 14:1 we read: Man, born of woman,
lives but a few days, and full of trouble.
Troubles and the pain and suffering they cause people are real. Troubles and suffering get our attention and can bring us to our wits end. In those times, we can have the assurance that God is near in the midst of our troubles and suffering. We can turn our eyes and lift up our hearts toward God for help.  C.S. Lewis said it so well in his book The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
          When I look back over the years, I realize that the troubles I’ve lived through have been beneficial to me in several ways. They have helped shape my character, disciplined my spiritual life with God, and they have provided me with the hard-knock life experiences to compassionately help or minister to others in their troubles.
           We cannot insulate ourselves from the troubles and suffering that are part of the natural world in which we live. Jesus acknowledged this when he said in John 16:33: I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but have courage–I have conquered the world.  
          As people of faith, our ultimate peace and safety does not wholly depend on our wits, our peace and safety depends on our nearness to God, the one who is a cry away, who sees our affliction, and delivers us over and over again in this life, and who will deliver us into Christ’s promised haven in the eternal life to come.

          The chorus to the hymn, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, was begun by Anthony Showalter, who was leading a singing school in an Alabama church in 1887. Showalter returned to the boarding room one night and found two letters from former students waiting for him. Both of the men told of the recent loss of their wives. Showalter searched for a bible verse to include in a letter he wrote back to comfort the grieving men. He came upon Deuteronomy 33:27, The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms …. and wrote the chorus for the hymn. A friend of his, Elisha Hoffman, completed the famous hymn with the rest of the words. The final stanza of the hymn is appropriate to today’s devotion.

 

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms…

 

Questions for Reflection: 
  • Think about a time in your life when the troubles or suffering you faced brought you to your wits end. How did you experience the saving grace of God?
  • How have you shared and used with others what you learned from your troubles about God’s saving grace?
Prayer Focus: For the grace to confidently turn our eyes and lift up our hearts toward God for help in times of trouble.
A Simple Irish Prayer: 
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song.

2018 Lenten Walk – God Forgives

Today is Thursday the 6 March, in the Third Week of Lent

Mercy and Grace
Prayer of Presence: 
Let me not lose myself in tedium, errands, obligations.
Holy Spirit, still me once in a while.
Stop me sometimes.
Let me breathe now and then.
Holy Spirit, teach me to pray.
Not many words, just one: Abba. Amen
Jack Levison, Holy Spirit I Pray, Paraclete Press: Massachusetts, 2015, p.2
Scripture: Today’s reading is from Psalm 107:17-22
          “Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.”
Reflection: This portion of Psalm 107 speaks about those that rebelled and sinned against God in the desert. Our United Methodist Communion Service of Word and Table IV uses a traditional text from the rituals of the former Methodist and former Evangelical United Brethren Churches that claims the nature of our rebellious hearts and our need for a new life that follows and walks in God’s holy ways.
          The corporate church’s prayer of confession in the traditional text that precedes the breaking and sharing of the bread and cup reads:  Almighty God, Father our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all people: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against they divine majesty. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father. For they Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 44)
          This is indeed a weighty prayer of confession. In fact it is so weighty, that we often prefer softer confessional prayers of access to the Communion Table of the Lord that affirm our high estimation of our goodness rather than our lowly state of sinfulness. For example, the prayer of confession in another more common Communion liturgy we use reads, “We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own goodness, but in your unfailing mercies. We are not worthy that you should receive us, but give your word and we shall be healed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 51)
          Whether our confessional prayers are weighty or not, what matters is we offer our confession with a pure and right spirit seeking the comfort of God’s mercy, assurance of pardon, and deliverance from all of our sins, God hears our prayers and is merciful to forgive and pardon our past sins and bring us into a new life in Christ.  We receive divine strength through God’s pardon to live in goodness and the assurance of deliverance from sin through Jesus Christ.
          Scripture offers comfortable words to all that truly turn to the Lord.
          “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
          “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
          “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
          “If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
          “If any one sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
 
          Many of us have lived through a season of rebellion, sin, and separation from God, Christ, and the Church. I lived through such a season myself in my young adult years. That season brought me “near to the gates of death,” as the psalmist says (107:18). Like the people in the desert, I cried out to the LORD in my trouble, and he saved me from my distress; he sent out his word and healed me, and delivered me from destruction. So today, I thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works. And I offer thanksgiving sacrifices through my life and ministry, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.
          You may find yourself separated from God today. But, you are sensing the holy desire to be reconciled to God, Christ, and the Church. Lent is a time for putting aside the sins and failures of the past in the light of who we are yet to become by the grace of God.  I invite you to pray the confessional prayer (preferably the first one) and trust that the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ can, and will save you from your distress, heal, deliver, and reconcile you with God, giving you a new life. Afterwards, read the comforting scriptures of pardon and healing.
Questions for Reflection: 
  • How seriously are you about doing penance and seeking reconciliation with God? 
  • Do you need to make a fresh start with God this Lent?
Prayer Focus: For the grace to confess our sin and need for God’s pardon and deliverance from
A Simple Irish Prayer: 
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song.

2018 Lenten Walk – Saved from Desolation

Today is Tuesday the 6 March, in the Third Week of Lent

2953.desolate
Prayer of Presence: 
Let me not lose myself in tedium, errands, obligations.
Holy Spirit, still me once in a while.
Stop me sometimes.
Let me breathe now and then.
Holy Spirit, teach me to pray.
Not many words, just one: Abba. Amen
Jack Levison, Holy Spirit I Pray, Paraclete Press: Massachusetts, 2015, p.2
Scripture: Today’s reading is from Psalm 107:1-9
“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good because his faithful love lasts forever!”  That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies, the ones God gathered from various countries, from east and west, north and south.
Some of the redeemed had wandered into the desert, into the wasteland.
They couldn’t find their way to a city or town. They were hungry and thirsty;
Their lives were slipping away. So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
and God delivered them from their desperate circumstances. God led them straight to human habitation.
Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people because God satisfied the one who was parched with thirst,
and he filled up the hungry with good things
Reflection: Psalm 107 is a song of thanksgiving for the Lord’s steadfast love and blessing shown through the mighty works of the deliverance of those who cry out to God for help. Four groups of redeemed peoples are mentioned in the psalm. They are the hungry and thirsty who have been fed (107:4-9), those in bondage set free (107:10-16), sinners at death’s gate who have been given life (107:17-22), and those in the storms of life who are given hope.  The right response to God’s deliverance is joy, thanksgiving, and public witness that encourages others to put their trust in God.
      The first group mentioned who wandered in the desert and wasteland, hungry and thirsty with their lives slipping away are representative of those experiencing the realities and dangers of migration. In the desert, their is no water, no food, and no community of concerned people nearby to help. Pew Research reports that there were about 60 million people who were displaced from their homes in 2015. Approximately 22,500 immigrants have died or disappeared globally since 2014 each year because of exhaustion, dehydration, drowning, murder, and hunger. Some migrate in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Some migrate after displacement by natural disasters and erosion. Some migrate to escape persecution based on race, religion, nationality and/or membership in a particular social group. Others migrate to unify with family.
         If we spiritualize this psalm, then people in the desert wilderness can be described as those in spiritual desolation. St. Ignatius talks about times of spiritual desolation as part of the spiritual journey for those moving toward God. Spiritual desolation, as Ignatius speaks of it, is not to be confused with psychological or medical conditions that bring depressive feelings and sometimes require medical attention.
          Spiritual desolation refers to the times in our relationship with God when God seems distant and absent. At times God seems missing because we have been negligent in our own spiritual disciplines (prayer, worship, bible study, partaking of the Sacrament of Holy Communion) and because of it, the spiritual consolation of God withdraws from us. The apostle Paul calls this “quenching the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The second reason Ignatius cites for experiencing spiritual desolation is that God tries to see how much we continue to serve and worship him without his grace of consolation. As people moving toward God, we experience this as spiritual burn out brought about by continually pouring ourselves into the service of others often under other demanding external pressures that take a toll on our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical strength and well being. The third aspect of spiritual desolation occurs when we come to feel and understand that spiritual consolations are graces from God, and not due to our own striving, lest we become prideful and attribute our spiritual well being to ourselves.
             Ignatius recommended the following practices to overcome spiritual desolation: Prayer for help from God, meditating on the truths of faith and promises of God, self-examination to gain insight into what may have brought us to spiritual desolation, and penance that counters destructive distractions.  The critical thing to remember is that when God has delivered us from migratory or spiritually desolate conditions, our proper response is joy, thanksgiving, and sharing how and from what God has redeemed us so that others may take courage and put their trust and hope in God.
Questions for Reflection: 
  • Do you identify more with the experience of migratory or spiritual desolation? Why?
  • Recall a time when you have received the consolation and redemption of God who satisfied your thirst and filled you with good things after a difficult period in your life. What happened? Who will you share your story of joy and thanksgiving to God with this week? 
Prayer Focus: For the grace to continue seeking after and serving God in seasons of desolation.
A Simple Irish Prayer: 
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

2018 Lenten Walk – The Cure for Retrograde Spiritual Amnesia

Today is Monday the 5 March, in the Third Week of Lent

Healing Cross
Prayer of Presence: 
Let me not lose myself in tedium, errands, obligations. 
Holy Spirit, still me once in a while.
Stop me sometimes. 
Let me breathe now and then. 
Holy Spirit, teach me to pray.
Not many words, just one: Abba. Amen
Jack Levison, Holy Spirit I Pray, Paraclete Press: Massachusetts, 2015, p.2
Scripture: Today’s reading is from Numbers 21:4-9
        From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.  The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many Israelites died.
        The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
        And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
        So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Reflection: 
            Difficulty remembering past events and the previously familiar information is referred to by the medical profession as retrograde amnesia. Other signs of the symptom may include false memories, either completely invented or made up of genuine memories misplaced in time as well as confusion or disorientation.
             The Hebrew people in the wilderness are suffering from retrograde spiritual amnesia. They have difficulty remembering past events and familiar information. They construct false narratives out of false memories, and they quickly get confused and lose focus on and hope in the Word of God to lead them to the promised land. It does not take long or much for the Hebrew people to move from praising to protesting God, from celebrating to criticizing God, from adoring to wanting to abandon God. Whether God sent them the snakes or whether the people correlated their complaints with the infestation of snakes that bit them is not the message of the story. The good news of the story is that God is merciful and responsive to their crisis and heals them of their infirmity.
             Like the Hebrew people in the wilderness, we too experience retrograde spiritual amnesia whenever the road of life becomes difficult, hazardous, absurd, devastatingly painful, confusing, disorienting, or disheartening. We complain about God. We experience the absence of God. We yearn for the good ‘ole days, and we fear the future. Still, despite our retrograde spiritual amnesia about all the ways God has blessed us in the past, God is merciful. God responds to our cries and fears and reminds us through so many means of grace to look up to Jesus Christ crucified on a cross – the remedy for sin, fear, and death – so that we can live.
Questions for Reflection: 
  • Do you associate troubles in your life with punishment from God?
  • Does your faith and trust in God increase or decrease when you face a crisis in your life? Why?
Prayer Focus: For the grace to trust in God’s goodness in times of difficulty and crisis.
A Simple Irish Prayer: 
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.