Archive for February, 2016

Lenten Devotional, Monday, February 29

Monday, February 29th, 2016

 

Scripture: Mark 11:15-19

In today’s passage, the moment Jesus arrived in Jerusalem he immediately went to the temple and engaged in an act of disruption, an act of civil and ecclesiastical disobedience. It was a dramatic confrontation.

Jesus went to the seat of religious power in his world, which was also the seat of imperial power in Judaea, and performed a prophetic act in disrupting the business of the temple and indicting it as a place of robbers. To put an exclamation mark on that, he stayed for the rest of the day and taught in such a powerful and charismatic way that he kept the people spellbound and left the authorities afraid to touch him.

It’s hard to translate this into today’s terms, but imagine that St. Peter’s Basilica were in Washington, D.C., and that St. Peter’s and the Capitol Building were one and the same. Then imagine some self-proclaimed preacher showing up, performing an act that disrupts the whole place, bringing business to a grinding halt. Then that same upstart sticks around to teach and preach, and he keeps the people so enraptured that the various policing powers were afraid to stop the guy and arrest him. 

And now going back to our biblical story, at the end of the day, Jesus and his disciples just up and left the temple and walked out of Jerusalem.

Suffice it to say, Jesus wasn’t condemning mere unfair business practices; he was provoking the chief priests and the Romans in such a way as to result in his own death sentence. To be clear, crucifixion was an imperial form of execution for political criminals.

This action speaks to the central meaning of Jesus’ ministry. As Marcus Borg explains in Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, Jesus came to the peasants. The Jews of Jesus’ day, if they weren’t religious and political leaders, were peasants, exploited by the imperial domination system and its collaborators, the religious leaders. Jesus brought a message about the nature of God as a God of love, justice and compassion, and about life lived passionately, radically centered in God. This was a message about transformation of life in this world; it was radically different from what was coming out of the temple. And on this day during Jesus’ last week, this was a message that he brought to the center of power, the religious and imperial powers that governed the day-to-day lives of the peasants.

If we are to take Jesus seriously and follow him, this means participating in this passion for God and God’s nature of love, justice and compassion. This is a very different way of living, and at times it can put us in conflict with the powers of today, whether they be political, economic or even religious. May we embrace this challenge to be passionate about God, to be loving and compassionate, and to pursue justice in all that we do.

Prayer:

O Gracious one, give us the courage to seek after your passions, to be loving and compassionate, and to seek justice just as you are these things. Open our eyes to those who are oppressed by the structuring of society that so often benefits the privileged. Conflict and provoke us such that we never grow complacent in who we are and the comfortable lives that we might otherwise live. Call and urge us into a new and different way of being, and give us the strength to never cease answering that call, always pursuing a life made perfect in love. Amen.      

Parting Question:

What does taking Jesus seriously, following him and participating in his passion require of you today?

 

———————————————————————–

Kevin Nelson, Brighton, MA

Lenten Devotional, Sunday, February 28

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

 

Scripture: Psalm 119: 9-16

This passage, today, brought me relief and comfort. Not only do we need to keep the Lord in our hearts and follow the Creator’s ways, but we should share God and God’s teachings with others as well. We will stay true to the Lord as long as we remember what we’ve been taught and practice those teachings day in and day out. Something else to reflect upon in the scripture is a reminder that although we need to follow the Lord’s word, we are constantly learning new ways of living with God as our guide daily as long as we believe in the creator.

The reason why this passage of the Psalm gives me comfort during Lent is because, if we do stray from God or we do forget what we’ve been taught, God will always guide us on the right path and in the right direction of where we need to be headed. We must remember that the Lord has a plan for us and will be there to show us the way.

Prayer:

Let us pray for comfort and relief from our daily lives.

Oh God, let us not stress ourselves out thinking about tomorrow. Let our worried minds understand that you took care of us yesterday, and will take care of us today. We ask that you take care of us no matter what happens in our futures. Let us put aside anxious thoughts and be at peace for the coming days. Amen.

Parting Question:

What type of actions do you take when you feel you have strayed from God’s path? What conscious efforts have you made to share God’s word?

 

———————————————————————–

Amy Pettigrew, Intern, Methodist Federation for Social Action

Lenten Devotional, Saturday, February 27

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

Scripture: Psalm 32

Psalm 32 begins with a spoiler alert, telling the reader the end of the story before telling of the silence and struggle that precede a blessing of joy and new life.

Walter Brueggemann in his book “The Message of the Psalms” says this first verse describes the “lucky ones”.  “The ‘lucky ones’,” he says, “are not those free of transgression, but those able to move through it.  Genuine forgiveness permits freedom to get on with living”.

Brueggemann goes on to share how the body suffers when keeping silence; whereas acknowledgement of sin releases one from restlessness and weakness.  The movement to new life is simple:

I confess/God Forgave

  There is nothing between these two moves. 

The act of forgiveness follows the act of confession directly,

without condition or mediator.”

I often think that God must be very sad that God’s people do not understand why suffering, moaning and groaning, wasting away and weariness keeps on keeping on.    As individuals, as church, and as a nation we blame and name all kinds of persons and causes for our situations of anguish and decline.  If only we had another president, if only the gbltq community would go away, if only we armed our teachers, if only we went back to the good old days when the USA was strong and proud….if only…..we would not feel so frightened and hopeless.

Instead of naming and blaming, in this season of Lent we are called to acts of confession and penitence.  I would invite especially those of us who do not live in poverty, do not feel oppressed every day, or those who are white to name the sinfulness that has brought us to a place of privilege.  To acknowledge sin and move to confession is an act of justice.

In his book, “To Act Justly, Love Tenderly, Walk Humbly” Brueggeman says, “justice is to sort out what belongs to whom and to return it to them.  If we control what belongs to others long enough we come to think of it as rightly ours, and forget it belongs to some one else.  So the work of liberation, redemption, salvation, is the work of giving things back”.   We are called to break the silence of our sin through prayer and acts of justice; giving back to God our sin and guilt and giving back to others and ourselves newness of life.

Prayer:

God of justice and well being, I acknowledge that I continue to benefit from a church and a nation that gains power and privilege from robbing others of their land, dignity, and place of power. Hear my prayer and have mercy.  Amen.

Parting Question:

The psalm is clear about what happens while we keep silence (vs. 3-4).  Where are you participating in breaking the silence of personal and institutional sin?

 

———————————————————————–

 Rev. Vicki Woods, Newport, ME

Lenten Devotional, Friday, February 26

Friday, February 26th, 2016

 

Scripture: 1 Samuel 18:6 

In the passage today we hear that David has come home from fighting in the army and defeating the philistines. People came out from all over Israel to meet David and King Saul with all kinds of music, dancing, and song. This scripture rings true to me even today. I am sure there were some during David’s time who opposed the war or the way Saul was running things. yet when it came time to celebrate everyone, no matter their opinions or beliefs, came together to celebrate. In today’s world all one has to do is turn on the TV and see any number of people arguing over who is right and what they would have done differently in that situation. It seems to be easier to define someone with how they are different than us rather than how we are connected. Yet, our scripture today reminds us that people all over Israel came out to celebrate. In my life I find there are more and more times I forget to be thankful and joyful about the things God has given us and dwell more and more on he problems of this world. This year I pledge to focus on joy and thanking God for all that the Divine has done for my family and me. Maybe, this small act will change how I view the holidays and this world.

Prayer:

Exalt the Lord! Praise the Creator’s name on high! We are a part of God’s creation, beautifully and wonderfully made. In this time of year, it is more important than ever that we remind ourselves of the Joy that comes from loving and being loved. We bring everything we posses to the altar, so our gifts may glorify the coming Savior prophesied to us. AMEN. 

Parting Question:

How different would our world be if we stopped at least once a day to thank God for all the love our Creator has shown us? Would that cause us to live or love differently in return?

 

———————————————————————–

Sarah Cobb, Intern, Methodist Federation for Social Action

Lenten Devotional, Thursday, February 25

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-9                                 

Buy wine and milk for free, come and be quenched without cost? This does not describe a time of deprivation; this is not calling us to deny ourselves.  This is the prophet calling us into an abundant relationship with our creator! Calling us to rich food and telling us to live life, calling us to return to the one who knit us together in our Mother’s womb and created us exactly the way we are. Reminding us of the covenantal relationship we have with God. Reminding us of the promises of that covenant; relationship with God is rich, and satisfying, it gives us direction when we are lost, and  it is thirst quenching in such a way that we will never thirst again for that which will not satisfy us.

When I read this passage I think back over the times in my life when I was the most confused about my direction in life and I realize that in all of those times of uncertainty God has always revealed direction to me. They say hindsight is 20/20 right? But it is when I look back over the course of my life and I see how time and time again God has provided; direction, resources, mentors, and peace with my path, that I can reassure myself now that God will continue to provide.

Seek God and God will show you the way in which you should travel. Listen for God and God will tell you the things you need to know. Reach for God and you will find the arms of comfort and acceptance waiting for you. Return to God and you will find the reassurance and pardon that your heart has been seeking. Take this time of Lent and renew your relationship with your creator because God’s ways are not the ways of ours, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and the way of Heaven is not the way of the Earth.

Prayer:

Oh Glorious and gracious God. How can I conceive of your forgiveness and mercy, how can I fathom the plans you have for me? Hold me in your comforting arms, help me hear your voice and listen to your direction when I am floundering. Guide me as I journey through this season and open my heart and mind and will to learn what it is you need to teach me. I ask this humbly of you my Creator, my Sustainer and my Redeemer. Amen.

Parting Question:

What have been the times in your life that you have had to wait for God’s guidance and when you did feel called in a new direction in life what did it feel like to follow? Are you in a season of following or listening this Lent? 

 

———————————————————————–

Christine J Baxter, http://www.christinejbaxter.net/

Lenten Devotional, Wednesday, February 24

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Scripture: Psalm 34:2-7

Today’s reading is from Psalms – that book of the Bible that includes all our human emotions. I love the Psalms because there’s always something there for me, no matter what I’m feeling or dealing with. These verses from Psalm 34, though, catch me off guard, especially in Lent. Sometimes I think about Lent as the season we should fess up and just accept how much we fail to live up to the people God calls us to be. Repent. Confess. Remember your mortality. This is all true, all part of the opportunity Lent affords us. This is the space in the church year where we liturgically remember the failings and frailty of human life. And then I read Psalm 34, verse 5: “Those who look to God are radiant, and their faces are never covered with shame.” This is a wonderful reminder for us in Lent.

When we confess to God, our sins, shortcomings, doubts, and even our deepest desires for our life, we are trusting God with intimate parts of ourselves. We are trusting the Creator of the universe to see all of who we are and not turn us away because of it. We approach God in Lent aware of ourselves and aware of the character of God. Our God does not shame us, our God loves us. Our God does not turn us away when we fail, our God draws us closer. Our God does not fear our humanity, our God became human.                   

Prayer:

O Holy One, give us the courage to know ourselves and to reveal all of who we are to you. Reveal yourself to us in return, as the One who has known us before we existed, loves us each moment, and redeems us completely. Take away any shame we think we should have in your presence and replace it with the radiance that comes from the deep understanding that indeed, you surround us and free us from our fears. Amen.

Parting question:

What are you ashamed to bring before God? Are you willing to let the shame go in order to experience healing and forgiveness? How can you approach others in that same spirit of acceptance without judgment?

 

———————————————————————–

Emily Peck-McClain, Harrisonburg, VA

Lenten Devotional, Tuesday, February 23

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

Scripture: Acts 1:6-11

Over the last several years I’ve become increasingly involved with various social movements.  Marching with #BlackLivesMatter activists, lobbying with immigration rights’ organizers and DREAMers, celebrating marriage equality with LGBTQ friends and colleagues, mourning the loss of life for far too many transwomen of color, and working to end the death penalty in Texas are all spaces that I’ve encountered the living God.  And yet, many times we are literally marching in the shadows of Churches, and not just the big buildings that are scattered in Downtown Dallas, but various members of the Body of Christ, who would rather us focus on things more holy.   Like the disciples, far too many Christians would rather gaze at the risen Christ than acknowledge the work of liberation and freedom awaiting us.  As the two people in robes probed ‘Why are you standing here?’  I remember vividly one march that took place and the local United Methodist Church had some staff stand outside and watch.  Even the staff who knew me offered no salutation or acknowledgement.  It was as if they were staring at the risen Christ up in the sky, and they were unable to see the hundreds of bodies standing right in front of them marching and shouting for justice.       

Prayer:

Mother God, grant us a new pair of glasses that we may see the work You have set before us.  And instead of standing around staring into space, may we get out of our Churches and into our communities!  Amen.

Parting Question: 

When’s the last time you missed some Church program/service because you needed to show solidarity to a neighbor? 

————————————————————————————-

 

Jason Redick, Carrollton, TX

Lenten Devotional, Monday, February 22

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Scripture: 2 Samuel 7: 4-16

If I remember anything from Denise Dombkowski Hopkins’ survey course on the Hebrew Bible, it is this: 2 Samuel 7.  (Denise, if you’re reading this, I promise I learned more than that!) This one passage of Scripture is often seen as encapsulating the entire Davidic dynasty. That is to say, God anointed David to be his maschiach, or messiah.  This is a drastic shift in understanding the promise of God’s faithfulness. No longer was the covenant placed in a thing (the ark of the covenant). Instead, it was placed in a people (the Davidic dynasty).

As we journey these Lenten days, I wonder what would happen if we shift our thinking from things to people. So often we find ourselves attached to things – physical items, but also concepts and ideas. What if we took a drastic shift away from the things that makes us wealthy, or intelligent, or just plain obstinate, and instead focused on our relationships with people.

When I was in Seminary, we had to participate in a covenant discipleship group. One of the things we agreed to do each week was to handwrite a letter or note to someone in our lives. In the busy world in which email and Facebook impersonalized everything, this practice is something I have incorporated in my life at least once a week (Beware! You might get a note next!) Indeed, when we practice our faith, even in small ways, we connect to each other and to God, who anoints us as seekers of justice and peace.

Prayer:

Holy One, in whom we find challenge and comfort, anoint us with your Spirit. Clothe us with righteousness and humility. Help us to practice our faith and live in covenant with you and all creation. In your many names we pray, Amen.

Parting Question:

What are the practices of faith that help you strengthen human relationship and connect to God’s presence more deeply?

———————————————————————————————————

Chett Pritchett, Executive Director, Methodist Federation for Social Action

Lenten Devotional, Sunday, February 21

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

 

 

Scripture: Joshua 5: 9-12

 

After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites knew nothing for bread except the manna that appeared every morning like frost on the ground.  They did not know how to feed themselves as God had provided for them the entire time.  Now that they had entered the Promised Land, they are being prepared by God to fend for themselves.  They had learned to trust God and now their lives were going to change, but God would provide for them in other ways.

 

Like the Israelites we are showered in manna-like grace daily, sustained and blessed despite our grumblings.  This grace is more than enough to sustain us.  It can also empower us to do the hard work of faithfully following God. This food we’ve been given is the food that sustains no matter what wilderness we find ourselves in. It is the food that will take us to the Promised Land.

God wants to lead you to a place of bounty in your Christian life. God wants to lead you to a place of fullness, to a place of blessing, to a place of glory, to a place of victory. God wants to bring you into a place where you do not have to depend on the blessings of yesterday to sustain your soul, but where you can enjoy the priceless riches of what God has given you in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer:

Dear God, we look back through history and see signs of your presence in the lives of your people. We look back at our own lives and see those places and times when you did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Today, as we face the challenges of our lives, keep us mindful of your presence and the gifts you have given us that allow us to make our way in the world. God, feed us again with mercy, so that we may be strong in Christ and for Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Parting Questions:

At any given time we are only a phone call, a text, an E-mail away from some life altering situations. For the Jews of Joshua's day two things changed: the manna, and the pillar of fire. Adapting is necessary for survival. What do we do if something we have been use to is no longer there? Who do we call on? Who do we trust? Our Lord and our God, where are you leading your people today? Have you ever lost your way where you no longer trust in God’s leading? Who or what has enabled you to be restored to strength and trust?

—————————————————————————————————

Bill Watts, MFSA Board member, Uniontown, Ohio

Lenten Devotional, Saturday, February 20

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Scripture: Luke 13:1-9

This passage in Luke reminds me that I can’t draw immediate conclusions about the things that happen to me. Did somebody harm me, either intentionally or perhaps through negligence? I look for meaning. Did I do something wrong to deserve this? Is this God’s way of punishing me for something? Is God trying to tell me something?

Jesus says “no.” He says the people Pilate murdered and the ones squashed by the falling wall were not being punished. They were not worse people than the ones who were not murdered or squashed.

He makes this clear, but also repeats the call for his listeners to “repent or perish.”

So…these bad things that happened…

They weren’t God’s judgment.

But God’s judgment will come.

So turn back to God. Repent.

And then comes the parable of the fig tree.

This tree is not bearing fruit.

But it will get another chance to bear fruit before an eventual judgment.

Several things about this story comfort me:

There is the fact that the fig tree is planted in a vineyard – not a fig orchard.

There is the fact that the fig tree has had several years to bear fruit.

There is the fact that the fig tree is going to get another chance.

There is the fact that somebody outside of the fig tree itself is going to try and help.

There is the fact that the expectation is for the fig tree to bear fruit – but no certain quantity of fruit is specified.

This is why these things comfort me:

God is watching out for me, even if I am a fig tree in a vineyard. Even if I seem to be out of place or unusual or outside the main stream in my current situation or location.

God has invested in me already. He has given me opportunities to bear fruit.

God has not given up on me. He is prepared to give me another chance to bear fruit.

God is going to help me, tend to me, work with me to help me turn things around and bear fruit.

God is not expecting me to do everything and be perfect.

It’s as if God is saying “One fig! Come on, Tree, Give me one fig! And I promise we will continue to work together to bear fruit.”

Prayer:

Lord, I am just one person. I am imperfect. Many days (and sometimes years at a time) I bear no fruit.

Thank you for tending to me and providing opportunities to grow.

Thank you for reminding me that I can’t look at the bad and good things that happen to me as an indication of your judgment or blessing, but that you do bless me and you will judge me.

Thank you, Lord for not giving up on me.

Help me not give up on myself.

Amen.

Parting question:

Think about where you have been planted. What fruit is God calling on you to bear in your situation? Are there times when you feel like a fig tree in a vineyard? When praying to God to help you bear fruit, what sorts of “tending” do you need from the Master Gardener? Can you benefit from focusing on bearing “one fig” instead of worrying about the size of the harvest?

—————————————————————————————————

Sarah Lowther Hensley: communications volunteer for the MonValley District of the West Virginia Annual Conference; lay member of LIFE UMC, Fairmont, WV

 

 

 

 

National Office:212 East Capitol St., NE,Washington, DC 20003 * tel: 202.546.8806 *email: mfsa@mfsaweb.org