April 7: The Passover Lamb

Mark 14:12-16

As the disciples follow Jesus’ instructions about finding a place to celebrate the Passover, they may have wondered how Jesus seemed to know exactly what was going to happen. How did he know that a man with a water jug would lead them to a house where a guest room was already prepared? If he knew such things, what else might be possible? Would he soon reveal himself as the long-awaited Messiah and free them from the bondage of the Roman Empire? And when he did, what might their role in his kingdom be? I doubt that they had any understanding that in preparing for this Passover meal, they were helping to prepare for Jesus’ death. They could not have seen how Jesus would become the new Passover lamb.

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God commanded that every Israelite household was to slaughter a year-old male lamb that had no defect, putting some of its blood on the doorposts and lintel of their houses. When the angel of the Lord saw the blood, he passed over the house and did not inflict the tenth and most terrible of the plagues: the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were commanded to celebrate Passover to remember how God led them out of slavery. When we see Jesus as the new Passover lamb, we acknowledge that his body was given for us, that his blood was shed for us. He is the unblemished one, the one without defect, whose blood on the doorposts and lintel of our hearts saves us from destruction and frees us from the bondage of sin.

Listen to “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris. You can find it in many hymnals, on YouTube, and where Christian music is sold.

By Anne Knighten, a senior in the MDiv-Distributive Learning program at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. She and her husband live in Redlands, CA.

April 6: GraCe is greater

Mark 14:10-11

Twelve disciples have been called and left everything. They have stayed by Jesus’s side when times were good and public approval was high, and at times when the crowds began to turn against Jesus. They followed Jesus when there was imminent danger. They have all heard the things that Jesus taught with authority. They have witnessed Jesus’ healing and other miracles. For three years they have followed Jesus. If Judas leaves the fold here, it is not because he has seen or experienced anything less than the other disciples. If he chooses to walk away, it is not because Jesus has loved him any less than he loved the other disciples.

It is a mystery why Judas would betray Jesus when he received so much from Jesus. But we should not overlook the fact that Peter also made a disastrous decision when Jesus was arrested. However Peter was restored to relationship with the resurrected Jesus; while Judas, in despair, took his own life.

As followers of Jesus in our lifetimes, even when we have received much from Jesus, sometimes we make decisions that betray or deny the commitment we once made to follow. The question perhaps isn’t so much why we make these kinds of decisions, but what will we do next? Will we return and seek forgiveness and restoration?

For centuries, Christians have prayed this simple prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Although this prayer admits our sinfulness, it places the emphasis where it belongs – on God’s great mercy. Try repeating this prayer a few times throughout the day. As you pray, allow yourself to believe that God’s grace that is greater than all of your sin.

By Amanda Hecht, pastor at Faith Community Church, in Wakaw, SK, Canada. Affiliated with the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, Faith Community is nestled on the Canadian Prairies.

April 5: Getting it

Mark 14:3-9

She knows what she has here.

This is Mark’s gospel, so figuring out that Jesus is the Messiah is the first half of the book, and figuring out what that means is the second half of the book.  And the people closest to Jesus, his family, his friends, “Rocky” and the “Sons of Thunder,” the apostles and disciples, they keep getting it wrong.  Again and again.’

But this unnamed woman gets it.  She knows, somehow, that Jesus is headed for something terrible, that Jesus is infinitely precious. And she acts on it, immediately and extravagantly.   She follows him where he goes, into a place she would probably have otherwise avoided, risking either ritual uncleanness or actual contagion from the person with the skin disease with whom Jesus is eating.  And unlike Jesus she does not have God’s healing power at her beck and call.

And the disciples, who are still figuring this out, scold her.   But Jesus intervenes, as Jesus will and allows her to do what she wants.  Allows her to recognize his preciousness without question, allows her to risk herself and be generous.  Allows her to anoint him, and celebrate him, in this last week as he heads on his road toward the end. 

Jesus, help us know what we have, in you, in each other, in the gifts we have been given.   Help us to be extravagant in responding to your gifts.  Amen.

By Julie Holm, pastor of the Brush Valley Fusion of Faith, a charge in the UCC and ELCA located in Rural Central Pennsylvania, and is the editor of this devotional.  She is also the artist at Spirit Descending Vestments.

April 4: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Mark 14:1-2

In their book Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey and Donald Michie point out that the Jewish authorities are caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, they believe that God has given them authority, but they are dependent on the Roman occupiers and invested in the way things are. They have power, status, and respect.

Enter Jesus with a new authority that directly challenges theirs. The authorities’ curiosity about Jesus becomes suspicion and then hostility. He is a direct threat to them in more than one way. He challenges their presumed authority from God, and as the crowds around Jesus grow larger, they attract the attention of their Roman overlords. The whole delicate balance is in danger, a costly prospect.

They plot Jesus’ destruction cautiously. Ironically, the very ones who believe they exercise authority over the people are in fact controlled by their fear of the very same people. Now that Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem, their territory, they prepare to move against him, though stealthily and always wary of the reaction of the crowds.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this was just history? But it isn’t. There are many times I want to shout, “Jesus would NOT be pleased!” from the pulpit, but I demur and move indirectly, coming at the truth slant, as Eugene Peterson phrased it. Jesus remains a challenge, even a threat, and we still look for ways to tame him. The fear of the people’s reaction still haunts us.

How does Jesus challenge you? Would you rather play it safe and maintain the status quo? How has following Jesus been a risk for you?

Prayer: Jesus, we pray for boldness to follow you, even when we might upset the status quo. Amen.

Ry Rev. Dr. Allison Byerley, Pastor of Mariposa UMC in Mariposa, CA.

April 3: God our Provider

Psalm 102:23-28

Hands reaching. Hearts hoping. Souls crying out to be saved from the very real oppression and injustice in everyday life. In these times we feel insecure and unsafe and cling to temporal things for momentary relief from our grief. Perhaps we lament, “Why are you allowing this to happen, O God?”, as our Psalmist David intimates (Ps. 102:23-24) Who will set the captive free? Who will reverse the tide of injustice? Who will deliver us from our grief? Where can joy be found? Questions of restoration linger in the echoes of our mind. The psalmist echoes our cries.

In Lent we contemplate the state of our lives and the lives of others. As we feel our hurts and lament God’s seeming absence let us not lose faith and hope that the Christ, who has shared in our every experience, will meet us in the darkest places physically, mentally, and spiritually. God’s faithfulness in Christ allows us to sit in the midst of darkness and not lose hope but cling fast to the faithfulness of One who provides all that we need. God has been faithful before. God will be faithful to provide and restore us to fullness of life again. (Ps. 102: 27-28)

We pray: God of provision and restoration, grant us faith in our questioning and peace in our turmoil. Let us endure with you in this Lenten season clinging fast to the cross in the promise that we too will be resurrected and redeemed with Christ.

By Amelia Houdek, pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Spring Valley, WI, a church connecting to God, our neighbor, and the world.

April 2: Promises

Psalm 102:12-17

We make a lot of promises to others and many promises are made to us. Sadly, too many promises are broken on both ends of the equation.  Unfortunately, promises are easy to make and often easier to break, but generally hard to keep.  I often wonder if God feels this way.  God has a perfect track record on promise keeping, and I don’t foresee that changing.  Throughout Lent, we reflect on God’s sacrifice and yearn to understand God’s promise to resurrect and redeem the world through Christ.  Yet, can God resurrect and redeem the mess I make on a daily basis?  The Psalmist reminds us that no matter what it is we are going through that “the LORD sits enthroned forever.”  The LORD extends compassion and our respected cities will be resurrected, or rebuilt.  No matter the destruction, God does not despise our pleas. The Psalmist reminds us that no matter the circumstance, even the cross of Christ, “You will arise and have compassion…”  No matter how destructive and destitute our situation is, “the LORD will rebuild…”  No matter how bad, “the LORD never despises the prayers and pleas of the destitute.”  Now that is a promise I am glad God keeps.

Holy Lord, We need your help, and so does everyone else.  You promised to respond and not despise the pleas and prayers of the destitute, so hear our prayer and help us rebuild our Zions. Amen.

By Michael Bowe, D.Min. works for a men’s drug and alcohol recovery center in Huntsville, AL

April 1: Hear My Prayer, O Lord!

Psalm 102:1-11

The writer of this Psalm is clearly in a lot of pain and angst. Today is April Fools Day and it would seem that the Psalmist believes God has made a fool out of them. In not answering their prayers, they believe that God is angry at them, that God has forsaken them when they need God the most.

How many of us have come to God begging this same prayer, crying out in pain, hoping against hope that God has not forgotten us? Hear my prayer, O God! In pain and suffering we cry out. God why have you not heard my prayer?

Living a full life means we will be hurting at times. The human experience means feeling all emotions. Even the most faithful follower of God will at some point feel forgotten, begging God to hear their prayer.

Yet, we know that it is not because we are unfaithful that God feels far. God never left the Israelites, God certainly never left Jesus, and God never leaves us alone. At times however, we feel like we are alone. At times we feel like the Psalmist did when they wrote these verses – alone, forgotten, betrayed. Yet, God is always with us.

The season of lent may raise up difficult emotions, but it is also a time when God reminds us, She is there – loving us, holding us, keeping us – even if we can’t feel it right now.

Thank you God that you never leave me. Help me to feel you near as I walk this Lenten journey. Help me to seek out others who may be in pain and let me be your hands and feet offering hope and healing in a hurting world. In Christ I pray, Amen.

By Rev. Andrea Allan, (she/her) serves in a United Church congregation that is part of a multi-faith centre called The Cedars in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She lives with her family in Stratford Ontario.

March 31: FLEE!

Mark 13:14-23

“…be ready to run for it when you see the monster of desecration…” (Mark 13:14 MSG)

When I was a kid we vacationed in Northern Wisconsin. There was a water pump in the center of the cabins. After returning from the dump at night to watch the bears my father would point to this shadowy object and cry “It’s a bear!” Every year it scared the bejeebers out of us and every year we fled in terror!

The advice Jesus gives in this passage is “Flee!” “…run for the hills; if you’re working in the yard, don’t go back to the house to get anything; if you’re out in the field, don’t go back to get your coat.” Flee!

Many people see this passage as predicting the end times but that is not entirely true. This passage is a classic example of the “now and not yet” nature of prophecy. The “now” part is that the Romans are gathering to ransack the Temple, the “Desolating sacrilege,” that hearkens back to Daniel. The “not yet” part is that Jesus cryptically hints that this is a harbinger of the end times. It is a dire message. Flee!

Yet, even in the middle of danger, God offers hope: “but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days.” (13: 20, NRSV) God tells us that even in the most frightening of days, it won’t last long. God’s presence and power will cut short the danger, tame the monster, and we will need to flee no more.

God, thank you for taming our monsters and cutting short times of fear with your comforting presence.”

By Wayne C. Drueck, a retired UCC pastor, currently serving as Pastoral Liaison, St. Stephens UCC in Merrill, WI.

March 30: Trust in Trials

Mark 13:9-13

          As daunting as this hypothetical situation may seem, I find the less dramatic situation most of us finds ourselves in to be just as hard of a call. In our lives we face all kinds of problems, setbacks, and burdens that can weigh us down. I think this is a call to us to place our trust in God and trust that the Holy Spirit will give us whatever we need to face whatever we are facing. On this last Monday of Lent before Holy Week: can we trust in God even during our trials? Can You trust in God? Can I trust in God?

Pray: Dear Jesus, we thank you that you suffered for us and in so doing can empathize with us in our everyday trials and tribulations. As we face these difficulties, we pray that you would help us lean on the Holy Spirit that you have given us. We ask this in your name. Amen.

By Steve Merrin is the pastor of 1st United Presbyterian Church, PC(U.S.A.) in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

March 29: Puppies, Prophets, and Portents

Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

As cute as these puppies are, they will not be puppies forever.  And I’m glad for that. Soon, they will soon be potty trained and will no longer chew on anything that isn’t covered in bitter apple spray. One of them will be trained as an emotional support dog and I long to bring them out on the trails. These wonderful girls have a much higher calling than the adorable cuteness evident right now.

I wonder if that is what Jesus was talking about when the disciples commented on the beauty of the temple. “You might think this is wonderful. But this won’t be around forever.”  Only, Jesus isn’t talking about Maya and Sage.  He is prophesying to God’s people and pointing to their mission in the world – he is talking to us.  And unlike puppies growing into beautiful dogs, the way of transformation that Jesus talks about is hard to hear because it means that we have to pay attention to this world’s needs AND to the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus portents the temple’s demise because he didn’t like what he had just seen. There, the people’s leaders had questioned Jesus’ authority and wanted to arrest him because he didn’t tow the party line. In the temple courtyard, Jesus rebuked the righteous for their greed and false piety, and he contrasted the generosity of the poor widow to the miserly giving of the wealthy. In the grandeur of the temple, the disciples had lost sight of their calling – sometimes we do, too.

It’s tempting to love structures and to listen to leaders who tell us how good we are for supporting the powerful and maintaining the status quo. Jesus will have none of that.  As wonderful as our country is, and our churches are, and you are, we also have a higher calling.  Keep awake! Pay attention! Jesus is on the move.  I’ve gotta let these puppies out… again.  I can’t wait for them to grow into the girls that God is making them to be.  

Holy God, open your Church’s eyes and our spirits to the needs of this world. Tear down the cold stones of our faith where it is irrelevant or contrary to your teaching.  Grow us into a people that walk in your ways and the Spirit of your Son is pleased to dwell.  Amen.

By Dr. Tom Harris, served in ordained ministry in the PC(USA) for over 20 years in the Southeast, connecting God and people.  He recently founded the North Raleigh Center of Spirituality.

March 28: How Long?

Psalm 89:39-48

Great expectations have been shattered. The people of God are left to destruction, left to pain, left to pick up the pieces of what seems to be a broken promise. The Psalmist cries out, “Whereis the love you are famous for? How long will you hide your face?” Exile has become the narrative.

There is deep sorrow in the Psalm and yet there is a glimmer of hope revealed in two simple words. How long? And with these two words from the mouth of the Psalmist a deeper understanding of God’s work is revealed. Though the pain is crushing, at some point it will end.

When the great promises in our life become great disappointments it’s natural to question God’s love. Sometimes the crushing reality of the world is overwhelming, and the love of God seems far away. The question then is how long? How long is it really going to last? How long will the suffering go on? It’s in these times of deep grief that we are meant to do as the Psalmist has.

For God’s love is present in the pain. God’s promise is still there. It’s ok to ask “How long?” For we are meant to bring the grief of unfulfilled promise to God in prayer. We are meant to let the promise rest. We are meant to allow our hearts to be vulnerable and ask “How long?”

Dear Lord, Where is the love you are so famous for? Where has the promise of your grace gone? I know that you have promised, but all I have is one question? How long will you hide? How long will I suffer? How long will I hurt? Remember me in my pain. Find me in my sorrow. Amen.

By Shannon Borgman, involved with Oregon Trail Presbyterian Ministries.

March 27: Hating the Anointed

Psalm 89:38-45

This is a super difficult portion of the psalm for me.  The psalmist is clearly angry, angry with a leader who has in some way failed him or his expectations.   And he projects his anger and his own vengeance on God.

Let me be clear that I don’t think God ever participates in hate.   Not even in the worst of situations or against the most sinful of people.   Everyone is a beloved child of God.  But in our meaning-making, we love to project God’s justice.

And we want people to hear our complaint, our cry, our righteous indignation.   And for those of us who are oppressed, it may even be important to justice for our situation to be acknowledged, to be understood, to be reconciled.

But let us work on our anger, our hate.  Let us choose instead to respond as a parent might to an erring child.   Let us include the one we worry about, or the one whose actions we abhor, in our prayers.  Because it is their choices, their actions, we abhor, surely, not them as people? 

And in this election year, let us resist the constant drumbeat to see our political opponents as enemies, as evil.   Because they too, even they, are beloved children of God.  And they deserve our prayers, our care, yes, even our love, just as much as those we agree with, that we are in harmony with.

Instead of fasting from food, fast from hate.  When someone does something that bothers you, whether it is a family member, a neighbor, or a lawmaker you read about in the news, respond as if they were a beloved child of someone. Because they are.  Of God.

By Julie Holm, pastor of the Brush Valley Fusion of Faith, a charge in the UCC and ELCA located in Rural Central Pennsylvania, and is the editor of this devotional.  She is also the artist at Spirit Descending Vestments.

March 26: Deeply Loved

Psalm 89:19-37

I teach a spiritual practice called: Tapping Prayer. Participants tap on various parts of their upper body while praying and, the outcome is usually an experience of peace around whatever issue the individual is praying. You can read more about tapping prayer at tappingintoprayernow.org.

A tapping prayer begins by identifying an issue that is keeping you from feeling God’s serenity in your life. I might say, “Even though I am feeling afraid of the news in this cycle…” or “Even though I am angry at my friend for what he/she did…” The more specific, the better. That is followed by an affirmation: a simple phrase that brings a cosmic balance to the issue. I often use, “I am deeply loved and completely accepted by God.” When I use tapping prayer with someone who has never tried it, I am surprised by how emotional the newbie becomes when saying those words. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes the words get stuck in their throat.

I wonder if the psalmist was feeling emotional when they spoke these words of affirmation in the midst of their prayer:

My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his horn/strength will be exalted.”–Ps 89:24

Have you considered God’s faithful love with you in the midst of your trials through Lent? Or have you gotten stuck in the muck of your sins and challenges?

As you pray today, try saying, I am deeply loved and completely accepted by God out loud. If it is too difficult, try saying, I can consider that I am deeply loved and completely accepted by God.  Despite the tribulations of Lent, you are deeply loved and completely accepted by God.

By Rev. Todd Farnsworth, pastor of the Briarcliff Congregational Church in Briarcliff Manor, NY. When he isn’t teaching tapping prayer he is walking with his wife in the woods or catering to his two cats, Cupcake and Clementine.

March 25: Rejoice All Day

Psalm 89:15-18

Yet it was in the midst of this devastation that the Psalmist writes of ‘hessed,’ the Hebrew word often translated as “Steadfast love.” In this Psalm, it is used six different times. The first 30 verses serve as a reminder of God’s promises to David. There is a turn that is coming. It will move from celebration for what God has done to lament over how the people have failed. But we’re not there yet. Today, God is moving. In today’s reading, we are reminded that true happiness and strength come from God.

Happy are those who celebrate with God! Here, a little over halfway through our Lenten journey, we can be reminded of this truth. Yes, Lent is a time for reflection, repentance, and taking seriously the sin of the world. This passage however, is a reminder that even in the most difficult of times, we can find happiness in giving thanks. Mindset is a powerful thing – it may not cure all anxiety or depression, but celebration surely is good medicine for the wary.

Write down “Rejoice in God’s name all day long.” Put it in your wallet. Put it on a post-it on your computer. Fix it to your refrigerator. Try earnestly today to rejoice in God all day long.  Even if you are in the midst of an exile, wondering if God is truly present. Rejoice in God all day long, and see if you are uplifted.                                                                     

By Robb McCoy, pastor of Two Rivers UMC in Rock Island, Illinois; and a producer of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast.

March 24: A Timely Reminder

Psalm 89:5-14

As the fifth Sunday in Lent approaches and, with it, Jesus’ words about the coming end of the age, we hear the psalmist reminding us that all is not lost, that God is faithful and sovereign. All of creation recognizes this and praises for God resound from the heavens, the waves of the seas, the north and south. Righteousness and justice are the foundation and steadfast love and faithfulness go before God.

We need to hear this! Not just because the cross is getting closer but because we live in a world that continues to wait for the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. A world in which righteousness and justice are not the foundations and steadfast love and faithfulness are an aspiration. We need a timely reminder that God is present and at work in the chaos of our lives.

For today, turn off the discordant noise of the world around you. Avoid the news. Don’t look at social media. Proclaim a fast and turn instead to nature to see the glory of the Creator and hear the praises of the skies and the earth. Take a walk, outside if possible, and feel the air on your face. Spring has arrived, so look for glimpses of the new life that is emerging. Ask of the heavens, “Who is as mighty as our God?” Listen for the music of the birds as they answer. Or meditate on a beautiful work of art. Take a look at the painting of creation that begins Genesis in the amazing St. John’s Bible, which is featured here and may be seen in color at https://www.saintjohnsbible.org/Promotions/Explore/.

Prayer: God, remind me that you are here, that your steadfast love and faithfulness are with me always. Amen.

                        By Rev. Dr. Allison Byerley, Pastor of Mariposa UMC in Mariposa, CA.

March 23: The whole story

Psalm 89:1-4

If you only read these four verses of Psalm 89, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s a “happy-clappy everything-is-awesome-so-God-is-awesome” escape from the harsh realities of life. Only, like so many of the psalms (at least my favorites), it isn’t.

If you sit down and read the whole very long psalm, you get a sense of a history that is not simple, that includes stories of God’s justice and righteousness, of God’s deliverance and provision, yes… but also reminders of those times when God seems far away, when things are not going so great.

Does this paint the psalmist as an escapist who marvels at how good God is and forgets all the bad times? I don’t think so. God is good, sometimes “stuff happens”, the world makes no sense, monsters become people of power, people of power become monsters, sickness, loss… things like that.

God is good anyway. In the midst of all of that, not despite it.

We remember today, Lord, that your goodness and mercy reign, even when we recall the times when it seemed far away, when you seemed far away. We celebrate your love in our lives and world, even, maybe especially, when the memory of difficult times is keenly felt.

By Peter Hamm, pastor (and sometimes worship leader) at Grace United Methodist Church in Norwood, OH.

March 22: The Law of Love

Mark 12:28-44

There are 613 commands of Torah. In this passage, a scribe asks Jesus which one of them is most important.

The gift of Torah was given to guide people to a loving relationship with God and others. Instead, it had become a method of control at the hands of religious scribes. With his answer to the scribe, Jesus shows us a different way to live.

Jesus reminds us;

  • God is God; the one true source of love, life, and salvation.
  • There is nothing we can do to change this.
  • It is not up to us to convince God to love the world.
  • Humanity comes from God’s love.
  • God’s love fills our hearts.
  • In response, we return this love to God.

God gives life and love abundantly so that we can give this love to others. How?

  • By seeing and responding to the needs of others before our own.
  • By holding ourselves and others accountable to respecting life.
  • By giving what we have in time, resources, and ability to make life better for the world.

We do not need to worry or wonder what might happen to us if we give it all away. Like energy, love cannot be lost. It can be transformed and it is transforming. When seen through Jesus’ eyes, love grows every day so all people, and all creation, are made whole and brought into a complete relationship with God.

Today’s Lent Practice: Think about the people it is hardest for you to love. Think about the people who have a hard time loving you. Take 60 seconds and imagine loving these people as you love yourself.

By Rev. Nancy Quatier, pastor of Bethania-Trondhjem Lutheran Parish in Rosholt, South Dakota.

March 21: Seeking a Sign

Psalm 86:16-17

When the stress of life begins to overwhelm, to whom do you turn?  For those who believe in rugged individualism, one perhaps views him or herself as an “island” a rock who stands alone.  Still others may see a need to lean on other people which is a model of family or community, even if it is not perfect.  I often think of situations where there is an unhealthy co-dependency that enables more than supports.

    Lest we believe modern life to be hectic and we’ve no where to turn, centuries earlier, King David faced many stressful situations.  As a member of his predecessor Saul’s court, he was a victim of extreme jealousy from the king that forced him to run for his life.  Later, in his own palace, David had to escape from his son Absalom who sought his life.  

    In David’s  worst moments, he turned to the one source who provides relief.  He turned to God.  Psalm 86, is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies.  The concluding two verses are David’s closing request for safety, strength, and a sign that God is at work providing help and protection.

    Are we open to praying boldly during our time of personal trial?  Do we have faith that such prayer will be answered?  Maybe we refrain because we have a tinge of guilt that such requests seems selfish and self-serving.  However, we follow a Creator who knows us and loves us unconditionally.  Therefore, it is acceptable to bring our hopes, fears, and wishes to him in prayer..

Lord, no matter whether my current state is good or bad, give me confidence to always come to you in prayer.  Amen.

By Murray Phillips, pastor of the North Lincoln Parish (PCUSA) in Whiteside, MO as well as an institution chaplain for the  MO Department of Corrections and the U.S. Army Reserves.

March 20: Love Amidst Evil

Psalm 86:14-15

Twenty-five years ago today, Japan was shaken to its core by the Sarin gas attacks on five commuter trains that left 12 dead and over 5000 people sick and injured. The doomsday cult responsible for the attack brought forward a horrific new chapter in global terrorism—people who kill just to kill, with no specific agenda other than death.

We don’t seem to be as shocked by that kind of evil anymore, but that hasn’t made it any easier to reconcile the concept of the loving God depicted in the closing verses of today’s passage with such wanton evil. “How could a benevolent God allow such thing to happen?” we and critics of religion ask, or we declare “God is not good” as we embrace neo-atheism.

The fact that these two passages exist side by side in today’s text is proof that we’ve been asking ourselves and God this kind of question for millennia.

From our deepest Judeo-Christian roots, our journey of faith has been lived in the midst of this conflict, just as we live this week between the Wicked Tenant parable with inexplicable evil and the Great Commandment centered in love. Jesus does not ask us to surrender the reality of evil any more than he anticipates we will encounter it without the steadying force of God’s gracing love to help us survive, and even thrive, our encounter with evil.

 Still, we live with the confidence that the moments of kindness, hope, and justice that we enact inspired by that love—moments that rehearse the promise of just a few weeks hence—proclaim to all that God is here transforming even the worst we have to offer with a grace that defeats even death. Thanks be to God.

Love incarnate, we face too much evil every day, too much for us anyway. Praise to you for standing with us, drawing us ever closer to your justice-seeking way of love. Hold us, carry us, buoy us, empower us, to draw on your gracious love and live it in our every encounter. Amen.

By Michael Kirby, Senior Pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.                               

March 19: Fixing It

Psalm 86:8-13

Doesn’t it seem like the world is just backwards and upside down?  Depending on the news source, there is a partisan political attack or a partisan political defense of an impeached president; the economy is booming or about to crash into a recession; civil rights have never been stronger or civil rights are under attack like never before.  It just seems like there is a giant mess.  It just seems the dividing lines are stronger than ever before.  If you are anything like me, I tend to want to fix things.  Therefore, when I see a mess, I want to process and put together a plan to fix it immediately.  Yet, I am perplexed trying to figure out how to fix it.  I do not pretend to know the answer.  However, the Psalter reminds us that we need to have an undivided heart and a heart and mind set on God’s way, not our own.  Maybe, as we are experiencing lent reflecting on God and God’s greatness and sacrifice, that might be how to fix things, whatever things need to be fixed.  After all, as the Psalter writes, “There is none like God.”  Nothing matches the Lord’s deeds and all things were created by God.  Maybe in a divided world where we do not know the answer, we can strive to know more about God, who is matchless in deeds and able to deliver us from whatever depths our hearts can imagine.

Holy and gracious God, help me to remember your greatness when my world turns upside down.  Help me to know your ways and create in me an undivided heart to help mend a deeply divided world.

By Michael Bowe, D.Min. works for a men’s drug and alcohol recovery center in Huntsville AL.

March 18: THE listening Ear

Psalm 86:6-7

My mother was an avid reader. When she was engrossed in a book, she could sometimes tune out all of my brother’s and sisters yammering for her attention. Our need wasn’t always immediate or urgent, but we always wanted to be heard! While she may not have always responded as quickly as we would have liked, we knew that Mom was always present. Her love for us didn’t end just because we thought she wasn’t listening!

We all want to feel like we have God’s ear—that God is listening to us. Yet, we are often like needy children that cry out just to be heard and noticed. We want to feel valued and if God doesn’t respond the way that we think that God should, we feel diminished. However, that is not the character of God. God hears us at all times, and perhaps even more so in times of trouble. As the Psalmist says, in the day of trouble, God will answer me. Unfortunately, at least from our human perspective, the answer does not always fit with the result that we may be praying or hoping for. Our understanding as Christians is that God will answer according to the purposes of God. Even when God doesn’t answer in the way that we want, we know that God is present.

God’s love for us never ends. God is present and hears our cries of need. God will respond. God listens.

When was a time you felt that you had the ear of God?

How can you respond when it feels like God doesn’t hear your prayers?

How can you continue to walk in faithfulness in times of need and distress?

By Mark Ford, pastor at Lakes Area Presbyterian Church in Baxter, Minnesota, a community of older adults seeking to serve one another with love.

March 17: Identity

Psalm 86:1-5

As a kid, a way to annoy siblings who try to insult you is to respond, “I know you are, but what am I?”  As I recall, it was very annoying, which was the point.  Insults are part of human interaction, but would you accept an insult as a basis for your identification?

David prayed in a time of great need, pleading with God to act in God’s great mercy and love in part because of who David was to God.   This is common in the psalms, telling God about God’s own attributes.  I don’t remember the last time I began praying by telling God about WHO God is, or more importantly, HOW God is.

Have you had someone identify your attributes in a way that made you feel self-conscious?   I have, when using a spiritual gifts assessment in a Bible study group.  This was years before I became a pastor, so having people describe me as a preacher or a teacher seemed very strange to me.  It was because I needed God to help me discover who I am.

Identity is key to living as a whole person, confident in yourself, at peace.   This season of Lent offers us raw, emotional and personal time to grow in God’s likeness.  Let it also be a time of praising God for who God is and who you are.

This week identify those attributes of yourself you like, and one or two traits you don’t like.  Place these before God, asking for the good to remain and for the rest be removed.  Acknowledge your boldness comes from your knowledge of God’s mercy.

By Rev. Lori Broschat, a United Methodist minister in rural North Dakota.  She is a writer, satisfied with who she is, except in the early morning hours.

March 16: Temporary Questions, Permanent Answers

Mark 12:18-27

Like so many others, the Sadducees come to Jesus with what seems like an impossible question.  Perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are actually interested in the answer, but the odds seem long.  More likely, this is a question carefully crafted to catch Jesus in some sort of inconsistency, an attempt to undermine Jesus’ authority with a tricky predicament. 

But Jesus is not caught off-guard.

Jesus answers the question with a question, which may be considered elusive in our current cultural context but which is exceedingly wise, nevertheless.  It’s a valid question, Sadducees, but only if you are ignorant of the Scriptures and the power of God.  Your move – well, at least in theory.  I think Jesus knew his question/answer would be interpreted as rhetorical.  How could these religious leaders possibly respond?  Their plan has failed spectacularly. 

But Jesus does not waste the opportunity.

Instead, Jesus expands his answer to remind the Sadducees, who actually don’t believe in the resurrection at all, that their inquiry leads to just that.  Maybe all serious inquiries do.  Jesus turns this predicament on its head.  He doesn’t dignify the question with a straight answer but creates space to attend to a more pressing matter of faith.  Instead of focusing on death, Jesus reminds the Sadducees that although this earthly life is temporary, life itself is eternal.  This God of the living transcends time and mere deductive reasoning. 

Like Jesus, may we always be prepared to give an answer for our hope, an answer rooted in love and fashioned for the sake of those who ask the difficult questions.   And may our own questions lead to clarity as we seek hope and truth as resurrection people.  Amen.

By Rev. L Michaels, a district licensed pastor in the Church of the Nazarene and a teaching fellow at Boston University, working diligently to responsibly hold in tension theological education, a passion for justice, and coffee breaks on the shore.

March 15: Grasp or Grace

Mark 12:1-12

My daughter has a small shih tzu mix dog who has one peculiar trait. He likes to collect treasures from the trash and store them in his bed. Old milk cartons, yogurt cups, candy bar wrappers, and what-have-you end up in his bed. He feels secure and happy surrounded by his finds.

When it comes right down to it, we all want to be happy and secure. To attain that sense of security, we acquire that which we feel will accomplish that.  We often feel the more we have, the safer we are and we grasp it  tightly.

Our parable illustrates that’s not anything new. The landowner plants the vineyard, fences it in, provides a winepress, and a tower then leases it out all ready to go. All he requires is a bit of the profit. But time after time when the landlord’s servants arrive to collect, the farmers beat them and drive them away or kill them. Thinking that surely they will respect his son, the landlord gives them one last chance. But the tenants believe that with the heir gone, they will grasp control. Instead of gaining it all, they lost it all.

Jesus ends his parable with a quote from Psalms 118:22-23. It is a song of thanksgiving and reassurance for those who place their hope in God; a song about releasing our grasp on control and opening ourselves to grace.

What we are called to do is to unclench our grasp, release our control, give thanks and accept the gift of grace which is poured so freely and abundantly over us.

For reflection:  read the parable again and also Psalm 118. Meditate on whatever you find most difficult to let go as well as all the blessings with which you are most graced.

By Rev. Doctor Linda Patzke, a retired UMC pastor and has served congregations in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.

March 14: BY WHose Authority?

Mark 11:27-33

When the Pharisees and scribes come to Jesus demanding an answer to their question, he does something I have often tried to emulate – he turns the question back on his examiners. By answering a question with another question, Jesus is refusing to be entangled in the agenda of his accusers. He forces the religious leaders to be responsible for the answer they seek. The subject of the leaders’ question – John the Baptist – was also able to point the authorities away from himself. John directed their attention to the one who would follow him – Jesus. Both of them were able to keep the focus where it needed to be – on God and God’s authority.

That is something many of us struggle with. We want to take credit for our actions, for our successes, but without the gifts and blessings God gives to us, how exactly do we accomplish anything? Yes, I worked hard in school and learned my lessons and wrote my papers, but true success is about so much more than that. Authority is about so much more than earthly endeavors and successful ventures. There are many different types of authority, but which one really matters? If we gained it through fear or manipulation it will not last. It is only through our witness to the one whose living authority binds us to the heart of the creator that we find our true authority to live authentically as we were created to live. So the question today is where does your authority come from?

Dear God, help me to seek out your wisdom and your plan for me as I remember that all true authority over my life comes from you, not from anything I could accomplish alone. Amen.

By Kristin Pike, Pastor of Community United Presbyterian in Hartford, IA.

March 13: Enough Faith to Doubt

Mark 11:23-25

I don’t know about you, but I have never been successful at commanding a mountain to be thrown in the sea. When I read these verses I really want to believe I have enough faith for the task, but I have to admit, sometimes I have doubts. The hyperbolic language Mark uses here has the potential to cause us to feel badly about our faith, or lack thereof. However, if we focus on the promise rather than the criteria we see the encouragement intended by the author. When we pray earnestly God hears us and answers.

It is normal and acceptable to have doubts and fears and all the things that keep us from the belief that we can command a mountain to fall into the sea. In my ministry as a pastor I invite questioning and doubt to be friendly companions in the congregation. Without them, we do not strive to know more. Without doubt we simply take everything we are told and buy into whatever interpretation of scripture we are given. Elsewhere in scripture we are told to work out our faith with fear and trembling. I am not sure that is possible without a bit of doubt and a lot of questions.

So, yes, have faith and pray and believe that God hears you and answers. Consider the apostle Thomas and how Jesus did not turn him away when he doubted; Jesus drew him in even closer and pulled his hand to his side so he could know the truth. May the same be true for you.   

Dear God, just like the deaf and mute boy’s father we cry out to you, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” In our questions and doubt, we pray that you would draw us in and speak peace to our hearts.

By Kim Becker serves as an ordained pastor for Emmanuel Mennonite Church, who seeks to love God and love others in St Paul, MN and the greater metro Twin Cities.

March 12: Whatever

Mark 11:20-22

The Peter and disciples seemed very impressed by the demise of the fig tree. Jesus says it’s all about faith. Really Jesus? Our faith can move mountains? What about if I find myself to be a mountain of doubt. I can’t help but be struck by how scared the disciples are of Jesus at this moment, post flipping tables and cursing trees. Whatever was going on with Jesus anyway? In this context, it makes more sense that Jesus reminds Peter and the disciples to have faith. The disciples are following around a political bomb, who is going to get them all into trouble sooner or later, and the tension is building. Jesus himself seems grumpy. And yet the disciples are amazed the effect Jesus has on a fig tree. Peter is doing the talking but Jesus’ answer is for all of them, have faith. When bad things happen, when a mountain of trouble is in your way, have faith and it will be moved; or you will. Whatever is possible with prayer? What a thing to contemplate during this season of Lenten Prayer.  Lord, teach us to pray in such a way that our faith is rooted in God and collected together like the branches of a tree. We pray this in the name of your most Holy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Action: Pray about something you feel is impossible.

By Pastor Katy Stenta solos at a teeny tiny but bigger on the inside New Covenant PCUSA church in Albany NY.

March 11: House of PRayer

Mark 11:15-19

Can you even imagine what it must have been like in the temple that day? Crowds of people, buying and selling animals, money being changed from the everyday currency of the people to the pagan-image free coins that were needed to make an offering in the Temple treasury …  imagine the noise, the smells, the chaos. Is this what God intended for the temple to be? While both the coins and the animals were a part for worship for the people, it seems that Jesus saw that how it was being handled was taking people away from worship, not drawing them closer, and carrying merchandise though the temple showed great disrespect. So out it all went – the buyers, the sellers, the animals, the coins. Everything out.

Now I can’t imagine that things got calmer after tossing everything out (which is maybe a part of what upset the Pharisees), but did Jesus make his point? “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations,” he says, referring to a passage of Isaiah. While the people there might have known what Jesus was referring to, we often don’t. Isaiah 56:7 (CEB) says: “I [God] will bring them to my holy mountain, and bring them joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their entirely burned offerings and sacrifices on my altar. My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples.”

          The temple wasn’t meant to be a place of chaos, but a place where God brings us joy. A house of prayer for everyone.

Sit quietly and slowly read Isaiah 56:7 again. Where in your life does God bring you joy? Where do you find God’s house of prayer? What at your church draws people into that space? Ask God to help you see ways that you can help make your church a house of prayer for everyone.

 By Karin Bergstrom, MA, a Spiritual Director and a student at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

March 10: Bearing Fruit (or Not)

Mark 11:12-14

What does it mean to bear—or not bear—fruit? A fig tree’s fruitfulness or barrenness is not about how hard the tree works. It’s not about its effort or lack thereof. Figs are just the natural outgrowth of being a fig tree. They are an external outworking, an expression, of what is means to be a fig tree. God makes a fig tree so that figs are the result.

Like the fig tree, faith naturally brings forth fruit. In the life centered on God, fruit is the necessary result. Fruit is just the natural outgrowth of being a Christian. Such fruit is an external outworking, an expression, of what it means to be a human being. God makes human beings so that fruit is the result.

Living for God and for others results in a growing life, a life that bears fruit. Fruitfulness and the abundant life are the necessary outgrowth of belonging to God. Barrenness and impotence are the necessary outgrowth of a life separated from God.

Sometimes we want to see fruit so much that we pull the plant up by its roots to see if it’s growing. Other times we work very, very hard to bring about fruit. But the best way to bear fruit is to ground our roots in God and God’s love, grafting ourselves to Christ Jesus as the vine from which we branch out.

Today seek out a person, practice or place that puts you in touch with God’s love and care for you. Sink your roots deep into your connection to God, trusting that this is the key to the fruitfulness that God has created for you—and that God has created you for.

By Rev. Dr. Barb Hedges-Goettl, a PC(USA) pastor using her liturgical studies PhD to serve a small congregation near Philadelphia—and to write NL resources.

March 9: Priorities

Mark 11:1-11

When we first read today’s Scripture we may protest, “Wait, he left out Jesus’ entrance into the temple where he was supposed to have thrown out the money changers because they were making God’s house into a den of thieves.”

But Mark’s version of that day’s events brings me comfort because it demonstrates that, just like us, Jesus was sometimes frustrated by too much to do and not enough time to do it. He did go into the temple courts, and he may very well have been incensed by what he saw going on and wanted to address the issue right then and there. But, verse 11 tells us, “since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

It can comfort us to imagine that Jesus was torn, just as we often are. According to the other Gospels He saw a systemic problem with the Temple system and immediately addressed it. But in this version of the story there wasn’t time to overturn the tables of the moneychangers. There wasn’t time to find some rope and make a whip. There wasn’t time to address those who were cheating the public and personally benefitting from cheating them. Jesus apparently resolved this inner conflict by remembering that He had a greater priority at that moment to go on to Bethany with the twelve. Perhaps he came back later, and perhaps the other Synoptic Gospel writers telescoped the two events so that they appeared to happen one right after the other.

O God, I long to solve all the world’s ills and still care for my own loved ones. But you know, O God, how full my plate is. Help me to allocate my time based on your values made known to us in Christ Jesus, in Whose Name I pray. Amen.

By Rev. Judith Johnson-Siebold, Ph.D., a United Methodist clergywoman in the Upper New York Conference who writes children’s books.

March 8: Humble Servitude

Mark 10:32-52

Walking down the street, I witnessed a man spit on an Asian woman. The coronavirus in full swing, he set himself apart, better than. Watching live coverage of non-violent black protesters during the civil rights movement, I watched the protesters as they were mocked and spit upon by white men, women, and children. Jesus foretells his death with the crowds at his trial mocking him, spitting upon him, and flogging him.

We all do it. Separate ourselves from another. Lifting ourselves up above and looking down upon others. We’d rather ignore this part of ourselves. Calling ourselves pure and holy, honest and fair, ignoring the negative stereotypes, thoughts, and feelings we have about others.

We forget, when Jesus was being sentenced to death, even his followers listened to the loudest voices and turned against him. Yelling crucify him! His disciples denied him. Fear to go against the mob was great! Going against the programmed messages programmed about who is great and who is not, is challenging. Even when we see truth is different than what we learned. It is hard to follow. Change is gritty. It takes work, courage, and suffering. Yet, it is the honest work we need to do as followers of Jesus.

Jesus turned the world’s values upside down and calls us to do the same.  Lifting up those we’ve looked down upon. Jesus puts us in check, ensuring, we know, following Jesus is about a life of humble servitude.

Dearest God, you love us so much! You love those we’ve looked down upon as much as you love us!  You know we are sinful beings, we have ignored our inner thoughts, and prideful ways, hurt our neighbors and ourselves, by the ways we separate each other.  Open our eyes and hearts to see, so we can repent, and change our sinful ways. Forgive us our sins. Bring us into your Holy Presence so we can invite others to do the same. Amen.

By Joy Heine, pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Gary, IN.

March 7: Christmas Lights and Fishing Line

Psalm 19:14

In my life, Christmas lights and fishing line both have a way of getting tangled up.  It seems that, without fail, when I am working with either, I will get knots and I will get tangled.  Then, if I rush too fast, I get frustrated, angry, and the words of my mouth AND the mediation of my heart do not seem to be in sync with what I want from the world. 

Perhaps if I slow down, I can refocus my attention on the places that will be of most help.  Taking a deep breath in, and mediating on the tangles and the knots, letting the frustration flow from me, and with a calm(er) spirit, move into the task of untangling that which has become locked in and around itself. 

My heart and my mouth can resemble fishing line or Christmas lights.  They get tangled easily when I start moving too fast.  They get caught up, bound together, when I try to force them into places they are not ready or prepared to go.  I find that I need help. 

So, with the words of the psalmist, I am reminded I need to ask for the help.  When I was a kid, my dad would help me untangle my fishing line, and now as an adult, my wife helps me with the Christmas lights.  I find that asking for help to untangle my spirit, my mouth and my heart is just as essential.

Pray the words of the Psalmist:  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

By John W. Stevens, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located in Oregon City, Oregon.  He enjoys coffee, sleight of hand magic, and Jesus. 

March 6: Working Faith

Psalm 19:13

You are reading these daily devotions to pay attention to the ways God is moving in the world. It is a time of reflection and assessment of your life. Or maybe I am projecting as that is why I participate in daily reading. I find that God continues to speak words of encouragement and direction if I am willing to enter into a relationship which relinquishes my assumption of power and knowledge. Many of us have entered gyms and fitness centers at the beginning of the year to make this “the year I get fit”. That the professional in the gym will have the power to keep me motivated to move my body in strengthening and flexibility. After a honest look at the scales I have given up my eating patterns to follow a controlled eating plan in my desire to lose weight. I believe someone has found the exact plan that will allow me to achieve my goal weight. I believe this word from the psalm is saying something similar. What I have been doing that is not pleasing to God, give me the strength to stop. Let me leave on my plate the words of gossip, the feelings of impatience, the desire to control someone else. Help me to be filled with a spirit of compassion and an abundance of acceptance. Let me have a strong work out with mercy, hope and grace for all people. May I sweat for justice making the circle wide for inclusion of all the beloved children of God.

Today, God, show me the way to work your plan in my life. May it be so. Amen.

By Reverend Jo Mead, pastor at University United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas. A place where all are welcomed and needed to find shalom in the world.

March 5: Warning, Reward, and Confession

Psalm 19:11-12

Continuing through this section of Psalm 19 we are examining what the Word of the Lord does in us. These two verses refer to the Word of the Lord giving a warning, a reward, and forms a sort of call to confession.

The Word read, preached, received often brings conviction. Its own sort of warning that our lives might not be focused on the things God would have us focus on. How often do you interact with Gods Word and spend time thinking on it?

Jeremiah 17:8 describes one who mediates on the Word of God as a tree planted by living waters. In the Christian life there is great reward in spending time reading and thinking on scriptures.

The call to confession contained in Verse 12 begins with a hypothetical: who can detect their errors? No one? Therefor the Psalmist asks God to clear the Psalmist from hidden faults.

Self-examination and confession is an integral part of the Lenten journey. Let us ask God to reveal to us our hidden faults and let us confess our need for God’s forgiveness.

Prayer: Dear Lord we thank you for your Word to us. We pray in this season of lent that you would move me to confess any hidden faults that are getting in the way of my relationship with you. As I sit here silently for a few minutes make me aware of the areas of my life that need your attention….

Forgive me Jesus and help me to forgive others as well. We pray this in your name. Amen. 

By Steve Merrin, pastor of 1st United Presbyterian Church, PC(U.S.A.) in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

March 4: Law and Harmony

Psalm 19:7-10

Lent is a season of repentance and preparation. It is a season when we turn away from those things that draw us away from God and turn back towards God. During this season, it’s easy to imagine that our sins are like crimes and that our repentance is like agreeing to follow the rules that God has laid out. And today’s reading lends itself to that understanding.

But…

Right before today’s reading, the Psalmist sings about the wonders of the world that God creates and sustains: “day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.” (Psalm 19:2). At the end of the psalm, he asks that the words of his mouth and the meditations of his heart might be acceptable in the sight of God, his rock and his redeemer. That suggests that following God’s law isn’t just a matter of following a list of rules; it is a matter of living in harmony with God’s created order.

God’s law is certainly perfect and true, more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. But as we move through this season of repentance, let’s not be satisfied with simply following the rules. Let us pray that God might empower us to live in harmony with God’s world… that every word we speak and every thought we have might be acceptable to our creator and savior.

Take a moment to meditate on the world around you. If you can, go outside and look at the wonders of God’s creation, whatever that means to you. Pray the psalm and consider how we might live in more perfect harmony with each other, with creation, and with God. End your prayer and the Psalmist ends his: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

By Rev. Christopher Marlin-Warfield, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeWitt, Iowa, and author of Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church).

March 3: All That We See

Psalm 19:4b-6

Sometimes the Psalms sound more poetic than others. Psalm 19:4b-6 is an especially poetic description of God having created the sun. It describes the heavens as a tent for the son.  The psalmist describes the sun as “a bridegroom coming out from his wedding canopy.” The sun is also described as a strong man who “runs its course with joy.” Finally, the psalmist reminds us that the sun travels from one end of the heavens to the other and that nowhere is safe from its heat.

This is a wonderful description of the might of the sun! Years ago, I was a runner. I could never run very fast, but I could run far! At one point, my daily maintenance runs were five miles. I would find such joy in running on those days. I knew nothing could stop me and just enjoyed the course. That is how I imagine the sun, running the course that God has set for it across the Earth from one end of the heavens to the other. And God set it all in motion!

It is incredible to think that God created something as powerful and unstoppable as the sun!  Then we realize that God created all that we see and all that we can’t see! It is humbling when we realize that God also created us. Not only did God create us, but we are created in God’s image! Among all of God’s creation, God entered into covenant with us!  So just as the heaven’s and the sun tell of God’s glory, we are reminded that our very being does the same!

Holy God, just as the heavens proclaim your glory and the sun shows us your might, help us to remember that we bear your image and reflect your glory. Help us to live in ways such as your glory shines to all we encounter. Amen.

By Rev. Chris Deacon, pastor of the United Parish of Bowie, a joint UCC/PC(USA) congregation in Bowie, MD. He is also the author of “Louder than Words.”

March 2: The Heavenly Witness

Psalm 19:1-4a

Creation itself tells the glory of God. The celestial chorus gives God praise. Perhaps nothing can make a human feel smaller than standing outside on a dark, clear night. We can see light from countless stars millions of miles away. Our Milky Way galaxy spreads across the sky, and even that is just a fraction of the 94 billion light years across some scientists estimate our universe is today. We are not the center of the universe, the galaxy, or even our solar system.

The universe declares the glories of God even though we cannot hear it. Every minute of every day and night suns, moons, planets, and stars preach about God, and yet we do not understand or even hear them. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Sometimes Lent also is too grand to make sense. God left perfection to live and move among us. More than that, Jesus journeyed to the cross. Each step of the way was a decision based on love rather than logic. How does Christ’s work overcome our sin? It truly makes little sense. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Lent is a time when we are reminded that God’s suffering began the restoration not only of our individual and communal lives but also of the creation itself. Lent’s journey is not something that is easily understood. Maybe it’s not supposed to be. Maybe accepting and proclaiming the mystery of God’s love is enough, even when we don’t fully understand.

Action Item: Go outside on a clear night and look at the stars. If that’s not possible, find some aspect of creation around you. Quietly listen to the sermons they are preaching. Join them if you can.

By Rev. Dr. Chad Pierce is the Pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI.

March 1: De-center Yourself

Mark 10:17-31

Disclosure: I am a white, cis-gender hetero female, educated, and comfortably middle-class. This puts me in the global 1% – with more power, privilege and wealth than most of the people in the history of the world. So this text hits me where I live. As it always does for people like me.

People like me go to great lengths to make this story say something other than its most obvious message. Maybe it’s talking about “wealth” more generally; after all we can be rich in other things, right? Maybe “the eye of a needle” was a tiny gate in Jerusalem, and a camel *could* get through it if the camel knelt down … (And I’m just going to blow past how badly we take out of context the statement, “With God all things are possible.”)

Rich people like me are super uncomfortable with this text. And so we try to explain it away. But we aren’t the only ones who read this text. Jesus’ original audience, and most of the rest of the world then and now, are not rich. And they need to hear that the most important thing in life — the gospel – can’t be bought. Most of the time wealth makes things easier. But in this case wealth makes it harder. And that is good news for the poor.

I can see the value of that if I de-center myself. If I stop making this text about me, if I realize I’m not always the main character in every story, then this message manages to get around my defenses. And de-centering ourselves is what our Lenten practices are all about.

Practice: notice where you are making yourself the center of every story and ask God to help you see a different perspective.

By Rev. Beth Gedert, pastor of Zion United Church of Christ, an Open and Affirming church seeking to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in Delaware, Ohio.

February 29: Being Childlike

Mark 10:13-16

One of the first songs I remember learning was “Jesus Loves Me.” Those words were comforting to me when I was a child because they told me that I am loved, not because of what I do, but because of who and whose I am.

In the scriptures, Jesus repeatedly calls to himself not the rich and the powerful but the poor, the disenfranchised, the voiceless. In today’s reading, Jesus sees those who are among the least of all: the children. When the disciples argued about which of them was the greatest, Jesus placed a child on his lap and stated that whoever welcomes one of these little ones welcomes him. He cautioned his followers not to put a stumbling block before any of the little ones who believe in him. Yet when people brought their children to Jesus so that he could bless them, the disciples tried to turn them away. Jesus admonished them to let the little ones come to him, stating that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter it.

Jesus is asking his followers both to bring the children to him and to be childlike themselves. Yet what the disciples are showing is childishness: immaturity and lack of wisdom. To be childlike is to have the positive attributes of the young: curiosity, innocence, trust, purity. To receive the kingdom of God in a childlike manner is to receive it with wonder, with faith, with joy. It is to humble ourselves, acknowledging that we are not self-made or self-sustaining beings

Maybe it has been a long time since you last sang “Jesus Loves Me.” Sing it now, reflecting on what it means to be a “little one” who belongs to Christ.

By Anne Knighten, a senior in the MDiv-Distributive Learning program at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. She and her husband live in Redlands, CA.

February 28: Oh, Sweet Temptation

Mark 9:42-50

We are invited to journey toward the cross with Jesus, but there’s no indication that the path would be smooth and the walk effortless. In fact over, and over again, there are indicators that to follow Jesus requires a lot of work, suffering, and death. Lucky for us Jesus is on the path too, to provide us with insight and knowledge as we get closer to the cross. There will be times when the going will get tough and we will be put to the test; there will be temptations that seek to pull us off the path. The question becomes how will we deal with these temptations: Will we allow them to derail our journey with Jesus, calling into question our dedication, our perseverance, or will we squash them with the power of the Holy Spirit? As we journey toward the cross, as we carry the burdens of our own lives and the burdens of the world, Jesus would remind us that we might have to take drastic measures in order to overcome these temptations. He suggests that cutting off hands, cutting off feet, and cutting out eyes are possible action steps to maintain the path of righteousness, because it is better to enter into life with fewer parts than to deviate due to temptations. The road is long, windy and full of temptations, but we have Jesus who walks with us, and will never leave us.

As you reflect on your journey with Jesus this Lenten season, take an inventory of the stumbling blocks that impede your progress. As you focus in on your stumbling blocks pray: Dear God, renew my commitment to you, and give me the strength and knowledge to overcome the obstacles in my path. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

By Andy Graves, Pastoral Intern at Fredsville Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Cedar Falls, Iowa and is anxiously awaiting the day he can begin fully serving God’s beloved children as a Pastor.

February 27: Going Small

Mark 9:38-41

Everyone loves the grand gesture, whether it’s giving that expensive gift, surprising the kids with a trip to Disney Land, making (or receiving) a large donation, or the extravagant proposal. But it seems that Jesus was often most impressed by the least in the eyes of the world. Jesus is more impressed by the little things than the big things.

Once upon a time I looked at my stack of theological to-be-read books, and despaired that I could ever get through them. With a busy life, it’s hard to sit down and read for long periods of time. I couldn’t get through that stack of books by trying to read them in a single sitting. I realized that I could, however, find the time to read one chapter per day. I committed to doing that. And within a couple of months, I had read through my pile. The small things add up over days, years, and a lifetime.

 Jesus says that “if someone offers so much as a cup of water to someone who belongs to the Messiah,” (Mark 9:41) that is enough for a reward. Biblical Scholar Scot McKnight writes: “What the church needs is not heroes of faith, but faithful followers of Jesus.”* And faithfully following Jesus is “the result of a lifetime of daily commitments.”** We are very taken with the big and the grand, but following Jesus is often about the small things that we do every day, which add up to a lifetime of faithfulness.

Take time to pray. Ask the Holy Spirit: Is there a small commitment that I can make today or this week that will improve my walk with Jesus?

By Amanda Hecht, pastor at Faith Community Church, in Wakaw, SK, Canada. Affiliated with the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, Faith Community is nestled on the Canadian Prairies.

*Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents. Zondervan: 2014, p. 164.

**Ibid., p. 167.

February 26: LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING

Mark 9:30-37

Tim McGraw sings a song that gives today’s devotion it’s title. A man’s father has received a devastating diagnosis and reflects to his son about how he went on after the news sank in:

 “And I loved deeper

And I spoke sweeter

And I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying”

 He continues with this hope for his son: “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dyin’.”

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day when we receive ashes on our forehead and remember that from dust we came and to dust we return. In other words, we are dying. We begin to die the moment we are born. Most of the time we shun the thought of our mortality, but today we wear it on our faces, reminding the world that all of us are finite.

Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for what is coming for him in Jerusalem, teaching them that he will be betrayed, killed, and then raised to life, but the disciples want none of that. They don’t understand and are afraid. Instead, they want to talk about themselves, to argue about who is the greatest among them.

But Jesus needs them to learn what the person in the song discovered. We are all dying and the way to live is not to focus on ourselves, not to seek our own glory but to serve others. To welcome a child, someone who can do nothing and offer nothing for our own advancement. To love deeper, speak sweeter, forgive someone unforgivable.

Prayer: God, help me to live like I am dying. Amen.

By Rev. Dr. Allison Byerley, Pastor of Mariposa UMC in Mariposa, CA.