Friday, February 23 — Follow — Mark 2:13-22

“As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.”
    In this familiar part of Scripture, Jesus is calling his disciples to follow him. He does not just call average people, he calls people who are considered sinners and outcasts. He calls tax-collectors, as we see him calling Levi here. Jesus explicitly says that he has come to call “not the righteous, but sinners.” 
    He recognizes that those who are righteous, those who think they have it all figured out, cannot follow another person. It’s impossible. In order to follow another, one must have a sense of humility. In order to follow another, one must recognize that you don’t have it all figured out. In fact, innate in the decision to follow someone is the sense that they might have something to teach you. 
    The people who have chosen to follow Jesus, both in the Bible and throughout history, have made the conscious choice that a life devoted to following Jesus will be more meaningful and more fulfilling than any other life they could choose. It means that we, as followers of Christ, have to continually remind ourselves that we are the followers. We must continually remind ourselves that we do not have it all figured out and need God to guide us through this life. 
    During our Lenten journeys, we have the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we are doing as followers. Are there times when you would rather lead than follow? What does following Jesus mean to you? Where do you feel that following Christ is leading you? 

Loving God, you have promised to lead us on this journey of life. We admit that there are times we would rather follow other people, ideas, and even goals to create for ourselves a more meaningful life. But, we recognize that you, O God, have the best of intentions for us. Continue to lead us and mold us into your image. Amen. 

Thursday, February 22 — Foundation — 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”
    A foundation is an element of a building or structure that both connects the structure to the ground and helps bear the load of the structure. The purpose of a foundation is for connection and load-bearing. If the foundation of a house or building is damaged, the repair is costly and vital. Foundations are absolutely necessary to the health of the building they support. 
    Jesus is our foundation who connects us to our roots, our purpose, and a community. Jesus is also our foundation who bears our load for us. He takes on the weight that we carry around and transforms it. Often we rely heavily on other things to bear the load for us or at least to numb us to the pain of carrying it around. We have a tendency to turn to other things in our world to be our foundation. Our foundations can become cracked and damaged as we seek our center in things other than Christ. They become damaged as we seek to rely wholly on other things or people bear our load and connect us to our roots. 
    In this text, we see that some of the Christians in Corinth were arguing over factions within their church. Some were attributing their foundations to their teachers, even though as Paul explains, the teachers were simply encouraging and unearthing the growth God was already providing. It was God who was giving the growth. There are other things that might help us get in touch with with the growth and transformation God is providing in our lives, but let us not get confused that it is God who is doing the transforming. It is Jesus who is our foundation, providing the soil and the conditions that will enable growth. 
    Is your foundation damaged? What does it look like for Jesus to be your foundation? Who have been the people in your lives who have helped you get in touch with where God is working in your life? 
    
Loving God, we seek to make you the foundation of our lives. Even though we may turn to other people and things to be our foundation, the deepest desire of our hearts is to turn to you. Empower us to do so in the coming days. Enliven our every thought and make your presence known in our lives so that we do not forget you who are our foundation. Amen. 

Wednesday, February 21 — Mystery — 1 Corinthians 2:1-13

“For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.”
    There are some things that we simply cannot understand. Lent is a season of learning about our limits, our finitude, our sin, and our mortality. Those are all things that people spend their lives trying to understand, but largely remain a mystery for everyone. Lent is a season that has the potential to teach us to accept divine mystery.
    That doesn’t mean that we turn to everything we don’t understand and call it divine mystery. It also doesn’t mean that we should accept that sin, finitude, and mortality are a part of the world as God intended it. No, God didn’t intend for our world to be riddled with sin. Rather, these divine mysteries tell us more about God than they do our world. Somehow, God makes the most out of our finitude, sin, and mortality. Somehow, God calls people like Paul to be a witness to the incredible things happening through Christ in our world. Somehow, God takes our sin and transforms it into something beautiful, bringing life from death. 
    Mysteries are meant to cause wonder and awe. Wonder and awe are key components in worship. How have you experienced wonder and awe at the mysteries of God? 

Free us, O God, from the desire to obtain all of the answers. Yes, we seek to know you more, but we humbly recognize that we may never grasp your wondrous ways. We pray that you will help us have a new sense of awe and wonder as we contemplate your love and work in our lives. Amen. 

Tuesday, February 20 — Wisdom — 1 Corinthians 1:20-31

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” 
    Through Jesus, God has introduced wisdom into the world that just doesn’t make sense. To become strong, one must become weak. To be first, one must become last. At the end of this journey, we will encounter the ultimate expression of God’s wisdom that according to the world, just doesn’t make sense: death can be given life. We will encounter God in pain, dying on a Roman torture device, only to be resurrected three days later. The pattern of the cross and resurrection — death transformed to life — contradicts the ways the world works. 
    The world’s wisdom says acquire and win, but God calls us to die to those desires for power and wealth. It is when we die to the desires and patterns of the world that we can be given new life through the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom calls us to a type of transformation that is only possible through relationship with Christ. God seeks to transform our desires for strength and power with God’s desire for servanthood. God seeks to transform our desires for greatness with God’s desire for humility. 
    What worldly wisdom are you hanging on to that might be preventing you from experiencing God’s wisdom? What is keeping you from experiencing the new order that Jesus brought to our world? What desires do you need to be transformed? 

You have given us a new order in which the first are last and the last are first. Turn us away from the false wisdom of the world, that we may pursue your wisdom, real wisdom. We seek to be transformed even if it means having to put to death old patterns. Give us the wisdom to discern what is from you and what needs to be transformed. Amen. 

Monday, February 19 — Belong — 1 Corinthians 1:1-19

“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and same purpose.” 
    Brene Brown defines belonging this way: “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us…True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…” In many ways, she is right on target. Throughout our Bibles, we have a narrative of people — our fathers and mothers in faith — seeking to be a part of something larger than them. We see these people wrestle with their authentic selves as they attempt to find true belonging. Some are successful and find belonging in the community of God that we call the Kingdom of God. Some are tragically unsuccessful and struggle their whole lives to belong.
    We find Paul writing in today’s text about a community struggling to define belonging. Some in this early Christian community claimed to belong to one leader; others to another leader. Paul makes the point that the family to which we all belong provides us with a place of unity. The family of God is a place where we are given a place to be ourselves, as imperfect as we are. We belong to the family of God because we belong first to God.  
    During our Lenten journeys, we are called to reflect upon how we present ourselves to God. Before we find unity with the people of God, we must first be honest and authentic with God. Are we presenting ourselves authentically to our community and to God? What do you need to do to be more honest with God? What do you need to say to God? 

Through Jesus, you have shown us true belonging. You have shown us unconditional love. You have shown us self-sacrifice. We pray that you will enlighten us to the ways that we can grow in our sense of unity with you and with the family you have created. Give us the capacity to be honest with ourselves and with you so that we can truly belong to you, O God. Amen. 

 

Sunday, February 18 — Light — John 12:44-50

“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” 
    Have you ever lit a small candle in a large, dark room? Regardless of how great the darkness is, the light of the flickering flame makes it impossible for the room to be completely dark. The presence of the light, however small, eliminates the possibility for the room to be in darkness. It might not illuminate the entire room, but the flame in a small candle is enough to eliminate darkness in the room. 
    Darkness and light are metaphors used throughout the Biblical narrative as a way to talk about Christ’s presence with us. This passage in the Gospel of John compares Jesus to light and the absence of his presence to darkness. When Jesus comes into our lives, darkness has no place. The light that Jesus brings into our lives and into our world may just begin as a small, flickering flame. As we grow as Christians, as we reflect on our relationships with Christ, as we are transformed into the people God intended us to be, Christ’s light in our world grows brighter. 
    Consider your own relationship with Christ. How bright is the light he brings in your life? How can you help the brightness grow? What do you need to do or change in your life for the Light of the World to be seen more clearly in your life and in our world? 

God of Light, it is with great thanksgiving that we come to you today. You bring light to our lives and to our world. With humble hearts, we recognize the need for more light. We need your light to grow in us and in our world. Transform us as we seek to bear your light to our world. Amen. 

Saturday, February 17 — Presence — John 17:20-26

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
    Again, we are reading from Jesus’ final prayer according to the Gospel of John. This time, we pick it up right in the middle as he is praying for all of the people who would follow him. He prays that they may feel as close, as intimate, as united with God as Jesus was. He prays for us, that we may feel God’s presence with us in a very real way throughout our lives. 
    It is often easy to feel God’s presence when we are listening to a choir sing a beautiful rendition of Handel’s Messiah. It is easy to feel as though God is near when we are on a retreat and able to slow down to reflect on our lives. God feels most present with some people when they are enjoying creation or reading a thought-provoking book. 
    During this journey in the wilderness of Lent, we are called to reflect on the more mundane moments of our faith. God is reaching toward us in every moment, but we do not always recognize it! We do not always seek God’s presence, rarely out of ill-intentions; rather, many times it is out of forgetfulness. We are called to seek God’s presence in the everyday moments of our lives, not just the extraordinary moments where we expect to feel united with God. What are the moments in your everyday life where you might be missing or overlooking the presence of God? How do you experience God’s presence in your life? 

Loving God, you give us so many gifts in our lives. We are so grateful for the gift of your presence that is with us even when we are unaware of it. Open our eyes and hearts to see you in our everyday moments. Stir our hearts, O God, and show us that you are always reaching toward us, seeking to unite with us. Amen. 

Friday, February 16 — Rejoice — Philippians 4:1-9

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” 
    A word that people do not usually associate with Lent is rejoice. As we have discovered, Lent is a time of reflection and repentance. This text reminds us that reflection and repentance do not have to be boring and joyless. Our Lenten seasons can be full of joy and rejoicing because we can be assured that with this season of reflection and repentance that we are being transformed as individuals and as a community. 
    Today’s text is written by Paul to the church at Philippi. Most likely, it was written while Paul was in jail enduring great struggle and suffering. With that in mind, the joy in this letter is palpable. Somehow, joy is possible in times of struggle. Paul is encouraging the Christians in Philippi to keep the faith amidst difficulties that arise in their lives, the church, and their world. He is calling them to stick with their spiritual practices. Keep worshipping and keep praying because it will be worth it. 
    On this long Lenten journey, it is easy to get weighed down by our burdens. In a season focused on repentance and reflection, we can easily become inundated with all of the things in our lives that need God’s transformation. But, Lent is a perfect opportunity to rejoice, to be grateful and joyful for the ways God is working in our lives. It is a perfect time to celebrate that we worship a God who brings new life every day. Rejoice, sisters and brothers, for God is doing a great thing among us! 

Open our hearts and minds, O God, so that we may see the great things you are doing among us. Seeing the traces of your work in our midst encourages us and reminds us to keep the faith during this long journey of Lent. Prepare us to receive the new life you offer us daily. Amen.

Thursday, February 15 — Glorify — John 17:1-8

“I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” 
    This text is Jesus’ last and longest prayer in the Gospel according to John. It takes place just before his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. He begins this prayerful reflection with recollection, naming the things he did to lift up the name of God. From this prayer, we can discern that one of Jesus’ primary goals in life was to glorify God. If you notice, Jesus was always pointing back to the empowering, transforming work of God when anyone commended him. Jesus’ life was about reflecting the love, compassion, and grace of God.
    To glorify means to “acknowledge and reveal the majesty and splendor of another by one’s actions.” Each action that Jesus did revealed something more about the character of God. The words Jesus said weren’t the only source of glory for God. The most striking and meaningful part of Jesus’ earthly ministry was the actions he took in welcoming outcasts, touching the sick, and caring for the overlooked. By one’s actions is the catch. We can pay lip service to God, saying that we give glory to God although our actions otherwise may not reflect it. 
    We often get caught “going through the motions” of our faith, getting trapped in the rhythm of religion rather than the rhythms of grace.    Somewhere along the way, we may have gotten distracted and lost sight of our calling to bring glory to God. An integral part of our journey to new life is to reflect on the things that we give glory. What are you glorifying with your actions? What actions can you take on during this Lenten journey that will reveal the majesty and splendor of God? How can you better communicate the character of God through your actions?

Free us, O God, from our obsession with ourselves long enough to recognize you in our midst. Empower us to walk the way of Jesus Christ as we learn to reveal more about you in everything we do. Draw us out beyond our circles of care toward others, just as Jesus did, so that we can glorify you. Amen.

Ash Wednesday, February 14 — Seek — Isaiah 58:1-2

“Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways!” 
    The Lenten journey is long and arduous but worth every bit of struggle. Lent originated as a fast for people who were preparing for baptism. Often, they had just spent 3 years learning about the Christian tradition. They learned how to pray, the stories of the Bible, how to live, and so much more. During the final 40 days before their baptism, the official marker of their entrance into this new way of life, they would fast and reflect on the ways in which their lives reflected (or didn’t) the way of Jesus Christ. Then, they would be baptized on Resurrection Sunday and truly experience new life.
    They would spend time repenting for the ways they had strayed from The Way. Repentance is certainly a central theme in Lent. But they did not repent just for the sake of repenting. They repented because it was a part of the larger process of seeking God. These forty days of reflection showed their devotion to Christ and the new life he offered. They reflected upon the identities they are given by God at their birth and reaffirmed at baptism: beloved children. They were seeking a God of grace who promised new beginnings. 
    It is easy in our world, just as it was in theirs, to get sidetracked and distracted from seeking God. We can easily get caught up in our identities given to us by the world. What would it look like for you to become enveloped by the identity given to you by God? What would it look like for you to seek a new beginning with God on this journey? What do you need to do so that you can experience new life on Resurrection Sunday? 

God of Grace, you call us beloved children but we tend to stray from that identity. Challenge us to reclaim the identity you give us. Help us to seek you and the calling you have for us rather than the seductive forces that surround us. Stir our hearts so that we will engage in the difficult process of reflection and repentance during this Lenten journey so that we may rediscover your power to offer new life. Amen. 

Introduction to Lent

This year, for the season of Lent, we will be doing a few new things to help us grow. Lent is a time to intentionally seek God and reflect on the ways in which we may have strayed from life as God intended. It is a time that we can re-focus on what it means to follow Christ. 
So this year at UBC, we are going to do two things to help us reflect during Lent. 

The first is that there will be a short devotion posted here each day. It will give you time to engage with Scripture and to reflect upon your own journeys with God. We are also going to give you a word for each day that has to do with the devotion. We invite you to think about that word and any images that come to mind. Once you have an image or photo, post it on your preferred social media platform with #ubcbaltimore. If you do not have social media, simply email the photo or image to a staff member and we will share it on our accounts. 

We hope that this year, Lent can be a meaningful experience for you. We will begin our Lenten journeys together on Ash Wednesday, February 14th, with a service of prayer in Davis Chapel at 7pm. We hope that you can join us for this service and for this season of reflection.