Sunday, April 1 — Resurrection — Matthew 28:1-10

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“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” 

    These women witnessed something incredible. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” were the first preachers, called to preach the most important message: “He has been raised from the dead.” According to this account of the first Easter morning, the angel of the Lord delivered the message to these women, then Jesus. 
    Cameron Murchison says that the resurrection event calls the church to seek Good News always, saying, “This Easter image reminds the church that it is the beloved community that can be quick to look for the work of divine love amid the tragedies of personal existence and the injustices of social experience, even when most of the world believes that dream has long since ended.” For the disciples and the rest of the world, the dream they believed in, the Rabbi they followed, the Lord they had hoped for for years was ended. In the early hours of Sunday, God showed that God had not forsaken Jesus, nor the world. Rather, God raised Jesus in protest of the unjust systems, gruesome death, and silencing of the Message. God raised Jesus and affirmed the message as lived and preached during Jesus’ life. God took this tragedy and transformed it into an expression of love and life.
    This message of Jesus’ resurrection was so strange and surprising that their first reaction was to be afraid. When they finally laid their eyes on the Risen One, he said again, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus’ resurrection was not scary because it is like an episode of The Walking Dead. It was scary because no one could have fathomed it ending like this. The disciples, most especially these women who stuck around after the others fled, had endured a roller coaster of emotions. This was the last thing they expected. 
    How many times does that happen? God is always creating life from things that were dead. God is always working in darkness to birth life in the world. These things never cease to be surprising to us because we tend to place God in a box. With our finitude and limited human minds, we think we know what God can and cannot do. But, resurrection blows that box wide open. 
Loving God, thank you for new life!


Saturday, March 31 — Darkness — Mark 15:42-47

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“He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.” 

    After his death, Jesus’ body was taken and placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb was most likely a cave, carved out of a mountain with a large stone as the door. Jesus’ body was carefully laid in the tomb. Do you ever wonder what the disciples did that day? This was just one day after they saw their hope dashed and their joy stolen from them. Like the darkness of the tomb, the disciples probably felt they were in their own kind of tomb. They were alive, yet they felt so dead. All of their hopes for the world, for their faith, laid dead in a tomb, enclosed in darkness. 
    We are taught to be afraid of the dark. Bad things happen in the dark. Some even talk about sinfulness as being in darkness. However, something began in that dark tomb. Something mysterious that only God can explain. The darkness of the tomb birthed the light of resurrection. Darkness was the womb of life. That is not to say that God makes us go through difficult times to make us appreciate the good times. It is also not that God causes us to suffer in order to teach us anything so that God can show off God’s ability to make good things from bad things. What is clear about Holy Saturday, about darkness, is that it is in the dark that God is often working the hardest. 
    It is in the dark where life is birthed. Pastor Barbara Brown Taylor said it this way, “Whatever happened to Jesus between Saturday and Sunday, it happened in the dark, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. It happened where no one but him could talk about it later, and he did not talk about it—at least not so anyone could explain it to anyone else.” In the darkness is a waiting, a pregnant pause. But eventually the darkness ends and light is birthed. Consider this: where is there darkness in your life? How is God working in and through your darkness to birth something new? 

God, when you created this world, you created both light and dark. You worked with darkness to bring forth light in the beginning. You have continued to work with darkness to bring forth light, both in our world and in our lives. Help us to anticipate your work that often happens in the dark. Amen. 

Friday, March 30 — Death — John 19:38-42

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“They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.”

    In the opening lines of Jurgen Moltmann’s greatest theological work, The Crucified God, he says, “The cross is not and cannot ever be loved.” The cross was the source of greatest shame and torture in Jesus’ time. For us to begin to grasp the power of Resurrection Sunday, we must lean into the despair of Friday. For Jesus and his disciples, Friday was the end of a movement. “Good Friday,” as we call it today, was not good. 
    On “Good Friday,” Jesus suffered and died as a political prisoner of the Roman Empire. The cross was reserved not for the worst, most vile and violent criminals. It was rather reserved for the criminals who posed a threat to the powers that be. The cross was a device used to torture people who tried to start uprisings or insurrections against the Empire. Being crucified, in the Roman Empire, was the punishment for treasonous political leaders. 
    Jesus’ followers called him Lord, which in itself doesn’t seem too controversial. However, Ceasar was considered Lord, so saying Jesus was Lord was implying that Ceasar was not. Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God which turned out to be very different from the Kingdom of Ceasar. He was a threat to the political and religious establishment, a threat to law and order, so they killed him as they would any political prisoner. 
    The beatings were brutal. The death was gruesome. At the end of the day, little hope remained. The crucifixion was a message to Jesus’ followers that if they continued this movement, they would find the same fate. The Jewish tradition said, “For anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse,” (Deut. 21:23b). Jesus’ followers would have seen this event in light of the Jewish law and fled, abandoning hope and the way of life Jesus taught. Despair and fear would have set in because they had no way of knowing what was right around the corner. 
    On this side of Good Friday, we see that God suffered that day. We see that God took suffering into God’s very being. The one Jesus called Abba experienced incredible pain as well as God watched and suffered with Jesus. In his suffering, Jesus became brother to all of us, all of creation, and showed the Triune God’s commitment to compassionate love. Jesus showed that God is willing to suffer with humanity. Looking back on Good Friday on this side of the Resurrection, our hope can be restored that Jesus’ death was not the end. However, it is important to wrestle with and rest in the despair, hopelessness, and suffering of Good Friday. 

Today, the only appropriate prayer is the prayer of the psalmist that Jesus echoes on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Thursday, March 29 — Betray — Mark 14:12-25

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“They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’” 

    Betrayal has a different kind of sting to it. It is different from so many other types of relational brokenness. On this side of history, we can anticipate the betrayal with Jesus. We know it is going to be Judas Iscariot. We know that he will not be able to live with himself afterward and will be overwhelmed with despair and brokenness. Reading our text today, Jesus seems to know as well. 
    Jesus announces the betrayal to the disciples, knowing that the bounty on his head is attractive and enticing. Instead of confronting the betrayer with anger or frustration, Jesus takes the same gracious approach that he has taken with people throughout his life. He shares a meal with the one who is about to make money on his imprisonment. Jesus even serves Judas in anticipation of his betrayal. 
    As we follow the Jesus story through to the empty tomb, it is important for us to pause here for a moment and acknowledge our capacity for betrayal. Sure, we are never going to have the opportunity for betrayal of Jesus to the degree that Judas had. However, we can participate in smaller, more subtle betrayals along the way. Like Judas, we can place a value on our allegiance to Jesus. This betrayal begins with distraction. Judas becomes distracted by the allure of the money and status that he could get by turning in Jesus. We can be so easily distracted by money or status that we may not even realize betrayal as it is happening. 
    The disciples were in denial that one of them could ever betray their beloved teacher. They thought that surely, they would never succumb to the pressures of the world. We are called to earnestly and authentically reflect on our capacity for betrayal. What do you value above Jesus? What are you distracted by? The grace here is that Jesus chooses to still share a meal with Judas. Betrayal doesn’t get the last word, but we are still called to reflect on our capacity to cause relational brokenness. 

God, you give us a pattern for relationship. In your very being, you are relational and have created us to be as well. We pray that you would illuminate our tendencies that allow brokenness into our relationships with you and with our neighbors. Amen. 


Wednesday, March 28 — Rejection — Mark 12:1-11

“So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.”

    Jesus often spoke in parables. They were intended as a way of teaching that subverted the expected outcome of a story. According to theologian Peter Rollins, “A parable is a discourse that is designed to send you off course and onto a new course.” He continues, “A parable is supposed to disrupt your thinking. Everything you think of as moral and good or right, parables have this interesting and disturbing tendency to turn it on its head.” The parables Jesus told were used to teach difficult concepts in ways that were approachable by the common people. While they might not have been stories that literally took place, they were stories that taught truths about life with God. 
    The parable for today, the “Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” teaches about people’s inability to properly care for God’s world. The landowner who planted the vineyard left it in the hands of the tenants as he went to another country. The hearers of the parable are expecting that the tenants will be the heroes of the story, reaping more grapes and making more wine than expected. However, every servant the landowner sends to check in on the land, the tenants brutally kill. Jesus told this parable as a way of alluding to the way Israel rejected and killed the prophets of old. The people were given chance after chance with the landowner when the landowner finally sent his son. However, the people squandered that chance as they killed even the landowner’s son.
    The scripture says that the religious leaders with whom Jesus was speaking realized what he meant by this parable. They realized that Jesus was drawing a parallel with the wicked tenants and the religious leaders of his time. They realized that Jesus was claiming that God sent him, giving him more authority than they were willing to give him. Their reaction to this parable was evidence of Jesus’ wisdom in telling the parable. Rejection was looming. The religious leaders were waiting to be the heroes of the story and they were disturbed when they realized that they were the ones responsible for the death of the landowner’s son. They were the rejectors. 
    As we read this parable today, we must reflect on our roles in the story. We are the ones God has entrusted with the care and keeping of the world. Are we listening? Are we looking for those God has sent to us? Are we paying attention? Or are we so focused on producing fruit, are we so focused on protecting our little section of the world that we have lost sight of the purpose God gave us to begin with? Who have we rejected that has represented God for us? It is of these rejections that we must repent in hopes for new life.

Loving God, you are so gracious to us. You send us opportunity after opportunity to engage with you. You give us chance after chance to be a part of something bigger than us. We confess that we squander these opportunities. We are among the tenants who reject the ones you send us. Give us grace and open our hearts. Amen. 

Tuesday, March 27 — Authority — Mark 11:27-33

“I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.” 

    In this perplexing text, Jesus turns his critics question into a type of riddle, uncovering their ignorance and inability to see the bigger picture of God’s work through Jesus. The religious leaders in Jerusalem were questioning Jesus and his authority to claim the forgiveness of sins and miraculous healing that he was performing throughout his ministry. The question itself showed Jesus that these people did not understand his vision for the world and his message of the Kingdom of God. They were looking for proof of his authority and he was seeking followers of this message. As a result, they missed his message and authority. 
    This text calls us to ask ourselves two major questions as we reflect on our world. The first is to what are we giving authority? One of the definitions of authority is, “The power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something.” As we go through our lives, there are things constantly vying to have places of authority in our lives: advice columns in magazines, competing news agencies, textbooks, teachers, schools of thought. The list could go on and on. We can give these things authority, but are they taking the primary place of influence in our lives? Often we relegate the authority of our faith to influence our lives one (or maybe two) days a week. When looking at this text in anticipation of the new life we are hoping to receive, we must ask ourselves the critical question of whether we are giving our faith in Jesus true authority in our lives. 
    The second question this text calls us to reflect upon is whether we are relying on or seeking scientific proof, like the religious leaders here, of Jesus’ authority. Do we try to convince ourselves or others of Jesus’ authority, seeking the best, most clear arguments? When we do that, we might be satisfying our thirst to be right and our desire to win, but we are not following the Way Jesus modeled for us. He modeled a way of intimacy with God in which he never sought to win arguments with people. We never see him try to prove others wrong in the scriptures when he disagreed with them. Instead, he showed them a graceful, lived reality that communicated his message. 
    As we journey to Golgotha this week, it is important to recognize the things that lead us to dead ends. Misplacing authority and wasting our time on trying to prove others wrong are certainly two things that will lead our faith to dead ends. We can seek resurrection by committing to Jesus’ Way that he laid out for us in the Gospels. Consider reflection on the things you give authority. Do you give facts, figures, and best arguments authority in your life? What does it look like to give Jesus full influence and authority of your life? 

God, you are the one Jesus called abba. We cry out to you seeking your presence in our lives. We seek for you to be the primary influencer of our actions, but we recognize that sometimes we don’t live as though you are. Restore us, renew us. Give us new life so that we can live for you. Amen. 


Monday, March 26 — Cleanse — Mark 11:12-25

“He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.’”

    Jesus’ first stop, once he entered Jerusalem, was the Temple. To be fair, most faithful Jews who were passing through Jerusalem would make it a priority to stop at the Temple to make their sacrifices. At that time, the Temple in Jerusalem was the only place one could make a sacrifice to God to pay for their sins and the sins of the family. The religious leaders, as many religious leaders in our time, recognized the opportunity in this. They began selling different animals for sacrifice because according to the Law, a person was to bring a sacrifice that corresponded to their socio-economic ability. This scripture tells us that these moneychangers and salespeople were taking advantage of the poor, the rich, and everyone in between. 
    Jesus entered into this holy space and recognized it. His righteous indignation led him to overturn the tables of sacrifice. In turning them over, he sent a message about sacrifice. God was never to be worshiped again through sacrifice. God was never to be commodified again. God’s love was never to be bought or bargained for again. Jesus cleansed the temple of the commodification of religion. He cleansed it of the sacrificial system that was keeping people at arm's length from God. He cleansed it of the ideas of God as a bloodthirsty, never-satisfied, rarely-graceful deity. 
    We often acquire ideas about God as we go about our lives. Some of them are good and helpful, offering us new metaphors for the mysterious Love that created and sustains our universe. Others, however, are destructive. They keep us at arm's length from God and we don’t even realize it. As we go about our lives, we hear messages of God’s character that are in contradiction with the character of God revealed throughout scripture and throughout the history of the church. It’s easy to let these messages infiltrate our sense of who God is and poison our relation to God. 
    How might your heart and mind need to be cleansed from toxicity that you’ve acquired from the world? How have you allowed the world to dictate who God is to you? 

Loving God, we often lose sight of who you truly are. We are often deceived. We are often wrong. Give us the discernment to see you. Give us the wisdom to know you. Give us the grace to be cleansed from toxicity that we inevitably acquire. Amen. 

Sunday, March 25 — Weep — Luke 19:41-48

“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’” 

    This familiar scripture comes just after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday. People lined the streets of Jerusalem, not at the royal gate, but at the back gate. Jesus’ entry was a mix of celebration and grieving. The celebration was for the Messiah the Jews hoped would bring in a new age. The grief was over the misunderstanding of who this Messiah truly was. He was riding a donkey, not a white horse. He was a wandering, non-violent teacher, not a warrior. 
    When the shouts of Hosannas ended and the cloaks had been picked up from the streets, Jesus looked out over the city with great grief. He was weeping over the realization that so many still didn’t understand. He was grieving that they didn’t understand he was the Messiah who would indeed bring in a new age, but in a much different way than anticipated. He would bring in this new age with love, not violence; peace, not war; relationship, not sacrifice. 
    On this Palm Sunday, as the journey to Golgotha approaches, we must consider the expectations we’ve placed upon Jesus. Are there expectations we’ve placed upon Jesus that might cause him to weep? Perhaps we seek to use Jesus to manipulate others. Or maybe we seek to use Jesus to leverage power or social status. Perhaps there are times when we use Jesus as a magic genie, seeking him only to make our wishes come true. Misunderstanding who he is has become a large part of our faith. These misunderstandings would make Jesus weep today, just as he wept over Jerusalem so many years ago. 
    As we draw near to Golgotha and anticipate the new life of the empty tomb, how might we unintentionally be misunderstanding Jesus? How might we be missing his purpose and intentions? 

It is you, O God, who often defy our expectations. Our forefathers and foremothers of faith expected a warrior king in the Messiah you promised and they received a homeless Rabbi. We often expect you to show up in certain ways and you defy our expectations time after time. Help us to see you and see your beauty, mystery, and love in ways that we could never imagine. Amen. 

Saturday, March 24 — Way — Mark 10:46-52

“Immediately, he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” 

    Bartimaeus, like many others, heard the chatter surrounding Jesus and his followers. Word of their impending arrival would precede them because of their reputations. You can imagine Bartimaeus sitting out on the curb waiting for Jesus’ arrival. Although he couldn’t see, Bartimaeus could sense the excitement. He knew of Jesus’ reputation as a healer and could feel the excitement brewing inside of him that maybe — just maybe — Jesus’ touch would be the thing that would finally open his eyes. 
    When he heard Jesus and the disciples passing by, Bartimaeus yelled, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” As in our time, many people in Bartimaeus’ time turned a blind eye to the beggars among them. That is until they start crying out. Bartimaeus cried out and people tried to silence him. Jesus noticed and called Bartimaeus to him, asking Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus obviously seeks to see again. Jesus heals him and Bartimaeus follows him on The Way. 
    When we are following Jesus on The Way, our eyes are opened in a different way. We, like Bartimaeus, begin seeing in a way that we’ve never seen before. We begin to see those who are begging to be healed among us. We begin to see the people who surround us as the  Children of God they truly are, rather than whatever labels the world gives them. 
    The longer we are on The Way, the further from our new sight we get. Our eyes age and lose the new vision they were given when we began this journey. We begin only to be able to love those who are like us and lose sight of the ability to find God in our enemies and in our neighbors who are different from us. We lose sight of the things that are most important to God, settling for mediocre things that are good but not great. As we continue on The Way, journeying through Holy Week and beyond, it is important to consider whether we need our sight to be restored. Are you truly seeing with the eyes of Jesus? As you are following Jesus on The Way, have you lost your vision for the people Jesus has called you to love? How can your vision be restored? 

Loving God, you look at the world and see your children. Your vision for the world is incredible, challenging us to take it on as well. Although we often fall short, we pray that you would give us your eyes with which to see the world, your heart with which we can love the world, and your hands with which we can touch the world. Amen. 

Friday, March 23 — Treasure — 2 Corinthians 4:1-12

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” 

    Paul’s words to the Corinthian Church could very easily be words to us today. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken.” His list goes on. He is writing to encourage the Corinthian Christians to keep the faith. Remember, the early Christians had a difficult time. They were trying to forge a new identity in a time when new identities were not welcome. They were constantly reminded of the fragility of human life. 
    The treasure of God’s presence, love, glory, and knowledge filled the lives of the Corinthians. Paul recognized that while their mortal bodies were fragile, like a clay jar, the treasure that filled them was unbreakable. In the midst of trouble, the presence and love of God was incredibly comforting. While afflictions surrounded them, the treasure of God filled the Corinthian Christians giving them confidence, comfort, and endurance. 
    While the afflictions may not be the same, Christians today have similar feelings of affliction and perplexity. The violence that is pervasive in our communities may afflict us. We may be perplexed by the fewer people filling our pews across the nation. Christians today and throughout history are not immune to struggles and challenges. Our lives, too, are fragile just like jars of clay. But God fills our jars and gives us the capacity to get through these challenges. We can easily get caught in them, lamenting our fragile lives. We often find ourselves in despair for our world, our challenges, and our struggles to find God in all of it. 
    Lent is our opportunity to be reminded that even in the troubling times, even with the journey of Holy Week looming, God is present. God is filling our fragile lives. And when the clay jars break, when our lives are overcome by the destructive forces in our world, we are reminded that God makes all things new. God brings life from death, wholeness from brokenness, order from chaos. As we come to the end of the Lenten season, consider what it looks like for you to take comfort in the treasure that fills your soul, or the treasure that fills your clay jar. How do you see the power of God at work in your life? Do you truly treasure God’s presence in your life? 

It is only by your power and love that our lives our sustained. It is by your grace that we find meaning in our lives. Continue to make us aware of the treasure of your presence. Help us to see you even in times of struggle and challenge. Amen. 

Thursday, March 22 — Uncover — 2 Corinthians 3:7-18

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“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” 

     In today’s scripture, Paul is writing to the Corinthians about Moses’ encounter with God. Remember, when Moses went up to the mountain and came back down, his face was glowing because he had seen the glory of God. During the time of the Old Testament, many believed that God’s glory was so striking and incredible that they had to cover their faces when they saw it to prevent themselves from dying. Their awe and reverence for God was incredible! 
    Fast forward a few thousand years to the wandering Jewish rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. He was the “visible image of the invisible God.” No one needed to be veiled or cover their eyes when they approached Jesus. They were able to see the fullness of God when looking at Christ. We are able to see the fullness of God when we look at Christ. Our eyes have been uncovered, which is a great thing. But, sometimes we forget that when we see Jesus, when we encounter Jesus, we are encountering the God of the universe. 
     In Jesus, we are being called to uncover our faces. We are being called to face God with all that we truly are, without the masks or covers that hide who we truly are. Many Christians have spent years and years hearing what God wants in a person. God seeks goodness, love, kindness, compassion, justice. The list could go on and on. When we realize that we have parts of us that are not good, not loving, not kind inside of us, it becomes tempting to hide that from God. It becomes tempting to present God with a covered image of our true self. It becomes tempting to put on a mask when we approach God. If we struggle to approach God with authenticity, we will certainly struggle to approach others with authenticity. 
     During Lent, we have been getting in touch with the things that have crept into our spiritual lives that we need to repent of in order to refocus on our relationships with God. Inauthenticity is one of those things that can be detrimental to our relationships with God. We are called to uncover our faces, take our masks off, and be real with God. When we uncover ourselves to God, it becomes easier to accept ourselves and present our real selves to others as well. Consider how inauthenticity has crept into your life. What masks do you need to take off to uncover your true self? Who are you underneath it all? How can you be real with God? 

You, O God, know us better than we know ourselves. Yet, we often hide ourselves even from you. We confess that we seek to be real with you. We seek to uncover our faces, but sometimes it is hard because we have been so inauthentic for so long. Guide us. Uncover our faces so we can truly see you and so you can truly see us. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21 — Child — Mark 10:13-16

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” 

    In this scripture, we find Jesus once again speaking on behalf of the children among him. The disciples got upset that people were bringing their children to him. When Jesus recognized that the disciples were being less than welcoming to the children, Jesus reminded them of what he said just 25 verses ago. In Mark 9, we studied Jesus telling the disciples that God is in each child and welcoming a child is like welcoming God. So when the disciples begin turning children away from Jesus’ presence, he understandably gets upset because the converse is also true: turning away a child is like turning God away. In fact, he adds in this story, these children are the ones we should follow in faith. 
    Often times when pastors talk about this verse, you hear them say something like, “You just need to accept the Gospel with no questions, like the little children.” How many children do you know who just accept things without questions? Yes, there is something to be said about childhood innocence, but that often gets twisted into people encouraging ignorance. Innocence is harmless, a rather unintentionally passive way to exist in the world. Children’s innocence is beautiful because they have been untouched by the corrupt systems and brokenness in the world. Ignorance is a willful avoidance of necessary knowledge and wisdom for getting through this world. Jesus is not encouraging ignorance. 
    Children are naturally curious. They ask the “why” questions, often to the annoyance of the adults surrounding them. These why questions send them on journeys defined by curiosity and discovery. Jesus isn’t encouraging ignorant faith where we blindly accept everything we hear to be true. No, he is encouraging people to follow the children’s lead and embark upon a journey of faith defined by curiosity and discovery. It will lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of God. 
    As Lent is coming to an end, it is important to recognize that old habits die hard. It will be easy to get back into the “routine” life of faith. Perhaps for you, that routine has been defined by curiosity and discovery. Perhaps you have been like a little child on an adventure during your life of faith. Or maybe you have unknowingly forgotten that side of your spiritual life and your Lenten journey has led you to want more in your everyday journey with Christ. Begin thinking about how you will be transformed going into the rest of the year. How will you take on the faith of a child? How can you incorporate curiosity and discovery into your faith? 

Loving God, thank you for the children you have placed in our lives. Thank you for their examples of curiosity and discovery. We pray that you would help us to discern what that will mean for our faith lives to incorporate childlike curiosity and discovery into our lives in the coming weeks. Amen. 

Tuesday, March 20 — Yearn — Exodus 5:1-6:1

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.” 

    In this story, we find the Hebrew people enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt. They are working hard, making bricks and Moses goes to Pharaoh to seek time for the Hebrews to go into the wilderness to worship God. Instead of letting them go worship YHWH out in the wilderness, Pharaoh punishes them for even asking. They were yearning to worship but they weren’t allowed. They were yearning to tap into the Deep Well. Pharaoh’s punishment was that the Hebrew people would have to gather straw to make the bricks. They were called lazy and further demeaned and dehumanized. All they wanted was to worship, for it was in worship that they felt free. They yearned to be free. 
    Moses began questioning God, asking why God was allowing this to happen. At the time, Pharaoh was seen as a representative of Egyptian gods. The worldview at the time affirmed that the gods were okay with human enslavement. When Moses was questioning YHWH about how God could affirm this dehumanizing arrangement, God responded with an absolute negation of slavery. God affirmed the Hebrews’ yearning. God was going to liberate them and offer them salvation from the oppressive Egyptian system. 
    Today, we don’t find ourselves in systems like the Hebrews experienced in Egypt. We do, however, experience oppression of different types every day. We see people justify oppressive systems like racism and sexism with religious arguments. We might even turn a blind eye to the oppressive systems at work today and deny that they have a grip on our society. This story teaches us that God is always on the side of the oppressed. God is a God who yearns for freedom for all. God is a God who seeks to liberate Beloved Children from the things that keep them bound. 
    During Lent, we’ve been looking both at individual repentance and communal repentance. This scripture calls us to repent for the ways that we have participated in systems that hold others back. It calls us to reflect on where we may have benefited at others’ expense. It calls us to pause and recognize what the people around us are yearning for because we might be able to be like Moses, used by God for their liberation. Who are the people yearning for freedom in your lives? Where are you participating in or benefiting from systems that are broken? How can you help people be liberated in Christ? 

God, you have created our hearts and minds to be free. You have called us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you. We confess that there are times when we receive benefits from broken systems that we turn a blind eye to the harm they are doing to your beloved children. Use us to be vehicles of change, just as you used Moses. Amen. 

Monday, March 19 — Serve — Mark 9: 30-41

“He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’”

    This challenging part of Scripture says a lot about what it means to follow Jesus. In verse 33, Jesus asks the disciples, “What were you arguing about on the way?" He realized the disciples were preoccupied with their own argument about who was the greatest and weren't really listening to him. The disciples put themselves in competition with each other and it divided them. 
    This is one of the most relevant images of life right now. We disciples can get so carried away arguing about menial things that we forget the purpose of gathering together. We forget what it means to follow Christ. We forget that we are not called to be the greatest or have the greatest argument. Jesus says that our life following him means that we love our neighbors by serving them, not by competing with them. We can get so caught up in the temptation to compete with one another that we forget to show compassion. We get caught up in making ourselves look great that we overlook that we have made our neighbor look bad in the process. We get caught up in thinking the world is here for us and lose sight of the fact that we are here for the world. We get distracted from the work of following Jesus so easily. 
    Jesus gave them a lesson in hospitality. The disciples were talking about the Way of Competition and Jesus shifts their conversation to the Way of Hospitality or the Way of Welcome. Servanthood, hospitality, and welcome are defined by an unconditional welcoming of society’s last and lowest because it is in their faces that Jesus says we will find God. 
    As we reflect and refocus during this season of Lent, it is important to reflect on the times we have been more concerned about our own success than the success of others. Reflect on the times we have been more concerned about our own inclusion than the inclusion of others. What does it mean to be a servant? What does it mean to seek to be last? How can you adopt a Way of Welcome and Hospitality? 

In your very being, you showed us a way of servanthood. Through the incarnation, life and ministry, death and resurrection of your Son, you gave us a picture of what it means to truly serve one another. We pray that you would empower us to take on a pattern of servanthood, a Way of Welcome, as we seek to serve our neighbors. Amen. 

Sunday, March 18 — Renew — Romans 12:1-12

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Again, we find Paul giving advice on how to follow Christ in our world. No doubt, the world of Paul and our 21st-century world are vastly different from one another. However, the effect of the world on our faith can be found to be similar. Early Christians, like Paul, believed that Christ introduced a whole new age or world. So Paul is comparing the new Age of Christ with the old age, or old world. He is essentially saying that when you are in Christ, you have entered a whole new world that exists right alongside the old world. 
    This new world starts with our transformation. As we are transformed, our desires are transformed. The way we talk may be transformed. But as life goes, our transformation becomes an event of the past. It may not be a dramatic event. We begin to ease our way back into the old way of living life. Paul’s message to the Roman Christians recognizes this tendency to fall back into old habits and patterns of thought. He encourages the Romans and us today to seek renewal in every moment of every day. God offers us never-ending grace that sustains us and can renew us. Will we allow that constant flow of grace to change us? 
    There are many ways to be renewed. Some find renewal through a moving worship service or choral anthem. Others may find renewal through grace-filled community focused on offering encouragement in the midst of real struggles. Many find renewal through personal study of the Scriptures. What is absolutely vital is that we consistently seek renewal. Lent is a season focused on renewal. What is the way you feel most renewed in mind, body, and spirit? How do you feel God renewing you during this Lenten season? 

God, you are the one who promises to make all things new. We recognize our need to be made new, to be constantly reminded of the transformative work you’ve done in our lives. Help us to know your renewing grace in a more real way this Lenten season so that we may celebrate new life on Resurrection Sunday alongside you. Amen. 

Saturday, March 17 — Love — 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 

    This is, by far, one of the most popular Biblical passages to use at weddings. However, it is not talking about romantic love. Paul is talking about agape love or unconditional love. Agape love is a much more rich type of love. It is the type of love that holds communities together. It is the type of love that invites the outsiders in and values those others have considered unlovable. 
    In this Scripture, Paul is reminding us that without agape love, our faith means nothing. Faith in Jesus requires love as the animating force. When we have love, our faith takes shape. This is a message that is easy to lose sight of when we go about our days as faithful people. Our world tells us that we have to be right, so we try to prove our faith to others and lose sight of the love Christ told us to have. Our world tells us that we have to have the most knowledge, so we pour ourselves into studying and acquiring knowledge, losing sight of the love that gives our faith legs. Our world tells us we have to be the best in our field, so we work to set ourselves apart and accidentally trample those below us, forgetting what Jesus said about being a servant. It is so easy to lose sight of the most simple things about our faith. 
    Lent is a time to refocus on our faith. It is our opportunity to repent for the ways we have lost sight of love, for the ways that we have become a clanging symbol, in the words of Paul. It is our opportunity to once again let love seep from our beings, as Christ taught us. Where are you lacking love? What would it look like for love to be the animating force of your faith? 

Loving God, your calling for love is sometimes more than we can bear. We have forgotten how to love and our faith has lost its shape as a result. For these things, we repent, O God. We seek to make love our aim in everything we do and believe because we know that this brings your heart joy. Amen. 

Friday, March 16 — Transform — Mark 9:2-13

“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” 

    Jesus was transformed before Peter, James, and John’s eyes. Understandably, they were confused, a posture the disciples assume quite often. They go up to this mountain with Jesus and all of the sudden he is transformed into dazzling white with Elijah and Moses at his side. As if this wasn’t strange enough, a voice echoing the voice at Jesus’ baptism is heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 
    In the moments on the mountain, Jesus is transformed and the chosen disciples get a momentary glimpse at the fullness of God. Of course, they were afraid. Of course, they wanted to build shelters and remain there, in those moments surrounded by their leader and the prophets Elijah and Moses. Jesus was transformed before their eyes and as a result, they were transformed. An experience like that changes you. Peter, James, and John represent us. Their response to the transfiguration is emblematic of our inability to understand transformative moments. Jesus showed himself in full grandeur, transformed from the lowly servant to the exalted Son of God. 
    What could this mountain-top moment say to us during our Lenten journey? Before this moment, Peter, James, and John were unaware and naive about the person of Christ. They had gotten used to the ordinary-ness of Jesus among them that they lost sight of his power, grandeur, and the fullness of God. They were missing what was before their very eyes. It took this moment of transfiguration for them to finally recognize a little more fully who this Jesus person was. During our Lenten journey, it is important to reflect on whether we are missing God before our very eyes. Is God among us and are we just missing it? If the transfiguration happened in your life, where would God be revealed? How can you become more aware of God’s presence among you? 

God, you are full of grandeur and greatness. You dazzle us day in and day out with your love and grace that sustains us. Forgive us for the times that we overlook your greatness. Forgive us for letting our hearts and minds get used to you among us and missing your fullness as a result. Open our eyes. Open our hearts. Open our minds to your transformation in our midst. Amen. 

Thursday, March 15 — Body — 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” 

    Everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than them. When you think about the pattern of the universe, this has been true of the pattern of creation. Particles forming a community of particles that we now call atoms. Atoms have the properties of the particles that created them and then some new properties. Atoms forming a community of atoms that we now call molecules. Cells have the properties of the atoms that created them and then some new properties. Cells forming a community of cells that we call people. People have the properties of the cells that created them and then some new properties. Obviously, the science is more complex, but at the basic level, each of the smaller components makes up something greater than itself that bears a resemblance to the smaller component but also takes on new life. 
    The same is true of the body of Christ. It is made up of people like you and me. All of us make up the body of Christ at work in our world. Each of us has a role to play. In a similar way to each of us having a gift for the common good, we all have a role in the Body of Christ. We all have a calling, a task God has given us to further his message in our world. It may be an ordinary task, as ordinary as being an ear or a foot. Or it may be an incredible calling, as big as being a brain or a heart. Whatever our calling, our presence in the Body of Christ is vital to Christ’s work of love, reconciliation, compassion, and inclusion being continued in our world. 
    There is something that unites us that is bigger than all of us. It is bigger than our nationalities. It is bigger than our languages. It is bigger than our races. It is bigger than the social constructs that separate us. Did you catch what Paul said? He lists off specific social constructs that separated people in his time: “Jews, Greeks, slaves, or free.” We are all a part of something bigger that is at work in our world and that something is Christ. We are Christ’s hands and feet alive in our world. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians and us by saying that we are all in this together. We need each other. 
    During our Lenten journey, it is easy to become laser-focused on our own personal transformation through repentance and reflection. It is important that we reflect on the ways we have contributed or not contributed to the Body of Christ in our world. How have you contributed to the greater Body of Christ? How can you more fully engage your gifts and callings in the Body of Christ? 

Loving God, it is with grateful hearts that we recognize that you have drawn us together into one body to be your hands and feet in our world. We humbly admit that there are times that we would rather be on our own than be uniquely connected to the Body. Help us to awaken to our greater purpose as individuals and as a Body. Amen. 

Wednesday, March 14 — Gift — 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 
    If you have been around churches for long enough, you’ve probably heard sermon after sermon on spiritual gifts. You’ve probably heard that the Spirit gifts us with different skills in order to share the Good News. What we often forget is that these gifts are the very presence of God. Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit,” meaning the gift is the presence of God. The difference in gifts is because God manifests, or incarnates, into each person’s life in different ways. 
    The gifts God gives us are intended for the common good. They are intended to help in the process of sharing God’s love, bringing heaven to earth, or ushering in the Kingdom of God. This doesn’t mean that everyone will be given the gift of vocational ministry. In today's scripture, Paul lists a number of gifts the Corinthians were given. They vary just as the people of God vary. Some have the gift of wisdom; others have the gifts of discernment. Some have the gifts of miracles; others have the gift of interpretation. Today, we might say that some have the gift of casseroles. Others have the gift of presence. Some have the gift of fun. Others have the gift of meaningful conversations. 
    Whatever the gift, it is easy to use it for ourselves. In fact, in our culture when we are given a gift, it is for the purpose of making our lives better. This message from Paul is countercultural. When you are given a gift, let it be for others. Our temptation is to use our gifts for ourselves, to raise ourselves up. Some may use their gift of knowledge to make themselves look smarter. Others may keep their gift of fun for themselves, always seeking self-satisfaction in their life. God forbid someone keep their gift of casseroles to themselves! 
    Self-reflection and repentance defines the season of Lent. Reflect on the gifts you have been given. Perhaps you’ve uncovered these gifts in a not-so-grand way, but perhaps other gifts have come into your life through your own transformation by the Spirit of God. Maybe you’ve lost sight of the fact that these gifts are the very presence of God. Regardless of their arrival in your life, how have you kept your gifts to yourself? How can you better use your gifts for, as Paul says, “the common good?” 

God you are the giver of all good and perfect gifts. You know the right gifts to give to the right people. Help us to continue to uncover your presence in our lives as we uncover the gifts you have given us. Empower us to use them for the common good rather than simply for ourselves and the ones who matter most to us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13 — Abundance — Mark 8:1-10

"They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full."
    Over and over again throughout our Gospels, we find Jesus transforming scarcity into abundance. Many of those times, the abundance shows itself through food and nourishment. The feeding of five thousand and feeding of four thousand are mysterious and miraculous, to be sure. The transformation of scarcity into abundance over and over again creates a lesson for us as followers of Christ. 
    Before anything is transformed, the disciples panic. Isn’t that true of us? We recognize the scarcity and panic, attempting to fix the situation through every means we know possible. The disciples often get trapped by their scarcity mindset and begin panicking because of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In this text, we see the panic set in when they realize they have seven loaves and a few small fish to feed four thousand people. 
    Do you think the four thousand gathered there were expecting to be fed? Do you think they knew about the shortage of food? Probably not. This miracle that Jesus performs is incredible in the way it provides food for thousands who have been in the desert learning for three days. But it is even more incredible in the way it begins to transform the disciples from a mindset centered on scarcity to a mindset centered on the abundance God offers. The disciples simply have to let go of control and self-reliance. When we let go of control and self-reliance, our minds can be transformed from our lack to God’s abundance. 
    As we continue on our Lenten journey to celebrate new life on Easter, we must reflect on the ways our tendencies for control and self-reliance have led us to panic over scarcity. Where have you missed finding God’s abundance because you were too focused on the scarcity at hand? Where do you need God to show you abundance? 

Loving God, it is through you that our hearts and minds can be transformed. We are ever grateful that you provide us with abundance, whether it be literal in food and provisions or simply the abundance of your self, seen in Jesus the Christ. We pray that you would continue to search our hearts. Take our self-reliance and control and transform it as we learn to see your abundance. Amen.