Maundy Thursday – April 9, 2020

Suggested Reading:
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

They’ll know we are Christians by our love

The word Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” The tradition is based on Jesus’ command in John 13:34: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 

The command to love one another is easy to read and often quoted. But what does it look like to love one another?

In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul points out the love of Jesus as demonstrated in the incarnation. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

 In biblical studies this passage is known as the kenosis passage. Kenosis literally means “the act of emptying”. In these verses Paul is describing the “self-emptying” of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely obedient to God’s divine will.

The command to love one another is the most more difficult requirement in all of scripture. To love one another is to empty ourselves of our own needs and desires and seek only the very best for the ones we serve. It is to accept the most menial of all jobs, not because the job is fulfilling, but because we genuinely love the one, we are serving.

In the act of washing the disciples’ feet Jesus offered a tangible demonstration of the self-emptying that is required of a servant leader. Foot washing was the role of a servant, not a rabbi. Jesus willingly emptied himself of his deity to become a human being and showed his love by doing the servant’s task.

There is something poignant in the image of God’s Son washing the feet of fishermen and tax gatherers. The prologue of John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus is the living Word who was with God in the beginning of creation. Yet, here just a few short hours before his death, God’s Son stripped off his robe and assumed the role of servant.

When he had completed the task, he declared: You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (13-15).

Over the course of time many in the church have come to ignore the practice of foot washing. What we cannot ignore is the command of Jesus to practice servanthood. Regardless of our stature, education, or gifts we are called as disciples to live out the image of Jesus in serving others. Jesus did not say, “if you have time” or “if it’s convenient”. Rather, he was quite clear. “I have shown you what you are to do-now do it!”

The challenge for each of us going forward is to be open to opportunities for service in our homes, churches, places of employment, and leisure activities. If we are committed to discipleship, we are committed to service to others.

Prayer:

Thank you, Jesus, for washing dirty feet. Forgive me Lord, the times I make excuses and whine and complain about the tasks set before me. Remind me often that the command is to love one another. The response is to serve one another.  Amen.

 

 

Liturgy of the Palms – Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020)

Suggested Readings:
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
—Psalm 118:25

The day had finally arrived. Having set his face toward Jerusalem Jesus now rode triumphantly into the Holy City. He had planned for his entrance into the city by arranging for a donkey to be provided. Riding a donkey, not a warhorse, the goal of the king is not domination, intimidation, and greatness, but humble service. The humble donkey is a sign of peace, not aggression.

Such is the case with King Jesus. He rode into the story of humankind, not as a warrior king, but as the Prince of Peace. The shout “Hosanna!” literally means “save us.” The picture of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of the words of Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Although he had arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus’ work of redemption was not yet complete. This day inaugurates the final week of his earthly life and ministry. The crowds today shout “Hosanna!” On Friday another crowd will shout “Crucify!” Both cries are necessary for God’s plan to be complete. To save us (Hosanna!) Jesus will have to endure the cross.

In the Gospel of John, the word “hour” is used in reference to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. These events are summarized by the word “glorified.” It is toward this “hour” that Jesus rode that day.

It is for this purpose that Jesus came. When the Word became flesh (John 1:14) it was God entering the world of broken humanity to offer eternal life. Eternal life is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God. This Lenten journey is meant to bring us into a deeper relationship with Jesus the Christ, thus enabling us to experience eternal life.

Our Lenten journey does not conclude with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Our journey is a lifelong trek of growing up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). The disciplines and practices that we have developed along this 40-day journey will continue to determine our spiritual journey.

Our maturity as disciples is contingent upon our commitment to read the biblical text each day, to pray in the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 6:18) and bear the cross of humble service. The journey of discipleship is never complete.

Prayer:
Save us, we beseech thee! Save us from the sin that encompasses us. Save us from the selfishness that motivates us. Save us from arrogance that controls us. Save us to be more like you each day. Save us to be your children in this place. Save us, we beseech thee! Save us to live eternally with you, now and in the future.  Amen.

Suggested Weekly Readings

Monday of Holy Week  April 6, 2020:  Isaiah 42:1-9; John 12:1-11
Tuesday of Holy Week  April 7, 2020:  Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:20-36
Wednesday of Holy Week April 8, 2020: Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21-32

Fifth Sunday In Lent – March 29, 2020

Suggested Readings:
Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

I am the resurrection and the life
—John 11:25

Ezekiel was a priest who became God’s spokesperson during Israel’s exile in Babylon. Deported in 597 BC after the Babylonian invasion, Ezekiel was commissioned in 593 BC. His work continued until at least 571 BC.

Ezekiel was driven by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley of dry bones. The vision depicts a battlefield, representing dead Israel after the Babylonian invasion. The question to Ezekiel draws a tentative response (v. 3).

Ezekiel throws the question back. The question is not about the afterlife or resurrection as much as it concerns whether it is possible to return to the world of the living. The question does not involve the resurrection of an individual but rather concerns itself with whether a dead people can become alive again. After responding to instructions (vv. 4-7), to prophesy to the bones the prophet observes corpses with no spirit (Hebrew: ruakh).

Ezekiel was then commanded to prophesy to the breath. The breath caused the corpses to come to life. The second command to the breath caused the corpses to live. This is reminiscent of the description of creation in Genesis 2:7 the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Lazarus was dead. There is little room for debate on that matter as John records he had been in the tomb four days. It is a sign of Jesus’ courage and resolve that he would voluntarily return to Judea. When Jesus stated his intention to return to Judea the disciples reacted with surprise and fear, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  (John 11:18). But Jesus was determined in his decision to go to Bethany.

In the valley of dry bones Ezekiel was faced with the desolation of his people. In Bethany Jesus was faced with the death of his friend. In both instances the Spirit of God prevailed. The dry bones live. Lazarus received life. These two stories present us with the reality and power of God’s Spirit. It is the breath of God which gave life to the first human being, to dry bones, to a dead Lazarus. On this journey toward Jerusalem it is the Spirit of God which leads us on our way. It is the Spirit of God which compels us to travel this road of sacrifice and service.

As you read these two passages, I would like to suggest that you direct your personal reflections along two lines. First, note the number of times the spirit is referenced. Second, more personal, focus on the number of times today the spirit has directed your steps. It is a journey. A journey requires one step at a time.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father breathe the breath of your Spirit into my heart. My bones are dried up and my hope is lost. I feel completely estranged from you. I take this Lenten journey in hope that your breath of life will renew my spirit and restore my relationship with you. Amen.

Suggested Weekly Readings: 

Monday, March 30, 2020: Psalm 143; 1 Kings 17:17-24; Acts 20:7-12
Tuesday, March 31, 2020: Psalm 143; 2 Kings 4:18-37; Ephesians 2:1-10
Wednesday, April 1, 2020: Psalm 143; Jeremiah 32:1-9, 36-41; Matthew 22:23-33
Thursday, April 2, 2020: Psalm 31:9-16; 1 Samuel 16:11-13; Philippians 1:1-11
Friday, April 3, 2020: Psalm 31:9-16; Job 13:13-19; Philippians 1:21-30
Saturday, April 4, 2020: Psalm 31:9-16; Lamentations 3:55-66; Mark 10:32-34

Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020

Suggested Readings:
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Live as children of light
—Ephesians 5:8

In the prologue to the gospel John declares: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (1:5). The story of the man born blind in John 9 is a wonderful story of one person’s journey from darkness to light. The journey is both physical and spiritual.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the man was born blind. When the healing was investigated by the Pharisees, they went to the extreme length of interviewing his parents to assure the fact that he was indeed born blind.

When Jesus encountered the man born blind, he first addressed the physical malady of blindness. Jesus rejected the connection the disciples made between sinful actions and illness (v. 2). The man’s blindness is an occasion that will reveal God’s presence in Jesus. And so, the journey of the man’s physical and spiritual healing begins.

In the ancient world saliva was believed to have curative power. Jesus used a familiar technique to begin the process of healing by spitting on the ground, making a mud paste, applying the paste to the man’s eyes, and instructing him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Having followed Jesus’ instructions his eyes were opened, and he was able to see.

The spiritual journey into the light could now begin. When first questioned as to how he received his sight he answered vaguely, the man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight (9:11).  At that point his understanding of Jesus was limited to the fact that Jesus was a miracle worker who had restored his sight.

The story takes an interesting turn as the religious elite become involved in investigating the healing. As the Pharisees question him the man once again tells the story of the healing. This time when asked what he thinks of the one who healed him he exclaims he is a prophet (9:17). Unwilling to believe the evidence in front of their eyes the Pharisees confront the parents who acknowledge he is their son and yes, he was born blind. They will not discuss his healing for fear of being excommunicated from the synagogue.

When the man was interviewed a second time, he became more aggressive, challenging his interrogators with a well-reasoned argument.

Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. (9:30-33).

In anger his accusers drove him out of the synagogue. Jesus found him and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. The man questioned who is he sir? Jesus replied, you have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he. Lord, I believe was the man’s simple confession of faith.

The man moved from physical blindness to sight, from spiritual darkness to faith in the light of the world. This is the journey on which we find ourselves through this Lenten season. We are seeking to discover for ourselves the light that shines in the darkness. In verse 5 Jesus declares, I am the light of the world. So, saying, he identifies himself with preexistent light described in the prologue. Sin and darkness cannot overcome the light that is the Savior.

In verse 25 the man made a bold and beautiful statement. He freely admitted his lack of full comprehension as to the nature of the one who healed him. He profoundly declared, one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

 That is our goal moving forward on this Lenten journey and indeed, all of life. We want to see Jesus more clearly each day of our lives.

Prayer:

Open my eyes Lord. I want to move from the darkness of sin and despair into the light of your unconquerable love. There is a great deal of darkness in my life, the darkness of sin. Please grant me the light of forgiveness. You are the God who spoke light into existence and the Father who sent your Son to show us the way of life.

Thank you, God, for your inexpressible gift. Amen.

Suggested Weekly Reading:

Monday, March 23, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 59:9-19; Acts 9:1-20
Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 42:14-21; Colossians 1:9-14
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 60:17-22; Matthew 9:27-34
Thursday, March 26, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 1:1-3, 2:8-3:3; Revelation 10:1-11
Friday, March 27, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 33:10-16; Revelation 11:15-19
Saturday, March 28, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 36:8-15; Luke 24:44-53

Third Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020

Suggested Readings:

Exodus 17:1-7
John 4:5-42

Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water
—John 7:38

Human beings need food and water to survive. At least 60% of the adult body is made of water. A human being can survive without food for about three weeks but would typically only last three to four days without water.

The ancient Israelites were furious with Moses because they were suffering from thirst in the desert. They were in fact, so angry with Moses that he feared for his life (Exodus 17:2-4). God responded to their complaint by providing water to satiate their thirst. This is not the first time the people of Israel were angry over thirst. In Exodus 15:22-25, a scant three days after being led through the Red Sea on dry ground, the people found water, but it was brackish and could not be drunk. The Lord commanded Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water and it was immediately made sweet. In each case thirst was satisfied for only a brief time. They would be thirsty again soon.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, he addressed her need for living, not physical water. The fourth chapter of John is replete with theological insight into the identity of Jesus and the nature of living a spirit-led life. The water that Jesus provides is spiritual nourishment which provides sustenance for our spiritual and emotional well-being.

As you read the text note the number of references you can find that describe the Spirit-filled life. For example, the gift of God is living water that gives eternal life, God is spirit and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. Ultimately, Jesus names himself as the Messiah. It is a profound chapter! One that requires reading and rereading to mine the depths of its theological treasures.

Before leaving this story of Jesus’ noonday conversation at the well, I would like to call your attention to two other points. First, the woman didn’t keep quiet about her experience with the stranger at the well. She ran back to the city and told everyone she met about her encounter with the man at Jacob’s well. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (4:29).

Because of her witness many people came out to meet Jesus and he spent two days in the city of Sychar.

The second point I’d like you to ponder before we leave this story is the comment from the townsfolk after they met Jesus. It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world (4:42).

Our responsibility is to introduce people to the Savior of the world. One who has a genuine encounter with Jesus cannot possibly walk away the same person. An encounter with Jesus is transformational.

Prayer:

I’m thirsty God. I thirst for living water which wells up within me, satisfies my longings, and leads me to share the gift of life with everyone I encounter. My desire and fervent prayer are to worship and live in spirit and in truth. Amen.

 

 

Second Sunday In Lent – March 8, 2020

Suggested Readings:

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace,
—2 Timothy 2:22

 In Romans 4:3 Paul declares, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. This declaration is repeated in Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23. Further, Paul instructs a young pastor to pursue righteousness.

What does it mean to be righteous? Can we obtain righteousness by human effort? In its widest sense righteousness means upright, just, virtuous, keeping the commands of God. This definition makes it sound like if we just do the right things, we can achieve righteousness. This is not the case. Righteousness is not earned it is conferred. That is, we are made righteous, not because of our worthiness, but solely based on Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. The upright and virtuous acts we perform are the result of Christ’s action, not our human achievement.

If we cannot earn righteousness, then what does it mean to pursue righteousness? I would suggest that righteousness means being rightly related to God. There are steps we can take to enhance our relationship with God.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born from above (John 3:3). This a spiritual birth which is possible only through Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Without being born from above it is impossible to pursue righteousness. As such, the first step in the process of being rightly related to God is to accept the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. Nothing can take the place of this step. Church membership, denominational affiliation, even Bible study cannot take the place of being born from above.

As with any relationship it requires effort to maintain and strengthen this very crucial connection. This journey toward Jerusalem is intended to support us as we seek to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Having been born from above we determine to cultivate holy habits When we choose the path of spiritual transformation, we do so understanding that whole-hearted devotion is essential.

It is important on this journey to set aside a specific time and place to commit yourself to reading, reflection, prayer, and perhaps journaling. Early morning works well for some, while bedtime may be best for you. The important point is to find a time and place where you are not likely to be disturbed.

There is no rush on this journey. In fact, you will learn that this journey moves beyond the 40 days of Lent and takes you on a lifetime journey of becoming one with Christ.

It is vital to read and reflect on the biblical text. It is a good practice to read the text more than once. Let the words speak to you. Listen for a word or phrase in the text that addresses you where you are in the present moment. There are several texts provided for each day along the journey. Don’t interpret. Listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you through the text. This journey is about personal spiritual transformation. Practice listening for the voice of God in the written word.

Take a few minutes to jot down your thoughts. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Complete sentences are unimportant. The crucial question is what you hear God saying to you in the written word.

Prayer:

Merciful and gracious Father, thank you for the gift of Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection make salvation possible. God, instill in me the desire and resolve to pursue righteousness through the practice of spiritual discipline. When I’m tired and discouraged remind me that I am your child and you are partnering with me on this journey. I want to love you more each day.   Amen

 

First Sunday in Lent – March 1, 2020

Suggested Readings

Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

One man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all

The gift of Jesus is the gift of life. Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 relates the story of the temptation and fall of human beings. Paul uses the ancient story to compare the gift of salvation juxtaposed with the failure and sin of human beings. It is Paul’s understanding that sin came into the world because of the failure of one person to respect and adhere to the law of God. The opposite of that failure is the gift of righteousness which also came into the world through one man, Jesus Christ. The difference is one man’s failure led to the introduction of sin, while the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus leads to the gift of salvation.

Matthew 4 contains the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’ wilderness experience is the result of being led by the Spirit. In this wilderness testing Jesus was faced with a decision about how he would proceed in fulfilling his ministry. The temptations came when he was physically tired and hungry. The tempter knew when, in his humanity, Jesus would be most vulnerable.

A voice from heaven (3:17) declared Jesus to be God’s Son and the tempter used this declaration to tempt Jesus to do something that is actually a good deed; that is, feed the hungry. In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus will provide bread for hungry people. However, in this instance, it is a case of using his power to satisfy his own need rather than relying on God to provide for his needs.  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 which states, He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Jesus does not take orders from Satan but places his trust in God.

The scene moves to the pinnacle of the temple where the tempter quotes Psalm 91:11-12 to coax Jesus to jump from its great height. Jesus is quick to respond that God is not a 911 call to be used by human beings when a crisis arises. Citing Deuteronomy 6:16, Do not put the Lord your God to the test, . . . Jesus refused to take the bait.

In the third temptation Satan offered Jesus control of all the “empires of the world.” This startling temptation indicates the control of Satan over the world through secular empires such as Rome. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus declares, All, authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Jesus’ authority has come from God, not Satan. And it has come through obedience to God’s commands, not worship of Satan, or the secular structures of the world.

Jesus successfully resisted the temptations of the devil and set out the course he would follow throughout his ministry.

The writer to the Hebrews states, For, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin (4:15). Jesus identified with sinful humanity through baptism and temptation but remained faithful to the call and commission of God. Jesus is thus uniquely qualified to be the high priest, who stands between sinful humans and a holy God, providing an opportunity for salvation and abundant life.

Therefore, Paul can write that one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all (Romans 5:18). That one man is Jesus the Christ, who led by God’s Spirit, overcame the lure of the world, was totally obedient and opened the way to God to all who believe.

The story of Jesus’ temptation forms the framework of our Lenten journey. For forty days we commit ourselves to fasting and prayer, to the reading of scripture, and discerning the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a journey of spiritual transformation, not to be taken lightly, but reverently in the presence of God.

Prayer:
Spirit of God, lead me on the path of righteousness. When I’m tired, thirsty, and want to succumb to the pressures of the world around me, lead me beside cool waters and verdant pastures. When my path takes me through the darkest of valleys, hold me tightly by your side. My prayer is to live in your presence all the days of my life. Amen.

 

Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Suggested Readings

Isaiah 58:1-12
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

where your treasure is, there your heart will be also

The formal liturgy for Ash Wednesday, taken from The Book of Common Prayer includes the following invitation: “I invite you, . . . in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.”

So, with this invitation, we take the first step on our journey into spiritual transformation. As you begin this process sit quietly for a few moments and try to free your mind of extraneous thoughts. The “to-do” list can wait for a little while. You can answer that text later; email can wait. For the moment focus your attention on reading and meditating on the scriptural text.

What do you hear God saying to you through the words of the prophet? The voice of the Lord decries ritual without changed hearts and attitudes. When hearts are transformed and justice is practiced God declares your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.

Make a mental list of the practices that God requires of God’s people. Where do you and I fit in that list? Do we share our bread with the hungry; invite the homeless poor into our homes; provide clothing to the naked; do we speak evil of one another?

It’s a tall order, but rituals are meaningless without concomitant action.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus turns conventional thinking upside down. Jesus challenges disciples to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, share coat and cloak, to share generously without expecting acknowledgment, to pray in secret; in short, Jesus requires his disciples to live their lives in the constant presence of God without concern for the expectations of society.

It’s a tall order and one that requires a firm intent to live like Jesus. We will have many false starts along this journey in spiritual transformation. We will also have the joy of some mountaintop experiences. The outcome of our journey will be changed attitudes and an unswerving commitment to live into the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer:
Change my heart oh God, . . .may I be like you . . . Gracious and merciful God please walk with me on this journey of transformation. My goal in the journey is to become increasingly conformed to your image. Please help me to set my priorities to be in line with yours. I don’t want to practice empty rituals but live a transformed life. Amen

 

Toward Jerusalem Lenten Reflections 2020

Lent is the period of forty days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.   Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the forty days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for forty days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities. Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion by Rome. 

It is important to note that in counting the forty days of Lent Sundays are not included. Sunday is the Day of Resurrection, as such, it is a day of celebration, not fasting. Each Lord’s Day Christians gather to worship and celebrate the Risen Lord.

Every journey begins with a first step. That first step is the decision to make the journey a reality. Vacations, business trips, or a weekend away all begin with intention. 

Knowing that he would face suffering and death Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, (Luke 9:51), and with intention began the journey that would take him to the cross. The journey to Jerusalem is recounted in Luke 9:51-19:48. This section, sometimes referred to as “the travel narrative,” is concerned with the ongoing transformation of the disciples. Our Lenten journey is meant to be a journey of spiritual transformation. Lent is often diminished by the practice of “giving something up for Lent” although denying oneself chocolate for forty days hardly qualifies as a spiritual discipline.

As we move into this Lenten season, I want to suggest that rather than “give up” something for Lent, that we instead add something to our lives. I want to encourage each of us to add a specific time for spiritual reflection to our daily routine. In the following pages I will offer a few words of devotion and recommend some readings from scripture. As you read the scripture, I want to offer some practical steps toward a more intense reflection on the biblical text.

The first step on this journey toward spiritual transformation is the intention, to make the journey.  This is a serious commitment. Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, knowing full well what awaited him there. If you choose spiritual transformation, do so understanding that whole-hearted devotion is essential.

Before taking the first step recall the challenge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs one his or her life, and it is grace because it gives one the only true life. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us”.

If you are willing to make a commitment to costly grace, then take the second step along the path of spiritual transformation. Set aside a specific time and place to commit yourself to reading, reflection, prayer, and perhaps journaling. Early morning works well for some, while bedtime may be best for you. The important point is to find a time and place where you are not likely to be disturbed. Eliminate, as much as possible, all distractions.

The third step is to be gentle with yourself. There is no rush on this journey. In fact, you will learn that this journey moves beyond the

40 days of Lent and takes you on a lifetime journey of becoming one with Christ. So, relax. Sit quietly in whatever chair or position is comfortable for you. Close your eyes and take a few deep cleansing breaths in through the nose and out the mouth. Relax.  If you are facing an anxious day or coming down from a particularly stressful situation you may do nothing more than relax in the presence of God. That’s all right. There is no right or wrong in this practice. One of our goals in this practice is to develop the discipline of being still in the presence of God.

The fourth step on this journey is to read and reflect on the biblical text. You may want to read the text more than once. Let the words speak to you. Listen for a word or phrase in the text that addresses you where you are in the present moment. There are several texts provided for each day along the journey. Don’t interpret. Listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you through the text. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer in this discipline. This journey is about personal spiritual transformation. In this step you are listening for the voice of God in the written word.

As you close your time of reflection pray the scripture. This means to focus your prayer on the words of the text or the message that you have heard from God’s Spirit. Again, don’t worry about time and above all don’t worry about getting it “right.” The only thing “right” in these exercises is learning to listen for and discern the voice of God.

Finally, ask God how you can apply what you have read and heard to the activities of everyday life. We are meant to “be doers of the word” (James 1:22-23), not merely hearers.

At the end of 40 days you will have developed a holy habit of daily devotion and prayer that will translate into a deeper faith commitment and active engagement in the world. At the conclusion of the journey you will celebrate a renewed commitment to live the life of the Risen Lord in a fallen world.

For Such a Time as This

When the Jews of the Persian empire were faced with genocide Mordecai whose cousin Esther was queen sent word of the plot to Queen Esther. Esther was reluctant to help, out of fear for her own life. Mordecai convinced her to intervene with the challenge, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

I want to suggest to all of us that we are the church of Jesus Christ for “such a time as this”. The nation, indeed, much of the world, is in panic mode out of fear of the coronavirus. The church is not in panic mode. We are functioning out of an abundance of caution and a deep-seeded love for our sisters and brothers. When we refrain from shaking hands or hugging one another it is not out of fear but love and respect.

This is not a time for panic. It is an opportune time for the people of God to demonstrate their love and compassion for one another by regarding others as more important than themselves. For such a time as this the church is called to model love and grace by refraining from personal touching as it may put someone else in danger of illness.

For such a time as this. . .the church is called to be examples of Christ’s love and compassion. For such a time as this . . .we need the church to courageously live as Christ would live as if he were living our lives. Christ would never willingly put someone in harm’s way.

This is a time when we need corporate worship, mutual support, and prayer. However, exercising appropriate caution we will be suspending corporate worship, as well as other church activities for at least one week. We will strive to provide other avenues for us to be present as the community of faith.

This is NOT a time for panic. This is a moment when the church can rise to the standard to which she has been called. The people of God will stand for the love and presence of God by adhering to the standards of good medical practice to protect the health and well-being of our neighbors and friends.

For such a time as this . . .the people of God will live and love as Christ lives and loves.