This week as I was reading Scriptures with a patient I read Psalm 20:1 from the CEB. “I pray that the Lord answers you whenever you are in trouble.” This verse has stayed with me. It has been my prayer this week for all I meet. And it is my prayer for all of you reading this. “I pray that the Lord answers you whenever you are in trouble.”
40 Things in Lent
Each year in Lent I strive to give away 40 things. This practice combines my love of making lists with my love of giving things away. I have very few rules around what constitutes a “thing” I give away. One day I might clean out my t-shirt drawer and donate what I do not need. Another day I might sort through the pantry and collect a box of food to share with someone else. If the opportunity presents itself, I’d love to give away a lunch to someone who is hungry. Often I give away many things to the recycling containers too. And I love to surprise a friend with something I give away in a package I send.
I use Lent as a time to give away and get rid of stuff so I can start new in Easter. And in response to my statement I was challenged by this thought from my friend, Brad. “Great idea but the real transformation would be to not start new in Easter with replacing what you cleaned out!” And the challenging thoughts continued with Jim’s statement, “I wonder if that would affect what I give away.”
I am seeking transformation this Lenten season, and so I am going to give away 40 things in Lent with no plans to replace them when Easter comes. I’m going to seek to inspire my sense of giving over these next 40 days.
How are you observing this season of Lent?
Since I am not serving a church this year, it feels like the season of Lent snuck up on me. I’ve known it was coming, and yet, I no longer need to prepare for the next church season months in advance. So, Lent is here and I’m just beginning to think about how I’ll observe this season.
While wondering how best to observe this season, I read the newsletter from St. Giles Presbyterian Church. Each Sunday in Lent, they will be singing one of my favorite songs from Taize, “Wait for the Lord.” As I read these words, I realized this is exactly what I need this year. I need to pause. I need to stop. I need to wait.
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord: keep watch, take heart!
Every day of Lent I plan to sing this song. I will work on waiting and watching for the Lord. How will you observe this season?
God’s promise of God’s presence.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Words to Ponder This Week-
Deep down one thing we all want is something constant. Too much of our life is moving in fast forward at all times. We relocate (also known as move away from all that we know and all whom we know). People we love die. Relationships end. Jobs end. And we want a continued presence in our lives. And that is why God’s presence is the perfect promise on which to end this series. Even though Peter couldn’t build a booth to house Jesus, it didn’t mean Jesus wasn’t still with him. In all the changes of life, God is constantly with us.
God’s promise of community.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Psalm 119: 33-40
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.
See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Questions to Ponder-
How can we be a loving community? By living these Scriptures! Now, the challenge is how to help us hear them today. We can say we don’t steal, but do we “borrow” our neighbor’s wifi? (Probably not the best example….but there must be modern examples of how we hurt each other. I would love to know what modern examples come to mind for you). And I wonder how we can move this up to the corporation level. Even though I believe corporations aren’t people, how does what businesses do hurt us and what can we do about that for ourselves and each others?
I’d love to hear your examples of where you see us living as community. God has promised us community and we need to do the hard work of making it a reality.
God’s promise of life.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (Choose Life)
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Questions to Ponder-
God promises us life. Deuteronomy tells us that we have to choose it. What does it look like today to choose life? Choosing life is about our whole lives and the lives of those with whom we live and work and interact.
Read the passage from Deuteronomy again and ponder this question-what does it mean for me if I choose life? How might I need to change the way I am living?
God’s promise of a rule for our life.
Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
A Spiritual Practice to Consider-
When I was thinking about this promise of God, I was thinking about a rule for our life like the rule of St. Benedict. A rule for your life isn’t a list of what you can and cannot do. A rule is a life-giving covenant that guides the way you live. For a good introduction to St. Benedict’s rule, I suggest Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life.
And as an added bonus, I’m sharing with you the rule I created for myself for this year.
Pace myself! Plan ahead. Allow extra time. Hurrying only makes me stressed. If I arrive early, I’ll enjoy it.
Listen! Who knows what I’ll hear when I stop talking and turn off the noise? I will be present when someone is talking. I know everyone wants to be heard and I will listen.
Look! God is here. I will look for God in the people I meet. I will look for God working in my life. I will open my eyes and look.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Questions to Ponder-
God’s Promise of Light
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
Questions and Wise Words to Ponder-
We don’t think about light much today because it is available whenever we need it. In fact, yesterday when I was working it was so bright in this room that I didn’t turn on the light. Today we are expecting storms and although it is daytime, I am going to have to turn on the light. A simple flip of the switch and I can see. How different was it when this psalm was written? Light wasn’t easy to come by. To say that God is the light of our salvation really meant something. What language might we use today to share how important God is to us?
When I visited San Diego a few years ago, I spent some time on the Martin Luther King, Jr Promenade. The words from the labyrinth there go well with this psalm.
Shedding the cloak of oppression and Donning the cloak of recognition.
Shedding the cloak of fear and Donning the cloak of trust.
Shedding the cloak of prejudice and Donning the cloak of respect.
Shedding the cloak of malice and Donning the cloak of compassion.
Shedding the cloak of bitterness and Donning the cloak of forgiveness.
Shedding the cloak of despair and Donning the cloak of hope.
Shedding the cloak of weariness and Donning the cloak of courage.
Shedding the cloak of ignorance and Donning the cloak of wisdom.
Shedding the cloak of darkness and Donning the cloak of light.
God’s Promise of Faithfulness.
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Questions to Ponder-
What if you were asked to write a letter to the people you love in the style of Paul? What if you were asked to write a letter to your congregation in the style of Paul? What would you say? How would focus on God’s faithfulness? What other promises from God would you include in your letter?