Lenten Devotions Archives » Page 4 of 22 | Devotions | Goshen College
Today’s scripture marks the very beginning of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Abram encounters God and is challenged to leave behind all that is familiar. God asks Abram to trust that he will be led to a new land. As a reward for his trust, he will receive a blessing. The literal meaning of the Hebrew word used here for “bless” is “to kneel down.” Its extended meaning is “to give something of value to another.”
Some Christians equate blessings with wealth. A “prosperity gospel” website announces, “God’s desire is for His children to be rich… not just in spiritual blessings but in material blessings as well.”
Abram does become a rich man, but God’s promise to him does not focus on material wealth. God wants Abram to be a blessing to “all the families of the world.” The goal of faith is not a comfortable family dynasty. The goal of faith is for God’s blessings to flow through the trusting ones out into the world. What might those blessings be? Money and material goods? Yes. Healing, hope and hospitality? Of course.
But the most precious blessing anyone can receive or give is always love—the kind of love that kneels down before another and offers something of value with open hands.
Bryan Moyer Suderman, founder of Small Tall Music, writes catchy tunes with important messages. His lyrics to “The Blessing Song” echo the promise of God to Abram in Genesis 12:
I will bless you, I will bless you, I will bless you so that you will be a blessing too.
Go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you.
Through your family, I will bless all the families of the earth.
It’s not for you to keep for yourselves.
It’s not because you’re better than someone else.
It’s not because I love you more than any others.
I want your help to share my love with everyone.
I will bless you, I will bless you, I will bless you so that you will be a blessing too.
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 12:1-4a (NRSV)
The Call of Abram
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: The LORD is your shade
I always slept with the closet light on. What my parents told me about saving electricity didn’t matter. For one, I didn’t pay the bills. But more importantly, I was sorely afraid of the dark and couldn’t fall asleep without a nightlight.
Eventually, the nightlight became more annoying than comforting. Now, in the light, sleep doesn’t come easily – it’s in the shade of night that I can finally rest.
This week’s devotional theme is, “The LORD is your shade.”
Jesus said the church is “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) and King David called God’s word “a light to my path” (Ps. 119). However, this week’s theme explores an opposite idea: God meets us in the shade.
Lent is an opportunity to dwell in the shade of God, before celebrating under the light of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. During this shaded time, it’s tempting to flip on a nightlight. But in the shade, we also encounter God.
The shade is where God meets us in our suffering. It’s where God feels the pain of racism, violence and oppression – with us. It’s a place where loneliness is outmatched by God’s presence. It’s where Jesus entered our broken world, held our hands and declared that the chains of sin don’t imprison us anymore.
In a shaded place, Jesus looked at us and said, “In me, you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)
During Lent, we join with God and with each other, asking, “What have we witnessed?” And we see clearly without a nightlight that God has been with us, even in the shade.
Jesus knows hunger. Deep, gnawing hunger – the kind that would send most of us speeding through the nearest drive-thru, rummaging through the fridge with shaky hands, sifting through the compost, even. Drastic, painful hunger.
My comfortable lifestyle (and lack of discipline, to be honest) does not grant me a familiarity with this kind of hunger. But there’s another type of hunger I know very well. A hunger for love, vocational fulfillment, the safety of my family, financial security. First world hunger, the kind that goes with privilege. It’s a hunger of deficit – the space between what is, and what we want.
The crucial difference between Jesus’ behavior in this passage and my own approach to hunger is this: Jesus allows his hunger to propel him INTO God, whereas mine frequently drives me away from God. Jesus’ loneliness and pain in this passage only serves to strengthen his resolve. Rather than becoming weak, fearful and lacking in conviction, the opposite is true. In his pain, Jesus becomes strong. In his hunger, Jesus’ connection to his Creator, his True Parent, solidifies.
My tendency during periods of hunger? Much fist-shaking, questioning, wondering “God, my God, where are you?” Desiring my freezer to be filled with God’s manna, in labeled Tupperware containers. Begging for more signs, more answers, more promises.
“God, I want more!” The response? “I know, my child.” “God, I want security, a future, a hope!” “I know, my child.” “God, I’m hungry!” “I know, my child.”
May we, this Lenten season, allow our own hungers to strengthen our resolve. May we choose deeper unity with the One who knows our pain and welcomes us with open arms.
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted 40 days and 40 nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Psalm 32, the Lenten reading for this week, can best be summarized by the oft-heard maxim: “Confession is good for the soul.” The Psalmist describes the deep feelings of guilt and shame that all of us have felt one time or another for things we have done wrong. The Psalmist is tortured, cannot eat and cannot sleep. He’s a time bomb ready to blow. But then, he “confesses his transgressions before the Lord” and receives God’s gracious pardon. A huge relief pours over him. He captures his joy in the opening couplet, twice saying how happy he is that his slate has been wiped clean, his sins are forgiven. Oh, what a relief it is to… Let. It. All. Out! Whew! Psychologists tell us and studies show that the great relief we get from the act of confession can be so exhilarating that it can lead in some cases to false confessions that are later proved wrong by DNA and other irrefutable evidence. The confession-relief cycle is real.
Mahatma Gandhi tells a childhood story of how he lied and stole from his family in order to buy meat (a big taboo in his vegetarian household) and cigarettes for himself and a friend. Like the Psalmist, he lived in anguish. He couldn’t eat or sleep. He too felt like a time bomb ready to blow, until one day he wrote out a confession to his Papa. His father never said a word, but with tears streaming down his face, tore up the note as an act of gracious forgiveness toward young Gandhi. Gandhi was so relieved, he made confession part of his daily prayer and political calling. He later said, “confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I [always] feel stronger for confession.”
If Lent is about anything, it is a season of confession. It is that time of year in the liturgical calendar when we kneel before the God of steadfast love, the God who forgives our every wrong, to… Let. It. All. Out! And happy are those who do so!
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 32 (NRSV)
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Welcome to Goshen College’s online devotionals for the 2014 Lent season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “Encountering God: What Have We Witnessed?” Every Monday an author will introduce the sub-theme, and on the following weekdays authors will reflect on a specific Scripture passage. The theme for this week, Lent 1, is “Grace abounded.”
Lent is a season of renewal through reflection on the life of Jesus, including his suffering and sacrifice. Today we know that in encountering the story of Jesus, the resurrection has already happened. The season of Lent ends in celebration of that reality as we move into the Easter season. The biblical stories we will encounter display God seeking after flawed people and people meeting Jesus for the first time.
“Encountering God.” Is this something we do, or an adjective describing an attribute of God? Perhaps both. As you read the biblical texts, ask yourself: What are ways each of the characters looked for Jesus? What are the ways Jesus encountered them? “What have we witnessed?” also has a double meaning of what we have seen (been witnesses of) and what we have told others about (witnessed to). Pay attention to what is happening in and around the characters, as we do the same in our own lives so that we may share with others our encounters with God.
I can recall several profound moments in my life where I encountered God’s grace – two times involved my daughter, Mira Susannah, named after her two grandmothers, “Miriam” and “Susan.” In the first instance, when she was nearly three, I am convinced God spoke directly through her to me as God prepared me to open my eyes to God’s power when I was in the Pit. The second instance was a year later when God again spoke through Mira while we were on a bike ride. This time the message I received was, “Bob do you still have no faith even after what I did this past year?” The Hebrew meaning of “Mira” is “bitter,” but the Latin meaning, “wonderful, marvelous,” better describes her personality. “Susannah” means “graceful lily.” I have encountered God’s wonderful and marvelous grace through my daughter, and I praise God for her and her ability to witness to me at such a young age.
Encountering God, you who seek after us in unexpected ways, help us be attentive to your movement and give us the courage to witness to your marvelous graces.
Goshen College again offers an online resource to help believers make time and space in their hearts and minds to reflect during the season of Lent.
Beginning March 5 (Ash Wednesday) and culminating on April 20 (Easter), Goshen College students, faculty and staff will provide weekday reflections based on the Sunday’s upcoming lectionary Scripture passages. Many writers will reflect on the theme: “Encountering God: What Have We Witnessed?,” taken from church-wide resources published in the binational Leader magazine, a joint initiative of MC USA and MC Canada.
The devotions will reflect honestly on the Scriptures and offer words of assurances of faith. The spiritual offerings will include poetry, personal stories, reflections and prayers, all intended to more closely examine the call to change and follow Christ.
Since 2001, Goshen College annually celebrates special seasons of the church calendar, particularly Advent and Lent, with online devotions.
SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:1-12
Scroll down for complete Scripture
The first weekend of the semester on an unseasonably warm and sunny January afternoon, I stood in a circle with students at a student leaders retreat. We were engaged in an intense game of “Ninja,” a game involving quick, deliberate movements. When my turn came around I quickly took a big step toward the student on my left. Unfortunately, the deck we were standing on was a bit slippery and I landed on the ground as the classic “pop” from my hamstring immobilized me in pain. I became very dependent on the students around me and on the grace of colleagues in that moment and over the next days and weeks of gradual recovery. The incident slowed me down, making me significantly more aware of pain; pain that we live with daily and pain that is a part of being human; pain that is superficial and pain that burrows to the core of our beings; pain that is physical and pain that is profoundly emotional; pain that we bring on ourselves and pain that is the result of injustice; pain that is personal and pain that ripples far beyond the initial point of trauma to effect the whole of communities, of countries and, indeed, of the world.
The story that we proclaim and are invited to live into each Easter is a story that begins with very deep pain, very profound suffering, cosmic despair. It is a story that calls us, like the women who accompany Jesus through the final days of his suffering, to be present to the anguish, the fear, the pain; to tenderly pour the oil, to bake the bread, to lovingly accompany, to hold one another, to weep and, yes, to prepare the spices and ointment – to do the very hard work of suffering together. But the story doesn’t stop with the pain-filled suffering. The empty tomb, while confounding initially, leaves us all with a glimmer of hope. Could it be that the pain and despair and loss and injustice do NOT have the last word? The good news of Jesus Christ is that our lives (and indeed the lives of all with whom we share this existence), in all their struggle and pain and brokenness and frailty, are framed by this profound, persistent and perplexing hope. Therefore, we carry on, with eyes wide open to signs of life beyond the suffering and pain. Christ has risen! Hope endures! Alleluia!
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS:
Thank you for joining us on this journey through Lent. Even as we have been enriched by taking time to reflect on these Scripture passages in light of our lives at Goshen College, we trust that you, too, have found in these reflections sustenance for your journey. Join us again for devotions when the season of Advent begins (unless you unsubscribe, they will automatically come to you when they begin again in late November 2013).
SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
On this Saturday before Easter we remember that Jesus’s body lay in a tomb, subject to decay. Yet as we prepare for tomorrow, we know that when Jesus’s disciples and friends came to visit him in the tomb, they discovered that the stone had been rolled away. As we say farewell to our loved ones in this world, we may experience the holy moments when the body leaves the soul, as well as the grief of sitting with the body they have left behind. Yet we can also sense through grief the release and joy they must feel in their transition to a new state of being, because the scripture has given us these words: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
When I enter your room
for the last time, I see a shell—
broken—your head thrown back,
mouth open—as though something
has hatched and taken flight.
Just this morning I rubbed
your ankles with oil, but now
your legs are stiff to the touch,
purple stains pool under tissue paper skin
as capillary walls give way,
the process of return
beginning. At the hospital entrance,
I met the women weeping—
mother, sister, niece, pastor—
who tell me the story of your last
breath, which I imagine now—
my sister plays
her violin—Cast thy Burden
Upon the Lord—and after days
of uphill breathing your face reflects
a moment of sheer delight—Christ
We Do All Adore Thee. I carry
this story with me like a garment.
Each time I tell it the circle widens
as with the telling of another
story, an empty tomb,
the stone rolled away,
and nothing to fill
the empty space
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (NRSV)
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
I have been very anxious these past months as I have tried to figure out what to do with my summer. In addition, the fear of what to do after college began to creep into my skin as I fear being left jobless and worthless, possessing such a hodge-podge resume that nobody would want to hire me.
Too often I forget God wants me. If I want the plans he has for me, I must trust God in my deeds.
Jesus was scared too. In the garden, he asked for his responsibility to be eradicated. Was he afraid of death? A death which God planned to null and void in three days, a fact Jesus told his disciples frequently.
He knew the plan. He still had fear. But that fear was overcome.
Because God was with him. Because God has called us by name. Because he chooses no one based on their background or nation’s history, fear can be overcome.
Because God is with me and I choose to act in his ways, I need not fear.
Because God is with you today, I pray that you put down your anxieties.
I pray you know your worth and your opportunity despite your position.
I pray that you are able to do good with each day of your life.
Because God is with us.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 10:34-43 (NRSV)
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
It may be a first-year college student problem, but of late I feel as though I have no free time. There are, of course, classes, which come with no small amount of work. I also have my job in the Campus Center for Young Children and daily practices for track. And then there are those little things that take a surprising amount of time: eating meals, cleaning the room, calls home, showering and that minor thing called sleeping. Upon realizing the time I “lost” to these things, I began to cut them out. First it was the occasional skipped dinner on Mondays, then it was a quick text to Mom: “I’ll call on Sunday, no time now.” As the workload increased, more things were removed. This culminated in the flu I caught the week before spring break. I became more or less incapable of doing anything without help. Help from my teammates at practice, help from my friends finding food and studying whilst having no energy, help from professors when all I wanted to do was sleep for a straight week.
This dependence on others, especially in light of my recent “cut out” incidents, is what I was thinking and praying on before writing this devotional, which is focused around Jesus teaching the disciples about the importance of communal care. I guess an extension on an assignment, or a glass of water and an Ibuprofen aren’t exactly the same as feet washing, but I definitely have a better understanding of the relationship between disciples.
I encourage you to remember to make time for the little things, which when combined create a big thing: community. I am unashamed in my need for my community and the Holy Spirit therein.
SCRIPTURE: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (NRSV)
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’