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.