Daily Lenten Reflections March 6-12

March 6, 2017

Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food…
Matthew 25:31-46

My friend, Marybeth makes a killer white chili. It’s my favorite food and she cooks it for me whenever I visit her home. Recently, as the two of us sat in her kitchen, we ate her signature dish and reminisced about our college days. Our conversation was lively, but I was totally distracted by the seasonings in the chili. “Can I have this recipe?” I asked.
She shook her head defiantly. “It will ALWAYS be my secret.” she proclaimed.

Even though I’ll never be privy to her classified recipe, I don’t feel slighted. That day, Marybeth prepared the chili for me for one reason. She knew I liked it. In serving me, she was sharing the love of Jesus.

In our reading for today, Jesus tells us that when we get to heaven, he will remember all the times we gave food to the hungry. This, of course means doing our part to alleviate hunger in the world. We can answer Christ’s call by stocking our local food shelves and providing meals to those in need.

But God is also pleased with the harried mother who makes dinner for her family on a busy weeknight or the maintenance man who grills hotdogs at the church picnic or the friend who fixes chili for her old college roommate. Even the simplest meal, prepared in love, gives honor to God.

As these Lenten weeks unfold, consider making a special meal for someone. You won’t have to give away your secret recipes. Just love.

Lord, Help me to do small things with great love.

March 7, 2017
crown

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:7-15

If you grew up in a home where your dad was absent, aloof, or abusive, it’s hard to see God as a loving parent.
I have a close friend who spent years in therapy trying to un-do the damage that her alcoholic father had inflicted. During one session, her counselor said: “Josie, you know Jesus, but do you know your heavenly father?”

My friend suddenly realized that the resentment she harbored toward her dad was impacting her relationship with the Lord. After many weeks, she was able to forgive her dad and her counselor suggested meditating on the prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples.

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…

For me, the prayer calls to mind a hallowed king, gloriously crowned. I love this image because it reminds me of the rite of baptism and the words that affirm our royal identity in Christ. At the Font, when water is poured over a baby, the priest proclaims to the assembly; Dearly beloved, this child has been reborn in baptism. He (she) is now called the child of God, for so indeed he (she) is.

To be a child of God means that we are loved by our hallowed king. Our Lord is never absent or aloof from our lives. On the contrary, his kingdom “has come” alive in our hearts and lives within each of us. We are always wearing the crown of his presence and each day, our hallowed King provides what we need; daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil.

Our Father….
What do these words mean to you? Over these Lenten weeks try meditating on the prayer Jesus gave to us. As you do, allow the Lord to show you who he is.

Heavenly father, Help me to pray. May the words of my heart give praise to your name.

March 8, 2017

whale

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD’s bidding. Jonah 3:1-10

I’ve often heard people say: “the Lord has been speaking to me” or “I know what I’m called to do.” Inner promptings can be strong and undeniable. We may have a prophetic dream or hear the “word of the lord” in our heart. But more often times than not, God will bid us to follow him in a very practical ways. For example, discontentment with a job may force us to send resume to a another company that offers a higher salary and better benefits. A family crisis may prompt us to connect with a good pastor of therapist who is trained to heal. An unexpected loss may lead us into the greatest friendships we have ever known.

In today’s reading, Jonah arrived in Ninevah, but not without spending three days in the belly of a whale. In that slimy, stinky, solitary place, Jonah had lots of time to strategize about how to best honor the word of the Lord:

“But I with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed, I will repay.” (Jonah :10)

When the Lord bids us to follow him, it’s always good to listen with our heart. But God invites us to embrace the practical gifts of the Holy Spirit as well; knowledge, right judgement and wisdom. When the heart and head are working in tandem, we can “set out” as Jonah did and arrive at the will of God.

Lord, help me to do what you ask me to do. Give me courage to follow your plan for my life.

March 9, 2017
woman-praying-1932952_1920

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish,
had recourse to the LORD.
She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, and said:
“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
for I am taking my life in my hand.
Esther: C:12, 14-q6, 23-25

When I was in high school, I attended the ordination of a young deacon who led our youth group. I was awestruck as the candidates for priesthood lay prostrate on the altar, a sign of complete submission and of giving their entire lives to God.
In our reading for today reading, Queen Esther does the same thing.

I love the following passage:

She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening.

As queen, she was praying in this way because she knew that no one could save her people but God.

I’ve met so many Esther’s in my life, faith-filled women who prostrate themselves before the Lord through prayer. I once knew a mother who prayed for two decades that her son would be freed from an addiction to drugs. In complete submission, she surrendered her son to God and healing finally came.
So too, God invites us to lay prostrate before him, especially during this season of Lent.

When we seek him on the altar of humility, from “morning till evening,” our answers will come.

Dear God, Give me a humble heart and help me be more persistent in prayer. May I never grow weary of seeking you.

MARCH 10,
rocks

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:20-26

One of my favorite movies in Forest Gump. The film highlights the enduring friendship of Jenny and Forest, two children who grow up in Alabama in the fifties and sixties. Forest has mental and physical limitations while Jenny’s handicaps are more hidden.

In one scene, Jenny and Forest are walking together as young adults. Suddenly, they find themselves standing in front of Jenny’s childhood home, a run-down shack where Jenny was abused by her father for many years.

With full force, Jenny begins to pick up rocks and hurls them at the house, screaming loudly. Finally, she collapses on the ground and begins to sob. Forest comforts her by saying: “Sometimes I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”
In todays’ reading Jesus tells us that before we bring our gift to the altar, we must first be reconciled with our brother or sister. But when someone hurts us deeply, reconciliation isn’t always a quick process. We may need to go to counseling to unravel the pain someone has inflicted on our lives. Or we may have to express our feelings to the one who has hurt us through a letter. Some of us might decide to go on retreat where there is space to throw rocks in the woods. After we’ve done the hard work of healing, reconciliation may happen without even facing the one who wounded us. Oftentimes, people experience forgiveness in the privacy of the confessional or through a simple prayer spoken in the heart.

There may never be enough rocks. But thankfully, God’s mercy is never in short supply.

Lord, give me courage to forgive those who don’t deserve it. Show me how to be reconciled and free from bitterness. May the truth of your mercy set me free.

March 11, 2017
sea-waves

Jesus said to his disciples:
“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,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father.
Matthew 5:43-48

In February of 2012, I remember watching a news report which showed 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being marched to their death by the Mediterranean Sea. Most of them looked very young, all of them dressed in orange jumpsuits. In contrast, their captors were extremists donned in black. Moments before they were beheaded, the video was cut short. I closed my eyes, jarred by the images. I remember asking myself: : “Could I be that brave? Could I die for my faith?”
In our country, Christians don’t face barbaric persecution, at least not yet. But through the media, we have become witnesses to the martyrdom of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In so many places in the world, people like you and me are persecuted for simply believing in the Lord.
As we reflect upon Christs passion during Lent, we are reminded that we may one day suffer for our faith too.

“Would I, Could I die for Jesus?” I find myself thinking of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. In the book of Acts, just before Stephen was stoned for his faith, he experienced the miraculous power of God’s presence:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)

The martyrs remind us that believing in Jesus isn’t always easy. But If our lives are required of us, all in the name of Jesus, we need not fear. Like Stephen, and the twenty-one Christians who were martyred by the sea, our courage will come from God.

Lord, when I am persecuted for my faith, may I remember that you are with me. Teach me to pray for my enemies.

March 12, 2017
clouds

While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.” Matthew 17:109

When we moved my mom into assisted living, my sister Annie and I cleaned out a cedar chest in her bedroom. Inside we found a stack of old greeting cards that my mother had saved. One postcard caught our attention. At first glance, we saw the photo of a tree at sunset, framed by backdrop of dark clouds. But when we turned it sideways, a much different image surfaced. “That looks like Jesus,” my sister said. At first I was skeptical. But when I took a closer look, I couldn’t deny the outline of a man in a robe, standing in a beam of light. “This is amazing” I told Annie. There was no signature on the card and my mom doesn’t remember who sent it.
We can never prove that it’s a photo of Jesus, but the image gives me pause. In the scriptures, clouds have spiritual significance. Jesus was taken to heaven by a cloud and we are told he will return in the same way. At the transfiguration, God spoke from a cloud and said: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

As spring draws near, consider taking a stroll through your neighborhood and look up at the clouds. Let yourself be drawn into the wonders of heaven. Perhaps you’ll see, with your own eyes, the image and likeness of God.

Lord, Help me to recognize your presence in ordinary moments. Give me eyes to see your glory.

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