Lenten Devotionals – Week of March 26-April 2

Hello Everyone!

I’ve had a crazy week so just one post this Sunday.   I’ll check in soon.

Keep the Faith!

Nancy Jo

 

 But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.

Jeremiah 20 :10-13

There is a story about a group of young people who were competing in a race.  The event was organized for people with disabilities.  As a man with Down syndrome took the lead, he looked back at his competitors.  One of them had fallen on the track.  Without hesitation, the man with Downs syndrome came to a halt. Forfeiting his certain victory, he walked back to the crying runner and helped him up. Together, they ran hand in hand toward the finish line.

The story sheds light on our Lenten journey. As we return to the Lord, we may stumble on the road of faith. The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can be exhausting.  We may grow weary with questions that seem to have no answers. Great stamina is often needed to forgive others. Repentance is hard work and we may have times when we want to give up.

But the Lord, our champion, is gracious and merciful.   He will never leave us alone on the race of faith.  If we collapse, he will always help us up.

Today, run hand and hand with Jesus.  He’ll take you to the finish line of Easter.

 

Daily Lenten Devotionals- March 20-26

March 20, 2017

“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.

 Luke 2:41-51A

Now that my children are in their twenties,  I  store their childhood photos and artwork in a closet near my front door.  I’ve often told myself that if there was a fire,  I’d rush to that closet and retrieve as much as possible.  Like so many mothers, my family memories are far more valuable than possessions.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the great keeper of memories.  In a humble stable, as she rocked her newborn, the shepherds drew near and the star above the manger glowed brightly.  These were relatively simple moments, but the scriptures tells us she treasured all these things in her heart.   In small things, Mary uncovered the glory of God.

But what about the more complicated moments of Mary’s life?  Remember when Jesus was lost in the temple?   The stern reprimand she gave to Jesus reflected her frustration: “Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety!”

Jesus replied:  “Didn’t you know I needed to be in my Father’s house?”

Did Mary understand the meaning of her son’s words?  Or did she spent months, even years pondering that one poignant remark?

When Mary stood at the cross, maybe she remembered that day in the temple and thought:  Yes, it makes sense now.  Gabriel told me my child would save the world.  Jesus ALWAYS knew who he was…

During these Lenten days, take some time to treasure your memories.   In the remembering, spiritual clarity may come.  As you open your heart to the past,  you may discover the glory of God.            

March 21, 2017

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.

Psalm 25:4-5AB, 6 and 7BC, 8-9

Who has taught you about the Lord?   I would say that my late daughter, Sarah, was one of my greatest spiritual teachers.   Born with Downs syndrome,  Sarah had many physical and mental limitations,  including a significant visual impairment.  Though she wore thick glasses, she was always very intentional about looking into the eyes of others.  It didn’t matter if people were heavy set or skinny, good- looking or disheveled, tattooed or absurdly dressed.   Her eyes were filled with light and she would look at everyone with love and they usually smiled back.  It was almost as if  Sarah was looking into their hearts, and loving them, as Christ would.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where people don’t really look at one another.  I’ve often thought that if aliens came to Starbucks,  they would see a room filled with people sitting alone and  staring at screens; computers and cell phones.   They would probably assume that since we didn’t look at one another, we were a robotic people.

Sarah taught me that eye contact  is a powerful thing,  especially in this age of electronics.   When we look into the eyes of someone, we are acknowledging that we are all part of God’s family, next of kin, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Back in the fifteenth century, Saint Teresa of Avila penned these beautiful words:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, No feet, but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world….

As you continue your Lenten journey,  try looking into the eyes of those who cross your path.   See Christ and be Christ in the world.

March 22, 2017

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:17-19

This past winter, I caught a nasty cold virus that lasted almost three weeks.  Between work commitments, family gatherings, and putting my mother into assisted living, I was worn out. After visiting the doctor, I was sure she would prescribe a treatment of antibiotics.  But after checking my lungs with a stethoscope, she said:  “All you need  is rest.”

Over the next few days, I took some time off work and spent a few days on the couch watching movies.   One night, the kids brought me dinner and we played scrabble at the kitchen table. “No cheating!” my son in law said as I purposely misspelled a couple of words.   Each day, I snuggled under blankets and took long naps in the afternoon.  In the quietness, I talked to God and read the scriptures.  After taking good care of myself, my body was healed. More importantly, my soul was renewed.

Rest.  God commands it of us.  But in our busy, non-stop culture, “do-nothingness.” isn’t easily embraced.  Our to-do lists are long and the hours in our days pass swiftly. Oftentimes, it’s an illness or an emotional collapse that causes us to say:  “I can’t keep this up…I’m burnt out.”

Lent is a wonderful time to rest in Christ.  If possible, take a couple days off before Easter arrives.  Give yourself permission to read, pray, and nap.  Though fasting is a Lenten practice, it’s okay to go to the fish fry or enjoy some great tuna noodle casserole with a friend.  Do-nothingness will renew your soul.      

March 23, 2017

Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert…

Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

A few years ago, there was a popular commercial that highlighted the problems with cell phone reception.   As a man with horned rimmed glasses talked on his phone, he kept asking:  “Can you hear me now?”  The catch phrase made us laugh because we’ve all felt the frustration of a poor phone connection.

One of the best ways to get a good connection with God is through daily prayer.  For me, prayer is a discipline that requires me to leave the noise of the world behind.  In the silence of God’s presence, the Lord often speaks through my thoughts.

Sometimes the face of a family member will come to mind.  Other times it’s a  memory that needs to be healed or a friendship that needs my care.   Even when I’m distracted by a worrisome thought, I pay attention because the Lord might want to uproot a fear that is blocking God’s power in my life.

In what ways do you make a good connection with God?  Perhaps daily Mass or reading the scriptures helps you to feel close to the Lord.  As you discipline yourself to be still, you may get a better reception on God’s voice.  When you close your eyes and open your heart, maybe you’ll hear God whisper:  “Can you hear me now?”               

March 24, 2017

I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.

Hosea 14: 2-10

In Minneapolis where I live, there’s an Ash tree that grows on the South shore of Lake Harriet.

At the base of the tree, a little door is adorned with shiny hinges and a carved lions head that serves as a knocker.  Most of the locals know that an invisible elf moved into the tree in the year 1995. The imaginary gnome is known as “Mr. Little Guy.” and he allows the public to leave notes in the tree for safekeeping.

It’s well known that  Mr. Little guy answers each message with a carefully typed response.  Each time I jog past the little door,  I can’t help but smile.    His tree brings hope and enchantment to the entire neighborhood.

In the scriptures, trees are images of hope too. In the book of Genesis, we are told that a tree of life grew in the garden of Eden.   In the Old Testament, we hear about the “splendor” of the olive tree and the “fragrance” of the Lebanon Cedar.  And during Lent, we remember that it was a tree that provided wood for the cross.

I find myself thinking of the Good Friday liturgy.  At my home parish,  our priest carries a large cross  to the altar and proclaims :“This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world. ”

For me, this is always an emotional moment as I call to mind the suffering and death of Jesus.   When I look at the cross, I can almost hear nails pounding through wood and the piercing of his holy hands.  I tell myself that it had to happen this way, though it’s hard to understand  a divine plan that required so much pain.  Only through the suffering of our savior could we receive the gift of eternal life.

As you prepare for Easter, consider taking a walk in the woods.  Let yourself take in the beauty of the trees and brush your hand over bark and branches.   In the stillness, find a branch to take home and make a simple cross from the broken twigs.

May your home-made cross become your tree of hope.  

 

 

Here’s a great poem for your Lenten Journey:

O Cross of Christ Immortal Lucius Chapin (1760-1842

O Cross of Christ, immortal tree
On which our Savior died,
The world is sheltered by your arms
That bore the Crucified.

From bitter death and barren wood
the tree of life is made;
Its branches bear unfailing fruit
And leaves that never fade.

O faithful Cross, you stand unmoved
While ages run their course;
Foundation of the universe,
Creation’s minding force.

Give glory to the risen Christ
And to his Cross give praise,
The sign of God’s unfailing love,
The hope of all our days.

MARCH 25, 2017

 “Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

Luke 1:26-38

A couple of years ago, my sister Annie moved to Kansas City.  Before I made my first visit to her new home I googled her address and a satellite view of her neighborhood surfaced on my computer screen.   As I zoomed in on her home, I could see her front porch and the pine trees that framed her property.  Though I had never driven on the freeways that connect Minnesota to Kansas, I felt confident that I knew right where I was going.   “I can’t wait to see you.”  I told my sister.

When I think about that trip, my thoughts turn to Gabriel, the angel who delivered God’s message to Mary.  I wonder if God gave him specific directions before he set out to visit the young handmaiden of the Lord.

Perhaps God showed Gabriel a panoramic view of the earth from heaven; houses, streets, lakes, mountains, and trees.   I wonder if God said: “Gabriel, See this little town?  It’s called Nazareth.  And here’s the house of Mary. I’ve chosen her to be the mother of my son.”

Perhaps God let Gabriel view Mary’s heart.  Tell her not to be afraid Gabriel.  She’s pure, selfless and strong.    Much will be required of Mary and she needs to know that I will be with her.   

Gabriel knew where he was going.  God gave him good directions and he delivered his message to Mary with confidence.  “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” (Luke 1: 31)

Like Gabriel, we all have a mission that God must clarify.  Lent is a wonderful time to ask:  Lord where do you want me to go?  What message do you want me to deliver?  Who am I called to support and encourage?

In the stillness of prayer, you will receive God’s directions.   If the Lord leads, you will know right where you are going.                

March 26, 2017

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word  
John 8:51-59’

Who has helped you to know God?   In my life,  I came to know God through Sarah, my late daughter who was born with Downs syndrome.   When she was very young,  we told her:  “Sarah, your name means God’s princess.”   She immediately embraced this identity and believed that she was royalty.  Her room was lined with hundreds of fairy tale books and she had her very own crown collection.   Each day of her life, she wore a different crown.   “God lives in..in..my hhheart.”  she would often say.

One busy afternoon, I received an unexpected teaching from Sarah that I’ve never forgotten..  As I made dinner at the stove, I was completely preoccupied.  My two teenage   daughters had sports events in different places and Sarah needed to be at a conference at the same time.    Lost in my thoughts,  I told myself:  “I can’t  be everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Sarah sat at the kitchen table with a crown on her head.  (She was in her late teens then, but still a child in so many ways)   As she calmly  turned the pages of Snow White,  she said:  “Mom…you…you…are wearing a crown too.  You just can’t see it.”

That afternoon, Sarah deepened my understanding of God in a way that no one else could.  She was reminding me that even in the harried moments of motherhood,  I was a princess.   A beloved child of God.   Her simple teaching transformed my image of God.

God often uses family members, friends, and the leaders of our church to impart his truths.  Let us open our minds and hearts to the spiritual sages in our life. God may have something to say.

Daily Lenten Reflections March 13-19

March 13, 2017
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.” Luke 6:36

Sarah, my late daughter, was a beautiful soul with Downs syndrome. Each day she woke up with a smile on her face and her joy was infectious. She loved writing love-notes and over her short life of twenty- three years, she composed hundreds of misspelled quotes. With the wisdom of a great sage, she wrote things like: “Alwys follow yr dreams, God livs in my heart , and one of my personal favorites; “You’re the bst mom I evr had in my life.”

Nine years after her death, Sarah’s notes continue to inspire me. I treasure each little quote and read them often. Sarah used her time well on this earth and God continues to magnify the small gifts she shared.

Mother Teresa once said: “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” Like Mother Teresa, God invites each of us to leave our mark in the Kingdom of God. We can do this by simply smiling at others and sharing bits of wisdom. In doing so, we become as the apostle Paul put it: “a letter from Christ.” (2: Corinthians 3:3)

Is there someone who might appreciate a love-note from you? As Lent continues, why not encourage someone with a handwritten note? Just for fun, buy some stationary and try using ink instead of a computer. (It’s always a treat to write in cursive!)

Let yourself become God’s pencil. Compose a few simple quotes and smile your way through the writing. Who knows? Maybe your note will become someone’s greatest treasure!

March 14, 2017
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted
Matthew: 23: 1-12

One of my older colleagues remembers a workshop she presented in a crowded gymnasium where over a hundred participants had gathered. After offering a beautiful reflection on prayer, she felt pumped up with pride. “The applause went on and on.” she told me. After her talk, she began wheeling a television set unto the stage to show a video. (This was back in the nineties so the clunky set was perched atop a high stand–remember those?) When she rolled the stand over a long cord, the TV toppled to the floor and broke in half. Crash…

Luckily, no one was near enough to get hurt, but my friend was completely humiliated. “I’ve never been so embarrassed.” she said.

An awkward silence filled the gym. “Well, so much for the video.” the speaker quipped. The audience began laughing and immediately several people began helping her to “pick up the pieces.” Her humiliation was diffused with humor and the audience was able to see that she was vulnerable, just like them. Many of the participants hung around afterward to offer her words of praise and encouragement.

In our reading for today, Jesus reminds us that the humble will be exalted. It’s so true. When we are vulnerable, embarrassed, or brought low, God will pick up the pieces.

March 15, 2017
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20: 17-28.

When Pope Francis was a student he worked as a bouncer, a floor-sweeper, and an assistant in a chemical lab.

In the hallowed soil of humility, Pope Francis grew into a Pope. Now that he is the shepherd of our church, I love watching television clips of him walking through crowds because he always seems to be drawn to the meek and lowly. This touches me deeply because our first child was born with a disability. A couple of months ago, I saw a photo of him embracing a man who was covered with boils and sores from head to toe.
These images call to mind the love and humility of Christ.

But it’s not always easy to be humble. We may resent that we are underemployed, or caring for an elderly parent or trying to help a defiant son or daughter. But if the son of God was willing to embrace lepers, eat with sinners, and wash dirty feet, we must will to “go low.” too.

In what ways is the Lord humbling you? How are you be trained to serve in the Kingdom of God?

March 16, 2017
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers. Psalm 1:1-2,3,4, and 6

Recently I read a heartwarming story about a 91 year old man from Michigan in hospice. Though battling terminal cancer, he spends his days making hats for the homeless while lying in his bed. Using a small loom, he crochets the hats with donated yarn and donates them to charity. He’s doesn’t know exactly how many hats he’s made because he stopped counting at 8,000. In his last days of life, God is prospering the work of his hands.

Prosperity is an interesting concept. In our early years, many of us listen to an inner voice that tells us: “ Strive for financial success! Be prosperous!” But as we age, many of us realize that it doesn’t matter how much money we’ve made or how expensive our house is. The closer we get to eternity, the more we begin to review our spiritual life. In our golden years, many of us ask: Have I prospered in love? Have I grown more compassionate? Have I been a good servant of God?

The hat-man is a beautiful example of spiritual prosperity. Though faced with many physical challenges, he is weaving (and leaving) blessings for the world.

How does God want to prosper the work of your hands? What small gifts can you share with the Kingdom of God?

March 17, 2017
Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.
Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A

I grew up with five sisters. As teenagers, we fought about everything; barrettes, makeup, clothes, car keys, jewelry– you name it. Now that we’re older, we appreciate and even celebrate our differences. My sister Peggy is a natural designer and often sews drapes for my home. Annie calls me daily just to share a funny story or joke. Kathy is a prayer warrior and her wise counsel is never weighed lightly.

Nine years ago, it was my sisters who got me through the most difficult day of my life. On that cold day in January, we buried my twenty-three-year-old daughter. As guests began arriving at the entryway of the church, my sisters gathered around me, three on one side and two on the other. Their presence encircled me like a sunlight and I will never forget the warmth of their support.

In our reading for today, young Joseph fought with his siblings too. One fight was over a tunic, of all things! When Joseph donned the colorful coat, his brothers became jealous and threw him into a well, leaving him for dead. (Talk about sibling rivalry!)

But years later, when all the brothers were grown, a beautiful and unexpected reconciliation happened. Joseph, now the esteemed leader of Egypt, offered unconditional forgiveness to his brothers. Through his tears, Joseph told his siblings: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Genesis 50:20.

I have yet to meet a perfect family. Most of us have at least a few issues that need some work. In the story of Joseph, we see that God can heal even the worst cases of family rivalry, jealousy or betrayal. So too, in our own family stories, God longs to mend what is broken.

Today, visualize your own family and let the story of Joseph to speak to you. As you imagine what restoration might look like, be open to the Lord’s plan. Pray for healing and try not to grow weary if the answer doesn’t happen immediately.

Trust that God, in his own way and time, will bring it about.

March 18, 2017
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

When I see a young parent cradling an infant, I always smile. I’ll never forget those early days of motherhood, especially the way it felt to kiss the faces of my three little children. Their chubby cheeks were as soft as marshmallows and all these years later I can still hear their giggles. “Do you know how much I love you?” I would gush. Boundless beauty was pack into their smallness. Each of them, in their own diminutive way, brought so much joy to our family.

Now that my kids are in their twenties, I still kiss them on the cheek when they visit. They always roll their eyes, but I want them to know that my love is unchangeable. “Sorry…” I tell them. “I’m here for the long haul!”

Maybe that’s the way the father felt in today’s reading. After his young son spent months partying and squandering his inheritance, the wayward son returned to his father’s house, remorseful. At best, the reunion should’ve been awkward. The sins of the son had dishonored the family in so many ways. But when his father caught sight of him something amazing happened. He ran to his son and kissed him! I love this image—a dad who simply can’t un-love his son.

We all have sins that aren’t proud of. But today’s reading reminds us that we can always come home to the mercy of God. No matter what we’ve done, Our Father waits for our return.

Like the prodigal son, we can never be un-loved by God.

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.

Daily Lenten Reflections- Ash Wednesday- March 1, 2017

But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6: 1-6

I begin most mornings working out on a treadmill at the local gym where sixteen television screens flash before my eyes. Each channel is a beam of news, weather, and captioned commentary. My gym-mates talk on their cell phones while pedaling bikes and lifting weights. Meanwhile, rock music blares and I keep running.

Screens, ringtones, noise, and movement are part of our modern culture. But as we begin Lent, Jesus beckons us to un-plug ourselves from the flash of life.

In our readings for today, we are invited to slip away to our “inner room” and “close the door.” It’s an invitation to meet Jesus each day, in the solitude of prayer. But for most of us, this is easier said than done. How do we begin to un-distract ourselves?

Consider creating an “inner room” in your home. Try removing all clutter from a spare room or corner and set up a small table with a cloth and pretty candle. Consecrate the space to the Lord and let it become your sanctuary from sounds and screens. Decide on a prayer time that works for you, even if it’s only a few moments a day.

In the silence, perhaps you might ask: Lord where are you leading me? What doors do you want to open? What changes do I need to make? Ask for what you need, and pray for the needs of others. When it’s totally quiet, you might hear yourself say: Thank you Lord…
In the inner room of your heart, there won’t be any flashy commercials or ring tones. Your only distraction will be God.

Lord, show me what an undistracted life might look like. Lead me to the pastures of your presence. Let me find peace in you.