Lenten Reflections


An Easter Reflection

posted Apr 23, 2014, 11:20 AM by Unknown user

    Since I provided Lenten reflections to guide us through Lent, it would be inappropriate to not follow those up with Easter reflections. We’ve gone through the soul-searching and fasting that is Lent. But now, Christ is risen! We had a wonderful service celebrating the risen Jesus last Sunday. But now what? What sort of impact is this resurrection supposed to make on my day to day life?

    The best work that I’ve come across on this subject is a book by Anglican scholar N.T. Wright entitled “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.” In this book Wright emphasizes how what we hope for in the future should deeply impact how we live today. I want to provide you with snippet from this book, discussing the church’s mission in light of the resurrection, and how Easter should be molding our life. I would love for you to share your thoughts on the matter.

            “But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday… and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

            All right, the Sundays after Easter still lie within the Easter Season. We still have Easter readings and hymns during them. But Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? … We shouldn’t allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and parareligious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course. This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.

            In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time… That’s Lent for you. But you don’t want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blanket earth. Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant out a few cuttings… Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving… If you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”

So, who’s bringing the champagne on Sunday?

Source: Wright, N.T. Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: Harper One, 2008. Pp.256-257

Lent for the World- God's Absence

posted Apr 9, 2014, 7:35 AM by Unknown user

Lent Reflection: God’s absence

                Personally, my favorite season of the church calendar is Advent. Why? Because it announces the arrival of Immanuel- God with us. We are liturgically reminded that God has shown up in the muck and dire of our world. It means a lot to me to know that God is with us, and that thick or thin, God will show up.

                But…. We are in Lent, a time in which we reflect on the rigors and tough realities of living a life of discipleship. And so during Lent we have to take serious and not overlook those times in which we struggle to live faithfully. Such experience may lead us to feel as though God has not shown up. Life hits us with pain, disappointment, and struggle. We expect God to be our savior. But what do we do when the struggle continues after crying out to God time and time again? It is appropriate for us reflect upon our struggle, the struggle we share with Christ who cried out from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you left me?” (Mark15:34 C.E.B.)

                As people of faith, we don’t always do a great job talking about such things. We have a tendency to gloss over pain and a perceived absence of God. We want to say things such as “Just have faith!” or “God has a plan!” While those statements may not be false, they are not the things to say to someone who feels like they are in the middle of a storm. It is a very real feeling to reach out for God, only to keep reaching because you are not embraced or to pray and cry out, only to get the deafening response of silence. Believe it or not, this feeling has its roots in our holy text: the Bible.

For example, Jesus’ cry from the cross. This sentiment is rooted in Psalm 22 (Common English Bible):

My God! My God,
    why have you left me all alone?
    Why are you so far from saving me—
        so far from my anguished groans?
My God, I cry out during the day,
    but you don’t answer;
    even at nighttime I don’t stop.
You are the holy one, enthroned.
You are Israel’s praise.
Our ancestors trusted you—
    they trusted you and you rescued them;
    they cried out to you and they were saved;
    they trusted you and they weren’t ashamed.

But I’m just a worm, less than human;
    insulted by one person, despised by another.
All who see me make fun of me—
    they gape, shaking their heads:
    “He committed himself to the Lord,
        so let God rescue him;
        let God deliver him
        because God likes him so much.”
But you are the one who pulled me from the womb,
    placing me safely at my mother’s breasts.
10 
I was thrown on you from birth;
    you’ve been my God
    since I was in my mother’s womb.
11 
Please don’t be far from me,
    because trouble is near
        and there’s no one to help.

The Psalmist recognizes his/her plight, but then also remembers why he/she has faith. While it feels as though God has left the Psalmist, the Psalmist continues to cry out because he/she has experienced God’s care in the past. Another great Psalm is Psalm 42.

Just like a deer that craves streams of water,
    my whole being craves you, God.
My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When will I come and see God’s face?
My tears have been my food both day and night,
    as people constantly questioned me,
    “Where’s your God now?”

But I remember these things as I bare my soul:
    how I made my way to the mighty one’s abode,
    to God’s own house,
        with joyous shouts and thanksgiving songs—
        a huge crowd celebrating the festival!
Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?
    Why are you so upset inside?
Hope in God!
    Because I will again give him thanks,
        my saving presence and my God.

My whole being is depressed.
    That’s why I remember you
    from the land of Jordan and Hermon,
        from Mount Mizar.
Deep called to deep at the noise of your waterfalls;
    all your massive waves surged over me.
By day the Lord commands his faithful love;
    by night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God, my solid rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
        Why do I have to walk around,
        sad, oppressed by enemies?”
10 
With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me,
    constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”

11 Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?
    Why are you so upset inside?
        Hope in God!
        Because I will again give him thanks,
        my saving presence and my God.

The Psalmist tries to urge himself to faith and is doing all he can to hope, even though he is admittedly depressed, upset, and feels forgotten. But the Psalmist holds onto his experience, not just the depression but also the joyous celebration of experiencing God’s goodness that the Psalmist remembers in v. 4. This doesn’t take away the pain or the depression. But it does allow the Psalmist to carry on with hope that God might eventually show up, because God has been known to do such things in the past. Some might argue that to question God’s motives, or to wonder if God even cares or is present represents a lack of faith. I think this is bull. To continue to seek God and attempt to hold God to what God has promised amidst our own depression and despair is one of the purest expressions of faith.

                Theologian Jurgen Moltmann expresses the sentiment that in the crucifixion of Christ, God identified with all of the God-forsaken of the world. Christ was truly incarnate, experiencing all that we feel. I didn’t write all of this to provide a solution for this problem- because I don’t have one. I just want you to know that you’re not alone. You’re not alone as a person of faith, for the Psalmist and even Jesus experienced this. You’re not alone in your church, because I often experience the “dark night of the soul” where God cannot be found. Even when you feel as though God has left you, you’re not alone.

Prayer: Lord Christ, help me to remember and to see that you are in solidarity with me in my pain. When I cry out to you, assure me that I am not alone. Amen

Lent for the World- Week 2

posted Mar 18, 2014, 10:55 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Mar 19, 2014, 1:17 PM by E Ministry ]

Community Meal as a Lenten Practice

This week’s Lenten reflection is going to be different from last week’s. We like variety don’t we? The reason for the difference is because this week we have a community meal, so I wanted to spend some time thinking about it. The community meal is a ministerial endeavor of our church to provide a tasty and filling meal to anyone who wants it or needs it. Like grace, it is free. As the followers of Jesus, we foot the cost and do the work to share it with those we love- people. Is this is a sacrifice? Sure, but it is probably the least that we can do.

The community meal does not occur often, for we only offer it 4 times a year. That being said, when we do offer a free meal we want it to be worth it. Everyone loves BBQ and we can agree that this is a treat. For those who have to rely on ministries such as this, we want to offer something nice, something in which we can proclaim “taste and see that the Lord is good!” Our community has been hit hard with poverty, need, and isolation. While this doesn’t solve the problem it is one avenue of hospitality in which we show love to hungry people.

God’s Response in Jesus’ Story: Our scriptural basis for the community meal comes from Luke 14:12-14:

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

            Go ahead and take a look at the rest of Luke 14. Within this text Jesus is dealing with table issues- who do we eat with, who sits where, who do we invite? To provide an oversimplification: Jesus encourages hospitality and sharing a table with all types of people. Why? Are these proper manners? It goes beyond that. Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of God to a banquet (By the way, what a great image! Good food and friends gathered is a truly holy experience!). Thus, at the Lord’s table: the exalted will be humbled, the humbled will be exalted, the excluded will be fed without the expectation of a return, and ALL types of people will be invited in to fill out the celebration.

            So, with our community meal, could we be giving a foretaste of the heavenly banquet?

Hearing voices: I found this article about a Presbyterian church that does something similar. Take a look and see if you can relate, or if this sparks new ideas for our church:

http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/2/26/its-taking-spiritual-vitamin/

Question: What effect does helping with this ministry have on you?

Our Response: Invite someone to the meal who cannot repay you. Either bring them, or take a meal to them. Who is that you know who could use this delicious BBQ supper? An elderly shut-in? A single parent and their children? A struggling family? A friend, who might not be struggling financially, but could use the fellowship that comes along with good food? Or, maybe you don’t know anything about their situation, you just want to invite them. That’s cool too. Chances are the Spirit has put someone in your mind. Share a meal with them. Feel free to eat with them if the situation allows it. It might be more than the food that they need. In doing so, you could be sacrificing. But believe me, you will be tasting the goodness of the Lord’s banquet.

Prayer/Liturgy: Please pray for the Community meal. Pray that our meal accomplishes its Christ-intended purpose. Pray that the hungry will find their way to us, and that we will find our way to the hungry. Pray for the volunteers, that they will be strengthened in service and in grace. Pray that we will see Christ in the face of those whom we serve. Pray that this will be a means in which we grow in faith. Pray that, although it is a relatively small event, it will have a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God.



Lent for the World: Week 1

posted Mar 11, 2014, 11:46 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Mar 11, 2014, 1:21 PM ]

How to use this reflection: This reflection is meant to broaden our perspective during the season of Lent. Lent is a season of turning toward God and dealing with our brokenness. We often do this through a Lenten fast in which we give up something in faithfulness and in an attempt to be more focused on God. However, all too often we only focus on our individual selves, without considering the world’s brokenness and how God is at work amidst the common struggles in the world. These reflections will draw attention to an issue, biblically review God’s response through Christ, consider what this is calling from us, and offer a prayer on behalf of those suffering. My hope is that this reflection will get you thinking, praying, and acting. Below is not the final answer, or a perfect view of the situation. Rather it is meant to stimulate your mind, discussion within the church, and hopefully move us toward faithful action. Please leave a comment- they are welcome and encouraged!

God for the Sick

The Brokenness: I don’t have to explain the issue. You know it and we all know it. People get sick. Everyone who reads this will have been affected by serious illness, either having it yourself or watching someone you love. Cancer, AIDS, stroke, mental illness… the list could go on and on. We were born into this world to have life and have it abundantly. Yet that life can be hampered, made difficult, and ultimately taken through illness. This is a big issue, full of pain and questioning. God is often referred to as the “great physician,” yet faithful people cry out to God for healing and their disease remains. Does God heal some and not others? To be honest, I feel completely inadequate in trying to talk about how God responds to our illness.  Yet, I do offer a feeble response to how God responds to sickness and how we as God’s people should respond.

God’s response in Jesus’ Story: Throughout the gospels are multiple stories of Jesus healing people. To narrow our focus, let’s look to two back-to-back stories in Mark’s gospel: the healing of a leper (1:40-45) and the healing of a paralytic (2:1-12). Take a moment to read these two stories.

            When Jesus encounters the leper, he doesn’t ask to be healed. He asks to me made clean. It would be safe to assume that his skin disease caused him significant physical pain and suffering. Yet, what appears to bother him most is the lack of community. Lepers were outcast and considered “unclean.” Religiously, they were excluded from the temple and living with their Jewish families. What this leper desires is to be made clean: to be restored to community and society. He wants healing for the sake of community and Jesus is willing. Jesus willingly touches the man, a courageous and risky act which would have made Jesus “unclean.” I wonder, what meant more to the leper, being healed, or the compassionate touch of another human (which he could have been without for years)?

            In the next story, four guys bring their paralyzed buddy to Jesus, even going to the extreme of lowering him from a roof. Jesus doesn’t heal him initially, but chooses to pronounce that his sins are forgiven. Why would Jesus say this? One possibility might be that in that world paralysis was thought to have occurred as the result of a sin, either the sin of the individual or their parents. In other words, you were physically suffering because you or your parents messed up. Jesus doesn’t seem to buy in to such a “cause and effect” theology. Thus by pronouncing forgiveness Jesus could have been freeing the man from the shame and guilt that his religious culture had dumped on top of him (as if being paralyzed wasn’t enough of a struggle!). Then when his authority is challenged by the Pharisee’s, Jesus heals the man. Scholar Lamar Williamson notes that healings in Mark’s gospel serve to demonstrate Jesus’ power and act as a proclamation of the Kingdom of God: “Jesus’ mighty works manifest God’s merciful, mighty presence and governance, thereby proclaiming God’s Kingdom” (Interpretation: Mark, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

            A couple of guiding questions stick out to me: both the leper and the paralytic were healed once they encountered a healer. Do we make sure that all sick have access to healers (doctors, medicine, etc.)? Secondly, should the faithful always look directly to God for healing, or could God use the community of faith as means to minister to the sick? After all, it was Christians who started the first hospitals.

            I would like to add one more verse of scripture. In the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, those who inherit the Kingdom are ones who the Son of Man claims “I was sick and you took care of me.” The righteous then ask “Lord… when did we see you sick.. and visit you?” The response: “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:34-40, Common English Bible).

            This may not fully answer the question of why some people are healed from illness, while others are not. But what scripture, and human experience, can testify to is that God hears the cries of the suffering, draws near in presence and solidarity, and promises resurrection. Jesus experienced his own physical suffering in his crucifixion, and then was raised as the “first fruits” from the dead. The sickness is not what defines, nor has the final say on a person. God’s love will prevail.

Hearing Voices: Theologian Dwight Peterson has been ill and receiving hospice care. He made this video for the website “The Work of the People.” Very powerful and a personal testimony to what a truly Christian response to the sick should be: http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/visit-the-sick

Our very own Kay Brownyard was gracious enough to share her personal experience with cancer. Take a moment and take in her shared experience:

Reflections on Having Cancer

          Sunday, when Marcus asked me to write this reflection, I don't think he knew the meaning of this week to me.  March 13th of this week marks the 27 year anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer.  I'll spare you all the gory and amazing details.  Looking back, it was neither the worst day of my life, nor the best day.  However, it was a life-changing day with many questions.  For example; "Would I be here for our son's high school graduation?"  Some of the questions have been answered, while others are still unanswered.

          If I were to fight that same battle again, I'd change some events and others would remain the same.  I would not change being left with this grateful heart of mine.  I'm filled with gratitude to God for my family (especially Roger), church family, school family, other friends, doctors, nurses, and the children/youth in my life then and now.  The Church Youth Group gave a "No More Chemo" Party for me. :-)  The treatments were grueling .  The Party was uplifting. 

          What I've learned after cancer:  (1) I needed to slow-down.  My life was too busy!  (2) I realized my true vocational calling was that of being a School Counselor (a stressful position, filled with joys and sorrows).  (3) My faith was renewed, as I worked with students, teachers, administrators, and parents.  One person CAN make a difference, but only with the help and cooperation of others.  (4)  With God's help, I can talk with adults on a deeper level without fear of rejection.  What's to fear?  (5)  The greatest challenges were not even thoughts in 1987, when the word "cancer" became a household word.  Those challenges were yet to be faced.  Without the help of God and the hope, faith, and love given through Jesus Christ, how could I (we) survive?  (6)  I continue to ask questions like: "Why am I still here?"  This question and others are gradually being answered.

          In closing, I'll try to remember (I hope you will, as well.) Roman's 12: 12-13, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality." (NIV)  May the peace of Christ be with all of us, now and always.

 

Our Response: Visit the sick. If there is one thing that we can control and have an impact, we can visit those who are ill and assure them that they are still a part of the community and not forgotten. As the video above testifies, visiting the sick can, as Dwight Peterson states “bring God’s presence to people who need it.” Kay also shared how much the support of others meant to her. God draws near to the sick and, believe it or not, we can be a means of that powerful presence.

            So, do you know someone who is ill that could use a visit? Pray that the Spirit would give you a name and pay them a visit this week.

Prayer/Liturgy: Remember the sick in your prayers. I offer you this prayer from the Book of Common Worship:

Mighty and merciful God,

you sent Jesus Christ to heal broken lives.

We praise you that today

you send healing in doctors and nurses,

and bless us with technology in medicine.

We claim your promises of wholeness

as we pray for those who are ill in body or mind,

who long for your healing touch.

Make the weak strong,

the sick healthy,

the broken whole,

and confirm those who serve them

as agents of your love.

Then all shall be renewed in vigor

to point to the risen Christ,

who conquered death that we might live eternally. Amen.


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