Lenten Devotional March 29-April 4
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. - Mark 9:2-10, NRSV
In this section of Mark, Jesus has begun his fateful journey to Jerusalem. He is on a collision course with the powers that run his world. Our text, known as “The Transfiguration,” occurs on this journey.
The disciples cannot, or perhaps will not, embrace the path toward Jerusalem Jesus is taking. They want him to conquer, not be conquered. Yet, the voice of the Divine tells them to listen, to trust that Jesus knows where this journey is going, and that he can be trusted.
This is still a challenge for me. I so desperately want to punch back at times (metaphorically, at least usually). I want to use my wit to cut down those who’ve cut me down. I want to fight back and make them feel as small as they’ve made me feel. Do I trust that there’s a better way---a way that feels like a death but leads to resurrection? Will the world be changed by my fists or harshness, or will it be transformed by the kind of love Jesus displays?
Peter wants to remain there, on the mountain. It’s a good place, away from all the people who want to kill Jesus and stop his movement...away from all the people who think of Jesus as an other. Let’s build some shelters and stay here, Peter says. But staying on the mountain isn’t going to change anything. Change happens when we come down the mountain, embrace our crosses and follow Jesus on the path of love and resurrection.
Josh Scott, Lead Pastor
Grace Pointe, Church
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!
2 You have granted him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips
3 You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
4 He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
5 Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.
6 Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the Lord;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.
8 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
9 When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from mankind.
11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.
12 You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with a drawn bow.
13 Be exalted in your strength, Lord;
we will sing and praise your might.
God’s Amazing Love for Us!
I love to read the Psalms because they bring clarity to my life; they show me that I am not alone. Many of the Psalms are hymns that were sung by the Israelites in worship. They also help us deal with life because they are about King David’s everyday struggles. We can relate to them as well because our lives are full of struggles, doubt, uncertainties and despair. Yet, they give comfort to our souls when it needs to hear God’s affirmation of us and who we are.
I love verse 2 “You have granted him his (*us our) heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his (*our) lips.” We serve an amazing God who wants to give us the desires of our hearts and what we ask in God’s name.
Psalm 21 reminds us that there are victories won when we allow God to take care of us. God gives us splendor and majesty in those moments that we need to know that we are precious; we are loved and we are cherished by the creator just as we are. For we are all beloved by God.
My hope for you this Lenten season is that you trust the Lord through the unfailing love that comes from the Most High that cannot be shaken.
For there is nothing that God won’t do for us because God so loves us and God grants us unending blessings and joy overflowing.
Let us exalt our Lord whose strength we can depend and lean on. Let us sing God’s praises every day for the love, the peace, the joy and the welcome we all receive by our Creator.
Lord, help us to know you, to trust you and to know that we can have victories in you, because you want to give us the desires of our hearts. Thank you for your unfailing love. Amen
(* Verse 2 I inserted words for us to read in the present and about us)
the Rev. Persida Rivera-Mendez, Lead Pastor
Ministerio Nueva Creación, Manchester, Connecticut
Jesus and his followers came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch the man. So Jesus held the blind man’s hand and led him out of the village. Then he spit on the man’s eyes. He laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see now?” The man looked up and said, “Yes, I see people. They look like trees walking around.” Again Jesus laid his hands on the man’s eyes, and the man opened them wide. His eyes were healed, and he was able to see everything clearly. - Mark 8:22-25, ERV
The story of my daughter and her college friend is a legend in my family. Home for a visit, she explained to her grandfather that Brad was not her boyfriend.
My father had been my earliest example of valuing all persons. He always seemed to “get it,” that each of us is created uniquely by God and that some of us are created with different gender identities. So, he tried to reassure his oldest granddaughter by saying, “Honey, I understand that Brad is gay.” She replied: “Papa, he’s not gay; he’s bi. My father said: “Mercy!”---a prayer to God to help him welcome this expanded awareness into his 75 year old understanding.
I have always appreciated the story of Jesus healing a blind man at Bethsaida, found only in Mark’s gospel. When the disciples brought the man to him, Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and laid hands on him. Then Jesus asked: “Do you see anything?” The man replied he could see people, but they looked like trees walking around. Jesus tried again.
The gradual accomplishment of this miracle parallels the gradual growth of the disciples’ understanding of who Jesus is. “Seeing” is always a work in progress. What we see and don’t see is shaped by our position and our privilege in the world. Generally, we remain blind to much of the reality that lies outside the realm of our lived experiences. God has infinite mercy for our blindness, but always invites and challenges us to an expanded awareness of people around us. God invites us to offer our blindness for deepened healing.
In my work as a leadership coach, I have observed that usually we default to binary or dualistic ways of seeing the world, to either/or thinking, unnecessarily locking ourselves into two possibilities only. There is great freedom and healing of sight when we begin to trust the infinite possibilities of how God has created us to be human.
Rev. Vicki Loflin Johnson
Leadership and Life Transition Coach
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” —Isaiah 1:18
I remember it like it was yesterday, finding the note in a plain white envelope under the windshield wiper of my car. The person who left it thinks because I am a gay man I don’t deserve to live. He said it in stalker language: “die fag.“ The police were very understanding but there was little they could do. We never found out who left the note, but it had a profound effect on me.
For a couple of days I was afraid. So many members of the LGBTQIA+ community know what it's like to be the victim of violence. Am I next?
After a few days though, my energy shifted from fear about what bad might happen to a commitment to making something good happen.
Before, I’d never reached out to colleagues in ministry who were vocal in their condemnation of LGBTQIA+ people. In fact, I pretty much wrote them off. Then, I stumbled across these words from Isaiah, Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord.
Let us reason together. I had a great deal of togetherness with people who agreed with me but had done little to reach out to people who did not. It just so happened to be Lent when all of this transpired. So, I made a Lenten practice of reaching out to other pastors who disapprove of my life.
There wasn’t much chance of changing the mind of someone who would write a note like the one I found on my car. But, I hoped that through conversation, fellowship and respect for one another, some bridges might be built. It did not take long for me to realize that what started as a fool’s errand was bearing fruit. I’m not sure a lot of minds were changed but even some of the loudest voices of condemnation began to soften.
The image Isaiah offers in this short passage reminds us that through the grace and mercy of God, even the deepest spiritual stain can be washed away; scarlet becomes white as snow. The same kind of miracle of grace can happen when we reach out to one another in community and in solidarity.
During this Lenten season I hope you will join me in working, praying and building bridges together. Only together through the grace and mercy of God can we transform our world in hope and love.
I never found out who left that note. I think of him often and hope someone someday will help him know the grace and mercy of the God who loves us all.
The Reverend Dr. Robert Wm Lowry
Pastor Fondren Presbyterian Church
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”- Psalm 42, NIV
Lent is an odd season that begins by marking heads with ashes and remembering that we will all die. The next forty days are spent focusing on repentance and reflecting on the broken places in our lives and world. All this happens as we make our way to Easter to celebrate life emerging from dead places. Lent holds longing and renewal, despair and hope.
So does Psalm 42.
The psalmist prays, thirsting for the wholeness found in God’s presence and longing for the weight of oppression to be removed. They speak as one who hopes in God. They trust in a God who is able to make new life emerge from dead, broken places. Did they write while making their own type of Lenten journey? If so, how long was their season? To hold longing and renewal, despair and hope is not just a forty day season for some; it is a reality.
Some members of our LGBTQ family will make the journey to Easter longing, thirsting to be seen, heard and held as whole and fully accepted.Their journey will include hard days of despair and gut punches from words hurled from a family member, friend, colleague, perfect stranger or thoughtless social media post.
At those times, we are the psalmist, lifting our prayer to the God of our life, asking for guidance and direction as an ally. Lent reminds us that in the midst of longing and despair, we are the named, claimed and loved children of God called to extend that same love to all of God’s children. This is the truth to which our psalmist clung.
Let this season be what it is---a back and forth of longing and renewal, despair and hope. But, don’t walk it alone; walk it alongside your neighbor.
May we find and be trusted friends making the journey together, pouring out our souls together, thirsting for wholeness together, longing for oppression to be removed...together. And may we never let anyone forget that they, too, are named, claimed and loved children of God.
Rev. Dawn Douglas Flowers is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving at Parkway Hills UMC in Madison, Mississippi.
"But strive for a greater gift and I will show you a still more excellent way'. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love (agape) I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” - I Corinthians 12:31-13:1
After spending a whole chapter teaching a divided church about the power of the Spirit and its impact, in one verse Paul raises the bar even more. After speaking to all the varieties of being in community and striving to be a witness to a pagan world, Paul says it is all for naught if the foundation for ministry is not grounded in love--agape, unconditional love--for others and for the whole of the community. Love is the witness that authenticates our talk with our walk.
During these forty days of Lent, I invite you to reflect on the experiences of your life when love has motivated you to see beyond the surface of a circumstance when the easy way was to judge or rationalize. If you are a parent, you certainly understand this context. Tough love is required, as well as, compassion and common sense when navigating your child or teen's psyche.
Loving folk who are different in any context is a reach and leap of faith sometimes. Several years ago before I was married, someone I pursued romantically for several months came out to me as gay. The revelation impacted me on several levels. It made me confront my prejudice because she didn't "look gay.” I am ashamed to admit that, but it is true. Thirty years later, we reconnected. There was the remnant of friendship that allowed us to re-engage and reframe our friendship. She has been in a committed relationship for 10 years. And I have told my spouse the story. My spouse and I have different views on same sex relationships. However, we mutually love and respect one another.
I want to be part of a church that is not afraid to embrace diversity and creativity. I want to be part of a community where love, respect, integrity and honesty affect our values and goals. You can't legislate love, nor can you diminish its power. It is God's gift, the Apostle Paul says. It is God's greatest gift.
I do not know what the future holds. I believe love wins. I hope decency and common sense overcome hatred and fear. I pray the Tribe called United Methodist will strive for a more excellent way so that all of those who are called to use our gifts may be undergirded in the greatest love of all.
Rev. Rob Gill
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28, NIV
Giving it all up to Love
These words, particularly the reference to male and female, are quite striking for us who seek to be one in Christ in a world so insistent on categorizing people. Historically, these categories determine so much.
As we prepare for Easter in this Lenten season, we are preparing for the most profound revelation of God's Love. We await the unconditional love that affirms us as the good that God created when we came into being. We aspire to be loved unconditionally, yet often we condition our love for others on a whole host of categories that leave us living in a world of judgment still longing for Love. We all aspire to unconditional love without realizing there is no such thing as conditional love, for conditional love is not love; it is judgment.
Perhaps this Lenten season we can endeavor to give up those categories that keep us from loving and learn to love in the knowledge that it is unconditional. It is only then that Jesus' commandments regarding love begin to come into focus and make sense.
In an age when gender fluidity has become common parlance, its shock to some arises because of our blindness to the normative gender rigidity we’ve lived with for so long, ignoring Paul's words to the Galatians. Much of the LGBTQ+ community is no less affected by these views. Paul challenges us: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
May this Lenten season allow us to give up those views that keep us from seeing people for who they are and not how we categorize them. And may God give us the grace to give up all of our categories of judgment for Love. That is what God has done in Christ.
The Rev. Frederick Clarkson
Spanish-Language Ministry Coordinator
Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina