The Lenten Devotional is a faith-filled resource that compiles meditations written by 47 faith leaders from across the United States. This project and other public education work with faith leaders in HRC's Project One America states and HRC's Faith and Religion Program is made possible in part by the generous support of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John to the top of a high and lonely hill, and as they watched, his appearance changed so that his face shone like the sun and his clothing became dazzling white. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with him. Peter blurted out, “Sir, it’s wonderful that we can be here! If you want me to, I’ll make three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But even as he said it, a bright cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am wonderfully pleased with him. Obey him.” At this the disciples fell face downward to the ground, terribly frightened. Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said, “don’t be afraid.” And when they looked, only Jesus was with them. As they were going down the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead. - Matthew 17:1-9
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” are the words I share as I place the cross for Ash Wednesday. In that moment, I ask us to confront our own mortality as human beings on this finite earth, a sharp turn from the Christmas and Epiphany seasons of feasting and celebrating.
Last year, a student suggested we celebrate the season of Lent with glitter ash. It began with Parity who wanted to affirm members of the LGBTQIA community who too often feel excluded from churches where they find themselves baptized and confirmed but no longer welcomed fully as they are.
As I found a way to mix unicorn glitter with oil, I made the sign of the cross on young people who exemplify church for me...who vision full inclusion into the life of the church...who know love is love. I offered words of assurance and blessings of acceptance. Parity said, “Glitter is irresistible and irrepressible…[It] never gives up, and neither do we.”
Jesus transformed into something rather glittery on the mountaintop with Peter, James and John. God’s voice reminded them who Jesus is—a beloved son. All too soon, Jesus leads them down the mountain to wander on an unforgiving road. Jesus is always aware where he is headed. He will not be fooled into thinking that even as the Son of God, he will cheat his way out of Death’s grip. Yet, Jesus never gives up.
We live each day knowing that Death can’t be cheated and Life shouldn’t be cheapened. Life should be celebrated as one that God has given us. We are all beloved children of God just as we are. Jesus came down the mountain to show us how to live abundantly even in an unforgiving and unjust world.
This Lenten season, I offer palm ashes, but I offer glitter ashes, too, with all my hope that one day the entire church will follow Jesus on the road he forged—a road of transformation and full communion for our LGBTQIA friends and family.
Glitter never gives up; neither do we.
Rev. J.J. Whitney is an ordained United Methodist elder who serves as the chaplain of Hendrix College.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-21, ERV
Beloved by God
During recent sabbatical travels in Southeast Asia, I participated in guided meditations led by a Buddhist monk. The meditations focused on being present to the act of breathing. As simple as the exercise was, my mind was constantly flooded with thoughts of the day and the outrageous violence and injustices inflicting trauma on the world. The discipline of meditation is not to ignore or dismiss these thoughts but to turn the focus to breath which gives life. The spiritual practice of Lent is centered on turning away from what diminishes or does not give life and treasuring that which gives life.
Very early in Jesus’s ministry, people gathered on a hillside near the sea of Galilee where Jesus shared the Sermon on the Mount. In many ways, it is a manifesto for those who would follow in the way of Jesus. It begins with the Beatitudes: “Beloved are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Beloved are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mathew 5:3-11).
As I traveled through Southeast Asia, I heard from so many LGBTQ Christians who feel persecuted by their church and society. I know many people in the United States who are experiencing this as well, even within faith communities who are working to live the values of full welcome and inclusion. One queer seminary student was struggling deeply. I encouraged him to stay focused on the simple truth that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are beloved by God and God is rooting for you.
To be effective agents of justice, we must have confidence in the fact that we are beloved by God and relate to others out of the conviction that every person, as a child of God, is bestowed by God with worth and dignity that human judgment cannot set aside. This is the treasure to store up, that neither moth nor rust can consume and thieves may not break in and steal, for where treasure is rests the heart.
Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer
Executive and Team Leader
Health and Wholeness Advocacy
United Church of Christ
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. - Luke 22:24-27, NRSV
Here we find Jesus seated at the table with his disciples...his people. Commensurate with cultural conventions, they partake in the Passover meal. However, this time is different. In the wake of this particular meal, Jesus is bearing the weight of his ultimate fate. It’s a somber moment and also a controversial one. While Jesus is on the precipice of giving the ultimate sacrifice, his disciples are jockeying for positions of power. And, as he was wont to do, in an instant, the deft rabbi disrupts the conventional thinking with a radical notion of power.
At the core of any serious organization or movement for justice is the interrogation and disruption of asymmetrical power relationships. It is about asking the question, “How is power operating in our culture?” The inequitable distribution of power, unfortunately, has been the hallmark of American society. At once it is the albatross around the necks of those who find themselves under the yoke of systemic oppression, and the passport for the privileged to realize the proverbial American Dream.
This use and abuse of power makes that dream a nightmare for my LGBTQ family, especially those of color. They find themselves victims of the many manifestations of power over – the power to other, the power to degrade, the power to erase, the power to do violence, the power to kill, the power to make one an abomination -- wielded by the hands of supremacy run amok. It is a power over that weaponizes language, policies and practices to fabricate a hierarchy among humanity.
Jesus disassembles the mental models of supremacy and human hierarchy, by reminding his people that his vision for the world finds power in service not domination. Jesus encourages us who are able to move through space cloaked in the privilege of cisgender heteronormativity, to have the courage to go and get our own people and challenge ourselves to change behavior and do better.
God of all power, may the hubris, fears, insecurities and ignorance that fuel our obsessions with power over, be overcome with wisdom, compassion, acceptance and humility, so that we may choose to use our power for good.
Rev. Dr. Sterling E. Freeman
CounterPart Consulting, LLC
centering power for structural change
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. - Psalm 139:13-16, NIV
Every year in March, my town celebrates potters by hosting a Souper Mudfest. Preparations start way ahead of time. Potters begin forming their bowls; promoters spark interest by appearing on television stations to announce this great opportunity to visit the Bay and help feed the hungry. It is one of the finest opportunities for this small town to build community and help others.
Everything must be ready for the second Saturday in March when hundreds line up to purchase a bowl and make their way to the retailers to fill it with homemade soup. Needless to say, each chef creates a culinary delight to outdo the one made the year before, and the potters, well, we just try to keep the beauty in our craft.
Today I had to complete 16 more bowls to meet my commitment of 100. As I sat behind the wheel, my mind raced at the expectation of completing this two-month task. The beauty of my craft was overshadowed by production.
God speaks to me in Psalm 139, and I am reminded of the care and beauty of my creation. I take a breath and relax, warmed by knowing no matter what I produce, it will be beautiful in God’s sight...flaws and all...just like us.
The Omnipotent Artist who creates out of love reminds me that I cannot hide from God’s love.
This Lent let us remind ourselves every morning that the Omnipotent Artist who creates out of love celebrates us. We cannot hide from God’s love. Each of us is wonderfully made.
O God You Search Me and You Know Me
Director of Music
First United Methodist Church
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