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.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. - Psalm 51:10, ESV
I suspect anyone reading this has experienced saying “I’m sorry” to another person. We’ve all been there, whether it was a partner, sibling, friend, supervisor or parent - at some point - we’ve all had to say “I’m sorry.” It’s rarely easy, and it’s never something we get used to.
As a child, I remember getting carried away while playing at a friend’s house. The end result was the toppling over and subsequent smashing of dishes on the edge of the kitchen counter. It was an awful mess which we were ordered to clean up. In the process of our clean up, I asked his mother where to throw away the broken bits and pieces of dishes. She instructed me to take them into the garage and put the broken pieces into a 5-gallon bucket in her mosaic studio. When I dumped the smashed dishes into the bucket it became clear that those broken pieces would eventually be used to create beautiful art. After our clean up, I walked into the kitchen and sheepishly said, “I’m sorry,” to my friend’s mother. It was scary, embarrassing and difficult to simply say, “I’m sorry.” Yet, in spite of the fear and embarrassment, there was relief and a sense of renewal in having done what I was supposed to do.
Lent is a time for God’s people to offer contrition for things done and things left undone. Those apologies, those amends allow God to give renewal and grace. As noted above, beautiful art can come from brokenness; likewise, our amends and recognition of brokenness give God the opportunity to create something beautiful and new.
Peace to you,
Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi
Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.” Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone. Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.” After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity. - Luke 4:1-13, CEB
As an older, gay man and activist, the temptation in the wilderness resonates very strongly with me. I don’t feel as powerful or dedicated or holy as Jesus in this passage, but spending years advocating for my LGBTQ siblings has often felt like being stranded hungry and powerless in the desert. What are the temptations? None are as dramatic as these three but very real all the same. Many times things seem hopeless, like all my efforts and plans are in vain, like it would be easy to shrug, give up the cause and walk away.
But I am encouraged when I think of Jesus’ responses: There are bigger things to consider. There are more powerful and orderly things going on. Respect them.
And, don’t forget that God is in control…
This is the most powerful
If we just keep the situation in perspective, acknowledging an all-knowing, all-loving God who orders the universe and history, we will prevail. We cannot give up the struggle because we are all part of the grand scheme of things. If Dr. Martin Luther King is correct that, “the arc of history is long but always bends toward justice,” then we are called to be instruments of Justice.
All God’s children are equal in God’s sight and should be in ours. Our LGBTQ+ siblings deserve their equal place in society. We are to bring this change about by acting justly, loving kindly, and walking humbly with our Creator.
Lay Servant, UMC and Arkansas Conference Coordinator of Open ARMs Reconciling Methodists
God calls the people to fasting and repentance.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of God is coming, it is near, a day of shadow and gloom, a day of clouds and thick shadow! Like a blanket there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations. "Yet even now says the Sovereign, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Sovereign, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether God will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Sovereign your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast: call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of God, weep and say, "Spare your people, O Sovereign, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations." - Joel 2:1-2, 12-17a, revised edition: Inclusive Language Lectionary
Commentary on reading by Rolf Jacobson:
Unlike the prophets Amos, Micah or Isaiah, Joel did not emphasize repentance as turning away from evil and toward a life of justice. Rather, Joel emphasized repentance as turning to the Lord in worship. Joel does not focus on justice, name specific sins or single out specific people or castes of people for their sins. Joel bids people to turn toward God in repentance and worship.
In my experience, the meaning of repent and turn to God means we must prepare. I can say I am repentant and rip my garments so others might see my repentance. But if I am not prepared to make amends where I can and truly change the course of my journey, then it is not true repentance. During Lent, instead of giving up food or some bad habit, we should make changes in our journeys both as individuals and as faith communities. Add a good habit.
God is pleased when we treat each other with equality, love and compassion. Sometimes it is difficult to do, especially if you come from a community like the LGBTQ community, that others believe are not deserving.
All who serve God and do their best to follow the teachings of Christ are deserving.
Rev. Roy Lenington, Associate Pastor
Spirit of Peace NWA
I may speak in different languages, whether human or even of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am only a noisy bell or a ringing cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, I may understand all secrets and know everything there is to know, and I may have faith so great that I can move mountains. But even with all this, if I don’t have love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have to help others, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned. But I gain nothing by doing all this if I don’t have love. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and it cannot be made angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love is never happy when others do wrong, but it is always happy with the truth. Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits. - 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, ERV
My job requires me to speak to people and groups about the LGBTQ community and our experiences. Usually, I speak about my own experience growing up in houses of worship. In my family, church wasn’t optional despite the stinging messages it often delivered.
As a youth, I struggled with my sexuality and my identity. This path was not made easier by many of the sermons I heard in church. However, even as messages were delivered about the lack of acceptance to people like me, I was always struck by the Word itself. This is one of my favorite scriptures because it challenges us to love beyond most conventional definitions of love.
As a queer Black woman working for an elected official, I am often on big stages, thrust into spaces my little self could never have dreamed or conceived. Most times, I am thankful; I am encouraged. Sometimes, though, I am met by folks who are not so encouraging. This scripture always keeps me centered. For me, being centered means loving myself. It means loving others despite where they may be on various issues, and despite how they show up towards me and my community. This scripture never fails to comfort and challenge me. It helps me love perceived enemies. It keeps me from being a score keeper. It reminds me to always be open, to always forgive. It keeps me from getting lost in complaints and compliments. It helps me ask the tough questions about my motives in everything I do.
The Dalia Lama said, “Love is the absence of judgement. Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
The best advice I can give anyone is to love. Love hard, and love often. When you reach your perceived limit, love more. Each of us needs to practice the act of authentic love for our fellow man. That’s what God would want.
It simply feels good to love and be loved in return.
Lord, on this day, I ask that you let love guide our way. Amen.
Human Rights Campaign - South Florida
Steering Committee Co-Chair
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. - John 4: 28-30, NRSV
The Gospel of John reads like a sci-fi book. Jesus often talks like he’s out of this world...like he’s from a galaxy far, far away. I simply tune out, probably because I like a more fleshy, earthly Jesus.
Then, there’s this story. Jesus crossed into territory no good first century Jewish man is supposed to go. He talks to a woman, an outsider, a woman outsider!
It's not just any woman. This is the woman many of us have heard has a little bit of a reputation. She’s had some husbands. When people see her, they gossip or whisper or stop talking.
Frankly, this woman couldn’t care less what people think about her. She engages Jesus on possibly the first deep theological conversation recorded in the gospels. She throws down with Jesus on worship, sacred space, who’s worthy and who’s not. She knows her worth even if others don’t. She encounters a person in Jesus who finally sees her with the dignity she deserves.
This is even more evident in vs. 28: “She went back to the city and told people to follow her.” If she had the reputation the church has claimed for hundreds of years, why would people from the city follow her? John says the entire city came out to see Jesus. This outsider...this unworthy one…this person of ill repute is the one who holds the center of the Gospel!
People may make up their own narrative about you, your sexuality and your identity. But you know who you are; You know your story. Most importantly, God knows who you are and sees you. God knows the power of your story to transform the world.
Go ahead. Run through this world. Shout at the top of your lungs, “Come and see… I’ve got a story to share!”
Rev. Lydia Muñoz is the lead pastor of Swarthmore UMC, an internationally inclusive reconciling congregation of the United Methodist Church outside of Philadelphia.
The Art of Bucket-filling
Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard the report that he was making and baptizing more followers than John. (But really, Jesus himself did not baptize anyone; his followers baptized people for him.) So he left Judea and went back to Galilee. On the way to Galilee, he had to go through the country of Samaria. In Samaria Jesus came to the town called Sychar, which is near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his long trip, so he sat down beside the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to the well to get some water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” This happened while his followers were in town buying some food. The woman answered, “I am surprised that you ask me for a drink! You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman!” (Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans. Jesus answered, “You don’t know what God can give you. And you don’t know who I am, the one who asked you for a drink. If you knew, you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water.” The woman said, “Sir, where will you get that living water? The well is very deep, and you have nothing to get water with. Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob? He is the one who gave us this well. He drank from it himself, and his sons and all his animals drank from it too.” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I give will never be thirsty again. The water I give people will be like a spring flowing inside them. It will bring them eternal life. - John 4: 1-14, ERV
Are you a bucket filler? Basically, those who are bucket fillers treat others well. Studies show that if we want our children to thrive physically, spiritually and emotionally, we must fill their buckets. We must praise, affirm and encourage them on their journey toward full maturity. Bucket filling has the power to transform. Perhaps the most extraordinary example of this phenomenon is found in Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well.
At a time when “bucket filling” was rare—in a culture where lepers were required to cry “unclean” as they moved from place to place—where women were forced to hide behind screens in the synagogue, separated and hidden from men—where the only good Samaritan was a dead Samaritan as far as the religious elites were concerned, Jesus broke down barriers between people. He ignored long-held social and religious restrictions that had separated people for centuries. Wherever he went, Jesus proclaimed the good news that God loves all people. Jesus was the ultimate bucket filler!
The pinnacle of Jesus’ bucket filling came at a place called Sychar where he encountered a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Both Jesus and the woman showed incredible courage that day. One brave and thirsty man asked for water from someone whose gender, race and religion made her the wrong person to serve him. One brave and generous woman gave water to someone whose gender, race and religion made him the wrong one to receive.
These kinds of encounters, whether accidental or intentional, have the power to change us—to fill our buckets and the buckets of others. Whenever someone invites us to step up and do something outside our comfort zone, he/she/they are not emptying our bucket; they are filling it. They are forcing us to draw deep within ourselves—to ask ourselves “What does it mean to be faithful? What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be filled with the living water that gushes up to eternal life?”
Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are like the whole family of Israel. The people of Israel say, ‘Our bones have dried up; our hope is gone. We have been completely destroyed!’ So speak to them for me. Tell them this is what the Lord God says: ‘My people, I will open your graves and bring you up out of them! Then I will bring you to the land of Israel. My people, I will open your graves and bring you up out of your graves, and then you will know that I am the Lord. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will come to life again. Then I will lead you back to your own land. Then you will know that I am the Lord. You will know that I said this and that I made it happen.’” This is what the Lord said. - Ezekiel 37:11-14, NIV
Ever feel as if hope is lost, and you are cut off completely from sources of life? To be cut off from acceptance, love, gratitude, opportunity or community is indeed a separation from life.
As we journey through this Lenten season, we are reminded of the limits of our power. There is so much we would change if we could.
We are reminded of the limits of our energy — we would do more if only our strength did not wane.
We are reminded of the limits of our vision — if only we could see what lies ahead.
We are reminded of the limits of our wisdom — we long to bring vibrancy to this life.
Ezekiel writes to a people who were struggling with the limits of life and hope. He has a vision of a valley full of dry bones, devoid of life. “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”
And yet God’s Spirit is at work. That valley of dry bones comes to life again. What was torn apart is put back together; what was lifeless becomes vibrant; what was hopeless becomes a place of joy and flourishing. “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
I am convinced that where we see dry bones, God’s Spirit is at work, even now, to return life, hope, love, gratitude and acceptance. What feels impossible God’s love overcomes. What feels overwhelming cannot withstand God’s ongoing work of transformation. Even as we know our own limits, may we celebrate the limitlessness of God’s power, love and grace.
May our journey through this season of Lent lead us to look for ways to join in this joyful work. It is the work of faith!
Dr. David Cassady is the president of BSK: Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. He is also host of the weekly Faithelement podcast.