Lenten Devotionals: March 15-21, 2020

Filed under: Religion & Faith

March 15

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” - Unitarian minister Rev. Theodore Parker (Sermon “Of Justice and the Conscience,” 1853)

As a child, I remember sitting in my Sunday School class talking about what I would be giving up for Lent for the next forty plus days. This exercise never made a whole lot of sense to me; I couldn’t understand how sacrificing chocolate for the next several weeks was going to do anything other than make me grumpy at school since I had to sit next to my friends in the cafeteria, watching them devour whatever delicious goody they had packed in their lunch bag.

As an adult, sometimes I wish for the simplicity of giving up chocolate. In a world that seems all consuming and overwhelming, and is doing its absolute best to raise our anxiety levels to a constant state of alert, I wonder what it would look like to go back to the simplicity of setting a goal for ourselves and using this time as an opportunity to prepare for whatever God has in store for us.

As we prepare ourselves for another highly contentious yet immensely important election year, what would it look like if we decided that this time was our time of preparation; preparation to recenter and refocus our lives on love, humility, grace and justice?

Right now, the future of true equality and justice for all may seem hazy and dim. It may seem too distant for our tired eyes, but we must prepare our minds and our bodies if we are to keep bending the arc of the universe towards justice.

Friends, may we remember to take this time to pause, preparing our minds and our hearts for the journey ahead. Blessed be, and may it be so.

Kelli McNeal
Candidate for Unitarian Universalist Ministry

Rev. Jay McNeal
Resident Chaplain

March 16

For as long as I can remember, Lent has been my favorite season. I know, I’m a little bit of an oddball for that, but I really do love it. Lent reminds entire communities that tend to feel pretty good about themselves that we all need work.

While every single one of us is sacred, and every single one bears some sliver of the image of God, not one of us is perfect. Being human is a sacred thing and recognizing our need to grow and change and transform affirms that sanctity. This season offers a time to reflect on the truth of both parts of that statement. We are sacred and loved by God. And yet, we can do better. We can live more fully into who we are. We can love more fully the people that challenge us. And we can love more fully the self we were created to be and to become.

Imagine entire communities growing together with that reminder. I’ve heard it said that the most honest faith communities are the ones that admit they are broken when they gather, not the ones who present a facade, claiming everything is ok. Lent provides an opportunity to gather with the pretenses set aside. Lent provides an opportunity to see the brokenness in all things, and at its best, Lent points to the path that repairs them.

But maybe most importantly for us, when Lent shows us that everyone has some piece of them that needs healing and love, we see that none of us are alone in our own suffering, our own fear or our own pain. And those communities that come together with honesty about that suffering, that fear and that pain..those communities reflect the deepest holiness.

May we all find someone to share that holiness with this season.

Because you are sacred.

Because you are loved.

The Rev. Brooks Cato

March 17

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. - Isaiah 40:28-31, NIV

Reflections on Hope from a Nichiren Buddhist

In the present social climate, the source of hope is our internal life as individuals. Hope is part of our DNA. Nothing external can extinguish hope. No one can give us hope; no one can take hope away. We hope for a reimagined world, a world in which individuals are celebrated for our humanity.

For this to happen, hope cannot be a secret kept to ourselves. Those with hope awaken the hope already within the hearts of others. The true nature of this hope moves from within to without, from one person to another and another in wider and wider circles. Hope must be shared. Sharing strengthens hope.

Hope is also patient. Hope that takes longer to realize is a much stronger hope. Hope that is realized immediately is likely forgotten. Hope that takes longer to realize keeps growing; it does not stop. It grows bigger with each act of resistance, with every trouble we face, when persistence is the tool on which we must rely. We hold these bigger hopes inside ourselves.

We call on this patient hope during this season of Lent. For forty days, we examine ourselves. We look for hope. Hope is found when we commit to vast goals and dreams. Hope allows us to believe another world is possible---a world in which everyone lives with dignity---a world free from violence. This world becomes our inner determination.

When we change our inner determinations–-a process Buddhists call human revolution –-everything moves in a new direction. The moment we make a powerful resolve...the moment we take a vow...every nerve and fiber in our being orients itself toward the fulfillment of this goal or desire. We go through this process again and again as we go through life and face life’s many challenges. Our challenge is to get to that inner place where we can make new determinations.

Cervantes wrote “While there’s life there’s hope.” As long as we are alive, there is still hope. Things can still change us. Things can still change for us. We can change others. We can change the world. Anything can happen.

Eric Reece, is a Black SGL/Queer Cisgender male. Currently, they is a member of the lay Buddhist organization, Sokka Gakkai International - USA (SGI-USA), where they serve as Men's division leader in the Arkansas Chapter. For more information on the SGI please go here.

March 18

My mother, who lived with me and suffered from dementia, and I were having lunch together. She said lovingly, “You sure are getting wrinkles around your eyes”, adding, “I think it’s just been since you’ve been working from home.”

With a chuckle, it made me realize it is not now my eyes look, but how my eyes look. Do they see with thankfulness? Positivity? Do they see obstacles or solutions?

King David knew how and where to look. In Psalm 121, he said “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

We live in a time when physical improvements are attainable for all manner of reasons, but it would enhance our happiness to realize that it is what lies within us that is most important.

On a drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small Thomas Kinkade type town, I admired a “flower clock”. This 40-foot, functioning clock was comprised of blooming plants. As I returned to my car, I glanced back and saw a woman in her fifties, wearing a ball cap and glasses. Her face, neck, forearms, and hands were covered with warts and moles. A little girl was with her, dancing around and holding onto the woman's outstretched hands. The child, not caring about her companion’s appearance, was observably happy. Similarly, the woman exuded an inner joy. That scene reminded me that what we feel from the heart is much more meaningful than what we see of the outward appearance.

In this time of lent, may we focus inwardly and allow the Great Physician to perform cosmic surgery on our hearts, bringing peace to our lives.

Penn Odom

March 19

Acts 10

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism. v34

Peter’s baptism of Cornelius the Centurion and his family may be one of the most beautiful, unexpected and profound moments recorded in scripture. A commander of 100 men, Cornelius is part of the occupying Roman Army – the enemy.

God uses two dreams to communicate the Divine dream of a more united humanity. In one dream, God tells Cornelius to send men to Joppa to find Peter. In Joppa, Peter has a dream-vision while praying. A voice tells Peter to kill and eat unclean animals. Peter answers, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice replies, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

When the “unclean” visitors from Cornelius arrive at Peter’s house, Peter goes with them, violating a lifetime of religious conditioning and Biblical teaching about clean and profane people. In his teaching to the gathered Gentile assembly, Peter announces that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Peter then tells them the story of Jesus. Suddenly the Gentiles manifest signs of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter cries, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” He welcomes the first Gentiles into the Church.

Today we see the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifest in the lives and loves of our LGBTQIA neighbors, as well as, in the lives of our non-Christians neighbors. St. Paul lists these fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-restraint. Against such things there is no law.” - Galatians 5:22-23

Against such things – THERE IS NO LAW!

Lowell Grisham
Episcopal Priest, retired
Fayetteville, Arkansas

March 20

When they arrived at the other side of the lake, a demon-possessed man ran out from a graveyard, just as Jesus was climbing from the boat. This man lived among the gravestones and had such strength that whenever he was put into handcuffs and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the handcuffs from his wrists and smashed the shackles and walked away. No one was strong enough to control him. All day long and through the night he would wander among the tombs and in the wild hills, screaming and cutting himself with sharp pieces of stone. When Jesus was still far out on the water, the man had seen him and had run to meet him, and fell down before him. Then Jesus spoke to the demon within the man and said, “Come out, you evil spirit.” It gave a terrible scream, shrieking, “What are you going to do to me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!” “What is your name?”Jesus asked, and the demon replied, “Legion, for there are many of us here within this man.” Then the demons begged him again and again not to send them to some distant land. Now as it happened there was a huge herd of hogs rooting around on the hill above the lake. “Send us into those hogs,” the demons begged. And Jesus gave them permission. Then the evil spirits came out of the man and entered the hogs, and the entire herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned. The herdsmen fled to the nearby towns and countryside, spreading the news as they ran. Everyone rushed out to see for themselves. And a large crowd soon gathered where Jesus was; but as they saw the man sitting there, fully clothed and perfectly sane, they were frightened. - Mark 5:1-15, TLB

In a 2018 article in The Atlantic[1], Kanishk Tharror examines the decolonizing movements of both Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tharror writes, “The movements that sped decolonization around the world were often built on great acts of border-crossing imagination. Both Gandhi and King understood that to combat vast structures of power and domination one needed a comparably vast sense of moral purpose.”

In Mark 5, Jesus embarks on a great act of border-crossing as he crosses from his home territory in Galilee into a region that was not populated by people of his own ethnic-religious identity.

Jesus crossed a significant border. As soon as he did, he encountered a man that people thought was crazy. Jesus immediately recognized a vast force of evil at work in this man and called out this force. “Tell me your name.” The dominating force answered back, “My name is Legion.”

At that moment, this story crosses the boundary from a story about a crazy man with a demon encountering a first century miracle-worker to a story about the dehumanizing power of colonization and God’s work to liberate those held captive. Legion had only one meaning in Mark’s day. It was a term for the largest company in a Roman Army. Roman legions represented the colonizing power of Rome that set out to suppress and oppress. This man suffered from systemic powers of evil. Contemporary psychology might say he suffered from the colonial mindset—the collective depression, anxiety and other widespread mental health challenges found in populations experiencing colonization.

Jesus recognizes the evil oppressing this man and sets him free to be himself again fully.

This Lenten season, we are all too aware that the powers of colonization are still at work in our world. These powers go by many names—white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia. All those forces continue to be used to suppress and oppress others. Jesus crosses borders and confronts these powers.

This Lenten season my hope is that Jesus will inspire us in our own great acts of border-crossing imagination.

Rev. Dr. Rusty Edwards
Senior Minister
First Baptist Church
Halifax, Nova Scotia

March 21

The Lord said to Moses, “Take some of the leaders of Israel with you, and go on ahead of the people. Take along the stick with which you struck the Nile. I will stand before you on a rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” Moses did so in the presence of the leaders of Israel. - Exodus 17:5-6, GNT

Panache: flamboyant confidence of style or manner.

Perhaps one of the most memorable episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race involved a mannequin head with its own name, Ornatia. Though the queen below, Vivacious, didn’t make it to the final rounds, that mannequin head has continued as a queer icon—a symbol of our creativity, uniqueness, nerve and talent. One act of boldness cleared the path for a season of unmatched panache.

Moses, a Brown religious refugee, braved the unknown consequences of walking out of his unsafe environment in search of a more equitable world—a land of promise.

As queer people, many of us face the difficult choice of leaving unsafe environments in search of a place and a people who value who we are. It’s not always easy, and sometimes, after leaving, we may feel even more alone and abandoned. It’s in these moments that God reminds us of our unique ability, as queer people, to persevere—to press on...with panache.

Even in this desert moment of our day, where queer people, refugees, people of color, those who practice other religions and those at the intersections of these identities feel abandoned and exhausted from the journey toward liberation, we can recall Ornatia—that bedazzled staff-like pillar. We can remember that we have overcome much together. We look back to Stonewall and Flint and see the way our intersectional communities rallied together to demand a better world. We look forward to our future—a future bejeweled by a spring of hope found deep within our collective queer ability to persevere---to press on...with panache.

Whoever you are. Wherever you’ve been. This is our time to remember, vision and continue to clear the path together toward liberation for all.

J.J. Warren is an author, preacher and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in the religious realm. He is a seminary student at Boston University School of Theology, a graduate of New York's Sarah Lawrence College and a certified candidate for ordination in The United Methodist Church.

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 Religion and Faith Program is made possible in part by the generous support of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.