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.
Rivers of Living Water
Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water - John 7:38
“We all live in a watershed.”
This sentence on the riverwalk plaque caught my attention. More than tourist information, it is spiritual wisdom to ponder.
We are indeed bound together in the flowing river of God’s creativity, love and purpose.
Rivers are alive and interconnected with the natural world through which they move, collecting water from higher elevations and rising tides. If one portion is tamed a bit by dams or levees, chaos is created in other portions of river country. Every part is inextricably connected with the whole.
So it is in our shared life in the human family. We are called to a posture of wonder and care, of love and mercy. It is the divine intent that graceful living water flows through all people and all creation.
This morning prayer catches the rhythm of God's flowing purpose: New every day is your love, Great God of Light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all creation, and to devote this day to your service. Amen.
In this season of Lent, we open our hearts and lives and our churches and spaces to every person. We lay down the lessons of exclusion, rejection and judgment taught by our culture. We live differently, called to trust the power of mercy, grace and justice. We affirm the goodness of God’s creative intent and embrace LGBTQIA+ persons as our brothers and sisters, wonderfully made by God. We work for a world free of discrimination. We marvel and engage the flowing river of God's compassionate purpose.
May our faith and hope increase, flowing in the power of living water, God's good gift.
Hope Morgan Ward
Bishop, North Carolina Conference
United Methodist Church
Christ first said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings. You are not pleased with animals killed and burned or with sacrifices to take away sin.” (These are all sacrifices that the law commands.) Then he said, “Here I am, God. I have come to do what you want.” So God ends that first system of sacrifices and starts his new way. Jesus Christ did the things God wanted him to do. And because of that, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body. Christ made that sacrifice one time—enough for all time. - Hebrews 10:8-10, ERV
A famous Buddhist parable talks about human religious practice as a “finger pointing toward the moon.” My favorite version of this saying is from the movie “Enter the Dragon” when Bruce Lee tells a young martial arts student to connect his true self to his intention. The master has to repeatedly slap the student to keep him from overthinking. “Don’t think—feel!” Lee says. “It is like a finger pointing toward the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
The author of Hebrews makes a similar statement about ritual sacrifice. The symbols and rituals of religious life are intended to point us to something deeper, but we often wind up overthinking the symbols—and the rules that go with them. We are supposed to feel God’s intention for the world, uniting our will with God’s will. The author puts the words of Psalm 40 into Jesus’ mouth. “I know you’re not after sacrifices and offerings,” Jesus says to his heavenly parent. “That’s why you’ve given me this body. So I’m offering it to do your will.”
The Jesus who violated the Sabbath commandments by letting his disciples eat some grain, or by healing, was not actually breaking the law but carrying out God’s will. “The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath,” was his retort to the legalists who tried to frame him. Jesus did not overthink God’s will. He felt it in his bones. He knew religious sacrifices were fingers pointing to something deeper and grander, so he became one. We who follow him know that our salvation isn’t in someone else’s finger but in the heavenly glory of the moon that pulls our eyes upward.
Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr.
Saint Junia UMC
While Jesus was walking, he saw a man who had been blind since the time he was born. Jesus’ followers asked him, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Whose sin made it happen? Was it his own sin or that of his parents?” Jesus answered, “It was not any sin of this man or his parents that caused him to be blind. He was born blind so that he could be used to show what great things God can do. - John 9:1-3
The ninth chapter of John is full of hard-hitting lessons, and I encourage you to read it. For this meditation, I’d like to focus on this particular story. A lot of people have the idea that suffering is caused by an individual’s misdeeds. We want to know why bad things happen. Many of us tend to blame the victim. We spend a lot of time and emotional energy trying to figure out what people did to bring illness or pain on themselves or who is to blame. Some charlatans exploit this way of thinking by blaming natural disasters and epidemics on the “evils” of one group of people or the other. In truth, there is often no answer to why bad things happen.
Jesus teaches us that wondering who sinned when we see suffering is not the point, not the right response. The Christian response is to reach out in love to the afflicted and show God’s love and glory with a healing touch. We may not be able to restore sight to the blind in the literal sense, but we can open the eyes of those in pain and those around them to how God works in the world. And God works through us, as Jesus taught us. God works through us when we are accepting, empathic, and loving enough to our neighbors to touch them, to care for them and to share with them.
We are blessed in our ministries to others. There is no better feeling than to give of yourself to another human being. When we seek to heal others, we ourselves are healed. The feeling is both humbling and empowering, especially when we understand we are acting as Jesus’s disciples in sharing His love.
So when we see suffering, the question is not “Who’s fault is it?” but “How can I show God’s glory in service to the afflicted?”
The Rev. Dr. Susan Hrostowski
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. - Matthew 3:13-15, NIV
The Power of Diversity
Whenever I come across this text, I am truly amazed at how God intentionally creates people differently, each with a role and purpose to fulfill in building the kingdom of God. In this particular text, John the Baptist feels unworthy to baptise Jesus. Despite the fact that he fed on locusts, wild honey and dressed in skin, the Lord deemed him fit to baptise the Messiah.
The life of Jesus Christ from birth to death and resurrection was a Gospel of radical inclusivity. It was a mixture of what the world considers perfect and imperfect. Yet, in the eyes of God, each individual is a piece of the puzzle needed to fulfill the plan of redemption.
This reminds us that in the body of Christ, our differences in gender, sexuality and status quo are designed to fulfill a purpose in the kingdom of God. With all the controversies in John the Baptist's way of life, his role of baptising Jesus was very important in the fulfilment of scripture and the redemption plan.
This is a call to accept our differences as saints in the body of Christ, especially in Africa where LGBTQ persons are pushed to the margins of society because of who they are. Regardless of that marginalization, all of them have a role to play in the building and growing of God’s kingdom. This calls us to love--to love without segregation--to love in that way that allows all righteousness to be fulfilled.
As we celebrate Jesus, let us love everybody the way they are just as God loves us.
Pastor Simon Anthony Mpinga
Senior pastor TFAM Uganda
Bishop Joseph W. Tolton
Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said, “You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It’s clear that he’s done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.” At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again. But they kept shouting back, “Crucify! Crucify him!” - Luke 23:13-20, MSG
Grappling with what Jesus’ death on the cross means has evolved over my life. Born in a fundamentalist tradition, I was taught a very different understanding of the Atonement than what I believe now. But, the passion of Jesus Christ still remains part of my Christian tradition.
Many churches do a dramatic reading of the passion and death of Jesus during Holy Week. Different voices are assigned to individuals and parts in the script for the congregation to speak as the crowd watching Pilate with Jesus. One of the most dramatic moments in this re-enactment is when the congregation yells out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” I had trouble with this the first time I experienced it because it felt blasphemous. How could we yell aloud those words to Pilate? It took some explaining, but soon I understood how, through my own guilt, I helped crucify Christ.
This year, whether participating in the full reading as a congregation or just hearing the verses read by a narrator, let’s remember. When we are unwilling to welcome all God’s creatures into the church, we cry aloud with the crowd, “Crucify him!” When we won't help at-risk Trans women of color say yes to their identity, we actually pierce Jesus in his side. When we refuse to speak out against the oppression of blatant systemic racism, we pound the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.
We weren’t there over 2000 years ago to see Christ suffer and die on the cross, but every time we hurt even one of God’s precious children, we are complicit in gambling over Jesus’ robe at the foot of the cross.
Grace Cox-Johnson, Artist
Male AND Female Created They Them: Genesis 1:27 and 5:2
--Chaplain Mir Plemmons. Mir is part of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, www.ecumenical-catholic-communion.org
The Hebrew here is important.
I am proud to call Rabbah Rona Matlow my friend and colleague, and strongly encourage you to go to her for learning on the Hebrew references to and language about gender in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible), specifically, http://www.rabbahrona.us/search?q=genesis.
Here, now, I invite you to reflect on the power of AND.
God created the Adam in God’s image; in the image of God, God created the Adam; male AND female. God created them...Male AND female God created them and God blessed them and called their name Adam on the day they were created. - Genesis 1:27;5:2
Our uncreated Creator is neither male nor female. Our God, who made us in God’s own image, is neither male nor female. God predates all that...and never does get around to nailing it down into the neat boxes we think they’re in. The most powerful part of the passage I quote above is that AND - because it’s a very potent AND, a connective AND. As an intersex person--one born with DSD, a difference of sex development-- this AND is huge. This AND includes me. This AND includes all of us. A deeper meaning might be “from male to female,” or even “in all the spectrum of possible characteristics, including those often considered male and female.”
Before the side of the Adam, the first being, was removed and Adam was pulled asunder to companion and procreate, Adam was all of us. Adam was all the “us”, all the human variance, we can be. In this Lent, how would it feel, what would it look and sound like if you chose to seek to be all of you, all of you that you can be...and acknowledge that each of us--and all of us--are Adam?
Lent is about a spiritual spring cleaning, a conversion from old and possibly broken habits to restoring and healing ones. Does thinking about this make you uncomfortable? Does it comfort you? Does it challenge you to open or discard a box? Does it free you to see that in this huge AND is room for each of us to find our maleness, our femaleness, our space in the in between and all that surrounds them? Is this, in fact, what the creation stories in Genesis have called us to, all along?
Chaplain Mir Plemmons. Mir is from Emmaus ECC of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, and is building a community in Renton / Kent, WA.
Come visit online:
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. - Psalm 145:8, NIV
These days, I have been filled with so much rage.
Rage at how those who hold power at the helm of our nation seek to grow ever more powerful, continuing to further disenfranchise those who are most vulnerable, those who fear a police state as they drive while Black; those who hold their pee until they get home because the public bathroom isn’t safe; those who live paycheck to paycheck.
I grew up learning anger is a sin – that that emotion is off-limits. The Bible was used to support this idea, even though that one time about Jesus turning over tables sounded like anger to me:
“After entering the temple, Jesus threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He didn’t allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks.” - Mark 11:15-17, NIV
That’s righteous anger, a Sunday School teacher taught me – the judgment of God coming through Jesus.
Meanwhile, that same teacher taught me to sing “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”
It was so confusing.
I’m grateful for the life-long teachers I’ve had who’ve helped me grapple with the Bible’s inconsistencies, with the mixed messages of love and judgment. I realize the most formative teaching I got was at home: God loves everybody, and the heart of God is big enough to hold our human contradictions.
My teachers also taught me this: that God gets angry at injustice, and God’s people are called to get angry at it, too. Audre Lorde writes in The Uses of Anger that anger is information. If I pay attention to my rage, if I listen to its rhythms and access its energy, I know I’m more likely to show up faithfully to shut-down injustice and call for a better way.
Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. - Ephesians 4:26, MSG
Right now I wonder why more people aren’t raging, aren’t filled with the righteous anger that holds people in power accountable to the responsibility of caring for all people, all the time.
What does it mean to summon that kind of rage toward a purpose? Might that be my Lenten practice?
The other day I got some of that anger out. I had a collection of art posters quoting Harvey Milk, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X and Janet Mock, among others. I grabbed a hammer and banged them into the walls of the stairwell leading up to the home office in my attic. It was so gratifying, hitting that nail on its head.
When I finished, regarding that work with satisfaction, I coiled up a bit of that anger in my fingertips. I wrote a letter to the editor. I sent an email to my Senators. I designed a flier for a justice workshop. I asked a person in charge if they had approved the gender expansive bathroom in their building yet. I sent money to an organization working for queer justice. God was in the middle of all of that, stirring up Divine wisdom and words. I felt wrapped in God’s embrace, heart-warmed for being a co-conspirator for justice, leaning into the Kin-dom promise.
Holy table-turning Jesus, Righteous God, Unleashed Spirit – stir up in us the anger at injustice that brings us the courage to call for your Way. Give us strength to move those with an entrenched commitment to the status quo. Give us the will and wisdom to speak and act without revenge, letting love be our guide. Amen.
Rev. Lois McCullen Parr (she/her/hers)