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Saturday, March 22

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 88; Exodus 14:10-15:18; Matthew 28:1-10; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 27

One of my character defects is that I’m not a person who does well with abstraction; I LOVE things to be as concrete as possible. Because of this, I don’t have the ability to appreciate a lot of things that other people do. Take me to an art museum, for instance, and I’ll avoid the modern art room(s) like the plague. I avoid the modern art room(s) because I have little if any ability to “get” what the artist is trying to convey. I’d much prefer to look at a striking landscape painting – something that I know what it’s about. Same thing goes with my ability to absorb abstract language. For years I avoided poetry like the plague since poetry never seemed to “get to the point” in ways that my concrete mind could grasp. Consequently, when it came to my times of devotion, I had a difficult time engaging the Psalms. Everything about my perspective on poetry changed for me when I entered seminary, however, because I had a great professor who helped me experience the Psalms not just as abstract expression of a particular literary form but as a concrete expression of one’s faith life. I started paying attention to the depth of emotion and the permission-giving nature of the Psalms to help us express ourselves no matter what stage of our faith journey we are in. Needless to say, I finally fell in love with the Psalms. Today’s first Psalm does a beautiful job capturing the mood of this Holy Saturday – a day in Holy Week that helps us understand what it means to spend time in a dark void, not knowing what lies ahead. Eugene Peterson paraphrased Psalm 88:9-12 to read as follows: “I call to you, God; all day I call. I wring my hands, I plead for help. Are the dead a live audience for your miracles? Do ghosts ever join the choirs that praise you? Does your love make any difference in a graveyard? Is your faithful presence noticed in the corridors of hell? Are your marvelous wonders ever seen in the dark, your righteous ways noticed in the Land of No Memory?” Those words help me emotionally “get” the depth of feeling involved in Holy Saturday. Of course these raw emotions aren’t just restricted to Holy Saturday – they are emotions we sometimes encounter in our day-to-day lives. I know I felt these feelings most powerfully in my life when during my third and final year of seminary I thought I had lost my call to ordained ministry. I spent nearly five months living in a tomb like state until the stone was rolled away and I experienced a sense of new life by reclaiming my call to ordained ministry. Have you ever had a similar experience – a time in your life when you felt the constraints of the grave pushing in on you? If so, let us give thanks for a God who is with us not just during the good times, but the bad as well: a God who is big enough to receive our heart-felt pleadings at even the darkest of moments of our lives; a God who NEVER leaves us in the grave! May we draw strength from this realization in these final hours before the dawn that always lies before us. Til next time…

Friday, March 21

Today’s lectionary Readings: Psalm 54; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; John 19:17-30; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; Psalm 22

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is how God can be manifest in even the most unlikely of details of our life – regardless of how large or small that detail might seem. The trick then becomes being able to stop and find God’s presence in that most unlikely place. I found this lesson to be true once again in one of the small details contained in today’s difficult passage from the Gospel of John. The detail that caught my eye was contained in John 19:19-22. In that section, we are told that Pilate – a man who had earlier been portrayed as cowardly and insecure – did something completely out of character. He has a bold notice prepared to place above Jesus on the cross that read: “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.” When the religious authorities heard this, they tried to do what they had done throughout the story – manipulate events to get their desired outcome. In this case, they try to get the wording of Pilate’s notice changed to “This Man Claimed to be King of the Jews”. For once, however, their request fell on closed ears. At a moment that must have seemed from the outside to be a moment of tremendous vulnerability and crushing defeat for Jesus, there hung these unexpected and bold words that proclaimed the uniqueness of this man. What a shocking turn of events indeed! Perhaps there are areas in your life – Good Friday areas where you too seem tremendously vulnerable or on the verge of a crushing defeat – where you think it impossible to find any expression of God’s presence and grace. If so, spend some time examining the details a bit more closely. If you look closely enough, you might just find an unexpected marker in your own life that makes an unexpected and bold proclamation of God’s presence. Til next time…

Thursday, March 20

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 102; Exodus 12:1-14; John 13:1-15; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Psalm 142

When I was in my journey toward ordination, my mentor suggested I read a little book by a former United Methodist bishop of the Rocky Mountain Conference – a man by the name of Melvin Wheatley. The title of his book was Christmas is for Celebrating. One of the memorable chapters in the book had to do with the importance of receiving. When you think about it, for a people whose faith is predicated on receiving the grace and mercy of God as revealed through Jesus; Bishop Wheatley’s point only makes sense. And yet for many of us raised in the faith, we have become so good at giving that the notion of receiving is downright hard. We see this played out in today’s story from the Gospel of John. In that story, Jesus – sensing what lie ahead – decided to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter, however, balked at Jesus’ idea. He was so use to playing the role of giver that the notion he might actually receive something like a foot washing seemed repugnant to him. Jesus made it clear that he must switch roles when he said: “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing” (John 13:8 – The Message). So why was the notion of receiving so hard for Peter? Why is it so hard for us? Probably because receiving is about two things we would much rather forgo in our daily lives – humility and a sense of perspective. The humility involved in the simple act of receiving requires us to confront the uncomfortable fact that we can’t always provide everything for ourselves; the sense of perspective one gains through the act of receiving reminds us where the source of all resources really lies (once again, outside of ourselves!). It’s no wonder we like to give better than receive! This Maundy Thursday, I invite you to honestly explore your willingness to receive. For your capacity to receive will in many ways determine your ability to fully appreciate and experience the Easter event that lies just around the corner. Til next time…

Wednesday, March 19

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 41; Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21-30; Hebrews 12:1-13; Psalm 55

Last night at our church’s lectionary discussion group, we were kicking around our experience of Psalm 118. One of the sticking points that many of us had regarding the language used in the Psalm had to do with the psalmist’s desire to rub his enemy’s face in the dirt. This just didn’t seem like the God of grace, mercy, and compassion that we knew. And then one of the group members made an insightful remark. He said, “When I read those passages, I don’t think of the enemy purely in human terms, I think of it in terms of issues I face – issues like greed, envy, jealousy, etc. That helps me understand in different ways what the psalmist might be trying to get at.” I loved that remark! And it came in especially handy this morning as I read the psalmist’s words in Psalm 41:2: “God looks after us all, makes us robust with life. Lucky to be in the land, we’re free from enemy worries” (The Message). What a powerful experience it is to read today’s Psalm from this new perspective. Can you imagine a life free of worries – not just from neighboring peoples but from things like fear, control, and worry! This concept of thinking of enemy as an issue rather than a person also helped give me new insights into the Passion Story. It’s so easy to approach the Passion Story purely from a traditional perspective and view Jesus’ enemies only as people like Pilate, Judas, the religious authorities, and the Roman officials. But were they the real threats Jesus faced? Or were the biggest threats Jesus faced things like apathy, the desire for comfort, and the quest for control? Today I invite you to think about the most powerful enemies you face. Think about your enemies perhaps in a new way. Instead of thinking about people (i.e. your demanding supervisor or your cranky neighbor), think about your enemies as issues. Then seek God’s empowering presence in your life to help you combat those enemies. Perhaps then you’ll begin to get a taste of life where you too are free from enemy worries. Til next time…

Tuesday, March 18

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 71; Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:20-36; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Psalm 110

The notion of letting go in order to gain something – a notion central to Holy Week – is a pivotal part not only of my personal theology, but of my personal experience as well. This idea was beautifully captured in John 12:25. Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words here to read: “In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal” (The Message). Let me tell you a bit of my personal experience of these words. Back in the winter of 1998-98, the life that I had spent 10 years building following my graduation from college seemed to finally be culminating. After a decade of rich professional experiences in the human services field, I took a huge risk and leapt into the political arena to try to affect the systemic changes I felt called to address. At the ripe old age of 30, it seemed to folks around me MY plans were finally coming to fruition. And they were right. There was just one problem. My entire life to that point was organized according to MY plans. Few realized that I was wrestling to reconcile MY plans with another plan that was emerging within me. This emerging plan wasn’t coming from me – it was coming from somewhere else. The only problem in terms of reconciling MY plan with this emerging plan was that they led me in totally opposite directions. My plan, for instance, was all about acquiring institutional power and using it to affect change according to MY understanding. The emerging plan, on the other hand, was about letting go of power and risking marginalization and vulnerability. MY plan was about staying exactly where I was and continuing to nurture my hard-earned reputation in the community. The emerging plan was about leaving everything behind, moving 1,200 miles away, and starting all over. MY plan, in short, was about serving my needs. The emerging plan was about giving my life in service – first to God, and then to others. This emerging plan of course was my call to ministry. Given the dramatic circumstances of the situation I just described, I wish I could tell you that the most difficult decision I ever made in my life was the decision to leave MY plan behind and follow God’s call. Truthfully, however, I can’t say that. I can’t say that because a funny thing happened: the more I listened for God’s call, the easier the decision to follow that call became. In fact, the decision to follow God’s life-giving, life-affirming call on my life became so natural that it eventually didn’t even seem like a decision at all! These past 10 years that I have spent leaving MY plan – my LIFE – behind and embracing God have been an amazing realization of Jesus’ words: “If you let [life] go, reckless in your love, you’ll have [life] forever, real and eternal.” Are there areas of your life where you are still holding on to life – YOUR life – in ways that are ironically destroying it? If so, in this season of letting go, I invite you to let go and get a taste of this resurrection life for yourself – not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now as well. Til next time…

Monday, March 17

Today’s Lectionary Readings: Psalm 69:1-23; Isaiah 49:1-7; John 12:1-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; Psalm 36

Whenever I hear the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus, I’m always pushed a little beyond my comfort zone. You see having been raised by a father who was a product of the Great Depression, I learned very early in life to be extremely careful with my resources (that’s a polite way of saying I’m very cheap). Needless to say, it’s easier for me than most people to relate to concerns about Mary’s “frivolous” use of expensive oils on Jesus’ feet. And while my reservations about Mary’s action aren’t born out of a desire to embezzle funds, a part of me can relate to Judas’ feeling that the money could be better used elsewhere. The challenge of the story for me then is to move beyond my narrow perceptions of the situation and my need for control and be willing to do what Mary did - make an extravagant gesture of love and appreciate. Such a gesture can be made in one of a thousand ways: it can be done financially; it can be done with the gift of time; it can be done with a gift of talents; you name it. The point is to move beyond your comfort zone and make an extravagant offering in response to your faith. During this Holy Week, I invite you to muster your resources and make a similar offering in love and appreciation for all that God has done for you. Such a selfless gesture might just help you get ready for Easter in ways that you never even knew you needed to. Til next time…