by Bob Brown
Scripture: Mark 10: 17-31
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
I have heard this passage many times but know for a fact, that I could not sell all of my stuff. I recently read a sermon on this topic and the author concluded with: If you want to follow Jesus, it’s going to be costly.
But I would offer that there are various forms of possessions. Aside from material possessions, there is the possession of talent – that God-given ability to paint, sing, lead and even preach. And there is the possession of time, that period set aside after work.
You can use these possessions to benefit and glorify God. You could volunteer once a month and serve the homeless/under-employed through the Breakfast or Supper Clubs; you could take one week of your vacation time and volunteer for a mission trip to Honduras or the Appalachian Mountains; you could give one Friday evening a month to Lost and Found Youth to assist getting LGBT youth off of the streets; you could become a volunteer to package meals with Project Open Hand. The possibilities are endless and the rewards are priceless.
As you are sitting reading this, either at your computer or in a comfortable chair, look around and think about what possessions you have that you can “liquidate.”
Prayer: My father, you have given me so much and I admit that I have taken it all for granted. Forgive me and open my heart and eyes to what I can do in your name for those I come in contact with each day. Amen.
by Cheryl Crook Thompson
Scripture: Exodus 7:8-24
This passage starts the tale of the plagues of Egypt. (You’ll want to go back and read it…I’ll wait.)
Challenge number one: God tells Moses, who commands Aaron, to throw down his staff and it will turn into a snake. This was way cool, especially when Aaron’s snake/staff devoured all of the snakes that Pharaoh’s magicians conjured up.
Challenge number two : God tells Moses, who commands Aaron, to wave his staff over the water, and ALL of the waters in Egypt change into blood, even the water in vessels for cooking and drinking. At this point, the whole area is pretty nasty – rotten fish and everything covered in sticky, thick blood.
Pharaoh’s not convinced that he needs to do anything yet. Letting the Israelites go is going to create a major economic impact. And besides, it wasn’t that big of a deal; Pharaoh’s own magicians replicated the water into blood trick (likely on a smaller scale). So, Moses and Aaron are just shysters, right?
But Moses and Aaron continue to work the miracles God sets for them. With each new plague, Pharaoh’s a little closer to letting the Israelites go, but then…(spoiler alert) he changes his mind.
At what point would I have started to doubt God? If I were an Israelite, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to re-pack my bags after the plague of frogs. If I were Moses or Aaron, well, the snake trick was cool, but once we got to the boils, I might have said, “God, You know what? Pharaoh is NEVER going to change his mind. Can’t you DO SOMETHING else?”
Sometimes God pushes us to do things we would never do, even if we look silly, or people grumble, or someone continually says “NO”.
Prayer: God, please let us recognize the path and tasks You have set for us. Let us approach them with humility, with courage, and with honor that we were chosen. Amen.
by Robert Givens
Scripture: Exodus 5:1-6:1
Most mornings when I read the Bible, if there is a scene or story being told, I like to imagine myself in it and reflect upon it. Which character can I identify with or learn from? Which one is speaking to me? What events in my life parallel those in the text? In the 5th chapter of Exodus, we have a rich story, full of characters and action. It’s told quite vividly and is easy to re-imagine in our mind’s eye.
So who am I in this chapter of Exodus? Am I Moses following God’s commandments and then questioning him after the fact? Is my faith in God weak? Maybe I am the Pharaoh! Am I guilty of judging, resenting and punishing people who ask favors of me? Or am I a slave-driver pushing the Israelites? Do I push anyone around in my life? Maybe I have in the past and there is an amends to make. Or am I one of the faceless slaves trapped with seemingly no hope in sight? What is enslaving me? What are the chains that bind me, that keep me from falling short of my full potential? I can be all or anyone of these people on any given day.
For me, Lent is a period of time to be introspective, digging deep, leaving no stone unturned. I want to identify the things that are blocking me from the sunlight of the spirit, that are preventing me from being of the best possible service to him and my fellow man. Once these sins or defects are identified, I try to let go of them and turn them over to God asking that he remove them from me.
It’s also important for me to look at what I’m doing right, not just focusing on defects. I want to identify the areas in my life where God is working and I am growing and being an active member of the body of Christ so that I might ask for continued nourishment of these gifts.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I ask that your scripture might reveal in me the things that limit my ability to live a life of love and discipleship in Jesus Christ. I ask that you would show me how to let go of those things and turn them over to you. And I praise you for all the gifts you’ve given me, asking that you might give me opportunities to use them in your service, in the service of Love. Amen.
by Christia Holloway
Scripture: Exodus 4:10-31
I’ve always loved Bible stories about people who are not only “flawed” but who are also usually extremely reluctant (to put it mildly) to carry out the tasks that God has assigned them. You would think that Moses, who has literally just seen God’s power with his own eyes a few verses earlier, would be willing to obey God and speak on His behalf, but still he drags his feet. I find that amusing – but also oddly comforting, because if I were Moses, I probably would have felt the same way.
Over and over again God constantly assures the men and women of the Bible (just as He continues to assure us) that yes, you can actually do what I’ve asked of you! In fact, although He never promises their tasks will be easy, God is pretty insistent, reminding them that He is always with them. No wonder God gets angry when Moses continues to whine. (I could easily visualize dramatic sighs and divine eye rolling when I read this passage!)
How reassuring to be reminded that Moses and other Biblical “heroes” doubted their abilities and were just as scared and unsure then as we are about ourselves now. It is even more comforting to remember that God’s patience, presence, and power never waivers. Why is it so hard for us to have faith in ourselves when, despite all of our flaws, God has so much faith in us?
Prayer: God, help us to remember that You are always with us. Thank You for Your unyielding faith in us. Teach us to see ourselves as You see us – full of potential despite our limitations. Amen.
by Mark LaRocca-Pitts
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“Yet again, I messed it up. Yet again I fell short of doing what was right. Surely one day God will tire of showing me mercy and forgiveness. God must have a limit!”
Such was the case in ancient times when Israel repeatedly disappointed God and fell short in doing what God wanted them to do. It happened so often that God decided to try something radically different – instead of a set of laws arbitrarily imposed from without, God personally instilled within their hearts, in their inmost being, the awareness of what God wanted for them. The Israelites no longer had to measure up to some outwardly imposed one-size-fits-all standard; instead, God uniquely personalized His teaching to speak to each one of them in their innermost being.
And so it is with us – we no longer need to look to others, to outside institutions and rule books, to determine what is right and wrong. Instead, we only need to look deep within our souls. There, in our inmost being, we will find God’s new covenant – the rule of love, which is the love God has for us and for everyone, and the love we have for God and for everyone. This love that God has for us is so great and overflowing that no matter how often we fall short of showing love to God, to our neighbor, or to our self, God will continue to write anew in our hearts His love for us and for everyone.
Prayer: Dear God, teach me to seek out your love in my inmost being in order that I might share that love with everyone. Amen.
by Anita Turlington
Scripture: I Corinthians 13: 1-13
The famous “love passage” from I Corinthians seems an odd choice for a Lenten reflection. We typically read it at weddings and anniversary celebrations. We design posters around this passage and hang them on our walls to admire. In fact, most of us have read this passage so many times that we can quote some of the most familiar lines: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” This passage, like so much great poetry, tries to capture the essence of the most powerful force in the universe. Paul is not just describing the loving acts that he has experienced; he is describing the very nature of God’s power. Love is the theme of the Bible. This is what it looks like.
Lent, though, is a period of reflection and penitence, and this passage also feels like a litany of our failures. We aspire to reflect God’s love, but this passage can remind us of the many ways we fail. We have not always been patient, even with those we love the most easily. We have sometimes been unkind, rude, and self-centered. The beautiful love passage can confirm, for us, how very unloving we can be.
This season of Lent, however, let us read this passage as Paul certainly intended, not as a checklist of our failings, but as a hymn to the God of love, who chooses us to do great works of mercy and compassion, who sees beyond our broken humanity into our true hearts. We understand this love only in part, but God understands us completely. As we make our way toward the rebirth of Easter, we know that even if we often fail to be the loving people we intend to be, God’s love shapes us into the people He sees in us.
Prayer: Loving God, thank you for your patient transformation of us and our knowledge that your love never fails. Amen.
by Noe Barrera-Disler
According to a popular story, a great orchestra had gathered to rehearse with the celebrated conductor, Sir Michael Costa. As the music reached a crescendo, every instrument was being played – except for one. Distracted, the piccolo player had momentarily lost his place on the page of music. He hoped his instrument wouldn’t be missed. Suddenly, Costa brought down his arm and silenced the orchestra. “Where’s the piccolo?” he inquired. To a skilled conductor, every part of the system is crucial, even those that may seem less important.
That is the point being made by Paul in this passage. Paul observed that, even though Christ’s body, just like the orchestra, was comprised of many members, it was, as one human body is, still ONE body. He wanted to ensure that every follower of Christ felt important and was assured that his/her contribution was crucial. Everybody is important because we are all part of the body of Christ.
While we may wish that we (or others) were different, the bottom line is that God created each of us just as he wanted us to be, and calls upon each of us to faithfully serve according to our unique calling and gifts. Instead of giving something up during Lent, take the time to examine and determine what abilities and aptitudes we have that can be used in serving Our Lord.
1 Corinthian 13: 1-3 ties into the previous chapter very well. Love is the greatest gift of all. Don’t expect fireworks to go off as you show and grow in love. But do expect lives to begin to grow and heal and change – that’s the pay-off.
Prayer: Giver of good and perfect gifts, we bow before You and offer our thanks. You know what is best for the body of Christ and us. Make us a spiritual people. In Jesus’ name. Amen!
by Kelly Mathison
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
It feels as if the world is on fire with hate and injustice. It feels that the world is flooded by suppression and separation. How many people have to die due to close-minded beliefs that others hold higher than human life itself?
Where is an answer to combat this question? I found it within this scripture. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
That’s right; we are all in this place together, whether it’s Ferguson, Russia, Georgia or Nigeria. Red or blue state, transgender or straight, Christian or Muslim – the parts of our differences are what binds us all in a microcosm of one. Let us rejoice in this fact.
Prayer: Dear God, keep us focused on remembering we are all in this together and for all of us to rejoice in every part of that. Amen.
by Kenn William
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
We are all blessed with various gifts. Gifts come in many forms. Some are more obvious than others. We all have opportunities to use our gifts. Contributing our gifts in service to the Lord allows us to continue to grow individually and as a church.
There can be unity in the diversity of our gifts. It is important to remember that we all have something to offer. All of our contributions, regardless of the form, size or manner, are important. Sharing our various gifts is also a way to witness to those outside the church. We should seek to use the gifts we have in service and gratitude. All of our gifts come from the same God. Rejoice and thank God for our gifts.
Prayer: Lord, help us to pause and rejoice over the blessings you have given to us. May we use the gifts you have bestowed upon us to grow as your children and continue to build your church. Amen.
by Jeff Collins-Smythe
Scripture: Mark 8: 1-10
At St. Mark, I have the honor of working with 1st-3rd graders as one of their Sunday School teachers. What energy and excitement every week as we learn and share together! We’ve had fun wrapping ourselves like mummies when we talked about Lazarus, eating strange things together as we talked about John the Baptist’s diet, and lighting candles as we talked about being the light to others.
Today’s lesson is certainly familiar to our young kiddos and to most of us – Jesus making miracles with loaves and fish. But what is interesting about this story is that it is, indeed, the second time within a couple of chapters in Mark that Jesus performs this miracle. The first time is in Chapter 6 to 5,000 and this time in Chapter 8 it’s to 4,000 people. It is almost as if Jesus realized that his disciples were not getting it, so he did it again!
Just as our kiddos, and certainly like the disciples long ago, sometimes we need to hear the story over and over again to comprehend and embrace its message. We take on stress, try to resolve unbelievable obstacles, push ourselves to keep everyone happy, and do, do, do…until we realize that we cannot do it alone. We cannot feed the 4,000 or the 5,000; we simply need to stand back and let Jesus work his miracle. As we prepare for Holy Week and for Easter ahead, let us continue to identify those items for which the Holy Spirit may be saying, “You’re not really getting it; let’s try this again.”
Prayer: God, help us to look for your work again and help us to get it this time. Amen.