February 28, 2009

Saturday, February 28

Ps. 30, 32, 42, 43
Deut. 7:17-26
Titus 3:1-15
John 1:43-51

Ps. 32
1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
6Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Yesterday I raised the question, how do we find again the joy of our first love for God? Today, Ps. 32 reminds us of the first step toward renewing relationship: Confession of our sins.

Too often we are like the horse or mule referred to in verse 9. One of my early experiences in riding was on a mule at my grandparent’s farm. Wooley walked along quite happily while my father led him away from the barn, but as soon as we turned around and headed home, he took off. No amount of shouting and pulling on the halter was going to stop him from getting back to his oats in the barn. After that, a bridle with bit was used to gain greater control over the obstinate animal.

I know that I am often more focused on ‘getting to the oats’ than in listening to the voice of the Master. It seems easier to rush ahead toward what I think is the goal, rather than wait for the guiding hand. Then I need to stop and confess that, like Wooley, I am being obstinate and wanting my way rather than God’s way. When we confess we allow ourselves to be ‘bridled’ by God’s Love.

God always forgives us and restores us to right relationship. We just have to ask. Once we confess that we have failed and cannot succeed on our own, our relationship with God is based on trust and love rather than on our attempts to ‘get it right’. Don’t we want to feel that we are in loving relationship with God rather than at odds with the One who created us?

The psalmist knows confession has freed him and that instruction and “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.”

Can you take the first step back into right relationship with God by opening your heart to God’s love in confession? One prayer that helps remind me of the things I need to confess is one I’ve had in my collection for many years:

Let me be a little kinder,
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults about me;

Let me praise a little more,
Let me be, when I am weary;
Just a little bit more cheery,

Let me serve a little better
Those that I am striving for.
Let me be a little braver
When temptation bids me waver,

Let me strive a little harder
To be all that I should be;
Let me be a little meeker to the neighbor who is weaker;
Let me think more of my neighbor and a little less of me.

For your journal: Sit quietly and think about how you are like a horse needing a bridle to be guided.
When are some times you have been more anxious to ‘get to the oats’ than listen to God?
Write a prayer confessing your stubbornness and desire to change.

February 27, 2009

Friday, February 27

Ps. 31, 35
Deut. 7:12-16
Titus 2:1-15
John 1:35-42

Titus 2:1-15
1But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. 3Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. 6Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. 9Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. 11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. 15Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.

In this second chapter of the letter to Titus, Paul finishes up a list of admonitions on behavior with a powerful summary. Early in our Lenten journey we are reminded of the sacrifice of the Cross, but more importantly the reason for that sacrifice—to “redeem us from all iniquity and purify...a people of his own.”

That we need redemption Francis Thompson, in his poem The Hound of Heaven, reminds us:
How little worthy of any love thou art !
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?

God, in Christ, does love us--even to the cross--and even if you or I was the only one on earth. Our only response is to be a “people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” What does it mean to be zealous for God? Definitions for zealous include “enthusiastic, ardently active, and devoted or diligent.” Some synonyms are fervent, afire, and dedicated. Certainly these are all attributes that we should strive for in our faith walk.

I can remember times in my life when I felt on fire for God. Nothing seemed impossible and the problems of the day to day round were not onerous. I wanted to tell everyone about the Love that I had found (or Who had found me). The first disciples felt that enthusiasm. The reading from John for today says that as soon as Andrew met Jesus, he immediately “found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah!’”

Anyone 'in love' is enthusiastic about their beloved. God is in love with you and me adn that love never fails, even when ours flags. The feelings of that ‘first love’ are not easy to maintain, however. How, during this Lent, can we actively stir up our enthusiasm for God? Who can you find and tell “I have found the Messiah!”?

For your journal: Think of a time when you have been enthusiastic about something—a new book, recently released movie, friendship, baby, etc. How did you share the news with others?

Write about a time when you felt zealous for the Lord. How did you act, what did you do, did the world feel different?List some ways you can share your enthusiasm for God’s love and action in your life with your friends.

February 26, 2009

Thursday, February 26

Dt. 7:6-11
Titus 1:1-16
John 1:29-34
Ps. 37
Dt. 7:6-11
6For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him. 11Therefore, observe diligently the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that I am commanding you today.

Lent is a good time to look at what is important to us. What “treasures” do we cling to? Perhaps it is financial security or a nice car or home. Maybe it is the good will of an employer. Sometimes it is health and happiness. Take a moment to think about and list what some of your treasures are. We often keep our treasures locked up tightly in a jewelry box--either real or metaphorical and maybe not as fancy as this one my husband made.

But what, we might ask as we begin Lent, is the real treasure of our life? According to the Deuteronomy reading, it is being chosen by God to be God’s Treasured Possession. I think that is pretty special.

Wm. Paul Young’s book, The Shack, portrays God in an unexpected way and a reoccurring comment by God is “I’m especially fond of him/her.” To the chagrin of Mack, God is even “especially fond” of those who wronged Mack. Because of that Love, God desires a true relationship and deep intimacy with each of us (even those we don't like).

Lent can be a time of self-denial and breast-beating, but as today’s reading reminds us, it is even more about being found by the God who chooses you and me as a “treasured possession” because God is “especially fond” of each of us. All other 'treasures' turn out to be nothing and our jewelry box is empty until we accept that we are God's treasure.

For your journal: Take a little time to write down the treasures of your life. Why are these things important to you?
Find a small photo of yourself, glue it in your journal. Underneath, write “God is especially fond of (your name)”. Jot down or think about how it feels to hear those words.

February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday, February 25

95* & 32, 143, 102, 130
Jonah 3:1--4:11
Heb. 12:1-14
Luke 18:9-14

3The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ 4And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ 5Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. 6The Lord God appointed a bush,
* and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
9 But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ 10Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals.

We start out Lent with this reading from Jonah. Best known for fleeing from God and being swallowed and then ‘spat out’ by a large fish (probably not an actual whale), the rest of the story is more impressive. When he was obedient to God’s order to “Go to Ninevah” and proclaim the coming wrath of God, Jonah converted the entire city.

How many of us can relate to Jonah? We feel God urging us to do something we would rather not attempt. It might be forgiving a wrong or taking on a ministry, but we don’t want to do it. So instead of obedience, we run away by finding excuses. “I’m too busy.” “I can’t forgive yet.” ”Someone else is better qualified.” Etc. God however rarely lets us get away with our independence. There may not be a great fish in our future, but sooner or later, we will find ourselves in exactly the ministry we felt unqualified for or forgiving an enemy we thought unforgivable. It is through our obedience that God is able to work great things.

Jonah’s words convicted even the king of Ninevah and because of the repentance of the citizens, God spared them. Poor Jonah, feeling he has lost face because the city isn’t destroyed, begins to complain to God. The crux of the story is found in chapter 4:9-11 when God proclaims his compassion on the pagan city of Ninevah—a perfect beginning for our Lenten observances of repentance and renewal and relationship. God desires greater intimacy with us--with all people.

John Donne, Anglican Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, is remembered for many sermons and poems. One that, for me, embodies the Lenten journey is Holy Sonnet 14, below. I would urge you to dedicate your Lent to obedient listening.

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

For your journal—on this first day of Lent, write a prayer expressing your desire to be obedient and listen to God during Lent. You may also want to write down your plans for your Lenten discipline.

My prayer says simply: Holy and Living Lord, I know I am not always as obedient and willing to listen to you as I could be. Help me during this season of preparation to open my heart to hear your knock and to respond. Amen.

February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday, February 24

Shrove Tuesday—the day before Lent starts, is traditionally a day of feasting before the fasting starts. Once this had a real purpose—all the rich food, fat, milk, eggs, and so forth was removed from homes for the duration of the season of Lent. In the US, the most famous celebration is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Brazil, of course, has Carnivale. Many churches and cities also have pancake suppers and other celebrations.

Around the world, the day has many names:
United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia - Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day or Pancake Tuesday
Brazil - Terça-feira gorda - Fat Tuesday is the final day of Carnivale in Brazil.
Greece - Apocreas, (from the meat) because meat isn’t eaten during Lent.
Sweden - Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday).
France they call it Mardi Gras, which means Grease or Fat Tuesday.
USA the day is known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, depending on the part of the country. Germany - Fastnacht
In Iceland the day is known as "Sprengidagur" (Bursting day). Isn't that a good title for the day we often stuff ourself with pancakes!

Shrove Tuesday is meant to be a reminder that we are setting aside rich living for the next 40 days and ought to be more intentional about seeking God. Many people give up something or take on a discipline. I invite you to join me on a journey this Lent. Today, we are standing on a mountain looking across the plains to the end of our Lent journey--Good Friday and then Easter! It looks like a long way, and 40 days seems like a long time. At the end, I hope we'll all find ourselves in a closer relationship with the God who loves us!

Each day during Lent, I will have a brief meditation on one of the lessons for the day (as taken from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer). You can participate as fully as you are able. The other lessons will be listed and you may want to read all the lessons, or just the one I focus on. Perhaps just reading the meditation will be all you have time for. I’ll try to ask some thought provoking question or two for you to think about during the day.

There will also be suggestions and questions for use in a Lenten journal. For some of us, a journal is a way of hearing God’s voice. If you decide to keep a journal this Lent, I hope it will enrich your journey.

See you on our way to Deepening our Intimacy (with God) this Lent.

February 1, 2009

Lenten Meditations Start in February

Check back the end of February for a series of daily meditations during Lent.
Lent is the time in the Church calendar between Ash Wednesday and Easter. While many people give up candy or sweets or coffee or computers, this is a time for finding ways to draw closer to God and Christ through discipline, obedience, and study.

I would be delighted for you to join me on this Lenten Journey. This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 25. See you then.