April 10 | Monday Today’s Reading | Psalm 139:7-10
Whither should I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there; If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
I’ll never forget, back in my running days, I was on an early morning run in the pasture near my house and had just said these verses when I stumbled and fell flat on my face. It’s a shock to fall at any time, but this was a double whammy, because I had just thanked the Lord for holding me in his right hand, when I was sent sprawling. It took a few minutes, but then the irony of the situation hit me, and I burst out laughing. I had been feeling so self righteous that I wasn’t looking where I was going.
I memorized this magnificent Psalm of David over 40 years ago, and I have used it over the years to begin worship periods – both public and private, to entertain myself driving alone on a trip, or stuck in traffic or to fill my mind with good things on a crowded bus or subway. It’s become almost like Pavlov’s dogs in that it kicks me into a spiritual attitude before I reach verse 4. Over time it has become for me truly HOLY scripture.
No doubt all of us have from time to time memorized words that resonated, so you know that when you memorize you own the material. Since this Psalm is one about God’s owning us – each individual – from the time “we were made in secret and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth” to the “way everlasting” it is truly one of the mightiest paens to faith ever written. It opens my eyes AND reminds me to look where I am going.
God, the knowledge of you is too wonderful for me; it is high I cannot attain unto it. Awaken me to accept your surprising nearness. Amen.
Written by Jane Welch
Today’s Reading | Isaiah 43:1-2 Tuesday | April 11
But now, says the Lord—the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you.
On the day when I had to contact my sister-in-law & tell her to come quickly because her brother, my husband Noel, had begun the practice of actively dying, she suggested a prayer. Our prayer was for God to remember that we are in his hands. Specifically, to help us by putting people in our path, people who might help us, people of whom we were not even aware that would help us in ways we might not even be aware we would need. Over the next days my eyes were opened. I began to notice that things were happening, people were literally there just when I needed them, usually before I knew what was needed. I was literally being held up by God through the people who were placed in our path. The hospice chaplain who helped me make some final arrangements without me having to ask, the friend who called and gave me the idea of holding the phone up to Noel’s ear while in a coma so he might listen, the physician who made his dying so quickly, understandable to family members who were questioning how could this happen so fast because he seemed fine just the week before. God took up our burdens and made the unbearable bearable. All we had to do was see him present there with us surrounding us with exactly what was needed. Never had I seen God so present and active as he was for us just when we needed him most.
Thank you God, for you presence in our burdens. Thank you for your presence in our challenges. Amen.
Written by Patti Pinkley
April 12 | Wednesday Today’s Reading | Isaiah 58:6-9a
“I give up Lent for chocolate, not chocolate for Lent,” he would say. Reared in a church culture where the Christian year comprised Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and psychologically, the Fourth of July, he didn’t observe a Lenten fast. Moreover, such commonly mentioned “sacrifices” as temporarily foregoing a treat to honor the suffering of Christ seemed trivial.
Then he learned that fasting, not only in Lent but every Friday, was an expected discipline for several generations in his denomination, and that his forebears in faith saw Isaiah 58:3-12 as the fast the Lord desires. The fast the Lord desires mirrors Jesus’ announcement in his home church that Isaiah 61:1-2 defined his ministry. It links with Mary’s psalm of praise at Luke 1:46-55, her son’s social gospel sermon at Luke 6:20-49, his only description of the Lord’s assessment of our lives at Matthew 25:31-46, and his laconic summary of following him at Matthew 7:21. The fast the Lord desires expresses Jesus’ bonding of spirituality and religion in his distillation of our Torah as simply calling us to practice the love of God – our love of God and God’s love of people (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34).
He researched how the founder of his “ecclesial community” used Isaiah 58:3-12 to interpret Jesus’ instruction on fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). The chief points were these: 1) Fasting is different from abstinence. To abstain is wholly to do without an item or items of food or drink. Fasting is temporarily to leave aside both. Abstinence can be permanent without harming, or indeed to improve, one’s health. Fasting is occasional — once, perhaps twice, a week — and should be adopted after checking with your physician. 2)Fasting is not merely skipping lunch. Apart from keeping hydrated, a fast is generally a 24 hour experience. 3) A fast includes prayer, especially intercession — praying at large for justice and mercy in all forms of human community, and praying in solidarity with persons in special need. 4) Fasting also includes redirecting the money you saved to help feed the poor. Thus did initial indifference to the Lenten fast lead to keeping the weekly one.
Lenten devotion can be positive, permanently taking up a new ministry rather than merely briefly giving up some pleasure. The giving up takes care of itself as priorities are reordered to enable the taking up. The fast the Lord desires is such a discipline and such a service. I’m a witness, for as you have surmised, I am the he in this story.
Thank you God, for your sacrificial love. May our fasting tune our hearts to your grace, mercy, and justice. Amen.
Written by Parish Associate Charles Brockwell
Today’s Reading | Matthew 18:18-20 Thursday | April 13
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
There is a specific section of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters that has always stuck with me, and I believe it offers a good analog of for this challenging collection of Jesus’ teachings. Lewis’ fable chronicles a series of letters from an older, experienced demon in Hell (Screwtape) aimed at mentoring a young, novice devil (Wormwood) in the ways of luring humanity away from God. The section that has long stayed in my mind occurs when Wormwood has become distressed that a man whom he has been trying to tempt has begun regularly praying. The older Screwtape tells him not to worry. He goes on to instruct Wormwood to merely encourage his target to keep all of his prayers vague and spiritual in nature and to pray for things far away or general so that the man would be praying to an abstraction rather than something real. At the close of his instruction, Screwtape says:
Think of your man as a series of concentric circles: his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope at once to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of [God], but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the will.
- S. Lewis’ irony points to a clear but essential point: God is not an idea or a fantasy. The incarnation and resurrection reveal that the LORD is not an abstraction. He and His designs for the Kingdom are here in the real world, now.
Jesus seems to be saying something similar in this discussion with his disciples. Moral devotion is not a mental exercise; it is real action in the real world. Likewise, don’t worship by yourself; engage in faithful communion with your neighbors and God will be there.
With that promise in mind, I am going to take more time to savor the passing of the peace in the coming weeks. God is there.
God, thank you for calling us into community with one another and ultimately with you. Help us to love our neighbors and honor our promises as You have honored your promises to us. Our faithfulness brings us closer to you. Amen.
Written by Clay Gahan
April 14 | Friday Today’s Reading | John 19:40-42
Following Jewish burial customs, they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the spices, in linen cloths. There was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.
What does sacrifice mean for a life of faith?
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
What can you see in the world that needs life to take shape around it?
God, give us patience to wait, to trust, to follow, and in time, to see your resurrection shape our lives. Amen.
Photo received by Associate Pastor Matt Nickel
Today’s Reading | Romans 8:38-39 Saturday | April 15
I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
After seven years as a faculty member at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, I accepted a call as pastor of First Presbyterian in Salina, Kansas. Between finishing my Ph.D. and teaching, I had not made a hospital call or led a funeral service in about ten years. My first weekend in Salina, two members of the congregation died, the first of nearly twenty my first year. Intellectually, I affirmed with the Apostles’ Creed that I believed in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. But it wasn’t until I sat with families in the middle of grief and stood beside open graves and said the words of Romans 8 over and over again, that those words began to take flesh – to embed themselves in my flesh, my voice, my hands. I am still somewhat agnostic about what “life everlasting” will look like, but I am more convinced than ever about the truth of this: “nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.” Tonight, as we celebrate the Easter Vigil, we celebrate the deepest truth of Christian faith: love is stronger than death. Love wins. Alleluia!
Dear God: thank you for your love for us and for the world that became flesh in Jesus. May we trust you with ourselves and those dear to us, knowing that in life and in death, we belong to you. Amen.
Written by Pastor Cynthia Campbell
April 16 | Sunday Today’s Reading | Luke 24:28-32
When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
Where in your life would you invite God to walk with you?
Where do you see God alive and active in your life?
Remember a time when you participated in the Lord’s supper. What do you remember from the experience?
Thank you God for the gift of resurrection and new life continually taking shape in the life of the world. Amen.