Lenten Devotions 2017
Their Eyes Were Opened
The season of Lent is a season for Christians to deepen their faith through prayer, reflection, and actively living their faith. It is a time for giving attention to the presence of God in daily living.
The theme this year is Their Eyes Were Opened. A story told in the Gospel of Luke called “The Walk to Emmaus” tells of two people walking from Jerusalem when a stranger joins them as they make their way. The two tell the stranger about the teaching and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. They spoke of the resurrection and the empty tomb. When they arrived at their destination, they invited the stranger saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So the stranger stays. When they gathered at the table, the stranger took the bread. The stranger blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. The story in scripture continues, saying: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” The stranger, the one they recognized, was the risen Christ.
The theme this year invited staff and members of the church to reflect on experiences in life which revealed for them the presence of God. When in our lives have our eyes been opened and we saw the life of God intersecting with our own lives? The stories here are gifts to help us see where God is present and known. These stories are faithful blessings offered for the community and the church to walk from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
One special addition to this year’s devotions are photographs from a Contemplative Photography and Prayer class that was offered at Highland in January 2017. The class considered ways which photography can be visible prayer. Each class also had some photography “assignments.” These assignments asked the photographers to practice “receiving” a photo, rather than just “taking” a photo. They were asked to make themselves present to their subject and environment, and in the act of “receiving” a photo, consider how God is present to them and their subject. The photos are samples of church members practicing this contemplative approach to photography.
If you want to receive these photos by email, simply send your email address to email@example.com. If you would like information about other Lenten opportunities at Highland Presbyterian Church, see the back cover of the devotion or visit the church website: www.hpclouisville.org – May you know God’s presence and blessing on your Lenten journey.
Rev. Matthew Nickel
March 1 | Ash Wednesday Today’s Reading | Hebrews 12:1-2
So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.
Thomas Merton wrote, “For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and discovering my true self.” When he spoke of the true self, Merton spoke of discovering who God created a person to be. Sometimes we hid behind masks, sometimes we prioritize human demands or desires before God’s. When we seek to understand this true self, discovery does not happen in isolation, but through our relationship with God and our faith community. The church nurtures and confirms our identity in Christ beginning with baptism. Hebrews 12 says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. This affirms the community of faith across the ages as those who surround the church to “witness” to Christ in ways that stir the people of the church toward a deep and authentic life of faith.
The gift of Ash Wednesday and the practice of the imposition of ashes is that God calls us to affirm our identity as people of faith. We receive the ashes with the words “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Receiving the ashes is the threshold we cross into the season of Lent. Crossing the threshold asks us to return to God. We face our finiteness and put ourselves in the presence of God’s eternality. We seek to release the masks, free ourselves from the detritus in our lives in order to remember the identity God calls us to. When we discover our true self, paradoxically we discover God’s presence, for on the threshold of God’s presence we discover our identity as the person God has called into being.
God of dust and God of life, guide us to see you and in seeing, to know ourselves more fully as those who embrace the gifts of your grace. Amen.
Written by Associate Pastor Matt Nickel
Today’s Reading | Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thursday | March 2
The Lord proclaims: the learned should not boast of their knowledge, nor warriors boast of their might, nor the rich boast of their wealth. No, those who boast should boast in this: that they understand and know me. I am the Lord who acts with kindness, justice, and righteousness in the world, and I delight in these things, declares the Lord.
It was the summer of 2013, and I traveled to Belize with my son on a mission trip. This was a first, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I did believe that we were the ones to be the agents of change, doing “good” and helping. We were going to bring material gifts of clothing, school supplies and such. Oh, I had so much to learn! Once we set foot in Belize and met its beautiful people, I quickly realized that I was the one to be changed, humbled, receive gifts and see God in so many ways.
We saw God in the gracious, welcoming people of the local community as we worked side by side with them to build a home. I saw God as he grew and matured my son into a young man that loves unconditionally and works for justice in the world. God was present in the sunsets each evening as we watched and rested from our work. The love of God was palpable as we sang with and cared for the children of the village during their summer Bible School program. These priceless gifts I received are life long, and greater than anything I could have ever given.
Dear Gracious LORD, thank you for the gift of humility, and a heart that recognizes the need to love unconditionally. Amen.
Written by Melinda Arbough
March 3 | Friday Today’s Reading | Psalm 51:10-12
Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit.
As a child I sang the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy”. But what IS holy?
I am in the middle of a world that is un-holy at times! I am not a priest, monk, pastor or seminarian; those folks deal with the holy daily. Can I seek out the holy in my everyday life? Can I open my eyes and see what this is?
When parents lift their baby up for the water to flow over the baby’s head…that is holy.
When an elderly spouse grieves as he takes care of his ailing wife…that is holy.
When a greeter looks into the eyes of a visitor or member and says “Welcome.”…that is holy.
When the choir lovingly assists a choir member who is struggling to remain active in the choir…that is holy.
When a person walks up to a homeless woman and gives her a coat…that is holy.
When a smile is given to a lonely person at Kroger…that is holy.
As older folks slowly leave worship and are met by bounding pre-school children coming in the same door (!)…that is a holy moment.
Thoughtful family decisions on giving money for a needed cause can be a holy family moment.
A medical person in the sterile hospital stops and says a kind word to a patient’s family; that is holy.
As the old hymn suggests: Take time to be holy. Let us first be aware what holy can be, then let us embrace it.
Dear God, Help us to see the holy in this sometimes un-holy life. Amen.
Written by Dorissa Robertson Falk
Today’s Reading | Hebrews 10:23-25 Saturday | March 4
Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.
The writer of Hebrews is clearly writing to an audience that is in need of encouragement. Most likely the intended audience is experiencing persecution or oppression. The Biblical message from this author, much like the Pauline message in Thessalonians, is to encourage a perspective of hope that is not so much an optimism about what may be the future, but more about how we are to live in the present. That is to say….about intentional living in the present that is more likely to make the future better, because we are empowered by a confidence that the one who holds the future is worthy of the hope we confess. Persecution and oppression in the ancient world may have included threats, angry accusations, abuse of power, violence, and a general unrest and conflict. Persecution and oppression in the modern world is not so different. This passage encourages us to hold on to our hope and to know that our sovereign God is worthy of that hope. In verses 24 and 25, we are directed to continue in relationship with people that share our hope, so that we may encourage each other.
Where have I seen God in my life? When I witness the members of my community, at Highland, encouraging each other, or standing up for the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves, or joining together to say “We Choose Welcome,” or raising millions of dollars to renovate a building that houses the largest refugee ministry in our city….I am happy to be in community with a congregation that is committed to sharing Hope from the Highlands.
God of Love, may we spark love and good deeds together; may our actions be a confession of hope and encouragement to one another. Amen.
Written by Kevin Burns
March 5 | Sunday Today’s Reading | Exodus 16:14-16
When the layer of dew lifted, there on the desert surface were thin flakes, as thin as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” They didn’t know what it was. Moses said to them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Collect as much of it as each of you can eat, one omer per person. You may collect for the number of people in your household.’”
What nourishes life among people? What nourishes life in a city?
God’s presence provides. What blessings has God provided for you?
What are places in your life that still need God’s presence?
Enter our lives O God, that we may know you and sing your praise. Amen.