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Lenten Devotional #2

 

Today’s Reading | Isaiah 58: 9b-11                                Monday | March 6

 

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger-pointing, the wicked speech; if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon. The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry.

 

We bounced through the ruts in the dirt road, approaching Nueva Esperanza in the back of an old pickup truck. Our group of gringos had jostled for several hours, rising gradually  through the sierra near the border between Mexico and Guatemala.  In the distance we could see the bright blue plastic sheets that served as temporary shelter for the group of several hundred Mayan families who had recently returned to Guatemala from Mexico.

These refugees had fled Guatemala during the genocide of the early 1980’s—a systematic destruction of the native population by the Guatemalan army, supported by the US, in the name of anti-communism. They spent twelve years in a temporary camp in Mexico, and had recently negotiated a triumphal return. However, they had nothing–no homes, food, or jobs.  The mountain proved to be too cold and rocky for agriculture. They depended on a hostile Guatemalan government for everything.

“Knock, Knock,” I shouted as we approached the blue plastic flap of one shelter.  We handed over eggs, rice, and onions to Dona Maria, dressed up in her red and blue huipil. On the dirt floor stood a rough table, two handmade chairs, and an altar to her Mayan gods. As we waited for her to prepare our food over an open fire, Dona Maria told us, “the government  agreed to supply black beans, but  the burlap sacks contained surplus coffee beans.  We can’t eat coffee beans.”

With pride she served our meal, certainly better than she was able to provide for her own children.  With the rice we found a few bits of meat–pieces of fried Spam.  We ate gratefully and thanked her profusely, wondering where it came from.  Later we learned that each family received one small can of meat each month, and that she had served hers to us.  For the first time, we saw ourselves  as the hungry and afflicted being fed.

 

Prayer

Dear Lord, open the hearts of those who point fingers and speak evil; and bless Dona Maria and her children that their lives shall be a like a garden whose waters never fail. Amen.

Written by John Miller

 

 

March 7 | Tuesday                                Today’s Reading | Matthew 17:5-8

 

While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

 

From what became the mount of the transfiguration Jesus’ disciples’ Peter, James and John were gathered where they experienced the presence of Moses and Elijah.  The way the Gospel of Matthew tells the story, Peter immediately began speaking but was interrupted by the voice of the divine saying “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!”  Jesus then comes and tells them to “Get up!” and “Don’t be afraid.”

Getting up and going on our way, moving beyond our fear and the status quo, has over and over again been where I have met the Christ, the New Life, and experienced transformation of myself and others.

A woman who formerly experienced homelessness spoke at the funeral of a longtime friend of mind, Aimee Wallis Buchanan. Aimee died unexpectedly from the flu four years ago this February.  I say “formerly” because this woman is supporting herself and her family.  I remember her say, “It all started with Aimee handing me a popsicle in downtown Asheville on a hot summer day.  We called her the ‘popsicle lady’ because she did this day after day” with youth and young adults involved with Asheville Youth Mission from all over the country.  Aimee would say it was her life, not the formerly homeless person.  I think God would say that both of them moved beyond their fear to get up, go, and dared and experienced new life in Christ.

My friend and Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian in Charlotte, NC talks about how the Gospel account of the transfiguration reminds us that we “find… Jesus in the world… (and) on the Waynot at a rest stop or a mountaintop.”  Transformation happens when we get up and go without fear.

 

Prayer

Christ, be our hope, our trust, and our energy as we dare to explore unknown territory.  Open our eyes to discovering beauty, love, and community wherever we go. May it be.  Amen.

Written by Lee Hinson-Hasty

 

 Today’s Reading | Luke 10:36-37                            Wednesday | March 8

 

What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Jesus asks, Who was the neighbor?  The man says, the one who showed mercy. Jesus says, Go and do likewise. In my memory, the word neighbor brings to mind something innocent. It brings to mind the gentle welcome of people like Mr. Rogers who asked television viewers each week: won’t you be my neighbor? Being a neighbor, however, is a profound and prophetic act.

Neighbors show mercy. They express care. Neighbors unite in support when injustice unmasks itself. They seek the wellbeing of others. But the deeper sign of neighborliness is when these are expressed beyond traditional borders, beyond those who act, look, think, or worship like us. Neighbors cross boundaries to share the mercy they know from God.

A group of Highland Presbyterian Church members have become closer to our neighbors at Grace Hope Presbyterian Church in the Smoketown neighborhood. Over the last year, Grace Hope has hosted a monthly mobile food pantry. At their invitation, Highland has been helping distribute food alongside Grace Hope. Two churches, two neighborhoods, less than two miles apart, showing a small act of mercy to residents through the pantry. While the food is a welcome support for many in the neighborhood, I think the pantry has been equally meaningful for those helping offer the food.

Acts of sharing, talking, and laughing happen each month among people who’ve come to know each other because of the pantry. This points to a powerful presence that is revealed when strangers become neighbors. When God’s mercy is given to us, we likewise share our full and faithful presence to other people. It surely has been the case a few hours each month in Smoketown as people blessed with mercy, share mercy with neighbors.

Prayer

Open our hands and our hearts, O God, to be neighbors in your spirit. Amen.

Written by Associate Pastor Matt Nickel

 

 

March 9 | Thursday                                 Today’s Reading | Luke 12:35-36

 

Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit. Be like people waiting for their master to come home from a wedding celebration, who can immediately open the door for him when he arrives and knocks on the door.

 

As a self-professed “Cathoterian”, I have had the honor of being part of the faith traditions of both the Roman Catholic Church in which I was raised and the Presbyterian Church in which I have come to know through my marriage to my wife Robyn.  As a child, I considered a vocation to the Priesthood, but eventually found my calling in the field of historic preservation working to save endangered historic places.  One of the most gratifying projects in my career has been the effort to save the New Albany birthplace of Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Ritter – Indiana’s only native born son to achieve this position in the Catholic Church.

 

Born in 1892 to German immigrants who operated a bakery at Oak and 13th streets, Ritter knew from an early age he wanted to be a priest and ultimately attended St. Meinrad Seminary.  He quickly assumed leadership positions in the local church, becoming bishop and later Archbishop of Indianapolis and then Archbishop and Cardinal of St. Louis.  What distinguished his ministry, however, was an unwavering sense of social and racial justice and a recognition of the value of ecumenism.  In the 1930s, Ritter confronted racism head-on by speaking out against the Ku Klux Klan and working to de-segregate Catholic schools in Indianapolis.  Cross burnings in his front yard and death threats were the price he paid.  Ritter went on to do the same in St. Louis, often being met by fierce opposition even among Catholics.  As a leading voice of Vatican II reforms in the Catholic Church, Ritter reached out to other Christian and non-Christian faith communities and opened dialogue.  He was the first in the American church hierarchy to preach at a Protestant Seminary and support marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic. (This latter effort is appreciated by me!)  When a Jewish congregation met community opposition to the building of a synagogue, Ritter offered the Church’s legal counsel to assist with zoning obstacles that had been placed in its path.

The work of saving his birthplace evolved into a community conversation that inevitably led to the creation of a non-profit organization –The Cardinal Birthplace Foundation – that assumed ownership of the property and transformed this once derelict property into a home for social service organizations in a troubled neighborhood.  Today the Louisville-based Home of the Innocents maintains their Indiana offices in this Victorian house in New Albany’s Midtown neighborhood.  It has been personally rewarding to meld historic preservation professional efforts with a project that celebrates the legacy of a man who opened the eyes of others to the evils of racism and the need for dialogue amongst diverse groups –  a life story that remains painfully relevant in our world today.

 Prayer

Heavenly Father, help us to have the courage to open our eyes to injustice in our world and to have the courage, like Cardinal Ritter, to move outside of our comfort zone and work toward social justice, racial equality, and valuing diversity for the betterment of mankind. Amen.

Written by Greg Sekula

 

 

March 10 | Friday                   Today’s Reading | 2 Corinthians 8:1-4

 

Brothers and sisters, we want to let you know about the grace of God that was given to the churches of Macedonia. While they were being tested by many problems, their extra amount of happiness and their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity. I assure you that they gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily. They urgently begged us for the privilege of sharing in this service for the saints.

 

A couple of years ago, my son Thomas, then 2 or 3, and I were heading home after his school day at Highland Pres Nursery and Weekday School.  We were almost to our car when we saw what appeared to be two refugee women, one pushing the other in a wheelchair, wandering near the Pleune-Mobley Center.  Thinking they might be looking for the wheelchair ramp to enter the building, we approached them to offer help.  The woman pushing the wheelchair appeared to be in her mid-60s, the older woman, in her mid-80s.  As Thomas and I walked with them toward the handicapped entrance around the front of the building, we learned from the younger woman’s limited English that they were mother and daughter, both from Iraq.  The younger woman had been settled in Louisville by Catholic Charities, and I will never forget the daughter’s words when she indicated what they were looking for at Kentucky Refugee Ministries that day:  “Mama, citizenship.”  The older woman looked up from the wheelchair and smiled a huge, toothless grin.  This woman, around my grandmother’s age, had left her home country to seek refuge and a safe place for the last few years of her life.  Instead of just living here, she wanted to become a citizen.  At age 85.  This is courage and strength embodied if I have ever seen it.

 

Up the ramp we went together, feet of all sizes and all ages, 80 years age difference between them.  Feet which had undoubtedly run in fear, alongside very small feet which had just finished running in complete safety and joy on the church playground.  Feet which had walked many miles in a war-torn country, alongside very small feet that I pray never, ever know war.  We entered Pleune-Mobley and I left Thomas with the two women in the lobby as I went to find a staff member to help the women start the citizenship process for Mama.  To my amazement, Thomas stayed with them in the lobby, despite them being strangers and him still being in a clingy stage (they say kids and dogs are good judges of character, so I guess he felt completely safe!).

 

When I came back with a staff member, there waited the daughter, Mama, and Thomas, who was now holding an orange.  At this age, Thomas, like the Iraqi women, had very limited English, so when I asked him, “where did you get that?,” he pointed to Mama, who once again smiled her huge, toothless grin up at me.  An orange.  A simple thing we would take for granted any other day, something we can buy bagged by the dozen at the grocery.  Given to him by a woman sharing what she had with a small friend who had helped her.  A woman who had experienced more fear and horrors of war than I want to think about.  A woman who was bravely starting a new life with joy and hope and safety in the last season of her life.

 

Thomas was so proud and protective of that orange on the way home, and when we cut it up for lunch that day, Thomas enjoyed every last sweet slice of it.  I saw God in those two women and, yes, in the orange, and the simple act of giving what they could as an act of thanks.  I saw God in their simple wish to live and die in a land of peace.  I see God in the KRM staff who are helping resettle refugees in a safe place so they and their children can have better, longer lives than they would at home.  And I see God in the way humans can communicate and connect, despite limited shared language skills, with only smiles, helping hands, and an orange.

 

Prayer

Dear God, Thank you for reminding us through sweet surprises to connect with others, help others, and find the joy in human connection.  Help us find and recognize opportunities to reach out to those in need, those who look different, and those with whom we seemingly have little in common.  Help us all be open to the sweet surprises life can drop in our laps if we are open to receiving them.  And please, God, be with refugees as they travel to safe lands, and as they resettle in their new lands, helping them feel supported and welcomed and safe.  Amen.

Written by Patricia Connolly

 

 

March 11 | Saturday                  Today’s Reading | 1 Corinthians 15:54-55

 

And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen: Death has been swallowed up by a victory. Where is your victory, Death? Where is your sting, Death?

 

A preschool teacher wanted her students to learn about plants and seeds and how things grow. So she helped the children plant pumpkin seeds in little paper cups, filled with soil and marked with their names. After a week of watering, watching, and waiting, all of the seeds had begun to sprout, except for one—the cup belonging to James. Fortunately the teacher had planted a few extra seeds. Not wanting James to be disappointed, she came in early one morning and carefully swapped the label on his cup. Later that day she gathered the students together to look at their sprouted seeds. “It’s a miracle,” she said, “the way a little seed can grow into a big pumpkin.” James spoke up: “It really is a miracle. I ate my seed.”

I love this story because it opens our eyes to the radical, astonishing nature of the Christian doctrine of resurrection—the teaching Paul is carefully explaining at the end of his first letter to the church at Corinth. Resurrection is not some garden-variety miracle, like the seeds and butterflies and flowers of spring. It is the world-shaking promise of the prophet Isaiah: that on the day of salvation God will swallow up death forever (Isa. 25:8). This is the good news of the gospel—that in Jesus Christ God has already come to prevail over the sin and death that seem to consume and devour us. This is the great mystery of faith that we proclaim when we say, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This is the gift and hope that we celebrate when we gather at the Lord’s Table to share the feast of our redemption.

 

Prayer

Jesus, feed us with your grace; for you are the resurrection and the life. Amen.

Written by David Gambrell

 

 

Today’s Reading | Deuteronomy 10:20-22                    Sunday | March 12

 

Revere the Lord your God, serve him, cling to him, swear by his name alone! He is your praise, and he is your God—the one who performed these great and awesome acts that you witnessed with your very own eyes. Your ancestors went down to Egypt with a total of seventy people, but now look! The Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the nighttime sky!

 

 

Thought Questions

Who in your life, has helped you to know God’s presence?

 

When you have followed God’s call, what signs helped you to know the direction to go?

 

What do you do to seek God’s presence in your life?

Prayer

Though the destination may be unknown, may we trust the path you put before us with love and faith. Amen.

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