Lenten Field Guide (Week 6)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 6: Holy Week

Blessings, dear ones, as we near the Sunday that is known both as Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday and as we enter a Holy Week that we’ve not experienced before.

Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes, Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, once said “do not spend your lives being poster children of the status quo.” My prayer is that this intentionally long, thought-out, difficult Lenten journey has brought forth important insight and inspiration for you. We are only in April of 2020. There is much left of this year to be intentional about.

In a time where creative living is especially important, how is God leading you to be prophetic, inspired, and love-filled? How is God healing wounds that need to become scars? How are we resisting living only for ourselves? How is God transforming greed and selfishness in our lives into leading lives that create space for others to live? How are we becoming more accountable to our theologies? How are we becoming more accountable to the planet that we live on and are tasked with caring for? How are we leading lives of integrity during wilderness times?

Thanks be to God for the chance to examine these questions in this Lenten season.

Scripture to consider: Read the two chapters of the Passion Narrative according to Matthew 26:6- 27:66.

Acts of Justice and Resistance: What acts of justice and resistance have you gotten interested in checking out this Lent? How is the Holy Spirit leading you to make a more just world?

Acts of Mercy: What acts of mercy have you gotten interested in checking out this Lent? How is the Holy Spirit leading you to be merciful? Offer these up to God.

Lenten Field Guide (Week 5)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 5: When will the angels come?

     Forty days of not getting any physical sustenance is no walk in the park. One can speculate the many reasons that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to endure this terrible hardship. One possibility for the reason for this time of trial was so that Jesus could prepare his heart, body, mind, and soul for what lay ahead of him.

Pastor Heather Harriss has beautiful insight on this and writes: “What happens in the wilderness does not stay in the wilderness; rather, it plays again in the life and ministry of God’s beloved son (Matt 3:17). The answers are different on different occasions, but the choices are very much the same:

  • Jesus refuses in the desert to turn stones into bread to assuage his own hunger, but before long he will feed thousands in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish (Matt 14:17-21; 15:33-38), and he will teach his disciples to pray to God for their “daily bread” (Matt 6:11).
  • He refuses to take advantage of his relationship to God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple, but at the end of his earthly ministry he endures the taunts of others (Matt 27:38-44) while trusting God’s power to the end upon the heights of a Roman cross (Matt 27:46).
  • He turns down the devil’s offer of political leadership over the kingdoms of the world, and instead offers the kingdom of the heavens to all those who follow him in the way of righteousness.

She continues, “The wilderness tests of the Temptation account are not a one-time ordeal to get through, but they are tests of preparation for the choices Jesus makes in his earthly ministry. Indeed, readers of Matthew’s Gospel have an opportunity to see how the wilderness experience is replayed in Jesus’ encounters with persons who are sick, hungry or in need; with persons who use their connections to power (including, perhaps, the lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees who test him in various ways; e.g., Matt 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35) to ascertain his loyalty; with persons who too easily worry about the world’s assessment of greatness rather than God’s (including some of his own disciples; e.g., Matt 18:1-5).”

Pastor Heather writes so beautifully about the reasons for Jesus’ temptation in the desert as preparation for his ministry and death to come. Though this may not be the reason for your own trials, it does not mean that the trials you have endured cannot also prepare you for even larger ones down the road. We can speculate that on some days of Jesus’ fasting when he was weak with hunger, he might have asked “when will the angels come?” They did eventually come and care for Jesus but on those days of starvation, I’m sure it was hard for Jesus to believe that he would once again have food. But Jesus did, once again, have food and his Spirit was all the more prepared for the evil he had to face in the coming days.

Scripture to consider: Matthew 4:1-11 

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Luke 4:14: 14 Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.

John 12:23-2623 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Creator will honor whoever serves me.

Acts of Worship: Spend some time this week reflecting on your life’s journeys. Be gentle with yourself as you remember hard times and times of grief or pain. Think about the seasons in your life that felt like you were living in an unknown wilderness. If you are a writer, write down some thoughts and reflections about this. Or if you do not prefer writing, consider sharing your story with a family member or friend. How did these experiences impact your understanding of God? How did they affect your faith in positive and negative ways? As you reflect, if you have the space, offer these reflections up to God in your own way. It’s okay if you are still angry about what happened. It’s okay if you are still sad and the wounds are not scars yet. Things do not have to be resolved for you to reflect on them.

Acts of Devotion and Spirituality:  Practice a breath prayer each day this week.

Breathe in, saying what you feel: “I am scared, God” or “I am worried, God” or “I am grateful, God” and Breathe out: “God is with me” or “I am named ‘beloved’” or “I am yours, God”

 

 

Thin Places

Integrated in the entirety of our lives are thin places.

Moments which mark a transition in our stories. These thin places are sacred… because they hold within them the past and the future… the known and the unknown… the old and the new… the familiar and the unfamiliar. 5PzvOGjfQdi5cNTls9Psfw

Each day, we get to witness tiny thin places, like the sunset transitioning from a day full of light into a purple dusk that ends in a navy sky… (and if we are lucky, scattered stars and a beautiful moon).

Then, there are bigger thin places in our stories. Like, the end of a relationship, be it a friendship, marriage or a partnership…. where your heart is broken and you are moving into a new season without the intimacy of that person. Or, most especially, thin places that come at the end of life… as one passes from this life to the next. As a pastor, I’ve gotten the deeply holy opportunity to be with a few people when they transition this way. These thin moments are holy because they are set apart…. they are not like the rest of the moments. They hold a power within them that is laced with the vulnerability of deep emotion. These are the moments that you’ll not soon forget.

Some thin places hold deep joy, like the joining of two lives in marriage, or the birth or adoption day of a little one, or a graduation which marks the end of a long and difficult academic season.

Thin places take a lot of energy. They take bravery as they always possess mystery and the unknown. And most of all, they take paying attention… because although they often hold great anxiety, they can also hold great joy. They can mark our lives where we remember the very moment when we were changed.

I wonder if these strange days where our lives are off kilter in more ways than words can elucidate, if we are not all collectively experiencing a thin place.

It’s new and strange. It’s scary and unfamiliar. It’s full of anxiety and trepidation. It’s a thin place.  We are very close to it. How will it change us? Where will we go? What will we learn? What are we paying attention to?

God’s peace to you in this thin place. We are all here….. together.

 

Lenten Wilderness Guide (Week 4)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 4: Battling for the Bible

     In the story of Jesus fasting in the desert for forty days, as Jesus is fasting and praying, the devil tempts him– not using some unfamiliar text, but actually using scripture. A frequent, ever-present conflict in the Church is biblical interpretation. Some people feel that they read the bible literally though some passages read literally would be pretty tough. Some folks do not read literally and yet believe the scripture is still inspired by God but has mistakes. Some folks do not give any authority to scripture. How do you read scripture? How do you understand the Bible’s authority? Do you believe that God is still speaking or that God has spoken all God will speak as it was recorded in scripture?

Though the conflict in the United Methodist Church is commonly associated by the general public with LGBTQIA persons, it is important to note that it is actually a conflict over biblical interpretation. That is a very important distinction, especially for persons who identify as LGBTQIA* persons. New Testament scholar AJ Levine once said: “the Bible should be a rock upon which our faith is built rather than a rock that is thrown at others.” The stances we take, whatever they are, have implications in our everyday lives and how those lives interact with other lives. It is important to see and understand how those play out in daily living as we seek to be accountable to our theologies and biblical interpretations.

Scripture to consider: Matthew 4:1-11

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Mark 12:13, 38-40

They sent some of the Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap him in his words… As he was teaching, he said, “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. 39 They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. 40 They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”

Acts of Devotion and Spirituality: Read the above scripture, Matthew 4:1-11, and practice Lectio Divina with it. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of reading a scripture a few times over and mediating on it in prayer. There are many ways to do this; here is one!

-Go to a quiet place and ready yourself to listen to the Word of God

-Read the scripture passage out loud, once through

-Pause and recall if a word or phrase stood out to you. If so, pause and sit with it in meditation and see what it is, what it feels like, what it shows you. Wonder about it.

-Then go back and read the passage to find a fuller meaning.

-Pause again and see what came to you.

-Meditate longer. End in prayer: talking to God about what came forth.

Lenten Wilderness Guide (Week 3)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 3: Hang in there! 

     The world that we find ourselves navigating is no doubt a fast-paced, next-day-delivery, instant-oatmeal kind of world. Therefore, when life brings us into an elongated season –especially one that involves suffering or even growth– we are often caught off guard by the length of the season. We know though that some lessons just cannot be learned overnight, as tough as that may be. Just like a golf swing cannot be perfected in one day, our spirituality cannot be quickly downloadable like a PDF file. The good stuff takes time to know intimately.

We see in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus takes a long season of forty days to engage with tough spiritual questions, all while he is starving for food. These temptations that the devil brought forth centered around Jesus’ identity and mission. Had he not known who he was or what he was here to do, perhaps the devil’s tantalizing temptations would have been harder for Jesus to resist.

As people of long-seasoned faith, we need spiritual disciplines in our lives that we practice every day–on the days when we feel like it and on the days that we do not. Just like it takes training to prepare for a college entrance exam or a 5k, our faith takes training. In order for the best of our Christian tradition to come forth from us in the hardest moments, we must practice it every day, so that it becomes our rhythm, our mother tongue. Spiritual practices like prayer, fasting, self denial, sacred time, service, justice and resistance work are just a few practices that help us live our faith values every day and prepare us for the long seasons that life will bring.

Scripture to consider: Matthew 4:1-11

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5 This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Offering yourself and your gifts – What simple serving projects could your family do together this week? Some ideas might include:. taking a bag of groceries to the food bank, gathering old clothes to take to a shelter, writing letters or drawing cards to send to people who need them, etc.

Acts of Worship: Slow down this week and find space to wait. When you get home from work or the day’s activities, if you usually turn on the TV or get on your phone, consider leaving it off one night. Create space to sit, wait, and listen to your spirit and to God’s spirit. Perhaps there has been something nagging at you that you need to stop and listen to. Perhaps there is someone you need to talk to or reconcile with but being busy has kept you from having to face that. Perhaps you need to make a life decision but have felt stuck and need the space to talk to God about it. Whatever the case may be, sit and wait for God to make the way forward for you.

Acts of Devotion and Spirituality: As we journey through this Lenten season, there are several weeks left. Consider reading a few chapters a day to read the entirety of the Gospel of Matthew. There is often so much blessing in reading a gospel in its entirety because it situates the text in it 1st century antiquity and gives a powerful narrative to popular texts that we focus on often.

Lenten Wilderness Guide (Week 2)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 2: Evil’s Toolbox

     The story of the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness as Jesus is fasting and praying is an interesting one. It calls to mind tools that evil uses to tempt us into living into what it hopes for us: disconnection, insatiable greed, selfishness, devisive-ness, and rampant individualism. These tools tempt us to hoard our power and privilege and use those in service to ourselves to get ahead. Just as the devil tempted Jesus to make bread from stones, so too are we tempted to eat of unholy means. But Jesus knew that you become what you consume. He did not want to consume bread made from unholy power. He wanted bread that was made of love; bread that lifted up the lowly and brought down the unjust mighty from their thrones. He wanted the good stuff.

One of the most successful tricks that the devil plays on us is going after our identities. In this story, the devil says to Jesus: “since you are… then do this.” It was tempting for Jesus to display all of his might, but he would have been doing this at the bequest of evil. And… he refused to cooperate with evil. Gandhi taught this based upon Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: be noncooperative with evil.

Based on the unholy structures that have created a stratified system in society, if you are white, you have more privilege than people of color. If you are in a straight relationship, you have more privilege than one that is gay or lesbian. If you identify as cis-gender, you have more privilege than someone who identifies as trans*gender. If you live far above the poverty line, you have more privilege than people who live below or near it. How will you deal with this privilege and the power it brings? Will you eat bread made from stones of greed, selfishness, and evil, or will you eat bread made from love?

Scripture to consider: Matthew 4:1-11 

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

 

 

 

Lenten Wilderness Guide (Week 1)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 1: On Doing Hard Things

     This Lenten season, the faith community I serve will be walking through an in-depth look at the story of Jesus going into the desert, fasting, and experiencing temptation by the devil. Each week, this scripture found in Matthew will be present in the Lenten sermons and the Field Guides will be focused on this text where the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into a wilderness space. It is no surprise that Jesus is in the physical wilderness; he quiets himself and matches the landscape so that he may focus on prayer and resisting temptation. Consider that perhaps Jesus needed this trial to prepare his heart, body, and mind for the horror of what he was soon to endure down the Via Dolorosa to the cross at Golgotha.

It is hard to find anything redemptive about suffering. Some suffering may not have anything redemptive about it. Chris Stapleton’s recent song, Broken Halos, says it well:

“Seen my share of broken halos,

Folded wings that used to fly…

Don’t go looking for the reasons

Don’t go asking Jesus why

We’re not meant to know the answers

They belong to the by and by”

Some answers just belong to the by and by. And that’s okay. And, at the same time, sometimes the trials that come into our lives develop within us a deeper well, which hopefully will contain empathy for others because we ourselves know what pain feels like. This well will also hopefully develop in us the strength to live into our powerful baptismal vows, to actively resist evil, injustice, and oppression in the world.

In times of trial and temptation, it is very difficult to step back and see the new work that God is doing or maybe what we are being prepared for, but resting in the knowledge that the work is going on, even when you cannot see it, is comforting. Maybe these are birth pains of a greater good, deeper justice, and path to becoming your best self. Vulnerability and shame researcher, Dr. Brene Brown says: “I think our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted. It means engaging with the world from a place of vulnerability and worthiness.”

Scripture to consider: Matthew 4:1-11 

“Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Journeying through Lent with Children: 

If you didn’t get a chance to attend an Ash Wednesday service, take some time to talk with your child(ren) about what Ash Wednesday means.

When we receive ashes, it is a mark that we know that we belong to God and that there is nothing that we can do or can’t do in life that will keep us from belonging to God and being loved by God. Some days, we know in our minds that we are loved by God, but on this day, you get to see with your eyes that you are loved by God.

Acts of Devotion and Spirituality: Consider joining a small group this Lent in your faith community or if you are in a book group, consider choosing a book that focuses on Lent.