Tag Archives: Lent

Lent 2019 – Day 13 – Jeremiah 3:6-10

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me’; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretence, says the Lord.
–Jeremiah 3:6-10 (NRSV)

Lent is a time of year when the church and the lectionary tend to challenge us. On Ash Wednesday, we are invited to observe a holy Lent, by fasting and self denial, immersing ourselves in Scripture and prayer. It’s a time of the year when we challenge ourselves and perhaps deny ourselves a few things we might not otherwise deny, as we walk toward the cross and Calvary.

The Daily Office Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer tends to include readings that some might consider a bit more challenging. I know I find the Old Testament reading for today from Jeremiah to be quite challenging.

This excerpt from Jeremiah exemplifies one of many areas in the Bible where women are likened to the status of property, of a pawn used in determining political deals and familial arrangements. And blaming the misjudgements or immoral behavior of the woman for potential undesirable outcomes of political or military ventures. This is obviously not something modern, enlightened people believe. But why did our ancestors?

Too often, modern people will “throw the baby out with the bathwater” to use a tired but easily understood expression. That is, many modern people will turn their back on God and on the church because of how many difficult things are in the Bible…misogyny being just one of many.

However, reading these difficult stories, and learning from them, and perhaps asking why things were once that way, and what came of such perceptions, and how can we be better…these are all valid questions to ask. There is so much beauty and positive energy throughout the Bible; but also so much hate and violence and destruction.

And yet, we read these stories. We read them again and again. We struggle with them, we question them, we get angry at them. And yet we are inspired by them, enlightened by them, and revived by them.

Thankfully, we have come a long way in how women are treated in society. Though we still have such a long way to go. Perhaps reading stories like this remind us of how offensive and disgusting such language and ideas are. Does any good ever come out of treating an entire group of people with such contempt?

I don’t have answers, but I bet that I am not the only one struggling with this. Reading these stories and struggling with them together are one of the many things that I find rewarding about being a Christian. So, let’s struggle together as we walk toward the cross this Lent, and watch and pray with Jesus as he walks with us.

O God, you so loved the world that you gave your only- begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Lent 2019 – Day 1 – Ash Wednesday

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He 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. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then 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.

The 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. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When 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.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then 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. And 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?’
Jonah 4:1-11 (NRSV)

Jonah is not a book of the Bible that people talk about too much, save for the familiar story of Jonah and the whale, perhaps. But this last chapter of the tiny yet beautiful book of Jonah from the Hebrew Bible is one filled with an interesting conversation between Jonah and God. In reading it, I find it similar in some ways to the book of Job, and Job’s struggles and anger at God. This feeling of helplessness is one that I have personally dealt with many times…where I’ve just wanted to give up and to throw in the towel. Jonah, in his situation, wants to die. He wants to give up. But God asks him to question that decision, to look at things from another perspective. God doesn’t give him the answer, but God asks him to think about things.

In fact, the chapter ends with a question, not an answer. I always have found that odd. But upon reading this again today as part of my morning prayer, I think it’s just perfect. Ending on a question.

God is there for us in our prayers. God is with us in our struggles. God grieves when we grieve, and celebrates when we celebrate. But God does not swoop in and make everything happy and joyful when we are sad. Far too often, that is how people view God, as a celestial entity who is there only when we need God to be, and to save us over and over whenever we get ourselves into trouble.

Yes, God does save us. We are saved by grace. But God is not there to swoop in and fix everything when it goes bad. This fact is something that turns many people away from God. Questioning why God would make people suffer, or why God would let bad things happen to good people.

I don’t have answers or a perfect explanation to justify God’s actions. But what I do know, through my own experience, is that God is faithful to the end. God is WITH US, in my experience in Jesus Christ, to help us bear our burdens and to comfort us when we are hurting. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”, Jesus says in the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This Lent, as we remember our mortality, and shift our practices in different ways to unsettle us and help us to focus more on God, remember that God is faithful. Remember that God is with us, in our struggles and in our joys. And rejoice in that.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Holy Wednesday Reflection (Lent 37)

One of my favorite prayers in my Church’s tradition discusses the eternal changelessness of God. The prayer reads:

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The fact that God is changless is a hard concept to fathom. We cannot begin to grasp who God is, or what God is like. Our language and thought capacity fail us, though we try. I believe that the closest we may get to understand God is in Jesus Christ, God’s perfect revelation of God’s self to the world. In Christ’s life, passion, death, and rising again, we are made one with God. Thanks be to God!

Sunset to sunrise changes now,
for God doth make his world anew;
on the Redeemer’s thorn-crowned brow
the wonders of that dawn we view.

E’en though the sun withholds its light,
lo! a more heavenly lamp shines here,
and from the cross on Calvary’s height
gleams of eternity appear.

Here in o’er-whelming final strife
the Lord of life hath victory,
and sin is slain, and death brings life,
and earth inherits heaven’s key.

Words: Clement of Alexandria (170?-220?); para. Howard Chandler Robbins (1876-1952)

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Holy Tuesday Reflection (Lent 36)

The final words of this hymn: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” send shivers down my spine every time I sing them. I think that this phrase perfectly sums up the duty of each Christian of committing one’s life to God in service, prayer, love, and humility. God’s love for us is unfathomable. It is a love that transcends all descriptions. We can only imagine what that love is like, which was made known to us in the life and death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the cross of Christ, my God:
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

–Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), 1707
–Music: Gilbert Martin

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Lenten Reflection – Day 34

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord. —Ezekiel 37:11-14

This hast to be one of the most fantastical readings in the book of Ezekiel, a book of prophesy and lament written when the Jews were in exile in Babylon. This reading conjures images of resurrection, foretelling the message that is to come in Jesus Christ. These words of Ezekiel still speak to us today, much like the words of the other prophets. They turn our hearts and minds towards the One who came, the One who will rise from the dead in everlasting glory, the One in whom ultimate hope and salvation is found.

dry bones

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Lenten Reflection – Day 33

Over the last few days, I have been attending an Episcopal conference called “Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace” in Oklahoma City. To get to Oklahoma City, we drove from Kentucky through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and into Oklahoma. The drive was mostly beautiful. However, upon entering Kansas, we began to see signs for zones that had been burned…though not sure why. I believe it is called “range burning.” This was heavily prevalent in an area called Flint Hills. We drove through miles and miles here and there of grassland that had been burned. This continued through most of Kansas south of Wichita on I-35. And then, upon entering Oklahoma, we began to see lots of drilling machines…I’m assuming drilling for oil? I started to think about the fracking that I have heard has been going on in this region, and about the rise in earthquakes that have been attributed to this fact.

And I couldn’t help but think about the words of Isaiah:

The earth dries up and withers,
   the world languishes and withers;
   the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
   under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
   violated the statutes,
   broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
   and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled,
   and few people are left.
The wine dries up,
   the vine languishes,
   all the merry-hearted sigh.
The mirth of the timbrels is stilled,
   the noise of the jubilant has ceased,
   the mirth of the lyre is stilled.
No longer do they drink wine with singing;
   strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
The city of chaos is broken down,
   every house is shut up so that no one can enter.
There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;
   all joy has reached its eventide;
   the gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city,
   the gates are battered into ruins.
For thus it shall be on the earth
   and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
   as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended.

  –Isaiah 24:4-13

It is my prayer that in following Christ our eyes our opened to the damage we inflict on our land. As I have spent these last few days visiting these regions once inhabited by throngs of Native Americans, whose culture embraced the protection and stewardship of the land, I can’t help but wonder how our current society might learn to do the same. How can we learn to be faithful stewards of God’s sacred creation? How can we make our world a more beautiful place for our children? May God be with us as we encounter more numerous challenges that result from our abuse of this wondrous planet.

Burnt grasslands in Kansas.

Burnt grasslands in Kansas.

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Lenten Reflection – Day 32

A week ago, there was a lot of rain over several days in Kentucky. On Friday evening, the rain clouds began to dissipate, and there was a momentary glimpse of the sun just as it began its descent back to the horizon toward dusk. I caught this image of the sun peeking through the clouds. It reminds me of our approach to Holy Week…the sun setting on the Lenten story as we approach the darkness of the Triduum (the three days before Easter). But even though we know darkness is around the corner, we know that in the end, the Everlasting Light prevails and death is no more. We know that the Sun of Righteousness will rise, and never set for eternity. As we wait, we watch and pray, and listen…

park sunset

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