Lenten Devotional: Thursday, Feb. 22

by Shannon Mayfield

Luke 4: 1-13: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’  ”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ “

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’  ”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  ”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

There is a beautiful river whose song I can only hear at night. In the day, layers of sound pile up on top of it: wind whirring, birds chirping, machines humming. Finding the song of the river itself is a matter of listening down through and beneath all the other things. A poor listener, I am grateful for the fall of night which lets me hear it again.

Lent can be like that. Failure can be like that. Tragedy can be like that.

In the bright and noisy moments, it can be hard to hear down through and beneath the layers of our lives.

For 40 days in the wild desert, Jesus was tempted like us. In the sunny mornings, he must have thought it absurd that he starve when he could turn a rock into bread. At midday, his ambition must have stirred thinking of all the people he could feed by using the tools the tempter offered.

In the late afternoon, the sun in his eyes must have been nearly as disorienting as the tempter quoting the words of the Bible itself.

Jesus strained, in that desert, to hear the river that whispered of the one true God, the fullness of God’s love, the faithfulness of God’s history with God’s people.

I don’t know if Jesus kept track of the river’s song beneath all that noise in the desert’s long days.

Or, if the quiet darkness of each night brought it back to him instead.

Prayer: God of love, we pray for the keen hearing that drills down through all other noise in our worlds, letting us never lose track of your song. But failing that, we thank you Lord, for the long nights of darkness. For, even as we fear the emptiness, it is often there that the song of your love becomes audible to us again.

 

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, Feb. 21

by Julie Dotterweich Gunby

“There is conflict—God be blessed.

When a sore spot is touched,
there is conflict, there is pain…

No one wants to have a sore spot touched,
and therefore a society with so many sores twitches
when someone has the courage to touch it and say:
‘You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that.’”

~Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love. Compiled and translated by James R. Brockman, S.J. (Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing House, 1998), 26, 30.

As conflict-averse as I am, I have to say that this is beautiful, a word of good news.

Being ‘conflict- averse’ is a luxury, borne of  a life of ease in which one has the option for her own comfort rather than a daily unbidden battle with darkness, destruction, exploitation.

Oscar Romero’s life and words call us toward holy conflict.

The world is not as it should be.

To name it as such, to fight for its restitution, and to draw down ire for so doing is an act of faith in the good, the true, and the beautiful, as well as in the only One who can and will make all things right.

Racism, greed, abuse, self-absorption, waste, banality …

As unpopular as it is, the language of sin is the language that lets us touch the sore spots.

Consider the beauty of condemning the wickedness and wastefulness of the empire, and how essential the language of sin is to that endeavor:

But the fact is, we can’t go around battling the powers and principalities of this world unless we are first thrown into holy, transformative conflict within ourselves.

We can’t bring healing if we are covered in festering sores.  We can’t advance the charge into moral battle if our own inner lives are palaces of unreflective ease. We cannot crack open public pain if we know nothing of the inner landscape of despair.

We know this because it was true of no less than Jesus himself.

Between the launch of Jesus’ ministry by baptism and his proclaiming gospel of repentance, he is driven – by the very Spirit of God – into a state of conflict, of temptation, of purification, self-denial, and utter surrender to God.

Mark 1:9-14 (NSRV): In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Ours is not a journey from the clear waters of baptism to ever more enlightened perfection in the truth. Smug self-satisfaction has convinced no one ever, and what is worse, it betrays the reality of the Gospel.

In Jesus, God has become like us, that we, through the brutal work of transformation might become like God, and that our healing might be for the healing of the world.

May God not leave us in our complacency and ease, but disrupt us enough to pray:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, Feb. 20

by Sarah Seabolt

Revelation 3:20: “Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Let me start by saying I don’t read the Bible. I used to, religiously (excuse the pun), but I remember quite clearly laying it down in the summer of 2000 to basically never pick it up again.

From time to time things from my evangelical past bubble up to the surface and two years ago this verse from Revelation was one of them, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” I could not quite remember how it went from there but I was pretty sure it went “and whoever opens the door, I will come in and judge them and evaluate their worthiness.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right but let’s just look it up to be sure,” I said to myself. So I dusted off my bible and googled it. Imagine my surprise! Holy cow! The creator of the universe, the divine, the holy one, wants to just come in and dine with me?! This loving and all powerful God wants nothing more than intimacy, presence, face to face time, and to share the same bowl of hummus as we talk about our day?

The voice I am accustomed to hearing is one of fear, judgement, criticism—underscoring all of my “not-enough-ness,” but that is not the voice of God. May I listen for the true voice of God that is nothing more than an invitation, just as I am, to be in God’s presence.

Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” reminds us to feel comfortable in our own skin and to accept this gracious offering to just be.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place
in the family of things .

Prayer: Dear Lord, how sweet it is that you continually stand at the door and knock irregardless of merit. How sweet that you do not give up on me. May I be willing to let go of my despair and loneliness, my guilt and shame, so that I can listen and hear your true voice. With my hands empty, I will open the door and receive all that you have to offer me. AMEN

Lenten Devotional: Monday, Feb. 19

by Benjamin Whetstone

Isaiah 44:9-20 (click here to read full verse): All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit … He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” … He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Ever pondered upon ash is a symbol of repentance?

I’ve been thinking about it some after our Ash Wednesday service.

The image that came to me most frequently, actually, is the ash at the end of a cigarette. I guess because I like thinking about cigarettes, especially now I’ve quit for the fifth time. Non-smokers might not immediately understand (since they’re so nasty to anyone who doesn’t want them), but cigarettes are like food to a smoker.

And they do satisfy, let me tell you! On top of all the immediate “my brain needs this chemical” stuff going on, there’s also a sense of anticipation that’s pretty great. Whatever unpleasant thing I might be doing right now, I’m only a short ways away from rewarding myself and taking a break. I know it’s bad and wrong and blah blah blah. I just kind of like it.

Allow me to connect this thought, about ashes and desiring some short-term pleasure, to another. From Isaiah:

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

I can say, “I just kind of like it” every day, all day and it’s 100 percent true. But in the end, there’s a more subtle truth. That’s me in the passage up there, and in quiet moments I know it. My certainty is ash. My need for control over my precious minutes is ash. Every little pleasure ungainly got is … ash! My ash can’t talk back to me or comfort me; it leaves a bigger whole than it filled. And it can’t give me hope, or peace, or love.

From experience I can say that putting aside idols is no easy task. I’m not sure how to do it, really. Well, that’s not entirely true. The most effective thing in the past has been to think about how I really do want the hope, and peace, and love that an actual, real God can give. Really, I do! (And I bet you do too!)

I’m not going to speculate on what or where your idols are. The things that might take your time and your energy and don’t give anything back. The things that you love because they help you feel better and more in control for a minute. But if you’ve got some like I do, ponder on them a little.

Here’s to sitting in ashes for a month or two.

Prayer: God, you alone are not ash. Here we are, your church, and we’re sitting in a pile of it. We’ll be content to sit here for a long while, because we know that you can remake anything you want. Please help us be patient and willing to wait, because we love you and really do want your good things. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, Feb. 17

by Allison Floyd

Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

“Y’all should put some good news in the paper.”

While working for a daily newspaper for 15 years, I heard some version of this complaint every day. “The news is all crime and scandal. You’d sell more papers if you’d focus on happy stories.”

Every. Single. Day.

The only way to accept this exhausting complaint is to see it for what it really is: A lament that we all focus on the bad news of the world and blame one another for how broken we are. We think it’s gotten worse with time, but really we’ve only gotten more tools to fixate on bad news and blame each other.

(You see the direction this discussion could go. Insert obligatory repentance for throwing Molotov cocktails on social media.)

Over the years, scads of people have tried to give us a bit of happy news to combat the drumbeat of negativity.

One of my favorites is a group in Nashville, Tenn., who raised $55,836 on Kickstarter last year – almost $30,000 more than their goal – to start a print publication called “Goodnewspaper.” The quarterly newspaper launched in May with the motto “Fighting against a world full of hate by celebrating the people, ideas & movements changing the world.”

Even the cover makes me feel a little better.

With all the depressing news of late, I started to think about the Good News. The term “gospel” appears nearly 100 times in the Bible; the Good News is referred to in the Old Testament, the New Testament, Jesus’ words, Paul’s letters … even in Revelation.

I’m imagining hearing that news first-hand … standing in a bustling crowd and hearing the good news of salvation. What would I have thought of John the Baptist’s foretelling of a coming savior? Would I have understood the news of salvation from sin and seen that as THE good news?

Safe to say, no.  No, I would not have understood.

Because, I have a hard time understanding it today. In my daily life, I see two types of news. Bad news is devastating hurricanes or government corruption or heart-breaking violence, while happy news involves heroic firefighters or inspiring school kids or endearing pets. (Ask me about #DogRates sometime.)

I spend my attention vacillating from the bad news to the happy news and back again without realizing that I’ve placed the Good News on a shelf. The most important news in my life should be the gospel, knowing that all other news is temporary.

That’s not to say we ought to be complacent and say, “God’s got this and nothing on this earth matters, anyway.”

But this world is broken. It’s going to stay broken, literally, until Kingdom comes. Our news will be happy or sad or frustrating. But the Good News doesn’t change, and it doesn’t come from us. It comes from Jesus.

What Good News do I need to hear from Jesus?

Prayer: God, during this Lenten season, I am trying to listen. I want to hear your Good News for the world. Strengthen me to endure the hurt that we inflict on each other and to alleviate pain where I can. But, especially in this time, may I hear your Good News over the news of this world. AMEN.

Lenten Devotional: Friday, Feb. 16

by Charles Bressler

Psalm 63:1:
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

A DISORIENTATING GOD
I have been taught and sermonized that
You are a God
Who cares
Who loves
Who knows the future.
That I am to
Hold your hand
Trust your Word
Believe I am your Beloved child
And all will be well.

But You are a disorientating God.
For you act in ways that
Baffle my logic
Abandon my desires
Disrupt my sense of fairness
Shatter my pride
Greet my words with silence
Confuse my plans
Ignore my tears.

My learned ways of response to You shout that
I have
Not trusted enough
Petitioned enough
Read Your word enough
Believed enough
Hymned enough
Claimed enough.

But You are a Gethsemane Savior:
One who
Cried
Sweat blood
Anguished
Confronted and
Wept in the presence of Your disorientating God.
Through confusion, torment, and pain
Through disorientation, isolation, and shattered desires,
You chose obedience to the Divine
An obedience that led to more disorientation
More suffering
More confusion
More abandonment,
But then sudden and dazzling re-orientation
Through resurrection
With wholeness
With all-encompassing joy
With God.

Disorientating God,
Disorient me,
Usurp my logic,
Disrupt my dreams,
Confound my goals
Anguish my soul
Until like the Lord Jesus Christ
I too receive, experience, and embrace
Yet another divine epiphany:  Your Presence.

Prayer:  Almighty God, you are indeed a disorientating God.  Our souls thirst for you, and our hearts and bodies long for you.  We have prayed, we have worshipped, and we have served your children.  But at times, Sovereign God, it feels as if we are in an abandoned place, and we thirst with nothing to drink.  During this Lenten season, we seek your face, we seek your direction, and we will sit in silence waiting to hear from you.  Do what you will to each of us:  you are the potter, and we are the clay.  Disorient us from the expected, disrupt our dreams, and do whatever it takes in and through us so that we can listen and hear you words and direction for our lives.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, Feb. 15

by Joe Dennis

Mark 4:9: “Let the person who has ears to hear, listen!”

When I learned the theme for our Lenten season is “Listen,” my mind couldn’t help but recount the song of the same name from Atlanta band Collective Soul …

Hey, you now wander aimlessly around your consciousness.
Your prophecies fail, and your thoughts become weak.
Silence creates necessity.
You’re clothing yourself in the shields of despair.
Your courage now impaired.
Hey, why can’t you listen?
Hey, why can’t you hear?
Hey, why can’t you listen as love screams everywhere.

As a former rock radio disc jockey, I’ve probably heard this song more than 1,000 times (it was a #1 rock radio hit in 1997). Its mesmerizing guitar hook and catchy chorus made it a popular song. Ironically, through all those times I’ve played the song, I never actually listened to the lyrics of “Listen.” But as the song was replaying in my head, it took on a much deeper, spiritual, meaning.

I’ve been “feeding my mind with selfishness” for a long time. From the iPhone to the Echo, I’ve always tried to have the latest gadget. From HBO to satellite radio, I’ve always afforded myself with as many entertainment options as possible. From announcing UGA hockey games to joining yet another committee, I’ve always attempted to keep myself busy.

And at the end of the day, before my “thoughts become weak” and I clothe myself in “shields of despair,” I take two different antidepressant drugs and fall asleep … before waking up and doing it all over again.

I haven’t talked to God in a long time.

“Silence creates necessity,” but I haven’t given time for the silence I need to hear God. I haven’t listened to God.

This Lent, I’m going to make the time.

Prayer: God, I know you’re trying to talk to me. But I keep shutting you out by occupying my life, my mind with a million other things. I promise to try, but I’m also asking for you to help me open up, and listen.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, Feb. 14

imageby Joe Gunby

Matthew 11:28-29: 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.

Today marks the beginning of a forty-day journey with Jesus. A journey that stops for a time in the desert, in the wilderness, and the out-of-the-way places where wisdom is found. A journey of silence, and contemplation, and mystery. For many, this is a season to “give up” foods or habits that may be weighing us down, so that we might step more lightly in the footsteps of Jesus. This is also a season when many will “take up” habits of the heart that wake us to the Divine Presence all around us. We may pray with greater attention, serve with more intention, or meditate upon the Word sets us free.

Lent engenders a kind of paradox for those seeking spiritual maturity. For at once we know that our standing with God is not improved by what we do—even the good things we would do to pray more in no way make us worthy to be loved by God. If they did, then spiritual disciplines would become yet another self-improvement program that we have to master, and all of our activity would take us further from the rest that Jesus promises. But the rest Jesus promises is not the same as laziness and inattention. In order to find the peace that we so desperately desire, we have to take active steps to separate from the noise and strife around us. So then, there are two parts to faith—the active and the passive, both equally important.

During Sunday worship this Lent, we will have opportunities to turn down the noise of our busy lives and listen to the Voice that is closer to us than we are to ourselves.  We will rest, listen, and keep silence. In preparation for these unique worship services, I’ve found myself returning to the music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. His beautifully spare choral works are filled with quiet and silence, so much so that one comes to hear the silence as the goal of the music, and not as an interruption of it. His insights about the nature of silence would help us maintain tension between active and passive spirituality.

“On the one hand, silence is like fertile soil, which, as it were, awaits our creative act, our seed. On the other hand, silence must be approached with a feeling of awe. And when we speak about silence, we must keep in mind that it has two different wings, so to speak. Silence can be both that which is outside of us and that which is inside a person. The silence of our soul, which isn’t even affected by external distractions, is actually more crucial but more difficult to achieve.”

 For our part, we have the good work of making time and space for exterior silence, for without that, we have little hope of receiving that more difficult interior silence—the peace that God gives.

Prayer: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Friday, March 25

by Maxine Easom
Dr. Marcia McFee is a worship specialist who works with churches all over the United States.  The worship committee at Oconee Street has had the opportunity to attend two of her workshops, and we have had her come to Oconee Street to help us in our worship planning.   In addition, we have utilized Dr. McFee’s expertise in our worship planning for several years.
Dr. McFee sent an email to all the people who work with her throughout the year.  I thought it was a beautiful piece of writing, taking us through Holy Week, day by day, while keeping the focus on the true meaning of each day.  As I read the writing, I thought immediately of our church – of each of you.  Thank you for being such a special group of Christians.  Here is Marcia’s gratitude writing:
Friends, I wanted to let you know that I am praying for you in these three holiest of days. But actually, I pray for you every week. Because every week…
 
… you are the ones that welcome the people to the table of Jesus and proclaim that we are the family of God, whether we feel like supporters or traitors at times.
 
… you are the ones that hold the hands of the distraught and dying and proclaim that death will not have the last word.
 
… you are the ones that wait through the night, praying for the resurrection of this world and its beloved people.
 
…. you are the ones that dare to look into tombs and declare that God’s promises are fulfilled by new life.
 
You are the ones that are striving, week in and week out to bring the liberating Gospel into reality by feeding, clothing, housing, working… all in the name of Love and Justice.
 
I am deeply grateful for you and am humbled to serve you. And I am praying for you… always.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 24

by Jamie Calkin

IMG_0111

Easter Week, painted with OSUMC sunday school children, Ink and watercolor on 4x8ft panel.

Matthew 26:36-38 (NIV)
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 

Thank god I go to a church that welcomes trouble makers like me. For example, in talking to an Atlanta-area United Methodist pastor last year, I think I stopped him a bit short when I said the ‘hocus pocus’ of Jesus ascension wasn’t what made Easter and Jesus important to me. Usually, I try remember what Katie and many others at Oconee Street have said: it’s the power of story (not the suspension of logic) that makes the Bible so meaningful. The ’hocus pocus’ line just slipped out.:)

But for me, the story of Jesus in Gethsemane is still the most meaningful part of the Jesus Easter story. It’s no wonder that I put that image of Jesus at Gethsemane (based on painting by Michael D. O’Brien) centrally in the mural of Easter week painted with Ms. Jamie’s sunday school kids.

IMG_0119

Pencil and Pen on paper (on one of Sharon’s clipboard meant for the kids:)

To do the right thing in the face of fearful consequences is, for me, one of the most powerful things about Jesus’ story (I did the sketch) a few weeks ago (during Lisa’s sermon:). Jesus knew this was the likely  consequence!!!

And here is a 13-minute podcast of an incredible story of the same thing: doing the right thing in the face of fear:

http://www.newyorker.com/podcast/political-scene/evan-osnos-on-father-michael-pfleger

It’s about a Catholic parish priest, Father Michael Pfleger, in Chicago’s South Side and includes an amazing audioclip of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve already written more than I intended, so to the …

Prayer: God, don’t let me forget that You were with Jesus throughout as you surely were with MLK and have been with Father Pfleger. I want to do the right thing, even in the face of my fears and doubts. I’ll try to remember Gethsemane. Thank you for your help God. And thank you for Jesus.