Lenten Devotional: Thursday, April 18

by Nevena Martin

On Tuesday morning, I cuddled my son as he received a breathing treatment in the Emergency Department. Some of the mist aimed at his mouth rolled over his nose, curled up my arm and dissipated in my own face. As I breathlessly observed him, hoping the medicine would ease his effort to breathe, I waited for the tightness of my own chest to slowly release, too. Five mornings earlier a patient of mine, I’ll call him Mr. B, told me he couldn’t breathe. He asked for a breathing treatment. A few hours later, he would be dead.

Haunted, these are the thoughts that ran through my mind as we sat in the trauma bay. Was this revenge? Was it karma? What caused my otherwise-perfectly-healthy son to not be able to draw an adequate breath? How many other people had sat in this room designed specifically for battles that can go either way? What was the driving force of these outcomes? How many miracles had occurred in this trauma bay? How many times was it simply science drawing a natural conclusion?

As the direness of Gus’ situation wore off, I pondered whether God loved him more than Mr. B. Had enough people prayed for his recovery? Was a lamb, off in some distant land, slaughtered and offered as a sacrifice, pleasing God enough to change His mind? Is that the kind of God I wanted to serve:  an all-powerful entity whose mind I could change with enough renditions of “please, sir”? What had Mr. B done wrong, what had Gus done right? Do I praise God on Tuesday but not on the previous Thursday? More concretely, is Death a punishment and a long life a reward? An interesting thought the week before Holy Week.

My thoughts circled back to more of the catch-all mainstream Christian phrases that I often scoff at, and I reconsidered them. Does God have a plan that includes sad, injust incidents as well as acts of unearned forgiveness and redemption? In the battle between predestination and free will, is there a third way? What do we know of Jesus’ ministry on earth that provides evidence for each of these arguments? Is this even a conceptual divide which impacts how one should conduct herself? My thoughts swirled, refusing to settle.

I wondered what I should pray in the moment without realizing I had been praying. Having been conditioned to think prayer looked something like the castigation and implorement of the Joel Osteen’s of the world, I struggled to recognize my ponderance and curiosity of God to be prayer; I struggled to see this as *my* personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And then I remembered a bit from a sermon near Christmastime where Joe described the Adult Sunday School class sharing their favorite lines from Christmas songs, and I offered up this borrowed prayer:

Be near me Lord, Jesus, I ask you to stay. Close by me forever, and love me I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and take us to heaven to live with thee there.

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 19

by Daniel Malec

Mark 12:30-31 (NIV):  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

As I reflect on this scriptural reference from Matthew, I am struck by the order that Jesus has laid out these commandments.  Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength comes first. I am coming to realize that these commandments are likely laid out in this order for a reason.  Too often in my life, I make personal commitments to forgive and move on, yet my heart and mind seem to hold on and not let go. This leads to more pain and resentment and it seems the cycle goes on even though my intention is to let it go.

I find myself in the midst of this cycle now. Since we moved into our house over a year a half ago, we have been embroiled in conflict with our next- door neighbor. Throughout this journey of discord, pain and resentment, I have experienced tests to my faith like almost none other.  What does it mean to love our neighbor when it feels like she is constantly attacking us and making false accusations against? How do I practice forgiveness when what I really feel is resentment? Why am I still holding on to so much pain and anger when I keep trying to forgive and move on? This conflict has cut to the core of who Alys and I strive to be.  We desire deeply to be good neighbors – to help build a healthy and loving community. Instead it seems that our life commitments are an insult and an affront to our neighbor.

In my conflict resolution work in schools, I often encounter students that appear to be dripping with resentment.  I often share with them the saying that is attributed to the Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  My expectation often is that they will grasp the harm they are causing to themselves and then let go of the resentment. I have found through my own journey with pain and resentment, that this is far easier said than done.  I have gained more compassion and empathy for my students and their burden of carrying resentment.

While I have been trying to forgive and move on from this conflict with our neighbor, I continue to be caught holding the burning coal in my hand.  I can’t seem to let it go. I believe what is happening is that I am trying to do this according to my time and not God’s. My focus should be on recognizing the pain and resentment that I feel and to offer it up to God.  Once I do that, then I believe my duty is to focus on the first commandment so that God can show me how to forgive and love my neighbor according to God’s plan and not my own.

One thing we have known for sure throughout this journey, is that God is in the midst of all of this.  God did not lead us around the country for a year and have us settle next to this particular neighbor for nothing.  There is something in this that is far bigger than us, but I have not been able to understand it yet. I think that is a bit of the point.  God has invited us to trust, period. God has not provided us with the answers to all of our questions, but if I truly believe God and God’s invitation to mercy and justice, then I have to believe that the answers will come according to God’s time.  God is faithful … all of the time 🙂

Dear God,
During this Lenten season, I want to make room for you in my heart and mind.  I want to make space for you, but I want to be honest that you will be sharing space with some unsavory thoughts and emotions.  I offer those thoughts and emotions to you as well. I patiently wait for you to transform them into instruments for your peace and justice.  Transform my heart and mind into a sanctuary for you and your divine light. In Jesus’ name I pray.

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 16

by Hope Cook

Mary Oliver says in her poem When Death Comes, “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.”

While we were on the road this past weekend, we stopped at a rest stop and I reflected on “rest stops.”  I watched as people scurried from their cars and speed-walked inside to use the restroom, then hopped back in their cars and sped away.  The only people who seemed interested in resting at the rest stop were either old people with little yip-yap dogs or children.  I watched as a little girl, probably 18 months, toddled around and squatted to look at every root and flower on the ground. She seemed enthralled by the magic of it all.  She then made her way unsteadily towards a tree.  When she came to it, she examined it the way an alien to earth might examine it.  She touched the bark, peeked around it, walked around it, gazed up towards the branches.  She was clearly amazed by this strong stick in the ground.  

Nature is our best way of connecting to the Divine.  This is like Face-timing with God.  You can’t sit in nature, even if it’s sitting on the stoop of your office building, without noticing something about nature.  You might look up at the sky and wonder about the weather, you might notice the temperature or the breeze or the pollen, but you’ll notice.  

At this stage in my life, it feels like I live on an interstate.  There are rest stops available at regular intervals, but I rarely get off and pull in and park.  I’m making it a point during this Lenton season to schedule rest stops.  If I manage to go outside during lunch, it’s like hitting the reset button on my mind.  I’m temporarily not thinking about work, I’m noticing.  Sit and notice …  notice the smells, the breeze, the clouds, the sounds.  Rather than take away sugar or wine during Lent, try adding rest stops instead.  

In Mark 6:30 Jesus even advised his workers to take a break and rest:
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 14

by Sarah Sumners

Corinthians 12: 9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In the wake of general conference, I find myself experiencing two disparate, yet confounded emotions: loneliness and vulnerability.  Feelings of hope, safety and security have been giving way to exposure, sadness and disappointment — manifesting as uncontrolled weeping and uncomfortable weakness.

But these feelings crowd my thoughts, serving to distract and distance me from God and from those around me, spurring on my discontent. My loneliness persists when I create barriers that separate me from God and from others. Instead, how powerful might I be if only I can risk showing my weaknesses as an offering of love?

The words of Paul and Timothy in 2 Corinthians offer me the instruction I need to understand God’s love for me, telling me to be content in my weakness. If I can delight in hardship and remain vulnerable in the eyes of God, then I can truly receive God’s love, freeing me from my unending search for love from others.

Today I will risk exposure, venturing to love others as God loves me, fully and unconditionally.

Prayer: Heavenly One,
We ask for Your forgiveness for ways in which we have filled our time and thoughts with human endeavors. Guide us towards Your salvation and use us to create space for others to join us so that they may experience the bounty of Your unending grace and mercy. Help us to expose our weakness as a witness to Your unconditional love. In Your name we pray, Amen.

Lenten Devotional: March 8, 2019

Lent and Time

by Leland Spencer

This was originally published on March 19, 2016 and was written by former Oconee Street UMC member Leland Spencer, who is now assistant professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Communication Studies at Miami University.

Ecclesiastes 3:1
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

In this Lenten season, I’ve been reflecting on time, at least in part because I’ve been rereading several of the speeches and writings of Martin Luther King, wherein time functions as a frequent theme. Lent, of course, marks time—40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays—what a strange way of marking time it sometimes seems.

As Lent calls us to awareness of our own mortality and sinfulness—but never without acknowledging God’s grace and forgiveness, always than our sin—I have reflected on time and my own willingness to wait, to defer, to privilege expedience over the call of conscience. In my work with a speech and debate team, I recently had a run-in with a coach of a neighboring school who wanted to ban debate judges who spoke native languages other than English. I confronted this person’s racism, but only after he’d succeeded in getting some judges dropped from a competition by claiming they were too inexperienced to judge. He hid his true purpose behind the veneer of the rules, but I knew his motive because he’d voiced it at a public meeting months before. In that earlier meeting, I rolled my eyes but didn’t speak up. I didn’t take him seriously, and I doubted anyone else would. I never imagined he would find a way to enact his ideology under the guise of legalistic adherence to letter of the law.

“Silence is betrayal,” King said in his 1967 speech at Riverside Church. Breaking with the Johnson administration for the first time exactly one year before his death, King articulated several reasons why his conscience compelled him to speak against the Vietnam War. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” a few years before, King excoriated white churches and white Christians (clergy and lay) who encouraged people of color to wait patiently for civil rights. King reminded his readers (then and now) that time itself is neutral, not progressive. Furthermore, the forces of injustice, in the call to wait patiently, more often mobilize time to their ends than the voices agitating for social change. The church, writes King, “is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

King’s words convict me of my own silence and embolden me to speak. As I reflect on King’s words about and to the church, I wonder about how our United Methodist Church this spring will act. As General Conference approaches, will 2016 finally be the year that justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream? Or will the church forget the message that “justice too long delayed is justice denied”?

Prayer: Oh God, in our lives, in our homes, in our church, find us faithful in your call to justice. Forgive us our silence in the face of oppression, and grant us holy and sacred impatience in the face of all that harms the people you love. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 7

Make Room for God
by Joe Gunby

Adapted from the “An Invitation to Lenten Practices” from the Oconee Street UMC Ash Wednesday service on March 6, 2019.

Luke 6:12 One of those days, Jesus went out to the mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.

In Christian tradition there are three modes of prayer: confession, assurance and petitions. These are central to what Christian prayer is all about – ways of reconnecting with God one-and-one and corporately. These practices of prayer are ancient, but they still make so much sense today.

In confession, we let go of those things we regret – things we are sorry about. We let go of them and let them slip out into the past. It feels really good to unburden our hearts in that way. In Christian belief, any time we say we’re sorry to God, we are forgiven. Assurance is when we’re reminded by the Holy Spirit that God will never abandon us. In prayers of petition, we let go of the worry in our own hearts and entrust them to God. 

Instead of giving something up this Lent, make room for God by making room for prayer. Designate room in your calendar when you will pray. Create physical room in your home where you will pray. And develop spiritual room in your heart and mind for what you will pray. Make room where you can ask God to be with you and hold you near, drowning out the noise of the things that bother you. 

Prayer: For the times when we have been too busy for you Lord, forgive us. For the times when we have filled up our lives with things, so much that we have no room for others, forgive us. For the times when we have been to busy to let our loved ones know how much we care … and to put ourselves in the world for the common good, forgive us. Help us be open to your nudge this season, to adjust to your time for us. 

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 6

by Joe Dennis

Proverbs 29:11
Fools give fool vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.

I was filled with rage. 

I was crippled with anger as the General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted to continue its discriminatory policies on LGBTQ people. I shot argumentative texts back and forth with Carla about leaving the church. I scoured the internet, consuming fiery responses from like-minded Methodists. I provoked social media debates with those who disagree with me. 

But none of my actions mattered. The outcome of the General Conference vote didn’t change. The words in the Book of Discipline weren’t altered. I didn’t convince one person to think differently. And quite honestly, I didn’t feel any better.

I was a fool. 

In the immediate aftermath of General Conference, I single-handedly took on the issue without God, convinced that my outrage was the solution for the injustice of the day. But my anger did nothing to help the people who were persecuted by the decision — LGBTQ Methodists who were labeled as “less than” by the governing body of their own church. 

Don’t be mistaken, I’m not downplaying the importance of speaking out against injustice, but it must be done with God at our side, prayerfully, reflectively and intentionally.

The theme this Lenten season is “Make Room for God.” It’s critical that we take this message to heart as we discern how we — individually and as a church — move forward. Although we cannot change the decision made at 2019 General Conference, if we allow God to help us, we can be confident our way forward will bring calm, peace and love to those who need it most.

Prayer: Dear God, we are hurting today. We are sad. We are angry. We are letting you in. Please guide us. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, Feb. 11

by Sylvia Hutchinson

Psalm 103: 1-5 (from The Message):
Oh my soul, bless God.
From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
Don’t forget a single blessing!
He forgives your sins—every one.
He heals your disesases—every one.
He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.
God makes everything come out right;
He puts victims back on their feet.

When I was a middle school child, I came to my Mother and complained about something that had happened to me.   I deemed the treatment that I had received as unfair.  Feeling unjustly victimized, I said with great authority that “life was not fair.”

My Mother replied that I was correct. She reiterated as she put her arms around me, “Life is Not Fair and that is why you, nor anyone else is ever punished for all our mistakes.”

It took a minute or two for her words to sink in, but how true it is and how grateful we all are that we don’t get punished every time we stretch the truth, speak unkind words about someone, run a red light, speed, or a hundred other infractions which I am sure I commit regularly.

Thanks be to an understanding and loving God.