TUESDAY, MARCH 29TH
A TIME FOR A STORY
Jesus has a longer story to tell today, so he begins right away…
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:1-16)
As you think about this story, can you recall a time when you felt you had been cheated, or unfairly treated, or not given proper recognition for your work or service? Do you struggle to understand those who seem lazy or unmotivated? How does this story touch your soul?
One doesn’t have to look at social media very long to see how people react when life seems unfair. I see complaints because a young athlete gets a trophy “just for participating,” or because someone in the checkout line uses food stamps to buy steak, or because the suggestion is made to forgive student loans. We may have the tendency to react out of envy (I wish I could have had…) or out of resentment (it isn’t fair – I didn’t get to…) or out of skepticism (others are taking advantage of...).
While I was serving as a youth director, one student messaged me privately to ask these questions: “Why didn’t God send Jesus sooner? What about all the people who died before Jesus came?” I assured her that Jesus came to show God’s love for all time and all people. I never heard from her again, and I wondered if she didn’t like the idea of Jesus being so unfair or far too generous.
We can find lots of other examples of the “unfairness” of God as we live our life of faith. How often might we believe that some of us are more deserving of the kingdom? Does it seem unfair that perhaps everyone will receive the heavenly kingdom one day?
Shouldn’t our faith get us a bonus or something?
It does. We are the fortunate ones. We are the ones who have already known and experienced the love of Christ. We are the blessed, the ones who know the good news and can live it starting today. Through faith, we have the awareness of the kingdom here with us; we have the presence of God in Christ within us. We are living all these bonus days of peace, love, joy, and hope right now, because we know there will always be a resurrection.
We will all have glorious eternity after death – but our eternity has already begun!
MONDAY, MARCH 28
A TIME OF COMFORT
Today our mentor Jesus shares a deeply comforting promise, a reminder of his presence with us. He simply says…
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12, NRSV)
Sit with this promise for a few minutes. Where do you need the light of Christ today? Is there any darkness in your life that needs illuminating? Are you comforted by the thought of an ever-present light for your path? Have there been any moments this week in which you did the leading more than the following? How do his words touch your soul today?
Today Jesus tells us that he is the light of the world and the light of life. His words speak to me of the light of awareness, both in our world and in our lives. The word darkness usually reminds me of sin, but today I perceive it as the unawareness that comes from not being able to see his ever-present guidance and goodness (which, on further thought, may actually be the source of our sin). Jesus our light illuminates our way, increasing our awareness to life and his loving presence in it.
As wonderful as his light is, there are times when we would rather not see, when we are tempted to shut our eyes to the troubles of the world or the issues within ourselves. In a similar way, I can recall a few times when I chose to live in denial rather than face the truth. I lived with abdominal pains for quite some time before seeing a doctor and discovering my cancer. In a counseling session, I eventually remembered a painful childhood incident that changed the course of my life but had long been buried in my memory. Shining the light of awareness on my troubles was initially painful, but this led to eventual healing and joy.
Jesus shines that light of awareness for us now, in our lives and in our world. As we follow Jesus, the light of Christ will shine a light of direction for our journey, illuminate the needs of others and ourselves, reveal the surprising joys and unexpected beauty along the way, expose the areas that need tending or correcting, and most of all – be a beacon of God’s presence with us wherever we go. Our paths will become brighter, our lives lighter, as we follow Jesus, the light of the world.
We follow Love, and we find Light.
Photo by Karen, Hurricane, WV
Bible verses found at https://www.biblegateway.com/
FRIDAY, MARCH 25TH
A TIME OF BLESSING
Our Friday time of blessing with Jesus holds more treasures for us. Today, Jesus shares another gift from the Beatitudes, one that asks us to bless but also promises to bless us:
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7, NRSV)
Sit with this blessing for a few minutes. Can you recall a time when you were shown mercy? Was there a time when you were merciful toward someone? What blessings resulted?
If I consider this blessing from Jesus for very long, his words can become confusing. For, if mercy is showing unconditional kindness, compassion, or forgiveness – even to the undeserving – God’s mercy then comes to us without our merit. We receive mercy even when we are not the merciful. So why does Jesus say these words?
I found one answer in my Greek/English Interlinear New Testament; according to this book, the verse is actually translated, “…for they will be shown mercy.” As we increasingly share the mercy we have received from God, our awareness of the mercies coming back to us will increase as well. When we live and share in merciful ways, our attention to mercy will reveal it more and more. Our attention to mercy will reveal more of the times mercy is shared as well as the times mercy is received – from God and from one another. We find what we seek!
Today I am sharing an excerpt from A Beautiful Offering, by Angela Thomas. She describes the blessing of mercy very well:
The gift that God calls pleasing is your mercy toward the ones you haven’t chosen and the ones who make decisions you’d never choose. They can be fallen, struggling, disappointing, or downright embarrassing. Maybe they are people you love or a stranger who rear-ended you in the parking lot. However people come into your life, I can assure you that they are seen and known by God. God calls it beautiful when you give to anyone the mercy God has freely extended to you.
When your soul is being perfected by the presence of Mercy, then judgment begins to fade, the made-up rules don’t matter so much anymore, and what everyone might think becomes ridiculous… Life gets messy when you begin to give out mercy, but when you’re giving out mercy, you don’t care about the mess anymore…
Give on, because blessed are the merciful… you will always receive much more than you have been given.1
Amen. May it be so.
1Thomas, Angela. (2004) A Beautiful Offering. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
THURSDAY, MARCH 24TH
A TIME OF SHARED STRUGGLES
As we gather with Jesus to hear another of his frustrations – the ones we often share – we are grateful to know that he understands us and our frailties so very well.
I made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of me to the other side, while I dismissed the crowd. After I had dismissed them, I went up on a mountainside by myself to pray. Later that night, I was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn I went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw me walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But I immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” I said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward me. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately I reached out my hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” I said, “why did you doubt?”
And when we climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped me, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33, NRSV, revised*)
Place yourself as Peter as you think about this story. Could you have trusted Jesus more? Do you wonder why Peter doubted, with Jesus standing right there? Would you have been able to get out of the boat in the first place? Has someone ever doubted you? What is being revealed to you in this story today?
We certainly can have our doubts, can’t we?
In my reflection on this passage, I first question if Jesus really walked on the water. I begin to think of other reasonable explanations… this passage is a symbolic story, or there were rocks just below the surface, or Peter was afraid of all water, even shallow depths. And when I assume the story is true, I then attempt to justify my own doubts. If Peter doubted Jesus – when Jesus was actually there with him – how can I keep from doubting now? Finally, when Jesus asks Peter (and us) why he doubted, I could easily respond, “Because I am not the Son of God!” I may trust Jesus’s ability, but I certainly don’t trust mine.
I doubt the story and I doubt myself, all too swiftly and easily.
Then I sense Jesus assuring me as I recall:
~ some of the words he has said (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18)…
~ a few of the miracles others witnessed (When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. Matthew 9:8)…
~ and his surprising work in my own life (“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b).
May we deepen our trust in God by recalling the many times and reasons God deserves our trust. May we deepen our trust by accepting more of Christ’s invitations, by being willing to take more risks, by getting out of the boat more often. May we deepen our trust by asking God for help; as the father of the sick child said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
*The name of Jesus and his pronouns have been adapted by Karen into first-person.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23RD
A TIME OF INSTRUCTION
When we come to Jesus our mentor for our time of instruction today, we find him quiet and reflective. Like the disciples (in Luke 11), we ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus smiles and shares the instruction he gave to his friends years ago.
Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
(Matthew 6:5-13, NRSV)
Sit for a moment with Jesus to reflect on this instruction. What might you do to quiet your heart and pray simply, privately? In this moment, can you find just being in his presence enough of a prayer for you?
While taking a course in Spiritual Foundations, I had the privilege of gathering with a small group of peers for a time of spiritual direction. Each week, we would share our stories, read a Bible passage, then sit in silence after inviting the Spirit to move within and among us. We would then bless one another with the thoughts and inspirations that came to us.
During our year together, one dear man learned that he had pancreatic cancer. In that terrible morning when we heard his news, he confessed that he wasn’t sure how to pray. We listened and we cried together. At the end of the hour, each of us once again sat in the silence, inviting the Spirit to share some words to give him and bless him. Oh, so many beautiful thoughts and prayers arose! But I had only one word to share: Help. I almost felt foolish giving him this one simple word, and yet, he seemed deeply comforted by that prayer most of all.
Too often – especially when I am praying in front of others – I become concerned about praying with formal and eloquent words, about covering every need, about blessing all the participants, and even about the length of the prayer itself. I have to remind myself not to “heap up empty phrases” or to worry about “being seen by others.” Jesus assures us that God knows exactly what we need.
God does not evaluate our prayers by our performance or our eloquence. God promises us the richest grace in our earnest and simple prayers. We can pray in the privacy of our deepest hearts, with open and honest pleas, trusting that God is listening, loving, and providing exactly what we need.
TUESDAY, MARCH 22ND
A TIME FOR A STORY
It is time for a story with our mentor, Jesus. As he begins, we may recall this parable, the story of the gardener who scatters the seed of God’s loving word. We get comfortable in our seats as Jesus shares…
I began to teach the people many things in parables, and in my teaching, I said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And then I said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:2-9, NRSV, revised*)
As you reflect on this story, are there any words that especially resonate with your soul? What type of soil would you be at this moment? Today, are you the worn path, feeling trampled and dry? Or are you the rocky ground, needing some tilling and aerating? Are you the thorny area that could use weeding or fertilizing? Or are you feeling spiritually ready to receive the word and yield more of its goodness and fruitfulness? What do you envision Jesus saying to you about the condition of your soil?
A little further into this chapter of Mark, Jesus explains the meaning of his parable. We learn that the seeds of God’s word are sown everywhere; but unless they land on the good soil, the seeds will be quickly taken, the new seedlings won’t last, or the growing plants will eventually be choked out. Today I find good news in that God’s word has been freely shared with us, despite our soil condition. God doesn’t wait until we are ready (would we ever be fully ready?) but chooses to meet us where we are, how we are, why we are.
Today, we can welcome and accept the seed – this active, living, loving word of God – despite the condition of our soil. We can then cling to the seed, seek the sunlight of understanding, welcome the rain of cleansing, accept the plow of humbling and perfecting, and absorb the nutrients of nurturing and replenishing. The seed comes to us as we are, but we can help it grow within us.
Gardening will take patience, perseverance, attention, labor, and time. But the Gardener is with us. The Gardener will provide everything we need to sprout, grow, blossom and flourish, and eventually bring forth good and abundant fruit.
*The name of Jesus and his pronouns have been adapted by Karen into first-person.
MONDAY, MARCH 21ST
A TIME OF COMFORT
As we sit with Jesus today, we envision that we are sitting with other disciples, all of us eager to hear his words of comfort. Jesus extends his hands as a gesture of blessing and says,
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:16-20, NRSV)
“I will not leave you orphaned.” How does this comfort your soul today? Are there feelings of loneliness or isolation, a sense of being all on your own? Could you use a helper, an encourager, a listening friend? What qualities of a loving parent could you use most today? Sit with Jesus in gratitude, because he will always be someone you can trust, someone on whom you can rely, someone you will always have with you.
My daily reflections and journaling have helped me notice how much God moves – around me and within me. I look back to entries from months ago and find thoughts, conversations, or incidents that prepared me for what was to come. I see recurring messages or patterns that invited me to pay attention. I discover how prayers had been answered, not always as I had expected or as clearly as I had anticipated. Through the Spirit, God was always there. I may not have recognized God’s movements at the time, but my journal has gifted me with recorded moments that prove I have never been alone.
Our comfort today comes from having this Advocate that Jesus promised. We are never alone. We are always being watched over, directed from within, spoken to in our dreams. When we need the loving help of a friend and guide, the Advocate is here with us. We may only hear a whisper, or feel the slightest nudge, or notice a tiny moment. But if we pay attention, we will always know that we have never been left as orphans.
Christ lives in us, and we live in Christ. Forever united. Never alone.
FRIDAY, MARCH 18TH
A TIME OF BLESSING
Today is Friday, our time of blessing! We gather with Jesus to hear the third of his “Blessed are…” from what we know as the Beatitudes. Jesus says,
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
His words are similar to Psalm 37:11, “The meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” How does this blessing uplift you today? How would you describe meekness? Do you see meekness as a weakness at times? How might meekness be a strength in your life?
I found this explanation from https://www.gotquestions.org/ helpful for today’s blessing:
The Greek word translated “meek” is praeis and refers to mildness, gentleness of spirit, or humility… Meekness is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. Paul urged meekness when he told us “to live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2).1
Meekness is not being timid out of fear or doubt, but is instead being humble, gentle, and mild, out of the strength, love, and power of Christ.
And what about inheriting the earth? I found this explanation helpful, too. Dr. Michael A. Milton writes,
…when Jesus says that the meek inherit the earth He is affirming that salvation is a holistic term. We are saved in this life. We are saved at the moment of our death… and we are saved when we come to reign with Christ Jesus in a new heaven and a new earth. I believe that there is even more. We are saved in our personhood — our very humanity. To inherit the earth for me right now means to be given strength to face the disease that has afflicted me. To inherit the earth is to know the fullness of love and companionship with my wife and family. To inherit the earth is to know friendship based on love and respect rather than what one can do for me. To inherit the earth is to be at peace with God.2
Each time we set aside our own self-interest to foster the interests of others, each time we define our personal success by promoting the success of others, and each time we use our individual rights to obtain the rights of others, we are the meek. And we are the blessed meek, for we inherit the joys of kingdom living right here and now, as we dwell together in love – for God and for all.
THURSDAY, MARCH 17TH
A TIME OF SHARED STRUGGLE
Today we will learn of another struggle Jesus had, a frustration that we often share and understand. Jesus sits quietly for a moment, smiling knowingly to himself, and then begins…
While everyone was amazed at all that I was doing, I said to my disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask me about this saying.
An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But I, aware of their inner thoughts, put a little child by my side and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:43b-48, NRSV, revised*)
Think about his words for a few moments. When have you felt misunderstood, or discounted, or even ignored? Have you ever been frustrated as you tried to warn, enlighten, or advise someone, only to be disregarded? Now think about yourself… have there been times when you missed the point, or misunderstood someone? Have you ever thought to yourself, this doesn’t apply to me, because I am smarter, wiser, more mature, more cautious…? How do you sense your mentor teaching you today?
Here the disciples seem to miss what Jesus is trying to tell them about his future betrayal; instead, their excitement about his successes led them to their own visions of grandeur. They were busy focusing on their own pursuits, their quest for greatness, their desire to be part of his success, instead of listening to his words of warning. The disciples were too distracted and – as Jesus mentions – too afraid to consider the truth of what he was saying.
Today I sadly think of the many stories of people who, on their death beds, implored their loved ones to wear masks or be vaccinated. They deeply regretted that they did not take the recommended precautions or listen to medical advice. Perhaps they believed that they were strong enough or young enough to endure the virus. I remember my own frustration with friends who disregarded or doubted the recommendations, and our sadness of losing some of them.
But I am also aware of those times when I have discounted or ignored some good advice. Recently my sister suggested that I back my car a little farther out from her driveway before turning onto the road. I was certain that I had plenty of room, that my car was smaller than she realized, and that she didn’t know how sharply I could turn. I knew what I was doing!
And I promptly drove onto her lawn. (Sorry, Janet!)
Jesus’s example of becoming like a small child is especially meaningful for me today. Do I trust Jesus with a childlike trust, listening not only for good news but also for correction? Do I trust that his words of caution are like a loving parent for his child – or do I mistakenly assume that I know better? Does my pride keep me from being willing to become the least?
How blessed we are to be children of God. We are beloved, we are embraced, we are forgiven, in all of those times when we miss the point. Jesus continued to journey with the disciples, continued to repeat his warnings and his lessons, and continued to love, instruct, and serve them. This mentor will continue to do the same for us, perfecting and correcting us, while generously and unfailingly loving us all the way.
*The name of Jesus and his pronouns have been adapted by Karen into first-person.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16TH
A TIME OF INSTRUCTION
As we come for our time of instruction today, Jesus invites us to dim the room and light a candle, if we have one. He then shares these words of wisdom.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, NRSV)
Look at the candle and reflect on his words. Who has been a light for you in your life? How does it feel to hear Jesus call you “the light of the world”? In what ways are you sometimes tempted to hide your light? Who may need your light today? What type of light might be needed?
On a recent warm evening, my three-year-old granddaughter and I sat on the front porch steps under the night sky. Looking around, she noticed that some of the nearby garden lights were not shining, so we took a few inside to check them with her toy medical instruments. We “doctors” discovered that these lights had not absorbed enough of the sunlight’s solar energy to shine brightly. A few surrounding bushes had obstructed the sun’s rays that day.
These words of instruction from Jesus remind us to shine brightly with the light of God’s love. Our good works will help others “give glory to the Father in heaven.” Today, I find that the solar-powered garden lights provide a simple lesson: absorbing the light of God’s love enables our own lights to shine and empowers us for good works. Putting our lights under a bushel would only cause them to diminish. And, as our lights shine, others can absorb this light of love, and then shine with glory for God themselves.
While I was reflecting and writing this post, I brewed a cup of tea and was so surprised to find this thought on the tea tag: It is the light in the lantern which shows you the path, not the lantern. What a timely coincidence, a God-moment for me! Receiving the guiding light of God helps to inspire us with hope for the path ahead. Absorbing the gently illuminating light of God enables us to quietly listen and softly encourage. Taking in the warm glow of God’s light strengthens us to welcome with genuine hospitality. Embracing the piercing light of God allows us to serve with clarity of purpose.
How does your light shine? With God’s love as our source, we can become a bright headlamp, a gentle candle, a moonlight reflection, a warm fire, or a strong spotlight. Our lights will adjust with God’s perfect power and intensity according to the needs of others.
May our lights so shine.