TUESDAY, APRIL 5TH
A TIME FOR A STORY
As we gather with Jesus for our Tuesday story, Jesus first gives us a little background information. He explains that, after the chief priests and elders witnessed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and people gathered to shout his praises, they became desperate to question Jesus and find fault with him. He then decided to tell them this parable:
What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, “The first.” I said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32, NRSV)
Sit with this story for a few moments. When have you felt like the first son, agreeing to do something but not following through? When have you felt like the second son, initially refusing but then changing your mind? Were there any regrets? Any unexpected blessings? How is Jesus touching your soul with this parable today?
This story brings to mind Jesus’s initial call for his disciples to “follow me.” Oh my, I find it much easier to say, “I will follow you!” than to actually follow. I can be like the second son, readily saying, “I will go!” because I am eager to please Jesus, but also because I am only thinking of the personal benefits I gain through his love for me. I am willing to follow Christ until it means I must surrender plans, make sacrifices, change my direction, or do exhausting work. The old adage, “It’s easier said than done,” certainly is true.
Today I notice the wisdom of the first son, as he refrained from committing until he had time to consider all that the work would entail. His answer initially seems rude, disrespectful, or lazy. But, given time to think, he changes his mind and does what is asked. On the other hand, there have been a few times when my quiet prayer, “Your will be done…” is quickly followed by, “…but please don’t ask me to…” I hesitate to even consider some possibilities!
The chief priests and elders were all about the words – the rules, the questions, the Bible passages to memorize and quote. The religious leaders looked religious and talked religion. But as Jesus pointed out, the tax collectors and prostitutes, who didn’t have all of this biblical word knowledge, who were far from religious, were much closer to kingdom living than they were. It seems that the words and the rules actually hindered the religious leaders from truly following Jesus. The saying impeded the doing.
God understands and welcomes our prayerful discernment. We have been given the Spirit to help us do so. When we sense a new calling, or when we are asked to commit to a new responsibility, we are wise to prayerfully weigh and consider before we answer. We will give a more definitive and committed “yes” when we first ensure a clear understanding of the time and sacrifice our commitment may require, consider our God-given gifts and passions, and truly seek to love and serve God in the best ways we can. Our prayerful, thoughtful (and sometimes delayed) “yes” is better than a swift, shallow, and showy answer that will promise little and mean nothing.
May we live our lives of faith with such integrity that our saying and our doing are one and the same, always coming from a heart that genuinely longs to love and serve God well.
MONDAY, APRIL 4TH
A TIME OF COMFORT
As we sit by Jesus, awaiting his good word, we try to release our thoughts from any troubles or concerns. But this isn’t always easy, is it? We always welcome – perhaps need – his comforting presence and words. And so Jesus begins…
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:25-33, NRSV)
Sit in the quiet as you consider this message. How do his words make you feel? Are there any worries in your thoughts today? What is Jesus saying to you?
“Do not worry…” Sometimes this seems impossible for me. My worries aren’t about the physical needs that Jesus names here – food and clothing – but generally about other concerns. I worry about the well-being of my loved ones, or the health of our environment, or the safety of our world. I worry about the mistakes I make in relationships or responsibilities. These intangible concerns can feel like heavy burdens at times.
Today Jesus reminds us of two things. First, God knows what we need. Second, our focus should be to strive for the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. These two instructions show us when to act and when to place.
We can replace our worry with action, as we act to change what we can to help bring about God’s kingdom and righteousness. For example, we can take steps to ensure the well-being of others, to reduce our impact on the environment, to work for peace and justice, and to share the love of God as much as possible. We can live and work with diligence and integrity, becoming more mindful of our actions in our daily responsibilities. We can love and serve with compassion and mercy, becoming more mindful of our actions in our relationships with others. And always, we can seek forgiveness and make amends when we fail.
We can replace our worry with surrender, as we place the things we cannot change into God’s loving care. When our troubles feel beyond our capacity, we can surrender them to the One who is infinite love, who created this universe and all of eternity, of whom Jesus said, “your heavenly Father knows that we need all these things.” We can place ourselves and all of our concerns with the One who holds the future – and who love us beyond our wildest hope.
We are called to care and to help where we can, but we are not called to worry. One day at a time, one moment at a time, may we be attentive and ready to act, but also remain peaceful and free to place.
FRIDAY, APRIL 1ST
A TIME OF BLESSING
Today is Friday, our time to gather for a blessing from our mentor and friend, Jesus. He welcomes us to his side as he shares the next words from his Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes…
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8, NRSV)
As you sit in the comfort of his love and grace, what comes to mind when you hear the word, pure? What would it mean for you to be pure of heart at this moment? Is there anything to remove or at least set aside for now? How do you sense Jesus is blessing you with his words today?
When I hear this passage, I generally think of pure of heart as being free from our sinful ways that keep us from coming to God, at times even trying to avoid God. I also understand pure of heart as being free from our distractions – goals, schedules, other enticements – that draw our attention away from God. But today I find pure of heart as being free even from our self-perceptions, the way we see ourselves seeking God!
For example, some days when I spend time with God in prayer and reflection, I come as a writer. I am hoping to glean some guidance and inspiration for my writing – and God welcomes my prayers and blesses my time. But if my intention is to simply be with and to see God with an open heart, I need to set aside my writer’s soul. Other days I may need to clear my soul of being a worried parent, a nature enthusiast, a busy professional, a concerned advocate, or even a scared child. If we hope to be open and present to God, to know and see God as truly and fully as possible, we need to set aside our own ideas of ourselves.
Pure of heart is having no other intention except to be present to God. We come with no desires, no agendas, no comparisons to others, not even personal hopes for our time together. We even set aside our expectations of God in order for God to reveal God.
And when we can come free from self-perceptions, God has more of an opportunity to reveal who we truly are, too.
Side note: As I wrote this, I couldn’t help but think of my blogger friend, Andrew, who has a beautiful and inspirational blogsite, https://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/ (as well as a book with the same name). You may want to read his posts!
THURSDAY, MARCH 31ST
A TIME OF SHARED STRUGGLES
As Holy Week gradually draws closer, we wonder what Jesus may have to say to us today. What will be his story of frustration? How will we share that same struggle? We quiet ourselves to listen as Jesus begins…
While I was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as I sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on my head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But I said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Mark 14:3-9, NRSV, revised*)
As you sit quietly to reflect on his words, place yourself in this setting as the woman who is anointing Jesus (in the book of John, she is Mary, the sister of Lazarus). How do your feelings change as you move from adoring and blessing Jesus, to hearing the words of condemnation from the disciples, and then hearing Jesus assure them of the good you are doing for the world?
In many ways, I can understand the disciples’ confusion. Jesus was always teaching about loving others, about helping and feeding the poor. This woman’s extravagant act of anointing Jesus’s feet – and his acceptance of her kindness – seem out of place. But instead of asking Jesus or Mary for clarification, the disciples immediately become angry and make judgments about the waste in front of them with the need around them.
In our world of strong opinions and critical judgments, we can understand how Jesus and Mary must feel. We try to help someone, but we are criticized for not doing more, or for not choosing another way. We try to resolve or reduce the troubles of our world, but we are informed of all the reasons we cannot. Our actions can be misinterpreted, our intentions can be misunderstood. Here, some of the disciples criticized the woman and Jesus for her act of loving adoration, when she was actually performing the preparations for his burial. There was much more to her act than they could know at that time.
What can we do? Each day, we can seek God’s guidance to do our best, with the resources and information we have, to make a difference for good. And then we can take any resulting judgments, criticisms, and misunderstandings and surrender them (and the critics) to God. I once heard a wise adage to let God be our only audience. If our desire is to please and bless God by all that we say or do, then our intentions and actions will be filled with goodness, integrity, and compassion – despite what others may perceive or misconstrue.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, NRSV)
*The name of Jesus and his pronouns have been adapted by Karen into first-person.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30TH
A TIME OF INSTRUCTION
For our Wednesday instruction, we find Jesus recalling his time with his disciples and the adventures they had together. Today he shares one meaningful moment with us…
Then I called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and I sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. I said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.” (Luke 9:1-3, NRSV, revised*)
Take a few moments to imagine yourself preparing to be sent out. How do you feel when Jesus says, “Take nothing for your journey”? What do you consider necessities when you travel? Have you ever gone anywhere empty-handed? Why do you think Jesus instructs us in this way?
I share a story from a post from 2019 today…
At the beginning of a backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies, our guide had all of us stand in a circle, open our packs, and place our belongings on the ground in front of us. She then went to each of our piles and redistributed everything, making decisions for us: “You don’t need this extra sweatshirt, let’s give it to her.” I was touchy about all of this, but I never did need that sweatshirt. I was relieved of carrying unnecessary weight when climbing became strenuous. I carried only what was essential for the trip. **
This lesson taught me more than how to lighten my load. Our group learned the value of teamwork, of sharing, of relying on one another for our hiking trip. We listened to our leader, the one who had hiked the trail numerous times and knew what was essential. Our dependence on one another increased, as did our friendships. We learned how little we needed, we learned to be grateful for what we had, we deepened in trust for our group, our leader, and God.
There are plenty of resources for the whole world to share. I wonder if our inability to provide for everyone can stem from pride more than greed. I know that my trust in God’s provision is hampered by my reluctance to rely on the goodness of others, to depend on someone else for my needs. I may want to share, but I also want to keep enough resources to remain self-reliant, self-sufficient, never dependent. In doing so, I am missing valuable lessons in humility, generosity, and faith. I am regarding our world with scarcity instead of looking to our God of generous abundance.
Jesus sent the disciples on their journey with nothing, so they were able to approach others with humility over superiority, with a mutual dependence on one another, with a deep trust in God’s provision, and with the news of the unlimited love of Christ.
What greater visible testimony to their love of Jesus and the goodness of God could there be?
*The name of Jesus and his pronouns have been adapted by Karen into first-person.
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.