The 40-day season of Lent begins on February 26 and Bishop Laurie, clergy, and friends of The Iowa Annual Conference have written short devotionals for each day to help us journey through this season together.
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I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.
—John 13:34 (CEB)
Holy One, Loving One, Tender One, Compassionate one, this day make us aware of you, your guiding ways, your sacred kin-dom spaces. Transform our knowing about you into knowing you. Enable and empower us to treasure you in our hearts and, with a gracious generosity give this gift to all around, step by step, in this Lent journey. Amen.
By: Rev. Arthur McClanahan, Director of Communications for Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.[a]
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
and sinners will come back to you.
Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness.
Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased.
A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.
Do good things for Zion by your favor.
Rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.
Then you will again want sacrifices of righteousness—
entirely burned offerings and complete offerings.
Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.
—Psalm 51 (CEB)
a rumor of gray
remnant of the purveyance
lingers on my thumb
do imposed foreheads
better show our repentance
than does our living
Holy God...As the ashen marks on our foreheads fade and we continue this Lenten journey, may our living as Christ taught leave Your indelible marks of love, hope, healing and transformation on the world and people around us. Amen
By: Rev. Jim Shirbroun, Grace United Methodist Church, Sioux City, IA
But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Come on, Lord! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, Lord, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”
The Lord responded, “Is your anger a good thing?” But Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city. There he made himself a hut and sat under it, in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.
Then the Lord God provided a shrub, and it grew up over Jonah, providing shade for his head and saving him from his misery. Jonah was very happy about the shrub. But God provided a worm the next day at dawn, and it attacked the shrub so that it died. Then as the sun rose God provided a dry east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint. He begged that he might die, saying, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”
God said to Jonah, “Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?”
Jonah said, “Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!”
But the Lord said, “You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
—Jonah 4:1-11 (CEB)
In Anger Jonah shouts out to God, “I knew you were like this! That’s why I ran to Tarshish. You are a merciful and compassionate God! You are patient, full of persistent love, not willing to destroy! Why don’t you just kill me?” In response God asks, “Is your anger a good thing?” Twice God askes Jonah this question. And Jonah responds to the effect, “Yes! Even if it kills me!” Anger has become Jonah’s defining emotion. He has begun to relish it because it fuels his hatred for the Ninevites. Jonah begins to love his anger more than life, more than God.
Anger and the hatred that precedes it keep Jonah blind to the Ninevites humanity. He is unimpressed by their repentance; resentful they should even have the opportunity to repent. He fails to see that while he is resisting God’s voice; they are embracing it. “Is your anger a good thing?” God asks.
In this Lenten season, we are invited to look deep into our own lives. Where are we angry? What is preceding it? To what are we blinded by it? We are sometimes quick to claim, “righteous anger,” but is it righteous? Is our anger good? We live in a time when we are often defined by our differences. We are ever tempted to see those who disagree with us as our enemies. Our world gets divided into those who are with us and those who are against us. We cease to see each other as God sees us; to love each other as God loves us. Anger can become a comfortable companion that shows itself with ever growing frequency, but God asks, “Is your anger a good thing?”
It causes me to ask, who is the one in need of repentance?
Holy One, Great God of Love,
We proclaim One Lord, one faith, one baptism, while separating ourselves, one from another. Search my heart in this moment. See if there is any violence, hatred or malice in me. Reveal to me the source of my anger. Open my eyes, my ears, my heart, and my mind, so that I may freely relinquish all that separates me from you and all you love. Place within me your mercy and compassion, your persistent and patient love. Send your Spirit within me and make me truly yours.
Pray now for your family, your church, your community, nation, and world. Invite the love of God to reign in all.
By: Rev. Bill Poland, Director of New Communities of Faith for The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
desiring knowledge of my ways
like a nation that acted righteously,
that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
wanting to be close to God.
“Why do we fast and you don’t see;
why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose,
a day of self-affliction,
of bending one’s head like a reed
and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
if you open your heart to the hungry,
and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
your light will shine in the darkness,
and your gloom will be like the noon.
The Lord will guide you continually
and provide for you, even in parched places.
He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account;
the foundations of generations past you will restore.
You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Livable Streets.
—Isaiah 58:1-12 (CEB)
I was in college when I first noticed Isaiah 58. I had given up on organized religion twice by then, and twice I had come back. All the time asking, “Why isn’t the church better?” When Isaiah 58 spoke to me, it gave me words for the dreams I carried for the church.
The nation in Isaiah 58 had so much going for it: They sought God daily! They asked God for the right judgment! They fasted! Wouldn't the heavens open up to pour down blessings on such a spiritually minded people?
Yet as a nation, they were blind to their own selfishness. They were doing what they wanted on their fast days. It's like the person who gave up coffee for Lent and then used their coffee money to buy cookies. Or the fellow who came to every study, but his rental properties were some of the worst in town. Or the gossip who was one of the best financial supporters of the parish. You know these kinds of stories.
The news tells of more cuts to Social Security and Disability. Of politicians inviting us to choose between vulnerable populations. As if it's impossible to be pro-birth and pro-all-of-life from birth to death: All of life, of all races, and all immigration statuses, all income levels, all gender identities, and all religious backgrounds. We point our fingers and put people in neat boxes without ever questioning the reality of those boxes or labels. I don't believe you are just one label, but I find my finger pointing too, and Isaiah speaks to me. I am more than one story. You are too.
Isaiah 58 was a call for the nation to live generosity: "if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon." It's not power, or wealth, or security that results in joy. It is sharing. It is choosing, again and again, to believe there is enough. Enough to protect the weak. Enough to stop fighting, stop pointing, and start giving. Enough to make space at the table for the greedy and the gossips alongside the hurting and forgotten.
Tender God, when we are good at religious activity, but bad at living in kindness, have mercy on us. For when we make security, certainty, safety, and freedom into idols, have mercy on us. For those times when we fail to see our neighbors as anything more than a label, have mercy on us. Gracious God, transform us into the likeness of your son in whose name we pray, amen.
By: Rev. Vicki Fisher, Spirit Lake United Methodist Church
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
—Matthew 4:1,2 (NRSV)
One thing I have often got wrong when it comes to Lent has been the temptation of Jesus by the devil. This occurs to me suddenly on reading the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent, where at verse 2, it reads: “He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” One thing that I have often got wrong is the being famished part. I always think Jesus must have been famished far earlier. In my thought, perhaps the second day would not be too soon to be famished.
Another thing that I have often got wrong about this passage, indeed this second verse, is the importance of time and the word “afterwards.” In reading the Greek version, it reads similarly. After having fasted for these forty days and nights, afterwards he became famished. When I think of the season of Lent as a period of forty days and forty nights in which Jesus was tempted in the desert, I always consider the temptation to have taken place during the same forty days and forty nights, not afterwards. After all, this is a reading consistent with verse one of this chapter, where we learn that the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert “to be tempted.”
Something to consider is that although the Holy Spirit intended to lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted, he may not have been. The second verse of this chapter seems to say that what to the Holy Spirit was forty days and nights of temptation by the devil was no temptation and like no time to Jesus. Indeed, it was like the empty space between a verse. The real temptation of Jesus came when his fasting ceased, when he was famished, and when he encountered the devil three times and was really tempted to sin, afterwards.
Merciful and gracious God, in this season of Lent, let us care for our bodies and not let ourselves become famished, so that we will not be so tempted to sin. And afterwards, when we are tempted or even if we sin, please forgive us and restore us to the glory of your holy presence. Amen.
By: Pastor Philip Berger, Boxholm Lehigh Otho Pilot Mound United Methodist Church