The 40-day season of Lent began 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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Now, dear friends, I am requesting that we love each other. It’s not as though I’m writing a new command to you, but it’s one we have had from the beginning. This is love: that we live according to his commands. This is the command that you heard from the beginning: live in love.
—2 John 1:5-6
Got to admit right away, this is a tough one, ”live in love”. I can be a cranky and “oinky”. I have no shortage of ambition. Sometimes described as stubborn and impatient, I have proven it to be true on occasion. I can be insensitive, and selfish…and there are times I refuse to put coins in a parking meter. I am a mess but I want to “live in love”.
Why? Because I am commanded too, "This is the command that you heard from the beginning: live in love."
When I live in love, I am better able to rise above all that other stuff. When I release my grip on all the anxiety producing distractions vying for my attention, I better understand, appreciate, and grasp the benevolent love beyond measure offered to me.
And when I am intentional about employing my head AND my heart, the command becomes more an invitation…”live in love”. I can do that.
Are there times I will fail? Without a doubt but I know another invitation will be forthcoming.
"Hey Doug, why don’t you try loving your enemies?"
"Hey Doug, have you ever thought about going the extra mile?"
"Yo – Doug, how about those folks over there, the ones making you 'cranky and oinky'?"
"What would it take to turn the other cheek?"
I am a mess, but I want to live in love.
Got to go…I am going out to put a quarter in the parking meter.
By: Rev. Douglas Cue, Southeast District Superintendent of The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Brothers and sisters, I want you to be sure of the fact that our ancestors were all under the cloud and they all went through the sea. All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.
—1 Corinthians 10:1-4
In today’s reading, the author makes a connection between how God provided the Israelites with spiritual food (manna) and spiritual drink (water from the rock), and how Christ is the source (rock) of our spiritual food and drink. This connection reminds us that we are just as dependent on Christ for our spiritual sustenance as we are dependent on him for our physical sustenance.
I have been reading a lot about food and drink in the Bible since I began planning to start a Dinner Church in my community. Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-10), he ate in the home of Matthew, the tax collector (Matthew 9:9-17), and he plucked corn from the field on the sabbath and shared it with his disciples (Matthew 12:1-8). While he was eating at the home of Simon the Pharisee, he allowed a sinful woman to anoint his feet (Luke 7:34-56) and at the home of one of the chief Pharisees he healed a man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-24). Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples (Matthew 26:20-30) was a Passover meal, commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Jesus spent much of his time eating and drinking with sinners. In fact, he was called out by the Jewish leaders for doing exactly that. Knowing that all of us have been called to become more and more like Jesus, I have felt challenged to combine the offer of a free meal, physical food, with the message of Jesus, a form of spiritual food, offered to those in our neighborhood who struggle with food insecurity. My new catch phrase for Dinner Church ism “everyone eats.” That is my good news for you today, whether you are the server or the guest, at the Jesus table everyone eats.
Loving Christ, help us become your hands and feet, serving those who are hungry and in need of your love. Amen.
By: Retired Pastor Beverly Marshall-Goodell, Smyrna First United Methodist Church, Smyrna, GA
Listen to the Lord’s word,
people of Judah,
all you families of the Israelite household.
This is what the Lord says:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that made them wander so far?
They pursued what was worthless
and became worthless.
They didn’t ask,
“Where’s the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us through the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and ravines,
in a land of drought and darkness,
in a land of no return,
where no one survives?”
I brought you into a land of plenty,
to enjoy its gifts and goodness,
but you ruined my land;
you disgraced my heritage.
The priests didn’t ask,
“Where’s the Lord?”
Those responsible for the Instruction didn’t know me;
the leaders rebelled against me;
the prophets spoke in the name of Baal,
going after what has no value.
That is why I will take you to court
and charge even your descendants,
declares the Lord.
Look to the west as far as the shores of Cyprus
and to the east as far as the land of Kedar.
Ask anyone there:
Has anything this odd ever taken place?
Has a nation switched gods,
though they aren’t really gods at all?
Yet my people have exchanged their glory
for what has no value.
Be stunned at such a thing, you heavens;
shudder and quake,
declares the Lord.
My people have committed two crimes:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water.
And they have dug wells, broken wells that can’t hold water.
Jeremiah was charged by God to relay a message to the citizens of Israel that no one wanted to hear. Its central topic was judgment and repentance. So, while people steered clear of Jeremiah in hopes they could avoid dealing with God’s demand for them to make a drastic change. But this faithful prophet could not be silenced. He instead infused animation and emotion into his delivery so that he would not be ignored.
Israel, his homeland was under assault. While the popular belief was that the Babylonians were the sole source of their problems. God wanted the Israelites to take responsibility for digging a hole for themselves. Israel had dug it deep by being unfaithful to the law of God. Everyone was guilty of worshipping the false gods of idolatry and greed. “My people have committed two sins, they have forsaken me, the Spring of Living Water, and they have dug their own cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer. 2:13). There are unavoidable consequences to this behavior. The nation had dirt on its hands, and they would fall to Babylon. The citizens would be forced into exile. As is said by Cathryn Louis, “Greed in the end fails even the greedy.”
It’s important to recognize while the prophet asks all of us to do some soul searching and to repent; he is addressing the wrongdoing of the whole nation of Israel. It has grown greedy. Its decision makers are acting contrary to God’s call of “loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. And loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.” (Luke 10:27 & Deut. 30:6). It cannot be denied that there will be consequences at home and in the community caused by bad behavior. So, this passage begs me to ask myself hard questions. Can I see my own wrongdoing and that of my nation? Do I regret these things? Am I willing to express repentance? Will I contribute to the creation of a kinder, more Christian place? Jeremiah would want me to do that.
God, as this day unfolds, help me return to the image of you as a Spring of Living Water. Remind me that your loving presence will not run dry. The water you provide will always be abundant, pure, cleansing and life-giving. Give me the vision to see the error of my ways and the ability to call out the errors of others with love and hope. Cleanse, heal and bring wholeness to me, the church and the community. Amen
By: Rev. Carol Kress, North Central District Superintendent of The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. Thieves should no longer steal. Instead, they should go to work, using their hands to do good so that they will have something to share with whoever is in need.
Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.
In this passage from the letter to the holy and faithful people in Ephesus, the author, who was not likely Paul himself but writing in his style, urges the Ephesians to change their former way of life and “clothe themselves” as new persons in Christ.
I write this two days before the Iowa Caucus and as the impeachment trial is nearing a conclusion. As a new citizen of Iowa, I don’t know what the outcome will be of either event. However, I hope that as Christ followers, we will always and without fail be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, just as God has forgiven us in Christ. May we speak grace to all those hear and model the love of Jesus in all that we do. Thanks be to God!
Dear God, each day you call us to life a new life in Christ. In the midst of a country and world that seems so polarized, may our words give grace to all those who hear. May our prayers bring healing and hope, and may our actions bring justice and reconciliation. Amen.
By: Bishop Laurie Haller, resident Bishop of The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Then Samuel replied,
“Does the LORD want entirely burned offerings and sacrifices
as much as obedience to the LORD?
Listen to this: obeying is better than sacrificing,
paying attention is better than fat from rams,
because rebellion is as bad as the sin of divination;
arrogance is like the evil of idolatry."
—1 Samuel 15: 22-23
The story of Saul, the first King turned Bad King of Israel always tugs at my heart a little bit. The guy always seems to be doing the best he can. He’s the first King of Israel, it’s not like he’s had any other examples to follow of how to not make a royal mess of things, and since he’s an "act first—think later" kind of a guy, he is always making a mess of things.
King Saul’s patterns of action, even when he thinks he’s doing the correct thing, nearly always exposes his own arrogance: he has this habit of prizing his own judgement over the LORD’s directions, or only listening to part of the prophet Samuel’s instruction and education.
When it comes to his relationship with the LORD, Saul hasn’t figured out that “right is more important than rite” (Jewish Study Bible, pg. 590). Even though he is going through the correct religious motions, these rites, these sacrifices, Saul isn't actually practicing true spiritual sacrifice: giving God the best parts, not only of his rams, but also of himself; being able to set aside his will to pay attention to God’s will; practicing humility and obedience so he doesn’t get carried away with his own short-sighted arrogance.
With Samuel’s words to Saul in my ears, part of my Lenten practice this year is meditating on a line from our United Methodist Communion liturgy: “we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice.” Will you join me today in spending some time with these questions: What does it mean for me to live as a set apart sacrifice to God each day? What will it take for me to offer myself in praise thanksgiving? Where in my life am I just going through religious motions? How am I paying attention to living out right more than rite?
Lord, as I remember your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, I offer myself in praise and thanksgiving. I offer myself as a set apart and living sacrifice, knowing that I do this in union with Christ's offering for us. Amen.
By: Rev. Melissa Drake, Associate Director for Congregational Excellence for The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
As a child one of my favorite things was reading comic books; but not just any kind, my favorite was “Adventure Comics” with Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes. They had an old rocket ship that they used as their clubhouse and each month they fought against a super villain who was set to destroy or enslave the universe. Each superhero had a unique power that they were able to use against evil. I still have many of those comic books and have begun to be a collector of those early issues. Most collectors never read them; they collect them for an investment, while I collect them for more nostalgic reasons.
Forward to today and not only is our country fascinated by super heroes like Iron Man, Spider Man, and Captain America, but this has caught on worldwide. And I believe our world is looking for someone like a super hero; a superstar that they can look up to. The problem is there isn’t anybody like that, so we go to the movies to find our hero, which is not a good idea. Or we look towards politicians; not a good idea either.
John the Baptist had the right answer 2000 years ago and testified to Him. He was the light and the truth and in Him (and only Him) we have our super hero; it is Jesus Christ. But instead of busting the cross into smithereens, then and there, He surrendered his life, conquering evil in a different way, so that we may find life through Him. And as we celebrate the Lenten Season together, we believe that Christ is coming again. Out of that belief we are then called, not to wait in anticipation, but to participate like John the Baptist did, by telling others of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Lord thank you for the good news of Jesus Christ and help us to share the good news and reflect Christ's light to the world. Amen.
By: Pastor Kevin Moore, Estherville United Methodist Church
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”
But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”
So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”
He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
They asked, “Where is this man?”
He replied, “I don’t know.”
Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
Conflict over the healing
The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”
His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”
He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”
The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”
They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.
Jesus finds the man born blind
Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”
He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Clipping on my water belt and lacing up my running shoes, I set out for my long run, two weeks away from the Oklahoma City Marathon. Within a half-mile, I felt excruciating pain in my knees, shooting spasms in my glutes, and aching hip joints. I began to have doubt and self-blame that I had caused these pains and potential life-long disability through some kind of sinfulness on my part. I didn’t get to run the marathon, and now 10 months later, I’m celebrating the 20-minute run on 90% of my body weight from this morning at physical therapy. Slow, but steady progress!
John 9 is an important text for studying the Bible through the lens of disability. Jesus rebukes a common (far too common, even to this day) interpretation that disability is the result of sin. He tells the disciples that neither the man born blind or the family did anything sinful that contributed to being born blind. The phrase, “He was born blind, so that God’s works might be revealed” suggests that God created a blind man to show others God’s healing abilities. However, the phrase, “He was born blind” is not in the original Greek at all. The man was made in the image of God and brought into the world as any other person so that God’s works might be revealed in him. God can work through all of us, regardless of how our body might be.
How liberating to know that the word of God made flesh and dwelt among us, who provided healings and brought the reign of God, came not as able-bodied, but as a disabled God, resurrected with scars and wounds. John 9 calls us all to embrace who we all are, our gifts and talents, and live into abundance!
Holy God, forgive us for the ways we have used “blindness” as a metaphor for sin or the ways we have used “blindness” for things we do not notice, for this language can be harmful for those who are blind. May we grow to become more attentive to sensory language in our speech and in our writing. May we become a church that embraces all people, regardless of how our body might be. In your Holy name we pray, Amen.
By: Rev. Kristina Roth