Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Bread of Life

Gospel Reading John 6:27-40

27“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

 Jesus told the apostles not to work for their daily bread, and the suggestion must have mystified them. They worked for the food that perishes, and so do most of us today. We can feel fairly confident that we’ll get our daily bread if we work for it, but things were less certain in the days of the apostles.

So once they were thinking about food, their minds went to the miracle of manna in the wilderness — the daily food God gave to the people of Israel, keeping them alive when their situation seemed hopeless.

That, the apostles suggested, was a good miracle. Why wasn’t Jesus providing that kind of convincing sign?

They didn’t remember at that moment that the people of Israel weren’t satisfied with manna. They grumbled that they had eaten melons and cucumbers in Egypt. They thought they might have made a mistake in following Moses.

Jesus told the apostles that he was the bread of life. The bread, in fact, of eternal life.

If during Lent you’re giving up some of the foods that you usually love, this is a passage to meditate upon. Maybe you’re not eating meat right now, maybe you’ve stopped enjoying sweets, maybe you’re eating more simply to free up funds for charity. Whatever Lenten discipline you may have taken on, Jesus still offers you the bread of life.

Lord, satisfy me with the bread of life, and help me to keep the will of Him who sent You foremost in my heart.

The Shepherd and the Flock

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Christ compares his followers to sheep, animals who need to be in groups to survive. Sheep are not known for independent thinking, but rather for complacency. Indeed, we are a forgetful people, often preferring nettles over sweet grass, and we frequently forget who is our shepherd, and must be gathered back in.

Psalm 23 is usually seen as a psalm of comfort, as assurance that we are cared for. And it is. But it is also a reminder of whose we are: we belong to the shepherd, who will not allow us to stray too far. And the shepherd does not merely care for sheep because he loves them; they are his wealth and his glory. They are what he has to give, to use, and to keep. He chooses to shear them for their wool or to slaughter them for their meat, and he chooses the hour in which these things happen, in accordance with his wisdom and experience. He cares for them and sees that they are well fed and protected so that they might be of greater use to him when he chooses. But he does not choose these things for the sheep arbitrarily; a good shepherd will not shear his sheep too soon, lest they are cold, nor too late, lest they overheat. A good shepherd will see that the sheep are a good age, and well fattened, before slaughtering them for food, and will not slaughter so many as to destroy his herd, nor treat them cruelly even in the slaughter.

We must recall always that we are God’s flock, and Jesus is our good shepherd. We need fear nothing, yes, but we also must remember whose we are: that we work and labor for the glory of the shepherd, not the sheep. That our wool, our very flesh, belongs to God, and all things we produce are rightly His—and that his care for us is not only unconditional love, but working to the greater glory of God. What gift, then, can we give our shepherd save our labor, our lives, and our all, since we are His?

Angela Cox

The Law and the Cross

Today’s readings celebrate the law. Jesus died for our sins, to give us freedom from the law and redemption for our sins, but not to exempt us from God’s law.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, not an excuse to step away from it.

Lent gives us the opportunity and the duty to examine the hard things about our relationship with the divine.

Isaac Watts wrote these words in 1707:

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

They are still as challenging now as they were then.

Distinction

Romans 3: 22-24

God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction. 23 All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.

All of us fall short, there is no distinction.

All of us are treated as righteous, freely by God’s grace, there is no distinction.

The gift of God’s grace, given to us in Christ Jesus is for all.  It is not ours to decide “who is in and who is out.”  We are all “in” and that is just how it is…… through the grace of God.

The theme of the annual gathering of Presbyterian Church Educators in 2018 will be “Deep & Wide: Boundless Hospitality.”  I have been thinking about that in the weeks since we gathered in January 2017 and first learned the theme for next year.  What does it mean to offer this hospitality?  Ours is to extend hospitality and welcome in the stranger, help the one in need, cloth the one who needs clothes, shelter the one who needs shelter.  When we look at others as being freed by the grace of God, we can see all others as just as worthy and deserving of God’s grace as we are.  Sometimes we don’t feel so worthy ourselves and sometimes we cast judgement on others, sure they are not worthy.  When we are open to see both ourselves and others as truly worthy of God’s grace shown in Jesus, we really are free. We are free to love more fully. We are free to share more openly. We are free to be who God created us to be.

Thinking back to late November I first attended a concert of folk singer, John McCutcheon. He has a song that speaks well to our southern selves called “Ya’ll Means All.” He speaks in this song to this kind of openness. I highly recommend you look it up on YouTube.

“I might not like you and you might not like me. Sometimes that’s just the way things are going to be. Still I’ll catch you if you should fall. Where I come from, ya’ll means all…………There ain’t no difference I can recall that makes a difference.  Ya’ll means all.”

Kristi Button

 

Is Lent good for us?

 

An artist friend of mine was troubled by Lent. She didn’t think it was healthy to spend all that time thinking about your faults. But this is not a random guilt-fest. This is a period of forty days (to remind us of Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness) for self-examination, followed by a joyful celebration. I think this particular woman fretted about her shortcomings throughout the year. How much healthier to have a limited time of self-examination set aside!

Nor is it self-loathing. People who make themselves miserable by obsessing about their flaws are generally thinking about how different they are from Jessice Alba or the cool guy in the frat, not how different they are from Jesus. There is no spiritual benefit there.

Lent is traditionally a time for self-examination, a time to consider how we ought to improve our behavior. But there any many other things to contemplate as well. Many people contemplate the sufferings of Christ, particular teachings of the church, or injustices in the world which we might alleviate.

Here are some passages to contemplate today:

God’s Frequency

 

I remember the day my husband called me and asked if God could use children to answer prayers. I was struck by confusion and curiosity and asked him to explain the situation. He told me that he had been praying and that while he insisted that God did not need to answer him, he was concerned with the issues that were on his mind. Okay, that seemed like a normal prayer. I would not have added the “you do not need to respond” part of the prayer as I have come to expect answers to my questions, but my husband will admit he is new to this whole “prayer thing”. My husband continued to explain that after he had settled into his location to wait for help, a child came up to him. She had been playing on the opposite side of the room around a small corner, but that she seemed determined despite her mother’s insistence to return. The little girl looked and my husband and simply said, “Everything is going to be all right.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, God can use children to answer prayer.”

“Do you think that is what happened?” My husband was stunned and shocked by the exchange.

“Probably.” I answered.

That was a year or two ago. More recently, my husband asked if he was tuned into the right channel. He was concerned that although he was praying and asking for guidance, he did not feel like he was getting any answers. I should add that I feel like God talks to me often, sometimes in order to make requests that I really do not want to fulfill. I do, much to my annoyance, but for my husband it feels as if he is not tuned into the right frequency.

What does this have to do with Lent? Well, in Jeremiah 7:23 it says, “but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you.”

In order to obey God, you must know and accept what he wants for you. My husband feels partially lost because he does not hear God’s commands to him. How was I supposed to explain that learning the difference between God’s voice and my own will took time? How was I supposed to explain that I had spent periods of my life dedicated to reading and studying the bible? And I accept that I will never feel qualified to explain biblical concepts. How do I explain that even now I experience long silences, usually because I am up to something I should not be doing? I paused for a long time and decided to say exactly what I was thinking.

“How can I improve on those things?” He asked.

Sarcastically, I answered, “You just did.”

I explained that the first step toward a relationship to God was to want to have the relationship.

God calls us to be his people. He has made a way for that to be possible. The crucifixion of Christ tore open a veil that had been closed to the majority of the world. It is now our job to seek God and be willing to answer the calls and demands he asks of us through our shared frequency.

Psalm 121
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Elizabeth Schierschmidt

Misereri Mei, Deus

Today, read the English translation of psalm 51 below, and listen to this beautiful recording in a time of contemplative prayer. This psalm has been set to music so many times throughout the ages that many of us may have a favorite recording.

But we don’t often pray about our sin with this kind of whole-hearted devotion. Our culture emphasizes feeling good about ourselves. “Don’t beat yourself up.” “No regrets.” “Sorry, not sorry.” “No apologies.”

Lent gives us an opportunity to recognize and regret our sins, to learn from our mistakes, to apologize, secure in the knowledge that God will hide His face from all our sins and blot out our iniquities.

Pray the psalm, or pray repeatedly the first line: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.”

“Miserere mei, Deus Secundum magnam misericordiam tuam Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum Dele iniquitatem meam”

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak
and upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Shame and Grace

Lent is the season to remember the sacrifice of Christ. I cannot help but vividly imagine Jesus hanging on the cross, blood dripping from the wounds of the nails and thorns that pierce his body. I cannot help but imagine the pain he must have suffered. The pain placed on him by my sins. Shame washes over me for the pain I caused as he hung from that cross.

Everyone has those moments in their lives where their behavior offends even their own senses. Moments of shame that they hope will never reach the light of day. I have many and I hold onto them fiercely. I have heard people say that God could not forgive them for their sins. Do I feel this way? Once upon a time, perhaps. But I have come to the realization that God’s grace has blanketed us from before the creation of the world. Jesus was not a backup plan. Jesus was the plan from the very beginning. God knew I would fail. God knew I would feel the shame of my failures. God reminds me that there is nothing I can do that He cannot forgive and forget as long as I place my trust in him.

If I believe this, why do I hold onto my shame so fiercely? I do not hide my shame away from the world. I do not openly portray that shame for the world, either. I am ashamed of the pain I placed upon Jesus. However, by admitting my shame in times of need, I can help others. As in Alcoholics Anonymous where a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for some time sponsors a newly recovering alcoholic, I hope that my own experience of shame can help someone else recover.

I do not hold onto my sins because God cannot forgive me. I hold onto them because I want to remember the pain I placed upon Christ. I want that constant reminder to help me not to repeat those actions. And perhaps, my shame can be used to help someone else. I never want to lose the image of Christ’s sacrifice.

 

Scripture: Psalm 51

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for your love. Thank you for your goodness and grace. Thank you for your trustworthiness. Forgive me for my sins. Release me from my shame. Help me to use my experiences to help others that they too may come to know you and be enveloped by your love and grace.

Elizabeth Schierschmidt

Ash Wednesday

Even in a single church, Christians have many different ways of observing Lent. The Bible does not say anywhere to give up swearing for 40 days every year, after all.

But Lent can be a very good discipline. If you give up something for 40 days, you may go on to give it up entirely. I found, after struggling through 40 days of giving up being critical of people, that it has been much easier ever since not to be critical.

If you give up something only for the 40 days, with no intention of giving it up permanently, it still reminds you to spend some time in contemplation. The year I gave up tea for Lent, I had many opportunities each day, when I wished for a cup of tea, to be reminded to think of all the things Lent is for thinking of. It is easy, in our modern world, to go for hours and even days without taking any time for contemplation, unless we are reminded.

Lent is a time to think about the areas of our lives that need change. Repentance is not about feeling bad. It is about turning away, turning around, turning to something new. This may involve feeling bad about the old way, but it is much more about a new way. Sitting around feeling miserable about your sins is not the point of Lent. Discipline and sacrifice are not considered desirable in 21st century America, but we might be wrong about that. Forty days to consider the possibility is not too long a time.

Lent is also a time to think about God.

And it is a time to think about other people.

Lent falls during the time of year when the people of an earlier time had less food growing in the garden and less meat left from the autumn butchering, and more people went hungry and needed help. Need is not so seasonal any more, in these days of freezing and importing food, but a reminder of the need for charity is never out of season.

If you keep Lent, then I hope you will keep a good Lent this year. If you do not keep Lent, I hope you will enjoy a few moments today, Ash Wednesday, to consider the philosophical issues that Lent brings to mind.