Monday, March 13
I wonder if Pr. Aaron knew that March 13 is my birthday when he asked me to contemplate this passage for today’s devotion? I suspect that this is just another “divine coincidence”!
So, here we go with another mountaintop experience! What is it about mountains? I suspect that part of it has to do with the relative solitude or apartness of the experience: Moses is alone with God when he is given the commandments; and Peter, James and John are alone with Jesus until Moses and Elijah briefly appear, and then they are overshadowed by a bright cloud. We can experience Jesus collectively when we gather on Sunday mornings for worship, but we can also experience Jesus individually or in very small groups—the choice in how he will appear is Jesus’ and not our own!.
And what makes this a transfiguration instead of a transformation? It’s a subtle but important point: Jesus’ appearance changes on this occasion but not Jesus’ essence which is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, thanks be to God. The voice from the cloud frightens Peter, James and John, but when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. Isn’t it like that for us too? At times our circumstances can be so frightening that we too fall to the ground, but when we look up, we see that Jesus has been there all along.
For me the most enigmatic aspect of this passage comes when Jesus orders them to tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. Why does Jesus order (strong word) this? We never fully know Jesus’ mind, and there are many possible explanations, one being that others who weren’t there wouldn’t understand this partial revelation of God’s glory in Jesus and might even be skeptical. I sometimes wonder if Jesus was concerned that this transfiguration of his appearance might become something that others now demand of him as a kind of performance to win their faith and trust.
Lots to think about this Lent!
Thank you Jesus for the ways in which you daily reveal yourself to us. Give us eyes to see your glory, and forgive us for the times when we fail to see what’s right in front of us. Amen.
Tuesday, March 14
This passage describes an early event in the Israelite’s wilderness wandering. Here the people fearful of dying from thirst, seemed to have forgotten all the amazing events that , with God directing Moses , had resulted in their safe escape from Egypt. I found it easy to understand this fear to be a reasonable response when children were crying for water and animals lowing in distress and the land dry and probably hot and I found it difficult to understand Moses’ harsh response to their fear. However when I read verse 7 and thought about the significance of the names Moses gave to the rock, Test and Dispute, I began to wonder if the writers have given this pericope a larger more theological significance.
Water is mentioned throughout the Bible both in its physical reality but also with theological implications. In Genesis 1, at creation, the Spirit of God hovers over the surface of the water and brings order out of the chaos. In Revelation 22, in the new Jerusalem, the Spirit calls, `Let the thirsty come, let whoever wishes accept the water of life.’ This passage immediately reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well about the living water freely offered to all. (John 4:10). Can the water so freely flowing from the rock at the sacred mountain of Horeb/Sinai be more than simply water to physically thirsty people but also the living water that comes from God, assuring the people that even when they wonder if God is present in their trouble, God does not punish them for their lack of trust but rather demonstrates in a very practical way, that their cry has been heard; that their God is present and listening .
Some of us today wonder where God is during this time of great uncertainty and of unspeakable horror inflicted on innocent people. I find this account of God’s response to the Israelites’ question, `Is the Lord in our midst or not’ reassuring . The Israelites needed only to drink the water God, provided to quench their physical thirst but also give them hope for a future beyond their wildest imagination. I wonder if, for us, this story with its powerful God-given symbol of life, can be helpful in our spiritually thirsty times. Does it again remind us that God is present with us and does not abandon or condemn us even when we feel alone with our fears? Can we see glimpses of God when wells are being dug and food passed out in refugee camps as well as in all the acts of welcome to the strangers in our midst? Does Jesus saying , `Seek and you will find’ (Matthew 7: 7) apply not only to those ancient Israelites but also to us?
O God, every time we drink a glass of water, help us to remember that your care for that long ago band of refugees continues to the present day. Help us to know that you are indeed always present even when we find it difficult to see you. We ask this in the name of Jesus, your son who came and died to show how great your love is for all of us. Amen
Wednesday, March 15
How do we boast in our sufferings?
First, we would have to turn vanity—vainglory—around:
Instead of noting my achievements,
There would be no credentials at the end of my name, but an asterisk, and a footnote explaining how I don't meet all of the prerequisites.
Instead of showcasing my abilities,
My résumé would list the dates and durations of my greatest failures, with contact information for my references:
- People who I have let down
- People who hate me
- People whose hearts I've broken
- Other various enemies
Instead of focusing on my appearance, making sure the lighting is right, showing off my good side, sucking in my stomach, tilting my jaw just so, and posing for the selfie,
I would turn the camera around, look through the lens,
and I would see you
and your dirty laundry
and I would recognize it because it looks identical to my pile.
If we turned vanity around, we would see
That we cannot do one thing to earn God's love,
That we were still sinners when Christ died for us,
That we were still weak when Christ gave us access to being reconciled with God
And it was at exactly the right time.
We thank You for the wonderful gift of your Son Jesus, who, in His death, has shown us Your love. Help us to see more clearly that it is in our difficult moments, on our less-than-perfect days, and when we are not our best selves that we are to find Your presence and give You glory. We ask this in Jesus' holy and beloved name. Amen.
Thursday, March 16
Good Samaritan Lessons
In reading today’s passage in John about the Samaritan at the well I am immediately reminded of the parable of the good Samaritan and Dr. Martin Luther King’s discussion of the parable in his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. In the speech, Dr. King suggests that on a dangerous road beset by robbers, the first two passers-by fearfully ask themselves, “If I help this man, what will happen to me?” In contrast, the Samaritan who stops to help the robbery victim is the one who asks, “If I do not help this man, what will happen to him?” Similarly, the Samaritan in today’s passage asks after the fate of her neighbour rather than her own, when she asks, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” The passage’s reminder that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans" confirmed to me that the Samaritan is concerned about Jesus’ fate should Jesus break this rule and accept water from the Samaritan.
In response to her question, Jesus does not tell the Samaritan woman what will happen to him, but describes what would happen to her if she acts with neighbourliness. Jesus tells the Samaritan of the living water, and the Samaritan, once convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, uses her testimony to convince many others.
In deflecting the Samaritans’ question by describing a chance to drink the living water, Jesus answers the question that Dr. King says the first two passers-by selfishly ask themselves, “If I help this man, what will happen to me?” The outcomes of the parable of the good Samaritan and today’s passage also strike me as complimentary. In one, Jesus uses a parable about a Samaritan to teach us to be good neighbours. In the other, a Samaritan testifies about Jesus in order to teach all who will listen that Jesus “is truly the Saviour of the world.” Neighbourliness is taught in the stories of and the stories told by Samaritans.
God, please forgive us when we fail to care for our neighbours and help us to be reminded of the living water revealed in the gospels on neighbourliness.
Friday, March 17
Barred From the Promised Land
The idea of the blood of unblemished Christ literally cleansing us of our sins has never been one that appealed to me. So when I was given this passage to host this year, I struggled long with the text, feeling that I had nothing offer on this topic. However, with the current political climate in North America and in the world, the imagery of Christ’s blood—Christ’s love—setting us free is powerful.
Sun rising blood red
Churning up from the ashes
Of a once great city.
Your children banned
From the promised land
Excluded by birthright
Despised for whitelessness
Where then can we turn?
Blood rain falling
Ashes turned to clay
Clay a city rebuilt
The blood of Christ: Hope.
Walk with us in this time of deep reflection. Help us to see the different not as a threat but as a benefit. Give us the strength to love our enemies, and to challenge them as Christ would. Shine your light on the horrors of conflict, on the disregard for human life, on those that never have enough and on every small effort that makes a difference. Your call beckons us into the wider world, to heal, to hold, to help, to learn and to grow. Amen
Saturday, March 18
Extra, Extra, Read all about it!
Flipping through the newspaper, I run across an eye-catching headline “How a baker survived the Titanic sinking by getting really drunk.” Interesting article, it says upon the impact of the ship, the baker filled all the lifeboats with bread for people to eat and then went to his room to drink. At the last second, he put on his life vest, had a drink and waited until he was sucked into the frigid waters. One of the few to survive that had not made it into a lifeboat, impossible by all odds. Odd little story of survival, worked out well for the baker from England.
In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, chapter 1:18-31 we come across another odd little story. Paul says that our Christian story seemed to people those days (and I’m sure still to this day) a strange story too, one void of any real research or feasibility. Paul reminds us it isn’t a story for the educated or the best in profession, it was a story for all of us, and yet hard one for many to swallow. The story, this absurd idea of a powerful God becoming a weak human and dying on a cross beside some bad guys, seems an unlikely show of power to those looking for a God with fast answers and features of strength and might. We can’t come to God by proclaiming how great we are, we come to God by proclaiming this absurd story is our ONE TRUTH. Jesus crucified and risen, this is our story of survival. We believe it by letting our thinking minds play a second role, and our heart and soul playing the first. We proclaim God crucified and risen, our story interesting or odd to some makes perfect sense to those who believe in God. Our way to everlasting salvation is not the lifeboat, the easy story of survival that makes the most sense to the most people. Our way is strange, absurd, hard to grasp. Our salvation. Let us praise God for this.
This is our story. Help us to believe, proclaim, and praise your name all the days of our life. Amen.
Sunday, March 19
One thing that's truly remarkable about Psalm 95 is the strange way in which certain things are mixed that we are so often told (and believe) cannot go together. For instance: joy and submission, or freedom and obligation. Nearly every social cue suggests to me that these things don't work together. You can have one or the other—you can be truly joyful and satisfied, or you can live in submission to the will of another; you can be perfectly free, or you can be under obligation to someone or something else.
And yet, the psalmist isn't bothered by mixing these apparent paradoxes. Joyful song and kneeling reverence go hand in hand; attentive obedience to God's word is the way to perfect rest, perfect freedom. This is one of the strange wonders of our faith. When God is God—when we are submissive, reverent, honouring above self and everything else--then we are truly alive, truly free. When we come in worship, when we humble ourselves in prayer, we are in the joyful position of being nourished like sheep lead to a lush pasture. When we do the work set out for us, when our hearts are softened to the will and way of the God who holds the heights and depths together—who is, even now, making heaven and earth one in Christ—then we find ourselves not cramped and limited, but in the wide space of God's lavish grace.
Psalm 95 reminds us that the will of God is always and only our best. Or, as St. Irenaeus put it, "The glory of God is the human fully alive." What marvelous hope.
Holy God, teach us more and more what it means to be joyful and thankful in your presence. May we know the height and depth, the length and width of your love for us in Christ Jesus. Help us, by your Holy Spirit, to gladly and obediently follow our Great Shepherd, trusting ever in His goodness and grace. Lead us through this life and to your perfect rest. Amen.