Devotional Selections for Lent 2017

Ash Wednesday, March 1 to Easter Sunday, April 16


 
 

Psalm 36:5-11

Monday, April 3

Lovingkindness
New Revised Standard Version King James Version

5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgements are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
11 Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
or the hand of the wicked drive me away.

5 Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.
6 Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast.
7 How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
8 They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
9 For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.
10 O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.
11 Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me.


I'm compelled to admit that I hated this passage, at first. As we do, in the United Church of Canada, I initially read the New Revised Standard Version of this psalm. It says God's love is pervasive, eternal, unconditional. As long as I remain unwavering in my confidence that God loves me, the arrogant people around me won't be able to hurt me, and the wicked won't be able to tear me away from God or His love.

Blah, blah blah. What do I say that might be interesting or insightful or new, let alone explain how arrogance and wickedness might prevail in a world so smothered in Divine Love?

I was stumped. Then—I don't really know why—I decided to read other versions of the psalm. And there it is, in many interpretations of this psalm, including, but not limited to, the King James Version: "Lovingkindness." One word. Not a typo.

Scholars don't agree on what "lovingkindness" means. It is said to derive from the Hebrew word "chesed", which doesn't directly translate into English. It's some perfect combination of love, loyalty and mercy. It's the loyalty part that makes it different from just "love" or "kindness". Some say that while humans can offer sincere love and/or kindness to each other, lovingkindness can come only from God.

I hope those scholars are wrong. Lovingkindess. Love, loyalty and mercy. I don't want this to be something only God can offer us. I want to learn how to do this, too.

Lovingkindness. Best. Word. Ever.

Aldyen Donnelly

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Psalm 71:1-14

Tuesday, April 4

The Prayer of an Old Man

For sixty years and more I have tried to serve you, O Lord.
I have been marked with the cross from my earliest years.
I have relied on you through good times and bad.
Now that I am older, when my strength is largely spent,
do not cast me off. May I still find ways to show your love
and mercy to all who seek to follow you.

It isn’t easy. We live in a time when many deny our God,
when there is no place for You among the leaders of the nations.
There is little place in the halls of higher learning.
There is little that is sacred, little that we can respect,
little for which we would give our lives.

Yet I will continue to hope in your grace. My mouth will continue
to speak of your love, your deeds of salvation are more than I can number.

Alan Reynolds

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Psalm 70

Wednesday, April 5

Reflection

This psalm is a good reminder to me that I am able, and should be able to, to turn to God in times of strife, or in general. With all of the turmoil and strife occurring in the world, it is a good reminder that God’s love is unconditional, and that God will always be there to listen and comfort. God will also be there to help us deal with those we may come into conflict with in our lives, and will be there to protect us from any harm, or the lasting effects of harm. Even when we may think we are isolated and alone, God is always with us. It is also a good reminder to celebrate and give thanks for God’s love and guidance.

O Holy One, guide us and protect us always. Walk with us, even when we forget that you are at our side.

Elizabeth Tilley

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Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Thursday, April 6

 

The Prodigal

Christianity, especially the Bible, is full of stories about how people come to God. As with any epic, lifelong romance, the most dramatic moment is that of first meeting, with its infinite future possibilities. More than one commentator has pointed out that the love stories we read or see onscreen almost never dwell on the months and years that follow, with their making and breaking, their small tragedies and triumphs.

Psalm 116’s writer does something similar. Only instead of beginning with the opening meet-cute, man and God, he previews the happy ending. We learn, in verses one and two, that the psalmist glorifies God and praises His name. In verses 12 through the psalm’s end, we learn the importance of acknowledging God publicly, not just in the psalmist’s heart, and the ways our writer will dedicate himself to the Deity hereafter.

Just what has God done to inspire such devotion? Verses 3 through 11 provide a clue. The psalmist is broken. Like the prodigal son after the money runs out, he wanders in a Hell arguably of his own making. He calls out to God for succor. And God answers.

Like the prodigal in the parable, we may not even recognize God during our dark times. Again and again we call out to Him, only to seemingly receive no answer. One spring a few years ago, I lost my job without warning. Despite my frantic searches, no immediate replacement appeared. As the weeks wore on, I spent long, empty days brooding in the starkest terms about how I would feed my children. Each lunchtime, I assembled a salad: vegetables, feta, dressing, a scatter of nuts. As I placed the brimming plate each day, the sun’s rays reached the particular angle where they fell on the table for the first time. They lit the salad like an advertisement, all shining peppers and plump olives. It occurred to me finally, as I observed this miracle for perhaps the twentieth time, that God spoke to me daily, in the simplest terms: I will provide. Thanks be to God.

Dear Lord, help us rise above our fallible human natures. Our transactional urges. Help us see You, not only when you fulfil our expectations and lift the burden from us, but when we still stagger under the weight. Help us, we pray, to know you are there even when all around seems devoid of light. Help us always to recognize You.

Carellin Brooks

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Psalm 22

Friday, April 7

 

Feeling God-Forsaken

“My God, my God ! Why have you abandoned me? Both Matthew and Mark report these words on the lips of Jesus, as he hangs on the cross, before his long drawn-out and painful death.

Psalm 22 -- Jesus on the cross

Detail from “The Crucifixion”, Iisenheim Altarpiece, Colmar, France

Christians have puzzled over these words. Did Jesus feel, in his last hours of human suffering, that God was no longer with him? Such a question is not surprising. Now of course we cannot have access to the inner anguish that accompanied Jesus’ physical torment.
But it will help our understanding of this terrible moment and set these words in context, if we remember that Jesus is drawing here upon a powerful tradition in his faith as a practicing Jew. Jesus knew many if not all the Psalms of the Bible by heart. And a very strong element of these very psalms is Lament. Lament—a coming before God in prayer with a cry of hurt, a cry of puzzlement, a plea for help. A cry that states: O God, I am in terrible trouble, and it feels like I am alone. Where are you when I need you? As another Psalm sings:

Why, O Lord, do you stand so far off? Why do you hide yourself when I am in trouble?
Psalm 10, verse 1.

It is characteristic of lament in the Psalms that the speaker feels abandoned by God and by true friends. Feelings of pain are intense; “my bones are all out of joint”, “my mouth is dried up like a potsherd”; “I soak my bed with my tears”; and added to this is the mockery of those who no longer believe in God: “they shake their heads at me, they stare and gloat”. They are saying: this is what your religion got you! Even, when I am gone, they will help themselves to my possessions.

But Lament is not Despair. It is in fact, an act of faith, a shaking of a fist of the spirit in the face of the darkness. You, God, are my final hope. And You will not leave my soul in this hell.

So this Psalm that Jesus cries out comes to the end—and Jesus will have known this—with with the words: “I will tell your name to my brothers and sisters, in the great congregation”. This is indeed an act of faith. Jesus does truly face the darkness of death and Holy Saturday. But he knows the ending, that he will also be able to sing, on the third day: “you have not hidden your face from me … I will proclaim your deliverance to a people yet unborn”.

R. Gerald Hobbs

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Isaiah 31:1-4, 15-16

Saturday, April 8

 

Shattered Angels

Be a rock of refuge for me,
A strong fortress to save me!

In this psalm, David calls upon God to be his rock, his fortress – his refuge. What does it mean to find refuge? To search for a safe haven and a promising future? To seek shelter from a bruised and broken world?

The experience of displacement runs throughout the Hebrew Scriptures in the stories of the Israelites—a people uprooted, deported from their homeland, and living in exile. It is precisely because of this experience that they are called upon by God to care for strangers in their midst—not only as an act of charity, but as a way of identifying with those who are marginalized and dispossessed.

The Gospels continue this theme of caring for outsiders. Jesus was born into the world uninvited, and died betrayed and rejected. During his ministry, he reached out to those who were outcast, and gave comfort to those who longed for community. We are called upon by Christ to follow his path, and to embrace those who have been disenfranchised and excluded.

In “The Experience of Offering Sanctuary: A Personal Reflection”, Chris Ferguson and Heather Macdonald discuss how offering refuge to others brings us closer to God:

Refugees are the shattered angels, the symbols of the brokenness and injustice of our modern world. Our response to them is our response to the chaos in our society and ourselves.

If we understand that God reveals the ‘most holy’ through the ‘most vulnerable,’ we understand with whom we are called to be and how we are to witness. To be with the sojourners, the refugees, is to be with and bear the pain of the world and, in so doing, to risk the inversion of all our cultural values and comforts……

If we hold human life as a sacred gift and reflection of God, then we realize we are facing the ‘holy.’ The focus of our attention, a refugee facing deportation, once a symbol of the world’s despair, becomes the portal of God’s grace. There is sustenance for our struggle if we are open to having our understanding, our mission, our lives radically changed ...."

Ministering to God’s reign among us will incur conflict and loss and test our faith. The test, however, is not what we do, but with whom we do it. Those angels are there to challenge us to seek our own refuge.

  • From Sanctuary for Refugees? A Guide for Congregations: United Church of Canada (2004)

Holy God,
We call upon You to lead us, to guide us, to be our refuge.
Help us to offer refuge in Your name to the shattered angels of this world.
May we always remember that our salvation is found in your grace and mercy.
Amen.

Karen A. Truscott

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Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Sunday, April 9

 

Rejoice!

Rejoice? Re-joys!
Re-joy: to experience and to express joy over and over and over.

How to Re-joy According to Psalm 118

1. Enter the Gate
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. John 10:9.

When we enter the gate, we look for and pay attention to Christ's mercy on us and in our lives. Christ has saved us and it is marvellous in our eyes!

2. Say Thank You
The sacrifice of Christ is a gift that is free, unearned, and with no strings attached. We do not deserve it, nor can we repay it. We say Thank You to God not because it's the right thing to do, but because God is good.

3. Celebrate
Hang banners, blow up balloons, get the parade route mapped out, be armed with confetti. Just like the prodigal son being reconciled to his father, just like he who was lost and is now found, we are getting ready for a party, a grand celebration. Strike up the band. Make it special. Invite everyone.

4. Repeat
TODAY! The Lord has done it today. This very day. Just like yesterday and the day before, the Lord has done it today. Re-joy again and again and again.

Sovereign God,
We give You thanks, for You have answered us and have become our salvation. Thank You for making Your light shine on us, for morning by morning new mercies we see. It is marvellous in our eyes! We give you thanks and praise for the things you have done this very day, in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Kate Miller

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