Lenten Devotional: Friday, March 25

by Maxine Easom
Dr. Marcia McFee is a worship specialist who works with churches all over the United States.  The worship committee at Oconee Street has had the opportunity to attend two of her workshops, and we have had her come to Oconee Street to help us in our worship planning.   In addition, we have utilized Dr. McFee’s expertise in our worship planning for several years.
Dr. McFee sent an email to all the people who work with her throughout the year.  I thought it was a beautiful piece of writing, taking us through Holy Week, day by day, while keeping the focus on the true meaning of each day.  As I read the writing, I thought immediately of our church – of each of you.  Thank you for being such a special group of Christians.  Here is Marcia’s gratitude writing:
Friends, I wanted to let you know that I am praying for you in these three holiest of days. But actually, I pray for you every week. Because every week…
 
… you are the ones that welcome the people to the table of Jesus and proclaim that we are the family of God, whether we feel like supporters or traitors at times.
 
… you are the ones that hold the hands of the distraught and dying and proclaim that death will not have the last word.
 
… you are the ones that wait through the night, praying for the resurrection of this world and its beloved people.
 
…. you are the ones that dare to look into tombs and declare that God’s promises are fulfilled by new life.
 
You are the ones that are striving, week in and week out to bring the liberating Gospel into reality by feeding, clothing, housing, working… all in the name of Love and Justice.
 
I am deeply grateful for you and am humbled to serve you. And I am praying for you… always.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 24

by Jamie Calkin

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Easter Week, painted with OSUMC sunday school children, Ink and watercolor on 4x8ft panel.

Matthew 26:36-38 (NIV)
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 

Thank god I go to a church that welcomes trouble makers like me. For example, in talking to an Atlanta-area United Methodist pastor last year, I think I stopped him a bit short when I said the ‘hocus pocus’ of Jesus ascension wasn’t what made Easter and Jesus important to me. Usually, I try remember what Katie and many others at Oconee Street have said: it’s the power of story (not the suspension of logic) that makes the Bible so meaningful. The ’hocus pocus’ line just slipped out.:)

But for me, the story of Jesus in Gethsemane is still the most meaningful part of the Jesus Easter story. It’s no wonder that I put that image of Jesus at Gethsemane (based on painting by Michael D. O’Brien) centrally in the mural of Easter week painted with Ms. Jamie’s sunday school kids.

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Pencil and Pen on paper (on one of Sharon’s clipboard meant for the kids:)

To do the right thing in the face of fearful consequences is, for me, one of the most powerful things about Jesus’ story (I did the sketch) a few weeks ago (during Lisa’s sermon:). Jesus knew this was the likely  consequence!!!

And here is a 13-minute podcast of an incredible story of the same thing: doing the right thing in the face of fear:

http://www.newyorker.com/podcast/political-scene/evan-osnos-on-father-michael-pfleger

It’s about a Catholic parish priest, Father Michael Pfleger, in Chicago’s South Side and includes an amazing audioclip of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve already written more than I intended, so to the …

Prayer: God, don’t let me forget that You were with Jesus throughout as you surely were with MLK and have been with Father Pfleger. I want to do the right thing, even in the face of my fears and doubts. I’ll try to remember Gethsemane. Thank you for your help God. And thank you for Jesus.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 23

by George Miller

Romans 12:2
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the
RENEWING OF YOUR MIND,  that you may prove what is that
good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

SPRING began last Sunday as we celebrated with our individual palm branches at Church, and today the MOON is completely FULL, continuing evidence of the Good Orderly Direction of our Universe, as we continue our Lenten walk to Jerusalem with Jesus.

Two years ago in our adult Sunday School,  I taught a class on our respective “demons” which we individually listed,  and shared how they keep us from becoming WHO WE REALLY ARE as God created us.  We then burned all of the anonymous lists in the large granite flower pot behind 717.

The theologian, Richard Rohr, says in his book, The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection, that  addressing  of our demons requires understanding and spiritual healing; not condemnation of ourselves for  moral failure.  He believes this is a gigantic breakthrough,  and says Pope Francis gets it right when he says the Church should be a “FIELD HOSPITAL ON THE EDGE OF THE BATTLEFIELD OF LIFE.”

Neither the healing of our demons (from people, our thinking, or things (addiction, money, toys),  NOR the overcoming of sin will happen by mere willpower, by just gritting our teeth to do it.  He suggests that a “Vital Spiritual Experience” appears to be necessary in the process of this healing and that this parallels the teachings of Jesus.  Accordingly, he suggests that the qualities of willingness, vulnerability, surrender and powerlessness keep us open to the on ongoing healing and love from God.  This is also how human love relationships work: in a dance of mutual honesty and vulnerability, grace and forgiveness.

The Gospels are illustrated with many stories of demonic possession. Under these influences we also are many times unable to do what is in our own best interest – the language of “the devil made me do it” is fairly accurate.  Such “demons” must indeed be “exorcised by a positive encounter with a much more powerful loving SOURCE.  Jesus enters the situation, and the demons are exposed and disempowered.  In moments of sincere divine communion, our demons show themselves to be false and temporary solutions to our very real loneliness and emptiness.

Most of our demons are not addictions per se, but rather repetitive patterns of thinking and reacting.  Spiritual traditions at the highest levels have discovered that a primary addiction for all humans is an addiction to our own way of thinking. Eckhart Tolle now says, 98% of human thought is “repetitive and useless.”  When we see how self-serving, how petty, how narcissistic , and how compulsive our thinking can be, it might even be called “possessed.”

He suggests the only way to be delivered from our demons is to find oneself inside a “body of resurrection” (Romans 6:4),  In other words,  experience of a deeper love entanglement absorbs all our negativity and nameless dread of life and the future. Paul’s code phrase for this positive realigned place is en Cristo, which is to live by choice and embodiment within the force field of the Risen Christ.

So it appears the only cure for our demonic possession is repossession – by Something Greater, and until we have found our own ground and connection to the whole, we are unsettled, grouchy, and on the edge of falling apart. This  repossession is called a Vital Spiritual Experience.  Afterward, we know rightly who we really are, that we belong in this world, and that we are being held by some Larger Force.  For some seemingly illogical reason life then feels okay and even good and right and purposeful.  THIS is what it feels like to be “saved.”

Prayer:
God, I turn my whole self over to you,
with all my demons, compulsions, hurts
fears and resentments.  RENEW MY
MIND and transform my life.

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 22

by Lisa Caine

Mark 11:27-28
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?

Tuesday is the longest day in Mark’s remembrance of Jesus’ final week. So, if length is a criterion of importance, Tuesday must be a pretty important day. It is a day of confrontation by the priests and scribes, threatened by Jesus’ audacious move on Monday to close down the money changers and chase away the sellers of doves. It is a day when they try to recapture their dignity and authority, which were badly undermined by both Jesus’ actions and his words.

I keep a “to do” list every day; maybe you do too. And it’s always frustrating when interruptions prevent us from even accomplishing one item from the list. We may not know what Jesus had on his “to do” list that Tuesday; we many never know the reasons Jesus had for returning to the Temple because he didn’t have a chance to do anything before he was immediately confronted by those in power asking their most pressing question – “By what authority do you do these things?” Powerful people expect and demand that the chain of command be upheld. Jesus hadn’t consulted them or sought their approval; he hadn’t worked within the system to ask for what he wanted. He had not recognized or respected their authority. He’d disrupted the business of the temple.
So Jesus spends the day in conversation and confrontation with people who don’t like him, who are afraid of him, who don’t trust him, and who are looking for ways to trap and trick him into answers that will alienate the crowds of people who see in Jesus a savior, a light in the darkness of their hopeless lives.

What an exhausting and difficult day it must have been. But Jesus doesn’t get anxious or defensive; he doesn’t become obnoxious; and he doesn’t run away. It is hard when people ask you questions, not because they want to learn things, but because they want to see if you think the same way they do. They want to see if they can trick you into some kind of position that they can then attack. They’re not looking for an honest answer to an honest question; they’re not seeking truth, or a better understanding, or the opportunity for open-ended dialog. They don’t want to know because they already know; they want to know if you know what they know.

Finally, after much verbal sparring, Jesus is asked “Which commandment is first of all?” and Jesus responds immediately, straight out of Deuteronomy and then Leviticus: “The first is, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And then the scribe repeats the great commandment that he has just heard from Jesus, with this significant addition, “This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And Jesus, with compassion affirms this momentary epiphany, and adds, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

There are two powerful messages for us in Jesus’ last Tuesday – first, love of and loyalty to God and neighbor comes before everything else, before our love and loyalty to anyone or anything else, before all the ways in which we seek to protect ourselves and insure our status and control. And second, when we can listen to each other carefully, without becoming anxious or argumentative; when we can stay in an uncomfortable conversation without becoming defensive, when we can become more interested in the truth than in protecting our position, there is the opportunity for grace and for friendship, and in that moment we are not far from the Kingdom of God.

It was on Tuesday

It was on Tuesday that they let him have it.

They wanted to know why
and they wanted to know how.

They were the respectable men, the influential men, the establishment.

The questions they asked ranged from silly speculations about whether you would be a bigamist in heaven if you’d married twice on earth,
to what was the central rule of civilized behavior.

They knew the answers,
or so they thought,
Otherwise they would never have asked the questions.

And like most of us,
They were looking for an argument,
Looking to justify themselves,
With no intention of a change of heart.

So he flailed them with his tongue . . .
Those who tried to look interested,
But never wanted to be committed.

And that was on Tuesday;
The day when he let them –
Let us—
Have it.

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 21

by Lisa Caine

Mark 11:15-18: Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

On Monday, after his entrance in Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosannah,” Jesus went to the temple where he turned over the tables of the money changers and declared that “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations . . . But you have made it into a den of robbers.”

Where do you think Jesus might go today to clean house?  Certainly much of the institutional church could stand a good cleaning —  our hierarchies – and I’m not talking just United Methodist here – but church hierarchies in general – Catholic and Protestant, often seem more interested in self-preservation and maintenance than in doing the work of Christ on the forefront of struggles to eliminate injustice, discrimination, poverty, violence, and abuse.            And church members often seem more interested in ways in which they can be supported, entertained, affirmed and helped to maintain the status quo, rather than in hearing about the cost of discipleship; more concerned about the cemetery fund than in feeding the hungry.

But Jesus judgment goes beyond a critique of religion and the church.  N. T. Wright affirms that if we applied his message to today’s world, “it wouldn’t just be the churches that ought to tremble, but the law courts and legislative assemblies, royal palaces, and banking centres – the places where power is so often wielded to the benefit of the already powerful and the downtreading of the already powerless, the places where people with power or wealth turn in on themselves instead of outward in generosity towards the world.” (Mark for Everyone, p. 152)  Wall Street, please take note!  Politicians, please take note!  This, he says, is where Jesus would strike today.

What Jesus did that Monday at the Temple was not a cheap gesture.  It was not as some have dubbed it his “temple tantrum.” It was, in fact, the turning point, the climax of his whole career of teaching, healing, feeding, and loving people into God’s new life that he came to embody.  And this action led directly to his violent death.  But it was something he had to do.

It Was On Monday
It was on Monday
that religion got in the way.
An outsider would have thought
that it was a pet shop’s fire sale.
And the outsider, in some ways,
wouldn’t have been far wrong.

Only, it wasn’t household pets,
it was pigeons that were being purchased.
And it wasn’t a fire sale;
it was a rip-off stall in a holy temple,
bartering birds for sacrifice.

And the price was something only the rich could afford.
No discounts to students, pensioners, or social security claimants.
Then he,
the holiest man on earth,
went through the bizarre bazaar
like a bull in a china shop.

So the doves got liberated
and the pigeon sellers got angry.
And the police went crazy
and the poor people clapped like mad,
because he was making a sign
that God was for everybody,
not just for those who could afford God.

He turned the tables on Monday . . .
The day that religion got in the way.

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 19

by Leland Spencer

Lent and Time

Ecclesiastes 3:1
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

In this Lenten season, I’ve been reflecting on time, at least in part because I’ve been rereading several of the speeches and writings of Martin Luther King, wherein time functions as a frequent theme. Lent, of course, marks time—40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays—what a strange way of marking time it sometimes seems.

As Lent calls us to awareness of our own mortality and sinfulness—but never without acknowledging God’s grace and forgiveness, always greater than our sin—I have reflected on time and my own willingness to wait, to defer, to privilege expedience over the call of conscience. In my work with a speech and debate team, I recently had a run-in with a coach of a neighboring school who wanted to ban debate judges who spoke native languages other than English. I confronted this person’s racism, but only after he’d succeeded in getting some judges dropped from a competition by claiming they were too inexperienced to judge. He hid his true purpose behind the veneer of the rules, but I knew his motive because he’d voiced it at a public meeting months before. In that earlier meeting, I rolled my eyes but didn’t speak up. I didn’t take him seriously, and I doubted anyone else would. I never imagined he would find a way to enact his ideology under the guise of legalistic adherence to letter of the law.

“Silence is betrayal,” King said in his 1967 speech at Riverside Church. Breaking with the Johnson administration for the first time exactly one year before his death, King articulated several reasons why his conscience compelled him to speak against the Vietnam War. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” a few years before, King excoriated white churches and white Christians (clergy and lay) who encouraged people of color to wait patiently for civil rights. King reminded his readers (then and now) that time itself is neutral, not progressive. Furthermore, the forces of injustice, in the call to wait patiently, more often mobilize time to their ends than the voices agitating for social change. The church, writes King, “is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

King’s words convict me of my own silence and embolden me to speak. As I reflect on King’s words about and to the church, I wonder about how our United Methodist Church this spring will act. As General Conference approaches, will 2016 finally be the year that justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream? Or will the church forget the message that “justice too long delayed is justice denied”?

Prayer: Oh God, in our lives, in our homes, in our church, find us faithful in your call to justice. Forgive us our silence in the face of oppression, and grant us holy and sacred impatience in the face of all that harms the people you love. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Friday, March 18

From A Grounded Lent by Diana Butler Bass

Quote:
For far too long, religion has combined with nationalism or ethnicity to claim divine legitimacy for human conquests and crusades, a historical Gordian know if ever there was one. In the 21st century, we can no longer live with this problem, for the knot will surely become a noose for the whole human race.” (Grounded, p. 242)

Revelation 7:9  After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from evry nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Thought
From Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.” (MLK, 1967)

Prayer
God, You are the source of human dignity, and it is in your image that we are created.
Pour out on us the spirit of love and compassion.
Enable us to reverence each person, to reach out to anyone in need, to value and appreciate those who differ from us, to share the resources of our nation, to receive the gifts offered to us by people from other cultures.
Grant that we may always promote the justice and acceptance that ensures lasting peace and racial harmony.
Help us to remember that we are one world and one family.
Amen.
(from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council)

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 17

Psalm 19:14 (NIV)
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I was putting on chapstick last week, thinking about a conversation the day before, and I realized I had the wrong product.  What I really needed was something stronger, something that would prevent not just damage to my lips but from my lips.  I needed LipLock.  LipLock is a great product – it keeps your lips shut tight until your brain is fully engaged. And it’s temperature sensitive – if your temper is too hot or your heart too cold, your lips will not open.  Think how much damage LipLock could prevent!

There are times when I really wish I could take back my words.  Or that I could change the tone. Maybe you’ve felt this way, too. The conversation that was on my mind bothered me because I said some unkind things about someone who had been difficult to work with many years ago. I was surprised at the depth of my emotion after so much time. During this season of Lent we have been encouraged to examine our hearts. In doing so, I realized that my words reflected what was inside. I had not forgiven when I should have; instead I had superglued this grudge to my heart. A song based on Psalm 51:10 came to mind and I prayed it – Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me…  Dredging up the past can be hard, but God gave me a new, more objective perspective. It is amazing how healing it can be to forgive and to let go of past hurts.  Thanks be to God.

A prayer based on Psalm 19:14 and Psalm 51:10
Dear Lord,
Today as I prepare to start my day, I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart will be pleasing in your sight. I pray that you will create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Help me to be forgiving, loving and kind. Thank you that each day is a new beginning.
Amen

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 16

I Saw Jesus Today
by Joe Dennis

Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

I saw Jesus today, but I ignored him. If I made eye contact, I would be compelled to help. But I just didn’t have time today. I was running errands. Besides, Jesus is always there — on the corner of Hawthorne and Broad — looking for some help. I didn’t have cash, anyway. I’m sure someone else helped him. I will help Jesus next time.

Jesus visited me today, but I ignored his concern. I could tell something was wrong, and if I asked how he was doing, I would be compelled to listen. But I just didn’t have time today. I had so much work to do — I was running behind. Besides, Jesus can talk to other people about his problems. That’s not my job, anyway. I’m sure someone else listened to him. I will listen to Jesus next time.

Jesus called me today, but I ignored the call. I knew the conversation would last a long time. If I answered, I would be compelled to engage in a conversation. But I just didn’t have time today. I just finished working a 12-hour day and I needed the time to decompress. Besides, Jesus calls me every day looking to talk. My phone battery was low, anyway. I’m sure she was able to talk to someone else. I will talk to Jesus next time.

I received a message from Jesus today, but I ignored it. The notification popped up on my phone, but I never opened the message. I knew the message would be long and filled with emotional despair. If I opened the message, I would be compelled to write back. But I just didn’t have time today. I’ve been looking forward to watching this movie for months. Besides, Jesus frequently writes me. I wasn’t at my computer, anyway. I’m sure someone else responded. I will write Jesus next time.

Prayer: Jesus, even though you are always reaching out to me, I am constantly ignoring you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 15

by Janet Frick

Who is my neighbor? 

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

As the parent of two children who have been part of the Athens Clarke-County public school system since 2007, I have been watching with great interest and concern the events that have been uncovered at Cedar Shoals high school this spring. I won’t rehash all of the gory details which have been covered extensively in the local paper, and which continue to be discussed among local parents. Questions and concerns remain about how decisions were made regarding both discipline and communication, and ongoing inquiry into these matters has led to further concerning reports about broader issues related to school discipline, culture, and the impact of poverty on the academic and social-emotional development of many young people in our community.

Discussions about issues of poverty and behavioral concerns in CCSD public schools have been interesting to watch over the years. Athens is a very racially, economically, and educationally diverse city. Anyone who has spent any time in local public schools knows that there are children who face enormous challenges and obstacles to successful learning and emotional development. I think we all realize that public schools cannot solve all of the problems that have been created by poverty and other structural challenges. But the question for us as both followers of Christ and as members of this community is: how are we called to respond?

People who don’t have school-age kids might read about these issues, feel concern and compassion, but think, “not my problem.” Families whose children attend schools other than CCSD public schools might think, “not my problem.” However, making progress on addressing the challenges that face the most disadvantaged and deeply struggling families in our community is, in fact, “yes my problem.”

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is having an exchange with an expert in the law. Luke describes this encounter as the man “testing” Jesus — in other words, he’s not interested in a friendly conversation, but he’s looking to trap Jesus or embarrass him. Jesus, tuned into the man’s intent, answers his initial question with a question. I like to think of Jesus’ response to the man’s opening question of “what must I do to inherit eternal life” as being a bit like, “It’s in the syllabus.” Once the expert in the law responds with the two greatest commandments (“Love God” and “Love your neighbor”), Jesus says “Yes, do this and you will live.”

Not content to stop there, however, the man follows up with: “And who is my neighbor?” Interestingly, Jesus never directly answers this question. He turns the question away completely from describing the characteristics of the “other” who would qualify as a neighbor, and instead, he puts the focus squarely where it belongs — on the actions of the person asking the question. We all know the parable of the good samaritan, but what I find interesting in this story is that the question answered is not “who is my neighbor”, but rather, “which of these people (in the parable) WAS A NEIGHBOR to the man who was robbed?” To Jesus, his priority for his followers was not for them to focus on the characteristics of other people and decide who fits or doesn’t fit into “our club”, but rather, his followers should focus on what THEY should do to BE a neighbor.

So in other words, when we read “Love your neighbor as yourself”, our focus shouldn’t be on the word “neighbor” (and figuring out who that is?) but rather our focus should be on the word “Love” (which is what WE do). And further, as we read the parable, we note that “love” is not “sit around and pray for” or “feel warm fuzzy thoughts towards” or “gaze adoringly upon.” Love, in this parable, is hands-on. It starts with a feeling of compassion, but then it moves into action. It takes time, and money, and communication. It can be inconvenient. It is a personal commitment. It is given without an expectation of anything being given back in return.

When we live in community with one another as followers of Christ, everyone is our neighbor. We know from Jesus’ own example that he spent his time with the outcasts of society — the poor, the downtrodden, the reviled, the rejected. Here in Athens, children failed by the local school system, and/or by overwhelmingly challenging family or economic forces, are all of our neighbors. The poor, those in prison, those who reject the standards of society that we take for granted — they are our neighbors. When we begin to focus on healing their wounds, giving of our resources to support them, and going out of our way to meet them where they are, we will begin to live out what Jesus called us to do when he said “Go and do likewise.”

Prayer: God, help us to set aside our own comfort and complacency to go out and love our neighbors — all of them — through our words and our actions. Amen.