March 1, 2022
by Mary Luti
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” – Matthew 13:31-32 (NRSV)
When I came home from college Christmas break my freshman year, I was smarter and wiser than when I’d left home three months earlier. It was amazing how much more sophisticated I’d become.
My parents weren’t as impressed when I launched into a passionate speech at dinner about the system and the culpable complicity of bourgeois people like us in All Bad Things Everywhere. I said “us,” but I meant them. They felt it.
My father argued heatedly, point by point. That was his way. I got it from him. My mother was quiet, but I could tell she wanted it to stop. Which proved my point. They’d never get the big picture. They had their heads in the sand.
When it was over, I could feel my face burning. Part righteous indignation. Part … I don’t know, shame?
My father left for the backyard. A kid he’d coached in cross-country years earlier was coming to see him. He’d show up at our house whenever he was in trouble. Bad family situation, struggles with school and purpose. He wasn’t the only one. Dad gave them time.
My mother made up a plate for the old lady next door, for whom she was unofficial caretaker, doing her shopping, schlepping her to the doctor’s, the library, the bank. This was the third old lady on our block she’d seen through their later lives, especially the hardest years at the end.
I went back to school to keep reading about how to save the world.
Good Jesus, save me and save the world, small seed by small seed, backyard talk by backyard talk, plate by offered plate. Amen.
March 2, 2022
Ashes to Action
by Kenneth L. Samuel
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance … and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. – Isaiah 58:5-6 excerpts (NLT)
Many Americans take great pride in our national symbols. We pledge allegiance to our flag. We stand for the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. We salute our military personnel and we honor our military veterans. Our Fourth of July Independence Celebration is always one of the most festive and spectacular events of the year.
Christians are pretty big on symbols as well. We hold the Cross of Calvary in sacred esteem. We worship in churches and cathedrals that invite our eyes to look vertically toward the celestial majesty of God. And today, many Christians will mark the holy day with ashes on their foreheads, remembering that we are dust, in need of redemption.
Symbols are wondrously inspiring, but symbols are essentially empty, if they don’t point to an actual substance of action.
Standing for our National Anthem is symbolically appropriate, but those who take a knee during our National Anthem point to the contradiction of “Land of the free”’ and police brutality in black communities.
Honoring our military is wonderful, but those who declare war against voter suppression are fighting for the very freedoms for which our military men and women risk their lives.
Holding the Cross in high reverence is glorious, but it means nothing if we are unwilling to make individual sacrifices for the common good.
And today, our ashes remain nothing more than ashes, without a commitment to repent for our sins of selfishness and live anew in the Spirit of God’s All-Encompassing Love.
Ashes to Action. Dust to Determination. Amen.
March 3, 2022
by Rachel Hackenberg
I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “…To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” – Daniel 9:4 & 9-10a (NRSV)
I’ve been thinking about getting a dog. I grew up in a house that had dogs—at least one and as many as three—and usually one cat. Full disclosure: I’m actually a cat person. The stoic nature, the coy affection, the quick offense. Nevertheless I’m considering a dog, a friendly personality that will draw me out and inconvenience my life with unnecessarily abundant affection.
There are logistical considerations, of course. A fenced yard. An abundance of poop bags. Pet health insurance. Because I no longer live next to a cornfield where fences and poop are not critical issues, where a pet could be buried without a permit. These are considerations, but they are not my biggest concern.
My biggest concern is training.
A well-trained dog is the sign of a well-trained owner, and I don’t train well. Sit. Stay. Heel. Obedience isn’t my strong suit. Give me a rule, an assignment, a path, and I’m going to step oh-so-slightly out of line—just to prove I can.
Obedience is a promise—an allegiance—that is consistently practiced until it becomes a habit. Obedience is a set of boundaries, a realm of authority within which we agree to reside.
Until we don’t. Until we don’t agree with the boundaries and we disavow the faithful habits.
At which point, the poop bags are needed in the house, the leash flails owner-less behind a sprinting dog, the joy of recklessness turns to panic, greed breaks the boundaries of generosity, violence chews its way through the corner of well-being, and the name of God is dragged through the mud of slander.
Dear God, toeing the line isn’t my nature. I’m so grateful that mercy is yours.
March 4, 2022
by Matt Laney
Jesus told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops! I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” – Luke 12:16-19 (NRSV)
Hoarding and counting your loot are natural human tendencies. Just ask the money-drunk guy in the parable or a sugar-happy child right after trick-or-treating.
Take my kids for example. One year my then 8- and 10-year-old brought home their Halloween booty and divided it up according to type, size, and color. There’s nothing too unusual about that. But they took it to the next level and created pie charts and graphs for a full visual accounting of their sugary spoils.
While their teachers might have been impressed, their father was momentarily horrified, and not just because they denied me my standard cut of Reese’s peanut butter cups. They were misers in the making, little salivating Scrooges, completely disinterested in sharing with their father who wants nothing more than to give them everything he has.
It leads me to wonder: what if the rich guy in the parable had known about God’s plan to give him the kin-dom? What if he knew that his time on earth was just a mere sliver in the eternally secure life planned for him in God? Would things have been any different?
Save me, gracious and giving God, from being rich in things and poor in soul.
March 5, 2022
The Place to Begin
by Talitha Arnold
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. – Psalm 25:1 (NRSV)
I wonder how long the psalmist lingered over that opening line: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” Perhaps the writer moved quickly to the next verse: “O my God, in thee I trust.” But maybe it took a while before he could pen those words of faith.
The psalmist wasn’t feeling much trust in others: “Let me not be put to shame, let not my enemies exult over me,” the psalmist asked. Feeling besieged by the malevolence of others can make it hard to trust the Almighty. Moreover, the psalmist’s anxiety wasn’t limited to outside forces. “Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions,” the writer prayed and reminded God, “according to thy steadfast love, remember me.”
To be sure, by the tenth verse, the psalmist affirmed God’s goodness and proclaimed that “all the paths of Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.” But I’m not sure that’s where the writer began. Maybe they simply took the first step on that path by lifting up their soul to the Lord.
Perhaps this Lent, that’s where some of us begin our journey, too. Not with songs of praise or affirmations of deep trust, but simply lifting our souls to God. Maybe we do it with fingers crossed and rubbing a rabbit’s foot, hoping something good will come of it. The important thing is to do it, to join with the ancient psalmist and say, “Here’s my soul, Lord, in whatever shape it’s in. I lift it to you.” That’s the first step of Lent’s journey. May God grant us the courage to take it.
To you, O Lord, we lift our souls. In you, O Lord, may we find ourselves. With you, O Lord, may we find our way. Amen.