March 6, 2022
by Martha Spong
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him. – Mark 1:12-13 (CEB)
Mark doesn’t describe what happened when Jesus was tempted by Satan. Maybe we remember the longer versions of the story found in other Gospels, in which three temptations are offered and rejected. Mark keeps it simple and leaves the details to our imaginations. Jesus waited through those forty days; there is so much empty space for our questions in this scant description.
I close my eyes and picture Jesus, driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God. I imagine the dry heat, and the bright sun, and the desert plants. I imagine a search for shelter, and a growing hunger, and a thirst for something, anything, to drink in a place where water in streams appeared and disappeared with the seasons.
I imagine Jesus, emptied out, waiting.
I imagine Satan, waiting for the moment when hunger and thirst and watchfulness made Jesus most vulnerable.
There has been a lot of waiting for all of us in the past few years. Waiting for things to get back to normal. Waiting for mail to be delivered. Waiting for ballots to be counted. Waiting for the escalation—and de-escalation—in numbers of positive diagnoses, in numbers of deaths. Waiting for someone to make things right.
I imagine Jesus feeling far from God, yet closer, too. We have learned this—are learning this—in the wilderness of an unsettled world, wondering if God is busy elsewhere, or simply waiting for us on the other side of time.
Holy One, we are waiting for you. We pray you are waiting for us, too. Amen.
March 7, 2022
by Marilyn Pagan-Banks
Will the Lord reject forever? Will God never show favor again? Has God’s unfailing love vanished forever? Has God’s promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has God in anger withheld compassion? – Psalm 77:7-9 (NIV)
I am currently training as a certified professional coach, and one of the main competencies taught is the asking of powerful questions. As a coach, we are not to provide the answers that our client is seeking to find, but to ask the types of questions that will allow them to uncover and discover the answers they are seeking for themselves and to gain clarity on next steps. Coaches accompany clients as they do their own work.
While it doesn’t appear that the psalmist had a coach, it is clear they remembered how God has always accompanied them. In their despair and pain, they remembered all that God had done over the years. The cries became questions, and the questions led to deeper clarity and a renewed conviction: that if God did it before, God can do it again.
Perhaps this is why the seasons of the church are so important. We don’t all have coaches, but we do have the story of a love so profound that God wrapped it in flesh and dwelled among us. A love so magic that death could not destroy it. A love that is present and possible for all creation to experience.
The season of Lent is an opportunity for us to turn back to God, again. To recall the story of God’s liberative love as modeled in the life and ministry of Jesus. To have the courage and humility to ask powerful questions of ourselves as followers of Jesus and as the church, with the intention of living truly transformed lives and to be the church.
Gracious God, when we don’t have all the answers, please help us to ask the right questions. Amen.
March 8, 2022
What Not to Say
by John Edgerton
Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For God wounds but also binds up; God injures, but those same hands also heal. – Job 5:17-18 (NIV)
Oh, Eliphaz the Temanite, you really stuck your foot in it this time. In the beginning of the book of Job, a righteous person loses everything that mattered and winds up miserable. Now here comes Eliphaz—supposedly Job’s friend—saying there must be an explanation. “You must have done something wrong. If you confess, then God will give you back everything.”
Blaming the victim while also offering empty promises that the irreparable will be repaired? Eliphaz is dead wrong. God even says so.
Bad things do, in fact, happen to good people. There is no simple moral arithmetic that explains why some people get all the breaks and others have nothing but heartbreak. Living a moral life is not a divine insurance policy to fend off disaster. That’s not how fate and fortune work, I’m sorry to say. Don’t take my word for it, though. That is the whole argument of the book of Job.
Here is what God promises in the face of heartbreak and loss, here is the truth about God revealed in the book of Job: God listens to our heartbreak.
God heard every word that Job had to say. When Job fumed with anger, God was listening. When Job cried out in grief and despair, God was listening. When Job did his utmost to blaspheme against God, hurt God’s feelings and throw God’s promises right back in the divine countenance, God was listening.
God will listen when we are angry. When we scream in God’s face in pain and grief, God is wise enough and good enough not to offer explanations. Because grieving people don’t need answers. We need the comfort of knowing we aren’t alone, that someone is listening.
God, hear now these prayers of your people, as we lay our heartbreaks before you…
March 9, 2022
Walking Through Water
by Vince Amlin
Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. – Psalm 77:19 (NRSV)
The last two miles of St. Cuthbert’s Way cross the floor of the North Sea. You have to time it, of course, for the two windows each day when the path between the Northumbrian coastline and Holy Island dries out (relatively).
Kyle and I started the day 15 miles from the water, woke early, and kept a dogged pace all morning to make sure we got there on schedule. I had studied the route for months, plotting out our journey with precision so we didn’t get stranded on one side or the other (let alone in the middle!).
Even with tide tables, guidebooks, and poles stuck deep in the seafloor to mark our path, it felt like an act of faith to hike into the middle of the ocean, to find myself a mile in either direction from dry land.
How much more so for the Israelites, who simply saw their opportunity and had to take it? Who had Pharaoh’s army at their backs and no time to ask when the Red Sea might come crashing in again?
In my experience, that’s often how it feels to be led by God. A way opens, and I’m invited to take it. Not a moment to consider my options until I’m already a mile out to sea, wondering whether I can make it across.
Starting a church. Having a child with special needs. Pastoring through a pandemic.
Seeing the mighty waters surging around me. Trying to trust that the one who brought me this far will guide me safely to the far shore.
Pathmaker, open a way and bring me through.
March 10, 2022
by Molly Baskette
Abram said [to God], “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord. – Genesis 15:3-6 (NIV)
It could be that your faith is not the kind that thinks God owes you anything. Lucky you! God will never disappoint.
But Abram was of the other sort. God promised him—more than once—that he would have a son to carry on his name. In our age of a million ways of leaving a legacy after our passing (The Internet Is Forever), it might be hard for us to understand why childbearing was so important for Abram. But it was everything.
And then God, despite those very clear promises, failed to deliver. For decades. Until long past Sarai’s procreative years. It must have seemed that God was toying with them: either distracted with a million other concerns, or worse, teasing and never intending to follow through.
What does it mean when we think God has made a promise to us that is not kept … at least for a very long time? Does God have a short attention span? Is God prevented by other forces—perhaps malevolent ones—from acting sooner? Is God waiting for something in us to finally be receptive, the combination lock of our hearts to click open? Or does God, who lives in the past-present-future, know exactly the right timing?
God, give us the courage to ask you for what we really want. To listen for your answer, perhaps even make us a promise. And then give us the patience to wait as long as it takes for you to make good. Amen.