Tuesday, April 26, 2011

After Easter . . .

Easter Sunday is over, but the joy of it lightens up these drippy spring days.

It’s easy to look out the window, sigh, and wish for sunshine. It’s not so easy to remember that change takes time, and this year, spring is certainly taking its time getting here.

Yet, every morning, there is some new sign that spring is on the way. This morning, we had a bit of sunshine and blue sky – fleeting, to be sure, but bright and lovely, for just a few moments – enough to brighten the whole day, a promise of what is to come.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday, 2011

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

 Bernard of Clairvaux

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 21, 2011

Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.

Once we’ve been forgiven and renewed, we have choices to make. The question becomes “Where now, Lord?”

Asking God to lead us is an implicit acknowledgment of His Lordship over us. We are asking Him to show us His way, to lead us into the green pastures the Psalmist spoke of. We are also signing on to follow into the less pleasant places through which He might lead us.

By asking Him to lead us, we are signaling our willingness to follow Him, even if we don’t understand where we’re going, even if it’s taking a long time, even if we don’t particularly enjoy the journey.

We will follow wherever He leads us.

The end result of this is that we learn to delight in His will; we learn to walk in His ways, and He is glorified. That kind of delight is not dependent on our circumstances; it is dependent on our relationship with the One who leads us.

God forgives us; we can trust Him.

God renews us; we can rely on Him.

God leads us, and we can delight in Him.

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 20, 2011

Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.

The idea of renewal always seems to be popular in the church, perhaps because we recognize that we are always in need of it.

In this prayer of confession, asking God to renew us may mean something a little different from our popular ideas of renewal. This request for renewal is connected to our recognition of our own sin and failure. Does anything feel as uncomfortable as knowing we’ve failed?

Understanding the reality of our own sin and failure can leave us feeling completely undone. Most of us have good intentions, at least to begin with. We want to do what is right; we want to do what is good. Somehow, though, we don’t quite manage to do right consistently; our “goodness” is always lacking.

How utterly disheartening!

And when we are disheartened by our own sin and failures, the idea that God might renew us – might lift our spirits, encourage us, give us a fresh start – what a blessing that seems!

God’s renewal is a blessing, one of second chances and do-overs. Renewal is His pronouncement that He is still working in us. His forgiveness cleanses us, and His renewal gives us room to try again.

Renewal is yet another sign of His immeasurable grace and kindness toward us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 19, 2011

Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.

Forgiveness is mercy.

When we ask God to forgive us, we’re asking Him to re-set our relationship. We’re seeking restoration; we’re looking for a way back to intimacy with Him. His forgiveness for our sin is a necessary part of that restoration.

Sin separates us from God, who is holy. His holiness is not just an idea; it’s a reality. Our sin has real-world, real-time consequences, even if they are not immediately apparent. Over time, though, we can see how life changes as a result of sin. Relationships fray and break; we do things we don’t mean to do, and we don’t do the things we know we should; death comes. Indeed, Scripture tells us “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

Forgiveness interrupts the effects of those consequences, and eventually cancels them. In Christ, forgiveness overcomes even death.

No wonder we ask God for His forgiveness every time we pray.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 18, 2011

For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

Mercy, for Jesus’s sake – this is what we are asking of God.

We can ask it because of what Jesus did for us – His willingness to become one of us, to take upon Himself the sin of the world, to die for us. Because of all that He did, we can ask for mercy.

Jesus did those things for us because we could not do them – would not do them – for ourselves, much less for anyone else. Jesus did those things for us because of His great love for us.

Jesus did those things for us because He is the very essence, the very nature, of love.

It is in the name of that love that we dare to ask for the mercy we do not in any way deserve.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 7, 2011

Loving God with our whole hearts, and loving our neighbors as ourselves – how are those two actions connected?

One simple, seemingly obvious answer is that it is more difficult to love our neighbors if we don’t love God, first. It is when we are in relationship with Him that we learn how to love others. We have His example of loving us, and we learn from it, even as we respond to Him in love.

But what if loving our neighbors is also a way of helping us to learn to love God?

I think that may be a big part of it. Loving the person I can see and interact with provides valuable experience in how love actually behaves. I hear from Scripture (1 Corinthians 13) what love is – patient, kind, hopeful – and I put those qualities in practice as I actually try to love my neighbor.

I read in Scripture that “love does not rejoice at what is wrong, but rejoices in what is right,” and that description affects how I relate to those around me.

I see that “love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude,” and I try to adjust my actions accordingly as I deal with the people in my everyday life.

And all the time, this practicing of the quality of love is changing me, and teaching me at the same time, to love God.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 6, 2011

. . . we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

How much do I love my own self? Let me count the ways.

I love myself enough to eat well, to exercise, to make sure I have a house to live in and clothes to wear. I love myself enough to seek out meaningful work, as well as opportunities to do things I enjoy, and to have fun. I love myself enough to take really good care of myself.

And how much do I love my neighbors? Do I love them that much?

If I apply Jesus’s definition of “neighbor” – the one He offered in the story of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:25-37 – I need to love the one who is in need as much as I love my own self.

Am I as willing to meet my neighbor’s needs as I am to meet my own? Can I meet their needs with what is left over from my own life?

Or does loving my neighbor mean giving up some of what I use to meet my own needs, in order to meet theirs?

I have not loved my neighbor as much as I love my own self . . .

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 5, 2011

Scripture offers us many ways to think of God: as a parent, as a king, as a friend, as a lover. We aren’t limited to just one way of thinking about our relationship with Him.

It’s interesting that each of those ways of thinking about God involves relationship: the relationship of a child to a parent, of a subject to a king, of one friend to another, or of two lovers learning to woo and love one another. No matter who we are, or where our lives have taken us, we can find a relationship model for our relationship with God.

Each of those relationships involves some kind of love, and not all of those kinds of love are expressed in the same ways. Some focus more on tenderness and care, some focus more on watchful concern for, or action on behalf of, the other, but all of them involve some kind of meaningful interaction with one another.

When we talk about loving God with our whole heart, we are talking about all these kinds of love. We are talking about how we offer our love to God, and how we receive love from Him. And all of these kinds of love require paying attention to the relationship involved.

To love God with our whole heart means being intentional in our relationship with Him. It means paying attention, being involved, staying alert to what is happening between us. It means risking our heart, believing that the reward of the relationship is worth the risk.

We have not loved you with our whole hearts . . .

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lenten Reflection, April 4, 2011

We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

What does it mean to love God with our whole heart?

Jesus asked us to do this. In fact, He identified this as the most important commandment of all.

He was talking with a group of people, including some of the Sadducees, about some of the finer points of the Law, when “ . . . one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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.'” (Mark 12:28-30).

Even as we confess together that we have not loved God with our whole heart, I wonder: what would our lives look like, if we loved Him with our whole heart?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lenten Reflection: April 2, 2011

We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

Sometimes we sin by what we do; sometimes we sin by what we don’t do. There are sins of commission, and sins of omission. Sometimes it seems as if, no matter which way we go, it’s wrong.

This confession reminds us that we can sin by not acting as well as by acting. We are used to thinking of sin as something we do, not as something we haven’t done. Yet, how many times have we neglected to do the things God asks of us? How many times have we overlooked a chance to show mercy to someone, or kindness? How often have we neglected to care for the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked? How often do we intend to do “the right thing” but then forget to do it?

Recognizing our sinfulness is not just a matter of tallying up what we’ve done wrong; it is also recognizing the ways we might have honored, or obeyed, or loved God, but didn’t.

Righteousness is not just about who we aren’t. It’s about who we are.