Friday, February 27, 2009

Day Four- Saturday, February 28

I Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you-- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

One of the most interesting things to consider when looking at lectionary texts is the way in which they fit together or intersect in truly remarkable ways. As we look ahead to the first Sunday of Lent, the texts that we've explored for the past two days are the lectionary texts for tomorrow (Sunday.) reading the account of God's covenant with Noah from Genesis 9 and the upcoming gospel lesson (Mark 1:9-15), allows us to hear these watery passages. Noah and his family were saved from water. We, Christ's family, are saved through water, and this passage from First Peter asserts that the true saving power of baptism comes not through water but through Christ's resurrection. Baptism plays a critical role in the Christian faith, transforming the way in which we view life, death, and what it means to be accompanied, challenged and strengthened by power of the Holy Spirit.

Affirmation of Faith
based on 1 Peter 3:18-22

Washed in the saving waters of baptism,
we give thanks for the ark of the church.
Joined to the faithful of all times and places,
we proclaim the suffering of Christ for the sins of all.
We rejoice and trust that:
the righteousness of Christ brings us to God,
the death of Christ proclaims God's love,
the resurrection of Christ awakens our spirits,
and the ascension of Christ enthrones him as Lord.
Therefore, with a good conscience and obedient lives,
we proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ-- even if for that faith we must suffer. So be it!
(Affirmation by G. Oliver Wagner, pastor, Montoursville Presbyterian Church, Montoursville, PA)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day Three- Friday, February 27

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

As we lean toward Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent, this psalm of deliverance sounds like something Jesus might have repeated during his wilderness sojourn, which is our gospel lesson. A poignant combination of "do nots" and "please do" statements, the psalmist clearly has a sense of Yahweh's closeness and a strong desire to please God. Best of all, the psalm clearly sings about a relationship, one that embraces learning, and some of our dearest relationships are ones that bloom and flourish over time. So here, in the wilderness of Lent, as we're invited to draw closer to God and cultivate a relationship with God that deepens over time. So, for today, we are invited to wonder, explore, learn and give serious thought to what it means to learn or to relearn the paths of the Lord.

I confess my sins to you, O Lord, confident that you will not reject this sinner, bit find new ways to share your forgiveness and steadfast love, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.
(Eugene Peterson, Praying with the Psalms, Harper Collins,1993.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day Two- Thursday, February 26

Genesis 9:8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

Genesis 9:8-17 is one of the lectionary passages for the first Sunday in Lent this year and a covenant theme is a very good place to start! Reading about how God promises never again that unruly waters destroy the world and its inhabitants reminds us that many ancient creation stories include some sort of flood story. Starting out afresh, beginning again, a sign (in this case, a rainbow) that serves as a reminder all seem like things we can understand here at the outset of Lent.

Many people make promises in Lent, to add a good practice or eliminate one that is less than helpful. Signs and symbols abound in Lent: ashes, the color purple, a crown of thorns. Perhaps the most compelling part of this passage is the new and different thing that God is doing, by binding to humanity (and to the whole earth!) as a protector. With it comes a surrender of divine power, which is pretty remarkable, and with that comes our reflection for the day.
If God has made a promise to protect and preserve the earth and its creatures, could we not also think about the world and all that dwells therein as precious and inherently worthwhile? How could we live that out? Could a rainbow be a sign of promise to you, this year in Lent?

God of unchangeable power, when you fashioned the world the morning starts sang together and the host of heaven shouted for joy; open our eyes to the wonders of creation and teach us to use all things for good, to the honour of your glorious name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ash Wednesday- Day One

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Discussions of fasting abound in biblical texts. Here in this passage from Isaiah, the prophet makes the distinction between religious ritual and the call to action that God desires. Here, at the outset of Lent, we're invited to consider how we're going to approach God. If you're here reading this Lenten devotional, it may be because this will be your Lenten practice, to read, to think, to pray. The prophet Isaiah, addressing a people returned from exile, but still living under harsh conditions, implores them to worship and take up worshipful practices such as fasting for the right reasons: to lift up rather than to persecute the oppressed, to be a light to others, to be people who share rather than withhold help. According to the author of this portion of Isaiah, that's the definition of true worship and righteousness. It's hard to imagine mild mannered blog-reading Presbyterians relating easily to the accusations being flung at the original hearers of this text.
It's worthwhile to wonder, though, if, like us, those hearing Isaiah utter these charges believed that they were just being good believers because of their acts of fasting and piety. So, the question for us as we begin Lent is, how is God speaking to us through this passage?

Prayer: Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the Day...
This day-- a gift from you.
This day00like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant, halfway turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes--
we begin this day with the taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
of more war casualties, more violence, more cynicism;
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you--you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.
(from Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Breuggemann,Abingdon Press 2008, p.27-28.)