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Lenten Devotional — Week 1

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The First Week in Lent

Sunday | March 6

Matthew 25 Spotlight  |  First Presbyterian Church, Bellevue, Iowa
On this first Sunday in Lent, visit the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Iowa, as they commit to living out Matthew 25 by building congregational vitality and working to eradicate systemic poverty with its Community Cupboard Project.

As you watch, hold the congregation in your prayers. See what inspires you with ideas for your community.

Ponder
When was the last time you felt real thirst? How sweet did that water taste when you finally received a drink? What other thirsts leave our souls parched?

For I was hungry and you gave me food. — Matthew 25:35

 

Monday | March 7

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. — Matthew 4:1–2

Weekly Spiritual Practice: Fasting
Lent, the 40-day season to turn back to God and prepare for the miracle of Easter’s empty tomb, is the perfect time to explore a spiritual practice. As the first week in Lent begins, we will look at the traditional Lenten practice of fasting.
As we see in Matthew 4, fasting is a practice that helps strengthen our reliance on God. The grumbling of our stomachs reminds us of our prayer for — and provision of — daily bread. It also helps us connect to those for which hunger is not a privileged, practiced and temporary discomfort, but a harsh reality brought about by the many food injustices in this world. Fasting is not a “Christian diet” nor is it a way to be holier than others. Fasting is about creating a “hungering space” for Jesus to enter your lives.
As this week’s focus is on seeing the Lord in those who hunger, commit to a time of fasting. There are many ways to fast — not just from food. Here are some ideas:

  • Make time this week for a partial fast. Choose a morning to refrain from food and use the time you would have spent on making breakfast to pray. Break the fast at noon. Or perhaps, make your fast be one that foregoes dinner.
  • Fasting can be refraining from a certain food or drink that you feel you can’t live without. Did someone mention coffee? Chocolate?
  • Fasting doesn’t have to be food centric. Try a social media fast or a fast from checking emails constantly. Perhaps use one day as a “No Electronics Day.”

Whatever you choose to fast from, and decide the duration of the fast, reflect on these questions:

  • What cravings/addictions have a hold on you?
  • What do you find the most uncomfortable about the fast you have chosen?
  • What physical discomfort have you experienced? How does this connect you with others who are suffering?
  • What have been some insights or realizations that have come to you from fasting?

No matter how you decide to explore the spiritual practice of fasting this week, remember you are not striving for perfection. If you give in and eat or drink something sooner than you had wanted, or checked an email after promising to log off, that is OK. Fasting is about making us more aware of creating a space in our lives to have more room for God to enter in. Fasting opens us up to our need for more reliance on Christ in our lives.

Pray
God of daily bread, this week in Lent, help us to enter the hunger of the world around us so that we become more aware of those who are standing in need of our help. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
What is God asking you to fast from this week?

Tuesday | March 8

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. — Isaiah 58:10

May I make you a plate?
“May I make you plate?” is a question I’ve heard in my life when I’ve been too busy to eat, too tired to cook, or even too low on cash for groceries, as it was early in my career as a magazine editor. Most of my entry-level paycheck went towards the rent of my studio apartment in Manhattan’s historic Murray Hill neighborhood.

“May I make you a plate?” always made me feel cared for. More importantly, though, it made me feel seen. Someone noticed my plight. Someone thought enough to reach out with a plate of food that would fill much more than a hollow stomach. Plates of food can be plates of love. They can also be cautionary tales of how we are misusing our abundance.

There was a church I knew that prided itself on the lavish banquet that they called “Coffee Hour.” Every week after worship, they would rush to fill their plates with hot casseroles and an endless array of cheeses and sweets. After a few months of watching this Sunday feasting, I realized this congregation’s love for food could become an opening for mission beyond the fellowship hall.

I began asking: How could they share this abundance with others? Could plates be made for the family whose children couldn’t wait to get back to school on Monday because then their weekend fast would come to end? Could a plate be made for the elderly widow who had to choose between paying a heating bill or buying groceries? Could plates be made for hospital workers working tirelessly due to a health system burdened by a pandemic?

The questions have yet to be answered. Their feasting continues. And so, I turn to you and ask, “Who can you make a plate for this day?” Who will be touched that you have seen them too tired to cook, too busy to eat or too financially strapped to fill their kitchen cupboards?
Pray
God, we thank you for the food that graces our tables this day. We thank you for all the times you have satiated our hungers. Open our eyes now to whom we might be able to “make a plate” for. Lead us this day to the one you want us to help. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
Eradicating systemic poverty is one of the Matthew 25 focuses that have led many churches to delve more deeply into how to overcome hunger in their communities. The hunger statistics are alarming as the global pandemic has put more pressure on food systems. Remember, those who are hungry might look like you and me.

How can we become more aware of those who are hungry among us? Who in your community can help you identify the hunger needs: school officials, social workers, or town officials? What systems are in place to help? What systems are in place that are hurting others?

Wednesday | March 9

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled. – Matthew 14:14–20

Stone Soup
The little community I served as pastor had a tradition of an ecumenical Lenten lunch. Each week, a church would open its doors to others, welcoming all to a big pot of soup, accompanied with a midweek prayer and reflection.

I walked into the kitchen the day my church was hosting the lunch. The air wafted with the comforting smell of stock simmering with vegetables. I peeked into the pot, wondering what kind of soup it was. I was told it was “Stone Soup.” The kitchen crew laughed as I looked to spot the stones. Stone Soup, I was told, is from a European folk story in which hungry strangers convince the people of a town to each share a small amount of their food to make a meal that everyone enjoys. By each person sharing what they had, what individually seemed meager soon became a substantial, filling meal.

As I poured ladles of soup into bowls, I gazed at the items floating in the broth. There were potatoes from one person’s farm, carrots from another’s garden and onions from the family with seven children who had begun attending church. There were big chunks of chicken from the guy who lived on a lonely dirt road who would butcher the chickens of those who just didn’t have the heart to do it themselves. It was then I realized that together we can all truly be fed. Together, no one would go hungry if we willingly shared what little we have with one another.

Pray
God, open our eyes to see what little we think we have is just a piece of a grand, blessed banquet — that is, if we are willing to trust you and let go and share. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Make Stone Soup

Here’s a recipe to get your Stone Soup started. Consider asking friends to contribute to the soup. Make a larger batch and pour it into Mason jars, attach a Scripture verse or prayer and then share them with others.

    • 4 cans (14 ½ ounces each) chicken broth
    • 4 medium red potatoes, cut into eighths
    • 1 yellow summer squash, chopped
    • 2 medium carrots, chopped
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 celery ribs, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • ½ teaspoon pepper
    • 4 cups cubed cooked chicken
    • 1 cup frozen cut green beans
    • ½ cup quick-cooking barley
    • 1 can (14 ½ ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
    • 4 cups salad croutons
    • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. In a Dutch oven, combine the first eight ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10–15 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender.

2. Stir in the chicken, beans and barley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10–12 minutes or until the vegetables and barley are tender. Add tomatoes, heat through. Serve with croutons and cheese.

 

Thursday | March 10

It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops. — 2 Timothy 2:6

The hunger of those who feed us
I never thought much about where my food came from. I never thought about those toiling to break ground for seeds to be planted. I didn’t pay much heed to how field workers spent hours hunched over in the searing sun and whipping winds, picking the berries that I would get to enjoy bouncing in the milk with my cereal flakes. I never thought about it until answering a call to serve a rural community. It was amid the stories of centuries-old dairy farms struggling to survive, the contentious discussions on fair milk prices, and the hushed whispers about the many more migrant workers seen in a dollar discount store that I began seeing the bowl of berries bounding in milk differently. The more I heard, the less idyllic rural living became.

Hunger in the very places where food is produced is a reality that is hard to fathom. And yet, it is a reality that has become ever more acute. According to the hunger advocacy group, Feeding America, Covid has exacerbated hunger, especially in rural areas known for producing food for the masses.

In Vermont, where I call home, it is startling to discover the food inequities. Teresa M. Mares writes in a book released last year, “Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont,” that the Green Mountain state is “a place where migrant workers produce dairy products bearing the wholesome Vermont brand, even as they are often sustained by foods with little nutritional value.” She adds, “Where food is harvested, cooked, [and] served, there is someone working for too little and for too long.”

I look at the berries in my bowl. They are more than just breakfast. They are a gift given to me by someone has worked for too little and for too long. Now what can I do to give back to those hands that have gifted me with sustenance?

Pray
Provider God, help us to look beyond our full pantries and see the faces of those who work so hard for so little, so that we will not go hungry. May we remember that hunger in the very places where our food comes from is a growing problem. Open our hearts and show us how we can walk alongside the farmer, the migrant worker, the truck driver — all who are part of our food systems. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
Think about the food you ate or will eat this day. Where did it come from? Who harvested, prepared and packaged it?

Friday | March 11

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
— Isaiah 55:8–9

The veggie van
Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that when we feed the hungry, we are indeed feeding him. Yet, how do we define “feed”? Is feeding a free church meal? Is it a food pantry in the church basement? Is feeding one of those micro pantries set up on the church property that allows 24/7 access for those who are hungry?

At the heart of all these questions is the most important one: How do we get to the point where free meals, food pantries and micro pantries are obsolete? How do we eradicate hunger? Perhaps we begin by looking at the systems in place that keep folks hungry. What if national grocery chains didn’t pick locations for stores based on profitability, but real need? For example, many rural areas are labeled as food deserts — places where healthy, affordable food cannot be found. What if lobbyists didn’t advocate for corporations that perpetuated food waste? What if, after cleaning up a free church dinner, the faithful sat down and asked, “Is there more that can be done?”

A young college graduate asked just that when returning to his rural community. After noticing perfectly fine vegetables and fruits left in the fields, he asked for permission from the farmers to glean the fields and take what was collected to area food pantries. When we began noticing those who really needed the fresh produce were not showing up — the elderly who could no longer drive to the pantry — he asked, “What more can be done?” He secured a generous grant to buy a van and began driving into the area food deserts. His veggie van became a healthy version of an ice cream truck. And while no ditty or catchy tune played announcing its arrival, the van nevertheless put a smile on the faces of those it would bless. One young man was eradicating hunger, and it all began by asking, “Is there more that can be done?”

Pray
Creative God, your ways are so much better than what we can ever imagine. As we seek to live the vision of Matthew 25, help us to let go of all our preconceived ideas of what serving you entails. Open us up to new ideas. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
In what creative ways is God asking us to feed the hungry? As Isaiah notes, our ways are not God’s ways. This day, think beyond the ways the hungry are traditionally fed. Is there a veggie van in your future? Or is there a gleaning ministry waiting to be born?

Saturday | March 12

Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” — Deuteronomy 31:6

Hungering for more than just food
I sit here writing thoughts about what it means to live as a Matthew 25 Christian. This week has been about the growing hunger among us and how there are many ways to feed others. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that there is more to explore than just physical hunger.

When Jesus says, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat,” I can’t help but think about those who are battling eating disorders, those who are clearly starving themselves because they are starving for more than just food. They are hungering for love, not just from others, but they are hungering for self-love.

How do people come to hate themselves so much that they take it out on their own bodies? I am not a trained therapist, but I know it happens. I have had friends who have suffered from eating disorders. I, myself, struggled in my teen years and all through my 20s with a distorted fear of food that was tied to my striving for perfection and acceptance.

“I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” Not everyone is hungering for a basket of food or a free meal. There are some who are hungering to feel whole, for acceptance — to simply be seen. Yes, we need food to survive, but without love we are nothing. Perhaps when we talk about feeding the hungry, we need to remember that behind the hunger — no matter what kind of hunger it is — there is always more to tend to than an empty stomach. There is a heart that is aching.

Pray
Loving God, behind each hunger pang is a hurt that needs healing. As we seek to feed the hungry, may we dare to go deeper and see into the hearts of all. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
Think about your relationship with food. Is it used as a drug to numb pain? Is it used to comfort the hurts in your life? How can we have a healthier relationship with food? How can we help those who are struggling with eating disorders? For help, go to nationaleatingdisorders.org

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