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Lenten Devotional — Week 2

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The Second Week in Lent

Sunday | March 13

Matthew 25 Spotlight  |  Singing the vision
In 2020, Phillip Morgan, director of music at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, had a question for the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell. Morgan asked the associate for worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology and Worship if he had ever considered writing a Matthew 25 hymn. The question prompted Gambrell to write the hymn, “Jesus Be With Us,” and send it to Morgan for his feedback. “The following day,” Gambrell said, “to my surprise and delight, Phillip sent back a beautiful recording.”

The words of the refrain for the hymn are based on Matthew 1:23, “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us,’” and Jesus’ closing words in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Gambrell said he wrote the hymn in a gospel style because he wanted Presbyterians to remember that the three areas of ministry focus set forth by the Matthew 25 invitation — building congregational vitality, eradicating systemic poverty and dismantling structural racism — are “gospel work. It’s how we proclaim and respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“My prayer is that the hymn will help congregations and mid councils keep singing the Matthew 25 vision as they worship and work in the world,” said Gambrell.

As we begin the second week in Lent, pondering Jesus’ words about a thirsting world and how we can offer relief, take time to listen to the hymn. Use it daily as part of your devotional time, and share it with others.

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 thirsty, and you gave me something to drink – Matthew 25:35

 

Monday | March 14

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. — Matthew 6:6  

Weekly Spiritual Practice: Centering prayer
“Centering Prayer” is a spiritual activity with roots in the ancient monastic practice of “Lectio Divina,” which is Latin for “divine reading.” Monks would select Scripture and read it several times, noting what words captivated, intrigued and resonated with them. The Scripture would be read again slowly. When Vatican II sought to revive the contemplative practices of early Christianity, three Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts — Fathers William Meninger, Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating —developed a simple method of silent prayer for today’s faithful. The prayer came to be known as “Centering Prayer,” referring to Thomas Merton’s description of contemplative prayer as “prayer that is centered entirely on the presence of God.”

Centering Prayer is a powerful spiritual practice that helps to slow our racing thoughts. It provides a space to listen to and connect with God. In this second week in Lent, make a commitment to practice Centering Prayer each day, using that day’s Scripture reading as your focus.

Steps of Centering Prayer:
Step 1: Choose a sacred word
A sacred word can be just about anything that is on your heart. Some people embrace the word “God” or “Jesus.” But it your word can be “holy,” “joy,” “help”— again, anything that is on your heart that speaks to you can be your sacred and centering word.

Step 2: Sit with that word
Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, introduce the sacred word into your thoughts, presenting it to God and praying over it.

Step 3: Remain with the word
Don’t worry if you get distracted during this prayer time. Gently return to the word or phrase you have chosen to center your prayer on. When you are done praying, remain still and silent for a few more minutes before reengaging with the world.

Pray
God who spoke through prophets and mystics, may we hear your beautiful voice speak to us this day as we turn back to you and make time to be still and listen. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Ponder
Mystics have long known the importance of quiet contemplation, but in our busy and noisy lives there isn’t much opportunity for the holy silences that we need to hear God. What would we need to change in our lives to create more quiet moments?

Tuesday | March 15

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” — John 4:11–15

Digging a deeper well
There’s an old stone well on my property here in Vermont. It’s been out of commission for many years, but its stones still speak of a time when families drew water deep from it to parch their thirst, cook with, bathe in and provide for their animals. The old well ran dry at some point, and a new, more modern one had to be drilled deeper into the ground.

I sometimes sit on the old stone well and gaze out at the back pasture where my neighbor’s cows love to graze. I sit and think of the living water Jesus once offered to a woman who came to parch her thirst. She came in the noonday sun when she knew it would be too hot for other women to congregate with their buckets and seize the opportunity to ridicule or shun her. She was not a woman of high standing in the village, having had many husbands, as Jesus acknowledged much to her surprise.

How did he know that? Still, when Jesus saw the woman at the well, he noticed her thirst was for much more than water. It was for welcome, kindness and perhaps redemption.

I sit on my old stone well many times and realize how much I, too, need living water in my life. I thirst for a world that is finally just. I thirst for the growing political divisions in my rural hamlet to cease. I thirst for our faith communities to be revived.

And as I yearn for the water Jesus offers, I remember something important a friend once pointed out to me here at my old stone well. When the thirst is too great and it seems the spiritual well has run dry, sometimes you must dig deeper to get that living water to flow once again.

Pray
God, your Son promised that through him we shall all receive water from which we will never thirst again. What a wonderful promise. What a beautiful, life-saving gift. This day, we say “yes” to that water, knowing that there will be times when we will need to dig deeper in our faith to get to where this water flows. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
In our journey to live Matthew 25 more boldly and more faithfully, how deep are our spiritual wells? Do they need deeper digging?


Wednesday | March 16

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. — Hebrews 12:1–3

African Peanut Soup
It was during a Lenten soup dinner at the church I was attending in New York City during my magazine journalism days, that I discovered Peanut Soup. It was rich with peanut butter that to my surprise mixed beautifully with the crushed tomatoes and chicken stock. And the warmth of the spices that danced in the broth was amazing: The ginger and the cumin wrapped around me like a warm blanket on the “in like a lion,” sleeting March evening.

I was skeptical at first that peanut butter could be used in such a dish. I thought peanut butter’s culinary greatness reached its pinnacle on a piece of Wonder bread slathered with grape jelly. But there I was enjoying this new taste experience. The chef later told me that Peanut Soup was an African dish that the enslaved brought over to America, where it soon began appearing in the cookbooks of early Colonial housewives.

Today, Peanut Soup is often served during the celebration of Kwanza, but this chef remarked he preferred having it served during Lent as it reminded him that when our journeys get hard, when God asks us to go on paths that are rough, we do not ever journey alone. “We have our ancestors that have gone before us to nourish us,” he said. “Lent is a time I am nourished by the faith — and soup — of my ancestors,” he said, offering me a generous second helping. What — and who — is nourishing you this Lent?

Pray
Nourishing God, we thank you for the great cloud of witnesses that accompany us always on our journeys. May we draw inspiration and strength from them as we seek to serve you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Make African Peanut Soup

      • 2 tablespoons olive oil
      • 2 medium onions, chopped
      • 2 large red bell peppers, chopped
      • 4 cloves garlic, minced
      • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, with liquid
      • 8 cups vegetable broth or stock
      • ¼ teaspoon pepper
      • ¼ teaspoon chili powder (Optional)
      • ¼ teaspoon ginger
      • ²/₃ cup extra crunchy peanut butter
      • ½ cup uncooked brown rice

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Cook onions and bell peppers until lightly browned and tender, stirring in garlic when almost done to prevent burning. Stir in tomatoes, vegetable stock, pepper and chili powder. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir in rice, cover and simmer another 15 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir in peanut butter until well blended and serve

 

Thursday | March 10

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. — Ephesians 3:18–21

Being brave
Beads of sweat were already glistening on the athletes’ foreheads. They were determined, though, to compete in the day’s events. No amount of humidity was going to stop them. I marveled at their commitment as I poured cups of water for them. I was with my church group volunteering at the Special Olympic Games that were being held at Riverside Park in Manhattan. I had one job to do, and that was to make sure no one went thirsty.

As the sun got higher and hotter, I noticed spirits did not wane or wither. If anything, these athletes’ spirits were soaring. I was beginning to get overwhelmed by their can-do attitudes and the gracious sportsmanship they displayed. Win or lose, there were smiles and high-fives. There were hugs and praises for jobs well-done. There was a sense of victory, even amid losing.

As I passed out the water, I realized the greater thirst that was being quenched that day was the thirst among these “disabled” athletes to show the world their “ableness.” They thirsted for limiting labels to be removed from their names. They were thirsting for a chance to be part of a competitive world. They didn’t necessarily need my meager cup of water. They needed a refreshing cup of recognition.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that people with disabilities could play sports while others didn’t even want to believe it, and so she organized the first Special Olympics Games in Chicago in 1968. At the inaugural games’ opening, Shriver told the athletes that in ancient Rome, gladiators would enter the arena with these words on their lips: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Each game since has opened with the athletes reciting just that.
The day was just about over. I handed the last cup of water to a young girl with Downs syndrome who beamed at the bronze medal hanging from her neck. She lifted it up to show me, smiling. “It’s prettier than gold,” she said. It was. As I rode the subway home that afternoon, thinking about ministry, servanthood and life in general, I prayed over and over, “Let me be brave.”

Pray
God, open our eyes to see that often the greatest thirst in this world is that of wanting to be valued as a beloved — capable — child of yours. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
What are the limitations we assume of others? How do we measure worth and value? What would happen if we began believing that every person has something to give to this world?

Friday | March 18

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. — Genesis 9:9–10

A fountain for animals
One of the perks I had in my first career as a jewelry magazine editor was the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. In between interviewing the goldsmiths of Italy, the watch crafters of Switzerland and the gem cutters of Germany, I would stroll through the oldest sections of the cities, taking in their soaring medieval cathedrals and still standing, stone walled gates. I would also be amused by the many leashed dogs and stray cats that lapped at the water flowing from a fountain in the middle of some storied square.

When we hear Jesus’ words of water being given to the thirsty, visions of drought-ridden countries often come to mind. We think of the stories we hear during the Lenten charitable appeals for money, like stories of young children having to walk for miles to get a bucket of water. We might think of ministries that involve building wells and irrigation systems.

But do we think about God’s beloveds that roam the earth on four legs? Isn’t it true that all of Creation is thirsting in some way?

Herman Lee Ensign thought about that and was inspired to use the fortune he made from advertising to donate fountains across the country for the sole purpose of providing animals with water. The animal advocate would eventually organize the National Humane Alliance in 1897. When he died in 1899, he left much of his wealth to continue building animal drinking fountains for any city that requested one. The fountains that stand in Barre, Bennington and Burlington, Vermont, are just three of hundreds of granite fountains that he generously gifted to cities throughout the country. Ensign wasn’t looking to leave a personal legacy. He simply wanted all animals to have something to drink.

And just a side note as to how proud and stubborn New Englanders can be: While 124 of the Ensign fountains were made from pink granite from Maine, residents of Barre, Vermont insisted that their fountain be made from local gray stone. I am sure the dogs who drank the cool water, didn’t mind where the stone came from. All they knew was someone was caring for them as God had asked.

Pray
God, you invited Adam to co-create with you, enlisting his help in naming the animals of the Earth. That call to care for creatures, big and small, is still being extended to us. Help us this day to look beyond preconceived ideas of who is thirsting. Help us to see the many ways in which all Creation needs fresh water — from dogs lapping from fountains to fish dreaming of clean water to swim in. May our Matthew 25 mission reach all living things. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
Explore the ecological needs in your community. Are there bodies of water that need to be cleaned? Are there animals that have been misplaced by building projects? Is the soil parched due to drastic climate changes? Where is nature thirsting?


Saturday | March 19

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. — John 19:25–29

God’s thirst for us
I don’t have easy access to water for my garden, which is getting bigger every year. There is no hose on the side of our house nor is the house itself close to the garden. Rather, I spend my gardening time hauling buckets of water from the house to the garden, and back again.

One day, my husband surprised me with a very long garden hose that he attached to a water source in the root cellar that I didn’t know existed. He was dismayed when I explained that I wanted to do the extra work of hauling water. It was, I told him, my spiritual exercise, helping me to connect daily with the laborious task of securing water that so many this world experience. I, in my own unique way, didn’t want an easier way to water the garden. I wanted a more meaningful way.

And after one particularly hot summer hauling water, I came to realize how God is in fact thirsting for me — thirsting for me to understand the world’s problems better, thirsting for me to open my eyes in seeing those in need more clearly.
“I thirst” was a guiding statement in Mother Teresa’s work. A visitor once noticed in the chapel of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity a sign above a statue of Jesus that read simply, “I thirst.” When he asked the future saint about it, she replied that that saying of Jesus from the cross hangs in every Missionaries of Charity chapel as a reminder that “we are to quench the thirsts for love, kindness and compassion.” Mother Teresa also stressed to the sisters under her care to hear that statement, “I thirst,” as being spoken directly to them by inserting their name: “Donna, I thirst.” “Bob, I thirst.”

As her life was ending, Mother Teresa made a passionate appeal to the sisters, writing in a letter to them, to take Jesus’ “I thirst” more seriously in their daily lives. Remember, she wrote, “‘I thirst’ is something much deeper than Jesus just saying, ‘I love you.’” It is a cry from the cross for us to enter the realities of those who are parched. I want to hear that cry. And so, I continue hauling buckets of water, walking by the unused garden hose.
Pray
God, may the familiar words of Scripture become new and fresh to us this day. May we hear the words with different meaning — deeper meaning. May we be startled into action by fresh, new insights as to what you are really desiring us to do. You thirst for us to understand you better. May we hear. May we see. May we begin connecting to your world in need. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Ponder
Insert your name at the beginning of Jesus’ “I thirst” statement. How does that make you feel? What thoughts come to mind? How does it elevate Jesus’ command to love others?

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