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Lenten Devotional 2021 — Ash Wednesday and Week 1

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Shalom: the way to justice

Written by Jimmie Hawkins


Photo of a cross drawn in a pile of ashes.Reflect

Lent 2021 begins with the sobering reminder of Ash Wednesday that we always stand in the need of God’s mercy and grace. God is eager to hear our cries for forgiveness — forgiveness for the times we didn’t work for justice and forgiveness, for the times we took justice into our own hands. This week’s theme of justice as “the way to shalom” invites you to think more deeply about God’s justice and what it looks like in your life. Recall a moment in your life when you received God’s mercy and grace. What was the situation? How did it feel to know you were forgiven? Now think about a time when you withheld forgiveness and when you sought justice on your own. How did that work? Were fractured relationships healed by your own actions? What would have been different if the justice you sought was turned over to God

Start your peace prayer “tree” with prayers for justice

This week, as you read the devotions, write on strips of fabric your prayers for justice in your community and in the world. And then hang them someplace for all to read.

Ash Wednesday, February 17

Peace in the Holy Land

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. — 2 Corinthians 13:11

Peace in Hebrew is the word shalom. There are 236 biblical references with the word shalom in the Old Testament. It can mean peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. It is used to mean both hello and goodbye throughout the Middle East. The Jewish greeting is shalom aleichem, meaning “peace be upon you.”           

Peace is often defined as an absence of war or fighting. It has a more positive connotation emoting completeness or wholeness. It is expressed in our relationships with God and humanity, and even with the created world. It involves positive engagements in the relationships between human beings.

Peace is a state of balance and harmony arising out of our desire to be one with God. It is our duty not only to seek peace, but to strive for its attainment in every sphere of life. We are called to seek peace for every living person. If peace is absent from any community, the negative consequences could include conflict and possibly death. We pray for peace to permeate our lives and every region of the world, especially in the region which blessed us with the Prince of Peace.

Today, as the season of Lent begins with ashes being bestowed virtually in a time of COVID-19, we pray for peace for all people. We especially turn our attention to the need for peace in the Holy Land. The Middle East, like many regions in the world, suffers from a lack of peace. Life has become increasingly difficult for Christians living in the Holy Land. In Israel there has been a rapid decrease in Christian residents as their numbers have dropped to just 2% of the population. The tiny Christian communities experience intense societal pressure as they are caught between much larger Muslim and Jewish populations. Their experience is similar to that of West Bank Palestinians as residents and rights groups document land seizures, arbitrary detentions and collective punishment as a part of the Israeli occupation.

Most gracious and loving God, we pray for  justice and peace that leads to an end to violence. We pray that those who struggle internally might be blessed with the spirit of God, which grants up solace. We pray for the presence of the Prince of Peace in the hearts of those who believe. Move us all to actions of peace and justice. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, February 18

Greeting others with peace in spite of divisions

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. — Matthew 5:9

We put into practice what we learn from Scripture by working for peace. According to Scripture, shalom implies freedom from fear, injustice, disorder and oppression — internally and externally. It demands more than just talking about peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called the people who work for or make peace “happy” or “blessed.” The word in New Testament Greek for blessed or happy is makarioi meaning “exceedingly happy or blessed.”

The Arabic word for peace is salam, which also means wholeness, safety, well-being and good intention, and it serves as a traditional greeting. In Arabic, the root word for peace-making is sulh. It denotes the importance of goodwill for building a long-lasting peace. Shalom implies harmonious relationships, the right way to live and work for peaceful coexistence.

The situation in Israel/Palestine is one of the most delicate and contentious for American Christians. Many support the state of Israel while being disturbed by the plight of the Palestinians. On May 14, 1948, Israel was officially founded, marking the first Jewish state in over 2,000 years. The majority of the people in the region were Palestinian Arabs who lived in what was then known as Palestine. The Arab-Israeli War was fought between Israel and five Arab countries (Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon). Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip as 700,000 Palestinian refugees left Jewish Israel and settled in the Gaza Strip, trapped between two countries, Egypt and Israel. As of 2018, most of the Palestinian inhabitants remaining are the original 1948 war refugees and their descendants, many still living in refugee camps. They face ongoing discrimination through laws, home evictions, cuts in electricity, prosecution in Israel’s military courts, and incarceration in Israel’s prisons. In spite of all this, Palestinians still use the greeting of “salam” to all they encounter.

An intimate part of discipleship is the call to be a peacemaker. A peacemaker seeks to transform the world by applying the teachings of God. It is one who has been transformed by their faith in Christ Jesus, a transformation of our attitude towards God and others. And it could easily begin by greeting others with the hope for peace to be in their lives.  

Lord God, make us granters of your peace. To be called a peacemaker is a gift from God to be of use in God’s kingdom. We pray for peace in the Holy Land and to serve as instruments of God’s peace around the world. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Friday, February 19

Justice repairs broken promises

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. — John 14:27

Jesus promises a legacy of peace for all who believe in him. The rights of the poor deserve defending. We live in a society which has abandoned the rights of the impoverished. There is no peace without justice; there is no justice without peace. Justice and peace exist together, and the search for one leads to the other. Peace seeks the ending of war between nations, countries and individuals. Peace is living a life seeking the elimination of conflict as a means to resolved differences. Peace denotes integrity and respect for the other.

The word peace in the Cherokee language is dohiyi. For centuries, American Native Nations have experienced broken treaties and unfulfilled promises. The Cherokee Nation, a sovereign tribal government, adopted a constitution on September 6, 1839, which was 68 years prior to Oklahoma’s statehood. It is the largest tribe in the United States with more than 380,000 tribal citizens located in all 50 states. More than 141,000 reside within the tribe’s reservation boundaries in northeastern Oklahoma. It is committed to protecting its people’s sovereignty, culture, language and values. It seeks to improve their quality of life by providing services in health and human services, education, employment, housing, economic and infrastructure development, and environmental protection.

God calls us to work for the well-being of all people. It all begins with respect and a determination to repair broken promises and fulfill our national commitment to justice.

Lord God, as disciples of Christ, we confront the issues of injustice which are rampant against the Cherokee people. Use us to walk alongside those who walked the trails lined with tears. May the One who heals, restores and redeems send his Holy Spirit. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, February 20

Peace for immigrants

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy. — Proverbs 12:20

In our world, there are men and women who feel as if they have no voice. It can be extremely frustrating to feel that no one is listening to you. It brings emotional anguish when one experiences the painful sensation that one’s voice has been silenced. It can mean a lifetime of stress and emotional pain. One of God’s eternal promises is the granting of peace to those who believe in and rely on the Lord.

The word for peace in Spanish is paz. A sharp rise in Central American families seeking asylum led to what U.S. Customs and Border Protection called a “humanitarian and national security border crisis.” The number of migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border rose in fiscal 2019 to its highest annual level in 12 years. The 851,508 apprehensions recorded from October 2018 to September 2019 were more than double the number of the year before (396,579).

The growing number of migrants seeking asylum includes people traveling in families, not single adults, who constituted the majority in the past. Fifty-six percent were from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which have struggled with violence and a lack of economic opportunities. That represents a change from the 2000s and early 2010s when Mexicans accounted for the vast majority of those apprehended.

These families have been struggling against forces of an oppressive manner which threatens the lives of everyone they love. They have identified issues which affect their lives, families and communities, and yet little has changed over the decades. In the midst of their struggles, they need someone who understands their frustrations, yet offers hope. A relationship with God offers the hope that comes from a peaceful relationship with God.

Most loving God, we pray for the immigrant children who have cried themselves to sleep at night. We pray that children snatched from their parent’s arms might be reunited. Turn our hearts from indifference to compassion. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

First Week in Lent


First Sunday in Lent, February 21

Peace for Nigeria

Photo of 2 hands upraised towards a crossFor he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. — Ephesians 2:14

Jesus is our peace. He gives us the ability to overcome those things which divide us. Hostilities exist all over the world. They occur not only between different nationalities and tribes, but also between people of the same group. 

The word for peace in Igbo (Nigeria) is udo. The African country of Nigeria has been terrorized by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. According to the United Nations, over the past decade 36,000 Nigerians have been killed and two million resettled. In December 2020, the group abducted 300 boys from a secondary school in northwest Nigeria. That Christmas Eve, the terrorists killed 11 people in the Christian village of Pemi, burned a church, kidnapped a priest, stole Christmas gifts and medicines, and set fire to a local hospital. Six years ago, it kidnapped 200 schoolgirls on Christmas Day. In his 2020 Christmas message, Pope Francis prayed for international support for peace in war-torn regions of the world, including Nigeria. Nigeria needs our prayers for peace.

Peace calls for an absence of violence. Peace cannot be brought into existence by force. Peace is the result of justice and the establishment of just relationships.

Almighty God, who loves justice and gives peace, help us live according to what you have revealed to us. Bless the people of Nigeria with an end to violence and the capture of innocent children. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Monday, February 22

Peace for indigenous people

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace — in peace because they trust in you. — Isaiah 26:3

It is God who keeps us in perfect peace. While perfection is beyond human capacity, we trust in God’s ability to provide grace and forgiveness when we err. It is the power of God that brings perfect peace which is a blessing in our daily living. It is bestowed when we trust in God’s love and mercy.

The word for peace in Lakota is wolakota. According to the 2010 census, 5.2 million people or about 2% of the U.S. population identifies as American Indian or Alaskan Native. The government has legally binding obligations to the tribes that have been systematically violated with devastating consequences for life expectancy, political participation and economic opportunities in Indian Country.

Representative Debra Haaland is making American history. The 60-year-old congresswoman from New Mexico is the first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S. history as the new head of the Department of the Interior under President Joe Biden. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, one of 574 sovereign tribal nations located across 35 states. She stated that as secretary of the interior she would “move climate change priorities, tribal consultation and a green economic recovery forward.”

So many people have never experienced the gift of ongoing peace. Their lives have been burdened by oppression, violations and exploitation from those who should have protected them from harm. God’s call is that we acknowledge what has gone wrong in the past and work to correct it today. Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, died a sacrificial death and rose again to make right that which was wrong.

God of peace and justice, move our hearts and guide our actions to be in line with your word. Your word promises inner peace expressed through outward actions. Your native children demand justice. Enable us to stand by their side to see that your will is done. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, February 23

Peace for Korea

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:6–7

Peace is a state of tranquility or quietness of spirit that transcends circumstances. The term “peace” is described in Scripture as a gift from God and congruent with God’s character.

The word for peace in Korean is pyonghwa. For centuries the Korean peninsula was a single, unified nation. It was occupied by the Japanese Empire for 35 years from 1910 until the end of World War II in 1945 when it was divided into two nations by two war allies “in name only” — the Soviet Union and the United States — to divide control over the Korean peninsula.

Between 1945 and 1948, the Soviet Union set up a communist regime in the north, and in the south the United States established a military government. The Korean War (1950–53) was among the most destructive conflicts of the modern era with approximately 3 million war fatalities and it incurred the destruction of virtually all of Korea’s major cities in the entire Korean peninsula. An armistice ended the conflict in 1953 with a demilitarized zone running roughly along the 38th parallel dividing the two nations.

Most gracious God, we pray for peace on the Korean peninsula. Please grant us the peace of God that grants a tranquil state of being as we submit to and trust the commandments of God. It changes and transforms our relationships. Grant us the humility and courage to experience and share God’s peace, seeking beyond the mere abilities of our own understanding. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, February 24

Peace for the Congo

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps. — Psalm 85:8–13

Psalm 85 is a petition from Israel for the restoration of a right relationship to the promised land and to God. Its prayer is for a just, peaceful and prosperous society where all experience God’s good creation. It is a psalm full of future hopes and expectations. Peace and order come from God. God speaks peace to his people. God’s speech is a creative act. For God to speak peace is for God to create peace. From God’s original creation itself comes faithfulness springing up from the ground, nurtured by the righteousness coming down from the sky — perhaps like the rain kissing the ground and the land yielding food.

The word for peace in Ntomba (Congo) is nye. Between 1997 and 2003, a civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) killed five million people. More than 13 million Congolese need humanitarian aid: 7.7 million face severe food insecurity — up 30% from a year ago, according to the United Nations in March 2020. And the latest figures show more than 4.5 million people are displaced, the highest number in the DRC for more than 20 years.

God’s peace is different from a peace built on the world’s justice and order.

Lord God, like the Israelites, we desire to know your justice and peace. We too can recall better days, but we know that true justice and peace are granted by your love. Empower us to act for your gifts to enable all people to live in harmony. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, February 25

Peace grants unity

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. — Colossians 3:15

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Colossae a blessing for unity. He writes from prison in Rome to a church he has never attended. The church was in a critical moment as it was being attacked by heretical teachers misinforming the members about the dual nature of Christ. Paul strongly affirmed that Jesus is creator and redeemer.

Paul also declares that Jesus is the lord of peace who grants it to those who follow him. Christ’s peace is a blessing and resides in our hearts. Once we accept it, we can live as one body of people living faithfully despite the pressures from those who think they know more than they really do. The end result is a spirit of thankfulness. God is the one responsible for our ability to live in unity and peace. When we are raised with Jesus, we have a new life filled with all of the benefits of living faithfully. One of the most important is the blessing of peace that enables us to serve God faithfully.

God of peace, continue to bless us with the knowledge that no matter how wide the divisions, we can live together in peace. The divisions of the world are not our inheritance for we are heirs of unity as children of God. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Friday, February 26

God’s peace when we are alone

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you. — Genesis 28:20

Jacob was alone. After tricking his brother, Esau, out of his birthright and father’s blessing, he had to flee. Out in the desert he makes a vow to God. If God will deliver him to a place of safety, he will be a faithful follower.

We have all felt alone and even deserted in life. The power of faith is that it is experienced more acutely when we are jostled about than in times when we are settled. The wonderful thing about our relationship with God is that God does not show up just when we are at our best or most obedient. It is when we are wrong, when we have made mistakes and even sinned, that God is ever-present. If we dedicate ourselves to God, God’s promises will be delivered.

God of remembrance and fulfillment, you do not disappoint us. We don’t have to question you because you remember your promises and fulfill your word. A word that lets us know you love us and provide for us. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, February 27

Sometimes peace means saying goodbye

Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt and see whether they are still living.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” — Exodus 4:18

Moses loved Jethro who had made him a part of his family. Moses had married his daughter, Zipporah, and together they had a son, Gershom. Moses was a valued member of the family and was given responsibility. More than anything, Jethro provided him protection from his enemies in Egypt who were looking from him. It was hard for Moses to ask for permission to leave. But God had called him to return to Egypt to be a deliverer for his people. Jethro gave Moses a tremendous gift, rather than accusing Moses of deserting his responsibilities, he blessed his son-in-law to “go in peace.”

There are times when we are happy where we are. We have everything we need, and our plans include staying right where we are. But Lent is a time to remember that God has other plans and calls us to go to places where we do not want to go. Sometimes God even calls us into a desert wilderness. Wherever we are led, God blesses us with inner strength to do the things we are uncertain we can accomplish. God’s vision for our lives is greater than our own. God’s purposes for our lives enable us to accomplish great achievements that help others in their struggles. We must trust in God, even when God calls us to do the impossible — far from our area of comfort and security.

Lord God, enable us to trust in your purpose for our lives and enable us to do your will. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

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