Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday, 03/27/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 12:1-14, Isaiah 51:9-11
Psalms: Psalms 148, 149, 150, 113, 114
New Testament:
Gospel: John 1:1-18, 20:19-23, Luke 24:13-35
Evening Psalms: 113, 114

DEVOTIONAL

Happy Easter! The Lord has risen, indeed!

But…now what?

That is the Jesus question. The work has been done. Jesus has done the unthinkable and left the tomb. Now what?

The Easter liturgies are my favorite of the whole Christian calendar. A few years back in LA, we were in the midst of celebrating five Easter services, and I remember feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit. While singing “I Am the Bread of Life,” tears practically came down my face, as I felt renewed in the presence of the Spirit.

Then came Monday. And all my normal life issues were still there: my anxieties, my weaknesses. What happened? Weren’t death and sin defeated…and all my problems, too?

It took me a few more years to realize that I only had Easter half right. I was willing to walk those 40 days of Lent, sit in the darkness of “the tomb,” reflect on my own weaknesses, and then proclaim the victory of Jesus as He defeated death by exiting the tomb.

But then I got stuck. Jesus defeated death, but He did not stick around in the tomb, celebrating His victory. His Good News was not meant to be holed up in a tomb, but to be lavishly shared with His followers on the outside. His disciples are visited where “peace” is gifted and the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Easter becomes less about recognizing the victory and more about receiving it.

While I was in Ecuador this past fall, my priest told me that proclaiming Christianity is meaningless unless I am living it, too. If not, then I am teaching from a tomb.

His words have lit a fire underneath my spiritual life. How often have I looked to Jesus through the sheltered and limited views of my own tomb? Do I turn to the resurrected Jesus every time I encounter challenges? When I struggle with my own sin? And do I have the faith that the resurrected Jesus will walk side by side with me, leading to my own spiritual resurrection?

Welcome to Easter: a time when we not only proclaim Jesus’s victory, but also kick down the doors of our own personal tombs. Like the disciples in today’s Scripture, we can do so knowing that Jesus will walk with us, side by side, as we take on all the dusty and dangerous roads to Emmaus in our own lives. Jesus is inviting us. See you out there.

CA


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday, 03/26/16

READING

Old Testament: Lamentations 3:37-58
Psalms: Psalms 95, 88, 27
New Testament: Hebrews 4:1-16, Romans 8:1-11
Gospel:
Evening Psalms: 27

DEVOTIONAL

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Romans 4:16)

I remember crying at a dear friend’s wedding. They weren’t tears of happiness, like the ones that flowed the day my first child was born -- that morning, my tears were like a soft rain on a bright and sunny day, with delicate droplets forming a glistening rainbow just beyond the reach of my fingertips. Nor were they tears of sadness, like the endless ones that streamed down my face as a 10-year-old on the day we buried my niece. Those tears were like a heavy downpour on a dark and cloudy day when having an umbrella does you absolutely no good – you’re going to get wet.

The tears that flowed the day of my friend’s wedding were new to me. I didn’t understand them, nor did I have the strength to control them. My marriage had recently dissolved, and here I was, witnessing an exchange of vows and celebrating someone else’s new beginning -- It was a tough moment. My mind was joyful and hopeful for my friend, but my heart was heavy and kept shifting its focus right back to me. I was alone. I was afraid.

As I left the celebration that day, I went into survival mode. Reaching inward and upward, I returned to prayer…and God was there, waiting for me to be ready, waiting for me to believe and to trust.

That day, when my world seemed so dark and desolate, and without hope, I could not have known that I’d once again be held by loving arms. I could not have predicted two more magnificent days of soft rain mixed with sunshine and rainbows as I gazed into the eyes of my newborn babes. My mind, and most definitely my heart, could not have foreseen a solid path paved with faith and hope and lined with strong, supporting, and loving relationship in a church family.

Heavenly Father, when life’s most challenging moments send me right back to the worry and uncertainty of Holy Saturday, thank you for the grace of faith; thank you for the grace of hope; and thank you for showing me the splendor and strength of Your unconditional love made manifest tomorrow through the Resurrection. Amen.

MO


Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday, 03/25/16

READING

Old Testament: Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33
Psalms: Psalms 22, 40:1-14(15-19), 54
New Testament: 1 Peter 1:10-20
Gospel: John 13:36-38, 19:38-42
Evening Psalms: 40:1-14(15-19),54

DEVOTIONAL

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” (John 19:38-40)

Pat and I have spent the better part of the past year preparing to retire in Louisiana, buying a new home there and carefully sorting through and packing our belongings here for the upcoming move. Although we are very excited to be closer to family and old friends, and to see what God has planned for us in the next stage of our lives, we are also very sad to be leaving Virginia. This is where we met, fell in love, got married, made our home, gave birth to our beloved children, Beau and Allison, and built our careers. Here, we made life-long friends and saw our faith and love for God grow stronger, in large part because of St. Matthew’s and our St. Matt’s family. As we experience Virginia “lasts” – including our last Christmas on Griffith Place and soon, my last day as a civil servant -- the life I have known for over 30 years is coming to an end, and I am already feeling pangs of sadness and loss.

In today’s Gospel, John describes how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus retrieved Jesus’ body after the crucifixion and, using large amounts of expensive myrrh and aloes, wrapped Him in strips of linen and laid Him in a nearby tomb. I’m sure that Joseph and Nicodemus were filled with sorrow as they prepared Jesus’ body for burial, but what really stood out to me in the reading was their love and courage. While Jesus’ disciples hid in fear, Joseph and Nicodemus stepped forward and lovingly buried their Savior.

Heavenly Father, endings are hard. Although my heart is overflowing with gratitude for all that has been, I am sad to leave the people and home that I have loved. Please give me the courage to step forward into the unknown in faith, knowing that You will be with me every step of the way. Amen.

JMP


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday, 03/24/16

READING

Old Testament: Lamentations 2:10-18
Psalms: Psalms 102, 142, 143
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32
Gospel: Mark 14:12-25
Evening Psalms: 142143

DEVOTIONAL

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them.” (Mark 14:22-24)

Christmases spent in Denver were very special. Two years after I moved there, my parents decided to fly west for the holidays. It was a great joy! One of my fondest memories is Christmas Eve. It was a day filled with anticipation and ended in the celebration of Christ’s birth. I spent the day preparing a meal to be shared with my parents and other friends who were in Denver without their families. I jokingly called them “The Strays.”

It wasn’t a five course meal; instead, it was simple. The main course was soup accompanied by a salad and dessert. Additionally, the table was set with my French china and candles, and Christmas music by the Kings College choir set the mood. As we sat around the table, we shared personal stories, laughter, and happiness. The evening culminated sitting in church celebrating the birth of Christ with those I loved.

In contrast to my Christmas meal, the meal Jesus shared with His disciples was very different. It is easy for me to imagine their meal beginning as a cozy little gathering enjoyed by a group of spiritually grounded, holy, introverts sharing personal stories and pondering the world around them. However, unlike my meal, which was dedicated to family and fellowship and followed by a celebration of Christ’s birth, His meal ended with affirming His imminent death. Worse, His disciples learned that one of them would betray Him to that death. Yet, despite what lay ahead, Jesus took time to prepare the disciples for His departure and to give them the gift of Holy Communion.

While my Christmas dinner and the Last Supper were different in many ways, the common thread was the power of love. In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes gifts we have been given: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Heavenly Father, I pray that Holy Communion may continue to energize and sustain me. May it enable me to fulfill Jesus’ command, to love others. Amen.

KF


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday, 03/23/16

READING

Old Testament: Lamentations 2:1-9
Psalms: Psalms 55, 74
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11
Gospel: Mark 12:1-11
Evening Psalms: 74

DEVOTIONAL

For the first few years of our marriage, my wife and I commuted together in our lovely northern Virginia traffic. One evening, while making our way through downtown Alexandria, a car made an extremely aggressive and dangerous move, cutting us off, and I leaned on the horn to express my alarm and outrage. A police car appeared instantly from an alley and pulled the offender over! Yes! Victory for the Righteous! Bless the Magic Horn! (Of course, the Magic Horn has never worked quite so effectively since, but we only use it sparingly.)

As I read today’s readings, particularly Psalm 55, I was struck at first by how whiney we must sometimes sound to God. “God, Hear Me!” I picture a toddler having a tantrum, foot stomping, “God, hear me NOW!” It says that we don’t trust Him to decide which prayers need immediate attention. “God, MY prayer is marked Urgent and For Immediate Action.” To top that, we go on and tell Him what action to take – “Strike this foul creature down.” As if our prayers were a Magic Horn, designed to immediately result in the action that we think is best.

As I reflected on the readings, I realized how often my own prayers must sound like so much tooting on the Magic Horn.

Lord, please fix this problem for me…
Lord, please punish those responsible for some evil…
Lord, please let me win a billion dollars in the lottery because that will fix all my problems.

Well, I think that when I am being truly open to His guidance and honestly embracing His love for me and His desire for me to share that love, the prayers go a little differently. I don’t ask Him to change others, I ask Him to fix me.

Dear Lord,
Please give me the courage to face my fears.
Please give me the grace to forgive those who have wronged me.
Please give me the strength to help those in need.
Please give me the vision to see all the beauty you have created.
Please help me know and share your love.
Amen.

During these final days of Lent, and always, may I strive to make my prayers more like these. Amen.

JS


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday, 03/22/16

READING

Old Testament: Lamentations 1:17-22
Psalms: Psalms 6, 12, 94
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 1:8-22
Gospel: Mark 11:27-33
Evening Psalms: 94

DEVOTIONAL

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” (2 Cor. 1:8) 

Have you ever questioned yourself? I do -- all the time. The Apostles did, too. In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes this very clear. In Asia, as he brought the word of God to that region, he was under “great pressure – beyond our ability to endure.” He says that he felt they had received the “sentence of death.” I have not felt the sentence of death, but sometimes I feel that I have surely been taxed beyond my abilities, particularly with my family.

My mother is elderly. I have two brothers, and we all have different ideas of what my mom’s care should look like. Recently, there have been many times when I have felt beyond my ability to endure. But Paul says that, in those times, we are to rely on God to deliver us. Paul’s letter reminds me that God is faithful. So as I deal with my mother’s care and my brothers’ issues, I must look to God for His faithful message. I have not had to endure the life and death events that the Apostles did, but sometimes, especially in our family issues, it certainly feels like we are staring down those same demons.

It is so hard to remember God’s call to lean on Him, and I tend to just wallow in my own self-doubt. Family issues are perhaps the most difficult to release to God’s control. So, I join with any of you who have these same trials, and I pray that together, in our St. Matthews family, we can receive God’s strength to work through these very tough issues.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead…He will deliver us again.” (2 Cor. 1:9)

VAN


Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday, 03/21/16

READING

Old Testament: Lamentations 1:1-2,6-12
Psalms: Psalms 51:1-18 (19-20), 69:1-23
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7
Gospel: Mark 11:12-25
Evening Psalms: 69:1-23

DEVOTIONAL

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18)

Sometimes God places us in each other’s lives for a few hours, a few minutes, a special moment in time to honor a life as one of a kind. I was privileged to have been with my special friend in the end, to whisper in her ear, “I love you. I am here. I am here.” Those were the words I said to my good friend, Patty, this past October, right before she died.

Although it was extremely sad to lose my dear friend, I was encouraged by reading 2 Corinthians 3-5. Paul writes about our comfort and suffering overflowing. In that hospital room, Patty was suffering; she was in pain, and all those around her were suffering in knowing that we were losing her. Even in suffering, I felt comforted knowing that God was with us. God was with me as I tried to comfort my friend, holding her hand, letting her know she was not alone. I knew I was experiencing something sacred. I was supposed to be there. God was in control. This was all God’s timing.

Thank you God for comforting me in my times of need so I can draw on Your strength to guide me when called to comfort others.

“Patty I will keep you in my thoughts and in my heart till my time comes to be with you again, so my life with you really never ends, as it will never end”.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. Amen.

SF


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday 03/20/16

READING

Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9-12, 12:9-11, 13:1, 7-9
Psalms: Psalms 24, 29, 103
New Testament: 1 Timothy 6:12-16
Gospel: Luke 19:41-48
Evening Psalms: 103

DEVOTIONAL

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41)

Years ago, I regularly visited a woman named Anna. She won the Florence Nightingale Award for distinguished service as a nurse on the battlefield in WWII. When I knew her, however, she had been left to die alone in a nursing home that was something less than luxurious.

One day, as I knocked gently and then walked into her room, Anna was lying in bed with her back to me. She was softly singing to herself, “Jesus loves me, this I know/For the Bible tells me so/Little ones to him belong/They are sick but he is strong”. You probably know the actual words to this verse are, “They are weak but he is strong.” I figured Anna’s memory was going.

Then she rolled over and looked right at me (I didn’t even think she knew I was there). With a distinct and mischievous smile on her face, she said, “You probably thought I was confused, didn’t you? That’s because I changed the words. I sing it this way because I’m sick, but I continue to find my strength in Jesus.”

Not long thereafter, Anna died. But she never lost hope or heart, though she had plenty of reasons to lose both, and most people around her did.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. He sees with complete clarity that their not knowing what will bring them peace will also bring them ruin.

And that is still true today. So many people do not know what will bring them peace, and sometimes I am among them. It is then that I remember Anna, the simplicity of her faith in Jesus, and the peace it brought her.

In the midst of all that causes us anxiety, worry, or alarm, I invite you to remember Anna and the great power of simple faith to bring peace wherever it is found. Amen.

CRM


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday, 03/19/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 10:21-11:8
Psalms: Psalms 137:1-6(7-9), 144, 42, 43
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
Evening Psalms: 42,43

DEVOTIONAL

I am ready for 2016! Don’t get me wrong, 2015 had some great things in it – travel, a move, new friends, and someone I love deeply found a program that can help them. But, it also contained worry for a sibling, watching another family member play with a disease that wants to kill them, and a friendship that ran its course, as they sometimes naturally do…but still, there is grief at the shift or loss.

“He is my loving God and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.” (Psalm 144:2)

Every time I read this verse it makes me cry. Eleven years ago God, or an angel, walked me into the doors of a program that saved my life, led me back to faith, and allowed me to create one that fit for me. Then, I found St. Matt’s. Do you know why I love our church? Because I see that, above all else, love and service are known and practiced here. They are placed above how well you can quote the Bible, how many people you know, or how involved you are – situations I have seen elsewhere. From someone who, every day, battles a disease that wants me dead, and has lived hell on earth, and every week tries to help those still trapped and prays for them, I know nothing matters except leading them to know how much God loves them, and will protect and shelter them.
Today, I still battle fear for family and friends, loneliness at times, and some regret and grief; but those moments have become few and far between as I continually improve on turning things over to God and trusting Him. When I do so, I am more likely to be aligned with His will for my life and better able to be the person He wanted me to be all along. Only then, can I best love and serve others.

AC


Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday, 03/18/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 9:13-35
Psalms: Psalms 22, 95, 141, 143:1-11 (12)
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Gospel: Mark 10:32-45
Evening Psalms: 141,143:1-11(12)

DEVOTIONAL

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark provides me with a good blueprint of how I, as a follower of Christ, should live.

The reading is set as Jesus and the disciples are making their way to Jerusalem for what will be their last journey together. Jesus explains for the third time the upcoming events, but it is clear the disciples don’t “get it”. James and John ask Jesus if they could sit on his right and left in glory, the places of highest honor. Jesus made it clear that He could not grant their request, as those places were already prepared. The other disciples were offended that James and John could make such a bold request, but Jesus uses this as a teaching moment, an opportunity to define “greatness” in the Kingdom of God. It is not defined by superior abilities or unique talents; rather, it is defined by the quality of servanthood.

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’ ” (Mark 10:42-44)

I believe that serving others is the position to which I should strive, the blueprint to being a follower of Christ. It has nothing to do with earthly possessions, education, job, or any of the things I normally think of in defining greatness.

In Jesus, I see the greatest example of a servant. Though He had all power and all insight, He willingly continued His journey into Jerusalem to be crucified for our sins. He could have easily changed His plans or summoned His angels to protect Him. Instead, He became a servant and sacrificed His life for the forgiveness of our sins, and became an example for me, for all of us.

To me, the Gospel is clear that humility and service is what defines greatness. A heart of humility and service is God’s desire for me, regardless of where I am in the day-to-day world. The willingness to use my talents in service is an easy choice, far easier than the choices Jesus faced. Approaching life with the idea of how I can help, rather than how I can get ahead is a lesson for me, for all of us. James and John’s concern about where they would sit in the Kingdom is a familiar attitude, but it caused me to realize the “teaching moment’ they had with Jesus and take that lesson for myself.

JDT


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursday, 03/17/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 7:25-8:19
Psalms: Psalms 131, 132, [133], 140, 142
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31
Evening Psalms: 140142

DEVOTIONAL

“Jesus looked at them intently and said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.’” Mark 10:27

It was Holy Saturday, a day that started out much like any other day, but little did I know that it would be a day that would change our lives forever. My husband suddenly started having neck and chest pain and was being transported to Lansdowne hospital by ambulance. My worst fear, oh no, he’s having a heart attack. Suddenly the doctor’s saying words like tumor and brain and we have to transport him to Fairfax Hospital right away. After looking at the scans, the doctor called me out of the room and was telling me that my husband had a Glioblastoma brain tumor, the most aggressive type. She’d seen it many times before, and this one had crossed the midbrain. Never having had to deal with cancer before, I was saying things like, ok, we’ll do chemo and radiation. To which she responded, it’s what Ted Kennedy had, and you know what happened to him. I should just take him home and make him comfortable, as he’s only got three to four months to live. I felt extreme anger at her and said, “I don’t know about you, but I believe in God, and I believe in miracles, and we’re going to get a miracle, and he’s going to be just fine!”

After being up all night, I went looking for some coffee and found myself crying in the hospital chapel. The priest came in and said he didn’t want to bother me, but it was time for the Easter service. Easter? It was Easter Sunday morning! He asked what was wrong and if he could pray with me before I left. I don’t remember any of his words, except the last few, “May God’s peace that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” As I walked back to my husband’s room, I felt complete peace, one that I had never experienced before.

We are coming up on Easter Sunday, 2016, and the day that I have written about was Easter Sunday, 2009. The human doctors gave him three months, but the Divine Physician gave him seven years and counting.

LR


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wednesday, 03/16/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 7:8-24
Psalms: Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6
Gospel: Mark 10:1-16
Evening Psalms: 128, 129, 130

DEVOTIONAL

“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God.” (2 Cor. 3:4)

In The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron presents the idea that God, as The Creator, has given each of us the ability to be creative. By using our senses to explore and enjoy the world around us, and by putting our tender and precious art out into the world, we are pleasing God.

I love this idea. Some of my happiest times are when I’m deeply engaged in creative pursuits. But I also feel guilty for taking the time for creativity. Our family has been in all kinds of crisis lately, to the point where doing anything fun feels frivolous. There is always, always work to be done.

But one day last year, inspired by a combination of March mist and snow in Claude Moore Park, I put off grocery shopping and dashed home for my camera, and I took a walk through woods on a snowy morning. It was so much fun that I decided to challenge myself to do that once a month for a whole year -- take a few pictures of the park, and publish them on my (mostly neglected) blog.

Eleven months in, the project has taken on a life of its own. I take pictures nearly every day, looking for the unusual and the beautiful everywhere I go. I’m still not a trained photographer, and I only use two settings on my non-fancy camera. My pictures have improved with practice, but the real change has been in how I notice things, which has brought me joy and peace in this hard year. If I capture a pleasing image, it’s because God created the beauty in the first place and gave me the eyes and the mind to notice it. If someone else -- a stranger on the other side of the world, or one of my own children at our kitchen computer -- sees that image and appreciates a little more of the wonder of God’s world, that’s even better. But the best part is that my eight-year-old daughter asked for a camera for Christmas, so she can join me.

RBP


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday, 03/15/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 5:1-6:1
Psalms: Psalms 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, [127]
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 14:20-40
Gospel: Mark 9:42-50
Evening Psalms: 124,125,126,[127]

DEVOTIONAL

“In the Law it is written: “With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people…says the Lord.” (1 Cor 14:21)

What if you were alone in a foreign land? A land with terrible conditions, a land where the people spoke a different language, a land where most of the people wanted nothing to do with you or, at worst, wanted you dead? Where would you seek comfort, where would you find comfort?

These conditions describe my year in Iraq from July 2010-July 2011. As difficult as that year was, I found tremendous comfort each week at our very small Anglican church service on Saturday evening. I found comfort in what the apostle Paul calls an “orderly worship.” It was familiar to me – it used the Book of Common Prayer, the priest (Rev. Andrew White, The Vicar of Baghdad) spoke the Queen’s English, and the sermons were almost as good as Father Rob’s. In the same service, we also experienced a “speaking in tongues” of sorts. Every week, without fail, Andrew would ask the Kenyans in the group to sing in Swahili, and they would oblige. I, of course, had no idea what they were saying, but I was certain that the Holy Spirit was working through their beautiful voices and that God was among us. What a blessing this worship service was in an otherwise stressful and trying year.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the way your Holy Spirit works through others to bring us closer to you. During my year in Iraq I was brought closer to you by Andrew’s words and the songs of my Kenyan friends. Thank you for all those who provide an “orderly worship” and bring us closer to you here at St. Matt’s – Fr. Rob, the Praise Band, the Choir, and all those who serve on the alter. I pray all these things in the name of the one who died for my sins and the sins of the whole world – Jesus Christ. Amen.

PP


Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday, 03/14/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 4:10-31
Psalms: Psalms 31, 35
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 14:1-19
Gospel: Mark 9:30-41
Evening Psalms: 35

DEVOTIONAL

“Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you…? … So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.”  (1 Cor. 14:6-9)

Communication is often difficult, even with those we hold most dear.  I didn’t grow up in a house with strong role models for effective communication.  Communication in my house meant silence and mumbled annoyance; there was never confrontation or debating of issues.  It wasn’t until a number of years into my young adulthood that I understood this and realized that I needed and desired more when it came to communication.  So, as an idealistic young adult, I pledged to myself that I would have open, honest communication in my next relationship.  Sooner than I thought, I had to muster the courage to live up to that pledge. 

I met my husband-to-be about three days after making that pledge to myself.  Little did he know that he was about to receive my gift of communication and be required to give it in return.  I soon discovered that communication -- honest communication -- is difficult, and it takes work.  Giving up guarded conversation, having never truly expressed my fears, wants, and needs, took a conscious effort.  It made me vulnerable, required forethought and tact, and it took practice.  In the early days, I would sit next to him on the couch every couple of weeks and say something like, “So, I’ve been thinking…”  He would get a carton of ice cream and a couple of spoons -- sugar makes most things sweeter, even the tough conversations.  We would settle in and talk: there was laughter, tears, and a lot of explaining and reflecting -- but we found our way. 

It is harder now with kids.  Teaching children to “use their words” and reminding myself to listen to them, really listen when they talk.  Helping them to voice their wants, needs, thoughts, feelings, and frustrations and to listen to others voice theirs as well -- it is an ongoing lesson, a give and take. 

Heavenly Father, my prayer is that our children see what communication looks like, what love and healthy relationships look like, even through disagreements.  May I always listen more than I speak, and speak so that others can understand.   Amen.

HE


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday, 03/12/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 2:23-3:15
Psalms: am: 107:33-43, 108, 33
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Gospel: Mark 9:14-29
Evening Psalms: 33

DEVOTIONAL

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

My husband and I are members of the St. Matthew's Marriage Small Group. Over the course of three years, this group has completed several studies on the Christian marriage. Our last study focused on the actual marriage ceremony, including the words of the vows and the readings.

I remember, in our youth, how we were aglow in romantic love, and I wonder if we truly absorbed the meaning of the vows, the promises that we were making to each other as we entered into marriage. After really appreciating the significance of the vows, I wonder how many of us would have reconsidered marriage if we had truly understood what we were getting into.

When my husband and I took our marriage vows, we promised to love each other unconditionally, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We were so full of faith, believing our untested love would never fade. We were full of hope and the anticipation of dreams to be fulfilled. At the time, we weren’t thinking about what might happen if things went wrong or if you or your partner become “less lovable.”

I believe that true love requires sincere actions and deeds -- not just empty words. I believe that to glorify God, our actions must be purposeful and sincere. I believe that love binds us all together in the kingdom of God. I believe that marriage is a special blessing from God, one that is constantly teaching us “how” to love.

Lord, I ask for Your eternal love and that You allow me always to love my husband as You have intended. Amen.

HL


Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday, 03/11/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 2:1-22
Psalms: Psalms 102, 107:1-32
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Gospel: Mark 9:2-13
Evening Psalms: 107:1-32

DEVOTIONAL

I am an unabashed film nerd – not “film buff” – I don’t like that term. I am a Nerd—a movie-nut! I tend to relate to things through that prism. When I read the passage from Corinthians, the movie The Magnificent Seven immediately came to mind -- the 1960 film starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, which itself was an American adaptation of the Japanese film, The Seven Samurai, directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. I told you – Film Nerd. So, why this movie?

The movie is about a group of loners who come together to protect a poor farming village from a bandit gang that is exploiting them. While they are mercenaries, each one of the Seven brings a unique skill to the group. In 1 Corinthians, Paul lets us know that we may fit into the body of Christ’s church through our own gifts. A person may be a healer, or a prophet, or a preacher, or a teacher. I know through Paul’s writing that I don’t have to do it all; I just have to “eagerly” strive to find my own gifts to bring to the church, to contribute to our magnificent ministry.

Paul’s message is also about how Love should be the focus of using our gifts. Toward the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT!), the Seven are betrayed by the villagers they have come to protect. Out of fear, the villagers strike a deal with the bandits, and they send away the Seven. They reject them, turning their backs on their protectors. But the Seven come back to save them anyway, defeating the bandits. As the bandit leader, the great Eli Wallach, lies dying, he says to Yul Brynner: “You came back. For them. Why?” Sound familiar?

It’s a question I ask in my prayers. At those times in my life, after I have turned away from Christ, or away from those in need, He always comes back to save me. And when I ask, “Why?” the answer is simple, yet resounding – Love. That’s why the Seven come back to save the village. Though they don’t express it in that way, it’s the underlying reason. After all, four of the Seven give their lives – ‘no greater love’ – to protect the farmers.

Is it a stretch to see Paul’s message in a 55-year-old, shoot-‘em-up Western? Maybe – but it speaks to this old Film Nerd.

JH


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thursday, 03/10/16

READING

Old Testament: Exodus 1:6-22
Psalms: Psalms 69, 73
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Gospel: Mark 8:27-9:1
Evening Psalms: 73

DEVOTIONAL

“Just as the body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other…” (I Cor. 12:12-26)

After college I worked as a nurse at a hospital in the Congo. One day, I was walking around the wards with an African staff member. We stopped at one man’s bedside. The staff member looked knowingly at me, clinician to clinician, to disclose the cause of the man’s illness. “Someone put a curse on him,” he said.

In order to correct this misunderstanding about disease transmission, someone would have to painstakingly start at the beginning. There would be a lot of facts to impart about microbes and the way disease spreads.

When I read this passage, I get the impression that Paul is trying very hard to start at the beginning - to deconstruct everything we assume about what makes a person important. Just like every part of the human body is important, Paul says, every part of Christ’s body, the Church, is important. He gives examples using the human body to get us to understand - the foot does not want to be a hand! Just think if our ear wanted to be an eye! Even parts that seem weak are crucial!

The word in Paul’s letter that jumps out at me is BELONG. Probably most of us can think of times when we have felt excluded, surplus; the person waiting at the curb while everyone else drives away. The opposite of that is to feel we belong, and that is a wonderful feeling.

May I, in my actions, reach out to show everyone that they are dear, they BELONG, and we couldn’t do without them. Amen.

LM


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Tuesday, 03/08/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 49:29-50:14
Psalms: Psalms 97, 99, 100, 94, 95
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Gospel: Mark 8:1-10
Evening Psalms: 94,95

DEVOTIONAL

“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” Psalm 95:7

Getting lost can be far too easy. This past fall, I was at a cross country practice where, instead of running one of our normal routes, we ran at the site of a future race course so that we could become more familiar with the trail. Having been on the course before, I decided to take the lead with my group of runners, feeling very confident that I knew the way.

Unfortunately, however, no more than five minutes after we began running, we discovered that I had taken the wrong path at a split in the trail several hundred feet back. I was demoted as leader and a teammate, who was also thoroughly confident in his knowledge of the trail, took my place. Not even ten minutes had passed when we again discovered that we had taken another wrong turn. Although we could have easily completed this course in less than half an hour, we spent the next hour literally running in circles as each member of our group somehow managed to get us lost. Eventually, we did make it back safely, and we couldn’t help but laugh at how long it had taken us to make it through such an easy course.

I thought of this story as I read Psalm 95 because I imagine we probably looked a lot like sheep without a shepherd that morning. Even though we all thought we knew the course, what my team really needed was someone to lead us who actually knew the way. I am so thankful that in life we have a Good Shepherd to guide our steps. Otherwise we’d probably end up like my running team that day, constantly making wrong turns and going in circles. But instead, we have a mighty God who faithfully leads us in the way of love and truth.

Thank you, Lord, for the guidance and love You show toward us as our Good Shepherd. May we be filled with Your peace this season as we remember the great love that was shown to us through the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

HGF


Monday, March 07, 2016

Monday, 03/07/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 49:1-28
Psalms: Psalms 89:1-18, 89:19-52
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1
Gospel: Mark 7:24-37
Evening Psalms: 89:19-52

DEVOTIONAL

I offered to clear the dishes from the snack that Gran (my mom’s mom) and I had just finished, but Gran insisted on doing it herself.  “The thrill of virtue, the feeling of having done the right thing that accompanies the performance of some mundane task -- folding a sheet, washing a dish,” said Gran, “seems so out of proportion to the effort involved as to be almost criminal.” 

I know exactly what she meant. I have experienced similar feelings, like when I receive an overly generous reward or effusive thanks for simply doing a small favor for someone. Becoming flush with an unreasonable well-being, I’ve said, “You’re welcome,” and thought “This can’t be right.” Maybe I somehow inherited Gran’s well-earned humble expectations of life (she raised three kids as a single mom, during the depression, on a schoolteacher’s salary). I have thought that a little sense of unworthiness is actually a healthy response to the climate of entitlement that seems to surround us. I’ve come to believe, however, that my feelings of getting more than I deserve are God’s reminders that He is not bound by my, or anyone else’s, sense of propriety or proportion.

I believe Jesus is making the same point in the story of the Syrophenecian woman from Mark’s Gospel. As I see it, Jesus was not constrained then by what probably started out as a good rule about caring first for those close to us (which got twisted into a bad one about not caring for anyone else). As a result, He was free to heal the woman’s child and confirm her faith. I also believe that He is not constrained now by my expectations or feelings of what I deserve. He’s free to lavish His compassion and blessings on me, pointing out the small victories that I often take for granted and that help make up any good day. May I always be unconstrained in my compassion and concern for others.

“Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen” (BCP, A Collect for Grace, pg. 100)

FB


Sunday, March 06, 2016

Sunday, 03/06/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 48:8-22
Psalms: Psalms 66, 67, 19, 46
New Testament: Romans 8:11-25
Gospel: John 6:27-40
Evening Psalms: 19,46

DEVOTIONAL

I have shewed you all things, how that laboring ye ought to support the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'." (Acts 20:35; King James Version)

In today's Old Testament reading, Joseph's father bestows his blessing on Joseph's two sons. However, it is unusual that the father's blessing is in conflict with proprietary actions of the time. The second son, not the first born, is the recipient of the highest blessing. Why? I believe that this action sets the tone for some of the things God expects from us.

God sent his son, Jesus, to our world as the son of a carpenter and a very young everyday woman. He wasn't sent to a family of the rich and famous. Jesus chose his disciples from the everyday, not kings and the affluent, but fishermen, a tax collector, and others who lived in the everyday life. Ordinary people.

Recently, I had the privilege to help two families with the funeral receptions for their loved ones. These families were not members of Saint Matthew's. I felt good that I was able to offer service, a smile, comfort, and maybe a little hope. I listened to their stories of their loved ones and told them about Saint Matthew's good works. Maybe they will join us sometime, maybe not, but I think they were touched somewhere in their hearts with my efforts and also with Saint Matthew’s.

As is the case with many people, I have wanted to be a great singer, a great mind, a great writer, etc. But, alas, I am just an ordinary kind of girl; but maybe not. Saint Matthew's has many ordinary people; they wash the communion cups, arrange flowers, serve coffee, plant community gardens, serve community lunches, and feed hungry children. Ordinary people, yet doing more than ordinary work in service to God. During this time of Lent (rebirth), I believe that we should look for that hand on our shoulder, giving us, His ordinary people, the blessing to go forth and do His good work.

CET


Saturday, March 05, 2016

Saturday, 03/05/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 47:27-48:7
Psalms: Psalms 87, 90, 136
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Gospel: Mark 7:1-23
Evening Psalms: 136

DEVOTIONAL

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.   Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90: 1-2)

As I read Psalm 90, I thought about how God has been with and for man for generations. I can look to my own family. I can recall my parents, grandparents, and maybe even great grandparents, or at least stories I have heard about them and how God figured in their lives. And, of course, I can recount my life, my children, grandchildren, etc.

Throughout the years, there have been joys and sorrows, ups and downs; but there has always been one truth -- God has been there with me. When I am happy and joyful, He is there to celebrate. When I am sad or disappointed, He is there to hold me. When I get angry at others or even at Him, God gives me time to calm down, reflect on the situation and the cause of the distress, and then shows me in subtle ways how to solve the problem. He never walks away from me.

The psalmist speaks of being terrified of God; I prefer to think of having respect for Him. I think of God as a true Father, and I would never want to be fearful. If I do wrong—and I have—I know there will be a punishment. Of that I am fearful. If I get what I deserve, it won’t be good, but who caused this? Me! Does it mean God has forsaken me? No! Not pleased, but still in my corner, and I am forgiven.

Psalm 90 tells us that our days are numbered at 70 or 80 years and that they end with a moan. My feeling about that is changing as I grow older. Time is going oh so quickly, but in 70-80 years we can (I can) accomplish so much if we (if I) follow God’s plan. Plus, God has given man the ability to prolong life. We can now live to 90 and even 100. My life may end with a moan, but I believe that moan will come from my family and friends. My feeling is that, at the end, I will be at peace -- because I know I am going home. Praise God, our Father! Amen.

VCT


Friday, March 04, 2016

Friday, 03/04/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 47:1-26
Psalms: Psalms 88, 91, 92
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 9:16-27
Gospel: Mark 6:47-56
Evening Psalms: 91,92

DEVOTIONAL

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible….though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 19-23)

I remember leaving my house to head to the church at what seemed like the earliest I have ever been up. I wanted to get a good spot in the “luggage van” on the way to Chicago in order to sleep the majority of the way. That 11 hour drive felt like it took days, but it was well worth it, as it turned into a humbling experience for me.

On the ride to Chicago, I was a teenage boy who was very blessed, but had yet to truly understand to what level. I had fancy gadgets, a full stomach, and was healthy. I was unaware of the reality of the situation for other kids my age and my little sister’s age. Through working in the daycare centers in the projects of Chicago, walking the streets of the inner city, and working in the soup kitchens, I was forced to take a step into the reality of those who are not as fortunate to have all the luxuries that I have.

As my eyes were opened to the world outside of the suburbs where I was raised, I began to realize how blessed I truly am. I was humbled and became appreciative for all I have. I feel so truly blessed to have the support group that I do at church. People who have come through St. Matt’s, even for just a short period of time, have spent their time helping me. This happened because they were helped in the same way by someone else, and they were, in turn, helping me.

In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds me exactly of how I should use my freedom -- to humble myself and help others around me -- in our community and beyond.

ZJR


Thursday, March 03, 2016

Thursday, 03/03/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34
Psalms: Psalms 42, 43, 85, 86
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 9:1-15
Gospel: Mark 6:30-46
Evening Psalms: 85,86

DEVOTIONAL

“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves….Immediately he made his disciples…go on ahead to the other side…while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.” Mark 6:30-32; 45-46)

Advent and Lent are church seasons during which we are encouraged to take time to prepare and reflect on the birth, life, and death of Jesus and our relationship with Him. I start each of these seasons with great intentions to do just that. But, I seldom keep it up for the entire season or make it a habit to be continued throughout the year.

Christmas, Holy Week and Easter are important remembrances for me. But, every year, they seem to sneak up on me, and the time before these big days feels shorter and busier. There is so much to do to get ready for church services and to prepare for celebrating with family and friends. There are everyday tasks like caring for pets, housework, meal preparation, etc. that need to get done. Enjoyable events and other interests that help me relax -- needlework, computer games, singing – also take up my time. I start feeling frenzied and tired; and making time to reflect gets pushed out of the way very easily.

In the introduction to this well-known story of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus and the disciples have been very busy and are tired. Jesus plans for them to go to a remote place to rest and recharge. But the crowds have a different plan and follow them. They don’t get to take that rest but end up teaching and preaching. After the preaching and meal are finished, Jesus dismisses the people and, again, sends the disciples off to rest while he climbs a mountain to pray.

Rest, prayer, and reflection are essential to keep us healthy - physically, mentally and spiritually. Jesus recognized the importance of this and encouraged his disciples to rest and recharge. I need to remember this and give it a place of importance in my life - along with everything else that I allow to get in the way.

SKR


Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Wednesday, 03/02/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 45:16-28
Psalms: Psalms 119:97-120, 81, 82
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Gospel: Mark 6:13-29
Evening Psalms: 81,82

DEVOTIONAL

This was a hard year for me. My mother fought cancer for 11 months and then died in October. When the call for devotions came, I thought it would be good to spend some time meditating on a few passages, and I was sure that it wouldn't be hard to find a memory to write about.

When I got my readings, I sat down with them and read. There was an excerpt from the story of Joseph; a chapter from 1 Corinthians that didn't call to me; Mark's account of the beheading of John the Baptist; and a Psalm about mediating on God's laws all day. Nothing spoke to me! There were two more Psalms but by the time I got to them I was sure nothing was speaking to me.

So I left them.
And came back.
And came back.

Finally, I sat down without expectation. I looked with the knowledge that the first four readings were not what I was going to write about. This time, when I got to Psalm 81, I was ready to listen.

“O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him,
and their doom would last forever.
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
(Psalms 81:13-16)


I found it interesting that my devotional was not from the past that I was so ready to write about, but from right now. I am doing a lot of thinking of the past and about my Mom. I am also worrying about the future and the work that I need to do as a result of her death. I was not stopping to listen to God or letting Him subdue my enemies or letting Him feed me honey from the rock. What I finally realized was, if I want to be spoken to, I need to listen. I needed to listen for God and nothing else.

MCP


Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Tuesday, 03/01/16

READING

Old Testament: Genesis 45:1-15
Psalms: Psalms 78:1-39, 78:40-72
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 7:32-40
Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
Evening Psalms: 78:40-72

DEVOTIONAL

“Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.  When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘…Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:1-3)

I can’t imagine growing up with someone in a tight-knit community, learning a trade together, sharing family meals together … and then one day hearing that He is actually the Son of God. That would be quite the shock!

It strikes me as ironic that those who seemed to know Jesus best—the people from His hometown—were unable to see the most profound aspect of who He was. Complete strangers were able to accept and delight in God among them, but His childhood friends only saw Him as the ordinary guy next door, despite witnessing His powerful wisdom in person when He came back as an adult. Because they knew Jesus so well, I can only imagine how they could have helped with His ministry if they had been willing to see and accept who He was. They could have attended to the little details, such as knowing what kind of soup Jesus would like at the end of a long, cold day of ministry. Perhaps more importantly, they also could have served as His confidantes and friends as He went about His difficult work. Wouldn’t that have only augmented the fulfillment of God’s purpose?

Today’s passage from Mark made me wonder, am I seeing my friends and family as familiar human beings, or am I seeing them the way God sees them? Could I be missing something significant in someone God has placed in my path because I’m assuming I know everything there is to know about that person? Could I help fulfill God’s will just by having an open mind to what He is trying to accomplish through my loved ones?

This Lenten season, I pray that God will lend me His eyes when I’m relating to others, especially those whom I believe I know well. What might this person have to offer the world, and how can I help him or her share it? Amen.

MKJ