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Meditations for Lent 2021 A Gift from the Stephen Ministry

The Stephen Ministry Myers Park United Methodist Church

 Stephen Ministers are trained, caring lay people who walk with you, listen, and pray with you in times of need. In grief, illness, divorce, spiritual crisis, unemployment, or any other life crisis, we are here for you. All is confidential. Do you need a Stephen Minister?

Call Bill Roth at 704-376-8584.


Introduction Long ago, Lent was a time of reflection and preparation for baptismal candidates. It was meant to be a time for repentance, or turning away from all that separated new Christians from God: in other words, to repent from their sins.

Sadly, we live in a time when self-examination and acknowledgment of our misdeeds are no longer in vogue. While we may wish to avoid introspection, confession, and repentance, doing so only leads to our separation. After all, the whole point of examining our lives is to root out self-destructive behaviors and make forgiveness and reconciliation possible. I hope these devotions, along with space in your life for silence and centering before God, will become a meaningful way in which you examine your life and repent from the behaviors that destroy your life-giving connections. Amid this pandemic, we need each other, and we need God, and we need to turn from all that stands in the way of our relationships. We repent, not to feel shame, but to reconnect to ourselves, to life, to God, Once again, let me thank our Stephen Ministers for writing these devotions. Also, let me thank Carmen Rivera, Katharine Willis, and Bonnie Gunter for their skill in collecting them and making this devotional book available. In Christ,

Bill Roth Pastor of Congregational Care 704-295-4835 broth@mpumc.org

Ash Wednesday, February 17

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

Dick Hagemeyer I look forward to Easter and Ash Wednesday, the first day of preparation for the awesome Easter season. It is the beginning of Lent and time for Christians to be reminded we need to repent and renew our faith. I read that Ash Wednesday prepares us for Easter in three ways. It teaches us: “to mourn the past, to examine the present, and to look forward to an inspiring future.” A time we think about the past: The ashes of Ash Wednesday come from the palm leaves that were burned after last year’s Palm Sunday. Ashes speak of mourning and regret. Psalm 51 is an excellent reading for Ash Wednesday. It is a scriptural guide to repentance. A time to examine our present: When Jesus challenged the healthy not needing a doctor, he was asking for self-examination. “Only those who agree they are sick will submit to a doctor, and only when we acknowledge our sin can we receive His forgiveness.” Remember our daily need is always our Savior. A time to reaffirm. Colossians 2:6-7 An opportunity to look to the future: Follow the trip through Lent with your eyes on Easter Sunday. It is our hope for the future and the glorious message of Easter: He is risen! The promise of resurrection. I Corinthians 15:20 Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thursday, February 18

1 John 1:3-10

Amanda Williams Because I’m a singer, my experience with scripture and its meaning is often based on music. Psalm 23 reminds me of “The Lord is My Shepherd.” Kings brings “Elijah” to mind. And of course, Handel’s “Messiah” comes to mind often since it’s based on 14 books of the Bible. The myriad ways that composers have set scripture to music has been a large part of my spiritual journey. Today’s scripture brings to mind the hymn, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” by Kathleen Thomerson. Simple and elegant, the music flows to the refrain, “In him there is no darkness at all, the night and day are both alike...” Did you hear it in your head as you read the words? Today’s scripture is also striking because of the word fellowship. When I think of that word, I imagine the fellowship hall of the Baptist church in which I was raised, a place teeming with people, covered-dish suppers, and hymn sings. Fellowship has always been a verb to me, an action people take together.

Fellowship has been redefined for us because of the pandemic. While we currently can’t gather together in person, we have found fellowship online through worship services, small groups, and Sunday School. And while it is not the same shared experience of being next to each other in sanctuary pews, it has sustained us through a long year. Just as there are a million different ways that composers can bring scripture to life through music, there are a million different ways that we can fellowship with one another during these difficult times. Prayer: I pray brighter days are ahead for us and that we can gather together again soon to find fellowship and live into John’s hope, so that our joy may be made complete.

Friday, February 19

2 Timothy 4:1-5 George Scott

Sometimes you read scripture that seems to have limited application to modern life or is relevant for an era that has yet to come. Other times you find something that feels like it was written specifically for the current moment. I think today’s scripture fits the latter. The passage states that “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” That time has surely arrived. But, in truth, this concept is probably as old as time. I imagine reading this scripture would have felt timely to a reader 50 or even 500 years ago. As I reflect on the scripture, I am reminded of the important work on racism that our church is doing. Work that remains undone despite legislation that is more than 50-years-old and anti-racist efforts that are even older. The scripture says to “preach the word,” “correct, rebuke and encourage,” and “do the work of an evangelist.” We have had recent, painful reminders that systemic racism in America remains very much a problem today. We have been called to be truthful with ourselves and others and to consciously acknowledge the ways that the world remains unequal for many. In an acceptance speech for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” In times like these, where truth can be hard to acknowledge, I find inspiration in imagining the time that truth and love will ultimately prevail.

Saturday, February 20

Matthew 9:2-13 Ken Rice

One of my favorite stories is the story of a man who was imprisoned in a tower that was 20 stories tall and in a remote location. It was rare for anyone to pass by the tower, but one day the man saw a man approaching. He frantically searched his surroundings and found a gold coin lying in a corner. Standing on his toes so he could see the man clearly, he waited until he was near the base of the tower and threw the coin through the bars in the window to the ground below. The coin landed at the feet of the man, who quickly picked it up, put it in his pocket, and continued on his way. Although discouraged by what he saw, the imprisoned man waited patiently in the hopes another passerby would approach. Several hours later his patience was rewarded. Pulling at the tower’s rock wall, he was able to pry loose a rock. Again, waiting for the man to get closer, he chose the perfect time to release the rock and it hit the man on the head, drawing blood. He immediately looked upward to determine the source of his misfortune, and as he did, he saw a man waving his hand between the bars in the tower window and shouting for help. The man on the ground was able to enter the tower, climb to the top, and release the man. The story could be representative of our relationship with God. When good things happen to us, we take them for granted, failing to consider the source, but when we encounter pain or adversity, we immediately look upward, seeking the source of our difficulty.

Sunday, February 21

1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15 Lynn Polk

Today is Quadragesima Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent. The word Quadragesima is a Latin word that means 40th. This Sunday denotes the 40th day until Good Friday. The Bible verses from Mark today talk of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days. It is so interesting how this number is used so many times in the Bible. These verses in Mark tell of Jesus asking John to baptize him and, at that time, the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove. Then a voice comes from Heaven saying: “You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit then sends Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days. It is in this wilderness that Jesus is able to fast and pray. He is tempted time and time again. As we think of this first Sunday in Lent 2021, we will be observing everything in a much different way than we normally do and yet the meaning of this season has not changed. Through Jesus’ baptism, God has offered us forgiveness and redemption. As we begin the 40 days, it is a good time to deepen our relationship with God and make this journey a chance, especially in a time of isolation, to remember our baptism and how much God loves us. One of my favorite hymns is the “Hymn of Promise” and I love these words of hope: “In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” It seems now we are in the wilderness, but God will reveal to us in His time and in His season what we need to hear. We need only to pray and listen. Prayer: Dear God as we travel through this season of Lent, we know you have a plan for us. Open our ears and heart that we will listen to your words. Help us to remember our own baptism and the love you have given us through your Son Jesus. Let us forgive as we have been forgiven. Help us to love more openly and unconditionally. Amen.

Monday, February 22

Ephesians 2:1-10 Elizabeth Edwards

When I first read today’s Bible passage, Ephesians 2:1-10, I thought “Okay, I understand this. Paul is saying we are sinners but God saves us.” And to a certain degree that is the basic idea of these verses, but the passage does provide us with more guidance. Paul writes to the Ephesians that they were sinners, and because they were fulfilling their earthly desires, they were spiritually dead. However, he also told them that God is merciful and loves them. God has brought them back from spiritual death and given them seats in Heaven. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It is important to realize that Paul is making sure people in Ephesus and in ages to come understand that we have not earned God’s grace, but he loves us so much that if we have faith, he will gift us his grace. Paul also explains that God has created us for good works that he has decreed for us and in which faith should lead us to participate.

In the troubles of today it is a blessing to hear this passage and to know that God loves us and blesses us with his Grace. At times when we are angry at our situation, lonely, scared, or frustrated with what is happening around us, we may not be doing the “good works” God calls us to, but we are still the recipients of his love and Grace. How reassuring it is to know this and lean on it when we are in need of His support and guidance. Prayer: Father, I am humbled by the gift of your Grace. I know I can never earn this blessing, but am so thankful that you love me, and because of that love, have bestowed your Grace on me regardless. Please help me to feel your presence in my daily life and guide me to the good works you are expecting and hoping I will provide in your name. Amen.

Tuesday, February 23

1 Peter 3:8-18a Paula Boyce

In our fallen world it is often deemed acceptable by some to tear people down verbally or to get back at them if we feel hurt. Revenge and insulting people are simply unacceptable. Sadly, if you watch or read the news, it is impossible to escape witnessing this behavior, especially recently with all that’s going on in our society. Peter remembers Jesus’ teaching to pay back wrongs by praying for the offenders. He explains the five key elements of how believers should live during difficult times. We should live in harmony, with sympathy, love, compassion, and humility. We should encourage one another and rejoice in each other’s successes. When I read Peter’s words “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech,” I am reminded of the old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The reality is that words can hurt as much as sticks and stones. And no matter what, they can never be retrieved.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me. Stones and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me. Pain from words has left its scar on mind and heart that’s tender. Cuts and bruises now have healed; it’s words that I remember.” (The Truth by Barrie Wade) It’s up to all of us to love thy neighbor as thyself. So my prayer this Lenten season is that we will remember Peter’s words, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.”

Wednesday, February 24

Matthew 4:1-11 Annie Albini

This scripture brings many questions to my mind. Would I have had the kind of faith to keep evil and temptation at bay? Would I have crawled off to a cave and felt sorry for myself? Would I be strong enough, after having no food and water for 40 days, to say no to Satan? Would I have been mad at God for allowing me to suffer and be so frightened? The scripture says nothing about Jesus being scared. I have to believe that he would have been scared, all alone in the wilderness. There would have been daunting animal sounds and possibly animals stalking him. The sounds of howling winds, and the cold and moonless nights would have been ominous. Yet, Jesus remained steadfast in his faith as he told Satan he would worship the Lord our God and serve him only. I have never been stranded in the outdoor wilderness, but have certainly been stranded in emotional wilderness. As I reflect on those times, God provided everything I needed – a friend to listen, a church family who welcomes and accepts me, and my family who loves me unconditionally. Whether you are lost in a concrete jungle, emotional wilderness, hungry or confused, I pray that you will put God first and know that he will provide exactly what you need in your time of temptation and confusion. Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for providing us with your love and care as we journey through our own wilderness. Help us to remember and care for those who are lost and confused in their own desert. Amen.

Thursday, February 25

Romans 3:21-31 Rob Sanders

The dictionary defines the word wilderness as a place that is uninhabited by human beings, a place where we are alone, a place that is unfamiliar and seems filled with threat. It’s probably a tiresome analogy at this point, but the COVID-19 pandemic has produced these same feelings of aloneness, fear, and continuous anxiety. And, in an unconventional way, we did not venture into this wilderness; it came to us.

These long months are the first time in my experience that all of us - friends, family, and community - have been so deliberately disconnected. We are, after all, created for fellowship, and the voluntary erosion of that fellowship makes it doubly frustrating. For many, it is a true relationship wilderness. As Christians, what does our faith say to us about this unmoored time? The Bible is full of wilderness stories, where God uses solitude and deprivation in teaching moments. You may recall that these are not simply instruction, but situations of intense experiences that allow doubt about God’s intentions. And you will also remember a repeating lesson…that successful navigation of these trials was marked by faith in God’s promise that we are His, and that we are never alone in the wilderness. …24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith…28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law…

Friday, February 26

Romans 4:1-12 The Gift Martha Lambie

When I was a little girl, we visited my Grandmother who lived in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. The town had a general store with the most amazing penny candy counter a five-year-old could imagine. During our visit my father would take my sister and me to town and give us a nickel to spend however we liked. With wide eyes we carefully selected and bought our favorite candies. This wasn’t an allowance but rather a gift that our father had given us without our having earned it! In today’s reading from Romans the ultimate gift of God’s righteousness was not given to the “one who works” as if it were wages. Rather, as Paul points out, wages are an obligation not a gift. Is that how we should view God’s righteousness - as something He is obliged to grant us if we do His work? For us the answer should be a resounding NO. For we haven’t earned this righteousness. Rather the opposite because, if we’re honest, we know we continue to sin and fall short of how God would have us live.

So, like the nickel and the choice of how to spend it: How are you going to spend your life and the ultimate gift that God has given you? When we open our eyes to the world around us there are so many ways we can choose to share our gift especially now in these challenging times. So, reflect on this gift and take action, unwrap it, and put it to use as God would have you do. Prayer: God, thank you for the gift of righteousness and guide us to faithfully use the gift you have given us. Amen

Saturday, February 27

Mark 8:27-30

He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Mary Katherine Vass I can identify with the disciples who already had their minds made up. Their minds were misled by the thinking of the day about the person, Jesus. Was he really the messiah? They were unable to reconcile the arrested Jesus with the political, divine being they had in mind. It did not fit with what they expected. They fled the scene. Even after the resurrection they still had doubts. Then they were changed; they encountered the transformed body of the risen Lord. On the road to Emmaus, their “eyes were opened, their hearts were on fire, the Lord really has risen.” (Luke 24: 31-34) My own mind has been misled by some childhood concepts, words of half-truth, and society’s cultural norm. I am unlearning concepts I have learned. My mind is slowly being opened with glimpses of God’s bounteous plan. I am learning “the story of everything, the story of God.”* What is more profound is how I fit into the story. Jesus is a presence, as near as my breath. I see Jesus' desire of relationship with me as in John 17:22-24; Jesus in all authority, the Christ, to appear again, making a new creation, victorious over death. My position in earth, time, and space is 2021 years after the resurrection of Jesus. God’s story is beyond space and time. My mind is slowly opening with the hope for my eternal time in the story of everything. *Christianity’s Surprise by C. Kavin Rowe

Sunday, February 28

Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38 Scott Starling

Abraham’s story provides a remarkable example of faithfulness to God despite human imperfection. God made a covenant with Abraham to make him the father of many nations through the righteousness that comes by faith (not through works outlined by the law). Abraham, while imperfect sometimes following his own plan, showed great faithfulness by leaving his home to live in Canaan, believing that Sarah would bear a child despite their age and her infertility, and being willing to sacrifice their son Isaac at God’s command. As with Abraham, God has a plan for us. Sometimes the plan is clear to us and sometimes it isn’t. Our challenge is to show faithfulness to God even without understanding. But how can we show faithfulness in our daily lives, and how can we learn from Abraham’s example? We can start with hope. Hope allows us to live in the space where uncertainty reigns and where we’re not in control of the outcome. We continue to follow the example of Jesus, offering love to our fellow man and hope to our neighbor. More specifically, it’s the hope in Jesus - that Jesus died for our sins and laid the framework to express our faith in God. It’s the kind of hope that is like a child, a hope that transcends the troubles and concerns of the current day and offers a belief that somehow they can be a part of making a better tomorrow. The blessing of Romans 4:13-25 is that grace is available to everyone through faith (not through our works alone). While we find ourselves imperfect, by walking in faith, God offers His grace to us. In receiving this grace, we have the opportunity to offer grace and hope to others. We are not in control, but all starts with a little faith like Abraham.

Monday, March 1

Hebrews 1:8-12 Saundra Magee

One of my favorite songs is “Landslide,” written by Stevie Nicks. The second verse and chorus are as follows: Oh mirror in the sky What is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Well, I’ve been afraid of changing Cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder Even children get older And I’m getting older too. This song is pertinent to everyone since all lives are filled with changes. Change can be wonderful but also scary, and change can hurt. This past year has been one of unbelievable change. There have been many lost lives, lost jobs, weddings postponed, church doors temporarily closed, no community events, and the list goes on. So where do we find happiness in what seems like chaos? How do we deal with all the changes? Where do we turn when we continue to experience feelings of loss, worry and helplessness? Often we turn to the material world to heal our pain but find there remains an emptiness. So again, what do we do to fill our hearts with joy and peace? We would do well to meditate upon our unchanging God (Hebrews 1:12). He is an unchanging good Father who is holy, faithful and sovereign. He encourages us through His word (Joshua 1:9; Psalm 32:8), through prayer (Philippians 4:6), through music, friendships, and nature. Sometimes just listening to favorite music, calling a friend, memorizing a Bible verse, or walking outside in the sunshine can give us a boost and a new perspective when we involve God. When we set our hearts and minds on God, He becomes ours. He directs us, loves us, protects us and satisfies us. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, March 2

Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19 Bonnie Gunter

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Oh, the time when we can take off our masks! We will see the smiles, laughter, even sadness. We will surely know when our family, friends, and all we meet need a firm handshake, a gentle hug, an encouraging word or smile. By faith, we know this will happen sometime. Meanwhile, we wait. In that waiting God works His wonders, as we distance in a COVID world. My dear daughter, Paige, orders my groceries and brings them to me. We have a “parking lot visit” masks on, distanced. Later, after I loaded my groceries and got back in my car, it was shocking to see the lights on the dash going in circles, making weird sounds. My car would not turn off much less drive. It was very frightening. I heard a voice, “May I help you?” It was the son of one of our neighbors. Of course, I said, “No, that’s okay. I’ll call AAA.” He said, “I’d be glad to stay until the tow truck comes. Meanwhile, go put your groceries away. I’ll watch your car.” Thankfully, it just needed a charge. Another truck would come to put a new battery in the next day. He said, “I’ll park your car and run it for 20 minutes. You go back to your condo and I’ll bring your keys.” I did – he did. This was a perfect example of God placing someone at the right time and the right place. A kindness of hours, encouragement and masks. Look for these moments, even during a pandemic. Prayer: Our Father, one day we will be back in church. We can see the beautiful faces we missed. We have that assurance. We have that faith. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, March 3

John 12:36-43 Kay Rice

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” - C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer Squire Rushnell wrote an intriguing book called When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides your Life. He explores and documents events that seem to be guideposts that cause you to meet certain people, propel you in a new direction, or place you in an unanticipated situation. Carl Jung called this synchronicity: “events that are meaningful coincidences if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.” Rushnell invites us to do an “archeological expedition” into ourselves to discover major turning points in our life. Could these events be God communicating with you? In the Bible there are many examples of God speaking to people. Many of these were supernatural: Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4); Saul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-5); and Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6:37-40). Why is it important to be aware and watch for these unusual “coincidences?” Recognition can help you develop a sense of direction and affirmation that you are never alone. There is a universal guidance system and you are on the radar screen. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” We live and breathe because God gives us life and breath. The Holy Spirit is within us. How attentive we should be to the presence of God and His guidance in everyday episodes! God be in my head and in my understanding. God be in my eyes and in my looking; God be in my mouth and in my speaking; God be in my heart and in my thinking; God be at my end and at my departing. - 13th century prayer, Salisbury, England

Thursday, March 4

1 Peter 2:4-10 Keels Dickson

The First book of Peter is thought preeminent among the pastoral letters of the New Testament. It is the best known, loved and read. “The beautiful spirit of this pastoral shines through...affectionate, loving, lowly, humble.” Sent from “Babylon” late in the first century when the epithet was Christian code for Rome, the letter is addressed to dispirited Christians throughout Roman provinces of early Turkey.

Early Christians had participated in the social and cultural fabric of their communities but, since conversion to Christ, had become abused and marginalized. Society considered them unwelcome, perhaps even dangerous as a movement, and they were everywhere spoken against. Peter’s letter was intended to strengthen and give heart to the faithful, offering encouragement and instruction during a fragile period of early Christian life. Our scripture speaks of Jesus having been “rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight…” As had Jesus been denied, ridiculed and persecuted, decades later his followers were subjected to soul-crushing bullying and abuse. With the following words, Peter assures that even as they suffer their disquietude, as with Jesus, there is the promise of God's grand reward: “Behold, I place in Zion a stone, chosen, a cornerstone, precious, and he who believes in him shall not be put to shame.” Further, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Hearty approbations and encouragement to our Christian ancestors as for us all. We are fortunate indeed for the long-suffering endurance exhibited by our Christian forebears. God bless’em!! Prayer: Gracious Lord, we are the beneficiaries of the strength of character you imbued our early Christian brethren who through their indomitable forbearance have given us worship unencumbered by abuse, fear or worry. We thank you most ardently and pray we are worthy of their suffering. Amen.

Friday, March 5

Acts 7:30-40 Martha Allen

Let’s hear it for Moses! An ordinary man summoned by God to do something extraordinary. He “shook with terror and did not dare to look” when, from the burning bush, the Lord instructed him to lead the Israelites from the wilderness. Brave and faithful, he headed down Mount Sinai to try again. Like countless others in our Bible, he trusted God would be with him. What about you and me? My mother told me to “be careful!” My father lectured me to make straight A’s as an example for my younger siblings. My child’s mind interpreted this advice that I must be perfect to cope with this dangerous world. God’s message is different. As his children, He loves us despite imperfections and wants to use us in His world. However, at times we hesitate, fearing we are not good enough and in over our heads. To be like Moses, we must silence this inner critic, trusting in God’s transformative power. Let us not wait for challenges but seek them. God is there and will sustain us when we say yes to the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught us to help those in need, feed the hungry, comfort the depressed and bring peace to the world. Let’s not step back because of insecurity but stay open to God’s path. Let’s be bold like Moses and step up to something that touches our hearts. Our lives are unfolding opportunities to create goodness in the world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” Prayer: God, help us stay open to your paths for us and find the courage to walk down them. Amen.

Saturday, March 6

Mark 9:2-8

Mountain Top Experience Janie Reynolds Peter, James and John had a unique experience atop the mountain. Jesus’s clothes became dazzling white and he was talking with Moses and Elijah. Peter was so shocked and changed by what he saw that he didn’t want it to end. He wanted to build tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah so this experience could continue. When was your last “mountain top” experience? At a conference or retreat? Most of my “mountain top” experiences occurred during mission trips, women’s retreats, or working with immigrants. Often we experience special moments with God while walking, hiking, or gardening. We feel enriched, empowered and fulfilled. Similar to Peter, we don’t want to lose that feeling. Life seems so positive and happy. Everyone cares and feels close to one another. We’re changed beings, feeling Christ alive inside us. Reentry into our normal lives is hard. It does us no good to come back to our normal life not having changed at all. Motherhood, going to work, worrying about money aren’t going to disappear. Just like Peter, James and John we climb down the mountain equipped to do God’s work. Our experience on top of the mountain is supposed to change the way we look at our life, how we approach life’s difficulties, and how we interact with others. We need to do it as a changed person. Our “mountain top” experience does us no good if it just makes us want to stay away from our Christian duties and simply enjoy the good feelings. Prayer: Lord, You created us in Your image. Change us to be more like Christ. Use us to sow seeds of love.

Sunday, March 7

1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22 Liz Wicker

During the 2019 Christmas season, I had a grouping of beautiful red and white amaryllises that grew from ugly brown bulbs. I was fascinated as their gorgeous leaves and flowers emerged quickly from such unassuming drab bulbs. Once their flowers faded, I decided to see if I could get them to bloom again in 2020. After a little research, I put the old bulbs in the back of my garden for the summer and brought them indoors in early fall. They spent about 10 weeks in a dark closet to imitate dormancy. The papery brown bulbs were repotted and set in a sunny window. I was doubtful that they would “wake up” and begin to grow for they looked pitiful - big unsightly balls with a pointed top in pots. To my surprise, however, I noticed a green shoot, then a small leaf, and now each bulb has produced beautiful pointed leaves that promise a long stalk with brilliant flowers at the top soon. Just as my amaryllis bulbs are following their natural rhythm, other spring flowers will also emerge in the following weeks. Their lovely blossoms often come from unsightly, dingy bulbs. During this season of Lent, we too will remember the darkness and ugliness of the crucifixion, but also the beauty and joy of the resurrection. Today’s passage from John reminds us that the temple that was Jesus’s body was destroyed, but it was restored triumphantly.

Monday, March 8

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 Linda Borders

In this passage, Paul is writing to the Church at Corinth. It appears that he is writing this letter from Ephesus around AD 55, shortly before Pentecost at the end of his three-year stay in Ephesus. The letter is probably delivered by Timothy. Various factions have begun to divide the Church. Paul begins these verses by saying he has laid a foundation for faith like a master builder, and another has come and built another layer. He is warning the listeners that no one can add upon the layers that do not have the foundation of Jesus Christ. I believe he is referring to those who build for self-gain, and at the judgment seat of Christ, salvation is by grace through faith, and God will judge the intent of the heart. These words are important to hear, for we are judged by faith, and not works. Paul also reminds the listener that the body is a temple that indwells The Holy Spirit. These words are as important today as when Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth. Probably more so, considering what is happening in our world and in our country today. We must stay strong in our faith and stay focused on the principles that come to us through the lessons taught by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Prayer: Father God, stay with us. We are troubled by what is happening in our world. Help us to keep our eyes on you and remember the lessons you have taught and the principles you have laid down for us to follow. Help us to listen for your voice in all we say and do, and to remember we are all your children, to love one another. Amen

Tuesday, March 9

Hebrews 9:23-28 Glenda Wooten

As I read today’s scripture lesson, I found comfort in knowing after Christ died he entered heaven not on his behalf but on our behalf, as our advocate. The scripture goes on to talk about when Christ returns it will be not to address our sins, but to bring salvation to those who await his return. I know many of us approached 2020 with a sense of great anticipation – I was one of them! Who would have guessed three months into the year we would be facing a pandemic like none seen before by most of us. We also saw a state of unrest, fear and anxiety in our country that lasted throughout the year and continues today. As I look back on 2020, the constants I always knew I could count on were God and his son Jesus Christ, our advocate! Who better to have with us each and every day! I don’t know anyone who did not face challenges this past year. During the last few months of 2020, I underwent several tests and procedures. Due to current times, my normal support and coping mechanisms were not always available. As I approached each test and procedure, I trusted God was holding me in his loving and caring arms. Trusting in God and his plans for me brought me a sense of peace and calmness. All went well thanks to my constants! Prayer: Dear Lord, as we face uncertain and challenging times, may we always trust you as our ultimate advocate and protector. May we find comfort knowing our salvation is in your hands. Amen.

Wednesday, March 10

Mark 11:15-19 Fred Bright

The messages in this passage are many. I particularly like the parallel drawn by some scholars to the temple and our own bodies, or own beings. There is something sad about temple officials: not only did they not love the Lord, they did not even know the Lord. Those people operating in the house of the Lord did not have a right relationship with the God they pretended to serve. Often, we find ourselves in this same situation.

Money cannot buy the most valuable things in life. We know that those things are free to us. The good news is that God offers these things to us as gifts. It is His “gift of grace” that comes to us and grows through our faith. We should strive to be like the temple of God. We should strive to be a holy dwelling place. If others see us as no different from what they find elsewhere in this world, how would we ever attract them to our Savior? God has allowed Jesus to come into our lives and clean out whatever there is in us that needs to go. There will always be people in this world whose business, or whose pleasures, or plans, or ways of life are frustrated by the cleansing of God’s people. If the church becomes a commercial tool, its integrity is damaged, and its witness clouded. In this holy season, let us aspire to clean out those worldly things that keep us from truly connecting with God. Prayer: Lord, in this season of Easter coming, let us cleanse our bodies and souls to better accept the grace that you have given each of us. In your Son’s holy name, Amen.

Thursday, March 11

Ephesians 1:3-6 Susan Lynch

We put my parents’ furniture in storage after my dad died. My husband Pat and I decided to give my dad’s electric motorized reclining chair to Pat’s sister to use at her home in Cincinnati. We used a rental van to go to Winston-Salem to pick up the chair from storage and drive it to Cincinnati. We had made arrangements with the storage company to have the maintenance man help us put the recliner in the van. We got to the storage office only to find out that the maintenance man had already left for the day. We drove over to the storage unit, which was several rows over. It was an extremely hot day and we did not know how the two of us were going to put the very heavy chair in the van. We looked up the row of storage units and saw a man walking toward us. No car was visible. He came “out of the blue” and had not been at another storage unit. He was not the maintenance man. We asked him if he could help us load the chair, and he agreed. We offered him some money, but he would not take it. Afterwards, he just walked off. We were amazed. We called him our “guardian angel.” During this COVID-19 time, there have been angels among us. They are the people that went to the grocery for those that could not get out. They are the people that called and checked on others, and sent them a card. These could also be the church staff who worked on livestreaming so that we could feel like we were still together as a church, even though we were not physically sitting beside each other. Also, the small groups have helped us see each other in our Zoom meetings. We know that it is not the building that is the church, but the people that make up the church. There are definitely angels among us.

Friday, March 12

Ephesians 1:7-14 Rose Spinks

Our theme for this year in church is “Hope is Now.” We just finished a slow read through Ephesians, and it is a book full of hope: addressing questions like why we can have hope, where our hope comes from, and where the Triune God is taking us in the journey to come. This past year has been a challenge. For many, an endless tragedy. I am so grateful for all the churches, including MPUMC, that have reached out to the community. Dedicated, creative individuals like Jim and Craig have reinvented church for us. Christmas was still Christmas, and our pastors got a chance to rest and many got to be with their families. Christ is with us every day. We can gather and pray in community every morning at 8:30. We can meet in our small groups and tell, “how is it with our soul”? Dr. Howell’s Bible Reflection on Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m. is a highlight of the week for many of us. I know I’m leaving out so much. Forgive me. Monthly gatherings with Rev. Bill Roth and Parish Nurse Lauren Smith offer mindfulness practice and “Coffee, Conversation, and Connection.” Stephen Ministry also is available as an invaluable resource for one -to-one assistance through Bill Roth. And, we still have Sunday School and worship. Hope is now; hope is community. I try to stay in contact with friends and neighbors who have limited or no technology. I smell the coffee brewing, another day of hope, thanks be to God. Prayer: Here I am Lord, broken and in need of mercy. Here you are, Lord, broken for us, full of mercy. Here we are together, broken, beloved and hopeful. Amen

Saturday, March 13

John 3:1-13 Linda Hagemeyer

This passage is about Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, secretly meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus would have been considered very religious and knowledgeable about Jewish law. He comes to Jesus looking for answers about the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells him he must be born again if he wants to see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus does not understand the meaning of being born again. Have you thought about what being born again means to you? Jesus wants to help Nicodemus and us to understand that being born again is a spiritual rebirth. Being born again is a “supernatural act of God.” It is about giving up your old life and living a new life through Jesus Christ. It’s about a change of heart and “being changed on the inside” by the Holy Spirit. It’s about “repenting of sin and changing the way we are living.” What are the benefits of being born again? Among the benefits are salvation, unconditional love, and forgiveness. How can we know we have been born again? The proof is in the way we live. Prayer: Holy Spirit, thank you for our many blessings. We ask that you change our hearts, our way of living, and let us be born again. Please help us live our new lives through Jesus, the One who died on the cross for us to have abundant life, unconditional love, and salvation. Amen

Sunday, March 14

Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21 Chris Williams

I have always been an anxious person. However, the events of the past year: our country’s political and social upheaval, COVID, the stress of two parents working remotely while facilitating virtual school, and the passing away of family and friends drove me from anxiety toward a state of pure depression. During those dark times, I became reclusive and experienced more sinful thoughts than I care to admit.

Through that time, I felt unworthy asking God for help based on the thoughts that swirled through my mind. I essentially shut out all of my friends and loved ones. I hit rock bottom. Around that same time, I happened across an old friend from my hometown who was a role model and hero to me during our days of competitive swimming. Mark Beatty is now a Lutheran pastor in Marietta, Georgia. I was instantly drawn to his virtual sermons of hope, peace, and God’s constant forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ. Hearing a friend from my youth preach the Good News that I intrinsically knew in my soul brought me back from feelings of desperation and fear. Mark’s messages served as a supplement to our own church’s ministries, which steadily reignited my faith. In today’s passage from Ephesians, Paul writes that God, through His mercy, “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions, it is by grace that you have been saved.” While I am not completely sure how I reconnected with Mark at the perfect time or what prompted my friends and family who reached out to me, I do feel that God’s grace was present. Going forward, with a spirit of immense gratitude, I know that I will move from this experience called to be “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us to do.” Prayer: Spirit of the living God, empower us to use the miracle of our resurrected Savior to love others and offer help in ways both seen and unseen. Amen.

Monday, March 15

Hebrews 3:1-6 Chris Jones

My husband was an avid birder. Not only could he easily identify them when they flew by or landed in a tree, but he also knew their songs. He had a particular affinity for barred owls and red-tailed hawks. The way he helped me remember the call of the barred owl was by saying the phrase very quickly, “who cooks for you!” After his death I finally took a long trip and was returning home late because of a flight delay. While in the back of the taxi I prayed for some kind of a sign since I was entering the house alone for the first time since Bill’s death and was feeling very sad. As soon as I got out of the taxi, a barred owl flew right by my face and landed in my magnolia tree at eye level. We stared at each other for quite some time. A sense of calm and overwhelming peace came over me as I entered my dark house. I said, “thank you, God!” This Christmas, as I was sitting on the screened porch with family members watching the movie “Home Alone,” a red-tailed hawk landed in a branch right outside the porch door. I felt as if he were there to be with the family to join in and watch the movie! I knew it was another God-like moment! So the next time you take a long walk, look around you. Notice the birds, the variety of trees, the bunnies, the chipmunks, the formations of the clouds. God is everywhere. He may be trying to pay you a visit! Prayer: Lord, help me slow down, to look, to soak in nature and to welcome what I see!

Tuesday, March 16

1 Corinthians 10:6-13 Portia Bellamy

In this passage, Paul addresses several examples of sin from the history of the Israelites. They complained, committed idolatry and adultery, and more. Despite their sinful ways, God forgives and directs Moses to lead the Israelites’ escape across the parted Red Sea. They are all given the bountiful gift of God’s grace! Paul is giving the Corinthians a road map of what they should and should not do to live a life in Christ!

Despite the many opportunities we are given, we also continue to sin, in large and small ways, and disappoint our Lord. Thankfully, He forgives. He is always there to pick us up when we fail. His expansive arms hold us. Listen and allow Him to put you on the correct path. His plan is always better than our own. This passage reminds me of the old hymn from my childhood; Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within

Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all my sin Be thankful for the gift of Jesus Christ and for God’s grace. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17

John 8:12-20 Chris Lundin

As we reflect on today’s passage, two themes stand out: Jesus as the light of the world, and knowing Him enables us to know the Father. Jesus’ declaration “I am the light of the world” provides such encouragement in uncertain times. Light brings assurance, comfort, and hope. In the wilderness, even moonlight can provide enough visibility to navigate successfully. The book of Exodus describes the Israelites’ travel out of Egypt. God demonstrates His promise to be with His people through a pillar of light at night to guide the journey. One can only imagine the uncertainty and fear that permeated through the people during their exodus. What a comfort that light must have been to those families and leaders! Today’s world faces us with equal uncertainty, fear, and anguish. However, Jesus reminds us that He is that pillar out in front of our lives. If we stop and look around, have we been moving on our own, and find ourselves lost? Are we disciplined to sit and ensure we see His light guiding our steps?

Jesus then states “If you knew Me, you would know My Father.” I am struck how quickly I want to speed through the process of knowing Jesus. One can say “I have faith, I believe. I have a relationship.” However, where in our world does it work like this? Belief is the start, and our world is blessed by our efforts to have a relationship with our Lord. Jesus speaks with complete certainty in his testimony to the Pharisees: “For I know where I came from and where I am going.” Our time is well spent seeking to know Jesus, and we can then boldly journey on our path as we have His Light leading the way.

Thursday, March 18

Hebrews 4:1-13 Little Joys Linda Myers

Just when I thought there was nothing much to cause happiness in the year 2020: I have a 6-year-old great nephew and a 10-year-old great niece. My great niece has been on, minimally, a 3-year campaign to get a kitten. During this past Christmas season, my niece and her husband relented and got sibling kittens. My great niece is thrilled, and my great nephew is “okay” with the new additions. However, once the kitties graduated from one room to a more expansive run of the house, the 6-year-old decided he’d rather not have them in his room. I have a picture of a chalkboard sign on his doorknob that reads, “No Kittens Aloud”. Spelling aside, we get the message. One child’s great joy is another’s...not so much. A few years back, I lost a spare set of keys at Lake Junaluska or somewhere on the way there and back. It was just a minimal set of keys, but I used that particular set often in travel. They were on a keychain from my General Alumni Association with a medallion that said, “If found, drop in any mailbox.” I could hardly read the rest but why not use it. The keys were long gone and relegated to the back of my mind when I got a call fully 2 years later from some young-sounding voice saying, “We just received a set of keys that match to your membership number. Do you remember misplacing keys to a house, car, and mailbox?” I could hardly believe my ears. “You mean that keychain thing worked?!?! Wow. Yes, they’re mine. Send them to me.” Think of all the cooperating people that had to come together to get these simple keys back to me. Prayer: Thank you. Lord, for the simple blessings of everyday life. Amen.

Friday, March 19

Hebrews 4:14-5:4 Sandy Bright

The priesthood of Jesus as our High Priest is a distinctive theme in Hebrews. In the passage for today we examine the presentation of Jesus as OUR representative before the throne of God. The pandemic has given me so much time for reading. Sadly, I have spent time reading about so many people who have suddenly lost their lives during this time. Also, at my age, that is a possibility that is more real with or without a pandemic! And, I have thought more about God’s promises to me through His words and through the lives of others who know Him. In today’s passage, Hebrews also emphasizes Jesus’ humanity. Jesus doesn’t lose touch with our reality because He has been through all we have experienced — all weakness and testing but not sin. When He lived on this earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered His prayers to God . Because of this, we are encouraged to take His help and to be ready to get what He so readily gives us. We can take the mercy, accept the help from this High priest. He learned trusting obedience by what He suffered just as we do. He is the source of our salvation. Good questions for us are, “Are we listening to our High Priest? Are we ready for His help? Are we growing in our belief so that we can become teachers with our lives? Will we truly accept His loving mercy and help? Prayer: God, today’s the day I can wake up to you and be ready for what you have to offer. Yes, you offer mercy, help, love and salvation and the list goes on and on. The only thing I have to do today and every day is to trust and listen to what you are trying to tell me and do my best to live accordingly, one day at a time. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Saturday, March 20

John 12:1-11 Sarah Sumner

The “anointing of Jesus” is found in all four gospels, so those early writers must have believed that it was an important story for their listeners to hear. However, a lot of the particulars are different. Matthew and Mark locate the story in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. They tell us that a “woman” anointed Jesus. Luke says it happened in Galilee in the home of Simon the Pharisee and that the woman was “sinful.” John sets the story in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. I wonder what John wants us to hear? John tells us that Martha served while Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with pure nard and then wiped them with her hair. John also says that Judas objected to this costly outpouring and considered it a waste of money, not because he was concerned for the poor but because he was a thief. And then he records Jesus’ remarks, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial.” John wants us to see this story as part of Jesus’ death story. But that makes me wonder...

The people present did not know that Judas was a thief or that he would betray Jesus. They did not know that Jesus would be betrayed, tried, and crucified. They weren’t on “this side” of Easter. They saw an act of overwhelming love for Jesus. He had restored Lazarus back to Martha and Mary, so they had prepared supper for Jesus. And Mary went a step further and anointed him, an act that was reserved for kings. She wasn’t aware that she was preparing him for burial. She was saying thank you. We see the bigger picture, but, at that time, she did not. Does that diminish what she did? Absolutely not. If anything, maybe it deepens the significance of her act. God can take our simple acts of kindness and love and make them even more. In God’s hands, nothing is limited. During the Lenten season, let’s pray the words of the simple hymn “Jesus’ Hands Were Kind Hands:” Take my hands, Lord Jesus, let them work for you; make them strong and gentle, kind in all I do. Let me watch you, Jesus, till I’m gentle too, till my hands are kind hands, quick to work for you. Amen.

Sunday, March 21

John 12:20-33 Lennie Washington

In the backyard of our home is a magnificent Japanese maple tree that stands at least 25 feet tall. Its beauty exceeds that of any other tree in our yard. We mark the seasons by watching that tree. Its full green beauty brings great joy in spring and summer, and in the fall its leaves turn deep red. But my favorite thing about this tree is when its seeds sprout. They look like little pink and green airplanes, and they remind me of a fleet poised for takeoff. I watch them closely as they mature and marvel when takeoff begins. This process is mysterious to me, and I am always amazed to see it happen. I don't usually think about the purpose of this process, but I know the purpose of those seeds is to land somewhere and someday sprout new maples. From one seed a new tree grows and the cycle begins again. When I read Jesus’ description of his death as a seed that must fall to the ground and die in order to bear fruit, my vision of our Japanese maple becomes different. Jesus in his wisdom knew the people he was speaking to wouldn’t understand why he had to die, so he couched his death in this beautiful metaphor of the seed. While the prospect of his dying troubled even Jesus, he gave them this lovely and real vision of why it was necessary. The process of redemption began, and through us, his children, continues. Prayer: Oh God, we thank you that death is never the end. Help us to plant the seeds of your love in all who walk in darkness, that they too may know life eternal through you.

Monday, March 22

2 Corinthians 3:4-11 Bruce Hughes

Last year I wrote my Lenten devotion about masks. This year, in the spirit of the times and inspired by today’s verse, I offer a different take on masks: the parable of the mask. During a frightening plague, a man ventured to the market. He followed the rules, wearing a face mask. Arriving at the market, he saw his neighbor not wearing a mask. First, he was afraid. What would this mean for his and his family’s health? Then he became so angry, he forgot all about the rules in both letter and spirit and confronted the mask-less man on being so inconsiderate. Feeling publicly shamed and humiliated, the mask-less man responded in kind, not even pointing out that he suffered from a condition that made him feel like he was suffocating in a mask and having no one to do his shopping, he ventured out, being careful to stay distanced from others, until his neighbor started yelling into his face. Later the mask-less man died from the plague, and the first man carried the disease home, spreading it to his family and friends. Reconsider today’s verse. (I had to read it multiple times). If our protagonist had stayed focused on the spirit of love for his neighbor, as he tried to comply with the rules, and if he had remembered the spirit of forgiveness instead of attempting to compel others to just follow the rules, then the outcome could have been very different. Prayer: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, show us the way to keep true to the Ministry of the Spirit in good times and in bad times.

Tuesday. March 23

Acts 2:14-24 Sandy Sanders

In our scripture today, we hear from Peter as he speaks to a crowd affirming that the Old Testament prophesies had been fulfilled in Jesus. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was released throughout the entire world touching men, women, Jews, slaves, and Gentiles. As Peter gathers before the crowd in this scripture it is apparent that he indeed had been filled by the Holy Spirit, allowing him to be brave and forthcoming in his words to the people. He spoke to the people of the resurrection of Christ and its power as he knew many in the crowd had witnessed Christ’s crucifixion and had sensed God’s control over all. As we continue to transition from a year of struggle, fear, pain, and much more, may our hearts and minds be filled with the knowledge that God is in control and He sent to us a Savior that leads us to Eternal Life. May we be more aware of the Holy Spirit around us and within us giving us Hope, Love, Forgiveness, and a Sense of Peace.

In closing: 1 John 4:19 – “We love because He first loved us.”

Wednesday, March 24

John 12:35-36 Belva Sefcik

Jesus replied, “My light will shine out for you just a little while longer. Walk in it while you can, so you will not stumble when the darkness falls. If you walk in the darkness, you cannot see where you are going. Believe in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” It is cold outside as I sit by the warm fire. The glow is mesmerizing, and I can hardly take my eyes away. The warmth covers my body. I have peace. I am enjoying the fire while it burns, knowing the embers soon will go out and the room will grow cooler. Enjoying the beautiful fire reminds me of the warmth of the light of Christ. While I focus on Him, I have peace that surpasses all understanding. I have the warmth of His love. Unlike the fire, God’s love and warmth will never go out or diminish. He will always be there for me. For you. For each one of us. We are all chosen by God. There is not one person on the earth who wasn’t chosen by God. Let us pray that our love for God will fill us and make us children of the light. May God’s light shine through us and bring love and warmth to others.

Thursday, March 25

Philippians 2:1-11 Sarah Gillespie

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave." This passage in Philippians seems especially appropriate given the divisiveness of our nation at this time. In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he not only emphasizes unity, but also being of one mind: the mind or attitude that Christ exhibited. In verses 5-11, he implores us to empty ourselves and be like a slave to serve others. We can empty ourselves of ambition, selfishness, selfrighteousness, and other characteristics that are not of God. This will leave space to listen for God's call for us to help bring his Kingdom to fruition. The servant Christ is our example, and God is constantly at work in us, enabling us to do his will. Pray that our country will unite and work for the good of all. Pray that our church will always be a place where all feel welcomed and loved. Love your neighbor, and remember: everyone is your neighbor.

Friday, March 26

Philippians 2:12-18

Bend with the Breeze and Float with the Tide Susan zumBrunnen My dad, Bill Lawson, was an amazing father and role model who relished life and embraced each day to its fullest. Dad proudly served in WWII and was an adventurous world traveler, successful entrepreneur, committed community leader, and devoted family man. These experiences gave him a unique perspective on life, and many sought his advice and wisdom over the years.

A gifted storyteller, Dad was always at the ready to share an anecdote with his audience that left each one feeling better about life. I can still hear his laughter at the end of each story – it filled the room. He also had many adages that he could recall and recite at a moment’s notice. One of my favorites – spoken often to me throughout my lifetime – was “Bend with the breeze and float with the tide.” Any time I faced a challenge – small or large – I could count on some of Dad’s first words to be these. It reminded me to step back from judgment, remain flexible, and be grateful in difficult situations. It was an honor to be with Dad when he transitioned to his next adventure on October 18, 2020 - a week shy of his 96th birthday. I think of him every day and smile – filled with wonderful memories and the inspiration to see the beauty in each day. A line from today’s scripture reminds us to Do everything without complaining or arguing. Too often we are so focused on trying to control the outcome of our plans that we lose sight of the joy in the journey. When challenges come your way, I hope you remember to “Bend with the breeze and float with the tide.”

Saturday, March 27

Mark 10:32-34, 46-52 Life’s Blessings Bob Truscello

My wife Sue and her family helped me find my way to church when I was a high schooler. Her mother Eloise, who we lost a year ago, is the person I always considered to be my Christian mentor— so strong was her example and influence on both of us. I am proud to say that in 2020 Sue and I celebrated 50 years of marriage—time spent building our own beautiful family together, enjoying life’s many blessings...and laughing a lot. Faith has been fundamental, but humor is key, too. One of the things we like to do, and can’t help ourselves, is play a running game of one-upmanship, to keep things light. But I admit that I am typically no match for this lady who was voted “Wittiest” in our senior class. One day we were leaving the house and, as we entered the garage, I had to squeeze between our two cars to get to the driver’s door. Me: Sue, do you think when you pull your car in, you could get a little closer to the other side and leave some space here? Sue: (Probably irritated with one of my earlier pontifications) Rules, rules, RULES! All we have around here is rules! Do this. Don’t do that! Move this here. Put that there! Me: (Interrupting) Whoa lady! Wait a second! We’ve got to have rules! If we didn’t have rules, the whole order of the universe would collapse. If there were no rules, our highways would be one big Demolition Derby! If we didn’t have rules, Missy, you might as well move to some secluded no-man’s land! Sue: Don’t think I haven’t thought about it! Prayer: Thank you God for these daily discoveries of self. Thank you, too, for Mom Eloise in my life. Just as You did for the blind man in the Book of Mark, she helped me find my way. Put those who have needs on our path, Father, so that we might do likewise. And thank you, God, for Sue. Amen.

Palm Sunday, March 28

Mark 14:1-15; 47; Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)

Nancy Watson So many times we begin our Holy Week with stories of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with crowds crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Messiah has come at last, and the people are confident he will at last set them free from the oppression of an occupying force. Yet there is a back story to this Messiah – which means “anointed one” – and events just prior to this raucous parade. Just two days earlier Jesus had been at the house of his friends in Bethany, which is near the place where Jesus had been baptized three years earlier. His journey has come full circle, with baptism leading to anointing as a woman brings out a container of very fragrant, very expensive ointment or oil, and lavishes it on Jesus. This is an incredible gesture, as the value of this oil is more than a year’s pay. As with so many conversations today, there was grumbling about how something so valuable might have been better spent. After all, it could have been sold and the money used for any number of mission projects.

But what if the point of this story is not about the monetary value of the oil, but what it represented? What if its true value is a year’s worth of hard work? What if it is a year’s worth of faithful work, striving to follow Jesus, that this woman has lavished on her Lord? Such sacrifice is never wasted, it never loses value, and its fragrance would fill the room. Might we celebrate that on this Palm Sunday? What if all our hard work as we have tried to be faithful followers of Jesus in a year filled with pandemic, with economic challenges, with issues of injustice and inequity is a sacrifice we can offer to Jesus? What if our exhaustion might be poured out, lavished on Jesus as an offering of love, as an anointing? Might Jesus say of us, “You have done a service for me; you have done what you could, and it will be remembered.” The sweet fragrance of sacrifice for Jesus would indeed rise to heaven.

Monday, March 29

Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11 Taylor Pryde Barefoot

The first time I participated in an anointing service, I fumbled with the canister that was filled with fragrant oil and it crashed to the ground spilling oil everywhere. The room was filled with the scent, and I was mortified by my clumsiness. One of my friends, sensing my embarrassment, grabbed my hand as I tried to clean the mess and addressed the worshipping community. Much like Jesus’ response to Mary in this story, my friend reminded the crowd that spilled oil is never a waste. He allowed my clumsiness to become a preaching moment to illuminate the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet. The thing about this “mistake” I made was that the smell of the oil did not fade quickly. Every time I entered the space, the fragrant smell brought me back to that moment of embarrassment. We know that a smell can bring back a memory in a very powerful way. When Mary poured the oil on Jesus’ feet, what did that smell mean? The oil that Mary used is reserved for the elite class. It was the scent that would have been used at the burial of a king. I imagine this kingly scent stayed with Jesus. This smell of a burial filled the garden as he prayed. It might fill the nostrils of the poor and the hungry as he tended to them. The smell would hang in the air as he carried the cross through the crowd. I imagine it overwhelmed the soldier as he put the nails in his feet on the cross. Mary’s gift named Jesus as a King, and this scent gave witness to his Kingship even as he was flogged and murdered. This story reminds us of the importance of proclaiming that God is among us even when it is hard to believe that a dirty carpenter is actually a king. How might we be missing God’s presence in our world and in our neighbors? Take some time to contemplate the Godly in each stranger you encounter. I believe our world will become brighter and more hopeful with this daily practice of looking for God in the unexpected. Prayer: God we know you are all around us. Give us eyes to see you, ears to hear you, noses to smell you, mouths to taste you, and hearts to love you. Amen.

Tuesday, March 30

1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36 Britt Yett

This passage in the Gospel of John describes Jesus’ acknowledgement that His death was drawing near, that He was about to be lifted up (literally and figuratively) and new life would come through His sacrifice. Jesus states that those who love their life will lose it and that whoever hates his life in this world will keep it eternally. You have to hate your life to keep it? I sat with that sentence for days, resisting the very concept. It is not an easy sentence to digest, especially for those of us who pride ourselves on our highfunctioning, driven, self-motivated, accomplished existence. But Jesus is calling us to a different life where we are not consumed by our own lives and our own gain and our own comfort. Jesus wants us to live a life of sacrifice and selflessness - a life unmoored from fear, discrimination, judgment, gossip, hate, pride - a life of repentance and belief. But it is natural to resist. We are being asked to value ourselves for more than the things on our resume, the money in our bank account, the awards on our shelf. We are being asked to surrender to ensure victory. It helps to know that even Jesus approached His own sacrifice with some fear and reservation. After all, we are not promised a life without difficulty and suffering. But His sacrifice gives us a greater glory - eternal life, a life that doesn’t simply end with our time on Earth. The reward is much greater than our sacrifice - living a life of abundance, a life reconciled to God.

Wednesday, March 31

Hebrews 12:1-13; John 13:21-32 Julie Wentz

In this time of Lent as we study, pray and ponder all that the death of Jesus means to Christians and our own personal faith journey, I am particularly drawn to the last two verses in the scripture listed above, “So strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees! Make straight paths for your feet so that if any part is lame, it will be healed rather than injured more seriously.” This past year, 2020, has certainly been a time when we have all had weak knees. There have been plenty of moments for prayer and to ponder WHY. There are countless reports and images flashed across the news channels and social media, plenty of visions of “drooping hands and weak knees.” And yet I cannot help but think of Christ, Our Lord and Savior, on the cross, taking in all the sin for all of God’s children. Surely there were weak knees and drooping hands from the nails that hung him on the cross. What strength we all received from those hands and those feet; the pain endured so that we can “make our paths straight.” This season of Lent, our nation and global community continue to heal and get healthy from a devastating pandemic, a fiercely divided nation, and a crippling economy. I will make sure to double check that I am strengthening my weak knees and drooping hands. I want to heal. I want us all to heal. Prayer: Loving and gracious God, thank you for your unconditional love and perfect timing. We know that the time for love and healing is upon us, and we are grateful for that. I pray that all your children find peace this season of Lent, find the courage and confidence to make straight paths. Amen.

Holy Thursday, April 1

1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17; 31b-35

Love for One Another Nathan Arledge Love. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? It pushes us beyond limits that we place on ourselves and hearts. Never did I think that I could love someone as much as I love my wife. Then we had kids and, wow, a new uncontrollable love took over me. I have a love for my friends. A love for strangers. A love for nature. Love for one another: I like this commandment from Jesus a lot. Think about it: this love that we are to have for one another cannot happen without the other. To further this love of Jesus, it’s not a love only for those whom we choose and isolate ourselves with. The love of Jesus is best exemplified as we know it from the upper room. Tonight, as we remember Jesus breaking the bread and sharing the cup, it was in the midst of friends, strangers, and betrayers and denouncers. Jesus knew they were there. Jesus knew what was going to happen.

Jesus invited them Jesus fed them. Jesus loved them. Who are you lovingly inviting into your community? Who are you feeding the love of Jesus? Who are you loving? Prayer: God, guide us beyond ourselves, guide us to have an unending love for one another. Amen.

Good Friday, April 2

Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19; 42 Dr. James C. Howell

On Good Friday we sing “O Sacred Head, now wounded.” We might fixate on the grisly piercing of nails through Jesus’ hands and feet, or the spear gutting his side. But his face, his head: there’s the man, the eyes shedding love even as his blood is shed, his mouth thirsty and muttering unforgettable words, the perspiration, eyebrows creased in agony. He is our Head, this head, “with grief and shame weighed down.” He had no cause for shame. The shame is ours, humanity’s, history’s, that such a holy, perfect, loving and beautiful one would be treated so cruelly. Jesus’ head was “scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown.” There is a thorny vine that grows to this day in fields and by roadsides in Palestine, with long sharp thorns, and some poisonous toxin that inflames. I try to imagine a few dozen of those prickly, mean thorns pressed into Jesus’ brow. I shudder. If we gaze at that sacred head, are we shamed or delighted, stricken or honored? Yes. “What thou my Lord hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain: mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.” “Look on me with thy favor.” His eyes in his head looked out and saw with favor his blessed mother, and his beloved disciple whom he charged to care for her. He saw the clueless soldiers, and forgave. He looked at the victim next to him and promised him paradise. He does look on us with a harrowing, surprising, tender favor. “What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend?” At the birth of your child, at the death of your spouse, there just are no words. We might blurt out something, or we just sigh. “O make me thine forever… Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.”

Holy Saturday, April 3

Matthew 27:57-66 Bill Roth

What a year: a COVID-19 pandemic, an insurrection in our nation’s capital, and crippling economic hardship for many. What could be bleaker other than perhaps the day Christians call Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus was executed. What does a “nothing day” like Holy Saturday have to offer the faithful as we ponder the misery of our lives and this past year? After all, today is the least exciting day of Holy Week. The day after the crucifixion, two days after the last supper, and the day before Easter and the resurrection celebration. Nothing is happening, so what is this day’s significance? Episcopal priest Michael K. Marsh reminds us that Holy Saturday is the ultimate “morning after:” “...the morning after the funeral, the morning after he or she said, ‘It’s over,’ and walked out, the morning after the diagnosis, the morning after your plans failed, the morning after your dreams were shattered, the morning after your life fell apart.” Holy Saturday is an important reminder that the journey to the resurrection goes through the valleys of our lives, through the painful shock and despair of our losses, through our “morning afters.” The Holy Saturdays of our lives are the periods of time when all seems lost, hope is all but gone, and yet, somewhere, a cry is heard, “it is Saturday, but Sunday’s coming.” And with it, the new life Sunday brings. Holy Saturday is a time of waiting, trusting, and enduring our trials and suffering. The good news of Holy Saturday is that all is not lost, even on the bleakest day of our lives. Love is stronger than death, and God has not forgotten nor forsaken his own. Prayer: Lord, remind us of your presence with us in all our morning afters. Amen.

Easter Sunday, April 4

John 20:1-2 Uiyeon Kim

Time and again, I catch myself from perceiving Easter as something less than the most incredible day in the history of the world. Jesus rising from the dead allows us to reinterpret our past, transforms our present, and enables hope for the future. Because of the resurrection, the world would never be the same again! Without Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection, Jesus becomes merely an overly optimistic teacher with delusions of grandeur, disciples become beggars/losers who wasted three prime years of their lives, and Good Friday becomes just another day when people got crucified at the hands of the Roman Empire. But resurrection changed everything…all that preceded it and all that follows. My grandfather, the first-generation Christian in our family, shared a story about a Methodist missionary from America who shared the Gospel with him that transformed his life and his world. At one point during their time together, my grandfather asked the missionary why he traveled to South Korea in the early 1950s, a war-torn country with nothing much to offer to its citizens let alone outsiders. My grandfather simply could not understand why anyone would make such a difficult trip just to live a difficult life away from home and away from friends. The missionary’s response would make an indelible impact on my grandfather: “I came because I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” My grandfather’s journey, and all the lives of those who would follow him, changed course forever and nothing was ever the same again – his oldest son became a pastor in the Methodist church and his oldest grandson would later follow. In Christianity’s Surprise, C. Kavin Rowe writes, “No resurrection, no Christianity…the resurrection of Jesus catalyzes a new understanding and a new way of being precisely because of the new reality that God brought into the world – life over death, the reversal of Eden, the hope of the future, and the power in the present.” So we need not be afraid of the future, not ours or the world’s, but we worship with a sure and certain hope found in an empty tomb. And as the hymn reminds us, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone.” Thanks be to God.

The Stephen Ministry at Myers Park United Methodist Church This Lenten devotional is available on the church’s website: www.myersparkumc.org. A Children’s Lenten Prayer Calendar is available on the Children’s Ministries website: www.myersparkumc.org/children. Please read This Week at Myers Park for opportunities to give your time in service to others.

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