The following comprises the full series of devotionals during Andover Newton’s Lenten journey with students, trustees, faculty, staff, and alumni/ae, who offered daily reflections. Each devotion was inspired by a piece of scripture and each caries its own theme. Reflections are available below in chronological order with the most recent found at the top. These devotions are available both as written text and short videos.
New reflections were posted daily on Andover Newton’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.
This series was curated by first-year student Jamal Davis Neal, Jr. (he, they).
Find a reflection by week:
April 4, 2021 - Easter Sunday
Founding Dean Sarah Birmingham Drummond (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Remember the pussy willow,” on Easter Sunday.
My favorite piece of short prose comes from J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories (The Modern Library, 1959) and is called “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.” I remember reading it for the first time as a teenager and liking it so much that I immediately compelled my Dad to sit and listen to me read it again aloud. He loved it too, or at least that’s what he said; who knows – he might have been humoring me.
The narrator in the story is a soldier brought home from war and hospitalized with what seems like psychological trauma. His condition is never clarified. The narrator happens to find himself in conversation with a little girl who’s come to visit someone else on the ward. Her name is Esme, and the two have a brief exchange in which she shows both precocity and compassion. Something about the encounter gives the narrator a glimmer of hope, but he doesn’t say so. The story ends with him saying that, for the first time in a long time, he feels… sleepy. That’s when both he and the reader know: he’s going to be okay.
Hope doesn’t always come in the most predictable forms. A dove returning to the ark with an olive branch in her beak; a girl thought to be dead sitting up, her restorer telling her parents to give her something to eat: all good news, and all obvious. More subtle signs that hope is nigh can sneak past us if we don’t pay attention: a stranger on the road to Emmaus who doesn’t seem to know about this “Jesus” person, a rolled-away stone.
Consider the pussy willow. Black and grey, there’s nothing spring-like about it. Someone unfamiliar with pussy willows’ germination process might look at its early spring form and assume it’s dead. With experience, we know that the pussy willow’s plush buds are a harbinger: something amazing is about to happen.
Those with experience similarly know, or should know, or should try to know, that life always comes back. Even death itself isn’t the end, but a transition into another life – a life we know now only through a mirror dimly. Experience isn’t our only teacher about life’s resilience. We get occasional glimpses that some call inbreakings, and others call miracles.
This Easter, remember the pussy willow. Remember experiences that have taught us that life returns, and watch for signs of hope in unlikely places: little kids in masks. Jabs in arms. New opportunities to make the world better through the love we share. Happy Easter. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
April 3, 2021 - Holy Saturday
Roger J. Squire Professor of Pastoral Theology and Care at Yale Divinity School and Andover Newton affiliated faculty member Mary Clark Moschella (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Women of Christ,” inspired by Mark 15:40-47 & John 20:11-18.
A Poem on the theme of “Women of Christ.”
On the granite gravestone
the second name, Carmela
neatly cites her end. I bend
to plant daffodils in cold brown dirt.
O woman why are you weeping?
He asked another Mary, her face wet with tears
She bends and peers into the tomb, a womb
filled with angels and no body.
A woman weeping demands answers:
Where have they taken him? Where is he now?
The gardener responds, his voice, somehow
resonant, hope evokes.
Holy Saturday sits at the edge
of unknowing, a day bleak with questions that
yield no answers to take to the bank, only yank
at empty places, mystery hinting.
Lingering, loitering, hanging out
with ethereal spirits, searching
for the living among the dead I hang my head
until I hear my name.
The pain of loss not glossed
but fully felt reveals sometimes a moment or a glint
from a dark and quiet place, a way to face
the thirsting day.
I once heard a daffodil bloom,
an audible “pop” as its silk hood split open
causing me to drop everything to run and tell
Anyone who would listen.
Holy Saturday is dreary I was told as a child
A holy day of obligation celebrating sequestration
of all the senses. Jesus descending into hell—a bad word
So he could rise again on Easter Sunday (before the bunny)
What a journey, I thought, and who would take it?
Why embark on this voyage into dark?
Strangely now somehow this leg of the trip
to hell and back before ascending is tending to make more sense.
A third Mary comes into view: a figure of the Blessed one
My namesake in flowing blue, porcelain arms outspread
over my grandmother’s garden, her face not quite smiling
as she defends the tender greens.
Holy Mary, mother of God,
she nods at the flowers before her feet,
arranged by an odd, devout girl child
wilding in scent and sun.
Holy Saturday, holy any day given before taken away.
Holy ground. Take off your shoes.
Earth resounds with teeming life: fire, beauty, strife
All of the above, held in holy, tender love.
April 2, 2021 - Good Friday
Associate Dean for Institutional Advancement Ned Allyn Parker (he, him; MDiv ‘10) reflects on the theme, “The crucifixion of Jesus,” inspired by Luke 23:33-43.
Understanding that Anselm’s outline of substitutionary atonement came a thousand years after Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected, I ask you to reflect with me today, however briefly, through a different lens.
Who was it that believed – truly believed – that Jesus was required to die… and to die by crucifixion? Was it God? Did God believe it was required? Did God require human sacrifice? Did God require death to make right life?
Or was it a humanity, so obsessed with violence that they/we believed that God must be obsessed with violence, too, like a festering distortion of the imago dei. Like an act of transference, we projected our uniquely human trait of senseless violence onto a creator that said time and again about this creation, “It is good. It is very good.”
Don’t you think it’s interesting that Jesus says, “God, forgive them, for they know not what they do”? If it was required, why also forgive?
What if the redemptive act was not the suffering of the cross. What if the redemptive act was giving bread and cup to deniers, doubters, and betrayers – and sharing in this way because, despite their very human failings, they were still friends who deserved that certain kind of grace - that grace whose midwife is love.
And what if the purpose of resurrection was… to remind those friends what they had already forgotten after just three days: redemption and restoration come from much more gentle, though no less intentional, acts: sharing food and story.
There are many ways to change the world. If we continue to be a people who believe that the world can only be changed through acts of violence, then there will be no world left. The bloody remains of conflict, intolerance, and hate are not God’s remains, but brought about as reaction to fear of those people and things that we do not know or understand.
The violence of crucifixion changed the world, yes, but so did the provision of sustenance when the people living in that world were hungry.
Was crucifixion and death truly required to save souls, or was the resurrection (which required death first) the exclamation point on the First Last Supper? After all, the mandate of Maundy Thursday was to love one another as Christ first loved us.
Yes, faith has been oriented toward the cross and toward those days following crucifixion. Yes, hope has been oriented toward the joy of resurrection on Easter. But love, love is oriented toward the sharing of bread, of story – of sustenance. And, after all, the greatest of these was love.
April 1, 2021 - Maundy Thursday
Director of Black Church Studies at Yale Divinity School and Andover Newton teaching team member Joanne Jennings (she, her) reflects on the theme, “A pandemic meal,” inspired by Luke 22:14-20.
Most people don’t know when they are nearing the end of their lives. My Mom had a very close friend, who was graced with that awareness. They had travelled most of the world together and then developed a rhythm of conversation throughout the week when they were at home. In one of those conversations this friend summoned my Mom to come and visit her, because she said, ‘I’m dying’. With some skepticism my Mom went to see her, and heard her friend share her appreciation for their friendship and for the many things they had shared. Two days later my Mom’s friend was dead. It’s that experience that reminds me of the importance of listening closely to things that are shared by those who are nearing life’s end.
It’s this posture, that we might choose, as we listen to Jesus in this text. The disciples sitting with Jesus at this Passover Meal, did not understand then, as we now do, that this was to be his Last Supper. They did not know that Jesus was speaking on the eve of his death. They didn’t know that he was about to endure the suffering of betrayal, abandonment, public shaming, ridicule and a brutal death. They didn’t know about the sense of ‘Godforsakenness’ that would extract pangs of grief from the core of his being.
Since we know, we pay attention when he says, I want to eat this meal with you before I suffer. And we listen when Jesus breaks the bread and shares it with the words, “this is my body which is broken for you”. We hear him as he shares the cup declaring that “this cup that is poured out for you, is the new covenant in my blood”. And as we listen, we recognize that here is One who is fully acquainted with the deep anguish of suffering. It gives us comfort to know that there is Someone who understands the bowels of grief and sorrow.
In this past year, the groanings from every sphere of creation, could not be silenced. Our hearts have been squeezed by the suffering in our world. So, this meal, this last supper, could be renamed as a Pandemic Meal. It’s a meal where we remember the suffering of the Savior, and make space for acknowedging our sorrow and the sorrows of those around us in this very painful season.
But as we keep listening, we also hear a promise of a different future, where Christ will eat again, “when the kingdom of God is fulfilled”. So, as we eat this meal, we bear witness, to the reality that the old gospel song expresses, ‘trouble won’t last alway’. Suffering and death are not the final word.
The promise of a new life, that is anchored by the The Resurrection, is reason for hope. So today as you prepare elements to share in this meal of remembrance, you can do so assured that even when the light of the world seems subdued, songs can be heard. If you sit and you listen, as you eat, you’ll hear them.
March 31, 2021 - Holy Wednesday
Emily J. Kellar (she, her; MDiv ’16), Chair of the Andover Newton Alumni/ae Association Board, reflects on the theme, “Keeping watch,” inspired by Mark 14:32-42.
Jesus said to his followers – stay here and keep vigil. I got a call to go sit – to go wait and watch – a young man in my congregation was ill – cancer – his parents had been exposed to the virus and thus were unable to be present at his bedside – I drove into the city and parked – walking through the dimly lit parking garage – early morning – passing people masked on the street – I went through a vetting process to gain admittance to the big city hospital – rode the elevator – signed in on the floor- slowly pushed the door to the young man’s room open – darkness – I quietly sat in a bedside chair… he was sleeping… I sat in silence… hours passed… I got sleepy… can’t say I did not doze off as I sat there… I prayed at times… ok maybe it was more begging than praying… O God ease this young man’s suffering … O God please…… a few times the young man awoke and smiled at me through his immense pain … as I got up to leave at the close of a long day of sitting and keeping vigil… I thought I heard him say “Rev, thank you for keeping watch”…
Keeping watch… Jesus asked his followers to keep watch while he went to pray… to talk with his creator… the disciples were human… they dozed off… Jesus came back and said “can’t you stick with me for an hour? Can’t you stay awake… be alert …… later when Jesus returned again to check on the disciples he told them that they had slept long enough… and that his betrayer had arrived… I still think that today we are called to keep watch… to be alert… to look out for the least of these and for those who are victims of injustice… we are called to keep vigil and pray… and keep watch for those on the margins… we are called to sacrifice some of our own comfort for the discomfort of others… on this Holy Wednesday…. this day of keeping watch… this day when the Betrayer will come and Jesus will be handed over… when darkness will attempt to snuff out the very breath of life… we are called to be alert… stay awake… watch… for something is coming… for you see the darkness will not prevail… be on guard… keep watch… and pray… keep watch and pray… Amen.
March 30, 2021 - Holy Tuesday
4th year dual degree MSW MDiv/diploma student Gloria Bruno (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Walking with Jesus,” inspired by Matthew 27:31-33.
Hello, Beloved of God, Family.
I am sharing with you from Matthew 27 verse 31 to 33.
Devotional topic is “Walking with Jesus.”
Many people know my favorite, or maybe one of my favorite spirituals to sing is: “I want Jesus to walk with me.”
Often time we ask Jesus to walk with us because we know that Jesus had to walk a treacherous road. We know Christ has to go through some thaaaangs. (things)
And so on treacherous roads we know Christ has to go through some things.
When Christ walks with us, Christ understands. There’s a part that says in “I want Jesus to walk with me:” “…all along my pilgrim journey, I want Jesus to walk with me. In my sorrow Lord, comfort me. When my heart is almost breaking, I want Jesus to walk with me.”
(Cuz we know Christ understands a little bit about the heart being broken.)
When I’m in trouble Lord, comfort me.
This is very interesting. Matthew 27 verses 31 says that after they mocked him, (so they done already made fun of him, embarrassment shame, humiliation-all that happened) …
Right…they took off the robe and putting back his clothes on and then they led him away to crucify him…He hasn’t even gotten crucified and he is experiencing all this humiliation.
He’s getting all this humiliation that not only is physical abuse and hurt…
It’s a mental thing (though definitely not spiritually) …
As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene named Simon. Simon minding his business, all the way from another part of town and country or whatever…
…and now they just pulled in and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha, which means “the place of the skull.” I think about “I want Jesus to walk with me,” but what about walking with Jesus? What does it mean? What does it look like to walk with Jesus? Often times, when we’re asking Christ to walk with us, it’s because there’s a journey we’re on. But what if we’re minding our business, doing our thing, and there’s a cross for us to carry? Someone else’s cross to bear? Minding our business, and it’s so inconvenient!!! And yet here we are, carrying someone else’s cross. To walk with Jesus, from time you’re going to be called to do things that has no relation to you.
You could be doing something else, but sometimes walking with Christ can feel very inconvenient, though it may not be. And this walking with Christ is not like it’s to an amazing place.
It’s to a place where there are skulls.
We look at other people who are hurting who are oppressed.
(And) sometimes it’s like, “Okay, yeah, I can send money” (Which is great, by the way). But what about really carrying the cross? Something that’s inconvenient, something that doesn’t boost your ego? Sometimes some things that you have to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” This is not my cross to bear, but yet “here I am, Walking with Jesus.” It’s not convenient sometimes friends. But us who are followers of Christ, we are called to walk with Jesus.
And walking with Jesus is walking with those whose crosses are so heavy to bare, that they need help.
I don’t know who’s that for you but walking with Christ… again I will repeat…
May not always be so convenient.
It may not always look so good; you may actually look like you’re the “bad person.”
Who knows, maybe get arrested or something for protesting or something?
You walk with Christ because this is what we are called to do.
Cuz on that cross all our burdens have been bared.
I’ll leave it at that. It is not convenient sometimes to do certain work that may be good for others.
But this is what we are called to do.
We are called to walk with Christ, as Christ always walks with us.
Amen and Ashe.
March 29, 2021 - Holy Monday
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Peter Strobel (he, him) reflects on the theme, “The evil of torture,” inspired by Matthew 27:27-30.
One of the greatest struggles of being a human and a Christian is we are often tasked with delivering more eloquent ways to express the truths that are accepted by our hearts but denied by our minds. One of these truths is there is no justification for torture. Today, in this Holy Week, we are brought to Matthew 27:27-30 where we look at our Christ, our savior, anointed with a crown of thorns and humiliated before he is crucified so that we can be in the mindset of feeling this pain. Of seeing the one that we value most not only humiliated but made to suffer when he had done nothing wrong.
We need to stick to that point of, “done nothing wrong,” because, so often when we’re talking about torture, it’s not just things like “the ends justify the means” or “the needs of the many outweigh the few.” It is the common assumption of, “they deserved it because they sided with X, so they deserve this torture because they’re ‘the bad guys.’”
When one is in power, it is convenient to have an enemy who is evil so that another can be tortured to maintain one’s power. It is always easy to “other” someone so that their suffering is dehumanized and does not reflect upon the humanity of those inflicting the torture. We need to face this. The torture of Christ is something that shows the worst elements of us and reveals the path forward.
Let’s remember Holy Week does not end with the death of Christ. It ends with the resurrection of Christ. It ends with our salvation. With hope. It shows that the evil that we have done and that we can do does not outweigh the hope that can come and the hope that is. In this case, it is the ability for us to help bring peace to one another. To accept the dignity and rights of others. To have compassion. To recognize that the suffering of any is the suffering of all.
As long as we are tribes that are able to view the suffering of another as something that benefits us, we will always look to things like torture as fast tracks to information, power, resources, and things that we put above God because, they offer security we fear God does not offer.
When we look to torture as a means to belittle and humiliate or even just to inflict pain on others so we may feel better and have a pleasure as someone being brought low to us through a sick way of having control, we have to ask ourselves “where do we go from there?” If we look, this question is answered as we go forward in the death and the torture of Christ. There is the resurrection, in which Christ comes back for us and offers the Spirit, the disciples to guide us, and this legacy that we uphold of community, of mutual gain, of support, and of love for thy neighbor as a means to show how even though the powers that be thought they could defeat the Messiah, they find they are powerless against the love and the compassion that we have for one another.
Fear and anger are things that we can respond with but they can also be changed. Fear of the “other” is always going to triumph if that “other” can be someone that is not us. When we look at the death of Jesus, we should see the One who is all of us suffering and, in that, feel every lash as if it was on us so that we might realize that in hurting another we are hurting Christ. So, if we are to go back and even use Matthew 27:25 and throw this “Curse of Blood” at those who supposedly killed Jesus and that are often called “Christ killers,” we miss the point.
You cannot “other” people or put blame for Christ’s death on one group. No. We accept it as a whole. We killed Jesus. All of us. Every day we kill Jesus. Every year we kill Jesus. As long as we choose hate and fear, we ignore the power of the resurrection and of salvation because we say death and torture are more powerful, that they and their means to empire, to enrichment, and to pleasure are things that are more powerful than the community, grace, mercy, and radical change Christ offered, these things we are often too afraid to grasp for.
Even if we are always killing Jesus, we are also being saved by him. Every time that we are hurting another there is someone helping, so it is our chance in every one of these moments to choose that which is the resurrection, and not that which is the death. To choose the life, not the torture.
March 28, 2021 - Palm Sunday
Mark Miller (he, him), Lecturer in Sacred Music and member of Andover Newton’s teaching team, reflects on the theme, “The Triumphal Entry,” which is inspired by John 12:12-19.*
“Come with Me Into The Journey”
The other day I was listening to Rev Grace Imathiu, a powerful United Methodist preacher and teacher in Evanston Illinois, speak about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
There were other entries into Jerusalem, when the Roman empire would march into the city, instilling awe and fear with military dominance and power. Rev Imathiu teaches that Jesus comes into Jerusalem as a protest march, more along the lines of Black Lives Matter, Save Our Planet, Stop the Gun Violence, or Welcome the Immigrants.
This is the week where we must choose which march we will join.
God, give us the courage to be with Jesus on the journey through this week.
* Mark’s reflection includes a piece of original music.
March 27, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Clara Sims (she, her) reflects on the theme, “The body of Christ,” which is inspired by 1st Corinthians 12:12-14.
Among my earliest and most vivid memories are of dancing in the rain.
I was born in the Rio Grande valley of New Mexico during a period of drought – a time when there was little evidence that the Rio Grande was indeed “grande” at all, or ever had been. I can remember waiting for what seemed like lifetimes – to my three, four, five-year-old selves – for the azure sky to be broken once again by speckles of clouds, and for the long, dry silence of relentlessly sun-filled days to finally end.
In those days, as soon as we heard the sound of thick droplets hitting our red-tin roof, my brother and I would joyously exclaim our disbelief and then race as fast as we could out the front door and into the deluge – (you had to be quick, or you might miss it). Barefoot, with arms outstretched and faces uplifted to the sky, we leapt along the sidewalk with its rain-kissed speckles fast fading into unvarying slate grey, laughing and shouting and moving our bodies in a way I know only one way to name: praise.
Somewhere, and everywhere, in the mingling of water and dust, alfalfa fields and adobe bricks, sagebrush and juniper, we felt the parched earth singing.
Mirrored in countless persons, children and adults alike, in desert dwelling cultures the world over – what is it about this particular phenomena which wakes us up to our interconnectedness in this vast web of aliveness?
Can it be that the very cellular impulses embedded in each of us seeks communion with water, that mysterious essentialness of life? Can it be that the waters of my own porous body are inexorably drawn to meet, and in meeting, mingle with waters of life released, from the sky in rain?
In the cosmic vision of Christ in 1st Corinthians I believe we are given a glimpse of the astonishing depth of our connection and intimacy with each other, with the waters of life, with the entire universe.
But this is not just a beautiful vision.
In the words of Psalm 139, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” inside both the beauty and terror of our indelible interdependencies (1).
As Christians we confess we are entangled in the body of Christ – “baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” (2).
That body of Christ was crucified by the state sanctioned violence of Roman Empire on a dusty hillside outside Golgotha.
The body of Christ – “whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free” (3) – was crucified again and again in the annals of American “slavocracy” (4) and bleeds still, gasping for air, upon the pavements of the present.
The body of Christ walked the Trail of Tears, weeping with mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and children uprooted and marched to graves in the name of “progress”.
The body of Christ is rejected, over and over again, as unworthy of safe haven, of political asylum sought on behalf of love and loved ones.
The body of Christ is missing, silenced – subsumed into the epidemics of violence against women, ancient and ever present.
The body of Christ is the rain which meets the waters of the Rio Grande – waters not “meant to drown children, hear / mother’s cries, / never meant to be [our] / geography: a line, a border, a murderer (5).”
The body of Christ is the earth on fire and melting all at once.
The body of Christ is the entire universe, unfolding even now.
The body of Christ contains all our histories of tragedy and faith (6).
We are the body of Christ.
Living outside the scope of this vision our moral imaginations will continue to fail us and the terrors of justice unrealized will reign. We are made for more.
We are made, “fearfully and wonderfully” to embrace both the beauty and peril of our interconnectedness, our visible and invisible interdependencies.
We are made to heal the ruptures breaking our world apart.
We are made to love, to kneel, to dance, to praise.
We are made to feel the earth singing, to seek communion with that which is “other” than ourselves.
We are made of water – water, who, in the words of poet Richard Blanco in the “Complaint of the Rio Grande” is made:
“For all things to meet The mirrored clouds and sun’s tingle, Birdsongs and the quiet moon, the wind And its dust, the rush of mountain rain – And us. Blood that runs in you is water Flowing in me, both life, the truth we Know we know: be one in one another.”
(1) Psalm 139:14, NRSV.
(2) 1 Cor, 12:12-14, NRSV.
(3) 1 Cor, 12:12-14, NRSV.
(4) Dolores S. Williams, “Black Women’s Surrogacy Experience and the Christian Notion of Redemption,” Cross Examinations: Readings on the Meaning of the Cross Today (1991): 19-32, 23.
(6) James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Orbis books, 2011, 166.
March 26, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Ryan Lindsay Arrendell (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Suffering and oppression,” which is inspired by Isaiah 53:3-7.
Peace & blessings everybody. My name is Ryan Lindsay Arrendell and I come to you with a word from the Word of God. Now if you hear some honkings or some other sounds, those are just the sounds of Hartford. I come to you with a text from Isaiah 53:3-7. It reads:
3 He [Jesus] was despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and pain and acquainted with grief;
And like One from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or esteem Him.
4 But [in fact] He has borne our griefs,
And He has carried our sorrows and pains;
Yet we assumed that He was stricken,
Struck down by God and degraded and humiliated [by Him].
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing];
The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him,
And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
We have turned, each one, to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the wickedness of us all [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing]
To fall on Him [instead of us].
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth [to complain or defend Himself];
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before her shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
Now the topics of suffering and oppression are complex and ever-present. Oftentimes we want to make suffering or oppression about us. And that’s not a wrong standpoint, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that as believers in Christ that Christs says, suffering is going to happen, oppression is going to happen. But what this passage highlights is that if we suffer, if we are to suffer, the reason why Jesus suffered is for our sake. And so rather than approaching it—I think oftentimes we think of Jesus’ suffering and we think, “No thank you, I’m already oppressed.” I’m a Black woman—do you know how much oppression I experience on a daily basis? Or for queer and marginalized folks, folks who are coming to this country seeking a better life and yet they’re being held in border camps, and yet they’re being sent back to their home countries that are embroiled in wars and all types of conflicts.
Why then as we should we as believers accept suffering and oppression as a part of our salvation? Simply because that is what Jesus died for. He suffered for us so that we could live life and to the full, more abundantly as it speaks of in John 10:10.
Now, sympathy is—I just want to give just a quick definition for sympathy. Sympathy is defined as: Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune or the formal expression of that. “I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
May I suggest that sometimes we approach the suffering of Jesus from a sympathetic standpoint. That’s so bad that Jesus had to suffer but me? Why do I have to suffer?
Now, a definition of empathy:
The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to AND vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another—of either the past or present— without having those same feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this.
Friends—might I suggest that in this Lenten season, as we think about not only Jesus’ journey to the cross, that we take on a more empathetic understanding of His suffering? That His body was broken, was whipped for us. That He bled and hung on that old, rugged cross—for us.
So can we transform our understanding of suffering from an empathetic standpoint? Can we put ourselves in this text? Can we say—Ryan was despised and rejected by men, a woman of sorrows and pain, acquainted with grief. Ryan was despised and we did not appreciate Ryan’s worth or esteem Ryan.
Can you imagine if we put ourselves in the shoes, in the skin, in the body of Jesus to get more acquainted with His suffering? This is not the suffering that we’re talking about, the oppression that we’re talking about is not one that people will enact on us that happens whether they know that we’re believers or not because the real thing is—you might be able to see by these crosses and assume that I love Jesus or that I love Christ but quite honestly, a lot of Christians, a lot of believers do not have physical markers, any particular clothing that we wear that people can see the Christ within us.
So, if that Christ is within us, can it show in the ways that we bear suffering? Can it show up in how we’re able to, with a level of grace and compassion, of peace, of patience, of kindness, as we bear patiently with our brothers and sisters, those who choose to mistreat us—is that how they can see the light of Jesus, the salvation of Jesus within us? That we’re able to be longsuffering as the Bible talks about.
I want to suggest this text, coming from 1 Peter 3:13—don’t miss this—a little puffing your chest about how we are called to suffer for Christ because He died for us.
1 Peter 3:13-18 AMP
13 Now who is there to hurt you if you become enthusiastic for what is good?
14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness [though it is not certain that you will], you are still blessed [happy, to be admired and favored by God]. Do not be afraid of their intimidating threats, nor be troubled or disturbed [by their opposition].
15 But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. Always be ready to give a [logical] defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect.
16 And see to it that your conscience is entirely clear, so that every time you are slandered or falsely accused, those who attack or disparage your good behavior in Christ will be shamed [by their own words].
17 For it is better that you suffer [unjustly] for doing what is right, if that should be God’s will, than [to suffer justly] for doing wrong.
18 For indeed Christ died for sins once for all, the Just and Righteous for the unjust and unrighteous [the Innocent for the guilty] so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit…
Friends, I find that to be encouraging. I pray that it encourages you. As you’re on your jobs, as you’re in your families and your friend groups, Lord God—here I am about to pray in the midst of this—but as we journey on in our lives in the various areas that God brings us to, in the trials and the tribulations, in the temptation that we may bring upon ourselves because it says that we tempt, God does not tempt us, ok? Just mind that. But in being able to resist temptation, to bear suffering, to bear trials and tribulation because we remember that Christ, Christ suffered for us.
May you go in peace, let us learn to suffer well, to give praise to the Almighty God, for oppression that comes our way, not because of who we are but because of who is in us—Jesus Christ. Go in peace.
March 25, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Jamal Davis Neal, Jr. (he, they) reflects on the theme, “Peace,” which is inspired by John 14:27.
Good Morning. Today I reflect on this short passage about the gift of peace that Jesus presented in preparation for the end of his life. Taken from the NRSV, John 14:27 has Jesus telling his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Upon reading this verse, I feel like this is one of the times where I look at my Bible, and, speaking directly to Jesus with my smart tongue, say: “well that seems easier said than done.” What does it mean to be inheritors of the gift of peace? What does it mean to not look for peace from the world when we, as humans, can become so entrenched in worldliness? How can we look beyond our tangible reality and be satisfied? How can we not be troubled or afraid? I know the answer is faith, but what is a faith journey without struggle?
If you’re anything like me; super neurotic and stressed out about everything all the time, which part of me feels like I can assume as most of those watching are students, or graduates of Andover Newton or Yale Divinity School, then this verse may not be all that soothing. It, in fact, may be troubling. Upon reading it and wanting to derive a message from it, I thought: “perhaps I could look through the devotional guide that I sought for inspiration for this Lenten Devotional series, maybe it can offer some solace!”
It instead reminds me of Matthew 5:9, when Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” and continues to say that a person of peace should refrain from causing disagreement and discord…. And that doesn’t sit right with me either.
As a Black Queer nonbinary male in America looking to empower Black, brown, and queer youth, I am going to encounter a lot of disagreement and discord. People have and will question and challenge my viewpoints, my methods, my person, simply because of the body I inhabit and the life that I live. Thankfully, I feel emboldened in journeying through disagreement through my faith practice, because, as my Baptist Ways book would tell me, albeit in reference to the natural schismatic nature of the Baptist church due to true local church governance in congregational polity, “dissent is one of the Baptist ways.”(1) Here at Yale and throughout my life, I’ve learned we can’t simply utilize peace as what Shelley Rambo would describe a “sacred bandage.”(2) Peace is not true peace unless accountability and justice precede it and that will involve disagreement and discord. In my experience, we must attend to woundedness before we can even begin to think about peace.
Can I call myself a peacemaker if I know that my work is going to be disruptive? Is this the best moral good? Can I be a child of God if I’m not creating a peace that “works” for everyone? How do we marry peace and justice?
As a Black Queer nonbinary male in America, how am I to not let my heart be troubled? Because I frequently see people who look like me, sound like me, are like me, get murdered, incarcerated, or, at the most gracious, improperly supported in this country, I suffer from what Howard Thurman describes as a perpetual war of nerves in which “there are few things more devastating than to have it burned into you that you do not count and that no provisions are made for the literal protection of your person. The threat of violence is ever present, and there is no way to determine precisely when it may come crushing down upon you.”(3) Later in Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman states that “Even though a man is convinced of his infinite worth as a child of God, this may not in itself give him the opportunity for self-realization and fulfillment that his spirit demands.”(4)
I want peace. I crave peace. I feel like I deserve peace, but how can I obtain it? How when peace and security seem so disparate?
There are times I joke that peace and rest will come once I’m in heaven. In fact, my good friend Heidi Butler and I used to joke that “sleep is for the weak” in high school. How deeply I’ve ingrained and internalized that message for the sake of my goals, for the sake of succeeding and being secure in my own intellectual worthiness; I still fall prey to this trap of productivity equaling worthiness. But, I don’t think it will be a worthwhile life to live if I’m not able to find some semblance of peace on Earth.
So what do I do with all this? How do I move forward? I know my work will be disruptive and I will most likely continue to live in a country that does not value or protect my body. I know that obsessive productivity is unhealthy, but how else do I get ish done? In fact, the work that I want to do may invite even more violence into my own life.
The answers I have right now are acceptance, faith in my own action, faith in the process of processing, faith in God, and faith in the people that God puts in my life. In these people, I have found pieces of home; people who affirm me and make me feel safe, nurtured, and cared for. In my processing through therapy, I am establishing home within myself, to be self-assured and confident that I have what I need within my own person to be okay, to survive, and to thrive; and to introduce gratitude in the areas of my life in which I am less gracious because of an obsessive need to be productive.
I am learning to accept that the world is broken. And messed up. And sad. I am learning to accept that not everything is messed up and broken and sad. I am learning to accept my place in the messiness, to feel empowered in my ability to fix what I can and inspire who I can, and that it is okay to address my own needs while pursuing that work.
I have to accept that I am a worthy child of God. I have to accept that I am worthy of peace. That’s the first step toward the peace that I want for my own life. I have to accept that I need to properly process and then let go of the past. I have to accept and learn to love the person I am and that I am becoming because I am the only constant in my own life. It could be a steep learning curve, but isn’t any other faith journey?
(1) Leonard, Baptist Ways, pg. 10
(2) Rambo, Resurrecting Wounds, pg. 74
(3) Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg. 29
(4) Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg. 42
March 24, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Mark Dingler (he, him) reflects on the theme, “Living in service to others,” which is inspired by John 13:4-9.
There is something so vulnerable about someone washing your feet. When I read this text, I think about a worship at church camp I attended when I was in the Eighth Grade. This has stood out to me as one of the most meaningful and important worship experiences of my life. It was the end of the week and we had learned a lot, prayed a lot, played many games, and worshipped together all week. My small group was very close, we knew each other well by this point. So, when we sat down for worship that night, we were like a family. After some music and prayer, we read this scripture, John 13:4-9, and we saw the camp directors wash one of the counselor’s feet, then after that, our small group leaders came and washed our own. They kneeled before us, told us we were loved beyond comprehension and they prayed for each one of us individually. I felt seen like I had never been before. It was then that I knew how powerful the church can be, how powerful ministry can be, and how powerful it is to be cared for. It was then that I knew I needed to care for others. Who is in your life that you can care for? Who is in your life whose feet may be dirty, who’s scared of what’s ahead? How can we meet our neighbors and show them this vulnerable, raw love with them? How can we advocate for them, and seek justice? How can we show them the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God?
March 23, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Jyrekis Collins (he, him) reflects on the theme, “Jesus as Passover lamb,” which is inspired by Exodus 12:21-23 & Luke 22:7-13.
Oh, to be free. To be free from things that keep us bound. To taste freedom in a culture of captivity- more captive than captors. Oh, to be free- Freedom has been and continues to be the undertone of what we as a people globally I dare say wrestle with, to make sense of, to embody it for ourselves and our neighbors.
The Passover- is about freedom. In the old testament- Exodus 12 suggests that God instructed every household of the Israelite people to select a year-old male lamb without defect. The head of the household was to slaughter the lamb at twilight, taking care that none of its bones were broken, and apply some of its blood to the tops and sides of the doorframe of the house. The lamb was to be roasted and eaten. God also gave specific instructions as to how the Israelites were to eat the lamb, “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand”. In other words, they had to be ready to travel.
The Passover is about the freedom of a people- Passover, beloved, is more than a meal- but it is a choice to be ready for God to make you free. How are you making arrangements for your freedom? How are you making arrangements for your neighbors’ freedom?
In the new testament- The prophet John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God” and he was to be the one who would give his life. Or did he? Or was his life taken from him, his freedom null in void- to problematize the story of Jesus, I’m thinking of black lives that have been slain in the streets by the hands of police officers, who were called to “serve and protect”. Did Jesus give his life? Did Trayvon Martin give his life? Did Sandra Bland give her life? Those who have been lynched in our histories- Asian Americans who have been persecuted by the hands of white supremacy. Did they give their lives too? Or were their lives taken from them? - God’s freedom was stripped by God’s creation.
Knowing that our work is not in vain- that our work ultimately leads to us like in the old testament narrative- our work towards freedom calls us to leave the places that keep us captive. Jesus’ life was robbed- at a young age- because of violence- because he chose to live free- beyond the limits- beyond the cages- beyond borders- beyond walls. So, I admonish you this Passover- as we come to the table of life- get ready for your freedom- and know and have this assurance that resurrection will come- soon and very soon- God bless you, beloved.
March 22, 2021
3rd year Mdiv/Diploma student Tara Humphries (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Betrayal,” which is inspired by Matthew 26:14-16.
So… I have a little bit of a soft spot for Judas. I have to say. Because there is something just so deeply human about betraying your friend.
Sometimes we really mess up… hurt people, lie, make mistakes, fall short…
Just because we hold dear our values and our faith doesn’t mean that we aren’t susceptible to the human condition. I have yet to meet a perfect human.
This is one of the reasons why my faith has saved my life. Because every day I am reminded that God is God and I am not. And I like to imagine that God delights in how messy and imperfect and human we are. That we are loved, not in spite of this, but because of it.
Since 2017 I have been involved with a Unitarian Universalist prison ministry called Worthy Now. I was matched with a penpal who is incarcerated, and for the last 4 years we have been writing letters back and forth. I have her blessing to share this story.
About a year in I learned that my penpal is serving a life sentence for murder. And I would be lying if I didn’t say it shook me a little bit.
I had some soul searching to do, some theology to work out… or so I thought. What do I believe about forgiveness? About accountability?
Not long after learning about her sentence I received a letter from her in the mail.
I held it in my hands, and I read the organization’s address again, this time with new eyes.
My Universalist faith grounds me in the reality that we are saved not because we are good…
We are saved because God is good.
March 21, 2021
2nd year Mdiv/Diploma student Oliver Mesmer (he, him) reflects on the theme, “What does it mean to followJesus?” Oliver’s reflection is inspired by John 12:20-33.
In this passage, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem and he is approached by some Greeks who want to see him. With this introduction, Jesus speaks to the gathering in a parable. He says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The one who loves his life will lose it, while the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” He then entreats those present to follow him, saying, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me.” Jesus then speaks some words foreshadowing his coming death and resurrection and a voice as if it were thunder coming from the heavens affirms his role and purpose.
This is a Jesus with a troubled heart. Staring down his final days on Earth, he is reaching out to his people to support him and continue his work after he is gone. Not only does he ask his followers to act as servants, but he calls them later in verse 35 “children of light”.
There is mystery in this passage. What does it mean to die like a seed and produce more seeds? What does it mean to hate one’s life in this world? Is Jesus speaking to himself as much as he is to his followers?
Perhaps, Jesus is inviting those who wish to follow him into a role on this earth that transcends earthly bounds, rules, and logic. For many of us, our natural instinct may be to limit ourselves to lives as seeds; safe, protected, focused on self-preservation, content to dwell in the dark. But this is no life at all, in Jesus’ estimation. For, eternal life for the children of light resembles an expansive, fruit-producing, creative, risk-taking, Truth spreading, full, good life.
A life that serves a greater purpose.
Beyond the mere self.
A life that shines with the Truth of a light that can never be extinguished.
A life that sustains itself within a community of other lives, supporting one another in mutual servanthood.
Please, take a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath. If you would like to, you might imagine Jesus, seated before you, weary but loving, pausing for a moment after his speech before retiring for a time to rest.
Ask yourself gently, “In what ways am I keeping the seeds of my goodness hidden in the dark?”
“What would it look like if I were to trust in the light a little bit more?”
Let these questions rest within your consciousness today. My friends, may you have the courage to trust in the light and allow the seeds of goodness within you to sprout and grow. Amen.
March 20, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Daryl Denelle (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Generosity honors God,” which is inspired by Mark 14:3-9.
Have you ever watched or listened to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970’s rock opera musical and album, Jesus Christ Superstar? It is a captivating piece of work, with a hippie Jesus and some questionable depictions of Jerusalem during the end of Jesus’s ministry. With high octave notes, bright colors, and a bus full of young people in the desert, this musical does not disappoint with its fantastically trippy and psychedelic 1970s Christianity. I promise that it is worth the watch, even if just for a laugh or an SMH moment.
But, when reading today’s scripture, which comes from the Gospel of Mark chapter 14 verses three through nine, I could not help but think of my very favorite moment in that musical. Using the synoptic Gospel and freedom of imagination, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice examine the interpersonal relationships that Jesus had with his followers. In a moment that plots a deliciously scandalous love triangle between some of our favorite biblical characters, Judas Iscariot berates Mary Magdalene for anointing Jesus with oil.
In the song Everything’s Alright, we experience with Jesus the awkward tension of calling out someone else’s generosity. We get to feel Judas’s rage as he attempts to work out why Jesus would allow someone to waste resources on him instead of using it for the poor or the hungry. We get to feel with the woman who anointed Jesus must’ve felt guilt, shame, and confusion - as we prayed, Mary attempts to comfort Jesus. And finally, we get to experience what Jesus might have said at that moment.
While there are some creative liberties taken in this depiction of the anointing, for me, it highlights something I’ve never actually thought about before. What is Jesus performing a radical form of self-care? In today’s reading, we witnessed this anointing at Bethany in which Jesus advocates for generosity and care to God. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if Jesus was tired and upset with a continuous ministry and some hard-headed disciples in our modern context.
We don’t know if the woman who anointed Jesus’s head was actually Mary Magdalene or that the person who is the angriest at this waste was Judas. But it’s still an extremely helpful parable for us to understand what is going on here. Mary is anointing Jesus’s head with oil and telling him to close his eyes; she sings that he should think of nothing and just rest. Like a small, petulant child, Jesus someone refuses to sleep, and he’s rocked primarily as she loves the strokes of his hair and whispers everything will be alright. Judas can represent all of these disciples who wanted a radical change maker and yet had no idea what they had bought into. Maybe Jesus needed someone to care for him.
As modern Christians and progressive thinkers, we all know that ministry has a colossal burnout rate. And I am sure that three years of ministry, three years of hard ministry work, required someone to remind God that even God rested. During these times, during our wilderness that feels like it will not end, God reminds us that having generosity for ourselves is a radical form of divine self-care. Hey, even Jesus, bought into the essential oil’s game… Humility is necessary, and so is respect for our own values and ideals. Still, God provides a way for us to take a generous spirit and allow us to apply it to our own lives.
We have worked really hard this past year. We have all ministered, pastored, counseled, taught, comforted, and wept – take time to be generous with your spirit. Splurge on that candle, buy that fun pen, get that dessert you’ve been craving. Have generosity for your own spirit because we are honoring and loving the divine God that is within us all by treating ourselves.
March 19, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Lauren Dubé (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Choosing humility,” which is inspired by Mark 11:4-10.
Here I have a bowl of water filled with small particles. In my bowl I have pepper because it’s easier to see, but you can use any small light particle you can find at home. In this stick, I have Dish soap, which I’m going to put into the water. I wonder what will happen.
Hmmm… All the particles separated. I wonder why that happened! What do you think?
Water sticks together because of the structure of its molecule. Its polarity pulls in hydrophilic molecules, like water, and repels hydrophobic ones, like pepper, creating surface tension, and a strong enough place for the pepper to sit on. However, when you introduce something that is hydrophilic, like dish soap, it breaks that tension, and invisible forces of polarity move the water and the pepper in new ways.
In Today’s scripture, Jesus enters Jerusalem with a fanfare on a colt, a donkey, saddled with borrowed coats. Now, I don’t know how many of you have smelled a donkey, but trust me it’s not a celebratory experience. It’s clear here, that Jesus’s fanfare into Jerusalem did not come from his vehicle or his transportation. It did not come from ornate flowers or decorations. The humble fanfare was in the community’s recognition of Jesus’ sacredness and specialness, as they celebrate his entrance with palms and shouts of Hosanna.
I work with little kids and prefer doing science experiments and arts and crafts to sermons and spoken devotionals any day. As a person who is unashamed to say that they distance themselves from the pulpit and microphones as often as they can, I was not upset that at the beginning of the pandemic last year I got to focus on lesson plans, faith-at-home kits and fancy hat parties over public speaking.
From a public perspective, a Minister’s job starts and ends one hour on Sunday, one of the most visible times. But as divinity school students we all know that ministry is much more humble and extends far past the pulpit. The Pandemic has only shed more light on the humility of ministry and the work of God.
Ministry happens in the messiness of paint and glitter during Sunday School. Ministry happens in the dirt of a community garden. MInistry happens in the gross stickiness of making slime. The work of God can be seen in sewing circles, where stitchers are elbow deep in fabric and thread making masks for healthcare workers. The work of God is the Organizers and activists meeting with politicians and shaping laws, while often swearing at the same time. Ministry happens in the streets during protests. Ministry happens in the messy and loving care of our sick loved ones. Ministry happens in the messiness that is our living as embodied Christians.
As a person who traded their Sunday best for Sweatpants, or if it’s more formal, Mom Jeans, and a sanctuary for their kitchen, watching a minister who traded out their pulpit for a computer screen, I’ve watched as the invisible forces of ministry form new spaces, new work with God out of humbled places. Similar to the hard to see forces of polarity, seeing these invisible forces of ministry is hard sometimes, but understanding and knowing it is important work. As shown in today’s scripture, recognizing the sacredness in humble, everyday ministry is important work. So today, celebrate the moments of everyday, humbled sacredness with shouts of joy and song and hope for God’s creation.
March 18, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Sarah Menard (she, her) reflects on the theme, “The compassion of God,” which is inspired by Luke 15:17-21.
Today’s Lenten devotional is titled, “The Compassion of God.” Compassion literally means to suffer with; it is the response of seeing, experiencing consciousness towards, feeling the pain of another, and being moved to respond. Compassion is at the heart of the field of social work, my first profession. Unlike last year’s Lenten season, I was honestly not in the mood to give anything up.
I was in the mindset of, I’ve given enough up. As I reflect, I knew that I didn’t have the emotional capacity to be consistent or committed to giving anything up. But one practice I recently became consistent with earlier this year, was a daily routine that included, taking my morning vitamins, boiling hot water for a cup of tea, settling in my living room, and spending time with God all before sunrise.
I have never been this consistent with devoting myself to the daily ritual of prayer, meditation, and time with God. I’ve struggled for a long time, with quieting myself, slowing down, having routines especially at the start of my day, and being free from the addiction of hurry. For so long, and even still, I tend to subscribe to thoughts such as, when I wake up, hit the ground running, or time waits for no one, seize the day, hustle and grind, etc. One thing this season has helped me to begin, is the process of pausing, reflecting, and coming home to what was always mine.
Just as the prodigal son in the book of Luke chapter 15:17, I too came to myself, reflected and journeyed home to what was always for me. And that is God, the presence of God, a meeting time and place of peace, rest, meditation and compassion towards myself. As a social worker, one of the many ways, we exude compassion is by remembering and following this simple phrase: Meet people where they are. In December, I began a new position providing behavioral health services to People living with HIV. A community, familiar with the signs, impact, and grief of an epidemic. A community who knows what it’s like to experience stigma, judgement, isolation, discrimination, loss and the hope for maybe a vaccine and still a cure.
So just as the father in this passage, moved with compassion, met his son where he was, I am learning that in order to be compassionate towards those I am serving, I too should see how much God has compassion for me and wants to meet me where I am. Just as the prodigal son’s father was ready to welcome his child with celebration of what was always his, so God’s compassion towards us is demonstrated without condemnation, without condition, without requiring that I give something up first, but that I rest in what was always mine. Time with God. God wants to spend time with me. I’ve also come to wonder how the prodigal son’s father saw him while he was still far off; how did he know his son was coming back?
When I decided I wasn’t going to give up anything, but I would continue to hold fast to this daily practice and routine of waking up early, taking my vitamins, having my cup of tea, and spending time with God in my living room I felt no shame and guilt that I wasn’t fasting from anything. Rather, I felt the compassion of God, confirming that God was waiting early in the morning, in my living room, for me to come home to what was always mine. So, in this season as we anticipate the celebration of the SON rising, my prayer is that you will make room to live, that your cup will run over and your time of compassion towards self and others, will lead you home; to the places, people and things where you belong.
March 17, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Matthew Smith (he, him) reflects on the theme, “The power of confession,” which is inspired by Psalms 32:1-5.
During undergrad, I went through a long season of trial and doubt. The faith that I held for most of my life was crumbling at the edges, and I found myself in a time of doubt, uncertainty, restlessness, and hurt. However, confession became the avenue through which I began to find hope and joy in the midst of that season. Confession can mean a lot of different things to different people. For me, the practice of confession reminds me of a form of poetry that we call confessional poetry. Confessional poetry uses the lyric voice speaker “I” to convey life experiences of the speaker while blurring the line between the speaker and the poet. Poetry became the language that I could express my emotions, thoughts, feelings freely while processing my inner world. I found this form of poetry liberating as I wrote about my faith journey bluntly, irreverently, and without apology.
During this time, I wrote a small poetry collection called “The Time I Thought I Could Play God & The Results of That.” The collection followed the lyric speaker through a range of poems that talked about the awkwardness of Sunday school to the inevitability of the apocalypse. Today, I want to share a poem from that collection that resonates with me today, still. This poem captures the season that I found myself in. A time where I thought I didn’t need Jesus or God’s saving grace.
That poem is A Short Paraphrase of John 11:1-44, and I’d like to share it with you now.
Now a man named Matthew was sick
He was from Brentwood
The village of his father Chris and his wife Vicki
(This Chris whose son Matthew now lay sick was the same one who preached the Gospel at a local Church of Christ)
So the parents sent word to Jesus
Lord the one you love is sick
So when Jesus heard that Matthew was sick
He said to his disciples
Let us go back to Tennessee
Our friend Matthew has fallen asleep
But I am going there to wake him up
But Jesus left him asleep for months
He must have gotten lost
Going I-65 North towards I-440 West
Who can blame him though
The construction is awful
Matthew walked around with his grave clothes on asking
Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept me from dying
No one noticed when Matthew’s eyes glazed over
Or when his body turned cold
But of course everyone paid attention when
Finally Jesus came to the tomb and said to his disciples
Take away the stone
Jesus then called in a loud voice
Matthew come out!
But no one answered
Jesus called again
But Matthew had left the day prior realizing he didn’t need Jesus’ miracle
When we confess, there is a chance for healing. When we come before God in our honesty and vulnerability, God sees us in that and can set us free. Confession can look like a multitude of things, but know that God can handle it. God can handle our anger, frustration, and doubt. So, let ourselves be emboldened by the power of confession to walk closer to God in the midst of this world.
March 16, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Molli Mitchell (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Leadership and repentance,” which is inspired by Jonah 3:6-10.
Here in seminary, I am studying the particular ways that white Christian clergy served as moral leaders over the past half-millennium, interpreting sin and heavenly authority in twisted ways and that’s led, in my estimation, to overlapping oppressive systemic issues that, without a return back to God, in right relationship will cause the destruction of society God promised to Nineveh.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
In the text of Jonah, we see him reluctantly but clearly telling folks to get their stuff together: turn back toward God… or else. The king actually believes him and uses his position of leadership to decree the necessary actions that, once followed collectively, change God’s mind about destruction.
Today we hear a lot of folks like Jonah tentatively or reluctantly at first, then speaking plainly, then yelling: we need to get our stuff together. We need to make it right. There are folks marching, demonstrating with the power of their bodies what is being done wrong and how things need to change, to be made right, to ensure we survive societal destruction.
As a social worker who’s worked with intergenerationally marginalized folks I can surely testify: things have never been ok here in this country. There is no “return” back to a certain time when things were good for all people. We have not seen that time, but, thanks to the ancient stories of scripture, it’s possible to imagine it.
I’m personally fascinated by this concept of institutional repentance and atonement. There’s a prophetic calling, a necessity for our [specifically white hetero men] institutional leaders to lean into accountability and rebuild broken trust. To put down *the weapons of exploitation and defensiveness* that have been handed down like an onerous inheritance generation after generation.
This type of repentance and atonement is not interpersonal restorative justice: when one person does harm to another person and tries to make it right. But when the whole organization is guilty - when all of Nineveh is indicted under God’s judgment, when a church systematically covers up sexual abuse, when churches ran boarding schools, when churches sponsored lynchings - the current leadership has to do something to make it right.
In the vein of restorative justice, there can be a relationally-built accountability system that factors in human and communal factors in supporting an organizations’ repentant move. We just need to imagine it.
There’s a necessity to witness, very uncomfortably, the wounding those particular weapons, weapons of exploitation and defensiveness, have caused. Let us support those leaders in letting go of those harmful tools they thought would serve them. They never will. Can that really be done? We can imagine it into being.
It’s not a bad thing to let go of the chains, white folks.
It’s not a bad thing to own up to the harm that’s been caused, churches.
It’s not a bad thing to name and mourn the losses, tend the wounds, and sit in our sackcloths of responsibility.
Leaders: It’s not a bad thing and never too costly to work to make it right.
Indeed, Jonah and our modern-day prophets are calling us to do just that. Will you join this movement?
March 15, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Tasha Brownfield (she, they) reflects on the theme, “Who is without sin?” Tasha’s reflection is inspired by John 8:4-11; 3:17.
The question, “Who is without sin?” led my mind down many roads and avenues. I have never given a devotional before, and at first, I asked myself, who I am as a Pantheistic Witch to give a Lenten devotional… but I actually feel I may be in the perfect position to give a reflection.
My whole life, I have been told by others that my particular sins will send me to an eternal after-life of suffering… The judgment that has been cast upon me, by both the institution and individuals, for my openness, sexuality, promiscuity, spiritual expression, life goals, and social justice work has rattled and shot through every synapse of my brain for the past decade.
And every time I feel the hate-spewing from others onto myself, I want to scream: “Where is your love for all of your creator’s creation?” “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Yet, to me, Christianity is but one expression of the divine presence that both physically holds our person together and gives that physical form meaning - the bundles of atoms that comprise my temporary form and allows my insignificance to matter. To me, the Christian message to love thy neighbor, without judgment, but with compassion, holds so much potential for a better world - even for people like me. This is what constantly drives me back to the faith found within the life of Jesus Christ.
Yet, to me, my experience growing up with Christians has only been that of getting pelted with the stones of Judgment since I was just a ten-year-old girl.
For Jesus commands humanity to not throw stones, but instead to lay thy stones back down on the ground- to leave the judgment to the divine source. When will we, as a world faith community, begin to realize that the judgment and pain sent upon to people like me is a sin in and of itself? No one is perfect, and no one is without sin, but to begin to live a life of faith, we must first stop judging and spewing hate onto others so we can begin to work on and respect our divine selves.
As people looking towards the greater love that holds us all, we must uplift the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We must have justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. We, as people of faith, must respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are apart.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
March 14, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Kelsey Creech (she, they) reflects on the theme, “The armor of God,” which is inspired by Ephesians 6:10-20.
In our passage for this day of our Lenten Journey, Paul tells us to be strong. He tells us what we’re up against – rulers, authorities, oppressive powers. The same as always. Then he tells us how we are to find the strength to take a stand against these powers – the armor of God.
Paul details the armor of God – the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the footwear of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, of the word. Those who study scripture have pontificated for centuries over why each word accompanies its specific piece of armour, but to my eye, those who dwell on the armor miss the point of the passage.
As soon as Paul finished describing this elaborate armor, he encourages the Ephesians to pray, to pray constantly, to pray with a fierce alertness, to pray for fearlessness.
Having the armor on is well and good, but we must be bold enough to put it into practice – and for that, we need the Spirit, we need divine guidance, we need to be in prayer. To be fearless enough to speak truth to power in search of community righteousness, confident enough to house the inner peace to serve those in pain, audacious enough to have faith that this world can be saved and that the Spirit can pierce through the hardest of hearts.
And so, today, I offer a paraphrase of Paul’s prayer on behalf of all disciples.
Creating God, When I speak, give me words such that I can fearlessly make known the mystery of your word.
When my siblings speak, give them words such that they can fearlessly make known the mystery of your word.
Make us fearless, make us bold, make our words clear and our hearts strong, that with your power around us, we might pierce the hardest hearts and let justice roll like an ever-flowing stream.
March 13, 2021
3rd year MDiv/Diploma student Ana Kelsey-Powell (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Trusting in God,” which is inspired by Habakkuk 3:16-19.
My father has a wonderfully green thumb. I grew up in a household FULL of plants. Our dining room window in one parsonage was filled with glass shelves, lined with hand thrown, hand painted, ceramic pots - made by my maternal grandmother - brimming with vibrant African violets.
I cannot keep a plant alive for love or money. I’ve tried growing herbs - I trained to be a chef, after all - I’ve tried ivies, and pathos, and spider plants. No deal. I’ve been the source of more succulent suffering than I care to admit. I’ve come to realize that maybe I’m just not a gardening person. So, I buy fresh flowers semi-regularly and try to let that suffice.
But every once in a while, I’ll get a wild hair up about going to live in the woods and grow things. Somehow forgetting that I can’t actually grow things. I’ll get a yearning to buy houseplants or herbs again. What is going on? Do I secretly hate plants? No. I think I’m having faith. I think the end of today’s verse is resonating with something deep inside of me. Because, as verses 17 and 18 read: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”
Friends, when I get these ideas, when I long for green growing things, I am longing for a fullness of God. So, I will praise God - even when I can’t see those green, growing things; even from those places in my life that I see as barren. Because what I see, my view of the terrain, is not what God sees. What has been sown in me by the one who knows me and loves me best, will bear fruit in its own time. And, thanks be to God, I am not in charge of feeding or watering. AMEN.
March 12, 2021
3rd year MDiv/Diploma student JaQuan Beachem (he, they) reflects on the theme, “God wants to answer your prayer,” inspired by Matthew 7:7-8.
Grace & Peace to you!
I am JaQuan Beachem – I am here to provide our Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Lenten devotional for Today Friday, March 12th 2021.
Today’s theme is: God Wants to Answer Your Prayer
Ask, Search, Knock
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Believe it or not, Matthew 7:7 has been one of my favorite Scriptures to return to. Growing up, I felt that it gave me permission to ask God for whatever it was that I needed in the moment. It reminded me of the God’s gift of listening, intentionally so, to all of God’s children. Of course, this brought up some challenges when I found that I did not receive each and every thing that I prayed for…
Now, that I am older and a bit wiser, I realize that this passage requests a bit more engagement, a bit more action on my part with ourselves, God, and our surroundings. This process of reflection allows us to identify our needs, our wounds, our gifts, our hopes & dreams. God is present and listens through it all. We cannot forget that just before our passage, in chapter 6, Jesus shares the Lord’s prayer, the right way to pray. Jesus reminds us of the importance of our relationship with God, affirms the power of prayer AND the gift of our voices. What an appropriate reminder this Lenten season!
“Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek, and ye shall find.” I think there may be a message here of being careful or wary of what you ask for, but we will save that for another time. Our Scripture today provides confirmation that we can dream big, that we can share whatever is on our hearts or minds, our grief, our worries, our questions, no matter how sad, goofy, or scary, and God will hear and hold each and every one of those thoughts or desires. For we are not called to hold these things alone. By asking for what we need, we engage the power of the tongue, by naming what we need, we affirm that what we need, with God’s help, is on its way to us!
All in all, today, I hope that you recognize that through prayer, a deeper relationship with God we can speak truth to power. God wants to answer our prayers, indeed! God wants to meet us where we are at. God seeks to be in relationship with us! Though God is aware of our needs whether we utter them or not – doing the work of self-reflection and taking the time to NAME what we need is beyond beneficial for us and our communities.
God wants to do life with us. This is a daily practice, beloved. May we see this gospel in Matthew as an encouragement to cast our cares upon our Source. May we share our noticings and wonderings. May we speak up and out to our Creator who gifts us with love time and time again, who will provide the care & peace we are seeking. May we co-write the narrative via prayer and dream new worlds with our Divine Creator!
May it so.
March 11, 2021
3rd year MDiv/Diploma studnet Tara Humphries (she, her) reflects on the theme, “For such a time as this,” inspired by Esther 4:13-17.
Who knows? Perhaps you have come into the royal court for just such a time as this.
Spoiler alert – I did not decide to become a pastor because I love the computer. Or Zoom. Or watching myself preach. Or trying to read body language over the phone on a pastoral care call when I can’t see a body…
I love and am endlessly fascinated by humans, and I experience God in and through relationship.
The ways that I know how to show my people that I love them are relational.
And so a year ago when church closed and ministry moved online, I had a teensy tinsey little bit of a crisis. Because even more than your average day, I had no idea what I was doing.
Everybody started talking about how the crisis was launching us into a hybrid future of the church… that we would never return to the ways things were.
And I have to be honest, there were days when I said to my peers… if this is the future of ministry, I want out.
who knows? Perhaps you have come for just such a time as this.
“Just such a time as this” is a hot mess. Divided country, deep and profound systemic injustice, uncertain future of the church, uncertain future of democracy, weird job market, the rise of all things secular, pandemic, collective grief and trauma…
I mean come on.
But that’s the thing about faith though, isn’t it?
It calls us back in those moments where we might like to opt out. Because it’s HARD.
Like Mordecai said to Esther our faith reminds us that we do have the choice to stay silent.
To opt out, tune out, turn away.
But then there’s that spark… in there… I won’t name it because it takes away the mystery
It’s curious that spark… fiercely hopeful… slightly obnoxious… persistent…
It whispers to us, this spark…
who knows? Perhaps you have come for just such a time as this.
March 10, 2021
4th year dual degree (MSW, MDiv/Diploma) student Gloria Bruno (she, her) reflects on the theme, “Delay is not denial,” inspired by Daniel 10:2-6;11-14.
Helllloooo! Good morning! Okay, my subject is delay is not denial!!!
Can you say that for me? Delay… is not Denial!!!! And this is coming from someone in her fourth year at YDS!
4 years at YDS, okay… I’m still not graduating this year…
So here we go… The text comes from Daniel 10:2-6 and 11-14
Got to make it plain!!! Got to read the word !!!
2) At that time I, Daniel, had been mourning for three weeks. (Lord I am sorry for Daniel, just mourning) 3)I had eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, (He was fasting) and I had not anointed myself at all, for the full three weeks. 4)On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river (that is, the Tigris), 5)I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6)His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.
11)He said to me, “Daniel, greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you. ( Y’all listening? Listen ohhhhh)
12)He said to me, “Daniel, greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you. Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” So while he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling ( I’d be trembling too!)
13)He said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.
(And I know it’s a hard semester y’all! For those of us coming into YDS during quarantine /covid times. You laid upon your heart to do this work. (ie. go to Divinity School), we didn’t know this (the pandemic) was going to happen. But remember that since the day you set your mind on it, God heard you, God saw you! Alright.. Let me finish, let me finish)
13) But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. ( But sometimes they be forces honey, sometimes there are forces trying to stop your mission) So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, ( And you see Michael still fighting while this person(Being) is talking to Daniel. The fight is still going , the battle is still happening. Ummmm)
14) and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days. For there is a further vision for those days.”
So delay is not denial, there’s so much this is so rich; you know I only got five minutes… four minutes and there are two points I really want us to take away.
It is that you know just because you don’t see what you have intended in your mind doesn’t mean that God is not there fighting for you. There are some battles that are being fought for you right now that you don’t even know. You have to just keep on pushing and don’t give up. Right… We live in a society where it is “Have it your way, like Burger King” Like Pastor Christian talks about in his last sermon, “Have it your way (Have it your way culture). But, sometimes your way, may not be the right way. Putting yourself in what God has called you to do and you are very certain of it. Because, let me tell you, God does not waste his (Her/ They) plans on anyone. The person who started this plan, the person who started this journey, is not going to be the same one who ends the journey.
People always say… Oh you are Gloria… What’s up with this (Name change) Gloria? Martine started, but let me tell you, it’s Gloria who’s going to graduate. Cuz I had to have to become somebody different, I had to transform into Gloria to bare the responsibilities that God is calling us (me) to hold. It takes training. You can’t microwave your way into a doctorate. You can’t just microwave your way into being a leader of a non-profit. You can’t just microwave your way into what God has called you to be. Sometimes this delay is building your character. And maybe you don’t see the goal (yet) but enjoy where you are. Learn the lessons. Open up to your vessel to receive more, because when that time comes… You going to be ready to hold what God has called you to do. And you will stand confidently with character, knowing that “I did this with the help of God” And I have been called for such a time as this. I’ve worked my butt off, and I know I can do this.
Because… Why? In the times when I wasn’t sure, I still held on and I still kept on pushing. Baby, delay is not denial. You keep on pushing! You keep on enjoying where you are at, knowing that you will reach the goal. And know that the responsibility that you will hold, you’ll be able to carry it!
Love you… Byeeee
March 9, 2021
3rd year MDiv/Diploma student Skyler Keiter-Massefski (they, he) reflects on the theme, “Fasting and justice,” inspired by Isaiah 58:3-7.
*Note: In this reflection I will make a brief mention of disordered eating in regard to fasting.
A couple of years ago, Good Friday fell on the same day as the first night of Passover. As an interfaith family, this meant that my partner and I had a very busy day. I went to class in the morning, helped lead a midday Good Friday service, and then it was time to drive across the state so that we could join my in-laws for the Seder meal. And, I was fasting.
I’m not sure when or why I picked up the ritual, but I had fasted from dawn until dusk on Good Friday for several years. But this year was different. I had so much to do and I pushed my body too hard in my determination to not eat until dinner. While driving, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to finish the trip safely without food. We pulled into a Dunkin Donuts and I quickly devoured what had to have been the most delicious egg and cheese sandwich of my life. My body began to shift back towards stasis.
But still, I felt guilty, I felt like I had failed. And that was the moment when I really began to think about why I was fasting. Like those whom Isaiah decries, I was fasting only to humble myself for a day without regard to anyone else. I fasted for recognition - even just to prove to myself that I could do it. My fast wasn’t spiritual or justice filled, it was only for me. And not even for me in a way that was life-giving, but, as someone in recovery from an eating disorder, my fast was for a destructive and angry version of me, life-giving to no one. It was the last time I chose that fast.
But this is not the only kind of fast there is. Isaiah is fed up with those who fast and wear sackcloth and ashes, only to turn around and act unjustly towards others. So, he offers a different kind of fast, one that is concerned with giving up what is excess in one’s life - note, not the literal or metaphorical food that our bodies need to get through the day, but the extra - to serve works of justice. Isaiah proclaims a kind of fast concerned with loosening the chains of injustice, to break every yoke, to set the oppressed free.
When so much talk of Lent focuses on giving up - on fasting, from food or other things - it’s important to remember who that giving up is for. Does the fast we choose isolate or liberate? Does it harm our bodies or destroy systems of oppression? What fast do we choose?
March 8, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Zak Carroll (he, him) reflects on the theme, “The purpose of fasting,” inspired by Matthew 6:16-18.
Our reading calls us to look at our practices and rituals so that we might examine them in the light of purpose. Jesus points us toward the truth that it is too easy to join in institutionalized practices for the sake of conformity or recognition rather than for the sake of the act itself. It is one thing to participate in a ritual like fasting because we know the social expectations incumbent upon us during this particular season; it is another thing to participate in fasting because of a resolve that is distinct from the communal pressures we might be feeling.
Growing up, my Christian walk was an intellectual and spiritualized faith that regularly discounted the importance of embodied acts like fasting. Seizing upon the conviction that my faith did not rely on my abstinence from meat, chocolate, or the like during a season of the year, I chose not to fast at all. I want to name that fasting from things like eating can be harmful for some of us; I want to name that the pressures associated with fasting can be an ungodly expectation for some of us. Having named that, I also want to suggest that abstinence from intentional abstention can itself be the seeking of an earthly reward.
In refraining from the practice of fasting, I elevated the norms and expectations of my community over a spiritual discipline found in the Scriptures. I have come to believe that while our various fasts may be different, there is something transformative and essential in simply observing a fast. During this Lenten season, I hope that you will choose a fast that is healthy and meaningful. Not so that we might appear faithful in the sight of one another, but so that we may gain the simplicity of restraint and the steadfastness of self-discipline.
Holy One, may we come today and be renewed in our commitments before you. Help us to know and live the truth that our restraint is not for praise but for devotion. May we live with the conviction that you do not desire harm or unhealthiness for us, but that you grant us the grace of living in control of our own selves. Amen.
March 7, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Tori Crook (she, her) reflects on the theme, “A prayer for everything,” inspired by James 5:13-18.
Growing up I struggled with the concept of prayer, my parents taught me to kneel at my bedside each night, fold my hands, close my eyes, and pray to God. If I struggled with thoughts my mom suggested I follow a letter format, start with a thanks, discuss something in my life God might want to hear about, slip in a question or a request, and end again with thanks. Though I tried to pray in this fashion it felt so burdensome, my mind would wander after each thought, I would apologize and try to stay focused but it would happen again. Sometimes when I was already tucked into bed, I would remember I needed to pray. So I would stay still in my bed, and ramble off to God as I fell asleep.
Prayer can be a powerful practice, a way of speaking praise and working through what you need from God. I used to think that if God knows everything, then what is the point of praying? God already knows what I need or my praise. But the journey of the prayer is where the power lies, the winding path of figuring out my own needs, my own confessions, and my own delight in what God has given. As I’ve grown my prayer life has changed drastically from kneeling at my bedside, to having full on fights with God in the car, dancing in the street, laughing with friends, quick pockets of ramblings, and so much more. There are times for the ritual of the prayer, and there are times for the beauty of the life behind prayer. For God hears your prayers in whatever form you need to give them.
Now I would like to pray together. Find yourself in a comfortable position, close your eyes if you would like, and center yourself on your heart and on your prayer.
First, pray for yourself these words “May I find peace when I need it, strength where you offer it, and may I extend love to those who seek it.”
Now pray these words for someone close to you, whom you love, “May they find peace when they need it, strength where you offer it, and may they extend love to those who seek it.”
Now pray these words again but for someone you may be in conflict with, “May they find peace when they need it, strength where you offer it, and may they extend love to those who seek it.”
And finally, for those you encounter in the mundane of the day pray “May they find peace when they need it, strength where you offer it, and may they extend love to those who seek it.” Amen.
March 6, 2021
Alumnus and trustee Tom Moore (MDiv ‘89; he, him) reflects on the theme, “Talk to God about struggle,” inspired by Job 10:1-8.
Lent begins and ends in death. Ashes imposed by the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” start the journey. It nears the end haunted by the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The frankness of Lent invites honest talk. Mortality. Fear. Injustice. Struggle. Failure. Grief. Depression. Topics that too often bring awkwardness to a room find companions on this Lenten journey. Job, through a poet’s voice, accuses God of despising him, destroying him. His losses so great send him to despair, his words raw in grief.
The pandemics of the past year—COVID, racial injustice, political division, economic hardship— have ripped off the veneer of normalcy and revealed pain that has been just below the surface for generations. Millions are loathing their lives under these pandemics. People are tired and exhausted and are not going to take “it” any longer, whatever their “it” is, real or perceived. We have witnessed the discontent expressed in both constructive and destructive ways.
Job’s voice rages when his so-called friends don’t listen to him and instead blame him, shame him. In grief, he wishes for death at the end of every soliloquy until he starts demanding justice in chapter 19, at which point he never wishes for death again. And the poetic dialogue ends when Job finally feels heard and validated, even if we might think God’s response in chapters 38-39 was less than compassionate.
Perhaps a hint of the change in Job hides in this passage.
Who told Job that he was “not guilty” (v. 7), though his friends and God “search for his sin” (v. 6)? The frankness of Lent invites honest talk. Who spoke frankly, telling him that God had wonderfully “fashioned and made” him? Who told him about Lent’s other honest talk, so that he would not believe the lies about him? Life. Faith. Justice. Trust. Acceptance. Joy. Hope. Someone or something gave him the resilience to resist the narrative being thrown at him, gave him the dignity to demand justice from God, and the self-love to ultimately believe his life was worth living.
The frankness of Lent invites honest talk. When culture pushes struggle into the shadows, it’s imperative that the faithful name and give dignity to facing difficulties—morality, fear, injustice, struggle, failure, grief, depression. When overwhelmed to the point of despair, it’s imperative that the faithful name and offer resilience through the difficulties—life, faith, justice, trust, acceptance, joy, hope.
This Lenten journey of mortal life is full of both.
March 5, 2021
Andover Newton alumna and trustee Judy Swahnberg (MDiv ’06; she, her) reflects on the theme “Yearning: A prayer of hope and faith,” inspired by 1 Samuel 1:9-18.
The first paragraph of Samuel sets the stage. There’s Elkanah and his two wives: Hannah, and Peninnah. One sentence succinctly summarizes the situation: “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”
Next, we learn Elkanah made a pilgrimage “year by year” to Shiloh. He gave double portions of the sacrifice to Hannah, because he loved her. And “year by year” when the family went up to Shiloh, Peninnah irritated Hannah, provoking her.
Scripture says: Hannah rose and presented herself to the Lord. And at the temple, Hannah pours out her distress. We know this because although she is actually praying silently, pleading for God to intervene in the situation, her thoughts are written down. She even vows the unthinkable: that if a baby could be conceived, she would in turn dedicate the child to God.
Eli, the priest, not hearing her prayer, but seeing her agitated, judges her and confronts her, asking, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself?” Oh my.
Hannah shines in her response. She reframes his attack: “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled…I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord…”
As she swims through wells of biological yearning, with Peninnah the piranha biting her at every opportunity, Hannah goes directly to God. She prays for what she wants.
Somehow, God’s desire for her, and for the future, is in waters too.
Eli backs off and blesses her. “Go in peace,” he says, “the God of Israel grants the petition”. And the story adds: Hannah went home, ate and drank with her husband, and wasn’t sad anymore.
Holy One, sometimes life is messy. Help us hope and meet us in our yearning for new life. Amen.
March 4, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Andi Loyd (she, her) reflects on the The Lord’s Prayer, inspired by Matthew 6:9-13.
When I was 8 years old, I graduated from the bedtime prayer of my youngest years - the rhythmic beat of “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” It was time, my mother said, to learn the Lord’s prayer. She dictated and I wrote those words down as carefully as I possibly could.
Words like a window opening up onto the mystery of God. Words like *hallowed.* It means holy, my mother said. (But bigger, I thought to myself.)
Words like *Trespasses.* I knew that one - I trespassed more than occasionally on the way to school, dashing as furtively as I could across my neighbor’s backyard, despite that neighbor’s often-stated request that I please stick to the sidewalks. Hearing that both God and my neighbor might forgive me? That felt like good news.
Then there was *Temptation.* It’s like when a person who’s trying to eat healthy food walks past the window of the bakery, my mother said. Temptation is that feeling you have when you want to go inside and buy the delicious-looking cake in the window - but know you shouldn’t. Oh, I know temptation, I thought, with all of the worldliness that an 8-year-old can muster. And that God would know what that felt like and would help me to do what was right felt like a whole lot of amazing. It still does.
We eventually made our way to the end: Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Except that the words ran together in my mind into one incomprehensibly big word: the kingdomandthepowerandtheglory. I didn’t ask my mother what it meant. It was enough to know that it was God’s. And therefore, it must be something marvelous.
My family had long since stopped going to church when I learned that prayer. So for a very long time, those words were the totality of what I could say about God.
Those words, it turns out, were plenty.
That’s what Jesus assures the disciples, at the mid-point of the Sermon on the Mount, when he teaches them to pray. You don’t need lots of fancy words, Jesus says, because God “knows what you need before you ask.” “Pray then in this way.”
This is all you need. This one, simple prayer. It’s enough.
I can say more things about God now. I know that trespass was not really about the route I walked to school. And that temptation isn’t only about cake. But the more I learn, the more I realize how much truth those words hold, the ones that Jesus taught the disciples and that my mother taught me:
the truth that God’s vastness can’t be contained even in a word as big as hallowed;
the truth that despite that vastness, God cares about the particularities of each of our lives;
the truth that God sees us exactly as we are - debts and trespasses and all - and loves us exactly as we are.
As our Lenten journeys invite us deeper into relationship with God, maybe we can remember that. Maybe we can stop worrying whether our words are fancy enough or abundant enough. And just trust. They will be.
So now, friends, let us join together with Christians of every time and every place - and pray that prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, using whatever language and whatever words are comfortable to you.
March 3, 2021
Director of Campus and Outreach Ministries Emily Bruce (YDS MDiv and ANS Diploma ‘19; she, her) reflects on theme “The fruit of the Spirit,” inspired by Galatians 5:16-25.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart prove useful in your sight, O God. Amen.
Our text today is Galatians 5: 16-25, well known as the text that names the nine Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
When I was a little girl in Sunday School, I remember drawing a big tree and from it hung all of the fruits of the spirit. Love was a big red apple, peace was a pineapple, kindness was a bunch of grapes, patience was a banana. My artwork proudly hung on our fridge for weeks and I can still remember thinking for a long time after of God as a big tree full of fruit. Fruit that, as a Christian, I had a responsibility to offer to everyone around me.
As a grownup, those fruits can sometimes seem like a daunting to-do list, a checklist of piety especially considering that they come paired with a whole other don’t-do list – the acts of the flesh that only serve to draw us away from the Spirit: immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy and more. This spirit/flesh conflict that Paul draws can set unrealistic expectations for us, in our human bodies with our human emotions, to live with the Spirit and disavow the flesh.
But if we are to walk with the Spirit, as Paul implores us, it’s important to know that the fruits of the Spirit are not just what we should offer others, but what we should offer ourselves too. What would it mean for you to offer yourself the fruit of joy? What would that look like for you? What about patience? How can you be patient with yourself today? And love – the greatest of these is love. How have you found love for yourself in the midst of classes, work, family and everything else?
If we are to walk the walk, as it were, with the Spirit, and offer these fruits of kindness, generosity and joy to others, we also must accept these fruits for ourselves. In this Lenten season, in this late-winter season, in this pandemic season, as we seek to walk with the Spirit, the Spirit also seeks to walk with *us.* Because we are all beloved children of God, we are all worthy and we are all holy. May it be so, amen.
March 2, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Nedelka Prescod (she, her) reflects on the the theme “Individual sin has a communal cost,” inspired by Joshua 7:7-12.
My parents came to this country, leaving their homeland in Central America, as part of a wave of young Panamanians in the early 1960s. Even though they and their friends traveled on different dates and planes, and with individual plans for their next steps and futures, together they created the village I was born and raised in, in Brooklyn. I was not physically born in Panama, but the traditions and standards of their Afro Panamanian culture were so strong that my sister, cousins, god-sisters and god-brothers and I were well versed in the ways of a proper Panamanian to the point that we effortlessly code-switched our way into adulthood, moving in and out of heavy street-swag Panamanian accents that we could just as easily drop for our Brooklyn dialects of which we also effortlessly dropped because our parents were clear that neither of those were the aesthetics there were priming us for as their educated children. We knew that wherever we went, we not only represented our households and family names, we represented the village. And what was proper or improper in one home was the same for them all. Us, first-gen Afro- Panamanian Americans were very clear about that line you just don’t cross, not just for your own good, but for the family, the tribe, the village.
Think about it. It’s America. In the 1960s. And they weren’t even the Black folks America was used to. They were this other set of Black folks, with a weird mix of Caribbean and spanish accents and no sense of what it meant to live in a 4-season environment, who cooked food with rare spices, and told jokes filled with unfamiliar colloquialisms that bordered on a whole other language of its own. Don’t you dare call negative attention to yourself with that identifiable accent. There are $60 a week jobs at stake. Rooms that needed to be rented. Schools to be entered. Respect to be established in a place where it simply wasn’t given to folks of the same hue. It’s just not about you.
In Joshua 7: 7 -12 Joshua asks the Lord why he brought the Israelites across the Jordan, out of their land, and into the hands of the Amorites to be destroyed. They were just fine and comfortable on the other side of the Jordan. He didn’t want the word to get out that they were being subjugated because it might make them vulnerable to the other folks, you know, the Canaanites and them. He even asked God, the God of Israel, what will he do for his own great and sovereign name? God’s reputation? At that God commanded that Joshua stand up straight and face the reality of Israel’s sin and its repercussion on the community. They violated their relationship with God. They stole and they lied and compromised their integrity to point of compromising their ability to thrive in a new land, and now they would be alone and forsaken until they were ready to give up their destructive ways.
To be honest, I couldn’t stand the pressure my father placed on me when he reminded me over and over again of the family and community I come from and that I couldn’t just do what I wanted to do. But I get it now. And I’m grateful for the standard, the prayers, and at times the punishment, that good rod and staff that kept us in line. And guess what, my son can’t stand that clear standard either.
Dear Lord God, thank you for your grace and your mercy. Thank you for your patience and forgiveness. That even when we stray from you, your will and your way, you yet still provide a way back. Help us to understand the beauty and blessing of earthly our interconnectedness and that in the authority you have given us, we will use it wisely to heal and mend our broken relationship with you, ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, our country and our planet. We thank you for second chances and a way out and we’ll be careful to give you the honor, glory and praise that is do you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
March 1, 2021
2nd year MAR Andover Newton-affiliated student EmmaRae Carroll (she, her) reflects on the theme “Deliver us from evil,” inspired by Psalm 19:13.
Good morning! The Lenten reflection for today comes from the book of Psalms, chapter 19, verse 13, and it reads: Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:13, ESV.
Please join me in a moment of prayer as we walk together through the second Monday of Lent: “Our God, who is in heaven, your name is holy. May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
God, deliver me from evil. Keep me back from hurting my relationship with You, with others, and with my surroundings; let these trespasses not rule over me! Deliver me from the evil that is so often in my heart, in my mind, and on my hands. Let me walk, blameless and upright, in your ways. Let goodness be behind me and mercy in front of me. Let justice walk ahead of me and your wisdom beside me, and let your love be in me. Deliver me from evil that tries to wrap so tightly around me.
God, deliver not only me, but deliver us. Lead us far from this global pandemic and racial injustice and profound inequality that we see every day. Deliver us from the evils of this world. From power that corrupts and from those who would lift up their hand against another. God, deliver us from evil so that we may “beat [our] swords into plowshares,” and our weapons into instruments of life; deliver us so that we forget what it means to war with one another and with ourselves (1).
Deliver your beloved from evil, they who are oppressed and for whom the load is too heavy. Even the Holy Spirit groans on their behalf (2). Keep your word, O God, and that of your Son Jesus, who promised that those who were weary or heavy laden will find rest (3). Deliver them from evil and help them find your rest.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of [all our hearts] be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer,” and Lord, deliver us from evil (4).
(1) Isaiah 2:4, ESV. (2) Romans 8:26-27, ESV. (3) Matthew 11:28, ESV. (4) Psalm 19:14, ESV.
February 28, 2021
Andover Newton Fellow and member of the teaching team, Frederick “Jerry” Streets (he, him), reflects on the theme “Disappointing grace,” inspired by Matthew 20:1-16.
A story in the book of Matthew (20:1-16) is about a person who hired people to do some work which they did. Much later in the day the same person hired additional people to also work. At the end of the day both groups of workers were paid equally. Those who had worked longer complained about the others who worked a shorter period receiving the same amount of pay as did they who had worked longer hours. Those who worked the longest were paid the amount agree upon between them and the one who hired them, so these laborers were not cheated in any way. The owner reminded those who were upset about the others getting equal pay that it was their money and that they could do whatever they wanted to do with it. I imagine that while this was true it still did not set well with the workers who were complaining. The owner’s decision to pay all the workers the same amount seemed to me no way to run a business or regulate an economy.
Like many stories in the New Testament, this one in Matthew gives us some ideas about the character of God and the meaning of grace. The ultimate expression of God’s grace for Christians is God becoming like and with us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This act demonstrated the unmerited favor God has showed toward humankind and God’s forgiveness of our sins.
The business of God and the economy of God’s grace is symbolized in the behavior of the owner in our story who hired the workers. We like to think that there is a balance between grace and justice. However, at times we may want the grace side of that scale to tip more in our direction when we fall short and the justice end to bend more towards others whom we may judge to have done wrong. Is the nature of God’s grace such that a person could live raising hell all their life and then confess their sins and ask for forgiveness on their death bed and receives God’s forgiving grace and live happy eternally after? We may sometimes wonder if there are no eternal consequences for how we live life today. Just as it was the owner decision to do as they wished with their money, it is God’s choice how to be gracious towards us now and after this life has ended.
Being disappointed in how God shares God’s grace can mislead and cause us to feel jealous. The grace of God that others may experience does not take away from our blessings or how God is gracious to us. There is a real danger to us when we compare ourselves to other people. We miss so much about who we truly are and the blessings we have when we judge ourselves according to what we think is going on with someone else. God’s graciousness toward others will always disappoint us when we likened ourselves to other people. We are wise not to assume how God is or is not graceful to others.
I believe that God is in all of us. Some of us are more aware of this than others. We can know, sense, and see the grace of God the more we become awakened to the divine spirit within us. The graces of God are in and all around us. Think about some of the things we have that are truly God’s gift to us: air, water, food; the capacity to empathize and be compassionate toward ourselves and others; the ability to love and to give love, mercy and to forgive; the miracle and mystery of our human bodies and our
ability to create human life; our planet and the universe; our ability to imagine and to generate and develop things and so much more to me are the graces of God. Each of us are expressions of God’s grace even when we fail to realize and show it.
There are moments, no matter how fleeting, when we feel deeply a sense of gratitude for nothing in particular and yet for everything; for a reasonable portion of health and strength, for having come through some dark night of our soul and spirit; although we wish that some things about our life and those whom we love were different, a feeling of acceptance, a surrender to what is gives us peace; it is a moment when we know we did not create ourselves and what we have that really matters to us are nothing but gifts from God-this is grace –God’s grace speaking to us! The Roberta Martin singers of my youth use to sing:
God’s Grace is sufficient for me
God’s Grace will give you the victory
Grace woke me up this morning
Grace started me on my way
Grace will make you love your enemies
God’s grace will give you, the victory. God’s grace will brighten up your day
Sometimes I think that it will only be by the grace of God that we as human being will temper, mediate, and transform our current national and global crisis of a pandemic and hatred toward one another into a healthier society and world. I pray that there are more people with the grace of God in them than there are those being held captive by the sin of power, fear, and hatred. The challenge is that as God grants us grace, we must embrace, learn and act according to it.
God’s grace speaks to us at those times when humility deflates our hubris, when failure reduces our arrogance, and when truth does away with our defenses this is when we can sense the graces of God and it is the grace of God that can restore and help us to live anew. Now, such human weaknesses and dramatic process are not necessary conditions to getting to know the grace of God. However, it was hubris, arrogance and lies that took God in Christ to the cross. Yet even there the grace of God said, “forgive them for they know not what they do!” There is more grace in God than there is sin in us.
God’s grace does not disappoint; it lifts us up.
God’s grace does not focus on what we want but what we need.
An attitude of gratitude can help us to see the graces of God in our lives.
People can be born in poverty and in an atmosphere of hate, but poverty and hatred were not born in them. The situation or circumstance into which we were born was created by others over which we had no control. What was born in us was given to us by God. Thinking about and meditating on the grace of God gives of strength when we feel weak, it gives us hope when despair would leave us feeling defeated; God’s grace is like seeing an unexpected rainbow. God’s grace does not turn God’s back on injustice, ignore suffering or evil. Those who know something about God’s grace shout out for justice and find a way to “keep on keeping on.”
God’s grace toward us has something to do with God knowing us better than we know ourselves. God’s grace is God’s hope for us. Like faith can be describe as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not see, God’s grace is the essence of God’s hope and love for us. God’s grace is God’s expectation of us and unearned by us that we will honor and fulfill our promise as God’s beloved creations.
February 27, 2021
Alumnus and current trustee Don Ng (MDiv ‘75; he, him) reflects on the theme “Sin that separates,” inspired by Leviticus 4:27-31; John 3:16.
Dennis the Menace is often depicted sitting facing the wall while defying his parents. Misbehaving is often awarded with being separated from the rest of the family. When once a loving relationship ends, we think about a broken heart jaggedly split in two. And recently when the inhumane and cruel immigration policy of separating children from their parents at the southern US border as a deterrent for immigration was in effect, we see how separation from loved ones is contrary to basic human decency. Mass incarceration is yet another form of unjust separation in America today. Being apart is a terrible state of life.
When we do something wrong to someone, it separates us from one another. No longer is there care, concern and trust. Making up with that person is the only way to reconnect the separation leading toward reconciliation.
In Leviticus 4:27-31, we see that ordinary people having even unintentionally did something wrong against God should present a purification offering in order to be welcomed back into community. The people were so worried about sinning against God that even the sins they were not aware of that they were willing to become purified because separation was abhorrent and being in relationship with God was life-giving.
In Lent, consider the broken relationships that have separated you from people. How might you begin to move toward reconciling these relationships?
The Good News of Jesus Christ is captured in John 3:16. Instead of a burnt offering, God loves the world so much that he gave his own Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, all of the wrongdoing that we have done toward one another and against God. And when we believe this, God’s promise is that we would never, ever be separated from God’s love because we would have eternal life with God.
In Lent, consider your relationship with the Creator God. Have other forms of idolatry consumed your heart that are pushing you away from God? How might you begin to name these distractions in order to redirect your attention on God?
Let us pray. Lord, forgive us for our sins that have separated us from each other and sins that have turned our eyes away from you. You created us to be in loving and caring relationships according to your plan. Forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass us. In the name of Christ who restored our relationship with you, we pray. Amen.
February 26, 2021
Prof. Gregory Mobley (he, him) reflects on the theme, “What is sin?” Greg’s reflection was inspired by Matthew 5:27-48.
“You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ ” Matthew 5:43-44
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: nowhere in the Hebrew Bible is it said “hate your enemy.” Since the theme of this Lenten devotional is “sin,” let us not commit the frequent Christian sin of mischaracterizing the Old Testament God as a God of Wrath. Jesus must have been referring here to a popular saying in the second half of verse 43, not to any portion of Torah. But the Hebrew Bible does indeed say, “Love your neighbor”; it’s in Leviticus 19:18.
But the topic here is sin and its perennial prophetic reformulation. Because the spirit of “You have heard it said, but I say to you” was a legacy of the Hebrew prophets. Prophetic speech was always, is always, pointed toward a particular moment. Isaiah could reassure the Judahites of the 8th c. that God would protect Jerusalem. About a century later, Jeremiah could say, “No way.”
So the definition of “sin” (both the Hebrew and Greek words, hataʼ and hamartia, respectively, mean “to fall short, miss the target”) is ever a subject of negotiation between the biblical text and the prophetic voice.
I ain’t no prophet, but I’d like to append a verse to the New Testament, where its own voices illustrate the spirit of prophetic renegotiation of the Word of God:
You have heard it was said that ‘God gave them up to degrading passions; their women exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men gave up natural intercourse with women and became consumed with one another’ (Romans 1:26-27), but I say to you that ‘love does not insist on its own way’ (1 Cor 13:5) and, furthermore, that ‘in Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female’ (Gal 3:28), gay nor straight, for “from one blood God made all persons to inhabit the whole earth’ (Acts 17:26).”
February 25, 2021
1st year Mdiv/Diploma student Jamal Davis Neal, Jr. (he, they) reflects on the theme “A new family,” inspired by Mark 3:31-35.
As I read this short passage, I think about the people who I call family that are not related to me by blood. For me, family is somewhat difficult—I have quite a few blood-related family members that I love, and that I know love me, who can’t see or understand me the way members of my chosen family can. They don’t know me within my own context for so many reasons that I am not going to overshare here. I have struggled with this, I have fought with this, and I have accepted some of it. It’s still hard to grapple and contend with, but in searching for restfulness within this, I constantly remind myself that love, while shown and given in ways that I don’t naturally receive, exists between me and my family. I know they love me. They are my family.
Chosen or found family is a concept that is especially important for queer people among other communities. They are people who, though they’re not related by blood, become family. The movie Lilo & Stitch is among my best friend’s favorites because of its depiction of a chosen family, or Ohana, where nobody gets left behind or forgotten. It didn’t matter that Stitch was an alien created to cause chaos and destruction. It didn’t matter that Lilo had a hard time processing her grief and was bad at making friends. They found each other. They loved each other. They became family.
I’d like to interpret the relationship between Jesus and his disciples as chosen family. After leaving their blood families behind, they had to lean on each other for comfort and support. They learned to live with one another and traveled together, despite their disparate social statuses and life circumstances. They became family. They developed a strong and loving community and I’d like to believe they tried their best to keep that strong bond even after Jesus died and they suffered persecution.
My chosen family exists most strongly among my queer friends of color and friends from home that have remained strong over the years. I am thankful for their presence in my life and know that I always, always have people to lean on in times of distress. They try their best to see me for me, to understand me as deeply and intimately as possible, and they love, accept, and affirm me. They are pieces of Home for me. They have become family. In my journey toward healing, these are the people who make me feel the unconditional love that is God the deepest. They help me know how to love.
February 24, 2021
1st year MDiv/Diploma student Natalie Owens-Pike (she, her) reflects on the theme “Following Jesus,” inspired by Matthew 4:18-22.
We are in the midst of what feels like a Lenten season that just won’t quit. As Lent begins in 2021, I’m reflecting back to the beginnings of our journey into this quarantine wilderness last year, I’m feeling very ready for Easter. But before we can move ahead to the resurrection, we must dwell in teachings, in the risk-taking, that brought us there.
To follow in Jesus’ path, we take up this example of his disciples. We too, are asked to step into the boat. To leave behind our nets. To follow, immediately, leaving our fathers, our community. And for me and maybe for some of us, the word “immediately” struck me here.
I hear “Immediately” and what rises in me is a protest - But God! - we don’t know where we’re going! We don’t know how to fish for people! We don’t know when this Lenten season ends. Like Simon Peter we are still setting out on this journey. We’re in the boat and can’t yet see the other side, or how we will be different when we arrive.
But we know that we are not alone. Jesus is in the boat with Simon and Andrew and in this darkness and in this season of lent, God is with us while we watch recorded Lenten videos and God is with us in the placing of the ashes on our own foreheads, in our homes.
This text calls me to stay in the journey of this season, to stay in the boat without seeing the shore. May we learn through the going, and through the leaving behind what we knew. May we embrace who we will become in God’s presence. May it be so.
February 23, 2021
3rd year MDiv/Diploma student Ana Kelsey-Powell (she, her) reflects on the theme “Satan, the Accuser,” inspired by Revelation 12:9-10.
I grew up watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty on VHS and my brother, my little brother, was obsessed with the fight scene with the dragon. And so, anytime we would watch this movie he would rewind it time after time after time to watch this fight scene with the dragon. And so now, as an adult, all I can think of, when I read this passage in Revelation, of the dragon, the great Satan, being thrown down, all I see in my mind’s eye is the Sleeping Beauty dragon being slain.
Now, as thrilling and as terrifying as I found that childhood dragon, Revelation is so much better, friends. Not just because one is a cartoon dragon and the stakes are pretty low despite the happily ever after, but because Revelation is about so much more than that, right? It’s not about the one time happily ever after, it’s not about this one creaturely dragon-y serpent-y creature being slain; it’s about the accuser, the deceiver of the whole world.
The text tells us that salvation and power have come. The accuser is slain. By the authority of the kingdom of God, Satan is thrown down and truth can prevail.
We’re in such a strange time where even truth feels liminal sometimes. So, we have to ask ourselves, how are we going to allow truth to prevail in our lives in this season? Truth, friends. Not the whispers of the accuser, who, by the way, has been thrown down, right? Not the nagging voices of detractors, not the ones whispering in your ear, or behind your back, or, perhaps worst of all, the ones in your own head—no. What will it take for us to let truth prevail?
In the meantime, friends. May the love of God sustain you; the peace of Christ surround you; and may the Advocate guide you in all things. Amen.
February 22, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Kelsey Creech (she, they) reflects on the theme “Wandering the wilderness,” inspired by Numbers 14:30-34.
Beloved God, in this short meditation, may your words be my words be our words.
In the scripture we read today, on this sixth day of Lent, we see the power of our ancestors; the ways their actions can affect our reality. For the Israelites, this meant that the older generation died away and the younger ones were forced to act as shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, suffering for the unfaithfulness, or for the sins, of their elders. During this time as they wandered in the wilderness, our scripture tells us that the Israelites experienced what it was like to have God working against them.
Because of the sins of ancestors, this new generation had extra work to do before finding reconciliation with God and being brought into this promised land. To mend the broken trust required forty years of hard bodily labor, shepherding in a land they’d spent years traversing already. So, they wandered through their wilderness, waiting.
Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist, healer, and NYT Best Selling Author writes in his book, My Grandmother’s Hands about the historical, generational, racialized trauma passed down for both black and white Americans. He names the damage of the centuries of abuse the Black people faced at the hands of White people for those of all races, and makes a claim that each of us must do the important internal work of healing from our racialized trauma, personal and ancestral, before we can begin the work of reconciliation. It reminds me of this passage from Numbers.
Because of the accumulated trauma of ancestors, we, this new generation, have extra work to do before finding our way to reconciliation and helping construct the kindom. To heal historical bodily trauma requires intentional time spent doing bodily labor, feeling pain we’ve spent years running away from. So, we wander through our wilderness, working. May we find the strength to carry on in our wandering, doing the work, so we may one day find our way to the kindom.
February 21, 2021
Ned Allyn Parker (he, him; MDiv ‘10) reflects on the theme “First Sunday,” inspired by Psalm 106:1.
For the 1st Sunday in Lent…
This is the way of this wilderness, of the wilderness.
The radiant heat from a landscape of sensations
makes wavy the weary horizon.
There is, hidden along the way of The Way, a treasure.
It is not gold or gilded or glittering.
It is not hidden beneath or behind or between,
There is no “X” that marks the spot -
though, there is a crosshatch of ash above the brow.
Remember that the dust of this landscape was once particulate of the soul.
And to it, at the end of the journey, we will return as we began,
to fertilize faithful farmlands where
pastures of peace provide
the never-ending nourishment for others who come in our wake.
Today is a day in Lent but not of Lent,
so surely the sunrise surprises
those pilgrims pondering their personhood,
like cherubim chiding those childlike disciples –
seraphim sitting where once a dead man was still dead.
Allow stillness on the seventh day
for a fitful foretaste of fulfillment…
That each heave of the humble heart that harkens ahead,
each roll of the wheel, each step forward is a
a timid testimony of trust
that love’s labor is not lost
And you are good.
And it is good.
And love… and love…
and love will endure forever and ever…
Love, without end.
Amen and amen.
February 20, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Molli Mitchell (she, her) reflects on the theme “Filling up for trials and tribulations,” inspired by Luke 4:1-13.
In the first story of Luke 4, Jesus didn’t get led out into that wilderness empty. He was full of the Holy Spirit, having just come from his own baptism. Yes, the story shares that he fasted and prayed for 40 days. But he wasn’t at emotional and spiritual EMPTY when he headed out. He was full.
We’re in covid-enforced spiritual deserts that deprive us of some of our favorite spiritual foods. Mine is HUGS.
In my own desert of social distancing, it is essential that I learned how to fill myself up with the Holy Spirit, lest I somehow think that I’ll survive on the delicious baguettes downstairs alone.
As an extrovert, I fill up by offering a sympathetic ear over the phone. I fill up by singing loudly and praise dancing all by myself in my tiny apartment. I fill up by immersing myself in the beautiful chapel services my friends curate online. I fill up by remembering the waters of my baptism every time I cleanse myself in a shower or bath.
If I need a refill of the Holy Spirit while out in this wilderness being tempted by Netflix, food delivery that I can’t afford, and a gloriously cozy bed, I turn back to these sources. I fill up with the Holy Spirit to steel me against those temptations of distraction and back onto the path of my purpose FULL and ready for whatever may come.
February 19, 2021
2nd year MDiv/Diploma student Heidi Butler (she,her) reflects on the theme “Baptized and ready to serve,” inspired by Matthew 3:13-17.
I don’t know about you, but I spend a significant portion of my life these days washing my hands. I’ve always been a little germ-conscious, and I can tell you that COVID has not helped that tendency, especially because I spend time caring for immune-compromised family members. In the dryness of this winter, I feel the skin on my hands growing dryer and more painful as I meticulously clean them whenever I have ventured out to get groceries or to do my laundry or to see my dad.
This isn’t the only physical discomfort that COVID has brought. My mask irritates my face and fogs my glasses; my back aches from computer learning; my anxiety level is always at its peak, and I feel its effects – especially as we near a full year of this reality. It’s like my body is telling me in every way it can that this is not right – something is out of order. But I wash my hands, I put on the mask – because I know that these are an act of love. All around the country and the world, healthcare workers and essential employees are taking extreme cleaning and safety precautions as they risk their lives in loving service. I can’t cure this virus, but my small daily actions are my offering. I wash myself clean again each time, out of love for my community.
When Jesus came to John asking for baptism, John protested. Something about it felt wrong – it should have been the other way around – the world felt disordered, flipped on its head. But Jesus insisted that, while it felt uncomfortable, it was right. And then the voice came from the heavens: “This is my Child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Our actions that keep ourselves and each other safe – these actions please God. They are enough. We are enough. So I re-dedicate myself in the baptism of my virus protections, and I rise from the water, ready to serve God in the world around me in love for my neighbors and for myself.
February 18, 2021
Prof. S. Mark Heim (he, him; MDiv ‘76) reflects on John the Baptist, inspired by Mark 1:4-8
The text for today’s devotion is from the first chapter of the gospel of Mark: the introduction of John the Baptist. The thing that has always struck me about this passage is the mass nature of the response to John. It says: “all the country of Judea went out to him, and all the population of Jerusalem.” It’s gotta be slightly an exaggeration, but it’s not hard to believe that John’s combination of fierce certainty that people need to acknowledge that something is not working in their lives, something is wrong and they need forgiveness. And his fierce unknowing—”it’s not about me, there’s something larger than me coming.” And, as we know from the later part of the story, “I’m not sure I’ll know it when I see it.”
The door, the gate to Lent, is wide and it’s not hard to walk through because all it asks is the same thing that John asked. We recognize something in our lives that’s wrong, that’s not working; something that ought to be different, whether something in our devotional, spiritual lives, something in our relationships, something in our social world. “I need help. I need help with something.” And there’s such great freedom in walking into the wilderness of simply saying that. And meaning it. And being open to trying out something new, which is what Lent is about. Not about totaling up our failures for the sake of guilt or making temporary sacrifices as some kind of payment, but in trying out some new way of life, to feed that need that we’re frank enough to acknowledge. So, Lent is a time to follow John into the Wilderness in our own ways, at our own pace for these forty days. May it be so.
February 17, 2021 - Ash Wednesday
3rd year MDiv/Diploma student Caryne Eskridge (she, her) reflects on the theme “Repentance,” inspired by Luke 3:3, 10-14.
Hi folks! Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days in the entire church calendar. And that’s because I see repentance as a gift because it reminds me that I don’t need to hold back any parts of myself from God, because God already knows me, already loves me. So I can use the practice of turning away from the things that don’t serve me or my communities as a loving place. What that requires me to do is to constantly counteract perfectionism, which are not standards that come from God. There are these measures of “perfection” that are white supremacist, they’re misogynistic, ableist, racist, cis-heteronormative, and on. So, I get the chance in repentance and in this season of Lent to remember to orient myself to God’s standards, and not to those. I invite you to join me in seeing repentance as a gift and as a loving space for all of us.