John 9:1-3

Tuesday, March 21              
Ed Mason

As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

At U of I Journalism School many years ago, I learned the “5 W’s and H” of good reporting: who, what, when, where, why, and how. In questioning Jesus, the disciples in today’s Scripture passage focus on two of the W’s: assuming the “why” of the man’s blindness—someone must have sinned, or so the disciples believed—they ask Jesus a simple multiple-choice question regarding the “who”: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answers the question directly, responding, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” then reframes the question by pivoting away from the “why” and “who” to focus on the “how”: how are God’s works being revealed, through the man’s blindness?

So often and quite naturally in life’s messiness, I want to focus on questions of why and who—why is this happening and who is responsible? These are not necessarily bad questions, but they may miss an important—perhaps the most important—point.

Like the disciples in John 9:1-3, Jesus encourages us instead to focus on the question of how: how are God’s works being revealed in life’s circumstances as we, individually and together, are experiencing them? And, following from that question, how might we, individually and together, be called to be participants in God’s works in the lives of others and the world around us?

Dear God, open our hearts and minds to observe and listen to you in life’s struggles so that we may truly see and be thankful for your works in the world. Help and empower us to participate, by your grace, in your loving work of reconciling our broken and alienated world to God in Christ Jesus. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

1 Samuel 16:13

Monday, March 20
Rev. F. Dean Lueking

 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

The Lord’s call to David came abruptly, as a surprise. It still does, as I think back on my own experience of the Holy Spirit’s call to pastoral ministry.

After my high school graduation in l945, I spent the summer working on an uncle’s farm near Rockford, Illinois. I had no plan beyond going on to college. I had thought about becoming a farmer, an unlikely choice for a city boy. Or a lawyer. Or even following up on an invitation from the Philadelphia Phillies to try out as a southpaw pitcher (plenty of speed but little control). Nothing certain about that long shot. Basically, I was clueless about what came next. Then this happened. 

I had worked on an uncle’s farm during the summer of l945. As the oats harvest time approached in those pre-combine days the crop was cut with a binder and bundled into shocks to be picked up and pitchforked into a thrashing machine. Hard work. Long days. When Sunday morning came my cousins and I had ideas of sleeping in. Nothing doing. My uncle roused us with an announcement to be ready for church pronto.

I was not thrilled. But went to church anyway, hardly expecting that my life was about to be permanently changed.  

Among the hymns chosen was one with this line: “Here am I, send me, send me!” I sang it. Then thought about it. And then, in that humble rural Lutheran church, heeded the call of the Holy Spirit to the pastoral ministry. No thunder or lightning. Just the simple yes to God’s call 

When sometimes asked why I became a pastor my answer is: “Because I have to.” That sounds forced or coercive. It’s not. It signifies obedience. Therein lies its safety, strength, and lifelong durability.    

That’s just the beginning, of course. What follows is an inward deepening and outward flowering of endless blessing. As I pass through my 94th year, I keep on learning about the length and breadth, the height and depth of the mercy and goodness that follows us all the days of our lives and welcomes us at last at heaven’s door.   

Lord God, who calls each of us to work that builds the kingdom. Give us open ears to hear your calling, and willing feet to follow where you lead until at last, we stand before your heavenly throne, in your glory. Amen

Psalm 23:1

Sunday, March 19
Mark Lucht

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

What do you want in your life? A new car? Security? Friends? Someone to love? World peace in our time? Love and understanding among all humankind? So, about that car, then …

What a sweet comfort it is to be able to call the Lord my shepherd, and to be arguably free from want. Just imagine my surprise to find the Lord wanted something from ME.

Living in Chicago since the seventies, I enjoyed urban living with its rough edges and the faint hint of inner-city danger in its gritty situations and characters. It also afforded me the opportunity to do mission work without having to leave the city.

Over thirty years ago, my friend Mary Olsen told me I might be interested in a fledgling ministry in my neighborhood called New Moms, aimed at young single mothers facing a world of job-seeking and child-rearing, with a distinct focus on their spirituality. As I sat with the director, listening to her jaw-dropping story about how she felt the call of the Holy Spirit to this particular ministry, I could literally feel a voice within myself telling me: Find out how you can help here.  What a feeling that was!

Indeed, when a ministry is driven by the Holy Spirit, there is no more overwhelming experience than answering that irrevocable call to become the temporal extension of the eternal glory you just feel washing over you.

I was able to offer what home improvement talents I had:; painting apartment interiors, repairing drywall, transporting donated appliances like stoves and refrigerators, and performing electrical upgrades to the ministry offices.

When New Moms was planning their Christmas party, they looked to me to find some men to watch the parking lot filled with the cars of volunteers from suburban congregations in a dark and dubious neighborhood, and to monitor the young mothers and their youngsters as they crossed the street from the ministry to the old church for the Christmas service.

I happened to be doing a lot of volunteer work for PADS at the time, so I was able to round up four streetwise but trustworthy guys with the promise of lots of delicious party food. After shepherding all the little children and their moms across the street from the party in the ministry building to the service at the church, my guys guarded the doors as ushers, and I was up in the balcony handling the sound and lighting. As usual, the guest preacher was riveting, courageously winding up with an altar call: Lord Jesus, I want to experience your mercy todayI am ready to turn my life over to you. For personal reasons, altar calls always make me emotional.

What I hadn’t expected was that two of my homeless shelter guys would be moved to walk up to the altar to accept the Lord Jesus into their lives.  Now I was in total tears. It was like being in the middle of a miracle.  Again, what a feeling!

Lord God, we praise you for those opportunities you offer us to be a part of your miracles here on earth. Keep us watchful for what you want from us and let us always be ready to respond. Amen.

Romans 5:3-5

Saturday, March 18
Dan Lehmann

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The hope that abides in my heart and mind is found on the cross and empty tomb—Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is at those places where I find our Lord and Savior, and the blessed assurance of life eternal with God.

It is through his suffering, endurance and character during his path to the cross that hope finds its way into my life. My personal experiences with those three factors pale in comparison with that of Jesus.

Still, I draw strength from his example to handle trials that invade my world. Perhaps the most moving and tangible encounters with Jesus from this text for me are housed in the arts depicting his final days: the suffering on the cross, at the table of his final meal with the disciples, in the garden praying over the course of betrayal about to come, the finality of his human life in the arms of Mary, at the site of the open tomb.

My faith springs from the grace of God, captured in Hebrews 11:1—“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is supported and strengthened in the life and trial of Jesus and reinforced by the works of Michelangelo, Picasso, di Vinci, Watanabe and more.

Through Jesus’ example, I aspire to emulate him in my daily life: bearing burdens, living through hard times, doing the right thing despite it appearing to be impossible, and clinging to the truth that we are justified by faith in the grace of our God through Jesus Christ.

Our journey this Lent is to yet again peer into the life and teachings of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and how we can be more like him.

O Lord, may our Lenten observance prove to be a blessing to us and to all those around us. In Jesus name. Amen.

John 4:41-42

Friday, March 17
Rev. David R. Lyle

And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

I think his name was Brian, but I honestly can’t remember. After all, I was only five years old, and I only knew him for a week. I was a first-time Bible camper, attending family camp with my parents and brother. Brian was a cool camp counselor whose blond hair emerged wildly from underneath a dilapidated San Diego Padres baseball cap.

Why do I remember Brian, or whatever his name was? Because I was a five-year-old kid with a broken arm and a crippling speech impediment, and he took the time to get to know me anyway. In my long, winding faith journey, Brian is one of the earliest landmarks I remember. He helped me to know that, in spite of everything about myself I thought was wrong or not good enough, Jesus loved me.

I don’t really know Brian. I’m not even sure I know his name. But because of him, I know Jesus.

I wish we knew the name of the woman at the well. Who was she? John doesn’t bother telling us. What John does tell us is that she told other people about Jesus. At first, they believe because of her testimony. Later, they believe because they meet Jesus for themselves. She fades into the background of the story, her work of connecting complete.

I don’t know what happened to the woman at the well after the fourth chapter of John. I don’t know what happened to Brian after he left camp at the end of the summer of 1981. I do know both these saints brought people to Christ. And I know that even thought I don’t know their stories, Jesus does.

We don’t know what will happen when we share Jesus with others. We may lose the thread of the story. But God doesn’t. Thanks be to God for those who shared Jesus with us. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to share Jesus with others.

God of grace, thank you for drawing us into the story of your Son. May we lose ourselves in that story as we share it with others. Amen.

John 4:23-24

Thursday, March 16
Phyllis Kersten

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

Today’s passage is our third excerpt this Lent from the story of Jesus’ conversation with a nameless Samaritan woman. Almost from the beginning, the two are engaged in a theological discussion. Extraordinary – for it was taboo for a Jew to speak to a woman in public, let alone to engage her in a religious discussion! When Jesus offers the woman “living water,” she doesn’t get what’s really being offered to her, the gift of eternal life. The woman believes, however, that Jesus must be a prophet because of what he knows about her private life.           

In today’s verses the woman raises the main issue that has caused a rift between Samaritans and Jews – where Samaritans worshipped, on Mt. Gerizim, instead of in Jerusalem. But Jesus declares that the essential question is not where to worship, but whom – God the Father, “in spirit and in truth.” Then Jesus, who later in John says of himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” reveals himself to the Samaritan woman in his first “I am” saying, as “the Messiah” of both Samaritans and Jews.

What this encounter story is about is God’s desire to end the enmity and divisions between people. Encounters at wells are the site where Jewish patriarchs met their marriage partners. Now at Jacob’s well Jesus declares God’s love for Samaritans and all who are still separated from God today. 

I could easily name on one hand 50-plus women at Grace who have been transformed by Christ’s love into loving others. There’s Pat who invites individuals who live in her building to come to Grace to worship with her. There are all those who weekly partner with Harmony members to staff their food pantry. And the women and their spouses who welcome refugees at O’Hare and furnish places for them to live. And the young adults and retirees who tutor at Harmony. Plus, those who prepare and deliver Grace Care meals to folks like me. And, I suspect, last, but not least, there’s you!

Lord God, help us in our every encounter to love others. In Jesus’ name. Amen  

John 4:13-14 

Wednesday, March 15
Lance Wilkening

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

During a trip to Utah last year my wife, Stephanie, and I went on several hikes in the national parks there. To survive in the arid desert heat, you are advised to bring several liters of water with you. We carried this water in packs on our backs, pausing often to drink from a tube, making sure we stayed hydrated. But the amount of water each person can carry is limited, and before every hike we had to refill our backpacks.

On the same trip, we visited Lake Powell and saw boat docks sitting eerily abandoned in the desert, left high and dry as the lake shrinks because of a decades-long drought and the demands of millions of downstream residents who were drawn to that region by the promise of open space and plentiful sunshine, but who are now faced with the reality that water is a limited resource that must be conserved.

In contrast to the physical water on which our bodies depend, the Living Water Jesus describes to the Samaritan woman is limitless. It is abundant, not subject to climate change or the vagaries of human engineering. This Living Water is constant, always springing forth, “gushing,” unstoppable.

What is this Living Water? Jesus doesn’t specifically define it for the woman, but to me it is salvation, comfort, forgiveness, hope in times of desperation. Turning to the scriptures at low points in my life. Returning to the Word regularly to keep myself refreshed. Sharing this Living Water with others through words and actions. It is the mysterious but essential substance that somehow never runs out, always available to sustain me even when I don’t realize I need it.

Generous God, thank you for providing this Living Water and the promise of eternal life in Christ for those who drink of it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

John 4:9-10

Tuesday, March 14
Wendy Will

The Samaritan woman said to him,
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.
How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, 
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked
him and he would have given you living water.”

The Bible, the word of God, always seems to meet me in my need. Being assigned John 4:9,10 to focus on today had me reading and rereading the verses. It is an exchange between Jesus and a woman from Samaria. Different translations offered more insights into the words and meanings. The Message offered me a phrase that spoke to me and touched my heart. Jesus speaks about “the generosity of God”. 

Lent is a time to think about the love that God pours out through Jesus on the cross in death, the defeat of death, sin, and the resurrection. Oh, the generosity of God!

God shows that generosity in the little life adventures as well as the gift of salvation. Last week mu husband Corwin, and I had the blessing of watching two granddaughters, ages 4 and 6, while their parents had a getaway. The girls would especially miss their parents right before bedtime. We would close the day with a time together, reading a short devotion, discussion and prayer time. Talking about God’s love, themes of friendship, family and the day’s experiences were times we all looked forward to sharing. Closing with prayers of thanks and the Lord’s Prayer became a ritual that we enjoyed. But, more than that, the girls shared the generosity that is in their lives. They were counting the blessings that came from their loving God. Sleep came easily and swiftly for their focus was on God’s gracious gifts.

God is persistent and wants to break through to our hearts. In verse 10 Jesus speaks about giving us fresh, living water. What do I thirst for? Where do I search? God is the one who offers fresh, living water. Continuing the habit of closing my day with words from God and the naming of blessings is an addition to my Lenten journey. I pray, like the little girls, to thirst for God and God’s peace. 

God, your generosity is limitless. Refresh me every day with your living water so I may reflect your light and love to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Exodus 17:6-7

Monday, March 13

I [God] will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

I cannot count the number of times I have asked that same question; “Is God even here right now?” As a child I often heard “God will provide” as if it were some magical mantra. In first grade, when my father was in seminary, this concept went from abstract to a very concrete reality. My dad was a full-time seminary student, working part time. My mother was home with 4 children (2yrs-14yrs). As Christmas approached, money was scarce. Seminary tuition for dad and private school tuition for 4 kids was due, along with rent, food, car, etc. There was little left for milk much less Christmas.

My mother, being “fed-up-with-whining-children” declared “if you all can behave for the next 5 days, we will have pizza on Friday.” We quickly shut up. Mom was certain she would not have to keep this promise. Well, Friday came, and we had been very good. Where was this magical pizza to come from when she could not afford a gallon of milk?

That day, my father went to pay his tuition only to find a zero balance, his tuition paid in full by an anonymous donor. He raced home, grabbing the mail on his way in, to discover a plain white envelope with no return address with a $100 bill inside, wrapped in plain paper. The paper said, “Merry Christmas.”

We had pizza for dinner. And there was greater appreciation for God’s providence around the table that night, as well as a lot of wondering about those anonymous people who supported us as my father fulfilled his call into ministry. God provided for our needs in most unexpected way.

I continue to wander, displease, challenge, and anger God. I continue to shout, “Where are you?!” And when I stop shouting and listen, I can hear that still small voice that says “I’m right here. I never left. I will see you through this.” And I rest in that miraculous reality.

Faithful God, remind me daily of your presence in my life. Help me to trust that I am not alone but am held close in your arms. And that you know my needs even in the small moments of life. In Jesus name. Amen.

Psalm 95:1

Sunday, March 12
Rev. Bob Shaner

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation.”

This first verse in Psalm 95 is best understood in its historical context, six centuries before Christ, where its message is addressed to THE WHOLE PEOPLE of God — a message that speaks to our day. The people had strayed from their commitment and devotion to God and were now exiled in Babylon. Struggling and dwindling, they were adrift. The once proud, expanding, mighty fabric (God’s chosen, the twelve tribes of Israel likened to be as numerous as the stars) were becoming a remnant — a shell of their former self.  The grand, royal days of King David were past. They had found other allegiances, other gods. As in our time, more “non’s” than believers comprised the larger community. The covenant faith of Abraham and Sarah, diminished in number, was in shambles. What kind of message could reach an improvised people, shake this trend, and awaken them from lethargy? How could the shrinking faithful be nourished and strengthened, not just to endure and survive, but thrive…to be renewed, emboldened, equipped, and empowered in a world indifferent to God’s purposes?

Whether to ancient Israel or us, God continues to speak through the psalmist not in some privatized spiritual sense to a single individual but to THE WHOLE PEOPLE OF GOD. The psalmist is not using some introspective, meditative, withdrawal, or seclusive language but rather is speaking in IMPERATIVE language with verbs of action. The message is not to be avoided or evaded or trivialized, but to be lived vibrantly in and through the faithful for the sake of the world:

SHOUT ALOUD to the rock of our salvation…

COME, a call for action — communal behavior to be “lived out.” In the sanctuary, yes, but also in the world!  SING FOR JOY — let the faith be known!  SHOUT ALOUD — boldly speak the good news in terms that the world can see and hear — especially the song of justice and freedom, the music of redemptive love of neighbor, the melody that embraces the migrant, the marginal and the refugee, as well as the joyful chorus proclaiming peace and ecological harmony.

Now in our ”Lenten season” at Grace we are preparing again for “the feast of victory” that only God can bring out of the suffering, scandalous death of Jesus. Even in these days of a contracting church in a culture that worships self and adores pleasure, God speaks through the psalmist in imperative, action language, evoking a behavior the world needs: COME, SING FOR JOY, SHOUT ALOUD to the rock of our salvation.

O Savior of the world whose mighty deeds provide the message of our song, speak to us again through the psalmist that we might COME and SING for joy, making A LOUD NOISE to the rock of our salvation. Embolden us to reach out with good news to the impoverished, to embrace all in need, and to invite others to the living waters of forgiveness where bread can be found for the journey. Amen