Romans 4:13

Saturday, March 11
Rev. Ole Schenk

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

Where are you? What’s the quality of the terrain where you encounter Christ? Today’s verse from Romans insists on just how expansive that question can be: encountering Christ through the promises of God’s word opens up for faith nothing less than what Paul names as “inheriting the world.” This is grandiose to be sure! But we need not jump immediately to delusions of power and grandeur. This is Lent after all. Encountering Christ means you and I are no longer at the center of the terrain.

I often feel that the terrain where I try to find myself is hopelessly divided up without any wholeness: screens of phone and computer, immediate tasks that weigh up so fast with care and responsibility, emotions inescapably gnawing away at me. When Troy and I hiked along the intricate rocks and wind-swayed pine trees of the Shawnee Forest, the sun played gleaming chords upon the rocks and tree shadows cast silhouettes far ahead of us. I felt for a moment I belonged to a terrain that welled up gratitude within me.

Through the encounter with Christ in the living words that rise to meet us from the pages of Scripture, you and I, we are so graced to belong to such an expansive terrain: a forest of crosses endured by all the saints who’ve traveled the way before us and sojourn with us now, the saints who’ve crossed that creek of baptism and who daily pass the rough hills that plunge us down in dying to sin, and the gleaming of the rocks rising on the steps in faith. That forest of crosses springs new green reaching-out needles that sway in the breezes of the Spirit’s power, and the shadows these trees cast overshadow ahead of us all the false gods and idols and the depths of sin and despair that would try to claim and conquer us. 

In Lent, perhaps, it’s the roughness of the terrain of discipleship that grows with firm profile. Though through baptism you and I belong to Christ, this is Christ’s own way, which cannot be smoothness and ease even if it’s truly fully good.    

Holy God, I seek you. May your word call me with all the cares I carry out onto the terrain that your word creates before, behind, and all around me. Give to me the formation of repentance and the perseverance in hope that I need today. Amen.

John 3:16-17

Friday, March 10
Bruce Modahl

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We often miss the quotation marks around this famous passage of Scripture. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. Jesus makes promises to him. You can count the promises in the above passage. 

I picture Jesus narrowing his gaze upon Nicodemus alone. I see Jesus extending a hand to him, perhaps even a hand upon his shoulder as he promises, “God loves you so very much Nicodemus. God loves you so much that he gave his only Son so that you might be saved through him.”

Nicodemus would come to know, as we know, Jesus’ promises lead him to the cross and then to a joyful resurrection on the first day of a new creation.

Jesus invites us to trust these promises and to believe the Promise Giver. When we do so we enjoy and make use of Christ’s benefits: forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, life eternal, and more.

Sometimes we don’t trust the promises or the Promise Giver. We wander into the far country. The far country is the landscape we inhabit when we hang our hearts on something or someone other than God. It is the sandy terrain upon which we trust the promises the world holds out to us. It is the territory in which we fear something or someone other than God. These false promises quickly tarnish and disappoint.

But even the far country is a land that is, in the words of one author, Christ-haunted. In the times I have wandered off into the far country, I always had the sense that I was being stalked by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s promises. The Spirit of God employs means such as those who speak the Word to us, and by the water we see in the baptismal font as we pass by. In those waters the Spirit marked us with the cross of Christ. We may be wandering in the far country, but we answer the altar call anyway. We are hungry. Christ’s body and blood lure us home.

Heavenly Father, by your Holy Spirit’s power make us promise bearers and inspire us to make use of Christ’s benefits. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

John 3:14-15

Thursday, March 9
Krista Kaplan

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”

Early one January morning, I awoke to devastating news: a dear friend’s daughter had been critically injured in a car accident and would not survive.  Immediately I reached out to express heartbreak and to offer love and support. Yet a storm of pain engulfed me – shock; grief for my friend and her family; anger at the other driver; anxiety over the fragility of life; and most of all, helplessness.

This Gospel reading showed me a way out. Jesus first refers to a curious story from the Book of Numbers. Near the end of the Israelites’ years of wandering in the wilderness, God sent them poisonous serpents to punish them for their impatience and ingratitude. After many died from serpent bites, the survivors repented and asked Moses to intercede. Rather than remove the serpents, God instructed Moses to create a bronze serpent and set it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten by a real serpent would look at the bronze serpent and survive.

On first reading, this tale smacks of idolatry. But God did not give any magical power to the bronze serpent itself.  To the contrary, the image symbolized God’s own healing power and served to remind the Israelites to return to him alone for sustenance.

Through this story, Jesus foretells his own role in God’s plan of redemption. As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent, so too would Jesus be lifted up – i.e., crucified, then resurrected. Through the lifting up of the bronze serpent, God offered the Israelites salvation from physical death.  Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God offers all of us salvation from eternal death. This salvation comes not from within, but from God, through his infinite love and redeeming grace.

Reflecting on this message, I realized that I felt helpless because I was trying to overcome my pain alone – an impossible task. Turning to God, I prayed for healing and strength. As the tears flowed, I felt divine love and warmth envelope me and begin to dissolve the tension that been gripping me. These days I continue to reach out to my friend and her family, and I try to support them in meaningful ways.  As they proceed on their long journey of healing, I pray that God’s love and grace will lift them up every step of the way.

Dear God, through your Word, you remind us to look to you alone for sustenance and healing.  As you lifted up Jesus for our salvation, we pray that you will lift us up every day, so that we may live in service to you and others.  Amen.

John 3:8

Wednesday, March 8
Dick Martens

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

I was twenty-five years old and backpacking through East Asia on a shoestring. My journey took me to Osaka, Japan, to see the World’s Fair. Because there were no reasonable accommodations in Osaka, literally hundreds of us young travelers were camped out in the airport by night, making trips to the Fair by day. 

I had befriended an American, Joe Jackson, and a Chinese man from Hong Kong, Alan Chen. Typically, we took the train from the airport to the Fair and back, but one night we stayed for the fireworks show and missed the last train. We decided to take a taxi back to the airport. None of us spoke Japanese and there was no meter in the taxi.

As we neared the airport, we asked the driver how much the fare was. In his best English, the driver said an outrageous number of Yen. We asked him to repeat it. He replied with the same outrageous number, a number more than the three of us could pay. Joe was angry and started yelling at the driver, who drove the car past the airport into points unknown. We asked the driver where he was going. No response.

Several minutes later the driver stopped the taxi in a busy neighborhood and got out. We also got out and Joe continued yelling at the driver. A crowd began circling us. Joe was yelling in English and the driver was yelling back in Japanese. More people joined the crowd. Alan and I were quietly standing near the taxi as Joe and the driver went at it.

As I stood there, a Japanese man came up to me and whispered in my ear in perfect English: “You are in a bad neighborhood. Take this money. Pay the driver and get out.” With that, he stuck hundreds of yen in my hand and left. I did exactly as he said and the driver safely returned us to the airport.

I am still in awe recounting this story. Dressed like a stranger in Japan, God inexplicably entered my life. Like the wind – or the Spirit – in today’s devotion, from whence it cometh or goeth, we do not know. We only know that God is there, abiding with us. Watching over us. Even encountering us.

Gracious God, we thank you for your abiding presence in our lives. Amen.

John 3:3-4

Tuesday, March 7
Craig Mindrum

Jesus answered [Nicodemus],
  “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a person is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can anyone be born after growing old?
Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

There’s a funny kind of tension running through the third chapter of John as Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, comes to speak with Jesus. Jesus wasn’t on great terms with the Pharisees, as you may know, so the conversation is a bit stilted and blunt. (Jesus even insults Nicodemus at one point.)

Nicodemus begins with what seems to be a polite remark, the sort of easy praise you might give someone you’re visiting at the beginning of a conversation, trying to get off on the right foot: “Jesus, we know you’re a great Rabbi because of all your miracles and signs.” Oooh, wrong thing to say and actually pretty sarcastic, and Jesus knows it. It’s exactly those miracles and signs that the Pharisees do not believe. One can almost imagine Jesus narrowing his eyes in response as he drops on Nicodemus entirely out of context (really, verse three is a total non sequitur) a huge and profound teaching that one may well argue is central to the whole Christian experience of salvation: Unless you can be re-born, you’re not going to be able to understand what the kingdom of God is even all about. You won’t believe my miracles and signs, Jesus may be thinking, so try this one on for size.

Jesus gets the reaction he wanted. Nicodemus is a bit stunned, rocked back on his heels. “You mean I have to climb back into my mother’s womb and be born a second time? What’s that all about?” No, it’s a metaphor, Jesus might have replied. Try to stay with me, Nicodemus.

Jesus never explains the metaphor, so take some time today to consider it. What do you think it means to be “born anew”? What has to die?

I think it’s the self, our ego, that has to die. Our need to impose our will on the world. Our drive to always win, to place our needs over the needs of other people and of the entire world. An entire host of preconceptions—hard and fixed ways of thinking—obscure our vision, preventing us from seeing the kingdom of heaven: the glory that is around us all the time.

Lord, help us every day to die to our selfish desires and to be born anew. Amen.

Genesis 12:1-2

Monday, March 6
Liz Hanson

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Just before I started kindergarten, my family moved to Hong Kong, and on my first day of school, we moved from our hotel to a temporary apartment. As I remember it, Dad dropped me off in a taxi that morning, gave me an index card with my school bus number, and told me the name of an apartment complex. My predicament was that I would have to go home that afternoon without yet knowing where home was.

Convinced that I would miss the bus or miss my stop and find myself adrift and alone in a foreign city, I approached a relatively simple task with something less than calmness and fortitude. Mercifully, a patient, unflappable teacher’s aide got me onto the right bus with time to spare. I watched anxiously from a window seat as the bus wound its way along its route and wondered where to get off. The apartment complex Dad had named was enormous, with stops at multiple identical buildings. All I could do was scan the crowd of parents waiting at each one, praying that I would recognize my own. Finally, there was Dad. I got off the bus, and he took me home.

In these verses, Abram doesn’t even get an index card. God commands him to leave everything he knows and go “to the land that I will show you.” The future tense sticks out to me: God doesn’t tell Abram what land it is, how far away it is, or how long it will take him to get there (spoiler alert: it’s gonna be a while). God’s promise requires Abram to dwell a long time with uncertainty. But the uncertainty makes it no less a promise.

We’re inclined to look for encounters with Christ more in the destination or the fulfillment of the promise than in the space of uncertainty preceding it: once God shows us the place, once we get to the blessing, then we’ll see him. We look for Christ at every stop, but he’s been with us all along. In entering into our humanity, he has also entered into our uncertainty and all the fears that go with it. In the times of anxious journeying or wandering, before God has shown us the place, Christ encounters us, even if we don’t yet realize it—or realize how the encounter is shaping us. We can trust God to show us the place and fulfill the promise, knowing that Christ goes with us the whole way.

Dear Lord, help us to recognize your presence when we are still on our way to the places that you will show us, and give us your peace. Amen.

Psalm 121:1-2

Sunday, March 5
Gwen Gotsch

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Sometimes – often, in fact – I wonder about who or what God is. I look up from what I’m reading on my book or laptop and stare into the empty space over the couch and ask — what? What do I see? What is the reality behind the stained-glass language I’ve heard all my life?

When, like the psalmist, I look to the mountains, I sense the vastness of time and space, the geologic forces that wrenched the peaks into place, the ancient melting glaciers and the eons of time that carved riverbeds and canyons. When I look deeper, I see the horizon where the curve of the earth drops away, always beyond my reach.

What does this grandeur have to do with me, a poor, confused creature sitting indoors on a winter morning? Pillows on the couch, books on the shelf, warm socks, the thoughts in my head – they’re all temporary, short-lived, as am I. Yet I am connected to the majesty of the mountains, the mystery of empty air and hazy horizons. The same God who caused those things to be also made me — and made me able to know this.

I look to Jesus to show the way to seek and find the help of the God who made heaven and earth. Jesus addressed God as “Abba, Father,” not an authoritarian patriarchal figure, but a close and caring parent. In God’s name, Jesus brought healing to the sick and cared for the poor and powerless. In obedience to God’s will, Jesus did not reject the way of the cross, but suffered, died and rose again to bring new life to his followers.

It is an example I draw on whenever I take a deep and grounding breath, when I need to calm my thoughts or find patience and grace, when I feel shame or worry about messing up, when I grieve over sad news in the wide world or death and illness among friends and family. The light that dawns over the oceans, that sets behind the mountain is also the light of Christ, living in me, and in you, too.

God, creator of this world and of the universe beyond, help me to know both your wonder and your closeness and, following Jesus’ example, to reflect your light and truth to everyone I encounter. Amen.

Romans 5:15

Saturday, March 4

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

I recently attended a retreat focused on “Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.” One thing I noticed immediately was that the word “Equality” was absent from the title. But after exploring Romans 5:15 I have discovered why. Equality is not part of God’s economy. Equity is.

Equality has to do with making sure everyone receives the same amount of something; resources spread evenly among the group. Equity is making sure everyone has what they need to end at the same point.

Sin came into the world through one man, Adam. Adam made a choice. From that choice came judgment resulting in condemnation for us all. But the gift of grace, God’s loving response to humanities offenses, results in our justification. If, by a single person’s offense, death came to the entire creation, how much greater is the gift to all who openly receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness which comes through the one man, Jesus Christ, our Savior.

God’s dispensation of grace is completely unequal, which makes my encounter with Jesus here challenging. I thank God for that that equity for myself, but the old Adam wants equality for those who are “worse” than I am. It’s fine that they receive grace but it should obviously be less than what I receive! Maybe just enough to get them up from Dante’s seventh circle of hell to maybe the second or third level but not out of hell altogether. The drunk who killed a neighbor, who on their death bed confesses their sins, asks God’s forgiveness, and believes will be my neighbor in heaven? Is that fair? That someone who has lived in opposition to God all their life has the same hope of salvation that I do?

Equality would say no. My sinful human nature wants to say no. But God says a resounding YES! God’s love and grace, the righteousness we have through Christ is not a pie where we each get an equal slice but more like rain that falls on everyone with no regard for worthiness or belief. It is like the seed thrown to the wind. It lands where it will. This is not a meritocracy, but a kingdom based on God’s expansive love and grace. Thanks be to God!

Faithful God, thank you for your gift of grace. May I grant it to others in the same measure as it has been given to me. Amen.

Matthew 4:8-10

Friday, March 3
Jeff Cribbs

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.
“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written:
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Rejecting Satan’s temptations and remaining sinless, Jesus established himself as the ruler of the redeemed earth prior to beginning his public ministry. Moreover, Jesus’s response to the devil is rooted in the old law as he responds with the Word of God from Deuteronomy, the book of obedience.

The third temptation of Christ is about having power and being king of your domain. Applying it to our lives, we are tempted by status, self-importance, self-exultation, dominating, or feeling superior to others.

Part of our collective failing may be because it is often difficult to discern good or evil. Most all temptations are about acquiring or feeling “good.” Or even murkier, we make ethical decisions based on various levels of good. Although we do not always recognize it from our point of view, there is an omnipresent “other side” with most issues and behavior. Our personal story and justification are what get us into trouble. We forget we are not here to seek our kingdom but Christ’s kingdom. 

How do we know when we are serving God and not ourselves? Jesus defeated temptation, and from his example, we have the power to face our own demons. By doing so, we can live life as we are called to do, serving God. We can turn to Micah 6:8, calling us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Jesus rejecting earthly power for a greater power gives meaning and purpose to our lives. Standing up for and working to improve the plight of the poor, disadvantaged, oppressed, forgotten, and underprivileged is central to our calling as children of God. Collectively, the community of believers inherits and carries on this responsibility as we live into living for and serving others. 

Good and gracious Lord, help me see the good and evil in my life more clearly.  Please give me the power to reject immediate gratification.  Instead, help me recognize how to use my God-given gifts and blessings to serve your kingdom. Amen

Matthew 4:5-7

Thursday, March 2
Dave Kluge

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

In February of 1964 the boxing world was shocked when Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammed Ali) defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship. He wouldn’t let us forget how great a boxer he was. He would frequently remind us saying, “I’m the greatest!” Was he a narcissist, egotistical, grandstanding, or worse?

Before answering that question, we would do well to look at ourselves. How many times haven’t we had the same attitude in relation to others. It’s part of who we are; a product of our sinful human nature. All of us want to be “the greatest.”

When the devil tempted Eve to eat fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden he said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5) That is, you’ll be able to choose for yourself what’s good or evil. Not much has changed since then.

At the start of his ministry Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He had just resisted the temptation to turn a stone into bread when the devil took him to the top of the temple. The tempter wanted Jesus to jump down from the pinnacle of the temple to demonstrate his greatness and thereby win a large following of people. One might paraphrase the devil’s words to our Lord: Show the people how great you are! Jump down!

Jesus chose another path. He emptied himself of his glory and chose the road to Calvary. He didn’t do it for himself. He did it for us, we who by our sin stand at the foot of the cross crying out, “Come down! And then we’ll believe!” Because he chose not to come down, we find forgiveness and life through him.

Lord God, we confess that time and again we have elevated ourselves at the expense of others. Forgive us and by your Holy Spirit equip us for a life of humble service to those in need. To you alone be the glory. We ask this in the name of him who did not come down from the pinnacle of the temple or the cross. Amen.