2019 Lenten Devotions

An invitation to enter into the practice of Lent with every bit of us – bodies, too.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Lenten Bodies

Philippians 3:17-4:1

For many of us the idea of Lent is so interwoven with the notion of giving something up that it is hard to think of one without the other. Whether we stop eating chocolate or not, we tend to associate the ideas: Lent and abstinence. Lent and sacrifice. Lent and disciplining the body.

At first blush, the Apostle Paul seems to be with us.

Whoever it is that Paul is railing against in today’s passage (commentators – do I need to say it? – do not agree), it is clear that they are not abstinent. Not only are they not the kind of people who would give something up for Lent, they are wanton. They are either part of the church in Philippi or somehow associated with it, but they practice an extreme form of self-indulgence centering on food and sex. To say Paul is appalled by them is to put it mildly (“Enemies of the cross,” he calls them in v.18). Apparently, the people in question are also beyond being cajoled or corrected. If they weren’t, Paul would be in there swinging – arguing and summing up for the jury as he so loves to do. No, these are people who cannot be reasoned with, only cried over (v.18). Perhaps they think of indulging their appetites as a way of expressing freedom from past religious practices or perhaps they are like some other groups in the church at the time who practiced a libertine lifestyle thinking to emphasize the Spirit by downplaying the body’s relevance. Either way, they are misguided. Their behavior results in less freedom and less Spirit, not more. Paul does not mince words in condemning them.

But just when you expect him to say, “so do the opposite of what they do,” he stops. He does not say, “where they indulge, you should abstain,” or “whereas they glory in the flesh you should humiliate it,’”or “instead of giving way to appetite you should discipline yourselves.” Instead he says, “Christ will transform our humble bodies” (v.21).

Today’s passage, so often read to reinforce the practice of abstinence during Lent, actually does no such thing. Paul is neither an ascetic nor a libertine. He seems to know that when it comes to the body one extreme can be as bad as the other. He believes in trusting God – not trying to control God – with our bodies. He believes in the gracious power of Christ to catch up the good and the bad, the pain and the joy, the life and the finitude represented by the word “body” and transform it all …into One Whole Life.

Rev. Dr. Jana Childers
SFTS Dean, Vice President for Academic Affairs,
and Professor of Homiletics and Speech Communication

Even when we trust God in the big storms of life, do we trust God in the unexpected little showers?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Storms and Showers

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to GOD, “My refuge and my fortress;
My God in whom I trust.”

                                                                                       Psalm 91:1-2 

Last December I had an epiphany:  I realized that while I trust God to see me through the big storms in my life, sometimes when it comes to unexpected showers I act as though I’m totally on my own. Actually, the epiphany was a two-part revelation:  Phase one was maturing in my faith walk through what Walter Bruggemann calls “listening obedience,” and phase two was awakening to the realization that I needed to trust God with my whole life—the storms and the light showers.

As the Fall Semester (2018) came to a close, I was feeling really good about how well the semester went because I had taken a lighter course load.  I was able to thoroughly enjoy my Theology class because I had time to complete the reading and, more importantly, I had time to reflect on the concepts we were learning.

I was also feeling excited (maybe even a little smug) because I knew what it felt like to experience the benefits of being obedient.  You see, at the end of my second year, I was exhausted because I had taken a much heavier coarse load than I should have.  I knew better and kept saying I wouldn’t do it again, but every semester I found myself in the same place.  So when I left campus for the summer I promised God I would take a lighter load—no matter what.

It wasn’t easy for me keep that promise.  When I found out that the Dean added “Prophetic Preaching” to the Fall Schedule, I began to rationalize.  I even thought about auditing, but was told they weren’t accepting audits.  The class met on Thursday morning at nine.  The first week of class I remember glancing at the clock and thinking, “It’s 8:45, I can get ready and be there by 9:00.”  I took a deep breath and prayed—“Okay, Lord, please help me let this go—I know I promised.”  When I finished praying it was 9:05, and there was a peace in my spirit that hadn’t been there just a few minutes earlier.  I was going to be okay.

On the last day of Theology class, a classmate, who always sat on the other side of the classroom, sat next to me.  When the class ended, we started talking about the classes we planned to take in the spring—our final semester before graduation.  When he mentioned that he had completed all the academic requirements of his Presbytery, it dawned on me that I didn’t know the academic requirements for my Presbytery—I had simply been following the seminary’s requirements for the Masters of Divinity.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that my Presbytery required two preaching classes for ordination and I had completed only one.

I say much to my dismay because I couldn’t believe what had happened.  All I could think was that if I had taken “Prophetic Preaching” I wouldn’t be in this dilemma.  Deep down I knew I had done the right thing by not taking the class, yet I felt really deflated.  Then I began to panic– SFTS was only offering “Introduction to Preaching” in the spring.  What was I going to do?  If I couldn’t figure something out, I’d have to find a class somewhere after graduation.

It took me a couple of days to come to my senses.  Where was my trust?  I knew God didn’t “bring me this far to leave me.”  But I sure didn’t act like I knew it.  I was falling apart over one class.  If I trusted that God works all things together for good, then I had to trust that this was going to work out.

The good news is I found a preaching class at another GTU seminary that not only satisfies my Presbytery’s requirement, but it’s also a really great class.

This Lenten Season is a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect on my two-part epiphany.  Psalm 91 reminds us that we can trust God’s faithfulness. God will be with us in times of trouble both big and small.  We can trust God with our whole life.

Denise Diaab
SFTS Senior MDiv Student

Every moment of every day offers up the possibility of prayer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Blessing the Everyday

Psalm 148

In yesterday’s devotion, Linda Lane-Bortell encouraged us to see every bit of God’s creation together as One Whole Life.

Psalm 148 has that sense about it, too.  The Psalmist stands in the midst of everything that God has made – a part of it – and listens as every bit of creation sings to God – from the heights, from the depths, sun, moon, angels, stars, sea creatures, cattle lowing, flying birds, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, cedars, mountains, oceans, kings, queens, young, and old – each and all singing with one voice, one song – the song echoed in another Psalm: “The earth is God’s and everything in it.”

The blessing of Celtic spirituality carries with it this sense, too:  every bit of creation surrounded and filled with the presence of God.  In her book The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther de Waal describes the prayers that she and others have gleaned from the written and (mostly) oral traditions of the Celtic world.  Those prayers reflect a world where folk “feel God before them and by their side, and at their back, throughout the day, and throughout the night.” With God that close, the prayers ask God to bless the work at hand, God present in it, with trust that each part of life, “however humble, however mundane, can be handed over to God, or performed in partnership and with the cooperation of God.”  De Waal sums it up this way:  “[These blessings and prayers] do not beg or ask God to give this or that. Instead, they recognize what is already there, already given, waiting to be seen, to be taken up, enjoyed.”

These prayers often take the form of short petitions that punctuate and undergird the day:

Bless, O God, my little cow..
Bless each drop that goes into my pitcher.”

or

Bless our boatmen and our boat,
Bless our anchors and our oars…”

or

Bless, O generous chief of chiefs,
my loom and everything a-near me…”

Here’s an example of how we do this too: At the start of meals, we give thanks and ask God to bless the food to do good in the world, through us: “God, bless this food to our use, and us to thy service.”

Maybe you can think of other everyday moments that have felt like prayer to you.  I think of these:

  • as a child, following half a step behind my grandmother, as she took linens down off the line, carried them into the house, and pressed them crisp – sheets that would hold her family as they slept;
  • or just a couple months ago, standing on a trail, eye to eye with one of our neighborhood coyotes, as we considered what to make of each other;
  • or any number of moments when words were not what was needed, just a hand to hold.

Every moment of every day is filled and surrounded and overflowing with the presence of God, whether we notice or not.  Every moment of every day offers up the possibility of prayer.

So, on this second Wednesday of Lent, I invite us to pray the everyday moments of our day, in the way of Celtic blessing. It is easy.  At any moment, notice what is before you.  Ask God to bless it for good.  And then move into the moment with God.

Bless this car to me today, that it will carry me to places I am needed.

or

Bless this keyboard to me today, that typing on it I may send words that are healing and true.

or

Bless this dinner I am preparing, may it strengthen and nourish those I love.

This is the prayer: Moment by everyday moment, seeing what God has given, asking God to bless it for good, and moving into the day.

Praying and living moment by moment – one whole life.
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Dean of Students and Chaplain

Instead of thinking of the different parts of creation, try to imagine creation as all part of One Whole Life.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

I Am the Lion

Isaiah 11:6-9

The image of wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion, infant and cobra hanging out together bothers me because it is unnatural.  Nothing in our world survives without eating something else.  I mentioned this to a scientist, and he pointed out that while it can be helpful at times to speak of individuals – human, lion, viper, goat, lamb – a better description of creation is to think not of these parts, but of One Whole Life. Each part of the creation is interdependently related to every other part, each part is essential to the One Whole Life on this planet.  This passage changes the natural relationship between predator and prey to make a point: Carnivores do not have any choice, they must eat meat to live, but we have a choice. I’m not talking about hunters or the diets of carnivores, but about humans who prey on the One Whole Life.

Recently, I had a revelation: I am a predator.  I saw before me the mountain of trash I have created in my lifetime. The average American generates 4-7 pounds of trash per person per day.  Over a lifetime that might amount to 500 tons. Pile up it all up, and it would be an impressive and harmful mountain of trash. God calls us to neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.  To harm the creation is to our physical and spiritual peril. When faced with the environmental problems of our world, I feel as powerless as a lamb caught by a wolf, but when I look at my trash and the threat to the environment it causes, I see that I am the lion –  the powerful predator.

This passage reminds me that I have power, and it calls me to use that power to effect planet-saving change.  This Lent, consider reducing your consumption of disposables, an important step to protecting our One Whole Life.

Rev. Linda Lane-Bortell
Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Terra Linda
SFTS DMin Student

The Gospel is more than a sales pitch – it’s an expansive welcome to One Whole Life imbued with the Spirit of Christ.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Gospel Isn’t a Sales Pitch

Romans 10:8b-13

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

I will confess with my lips right now that this verse makes me cringe.

Not because it doesn’t contain profound truths.

Not because it doesn’t point to the life-giving importance of authentic commitment to Jesus.

But because so often we have used it to reduce the Gospel to nothing more than a sales pitch, when the Gospel is so much more.

I’m reminded of a warm summer evening in LA about 10 years ago when I was at an evangelism event. The room was packed—every chair filled with a few hundred, passionate 20- and 30-somethings. And boy was I one of them. Wide-eyed and eager to learn how to share the love our community with our city.

Or megachurch pastor took the stage, and she quickly walked us through how we would be approaching people in neighborhoods across LA.

“Alright friends! Here’s how you can share the Gospel in four easy steps. Start by explaining that we all have have sinned, and God says the penalty of sin is death.”

“Then, talk about how God came to earth as Jesus and lived, died, and rose in order to pay the price for your sin.”

“After that, tell them how the resurrection of Jesus assures that they are right with God so they will receive eternal life in heaven.”

“Finally, invite them to pray to God, asking for His forgiveness, and telling Him that you believe in Jesus.”

“And why do we do this?” she said as she opened her Bible. “Because in Romans we read, ‘If you confess with your lips…’”

Say this. Believe that. You’re good.

You know, there is something beautiful about this simplicity. What an incredible thing to know that life with God begins whenever you say, “Yes! I need that.”

But might Paul’s words offer us something even more? Might our simple answers prevent us from entering into a deeper, but more complicated divine relationship?

As I’ve sat with Paul’s words, I began to see not a one-off marketing transaction, but a daring invitation: one that goes beyond a mere intellectual assent to certain “Jesus facts” and into one whole life fully imbued with the Spirit of Christ.

Paul begins with a deep desire to confess that the path of love, openness, forgiveness, compassion, and justice forged by Jesus is the life worth living. He continues with a call to trust, with our fullest selves, in the resurrection—an ever-present reality that God is in our suffering, pointing us to the hope and promise of new life.

Paul invites all of us—head to toe, inside and out—to step into the life of Christ. And that’s so much more than a checkbox and a prayer.

A final note: At this point in our faith’s history as the Church takes stock of the spiritual trauma it has caused, may we also lean into a more expansive understanding of Paul’s final words in this passage:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

For many, this is an impossible task.

For many, the name of Jesus is one they may never utter again.

For many, “one whole life” looks like one away from a religion and an institution that has treated them without dignity.

And that is a reality that we as the Church must grapple with now.

May we open our ears with compassion to deeply hear all cries and calls, no matter what words are used.

May we remind the world that God is a God who listens.

May we work with humility and honesty to rebuild trust in a religion that has done so much harm in the name of Jesus.

Sam Lundquist
SFTS Senior MDiv Student

A psalm for today – Wake me up God from my waking sleep…

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Divine Mutuality: A Psalm for Today

Psalm 51

Wake me up God,
From my waking sleep
And from the nightmare of negativity –
Of cynicism, of complacency.
Be the light, God,
That burns the foggy haze
Off the surface of my soul.
Hold me, God,
While I smile and cry
At the same time
Because I am not sure what to feel.

Hold my hand, God,
And in Your humility,
Make yourself known to me.
You re-make me from the inside-out.
You are powerful in Steadfast Love,
You level the ground with Your mercy
And You open the table with grace.
Hold my hand as I walk with You.
Transform me, and let me transform.
Speak to me, and let me speak.
Love me lavishly, and I shall let loose love.
Shelter me, and I will be a shelter for the shattered and vulnerable –
Those close to Your heart.
Wrap me up in Your whole being;
Your presence is the touchstone for my healing.

Oh, I love You God.
My maker, ever re-making me.
Top to bottom,
Inside-out.
Your love is a catalyst
That takes its time.
The process is the important part,
And You help me to understand that.

I will rest in it,
I will not resist it.
I will revel in the tense space,
I will cultivate resiliency,
Grit, fire, strength,
Softness, empathy, and hope.
Grief is not a dirty word.
It is overwhelming;
Yet as it overcomes me, God,
I know You will sustain me.
If the only way out is through,
And this is the way through…
I will face it.
God, I will choose not to be afraid
Of my emotions and of my short-comings –
No matter how large a shadow they cast upon my life,
They can never, will never,
Be bigger than the light of all that You are.

Amen.

Alysha Laperche
SFTS MDiv Student

Jesus teaches us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not to impress one another.

Friday, March 8, 2019

PRAYING WITH INTENTION

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The way Jesus instructs the disciples and crowds gathered to pray in the Sermon on the Mount reminds me of the 2003 movie, Bruce Almighty. Truth be told, the theological soundness of this Jim Carrey film is questionable. The omnipotent God who pulls strings like a puppet master does not always hold up for everyone in this day and age. And the main plot device in which God gives divine power to a normal person with almost no pretext? That’s not a strong selling point, either. All the same, the movie teaches a valuable lesson about prayer.

In the beginning of the movie, the main character, Bruce Nolan, finds himself dealing with the short end of the stick. He believes God is bullying him, and Bruce has no problem letting this be known. He yells and screams to the heavens. He makes sure everyone within ear shot knows his pain and suffering. He sounds like the hypocrites Jesus describes in Matthew 6. “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention… When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get… And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward.” (CEB, Matthew 6:1-16). Bruce, like the hypocrites, must make a show of his “prayer,” so that it can be heard.

Through a comical – and frankly weird – series of events, Bruce is given God’s powers. At least, he’s given God’s powers as they pertain to part of Buffalo, New York. And once he understands his newfound abilities, Bruce runs rampant, trying to “right the wrongs” in his own life. And he does all of this to the neglect of others. In the climax of the movie – I want to avoid spoiling as much of this 16-year-old movie for you as possible and note that it is on Netflix if you’re brave enough to watch 101 minutes of Jim Carrey – Bruce learns how his decisions have hurt others. Most importantly, he learns how they have hurt his longtime girlfriend, Grace (played by Jennifer Aniston).

At one point, Bruce is talking to God (Morgan Freeman), and God asks him to say a prayer.

“Lord,” Bruce prays, “feed the hungry. And bring peace to all of mankind. How’s that?”

“Great,” God says, “if you want to be Miss America. Now c’mon. What do you really care about?”

“Grace,” Bruce whispers.

“You want her back?” God inquires.

“No. I want her to be happy. No matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now – through your eyes.”

“Now that’s a prayer,” God says proudly.

Throughout the course of the movie, Bruce learns how to, “… collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (CEB, Matthew 6:20-21). Bruce learns how to move into intentional prayer for others. He learns how to focus his prayers on others and how to give them only to God.

As we examine how to live One Whole Life this Lent, let us remember how to pray as well. Jesus told us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not one another. The Holy listens for our prayer in this season of sincerity. May we remember how to pray intentionally, focusing on God and love for our neighbors.

Rev. Cameron Highsmith
SFTS MDiv 2014

Bearing the Good News brings both joy and tribulation – one whole life indeed.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paul’s Resume

Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Position Description: Apostle for Christ Jesus in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

Dear Sirs:

You have, undoubtedly, been hearing conflicting reports about my work in the above position. The newest rumor: Some persons are saying that I don’t have the qualifications to serve in this role. I’d like to give you a little update and present (again) my credentials for our current work. I want to make sure that there are no obstacles to our preaching.

As you know, I was a devoted Pharisee, whose previous experience consisted in persecuting followers of Jesus. In this role, I came to know their arguments and their actions really well. Then, due to God’s great grace and the assistance of some really devoted Christians, I came myself to believe. I am continuing my work, begun some years ago now, of spreading the Good News of Christ in regions populated largely by Gentiles.  I think you are aware of some of the difficulties that I (and my companions) have encountered, including hardships, calamities, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, beatings, and imprisonment.

In all these tribulations, we responded with patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, truthful speech, and, I have to say, the power of God. They treat us as impostors, yet we are true, as dying, yet we are alive—really alive. They’ve punished us, but they have not killed us. They say we are sorrowful and morose, yet we are always rejoicing. We have so little, they say, but really, we have everything. We carry the weapons of righteousness in our right hands and left hands, whether our reputation is good or ill.

Our message is simple: We are ambassadors for Christ. Don’t waste this opportunity. I beg you, be reconciled to God! Now is the acceptable time!

I hope you know deep is my affection for you.

Your brother, Paul

Considering Paul’s resumé: Should we be surprised if some tribulations come to us in our living and speaking the Good News?  But look what else comes: purity, knowledge (the kind that really counts), patience, genuine love—that is, life and joy and the power of God even in our brokenness.  A whole life, indeed.

Dr. Elizabeth Liebert, SNJM
SFTS Professor of Spiritual Life, Emerita

Ash Wednesday calls on us to examine our bifurcated lives, and to live what we believe – one whole life.

Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

“I Will Not Be Bifurcated.”

Isaiah 58

Early in my ministerial career and well into my legal career, I was invited to serve as one of the church lawyers defending the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr in church courts.  Those of us who are Presbyterian (and many others) will know that Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr was affirming the full dignity of LGBTQ+ people and our families long before the church was ready to do so.  When same-gender couples came to her, asking if she would celebrate our marriages, Janie said yes, even as the church insisted she say no.  And so the church prosecuted her.

In those first months with Janie, I kept hearing her say something that baffled me. Again and again, from the pulpit, and on the witness stand, and in fellowship halls, I heard Janie say, “I will not be bifurcated.” Of all the things one could say – why that?  What did it even mean? (I actually had to look the word up.)

As months became years traveling with Janie, I came to understand what she meant – it began to sink into my bones.  I saw how the church tried to bifurcate her (and others) – urging Janie to somehow separate what she believed about Jesus from the ministry that she lived out.  The church would say, you can keep your ordination, but as a lesbian, you can’t serve in a church.  The church would say, you can know that God loves everyone – including LGBTQ+ people – but you can’t celebrate their/our marriages in the church, you can’t recognize their/our gifts in ordination.  As the church prosecuted Janie, the church explicitly advanced a distinction between belief and practice – they said, there is freedom of belief, but not freedom of practice.  And to all that, Janie replied, again and again, with her whole self, and at great personal cost: “I will not be bifurcated.”

Again and again,  the Scriptures speak against living a bifurcated life – a life that is separate from and that does not reflect what we know to be true about God’s love for the whole world.  Again and again,  the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels urge us to live one whole life – a life of integrity and of deep and expansive connection.

Isaiah 58 is one of those texts.  The prophet speaks to a people returning from exile, crawling over the rubble of their lives.  They try to impress God with fancy prayers and fasts – prayers and fasts utterly disconnected from the love and life God has revealed.  And so the prophet says for God: Share your bread with the hungry; loose the bonds of oppression; don’t strike the worker, but give them a Sabbath rest; bring those without shelter into your home.  Live what you have come to believe: One whole life.

Ash Wednesday calls us to give a long loving look to our bifurcated lives.  It invites us to look at the broken places in our lives and in the world – to say things plain – to pray and to change – and to live anew and again, one whole life.

So, on this Ash Wednesday, I want to offer something I call a “both-hands prayer.”  Here’s how it goes:

  1. Settle in and settle down and catch your breath. Let your breath glide into a steady rhythm; feel the earth supporting every bit of you.
  2. When you are ready, hold your right hand out in front of you, palm up. Imagine and envision in that hand something that you know to be true about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.  Anything.
  3. Now, hold your left hand out in front of you, palm up.  Imagine and envision in that hand the ways you live out this truth in your life – and then the ways that you don’t live out this truth – the ways that the life you live is separated from what you believe in Jesus Christ.
  4. Now, bring your hands together, clasping them in prayer, and pray something like this:  “God, help me live one whole life.”
  5. Breathe deeply, and when you are ready, open your hands back up in front of you, palms up, and repeat.
  6. You can start at a very personal level – what you believe and the life you live, but the prayer can radiate out to embrace your community – the life your community lives – the life your nation lives out.  Where are those lives separated from what we say we believe?

To the exiles crawling over the rubble of return, God says: Care for each other, be kind to each other, live what you know to be true in me. And, in living one whole life, your light shall break forth like the dawn; your healing will spring forth quickly; you will be like a spring, whose waters never fail; your ruins will be rebuilt; you will be called the repairer of the breach.  You will find your life.

Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

During Lent, we discover – in the life of Christ – what it is to live one whole life – life in community with God and all creation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

An Invitation to Lenten Prayer

Dear Friends in Christ,

Grace and peace to you.

Thank you for being a part of our Advent and Lent devotional conversations. Our Lenten devotions will start tomorrow, with one arriving each morning.  As we prepare to join together in this season of prayer, I thought I would write to introduce our devotional theme – “One Whole Life.”

Let me start with a story: Twice in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to go and spend time on the island of Iona, living in community with members of the Iona Community and with fellow travelers.  The island of Iona is a rocky island off the west coast of Scotland.  The Iona Community is an international, Christian peace and justice community centered in the ancient abbey on that island. (You may know the Iona community through their liturgies or through the music of John Bell, a member of the community.) As one of their ministries, the Iona community welcomes travelers to come live in the abbey for a week at a time and to share the life of community.

A week on Iona is not a retreat as we usually might envision it – they make you work.  Or better yet, they invite you into the fullness of life in community.  When you arrive, you’re assigned daily chores – so each day begins, ends, and flows through a rhythm of worship and work. Each morning, we rise early; some prepare and serve breakfast (the rest are assigned lunch or dinner); we share a meal together; we move from the meal into morning prayer; and then we move directly from prayer into our daily chores – cleaning up from breakfast, mopping floors, scrubbing sinks and toilets.   The Iona community emphasizes that our worship and our work are one thing – our worship flows into our work, our work into our worship, our worship into our work, and so on.  Our worship, our prayer, our work are not separate things – but one whole life, lived in the presence of God and in community with each other.

For this year’s Lenten devotional theme, we are embracing the theme – “One Whole Life” – drawing this theme from the deep well of Scripture, from the life of Jesus, and from the traditions especially of Celtic spirituality.

At the heart of both the Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures is the command of the Sh’ma:  “Hear O Israel, our God is God; our God is one.  You shall love our sovereign God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  Scripture exhorts us, again and again, to love God and to live life with our whole self – in community with the whole of creation.

Celtic spirituality leans into this deep sense of integrity and connectedness:  We live one whole life in the sense that everything we do is connected to everything we pray: “There is no separation of praying and living; praying and working flow into each other, so that life is to be punctuated by prayer, to become prayer.”  We also live one whole life in the sense that we are connected to each other and all creation:  “Everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to the wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself.” (quotes from Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer).

During Lent we enter into the life of Christ and journey with Jesus.  With this devotional theme, we will do that with the intention of discovering again and anew — in the life of Christ — what it is to live “One Whole Life.”  Each morning you’ll be receiving an email with a Scripture and a reflection from a writer within the broader SFTS community.  As you read and pray, you may want to consider these questions:

  • What do you notice as you encounter the Scripture text and the reflection?
  • Particularly in the season of Lent, how does the text invite us to live “one whole life” in the way of Jesus?
  • How does the text invite us to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and strength?
  • How does the text invite us to live in relationship and connection to each other and all creation?

May God bless this season of prayer and this conversation, as we endeavor together to live one whole life, in the way of Jesus.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

Jesus teaches us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not to impress one another.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Divine Mutuality: A Psalm for Today

Psalm 51

Wake me up God,
From my waking sleep
And from the nightmare of negativity –
Of cynicism, of complacency.
Be the light, God,
That burns the foggy haze
Off the surface of my soul.
Hold me, God,
While I smile and cry
At the same time
Because I am not sure what to feel.

Hold my hand, God,
And in Your humility,
Make yourself known to me.
You re-make me from the inside-out.
You are powerful in Steadfast Love,
You level the ground with Your mercy
And You open the table with grace.
Hold my hand as I walk with You.
Transform me, and let me transform.
Speak to me, and let me speak.
Love me lavishly, and I shall let loose love.
Shelter me, and I will be a shelter for the shattered and vulnerable –
Those close to Your heart.
Wrap me up in Your whole being;
Your presence is the touchstone for my healing.

Oh, I love You God.
My maker, ever re-making me.
Top to bottom,
Inside-out.
Your love is a catalyst
That takes its time.
The process is the important part,
And You help me to understand that.

I will rest in it,
I will not resist it.
I will revel in the tense space,
I will cultivate resiliency,
Grit, fire, strength,
Softness, empathy, and hope.
Grief is not a dirty word.
It is overwhelming;
Yet as it overcomes me, God,
I know You will sustain me.
If the only way out is through,
And this is the way through…
I will face it.
God, I will choose not to be afraid
Of my emotions and of my short-comings –
No matter how large a shadow they cast upon my life,
They can never, will never,
Be bigger than the light of all that You are.

Amen.

Alysha Laperche
SFTS MDiv Student

Jesus teaches us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not to impress one another.

Friday, March 8, 2019

PRAYING WITH INTENTION

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The way Jesus instructs the disciples and crowds gathered to pray in the Sermon on the Mount reminds me of the 2003 movie, Bruce Almighty. Truth be told, the theological soundness of this Jim Carrey film is questionable. The omnipotent God who pulls strings like a puppet master does not always hold up for everyone in this day and age. And the main plot device in which God gives divine power to a normal person with almost no pretext? That’s not a strong selling point, either. All the same, the movie teaches a valuable lesson about prayer.

In the beginning of the movie, the main character, Bruce Nolan, finds himself dealing with the short end of the stick. He believes God is bullying him, and Bruce has no problem letting this be known. He yells and screams to the heavens. He makes sure everyone within ear shot knows his pain and suffering. He sounds like the hypocrites Jesus describes in Matthew 6. “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention… When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get… And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward.” (CEB, Matthew 6:1-16). Bruce, like the hypocrites, must make a show of his “prayer,” so that it can be heard.

Through a comical – and frankly weird – series of events, Bruce is given God’s powers. At least, he’s given God’s powers as they pertain to part of Buffalo, New York. And once he understands his newfound abilities, Bruce runs rampant, trying to “right the wrongs” in his own life. And he does all of this to the neglect of others. In the climax of the movie – I want to avoid spoiling as much of this 16-year-old movie for you as possible and note that it is on Netflix if you’re brave enough to watch 101 minutes of Jim Carrey – Bruce learns how his decisions have hurt others. Most importantly, he learns how they have hurt his longtime girlfriend, Grace (played by Jennifer Aniston).

At one point, Bruce is talking to God (Morgan Freeman), and God asks him to say a prayer.

“Lord,” Bruce prays, “feed the hungry. And bring peace to all of mankind. How’s that?”

“Great,” God says, “if you want to be Miss America. Now c’mon. What do you really care about?”

“Grace,” Bruce whispers.

“You want her back?” God inquires.

“No. I want her to be happy. No matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now – through your eyes.”

“Now that’s a prayer,” God says proudly.

Throughout the course of the movie, Bruce learns how to, “… collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (CEB, Matthew 6:20-21). Bruce learns how to move into intentional prayer for others. He learns how to focus his prayers on others and how to give them only to God.

As we examine how to live One Whole Life this Lent, let us remember how to pray as well. Jesus told us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not one another. The Holy listens for our prayer in this season of sincerity. May we remember how to pray intentionally, focusing on God and love for our neighbors.

Rev. Cameron Highsmith
SFTS MDiv 2014

Bearing the Good News brings both joy and tribulation – one whole life indeed.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paul’s Resume

Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Position Description: Apostle for Christ Jesus in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

Dear Sirs:

You have, undoubtedly, been hearing conflicting reports about my work in the above position. The newest rumor: Some persons are saying that I don’t have the qualifications to serve in this role. I’d like to give you a little update and present (again) my credentials for our current work. I want to make sure that there are no obstacles to our preaching.

As you know, I was a devoted Pharisee, whose previous experience consisted in persecuting followers of Jesus. In this role, I came to know their arguments and their actions really well. Then, due to God’s great grace and the assistance of some really devoted Christians, I came myself to believe. I am continuing my work, begun some years ago now, of spreading the Good News of Christ in regions populated largely by Gentiles.  I think you are aware of some of the difficulties that I (and my companions) have encountered, including hardships, calamities, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, beatings, and imprisonment.

In all these tribulations, we responded with patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, truthful speech, and, I have to say, the power of God. They treat us as impostors, yet we are true, as dying, yet we are alive—really alive. They’ve punished us, but they have not killed us. They say we are sorrowful and morose, yet we are always rejoicing. We have so little, they say, but really, we have everything. We carry the weapons of righteousness in our right hands and left hands, whether our reputation is good or ill.

Our message is simple: We are ambassadors for Christ. Don’t waste this opportunity. I beg you, be reconciled to God! Now is the acceptable time!

I hope you know deep is my affection for you.

Your brother, Paul

Considering Paul’s resumé: Should we be surprised if some tribulations come to us in our living and speaking the Good News?  But look what else comes: purity, knowledge (the kind that really counts), patience, genuine love—that is, life and joy and the power of God even in our brokenness.  A whole life, indeed.

Dr. Elizabeth Liebert, SNJM
SFTS Professor of Spiritual Life, Emerita

Ash Wednesday calls on us to examine our bifurcated lives, and to live what we believe – one whole life.

Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

“I Will Not Be Bifurcated.”

Isaiah 58

Early in my ministerial career and well into my legal career, I was invited to serve as one of the church lawyers defending the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr in church courts.  Those of us who are Presbyterian (and many others) will know that Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr was affirming the full dignity of LGBTQ+ people and our families long before the church was ready to do so.  When same-gender couples came to her, asking if she would celebrate our marriages, Janie said yes, even as the church insisted she say no.  And so the church prosecuted her.

In those first months with Janie, I kept hearing her say something that baffled me. Again and again, from the pulpit, and on the witness stand, and in fellowship halls, I heard Janie say, “I will not be bifurcated.” Of all the things one could say – why that?  What did it even mean? (I actually had to look the word up.)

As months became years traveling with Janie, I came to understand what she meant – it began to sink into my bones.  I saw how the church tried to bifurcate her (and others) – urging Janie to somehow separate what she believed about Jesus from the ministry that she lived out.  The church would say, you can keep your ordination, but as a lesbian, you can’t serve in a church.  The church would say, you can know that God loves everyone – including LGBTQ+ people – but you can’t celebrate their/our marriages in the church, you can’t recognize their/our gifts in ordination.  As the church prosecuted Janie, the church explicitly advanced a distinction between belief and practice – they said, there is freedom of belief, but not freedom of practice.  And to all that, Janie replied, again and again, with her whole self, and at great personal cost: “I will not be bifurcated.”

Again and again,  the Scriptures speak against living a bifurcated life – a life that is separate from and that does not reflect what we know to be true about God’s love for the whole world.  Again and again,  the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels urge us to live one whole life – a life of integrity and of deep and expansive connection.

Isaiah 58 is one of those texts.  The prophet speaks to a people returning from exile, crawling over the rubble of their lives.  They try to impress God with fancy prayers and fasts – prayers and fasts utterly disconnected from the love and life God has revealed.  And so the prophet says for God: Share your bread with the hungry; loose the bonds of oppression; don’t strike the worker, but give them a Sabbath rest; bring those without shelter into your home.  Live what you have come to believe: One whole life.

Ash Wednesday calls us to give a long loving look to our bifurcated lives.  It invites us to look at the broken places in our lives and in the world – to say things plain – to pray and to change – and to live anew and again, one whole life.

So, on this Ash Wednesday, I want to offer something I call a “both-hands prayer.”  Here’s how it goes:

  1. Settle in and settle down and catch your breath. Let your breath glide into a steady rhythm; feel the earth supporting every bit of you.
  2. When you are ready, hold your right hand out in front of you, palm up. Imagine and envision in that hand something that you know to be true about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.  Anything.
  3. Now, hold your left hand out in front of you, palm up.  Imagine and envision in that hand the ways you live out this truth in your life – and then the ways that you don’t live out this truth – the ways that the life you live is separated from what you believe in Jesus Christ.
  4. Now, bring your hands together, clasping them in prayer, and pray something like this:  “God, help me live one whole life.”
  5. Breathe deeply, and when you are ready, open your hands back up in front of you, palms up, and repeat.
  6. You can start at a very personal level – what you believe and the life you live, but the prayer can radiate out to embrace your community – the life your community lives – the life your nation lives out.  Where are those lives separated from what we say we believe?

To the exiles crawling over the rubble of return, God says: Care for each other, be kind to each other, live what you know to be true in me. And, in living one whole life, your light shall break forth like the dawn; your healing will spring forth quickly; you will be like a spring, whose waters never fail; your ruins will be rebuilt; you will be called the repairer of the breach.  You will find your life.

Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

During Lent, we discover – in the life of Christ – what it is to live one whole life – life in community with God and all creation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

An Invitation to Lenten Prayer

Dear Friends in Christ,

Grace and peace to you.

Thank you for being a part of our Advent and Lent devotional conversations. Our Lenten devotions will start tomorrow, with one arriving each morning.  As we prepare to join together in this season of prayer, I thought I would write to introduce our devotional theme – “One Whole Life.”

Let me start with a story: Twice in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to go and spend time on the island of Iona, living in community with members of the Iona Community and with fellow travelers.  The island of Iona is a rocky island off the west coast of Scotland.  The Iona Community is an international, Christian peace and justice community centered in the ancient abbey on that island. (You may know the Iona community through their liturgies or through the music of John Bell, a member of the community.) As one of their ministries, the Iona community welcomes travelers to come live in the abbey for a week at a time and to share the life of community.

A week on Iona is not a retreat as we usually might envision it – they make you work.  Or better yet, they invite you into the fullness of life in community.  When you arrive, you’re assigned daily chores – so each day begins, ends, and flows through a rhythm of worship and work. Each morning, we rise early; some prepare and serve breakfast (the rest are assigned lunch or dinner); we share a meal together; we move from the meal into morning prayer; and then we move directly from prayer into our daily chores – cleaning up from breakfast, mopping floors, scrubbing sinks and toilets.   The Iona community emphasizes that our worship and our work are one thing – our worship flows into our work, our work into our worship, our worship into our work, and so on.  Our worship, our prayer, our work are not separate things – but one whole life, lived in the presence of God and in community with each other.

For this year’s Lenten devotional theme, we are embracing the theme – “One Whole Life” – drawing this theme from the deep well of Scripture, from the life of Jesus, and from the traditions especially of Celtic spirituality.

At the heart of both the Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures is the command of the Sh’ma:  “Hear O Israel, our God is God; our God is one.  You shall love our sovereign God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  Scripture exhorts us, again and again, to love God and to live life with our whole self – in community with the whole of creation.

Celtic spirituality leans into this deep sense of integrity and connectedness:  We live one whole life in the sense that everything we do is connected to everything we pray: “There is no separation of praying and living; praying and working flow into each other, so that life is to be punctuated by prayer, to become prayer.”  We also live one whole life in the sense that we are connected to each other and all creation:  “Everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to the wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself.” (quotes from Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer).

During Lent we enter into the life of Christ and journey with Jesus.  With this devotional theme, we will do that with the intention of discovering again and anew — in the life of Christ — what it is to live “One Whole Life.”  Each morning you’ll be receiving an email with a Scripture and a reflection from a writer within the broader SFTS community.  As you read and pray, you may want to consider these questions:

  • What do you notice as you encounter the Scripture text and the reflection?
  • Particularly in the season of Lent, how does the text invite us to live “one whole life” in the way of Jesus?
  • How does the text invite us to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and strength?
  • How does the text invite us to live in relationship and connection to each other and all creation?

May God bless this season of prayer and this conversation, as we endeavor together to live one whole life, in the way of Jesus.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students