“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:11-14
Reflection: After the tornado came through my neighborhood on the Chesapeake Bay last month, the water supply from our communal well became uncertain, due to a damaged power line. For awhile, I was the only person able to live in my relatively undamaged home and so the task of keeping the water on fell to me. Several times each day I would slog out through a stinky mud field of debris to flip the breaker back on at the power pole. Then, I would step gingerly through a tangle of downed trees to the old well house, wrestle open the ancient door (often receiving a splinter for my efforts) and crouch down to hold the primer switch among the cobwebs while the well shuddered back to life. This was hot, messy and essential work. One day, as I set out on another of my appointed rounds with the well, it dawned on me that this task is similar to what people in many countries have to do every day. They walk miles with a bucket in hand to scoop water from sometimes unclean sources, often making the trek several times a day. I began to appreciate the life-giving and sometimes hard-won gift that water represents, a gift that I had previously under-appreciated and perhaps even taken for granted.
The woman at the well had no such misconceptions. She knew the vital importance of clean water taken from a deep well in the desert, so she was mystified when Jesus spoke of another water, a living water that only he can give. Once consumed, a person will never thirst again and indeed, will become their own endless spring of such water which leads to eternal life. Jesus offers this gift to everyone, even a Samaritan woman, shocked that a Jewish man would address her! And so now I have a second confession: I have previously under-appreciated and perhaps even taken for granted Jesus’ astonishing gift of living water in my own life. I have taken credit for God’s good gifts, given to me to do work in God’s name, instead of pointing to the source from which they came. My experience with a lack of reliable water brought me face to face with my own unreliability when it comes to demonstrating the living springs of grace in my life. Does this sound familiar or am I alone in my failure? Thanks be to God that the living water Jesus brings washes our hearts clean when we confess and begin again, something that God offers us every moment of our lives, a chance to be restored, to become the living springs through which God’s grace and mercy can flow into the lives of others as a testament to the one who came to bring us life eternal.
Self-care: Search your own heart for indications of God’s living water flowing there. Where has God gifted you to act in God’s name? Give thanks for such gifts and use them to bless others. Search also for those places where you have blocked the flow, perhaps by failing to credit God for your gifts or by some other means. Confess, repent and receive the cleansing forgiveness of God’s living water. Begin again to live into God’s call on your life.
Care for Others: Consider donating to Wine to Water, one of our ministry partners that supports life and dignity through the power of clean water. In my little town on the Chesapeake, a local church holds an annual “walk for water” day. Participants pay $10 to carry a bucket 3.5 miles round trip from the church down to the water where they fill the bucket in order to experience what it feels like to have to make this journey every day in parts of the world. Those who can’t make the trip, simply contribute money to help. Could you organize something similar in your own neighborhood?
Prayer: Oh Lord of the heavens and earth, thank you for life-giving water. We pray that those experiencing water insecurity would have their needs met through your providence and our efforts. Lord, we thank you even more for the gift of life eternal in the springs of grace and mercy welling up in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us always to point to you as we share this gift with others. Amen
-Mrs. Sarah Capel
Tuesday, September 8
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev. 1:8
Reflection: A friend and I were enjoying a visit on the patio. We’ve known one another “forever”, (also known as since the fourth grade!) The conversation turned to the amazing natural resources of our great state and then to the adventures to be had marveling in person at the wonders within a few days’ drive – The Grand Canyon, the vast deserts, the oceans, the Big Skies of Wyoming, et al…. We talked for a long time about the astonishment of animals and the steadfastness of the forests. We named that Creation has always been prior to us and will continue beyond us. We even took comfort in it.
Yet mornings rise when the sand seems to be shifting under our feet, people are non-sensical, even mean-spirited. We ache for ‘normal’, we try to establish order, we grasp for control. We want to know with absolute certainty how ‘It’ will all play out. Our focus becomes such that ‘right now’ is all that matters within the span of existence. Certainly to God ‘right now’ does matter. Just as ‘before’ mattered and just as ‘next’ will matter. God says “I am who is, and who was, and who is to come…”. God always has been and God will always be. God is also right now.
A divine tension within haunts us all, doesn’t it? Trying to relinquish enough control to accept that I am a pilgrim passing through this world humbles me. Simultaneously the Master of Creation knows every hair on my head, knows the plans the Creator has for me, knew me even when I was in my mother’s womb. Trying to fully accept that I am deeply and intimately loved by The Master also humbles me. As does it empower me.
Faith in the Master of Creation can be an empowered willingness to participate with God in the Pilgrimage of Time where God asks me to actively feed God’s sheep, to regularly cast my worries on God through conversation with God, and most certainly to marvel at the Creation that the Master provides while praising the Master in thanksgiving.
Self-Care: Author Ann Lamott says there are 3 essential prayers: Help, Thanks, and Wow. Spend a few minutes uninterrupted with God to offer any combination of these 3 prayers and take note of how you feel when you’ve done so.
How to be Helpful in the Community: Engage in an act of selflessness today. Perhaps you can give monetarily, or write a letter of encouragement. Perhaps you can clean a section of stream or greenway. Perhaps one of the many opportunities found here is a means of using your God-given gifts.
Prayer: Show me Lord how to participate with You today in the pilgrimage of Time using the gifts that You knit together within me. – Amen
Tuesday, September 1
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…”. Matthew 6:28b
Reflection: When Jesus saw the anxious ways of his followers, he invited them to contemplate God’s goodness and faithfulness towards the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
When God spoke to Job out of a whirlwind, God pointed to the wonders of creation: the majestic stars in the heavens, the wild ostrich and lion of the savanna, the mysterious monsters of the deep oceans.
When David turned his mind toward the Lord in Psalm 19, he began by contemplating the cosmos.
Jesus and the prophets looked toward creation- sheep, trees, seeds, rain- to illustrate the truths of God.
Over and over again, scripture invites us to selah, to pause in contemplative wonder and praise, at the marvels of God revealed in creation.
In September, we are doing just that.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward has asked that we join with our Christian sisters and brothers around the globe this month. We’re turning our minds to what Creation teaches us about the Lord, what it means to live in relationship with creation, and how we can be better caretakers of what God has entrusted into our hands. The NC Conference Caretakers of God’s Creation have prepared multiple opportunities to consider the lilies of the field this September.
The first is a Conference-wide worship service, with a special gospel message from Bishop Ward. The online worship service will premier September 6 at 10:30, and will be available to share afterwards. The service can be accessed here.
Self-Care: Consider taking a walk in the woods or at the park in the next several days and be in wonder of what you see. Perhaps watch a documentary on wildlife or a portion of the world you are most interested in and be in wonder of what you are learning. Be inspired by Creation and thank God for the the creativity God provides to us through the marvels of the universe.
How to be helpful in the Community: Learn ways to engage both at home and in the community to grow in your involvement with Envirnomental Stewardship.
Prayer: “Creator God, as Jesus walked through the hills of Galilee aware of the beauty of your creation, grant that we, too, may live with eyes to see and ears to hear the wonder of creation each day so that we might be ever-reminded of your greatness and glory. Amen.”
Rev. Bill Adams
This information and devotion comes from the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. More information can be found here.
TUESDAY, August 25
Love is Our Hope
There is this part of me
That, if it were not
For the singing of the Wood Thrush,
Would feel so hopeless.
There is this part of me
That, if it were not
For the beauty of the yellow butterfly,
Would find no joy.
There is this part of me
That, if it were not for
The wild abandon of a puppy’s play,
Would sink deep into despair.
In this long, hard season
Of injustice and fear …
Where is our hope?
Where is our joy, our purpose, our anchor?
Our hope comes from each other.
Though we are apart,
We are woven together in the fabric of love.
Our hope comes from within,
From the heart of courage
That beats inside each living being.
From the essence of the Holy One, Knit into our spirits
Before we were imagined.
Our hope comes from the One
Who said that nothing.
Nothing in all creation
Can separate us from Love.
Love is our joy,
Love is our hope.
Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. This poem first appeared on Beth’s blog at betharichardson.com.
Self-care: Make mental notes of the ways in which God lifts your spirit today. Perhaps in nature, or the song on the radio, or an unexpected call from a loved one. Give thanks for those gifts and acknowledge that you are worthy because of God’s love for you.
How to be Helpful in the Community: Be God’s hands and feet today by being the one who lifts someone’s spirit. Be intentional about a specific way that you can represent God to at least one person today and give thanks for the gifts you have to use.
Prayer: Gracious God, you are Love. Grant us the insight to note where You are right before us and give us the eyes to see You. You are our Hope and yet we often turn our sight to despair. Not today, Lord. Today we seek You in all that is right before us. Amen.
TUESDAY, August 18
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16
Reflection: It is not overly dramatic to say that my dog, Huck, and I had a near-death experience on Tuesday, August 4th at 5:45 am when a massive tornado passed within fifty feet of our house on the Chesapeake Bay. When the Holy Spirit nudged me awake at 5:40 (far from my usual waking hour!), I glanced at my phone, saw the tornado warning and had just a few seconds to slip like a skinny schoolgirl under my bed where Huck and I shook like leaves. I could only think to pray “please God, please God, please God” as things ripped and slapped at the house. I expected the windows to shatter around me as I listened to that horrible thing pass by. And it really did sound like a freight train from hell…It was the most terrifying moment of my life, and then in seconds it was over. I learned later that it was an EF 2 with winds of 135 miles per hour and it was on the ground for 16 miles. Many of my neighbors were not as lucky as I. One person died and 7 houses in my neighborhood were rendered uninhabitable. The area looks like a bomb went off with whole forests snapped off about fifty feet above the ground. There is almost unimaginable devastation, from which it will take years to recover.
I write this not to depress you, but instead to give you a word of hope. Much to my surprise and joy, I discovered as I re-read my journal entries from the days leading up to Tuesday morning that God had prepared me carefully for this near-death moment through the words of Jesus spoken in the Gospel of Luke. I had been meditating on the work of righteousness last week and was startled to find in re-reading my journal that each morning Jesus spoke very directly, even urgently, to me on this topic. First, in Luke 12:54-59, he told me that I already possess the tools of righteousness and now I need to implement them. Then, in Luke 13:1-9, Jesus urged me to bear fruit now while I can, since I am not guaranteed a long life. Luke 13:10-18 revealed that the work of righteousness means seeing everyone with the eyes of compassion, with clear eyes, freed from the clouds of sin. Finally, in Luke 13:18-30, Jesus told me to start small but start quickly beginning with the righteous work of repentance. So, I spent a bit of time last week identifying and repenting of the dark shadows in my heart. Asking for and receiving God’s justifying forgiveness and feeling the newness of regeneration through grace. When I look back on the words I wrote in my journal, I see clearly that Jesus was carefully preparing me for 5:45 am, Tuesday, August 4th. In my father’s eulogy in 1979, his pastor and good friend, Roy Smith, said that if we readily accept how God carefully knits us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139), how could we ever doubt that God would just as carefully prepare us to meet God face to face? Now I see exactly what he meant! And the good news is that God not only prepares us for the beginning and end of our lives but for every moment in between, if we only open our eyes of compassion to see clearly as Jesus guides us on the road to perfection in the kingdom of God.
Self-care: Treat yourself to some daily time with Jesus in the four gospels. I like the NIV bible because it helpfully breaks scripture into individual sections for reading each day. Think about what Jesus says and how that might apply to something you’ve been meditating on in your life. If nothing comes immediately to mind, sit in silence for a few minutes and listen to what bubbles up in your heart, then follow this clue back to Jesus’ words. If you like to journal, take a few minutes to write down your thoughts and reactions, so you can look back later and see where Jesus might be leading you on the road to perfection.
How to Be Helpful in the Community: What is that one good thing you’ve been meaning to do lately? Take someone a meal or some flowers? Simply tell them how much you love them? Read that book on anti-racism and commit to following its teachings in your own life, as you seek to see others with the eyes of compassion? Do it now, Jesus says. Don’t wait!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the certain knowledge that you are with us in every moment of every day, in the good parts and the bad, and that you seek to prepare us constantly for life in your kingdom. Open our hearts, our minds and our eyes of compassion to follow more clearly your call in our lives. Thank you for the tools of the work of righteousness: repentance, forgiveness, love and compassion giving us new life in your name as we walk the road to perfection. Thank you for your gifts of presence, grace and mercy, especially in times of trouble. Amen.
-Mrs. Sarah Capel
TUESDAY, August 11
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:27-31
Reflection: Jesus is speaking to a great crowd of people in the passage above. He has just stated the “blessings and woes” that Luke records for us (as Matthew records the beatitudes). Now he goes on to tell the crowd how to live as one of the blessed ones. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…” This is crazy isn’t it? How can anyone live like this? It is crazy, yet Jesus did just this all his life. Because he didn’t divide the world into “us” and “them”, Jesus saw every human as just that: a person.
Because our world today is so divided and sub-divided into political and religious and social and other types of groups, we focus almost all our energy on what we are and do differently. Here Jesus is calling us to treat others as fellow humans, even those who act as our enemies. It is difficult to do given the world we live in, but essential if we are to follow our Lord Jesus.
Where can we start? Start in your own mind and begin trying to see each person you pass as someone Christ loves. Remind yourself that if you smile at them, and they frown at you, they are still someone Christ died to save. Yes, definitely try to avoid situations where you might get hit or lose your clothing. Still, you are the one who decides who you will be and who you will follow. It’s seen in the simple way that you love each person who is a child of God. Especially perceived “enemies”.
Self Care: Remember that you won’t change everyone immediately. Especially yourself! When you have feelings of anger, try to express these in honest ways without blaming or shouting. When you have something good to say, do it!
How to Be Helpful in the Community: Try to begin each day with a prayer that you will see the humanity in everyone you meet. As you walk along or drive, remember the others you see and pass are people God loves. Make an attempt to connect with people as people whether it’s a store clerk or a bank manager or someone sweeping the parking lot. Learn to listen to turn away anger in minor situations.
Prayer: O God, you who gave your life for us, walk with us through this world so that we may see others with eyes like yours and may build connections rather than divisions. Amen.
-Rev. Diane Amidon
TUESDAY, July 28
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” -Luke 9:57-62
Reflection: I have found in this season that I have more unstructured time on my hands than possibly ever before, or at least since I was a child on summer break, back in the days when parents simply told their kids to go outside and play! You would think, then, that I have devoted more and more of this time to God in meditation, reading and reflection, and yet that is sometimes a struggle. Why? I believe I have found an answer through a pattern in Luke’s gospel, in which Jesus warns against the “but firsts” of life (what Richard Rohr refers to as the “tyranny of the urgent,” quoting Charles E. Hummel). In the passage above, Jesus rejects as unfit for kingdom work one who wants “first” to bury his father, and another who says, “ok, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” Ouch! These seem like reasonable requests compared to my urgent “but firsts” like reading today’s dose of bad news or starting a load of laundry.
Contrast the very next scene in Luke with the passage above. In 10:1-24, Jesus sends out the 72 with absolutely nothing other than power to preach and heal in his name. They have no “but firsts” available to them at all and what happens? So much success that Jesus is “full of joy” (10:21). Wouldn’t we all love to please Jesus like that? Later, in Luke 10:38-42, Jesus gently scolds Martha, whom he clearly loves very much, for fussing that her sister has chosen first to listen to Jesus before tending to the work at hand. He tells Martha that, “Mary has chosen better and it will not be taken away from her.” Finally, in Luke 12:13-21, Jesus offers his greatest condemnation in the parable of the rich fool, who spends his life gathering to himself what he will not even live to enjoy, rather than first turning to love of God and neighbor.
By now, you may be asking yourself how this reflection is meant to be hopeful! But I find hope in Jesus’ words. Jesus commands one simple thing, turn first to him each day. When we do so,
Jesus promises us grace and mercy sufficient for all our needs. Remember the lines from the classic hymn: “Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”
Friends, in this time of sickness, death, injustice and economic collapse, Jesus gives us a very simple safety net. Turn your face to him first every day and he will provide all you need. Thanks be to God!
Self-care: Pay attention to your daily routines. Notice the “but firsts” in your life that keep you from turning your face toward Jesus. Commit to setting them aside to spend time in the presence of the Lord first, so that grace and mercy sufficient for the day will flow before you even get started.
How to be Helpful in the Community: As Ned requested in worship on July 26th, pick up the phone or a pen and contact that person who has been on your mind. Don’t postpone a call or letter, which you might later regret. The kingdom lies in putting our love for others first.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for your words of warning and encouragement. Thank you for the simple joy of time spent in your presence, which gives us all we need for each day. Help us root out the “but firsts” of our lives so that we can be empowered for kingdom work, loving others in your name. Amen
Mrs. Sarah Capel
TUESDAY, July 21
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. -Philippians 2:1-5
Reflection: Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Philippi. He urges them “make his joy complete” if they believe that there is encouragement, consolation, sharing, compassion, and sympathy in Jesus Christ. When I read these words, I said to myself, “yes, of course I believe those things are real in the life of Christians and come to us from our God.
Then I read the next two sentences: if we believe Christ offers us such gifts, we ought to set aside our pride and selfishness and see others in the best light. We are to be more concerned for others than for ourselves. We are to humble ourselves.
Whew. That’s a lot to ask of myself, or anyone. Yet it is exactly what Jesus did in all his life on this earth. He lived with concern for others before himself. Living, he offered his healing, his teaching and his love to all he met. Dying, he offered new life to all humanity!
Self Care: Re-read the scripture. When have you felt encouragement in Christ, consolation from God’s love, sharing in the Spirit, divine compassion and sympathy? Take time to bask in these signs of being loved. Ask for your response to be one of humility.
How to be helpful in the Community: Reach out to an elder person in the community – phone or write a note to them. Let them know you are thinking about them. Ask about their life, family, where they have lived. Help them know they are still important to someone.
Prayer: Gracious God, help us to respond to your gifts to us with love and humility. Help us see other people through your eyes and to honor them as Jesus honored everyone who came to him for help. Amen.
Rev. Diane Amidon
TUESDAY, July 14
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. -Genesis 1:26
Reflection: I’ve always been intrigued and curious about this “us” that created humankind. For each of the other days of creation, God created on God’s own, but when God creates humankind, God does it in the plural, with others. I had always assumed this was a reference to the Trinity, and it well may be.
God chooses to share the creative process when God creates humankind in God’s image.
The important part of this is that human beings are a product of consultation! The “let us make” implicitly extends to human beings, for they are created in the image of one who chooses to create in a way that shares power with others.
Hold that thought. God chooses to share power with others, and God creates us as humans to do the same, to share power with others. That should inform how we do everything, how we run our governments, our churches, our families –-when we live in God’s image and follow God’s lead, we don’t do things alone, we co-create with God and with other humans!
Self Care: Today, when you’re tempted to do something by yourself because you think it’ll be faster or easier, pause. Consider how you might invite someone else into your creativity. Remember that there’s something holy when we co-create with others. When we co-create with others we are mirroring how God created us and we are living out the image of God in us. Consultation can be a slower and messier process, but it can also be holy and God-honoring. So, whether it’s inviting your child to help cook dinner or set the table or consulting your elderly parent about his or her care, working side by side others, collaborating is a way we can honor God’s image in ourselves and others. Also, when you do something creative today (and I don’t just mean art or music, as so much of what we do day by day is creative. Cooking, exercising, working, writing, gardening, and so on), invite God to co-create with you and through you. Reflect on the ways God’s spirit in you helps you bring life, energy, and creativity even to mundane tasks throughout your day.
How to be helpful in the community: Further that reflection on how it is helpful to others. Can you volunteer at Alliance Medical Community garden? Maybe you can support Black artists, gardeners, authors, film-makers? Where is God calling you to share that creativity?
Prayer: God, thank you for being generous by sharing agency, creativity, and power beyond yourself. Whenever I’m tempted to “go it alone” or tempted to horde power, help me loosen my grip. I invite you and others into my work and my creative endeavors. By the way I live my life and relationships, help me reflect your image in me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
-Rev. Ashley Griffith
TUESDAY, July 7
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. -Luke 9:28-36
Reflection: Today dawned very still and very humid. As I walked my dog, Huck, I prayed for a breath of wind to break the humidity and drive the deer flies away. Creation seems more glorious to me when the wind tosses the leaves and the water dances and sparkles. Not to mention, I just feel better with a bit of breeze! I found myself singing one of my favorite hymns: “Breathe on me, breath of God. Fill me with life anew. That I may love what Thou dost love and do what Thou wouldst do.” Later, with God’s perfect timing, I turned for my morning meditation to the passage above and found myself seeing it in a whole new way.
In the past, I had always considered this passage from the three disciples’ point of view. What a tremendous thing to witness! But in Luke’s telling, the disciples are pretty clueless, not really able to grasp the significance of what they’ve seen at that moment. So, I began to consider the passage from Jesus’ point of view. What was he doing there on that mountain? Praying to his Father. Asking for the Holy Spirit to wash over him. He knows what sacrifice is required of him, as Luke reminds us by saying that he, Moses and Elijah later discuss his coming “departure.” It seems like Jesus was there for a much-needed pick-me-up. I picture him singing “Breathe on me breath of God. Fill me with life anew…” And wow, does God answer with everything God’s got! Jesus is literally transformed, lit from within by God’s power. He receives instruction, encouragement and the warm embrace of the cloud of love that surrounds him and the disciples. Best of all, he gets to hear the voice of his father, reminding him that he is loved and chosen and that he will be supported in the task that lies ahead by his father’s power and presence. What would it feel like to be lit up from within by a power beyond ourselves? Marvelous, I think. Jesus brought the disciples with him for a reason. He wanted witnesses. He wants us to know that we too can be lit from within by the power of the Holy Spirit when we call upon God. We too can receive instruction, encouragement, love and grace. While the disciples told no one at that time, they clearly remembered and shared it widely once they later began to understand (see 2 Peter 1:16-18).
Self-care: Consider the wind. Pay attention to its presence or absence in your day. Make the wind an abiding metaphor for God’s breath, blowing goodness into your life, even when the wind itself is still. Ask God for God’s constant presence wherever the winds of life might blow you.
Care for others: Donate a fan to an individual or organization who needs one. If possible, share why you are making the donation, as a symbol of God’s grace-filled breath in our lives. Offer the love and power of the Holy Spirit’s wind to others who might need just such a pick-me-up.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you again for the example of Jesus. Jesus called on you to lift his spirits, to blow a fresh breath over him, and you answered with every bit of love and power in your possession. Jesus must have felt wonderful as you lit him up literally from the inside. You then sent comforters, those who had walked their own difficult walk, to encourage him. Finally, you hugged him and told him that you love him. How transformative that must have been for Jesus. And Jesus tells us that we can also experience this same transformation merely by asking you to breathe on us. Light us up, Lord!
-Mrs. Sarah Capel
TUESDAY, June 30
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” — 2 Timothy 4:1-5, NRSV
Reflection: The words of the epistle from today’s Daily Office lectionary readings are prophetic indeed. “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but… will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth…”
What greater “truth” can there be then that we are all created in the image of God—regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or country of origin? What more “sound doctrine” can there be than to love all of our neighbors as ourselves? The Second Great Commandment was given without caveats, without exceptions, and without disclaimers.
Paul “solemnly urges” us to proclaim these truths and to be persistent in them, whether the time is “favorable or unfavorable”. For many, talking about race is new and uncomfortable, and can seem “unfavorable” at times. I find it helpful to remember, though, that confronting oppression, inequality, injustice, abuse and discrimination are not optional extras in the Christian mandate, but are indeed core principles. After emerging from the wilderness, Jesus reminded the Galileans of the words of Isaiah, that He was sent “to proclaim release to the captives …, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:18, NRSV)
Let us not shy away from our charge to “convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience” at all times—especially concerning the need to root out all forms of oppression, racism, and discrimination. We should begin with ourselves and our families, and then turn our attention to all levels of government and society.
Self care & How to be helpful in the Community: There are many under-recognized Black artists and musicians throughout history, including the present day. A great way to practice self-care and be helpful (at the same time!) is to support them by engaging with and sharing their work.
Musically speaking, a good example is Florence Price (1887–1953), who was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer by a major American orchestra. You can listen to her Symphony in E minor, which was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933.
There are countless other artists who are worthy of praise and attention. Personally, I have found inspiration in the work of several individuals who have re-framed celebrated, classic paintings by recasting them with black subjects. Two examples are Harmonia Rosales, an Afro-Cuban American painter, who has re-imagined Michelangelo’s “The Creation” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”; and Awol Erizku, an Ethiopian-American contemporary artist, who has created a photographic reinterpretation of Vermeer, in his “Girl with a Bamboo Earring”.
Prayer: “God of justice, in your wisdom you create all people in your image, without exception. Through your goodness, open our eyes to see the dignity, beauty, and worth of every human being. Open our minds to understand that all your children are brothers and sisters in the same human family. Open our hearts to repent of racist attitudes, behaviors, and speech which demean others. Open our ears to hear the cries of those wounded by racial discrimination, and their passionate appeals for change. Strengthen our resolve to make amends for past injustices and to right the wrongs of history. And fill us with courage that we might seek to heal wounds, build bridges, forgive and be forgiven, and establish peace and equality for all in our communities. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.” (Source: Catholic Charities USA)
— Bradley Burgess
TUESDAY, June 23
17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
Reflection: In my last devotion, I suggested that we practice lament, that we “rage and recover,” and then wait patiently for the goodness of the Lord to reveal itself. Today, I want to suggest some things we can do while we are waiting. I am deeply moved by the hopefulness of the scripture passage above. Four friends love the paralytic so much that they tear a hole in a stranger’s roof to get that person right in front of Jesus for healing. Clearly, they have seen the goodness in this man’s heart and that has motivated them to act on his behalf. I find it incredibly comforting that Jesus tells us that our faith on behalf of others can bring healing.
Recently, up in the country where we have a cottage on the Chesapeake Bay, I discovered a radio channel with a listening radius of about 5 miles from its source. It’s tiny! But they play only music from the 50’s to the 80’s so it’s my kind of station. The other day they played The Hollies’ song, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” I find that the lyrics really speak into the actions of the four friends above as well as into what we can do in this waiting time:
The road is long With many a winding turn That leads us to who knows where Who knows where But I’m strong Strong enough to carry him He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go His welfare is of my concern No burden is he to bear We’ll get there
For I know He would not encumber me He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all I’m laden with sadness That everyone’s heart Isn’t filled with the gladness Of love for one another
It’s a long, long road
While we are waiting then, we can learn to carry our brothers and sisters, especially those hurting physically, economically or socially due to the pandemic and the systemic sin of racism in our world. For, as Jesus tells us, we have the power through our faith to bring healing to others.
Self-care: I found it eye-poppingly powerful to attend training through the Racial Equity Institute. There, one can begin to understand the magnitude of the systems in place which enforce racial inequity. I also receive information from Raleigh Organizing Against Racism (ROAR), which keeps me notified of ways I can help carry others in our community. There are many other excellent resources compiled by Renae Newmiller which you can find here .
How to be Helpful in the Community: Once you have availed yourself of information and resources, pick one offering and jump in. For example, I learned of a prayer walk in downtown Raleigh for people of faith through an email from ROAR. It was a truly compelling experience to walk and pray with others and to hear the pain and also the hope in their stories.
Prayer: Lord, Jesus, in this time of pandemic and pain, as we wait for your goodness to be revealed, help us carry the mats of others. Empower us to bring them to you for healing, trusting that our faith can pave the way. Help us to remember that the welfare of others is our concern as we strive to bring the Kingdom through the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
-Mrs. Sarah Capel
TUESDAY, June 16
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. -Mark 12: 30-31
Reflection: Today is gray and damp. The air is heavy. Everything seems shrouded in unhappiness, unrest, fear, possibly illness, perhaps violence, certainly injustice. This is a long season of unsettledness with no definitive close. Nothing in this world seems secure.
As such my faith beckons me to rely on who I know Jesus to be. (Confession: I don’t answer that beckon every chance I’m given.) The example of Jesus’ life provides a means of assurance, comfort, a guide to how I should behave. At every chance he is given, Jesus flips our understanding of power to humility – true humility. Relinquishing assumed worldly power to a life as his disciple is a challenge Jesus offers at every turn of the pages in my Bible. I read the Beatitudes and phrases such as “blessed are the poor in spirit; the meek shall inherit the earth; blessed are those that thirst for righteousness…”. These are not celebrated characteristics by the world’s standards. Few people took the opportunity during his time on earth and fewer than the numbers of people who could, have taken the opportunity since.
Today I am reminded of Holy Saturday – the day after Good Friday, (Jesus’ crucifixion) and before Easter Sunday, (the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection). Rev. Magrey deVega writes in Embracing the Uncertain that “by the time we get to that glorious Easter morning, most of the Gospel writers will attest: the resurrection of Jesus had already begun, even before people realized it…….the stone that sealed the tomb had already been rolled away. In other words, resurrection had already started even before [the women and the disciples] showed up.”
Today this gives me hope and I will explain why. God is at work right now. Further, God has been at work prior to this moment just as God will continue to be at work henceforth. Sadness, anger, injustice, and loss overcame people at the point of Jesus’ death on the cross. The horror of it must have been overwhelming. Still we know that many were ultimately called to action. Many were called to reflect and change their own thinking, their habits, their use of resources. Some did; some still don’t.
Today I offer a challenge for all of us: Let us pray for how we are now called to live a cross shaped life. Pray earnestly to the Light of the World that we be shown our blind spots as they pertain to how we view others. (If you believe you have no blind spots or biases, please be directed to John 8:1-11). Pray earnestly to the Prince of Peace that we understand true power structures. (Consider the Sermon on the Mount starting in Matthew 5). Ask the Holy Spirit, our Friend and Comforter, to show us each day how we unknowingly ignore Kingdom work for God’s people and then pray for the strength to change our hearts and change our actions.
Today God is at work in the world. I have, (we all have), the divine opportunity to partner with God in that work.
Self-care: Spend some time pondering your blind spots and know that they don’t define you. Our good and great Creator loves us relentlessly and nothing can separate us from that love.
How to be helpful in the community: Consider the resources available to our church and community.
Prayer: Prince of Peace, give me your eyes to see. Help me love you with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love others as myself. Amen.
TUESDAY, June 9
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. -Psalm 13:1-6
Reflection: The opening lines of Psalm 13 reflect an emotion that I suspect we have all felt at some point or another in the last few months, and especially in the last few days. As the death toll passes 100,000, the losses are all too real. And as crowds begin to venture out without face masks or social distancing, it seems like we’re headed right back to the miserable start of all this. Finally, as rage builds over the murder of George Floyd and others, we wonder how God’s kingdom can ever come when such injustice continues to exist. Folks, it is time to lament. Thank God we have the Psalms to show us how. In Psalm 13, the writer holds nothing back, slamming God for letting enemies have their way, for making life so desperate that the writer claims that death is surely coming. He demands that God immediately address his suffering. We learn here how to let it all go, how to give God a faceful of our fear and anger. And then, as the Psalms so often do, the writer makes a turn, or return if you will. The writer remembers God’s past faithfulness and places trust in God’s salvation. I call this, “rage and recover,” and it’s something God invites, even encourages all of us to do. The purpose of lament is to let go of emotions that overwhelm us, offering them up to God, to be healed by God’s grace and mercy. We can then return humbly to patient waiting for the goodness of the Lord to become evident. And it will become evident, as God has shown us over and over both in scripture and in our own lives.
Self-care: Rage and recover
Write your own lament. Really let it all go without fearing that God will reject it. Be as honest as you possibly can. It’s just between you and God. Then, when you feel empty of all that has tormented you recently, let your lament go, dropping it in God’s constantly flowing river of forgiveness. I like to do this figuratively by ripping my lament to shreds and possibly even setting it on fire (in a safe place, of course!). That way, it remains between you and God, unseen by any prying eyes but lodged firmly in the heart of the One who calls us beloved. And then, like the psalmist, return to waiting patiently for the goodness of the Lord to reveal itself, as it surely will.
How to be Helpful in the Community: Offer this practice to anyone you feel would benefit from it. It does not take any prior experience!
Prayer: Heavenly father, thank you for the love and compassion you show us in the Psalms. Thank you for giving us a way to relieve ourselves of the strong emotions we naturally feel in this extraordinary time. Help us to give ourselves wholly to you, without fear of rejection, as we recognize that you already know our thoughts before we have even brought them forth. Thank you for the cleansing and healing available to us through your salvific work in our lives. Amen.
Mrs. Sarah Capel
TUESDAY, June 2
As he [Jesus] came near the city, he wept over it saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” – Luke 19:41-42
REFLECTION: Some events are simply forever etched in your memory. One such memory is the night that Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered and the streets of Richmond, Virginia erupted. As a child I remember watching parts of my hometown burn to the ground. The events of this past weekend remind me that racial reconciliation and justice for all are still elusive. Naively I spent a good number of years believing that racial reconciliation, though slow, was a near reality. This naivete was abruptly turned upside down just a few years ago when I invited people of color in our congregation to have dinner in our home and to tell their stories. One after another told stories from their childhood, youth and adulthood of systematic racism. That night I wept. I wept over their stories and my ignorance.
This Sunday afternoon I was returning a grandchild to Fuquay-Varina when Rochelle and I passed a gun store with a line of two dozen or more people waiting in line to enter. Thirty minutes later the line was still there; even more people were waiting to make a purchase. I was not only sickened but I, again, wanted to weep.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He must be weeping over Raleigh, this nation and the world.
So where do I find my hope? I find it in every redemptive act of God found in scripture. Abraham, Moses, and King David to name a few, all of whom were redeemed. There was Peter and there was Paul, and the Church in Corinth, all were redeemed. In the days to come I trust we will find hope as we ask how God will redeem us. May we find hope as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in a holy engagement with the quest for racial justice and reconciliation.
Self-Care: Truly pray about where you may have blindspots as it pertains to racial justice. What is your context? What are your experiences? How can God give you a more full view of God’s Kingdom and God’s people?
How to Be Helpful to the Community: As we lament, let us commit ourselves to learn how we can play a role in anti-racist work to dismantle and eradicate racism and injustice in our city and world. Looking for a way to get started? Sign up for Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s virtual workshop Healing the Racial Water. Contact Renae should you need a scholarship.
TUESDAY, May 26
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you,
“Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13
Reflection: During these many weeks of participating in flattening the curve, gardening has become a new hobby. To be clear, I’m not particularly good at it. Planting tends to go against my gypsy-like tendencies. Yet gardening provides me with a long-term project, incremental successes, and joy in the reveling of God’s great variety.
My mother gardens as though her Creator formed her to do so. The garden spaces around her front and back yards enchant all who visit. And that’s another thing: she has visitors – or did prior to the pandemic. Embodying all that is right about Southern hospitality, she welcomes all in her home, tending to her guests with God’s great love. All of that to say that I’m not her….at any level. I strive for the Wisdom that gardening (and Life) has afforded my mom. I have miles to go.
The new rhythm for me of late is to rise, have a cup of coffee, read, pray, tend the garden deadheads, and go to work. Most late afternoons and early evenings are opportunities to marvel over a new bloom or the forming blossoms. Rains of the last few days have well served everything in the yard. Monday morning, as I pulled up a prolific set of weeds that have grown feet per day during the rain, I asked the annoying garden invaders out loud, “Why do you grow and spread so much faster having the exact same amount of water and sunshine as these beautiful flowers and vegetables?”
And God, with tender Wisdom whispered, “It’s like fear isn’t it, Leigh? Love, joy, goodness, fear, pride, and anxiety all exist in the same spaces. And yet in the blink of an eye (with seemingly no attention paid to them), fear and anxiety can take over and become prolific in their spread.”
“So what do I do?” asking less in awe and more in frustration while simultaneously yanking out that stupid weed.
“Didn’t you just do it with the force of that pull?” God answered. (God often speaks to me in sarcasm.) “Face fear. Dig it out as you can. Tend to what you want to bloom…and then keep tending and tending and tending. Tend to the practice of focusing on Me. I am certainly tending to you.” And in that moment, I understood anew the words of the hymn writer: ‘In the rustling Grass, I hear Him Pass; [God] speaks to me everywhere.’
Self-care: All of the emotions we are experiencing right now are as real as the gardens of late spring. All of the emotions are valid. Some thrive more than others. Lean in to each one. Tend to what you want to bloom. And face, as you can, what you want weeded out.
Caring for others: Take a few moments and ask God who God would put before you today as someone God would have you bless. Also ask how to bless them. It will be a great witness to them. Second to that, you will most certainly be blessed in the process.
Prayer: Lord, I praise you for Your colossal tending of me and of all Your people. Help me tend to emotions which are worthy of blooming and to have the strength and conviction to weed out those seeded emotions not worthy of my time. Amen.
TUESDAY, May 19
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. -Isaiah 40:28-31
Reflection: I noticed this old power pole recently in my yard by the Chesapeake Bay. It leans into the wind, seemingly held up only by the lines connected to it. It is riddled with the holes made by generations of woodpeckers. It bears a sign with the name of a power company that went out of existence in 1977, which tells you a lot about its age. It looks weary. And yet, it faithfully transmits power into my home on a continuous basis, sharing from a source beyond itself.
I think a lot of us are weary right now, weary of the waiting and the unknown future. And yet, as the old pole reminds us, there is power in waiting patiently. We are connected to a source beyond us that can carry us where we are not able to go on our own, even as we lean into the headwinds of our lives. Isaiah proclaims that we who wait for the Lord will find renewed strength, we will be like eagles soaring in a clear blue sky, like runners crossing the marathon finish line with energy left over for the celebration, like grandparents patiently circling Shelley Lake as many times as it takes to quiet their tiny loved ones. Friends, we can call on the incredible power of the Lord to find strength and renewal in these days of pandemic. Through the mercy of Christ’s work on the Cross and the grace of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, this power is available to us 24/7, just like the unseen electricity pouring constantly into our homes, thanks be to God!
Self-care: Power up! This is a time for self-examination and preparation. What stands between you and God that interferes with your faithful witness? Sit with your favorite passages of scripture once each day and ask God to help you see yourself reflected in them. Ask God to show you your blind spots and stumbling blocks and when you notice one, relinquish it through the cleansing of confession, repentance and forgiveness. That way, you will be refreshed and renewed for service in God’s name when the time comes.
Care for others: How can you be a power pole for someone else, pouring God’s love and strength into their lives? I try to watch for little hints of weariness in the words and actions of those I encounter, asking gently how I can help. Often just knowing they are not alone is all that’s necessary to give them strength for the moment.
Prayer: Heavenly father, thank you for the gift of Jesus who died on a pole so powerful that its strength fuels us even today. Thank you for restoring us to you so that we are always connected to this power and able to share it with others in your name. Amen.
-Mrs. Sarah Capel
TUESDAY, May 12
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you and the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)
Reflection: The verse from Isaiah 55 above contains one of my absolute favorite images in scripture! It came to mind on a recent breezy Spring morning as I sat on my dock on the Chesapeake Bay enjoying the glory of God’s good creation. The trees indeed seemed to clap their hands to the tune that the wind sang, and the water sparkled like diamonds, as nature showed off. I indeed felt joy and peace in that moment. However, that moment occurred during Holy Week, and in meditating on Jesus’ journey toward the cross, I began to consider the juxtaposition of my joy and peace against Jesus’ suffering and agony. He was being led alright, but not in joy nor in peace. In these difficult days, many of us feel the same way. So, how to reconcile these two things? Are joy and peace reserved only for times of celebration? The answer seems to lie in the book of Isaiah. There, the Israelites are in Babylon, in captivity. Isaiah is not talking about their current conditions in 55:12 but rather about God’s promise for the future and God’s presence in the moment. Joy and peace are not just for celebration. They are tools we can access to endure these times of unimaginable suffering and loss, just as the Israelites did in Babylon and just as Jesus, our example, did as well. How do we know this? Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” So, friends, Jesus endured suffering and agony, just as many of us are right now, by accessing the joy and peace of the promise and presence of God. I pray you are able to access these tools as well.
Self-care: Hug a tree! Just think, you will give your neighbors something to talk about for weeks! Another idea is to think about what gave you joy and peace, back before all the craziness started and then try to recreate that as best you can. Do you miss your grandchildren? You could write them a letter and tell them something about yourself that they may not know. What a great gift! Is there a special comfort food you haven’t had in a long time? Call your favorite restaurant and have it delivered. Is there a spiritual friend you can contact who offers you a safe harbor in which to shelter for a while? All these things and many more can become tools of joy and peace to help you endure these days as you access the presence and promise of God.
How to be helpful in the community: As you can see from the ideas above, many ways of accessing joy and peace for ourselves also result in the gift of joy and peace to others. Thus, your neighbors get a good belly laugh, your grandchildren receive a priceless written memory of yours, the restaurant workers and delivery people receive money to sustain them, and the special spiritual friend receives the gift of your loving presence.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, please continue to patiently show us the ways of joy and peace that your kingdom offers, even in the midst of trials and hardship. Help us access the promise and presence of God through your wondrous creation and through the beauty of the lives around us. Amen.
-Mrs. Sarah Capel
THURSDAY, May 7
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my cup with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5
Reflection: The above verse from the 23rd Psalm is one many of us can recite from memory. The banquet table of God image is familiar and joyful and comforting. It makes sense to me that God prepares a lavish table for people, and I’m so happy to be included! The part that takes me off guard is the “in the presence of my enemies” part. Why is this part about enemies included? How is it good news that the banquet table the Lord is preparing for us also includes our enemies? That gives me pause. The fact that people we consider to be enemies are also invited to God’s table widens my understanding of God and what exactly constitutes good news. As I consider this phrase and this promise of enemies being at the table, I realize this is consistent with the kind of surprising, radical inclusion and grace Jesus demonstrates with his table guests and in his preaching as well. “Turn the other cheek.” “Pray for your enemies.” “Forgive seventy times seven.” God’s grace can actually frustrate and offend me until I remember how sometimes it is I who offend God with my selfishness, greed, or stubborn pride. Upon thinking more about it I realize it’s a good thing God welcomes both those who see themselves as righteous as well as those who are “enemies” because, truthfully, we are all both of those things, sometimes even on one given day.
With God’s help, can I expand with whom I eat beyond those who are easy for me to agree with and beyond those whose company I enjoy? The verse ends with a picture of abundance: “my cup overflows.” It’s tempting to imagine that sharing a meal with an enemy would feel more like a curse than a blessing, but this verse shows us there’s abundance still! The Psalmist says his “cup overflows,” so there’s no lack of goodness or grace or food or joy! Abundant food, abundant forgiveness– yet again God’s word shows us that God isn’t just like us; God is more bountiful and more loving. And we’re invited to share in that love and to be shaped by that love.
Self care: To close out our Every Meal a Moment Theme for the week, here is one more recipe to try. This crockpot recipe is quick and easy and can be thrown together in the morning and left all day while I’m at work (back when I actually left home to go to work!)
Pulled Pork Tacos (from Real Simple Magazine)
- 2 cups store-bought salsa, plus more for serving
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- kosher salt
- 1 2 1/2-pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
- 18 corn tortillas
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the salsa, chili powder, oregano, cocoa, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the pork and turn to coat. Cook, covered, until the meat is tender and pulls apart easily, on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours. Twenty minutes before serving, heat oven to 350° F. Stack the tortillas, wrap them in foil, and bake until warm, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, using 2 forks, shred the pork and stir into the cooking liquid. Serve with the tortillas, cilantro, sour cream, lime, and extra salsa.
How to be helpful in the Community: Make plans for Feed Raleigh Friday – May 22. Since the quarantine began A Place at the Table has given out up to 300+ free meals a day to our hungry neighbors. To help, individuals, organizations and churches are sponsoring Feed Raleigh Fridays. On Friday, May 22, our church will sponsor Feed Raleigh Friday, donating 100 meals to our community through A Place at the Table. We invite you to join us by sponsoring a meal ($10) or a cup of coffee ($2) to see if collectively we can double the impact. Giving is easy – just text “feed” to 919-299-2033 at any point starting May 17. No gift is too small (or too big)!
Prayer: God, expand my vision and my heart so that I can rejoice at the idea of sharing a table not just with you, but with everyone else as well!
If you have enjoyed this week’s theme of exploring how we encounter God with one another around the table, here are a few books that have shaped my thinking, my living, and my ministry on this topic:
Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, as You Are by Shauna Niequist
Come and Eat by Bri McKoy (all three of these books include devotionals and recipes)
Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey (table prayers)
The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell
Rev. Ashley Griffith
TUESDAY, May 5
God, I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Reflection: God’s love is satisfying “like the richest of foods”! This week we’re celebrating how Jesus invites us to draw near to God and one another at the dinner table! So many of Jesus’ important “sermons” weren’t words that he spoke, they were the meals he shared and the people he shared them with. Jesus’ choice of dinner companions confounded and sometimes angered the religious people of his day. Through his radical hospitality, Jesus demonstrates that all are welcome in his presence and at his dinner table and that shared meals can be a means of grace. Even when we can’t gather at the Lord’s Table to take communion together during social distancing, we can still choose to be near to God whenever we eat a meal. We’ve posted some prayers, questions, and toasts that you can use when you eat meals this week. Whether you’re eating alone (imagine you’re Jesus’ guest at his table), eating with messy toddlers, or eating a candlelight dinner, adults only, all meals are opportunities to thank God for God’s presence and provision. We do not live on daily bread, but our daily bread reminds us of our God’s goodness and nearness! Just for fun, post a photo of one of your meals this week
(homemade, curbside pickup, fancy, or plain old PB&J!). Tag @esumcraleigh and use the hashtag #everymealamoment.
Every meal can be a moment to worship God!
Self care/Just for fun: I grew up in Houston, Texas, so I was raised on the spicy flavors of TexMex! Today is Cinco de Mayo, so why not make some homemade guacamole and have a fiesta!?
Ashley’s Favorite Homemade Guacamole (Bri McKoy’s recipe)
1 ripe avocado
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp salt
Juice from half a lime
Juice from a wedge of orange
2 TBS fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
2 TBS red onion, diced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 serrano pepper, diced
A few dashes hot sauce
For extra flavorful guacamole, use a mortar and pestle to make a paste with your garlic and salt first! Then add avocado, mash. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Taste! This is for two people. Easily doubles. Bri McKoy also has a wonderful margarita recipe and a Cinco de Mayo playlist. You can find both by googling her name or following her on instagram, @brimckoy.
How to be helpful in the community: Help families and individuals facing food insecurity. Donate Food! The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is in critical need of non-perishable food items. No contact drop-off sites are available for non-perishable food donations to any of the locations listed below. Click here for most needed items.
- 1001 Blair Dr, Raleigh. Monday-Friday, 8 am to 3 pm and Saturdays, 8 am to 12 pm
- 2300 Dover Farm Rd, Raleigh at the Food Shuttle Farm Stand. Monday-Friday, 8 am to 3 pm
- 2436 S. Miami Blvd, Durham at the Child Food Hub. Monday-Friday, 9 am to 3 pm
Prayer: Jesus, thank you. Thank you for meeting us exactly where we are. In our own homes, at our own tables. Thank you for meeting our basic need so that we can have a window into our deepest need: your saving grace. May we receive not just this food we are about to eat but also your great love. The love that provides. The love that prepares a place for us at the table. Amen.
(prayer taken from Bri McKoy’s book “Come and Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table”)
-Rev. Ashley Griffith
THURSDAY, April 30
He is able… Hebrews 7:25a
Reflection: For nearly a year I have been reading my late Grandmother’s “The Living Bible”, a paraphrased version published in 1971. It is an avocado green hard back Bible that is very easy to read. I came into ownership of her Bible as some of her things were being redistributed. Her children don’t remember this as “her” Bible. Of course they wouldn’t. By 1971 her children had started their own adult lives, one of her children had started a family. Yet, I remember this Bible being in the living room of my grandparent’s house and I remember well that my grandmother would carry it to Sunday school and to her ladies missionary circle meetings. I snatched it up at the opportunity and then endeavored to leaf through each page as though it were a treasured storybook. God has such a sense of humor.
My grandmother was a faithful servant of her small town church and she was an even more faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Her denominational tradition likely was not one to write in their Bibles as they studied. Imagine my surprise each time I gently turn a yellowed page and find that she had underlined a passage, or had a note in the margin. This Living Bible isn’t a storybook at all. It is a timeless divine word – WORD – for us all. “Why would she underline THAT?”, I wonder; or “What was she experiencing that day such that God would speak to her in this passage?”; or, even more poignantly sometimes, “What was God preparing for me when she underlined this or that more than 40 years ago?”.
Time is moving in such strange ways of late. Reading her Bible connects me to the God that she loves and directed me towards. It also connects me to her, a person who, as perfect as I think she is, likely had good days and bad days just like me. As I leafed upon “He is able” in Hebrews 7, it was circled in red felt ink; not the black ball point pen that has brought attention to every other handwritten notation found thus far. This was RED – “blood-of-Jesus” red, as she would say. There is a lot more to that passage than what she circled. Like me you’ve read it many times. Yet in the divinity of God’s Holy Word to us all, that is all I need to know today. God is able. Christ is able. Holy Spirit in us is able.
Self-care: It is a chilly, gray rainy day. Take 5 minutes and ponder 2 thoughts. 1. Who are the saints that have pointed you to your faith? 2. What is one of your favorite verses of the Scriptures? (My newest favorite is “He is able…..”)
How to be Helpful in the Community: Make a donation of any amount to Doorstep Ministry. People are hurting in very real ways. Your contribution makes it possible to take some financial strain off of getting the rent and utilities paid for neighbors in our city. Give here and select Doorstep Ministry from the drop down menu.
Prayer: God you are timeless and you are able. Thank you.
TUESDAY, April 28
Be still and know that I am God Psalm 46:10a
Reflection: This is one of my favorite verses, it reminds me that one of the greatest gifts we have received is the gift of time. Unfortunately, for me, I do not always cherish or fully appreciate this gift. Life is busy with a career and family and it seems like there is always more thing to do than I have time for. The recent stay at home directives for work and school have provided me the opportunity to “be still”. One of my favorite places to “be still” is in my backyard. Whether sitting quietly, reading or doing a little yard work, I have had the opportunity to witness a beautiful Spring. God provides beauty all around us, even in our backyards, and we should commit to being still, appreciating these gifts and appreciate His gift of time.
Self-care: Try something new with a friend…virtually of course! Use this opportunity to learn something new, study something a little further or try something you always thought would be interesting. Compare notes via virtual meetings or phone calls.
How to be helpful in the community: There is a need for gently-used adult pants and closed-toe shoes for some of our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness and living outside. If you have either of these items to donate, we’d be happy to pick them up from your doorstep. Contact Renae to schedule a pick up.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for the wonderful gift of time and for an opportunity to be still. Help us to always be mindful of how valuable this gift is.
-Mr. Clint Morgan
THURSDAY, April 23
“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. “Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. Mark 14:27-51
Reflection: We are now in the season of Easter, standing on firm ground following the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. All is well, right? Well, maybe not everything… Maybe some of us are still experiencing days of difficulty and despair even as we celebrate our risen Lord. So, let’s look back at another day of difficulty and despair, just before Jesus’ arrest, to find the seed of good news and hope buried there. The scene in the scripture above takes place just after the Last Supper where the disciples were shocked by the bad news that one of them will betray Jesus. In today’s scripture, Jesus broadens that claim. By now, however, the disciples, especially Peter, have regained their chutzpah and loudly denounce such a possibility. This is a bad moment. But into this bad moment, Jesus inserts a piece of good news, indeed the best news. In verse 28, he says, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Wow, it’s true! The resurrection is coming! And Jesus will love and forgive the disciples despite their falling away. He will return to them. Yet the disciples are too caught up in their own egos and agendas to hear this word. Their spiritual deafness reminds me of the parable of the sower in Mark 4:1-20. The disciples’ hard, rocky and thorny soil is not ready to receive the wonderful seed that Jesus offers them in a time of despair. Instead, they think only of themselves and the worldly concept of Messiah that they cling to. Despite the disciples’ lack of awareness, this scripture still offers us the resurrection hope of Jesus. Jesus has come and is coming to be with us in the midst of whatever crisis we might face. Is your soil ready to receive him?
Self-care: Tend to your soil. Do you have a contemplative practice or spiritual discipline that you routinely follow? If so, commit to practicing it for 10 minutes a day, preferably at the same time of day. If not, how about looking for one that appeals to you? Many people follow Richard Rohr’s daily meditation or the Upper Room’s book of daily devotions for the year and find these an easy way to commit to a contemplative practice. Others use a centering prayer app, of which there are many free versions on-line. Still others simply practice stillness for 5 to 10 minutes a day. The list of possibilities is endless! By engaging in these practices, you may well find that the field of your heart becomes good soil, ready to produce a bumper crop of love and compassion for others (Mark 4:8).
How to be helpful in the community: Many people find that the soil of their own heart is enriched by helping to enrich the hearts of others through compassionate service and giving. You can find a list of ways to serve and give here .
Prayer: Lord, keep us from the spiritual deafness of the disciples! Help us prepare well-tilled hearts that are ready to receive the hopeful resurrection seeds You offer. Teach us then to tend those seeds until they grow into the mighty mustard trees of Israel, able to shelter and aid those who need encouragement in dark times. Prepare us to help you bring the kingdom, dear Lord! Amen.
-Mrs. Sarah Capel
TUESDAY, April 21
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. -Hebrews 6:17-20
Reflection: During times of stress and hopelessness .What is your greatest source of Hope? Hebrews is a book of faith reassuring the followers of Jesus through the promises of God calling Hope an “An anchor of the Soul” . I have thought of this word HOPE in two different ways.
- One – I can say, “hope you have a good day” or “I hope we will remember these days.”
- Two – I can say “My HOPE is in the Lord. He alone is my rock and my is a salvation” Psalm 63:5
I see these as two different views of hope–
- One – good wishes or desire
- Two — me professing of my faith
In fact I feel that in many places I can replace the word Hope with the word Faith.
1Peter 3:15 Reminds us to” Always be ready to make your defenses to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the HOPE that is in you. Yet to do it with gentleness and reverence.”
In other words be ready to share your faith/hope so others may be able to see it in all you do. Wesley teaches Hope is a this-worldly activity because it signals our intent to become more Christ-like, so it requires actively loving God and our neighbor. Today in these time I think my HOPE/Faith is grounded in the Scriptures and God’s Faithfulness that we are watching each day as we are in the Springtime of blooming flowers and trees (and Pollen) and in the ability to help so many people who are in dire need now of both physical needs and in the need to feel our loving God through us sharing in as many ways as we can. We know that God will restore us and our Earth as he has done so many times before after storms, earthquakes, fires and physical devastation. Within years we have seen the growth from the rain and sun renew the plants and thru the work of people homes are rebuilt and towns renewed.
So let us continue to share our HOPE / FAITH with others as we share our helping hands.
Self-Care: Write a letter to your future self today as a reminder of God’s promises during these days of pandemic. Include in your letter the concerns and fears; the struggles of day-to-day and week-to-week and also of the reminders of HOPE that God offers in those struggles.
How to Be Helpful in the Community: Give Blood! The American Red Cross is grappling with a severe blood shortage as thousands of blood drives have been canceled nationwide, and healthy blood donors are needed. Schedule an appointment to give blood.
-Ms. Judy Cox
THURSDAY, April 16
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1 John 4:4
During this time at home and in reflection, this verse comes to mind. It is an important reminder that the One living inside of all of us is much greater and more powerful than the one found in the world. Not only is God’s love greater than that “one” who has it out for you, constantly trying to put you down, but God’s love is also greater than the trials that we face. We see God show up for us over and over for us and it is important to remember that He alone is greater than the hardest of days. It is so easy to worry about all that is going on in the world, especially these days. God tells us to not worry but to trust in Him because He is GREAT.
Self-care: I encourage you all to listen to and reflect on the MercyMe song “Greater” during this time, either in a quiet space by yourself or with your family. Draw a picture or write down what stood out to you in the lyrics.
How to Be Helpful in the Community: Donate Food-The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is in critical need of non-perishable food items. No contact drop-off sites are available for non-perishable food donations to any of the locations listed below. Click here for most needed items.
- 1001 Blair Dr, Raleigh. Monday-Friday, 8 am to 3 pm and Saturdays, 8 am to 12 pm
- 2300 Dover Farm Rd, Raleigh at the Food Shuttle Farm Stand. Monday-Friday, 8 am to 3 pm
- 2436 S. Miami Blvd, Durham at the Child Food Hub. Monday-Friday, 9 am to 3 pm
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for being great. Greater than my fears and my failures. Greater than storms and greater than illness. Please guide me today and remind me that you can do anything. Help me to know that in you, I do not have to fear anymore. Please keep my family and my community safe during this time and watch over our leaders who have to make hard decisions. Thank you, God, for my blessings, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen
-Mercer Webb, Sanderson High School Junior
TUESDAY, APRIL 14
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:17-22 (NRSV)
Mark 10:17-22 tells the story of the rich young man who has been a good person all his life and who feels an earnest desire to follow Jesus. Yet, his wealth is a stumbling block to unhindered faith, and he cannot bring himself to let go of it. In these fearful days, I feel God calling me to discern my own stumbling block, what it is I am afraid of, what keeps me from fully embracing God, what I cling to that is not of God in anxious times. So, I ask the Holy Spirit for help in such discernment. Do I fear the loss of health or wealth? Maybe. Do I fear catastrophic change in our society? Who doesn’t? Did I believe that any of those things could ever come true before the last few weeks? No. And yet, this is the point at which Jesus tells me to let go of what holds me back, even at the brink of disaster, and step boldly out in faith with him. The rich young man could not do it. As Peter notes, in verse 28, even those who have given up everything they have to follow Jesus still have a hard time understanding this teaching. In the disciples’ world and in ours, wealth and privilege pretend to create a hierarchy of power that protects against disaster. But Jesus rejects that idea, saying the protection afforded by unhindered faith in him is far greater than can be achieved by mere worldly wealth and privilege (Mark 10-29-31). And even better, such faith is available to everyone, not just the privileged few.
I often find it so hard to follow the example of Jesus. Every first instinct in these days is for self-preservation, and yet Jesus teaches us to set aside such instincts for a truer one that is buried deep within our hearts: our instinct for God and God’s ways. I think it’s easy to spend one’s whole life acting on the first, surface, instinct, and never unearth the deeper one. I pray that we will all find strength in this time to uncover the deeper instinct, dust it off, clean it up and live into it as our primary mode of being. This can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit, so Spirit come now into our hearts and bring out our instinct of true faith and servanthood in Jesus’ name and example. As Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24, NIV).
Self-care: Brian McLaren, in Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for March 25, offers the following self-care suggestion for coping in anxious times:
“Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request. So we might hold the word guidance before God. Or patience. Or courage. Or resilience. Or boundaries, mercy, compassion, determination, healing, calm, freedom, wisdom, or peace. . . .”
How to Be Helpful in the Community: Share the prayer practice above with others whom you feel might benefit from it. Listen with them, if they are willing, as they name their fears, and offer them the compassionate love and peace of Christ.
Prayer: Lord, these are fearful days of stripping and emptying. The very bones of our society are being laid bare and tested for strength in this great time of trial. And yet we know that you are the only true source of strength, the only one capable of leading us through this time of crisis. You have made us in your image, so inspire us now to act like it, as individuals and as a community. Make us instruments of your peace and lead us into Kingdom life in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
THURSDAY, APRIL 9
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. 3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 New International Version (NIV)
As a lot of us are sitting at home being forced to spend time with our family, worrying about our country and those close to us, it’s easy to get bored, annoyed and especially to focus on the negative. Though we are going through some rough times right now, having to listen to your sibling or child practice their clarinet for two hours a day is not quite on the level of Paul’s hardships. If you’re reading this devotion or any other, you’re already starting down the right path towards making these times better. Whether it’s because you need a moment with God, or because you are trying to make sense of all this mess, or simply because you want to get away from all the noise for a few moments and take a deep breath, I’m glad you’re here.
God tells us in scripture that life won’t be perfect all the time. He tells us that sometimes there will be uncertainty. These are the times when our faith is tested and when we must trust in God’s timing. It’s oftentimes easy to get caught up in daily life and let it go by so fast that we don’t stop to cherish the little things. In forcing us to stay at home this virus is making us slow down. At first glance it feels like a prison, but I warn you not to let this time pass you by because as my family and I have seen, being unable to do things like have track meets or wrestling tournaments can allow you to step away from the constant craziness of life and enjoy God’s creation and grace. The past two weekends, instead of running around from one place to another, we were able to go camping in the woods and go fishing at the lake which provided time to not only witness the earth’s beauty but also to spend quality time with one another and have real conversations. Instead of being upset that you can’t watch the NCAA tournament, be happy that you have time to spend with your children or parents. Be happy that you finally have the time to step back from your day in and day out job and watch the sunrise or sunset as I have and am going to attempt to start doing more often because God has gifted me with the chance to see more of his work in action and I’m not going to waste it. Be happy that you can wake up every day and read a devotion or study the bible and do the same before you go to sleep, if you didn’t already before this crisis. Let’s use this time to build habits of sending messages of love to our neighbors and not hate. Let’s use this time to build habits of looking for God instead of turning our backs when he calls us because we’re “busy.” But most of all let’s use this time to see beauty in everything around us and to notice God’s work on this earth.
Self-Care: Try setting a timer for 10 minutes and truly sit and listen to the sound of your own breathing for those 10 minutes. It seems like 10 minutes isn’t that long, but try it. And don’t stress if your mind starts to wander or you start making lists in your head. Just sweetly tell those things to wait and that you will be right with them in a few minutes.
How to Be Helpful in the Community: Spend some time sparking a little Marie Kondo joy and share your blessings with others by setting aside items to donate once the COVID-19 crisis has passed. Gather up your gently used children’s and youth clothing for A Note in the Pocket. Adult clothing for the First Baptist Clothing Closet. And next-to-new household goods and furnishings for The Green Chair Project.
Prayer: God, please help us to try and see the bright side of the terrible situation that we are currently in. Please Lord help us to trust in your timing and trust that this will all end and that we will make it through with your guidance and grace. Please keep us and especially all those in the healthcare field safe and please give guidance and strength to our leaders. In your name we pray and give thanks for our many blessings, amen.
-Benjamin Cashwell, 8th Grade Ligon Middle School
TUESDAY, APRIL 7
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins. -Psalm 130
Lent during the time of a pandemic is a different kind of Lent. We’ve been joking that this is the “Lentiest Lent of all Lents.” None of us expected to or wanted to give up QUITE this much when we made our Lenten commitments when Lent began on Ash Wednesday! COVID 19 continues to be a disruption and challenge for everyone to say the least, and it is a crisis on a global level. Psalm 130 was the Psalm passage for the lectionary the fifth week in Lent, and it’s opening line feels fitting during this time where the world is upside down and everyone is ordered to stay at home: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord. Lord, hear my voice.” Some of us feel a disorienting since of loneliness, anxiety, fear about what’s ahead, and isolation. Others are finding gratitude, peace, and calm during this time. Many of us have feelings that fluctuate all across the spectrum, sometimes within a single day or even hour. All of these feelings are important and valid, and we should allow ourselves to feel it all. We don’t have to “have it all together” or proceed as business as usual, because things are anything but usual. In Psalm 130:1, the Psalmist says “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits.” We can identify with this sense of waiting, because none of us knows when this pandemic will pass and if or when life will resume to normal. Realistically, life might not ever return to how it was before COVID-19, and maybe some of the changes that will come from it will end up being good for us as a society and as individuals. Even still, there’s a collective sense of anxiety happening now, and this waiting until some unknown time is part of that anxiety. In the midst of this pandemic and all the unknowns it entails, I take some comfort and hope remembering that with the Lord there is unfailing love. Let us make the Psalmist’s declaration of hope our very own prayer during these times. I invite you to substitute your own name for the word “Israel” in those final verses. During this pandemic, during this very Lent-y Lent, let us affirm God’s goodness still: “Ashley, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” Thanks be to God.
Self-Care Idea: Lament is a strong tradition in our Christian faith and throughout the Bible, and many Psalms express lament, fear, anger, and sorrow. Allow yourself to feel fully whatever you’re feeling. Maybe even write your own lament to God. As you write, name your fears, your griefs, and your need for God.
How To Be Helpful in the Community: After you’ve taken time to write a lament, spend some time writing/creating to lift your spirits and someone else’s. One idea is a Courage Card. This is something people of all ages can do. Materials needed can be simple (paper/crayons) or more elaborate (card stock/stickers/stamps/etc.). Cards go to kids who are inpatient at Duke and UNC Children’s Hospitals. Learn more here.
Prayer: God, thank you that you’re present with me even during this time of waiting. Thank you that I can be honest with you about my fears and anxieties and other emotions that have been often named as “negative.” Thank you, Lord, that you do not keep a record of sins, but instead you offer forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Hold me near to you during this uncertain time. Help me to wait with hope. Help me to put my hope in you, in your word, and in your unfailing love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Rev. Ashley Griffith
THURSDAY, APRIL 2
You turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. – Psalm 30:11-12 (NRSV)
We are living in a moment where it’s easy to dwell on the dark and twisty of the situation. Finding a new rhythm is hard and making it the new normal is even harder. It’s easier to ask, “Where did the good go?”, then to look for what good is coming next. When I find myself asking this question of where did the good go? Or why didn’t I hug my friends tighter? Or when will I be with my community, standing shoulder to shoulder, worshiping with the people that made Raleigh home for me? I turn to this scripture in Psalm, take a step back and find the silver linings of the day. Simply, because God will turn our mourning into dancing, our sackcloth into joy and what else will we have to do other than sing God’s praises!
One of my all time favorite scenes in modern TV is from Grey’s Anatomy. If you’re familiar with the show, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, if not let me fill you in. SPOILER ALERT!!! In season 10 episode 24, Cristiana Yang pulls Meredith Grey from a conversation and into a call room so they can say goodbye one last time. Cristiana is leaving to take a job in Switzerland. She pulls Meredith into the on call room and says, “We have to dance it out, that’s how we finish.” And that’s just what they do, Meredith starts playing “Where Does the Good Go” by Tegan and Sara and they dance it out, it’s a little awkward at first but once they let go, it’s nothing short of pure bliss. Now, this is a common theme throughout the show: whenever someone is stressed out, something bad happens or someone just needs a reminder of the good things in life, they dance it out.
Even though they are saying goodbye in this scene, I think we can take note and learn something here. Cristiana took the risk of missing a flight to make one final “normal” memory with her person. She found the light of a tough situation. So, don’t be afraid to mourn our current situation but never miss a chance to find God’s light in a tough situation and dance it out.
Self-Care Idea: Dance it out: Have a dance party all by yourself or with your family/roommates. Get your body moving. Turn the music all the way up and dance until it doesn’t feel weird or awkward, until you don’t care who’s watching. If you need some good dancing tunes check out this playlist.
How To Be Helpful in the Community: Dance it out with someone else?: Social distanced dance party in your driveway with your neighbors, anybody? What about FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype dance party with your best friend?
Prayer: Good and Holy God, thank you for this day, everyday before it and each day there is to come. Thank you for each opportunity for praise you. God, I pray that I continue to find new joys each day. As I worry, I pray that I find little dance parties to have and remind me that you’ve got it all covered even when I can’t understand. It is in your name that I pray. Amen.
Much love friends and many prayers for you,
TUESDAY, MARCH 31
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mark 8:31-33, NRSV)
Hello beautiful Edenton Street family! I pray for your health and well-being in these uncertain days. Every morning, I meditate and journal on a passage of scripture, using the Ignatian spiritual exercises as a guide. Each week, I create a theme based on what seems to be happening in my life at the time. Thus, a couple of weeks ago, my theme was “bluebirds in the morning.” I am blessed to have a family of these astonishing creatures living in my backyard, and I see them as signs of God’s grace. Bluebirds remind us that God is on God’s throne.
Naturally enough, this week’s theme is “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Right now, I am chewing slowly through Mark’s gospel, which is laced with examples, such as the passage above, of Jesus telling the disciples that the world they know, with its structures and hierarchies, is ending. A new kingdom is coming, through Christ’s death and resurrection, but it’s not the one they have imagined, and they have a hard time grasping that truth. Somehow, I take heart in the realization that, like the disciples, the world as we know it may be ending, but that God’s kingdom has already come and is still coming. God is still creating, as Will Willimon reminded me recently in a prayer service at Duke Divinity School. Willimon says that the verb, “to create” as used in Genesis One has past, present and future tenses contained within it, indicating that God is still very much at work in this world. Dear friends, although the world as we know it may be ending in certain ways, we can trust that God will create something new, something better, because the bluebirds tell us that God is still on God’s throne and loves us very much.
Self-Care Idea: Look for the bluebirds in your life: How has God’s grace shown up lately for you? Have you received an unexpected phone call from an old friend? Watched a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Read a good book? Walked into a fully stocked grocery store, feeling like Dorothy entering the technicolor land of Oz?
Do you need an extra listening ear? Please feel free to reach out to me. I am a spiritual director, and with the clergy’s blessing, I can offer spiritual direction for anyone wanting or needing support. I can help you listen more deeply for signs of God’s love and call in your life. 919-608-9802 or email@example.com.
How to be Helpful in the Community: Be a bluebird for others: Can you pick up groceries or prescriptions for your shut-in neighbor? Surprise someone with a call or card? Suggest on-line resources to parents with children at home? Order take-out and leave a big tip? Make a donation to our Doorstep ministry, which seeks to help those most affected by this crisis?
Prayer: Lord, the world as we know it seems to be ending. Help us grasp that truth and yet remain faithful, looking to you for guidance on how to enter the new reality with hope and confidence that you are still with us, that you are in control even of this crisis. Give us bluebird glimpses of your beneficent authority in the days ahead. Amen.
THURSDAY, MARCH 26
Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath – Luke 13:10-13
One Sabbath as he was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a seriously handicapped woman who had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to straighten herself. Calling her over to him Jesus said, “Woman, you are healed of your sickness!” He touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised and thanked God!
A commentary I read recently on this passage jolted me. This miracle is one where no one asks anything of Jesus nor does He ask anything in return. Why is that? Why is this miracle revealed to us this way? Jesus simply sees this crippled woman, calls her, places His hands on her, and heals her. And in turn she is recorded as straightening up and praising God!
Scripture informs us that she had been hunched over for 18 years. Eighteen years! Eighteen years of staring at the floor and feeling as if nothing would ever change. Her circumstances force a downward stare. Chances are we all know what that can feel like – perhaps especially now. What hope could she feel? She’s tired. She’s hurting. She needs healing. She needs hope.
Enter Jesus. He sees her. He acknowledges her. He loves her. And He heals her. And above all, He gives her hope.
These days we are living in are strange and peculiar. Admittedly, we haven’t been hunched over for 18 years – yet the grind of each day further tempts us to bend our gaze downward.
Enter Jesus once again. He sees us. He acknowledges us. He loves us. And He beckons us to fix our eyes on Him. Just as He did for the crippled woman, He will show each of us what we can’t see for ourselves – the promise of a hope-filled future.
Self-care idea: Spend even just one minute with your head up and facing the sun today. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face and allow that warmth to represent the hope of Christ in today and the days to come. Turn over each thought that comes to your mind during that moment to Jesus. When you are ready, take a deep breath and praise God.
How to be helpful in the Community: Be the hope of Christ for someone else. As Jesus commanded, Love Your Neighbors. Check on those in your community and with whom you are connected. Send an encouraging message or call them and let them know you’re thinking of them. Especially ask your elderly and at-risk connections if they need anything, and offer to assist them to your comfort level.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for seeing me for acknowledging me and for loving me. Help me to lift my heavy head and fix my eyes on You. And use me today to reflect Your hope for someone else that You love.
-Leigh Holloway, Director of Programming
TUESDAY, MARCH 24
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” -Ezekiel 37:1-3
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
-“The Peace of Wild Things,” Wendell Berry
Walking through the church parking lot early last Sunday morning, I had a fit of sneezes and coughs. It sent a jolt down my spine and a sudden surge of anxiety to my mind; I have read about the COVID-19 symptoms enough to recite them in my sleep. But then, I heard an unfamiliar sound: a bird singing in the branches. And I remembered, I always have allergies the first two weeks of Spring.
Many of the activities and beloved communal gatherings that have marked the Spring for me each and every year will not happen in Spring of 2020. Like many across the world, I feel that certain sting of disappointment that leaves a lump in your throat and certain heaviness in your heart. But, these days, every pollen induced sneeze and buzzing bumble-bee is a reminder of the sustaining energy of God all around us in the “wild things.”
This week’s OT lectionary passage bears witness to the power of God to bring life, love, and healing to all people in all places; even a valley full of dry, crusty bones. God has never stopped being about the work of bringing order to chaos, light from darkness, and life out of death. Even now, amidst all the fear, stress, and uncertainty, God desires to breath new life, a fresh flame, and restored hope in you.
Who knows, but maybe the Spirit will unleash something in you so great during this season of wilderness that you can’t help but sneeze out God’s blessing into a world desperate for good news.
Self-Care Idea: Allot 15 minutes to sit outside and watch the turning of Spring. As you sit and watch, practice the following breath prayer: “God I breathe in your new life [inhale], and exhale my anxiety and fear [exhale].
Service: Check out the list of ways to be helpful in our community by going to esumc.org/serves
Prayer: Living God, breathe out your Holy Spirit upon our dead bones that we might be raised up into life in Christ to be his hands, feet, and heart of compassion for a weary world. Amen.
-Rev. Will McLeane
THURSDAY, MARCH 18
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” – Psalm 118:24
For many of us, today feels strange and unsettling. So much is uncertain. We might not know how or what to feel. These are unprecedented times, and we’re all just feeling our way through, day by day. In times like these, it brings me hope to remember that God is with me, today. Often we begin a service of worship with these words, “This is the day that the Lord has made,” and sometimes these words can feel like platitudes. This week I read something that made me reconsider the goodness of this familiar verse. In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary Tish Harrison Warren writes:
“The psalmist declares, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made.’ This one. We wake not to vague or general mercy from a far-off God. God, in delight and wisdom, has made, named, and blessed this average day. What I in my weakness see as another monotonous day in a string of days, God has given as a singular gift. When Jesus died for his people, he knew me by name in the particularity of this day. Christ didn’t redeem my life theoretically or abstractly—the life I dreamed of living or the life I think I ideally should be living. He knew I’d be in today as it is, in my home where it stands, in my relationships with their specific beauty and brokenness, in my particular sins and struggles.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard reminds us that where ‘transformation is actually carried out is in our real life, where we dwell with God and our neighbors. . . First, we must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are.
God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.’“
So here we find ourselves, today, in Lent. In a pandemic. It feels scary and surreal. Nothing feels normal. And yet, even today, God is with us, God meets us here in, in this day, and God is forming us into new people. This brings me hope and comfort.
Self care idea: Take a walk outside or sit outside and look for signs of God’s presence and goodness all around you.
How to be helpful to our Community: Help Families and Individuals Facing Food Insecurity
The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is working hard to find innovative, transformative ways to address hunger needs in our community during this crisis. They have several volunteer opportunities, including some at the Food Shuttle Farm, allowing you to easily keep your 6-feet of social distance. They are also accepting food donations. Click here to learn more. Additional ways to help with food insecurity and other needs in our community can be found on our website.
Prayer: God of love and grace, thank you for being present with me, here and now, today. Help me to feel and know your presence today. Use this day, with all of its uncertainties and worries, to draw me nearer to you. Please grant me peace and comfort that overflows from my life into all of my interactions and relationships. Thank you for being near, Lord. Amen.
-Rev. Ashley Griffith