Devotions for Lent 2024
Please enjoy these devotions from members of the Newberry College community, covering a season of the church year dedicated to a period of penitential preparation for Easter. Each devotion is accompanied by an audio reading by its author. If you have any questions about how to receive these devotions, please contact Campus Pastor David Coffman '97.
"When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them, saying ... 'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.'" — Matthew 5:1-2, 5
For most of my life, Lent has meant giving something up. I have seen family and friends give up soda, candy, social media, and other things that are important to them, to help focus on what Lent means. I have grown up hearing the Beatitudes, and most of them make perfect sense. I have always understood that the peacemakers and the merciful will be blessed. However, I have never quite understood why the “poor of spirit” and the “meek” will be blessed as well.
For me, the word "meek" has a negative connotation. When I hear "meek," I think of weak and brittle; someone whom people walk all over. However, this could not be further from the truth. In reality, meekness comes from a place of great strength. Meek is being able to control one’s strength, not the lack thereof. As usual, Jesus is the perfect example of this. Jesus was the most powerful person to ever walk this earth; however, he also died one of the most inhumane and painful deaths ever recorded. He didn’t lack the strength to stop it; he could have stopped it in a heartbeat, calling down legions of angels to subdue his oppressors. Truthfully, he could have stopped them himself. However, he exemplified the meekness that is referred to in this passage by humbling himself, taking on a punishment for which he did not deserve, and dying for every human who has come before or after him, many of whom despise his name. That is meekness: trusting in God’s plan, even when that plan may make no sense to us, may inconvenience us, or maybe even cause us pain in the moment. Meekness is completely sacrificing oneself to God, in love and trust that he sees the bigger picture even when we cannot.
As we approach this Lenten season, let us focus our minds on how we can submit ourselves fully to God’s plan for our life, even when we cannot see the full picture. Because we know his plan for us is built on the unconditional love He demonstrated for us through Jesus’ death on the cross. Instead of thinking only of giving up something physical, perhaps we can also give up some control these forty days to our Heavenly Father, and hopefully continue to trust him, even when this season is over.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:3
Lent is a puzzle, of sorts. This verse of the Beatitudes has always puzzled me.
When we think of the verse today, we may tend to think, “what is Jesus talking about? Is he talking about being financially poor and destitute? What does that have to do with God, our Father, and with Jesus and love?”
As we devote ourselves to reflect on this verse, I want to first share a story.
Years ago, I got laid off from my first job out of college, a government job with the State of Florida. It was a role that was very rewarding and that I was good at. I really enjoyed my colleagues, the work I was doing, and the blessing of that job. Until that job was gone.
It was scary and humiliating to be out of work, even though the government cutbacks were not my fault. I was blessed that my family could help me during this period and that I would be able to draw unemployment for a while. But I wondered how long it would take to find something else. I worried about making sure I could pay my bills and not being a burden on my parents. I felt lost and my sense of security was shaken.
I applied and interviewed for lots of jobs. Several times I was among the final candidates. And I got passed over each time. I was frustrated and the rejections took their toll. My confidence was low.
I didn’t have a lot of faith or hope during that period. And yet, being stripped of that security allowed me to find many blessings. My parents were a huge support system and made sure I was fed, had a roof over my head, encouraged me, and helped me fill in gaps when needed. I was able to spend precious time with family members I wouldn’t otherwise have. I learned to completely trust in God that things would work out in His good time, more than I ever have in my life. Eventually the changes set in motion by that time led me to Newberry, to finding my husband, and to Newberry College, where my skills have been repurposed on a path that was part of the many plans God has for my life.
So, back to the verse. While being poor in the monetary sense can certainly be included in Jesus’ message, that isn’t necessarily what He is referring to. To be poor in spirit means to lack power, to be demoralized, to be dejected. To have lost hope or faith. People who are poor in spirit have nothing, yet in that emptiness they are never separated from the love of God. Being stripped completely bare rids us of any illusions of power or security and allows us to rely fully on God to fill us and work in us. What Jesus is really saying here is, “blessed are you who are poor in spirit because you can completely depend on me and be filled. Because you can find your happiness in me.”
So blessed are we, during times of spiritual longing and questioning. Let us remember during this Lenten season that Jesus encountered spiritual strife; the blood on the rock, the agony of the crucifixion, the dread of separation from God — a burden he willfully took on for you and for me. He took that hard landing, so you and I could be spared it. He came to tell us of a new deal, a new vision, a coming kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven, where he pays our price of entry at the Cross.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for your many blessings. We thank you for loving us, and for reminding us that during times of struggle and doubt, you are with us and working through us. Help us to find a deeper connection with you this Lenten season and to grow in humility and reliance on you. Fill us with your Holy Spirit and draw us closer to your love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:3
I want you to take a moment to think of a time in which your faith felt weak. Maybe it was after the death of a loved one, maybe it was because of someone’s hurtful words, or maybe it’s right here, right now, at this very moment. Whatever the cause may be, weakening faith is an uncomfortable thing to face, especially during difficult situations.
That’s what I love about the Beatitudes. Jesus sat in front of a multitude of people eager to listen to Him. He settled on a mountain and began to teach, and He started by naming those who were blessed. A list of the blessed, in any logical case, would name the powerful, the wealthy, and the stable. Those who don't struggle with their faith or their financial stability. Those people we see with the greener grass and those who enjoy the finer things. The ones with everything we’d be blessed to have. The ones that are everything we aren’t.
But God’s blessings don’t work that way. Jesus, while preaching on the mount, was never concerned with the material wealth of the crowd that followed Him. Instead, Jesus focuses first on those desperate for steadiness in their faith, and He promises them His Kingdom in heaven. Despite our own doubts, God keeps us steady. Even now, when we feel our faith waver, we are called to rely on the Lord, who can carry all our burdens.
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7
So, take another moment to reflect on the times you feel weak in your faith and remember: no matter how big our struggles feel or how grave our situations may be, God is with us. In the midst of faltering faith, He will always be there. Amen.
Ash Wednesday starts the 40 days of Lent: a time of reflection, prayer, fasting and service. This semester we are working our way through the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-14. Who are the blessed? Is it the rich and famous? Is it the influencers of our day? Is it the Super Bowl winners. Is it Taylor Swift? Is it a political party?
I think that's why we need to take seriously Ash Wednesday again or for the first time. It should come as no surprise that Ash Wednesday comes each year with a gentle reminder, that we are, "dust and to dust we shall return." We have to deal with death, mortality, grief and loss, and turn to the hope in God and through the promises of Jesus.
In previous work as a hospice chaplain and parish pastor, I became very familiar with life cycles, sickness, patient decline, dementia, coma and death. And I think one of the reasons I was excited about becoming campus pastor at Newberry was my perception that I would not have to do funerals, attend as many celebrations of life, and it would be less about dying. Yes, it is a part of life, but I thought I would not have as many as three funerals for beloved professor, alumnus, and someone so young to find words of comfort in a time of death in a matter of so many months.
But we hear the comforting words of Jesus teaching us. Each Wednesday in chapel, each of the devotions shared over the next 40 days of Lent and into Easter, we hear the promises of God making the world right when it is so consumed in death, grief, loss and unexpected surprises.
Hear the words again for the first time: "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying ..."
What does Jesus want to teach you these 40 days? What does God want to bless you with on your journey of life? What can happen if we reflect, turn to prayer, fast, and serve during these next few weeks?
As I mentioned, you will hear from students, faculty and staff on these wonderful verses called the Beatitudes. These are verses about life and about how God's world is made right when we recognize the true meaning of blessing. You will see and encounter the living God as we look at these scriptures and reflect upon them. Join me on this journey. May God bless you!
Let us pray: Oh God of grace and mercy, be gentle with us as we take on this journey of Lent toward the promises of resurrection in Christ Jesus. Help us to see the true value of your love for all people, and know your presence in our lives so that we may serve you and our neighbor. In Jesus' name, Amen.