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Lent Devotions 2020

Wednesday, April 8

By the Rev. Michael Price

Grace Lutheran Church, Prosperity, S.C.

 

“For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.” — Genesis 22:12

 

Sacrificing human lives contradicts faith, worship, and morality. Even as that is true, the history and culture during Genesis’ time left enough room to explore that 1) God would command such a thing and 2) such obedience is a triumph of faith. Isaac was for Abraham a miracle son, a son not expected but who was born to officially carry on the lineage as promised by God. Everything about Isaac represented for Abraham everything he loved and held dear. To be willing to hand all of that over is indeed an act of trust, and one that I can appreciate. And it brings to my mind that there are many people just in Newberry County alone who know the pain of losing children they love, and what sacrifice it is for their own hearts. The faith it takes to move forward in those harsh realities should be celebrated.

 

Now it is time to walk ahead in God’s journey. We walk ahead to the source of the season of Lent, to the cross of Jesus Christ.

 

Upon the cross hangs God’s favored and only Son. This event will come to be called a sacrifice made by Christ and by God as a once-and-for-all act of salvation. That’s what it is, and it is more.

 

Humans bringing sacrifices for God is the assumed practice from Genesis all the way through to the Gospels. God sacrificing for humans is another matter entirely; it’s unheard of. To say that God is sacrificing for human beings flips the reality of religion inside out and upside down. Sacrifice, as we’ve explored, is at the heart of the relationship people have with God, the way people worship and love God. To say that now God is the one doing the sacrificing dispenses with temples, altars, religious systems, and all the rest.

 

The curtain of the temple was torn in two, graves were cracked open, hell’s gates were sprung, because God made a sacrifice, an act of devotion, faithfulness, and love toward the whole world. No one saw it coming, because no one even thought to imagine, as they sacrificed and worshipped regularly, that God would sacrifice for humans.

 

The hymn "Great God Your Love Has Called Us Here" in verse 3 says: “We strain to glimpse your mercy seat / and find you kneeling at our feet.”

 

Let us pray.

It is finished, Holy and Almighty God. You have done it. Take our lives and shape them with your sacrificial love we see upon the cross of your Son Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, April 7

By the Rev. Michael Price

Grace Lutheran Church, Prosperity, S.C.

 

Today let us set aside the specific command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac and focus solely on sacrifice in everyday practice during the time of Genesis.

 

Have you ever thought about how much prayer is assumed in the life of a religious person today? Perhaps more than any other practice (including regular worship, studying of holy writings, or giving of time or money), prayer is the assumed practice of a religious individual today. And this includes just about any religion, be it Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, Islamic, or Jewish. If you’re religious, you pray. This simple expectation defines everyday religiosity in our cultural mindset. Prayer is what you ask for from a religious (or “spiritual”) person when you’re facing a difficult time. It is a practice that has a multitude of characteristics: thanksgiving, adoration, lamentation, intercession, confession, meditation, etc. Prayer is the measuring stick of the relationship you have with the sacred or divine.

 

Now imagine with me another simple expectation of religious people of another day. Imagine you live in a time when the cultural expectation of a religious individual was not their prayer, but rather their sacrifice. If you’re religious in this day, you sacrifice. It too has a variety of characteristics. You might sacrifice to give thanks, or to simply adore the divine, or to appeal to them for good food and health, or to confess a wrong you’ve done, or simply to grow closer to the divine. It too is practiced by all kinds of religions: Greek, Roman, eastern, polytheists, monotheists, etc. It too was the measuring stick of one’s relationship with the divine. This is the predominant mindset of everyone in the known world during the time Genesis was written: if you’re religious, you sacrifice.

 

God’s commands about sacrifice in Leviticus were written with such clarity and simplicity that it took the guesswork out of the sacrificial system. Before God’s simple commands, a very human anxiety crept in that caused sacrificing to spiral out of control. Is this god mad at me? Sacrifice more! Did I benefit from this god last harvest? Sacrifice more! Did I do something wrong? Sacrifice more! Am I a good person? Sacrifice more! Because of God’s commands in Leviticus, such anxiety was taken away for God’s people by clarity and simplicity of execution. Such commands were a welcome voice of calm in an otherwise anxious system.

 

And it mattered what you sacrificed. According to the sacrificial laws as written in Leviticus, it mattered for instance that an animal sacrifice be “without blemish.” This essentially means that the sacrificed animal would be the most prized animal you possess. And this, maybe more than anything else, meant to demonstrate just how deserving the divine was for the sacrificer.

 

Sacrifice, when practiced simply and in faith, can be a holy event. Focusing solely on animal, crop, or wealth sacrifices, consider what trust it must take to watch those choice goods that can mean the difference between survival and death to burn on an altar. You toil and labor to make sure you and your family survive. And this one thing, this unblemished, choice source of food and survival burns before your eyes. Sacrifice, in and of itself, is a practice of recognition and trust. One recognizes the uncontrollable nature of life, and trust mysteriously wakes up in the midst of that recognition. Sacrifice, for many, was a source of uninhibited truth: every moment we live on the precipice of existence and non-existence. It brings into clarity our own life’s smallness, and by contrast, God’s bigness.

 

In lieu of offering a prayer of words for today’s devotion, I invite you to enter into 2 minutes of uninterrupted silence, inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully, paying attention to your heartbeat. As you inhale, thank God for your breath. As you exhale, trust God for the next breath. As you become more aware of your heartbeat, thank God for its beating and trust God for its beats into the future.

Monday, April 6

By the Rev. Michael Price

Grace Lutheran Church, Prosperity, S.C.

 

Genesis Chapter 22 is the Binding of Isaac (the Akedah in Hebrew). God commands Abraham to take his only son Isaac — whom Abraham loves — and prepare to sacrifice him.

 

I doubt I need to tell you how difficult and controversial this particular biblical story is. Let’s talk about the nature of the difficulty. And this has to do with the authority of the Bible. I am sure there are those who might be reading or hearing this who consider the Bible’s authority as literal and outright. “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it.” Of all the chapters in the Bible, this one in particular might present the single-most devastating challenge to that way of approaching the Bible. However, I’d like to propose another approach to the Bible’s authority in our lives. Instead of a simplistic literal interpretation of the whole, perhaps a text like this one invites us into a new relationship with the Bible itself. This story is not a moral tale of extreme obedience, or maybe more accurately, it is not that alone. Maybe, just maybe, the Bible’s authority is more dialogical, meaning it is not primarily instructing us what to do, but it is primarily talking through with us the depth and complexity of faith.

 

I see two possibilities in how people respond to this story (or any Bible passage for that matter). One is ignorance. Simply gloss over it, ignore it, or (and I really believe this belongs in the same camp) come up with a hard and fast interpretation that cannot be questioned. In other words, don’t put a lot of care into thinking or talking through it. The second possibility is to engage it the way the Bible is meant to be engaged, a source of holy mystery explored, debated, prodded, reacted to, observed, reflected upon, heard, and repeated by dedicated humans together.

 

It’s reprehensible to consider human sacrifice (or even attempted human sacrifice) as some kind of moral lesson. I’ll be blunt. Abraham is not a hero to me in this story, and on many days neither is God. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that listening out for God’s voice often means leaving everything you know and everything you identify with, including family and familiar livelihoods, the people and life you love. Abraham left his home and kindred as his first act of obedient faith to God’s calling. Now God is asking Abraham to leave the family and lineage of his future in order to trust God. That dynamic of faith should never be lost on us when we encounter this story. God interrupts our lives’ patterns, sometimes drastically so.

 

And such an observation — that God interrupts our patterns — can never be the whole of the interpretation of this text. The sheer force and provocative thrust of this narrative forces us to not get too comfortable with any one way of reading it. I may not see God as a hero when God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but God is still God. What I mean is, God is still a force uncontrolled by me, and that truth will never change.

 

And on and on it goes: the questions, the readings, the prodding, the reacting, the debating, the exploring, the interpreting. This engagement together through the ages reveals God more than anything. God’s holiness is known in the tensions it presents to our patterns of life, thinking, and faith. When the Bible takes away any chance to be surprised or disturbed or challenged or changed by it, it has lost its power and authority. Conversely, it’s when we are disturbed or surprised or challenged or changed that these texts hold sway over us.

 

In lieu of offering a prayer of words for today’s devotion, I invite you to enter into two minutes of uninterrupted silence, inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully, paying attention to your heartbeat. As you inhale, thank God for your breath. As you exhale, trust God for the next breath. As you become more aware of your heartbeat, thank God for its beating and trust God for its beats into the future.

Friday, April 3

By the Rev. James Henricks

Summer Memorial Lutheran Church, Newberry S.C.

 

"'This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring.'" — Genesis 17:10-12

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Today is my last day of my three-day devotion on the 17th chapter of Genesis. On day one, I emphasized this covenant is, above anything else, a gift and a promise from God. On the second day, I emphasized the everlasting nature of this covenant, and how ultimately, God is the only one who can uphold an eternal promise. Today, I finally look at what is expected from us – what does this covenant between God and Abraham mean for us today?

 

Here I want to point out: as with any reading from scripture, it is the Christian teaching that we only understand scripture fully with the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the beginning and end of the Christian faith. As so much of this 17th chapter of Genesis is devoted to circumcision as the human response to this covenant, I want to point out how St. Paul interprets this in the light of Christ’s actions: circumcision was a sign of faithfulness to the covenant. It is itself not the act which guarantees, but is the action that demonstrates faith in God and therefore receives the promise. Romans 4 says that Abraham “Received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” The promise to Abraham came through faith. 

 

As Christians, living under the New Covenant found in Christ, our marker for belonging has changed. We recognize Holy Baptism as the sign of this new covenant that marks us as belonging to the Christian body of faith. Yet what is the same, whether the act was circumcision or baptism, is the faith that precedes the action. God has spoken to us through the Gospel, enlightened us with God’s gift, and called us in the true faith along with the whole Christian Church on earth. Our faith – the result of God’s faithfulness to us – is the connection to our covenant with God; it is itself what we share with Abraham.

 

Faith is this gift and promise of God, the grantor of this covenant. It is the everlasting covenant to which God will always remain faithful. It is the reception of the greatest gift which we have ourselves received.

 

Will you pray with me?

Gracious God, by faith you gave the covenant to Abraham; by faith you led your people through the desert; you sustained your people in exile and ultimately sent your Son so that through his works all may come to you. Draw us in deeper to your covenantal promises. Inspire us and sustain us in our faith, that we may live as a light to the world and walk in your ways. In your most Holy Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, April 2

By the Rev. James Henricks

Summer Memorial Lutheran Church, Newberry S.C.

 

“'As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.'” — Genesis 17:4-8

 

Yesterday, I began my three-day devotion looking at Genesis 17. I spoke about how this covenant between God and Abraham is best understood as a royal grant – something God has given. This covenant is a unidirectional promise – the promise from God to Abraham and the faithful Hebrew people.

 

Today, I want to look at the nature of that covenant, and how all of this is promised to Abraham. To do this, I want to focus on HOW this is promised, over and above WHAT is promised. We all know what is promised: numerous descendants, the land of Israel, and later, God includes the use of these numerous people in this land as a blessing to the whole world. What is interesting to me is how God promises this.

 

As we look at the how, the first thing to point out is the permanence of this covenant. This is an everlasting covenant. Just as I spoke yesterday that this covenant is a grant from God, we see this theme continued today: Only God can keep this covenant. Humans, including the long-living Abraham, are not everlasting, and our time on earth will come to an end. This everlasting covenant is upheld by God, and God alone.

 

Though the generations can continue in faithfulness, each generation can only be faithful in their part. The story of humanity and its relationship with God, as evidenced in Scripture, has always been an up-and-down relationship. One of the most common narratives in the Old Testament is the people turning away from God, bad things happen, and then a return to the God who rescues the faithful. This is how this promise looks in action – God is faithful in spite of the unfaithful people. This everlasting promise of God cannot be broken, and is always open to those who hear it.

             

Will you pray with me?

Gracious God, you made a covenant with Abraham that is everlasting. As we now, heirs of that covenant turn to you in prayer, we ask that you remind us of your constant faithfulness to us; that you remind us always of your presence with us, and that you guide us towards a faithful life. In your most holy name we pray. Amen. 

Wednesday, April 1

By the Rev. James Henricks

Summer Memorial Lutheran Church, Newberry S.C.

 

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.'" — Genesis 17:1-2

 

Churches like to use the word ‘covenant,’ or at least that’s been my experience. Every youth group I was a part of had a covenant, which to us meant a list of rules we agreed to follow. When I worked as a counselor at one of the Lutheran Church’s summer camps, each week I sat down with my group of campers and we made our own covenant to guide our behavior for the week. Beyond youth programs, I’ve heard the word covenant used in church councils, stewardship campaigns, and more. In each of these contexts, the idea of a covenant is usually something like an agreement or a contract, or more simply for youth, it becomes the list of rules.

 

While that basic understanding is true, stepping into the context of Abraham reveals a deeper understanding of what this covenant between God an Abraham is. In the ancient world, there were two distinct types of covenants: one which was a covenant between equals; the other between a person with more power than another. This covenant between God and Abraham is the second. So we might be better off to think of this covenant in terms of a royal grant rather than a mutual agreement. This covenant is a promise given to Abraham and his descendants. It flows from God to Abraham – one direction, not two.

 

While it is true that God does name expectations of Abraham to live up to the covenant, there is an important reminder in this text for us this Lenten season. While we might give something up or take on an added spiritual practice as we prepare ourselves to hear again the good news of Christ’s resurrection, humanity has never earned the gifts of God. Abraham received God’s promise in the same way we receive the gift that is offered through Christ; while there are proper receptions of this and while this gift has implications for how we live, it is never something we earn.

 

Will you pray with me?


Gracious God, you gave the promise to Abraham and Sarah and established a covenant with your people. Guide us to live as a people of the promise, as the heirs to the new covenant found in Jesus Christ, that the whole world may know Christ’s redeeming love. Shape us in your way, and make us your people who live out that promise given so long ago. In your name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, March 31

By Dr. Krista E. Hughes

Director of the Muller Center at Newberry College

 

“The angel of the Lord found [Hagar] by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur … The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit to her.’ The angel of the Lord also said to her, ‘I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.’ And the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.’” — Genesis 16:7, 9-11 

 

Today we enter the wilderness with Hagar. A young woman, possibly a teen, impregnated by the elderly husband of her elderly mistress, she has fled from Sarai’s harsh treatment. She has been violated and abused and now finds herself facing the unknown on top of the unknown. Womanist theologians — that is, black women theologians — have claimed Hagar as their own by reflecting on her use as a slave and surrogate mother. Their work calls us to engage this story from Hagar’s perspective. There is much we can learn if we do so. 

 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I invite us to focus on Hagar’s encounter with the angel of the Lord and her decision to return to Abram and Sarai despite her legitimate fears. Womanist theologians Delores Williams and Monica Coleman have both linked Hagar’s decision to the concept of “making a way out of no way.” When no way appears in the wilderness, the angel of the Lord comes and says, “Oh, but there is a way. It will be imperfect. It will not be easy. But it will ultimately provide security for you and your child when he arrives.” And so Hagar takes the uncomfortable step of returning to her masters.

 

The lesson here is that God provides and guides even in the fact of seemingly impossible options. This is not about staying in or returning to a dangerous situation. It is about trying to put on eyes of faith that can help us discern paths that might not have been obvious at first. It is about accepting that God’s accompaniment through troubled times does not necessarily eliminate the troubles. Instead, it is the assurance of God’s holy care in the very midst of those. 

 

This seems like a healthy way to approach the current pandemic crisis, whose contours remain largely unknown. We do not know what path it will take, who exactly will suffer, and how long it will last. Some of us are being asked to shelter in our homes and, going against our usual instincts in a time of crisis, not gathering with beloved community. These sacrifices pale in comparison to those on the front lines of course. Collectively we find ourselves in the wilderness. May we hold fast to the faith that God is with us and that, when we feel most lost, God will open up “a way out of no way.”

 

Prayer: Everlasting God, you dwell and move and find us even in the wildnernesses of our lives. During this time of uncertainty, open our hearts to your tender presence and our eyes to pathways we might not readily see. Amen. 

Monday, March 30

By Dr. Krista E. Hughes

Director of the Muller Center at Newberry College

 

“So, after Abram had lived for ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!’ But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.’ Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.” — Genesis 16:3-6

 

Yesterday I posed the question of what the story of Genesis 16 might have to teach us about the pandemic crisis we are facing as a nation and a world. I suggested that although the contours of the stories are different, what they share is a context of uncertainty and grief. What might the characters teach us about relationships and faith in such a context?

 

Today let’s look at Sarai. In many ways this story is hers more than Abram’s. She goads him about not having conceived children and hands over her slave-girl Hagar as a surrogate. Yet when Hagar actually conceives, Sarai flies into a jealous rage. Her aggression toward Hagar is sufficient to drive the young girl away. 

 

This is not a flattering portrait to say the least. It turns out that the emotional emptiness of being barren cannot be cured by a surrogate, especially a justifiably unwilling surrogate. It only makes matters worse. Although this story is often used to illustrate Abram’s and Sarai’s lack of faith in God’s promises, it is no less a disturbing tale of unsatisfied people using a powerless person for their own ends. 

 

Many of us in the U.S., whatever our station in life, live in relative privilege. In 2020 we live in an on-demand culture. If we want it, whatever “it” is, we can generally acquire it—quickly and often cheaply. Yet we rarely see who or what pays the price for this ease. 

 

The national emergency upon us is going to disrupt many of our habits of entitlement.

 

How will we react? Like Sarai and Abram, who use more vulnerable others for their own ends? Or might we think along more relational lines, understanding that our own sacrifices can add up to a lot? Each one of us is called to sacrifice so that collectively we might guard the lives of those who are more vulnerable. Let us heed that call.

 

Prayer: Generous God, even when we are generally good people, it is so easy to put ourselves before others, especially during times of uncertainty and anxiety. Remind us that you call us to community and to love of neighbor. Stir us to compassion and guide us to be, in the words of Martin Luther, “little Christs to one another.” Amen.

Friday, March 27

By Dr. Krista E. Hughes

Director of the Muller Center at Newberry College

 

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, ‘You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” — Genesis 16:1-2

 

The 40 days of Lent are said to be inspired by the 40 days of Jesus wandering in the wilderness. This, in turn, evokes the decades that the Israelites wandered in the desert. With the COVID-19 pandemic worsening by the day, we in the U.S. find ourselves in our own wilderness, wondering about the journey ahead and where it will lead us.

 

What lessons does Genesis 16 offer to help us navigate this unfamiliar terrain that currently has no clear end in sight? This chapter tells us about Abram’s and Sarai’s efforts, at very advanced ages, to conceive a child. Sarai gives her slave-girl Hagar over to Abram to serve as a surrogate. When Hagar successfully conceives however, Sarai’s jealous rage ultimately drives Hagar into the wilderness to fend for herself. 

 

It may seem that this story has little to do with our current situation. Yet insofar as it offers some powerful “character studies” in a context of uncertainty and grief, it might provide some illumination for how we might face the situation before us. Life has not unfolded for Abram and Sarai the way they expected—even the way they had understood God to promise. We may find ourselves feeling similarly right now. 

 

Monday and Tuesday we will explore these connections and especially tap into the unique wisdom of Hagar, the one character who spends time in the wilderness. God is with her, and she trusts that holy presence in powerful and surprising ways. May we do the same.

 

Prayer: Gracious God, we find ourselves in a time of wilderness as we face a global pandemic now hitting our own communities. Move your Spirit in our hearts that we may know your abiding presence and tender care. Amen.

Thursday, March 26

By the Rev. Dr. Christy Wendland

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs

 

"When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.'”  — Genesis 15:17-21

 

This section of Genesis 15 is the final part of God’s promise to Abram and the part that has caused much controversy over the centuries. If the land was promised to  Abram and his descendants, why can other people live there? What happens to the people who invade this land in the Bible? What authority does this promise carry today, given the conflicts in the Middle East? There are no easy answers to these questions. The questions about boundaries and promises has caused many millions of people to lose their lives in the millennia since God made this promise to Abram.

            

I can think of many times in which my promise to one of my children caused problems with the other child. Like when I promise to buy some clothes for one and the other complains because they didn’t get anything. But to the recipient of the promise, life is good.

 

In spite of how people have interpreted these words of God to Abram over the years, Abram was the recipient of a great promise. The land, marked in blue in the picture, would belong to him and his family. I suppose that promise caused angst and disappointment in other nations. It certainly has caused wars throughout time. But Abram was chosen. Why? We will never know.

 

The stories that follow Gen. 15 depict Abram’s reaction to this promise. How did he live his life? Genesis 16 shows him being a liar and almost getting his family killed while trying to save them. Genesis 22 depicts a faithful Abraham who is willing to sacrifice his own son in order to obey God’s command. The book of Hebrews lifts Abraham up as an example of profound faith. Abram’s life was his attempt to live in the promises God made to him.

 

This is what we are called to do as well. God loves us and promises us eternal life. We are given forgiveness and mercy and salvation. It is up to us to live out those promises in the way we live our lives. Though we will mess up at times, like Abram did, we can make our life a proclamation of the promises given to us.

 

Gracious God, you have given us many who have given their lives in witness to your love and truth. Inspire us to be like Abraham, to live in our lives in your promise of eternal life and to proclaim your love to the world. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25

By the Rev. Dr. Christy Wendland

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs

 

"He said to him, 'Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two' ... Then the LORD said to Abram, 'Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.'” — Genesis 15:8-10, 13-14

 

This is the only place in the Bible where we see this strange and gruesome covenant ceremony and there are many theories as to what it means. One plausible explanation is that by cutting the animals, the participants understand that they will face the same consequences should they break the covenant. I suppose the thought of being cut into pieces would compel one to keep their end of the bargain. Another explanation is that this is a blood oath between God and Abram that signifies the power of the relationship and the promises given as part of that relationship. In the midst of this odd ritual and a terrifying dream state God made an additional promise to Abram. Abram’s descendants will be slaves for a long time – 400 years – but they will be freed from slavery and they will be prosperous.

 

What is unusual in this promise is the amount of time the promise will take to be fulfilled. Can you imagine someone making a promise to you and then telling you that you will need to wait 400 years for the promise to come true? And the only consolation is that you can die peacefully knowing that the promise would indeed be fulfilled? Would you believe them? I don’t think I would and I’m pretty sure that I would not start making preparations for the promise to be fulfilled.

 

I can remember before cell phones, waiting hours or days before someone returned my phone call. Or when I was a child, writing a letter to a pen pal in South Korea and waiting eagerly for months to receive a return letter. I’m not very good at waiting, but I did learn how to wait. Now, it seems we live in a world of instant gratification. Ever get angry when someone doesn’t text you back right away? Or when you can’t find what you want in the store so you visit Amazon instead? Because you have to have it now. 

 

Abram believed. We saw that in the first part of this chapter. Abram came to believe that God would keep God’s promises, no matter when those promises would be fulfilled. So, for Abram, faith was not so much about belief in promises that would be fulfilled later, but about what to do in the meantime. So, he listened to God; he had a son and enlarged his family, he took care of his wife, and he led his people to live in the land that God promised to him.

 

As Christians, we wait, sometimes impatiently, for the coming of Christ, for a new creation. Let’s wait like Abram and live out our faith in the promises of God.

 

God, help us to wait patiently and with great faith for the promises you have given to us. Amen.

Tuesday, March 24

By the Rev. Dr. Christy Wendland

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs

 

"Abram said, 'O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is [the slave] Eliezer from Damascus?' . . . But the word of the Lord came to him, 'This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.' He brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.' And he believed the LORD." — Genesis 15:2, 4-6a

 

Abram, or Abraham as he was to be renamed later, was worried. In a patriarchal, nomadic society, where men depended on sons to increase the family and its wealth and to watch over the family, and where a woman’s worth was determined by the number of sons she had, Abram was concerned because he didn’t have a son and he was getting old. God called him from his ancestral home to a new, unfamiliar place and promised him a new land that would belong to him and his many descendants (see Gen. 12:1-3 and Gen. 13:14-17). This promise to Abraham is one of the most fundamental promises in the Bible because it sets the stage for the continued relationship between God and the people of Israel. But here, today, Abram questioned this profound promise, basically asking God, “Why haven’t you done what you said you would do?”

 

Promises are tricky sometimes. We make promises based on the information we have at the time, but eventually we may not be able to follow through if circumstances change. Many of us have suffered the consequences of broken promises. And how many of us have had a child look at us with sad, pleading eyes, and say “but you promised!”?

 

Human beings may not always keep their promises, but God does. One only needs to read the Bible to see that when God makes a promise, God keeps it. That is always certain. As we enter the homestretch of Lent, the Easter promise of salvation awaits us. God’s promise to humanity is that God comes down to earth to meet us in our humanity, in our uncertainty, in our brokenness, amidst all the unfulfilled promises in our lives. And in doing so, in dying on the cross, in entering the profound baseness of our nature, Christ finds us and saves us. The promise is eternal life. It seems like an impossible promise, like the one God gave to Abraham. Can you be like Abraham and believe it?

 

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world. Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy, that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Monday, March 23

By the Rev. Matthew Titus ’05

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Newberry, S.C.

 

"So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him." — Genesis 12:7b

 

My in-laws have a vacation home in the Brevard, N.C., area and when my family and I get to go hang out there, we love to go on hikes and see waterfalls. Whenever I’m on those treks, I try to keep a keen eye out for those who have created markers of their time in that space of God’s creation. I intentionally look for those markers that are stacked rocks.

 

I love those markers and monuments.

 

I know that someone thought this space, this time, this area was special to them. Special enough that they took the time, energy, and patience to mark that spot in their life. I consider those places to be holy ground. 

 

God appeared to Abram, and he made sure that on his travels he would make those occasions and significant moments in his life and he’d build something. A sign and testament to those around him that this spot is indeed holy. Not only a holy physical place, but a holy moment in his life.

 

When I see those stacked and balanced rocks, I give a moment to pray for that person – that they find joy, healing, and guidance in their life as they need and desire it. 

 

It is also good for us to mark those places in our lives – both physically, emotionally, and spiritually – that we consider holy and important. It may be just a simple thing to those on the outside, but to you – that marker is profound.

 

Prayer: Lord God, you are with us always. You guide us to places where we don’t yet know the outcome. Along the way help us to see and feel your presence in our lives and travels. Guide us to mark those occasions perhaps physically in the world and spiritually in our hearts. Help us to hold on to those moments so that we might remember your presence with us always. Amen.

Friday, March 20

By the Rev. Matthew Titus ’05

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Newberry, S.C.

 

"So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran."  — Genesis 12:4

 

Now, the thing that strikes me the most – after the vision from God that tells Abram to leave all that he knows and loves to search for a land that he doesn’t know where it’ll be – is that Abram is old(er).

 

Now, I know some individuals in their 70s who are incredibly fit, spry, and active. Today, 75 years-old doesn’t mean the same thing that it potentially did back in Abram’s time. But, those making incredible life changes in their supposed ‘twilight’ years is something to behold.

 

I enjoy hearing from the older folks in my church who take up a new hobby, a new cause, a new way to approach life. It is good to see people active, trying new things, and learning new ways to approach life. As a tech-enthusiast, my heart leaps for joy when I see older folks making life work on tablets, smartphones, and game consoles. It’s awesome.

 

What I gather from this brief text in Genesis, is that you are never too old for God to call you to something new. You aren’t. We are a people and a people of faith that continues to learn, grow, change, and evolve. We are created to be active, to live life, to venture into the unknown. And God is with us the entire time. Amen.

 

Prayer: Lord God, help us to remember that we are never too old to change. That we are never to frail to start something new. That we are never too old to be called by you into new ministry. Amen.

Thursday, March 19

By the Rev. Matthew Titus ’05

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Newberry, S.C.

 

"Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you …'" — Genesis 12:1

 

Imagine today, someone told you that they had a vision from God and that they were moving to a far-off place because God told that person that that new land would be there’s to claim. I’d be willing to bet that you’d find that person a little odd, and if you cared for them, you would find some way to help them as they are apparently going through some pretty stressful times.

 

I’d be willing to bet that Abram’s friends had similar thoughts. What Abram was setting out to do was ludicrous. He was leaving all that he knew – culture, family, friendships, and more – and setting off to an unknown land. Venturing to a land that even he didn’t know where it was.

 

But, here’s the thing. What Abram does is ridiculous. It is. Yet, he still did it. Why? Because he trusted that God would be with him. Always. And God fulfilled that promise – even as we read later into the book of Genesis where that promise was fulfilled in unexpected ways.

 

I don’t know if God would ask us to do something similar today. I don’t. What I do know is that no matter what, God is going to be with us and I know that friends will pray for us and support us as best as they could.

 

I also know, that if our friends present us with scenarios and visions that remove them from all that they know, we may want to check up on them and see if everything is alright. That’s what friends do.

 

Prayer: Lord God, we don’t know what you’ll ask of us. But, in whatever it is, help us to see you present in it and remind us that you’ll be with us always. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18

By Dr. John Lesaine ’07

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs

 

“And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.' So God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.'” — Genesis 9:12-17 

 

I’ve had to sign many contracts in my day. I’ve been blessed to go to an awesome job, own a house, drive a car, and enjoy many other luxuries in life. One of the caveats of enjoying those luxuries is signing a contract or some sort of agreement. The contract is binding so that both parties must uphold their part of the deal. However, not all contracts are created equal.

 

Undeniably, the most powerful and important contract was the covenant GOD made between himself and his people. He put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he would never destroy the earth by flood again. And of course, when GOD says something, you can take it directly to the bank. However, this covenant goes far beyond his promise to never destroy the earth by flood. This covenant indicates his willingness to take care of his people. This covenant indicates his willingness to protect his people. This covenant indicates GOD is close to his people and that he loves us unconditionally. Now that, my brothers and sisters, is the greatest contract of all time.  

 

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for your promise. Thank you for upholding your end of the promise. May we work faithfully to uphold our end. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 17

By Dr. John Lesaine ’07

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs

 

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” — Genesis 9:5-7

 

Everybody and everything is full of something. What are you full of? Are you full of GOD’s grace and love? Are you full of GOD’s favor? Are you full of his holy spirit? Just know that you are full of something and know that what is inside of you will definitely come out of you.

 

Continuing from yesterday’s devotion, we find another commandment GOD has given to Noah and his sons. This time he tells them to be fruitful and multiply on the earth. Why? He wants the earth to be filled with him. You may ask: wouldn’t the earth already be filled with GOD’s splendor? Of course, it already was. However, GOD needed the earth to be filled with mankind because it was mankind that was made in his image. He chose to make us in his image, not anything else, and that is something to get excited about. 

 

What’s even more exciting is how we are made in image but also uniquely made. GOD didn’t create us individually to be like anybody else. He made us so that we can be who he made us to be but to also exhibit his glory. As the earth is filled with GOD’s masterpieces (that means you and me), his glory is revealed and we can lift him up so that he can draw all men unto him. 

 

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for filling us with your love, grace, and mercy. Thank you for filling us with you. May we always continue to let our light shine so that you can shine.

In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Monday, March 16

By Dr. John Lesaine ’07

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs

 

“Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.'” — Genesis 9:1-3

 

The favor of GOD is something serious. It truly is. How often do we receive things that we don’t deserve? The answer to that question is every day. Why do we receive the things that we don’t deserve? The answer to that question is because GOD loves us unconditionally. It is a great feeling to be loved by GOD. There is nothing like it.

 

Here we find GOD giving Noah and his sons a simple job to do: be fruitful and fill the earth. However, he makes it easy on them because he sets the stage for them. GOD tells them to do this but he also says that they will receive everything they need to get the job done. We can be rest assured that when GOD calls us to do something that he will give us everything that we need. We must keep in mind that what we think we need might not be what we need and that is why we must continue to trust GOD.

 

Heavenly Father, Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for the calling you have placed on each of us. Thank you for providing us with what we need to get the job done. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, March 13

By the Rev. Joanie Holden '11

St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Crystal River, Fla.

 

"Then the LORD said to him, 'Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.' And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him." — Genesis 4:15

 

“Like Father, Like Son!” — AND AGAIN God foreshadows the future work of His son when He gives us a preview of the Life to come when He offers Cain life without fear of death. Jesus offers this same promise as He states in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life.” Life without fear of death for a convicted premeditated murderer! This is grace not known in the world again until Jesus lives among us.

 

Continue to think about it: God physically lives among us only twice — in the garden at creation ("[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord GOD walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord GOD among the trees of the garden." — Genesis 3:8) and in Jesus, God Incarnate, in the Gospels. Both times, the status quo is turned upside down and God does something new and unexpected.

 

Lent is an important time of praising God and thanking God for His unconditional love and grace, offered to everyone. We only have to open our hearts and accept the gift! But what makes it so hard for us is that this is a gift that we have to live in order to truly receive. Can we live it and offer the same to everyone else?

 

Let us pray: Thank You, Redeeming Father, for purchasing our freedom with your own blood and gifting us the very lives we too often take for granted – ours and all of those around us. Help us to graciously accept your gift and to share it with the world, all convicted and forgiven! Amen.

Thursday, March 12

By the Rev. Joanie Holden '11

St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Crystal River, Fla.

 

"Cain said to his brother Abel, 'Let us go out to the field.' And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?' He said, 'I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?' And the LORD said, 'What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.'" — Genesis 4:8-12

 

“Like Father, Like Son!” Once again, God gives us a foretaste of the feast to come as He forgives not only murder, but pre-meditated murder! Cain invites his brother Abel to go for a walk in the fields with him and then Cain murders Abel. Where many courts would have given the death sentence or confinement with whipping or some such punishment, God grants a measure of grace in that Cain will have a rough life, but he will be free to roam the land. Many years later, Jesus, hanging on the cross, will ask forgiveness for the very ones who put Him there, declaring, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

 

Keep thinking about it: God physically lives among us only twice — in the garden at creation ("[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord GOD walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord GOD among the trees of the garden." — Genesis 3:8) and in Jesus, God Incarnate, in the Gospels. Both times, the status quo is turned upside down and God does something new and unexpected.

 

Lent is an important time of self-examination and questioning: do we love others? Do we love even our enemy? Do we truly forgive, or just say we do? Both in the Garden and on the Cross – we hear words of love and grace.

 

Let us pray: Thank You, Creator Father, for offering Grace regardless of the sins we offer up to you and for comfort in the face of our overwhelming awareness of our unworthiness. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11

By the Rev. Joanie Holden '11

St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Crystal River, Fla.

 

"Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.' Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. — Genesis 4:1-5a

 

When I was asked to write three Lenten devotions on Genesis 4, I have to confess I was a bit beside myself. After all, stories of fratricide do not make me think of devotions or Easter. About the tenth time reading Genesis 4 and after much prayer, something felt very familiar in this story – “Like Father, Like Son!”

 

Think about it. God physically lives among us only twice – in the garden at creation ("[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the Lord GOD walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord GOD among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:8) and in Jesus, God Incarnate, in the Gospels. Both times, the status quo is turned upside down and God does new and unexpected things.

 

In verses 1-5a, God gives preference to the younger of the sons, which is the opposite of how things were done in the world at that time (Foreshadowing of Jesus’ words that the first will be last and the last first). Eventually, it will be Seth, the third son, whose line will be the future of the family name and ancestors of Jesus.

 

Lent is an important time of reflection on God’s continual efforts to guide us into God’s ways as opposed to following the judgmental and status conscious ways of man. Man says the rich and powerful matter and will end up with everything. God says, no! The last will be first and the least will inherit the earth. The Spirit continues to remind us of all that The Father and The Son have said: Everyone is special, and the least are the most special.

 

Let us pray: Thank You Creator Father for giving every living thing worth from the very beginning of creation; for sending Jesus to personally deliver your Word, and for sending the Holy Spirit to remind us over and over that Jesus died for everyone and in His death makes us all one with the Father. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10

By Dr. Warren Moore

Professor of English

 

"And the Lord God said unto the serpent, 'Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.' Unto the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' And unto Adam he said, 'Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, 'Thou shalt not eat of it:' cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.' And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:' Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. — Genesis. 3:14-24

 

A few days ago, as we heard the story of the Fall of Man, we realized that if the story ended there, it would be tragedy. And on first reading of the chapter’s end, it does seem tragic. Adam and Eve will labor, and suffer, and die. They are sent out of the Garden to begin that long process. 

 

But our faith is not a tragic one. Tucked into the sentences God pronounces on the participants in the Fall, we are told that while evil may cause us pain, some future generation will overcome that evil once and for all, trampling the Serpent and its ilk into the dust once and for all. This, of course, is the miracle of Christ’s Incarnation, when God becomes Man and takes on the deadly punishment for sin despite being sinless Himself. The scales will be balanced, and the world made right. 

 

Yes, Lent is a time for reflection on our own wrongs and Christ’s suffering to redress those wrongs. But it should also be a time in which we reflect on the hope God gives us – that the darkness of Lent will be replaced by the empty tomb and the brightness of an Easter morning.

 

Our Father, we know we have earned the sorrows we face. But thank You for reminding us that they are not everything. Thank You for telling us that You will triumph over all our sorrows, even to the pain of death. In the Name of Your Son, Amen.

Monday, March 9

By Dr. Warren Moore

Professor of English

 

"And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, 'Where art thou?' And he said, 'I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.' And he said, 'Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?' And the man said, 'The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.' And the Lord God said unto the woman, 'What is this that thou hast done?' And the woman said, 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.' — Genesis 3:7-13

 

Aristotle described humanity as “the rational animal.” It might be more apt, however, to consider ourselves to be rationalizing animals. It is all too easy for us to find “reasons” for doing the things we know we shouldn’t do. The reasons, of course, are mere excuses, and we can come up with them both before and after we do the wrong thing.

 

When God confronts Adam and Eve in the Garden, He asks them if they have done something they knew they shouldn’t do. Adam says he did, but he blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent in turn. Neither of the people John Milton called our first parents are willing to accept the truth that they have chosen to violate God’s ordinance – they have chosen to sin.

 

Lent is a time in which we force ourselves to acknowledge the wrongs we have done, and to acknowledge further that it is impossible for us to erase those wrongs through our own effort. It’s the time when we must abandon the excuses we make to God and to ourselves, and accept that we are sinners in need of salvation.

 

Lord, we have fallen short. We do what we should not, and we fail to do what we should. Help us to accept that responsibility, and to be grateful that instead of relying on our own excuses, we can turn to Your saving Love. In Your name we pray, Amen.

Friday, March 6

By Dr. Warren Moore

Professor of English

 

"Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, 'Yea, hath God said, 'Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?' And the woman said unto the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, 'Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.' And the serpent said unto the woman, 'Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.' And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.  — Genesis 3:1-6

 

Some years ago, I read a statement that we can never make a society so perfect that we don’t have to try to be good. Our text today confirms that. Adam and Eve are placed in a literal paradise, where all their needs are met and their comfort and happiness seem absolute. They only have to follow a single rule. What could be easier?

 

But we know even this is too difficult. Eve and then Adam decide that the world God has given them is not enough, and in seeking more, they forfeit all they have, even their lives. 

 

If this were the end of the story, our lives would be both tragic and futile. During this Lenten season, we should reflect on the choices that would lead us that way, even as we are grateful that this is not the story’s end.

 

Heavenly Father, forgive us when we believe that we can improve on the gifts You have given us, and when we would replace Your wisdom with ours. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, March 5

By R. Annie Worman

Friend of Newberry College

 

God said, "It's not good for the Man to be alone; I'll make him a helper, a companion." So God formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the Man to see what he would name them. Whatever the Man called each living creature, that was its name. The Man named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals; but he didn't find a suitable companion.  God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept he removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib that he had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man. The Man said, "Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman for she was made from Man." — Genesis 2:18-23

 

You may have heard my beloved husband, Pastor Ernie from Newberry College, preach on this passage. It is one of his favorite texts (I think perhaps that is the reason I got to write the Lenten devotion on it). He preaches that all these years, we ordinary people have been reading it with incorrect inflection. In his mind, and I agree, the reason there are exclamation marks is because Adam was so tired after seeing and naming all of the animals. None were truly suitable companions. Then God had him sleep, took a rib and made Eve and introduced her to Adam. Adam’s response? “FINALLY! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!” Finally was spoken in a loud, joyful shout.

 

You see, that makes me smile to think of Adam joyfully greeting Eve and responding to God’s gift of another. If you haven’t thought of it recently, give a little prayer of thanks right now for the other in your life.

 

Lent is a time for self-reflection and contemplation. I suggest one subject might be gratitude. Thanks be to God for sending Jesus the Christ to save us from our sins! And thank you, my spouse, companion, partner for putting gas in the car. And thank you, my spouse, companion, partner for washing and drying and folding the laundry and putting it away. And thank you for working so hard so that we can have a roof over our heads and food to eat. And thank you for grocery shopping and cooking our meals. We have so much to be thankful for — our lives, our health, our gifts and talents, spouse, companion, partner, friends, family and loved ones.

 

In my self-reflection this week, I am going to work to speak a little more gently, do things with more kindness, be more patient and forgiving because God loved us so much that He created us and He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross for US! “It is not good for the Man to be alone...” Thank God for all the wonderful people in your life today.

 

Please pray with me.

Lord God, We thank you and praise you today for our spouses, companions, partners, friends, family, loved ones, and co-workers with us in the kingdom of God. Please continue to shower us with the guidance of your Holy Spirit and your grace and forgiveness. In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 4

By R. Annie Worman

Friend of Newberry College

 

"Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." — Genesis 2:7

 

Just one week ago was Ash Wednesday - the first day of our Lenten journey for 2020. As many of you were marked with a cross made of ashes on your forehead, you heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I always hear the band Kansas’ song, “Dust in the Wind,” in my head on Ash Wednesday with the refrain, “All we are is dust in the wind.” As I have shared before, I always have music or a song playing in the background of my thoughts - my own personal soundtrack. That is one of the reasons I try to listen and remember positive songs. The thought of dust and Ash Wednesday go hand in hand for me.

 

Today’s Bible verse is the second creation story from Genesis Chapter 2. In today’s verse we have explained to us how Adam was formed, “...from the dust of the ground.” And God breathed into Adam, “the breath of life.” There are so many wonderful breath and breathe hymns and songs out there that I had a difficult time choosing one to reference. I chose Michael W Smith’s, “Breathe.” A snippet of the lyrics includes these profound words, “This is the air I breathe, Your holy presence living in me.” I feel that breathing in God’s holy presence this Lenten season is a great idea for today. Let me explain. During Lent, we are called to step back from the ordinary into the holy. We are called for a time of self examination while we ponder Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for us and our salvation. Doesn’t that sound like a good time to take a deep breath, to take a really deep breath and feel the holy presence of God enter us? So, with me now - take that deep calming breath and feel just how alive you feel. In the Bible translation, “The Message,” by Eugene Peterson, the second part of today’s verse is, “The Man came alive - a living soul!” Isn’t that what we feel about ourselves as we breathe in the holy presence of God - our living, breathing soul?

 

We are dust and to dust we shall return, but until that day and moment, let’s celebrate the life that the Good Lord has given us and will give us in the kingdom to come.

 

Please pray with me.

Lord God,

I need to feel your holy presence fill me once again. I need to feel your overwhelming love and the power of your forgiveness in my life. Please continue your holy presence living in me. Amen.

Tuesday, March 3

By R. Annie Worman

Friend of Newberry College

 

"Heaven and Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day God had finished his work. On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done." — Genesis 2: 1-3

 

Here in the beginning of Genesis Chapter 2 is the end of the creation story told in Chapter 1. And here in the beginning of Chapter 2 of Genesis is the blessing of the seventh day, a Holy day, a day of rest.

 

We are already in the second week of the period called Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent is approximately six weeks or 40 days from Ash Wednesday leading up to Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday of Holy Week before Easter. And Holy Thursday is the day of the Last Supper, the day of the very first Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. In some traditions, Lent ends on Holy Saturday before Easter, either way it ends during Holy week.

 

This passage from the Bible however, is back at the beginning, at the end of the beginning, at the end of the creation of the world. We are at the Holy Day of rest. And Lent is a good time to speak of rest. In our noisy, busy, crowded lives, Lent is a time of self-reflection and examination. Some people “give up” certain foods or beverages or other things during Lent as a fasting exercise. Others renew their vows to read and study the Bible more or to spend more time in prayer. In order to spend time in prayer or contemplation, we need to “give up” a time period of watching TV or reading the news or playing a game or scrolling through something on the internet - for Lent. For Lent, we need to give our minds and bodies rest to be able to pray more fervently, study our Bibles with concentration, or to perform deep and meaningful self-reflection. Can you give yourself the permission to give yourself REST this Lenten 40 days? God said His day of rest is a Holy Day. Your time of rest can be a Holy time as well.

 

And speaking of Holy time, many of our local churches have added a second opportunity to meet together with God’s people on Wednesdays during Lent. Lent is the perfect time to attend regular, weekly worship, either Sunday or Wednesday or both. We worship the God who sent His beloved son, Jesus, to die a terrible death on the cross for us and our sins. If you have made excuses to miss church recently, come back to church this Lenten season. Regular attendance at church this Lent is a good idea. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus calls us to forgive others and forgive ourselves. Consider adding some more Holy time and Holy time of rest to your discipleship this Lenten season.

 

Please pray with me:

Lord God, Thank you for creating this wonderful world for us. Thank you for sending you son, Jesus, to die on the cross to take away our sins. Lord, we are truly sorry for the sins we have committed and the sins we have committed by our inaction. Please send your saving Grace down on us today and give us rest. Amen.

Monday, March 2

By the Rev. Dr. Wayne Kannaday '75

Professor of Religion

 

“God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth….” — Genesis 1:28

 

God punctuated the creation of all the birds of the air and the creatures of the sea and the animals of the earth with a blessing — the first blessing noted in the scriptures — to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill (the earth)….” (1:22). God repeated that blessing upon the humans he made immediately after, but to it the Lord added, “…and subdue and have dominion….” (1:28).

 

Perhaps no text of the Bible has been more frequently misinterpreted or blatantly disobeyed. Too often, too many of us humans have read that verse of blessing as a license to declare open season to use, abuse, and exploit the earth, its resources, and our fellow planetary inhabitants. Yet that is not at all what “subdue and have dominion” means.

 

To understand this biblical concept requires us to hold in tension two distinct truths. One is that we humans are mortal beings numbered among the other mortal beings with whom we share this globe. Yes, as creatures we may be the dominant species, but we remain counted among and alongside all the rest of the Darwinian taxonomy. In short, we, too, are creatures called to live with and amongst all the others.

 

But the second point is also true: we are called (blessed, says Genesis) to “subdue and dominate.” But rather than mandating a sense of power and authority over creation, those terms in the Bible, as Walter Brueggemann reminds us, have to do with “securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to fulfillment.” The dominance issued here is akin to that of a shepherd tending the flock. A Christian can find no better illustration of this notion than in Jesus himself. The greatest among us is to be one who serves, he said (Mark 10:43-44). Thus, the “one who has dominion” is to serve on behalf of others—all others. We are so blessed, it seems, to take care of God’s creation. We are blessed to be a blessing!

 

So whatever differing positions we as people of faith may hold with regard to “climate change,” there is no disputing that the God reflected in these verses from Genesis holds us accountable for the care of all that the Lord has made. We are not called to subjugate our world, but to be subject to it. We have been blessed to be a blessing, and see to it that God’s creation becomes what God wills it to be.

 

Let us pray.

Creator God, marvelous are the works of your hands and all that you have made. We have heard your call to safeguard our planet and shepherd our fellow creatures. Empower us to do this work according to your will. In the name of all that is holy we pray. Amen.

Friday, February 28

By the Rev. Dr. Wayne Kannaday '75

Professor of Religion

 

"So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…." — Genesis 1:27

 

During fellowship time at chapel each week, Professor John Lesaine frequently reminds us of the words of the psalmist that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Indeed we are! As Genesis boldly reports, humans are created “in the image of God.” After speaking into existence light, firmament, time and space, sun and moon, land and sea, flora and fauna, the Lord punctuated the created cosmos by imagining into being creatures bearing God’s own image. Oh, make no mistake: still creatures. But creatures bearing a striking family resemblance to the Marvelous Maker Godself.

 

Consider the implications of that declaration. It means that the whole lot of us homo sapiens are fashioned to fancy our maker. We were imagined into existence in the image of God. That means the very essence of who we are in heart and mind and soul mirrors in mortal form the essence and nature of divine love and will and spirit.

 

In that profession is much to ponder, but for today let us focus on this: that God’s image transcends the vagaries of ethnic categories or social taxonomies we might construct. All of humankind, we are told, carries traces of this divine imprint. Both male and female reflect the image of God. No race or class or economic status is singled out. Physical specimen is not distinguished from awkward weakling, nor the sage from the fool. Each of us and all of us bear the likeness of God.

 

Certainly, this gives us cause to celebrate, but it also has implications for our daily lives, for how we treat our neighbors, our co-workers, strangers on the street, and even refugees who seek sanctuary in our borders. Whether people look like us or speak our language or share our political ideologies or religious beliefs, our Lord would have us recall that each and every one is “fearfully and wonderfully made … in the image of God.”

 

So, how shall we treat God’s likeness today?

 

Let us pray.

Creator of us all, open our eyes to discern your image in the faces of all the persons we encounter each day, and open our hearts to treat each other with the sense that we are looking you in the eye. Amen.

Thursday, February 27

By the Rev. Dr. Wayne Kannaday '75

Professor of Religion

 

“The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, but the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light!' And there was….” — Genesis 1:2-3

 

The wonderful first verses of the Bible tell us of the time God first felt the impulse to be creative: to make something where nothing had been before, to transform a mass of amorphous matter into something that mattered, into something alive and amazing, something God called “good.”

 

Beginning with “Let there be light,” as the story goes, over the course of six days God spoke into existence everything from planets to plants, peanuts to pomegranates, and panthers to people. And all that just by saying the word! Whatever words passed from his lips came to pass. And it was so.  

 

There’s a lesson in that, people of God, something about the power of God’s word. Opening the Bible is like playing with dynamite, especially when one pores over those words with a dose of prayer or in the company of fellow believers. The word explodes in a reaction that transforms hope into promise, suffering into deliverance, void into capacity, chaos into creation, death into life.

 

Life has long since taught us that words matter, but here the scriptures remind us of the good news that God’s word materializes. God’s will comes to pass. It happens on earth as in heaven.  

 

On earth, indeed! This Lenten season bears witness to the time that holy word became flesh and dwelled among us, became mortal and, on a cross, experienced mortality. That same word that previously moved over the face of the deep willingly submitted to the depths of hell itself. No wonder the earth shook and the sun’s light failed.  

 

But, as Genesis reveals, darkness and chaos do not persist when the Spirit insists, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures….” And it was so! As God’s whispers turn chaos into creation, and God’s light shines in darkness such that the darkness cannot overcome it, so the Lord’s life overcomes any and all who would threaten to silence that death-defying, life-giving word.  

 

People of faith, this is good news for us who these days feel like we are living in a dark and murky chaos. For creation is not something God did long ago and finished and forgot about, but is something the Lord has been working on ever since. And so it is that the same divine Spirit continues to move over the face of the deep, and that voice speaks, “Let my will be done….” And so, in God’s good time, it shall be! Amen.   

 

Let us pray.

Creator God, Lord of all, we pause in this moment to listen for the echo of your continuing creation. Help us discern your voice and live in concert with your will, that we may be part of it being done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Ash Wednesday, February 26

By the Rev. Herman R. Yoos

Bishop of the South Carolina Synod of the ELCA

 

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart . . . rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” — Joel 2:12 

 

For over 1,000 years, many Christians have marked the beginning of Lent by receiving ashes on their forehead in the shape of a cross and by hearing the words spoken to each person, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” One might well ask, wouldn’t it be preferable to hear the words, “God loves you,” instead? Is this just one more thing that the church is out of step with today? Or is there perhaps a deeper wisdom behind this tradition that can be both helpful and even hopeful?

 

Recently, columnist Oliver Beckman in an article called “Age of Rage” wrote: “Our society today is much better at giving us causes for anger than it is at helping know what to do with our anger.” Whether it is our politicians or news commentators, or our own mixed motives for blaming anyone besides ourselves for our frustrations, the result is the same. We live with a sense of impatience, distrust and anger towards anyone who thinks or acts differently than we do. 

 

So what does this have to do with ashes? In the Bible, ashes were most often worn by the Israelites to express sorrow or repentance. It was a way of saying to God, “I need your help, please forgive me. I have said and done hurtful things that I can’t undo or change without your help.” In this sense, ashes are a symbol of one’s humility and a desire for a closer relationship with God.

 

That is what the prophet Joel was getting at when he wrote, “Return to the Lord your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” To return to God is to admit how often we find ourselves wandering through our lives without a sense of God’s direction or purpose, weighed down and worried about things we cannot control. Here through the prophet Joel, God is saying, “You don’t have to feel lost and alone. You can return to me whenever you have lost your way because I am gracious, merciful and slow to anger.”

 

In other words, ashes on Ash Wednesday are a symbol of our inner need for God’s forgiveness and grace. They are a reminder that we are not in charge of the universe. It is a practice from the ancient church that prepares our hearts in an honest reflection of repentance in light of our mortality.

 

Prayer

Dear Lord,

Thanks that you never get tired of inviting us to return to you with all our hearts. Free us from a sense of separation from you and one another. Help us this Lenten season to let go of the angers and fears that so often divide humanity into competing tribes of self-interest. Forgive us and renew us each day by your presence and peace. Amen.                       

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