March 22nd Lenten Devotional

Prodigal Brother

Susie Webster-Toleno

Luke 15:25-32

 On the outside, looking in. Seething with judgment, whose source is actually hurt feelings. That’s where the older brother found himself. And inside? A feast.

Have you ever been there? In that space where righteous pride swells to the point that it squeezes all of the oxygen out of your soul and the joy out of your spirit?

I like to think I don’t live there, but that’s a country I visit now and then, for sure. In my most spiritually evolved seasons, I let even the big offenses go, feeling their wounds but not falling in love with every bruise. But I have to admit that there are times when I wallow in my own hurts, becoming attached to how right I have been – and how wronged.

I see the older brother in this most beautiful parable thinking that he’s forcing his loving father into a choice: “Which will it be? Him? or Me?” But the parental heart of this father doesn’t work that way. Love isn’t a zero-sum game. The heart is an expansive muscle, and if this father had many sons and daughters, his heart would expand to love them all … in their profligacy or their rigidity.

I know the pained righteousness of the older brother, and I know his awareness that it’s cold outside, and he’s hungry. And I know the parent’s prodigal love, saying, “Won’t you come in and let yourself be loved?”

How much more so with God.

 

Susie Webster-Toleno is the minister of a wee UCC congregation in a hilly village in southern Vermont, as well as a hospice chaplain.

©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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March 21st Lenten Devotional

Return

Mary Barnes Iverson

Luke 15:20b-24

A teenager was recently invited to a party.  She confessed to a parent, “I know that there will be drinking going on.  The boy who invited me was already drunk.”  It prompted the parent to repeat a lecture they had given before, to both the teen and her older brother.  “If you find yourself in a situation where you or your driver have been drinking, call me for a ride.  There will be no scolding and no punishment.  All you will get from me is a smile, a word of thanks and a safe and sober ride home for all who need it.”

Certainly the son who had wandered far from home was expecting a lecture from his father.  He was met, not with a reprimand and not with scolding, but with hugs, kisses and a promised party.

The teenager, who decided not to go to the party after all, asked, “Won’t you be disappoint-ted if I have been drinking?”  Of course they will be disappointed.  But to get a call from your child rather than the hospital or the funeral home doesn’t compare!

Certainly the father’s heart had been broken.  Yet he had been hoping for nothing more than the return of his son.  And seeing his son, far off in the distance, hiked up his robe and took off running, to welcome the boy home.  He threw his arms around the boy, kissed him and called for a celebration party.

This, Jesus tells us, this is what God is like.  Yes, God may be broken-hearted by our behavior, but God is not cold or callous.  God runs to us and sweeps us up and celebrates our return.

Rev. Mary Iverson is the pastor of an ELCA Lutheran Church in the farm country of south central Minnesota. 

©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

March 20th Lenten Devotional

Welcomed Back

Catherine Malotky

Luke 15:13-21

By stopping the story midway, we are left pondering the response of the father to his returning son. “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion…” Could that have been your response? A disrespectful young buck demands his inheritance early and takes off for a distant city, subtracting his labor from of the household economy and abandoning his family. This downsizing was no one’s desire but his, yet his family had to carry the extra work required because of his absence.

Of course, this perspective is from the economy of work. There is another economy—an economy of the heart. What kind of pain did his father bear because his younger son seemed to consider the family wealth merely a ticket out, a funding source for his wild(est) dreams? There was no acknowledgement of the father’s support and care; no sense of gratitude; no consideration of the father’s need for support as he aged. The boy/man was not capable of seeing a bigger picture.

We could label him a scoundrel, until we realize that his short-sightedness is not unlike our own limited vision of the world. We have fixed our sights on our wildest dreams—wealth, security, power, prestige. We are rarely so obvious about it, but our determination has commodified the earth and our neighbors. We neglect to count long-term costs, lest we experience short-term loss.

Will we come to our senses? When we do, will the creator of the universe, seeing us return, be filled with compassion? In Jesus, God’s compassion is palpable. Nourished by his body and blood, we are welcomed back.

 Rev. Catherine Malotky is an ELCA pastor serving as Director of Development at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.

©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

March 19th Lenten Devotional

Lost

Tina Walker-Morin

Luke 15:1-10

Have you ever driven somewhere and felt you were heading in the wrong direction? You begin looking around trying to recognize a building or a street sign — something confirming you are on the correct path. Yet, the road seems unfamiliar. Your heart starts racing, your eyes look all around, you turn down the radio so you can focus…am I lost?

Jesus shares the parable of the lost sheep and coin. Both the sheep and coin did not intentionally move away from their owners, yet they are lost. The owners go searching for them and upon finding the sheep/coin they gather friends and neighbors to rejoice.

The sheep and the coin were found; they did not repent. So why, then, are we told “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents”?  Must we first be found in order to repent?

We do not need to wait for God to find us, for we are already found. God has never stopped searching for us and is waiting to rejoice with us. Repent in the Greek New Testament means to “turn around”. We, unlike sheep/coins, have the ability to turn around to God. God follows and searches for us when we go astray.

Driving in the wrong direction can feel like an eternity. Yet once you turn around and head in a familiar direction, you realize you were not that far off course.

May you always be alert to when you need to turn around.

Rev. Tina Walker-Morin is pastor at Pilgrim Congregational Church in North Weymouth, MA and is a chaplain for Chaplains on the Way in Waltham, MA.

©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

March 18th Lenten Devotional

Within

Tom O’Brien

Psalm 122

 Psalm 122 is a beautiful prayer for safety within community.  For the psalmist, the gates of Jerusalem frame the house of God.  The author writes a song of peace and security for relatives and friends who live within the walls.

This community had many reasons to be afraid.  Enemies were all around. The battles for power and land were constantly raging, and it seemed as if the world outside the gates wanted nothing less than the destruction of their nation.

Survival instincts draw us towards protecting our own community – others who look and act like us.  Fear is real.  We’re each afraid of life outside our walls, never knowing where our enemies might dwell.  We divide the world into “good” and “bad” with full confidence that we’re on the “good” side.  It’s often difficult to believe that the folks on the other side of the wall feel the same as we do.

We pray for peace within our walls and security within our own towers.  What if we prayed for those on the outside, too?  How might prayers of safety and security for everyone widen our community and change the world?

 

Rev. Tom O’Brien is Senior Pastor of Memorial Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Sudbury, MA.

©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

March 17th Lenten Devotional

Together

Jennifer Dyer Boyd

Luke 14:25-35

 Did you ever have one of those days when you wanted to be a kid again – with no responsibilities to overwhelm you, no expectations to live up to, no schedules to keep?  As a kid, we couldn’t wait to grow up, but we didn’t realize then the price that maturity would exact.

I will admit that there are even times when I wish that I wasn’t a Christian.  Sometimes the weight of caring for and about others, the longing for justice, the drive for peace can be overwhelming and never-ending.  It can cost my heart a great deal to live this faith daily.

And yet…and yet…while these feelings do exist, there is a greater hope to which we are called.  I can’t imagine not caring, not having the ability to love and be loved.  It is then that I take a step back and remember that it is because of what Christ Jesus has already done, that I am blessed and strengthened to live this life of faith.  While there is a cost to following Jesus, what I receive is boundless.

We don’t do this “faith thing” on our own.  This is not a solitary path that we follow, but one in which we journey together.   We support and encourage one another.  We share our own faith joys and struggles.  We share the love of Christ that we have received with others and it is not lessened but multiplied.

The cost of discipleship may seem great, but the love of Christ is priceless.

Rev. Jennifer Boyd is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Brewster, NY

©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

March 16th Lenten Devotion

To Sup with Jesus

Heather Hunnicutt

Luke 14:12-24

 In my tradition, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every time we gather as a community; the table is the central, unifying feature of my denomination. Yet, I sometimes fear my welcome is grudging and my heart inhospitable. In today’s reading, Jesus tells a story about what it means to truly welcome others.

In the parable of the great banquet, we find that those invited to supper feel no compunction to attend. Their excuses are flimsy, though ostensibly reasonable to themselves. Imagine the scene: a table full to overflowing with food that would be left to rot; an angry, embarrassed host; and a squandered opportunity to commune. The host wisely decides that the hall should be filled by whoever wants to partake and sends his servant out to proclaim such. “Come to our feast!” we can almost hear him cry. “Come to the table where all shall have their fill and none be turned away!”

Is this not what the beloved community promises in its fullness? Is this not the clarion call of the Lord, who invites us all to the table, no matter one’s place in society? The last shall be first, indeed! As we progress through this Lenten season together, may we welcome the stranger, that they may know the kindness of God. May we feed the hungry, that they may know the goodness of God. May we house those without homes, that they may know the shelter of God. May we cultivate hearts disposed toward those who needs God’s message of hope the most, that we might be utterly changed.

 Heather Hunnicutt is a seminarian attending Phillips Theological Seminary and under care for ordination in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Georgia. She attends First Christian Church of Marietta, GA.

©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.