We hope you will follow along daily and deepen your faith during this season of repentance and contemplation.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29, 2017
The Rev. Sue Blank ’15, Director of Pastoral Care, Presbyterian SeniorCare, Oakmont, Pa.
1 "The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. DEVOTIONAL I am a quilter. I love the creative process—working with color and line to craft something expressive and unique. The result is usually gratifying. But sometimes, oh sometimes, there is disappointment. Part-way through the process I end up with something quilters call UFOs or PIGS—Unfinished Objects or Projects in Grocery Sacks. These are the creations that just do not work: the colors do not blend, the seams are misaligned, the borders are wonky. So I stuff these creations into plastic bags and tuck them away out of sight. Once the fabric has been cut into pieces and then sewn together, salvaging these “mistakes” is often impossible. Fortunately, salvaging our mistakes is never impossible with God. In Jeremiah’s oracle, the prophet observes the potter crafting a vessel at his wheel. When that vessel disappointed the craftsman, “he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” God’s creative process did not end at the seventh day. God continues to create and re-create, bringing hope and new possibilities for us, and for this world. PRAYER Gracious and loving God, help us to amend our ways, which disappoint. Open our hearts to new possibilities as you form, reform, and transform us according to your good purposes. Our hope is in you. Amen. THURSDAY, MARCH 30, 2017 The Rev. Michael Gehrling ’08, Pastor, Upper Room Church Community, Pittsburgh / Director of International Graduate and Faculty Ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship SCRIPTURE Jeremiah 22:13-23 13 Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; Pittsburgh Theological Seminary | who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; 14 who says, “I will build myself a spacious house with large upper rooms,” and who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar, and painting it with vermilion. 15 Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. 16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the LORD. 17 But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence. 18 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah: They shall not lament for him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” or “Alas, sister!”” They shall not lament for him, saying, “Alas, lord!” or “Alas, his majesty!” 19 With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried — dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem. 20 Go up to Lebanon, and cry out, and lift up your voice in Bashan; cry out from Abarim, for all your lovers are crushed. 21 I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, “I will not listen.” This has been your way from your youth, for you have not obeyed my voice. 22 The wind shall shepherd all your shepherds, and your lovers shall go into captivity; then you will be ashamed and dismayed because of all your wickedness. 23 O inhabitant of Lebanon, nested among the cedars, how you will groan when pangs come upon you, pain as of a woman in labor!
Jeremiah offers a stinging critique of King Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was doing what we would expect kings to do: build a beautiful castle— “a spacious house with large upper rooms.” But Jeremiah points out the reality that Jehoiakim preferred to ignore or cold-heartedly disregarded: Jehoiakim was building his house on injustice. He was not paying his workers, and he was ignoring the cause of the poor. None of us are kings, but it’s still easy for us to live like Jehoiakim. We can purchase clothes off of a clearance rack or bite into a chocolate bar without thinking about those who may or may not have been paid fairly for making our “stuff.” Jeremiah reminds Jehoiakim, and us, that there is another way—the way of Josiah, Jehoiakim’s father. Josiah did “justice and righteousness . . . . He judged the cause of the poor and needy.” This, the Lord says, is what it means to know God. Indeed, this is what it means to know Jesus, who began his most famous sermon by announcing, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” The prophet Jeremiah presents us with two ways of life: the way of Jehoiakim, and the way of Josiah. The way of dishonest gain, and the way of justice. Which will we choose?
God of justice, your Son, Jesus Christ, blessed the poor. May they experience Christ’s blessing through our actions. In Christ we pray. Amen.
FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2017
Ellen Little, Library Circulation Supervisor, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 22 Lent Devotional 2017 DEVOTIONAL “Life is good.” You’ve seen the t-shirts, haven’t you? The shirts with the wearer’s favorite activity performed by a cartoonish figure? The idea is to spread optimism. I always suspect people who wear those shirts of being naïve, however. I mean, have they watched the news? Wars, famines, genocides, kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria, another hurricane with flooding in Haiti, a shooting down the street, a suicide in the family, cancer. The list goes on and on. We aren’t left alone with this list, however. We are given this passage from Romans where we are told that nothing can come between God and those who love him. What could be more important or more glorious than that!? Yes, the world brings tribulation. Jesus said it would do so, but he gives us himself, his love, his gift of grace and ultimately eternal life! Nothing—did you hear that?!?!?!—nothing can separate us from the God who loved us in action, to the point of sending Jesus to die on a cross to take away our sin. Soon it will be Good Friday, the darkest day of the Christian calendar, but praise God, Good Friday was only the beginning. Easter is coming, and we are God’s beloved!!! PRAYER Dear God, sometimes life feels overwhelming. Help us to cling to you in these times and to remember that we are your beloved. Thank you, thank you, thank you. SATURDAY, APRIL 1, 2017 Deborah Burgess ’06, Freelance Editor and English as a Second Language Teacher, Pittsburgh SCRIPTURE John 6:60-71 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We live in world where there are so many claims that a thing, a place, or a practice will bring us happiness, a sense of worth or fullness of life. They constantly vie for our attention and allegiance so that we can often find ourselves distracted, confused, lost. Peter’s question is our question. Where else can we go? It reminds us that there is only One whose promises are sufficient. In these days of Lent, we are encouraged by Peter’s question to turn again to Christ—to reject any other claims to sufficiency or redemption, confess our sins, lay our burdens at the Lord’s feet, receive his mercy and hear again the words, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
Merciful Lord, you know how prone your creatures are to distraction, to putting our trust in lesser things, to relying on the flesh instead of the Spirit. Call us to yourself and teach us, again, that you are the only One with the words of eternal life. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those Pittsburgh Theological Seminary | who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” 9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
“You old Devil, you!” That was an expression popular with my father’s generation, usually spoken man to man in what we today might call the “old boys club.” “You old Devil”— an off-handed compliment to someone who has acquired something usually by nefarious means, but certainly an expression never intended to express evil—just a benign phrase one might say jokingly. However, in Jesus’ day, and to the ears of Peter, it was a serious slap in the face—an affront to the senses! “You old Devil!” says Jesus—“Get behind me Satan!” I am writing this Lenten devotional in the season of autumn, as Indian summer turns the landscape to vibrant hues of red and orange and the first hint of frost assaults our senses. It is a precursor to the long months of winter ahead, with the promise of renewal that comes each spring still a distant hope. And as I write, questions loom as to whether peace, even civility, can be found amid the rancor in so many sectors of our society and world. “You old Devil, you,” no longer seems the benign jest it used to be. Instead, it is a reminder of the evil that persists in each one of us. “Get behind me,” Jesus commands. Get behind the only truth that leads to the hope of salvation. During this Lenten season, who will we stand behind?
Holy God, as we remember once more the way of the cross, may we empty our hearts of the enmity that divides and through the power of the Holy Spirit fall in step behind the only one who leads to salvation. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
MONDAY, APRIL 3, 2017
The Rev. Dr. Jim Davison ’69, Retired Director, Continuing Education, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
Night, Sight, Light, and . . . Blindness. When the disciples walk by a blind man, they ask Jesus the age-old question: “Who sinned here?” We understand that question, don’t we? When something unfortunate comes our way, aren’t we sometimes tempted to wonder what we did wrong? Or perhaps it’s the other way around: “I’m sorry I did (or thought, or said) that, Lord. Please don’t let anything bad happen!” Luckily, Jesus denies the link between suffering and sin. He changes the perspective by proclaiming that God will use this tragic situation to reveal Jesus as “the Light of the world.” This man lives in darkness, but Jesus enables him to see light. As the story progresses, he seems to recognize the Light as well. The authorities also see the results of Jesus’ action, but they can’t accept the obvious conclusion. In spite of possessing healthy eyesight, they are blind to the truth about Jesus’ identity. Or, we might say, they see what they want to see. That is a lesson for me, too. How often do preconceived opinions, views of others or myself, hopes, or fears cloud my sight to something I should recognize? Make me blind to something that is true? 24 Lent Devotional 2017 This Lent, whom do I resemble—the blind man whose vision was restored, or the authorities who, denying their blindness, lived in darkness?
God of Light, thank you for sending your Son to bring light into the world. Let that light illuminate my heart, so that any blindness in me may be taken away. Let that light enflame my spirit, that I may honor you, follow your Son, and serve this world, so often caught in darkness and despair. In Christ I pray. Amen.
TUESDAY, APRIL 4, 2017
Minh Towner ’13, Chaplain, Novant Health Prince William Hospital, Va.
8 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, 9 I am going to send for all the tribes of the north, says the LORD, even for King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these nations around; I will utterly destroy them, and make them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace. 10 And I will banish from them the sound of mirth and the sound of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste. 13 I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. 14 For many nations and great kings shall make slaves of them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands. 15 For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and go out of their minds because of the sword that I am sending among them. 17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it.
I spend a lot of time on the road visiting people and churches, so getting from point A to point B is the ultimate goal of my trip. GPS is my companion, my best friend forever (BFF). But after driving the same route over the years, my self-confidence improved, and I started taking shortcuts and ignoring my GPS. I kept hearing “Recalculating, recalculating” each time I took a different turn from what my GPS thought was correct. So I had a solution: I didn’t tune it out, I just turned it off. But one day I found myself really, really lost in the middle of nowhere—certainly not where I wanted to be and nowhere that I recognized. Fear slowly took over my body and, as fast as I could, I reached for my GPS. My hands were shaking; my heart was racing. At that moment, I realized the consequence of my “disobedience” in not following the instructions of my GPS. I also realized my disobedience to God by my excessive self-reliance and by not listening to God’s voice, God’s “GPS” instructions. We are just like the people of Judah in today’s reading. They were disobedient to the point that God’s wrath was inevitable. Verse 12, however, states that God’s wrath would not last forever. The Cross and the death of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, demonstrates His deepest love for us and His desire to be in relationship with us. So where are you now? Are you lost? Is your GPS turned on, or off? God wants us be in communication with Him, to find our way home to Him. Are we willing?
Oh God, you are a God of mercy and love even when we are so disobedient to you; even in the depth of your anger, you still love us. Your love is beyond measure. We ask you for forgiveness. Help us to have the ears to hear you, a heart to love you, and a zeal and joy to follow your will and not ours. Renew our minds so we can see and hear through the eyes of Jesus, not our own. Amen.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5, 2017
The Rev. Jon Draskovic ’12, Pastor, Whidbey Presbyterian Church, Oak Harbor, Wa.
1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very Pittsburgh Theological Seminary | truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Confession: I know nothing about sheepherding. In his novel Dancing at the Rascal Fair, Ivan Doig writes about two Scottish immigrants who homesteaded the front range of the Montana Rockies in the 1890s as sheep ranchers. As it turns out, sheep are not smart. Doig writes, “fleecies are a garden that wanders around looking for its own extinction . . . right now they are out there searching for ways to die, and there are many sources willing to oblige their mortal urge.” This less romantic but maybe more accurate understanding of sheepherding puts this passage in a new light for me. Being a shepherd of people is a difficult business to be in: We sheep need great care in order not to get lost, much tending in order not to be snatched by wolves and scattered, much prodding in order to see the gate to safety. Thank God that He is the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep.
Thank you, Father for Jesus, our Good Shepherd, the One who shows us the gate and leads us through it; who tends us and keeps us from getting lost; who lays down his life on our behalf when the wolves come to snatch us. Amen.
THURSDAY, APRIL 6, 2017
The Rev. Kelsy Brown ’10, Associate Pastor for Mission and Membership, Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, Scottsdale, Ariz.
19 Again the Jews were divided because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” 21 Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” 22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” 31 The Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ — and the scripture cannot be annulled — 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. 40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. 41 Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
Have you ever thought about the number of voices that call for our attention? Work, school, projects, children, parents, parishioners, social media, news cycles, and friends continue to share their opinions, needs, time, and requirements of us. Some voices are positive—they congratulate us on a job well done, comfort us during seasons of challenge, and lead us through the darkest valleys. Others are difficult, demanding, and overpowering in our day-to-day lives. It isn’t unusual for different voices to call for our attention at the same time but in different directions. 26 Lent Devotional 2017 Isn’t it amazing that, in the midst of all the voices that call on us, Jesus continues to call us by name? Whenever we take time to listen, we can always hear Jesus’ voice rising above the noise of the many voices calling for our attention. Can you hear Jesus’ voice? What is He saying to you?
Jesus, in the midst of all the buzz of voices calling for our attention, help us to hear your voice above all the rest. Quiet our minds, take away the distractions, and guide us toward the voice that knows us better than any other—Your voice, which calls each one of us Beloved and invites us to follow. Amen.
FRIDAY, APRIL 7, 2017
Karyn Bigelow ’16, Government Relations Assistant, Bread for the World, Washington, D.C. / Board Member, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” DEVOTIONAL Throughout the Gospels we see multiple occasions on which there is a problem that seems to have great urgency according to those who believe in Jesus. They need healing for themselves or someone else. They are frightened by the troubled waters. But Jesus does not share that same sense of urgency—in any of the stories. And in this story he is no different. In desperation because of Lazarus’ illness, Mary and Martha send for Jesus. When he finally arrives, they focus on his neglecting to come “in time.” They focus on actions, timing, and outcomes, but not in that moment on who Jesus is. Jesus moves the conversation from what he “neglected” to do to who he is—the Christ, the Son of God. Every year in the church, we feel chaos and urgency in planning Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, plays, Good Friday, egg hunts, and Easter programs. This passage serves as a reminder that in this Lenten season, as we look to the resurrection and the many things that “need” to be done, we should not lose our focus on Jesus the Christ, the Resurrected One. PRAYER Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, help us in this season as we do the work of the Kingdom. May we always remember the One whom we serve, the One whom this season is all about. Empower our work to point to Christ, the One who was resurrected to free us from all our sins. SATURDAY, APRIL 8, 2017 The Rev. Dr. Kang Na, Associate Professor of Religion, Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pa. / Board Member, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary SCRIPTURE John 11:28–44 28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary | is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Walking through the dark days of Lent can be difficult even for the most pious among us because we forget, for much of the time on most days, that we are in Lent. Furthermore, Easter, the light at the end of the tunnel, can rob Lent of its human reality by injecting a subtle dose of Docetism, the doctrine that Christ was only divine, not really human, and therefore did not really suffer. Oddly, wonderfully, it is John’s very divine portrait of Jesus that shows us his true humanity: Jesus was very upset about Lazarus’ death; he wept . . . while assuring Martha of resurrection hope (vv. 23–27). On this eve of Passion Sunday and Passion Week, which brings us to the crucifixion-death of Jesus, we remember that much of life is like Lent. On this side of the empty tomb, there is suffering—which is what “passion” means—and lots of it. Even if shy of Job’s devastation, our lives are punctuated by pain and prayers of desperation. And as Ecclesiastes reminds us, echoing Genesis 3:19, we will all die. The amazing mystery of Jesus’ humanity reminds us of our very own humanity that is all too tempted to leap to Easter joy. But we cannot afford to be docetic, especially during Lent, especially during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. By meditating on Jesus’ sorrow at Lazarus’ death, we can properly contemplate the divine mystery of Jesus’ own suffering and death. And only through meditating on his passion can we glimpse the profound mystery of Easter joy . . . of which we shall not yet speak.
O God of mystery, root us in your immeasurable love as we continue our walk through Lent that we may truly embrace Jesus’ humanity and thereby also ours. Keep us faithful and hopeful in the love and humanity of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.