Prepare to Listen. The promise came through the righteousness of faith.
Prayerfully Read Romans 4:13-17a
13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’).
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
The promise to Abraham, Sarah and their descendants wasn’t a promise to justify sinners and pop them into heaven when they die. But that’s what I was taught. How about you?
The promise to Abraham, according to Paul, was that “he would inherit the world.” As proof, Paul quoted Genesis: “I have made you the father of many nations. Note, it’s nations plural not singular. This may come as a surprise to some, especially those who, like me, grew up with a heaven-when-I-die mentality; a belief that salvation was this other-worldly thing that we would only fully experience after death.
Such a teaching lends itself to Christian nationalism. I grew up with a version of that too. South Africa, that is ‘white’ South Africa was God’s chosen race to save the world. I now live in the U.S. and I hear the same thing. This time it’s conservative America that has been chosen by God to save the world. Both versions are dead wrong, and both versions fail to read Genesis and Romans thoughtfully and honestly.
Lent is a time for repentance, changing our minds and living differently. Long ago I changed my mind about God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah, and also to me. I let go my narrow-minded, heaven-when-I-die belief and took on the broad promise of God’s salvation that is for all nations, all creation. A promise that rests, not on anything any one nation does or doesn’t do, not Israel, not S. Africa, not the U.S., but on God’s grace, God’s free and generous bounty that extends to all peoples. And what must we do? Faith. Trust God to bring in salvation God’s way.
What challenged your thinking and faith in this passage?
God of grace, your reach is global, your salvation is for the now. Increase my faith to live as a global follower of Jesus, welcoming all people from all nations. Amen.
Live obediently. Nurture a faith that includes the world.
Prepare to Listen. Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
Prayerfully Read Mark 8:31-38
31Then 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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.’ 34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those 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.’
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
What, if anything, shocked or surprised you about Jesus’ demand?
Having explained that he’ll suffer and die, Jesus issued his shocking call: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” It’s a disturbing call, given to the crowd--if any. If we want to be Christians, followers of Jesus we must accept the call.
Denying yourself is more than giving up something, big or small, during Lent. Take up your cross, is a call to “Come and die.” Jesus knew his disciples would be persecuted and forced to choose between loyalty to Jesus and perhaps death, or saving their own skin. They could deny Jesus and save themselves or remain loyal to Jesus and possibly die. And that’s the way to save yourself, said Jesus.
We practice Jesus’ demands of self-denial and cross-bearing when we choose the power of love and reject the love of power; when we live as agents of God’s love in the world standing with one arm reaching out to God and the other arm reaching out to the world, bringing God and the world together in our lives. We practice self-denial and cross-bearing when we choose peace over violence, love over hate, truth over lies, distortions, and conspiracy theories. We live Jesus’ sacrificial way when we build bridges rather than walls, welcome the alien, the outcast, the poor and disenfranchised.
Think of times when you are challenged to deny yourself, take up your cross. Do it for Jesus’ sake.
Lord Jesus, forgive me when I’ve ignored your demands or presumed they didn’t apply to me. Your way is shocking and demanding, but it’s the only way. Help me live today your way for your sake. Amen.
Live obediently. Follow Jesus his way.
Prepare to Listen. Thou didst not leave his soul in hell.
Prayerfully Read Psalm 16:7-11
7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
What caught your attention as you read this psalm?
“For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.” Sheol and the Pit refer to the place of the dead, and used here metaphorically for dark and difficult times. If you’re familiar with Handel’s Messiah, you know this verse as, “Thou didst not leave his soul in hell.” Changing the pronoun from ‘me’ to ‘his’ distorts the meaning and tempts us to apply the text exclusively to Jesus.
The psalmist, however, didn’t have a future person in view. This was about his life, then. He’d been through a major crisis. He’d asked for and received God’s protection (v. 1) and thus could now say, “I bless the LORD.” Whereas many Christians expect God to bless them, the Jews frequently bless the Lord (see Ps 103). Devout Jews bless God multiple times a day. In Psalm 145 the psalmist says she’ll bless God every day and forever (vv. 1-2). They bless the Lord, as in Psalm 16, because they’re grateful God has protected them. At other times, they bless the Lord because God is their Creator and deserves all glory no matter what the circumstances. God never promised that life would turn out the way we want. We will experience difficulties, and need protection, for which we can bless the Lord.
So I suggest, as the 2nd week of Lent begins, to practice pausing multiple times a day, and bless the Lord. Begin with “Blessed are you, Lord God, for…” and add whatever you think or feel at that moment.
How often do you bless the Lord compared with asking the Lord to bless you? What can you bless God for today?
Lord you are blessed for all you are and have done. I know I don’t pause to bless you as often as I should. I ask for your help to remember to do so more often during Lent. Amen.
Live obediently. Bless the Lord.
Prepare to Listen. Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.
Prayerfully Read Lamentations 1:11-13
11All her people groan as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food to revive their strength.
Look, O LORD, and see how worthless I have become.
12Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
which was brought upon me,
which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.
13From on high he sent fire; it went deep into my bones;
he spread a net for my feet; he turned me back;
he has left me stunned, faint all day long.
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
I never paid much attention to these verses, never noticed how disturbing they are. They were applied to Jesus and thus I could ignore them, or so I thought. That may be comforting, but it misses the point. What do you think?
The poem is about the real experience, the over-powering grief and loss of the poet. His beloved city, Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins, his people were groaning in futile searches for bread for their starving children. In his helplessness he cried, “Look, O LORD, and see how worthless I have become.” He wonders at the people who pass by, ignoring his pain and suffering, and begs them, “Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.” He blames the LORD for inflicting the pain on him in his “fierce anger.” It’s not surprising that he and his people were stunned and faint and felt worthless.
We may be more privileged today. We’re not groaning for food; we don’t feel worthless. And then we hear Jeremiah say: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” Is that a rebuke for us, the privileged few? We feel powerless to help, and, afraid to look on more suffering, we walk on by. The poet challenges us to stop and look. Practice the steadfast love of the Lord, that compassionate love that stands in solidarity with those in need. Sometimes, all we can offer is our loving presence, our silent companionship.
Yes, these words can be applied to Jesus, who always stands in loving solidarity with all the needy of the world today. Behold, and see them too and, as you do, see Jesus in them.
Towards what do you sense the Spirit nudging you today?
Lord, give me the courage to practice with you a love that doesn’t pass by the poor and needy. May they experience your loving presence through me. Amen.
Live obediently. Look and see.
Prepare to Listen. Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good.
Prayerfully Read Psalm 69:16-21
16Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17Do not hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.
18Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free because of my enemies.
19You know the insults I receive,
and my shame and dishonour;
my foes are all known to you.
20Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
21They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
You know complains the pray-er in this long lament psalm. Whether the words are evidence of trust in the God “before whom no creature is hidden”, or frustration that God, who knows, has failed to help the troubled pray-er, is unclear. What do you think?
Whatever the pray-er thought, and perhaps it was a bit of both, the complaint is rooted in God’s steadfast love. This is the most frequent term used in the Old Testament to characterize God and how God acts. It’s a translation of the Hebrew hesed, a term rich in meaning and difficult to translate into English. Hesed refers to a love that knows no limits, that stands in solidarity with the one in need, making transformation possible. It’s the love we see in Jesus when he stood in solidarity with all humanity, suffering death on the cross and setting us free to live changed lives.
The pray-er knows this about God, but in her present circumstances—insults that have broken her heart, brought her to despair, made worse because no one comforts her—God’s hesed seemed absent, God’s face hidden from her. I know Christianity has always applied these verses to Jesus on the cross. And they certainly fit Jesus' suffering. But they were also real for all those who prayed and still pray this psalm in their own times of struggle and suffering. If you’ve experienced anything that has made you feel abandoned, not only by family and friends but also by God, if you can identify with the psalmist’s complaint, you know something of what Jesus went through on the cross. Like Jesus, like the psalmist, we can honestly lament (complain) because God knows and God’s steadfast love will be experienced yet again.
How do you feel about the psalmist’s honest and frank complaint?
Lord, you know; you know the good and the bad we experience. For all those in need today, who feel despair with no one to support them, may you come to them and let them know your steadfast love. Amen.
Live obediently. Trust God’s steadfast love.
 Hebrews 4:13.
Prepare to Listen. This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.
Prayerfully Read Genesis 9:8-17
8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
If the story is familiar try reading it as if for the first time, with the mind of a beginner.
“Never again,” God promised. The story begins when God saw the wickedness of humankind, “that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” God regretted creating humans and resolved to blot out all creation, beginning again with Noah, who found favor in God’s sight. These verses are hard to read. God chose to do this! The Genesis writer refrains from comment, leaving us wondering and perhaps also reeling at the thought God would be so drastic with God’s creation.
The flood happened and receded. Only Noah and the inhabitants of the ark survived and walked out onto dry ground. And then God spoke personally to Noah, three times promising, “never again” to destroy the earth, and all that’s in it with flood waters. A rainbow, said God, will be the sign, a promise to all creation and a reminder to God of his vow.
What changed so that God promised “never again”? It wasn’t anything to do with humankind or creation or the flood waters. Wickedness wasn’t eradicated; bad things happen and will continue to happen on earth. Nevertheless, God made the decision to never destroy creation again, a decision based on God’s unqualified, free and generous grace. The rainbow will forever be the sign for God to remember, no matter how evil things get; forever a sign for us to remember the good news of God’s gracious decision: “never again.”
What newness did the story have for you this time?
Lord God, you are a God who remembers your promise because you are gracious and merciful. When things get bad, may I rest again in your covenant to never again destroy all the earth. Amen
Live obediently. Remember God’s promise. God remembers.
 Genesis 6:5-8.
Prepare to Listen. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Prayerfully Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What tugged at your heart as you read these words today?
“There is a new creation.” This sentence can be read in two different ways. First way: There is a new creation. Not there will be. We’re not waiting for it to come. It’s here now, in this moment in time. In Christ you are a new creation with the ability to live a transformed life. Second way: There is a new creation. Not somewhere hidden and out of sight, but right there in front of you; open your eyes and you will see it. “If anyone is in Christ” that’s where to look for the new creation—in yourself, in your brothers and sisters in Christ.
A new creation doesn’t mean we have a ticket to heaven and can forget about faithful living now. Neither does it mean we’ll be exempt from the troubles and sufferings in this world. We won’t look or feel any different. Being a new creation means seeing the world in a different light and responding to its troubles and sufferings in a different, more loving way. It means letting go the old to be open to receive the new, however unexpected and surprising; no longer needing to earn God’s approval because in Christ we become the righteousness of God, reconciled, restored back into fellowship with God. In Christ we have a new ministry, ambassadors for Christ, messengers of reconciliation, not alienation; of peace not discord; of love not hatred. This is what it means to be a new creation.
Think about how you can live today as a new creation in Christ, as an ambassador of reconciliation, peace and love.
Respond to Jesus
Lord Jesus, help me live today in such a way that others look at me and say, ‘There is a new creation.’ Amen.
Live obediently. Practice being a new creation today.
Prepare to Listen. Repent and believe the good news.
Prayerfully Read Mark 1:14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
What comforts or shocks you about Jesus in this story?
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Jesus’ first sermon has only 19 words in English, but enough to keep us pondering for a lifetime. It may be brief, but its demands are loaded—repent, believe, follow. 
Repent, from the Greek metanoia, means change your mind, turn around and go in the opposite direction. Let’s be honest, we’re not good at that. We don’t like change and actively resist it. We struggle to admit we’re wrong, and give up the old for the unfamiliar. But here’s the thing, Jesus demands change, repentance all the time. We must change our minds about the kingdom of God and how to live as God’s kingdom people. And since we get it wrong so often, change is a daily challenge.
Second, believe. Believe the good news, that is, “believe the kingdom of God has come near.” We’re not waiting for it to come after a future cataclysmic event, or for Israel, or any other nation, to get its act together. It has come near in Jesus, and we’re called to believe it is here, now.
Third, follow. To four fishermen, Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” This wasn’t a call to ‘saving individual souls.’ The imagery is rooted in the ancient prophets, who used it as a symbol of judgment. Jesus invited ordinary folk “to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.” They had to leave behind, change their minds about the old ways of doing things, and follow Jesus, helping him in the reordering of the social and economic structures of society. This wasn’t about Christians taking over all levels of government, but creating space for the poor, the marginalized, the excluded, the aliens to live and flourish.
Now what comforts and/or shocks you?
Lord, I confess my reluctance to repent, to change my mind. Open my eyes and ears to see and hear where and how I need to change. Give me the courage to change and believe that you are in charge. Amen.
Live obediently. Repent and believe.
 Obviously Jesus said much more. Mark has merely summarized, highlighting Jesus theme.
 Myers, C. Binding the Strong Man. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015, p. 132.
Prepare to Listen. You are my Son, the Beloved.
Prayerfully Read Mark 1:9-13
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
What intrigued you as you read these familiar verses?
It’s a very ordinary account of a baptism. Jesus waiting in line with ordinary people to be baptized by an anything but ordinary John the Baptizer. There’s no introduction to Jesus, or explanation of why he wanted baptism from John. He came down from Nazareth in Galilee for no other reason than to be baptized by John in the Jordan.
What happened when he came up out of the water turned the scene into an extraordinary one. Jesus saw “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” Torn apart is an intriguing choice of words. They’re similar to the words the prophet Isaiah used, begging God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Is 64:1-2). If John saw what Jesus did, and that’s not certain, I wonder whether he thought of Isaiah’s prayer. I wonder if he realized God was answering it. God had torn apart the heavens and come down in God’s Beloved Son, Jesus.
Tearing apart happened again when Jesus died. The sanctuary curtain in the temple, preventing entrance into the presence of God, was torn in two (Mk 15:38). God came down and access to God and God’s throne is now possible for all peoples.
In these troubled times, it’s good to remember and trust in the God who has come down, the God who will not be silent. Worship this God today.
O that you would once again tear open the heavens and come down into our troubled times. Help me live so that others know they too can have access to you today. Amen.
Live obediently. Trust the God who came down.
Prepare to Listen. Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Prayerfully Read John 1:29-34
29The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
Prayerfully Wonder and Reflect
What was familiar and/or surprising for you in these verses?.
“Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world,” the choir sings in Handel’s Messiah. The word behold invites us to pause and take a long thoughtful look. Who is this “Lamb of God” and why should we behold him? What did John and those around him see?
The writer doesn’t tell us, giving little detail. An unknown Galilean man walked towards John who identified him, not with the familiar title of Messiah, nor as the one to save the nation, but as the Lamb of God. It’s not an attractive image and Jesus said and did nothing to draw people to him.
But this is the Jesus we’re invited to behold and follow, a lamb, not a lion, but lamb who “takes away the sin of the world.” In Jewish thought the lamb of God was the Passover Lamb sacrificed, not for sin, “but to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt,” setting God’s people free. This Lamb takes away the sin (singular) of the world, not merely individuals or of one nation (not Israel, not the U.S.), but the world. Collectively, the world is alienated from the Creator God and Jesus’ sacrifice liberates the world, making possible a relationship with God. John believed this and thus could claim, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Behold Jesus, not the Jesus who supports our patriotic ideologies to make our nation great again. But the Lamb of God who welcomes the world. This truth gives me hope. All human attempts to make Jesus the Savior of a nation will come to naught. What do you think?
Jesus, Lamb of God, you came for the world. Broaden my mind and heart to welcome the world, not just those like myself. Amen.
Live obediently. Behold the Lamb of God.
 O’Day, Gail and Hylen, Susan. John. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, p. 30.