Lenten Meditations will be published every Saturday throughout the season, featuring daily devotions for the coming week.
Saturday“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
This week, I invite our community to reflect on Psalm 46. This ancient song of God’s people has been a source of hope in times of crisis. We find ourselves in the midst of one of these times. It was during an epidemic known as “the black death” that Martin Luther used this psalm as the basis for writing the hymn “A mighty fortress is our God.” He used the image of God as a strong fortress wall that protects from danger. This place of refuge does not mean escape from reality. Luther’s hymn suggests that we may lose our goods, loved ones, and even our mortal lives. Earthly powers--government, our economic system, life as we know it — may crumble. Where is hope in all of this change and loss? God’s kingdom of justice, peace, healing, and freedom remains forever. A mighty fortress, indeed.
Sunday“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
Perhaps the most repeated command in the Bible is some variation on this: “Do not be afraid.” We hear it from prophets, angels, rulers and from God’s own voice. How can it be that God asks us to “fear not” when there are so many things that bring about very legitimate fear? John’s gospel recounts a time when Jesus’s followers were locked in together, a sort of 1st Century self-quarantine. Their teacher and friend had just been executed. They were understandably afraid that the religious leaders and political powers that conspired to kill Jesus would target them as well. Jesus appears to them and greets them with the words that echo through the century to us today: “peace be with you.”
Monday“God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.”
It is easy to imagine God’s presence out in the country where you can see the stars at night, you can hear crickets chirping, and no buildings obstruct the colors of the sunrise. Many of our churches use these rural settings as visual backdrops for worship bulletins, sanctuary screens, or scripture quotations. Yes, God is indeed in all that beauty. 55% of the world’s population, though, and 80% of Americans, live in cities. How would it stretch our imagination to see God’s splendor in skylines, bridges, hospitals, and universities? God’s creative power is present throughout humanity, with its diverse languages, colors, cultures, and practices. May we see that spark of divine love where these all come together — in the midst of the city,
Tuesday“The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.”
What does the voice of God sound like? Might it be gentle? Strong? Pitched high or low? It might be all these things. Few of us know. We have a better idea, through scripture, of what God’s voice says. The holy voice says “let there be ...,” “it is good,” “let my people go,” “you are my beloved.” Jesus says, “follow me,” “blessed are the poor,” “love your enemies,” “I am the resurrection and the life.” Simply put, God’s voice changes everything. God’s voice puts nations into an uproar and makes kingdoms totter. It makes what was solid, like the very earth, seem like melting wax. Let all who have ears hear what God has to say.
Wednesday“Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”
It’s a little uncomfortable to think of God’s work bringing about desolation, a word that brings to mind the scenes that follow a violent and destructive tornado. The root of the word desolation means “abandoned.” What would God abandon? Psalm 46 gives us the answer: war and the tools of war. God’s work might not only be about bringing peace but also might be about asking us to abandon our stockpile of weapons and armor. What other habits of ours might God be
abandoning? Maybe our systems of wealth inequality, racial inequity, or criminal injustice? Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
Thursday“Be still, and know that I am God!”
When suddenly faced with the prospect of spending a lot of time in our homes, with people working from home, kids out of school, and neighbors self-isolating, many of us went straight to the work of making lists of things to do. We filled social media with concerts, story times, museum tours, and lectures. These are all wonderful things. These things are desperately needed to help us pass the time and stay connected with one another. But we also need permission to shut all of this off every now and again, to simply be. What a gift it is to remember that we are loved completely by God because we are who we are. Nothing we can do will make God love us any more or less. Take some time to rest in that grace today.
Friday“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge
With us. Another Psalm, the 139th, reminds us that there is nowhere we can run to hide from God’s presence. There is nowhere we can go where God is not already there waiting to meet us. This idea relieves us of the burden many of us feel to “bring God” to other people and nations. Yes, God is present with us and in the work of our lives, but God is also present in the lives of those who are completely different from us. This presence liberates us to encounter God in the stranger, rather than meeting them with fear and suspicion. God’s presence with us leads us to cooperation rather than competition. God standing, walking, fighting, crying, imprisoned, unemployed, homeless, sick, is with us. And there’s nothing we can do about it.