Lent 2010

Good Friday

April 2nd, 2010

by Chris Riddle, 2006 EMS graduate serving with Virginia Mennonite Missions in Bari, Italy.

Read: Luke 23: 1-49

Luke 23:23, 49 “But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed…But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

Have you ever said, “Today I want to make a difference for Christ.  Today I want to share Christ with someone else.”?  Many of us have done this in the comfort of our home or in the midst of fellow believers in church, but then we encounter the world outside and something changes.

The people outside don’t want to hear about Christ, they want to do what they feel like doing and do not want to be burdened with “rules”.  For them, Jesus is dead and they would prefer to leave him that way.  When we meet with this type of resistance, often we are like those that saw Christ on the cross; we step back and watch from a distance as the crowd shouts us down.

But Christ shows another way even in the midst of all the evil.  “…do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves…” (Luke 23:28) Jesus told the women as he carried the cross and to the thief who believed even at the point of death, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43).  Christ understood why he had to suffer and that those who believe in him would also, but he gives hope even during the suffering.

Are we willing to suffer today, even a little, for Christ?  Can we accept that we may hear unkind words and be scoffed at when we tell others about Christ, what he has done for us and can do for them?  Draw close to Christ to hear his words of hope for you, even in the midst of your suffering.

Philippians 2: downward mobility

March 31st, 2010

By Chris Scott, 1995 EMU alum, current seminary student, and pastor at McDowell United Methodist Church

Read: Philippians 2: 5-11

A couple of years ago I went to a church planting conference in San Antonio, Texas. The conference was advertised as a way forward to think about “doing church differently,” whatever that means. It was supposed to be about not getting caught up in old paradigms of church growth, programming, and so forth. Though from the moment we landed at the airport we recognized that it may not be as advertised.

We ran into several pastors at the airport and in the shuttle ride over to the Ramada Inn.  The first question that literally every person asked after preliminaries of names, location, and denomination was a numbers question. “So how many are you getting these days?”

The conversations would go from there to topics of buildings, programs, church growth, and all of that. People came flush with business cards and fliers advertising their books and availability to lead workshops. It became a self-promotion orgy. My wife and I decided to go visit the River Walk and avoid the conference entirely if it that was going to be the attitude. Thankfully it got better.

We so easily slide into an attitude of success and achievement in the church. We name ourselves as followers of a Messiah that did not seek self-promotion and then fall into cultural patterns of larger churches and better career opportunities.

We see Christ’s model in this Kenosis Hymn (from the Greek word ekenosen, “he emptied”) from Paul to the folks in Philippi. Jesus emptied himself of privilege, taking the nature of a servant, submitting himself to be executed violently on the cross, and going to every length to demonstrate the shattering and life altering love and nature of God.

This to me shows the awe inspiring downward mobility of Jesus.

Jesus went in the wrong direction according to today’s standards. We would expect him to be going higher and higher, further and further. Instead he started at the top and threw that off to come to the earth, to pitch his tent among us and show us the true way to live.  He could have insisted on worship, and instead he sought out the towel of service.

As followers of Christ we are to live our lives in such a way as to bring honor to the name of Christ. We are to live into the name by which we are called.  We are to have the self-deprecating spirit and approach of Christ, rather than the self-serving attitude of those who put Jesus to death.

Isaiah 50: a path to healing

March 29th, 2010

By Pat Swartzendruber, EMU volunteer

Read: Isaiah 50: 4 – 9

“Out of the night that covers me, I’m unafraid, I believe.  Beyond this place of wrath and tears, beyond the hours that turn to years….9,000 days were set aside; 9,000 days of destiny…”  are moving lyrics of Nelson Mandela’s captivity from the movie, Invictus, Clint Eastwood and Rob Lorenz, producers.

Isaiah 50, vs.4 – 9 tells of an ancient captivity and One speaking words to sustain the weary assuring a generation of prisoners of war, “It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me”, vs. 9. This once thriving community, taken against their will into captivity and mistreated for more than 50 years, are now free but without strength to accept it. Those who have been confined, whether physical or psychological, and find freedom will recognize the weariness of rebuilding.  This One, the Suffering Servant, to be spoken about more fully in Isaiah 53, is ready to empathize.

Many obstacles are in the way of continuing life after experiences that traumatize or cause heartbreak.  Among them is shame, impinging on self-worth and holding one captive even after being freed.  Knowing its power, the Suffering Servant empathizes, “I will not be disgraced.  I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be put to shame” vs. 7.

What is in store for them?  Can they find their way?  What shall they do?  When anxious thoughts are swirling, the Suffering Servant affirms, “He wakens me morning by morning; wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” vs 4.  Daily meditation, a powerful Word to guide one’s thoughts and let go of fear, may be a path to healing.  Whatever our captivity, whatever our situation, salvation has been issued; a Suffering Servant is our liberator and our helper.

Luke 19: Serving to Lead

March 26th, 2010

By Fred Kniss, Provost and 1979 EMU alumnus

Read: Luke 19:28-40

Jesus was a master manipulator of symbols and metaphors. He loved to speak in parables and frequently offered object lessons to his somewhat befuddled followers. It must have been no accident, then, when he chose to enter Jerusalem and accept the mantle of Messiah on the back of a young colt.

This story is often called “the triumphal entry.” But, really, how can we say that with a perfectly straight face? How triumphal can it be to meander down a dirty Jerusalem street on the back of a small animal, feet dragging in the dust? How can we believe someone to be a king when his “steed” is a colt borrowed from a poor family along the road?

If Jesus chose his symbols intentionally, then clearly his triumphal entry was proclaiming a different sort of “triumph.” Messianic hopes of the day called for a leader who would orchestrate a triumph of nationalism and militarism. Jesus counters with symbols that bespeak humility, service and peace. For once, his disciples seem to get it, as they lead hosannas blessing the king who comes bringing “peace in heaven.”

At EMU, we claim to train students “to serve and lead in a global context.” If we take this story seriously, we may gain some new insight into what it means to lead. Perhaps humble service and leadership are not contrasting modes of action in the world, but in fact come as a package. Perhaps we must serve if we are to lead.

Luke 19: turn your heart to Jerusalem

March 24th, 2010

By Rev. Julie Haushalter, associate campus pastor

Read Luke 19: 28-40

Turn your heart to Jerusalem, to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What is our role in bringing a new Jerusalem with a kingdom of peace and justice for all?

Jesus comes to us, a poor man, riding a colt.  What a witness of the power of love, despite the powers of this world.   A young single Mom and student at JMU shared a story with me today, of losing her wallet containing her only remaining money for the month to take care of her son.  After her initial moments of angst and fear, she resolved to not be ruled by her anxiety.

Instead, she turned to her faith, calmed herself and figured out what to do next.   A friend loaned her enough to get by and she was so grateful.  Then, a couple of days later the campus police called her to let her know that a fellow student had found and returned her wallet with all her money still in it!   A good ending and a high five for human kind!  Still, she was a great example of choosing to be non- anxious, so that she could engage her creativity for a solution while not being consumed with fear.   Jesus rode calmly and knowingly on that young colt.

But, going deeper into our narrative, how do we live out our respect for those, like Jesus,  who have withstood evil, who have suffered the jeers and worse of the crowds? Who have been tormented, even put to death, and still refused the weapons of hatred?  I think it is important for us to reflect on the attitude of these true change makers and the role and power of love in leadership.   Can we let go of our defenses, give up control, and live with open hands and hearts?

Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, thus beginning a week of pain and sorrow. In these days of defeat and victory, Jesus taught us to bring together humiliation and exaltation, death and resurrection.

Let us live with “hosannas!” and with joy in our heart!

Ask God to be with you now, as you follow in joy and in sorrow the way of the cross, in the footsteps of Jesus our Savior.

Psalm 118: the story behind the stone

March 22nd, 2010

By Byron Peachey, EMU associate campus pastor

Read: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone …”

How often today do we study stones around us?  What do we know of stones?  What kinds are worthy for building, how smoothly can their surface be cut, which are the strongest?

Look now at your hands – and now imagine yourself as a stone mason.  Imagine the hands of a mason in ancient Israel, the strength and agility of the fingers, their cuts and calluses — and their practice of constantly choosing one stone over another.  Beginning at the foundation, selecting, chipping, hammering, placing stones one by one beside and on top of the next.  They choose some for this wall, reject others and toss them into a rubble pile.  These weren’t identical bricks, rather they came with irregularities, curves shaped from flowing water, color variations, the mason’s eye looking for strength, beauty, and shape.  All those stones laying at rest, full of potential, yet waiting for the place of their best fit.  And then, finally after perhaps months of building, the capstone emerges, the one which brings it to completion.  One which earlier had been rejected.

Imagine yourself as the mason, or even as one of the stones.  The qualities necessary for a good building are the same:  patience, seeking the right fit, the right combination, matching the strengths of the stone to its place in the whole structure.

Lent, and the waning days of winter, is a season of waiting, in trusting God to carve us, shape us, to be ready when the timing is right for us to take our place.  Surely Jesus experienced such waiting for the opportune time.  Imagine, as some suggest, that Jesus himself was not necessarily a carpenter, but rather a stone mason.  With the hands and patience and steadiness of one who knows stones, and the building of a strong house.

Jesus- The Prodigal

March 10th, 2010

by Jennifer Davis Sensenig, pastor at Community Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg

Read: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Prodigal means exceedingly or recklessly wasteful.  I’ve been re-reading this familiar parable, with Jesus in the center.

Listen to a story.

God had a Son who left home and went to a distant country, to first century Palestine.  There he told stories, and used his power to proclaim freedom and offer healing.  He taught a way of peace, preached good news, and generously forgave.  He earned a reputation for keeping company with sinners, women, and thieving tax-collectors.  Everywhere this Son went he wasted God’s love and wisdom on ordinary people until his divine treasure was spent.   What a waste!  At his lowest point, this Son died a humiliating death on a Roman (Gentile) cross.  But he rose and returned to his heavenly home.  Upon his return, God’s Son was received like a king with a robe, ring, sandals and a feast to end all feasts.

Many of us, like the elder brother, are in the field today doing our work.  But the music of the Great Resurrection Feast is drifting our way, like Easter hallelujahs.  Lent is God’s invitation to join the celebration of our reckless Brother who was dead is now alive.

2 Corinthians 5: Paul and Rumi on the New Creation

March 8th, 2010

By Roger Foster, graduate student in EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and Eastern Mennonite Seminary

Read: 2 Corinthians 5:16-20

Persian poet Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273) says this:

There is a worm
addicted to eating grape leaves.

Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he is no longer a worm.

He is the entire vineyard,
and the orchard, too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that does not need to devour.

All this “un-worming,” this radically new creation, is God’s doing, Paul proclaims. “…for God has reconciled us…” That is, God has adopted us and welcomed us all back into God’s covenant relationship with humanity – NOT, N.T. Wright reminds us, solely for our own personal salvation, wonderful as that is. No, membership in the covenant family bestows a mission as well as a blessing: (cf. “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.”) Merciful God transforms even the self-indulgent worm into an agent of that reconciliation which is God’s great enterprise of abounding grace for the healing of the nations.

And in case you haven’t guessed it already, that transformed and adopted worm on a mission wears an ID tag with a new name – but still my name, still your name – on it, as God delights to re-name us: “Chosen.”

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Psalm 63: God, I Seek You

March 3rd, 2010

Read: Psalm 63:1-8

Jessica Crawford, a first-year seminary student who is also a singer/songwriter, reflects on Psalm 63 in this original song:

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Isaiah 55: Free Food!

March 1st, 2010

By Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard, EMS student

Read: Isaiah 55:1-9

Sometimes Lent gets a bum rap for all its demands about giving up yummy food, The Bachelor and 24-7 Facebook updates. Today’s passage seems a little more appealing than all that Lenten fasting stuff. I like food and drink and I really like free food and drink. I would love to find out where I can go for this abundance of free “wine and milk” (which, by the way, is not a very appetizing menu, free or not)!

And yet, the invitations in this scripture, written as the voice of God, really are the same invitations of the Lenten season: “Why do you spend all your time and resources on food that cannot really fulfill true hunger and thirst? Listen here; eat what is actually good for you.” As much as this sounds like dietary advice from God (milk and wine, seriously?) it is really a call to do what we do when we fast. It is an invitation to give up our pursuit of things that cannot truly satisfy our needs so that we may, instead, find what actually fulfills us and “delight in its abundance.”

So, what good eats is God is calling to in Isaiah 55? The opening invitation is to eat free food we don’t have to buy. Sounds good so far. God’s second invitation starts to get at the heart of the matter: “Come on over and listen well so that you can really live. If you listen, you will be attractive to the world and people will flock to you, just as I promised and fulfilled for King David.” Okay, still sounding good. The last invitation is the one that really strikes home. “Go looking for the Lord. God isn’t far, you can find God.”

Now there is a message of hope! Our habits and our thoughts may not be exactly as high as God is aiming for, but if we go searching for the Lord, searching for the higher ways of living, God will have compassion. God will “abundantly pardon” our less-than-perfectness. Lent can be tough, but there is hope: If we search out and listen for God and the high thoughts and ways of God, we will find an abundance of good, attractive, free food to fill up on!