Lent Devotion, Wednesday, March 7, 2018

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“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9)

Jesus’ baptism raises the question, “Why?” John’s baptism was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And Jesus, according to traditional Christian belief, was without sin. So why would he choose to receive this washing?

A compelling answer is this: Jesus steps into the river as a sign that he has come to be with and among the people. He chooses to lead not from a position of power and prestige, but through participation in our everyday reality. He chooses to emphasize not how he is different, but how he is the same.

A modern example of such humility is the Dalai Lama. The Dalia Lama is the leader of Buddhists; and at one time also held civil power over the people of Tibet; he was a kind of Pope and Emperor rolled into one. With such an exalted status, he could easily believe himself unique and better than others.

But that’s not how the Dalai Lama sees it. He says, “I never consider, even when giving a talk to a large crowd, that I am something special. . . . I always emphasize that when I meet people, we are all the same human beings.” (The Book of Joy, page 130)

Lord Jesus, you are Messiah of Israel and Son of God. Yet you choose not to exalt yourself over others; instead, you enter everything that makes us human; you take upon yourself our joys and our sorrows, our hurts and our hopes, our successes and our failures. Thank you, Jesus, for bowing down so that we might be lifted up. To you, along with the Father in heaven and with the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Lent Devotion, Saturday, March 3, 2018

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John the Baptist was hitting it big; he was packing people in. Mark tells us, “People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” In our day and age, he would have been something of a media frenzy; he was receiving far more than fifteen minutes of fame.

The fame did not go to his head. He claimed no grandeur; he did not brag that he was greater than any prophet before him. Quite the contrary. Instead of focusing attention on himself, he said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandal.”

That’s a remarkable statement of humility. In his culture, slaves and servants would bow down to unlace their master’s shoes. But John says he is not even important enough to do that menial task.

Later in the gospel, Jesus will teach the importance of humility in the lives of those who walk in the kingdom of God. Those who follow the way of Jesus do not exalt themselves over others.

            Gracious God, thank you for John’s example of humble service. Touch us with your Spirit, so that we also may point away from ourselves to the wonderful gift of your Son. Amen.

Live Humbly

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In this fourth part of “Jensi’s Story,” Jensi and her great aunt Elizabeth discuss the importance of humility.

        Jensi and her great aunt Elizabeth were enjoying their regular Tuesday evening dinner. Jensi looked up from her spaghetti and said, “God has promised that my unborn child will lead people to be centered in God, to feed the hungry, to care for creation, and to build bridges between people who are different from one another. And God wants me to raise the child in ways that help prepare for these things. I want to do that. But, Aunt Beth, I keep wondering, why me? There’s nothing unique about me. I’m no more ready to be a Mom than anyone else. I really don’t understand God’s choice.”

         Elizabeth replied, “I don’t think such things are ever clear to us. But I do know, though, that God uses ordinary people to make extraordinary things happen. God works through the lowly and the humble. And if we start thinking too highly of ourselves, God knocks us off our pedestals. That’s what happened in the story of Naaman. Do you know it?”

       “I recall the name,” Jensi replied, “but I forget how the story goes.”

        “It’s told in the fifth chapter of 2 Kings,” said Aunt Beth. Then she told Jensi this story.  

        Naaman lived in a county called Aram. He was a great military hero, having won many battles for his country. He was proud of his career. His military commendations filled scroll after scroll. Dozens of ribbons and medals hung from his shirt.

         He was a strong man, who had risen through the ranks to become a trusted officer of the king. Life was good, very good. But one day Naaman noticed blotches on his skin. They spread and spread. He consulted the best doctors in his land. But no cure was found.

         In his household was a Israelite teenager, who had been captured by Naaman in one of the wars. She was servant to Naaman’s wife. She told Naaman’s wife, “If only your husband could see the prophet in Israel, he would be healed.” 

        So his wife said to Namaan, “I have heard of a holy man who might be able to help you.”

        Naaman replied, “And where might he be?”

        “In Israel,” said his wife.       

        “Israel?” Naaman said with disdain. “I go to Israel only to win battles. They are a backwards people; they know nothing. Where did you get this idea that they have a skilled healer?”

        “From my maid servant,” his wife replied.

        “Her?” spit out Naaman. “She’s one of them, good for nothing more than being a slave. And anyhow, she’s too young to know anything.”

        “But,” said his wife, “nothing is helping here. Can it hurt to give it a try?”

        Now even the greatest of military heroes must sometimes give in to his wife. So Naaman said, “Yes, Dear; you’re right; I’m wrong. I’ll look into it.”

         So Naaman went to Israel with many valuable gifts: 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothes. With horses and chariots, he arrived in grand style. He came with a letter from his king to the king of Israel. The letter asked that Naaman be healed. But Israel’s king panicked. He said, “I have no such power!” But the prophet Elisha sent word to the king, “Send Naaman to me.”

         Naaman went, and knocked on Elisha’s door. No answer. He waited. He knocked again. And waited some more. He began to grow impatient. He was a man used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. His orders were always quickly obeyed. But he thought, “Be patient. If this man can do what is claimed, it is worth the wait. And when the prophet appears, he will call upon the name of his Lord, wave his arms, and in a brilliant display of power, cure me.”

         Naaman knocked once more. Finally, the door opened. Naaman asked, “You are the holy man?”

         “No,” replied the man at the door, “I’m not.”

         “Well,” said Naaman, “I have come to see him. Where is he?”

         “He’s in the back room, sitting in his favorite chair, relaxing a bit.”

         “I want to see him now!” demanded Naaman.

         “You don’t have to,” said the man at the door. “I have brought a message on his behalf. He instructs you to wash seven times in the Jordan River, and you will be made clean.”

         “What?” shouted Naaman. “Doesn’t this prophet know who I am? I am a great man, a warrior, a hero, I deserve proper respect. I deserve Elisha himself coming to me, not some underling! And wash in the Jordan? The rivers of my own nation are as good as any. I won’t do such a ridiculous thing!”

         And he stormed away in a snit that made a two-year old’s tantrum look calm.

        But he was fortunate: he had servants who cared about him. They said to one another, “We’ve come all this distance, gone to all this trouble, and he won’t listen?” So they gathered up their courage and went to him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had asked you to do something difficult and heroic, you would have done it. So why do not this simple thing?”

         So Naaman calmed down, went to the river, dipped himself seven times, and was healed. He was as good as new.

         After telling this story, Aunt Beth went on to say, “For Naaman to be healed, he had to become an ordinary person taking a bath in the river. He had to set aside all his pretensions of greatness. To be centered in God, he needed to come down to the place God wanted him to be. And notice how God got him there: through a maid, and through his servants. Lowly, ordinary people going about their daily work. They were people of humble position in life, and God used them to make something wonderful happen.”

         Jensi said, “That brings to mind one of my favorite Bible verses, Micah 6:8, which says, ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’”

         Aunt Beth said, “Humble walking with God is like the first Beatitude, in which Jesus teaches, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.’

         “Walking humbly with God is being aware of inadequacy; it’s a recognition that all of life is about trusting in God. It’s knowing our need for God. It’s being aware of our dependency upon God’s grace. As someone else has said, ‘True humility is staying teachable, regardless of how much you already know.’

         “God, you see, isn’t at work in ‘big shots.’ God’s not impressed with how much money you have, or the degrees hanging on your wall, or the status you’ve gained in the community, or how many accomplishments you’ve received. People who get caught up in that stuff are far from the kingdom of God. They may bluster a lot about how great they are. But I suspect that deep down inside they are most unhappy. They don’t know the joy that comes from being a humble child of God.”

                                                                          Amen.