Week 5 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Church Friends,

In worship this past Sunday, the following confession was read in unison:

Jesus, we confess you as the Lord of our lives,
the author and perfecter of our faith, our Savior.
Grant us faith to submit to your lordship.
Give us strength to walk in your holy way. Amen.

When we consider these words in tandem with our Scriptural texts this week, perhaps you too, will be stunned by the ways in which God over and again does indeed strengthen us to walk in holy ways.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51
John 12:20-33

Even though the Israelites failed to keep their original covenant with God (you know, the 10 Commandments as they were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai), through Jeremiah God promised to write a new covenant for them--this time it would be on their hearts, lest they try to wander again. Jer. 31:33, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people..."

Then, Psalm 51 serves as a confession from King David after just having committed adultery with Bathsheba. Not wanting to follow the fate of his predecessor, Saul, David robustly and sincerely confesses his sin. He beseeches God in vs. 10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me."

Then, we get to Jesus in John's Gospel. The Christology is high (Jesus talks with God as Jesus is God), the moment is desperate (Jesus arguably realizes that his impending death cannot be avoided, vs. 27), and God speaks to the people from the heavens. And for what? Perhaps it is in part so Jesus can proclaim in vs. 32, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."

Do you hear the refrain as it echoes through not just these passages, but through the entire God-narrative?
We sin.
We confess.
God redeems. God reminds us with the law written on our hearts, as it is manifest in Christ the Lord. God renews our spirit, and we are drawn into God's love through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we walk a holy path.

Questions for Reflection:
What in our lives needs confessing? What needs to die?
How is Jesus offering new life? How is Jesus lifting us up and drawing us in so that we might walk forward in peace?

God of Grace,
Hear our pleas of regret, just as you heard David so many centuries ago. Bring to our attention our own need for mercy and redemption. We confess that we are a people who claim citizenship in your kingdom, and yet, we quickly reject membership to others who are searching for a home, a safe place in which to proclaim allegiance. As we acknowledge our fellow travelers on the holy path of grace and forgiveness, let us offer one another forgiveness again and again and again, in the name of Christ our Lord, just as you forgive us. Teach us to be faithful practitioners of your message in how we daily live.

May your hand restore us, God.
May the Spirit speak in the depths of our hearts.
May the strength of Jesus fill us to follow God's teaching,

rejoice in God's salvation
proclaim God's forgiveness,
and glorify Christ the Lord. Amen.

Peace be with you,

Week 4 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear PMC,

This week we read about the Israelites in trouble. Venomous snakes are biting God's people, and as they plead for their lives they seek the council of Moses, their trusted leader. God's plan for healing and giving new life to the people was fairly unconventional and (dare I say it) idolatrous. Moses built a giant bronze serpent, wrapped it around a pole and elevated it so that when the people gazed upon it, they were healed and lived. Ummm...yeah. I realize I may be a bit naive in this, but would it not have been easier for God to simply eradicate the snakes from the desert, rather than allowing the people to continually be subject to the poison and also to their own fear?

Then, we read about the amazing Nicodemus, worried and confused about this Messianic figure, Jesus, who is busy shaking things up in the temple. So, fearing for his own safety (I bet it might have felt like a rotten snake bite), Nicodemus approaches Jesus in the middle of the night searching for some council. (Not unlike the Israelites running to Moses with regret.) What does Jesus say? "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

The past few days in Darfur, Africa have not been going well, to say the least, since President Beshir has mandated the evacuation of most international aid groups. More war refugees are flocking to the camps only to face ongoing life-and-death issues, like a lack of water and dramatically overcrowded shelters. This is a fairly macro problem in the world that God needs to heal. And so perhaps it's a bit unfair of me to even mention it; but still, it is a giant snake bite that ought to cause all of us pain. On a more personal level, each of us may be challenged to keep trusting in God this week of Lent because we have our own snake bites that either aren't healing or may even be sucking the very life out of us--the wound is just too deep and too painful, and we're tired of looking up at the bronze image (i.e. Jesus) hoping for the restoration we so badly desire, only to see fifty more snakes when we return to work the next day.

God, can't you just get rid of the snakes?

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:17

Again, what an unconventional way for God to stop the pain and restore us to new life. Evil is not eradicated (not yet anyway), our hurts are still real, the snakes still slither about--but so, too, our hope may shine forth. The incarnation is not about judgment or a cessation of immediate trauma (although perhaps it can be). Jesus coming to earth is about new life. Jesus teaches us a new way of living. Jesus grants us permission to hope for a new reality, and Jesus modeled that reality for us. The bronze serpent will be raised up on a cross in just a few weeks so that we might be restored to life in the kingdom of God.

Numbers 21:4-9
John 3:14-21

Questions for Reflection:
What snake bites our festering in our lives?
Do we trust God with our pain?
Do we believe that God can transform our pain, no matter how unconventional the method may be?

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
Our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more furtunate than ourselves,
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
Our negligence in prayer and worship and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
For all false judgments,
For uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors and
For our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ.
For our waste and pollution of your creation and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Restore us, and let your anger depart from us.
Accomplish in us the work of your redemption.

By raising high your bronze serpent, Christ on the cross, encourage us to gaze upon him and taste and see and touch and know and experience healing--life anew, in the kingdom of God. May be we feel the rub of your healing salve on our tender bites. We confess all of this, expecting your mercy to soothe the sore spots.

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

May you sense God in new ways this week,
Lauren Mayfield
Pastoral Intern

~Part of the prayer is from Rob Bell.

Week 3 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Pasadena Mennonite Church (and her constituents),

Our Lenten theme of trusting God came to a head for us in worship yesterday when Drew creatively and humorously compared Jesus driving out the money changers in the temple to a day at the LA County Fair. It was a great parallel that ended with us demanding Jesus to overturn the tables of the carnival games; you know, the ones that are rigged to rob us of all our money yet tempt us to empty our wallets when we still haven't managed to toss the ring onto the corresponding pin. I find something oddly comforting when it comes to placing my trust in a God who displays such passionate fits of temper when God's children are victims of a scam--be it financial, social, relational, environmental, or whatever.

I think it's no coincidence either that the author of John's Gospel places this story of temple chaos in the second chapter, very early in his Jesus narrative. Scholars speculate that perhaps this is so, because throughout the book of John we see a Jesus who is very divine, very in touch with God the Father, and very confident of his identity in relation to this Godhead. In other words, throughout John's gospel, Jesus most surely is Christ the Lord, the Son of God. So, it is not a surprise when Jesus angrily demonstrates that God's glory is not present in the temple scams, but instead, God's presence is powerfully manifest in the person of Christ. John wants to make that clear from the get-go.

We twenty-first century followers must be careful with such readings, however, not to turn an anti-Semitic ear to Biblical texts like this one. John was a Jew and therefore able to participate in this "family fight," so to speak. It's sort of like how I'm the only person who was aloud to call my little brother a dork when we were young kids. The second my best friend joined in the taunting, she was no longer permitted to say such untruths! Therefore, we do not have such liberal freedom to criticize the Law or Temple practices. This is why I'm so glad our other text this week is Psalm 19, "The law of the Lord is perfect...the decrees are sure...the commandments clear...the ordinance are true..." Instead, this week of Lent, by way of learning from Jesus' vehemence toward injustice, let us turn our attention to other unjust practices that dramatically need to be overturned in the name of Christ the Lord. Not too much of a difficult exercise given the state of our current American economy, much less the global one as well.

Psalm 19
John 2:13-22

Question for Reflection:
What or whom do we long for?
Who in our societies today are victims of a good scam?
Are we over-committed to the wisdom of financial gurus?
What must we sacrifice this week in order to have more time for the practice of justice?

Almighty God,
Help us keep our eyes on you.
Keep us clear from hidden faults and innocent of transgression.

Jesus is the visible manifestation of your holiness.
You are beauty,
forgiveness, and

Therefore, let our lives be of sound discipleship as we seek you by following the path of Jesus.
Prepare us to celebrate the mysteries of Easter,
as the feast of the world's redemption comes closer and closer.

In the meantime,
Let the words of our mouths
and the meditations of our hearts
be acceptable to you, O Lord,
our rock and
our redeemer.

Working to stay the course with you,

P.S. I gave up fastfood for Lent. (ha.) Each time I have found myself craving an In-n-Out salted fry dipped in a swirly chocolate shake, I am glad to remember that Easter is on its way. Albeit, it's sort of an unconventional way to approach the expectation of Christ's resurrection, but the simple sacrifice gets my mind moving in a direction of thoughtfulness. How are your Lenten sacrifices going? Anyone else craving a good metaphorical cheeseburger yet? It won't be too much longer now...


Prophetic Words

Tomorrow is our church staff meeting, and I have to lead a discussion on prophetic preahing. Each time we meet we close with a ten minute ditty or so on a different topic for our own edification and learning. I'm going to share about when I was in James Forbes' preaching class at Yale. At the time, we was still the pastor of Riverside Church. To say that the class was wholly transformative is still an understatement. My text for the class was James 4:4-10 and the assignment was to preach a text that would usher in the next American Great (Religious) Awakening. Forbes gave us a masterful sample sermon one class session in which he relied on Ezekiel redressing the skeletons of dry bones way down in the valley to describe what it will be like when we awaken from our religious slumber here in America. It was five years ago now, and I still remember his command of the room like it was yesterday. I still feel the pulse of his energy--fabulous!

This has me thinking about lots of things. First, I don't think that we are necessarily in need of a huge revival as they were led by George Whitefield, Charles Finney, and Jonathan Edwards back in the day. And not that that was what Forbes was advising, but there still seemed to be somewhat of an "us vs. them" mentality in the class. Us Christians, us social do-good-ers, us seminarians vs. you ???? losers who need religious help ???. Anyway, I approached my sermon text with this framework and automatically set myself for some intense criticism without even realizing. "Friendship with the world is enmity with God." --that's part of the James pericope. ha. Well, I took it and ran with it...ran it right into the gound rather than into the hearts of all my listeners.

Granted some of my classmates were a bit snobby--we were at Yale after all, and a few of them were just so dang liberal they didn't even know what hit them (or the books of the NT in order for that matter-the horror!), while the others just obligingly sat there as I embaressed myself for a full 15 minutes thinking I was going to be the best damn prophet they'd ever witnessed (aside from our professor of course!).

One guy on the class response sheet handed it in blank except for a brief fragment at the bottom reading, "I don't believe in anything you said." WOW! How's that for sharing the love of Christ through some peer-to-peer constructive criticism?! I can honestly laugh at it in my reflections now, but at the time, I was pissed beyond words. Not hurt or intimidated, just stark raving mad. Who did he think he was---plus he sucked at his delivary. But lest I needlessly get lost on that tangent, I'll get back to my point-I do have one here. The class had been shocked that I would make such bold claims as I did in that sermon. And to be honest, when I reread it now I am a bit surprised by my doctrinal confidence as well; I'm no where near that person today. Yet, on the other hand I still find the sermon inspiring on a certain level.

Yet, leave it to the master. After I finished preaching, Dr. Forbes had me reread the scripture passage for the class. Instead of approaching it with a vengeful or dramatic disdain, he had me read it with remorse and longing. You could have heard a pin drop when I finished reading it the second time. Ahh....it was more safe for them to listen at that point. I started to get it. On the other hand, as I near the end of my time in evangelical Fuller world, often a place where people are not bashful about dropping a judgment bomb or critique from God, I find myself more in the middle. I don't want to sugar coat harsh teachings from the Gospel to spare feelings, but I also don't want to alienate people needlessly. It's a very, very fine line.

Week 2 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Friends,

Through God, with God, and because of God life comes from barrenness! And through the trial of acknowledging our empty wombs, i.e. our propensities to neglect God, naturally doubt might engulf us at times. Likewise, doubting the mysteries of faith might even accompany our longings to find God as well. But take heart, for just as Joe reminded us that all great s/heroes of the faith like Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah (even the others honored in Hebrews 11!) battled with seasons of intense questions and disbelief, we are not alone in our wandering and seeking. One of my favorite homiletical heroes is Fred Craddock. During Lent he says, "This walk to Jerusalem is becoming more like a climb. But the hills do give me better perspective."

Ahh, so much seems to hinge on our perspective, does it not? Our perspectives on life, on barrenness, on doubt, or on the trials that come from seeking God and living as if we are being redeemed. Does life only seem like a climb, not to Palm Sunday, but to the wilderness--the place we saw Jesus last week and Abraham this week? Take a minute to consider your own perspective on where God might be calling you to journey. Are you on the way up or stuck in a valley?

I encourage you to strap on tightly your hiking boots, grab a walking stick if need be, and venture further up those peaks of discipleship and faith. For just as Craddock climbs onward, may we join him and together understand how the perspective at the summit is full of grace and peace. The journey of Lent provides new routes on which we can accept and embrace God's presence. For God is with you, navigating this journey.

We know that Jesus recited part of Psalm 22 while he was on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Did you know that the Psalm ends triumphantly? Vs 26-27, "The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord..." How wonderful to think that perhaps Jesus may have recited the Psalm in its entirety. And if not, today we can recite all of it together. What a perspective from the top of the hill!

Genesis 17:1-7
Psalm 22

Questions for Reflection:
Do we dare to journey into the wilderness with God? Do we believe that God is with us in the unknowing wilderness or on the hills that we must climb to know God more?

Work your grace in us, O God, that we, too, may come to see that the hills offer a more complete perspective.
Do not forsake us.
Though we may feel like worms and not human, mocked or exhausted,
Deliver us.
Do not be far from us.
Even though we walk a barren path, you give us life.
Therefore our congregation comes to you with praise.
To, you, O God, be glory and honor forever.

Peace from a fellow wanderer on the Lenten path,

Week 1 Lenten Thoughts for PMC

Dear Church Friends,
This past week and yesterday in worship, together we ushered in a new season in our church calender, Lent. Lent is a time of longing, anticipation, and expectation as we reflect on what we have done, or left undone, in the past year. Additionally, it is a time to put aside something of significance, to make room for the joyful hope that we expect will come on Easter through the resurrection.

So, just as the children in primary worship yesterday buried the word, "hallelujah," I invite you to metaphorically join in the burial ceremony. As we surrender this word, this proclamation and celebration, let us make way in the silence that follows in our hearts and in our worship for contemplation. Ash Wednesday reminded us that we are all dust and to dust we will return. This can seem a harsh reality. Yet, last Wednesday, the ashes were not marked on us in a smeary abstract image, but in the shape of a cross. It is a symbol that reminds us that even though we will all one day die, in the meantime we are to live in Christ, whose death transforms our own demise! Therefore, we need not fear the burial of "hallelujah," but instead we can embrace it with eagerness as we wait in faithfulness for the opportunity to shout it again.

Accordingly, during worship yesterday we learned that our true salvation, as a world, as a nation, as a people and especially as a church, comes not by way of our newly elected President or by any other worldly, empire means, but through the power of Jesus. Amen?! Yet, what a challenge this lays before us. The challenge to live with faith and trust in a Messiah who leads us into the wilderness. Yet, when we realize that God has already provided for our journey, we are then able to take the initiative to recognize God's action and follow Christ more fully. Jesus is on the move! --in a myriad of ways. Let us together, as a church, this Lenten season learn to better trust these movements so that we can join in and experience the joy of life in the kingdom of God.

Psalm 25
Mark 1:9-15

Questions for Reflection:
What tempts us? When are we in the wilderness?
How do we want to control our own destiny?

Faithful God, trusting in you,
we begin
the forty days of conversion and penance.
Give us strength for Christian discipline,
that we may renounce evil
and be decisive in doing good.

May integrity and uprightness preserve us,
for we wait for you.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Blessings to you this week,

P.S. Henri Nouwen offers a great resource, "Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent." I borrowed part of the prayer from him. The latter part is from Psalm 25.


I read these two thoughts everyday right now and will continue to do so until I feel like the ambiguity of our transition quiets itself.

My Lord God I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Not do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me on the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,
thought I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

~Thomas Merton

Admittedly, it's a bit dramatic and not quite relevant since we are transitioning (hopefully) to something new and wonderful and adventurous, hopefully not a perilous experience. But there is nothing like turning to the saints who go before you for a little spiritual aide, eh?

We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy,
but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are
not where we wish we were...

And because we are human, it is in the realm of the daily and the mundane that we must find our way to God.

In our life of faith, then, as well as in our most intimate relationships with other people,
our task is to transform the high romance of conversion,
the fervor of religious call, into daily commitment.

~Kathleen Norris, sent to me by a dear friend early last week.



tuesday after the first week in Lent

Henri Nouwen's prayer for today:

Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me
to keep my heart directed toward you?
Why does my mind wander off in so many directions,
and why does my heart desire 
the things that lead me astray?

Let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil.
Take my tired body,
my confused mind,
and my restless soul into your arms
and give me rest, simple quiet rest.

I find this meditation incredibly timely for many reasons. The ambiguity of hunting and hoping for a job feels relentless today. Dare we hope for a new posting on the SBL website, only to fall victim to the bad economy or lack of experience one more time? Tyler is better at handling this than I am. School seems to be bearing down on me right now since it's the end of the quarter; I am behind in my readings, turning in a paper late today, while scrambling to get another one written by Thursday, while hosting looming mental sites of the hebrew final and closing philosophy paper for the next week. ack

And well, more germane to the prayer, it's Lent. I am working to be disciplined in my discipleship these 40 days. I can do anything for forty days, right? I mean, that's how I get through each quarter at school, by solemnly chanting, "You can do anything for ten weeks...what's ten weeks in the course of eternity...merely a blip on the map of time..." At least that's part of my internal mantra which helps me to remain calm and collected.  So back to my discipline, lest this wandering blog entry shows too much of my wandering mind during prayer.

I gave up fastfood for Lent. I know, I know, how cliche to surrender sweets, alcohol, or other caloric past-times that are not good for us in the first place. But I don't think you understand (I am admitting this honestly and sheepishly-ha), I love cheeseburgers. My family does not hesitate in joking about my "meat tooth." I love salty, crisp french fries on the paper wrapper beside my cheeseburger, and mostly, I love dipping all of it in a bright, swirly mound of sugary, processed ketchup. yum! (I could totally go for a #2 with a diet coke like no other right now.) But I need to turn aside from the tempting drive-through windows and navigate my car, (er, I mean, my heart and mind) to more wholesome food. So, I am naturally turning to Henri Nouwen for steering help. 

Today he told me to be still and listen, so that my prayer life isn't nearly as monolithic or one-sided as usual. hmmmm...interesting, he's assuming I have an active prayer life. (Step 1: start praying again.) Thus, step 2: start praying through stillness and prayer. 

huh, not really all that divine or euphoric...or is it? I'm going to try it. Just for ten minutes a day in the beginning (about the time it takes if there is a long line at In-N-Out). And I will report back to let you know if what he predicts actually comes true--I find myself more and more 'hungry' for the voice of God amidst the craziness of life right now. Here's hoping, oh crap, I mean praying!