Second Sunday in Lent, February 28
When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk with me and be trustworthy. I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many, many descendants.” (Genesis 17:1-2)
God’s covenant is always deeply connected to God’s presence. Today, when we are under stress or don’t have a clear answer, we tend to assume that all viewpoints are equal, and we begin to value our own individual assessments over facts. We see this attitude of “Do What Works for You” in the news, in conversations, and even in religious settings. We center our opinions on our own presence and connections in a narrative or experience.
God is outside of our own assessments and assumptions about what may be right or true. Part of the power of God’s intersection in our lives is that God keeps promises. It may not be obvious to us today, but part of the power in God’s words to Abraham is the promise to be fully present to a human and to all of humanity. No rituals necessary, no conditions, no exceptions.
In this Lenten season, how are you exploring God’s promises to you? Do you have a memory or an experience that speaks to God’s promises in your life?
Prayer: Lord, help me to see your presence today.
Monday, March 1
All of you who revere the Lord—praise him! All of you who are Jacob’s descendants—honor him! All of you who are all Israel’s offspring—stand in awe of him! Because he didn’t despise or detest the suffering of the one who suffered—he didn’t hide his face from me. No, he listened when I cried out to him for help. (Psalm 22:23-24)
God’s promises are unchanging, and they are based upon God’s nature and not upon anything humans can do. That said, there is something expected of us: we are called to walk alongside those who suffer. Because we are all covered by God’s promises, our own salvation is tied to that of our neighbor.
Included in God’s promises to humanity is God’s presence through life’s difficult seasons. The Lenten journey is a reminder that we all will die—an unsettling thought even to those near the end of a long and fulfilling life. When someone is dying, the only thing we can offer is presence—and sometimes, even that isn’t possible. But God’s promise to never leave is woven throughout the biblical narrative, and especially in the journey to the cross. Jesus was fully present with the people in their challenging moments, breaking down the assumption that the Divine only showed up when everything is going well.
Prayer: Gracious Leader, open my awareness to the truth that you are present in all times.
Tuesday, March 2
Future descendants will serve him; generations to come will be told about my Lord. They will proclaim God’s righteousness to those not yet born, telling them what God has done. (Psalm 22:30-31)
Speaking of the faithfulness of generations to come is a way of bringing God closer to humanity. A present God is a divine being that intercedes, that acts, and that is engaged with humanity and the world.
Many Christians talk about their faith journeys in a way that articulates how they came to know God’s presence in their lives. While some speak of sudden conversion experiences, others tell of the prevenient grace and growing awareness that God had been with them always. Both are valid, and we can also have a series of conversion experiences throughout our lives.
Experiencing the presence of God is a part of traveling through the Lenten season. While Lent can be seen as a time to reflect upon one’s mortality, Lent is also a season when we are asked to turn toward God and become more aware of God’s presence in all things. There is no place that we can escape God’s presence. Even if we cannot feel God, God is there.
Telling the story of how your life has been impacted by God is a way of proclaiming God’s righteousness to future generations. Make the commitment to share your story in ways that can be heard by the people around you and see how God may be using you to share about God’s presence with all people.
Prayer: Sustaining God, may my testimony name your presence in all people.
Wednesday, March 3
What does the scripture say? Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Workers’ salaries aren’t credited to them on the basis of an employer’s grace but rather on the basis of what they deserve. But faith is credited as righteousness to those who don’t work, because they have faith in God who makes the ungodly righteous. . . . He didn’t hesitate with a lack of faith in God’s promise, but he grew strong in faith and gave glory to God. He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. Therefore, it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3-5, 20-22)
Flipping the script is hard. In so much of our culture, we are told that our worth is based upon what we can produce. Parenting, mentoring, providing, earning, innovating—all of these metrics slip into our psyche and make us think that our worth is tied up in outcomes. But over and over again, the scripture reminds us that our worth—our righteousness—comes from God, and from who God is, rather than anything we can do or create ourselves.
God’s guidance is one way in which we are reminded of this. I am a person who likes fairness. As a kid, I would be truly outraged if someone cheated at a game, or if we didn’t take a vote about a decision to make sure everyone’s voice was heard. Fairness wasn’t always fun, but it showed how rules can keep us safe. When I read today’s scripture, I am reminded that we do not receive what we deserve, and we probably don’t deserve God’s continual presence. But God is always present anyway. What a gift!
Prayer: Remind me, O God, that you do not give me what I deserve.
Thursday, March 4
The promise to Abraham and to his descendants, that he would inherit the world, didn’t come through the Law but through the righteousness that comes from faith. If they inherit because of the Law, then faith has no effect and the promise has been canceled. The Law brings about wrath. But when there isn’t any law, there isn’t any violation of the law. That’s why the inheritance comes through faith, so that it will be on the basis of God’s grace. In that way, the promise is secure for all of Abraham’s descendants, not just for those who are related by Law but also for those who are related by the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us. (Romans 4:13-16)
Promises are a symbol of God’s unending presence in our lives and in the arc of humanity. While God’s promises are based upon God’s nature and not upon anything of our doing, God’s presence in a way becomes even more real as we live faithfully.
Today’s scripture lays out the truth that God’s grace is not based upon following rules that were designed for one group, or by following rules without error or deviation. Instead, God’s grace comes from God. It is not conditional. In that way, grace is given to all, and there are no barriers to God’s presence in our lives.
This is a freeing scripture because it expands God’s presence and grace to all people. It is a radical notion to think that all are welcome in God’s presence. It also makes it more difficult to point fingers at a group and say that they are not loved.
Prayer: Lord, show me where you are present in those whom I do not like.
Friday, March 5
But the scripture that says it was credited to him wasn’t written only for Abraham’s sake. It was written also for our sake, because it is going to be credited to us too. It will be credited to those of us who have faith in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over because of our mistakes, and he was raised to meet the requirements of righteousness for us. ( Romans 4:23-25)
Delving into scripture is such an important part of the Christian journey. It is deeply problematic to assume that scripture was only written for people in the distant past. We must critically read and reflect upon the biblical narrative to understand both its cultural context and its application today.
Guidance comes from scripture. God’s guidance also comes from tradition, wisdom, and experience. We benefit from generations of wisdom and an ever-evolving ability to read the Bible. And again, the biblical narrative reminds us that we are not the ones responsible for our own salvation. God is the one—through Jesus Christ—who made a path for us to seek righteousness, and God’s presence in the world is not hindered by anything we can do.
The corporate, overarching grace that comes from Jesus’s death and resurrection is another way of understanding God’s presence in our lives. Nothing we can say or do can pay the price of salvation, and absolutely nothing we can say or do can keep God from pouring out God’s grace upon us.
Prayer: Creator, push aside my assumptions about what keeps you far from me.
Saturday, March 6
After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?” (Mark 8:34-37)
We are willful beings. I like to be right, and I like to be well regarded. When I am under stress or in challenging situations, I must work hard to not go in these directions. I confess that I have chosen my own personal ego over relationships with others before, and I will most likely do it again in the future.
And yet, Jesus reminds us that we cannot find salvation on our own. When we try to save ourselves, we fail. When we try to rely only upon who we are, what we produce, or the nature of our souls, we fall short. When we try to tie God’s presence to our goodness, we limit God. Jesus’s sweeping statements to the crowd reveal how God is fully present in all lives. There is a pathway to salvation, and it is open to all. In the same way, God is present in all lives, in all situations, in all brokenness.
Prayer: God, call me out when I try to limit you.