THURSDAY, APRIL 9
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. 3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 New International Version (NIV)
As a lot of us are sitting at home being forced to spend time with our family, worrying about our country and those close to us, it’s easy to get bored, annoyed and especially to focus on the negative. Though we are going through some rough times right now, having to listen to your sibling or child practice their clarinet for two hours a day is not quite on the level of Paul’s hardships. If you’re reading this devotion or any other, you’re already starting down the right path towards making these times better. Whether it’s because you need a moment with God, or because you are trying to make sense of all this mess, or simply because you want to get away from all the noise for a few moments and take a deep breath, I’m glad you’re here.
God tells us in scripture that life won’t be perfect all the time. He tells us that sometimes there will be uncertainty. These are the times when our faith is tested and when we must trust in God’s timing. It’s oftentimes easy to get caught up in daily life and let it go by so fast that we don’t stop to cherish the little things. In forcing us to stay at home this virus is making us slow down. At first glance it feels like a prison, but I warn you not to let this time pass you by because as my family and I have seen, being unable to do things like have track meets or wrestling tournaments can allow you to step away from the constant craziness of life and enjoy God’s creation and grace. The past two weekends, instead of running around from one place to another, we were able to go camping in the woods and go fishing at the lake which provided time to not only witness the earth’s beauty but also to spend quality time with one another and have real conversations. Instead of being upset that you can’t watch the NCAA tournament, be happy that you have time to spend with your children or parents. Be happy that you finally have the time to step back from your day in and day out job and watch the sunrise or sunset as I have and am going to attempt to start doing more often because God has gifted me with the chance to see more of his work in action and I’m not going to waste it. Be happy that you can wake up every day and read a devotion or study the bible and do the same before you go to sleep, if you didn’t already before this crisis. Let’s use this time to build habits of sending messages of love to our neighbors and not hate. Let’s use this time to build habits of looking for God instead of turning our backs when he calls us because we’re “busy.” But most of all let’s use this time to see beauty in everything around us and to notice God’s work on this earth.
Self-Care: Try setting a timer for 10 minutes and truly sit and listen to the sound of your own breathing for those 10 minutes. It seems like 10 minutes isn’t that long, but try it. And don’t stress if your mind starts to wander or you start making lists in your head. Just sweetly tell those things to wait and that you will be right with them in a few minutes.
How to Be Helpful in the Community: Spend some time sparking a little Marie Kondo joy and share your blessings with others by setting aside items to donate once the COVID-19 crisis has passed. Gather up your gently used children’s and youth clothing for A Note in the Pocket. Adult clothing for the First Baptist Clothing Closet. And next-to-new household goods and furnishings for The Green Chair Project.
Prayer: God, please help us to try and see the bright side of the terrible situation that we are currently in. Please Lord help us to trust in your timing and trust that this will all end and that we will make it through with your guidance and grace. Please keep us and especially all those in the healthcare field safe and please give guidance and strength to our leaders. In your name we pray and give thanks for our many blessings, amen.
-Benjamin Cashwell, 8th Grade Ligon Middle School
TUESDAY, APRIL 7
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins. -Psalm 130
Lent during the time of a pandemic is a different kind of Lent. We’ve been joking that this is the “Lentiest Lent of all Lents.” None of us expected to or wanted to give up QUITE this much when we made our Lenten commitments when Lent began on Ash Wednesday! COVID 19 continues to be a disruption and challenge for everyone to say the least, and it is a crisis on a global level. Psalm 130 was the Psalm passage for the lectionary the fifth week in Lent, and it’s opening line feels fitting during this time where the world is upside down and everyone is ordered to stay at home: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord. Lord, hear my voice.” Some of us feel a disorienting since of loneliness, anxiety, fear about what’s ahead, and isolation. Others are finding gratitude, peace, and calm during this time. Many of us have feelings that fluctuate all across the spectrum, sometimes within a single day or even hour. All of these feelings are important and valid, and we should allow ourselves to feel it all. We don’t have to “have it all together” or proceed as business as usual, because things are anything but usual. In Psalm 130:1, the Psalmist says “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits.” We can identify with this sense of waiting, because none of us knows when this pandemic will pass and if or when life will resume to normal. Realistically, life might not ever return to how it was before COVID-19, and maybe some of the changes that will come from it will end up being good for us as a society and as individuals. Even still, there’s a collective sense of anxiety happening now, and this waiting until some unknown time is part of that anxiety. In the midst of this pandemic and all the unknowns it entails, I take some comfort and hope remembering that with the Lord there is unfailing love. Let us make the Psalmist’s declaration of hope our very own prayer during these times. I invite you to substitute your own name for the word “Israel” in those final verses. During this pandemic, during this very Lent-y Lent, let us affirm God’s goodness still: “Ashley, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” Thanks be to God.
Self-Care Idea: Lament is a strong tradition in our Christian faith and throughout the Bible, and many Psalms express lament, fear, anger, and sorrow. Allow yourself to feel fully whatever you’re feeling. Maybe even write your own lament to God. As you write, name your fears, your griefs, and your need for God.
How To Be Helpful in the Community: After you’ve taken time to write a lament, spend some time writing/creating to lift your spirits and someone else’s. One idea is a Courage Card. This is something people of all ages can do. Materials needed can be simple (paper/crayons) or more elaborate (card stock/stickers/stamps/etc.). Cards go to kids who are inpatient at Duke and UNC Children’s Hospitals. Learn more here.
Prayer: God, thank you that you’re present with me even during this time of waiting. Thank you that I can be honest with you about my fears and anxieties and other emotions that have been often named as “negative.” Thank you, Lord, that you do not keep a record of sins, but instead you offer forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Hold me near to you during this uncertain time. Help me to wait with hope. Help me to put my hope in you, in your word, and in your unfailing love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Rev. Ashley Griffith
THURSDAY, APRIL 2
You turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. – Psalm 30:11-12 (NRSV)
We are living in a moment where it’s easy to dwell on the dark and twisty of the situation. Finding a new rhythm is hard and making it the new normal is even harder. It’s easier to ask, “Where did the good go?”, then to look for what good is coming next. When I find myself asking this question of where did the good go? Or why didn’t I hug my friends tighter? Or when will I be with my community, standing shoulder to shoulder, worshiping with the people that made Raleigh home for me? I turn to this scripture in Psalm, take a step back and find the silver linings of the day. Simply, because God will turn our mourning into dancing, our sackcloth into joy and what else will we have to do other than sing God’s praises!
One of my all time favorite scenes in modern TV is from Grey’s Anatomy. If you’re familiar with the show, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, if not let me fill you in. SPOILER ALERT!!! In season 10 episode 24, Cristiana Yang pulls Meredith Grey from a conversation and into a call room so they can say goodbye one last time. Cristiana is leaving to take a job in Switzerland. She pulls Meredith into the on call room and says, “We have to dance it out, that’s how we finish.” And that’s just what they do, Meredith starts playing “Where Does the Good Go” by Tegan and Sara and they dance it out, it’s a little awkward at first but once they let go, it’s nothing short of pure bliss. Now, this is a common theme throughout the show: whenever someone is stressed out, something bad happens or someone just needs a reminder of the good things in life, they dance it out.
Even though they are saying goodbye in this scene, I think we can take note and learn something here. Cristiana took the risk of missing a flight to make one final “normal” memory with her person. She found the light of a tough situation. So, don’t be afraid to mourn our current situation but never miss a chance to find God’s light in a tough situation and dance it out.
Self-Care Idea: Dance it out: Have a dance party all by yourself or with your family/roommates. Get your body moving. Turn the music all the way up and dance until it doesn’t feel weird or awkward, until you don’t care who’s watching. If you need some good dancing tunes check out this playlist.
How To Be Helpful in the Community: Dance it out with someone else?: Social distanced dance party in your driveway with your neighbors, anybody? What about FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype dance party with your best friend?
Prayer: Good and Holy God, thank you for this day, everyday before it and each day there is to come. Thank you for each opportunity for praise you. God, I pray that I continue to find new joys each day. As I worry, I pray that I find little dance parties to have and remind me that you’ve got it all covered even when I can’t understand. It is in your name that I pray. Amen.
Much love friends and many prayers for you,
TUESDAY, MARCH 31
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mark 8:31-33, NRSV)
Hello beautiful Edenton Street family! I pray for your health and well-being in these uncertain days. Every morning, I meditate and journal on a passage of scripture, using the Ignatian spiritual exercises as a guide. Each week, I create a theme based on what seems to be happening in my life at the time. Thus, a couple of weeks ago, my theme was “bluebirds in the morning.” I am blessed to have a family of these astonishing creatures living in my backyard, and I see them as signs of God’s grace. Bluebirds remind us that God is on God’s throne.
Naturally enough, this week’s theme is “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Right now, I am chewing slowly through Mark’s gospel, which is laced with examples, such as the passage above, of Jesus telling the disciples that the world they know, with its structures and hierarchies, is ending. A new kingdom is coming, through Christ’s death and resurrection, but it’s not the one they have imagined, and they have a hard time grasping that truth. Somehow, I take heart in the realization that, like the disciples, the world as we know it may be ending, but that God’s kingdom has already come and is still coming. God is still creating, as Will Willimon reminded me recently in a prayer service at Duke Divinity School. Willimon says that the verb, “to create” as used in Genesis One has past, present and future tenses contained within it, indicating that God is still very much at work in this world. Dear friends, although the world as we know it may be ending in certain ways, we can trust that God will create something new, something better, because the bluebirds tell us that God is still on God’s throne and loves us very much.
Self-Care Idea: Look for the bluebirds in your life: How has God’s grace shown up lately for you? Have you received an unexpected phone call from an old friend? Watched a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Read a good book? Walked into a fully stocked grocery store, feeling like Dorothy entering the technicolor land of Oz?
Do you need an extra listening ear? Please feel free to reach out to me. I am a spiritual director, and with the clergy’s blessing, I can offer spiritual direction for anyone wanting or needing support. I can help you listen more deeply for signs of God’s love and call in your life. 919-608-9802 or email@example.com.
How to be Helpful in the Community: Be a bluebird for others: Can you pick up groceries or prescriptions for your shut-in neighbor? Surprise someone with a call or card? Suggest on-line resources to parents with children at home? Order take-out and leave a big tip? Make a donation to our Doorstep ministry, which seeks to help those most affected by this crisis?
Prayer: Lord, the world as we know it seems to be ending. Help us grasp that truth and yet remain faithful, looking to you for guidance on how to enter the new reality with hope and confidence that you are still with us, that you are in control even of this crisis. Give us bluebird glimpses of your beneficent authority in the days ahead. Amen.
THURSDAY, MARCH 26
Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath – Luke 13:10-13
One Sabbath as he was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a seriously handicapped woman who had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to straighten herself. Calling her over to him Jesus said, “Woman, you are healed of your sickness!” He touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised and thanked God!
A commentary I read recently on this passage jolted me. This miracle is one where no one asks anything of Jesus nor does He ask anything in return. Why is that? Why is this miracle revealed to us this way? Jesus simply sees this crippled woman, calls her, places His hands on her, and heals her. And in turn she is recorded as straightening up and praising God!
Scripture informs us that she had been hunched over for 18 years. Eighteen years! Eighteen years of staring at the floor and feeling as if nothing would ever change. Her circumstances force a downward stare. Chances are we all know what that can feel like – perhaps especially now. What hope could she feel? She’s tired. She’s hurting. She needs healing. She needs hope.
Enter Jesus. He sees her. He acknowledges her. He loves her. And He heals her. And above all, He gives her hope.
These days we are living in are strange and peculiar. Admittedly, we haven’t been hunched over for 18 years – yet the grind of each day further tempts us to bend our gaze downward.
Enter Jesus once again. He sees us. He acknowledges us. He loves us. And He beckons us to fix our eyes on Him. Just as He did for the crippled woman, He will show each of us what we can’t see for ourselves – the promise of a hope-filled future.
Self-care idea: Spend even just one minute with your head up and facing the sun today. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face and allow that warmth to represent the hope of Christ in today and the days to come. Turn over each thought that comes to your mind during that moment to Jesus. When you are ready, take a deep breath and praise God.
How to be helpful in the Community: Be the hope of Christ for someone else. As Jesus commanded, Love Your Neighbors. Check on those in your community and with whom you are connected. Send an encouraging message or call them and let them know you’re thinking of them. Especially ask your elderly and at-risk connections if they need anything, and offer to assist them to your comfort level.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for seeing me for acknowledging me and for loving me. Help me to lift my heavy head and fix my eyes on You. And use me today to reflect Your hope for someone else that You love.
-Leigh Holloway, Director of Programming
TUESDAY, MARCH 24
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” -Ezekiel 37:1-3
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
-“The Peace of Wild Things,” Wendell Berry
Walking through the church parking lot early last Sunday morning, I had a fit of sneezes and coughs. It sent a jolt down my spine and a sudden surge of anxiety to my mind; I have read about the COVID-19 symptoms enough to recite them in my sleep. But then, I heard an unfamiliar sound: a bird singing in the branches. And I remembered, I always have allergies the first two weeks of Spring.
Many of the activities and beloved communal gatherings that have marked the Spring for me each and every year will not happen in Spring of 2020. Like many across the world, I feel that certain sting of disappointment that leaves a lump in your throat and certain heaviness in your heart. But, these days, every pollen induced sneeze and buzzing bumble-bee is a reminder of the sustaining energy of God all around us in the “wild things.”
This week’s OT lectionary passage bears witness to the power of God to bring life, love, and healing to all people in all places; even a valley full of dry, crusty bones. God has never stopped being about the work of bringing order to chaos, light from darkness, and life out of death. Even now, amidst all the fear, stress, and uncertainty, God desires to breath new life, a fresh flame, and restored hope in you.
Who knows, but maybe the Spirit will unleash something in you so great during this season of wilderness that you can’t help but sneeze out God’s blessing into a world desperate for good news.
Self-Care Idea: Allot 15 minutes to sit outside and watch the turning of Spring. As you sit and watch, practice the following breath prayer: “God I breathe in your new life [inhale], and exhale my anxiety and fear [exhale].
Service: Check out the list of ways to be helpful in our community by going to esumc.org/serves
Prayer: Living God, breathe out your Holy Spirit upon our dead bones that we might be raised up into life in Christ to be his hands, feet, and heart of compassion for a weary world. Amen.
-Rev. Will McLeane
THURSDAY, MARCH 18
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” – Psalm 118:24
For many of us, today feels strange and unsettling. So much is uncertain. We might not know how or what to feel. These are unprecedented times, and we’re all just feeling our way through, day by day. In times like these, it brings me hope to remember that God is with me, today. Often we begin a service of worship with these words, “This is the day that the Lord has made,” and sometimes these words can feel like platitudes. This week I read something that made me reconsider the goodness of this familiar verse. In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary Tish Harrison Warren writes:
“The psalmist declares, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made.’ This one. We wake not to vague or general mercy from a far-off God. God, in delight and wisdom, has made, named, and blessed this average day. What I in my weakness see as another monotonous day in a string of days, God has given as a singular gift. When Jesus died for his people, he knew me by name in the particularity of this day. Christ didn’t redeem my life theoretically or abstractly—the life I dreamed of living or the life I think I ideally should be living. He knew I’d be in today as it is, in my home where it stands, in my relationships with their specific beauty and brokenness, in my particular sins and struggles.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard reminds us that where ‘transformation is actually carried out is in our real life, where we dwell with God and our neighbors. . . First, we must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are.
God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.’“
So here we find ourselves, today, in Lent. In a pandemic. It feels scary and surreal. Nothing feels normal. And yet, even today, God is with us, God meets us here in, in this day, and God is forming us into new people. This brings me hope and comfort.
Self care idea: Take a walk outside or sit outside and look for signs of God’s presence and goodness all around you.
How to be helpful to our Community: Help Families and Individuals Facing Food Insecurity
The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is working hard to find innovative, transformative ways to address hunger needs in our community during this crisis. They have several volunteer opportunities, including some at the Food Shuttle Farm, allowing you to easily keep your 6-feet of social distance. They are also accepting food donations. Click here to learn more. Additional ways to help with food insecurity and other needs in our community can be found on our website.
Prayer: God of love and grace, thank you for being present with me, here and now, today. Help me to feel and know your presence today. Use this day, with all of its uncertainties and worries, to draw me nearer to you. Please grant me peace and comfort that overflows from my life into all of my interactions and relationships. Thank you for being near, Lord. Amen.
-Rev. Ashley Griffith