Good News: March 9, 2019

Read: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

To see and to be seen is an American mantra. One look at magazine tabloids, TV, or social media and we’re bombarded with details of the lives of celebrities, politicians, and prominent citizens . . . what they’re doing (and who they’re doing it with). The covers and stories and posts scream: “Look at me! Aren’t I something?!” Most of the news is provocative or salacious. In addition to titillating us, these stories often make us Americans feel as if we’ll never catch up with the Joneses. Why can’t I live in a mansion? Fly in a private jet? Afford haute couture? As if we’re just not worthy enough.

In this passage, Jesus exhorts us to do the exact opposite of what the world dictates. He cautions us “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them,” but to do the stuff of our spiritual lives—to give, pray, and fast—in secret, so that we may be rewarded.

And who doesn’t love a reward?

Some of us can afford to give more than others in time and talents. Don’t let that discourage you. Give what you can—it’s between you and God anyway. “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Others are prayer warriors. When we compare ourselves to these living saints of the church, we fall short. Again, don’t let that dampen your efforts. Pray earnestly and transparently. God’s ears are open, and He wants to give you something in return.

Still, others flaunt their piety. Avoid this practice. Wear sackcloth and ashes if you must, and fast if you can—be it from food or drink or something that’s taking up too much of your time (Facebook, anyone?). But do it all behind closed doors.

Jesus says plainly, do this, and you will be compensated. Something tells me this reward in Heaven will be much greater than anything we’ve imagined on earth.

Dear Lord, help us to strive for heavenly rewards instead of earthly rewards. Amen.
-Ashley Sweeney

Good News: March 8, 2019

Read: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

As a child, it was ingrained in my person to not draw attention to myself. I was raised with two brothers and two sisters, my parents and my maternal grandmother. Grandma Echo was a woman who quietly raised 3 children and countless others in the following generations. She served breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. She did laundry for the 8 of us with a washing machine and a clothesline. She did all the heavy lifting when it came to the home, as both of my parents worked more than full time to put food on the table for all of us. She took on other children (cousins and neighborhood kids) after school and made sure we did all our homework, chores and were ready for bed when dinner dishes were done. After dinner, she sat in a chair, next to her lamp and crocheted or quilted, making gifts for her family members.

Growing up, I never realized how completely selfless Grandma Echo truly was. She never wanted anything new for herself, and rarely asked for help. She mended her socks and treated her things gingerly, so she could do more for us. She did all she did silently. She never saw us as a burden. She said that she felt lucky that she could spend so much time with us. We would never know how much she did for us until she was gone.

When I read the passage for today, I imagine the way that we are instructed to serve God is the way that Grandma Echo served us. She did not draw attention to herself or complain that we were a burden for her. I know we must have been quite a lot, as many evenings there were 12 or more for dinner and there were a couple of years when we were 12 living in 1500 square feet. There must have been real and daily struggle. She never showed it. Serving and giving as a privilege, instead of a burden is the way I strive to see my commitment to God, knowing that God has given everything I have to me, without reservation.

Lord, thank you for the example of Grandma Echo. Give us hearts to serve others selflessly. Amen.
-Bonnie Schuh

Good News: March 7, 2019

Read: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

One of my favorite authors is Father James Martin, S.J., known as “the official chaplain of The Colbert Report”. His writing is entertaining to read, and I have learned more about my faith from his books than from any of my seminary classes.

Every year since he was in college at the University of Pennsylvania, several of his college buddies have collaborated to come up with Father Jim’s Lenten sacrifice. This stems from a conversation in which they decided that he should not be allowed to choose what he gives up every year. Sacrifices have ranged from orange soda to Hostess Sno Balls™ to oregano. I look forward to finding out what his buddies choose every year, and it inspired me to do something similar a few years ago and raffle off the chance to decide my Lenten Sacrifice on my blog.

Some of the things I have been asked to do include:

  • Finding empty churches and praying in them twice per week
  • Praying for a different person each day and someone I dislike every week
  • Following a modified Coptic Orthodox fast (no meat, dairy, fish, or oil)

Have I loved doing all of them? Not particularly, especially the Coptic fast when all I wanted was a tuna sub from Subway with extra pickles. Have they changed me and made my life better? They definitely reminded me of Jesus while I was doing them, and I think that is the point of all of this: to focus on Jesus as we journey toward Good Friday and Easter.

Lord, help me to hold to my sacrifices this Lent and to do so without whining… too much. Amen.
-Jen McCabe

Good News: March 6, 2019 (Ash Wednesday)

Read: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Jesus said, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before others (to be seen by them). If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (NIV)

Who doesn’t love applause? Who doesn’t love being appreciated and thanked for doing something nice? How many people – friends – have we lost over the years because the relationships seemed one-sided? Our egos may not demand recognition, and yet they can be so easily bruised. I sit here writing this while realizing I have not sent a thank-you note to some people who put me up on a recent outing. I said “thank you” before I left, of course, but Momma taught me one should always, always, always send a follow-up note – using real pen and paper (or card stock) and a stamp. It is the TIME we spend that says Thank you; not the paper, per se.

It is nearly impossible to do an act of kindness (or righteousness) that won’t be seen by others. It is also nearly impossible to do it so “ego-free” that only God will notice. I read what Jesus says and I answer, “My God, that’s impossible!” I suspect Jesus smiles and answers, “Yes, that’s the point.” If we think about it, the story of Lent is simply: I can’t; God can; I think I’ll let him.

I find I am happier when I realize I have fallen short of the ideal and have an opportunity to rectify matters. Others may not see it, but God does; that’s rewarding. I am happier when I do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Others may not see it. God does; that’s rewarding. Jesus invites us to let go the ego long enough to realize that (doing) that frees our hands. With hands free, we can place them in God’s; that’s rewarding – more than enough.

God, help me learn to place my hand in yours. Thanks! Amen.
-Keith Axberg

Good News: Good News?

When I pondered the idea of doing a Lenten devotional in December 2017, Michael Boss suggested the idea of “The Gospel According to ________________” as a theme. I already had a theme in mind for last year, but I put Michael’s idea away for future use.

As I read through the Gospel readings for each Sunday, I saw that some of them were hard words to hear, and I thought about the question of “why is this good news?” Why is it good news that the Prodigal Son is thrown a party when he returned home after squandering his inheritance? Why is it good news that a fig tree is going to be thrown to the fire for not bearing good fruit until the gardener saves it and asks for another year to give it extra attention? Why is it good news that a woman pours expensive oil on Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair?

As I started reading the devotions that people submitted, I started thinking that a better title would be “Good News” as it is literally what the word “Gospel” means. The Koine Greek word for “Gospel” is εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated as euangélion), which means literally “good message”. (Our English word “Gospel” comes from the Old English word “gōdspel”.) In any language, the Gospel is “good news”.

It *IS* good news that Jesus longs to wrap us in His arms and protect us like a mother hen protecting her chicks. It *IS* good news that God welcomes each sinner back to the fold when we stray. It *IS* good news that Jesus died on the Cross for us.

Every devotion is laid out the same way. There is a passage to read, a reflection, and then a prayer at the end. We at St. Paul’s wish you a blessed Lent and Holy Week.
-Jen McCabe