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2018 Lenten Devotions Header Image

2018 Faculty and Staff Lenten Devotions

During the season of Lent, the Admissions staff invited Perkins faculty to share devotions--poems, prayers, reflections--which are being distributed in an e-mail series to prospective students. They have graciously offered these writings for distribution to the wider Perkins community as well.

Let us all be in prayer during this season of Lent for those women and men considering graduate theological education at Perkins.

The Cornerstone

Craig C. Hill, Dean and Professor of New Testament
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18

Dean Hill“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

”Psalm 118:22-23 is quoted five times in the New Testament, most notably by Jesus himself in Mark 12:10 and parallels. It appears immediately after “The Parable of the Tenants,” which concludes with the unjust killing of the vineyard owner’s son. The point is clear: the one who was despised and murdered is nevertheless the one on whom the whole future will be built.

Such reversal is a prominent New Testament theme. Often, it is portrayed as a future reality:“the last will be first” (Matt. 20:16) and “the meek...will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Understandably, some protest that this leaves believers with only a pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye hope.But this misses the fact that present and future are inseparably intertwined in the New Testament. What is expected in the future should be enacted in the present. The future hope is the present standard.

It is hardly surprising that the early church failed in many ways to live up to that standard. What is more remarkable, however, are the many ways it came close. All persons, irrespective of birth, were to be held in honor, deemed to possess gifts, thought to exercise ministry, and spoken of as family. Like Jesus, the cornerstone, those devalued by the wider society had a vital place and an essential purpose.

This is one of Easter’s gifts. In the resurrection, we see that God’s economy, God’s way of valuing, is true. As it was then, to see it enacted today is “marvelous in our eyes.”

PRAYER: Gracious God, grant us to live with the perspective of Easter, in which we value what you value, and make daily practice of future hope.

Trampling Down Death by Death

MarshallBruce D. Marshall, Lehman Professor of Christian Doctrine
Genesis1:1-2:4a; Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21; Isaiah 55:1-11; Romans 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-8

What happens between the cross and the resurrection? What happens from the time Jesus is laid in the tomb until the time the tomb is empty? We may be tempted to say, “nothing.” Under the influence of our current idea that death is complete nothingness and annihilation, we may suppose that nothing happens, or can happen, while Jesus lies in death. Death is simply a hopeless abyss out of which, if we believe in the resurrection, God somehow brings Jesus.

Scripture itself is strikingly reticent about what happens on Holy Saturday. But scripture also bids us to remember that it was the Son of God who lay in the tomb, the one who “was in the beginning with God” (Jn. 1:2). In the Son of God is life, and he came into the world that we might have life. Something must happen on Holy Saturday, and it must be life-giving. We get at least a glimpse of what this is: “the gospel was preached even to the dead” (I Pet. 4:6). “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25) The Son of God has made our death his own, not in order to annihilated by it, but to give life to the dead.This he does on Holy Saturday, though we can scarcely grasp how. May we pray and sing with the Eastern Church: “O Christ our God, trampling down death by death, save us!”

The Mystery of Good Friday

Rebekah Miles, Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology and Director, Graduate Program in Religious Studies
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

Beka Miles

 

Good Friday is a mystery, and this Hebrews text, though pointing to the mystery, does little to explain it. We read that “a new and living way” is opened to us through the flesh of Christ which is a curtain or a veil. How is it possible for Christ’s wounded flesh to opens this new and living way? Hebrews does not answer the “how” question, but that’s not an insurmountable problem. As John Wesley loved to say, we can know “the what” of these strange teachings without comprehending “the how.” And we can, in this text, see not only the “what,” but also the “so what,” the difference Christ’s wounded flesh makes in our lives.

Wesley wrote, “As by rending the veil in the temple, the holy of holies became visible and accessible; so by wounding the body of Christ, the God of heaven was manifested, and the way to heaven opened.”[i]We may not know the “how,” but we know the “so what.” Hebrews tells us that through Christ’s flesh, we can approach the sanctuary “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” with a clean conscience, and unwavering hope. We are enabled to encourage each other “to love and good deeds.” This is the living way.

N.T. Wright insists that Jesus is “present with us, but hidden behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture, and our work with the poor, when the veil seems particularly thin.”[ii]This is a holy day when the veil is pierced. Today and tomorrow, as you pray, love, worship, and mark the death of Christ, feel the power of his wounded flesh and through it see and embrace the new and living way.

[i]John Wesley, Hebrews 10:20, Notes on the New Testament, Accessed on March 27, 2018, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/wesley/heb010.htm.
[ii]N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 219.

Love to the End

James K. Lee, Assistant Professor of the History of Early Christianity
Exodus 12:1-10, 11-14; Ps 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35Jim Lee

“He loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). What does it mean to love to the end? Our Lord shows us by his words and deeds. Jesus, who is called Lord and Teacher, the Passover Lamb who comes from God and is going to God, begins his Passover from this life to the next by celebrating a meal, and by humbly washing the feet of his disciples. Our Lord came not to be served but to serve, and so he instructs us serve one another. Jesus then gives us a new commandment—to love one another as he has loved us.

Yet how has Jesus loved us? To the end. What is this end? To his death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8), for God has shown us love, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Jesus loves us to the end by offering his life so that we might rise to new life with him. The challenge of Christian discipleship is to follow Christ’s command to love one another as he has loved us, even if it should cost us our very lives. Are we ready to serve our neighbors by dying to our self-interest? Are we willing to give not only out of our material excess but also out of our need? Will we offer what is convenient or what is costly? This Holy Feast, let us follow our Lord by loving one another to the end.

Call to Action

"Let us now follow the Word. Let us seek our rest in the world to come, and cast away our surplus possessions in this world. Let us only hold on to what is good from all these things: let us come to possess our souls in acts of mercy, let us share what we have with the poor, in order that we may be rich in the things of the world to come.”
- Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 329-390), Oration 14: On Love of the Poor, trans. Brian E. Daley

 

Hugo Magallanes

What Sort of King Are We Looking For?

Hugo Magallanes, Director, Houston-Galveston Extension Program and Associate Professor of Christianity and Cultures
Dallas Gingles, Manager Houston-Galveston Extension Program

Mark 11:1–11; Psalm 118:1–2, 19–29

On this very special Sunday, when we remember Jesus triumphal entrance, and after reading the scripture texts assigned for today, we are left wondering if we are like “the many people” who spread their cloaks on the road to welcome Jesus as a king, without realizing the meaning and implications of such declaration. Like those triumphal crowds long ago, many Christians today affirm, proclaim, and strongly believe that Jesus is the ultimate King of this world—not just of one particular nation or society, but of the entire world. Such a bold claim has serious political implications. If Jesus is the ultimate King of this world, what does it mean for us—his followers? Should we obey all civil authorities? Should we attempt to impose Christian values on every aspect and area in our nation, and disregard the pluralistic and multi-religious expressions embraced by many? And what means should we use in shared public spheres to pursue Christian ends?

Dallas GinglesConfessing that Jesus is King requires us to ask these kinds of questions.

We find initial responses in both today’s Gospel and Psalm. While the crowd anticipates a king like the warrior David—a king with a slingshot and sword—the Psalmist and the Evangelist paint a picture of a king like the shepherd David—a king of humility and peace. Jesus is King not in spite of his humility and peacemaking, but because of them. His authority and power flows from these virtues.

So on this day, let us ask ourselves, how do we use our power and authority? What are our guiding virtues in our life and work? May God, through Jesus the King, help us to live a life of humility and peace.

“Humility and patience are the surest proofs of the increase of love.”J ohn Wesley, Bp. John Emory, Thomas Jackson (1831). “The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M.: Miscellaneous”, p.526


Crossing Borders

Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Jamie Clarke-SolesThe Gospel of John opens with these words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Christians understand Jesus to be the Word. From these verses, we learn that:
  • the Word helped to create everything that exists
  • LIFE is what it's all about
  • ALL people matter to this One who, in fact, helped create ALL people
  • the Word has to work in deeply conflicted contexts, but the Word will eventually succeed in carrying out the work
Throughout the Gospel of John, we see Jesus crossing, enlarging, or erasing borders of various kinds and sometimes multiple ones in a single encounter, as with the Samaritan woman. That story ends with the Samarians declaring: “We know that this is truly the Savior of the world/cosmos” (Greek: kosmos). And at 10:16, the Good Shepherd Jesus says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

We should not be surprised, then, that after Jesus enters Jerusalem to complete his world-transforming work, the “Greeks” seek him out. Jesus predicts his passion, noting that sometimes we are called to lay down one very good thing (our life in this world; a grain of wheat) to make room for an even better thing to emerge (abundant, eternal life for all; much fruit). It won’t be easy and we may be tempted to change our minds or ask God to “save me from this hour” (v. 27). When that happens, we can center ourselves once again upon Jesus’ words: “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” and ask God to “glorify your name” (v. 28).

Jesus tells us in v. 26 that if we want to serve him, we must follow him, even when it takes us to tough places. Jesus and the disciples are in ancient Palestine as this passage unfolds. In January, my Perkins students and I did a cultural immersion to Palestine and Israel (one of many immersions offered through our Global Theological Education program). Yes, we visited the ancient holy sites and itwas deeply meaningful, but we spent much of our time immersed in learning about the Israel-Palestinian conflict first hand by living with and hearing from both Jews and Palestinians. Our guide was quite surprised that we spent so much time in places wherehope has to work hard to stay alive. He told me that most Christians he guides avoid those sad roads (like the one that takes you from Tiberias to Nablus) as it’s “depressing.” I assured him that Perkins students know that, as Christians, they are called to dive right into the thick of reality and minister there, not sugarcoat or escape it.

One guiding principle I use in planning our trip each year is this: “Where would Jesus be spending his time if he were here today?” I know he would not be taking the easy road. (Though, like us, he might take a load off here and there by floating in the Dead Sea with his friends).

And why does Jesus go to all this trouble anyway, the “hating his life in this world” and being “lifted up” (a reference to the imminent cross)? Well, he tells us, once again: in order to draw “ALL people” to himself. ALL people. For what purpose? Again, I’ll let him answer for himself: “I came that they may have LIFE, and have it ABUNDANTLY” (John 10:10).

As we pray through Lent, what borders is Jesus calling you or your community to cross in order to bring abundant life to ALL people? For you or your community, what needs to “fall into the earth and die” to make way for something even more fruitful to come forth?

For the Sake of Life and Love

D. Stephen Long, Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics
Num. 21:4-9; Ps 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21 

Stephen LongJudgment is no easy subject, especially for the church today. Mainline Protestant clergy seldom pronounce it for good reason. No one should proclaim, or listen to, a gleeful damnation of God’s creatures. Christ is the judge, not us. Nonetheless, Lent is a time to proclaim judgment. The well-known passage, “For God so loved the world . . .,” can perpetuate a sentimental Christianity that neglects its fuller context. John 3:14-21 punctures this sentimental Christianity by announcing judgment. Light has come into the world exposing darkness. This is why our Lenten journey begins with the call to repent and concludes with those ominous works that should be placed on the lips of every Christian with fear and trembling on Good Friday – “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” The ultimate act of a false freedom is deicide, an act that God permits us to execute against God each time we choose evil, exposing a false, deformed freedom. Freedom is not to do what we want; it is not non-interference. To be free is to be turned to God and our neighbors in the Light of God’s love. It is not to dominate or be dominated, but freely to love. To be judged is to have our rejection of God’s ways, our desire not to love God and each other because of our lust for violence and domination, exposed. That exposé, however, does not condemn but bathes us in the Light. The only condemnation is what we bring on ourselves when we take the false freedom, cling to it, turn from the Light and refuse the Lenten journey. Proclaim and hear judgment, not for the sake of condemnation, but for life and love.

Roy Heller, Associate Professor of Old Testament
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 2 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Roy HellerPsalm 19 is a subtle and provocative little poem. The poem itself falls into three distinct parts that, on a first reading, have little to do with each other. There’s a first part (vv. 1-6), which describes the creation in truly awesome ways: both the heavens and the firmament (that is, the earth) speak about God’s greatness both day and night! Moreover, even though this speech is not in words, the effect is universal. EVERYTHING can see and know the world and, thereby, can know about God’s greatness. The psalm points to the sun as a special example of God’s awe-filled power: the heavens as a whole are like its tent; it is like a young, strong, happy, energetic person who can run all day and not be weary; it sees everything and knows everything. What an amazing creation!

The psalm then continues with another aspect of God’s greatness: the Law (vv. 7-11), the special instructions that God has given us to live by. This Law is perfect, sure, right, clear, pure, true, and righteous and can impart those aspects to those who read it and understand it. What could be better and more wondrous? That Law is sweet and is better than gold!

The psalm then turns its attention (vv. 12-14) to something different–-VERY different–-from the created order and the Law. It focuses on me. Little me. Tiny me. And unlike that strong, all-knowing sun and unlike that perfect, pure, and clear Law, the psalm reveals that I am not those things. Not only am I wrong much of the time, but I do not even KNOW that I’m wrong most of the time! The psalm also reveals that my ignorance can lead me so easily into being insolent (or, presumptuous) and ruled by it. Yikes! What can I do?

Here, the psalm itself provides the two-fold remedy: if I understand that, unlike the sun and unlike the Law, I am small and fallible, I take the most important step toward humility and openness. And, finally, once I take a step toward humility, I simultaneously take a step toward God’s grace. By recognizing myself as limited, I rely on a God whose greatness lies not just in power or in purity, but in grace and forgiveness.

In your prayer time, think about ways in which you may not be as wise or understanding as you, perhaps, think you are. Can you acknowledge what you do not know? Then, notice how your recognizing these areas causes you to be drawn into the love and care of God even more.

Not Seeing, But Believing!

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Alyce M. McKenzie, Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship; Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor; Director, Center for Preaching Excellence

McKenzie HeadshotOur culture has a common proverb “Seeing is believing.” Our biblical faith operates on a different motto: “Not seeing, but believing!”

In Genesis 17 God appears to Abram at the advanced age of ninety-nine. It is an age when, if still alive, most people’s worlds are shrinking, their impact on the future already passed. But God promises to Abram a bigger world and a more powerful impact: many descendants, a new home anda new name, -Abraham. Abraham is a model of faith for Paul (Romans 4:13-25) His faith, says Paul in Romans 4:22, “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” It consisted in his willingness to move ahead, “not seeing, but believing!” It was to trust God to make good on some highly unlikely promises in the extreme autumn of his life.

In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus, the Son of the same God who made a covenant with Abraham, shows his disciples the path of faith that includes suffering and death, but promises resurrection, not only for Jesus, but also for them (us). But Peter stopped listening at the mention of suffering and death. He chooses to trust appearances. His motto is “Seeing is believing.” All he can see on the path Jesus is charting is sacrifice, rejection and death.

Jesus responds with words that epitomize his life, teachings, death and resurrection. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

We are to follow where Jesus leads, not always seeing success and prosperity before us, not always hearing praise ringing in our ears, but always believing God’s promise of a new purpose, a new future, and a new name: child of God, pilgrim on the path of faith.

In chapter 20 of the Gospel of John, Jesus challenges Thomas and encourages us, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

In our prayers this day, let us pray to God for the faith that replaces “seeing is believing” with “not seeing, but believing!”

Love in the Midst of Injustice and Hate

Reading: Ps. 25:1-10

Isabel N. Docampo, Director, Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions and Associate Director of the Intern Program Professor of Supervised Ministry 

Isabel N. DocampoOne evening over a lovely dinner, I unexpectedly broke down and sobbed as I let go of a façade of strength. My loved ones gently reached for my hand and lovingly sat with me, healing my wound. I have never felt more loved. No doubt you can think of such a time when someone has lovingly sat with you in a time of difficulty. That act, freely given, is the compassionate healing needed by our injured hearts. Its power is indisputable. The poet’s words in this Psalm captures a similar moment in the history of the ancient Jews who find themselves bereft of land and power. They are in this difficult state because of hate and injustices that came when they followed the Divine’s call to create a beloved, all-inclusive community. We can identify with their self-doubt because we, too, experience similar consequences when we follow the Divine’s intent for a compassionate, just life together. We, too, are repeatedly sabotaged and betrayed by both friends and enemies and called outliers, misguided, and dangerous. Like our ancient sisters and brothers in this Psalm, we lose touch with the Divine imagination for Creation’s future, and can only see the mistakes that we have made and the limitations of our humanity.

The ancient Jews do the only thing they can do. They pause from their activity to sing this song of desperation and wait in hope for the Divine. We must do the same. It is in this moment of vulnerability and lament that Sofia (the Divine as Holy Wisdom) comes alongside to touch us with the Divine compassion that restores our broken bodies and spirits. The Divine touch cures our short-term memory. It allows us to remember the constancy of the power of Divine kindness that always sees Creation, not in its imperfect state, but as it is designed to fully become. 

The new song on our lips now is “My hope is in You and in Your love and compassion![1] It is a song of gratitude and imagination for a future that will not be held back by the winter of hate and fear. Like the small crocus flower that blooms brilliantly in the harsh mid-winter, the Divine’s future also breaks through in the midst of injustice and hate to proclaim life.


[1] See verses 1-2 and 6. Here we can read that the Psalmist knows that it is in the Divine’s faithfulness to offer humanity compassion and kindness, unconditionally, that our trust must be placed.

 

Poems To Make It Through Lent

Jack Levison, W. J. A. Power Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew

Sam Martinez, Assistant Director of Recruitment

 

Jack LevisonLent is tough. We all know that. Most of us will end up failing—nibbling chocolate, sipping coffee, sheepishly checking our Instagram. Something will bite us in the butt this Lent.

Lent is meant to be tough. We know that, too.

It’s shin splits ahead of a marathon.

It’s bleeding fingertips during guitar practice.

It’s a sore back from hunching over the computer in search of that elusive turn of phrase (which obviously we’re still struggling to find).

If Lent isn’t tough, it isn’t Lent. Lent is meant to hurt.

The original Lent, about 1600 years ago, was a 40 day fast intended to prepare Christians for Easter Sunday. Christians could eat one meal a day, usually at evening. No eggs; no dairy (which helps explain Fat Tuesday pancake suppers and Easter eggs). No fish. And absolutely no meat.

See? Lent was meant to be tough.

Too tough, apparently.

Sam MartinezEventually, the church relaxed the rules a bit. Fish made its way onto the plate in the Middle Ages, followed by dairy products. Then, from around 800 onward, Christians started eating earlier, around three o’clock in the afternoon. By the 1400s, hungry monks and nuns ate earlier still—at noon. Then, at night, they’d have a light supper of wine and finger foods.

While many Christians still think of Lent as a time of giving up things, it’s also much more than that. Christians are to practice charity—to be more generous. They are to devote themselves more than usual to Christian disciplines—prayer, Bible study, worship.

But at its core, Lent is about fasting because Christians know that bodies matter. Rather than feeding our growling stomachs, we let them growl. Why?

To let out bodies—not just our minds—be our teachers.

Our gurgling bellies help us to stand alongside those who are hungry against their will.

Our empty guts remind us that we are totally dependent upon others—farmers, shippers, cooks, and cleaners—for our daily bread.

Our hollow bowels teach us on a visceral level just how fragile and finite we are.

We are radically dependent upon God for our daily bread. And how we growl, grumble, and gurgle for that bread! Just a slice. Maybe just a crust.

When it hurts—and Lent will hurt—you’ll need something to lift your spirits. (G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”). So we’ve written three poems just for you.

A Limmerick for Lent

There once was a season named Lent

Whose goal was to make us repent

No chocolate, just fish, for a steak I could wish

Without Easter our days are misspent.

Lenten Haiku

No fun. This is Lent.

My growling stomach annoys

When will Easter come?

Sugar Low Ballad

Come listen to my story ‘bout a time named Lent

Giving up this sugar makes me wanna fume and vent

And then one day while I’m giving up this food

I’m cursin’ God and I’m bein’ kinda’ crude

Sin, that is

Ashes

Blasphemy

So the first thing ya’ know God’s tuggin’ at my heart

I realize then that I need a brand new start

So the church calls out and offers up a feast

Only 40 days and you make it up to East

Er, that is

Raised to life

Jesus Christ!