Lent Reflection: ‘Restore us, O God’

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Psalm 80

In this psalm the people of Israel complain to God about their situation: their country has been devastated by enemies and Israel is in bondage. The people pray to God that he change his attitude from anger to concern and save them. But I have a particular focus on this text.

Lent is a time of reflection. We’ve all heard that before. And during Lent we are all taught to recognize our sinful nature. But sometimes we don’t know why that’s important. Sometimes we’re not taught or don’t understand why being sinful people is not a good thing. And if we’ve assimilated to the popular culture, we may not even recognize that we need a Savior. Jesus becomes a nice guy who did some nice things that we should try to do too, like Gandhi only older. But the psalmist knew differently, even before Jesus. The psalmist said “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” You see, the psalmist writing hundreds of years before Jesus recognized that we normally live in broken relationship with God. He knew that we needed to be saved. And you’ll notice that he knew something else here. Because of our broken relationship, because of our sinfulness, God does not always recognize our prayers.

The truth is that we know this from our own experiences with other people. Have you even been on the outs with someone and then tried to talk to them? It doesn’t usually go well, does it? At best it’s awkward and at worst they just ignore you. And if you’ve been on the other side of that exchange you know that you’re probably not going to hear anything the other person wants to say while there’s still that brokenness between you. Broken relationships need healing before any kind of effective communication is possible.

So as we approach holy week, maybe it’s time for us to heal some broken relationships. If we’re separated from God then we need to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. And, if we’re separated from other people in our lives then we need to seek them out and seek reconciliation. Let us head into the celebrative week of Easter with renewed bonds of relationship with God and with one another.

Grace and Peace!

Don Stevens is the pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Point Pleasant Beach and has taught and been the guest speaker at camp. Photo by camp alumnus Kenny Kinter, Kenny Kinter Photographer.

Lent Reflection: A role in the body

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1 Corinthians 12:12-26

I love this passage of Scripture but probably not for the reason you might think. So many times we’ve heard preachers focus on this passage by lifting up the diversity of the Body of Christ, and that’s great. I agree with it and I’ve preached it myself. We do need each other and we do need the gifts that every one of us brings to minister to this broken world as a unified Body. We can’t all be preachers. We can’t all be evangelists. We can’t all be prophets or Sunday school teachers or ushers or youth group leaders or Delanco camp counselors. But there is a role in the Body for every one of us.

Actually my favorite part of this passage begins with verse 22 and runs through verse 26 (I’ve bolded it above). Most folks seem to take this as a reference to covering our nakedness. But there is no question in my mind that Paul had a more profound meaning here. When Paul refers to parts of the Body of Christ with “less dignity” and parts that are “less honorable,” I cannot help but think he is talking about the people that many of us don’t see or don’t want to see.

Isn’t Paul talking about the homeless, the poor, the oppressed, the drug addicts, the alcoholics and all of the disenfranchised people of the world here? And if he is speaking about those people, he’s not telling us that our ministry is only to them; he’s telling us that our ministry as a unified Body of Christ in this broken world is with them. We aren’t just to reach out of our blessing and offer help. We are to reach out in partnership and seek help from those who we are helping. Genuine Christian ministry isn’t just about helping others, it’s about partnering with people, neighborhoods and communities. Paul is calling us through this passage to honor the less honorable and to offer chances for those with less dignity to regain dignity.

So the next time you’re serving in a soup kitchen, or out on a mission trip, or just being a good Christian in action, look for ways to involve the people that you’ve been called to serve. Even if it’s just being a friend to someone that needs one. It’s not just a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do too.

Prayer: Lord of love and light, help me to be in partnership with those in need and not just minister to them. Help me to see their value as you do. AMEN

Rev. Don Stevens is a graduate of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a United Methodist pastor for the last ten years. He has had the honor of serving as a Delanco camp evangelist on two separate occasions. Image credit: Tyler Spencer, via CreationSwap