Lent 2021 Monday Reflections

Lenten Reflection #5: Palm & Passion Sunday Sermon
March 29, 2021
There were several requests to post yesterday's sermon, so I set aside my other reflection and link you to the sermon and some reflection questions [ HERE ].

Lenten Reflection #4: The Gift of Time
March 15, 2021

Many new words have been proposed to describe the inability to distinguish one day from another during the pandemic, due to the disruption of our routines. I have landed mostly on Blursday as my word to excuse myself or others when an appointment was missed or only remembered at the last moment.

Even before the pandemic, though, many middle-class people in Western cultures had already lost touch with the holiness of time and each day.

We have been busy with tasks to complete and appointments to make. We often think of time as something we use, with precision. But, as Dorothy C. Bass writes, "when our emphasis on using time displaces our awareness of time as a gift, we find that we are not so much using time as permitting time to use us" (Receiving the Day, p. 2).

Each moment and each day are gifts. It is true that we can often use our time for constructive or destructive purposes, and we should choose life-giving activities for our time.
But if we live in fear of wasting time, then we may lose the ability to embrace the richness that time—moments and days—can give us.

I like to think that Jesus is not only the Word in the flesh, but also the Word in time.

Everything I read in the Gospels makes me believe Jesus savored time. He was apparently very fond of dinners with all sorts of people gathered. I bet he was a popular guest because he appreciated the chance to get to know people and spend time with them, not beholden to a schedule or clock.

Prayer for me is when I move away from the utilitarian concerns of time and 'spend' time under God's gracious care. It is like going to one of those meals with Jesus and you forget about tomorrow's worries because you are in the presence of God's pure joy and love.

But we can't stay at a meal, or in prayer (or atop a mountain) forever. We do have to live our lives.

Still, by setting aside time to just be—an entire day as a Sabbath, or moments of prayer and meditation—we might heighten our appreciation of time, space, and life as the gifts they are, and which I believe come from our loving God.

This is especially significant in Lent we set aside forty days for reflection and recall the events that took place two thousand years ago as events that still define us to this day. The days of Holy Week, in particular, establish in our hearts that God gives us Jesus and shares his Resurrection so that we might live in hope here and NOW, in this time.

Let us pray. God, thank you for this moment. Thank you for being with me now. Thank you for who I am to you, to others, and to myself. Thanks for the gift of life. Thank you for this day and for Jesus. Amen!

Lenten Reflection #3: Essential Needs and Lent
March 8, 2021
This program year, our congregation has focused on teh theme of essentials. Here, Rev. Adam reflects on the intersection of essentials and Lent.

If you took high school health class in the last fifty years, you probably were introduced to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

The theory goes that people must meet basic needs and can potentially meet other, less urgent (yet nevertheless legitimate) needs as well. Our most basic needs, Maslow suggests, are things like food and water, sleep and enough heat to survive (physiological needs). Then we have needs for safety and stability; belonging and love (community, intimacy, friends); a sense of accomplishment; and a sense of fulfilling one's potential and self-expression. All of these needs, and especially the earlier ones in the list, comprise much of what we consider essential for human life.

Christians often describe God as the one who meets our needs. God is creator, who provides not only the universe but also, more specifically, through the earth the rain and food, those physiological conditions that make sustained human life possible.

We speak of God as one who is a mighty fortress, our rock and defender, who keeps us safe. The place where we worship, a place some people call "God's house", is referred to also as Sanctuary—a safe and holy place.

We describe God as the God of love, who binds us together into community. When we talk about ourselves as the body of Christ, we define ourselves not only as a mutually dependent group, but also as parts with gifts and talents that God has given us and that God wants us to use for the sake of each other and for the sake of our sense of accomplishment.

Finally, saints in a sense are people who have fulfilled their potential in God's eyes. In other words, God and God's people are often defined by how we meet needs.

Christian discipleship can reveal to us how meeting needs is not a zero-sum game: it's not that one person's needs can only be met to the detriment of another person meeting their needs.

This is one of the most profound and common revelations from the church's mission trips. Mission trips accomplish the most when the people who serve and the people dealing with crisis have genuine conversations to determine what is most needed, so that there is mutual love and belonging. When that takes place, then a mission trip can help everybody have needs met: people living in the disaster zone can have physiological and safety needs met; everybody can have a strengthened sense of belonging and love.

Everybody can also gain a stronger sense of esteem and actualization, especially those teens who, by serving and relating to the people with whom they serve, realize that there they can have more expansive experiences than what they might be used to, and greater purpose than just serving their own needs.

We think of God providing us with what we need, but I wonder what God's needs are and how those needs are met? I cannot fathom God having physiological and safety needs, but once we starting discussing belonging and love, esteem, and self-actualization, I can at least imagine that God can have such needs.

In Lent we could even make a case that Jesus is how God seeks to meet God's need for love and self-actualization—that God fully reaches God's potential of expressing divine love through the events of Holy Week: triumphal entry; teaching; giving his life; and rising again from death.

And it may just turn out that by doing these things, God fulfills our deep and essential need of experiencing God's love. 

Dear God, thank you for meeting our needs. Thank you for transforming what we see as essential in our lives. Thank you for Jesus who meets us where we are, are who is where your most profound yearnings and our deepest needs meet. Amen.

P.S.—This next Sunday, March 14th, is when our church is collecting the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing offering. It is another prime example of how we can help meet the basic needs of water and safety for others while meeting our own needs of purpose and love.

Lenten Reflection #2: Light at the End of the Tunnel
March 1, 2021--Rev. Adam Eckhart

If you've been talking with other people about where we stand in the pandemic, you may have heard (or uttered yourself) the phrase, "there's light at the end of the tunnel": people are getting vaccinations, and despite an uptick in cases over the last five or so days, there is hope that we will continue to see a decline in new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the illness.

Perhaps some dimensions of social life may resemble "normalcy" sooner than we had feared. The pandemic is the tunnel and hope for a better future is the light at the end.

In Lent we enter a spiritual tunnel: into the story of Jesus confronting doom in the powers that kill him, and into the confrontation we make as individuals and a society to our own destructive tendencies. We are invited to confess our sins to God in this season, and to pay attention to the things within us and around us that do not affirm life. This is why many people associate Lent and religion in general with guilt: because we are asked to look ourselves in the mirror and to explore what we have done wrong.

But entering this tunnel of self-reflection, social reflection, and reflection on the life and death of Jesus is not intended to bring us down, but to grant us the hope that we may not notice we need.

In reflecting on what ails society, we can identify what is possible for a better world. When we reflect on our sins, we are not left holding the weight of our shortcomings by ourselves but receive the support of community and of God who forgives us and seeks to help us reconcile among God's people.

When we recall the story of Jesus and his death on a cross, we are exposed to the love of God to stay true to that message of divine love and anticipate with joy the light at the end of death's tunnel: Resurrection life.

As more people get vaccinated, the days get longer, we continue to confess and be forgiven, and recount the story of Jesus' death and resurrection, we see how more light and love are breaking forth in our lives and we have reason to hope with and in God, through Jesus Christ.

Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for your gracious, forgiving Spirit, and for the hope you share with us even in challenging times. Receive our prayers of confession and lift us up by your love. May the caring support of faithful people around us be proof that the risen Christ is still with us today. Keep us connected to one another and help us to make this better world possible. Amen.

Lenten Reflection #1: Black History Month
February 22, 2021--Rev. Adam Eckhart

As a white (German heritage), cisgender, heterosexual American man, I am no authority on experiencing prejudice, nor during Black history month can I write authoritatively about the depth of Black history in the United States.

But all people inherit the fruits of the past, and history is our attempt to understand where those fruits came from, so it is important to explore that past especially if we are unfamiliar with it.

Confronting the past is central to Lent, when we are confronted with the reality that we have failed God and each other in tragic ways and rely on God's forgiveness. We inherit a history filled with human failure and we too fail to fulfill God's hopes for us. Only by admitting our sins and the impacts of sins we inherit can we move forward with healing.

Much of my appreciation of Black history has been cultivated through my interactions with the Rev. Frederick "Jerry" Streets, who was my college chaplain and pastor of the campus chapel I went to in the mid-1990s. Listening to Streets preach was a real revelation to me: he integrates intellectual rigor and an emotional rhetorical style, which I came to realize was part of the excellent Black preaching tradition.

I learned from Streets about the African-American spiritual music tradition, and how "Were You There?" was one of the first spirituals published in white church hymnals.

Streets taught one of my classes at Divinity School, which exposed me to the thought of Howard Thurman, whose book, Jesus and the Disinherited was such an inspiration to Martin Luther King, Jr., that it was in his briefcase when King was assassinated. In the book, Thurman acknowledged that not only is the story of the Exodus a powerful analogy of liberation for Black people, but that Jesus himself embodies God's solidarity with the disinherited. Jesus, Thurman declares, models a life not defined by the fear, deception, and hatred that persistently is directed at people who are marginalized.

I am thankful for Rev. Streets and others who like him have made it their ministry to honor the Black experience.

Black History Month lifts up the perseverance of Black people and by implication sheds light on the forces that have oppressed Black lives and bodies over time. Black history is a significant thread in our common history and helps us see how that oppression and perseverance continue to this day.

We at First Church Milford inherit a checkered history related to people of African-American descent. I wish we knew more, for instance, about the church members' slaves who worshiped from the second balcony of our second Meetinghouse in the 18th century, or how our church responded to the Abolitionist movement.

We do know that some members were active in the Civil Rights movement, in which our denomination, the United Church of Christ, was actively engaged (see, for example, Everett Parker, Andrew Young, and William Sloane Coffin).

Our church is still predominantly white in membership, but with our Open and Affirming covenant adopted in 2019, we make a promise to turn a new page of our history, embracing all people with even more intention than in the past.

Every day we create history by what new things we make possible. I invite you to dig deeper into Black history; explore the contributions of the African-American community today (for instance, Amanda Gorman's poem, "The Hill We Climb", or the writings of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, or Heather McGhee); be transformed by connections to a diversity of people; and humbly recognize your role in making history.

Let us pray: God, thank you for the opportunity to learn history and to make history as your people. May we follow in the example of Jesus who modeled grace and love in the midst of oppression and fear. Forgive us our sins of the past, and free us to take baby steps toward your realm, in Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

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