Daily Readings in Lent, March 11

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The veggie van

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:8–9

Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that when we feed the hungry, we are indeed feeding him. Yet, how do we define “feed”? Is feeding a free church meal? Is it a food pantry in the church basement? Is feeding one of those micro pantries set up on the church property that allows 24/7 access for those who are hungry?

At the heart of all these questions is the most important one: How do we get to the point where free meals, food pantries and micro pantries are obsolete? How do we eradicate hunger? Perhaps we begin by looking at the systems in place that keep folks hungry. What if national grocery chains didn’t pick locations for stores based on profitability, but real need? For example, many rural areas are labeled as food deserts — places where healthy, affordable food cannot be found. What if lobbyists didn’t advocate for corporations that perpetuated food waste? What if, after cleaning up a free church dinner, the faithful sat down and asked, “Is there more that can be done?”

A young college graduate asked just that when returning to his rural community. After noticing perfectly fine vegetables and fruits left in the fields, he asked for permission from the farmers to glean the fields and take what was collected to area food pantries. When we began noticing those who really needed the fresh produce were not showing up — the elderly who could no longer drive to the pantry — he asked, “What more can be done?” He secured a generous grant to buy a van and began driving into the area food deserts. His veggie van became a healthy version of an ice cream truck. And while no ditty or catchy tune played announcing its arrival, the van nevertheless put a smile on the faces of those it would bless. One young man was eradicating hunger, and it all began by asking, “Is there more that can be done?”

Pray

Creative God, your ways are so much better than what we can ever imagine. As we seek to live the vision of Matthew 25, help us to let go of all our preconceived ideas of what serving you entails. Open us up to new ideas. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Ponder

In what creative ways is God asking us to feed the hungry? As Isaiah notes, our ways are not God’s ways. This day, think beyond the ways the hungry are traditionally fed. Is there a veggie van in your future? Or is there a gleaning ministry waiting to be born?

Daily Readings in Lent, March 5

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A command and a commission

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. — John 13:34

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”— Matthew 28:19–20  

I worked in a church that had a stunning stained-glass window of “The Great Commission,” where Jesus, before ascending into heaven, tells his disciples to go out into the world and make more disciples. Next to it was a window depicting another one of Jesus’ marching orders before leaving this world: Love one another, as I have loved you.

I never thought much about how the “command” and “commission” windows were side by side. That is until the day the rural congregation I served became a Matthew 25 church. (Matthew 25 is an invitation to the churches in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., to serve and love boldly as Jesus did.) The educated and well-off session members reviewed the three ministry focuses of the Matthew 25 invitation: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. Like many congregations who have seen numbers dwindle dangerously low to the “closing-the-doors” level, they zeroed in on vitality over eradicating poverty and dismantling racism.

All too quickly, building vitality began looking like programming to get people into the pews. My heart broke. I reminded them that Matthew 25 was not a program to save a church. Rather, it’s an invitation to die to self to save others. It’s about boldly living as the body of Christ, and that living begins with loving as Christ loves. “That means loving all the shoppers in the local Walmart that I have heard this congregation talk disparagingly about,” I dared to say.

When Jesus said, “Love one another,” he didn’t want lip service. He wanted love to be shown in our actions that would transform a community — and, thus, the world. We are at the beginning of our Lenten journey. There are still more weeks to tread all the rough and undesirable places Jesus has already gone. But it’s here that we take a spiritual stop to examine our hearts before venturing further. We must be honest and question our commitment to Jesus’ command and commission. “Lord, when did we see you?” we ask. And he will answer, “When you began loving as I have loved, you have seen — truly seen. Now go with that love in your heart and make disciples.”

Pray

All-knowing God, you see how often we speak about love and how rarely we show it. In this season of Lent, help us go beyond words. May the world see your love through our actions. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Ponder

What are the ways in which love can become a verb as you go about living this day?