UCCDM Lenten Devotional- What Are Ashes For?

This is the first entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series. This devotional reflection comes from Dr. Kevin Pettit for Ash Wednesday. His bio cam be found on the Board of Directors page.

Joel 2:1-2, 12:17
1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations.Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Even though we live in a very different context than the author of the book of Joel, his call for repentance still sounds loudly in today’s world. For, indeed, is not our world today at least partly filled with gloom, clouds, and thick darkness? The similarity of the present times of difficulty to those described in the book of Joel account for the resonance of these Biblical texts. So, too, do we sense the need to withdraw somehow, reflect on our lives, and struggle with our call in this world just as Jesus did during his extended time of isolation that we commemorate during Lent. A time of penitential preparation – a time of self-examination, prayer, fasting, and works of love – in preparation for our remembrance of the betrayal and cross of Jesus, as well as the resurrection of the living Christ, will profit our spirits. We hope that your Lenten journey might be aided by these Reflections and the consideration of their meaning and import in our lives today.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which, in many churches, is commemorated by anointing one’s forehead with ashes as a reminder of one’s mortality. The crude and dark mess of these ashes – a form of matter similar to the eventual form that our bodies take after we die – is a fitting remembrance of disorder in our lives. But are not such scars of imperfection the very marks of our humanity?

While everyone’s particular set of challenges is unique – sometimes being as apparent as a missing limb and at other times being as hidden as diabetes – we each share more or less common challenges of body, mind, and spirit much like the ashes marking our foreheads at the beginning of Lent. However, even after washing ourselves clean of these ashes, we all need to learn to live productively with the imperfections that mark us as children of God.

To do this, we can set aside some time daily during this time of Lent to study and reflect upon the Bible or other sacred texts, reflect on our needs and struggles, our intentions and our actions, and our effect on family, friends, and all others. As we are called to embody Christ, we must take the time to consider how we might best promote the construction of the city of God. Such meditative times can serve to prepare our spirits for the work ahead.

Let us begin on this Lenten effort boldly and with strength!

UCCDM Lenten Devotional-EASTER, A Letter to Angel’s Caretaker

This is the eleventh and final entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional. This reflection for Easter Sunday comes to us from the Rev. Dallas (Dee) Brauninger. She is a former UCCDM Secretary and Board Member her bio can be found on the Former Board of Directors page. Rev. Dallas (Dee) Brauninger also received the 2013 UCCDM Award.


Faith reflected in a note to the man in an Iowa prison who socialized Leader Dog Angel for a year:

You did a fine job of socializing Leader Dog Angel.  She and her trainer arrived at my house on Sunday, January 12. I will give it my all to be a good person for her to guide. Angel is my fourth dog guide since 1986. She returns my freedom to get around and have a life filled with doing meaningful things for others.

Thanks for teaching her how to return a thrown ball without a tease. I will see that she balances her lifework of patiently guiding a 70-year-old woman with the joy of play and being a “dog” dog when she is off duty.

I am proud of Angel’s first career of loving and trusting you.  She knows about trust. She gives freely of her love. You must have a wonderful soul to have encouraged these tender qualities. You gave her a solid start in her profession as dog guide — good habits and good behavior. I respect and thank you for the kind, gentle way in which you taught her.

You surely miss her. I wish well for you. I pray that you will continue to choose life-giving ways. I hope that whenever life is tough you can remember this dog who told you clearly that she accepts and trusts you to give her what she needed, no matter what your past chapters. Sometimes we need an angel to remind us to hope. If you were the one who named her, you saw her soul.

Though strangers, you and I share the gift of knowing Angel. She takes the loneliness out of my blindness. Perhaps she also lessened the loneliness of this Lenten time of your incarceration by helping you also to see yourself as a person who can respect and trust yourself. Nothing can separate you from what she gave to you.

I know the plans I have for you, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29


UCCDM Lenten Devotional-Reflection for Good Friday

This is the ninth in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional Series for 2014. This reflections comes from Rev. Peggy Davis Dunn, UCCDM Board Member and former Chair. Her bio can be found on the Board of Directors page.

Good Friday

I am poured out like water, and all my bones have fallen apart; my heart is like wax; it melts inside of me; my strength is dried up like a piece of broken pottery. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you’ve set me down in the dirt of death. Psalm 22: 14-15 CEB

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. John 1:5 CEB

I write this reflection sitting on a couch in a room in the Walter Reed Military Hospital in Bethesda MD. About six feet away from me lies a grandson whose body was broken in a horrific car accident about 6 weeks ago. We are here this week to be with him and to give his mom some companionship and respite as she accompanies him on his journey back from the days when he was given a 5% chance of survival. His trauma has involved having both arms and both legs broken, broken ribs with internal injuries, extensive facial damage including the loss of an eye and some hopefully temporary brain injury. Parts of his body which are whole have been drawn from to repair parts of his body which are broken. His rehabilitation has involved 21 surgeries so far, and this journey will likely go on for about a year. His body will not be the same as it was before his accident.

His pain has been great and his body has been broken. His life path has been altered in a split second. The words of Psalm 22 above are apt.

But daily we see him return to the land of the living. He gains strength and capacity. He moves more steps forward than back.

Good Friday is the day when Christians reflect on the suffering of Christ on a cross outside of Jerusalem, on the willingness of Jesus to endure the suffering of crucifixion. The suffering of Christ then, and the suffering of this grandson now, are very real. But suffering is not the last word, then or now.  Suffering itself is not redemptive, on Jesus’ part, or anyone else’s. What is redemptive is the Spirit that sustains in the experience of the suffering. And the Light which shines in the Darkness even when we cannot see it. We believe, in the words of John’s gospel, that the darkness of our lives cannot extinguish the light, tho the darkness be very real, and very dark. The light is found in the darkness. In our various ways, we hold that faith.


UCCDM Lenten Devotional – “Enduring Character”

This is the fourth in the UCCDM’s Lenten Devotional 2014 series. This devotion for the Third Sunday in Lent comes from the Rev. Gunnar Cerda in Ohio. Rev. Cerda has served as local church pastor, has served as chaplain for Widening the Welcome, and currently serves as a hospital chaplain.

Romans 5:3-4  “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

Sometimes I find it hard to read Paul.

It’s not just because of his rhetorical style, but also because his theology is hard to swallow.  I mean really, who boasts in their sufferings?  And what is the deal with suffering producing endurance?  Don’t you need a bit of endurance to, well, endure the suffering when it comes in our lives?  And what about Hope, why is it last, as in a goal-line to which we hope at some point to arrive?

My wrestling with passages like this, and sometimes with Paul in general, is that he seems to have this idealistic view that suffering is positive, that it is somehow justified, which is where he loses me.  In a way it almost feels patronizing, as if Paul was saying “get over it” or “shake it off.”  After all, suffering leads to endurance and then to character, so this is really just a character building opportunity for you.”  Thanks but no thanks Paul.

See, I am the parent of two great kids, one who happens to have an intellectual disability named and labeled as an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  As a parent, such a life event changes your worldview, and you find yourself shifting from looking at the world from the dominant viewpoint of “normal.”  You start to see how your child doesn’t fit in with the other kids.  You start to see the dirty looks and people whispering because your child doesn’t behave or talk the way others expect.  You start to notice posts on facebook highlighting how “back in the day” kids were not “brats” because people knew how to be parents.  “There’s nothing a good spanking can’t cure!”  You notice—and cry—when your child is sitting alone and ignored by other kids.

And you know you are not alone.  I recently saw a post on a blog from a parent who wrote seeking some understanding.  This parent’s words were all too familiar as I read them:”…it always feels like a slap in the face when people, knowing my situation, say they were blessed with healthy children.  Are only the healthy and wealthy blessed?”

I sensed right away what was behind this question.  It is grief, which is a manifestation of suffering.  And it is a suffering many of us experience, not always because of the physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, visible disabilities, hidden disabilities and mental health concerns, rather, because society values ability over accommodating disability—where those who are “able” are blessed.  Thanks to culture, life is a journey through suffering, which often looks more like an endurance race.  We don’t need Paul to remind us about suffering, endurance is the ticket.  And Hope, hope that someday it will be different.

So I had all of this running through my head, and my emotions, leading me to give Paul a hard time.  For as I prayerfully reflected, I recalled the words in Exodus when God speaks to Moses.  It is a powerful moment when God says “I have heard the cries of my children.  I know their sufferings and I have come down to redeem them.”  There are the words of our UCC Statement of Faith, reminding us that our Savior, Jesus the Christ, has come to us and shared our common lot.  And then there is the outlook of our beloved United Church of Christ, that God welcomes any body, every body, Christ’s body, into a church that is Accessible to All.

Indeed, God knows and shares in our sufferings!  In those moments when we feel like we are alone, or on the outside looking in; when we are praying for the hurtful attitudes of the world to change…God understands, Christ “gets” it, and the Holy Spirit calls us into a community of care and support, while comforting and advocating for us.  How about that, God doesn’t give sufferings or disabilities or mental illness, rather, our Still Speaking God shares in those journeys.

Now that’s something which gives me hope!  And that hope keeps me going, even when the going gets tough.  That’s the endurance I need in those times when the grief or suffering seems too much.  And I can realize all of that because of the enduring character of God, pouring out upon me a character of faith.

So maybe I’ve been too hard on Paul.  I’m still not sure about the boasting in my sufferings piece (I’ll leave that to someone else to explore).  But if I could suggest a helpful edit in your rhetoric Mr. “of Tarsus,” then perhaps we could try it this way:  We know that we can endure our sufferings, no matter what, because we have hope which comes from a God who really understands what we are going through.

And THAT is something that I can hang on to.

Holy One who knows and understands our sufferings—during this season of Lenten reflection, empower us to live into your mission and companion others in enduring their sufferings.  Bless us to be a blessing to others, both in our character and as your church which you call to be Accessible to All.  We ask this in the name of the Christ who shared our common lot and defeated the power which suffering has over us through hope enlivened in the resurrection.  Amen and Amen.