Startle Me, O God

God, you are much more generous and loving than I give you praise or credit.  When I reflect (and if I am completely honest), I live life like there isn’t enough to go around.  My attitude of scarcity makes me fill my basement and want to keep what is mine.  I take more than I ever could use or need physically (and emotionally), leaving the well dry for others.

Startle me, O God,
Remind me….the world doesn’t revolve around me.
Remind me… “being comfortable” isn’t what Jesus had in mind.
Remind me… Kin-dom building requires the sharing and giving of power.
Remind me…to give not from what I have left, but from what I can give first.
Remind me…because I often forget.
Amen.

Matthew 2 (Day 2)

 Day 2: Reading through the Gospel of Matthew….

Today was a heavy text.  Instead of focusing my attention, this time, on the Holy family fleeing for their lives and imagining their lives as refugees in an unknown land,  I chose to focus on the star.  What made that start look ay different from the others?  Did it give off more light?  Did it twinkle?  Could the Magi only travel at night or was the star always visible during the day?  And what might it be like to be a star? 

Teach me your mood, O patient stars!
Who climb each night the ancient sky,
Leaving on space no shade, no scars,
No trace of age, no fear to die.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

What drew your attention/focus in today’s reading? 

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is an exhausting day, even for an extrovert like me.  My co-pastors and I, of The Slate Project, worked the streets all day and although we are dog-tired, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.ash wednesday (1).png

What did my day look like? Here is a glimpse….

A hug from a 5-year-old twin on her way to move with her mom and sister to Utah.
A woman who is 13 years in active recovery from her heroin addiction.
A man who invited everyone he knew on the street to come over so we could pray together.
A woman waiting for her daughter at a Hopkins bus stop.
A teacher at a daycare.img_4648
A woman who went to multiple #ashestogo locations looking to be blessed and prayed over.
A man whose views I couldn’t disagree with more.
A woman under hospice care with Hepatitis, AIDS, and cancer.
A man who was hungry and just wanted a bit to eat.
A woman who wants this Lenten season of transformation.
A man who is a hospice doula.
A woman struggling with her mental health.
A man who didn’t want to talk, so we stood together in silence.

For me, this is what ministry is all about: sharing our story.  Today, I was blessed with many. many stories.  Stories about name origins. Stories about the Church.  Stories about Baltimore. Stories about receiving God’s strength.  Stories about cars. Stories that show vulnerability.  Lots and lots of stories.

To everyone who shared a story with me or one of my co-pastors today.  You blessed us.  Thanks for being a part of our day.  Thanks for being a part of our story.

A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
by Jan Richardson (originally found here

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Reading the Gospel of Matthew through Lent 2017

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A couple of years ago, I started reading one gospel from start to finish through the season of Lent.  I did it for a couple of reasons.  First, I am horrible about not reading and studying Bible texts that I am not teaching or preaching.  I’m all in when it comes to learning and exploring texts that I will be talking about in public, but as for just exploring them on my own—yeah, not so good.   Second, I think you get more out of scripture when you read the books, prophets, and letters in their entirety.  I am excited to see again how Matthew paints a different picture of Jesus than we get in Mark, Luke or John.  To think and learn about: What connections does Matthew make to the first testament? What phrases are repeated? What ideas and stories does Matthew leave out that the other gospels include?

If you haven’t already decided on a spiritual practice or maybe you are looking for a second something, consider giving the Gospel of Matthew a read.  The readings are divided into short bits which shouldn’t take you more than a couple of minutes to read.  My hope is that you will be so drawn into God’s Word that you will feel led to dwell deeper in the text.

Blessings to you and yours this Advent season,

Jenn DiFrancesco

I would love to hear what catches your eye as you read this gospel, so please comment here or on Twitter (@revjenn)

Giving Up and Taking Up Something for Lent

Lent. It stresses me out every year.  Like everything else, I know it shouldn’t but it does.  It isn’t like we will be graded on it or will be asked to do a public presentation about it.  Just when I have a good idea, I overthink it, rethink it, and ask others what they think.  What am I talking about?  Our family Lenten practice.  As a pastor mom, I feel an obligation to come up with the most brilliant and best of ideas.  And because of perfectionist pastor mom complex, I overthink it.

What things have we done? Nothing super creative….
handwritten notes to people who know,
donating ten cents per ounce of water everyone consumed to build a well,
collecting and donating a bag of household clutter each day,
doing a random act of kindness each day,
fasting from electronics,
reading through one of the Gospels,
and no fast food.

Where did this whole idea of Lenten give ups and take ups even come from?
The season of Lent, which is 40 days* before Easter, was the final preparation process for the early converts to Christianity.  The study and process of becoming a Christian took years.  These last 40 days of study and devotion was a time for purification and enlightenment. The new convert would then be baptized on Easter morning.

It soon became a tradition that the entire Christian community would observe this season in solidarity with the almost new converts. Lent became a time to recommit oneself to God. So the idea of either giving up or taking up something for Lent is to help you get back on track or to rekindle your relationship with God.

As our family talks about possible things to give up and take up, our guiding questions are these:  What pulls us away from God and from each other?  What will help us reconnect with God and each other?  With a 12, 10, and 4 years old we get lots of random answers to the questions. And it is always a bit hard to narrow it down and select one, so sometimes we give up something while taking up something else. 

We had lots of ideas this year, some of the ideas are:
a compliments jar
a day a week technology/social media fast
each family member is assigned a night to cook a meal that is balanced and healthy
weekly family walks
fasting from consumerism

After some discussion with the kids, we decided we wanted to add two practices this Lent.  First, we agreed that we needed to eat together and eat better as a family.  With our hectic schedules, we’ve been eating quick and easy meals that aren’t always the best.  So each member of the family will be able to choose and make (with help if needed) a meal a week for the family.

Second, each person would select a day to fast from technology/TV. Probably like most of America, binge watching Netflix and Youtube has become a bit of an issue for our household.

Lent. It stresses me out every year because I want it to be a meaningful time for myself and my family.  I want it to be a season when we take and make intentional moments see and recognize the beauty in each other.  Recognizing, that indeed, we are each created in God’s image. That when we work on our relationship with others, we are, in fact, working also on our relationship with God. 

May this Lenten season not stress you out too much, but may it push you and your family into thinking about what you can do that will bring you closer to one another and to your Creator.

*Sunday are not included in the 40 days because they are considered “little Easters”

 

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Our Lenten Poster Reminder by Maggie

 

Getting our Ash on…

  
This evening the girls and I gathered in a small chapel to receive our yearly ashes.  The ashes,  a reminder our finiteness, also marks the start of our individual and family Lenten journey.  

This Lenten season, my family is reading the Gospel of Luke together.  I look forward to the hard questions that my kids will ask of this text and our current culture.  I look forward to seeing how my kids will respond to Jesus’ words and how my kids will challenge some of my own biases. 

What are you looking forward to this Lenten season? 

Lent 2016

These past couple of week @crazypastor, Jason Chesnut, has me reading portions of Luke during #WakeUpWordUp (a fancy hashtag meaning a Bible Study that doesn’t suck).  If you butt has been in a mainline denominational pew, chances are you have heard quite a lot of Luke read and preached at you as well.  Bits and pieces spouted here and there–with each story filled with so many layers, so many parts of the story left untouched.  It only makes sense to spend a few weeks reading and starting to unpack this Gospel filled with social justice treasures. 

So this year, my Lenten Challenge is to re-read the Gospel of Luke. I am pretty sure there will be some ah-ha moments, lots of social justice #micdrops, maybe some Baltimore mayor and presidential candidates noticing, and hopefully, most importantly, a strengthening of my relationship with God.  

I’ve put together this reading schedule to help guide my way.  You will notice that I’ve given myself REST days.  I can’t kid myself, I will need a catch-up day each week.  There will definitely be days that I miss and don’t read the text.  The point of this discipline isn’t to flog myself if I miss the mark—so there needs to be some grace built in from the get-go.  If you want to join me in this challenge, I would love the company.

 

Luke During Lent