Beyond Jubilee

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 25.9-10
9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.

Luke 4.16-19
16 …He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
because he has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Reflection: Beyond Jubilee
By John Tillman

Weekly sabbaths bring us freedom and joy in this world. This freedom and joy grows more expansive as we ponder the sabbath of years and Jubilee.

Sabbath years built, in an exponential crescendo, to Jubilee. After seven septennial sabbath years, trumpets were to announce liberty throughout the land. Liberty from debt. Liberty from enslavement. Liberty that brought a national reset of property and land ownership. Every 50 years, the “monopoly game” was to be folded up, properties redistributed, and the game started over with all participants on equal footing once more. This was to remind Israel that the land did not belong to them. It belonged to the Lord. 

It is difficult for us to imagine such an economic system. In the dominant economic systems of their world and ours, the game never stops and each generation starts the game with an inherited benefit or handicap. Generational wealth and poverty are features, not bugs, of every world economic system in history. 

Biblical laws are intended to be a check on our tendencies toward greed, violence, and inequity. Jubilee was a systemic reboot, restoring the moral code God desired—equity, justice, righteousness, unity.

Talking about Jubilee upsets some people. Some dogmatically demand implementation of Jubilee in today’s economic terms, even though they would not submit to any other laws from the Old Testament. Others work just as stubbornly to deemphasize or even ignore Jubilee because it conflicts with their economic beliefs. (It is beyond the scope of this devotional to discuss how some of us have greater religious devotion to and faith in sociological, economic, and political ideas than we do in scripture or theological ideas…)

We must remember that many systems and laws in the Bible, like Jubilee, are bandaids on gaping wounds. For example, Jesus challenged laws regarding marriage and the sabbath, saying they did not complete God’s intention or will. (Matthew 19.3-12; Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-10; Luke 13.10-16) We have little evidence of how Israel enacted Jubilee, but to whatever degree they did, it was insufficient. Great inequities persisted. (Deuteronomy 15.7, 11; 1 Samuel 2.8; Isaiah 41.17; Matthew 19.21, 26.11)

Implementing Jubilee would be insufficient. The gospel compels us to go beyond it. As the sacrifice of Christ surpasses the sacrifice of lambs, and our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, our sacrificial generosity should surpass that of Jubilee. (Matthew 5.20)

In Jesus, Jubilee is now and forever. Jubilee is the gospel. (Isaiah 55.1-2; John 7.37; Revelation 22.17

May our voices and actions be jubilant trumpets declaring liberty, freedom, and joy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long. — Psalm 86.3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 25 (Listen – 7:41)
Psalms 32 (Listen – 1:34)

Read more about The Gospel and the Year of Freedom
Equity is the default setting of God’s spiritual economy.
Leaders (princes) must set an example, creating fairness and justice.

Read more about Loving God by Loving Others
When we collect all the profit to ourselves we are stealing by keeping what you instructed us to leave for the poor.

Unity and Diversity—Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: John 1.14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Anniversary of Covid Pandemic: One year ago today, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a worldwide pandemic. Some countries dealt well with the crisis, some failed to do so. As of March 7th (as I prep this post) 525,000 have died in the United States and 2.59 million worldwide. Approximately twenty percent of Covid deaths have been in the United States. The spiritual and emotional impact is real all across the world. Vaccines becoming available won’t change the trauma endured by those who lost loved ones or who served on the front lines. The Humanitarian Disaster Institute is hosting today, a free Spiritual First Aid Summit which aims to help churches and believers respond to the needs of their communities in times like this. We have been a sponsor of this summit and pray that many of you, our readers, and your churches will take advantage of the free resources and training available through the summit and through the Humanitarian Disaster Institute.

May God use us as his hands and feet to be with and care for those who have lost loved ones and those currently ill.

Reflection: Unity and Diversity—Worldwide Prayer

By John Tillman

Much of John’s gospel is concerned with unity. John holds a unity of purpose—that we may believe in the name of Jesus and have life in him. John describes the unity of the trinity—describing the interplay and relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John also spends a large percentage of his writing (most of chapters 12-17) detailing the struggle Jesus underwent in the final hours before his arrest to prepare the disciples and bring them to unity.

Unity cannot be won in debates. Unity cannot be claimed by a victor. Unity cannot be seized as a weapon. (Although cries for unity often lead to armed conflict and suppression of dissent.)

Unity cannot be achieved by defeating others but by embracing them. Unity does not come by our cleverness, but by foolishly clinging solely to Christ and his cross.

As we pray this prayer from Germany that celebrates unity and diversity, may we look forward in our minds to these familiar passages in John. May we be one as Christ and the Father are one…

Unity and Diversity

A prayer of celebration from Germany

Lord, our God and Father, in Jesus Christ we pray. We are impressed by your power, by your greatness, by your excellence.

Your praises are heard in a multitude of languages which we cannot understand. But you hear all of them. We are shaped by different cultures and traditions. We express our thoughts and feelings in different ways. But you know exactly what each of us means.

You rejoice in the diversity which is your creation; you show your affection to each one of us according to our special needs.

Send your Holy Spirit to untangle your perplexity so that we can accept brothers and sisters whose expression of faith is different, because you created all of us in your own image.

Lord, creator of the universe, how amazing you are. We adore you; we exalt you.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “And the judgment is this: though the light has come into the world people have preferred darkness to the light because their deeds were evil…but whoever does the truth comes out into the light, so that what he isdoing may plainly appear as done in God.” — John 3.19, 21

Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 22 (Listen – 4:23)
John 1 (Listen – 6:18)

Read more about Reflecting the Unity of Christ 
I thank you for the opportunity of worship with members of the worldwide Christian family, across barriers of every kind that separate people and keep them apart.

Read more about Lent is a Community Project
Lent is a community project we engage in as a partnership between us, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s body, the Church.

King on the Mountain, King on the Cross

Scripture Focus: Exodus 20.18-23
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” 
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” 
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. 

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. 

Luke 23.38-43
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Reflection: King on the Mountain, King on the Cross
By John Tillman

God presents himself to the former slaves as a glorious heavenly king.

There are many linguistic similarities between ancient vassal treaties between kings and subjects and the covenant language given to Moses. God tends to speak to us using language we are familiar with. 

Moses calls this a test. Will the people be faithful to this king? Will they trust God? Will they become God’s “firstborn son” that he calls them to become? (Exodus 4.22) The desert experience and hundreds of years of judges and kings would prove that Israel would fail to live up to the covenant until God sent the true “firstborn son” to fulfill the covenant. 

Israel fell into sin in the desert. Jesus would resist sin in the desert. Everything that Israel had lost or failed to do, Jesus would accomplish, including being a light to the Gentile nations.

When Jesus was on the cross, Pilate wrote “King of the Jews” and placed the sign over Christ’s head. The religious leaders objected to this. They did not want this naked, abused, bleeding man to be called their king. They wanted the intimidating king from the mountain, not the homeless carpenter from Nazareth.

If only their eyes could be opened and ours as well. The king on the mountain and king on the cross are the same king. 
The King from the exalted mountain, was exalted on the cross.
The king on the mountain demanded righteousness. The king on the cross provided it.
The king on the mountain made it a holy place by his presence. The king on the cross made it a holy altar by his blood.

Our God is a king, unlike other kings. 
Israel expected a king fitted for war. He came fitted to serve. 
They expected a king observing their laws. He came pointing out their sins.
They expected a king to cast out the Romans. He cast out the moneychangers.
They expected a king to banish the cursed outcasts and sinners. He brought them in and blessed them.
This is the kind of kingdom God is building because it is the only kind of kingdom we could be allowed into, sinners that we are.

The days of peering at God on a distant mountain top are over. Now, Jesus calls us close to his cross that he may save us and take us into his kingdom.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal anything from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are as one.” — John 10.27.30

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 20 (Listen – 3:21)
Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)

Read more about Beneath the Cross of Jesus
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss
My sinful self, my only shame,
My glory all the cross.

Read more about Way of the Cross 
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you assess your level of comfort, your level of acceptance of the suffering Christ…

There is a Fountain Filled with Blood — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: Luke 22:39-44
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Zechariah 13:1
On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Reflection: There is a Fountain Filled with Blood — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

The hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” can be difficult to sing. Not because of a challenging rhythm or melody, but because of vivid and gratuitous language. This hymn would likely receive a PG-13 rating for violent content.

William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”), born in England in 1731, wrote “There is a Fountain” after a significant period of depression, something he battled all his life.

Cowper’s mother died in childbirth when he was six. He and his brother were the only two out of seven siblings to survive past infancy. His mother’s death affected him significantly and began his life-long battle with mental illness.

Cowper attended Westminster, where he took an interest in writing poetry. However, after graduation, he became apprenticed to an attorney, but never practiced law.

This led to an offer of a clerkship in the House of Lords, but Cowper suffered a mental breakdown due to the stress of the interview. After attempting to take his own life, he was admitted to St. Alban’s Hospital. He was treated by a Christian therapist who encouraged him to read the Bible. In so doing, Cowper began to find peace of mind and recovered after eighteen months.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though as vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Upon release from St. Alban’s, Cowper moved in with a retired clergyman who introduced him to minister and hymn writer, John Newton. Newton invited Cowper to assist with pastoral duties and encouraged him to contribute to a hymnbook. Cowper wrote sixty-eight hymns for the collection, including “There is a Fountain” and he flourished under Newton’s care.

The season of Lent reminds us that when we are at our lowest of lows, Jesus extends his hand to rescue us. He has been there. He has sweat blood in a moment of distress and agony. He has shed blood in the ultimate sacrifice for our rescue and redemption.

William Cowper became a successful hymn writer and renowned secular poet. However, he was a troubled soul most of his life. The death of his brother and several close friends agitated his depression. Cowper claimed God protected him from taking his own life on several occasions.

While the hymn’s imagery may be violent and difficult, so too are the pressures and tragedies we face in life. Our faith in the Fountain redeems even our most tragic wounds.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die.

Music: There is a Fountain by Russ Taff
Lyrics: “Praise for the Fountain Opened” (original title) – from 

From John: Mental illness should be taken to God in prayer just like cancer, heart disease, Covid-19, or any other illness. Also, just like those other illnesses, one should seek professional help for mental illness. If you struggle with mental illness, especially if you have thoughts of harming yourself, seek help immediately. Contact one of the organizations listed below or local organizations in your community.

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Resources: 
Mental Health Grace Alliance
Not A Day Promised Resource Page
Life Recovered (Resources for Ministers)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,” says the Lord, “And give them the help they long for.” — Psalm 12.5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 19 (Listen – 4:04)
Luke 22 (Listen – 7:58)

Read more about Treatment of Mercy
May we seek to treat the mentally ill medically, spiritually, and relationally, as we support them within our communities as treasured ones, loved by Christ.

Read more about Discipline for the Anxious

The psalmist writes of being “too troubled to speak,” yet he cries to God. He writes of insomnia, yet he rests in God.

Preparing for Joy

Scripture Focus: Luke 18-11-14
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Reflection: Preparing for Joy
By Norman Wirzba

In Orthodox theological traditions, Christians are invited into the season of Lent as a time to prepare for joy. Lenten worship instructs us to begin with rejoicing:

“Let us begin the Fast with joy.
Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.
Let us cleanse our souls.
Let us cleanse our flesh.
Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods,
taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit 
and accomplishing them in love
that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our
and His Holy Pascha, rejoicing with spiritual joy.” 
— from the vespers liturgy for Forgiveness Sunday

This emphasis on joy may surprise us, and perhaps even strike some of us as perverse, because we are accustomed to think of Lenten observance as a time of deprivation, a time when we give up or say “No” to a host of things and activities we otherwise love. How can we be expected to rejoice in the giving up of things that give us joy?

Lent can be our preparation for joy because it is the concentrated and disciplined time when we work together to root out the blindness and deception that prevent us from receiving each other as gracious gifts from God. It is a necessary time for Christians because without it we run the risk of experiencing what can only be termed a false joy, a ‘joy’ that has been rendered false by the anxiety, hubris, and destruction that make it possible.

True joy is freedom from fear and alienation. Real joy is knowing that we are loved and nurtured. Lenten practices like fasting prepare us for joy because they turn our self-serving into self-offering ways that nurture, celebrate, and share the gifts of God.

Lent teaches us that far too often we live a counterfeit life. It shows us that we have settled for a poor and degraded version of the real thing, which is life in its vibrant freshness and abundance. In the face of a culture that encourages us to neglect, degrade, and abuse each other, Lent invites us to see ourselves and our world clearly, humbly, and truly. Moved beyond the stifling scope of our worry, fear, and petty desires, we can finally be opened to receive the blessings of God.

*Selections quoted from Preparing for Joy in Christian Reflection.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. — Psalm 55.18

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 15  (Listen -4:11)
Luke 18 (Listen – 5:27)

Read more about Joy in The Way of the Cross
The book is full of joy, I know, but it is also full of pain, and pain is taken for granted. “Think it not strange. Count it all joy.” We are meant to follow his steps, not avoid them.

Read more about Fasting for All
Fasting may be the most important spiritual discipline for the church to focus on in the next decade.

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