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FOCUS Churches of Albany, Inc. 275 State Street Albany, NY 12210 (518) 443-0460 info@focuschurches.

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FOCUS Lenten Reflections 2012

Sunrise Service West Capital Park 6:30 am with resurrection reflections Music and celebration 7:15 am Hot Community Meal at Emmanuel Baptist

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Resurrection Worship in the FOCUS Churches: Delmar Reformed—9:30 & 11:15 am 386 Delaware Ave., Delmar Emmanuel Baptist—9:55 am 275 State Street First Israel AME– 11 am 381 Hamilton Street First Presbyterian—8:30 & 10:45 am 362 State Street Trinity United Methodist– 10 am 235 Lark Street Westminster Presbyterian—10 am 262 State Street ALL ARE WELCOME!!

EASTER
February 2012 These Lenten reflections have been created by forty men and women from the FOCUS Community. Traditionally this period is a time for spiritual preparation through repentance and growth in faith for Easter. It is the time of the church year when the passion and death of the Savior come into focus. It begins with a special day or repentance, Ash Wednesday, and ends in the depth of tragedy, sorrow and grief of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The season of Lent beckons us to see what we are clinging to. The imagery of this season, therefore, is frequently stark. These days draw us into a wilderness in which we can more readily see what we have shaped our daily lives around: habits, practices, possessions, commitments, conflicts, relationships—all the stuff that we give ourselves to in a way that sometimes becomes more instinctual than intentional. Much as Jesus went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days, Lent offers us a landscape that calls us to look at our lives from a different perspective, to perceive what is essential and what is extraneous. We are pleased to have joyful permission from clergy and artist Rev. Jan Richardson to use her charcoal prints for each Sunday from Artwork: The Lenten Series © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com Traveling blessings as we head into the landscape of Lent. Rev. Debra Jameson FOCUS Resurrection

Day One Wednesday, February 22 Rend Your Heart A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-13a

Day 40 Saturday, April 7

John 19: 38-42

God’s presence has strengthened us on this journey even as we try to avoid this day - the day the tomb is still occupied. But now we are here. Now it is over. Death has taken Jesus.

To receive this blessing, all you have to do is let your heart break. Let it crack open. Let it fall apart so that you can see its secret chambers, the hidden spaces where you have hesitated to go. Your entire life is here, inscribed whole upon your heart’s walls: every path taken or left behind, every face you turned toward or turned way, every word spoken in love or in rage, every line of your life you would prefer to leave in shadow, every story that shimmers with treasures known and those you have yet to find. It could take you days to wander these rooms. Forty, at least. And so let this be a season for wandering for trusting the breaking for tracing the tear that will return you to the One who waits who watches who works within the rending to make your heart whole.

For those who followed him it was a day of sorrow and bewilderment. Bereft of the one around whom they had shaped their lives, they had to choose whether they would isolate themselves in their sorrow and fear, or whether they would remain together and wait for a way to present itself. I sit today with the death of Jesus… yearning impatiently for life abundant. But God invites me to sit for a while, to be silent and to enter into the despair and futility of this day, Saturday, the day before resurrection. And so we wait. Jan Richardson reflects, “Holy Saturday is not a day for answers. It is a threshold day, a day that lies between, and so resists any easy certainty. It is a day of waiting, of remembering to breathe, of willing ourselves to turn to one another when grief lays hold of us. It is a day to open ourselves to the one who goes into the places of deepest pain and darkest fear, in order to bring us out.” Prayer: God of life’s darkest hours, whose care for us continues through our times of limited awareness and fractured faith, speak to our deepest longing for a Savior not bound by cruelty and death. Teach us relationships unmarred by distortion and distrust. Lead us to discipleship freed from self-concern and debilitating doubt. We want to embody the love that Christ traveled all the way to a cross to express, for we too would sustain the weary, help the stricken, and give glory to your name. Amen. Rev. Deb Jameson FOCUS

Jan Richardson is the Visiting Artist at First United Methodist Church of Winter park, Florida, serves on the faculty of the Grunewald Guild in Washington State, and is part of the Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery, a community that draws from Methodist and Benedictine traditions.

Day 39 Good Friday, April 6

John 18:1—19:37

Day Two Thursday, February 23

Luke 18: 9-14

Today is Good Friday, the day we read the circumstances of Jesus’ murder and Passion. On this day, the only sinless one was killed. The Presbyterian Church (USA) A Brief Statement of Faith says, “Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition, Jesus was crucified…” Isaiah 53:8 says, “By a perversion of justice he was taken away.” His unjust death echoes down through the centuries to today whenever anyone dies unjustly, like those protesting in Syria today. When an innocent man dies, we remember Jesus’ death, like when Texas executed Ruben Cantu in 1993. Whenever those standing up for what is right are killed, we think of Jesus, like those who have been murdered in South America fighting destruction of the rainforest. Bishop Oscar Romero was murdered for opposing the landed rich in El Salvador. The Civil Rights era claimed Dr. King. The Occupy movement has had several near deaths by police. It’s only a matter of time. You could say Jesus lives on in each of these, and you’d be right. But only Jesus was raised on Easter, vindicating his sinless life. It is only this raising that makes this Friday good. Prayer: God of Good Friday’s pain, help us to dare to love others in a costly way, as Jesus did. Before we jump to Easter, help us to dwell here long enough to grasp just how deeply human misery has seeped into the earth, and taken firm hold. That way we can appreciate what Easter achieved, and our Easter joy may be full and surprising and joyful. Amen.

In “Open City”, a recent novel by Teju Cole, the narrator says that we are each the hero of our own story, never the villain. In the novel he is surprised to discover that he is viewed as the villain in another person’s life story. Similarly, I believe that each of us, without exception, is some mixture of the Pharisee and the tax collector in this parable. Truthfully, some days there is a lot of the Pharisee in me. In Lent the work of repentance (literally, “thinking again”) affords me the chance to recognize my own sin, and be more like the tax collector. The same is true of the people we serve in FOCUS. Just because their circumstances are humble, or even humiliating, doesn’t mean they don’t judge others. At the same time there are many moments in our time together when each of us can let the tax collector out and let the work of redemption begin. At those moments we can see the God-made-flesh in the other, and a tiny glimpse of the kin-dom of God emerges. Recently a breakfast guest brought his dishes back to me and said with a sly smile as he handed them to me, “What do I owe you?” I laughed and said, “No it is I who owe you!” I had the feeling we both knew to whom the debt was truly owed. Prayer: Lord, transform me in the crucible of your love, so that my true self can emerge.

Glenn Leupold, Co-Pastor, First Presbyterian Church

Kathy Moore is a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church and washes dishes at the breakfast program. She lives in Berne.

Day 3 Friday, February 24

Luke 9: 57-62

Day 38 Thursday, April 5

Exodus 24:3-8

I never sleep as comfortably on the road as I do at home. When I return from traveling, I always look forward to a good night’s sleep. Nothing beats the comfort and security you get from your own bed! That’s why I marvel at Jesus’ willingness to give up the comforts of home in order to go out into the world to bring God’s message. He also expects his followers to do the same. He lets us know that if we want to follow him, we are expected to put our own comforts aside so we can do the work of the kingdom. Jesus was willing to give up everything to serve others. How can we do any less? How can we strive to have more and more when there are people who have nothing? Is it right for so few to have so much, while so many have so little? How can we change our priorities in order to step out of our comfort zone and follow Jesus? If someone is in need, am I following Jesus if I turn away and focus on my own needs? The answer is simple, but not easy. Whenever we have an opportunity to serve Christ, we must put our own comforts aside and act in the way the he would have us act. Get in the habit of being aware of opportunities to serve Christ, having the attitude of joyful service, and take immediate action. When we say, “I will follow you, Lord,” we must really mean it! Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to leave behind all the baggage and cares that hold me back, so that I can joyfully follow you. Amen.

This ceremony, with blood being flung against an altar and over the people, sounds strange to contemporary ears. Blood was, and still is, a distinctive element that makes life possible. This bizarre-sounding ritual was a sacred act of covenant-making. It was part of the ancient Israelites' sacred promise to obey God. Their acceptance of the Law would be life-giving and the covenant would make their distinctive life possible. This loyalty oath reflected the creation of a new community in the world. We read this text on Maundy Thursday. We remember Jesus' words about a new covenant in his blood, which he freely gave for the redemption of the world. And we hear his words about a new commandment to love one another. Jesus also offers the possibility of a new community -- one guided by a covenant of love and obedience to the way of the cross. According to Jewish tradition, this covenant-making took place fifty days after the exodus. The feast of Pentecost (meaning fifty days) celebrated the anniversary of the giving of the Law. According to Christian tradition, it was on the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to empower the fledgling group who would become the distinctive community of Christ-followers known for their love for one another. Prayer: O Holy Christ, grant to us your courage and bind us together in your community of love.

Rick Ryther, First Presbyterian Church

Kathy Donley is blessed to serve as pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church. She enjoys the hammered dulcimer and mysteries with clergy cast as amateur detectives.

Day 37 Wednesday, April 4

Hebrews 12:1-3

Day 4 Saturday, February 25

Luke 4: 1-8

As I have read this meaningful Bible verse and pondered over it for the last week or so, the one word that keeps leaping out at me is the word perseverance. On Dictionary.com, perseverance is defined as steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. For me, this is my life. Life has brought me many challenges along the way: divorce, job loss and child with a physical disability to name a few. As the bible verse states, we are hindered; obstacles will get in the way as we attempt to move through the race of everyday life. However, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, listening to the scriptures of the Bible, and using them as a model as we make our way through the journey called life, we will get to the finish line. We must remember that Jesus did not have an easy life. He encountered many obstacles during his short time on Earth. We are not meant to have an easy life either. Each obstacle and difficulty was and is placed in our path for a reason. God gives us challenges that teach and mold us. Jesus surrounded himself with believers. Follow his example and use the cloud of witnesses around you as a support group to help when we struggle, trip or are tempted. Prayer: God, help me when life gets difficult to remember that the obstacles you place in my path are placed there for a reason. Help me to use your book as a guide and the members of my congregation as support when I am struggling.

I’ve always been a little bothered by the straightforward way in which this story of Jesus is told. Here’s the poor guy, alone in the wilderness, with nothing to eat and no one to talk to, yet when Satan comes along and suggest a way out of Jesus’ difficulties, Jesus tosses off a one-liner: “Man does not live by bread alone”. It would be simple to assume that Jesus, being the Son of God, had fortitude that the rest of us can only aspire to; but I’m not convinced that’s the case, not in this situation. Jesus was a man, and men get hungry, and after forty days without food he must have been half-dead of starvation; yet he has the faith and the strength to refuse Satan’s offer. What kind of strength does that take? Was it a “Begone, thou foul demon!” roar, or a “get away from me because I’ve about to cave” whisper? The Bible does not tell us, but I’m inclined to think it was the latter, the whimper of a man tried almost beyond his ability to bear. So what’s the lesson here? Not to be tempted, because Jesus refused to be tempted? I don’t think so. I think the lesson is that it’s now how you refuse temptation, but that you do it. Even if the best you can do is a whimper and a last-ditch grab at a broken reed along the way, God wants to see us try our best to deny things that are not good for us. If you give it your best shot, He will always be there to help you through the hardest places and temptations. Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us when we are tempted; give us the fortitude and faith to turn away from the things that we want which are bad for us, and towards the things which are for our good. Amen. Becca Leet, the FOCUS Breakfast Food Manager, is a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Albany. She likes, writing, baking, and cats.

Sharon Schultz has been a member of the Delmar Reformed Church for the past 15 years. Sharon has two daughters and works as a counselor at Coxsackie-Athens Middle School. Sharon recently completed a three year term as a church elder and enjoys participating on the church mission team.

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Day 36 Tuesday, April 3 This is John’s Palm Sunday, and in the gathered crowd are some Greeks who wish to see Jesus. When Phillip and Andrew tell Jesus this, he responds by saying this is not the time for casual sightseers, but if they want to follow him now, they will have to walk with him down the via dolorosa (the way of suffering). There is no getting around it, Jesus’ call to us is demanding. His love, so amazing, so divine, demands our souls, our lives, our all. When it comes to discipleship, there is no room for by-standers. There is no tagging along. Christian discipleship is a death sentence. But as demanding as Jesus is, he does not ask of us one thing that the world will not take from us anyway. The question in our lives is not whether we will die. The question is how we will live and how will we die. Yes, just as Jesus’ soul was troubled, so we will be troubled as we face death and experience deep loss during our lives. But with faith we can find peace amidst the strife, and confidence during our struggles, knowing that “whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” This is the lesson of the cross, an instrument of death that leads to new life. And it is to this cross we turn our eyes in this Holy Week. There we see one who has been lifted up; the one who has drawn the world to him. Prayer: Lord, help us to stay with you in your hour of trouble. Stay with us in our hour of trouble. Amen. John 12:20-36

A Woman Anoints Jesus

Day 35 Monday, April 2

Isaiah 42:1-9

Day 5 Monday, February 27

Luke 4: 9-15

This reading from Isaiah reminds me that God creates people to fulfill his plan to “bring forth justice” for all people. God wants his followers to bring kindness and compassion to those we meet without complaining, wallowing in self or hanging on to hurt/pain as if they were trophies from the past. Instead, we are to learn from these things and look to tomorrow for better times. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet; there was no job he felt was beneath him. I know people like that in our congregation. They start a conversation with “what can I do to help”. When they are asked to help they always do or give more than asked. The rewards are great and fulfilling whether they be meeting new people or renewing old friendships. I always get a feeling of accomplishment working with others. I worked at the FOCUS Food Pantry recently and was amazed at the number of people in need. Those who pulled my heartstrings most were the children. The awareness of need was overwhelming. I think God expects us to strive for faithfulness, not perfection. God has such hope for all his children. At the end of my life on earth I hope that God will be pleased with me, knowing that I’ve done the best I could. I find that praying in the morning gives me a new perspective on the day; a new beginning, if you will. Prayer: My prayer is one I heard at a service one Easter in Hawaii. “May the words from my mouth bring music to your ears.” Amen.

Hindsight is 20-20. Said another way, “when we make plans, God chuckles.” Whether our plans are simple weekend plans or the mapping out of a glorious career, God may have other ideas. In our current economy, fantasies of find a job or being able to retire early have become wildly unrealistic. It is only by looking back prayerfully that we see more clearly what God wanted for us and how it all unfolded. Hindsight has helped me to recognize the soundness of God’s plans for me so far. With trust in the unfolding of God’s plan, I can set aside disappointing realities and work for whatever the future provides.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to set aside my disappointments and place my faith and energy in your provision for my life. Amen.

Carol Hendrick is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church. She is a wife (49 years), mother, grandmother of 12, Sunday School teacher for the past 45 years and a member of Trinity’s Staff Parish Relations Committee.

Jeanette Sharp is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church, a practicing Psychologist and Bible Study teacher. She and her husband, Bob live in Albany.

Day 6 Tuesday, February 28

Luke 4: 16-21

THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF LENT

It was the Sabbath, and so Jesus went to Synagogue. On this Sabbath it was the synagogue of his hometown. They honored him by giving him the scroll to read. He unrolled the scroll, and spoke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then Jesus sat down and said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in its reading.” The townsfolk weren’t ready to hear that. “Hey, isn’t that Mary’s boy?” they said. “Isn’t that the carpenter’s son?” They had Jesus pigeon holed as one of their own, and there was no way they were going to accept him as the Anointed One. Jesus barely left with his life. A while later, when John the Baptist was rotting in prison, he charged his disciples to go to Jesus and ask him, “Are you the one, or should we look for another?” Jesus once again turned to Isaiah 61, and recited to them what for all purposes was his personal mission statement. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11) Prayer: O Lord, help us to see Jesus not just in the extraordinary, but give us sight to also recognize him in what is familiar to us. Amen.

A Mother's Lament

Day 34 Saturday, March 31

Romans 11:25-36

Day 7 Wednesday, February 29

Luke 4: 22-30

I remember a sermon given by the pastor of one of the Methodist churches I attended years ago: the preacher was talking about how he was on a plane one day sitting next to Baptist practitioner years ago; the practitioner was speaking about how she was a little afraid of flying but had faith in God about how the flight would not end in tragedy for her because of the strength of her faith. Further along in the conversation the Methodist pastor shared with the Baptist congregant his avocation; her response was, “I’ll pray for you.” The pastor’s take on this was that the Baptist congregant did not consider him to be “Christian” enough because he was a Methodist and not a Baptist. To make this response to the scripture fit the word allowance…was this not the type of arrogance that Paul was cautioning the Romans against? In Paul’s context, Rome was the seat of social sophistication and education for the day. We are not privy to the questions he was responding to, but we can imagine what it might have been: “What about those Christian Jews who aren’t behaving like we are?” Hypocrisy may be the worst sin for Christians as it violates the new covenant Jesus exposed to us when he was asked about what was the greatest Commandment. Prayer: Lord, help us to live with your will being at the forefront of our minds: help us to be humble as You intend us to be; we ask for your guidance in all things and help us to hear Your word as You wish us to discern it to be. Amen.

Thomas Wolfe famously titled his posthumous novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, the story of a writer who is shunned and driven from his hometown after he writes a book sharing the secrets of the town. Anyone who has returned to their hometown as an adult can sympathize with the predicament Jesus faces in this passage. Before Jesus returns to Nazareth, the stories of his preaching and miracles have preceded him. But, instead of being hailed as his hometown’s conquering hero, he is greeted skeptically. The people of Nazareth did not see the prophet, but instead the little boy who grew up in their midst. Jesus refuses to perform the miracles he had performed earlier. Instead, Jesus, sensing their distrust, instead tells of times when God performed miracles for Gentiles, rather than the Jewish people of Israel. The news that Jesus is sharing is that salvation is available to everyone who follows him. Enraged, the townspeople drive him out of Nazareth and attempt to have him be thrown off a cliff. Jesus instead walks through the crowd and continues on his journey. Close your eyes and imagine that someone who proclaims himself the Messiah appeared at your Church. How would we respond if a Messiah appeared in our midst and refused to prove Himself? Would we accept Him based on belief, or demand that He prove himself by performing a miracle? Would you dismiss him without physical proof? Prayer: Please help us to accept that which we feel with our heart and our soul, not just with our eyes. Michael Cooper, and his wife Laura, have belonged to Delmar Reformed Church for six years. They have two sons – Brian, who works and lives in New York City, and Alex, a student at SUNY Binghamton. Michael is Director of Publications at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. A former Consistory member at DRC, he currently serves on the Bethlehem Board of Education. Michael’s avocations are music, film, and reading.

Chaz: Thursday morning breakfast facilitator; the volunteers Rock! God has blessed us with their dedication and their works! I pray that God helps me to continue to be a model of his acceptance and agape form of love.

Day 8 Thursday, March 1

Matthew 5:17-26

Day 33 Friday, March 30

Mark 13:14-27

This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, but for me at least, one of the less familiar. Perhaps that is because the theme, “the law”, is a difficult one. I imagine the crowd, disciples included, expected something new and revolutionary, and Jesus seems to have anticipated that as he begins “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets…” Jesus continues, acknowledging the importance of the law but also making it clear that much is expected of us in keeping the commandments. Instead of self-righteously checking off a list of laws observed, as did the scribes and Pharisees, we are to do more. As an example, Jesus says it is not enough to refrain from committing a physical murder. When we are angry, and insult our brother or sister, we are in a sense murderers. As such, we are separated from God, unworthy of approaching the altar. We must find a way to be reconciled to our brother or sister. As this winter has been a time of great stress for the guests and volunteers at our Breakfast Program, I have seen the destructive force of anger. But I have also witnessed the transformative power of forgiveness and reconciliation, and mornings of grace. It seems to me that by living more fully in the law, in the true spirit of the law, we become fully human, experiencing the rich life for which God has created us. Prayer: Dear God, help us to understand “the law” as Jesus taught, and guide us as we seek ways to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters. Amen. Nancy Horan - Member of Emmanuel Baptist, FOCUS Executive Council, and Breakfast Program volunteer. Loves gardening, hiking and snowshoeing (when there is snow).

Imagine. A passage from Mark concerning the end times that sounds like Revelation. The “abomination of desolation” could be a person of consummate evil, or an accumulation of all the ills of a selfish society. Scientists conjecture the inevitable conclusion of our little corner of the Creation – when the Earth eventually spirals closer to the Sun, or a large asteroid inflicts annihilation upon creatures great and small. Pessimists conjecture fire and ice consuming the Earth. Fire from nuclear war. Ice from the “nuclear winter” that follows, as ash and steam hide the Sun from remaining eyes. Even for the elect, death will be painful – the price we all must pay for eternal life. Beware false prophets. They are not restricted to biblical times. Well -meaning delusionists and ulterior-motivated opportunists are too prone to proclaim the End of History. This year it is the Mayan calendar that has captured Hollywood’s attention, giving The Rapture some 3D competition. Best advice: Live each day as if it were your last (procrastination be damned); and live each day as if you would live forever (accepting the long term consequences of your actions and inactions). We know not the day, nor the hour of our individual or collective demise. We do know the Son of Man will command angels to convey us to our final reality. Prayer: Jesus promised us eternal life. He will keep his promise. Amen.

Tim O’Toole, Webmaster and member, First Presbyterian Church

Day 32 Thursday, March 29 Repentance

Lamentations 4:1-10

Day 9 Friday, March 2

Matthew 5: 27-37

Lamentations 4:1-10 is a traditional meditation for Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of the destructions of the Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies of Jewish history. This passage is not the only one to depict cannibalism in the Old Testament, nor is it the only mention of women eating their own children, but it may be the most piteous. Rabbi David Seidenberg, reflecting on this passage*, places it in the context of sustainable living. He points out that when we abuse the resources of the Earth, we are gorging, getting fat, on the birthright of Earth’s children. We are consuming our hope for the future. Read Lamentations, a distant klaxon Ear, can you not hear the warning? Pray earnestly; you who have been Estranged from God and humanity, Neglecting the poor, the suffering Tear your clothing, you who have so much, Accumulating wealth at the expense of Earth itself No jewels, no oil, repay the cost of greed Children lost to famine, war, poverty- Repent! Empty your self! Make room for the Holy! jah Prayer: Beloved and forgiving God, our selfishness and worldly desires bring their own punishment. In Your eternal Mercy, lift us out of our senses of entitlement and need. Teach us your paths of generosity and love. Amen. (*The Jew and the Carrot (http://jcarrot.org) Judith Henningson is a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church and works at the FOCUS Breakfast Program.

It was just a little lie. We only cheated once. It wasn’t really gossip, just a story. If we try to justify our actions we can be pretty sure that we know we have done wrong. Jesus’ words about the ways we live and act pierce us. He is speaking about realities in life that we try to soften of avoid. Temptation overcomes us and we call it a little thing until we are reminded of Jesus’ words. Jesus knows what it is to be human and Jesus knows that we cannot pretend before God. His words to God on our behalf, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” his plea for us to acknowledge what God has spoken to us and to direct us to follow God’s intent. There is much out there to tempt us. And there is a God who knows what makes a good life for us. Thanks be to God, hold fast to what is good and right, in all the dimensions and experiences of living. Prayer: Gracious God, we hear in your words to us what you would have us be and we try to excuse ourselves but we know when we stray from your will we deny the gift of your presence in our lives and so we ask your forgiveness and the strength to follow you every day. Amen.

Freda A. Gardner, First Presbyterian church, participant in FOCUS endeavors, retired teacher.

Day 10 Saturday, March 3

Mark 8: 22-30

Day 31 Wednesday, March 28

Romans 10:14-21

In today’s reading we find Jesus and the disciples doing good and keeping secrets. It’s not inconsistent with other biblical injunctions about “doing good works in secret” but it may seem like a strange business to the 21st century reader. The “messianic secret” in the gospel of Mark has been challenging readers for a long time. Lots of explanations have been offered, but at the end of the day we’re left to try to reckon it up in the context of our own experience and that makes for a valuable devotional exercise. As I “live into” these verses in the year 2012, the insight they provide seems to me to be one of expectation. Jesus was simply doing what he’d been given to do: embodying the grace of God. Once the secret is out and we’ve labeled him, we also have a tendency to get busy creating an idol of him. Whereas – in Jesus - we’ve been given a surprising encounter with grace, in labeling him we may miss seeing the grace because it doesn’t look like we thought it would. We trade serendipity for expectations. We substitute our demands for the gifts of love. What gift of grace might we be missing today simply because it doesn’t look like we expected? What work or word of hope, healing, encouragement might we neglect or ignore because we’d mislabeled ourselves or a neighbor? Prayer: Gracious God, guide us to see and embrace your presence, love and grace in the world around us, even when it doesn’t look like we expected it to. Amen.

The portions of scripture preceding this passage provide us with God’s instruction to us for our salvation. Here, beginning in verse 14, we hear why there is no excuse for “non-believing.” From the preceding verses we learn that salvation comes from believing in Jesus Christ and confessing him as your Lord and Savior. The only excuses then for non-believing are a lack of hearing the word or a failure to understand the word. Paul uses the Israelites here as the example of those who have heard and have understood (verses 18 -20). But are we not the same? Have we not heard? Have we not understood? Verse 21 then provides the good news for God tells Israel and us “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” He has not closed himself off to us, or to any, but rather awaits with open arms all who will hear, believe and confess. Prayer: God we have heard your word. We are without excuse, knowing full well that you save us upon our confession of our belief in your Son, Jesus. Remind us in our times of doubt, strengthen us in our times of weakness, walk with us in our times of loneliness for we know you await us with outstretched arms.

Jeffrey Matthews, Pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, is a member of the FOCUS Executive Committee and Personnel Committee.

Tom Marston, Delmar Reformed Church Observed by many to be trying

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
Day 30 Tuesday, March 27 Light shining in the darkness is an image that speaks to us in many circumstances of our lives. We have all experienced the complete blackness of a power outage, when we welcome the smallest glimmer from a flashlight or candle. More importantly, many have felt the darkness and despair of the soul, whether in a hospital room, at a loved one’s deathbed, or feeling irretrievable loss of job or finances. As Jesus approached the end of his life on this earth, he was undoubtedly frustrated by his knowledge that people didn’t believe his important message. Over and again John tells us that: “Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind;” “Jesus Christ is the true light arrived to shine on everyone coming into the world;” and later, quoting Jesus, “I am the light of the world. So if you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, for living light will flood your path.” But – isn’t there always a ‘but’? – The last sentence in this passage draws us up short. We love to think about light in our darkness, but judgment? Oh, that’s a tough one. It’s not easy to think our decisions and actions might be judged as rejections of the truths Jesus has spoken to us. If we are honest, we realize that we do fall short of completely understanding and living Christ’s message. So, in this Lenten season, may we be mindful and prayerful in pursuing the message. Prayer: Eternal Creator, we thank you for the Light you have sent us. Please let us accept the Help you have sent us to find our way through the darkness into Eternal Light. Amen. John 12:41-48

Lawrie Lierheimer, Westminster Presbyterian Church
The Last Supper

Day 11 Monday, March 5

Romans 4: 16-25

Day 29 Monday March 26

Lamentations 1:1-13

When I was given this verse to write about I wasn’t sure of its relevance to our Lenten journey, but my pastor – who was nice enough to ask me to do this – said to “let it percolate a bit”. So that’s what I did along with researching it, which I always do with a puzzle or problem I come on. For me that meant reading the passage through in several different versions and finding my answer to the relationship between it and Lent in the translation called “the Message”. These verses in Romans give the very reason for our Lenten journey as they also give the reason for Jesus’ sacrificial journey that we memorialize and contemplate in Lent and the price we are asked to pay for that gift. The gift is grace: an amazing free gift given to us by God through Jesus’ sacrifice. It’s not given because of our deeds or acts or because of our lineage or adherence to the law. God’s promise arrives as pure gift (Romans 4:16 “the Message”) as it did for Abraham, our faith father before us. The amazing free gift of grace is for everyone. There are no membership requirements, down payments or minimum balances. Simply believe in God and embrace God’s promise made flesh in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer: Lord, as we continue this Lenten journey, help us to keep foremost in our thoughts that this journey is made possible through your amazing free gift of grace and nothing of our own doing. Amen.

Sometimes when reading a newspaper or magazine an item stands out that is worth clipping and saving. This happened recently when I read this: “Peace on the outside comes from knowing God within.” There is a profound message in these nine words. Give pause a moment and reflect. Our inner voice which comes from God is there if we but pause and listen. A medical situation arose in our family which caused alarm as well as the need to make many choices. It was as though there was a guiding hand leading the way. Listening and following gave a sense of peace and direction. Life is full of challenges and yes, decisions. A favorite Bible passage is from Proverbs 3:6 – “In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.” Another passage is from Lamentations 3:25-26 – “The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” May we in our every-day lives seek and follow that inner voice. Prayer: Our heavenly Father, in gratitude we give thee thanks for your guiding hand and the peace which helps guide us along the way. Amen.

Alberta Ryan-Pepper is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church and one of its representatives to the FOCUS Executive Committee. She, her husband, Tim and their family – which includes people and pets - live in Albany.

Barbara Bradley is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church. She and husband, Wes are retired and live in Glenmont.

THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
Day 12 Tuesday, March 6 My views on faith have changed markedly since 2000 – because of experiences with guests in the FOCUS Breakfast program and friendships with people born in Africa. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that faith caused Abraham to respond when God tells Abraham to leave behind his place and community and trust only God to take him into the unknown. The Bible tells us that faith was a struggle for Abraham. Our Breakfast program guests sometimes discuss their faith journey struggles. In 2010 I participated in a prayer service for Breakfast program guests led by Rev. Alice Kyei-Anti, our visiting missionary from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. The prayer service theme was, “Do people see the face of God when they see you?” All were praying about how to be faithful – whether responding to a call for a life style change or a call to serve others. In 2010 Rev. Alice said in a sermon, “I feel my faith journey can be summed up as doing service for God . . . I continue to follow His directive to go where I am needed.” Rev. Alice inspires me as I learn about how she has served God as a pastor, missionary, and individual advocate in 19 different countries. As I watch FOCUS volunteers and Church friends reach out in love, I pray for wisdom on how to live the rest of my life and to respond to calls which will help others see the face of God. Prayer: Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Amen. (Psalm 27) Lois Wilson, a Deacon at Westminster Presbyterian Church, has been a FOCUS Breakfast Volunteer since 2001 and made four trips to Ghana since 2005. The Crucifixion Hebrews 11: 8-12

Day 13 Wednesday , March 7

Hebrews 11:13-19

Day 28 Saturday, March 24

John 14:15-21

The inspirational words of these verses are about the FAITH of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac. In Hebrews 11:13 “All these people” refers to these 3 people who had a tremendous faith in God. They all died not yet having in hand what they were promised. But they still kept believing. They saw themselves as transients in this world and were after a far better country -- heaven country. God was so proud of them. People of faith need to be looking for their true home and believe that God will give us what he has promised. By faith, Abraham, at time of testing, offered Isaac back to God, even after he had been told by God: “Your descendants shall come from Isaac”. Standing in the sandals of the characters in these verses is not easy. Our human nature wants everything that we can get in this world. But God wants us to have things that are good for us. We get frustrated, impatient with God when life is not how we want it to be. Our faith is put to the test. But our faith that God will do what is the best for us should be steadfast. And our prayers will be answered. This is God’s promise to humanity. Like Abraham we must keep our faith strong during adversity. One year I volunteered for the school supply program of one of our FOCUS churches. We packed school supplies for children who could not afford them. We then distributed these supplies to parents and children who came. Participating in this project brought more joy to me than even the parents of these children. Seeing the sparkling eyes of the children and their happiness when they took their packages left me with a deep inner peace. I thought to myself, “I see God working for these children - he provides for our needs”. Prayer: Our heavenly father, why do we look to ourselves for help? Help us to be still and know that you are God, always there for us. Amen. Archana Mane, member of Delmar Reformed Church, Delmar

Jesus speaks of love and revelation in the same breath. He wants his friends to understand that loving and knowing are of a piece, that loving draws us deeper into knowing and being known by the one whom we love. Here on the threshold of his death, Jesus cannot go until he assures them that he will not leave them bereft but will, in fact, continue to love and help them. He cannot leave until he tells them that by their loving, they will remain in relationship with him; through their shared love, he will yet reveal himself to them and be known by them. What knowledge does your loving lead you to? As you stretch yourself into loving others, what becomes revealed to you—of them, of yourself, of God? How has love challenged or changed what you know? How are you opening yourself to its presence in your life? Blessing that Knows Your Name Chances are there will come a day when you will forget every last word of this blessing. It does not matter. Let this blessing slip through your fingers. Let it roll from the smooth plane of your palm. Let each line disappear and every syllable fall away. Let this blessing return to where all blessings begin. Let it leave you until all that remains is the place where it pierced you— whether like fire or like breath you could not say, only that you heard your name as it entered, then heard its own as it blew away.

Jan Richardson

Day 27 Friday, March 23

John 11:55 – 12:8

Day 14 Thursday, March 8

I Corinthians 2:1-9

“Take your shoes off before you come in; I just washed the kitchen floor.” “But why, Mom, it’s just gonna get dirty again!” ‘And many went up from the country to Jerusalem to purify themselves.’ I stood in front of a mosque watching the men sit on stone benches and wash their feet before entering for prayer. My camera was itching to take a picture, but my mind said – no! – this is too private and too sacred a space for that. A young man caught my eye and read my mind. He smiled and motioned for me to come closer and he told me with hand motions that it was OK to take a picture. I smiled, snapped the picture, and shook his hand – a bit wet, but it was our personal communion, a sacred place, a treasured photo. I wonder if he does that every day, or maybe five times a day. They’re just going to get dirty again. “Mary, why are you wasting that expensive perfume, and why do you prostrate yourself at a man’s feet? That’s a year’s salary; it could feed the hungry, clothe the poor, bail someone out of a defaulted mortgage.” Why do you make me feel like Judas asking that question? Am I not right? ‘You always have the poor with you.’ Is that an answer? Or is that a question? Why? Prayer: O, Lord, there is a place where the floors are always polished and feet are always clean. Where? There is a place where people starve and babies cry. Why? – Amen.

“For I resolved to know nothing ... except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” says Paul. And him crucified. What foolishness! Who in her right mind would follow a leader who was executed as a despised criminal. That’s not my idea of a good time. And how foolish the disciples must have felt. Terrified, yes, but foolish also. They left their jobs, their families, their communities for this? A crucified leader? What fools they were. So what makes us continue the foolishness? Why do we follow a Christ crucified? Because we know the end of the story—or maybe its true beginning. We know that crucifixion wasn’t―and isn’t―the end. Christ lives! He is risen! He will come again! And knowing that, we have the freedom to live on the other side of crucifixion. We don’t need to fear the power of human might. We don’t need to worry about being “successful” in human eyes. We can throw ourselves body and soul into serving Christ because we know that whatever happens to our bodies, our souls are safe in Christ. I follow a Christ crucified. But also “I serve a risen Savior” and I know that He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart. Alfred H. Ackley ©1933 Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the freedom that your death and resurrection have brought to us. May we serve you willingly and well. Amen.

Richard Gascoyne, First Presbyterian Church

Edith Leet Emmanuel Baptist Church member and FOCUS volunteer

Day 15 Friday, March 9

1 Corinthians 2:10-16

Day 26 Thursday, March 22

John 10:1-6

I’ve been a librarian for nearly two decades. One of the things I have noticed over the last several years is that many people seem to think that virtually all the information they will ever need can be found by going on the Internet and Googling for it. In fact, Google and other search engines do not always retrieve what’s known as “gray literature”, which is defined as “research that is either unpublished or has been published in non-commercial form.” Often, it is that particular dissertation, government report or policy statement that provides the best answer to a query. Likewise, there is human knowledge. Some folks believe that’s all there is, and are skeptical of any other source of data. But others have been blessed by the Spirit to access the “gray literature” of Christ’s spirituality. Best of all, one doesn’t need a computer or other device to access this database, and one can download it at any time, day or night. And the wisdom to answer life’s pressing questions can be found in unexpected clarity. Prayer: May we be transformed by the greater wisdom offered to us graciously by the Spirit of God. Amen.

The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. (vs. 3-5, MSG) Reading this passage today, it is verses 3-5 that stand out to me. How do I learn to recognize Jesus’ voice? So often I feel that I just move with the crowd. I’m in a good flock, so that generally works just fine, until I hit some dangerous places, when there are dissensions in the group, personality based or theologically based, or when I’m feeling too tired to continue. Can I really discern Jesus voice from the stranger’s? I know the answer to this. I need to keep a strong personal connection with God. I need to take the time to study scriptures and pray daily. This week I am called to follow Jesus on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I am traveling with a flock of Christians, and I have taken this trip before. Still the challenge for me is to hear God calling MY name, to not be distracted by petty concerns, to be spiritually connected, familiar with Jesus voice, so that I don’t wander from where God is leading. Prayer: God, I pray for the wisdom to recognize your voice, to trust in your leading. Hold me close as we travel this journey, and on all our journeys of service to you.

Roger Green, First Presbyterian Church, formerly kept the FOCUS community page on the Times Union website, blogger

Marilyn Malone Emmanuel Baptist Church Moderator

Day 25 Wednesday, March 21

John 9:1-7

Day 16 Saturday, March 10 Blessing in the Chaos To all that is chaotic in you, let there come silence. Let there be a calming of the clamoring, a stilling of the voices that have laid their claim on you, that have made their home in you, that go with you even to the holy places but will not let you rest, will not let you hear your life with wholeness or feel the grace that fashioned you. Let what distracts you cease. Let what divides you cease. Let there come an end to what diminishes and demeans, and let depart all that keeps you in its cage. Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see what shimmers within the storm.

Mark 1: 21-28

“When night falls, the workday is over”. I ask this question: for a Christian is the workday ever over? If we are to live our lives following Jesus, we become the light that spreads His word. Spreading the word of Jesus can take on many forms. We will never restore someone’s sight by applying mud to their eyes, but how many people do we encounter who are blind to Jesus’ words. We cannot force people to read and learn about Jesus. So how do we engage those who have not met Jesus? I believe it is through our everyday actions and volunteer work. Just as Jesus touched the life of the blind man, we who follow Him touch the lives of people every day. It is through our actions towards people that the light of Jesus comes through. When we volunteer at the food pantries or the breakfast program, we are spreading Jesus’ light. When we participate in mission programs at our respective churches, we are spreading Jesus’ light. When we teach Sunday school or sing in the choir, we are spreading Jesus’ light. When we walk down the street and help someone who has fallen, we are spreading Jesus’ light. It is the hope of every Christian that as they spread Jesus’ light people will be drawn to it. If someone is living in a dark room and seeks a source of light, we have an opportunity to be that light. We have that opportunity to open doors, share God’s love and bring people to the light. We are Jesus’ light in the world. Prayer: We ask God to be with us as we go out into the world and give us the ability, as Christians, to be His light. Amen.

Donna B. Holley, Delmar Reformed Church FOCUS food pantry volunteer and Sunday school teacher, Member of the Consistory

Jan Richardson

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
Day 24 Tuesday, March 20
“If

John 8: 31-38

you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Nancy Kuivila, a Westminster Presbyterian member, recently sent me an e-mail that made the distinction between integrity and truth: “A scientist was discussing the elaborate efforts during World War l to protect their cultures from the penicillin mold. It was not until the ending of World War II that we began to read of the miracles that penicillin was bringing to bacterial infections. World War l researchers were doing their work with integrity, but did not see the Truth at that time.” It seems to me that much of Christendom is sprinting as fast as they can away from the truth, frightened by the discoveries of science, unwilling to open their eyes to advances in medicine, psychology, astronomy, geology, genetics, and evolutionary theory. We believe in a Lord who said, “the truth will set you free.” Our faith in him can liberate us to enter into the academy and into all spheres of life where people our seeking knowledge with the confidence that the pursuit of truth will draw us closer to God. My father was a physicist who designed electron microscopes. He said his faith was never more confirmed than when he was looking through the lens of his microscope. Prayer: Lord, strengthen us to be fierce in our pursuit of truth. Visit us with your Spirit that we may know your presence at the center and on the frontiers of our learning. Amen.

Rev. Jim Reisner, Westminster Presbyterian Church, FOCUS Executive Council Agony in the Garden

Day 23 Monday, March 19

John 8: 21-30

Day 17 Monday, March 12

Jeremiah 23:16-24

The Pharisees have been questioning Jesus, arguing with him, and trying to trap him. But Jesus refuses to play their game. He does not allow their opinion of him to tell him who he is. The only conversation that defines him is the one he has with his Father. In the face of scoffing, he holds fast to what his Father has told him about who he is and what he is called to do. Jesus had a choice. He could have decided that simply announcing his divinity and hinting at his sacrifice was a poor strategy. He could have decided that, given the realities on the ground, his Father’s instructions needed tweaking. He could have tried to make his claims more plausible, and less startling, he could have condemned the crowds and called out their every fault, or he could have turned to the Father and complained about being sent to do the impossible—alone. But Jesus chooses to exercise faith. He keeps his eyes and ears not on the crowds, but on his Father. He does not take matters into his own hands, but speaks only the words his Father has given him. He demonstrates his faith and trust in his Father, testifying that his Father is “true” and that “he has not deserted me.” As a result, many believe. Prayer: Lord, when I am pressed by doubts and worries, criticism and unbelief, help me to turn to you in faith, listening for your words and believing that I am never alone. Amen.

In considering Jeremiah 23:16-24, the central theme of false prophets is one which remains an issue for us today, as we are bombarded by opinions from an array of sources. The line, “I did not send these prophets, yet they run with their messages,” resonates with me as I consider the propaganda of many groups (some political, some religious) who promote their own agendas and validate them with a divine stamp. As it was thousands of years ago, it still is today, since human beings still highjack the word of God for their own purposes. Platforms of hate or judgment are promoted by those who would represent us in our government or in our churches. Oftentimes, the message has a kernel of truth or a belief we share. So how to determine what we let in and what we resist? As Christians, our core doctrine is to love each other without judgment and to take care of each other. Serving at the FOCUS breakfast is a good reminder of this message. Our guests come to us for many reasons. Their needs are diverse, some being of the body and some being of the spirit. These people have arrived at our table via a variety of paths. As we continue through the Lenten season, let’s reflect on the charity Jesus showed to others, despite their social status. It is important to hold these truths dear even as we are bombarded by sophisticated media, which is after all the false prophet of today.

Annalaura Chuang is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church where she teaches Sunday School and - along with husband, Cliff and their two children – participates in the community life in a number of ways.

Michelle DePersia is the Office Manager at Trinity United Methodist Church and a regular volunteer at the FOCUS Breakfast Program.

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
Day 18 Tuesday, March 13 The prophet Jeremiah does not mince words. He has a strong message to a broken community in exile: just because your people are in crisis does not mean you can react out of fear. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s time claimed to speak for God without having a clear calling as prophets. Since the uprooted people felt threatened at the core of their religious identity, they abandoned cool headed thought and went along with whatever harebrained claims people made on God’s behalf. According to Jeremiah, God is against the prophets who take advantage of the people in their vulnerable state and lead them astray. When we first read this passage, it is very easy to draw analogies to our present day and to empty words spoken between individuals or on television. Many people claim to have a special insight into our current times. They often want to sell you something, too. When we encounter the passage on a deeper level, we see ourselves in it as well. Lent is a time of individual and communal reflection, of taking inventory and assessing our spiritual lives. This passage from Jeremiah is fertile ground for self-examination. When have I reacted out of fear? Has my congregation felt threatened to the point that we could no longer maintain cool heads? How do I discern God’s voice among the cacophony of voices around me? Prayer: Loving God, Give your FOCUS community ears to hear only your voice and guide us to respond to your call for our lives. Amen. Frances Wattman Rosenau, Associate Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, member of FOCUS Executive Council, and downtown Albany enthusiast. Jesus before Pilate Jeremiah 23:25-32

Day 22 Saturday, March 17

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

Day 19 Wednesday, March 14

Jeremiah 24:1-10

Discretion is the word that comes to mind when reading these passages. How often do we boast of our good works to pat ourselves on the back for all that we do? However, Jesus reminds us that God sees everything that we do. Our fellow brothers and sisters do not need to know our good deeds. These passages humble me to remember that we need to do God’s work quietly and our reward is knowing that we have done these good deeds in Jesus' name and God will reward us. We do not need reward from our fellow man. The same is true of our treasures. We need to be reminded that our true treasure is in heaven, not in worldly possessions. One of my favorite passages is held within these passages “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Let us remember this now and during this Lenten Season. Prayer: Heavenly Father we pray that we remember what our focus is when serving you. Remind us not to be boastful and to store our treasures in You and not in worldly possessions. In your name we pray. Amen.

Good & Bad Figs. The Lord showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs placed in front of the Temple. The first basket contained good figs, those that ripen early; the other one contained bad gifs, too bad to eat. The Lord, the god of Israel, considered the people taken away to Babylonia like the good figs. The Lord would treat them with kindness. He would watch over them and bring them back to the land of Jerusalem. The Lord would build them up and not tear them down; he would plant them and not pull them up. He will give them the desire to know that he is the Lord. Then the people will return to the Lord with all their heart. They will be his people and he will be their God. But King Zedekiah of Judah, the politicians around him, and the rest of the people of Jerusalem who have stayed in that land or moved to Egypt will be treated by the Lord like the figs that are too bad to be eaten. The Lord will bring disaster on them that all the nations of the world will be terrified. People will ridicule them and use their name as a curse everywhere that the Lord scatters them. There will be war, starvation, and disease on them until there is not one of them left in the land the Lord gave to them and their ancestors. Prayer: As I desire to know the Lord, please guide me to repent my sins and listen to the message of God.

Linda Mayou, Delmar Reformed Church I have had the pleasure of working in the FOCUS food pantry once. Last year our Berea group provided plants, soil, tomato plants, etc. for the Schuyler Inn residences. I also try to quietly purchase the monthly request of non food items to be distributed by the FOCUS food pantry.

Jeanne Kardash Sunday School Teacher, Delmar Reformed Church

Day 20 Thursday, March 15

Jeremiah 25: 8-17

Day 21 Friday, March 16

Jeremiah 25:30-38

Jerusalem was coming unglued. If God’s people had listened and obeyed they would’ve continued to enjoy God’s favor, but since they didn’t there was trouble. Judah was told it abandoned God for other gods, traded the Living Water for broken cisterns. There’s a price to pay for not listening. Abandoning God leads to abandoning neighbor. The nation was guilty of oppressing widows, the alien and the fatherless and no one noticed the widespread moral indifference. God tried to reach them, but no one listened! Prophets speak mainly in desperate times. Through Jeremiah God speaks in thunderous tones to the threatened city, particularly its deaf leaders. The day of reckoning has come, brought upon themselves by infidelity and indifference. Joy, celebration and prosperity would be no more. The time of destruction and exile was immanent and would last for two generations. God planned to use foreigners to teach Judah to pay attention and keep covenant with God. But a further word is given. Hope is extended! After 70 years they would return to their land. In the meantime, will they become more faithful and attentive at listening to the heart cries of injustice? As importantly, will we? May we pray and live into the spirit of these words by Brian Wren: “Living in a world that suffers, pain and evil fret our mind. Reason ends with broken answers. Let us pray, and hope to find, through each other; joined together, Christ alive, caring, bearing evil, giving joy that the world cannot destroy.”

The angry and vengeful God of the Old Testament can be hard for us to understand in today's world. Two questions arise: How can the Creator become angry enough to wipe out his creation? What will save us from our own destruction and restore our relationship with God? The first answer lies in obedience. God demands that his people obey his commandments. When they turned away and acted in selfish, greedy ways, they found out that they would suffer the consequences of their actions. The destruction they faced was a direct result of their mistreatment of each other and the world that they were supposed to take care of. God had given them a great gift, and had made them responsible for its care. They failed in their responsibility. Today, we understand that what we do can have a destructive impact on our planet. When we put our own comfort and pleasure ahead of the needs of others, and ahead of the well-being of the natural world, we face the loss of the world that nurtures us. If we are to avoid our own demise, we must change the way we treat the planet and each other. The second answer is especially relevant in this season of Lent. Jesus came to us to show us the way, and in so doing, he made the ultimate sacrifice for us, paying the debt that we owed God. As we approach Easter, we are reminded of that sacrifice, and take the time every day to express our thanks for it. Prayer: Creator God, we thank you for the world you gave us, and we ask your guidance in caring for it. And we thank our Lord Jesus Christ for the sacrifice he made in paying the great debt we owed you. Amen Rick Ryther, First Presbyterian Church, Albany, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 75 in Delmar.

Mark Chaffin is the interfaith chaplain at Baptist Health, Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Scotia, a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church and a FOCUS advocate.