Thank you for signing up to receive the 2020 Lenten Devotional. Daily emails will begin on March 1.
FOR THE LOVE
2020 LENTEN DEVOTIONAL | INTRODUCTION
For the love of the game. If you watch any sports, chance are you’ve heard at least one commentator utter these words. They are spoken to talk about a player who plays not for money or fame, but because she or he takes great pleasure in the game. Those are the players it is most enjoyable to watch, who radiate freedom and joy while they dribble, tumble, or swing. Maybe you’ve heard, or used, the expression in a different way like when pleading with someone to do something: “For the love of your mother, please put on your shoes.” We also hear it as a term attached to God: “For the love of God, please have mercy.”
For the love. It seems to me that it is an expression which pairs perfectly with the season of Lent. If you are familiar with Lent, that sentence may cause you to pause. Lent is usually associated with giving up things we love through gritted teeth. Lent and love? You got it! First and foremost, Lent is a time when we focus on Jesus’ journey to the cross. To focus on that journey, we must ask “Why did Jesus journey to the cross in the first place?” Hebrews 12:2 says it this way: For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. What was Jesus’ joy? To obey His father and be in union with you and with me. Jesus went to the cross for the love of you and me, rescuing us from our sin and bringing us into union with God.
In response to this great love for us, Lent encourages us to do two things. First, Lent encourages us towards self-examination. Trusting His love for us, we invite the Lord to peer deep into the dark crevices of our hearts, places we might be only vaguely aware of or don’t even realize that we have. Together with the Lord, we examine these places in the light of His love and ask for His healing and transformation. This examination work is done for the love. As we allow the Lord to examine us and we partner with Him for our transformation, we become more fully human, more capable of loving God and loving others, as God created us to do.
Second, Lent encourages us to examine the ways in which we love others. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all that we are and all that we’ve got, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Lent is a time to take stock of the ways we love others for the love of God, and ask God to stretch us and grow us in this love for others.
Lent is all about love.
For the love of us, Jesus went to the cross.
For the love of the Triune God, we open our lives to the Spirit’s healing.
For the love of God, we love others.
There is perhaps no better book that captures the movement of love — God’s love and our love — than 1 John. In this short letter, the word love appears over 40 times. It is our hope and prayer that as we dwell in this short letter together over Lent, that the Lord uses His word to fill us with His purifying love, so full that it brims over and spills out, a blessing to all those around us. Enjoy!
Rev. Amy Carlan and Rev. Heather Thomsen Tang
Each week, there will be a suggested practice for you to engage in during the week. We’ve been talking about practices for a couple years now, and we want to suggest another way to consider them to help broaden our understanding and engagement. Think for a moment about your daily habits: reading your news feed, checking texts (how often and when?), reading to your children, exercising, etc. All of our habits form us in some way. They tell us certain stories about who we are, what we need, and what we value. If, for example, I fill all my down time at stop lights checking texts/emails, I am being formed to value being occupied or busy, even in moments that could otherwise be used for quiet reflection or awareness of the world around me.
Practices can be viewed as spiritual habits, ways that we allow God’s True Story — from creation to new creation — to form us: how we view ourselves, our worth, our values, and our place in this world. For example, if I practice confession (see week 2), I remember that I am not sufficient on my own, but am reliant on God’s grace. In the act of confession, I remember that His grace can transform me. This is counter-cultural to what our culture tells me: that I can, and should, strive to rely on myself alone.
During this Lent season, think of practices as spiritual habits and consider how they help form you into God’s True Story. Of course, habits take time to form. With that in mind, we’d encourage you to look over all the practices in the booklet before you begin: lectio divina, the examen, memorization, and fasting. Look over them and ask the Lord, “Is there one my soul is most drawn to?” If so, consider engaging that practice for the whole season instead of trying all of them. You don’t have to do all of these to get it “right.” The only “right” thing to do is to make space for the Lord, and entrust Him with your hopes and expectations.
Historical Context and Background of 1 John
Consider one of your favorite musical pieces. What is it about the music that moves you? If it is a piece of music with words, perhaps the lilt and meaning of the poetry hits you at a soul-level. Perhaps it is the clarity of individual instruments blending together to become more than the sum of their parts. With or without words, all music shares common elements: a prelude that introduces us to what is to come; repeated refrains; riffs and bridges, all leading to a finale that swells to new heights or lands us gently. And though it may be sung or played in various ways, the melody is always present in each part of the song.
In many ways, the letter of 1 John is like a piece of music.1 The beautiful and simple words carry a cadence that hits us as at the soul-level. The letter does not start with one point and logically move to the next. Rather, the words and themes move like music, with a prelude, bridges, riffs, and swells, weaving together to become a work greater than the sum of its parts. Throughout the letter, a melody plays repeatedly, in various ways. The melody? The melody is love; God’s love drawing us near to Him. In light of the way 1 John is written, instead of working through the book verse by verse, chapter after chapter, we will explore the various riffs on the theme of love. We’ll start with the source of love: God. Then we’ll move into how God’s love fills us, changes us, and flows out of us to others and back to God.
But before we begin, let’s consider this question: why did John write this letter? The opening, or lack thereof, tells us some of why John wrote. John skips usual niceties at the beginning of the letter. He jumps straight to Jesus. Not only does this tell us about what the focus of the letter will be, it also tells us something about the author and those he is writing to. More than likely, John was writing to a house church, or cluster of house churches, over which he had some oversight. They knew him and he knew them and they shared love and affection. He never actually identifies himself as John in the letter, but as the “Elder.” Historical tradition has identified the elder as the Apostle John, the Son of Zebedee and brother of James (Matthew 4:21). Most scholars agree that the “Elder” also wrote or inspired the writing of the Gospel according to John: the themes, grammar, and vocabulary of John’s Gospel and these three letters have many similarities.
John does not explicitly say, “I’m writing you this letter because….” Both he and the congregation already know their own context, so he didn’t need to spell it out for them. Nor did he know that we’d be reading it thousands of years after the fact. So in a way, we are listening to one side of a conversation. That said, we can find clues in the letter about why John wrote. There was disagreement within the community about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. The disagreement led to dissent — a group of people left the church (see 1 John 2:19). The Elder wrote to address this dissent and to encourage those who stayed to remain faithful to the gospel. There is no way for us to be certain about what the people in this church disagreed on, but looking at the text the disagreements may have included:
- The incarnation: was Jesus really human?
- The relationship between sin and salvation: do true believers continue to sin, and still need forgiveness?
- Loving others: how is our relationship with God, through Christ, expressed in our lives?
Regardless of why John originally wrote this letter to the first hearers, we can be certain why the Lord has given us, today’s readers, this letter. The Lord of love wants to draw us closer to Himself, pouring His love into our souls so it overflows to those around us, that they may know His love too.
Each week we offer you songs that reflect the theme from 1 John on which we are focusing. The bulk of these songs are included on a Spotify playlist called LENT 2020, although a few songs are only accessible via SoundCloud or BandCamp.
To use the SPOTIFY Code on a mobile device, simply OPEN your SPOTIFY app and CLICK SEARCH. CLICK in your Spotify SEARCH BAR and then CLICK the CAMERA icon. HOVER over the SPOTIFY Code.
To use the QR Code on a mobile device, simply OPEN your CAMERA app and HOVER over the QR CODE. FOLLOW the link to the SOUNDCLOUD playlist.