This Lenten Season, Episcopal Relief & Development invites you to join us as we meditate on the commandment to love our neighbor and consider the meaning of this fundamental instruction in our daily lives.
The Rev. Robin Denney, a parish priest and former missionary focused on agricultural development in Liberia and South Sudan, wrote this year’s meditations. Robin’s reflections are poignant and personal and challenge the reader to consider the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Today’s themes: In our Sunday lectionary readings this week, and in the daily reflections, we will consider the themes of living faith and relational love.
Today’s Lectionary Readings
In this video, Catherine, a lead promoter in Moments That Matter®, a program partnership of Episcopal Relief & Development, talks about the meaning and impact of that work and her hope for participating families. The program focuses on teaching not only children but also caregivers and the community.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
— John 3:16-17
Jesus invokes the story of Moses and the bronze serpent when describing his ministry. The people of Israel complaining in the wilderness broke their relationship with God, and the suffering of the plague of serpents reminded them to turn back to God. All who shifted their gaze from the snakes biting them to the symbol of God’s deliverance that Moses had lifted up were saved.
Jesus sees his ministry as one of deliverance and mercy. He explains that he has not come to condemn but to save. The salvation that he offers is not a political, religious, or military victory in this world. He warns his followers that the way will not be easy; it will include suffering. The salvation Jesus offers is something so much more. The eternal life we find in Jesus is not something that starts when we die; it is a shifting of our gaze that transforms the way we live now.
Like the people of Israel in the midst of poisonous serpents, we find ourselves in the midst of dangerous and frightening times. We are beset around the world by increasing natural disasters, the threat of a changing climate, conflicts, rising hatred, nationalism, and division. Jesus offers us himself so that we might shift our gaze to him and see God’s unending and overwhelming love for us. Jesus calls his followers not just to believe but to allow that belief to transform us and send us out to be agents of that very love that empowers us. We are called into these dangerous and frightening times to find that all are our neighbors and that we are a part of God’s movement of love.
What is an act of love you can do today? Take some time to pray that God would give you eyes to see the opportunities that God places before you today. Take time to dwell on God’s love for you so that restored and nourished, you are ready to serve.
The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you… and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
— Genesis 12:1-2a, 3b
As a child, I remember being perplexed at why God praised Abraham for his faith. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal that God was offering him: go on a trip and become the father of all nations. Who wouldn’t say yes to that? Wasn’t that a pretty low bar for faith? Now, as an adult, I see Abraham, asked to leave everything and everyone he has ever known to go out into a dangerous desert and follow a God who is new to him. The cost of saying yes to God is steep, and I wonder how he did it.
Children see things differently. Their lives are full of change. Their brains are wired to try new things, to ask questions and to wonder. As adults, we are ready to count the cost, and the cost of change can feel insurmountable. We often dismiss the perspective of children as silly. But Jesus tells us that we can’t enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become like children. If we could learn from children, remember how to play, value adventure and observe with wonder the creation around us. Would it be easier for us to follow Jesus?
At times Abraham loses his faith. All through the difficult journey of his life, he only ever gets to see the glimmer of hope that God’s promise will come to pass. Today more than half of all humanity are followers of the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). We are called to faith and trust in God, not a blind faith, but a playful and adventurous faith. We are in a relationship with God whose love and faithfulness toward us are more than we can even imagine.
What opportunities is God giving you today, to wonder, to play, to seek adventure? How might you engage the children and youth in your life in conversation that you might learn from them? Talk with your inner child about your life today and what God might be calling you to do.
Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.
— Fred Rogers
The word neighbor and Mr. Rogers are inextricably linked for those of us who grew up as his television neighbors. A presbyterian pastor in Pittsburgh, he devoted his career to teaching children how to be good neighbors. Without talking about God directly, Mr. Rogers shaped two generations of children with the idea that they are loved, they matter, they can manage their emotions, and they can reach out in love and understanding to others.
Fred Rogers reminds us that love is not a destination or state of being that we arrive at but something we work at if we choose. Of the different words for love in ancient Greek, the word agape means the kind of love God has for us and that we are called to have for one another. Agape is unique from other types of love (like romantic love or love of family) because it is chosen and it is selfless and unconditional.
Jesus, through his teaching, his parables, his actions and his very life, shows us what this agape love is. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we see that God calls us to see all people, especially those in need, as our neighbor, and that the kind of love we should share with our neighbor is agape love.
I hope that you’ll remember, even when you’re feeling blue, that it’s you I like, it’s you yourself, it’s you. (Fred Roger, lyrics)
Is there someone in your life whom you struggle to love and accept as they are? Are you able to love and accept yourself? Spend some time in prayer and ask God to help you see and love yourself and others as God does.
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit…The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
– John 3:5-8
Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dead of night. He is drawn to Jesus but struggles to understand, taking all of Jesus’ words literally. He tries to figure out how you can literally be born a second time and responds to this further explanation from Jesus with “How can these things be?”
One of Jesus’ criticisms of the religious elite, to which Nicodemus belongs, is that they are following the letter of God’s law but ignoring the meaning. Religious practice, ritual or tradition had become more important to those in power than works of mercy, love and justice. Jesus’ criticism of the religious establishment rings through the ages.
But Jesus doesn’t give up on Nicodemus. He keeps trying to help him understand. We are called to be more than our human nature would have us be. We are called to be children of the very Spirit of God. What then? What if our identities were truly shaped by and grounded in the Spirit of God? What more would be possible? Could we risk and not lose faith? Could we serve and not grow weary? Could we hold onto adventure and wonder? Could we see the world and our neighbor as God sees them? Could we find true humility?
Spend some time today in silence or listening to sacred music. Listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Respond to your experience of the Spirit by making art, playing music, singing, writing or through your work today.
I lift up my eyes to the hills; * from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, * the maker of heaven and earth.
– Psalm 121:1-2
Mr. Rogers often shared the advice in times of disaster to “look for the helpers.” In seeing God at work in those around us in the midst of suffering, we are further empowered to find that same strength, inspiration, hope, and love in our own hearts.
When I lived in South Sudan, I met so many remarkable helpers. One helper inspired me particularly. She was deeply moved by the plight of the girls who lived on the street and were often abused, and she opened her home to support the children by teaching them the skills (like basic hygiene) they needed before they could be enrolled in school. She loved the children and helped them find safety, health, and education. It was not an easy road. For many of the girls, she was the only adult in their lives who truly loved and protected them, and that also meant she was the only one they could get angry with in safety. I filled in for her for just one day when she had to go out of town, and I was so utterly unprepared to handle the situation; I had to give myself a time-out. I laughed with her and some of the girls about it later.
I learned that we are called to act in love even when we are utterly unprepared for the tasks at hand. She showed me that in the face of massive, seemingly intractable situations of suffering, there is always something that can be done. From where is our help to come? God helps us as we seek to be the helpers.
Who are the helpers who have inspired you? When have you been a helper to someone else? When has God helped you with the hope or strength you needed in a difficult time?
Dice San Pablo: el que cumple con el amor cumple toda la ley, porque no robarás, no matarás, no harás mal a otro; todo eso está comprendido en una sola palabra: “Amarás a tu prójimo”… Si hubiera amor al prójimo, no existirían terrorismos, ni represión, ni egoísmos, ni desigualdades tan crueles en la sociedad, ni secuestros, ni crímenes.
Saint Paul says, ‘Whoever fulfills the duty of love fulfills the whole law. You shall not steal, you shall not kill, you shall do no wrong to another’ — all this is contained in one phrase: ‘you shall love your neighbor.’… If there were love of neighbor there would be no terrorism, no repression, no selfishness, none of such cruel inequalities in society, no abductions, no crimes.
— Archbishop Oscar Romero, December 10, 1978
We think of martyrs as existing primarily in the times of the early church, but in the 20th century, there were more Christian martyrs than in all the previous centuries combined. One such martyr is Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was shot by a sniper while celebrating the eucharist on March 24, 1980. Romero’s ministry as Archbishop of El Salvador was only three years long. Still, in those three years he profoundly inspired his people, and people around the world, with his determination to speak out against the oppression and violence being done to his people by their government, and to walk with the poor and those who were suffering most profoundly.
Love empowered Romero to a different kind of life than he had lived before. In grief and love, he found his courage and his voice. Romero had a clear vision of what it means to be a neighbor, and in the circumstances surrounding his ministry, he understood that living into this vision of loving neighbor would cost him his life. If we, too, were to love our neighbor truly, Romero tells us, the world would be a different place.
What stops you from speaking difficult truths? What stops you from getting to know someone who holds a different ideology or comes from a different culture than you? What stops you from serving those in need? Pray that God would inspire you to see these barriers as mere speedbumps on your way and give you all that you need to continue on the Way of Love.
Send your own reflection to email@example.com to share with our online community. Please limit your response to two or three sentences.
On more than one occasion, I have felt like God was not showing up for me in the way I thought he should. And then I realized that what I really needed was right there in the counsel of a trusted friend or the kindness of a new acquaintance. God graciously ministers to me through his people.
My children remind me what it feels like to be loved. Their mere existence makes me aware of the Divine every day.
God works through relationships to hold us up, bring us joy and give us witnesses to God's love in the world. Watching Episcopal Relief & Development partners at work, transforming their communities, restores my faith in the power of God's love at work in the world.
They offer me affirmation, strength and joy. Sharing my humanness with others brings meaning to my life and allows me to remember that Jesus is right here in front of me.