Saturday, March 10, 2012


Beyond Suffering

Scripture: Mark 8:31-38

Focus Verse:Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

The first time I met Bongani was on a Tuesday afternoon. He sat squished between me and his mother in the backseat of a Chevy Spark. Driving home from the hospital, he looked with surprise and wonder at the animals we saw on the way – cows, goats, dogs –and each time he pointed and we erupted in giggles. His laughter was infectious.

In between giggles, he scarfed down a fish sandwich. My eyebrows raised and my eyes widened as I saw the IV needle still in his fragile left hand. His mother complained about it, but Bongani was so engrossed with the animals and the food that he did not mention it.

When I saw Bongani a few weeks later, his mother was very ill. We sat on the couches and she told us how she was worried about Bongani, especially after he asked . “Mommy, are you going to die?” I could only imagine her pain; her six year old son asked if she was going to die. Bongani's concern was not unfounded. Both he and his mother are living with HIV, but at that moment she looked much closer to death than life.

Jesus knows he will suffer. His ministry of mercy, healing, and peace results in his death on a cross. Suffering and death do not limit his ministry, however. The Holy Spirit works through Christ’s suffering for the forgiveness of our sin and life eternal embodied in his resurrection.

Like Bongani and his mom, we suffer. Like Peter, the mere thought of suffering distracts us from the hope and promise of resurrection. But we worship the Good Shepherd who suffers with us. We worship Alpha and Omega who transforms pain into hope and peace. We worship Christ crucified who overcame sin and death to grant us forgiveness of sin and life eternal.

Prayer: Suffering Servant, through your pain you worked for our healing. Comfort all who suffer now in mind, body, or spirit. Be our peace and our strength all of our days. Amen.

Jennifer M. Manis

Friday, March 9, 2012


Faith Walk

Scripture: Romans 4:13-25

Focus Verse: No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Rom. 4:20-21)

Ninety-nine years old, Abraham had every reason humanly possible to doubt the words of the Holy One. However, despite his body “already as good as dead” and “the bareness of Sarah’s womb,” Abraham believed (v. 19). Abraham dared to believe in the faithfulness of his Creator. While earthly evidence indicated the inability for Sarah and Abraham to conceive, faith revealed otherwise. God fulfilled the promise.

Life often presents us with reasons to doubt the words of the Holy One. Cancer, addiction, unemployment, hunger, war, malaria, child prostitution…the list is endless. Yet, through the gift of faith, through the Holy Spirit, we trust in the promise of Christ.

Like Abraham, we give glory to God despite the messiness of our lives. We praise our Triune Lord for walking with us in the midst of our pain and joy. We give thanks for our Redeemer who continually enters into our pain and joy. We rejoice in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is our salvation. We live each day in faith confident that God fulfilled the promise.

Prayer: Faithful Lord, you fulfill your promises. Strengthen our faith in you. Continue to walk with us in the messiness of our lives. Amen.

Jennifer M. Manis

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Hunger Pains

Scripture: Psalm 22:23-31

Focus Verse: The poor shall eat and be satisfied… (Psalm 22:26a)

My airplane window revealed the poverty that many live in as miles of shacks spread into the distance. Leaving the airport, my minibus window revealed a clearer view of the cardboard, scrap metal and lumber, and tarps strategically placed to form a home. Later, my minibus window showcased the opulence of waterfront mansions.The juxtaposition of resources overwhelmed me.

I returned to Cape Town, South Africa six years later as a ministerial intern. The stark contrast between poor and rich remained ever apparent. One particular Sunday it slapped me in the face. Preaching from Mark 6:30-56, “The Feeding of the 5000,” I proclaimed:
“…like the disciples we are called to recognize that the gifts we have – our time, talent, and treasure – belong to God. The loaves and fish we have are gifts from the Creator – blessings we have to share with the hungry crowd. And in giving our gifts of loaves and fishes, we are not left hungry. The crowd is not left hungry. Everyone eats and is filled” (26 July 2009).
After the service, a young man approached the altar for prayer. He shared his prayer request as we both kneeled, face-to-face, holding hands, separated only by a wooden rail; he said,“I have no job and no food. Please pray that God will provide me with work and food.” Time stopped. I prayed with the man, overcome by the irony of the situation. What, Bread of Life, am I to do?

Neither the disparity between poor and rich, nor the abundance and lack of food is limited to Cape Town. It thrives in the very communities we inhabit. As you break bread today pause to consider how you can ensure that everyone eats and is satisfied. What, Bread of Life, are we to do?

Prayer: Bread of Life, you feed us spiritually and physically. Where there is abundance, open our hearts to share your gifts. Where there is scarcity, enable us to ask for help. Bless all who work to end hunger globally and locally. Amen.

Jennifer M. Manis

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Hear the Cries

Scripture: Psalm 22:23-31

Focus Verse: For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. (Psalm 22:24)

Rapid advances in technology inundate our lives with noise. Radios hum. Keyboards patter. Cell phones beep and buzz. Electronics strive to keep us plugged-in to the events of our world with tweets, status updates, and non-stop newscasts. While these waves of information flood our beings with sound bites and headlines of suffering and oppression, they do not require us to dive into the tumultuous sea of life. Rather, they offer us a cruise ship of luxury from which to view the pain of the exoticized other.

What if we got off the boat? What if we struggled to swim in the seas of affliction with our neighbors? What if we unplugged from the noise pouring down on us and embraced the silence? Whose cries would we hear?

We might hear the voice of a single mother who works full-time at a minimum wage job and struggles to pay rent and utilities each month. The voices of school children might ring in our ears as they share stories of bullying on the playground. Our parents and grandparents might speak of inadequate healthcare. And maybe, just maybe, we will hear our own voices cry out in pain and confusion as we struggle to make sense of our lives.

In this season of Lent, I challenge you to unplug from technology and tap into the richness of family, friends, and strangers. Leave your iPod at home and talk to the person next to you on the bus. Turn off the radio in the car and listen to the stories your child tells. Unplug the television for a day each week and deepen relationships with friends. Wrestle with the joy and pain of life together. Cry out together to the Living Word who hears us and intercedes on our behalf.

Prayer: Great I Am, you call us to live in community with you and with one another. Forgive us when our thirst for news forsakes the cries for healing in our homes and our neighborhoods. Embolden us to share our pain with each other and cry out to you for healing. Amen.

Jennifer M. Manis

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Blessing Messiness

Focus Verse: God said to Abraham... “ I will bless [Sarah], and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Gen. 17:16)

Four small words amidst many. “I will bless her” (v.16). I wonder if Abraham even heard them or if these four small words simply slipped by unnoticed as he struggled to grasp each word the Lord uttered in that moment.

Why should the Holy One bless Sarah? Who is she that the Lord announced blessing upon her?

Only a few seconds ago Sarah and Abraham were Sarai and Abram, a couple grappling with the messiness of infertility, old age, and the promise of an heir (Gen. 15-16). Seeking to provide Abram with an heir, Sarai presents him with Hagar. As her slave-girl, Hagar could serve as a surrogate mother for the couple, a custom of the day. Not surprisingly, the situation results in less than ideal behavior from all the parties involved, and yet, there is blessing.

In a distorted relationship, where our human judgment pushes us to seek retribution for Sarai’s previous actions, our Merciful Creator announces blessing: “I will bless her.” God knows the sins of Sarai and still blesses her. God knows our sins and still blesses us.

What does it mean for the Holy Trinity to pronounce blessing? What does it mean for blessing to enter into our messy lives?

When the judgment of the world urges us to seek vengeance for the wrongs done to us and done to others, our Lord speaks blessing. This is not a superficial blessing that overlooks our sin, but a blessing that acknowledges our brokenness, beckons us to repentance and forgiveness, and embraces us fully as we dare to live into the vast love and grace which is the Blessed One.

Prayer: Blessed Redeemer, in you resides forgiveness and new life. Strengthen us to turn away from sin and turn toward you. Pour out your blessing on us and make us a blessing to all whom we encounter. Amen.

Jennifer M. Manis

Monday, March 5, 2012


“What’s your name?”

Focus Verse: “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations…” (Gen. 17:5)

Across cultures and languages, introductions follow a basic pattern. “Good morning! My name is__________. What’s your name?” How have you responded over the years? When I worked in a preschool classroom, I told the children my name was Jenn or Ms. Jenn. As a child, I introduced myself as Jennifer because my mother believed firmly that children should be called what they are named and named what they will be called. As a social work intern at a high school, I was Ms. Manis.

Each of these names not only reflected the nature of my relationship with the other person, but also conveyed a sense of how I was to act – the responsibilities and obligations which stemmed from this relationship.

In Abram’s encounter herewith the Creator, the typical introduction pattern is disregarded. “I am God Almighty,” speaks our Lord (v. 1). Rather than pausing to let Abram introduce himself, the Eternal Covenant Maker tells Abram his name. “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham…” (v. 5).

Even though this is not the first time Abram and the Lord meet, an introduction occurs. The Creator not only renames Abram; the Creator also embraces a new name, “God Almighty” (v.1). These new names proclaim a new relationship, a covenantal relationship which requires both parties to live out a new understanding of who they are because of this relationship.

In the waters of baptism, the Holy One calls, renames, and renews us. God calls us into relationship with an introduction and renaming: “I am the Lord your God and you are my child.” Like Abram, this proclamation and covenantal relationship transforms us.

Go, child of God. Live into your new name. Let your life proclaim whose you are!

Prayer: Eternal Covenant Maker, you call us and name us your children. Make us bold to call on you, Merciful Parent. Empower us to live into the glory of your promise each day. Amen.

Jennifer M. Manis

Sunday, March 4, 2012



Scripture:  And just as he was coming up out of the water; he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:10-11

Baptism of the Lord Sunday is one of my favorites.  It usually occurs the second Sunday of January right after Christmas and Epiphany:  just when we are ready to get our lives back to “normal” after the holiday season.   

At my church, we have a ritual where the ministers walk around the aisles sprinkling the worshipers with branches purchased at a local florist.  As we do so, we invite them to “remember your baptism and be glad”.  The choir and congregation sing “Shall We Gather at the River…the beautiful, the beautiful river; gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”  

Needless to say, it is a very powerful experience and many people have reported the strange sensation they feel when the drops of water touch their skin.  Of course, we know that there is nothing inherently magical about the water itself except maybe it’s like “the Spirit descending like a dove” and drawing us into the mystical presence of God.  

I can tell you that it means a great deal to me as a pastor to look the eyes of my parishioners and invite them to hear the voice of God saying, “You are my son/my daughter, the Beloved.  I am well pleased with you.”

In these days when so many are tempted to be displeased and displeasing, it is a great joy to hear God’s good pleasure with us.  It is the most holy affirmation of all – “You are my Beloved!”  What better proof do we need that to track our steps with the One on his way to Jerusalem and the Cross?

Prayer:  Generous God, thank you for claiming us as your very own.  ‘Yes, we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river; gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.’

 The Reverend Dr. Cathy Gilliard

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