[#pictureLent] March 22: BRANCHES

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By Rev. Missy Jenson
First United Methodist Church
Goliad, T

First, read Mark 11:8-11

Do you ever watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City or the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California? These famous parades are televised nationally and have become a part of many families’ annual traditions of the holiday season. 

The parades involve thousands of employees and volunteers to pull off. Observers have to stake out their places well in advance. And the hours that go into planning, day-of-activities, and clean up afterwards are countless. In 2015, Rose Parade organizers stated that the construction cost for each float BEGINS at $250,000! Multiply that by the number of floats, add in the entrance fees and ticket sales … and you can just see the dollar signs exploding! 

As soon as the parade concludes, preparations for the next year’s celebration begin immediately.

I was raised in small towns around South Texas where the local county fair and parade were the main event of the year that everyone anticipated. The parade was haphazardly put together by well-meaning volunteers. 

If you owned a tractor, a golf cart, a trailer, or a horse, you were guaranteed a spot in the parade. All the different organizations of the town were represented and did their best decorating with what they could find from the closest general store. 

Participants were allowed to be on multiple floats or march with various groups: there was time to ride one float, jump off to run back to the end of the line, and hop right in with another group to show your participation there as well. 

Although our local parades were a major step down from these larger, national productions, it was a blast and it brought the whole community together.

And then, we come to our text today where we have a community gathering for a spontaneous parade. There was no time to prepare so they grabbed what they could – branches cut from the field and clothes off their backs. The One who showed promise of being the Messiah was coming to town. He healed the sick, ate with sinners, found the lost, and befriended the lowly. This was their chance to see him with their own eyes. “Hosanna! Save us!” they shouted in exuberant hope. 

No planning committees. No float entries. No giant balloons. Just one Grand Marshal leading the way to life everlasting.

Prayer: Jesus, we come this day joining in the parade honoring you, our Messiah. As we wave our branches, we add our voices to their cries, “Save us!” Help us to fall in line, to match your steps, and follow your lead. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions: 

1. Have you ever participated in a parade? What was it like?
2. If a parade spontaneously developed around you, right here and right now, what would you grab to participate? 
3. “Hosanna” isn’t a shout of praise, but it is a plea for salvation. What do you need saving from? What is God saving you to? 

[#pictureLent] March 21: COLT

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By Bob Bushong
District Superintendent, East Central District in the Florida Annual Conference
Winter Park, Florid

First, read Mark 11:1-7

It’s a captivating story that begins with the securing of a colt that has never been ridden.

I used to wonder just how Jesus knew where that colt was. Finally it dawned on me that he had walked up and down those streets before. He knew them well. He knew many of the people who lived on them. I suspect he had noticed this colt and decided to use it for his purposes when the time came for him to enter into the city.

Jesus takes the initiative to arrange for the colt, and each step of the preparation leading to his entrance into Jerusalem is part of the divine plan. Things are proceeding as they are supposed to proceed. There’s nothing accidental or left to chance in this scene. Jesus intentionally identifies with what biblical scholars have labeled the Suffering Servant image of the Messiah depicted by the Prophet Isaiah. And the servant of peace rides into town on a donkey colt.

This really is the heart of the “Palm Sunday” passage, though note in this account that the “leafy branches” are not specifically called “palms.” In fact, only John’s account describes them as palm branches. It is thought that the spreading of garments on the colt and on the road is reminiscent of a coronation custom of that day.

“Hosanna” is a prayer of salvation, meaning literally “Save now” or “Save, I pray.” It’s a shout of praise to and for Jesus and the expectation of the people who shout it of his coming into the Holy City as the long-awaited Messiah. 

Jesus arrives as King, a much different kind of king than folks are expecting.

Prayer: Touch us God, through the deep meaning of this powerful story in ways that enable us to see the true nature of King Jesus and the transforming nature of his kingdom. Amen. 

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

1. What most excites or inspires you about this passage?
2. What are some of the characteristics that describe the Kingdom over which Jesus is King?
3. How might your understanding of this Kingdom help to shape the various decisions that you are called to make in your daily life? 

[#pictureLent] March 20: SPEAK

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First, read Psalm 40:5-10

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.

Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the
book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

Take a few minutes to read and re-read the passage above. Read it at least 5-6 times. Try reading it aloud, and to yourself. Read it at different paces, with different inflections.

Close your eyes, breathe deep. What words in this passage stood out to you today? Which phrases caught your attention?

Say those words or phrases a few more times, with a deep breath in between each time. What do you hear God saying to you? 

Then, take a look at the images below. Do any of the images connect to what God revealed to you through today's scripture? Save that image on your phone or desktop today, and let it continue to guide your prayer time throughout the day.

[#pictureLent] March 19: SIGN

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By Brandy Frazier
First UMC of Winter Garden
Winter Garden, FL

First, read Isaiah 7:10-14

Signs from God are gentle, peaceful, awe-inspiring—mysterious even. They can warm the soul, while igniting a catalytic spark toward wisdom, connecting the head and the heart. Signs from our Creator expose much of the great love and truth that God has—and wants—for us. These mystical manifestations can contribute to our growth into who God would have us
be, if we’d but prayerfully, with sacred veneration, peel back the layers of the wonder that is the
glory of God.

It’s my belief that signs from God are invariably around us—growth and knowledge at our disposal. Yet, in our human weakness, we’re so often engaged in the chaos of the day to day, that we’re not always tuned in to the Spirit, therefore opportunities for worship pass us by.

There have been many seasons in my life when I’ve been aware of my faith, and, painfully, my
lack of faith—usually simultaneously. During these seasons, I find myself praying often, “Lord, I
believe. Help my unbelief!” And instead of God being a father who’s exasperated by his tedious,
overthinking dunce-of-a-child, he is one who—when hearing his beloved cry out in uncertainty,
searching for that which will bring peace—finds great joy in revealing his true nature.

In the sign of choosing young Mary to conceive and bear the Son, we can begin to understand
the character of God. God could have come in any way, but God chose not an entrance into earthly form via some expression of grandeur. No, even the first news of God coming into the world as human—a form that we could undeniably relate to—came with decided innocence, vulnerability, and humility. To think of what Mary, and of course, Joseph, must have gone through—their internal struggles and the feared reaction of those surrounding them—helps us to see that God doesn’t expect perfection of our lives, and understands the trials that we face.

It is through being in vulnerable relationship with our Christ, that we can come to understand the
nature of God, and come to know God's will for us. We don’t necessarily need to ask for a sign,
though we certainly may. If we simply strive to open our hearts and minds to God's presence, God
will open our eyes to the truth, compassion, and love that is Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

O, Great Spirit of God in Christ, come and breathe new life in us and around us. Let us be more
aware of your presence, as we seek to be in deeper relationship with you, recognizing the signs
of you all around. Help us to become the people you created us to be and to love others as you
love us.

Questions for Discussion/Reflection:

1. In choosing Mary to conceive and bear the Son, what about the true nature of God do
you see revealed?
2. What signs has God given you, which reveal God's character, in good times and in difficult
times?
3. In what ways can understanding God’s character help us to be in relationship with one
another?

[#pictureLent] March 18: TIME

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By Cynthia Grout Layton
Pastor - El Mesias UMC
Mission, Texas

First, read John 12:27-33

Time is an interesting phenomenon. Most of us feel like we do not have enough time or that it just flies by too quickly. Others feel that it is either our duty to be "on time" or after all, "better late than never." Time runs our lives and almost all of us wear a watch or check our cell phones frequently to see exactly what time it is.

The fact of the matter is that only God has any control over time. The scriptures tell us that "when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." (Galatians 4:4) and "at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."(Romans 5: 6) God's timing was and is perfect.

Jesus was born "at the right time" and he gave his life for us "at the right time". I am so thankful that the timing of God does not depend on me - on my readiness or on my willingness. God knows when the time is right and will lead us and guide us into the future if we are only willing to follow.

May God, whose timing is perfect, find in us people who are willing to trust our lives and the time we have to the one who originally invented time. Placing our lives into the hands of the one who created a "time for every purpose under heaven" seems like a good choice for each of us. 

Prayer: O Lord, creator of all things including time, help us to use our time wisely and to trust you with knowing the time for every purpose under heaven. May a good portion of the time we have be spent for the building up of your kingdom. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Discussion/ Reflection Questions:

1. Why is time so important to each of us?

2. How have you seen God's timing at work in your life?

3. What would it take for you to free up more time to work for the Kingdom of God?