It is Easter! Alleluia!

By Angel Sullivan

(c) 2009 Michael Used by Permission Creative Commons.org.

(c) 2009 Michael Used by Permission Creative Commons.org.

A few years ago, I planted a lemon/lime tree in my yard. For a long time the tree did not grow. It remained small and didn’t blossom; at one point, the little tree even appeared dead. My friends told me I should dig the tree up and throw it away. However, something in my heart said there was more life in the tree than anyone could see. It wasn’t until two years after the tree had been planted that suddenly it began to flower. Soon after that, there was an abundance of fruit.

The Lenten season can be this way. We go through dark and what may appear to be unproductive times in our lives. To outward appearances, we may look dead and some may think we should be cast out. However, the reality is that below the surface–in those dark, cold, lonely places that aren’t pretty and where no one wants to venture physically, spiritually, or emotionally–is exactly where God prepares us for a new life.

In the book of Isaiah it was during this time that God’s chosen people were captured by the Babylonians and their future was unknown. However, in Isaiah 65:17-25 God assures us that during the dark moments that there is hope. God says, “Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten” (The Message).

The Lenten season we have just been through gave us the opportunity to walk through the difficult journey of grief and pain, giving our sorrows over to God. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter morning—for embracing God’s gift of a new beginning in God’s given son, Jesus Christ.

So now, on Easter, we are able to celebrate that we are not cast out–we instead are able to grow sturdy and strong in God’s presence. Alleluia! All is not dead. Alleluia! We blossom and bear fruit in God’s love. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

AngelSullivan2013smRev. Angel L. Sullivan is the national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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Palm Sunday:

by Grace Martino

This post is part of a Lenten Series. For other posts in the series, click on “Lent” in the list under “Find Posts About…” in the menu on the right. 

(c) 2011 Samuel John used by permission CreativeCommons.org.

(c) 2011 Samuel John used by permission CreativeCommons.org.

Palm Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent. Luke 19:28-40 tells us of Jesus’ journey and arrival to Jerusalem. People glorified and praised him for his wondrous works and ministry, but did they know what was to come? Jesus was exalted, worshiped, and honored, but he would ultimately become the greatest sacrifice in human history. Just like the disciples and people adored Jesus without knowledge of the devastating near future, so has sometimes happened in our lives and the lives of others. Around the world women who use to have a happy place or a home have seen the conversion of these dwellings into battlefields or a habitat of deep pain, whether it is from persecution, war or domestic abuse.

Now I know, some of you might be thinking, “Wow, what a damper on a day that is supposed to be so joyous!” On Palm Sunday, in the midst of the Hosannas and waving palm branches, it is important to emphasize God’s provision and our need for constant worship. Jesus had just healed many people and he had shown his greatness and splendor: How was he not worthy to be praised? But what about when he was beaten, humiliated, and bruised on the cross? Did as many people worship his strength and glory then?

Women and girls with whom we minister are many times at this point in their lives, where they are hopeless and see no end to suffering. They lose the desire to dream for the future because there seems to be no escape. As people who love and share the gospel, it is up to us to be a beacon of hope. Psalm 118: 21-23 says, “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Although we do not know the journey and obstacles to come, in the end we know Jesus saves. He answers our cries, and because we know he listens we are able to exalt his name at every moment. He makes the rejected accepted and the homeless sheltered. Just as the disciples could not comprehend the returning of Jesus’ triumph on the third day, we cannot foresee the blessings with which God will shower us. Jesus is the one who does the work, but we must deliver this message of hope and unconditional praise to the women and girls around the world—women and girls who need a future and Savior to believe in. In this season of Lent let us acquire the habit of thankfulness and continual adoration.

Grace Martino FBGrace Martino majors in Christian Ministries and Sociology at Gordon College in Massachusetts and serves as a member of American Baptist Women’s Ministries young adult women’s ministries advisory team.

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent–Armloads of Blessing

By Mary Burnett

This post is part of a Lenten Series. For other posts in the series, click on “Lent” in the list under “Find Posts About…” in the menu on the right. 

Utah Desert, 2008, by tearbringer on Flickr; used by permission CreativeCommons.org

Utah Desert, 2008, by tearbringer on Flickr; used by permission CreativeCommons.org

During the day the Utah deserts can seem like a vast wasteland of red rock stretching out with tight, deep cannons like the lines in your hands. It is so quiet in the heat of the day that one misplaced foot dislodging a pile of rocks can echo for miles, giving the feeling that one is alone in the world. Then, as the sun sets behind the warped red stone, the desert comes alive. The animals and insects wander out of their cool hiding places creating the song of the night-time desert. Crickets sing, frogs and toads croak, antelope and deer scramble the rocks high on the cliff tops, bats squeak as they swoop above, and desert mice scrape and scavenge for their daily meal. Because the desert is one of the most fragile ecosystems, it is worth taking a closer look into it and protecting it.

Just like the desert, the ecosystem of the human race is fragile. Turn on the news or check your Facebook feed and you will be bombarded with messages that this world is a desolate wasteland: hot, dry and lacking in living water. A call for help in such a place may simply result in echoes of similar cries, giving the all-too-familiar feeling that one is alone in the world.

As the Bible says in Psalm 126:4-6, “And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives, so those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing with armloads of blessing,” (The Message). This passage calls for blessings to the disheartened and rain in the desert.

But rain in the desert doesn’t come gently. On the few days it rains in the desert, unbelievable amounts of water falls from the sky, making it seem like nothing could live through such extreme weather. High ground is the only hope for life as quick rivers form in the previously dry slot canyons, creating rushing highways of debris and dark water. Although the rain is almost always unexpected, the desert works with what it is given. Every chain in the ecosystem has a job essential to the survival of the next link in the chain, and finds life in the rushing waters through the desert. So it is in the world of mass shootings and extreme racism. When water comes it will not come easily, but God’s people are not new to hardship. Every chain in the human ecosystem also has a job essential to the survival of the next link in the chain.

We go looking for God; we do not expect God to come looking for us; like the rain in the desert is unexpected, so often is the living water we receive from God. With God’s help, we remain strong, a high rock above the rushing water. We wait out the storm and reach out a hand to anyone who may need a safe place. We look at the world not just to find the ways it is dry and desolate, but to find the ways it is alive as well. We look to the world to watch it coming alive with God’s spirit, so that we who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Mary Burnett FBMary Burnett is from Salt Lake City, Utah, and attends Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as a social justice leadership scholar. She serves on the young adult women’s ministry advisory team for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent: What if…?

By Virginia Holmstrom

This post is part of a Lenten Series. For other posts in the series, click on “Lent” in the list under “Find Posts About…” in the menu on the right. 

Photo by Guillaume Rodier, adapted, used by permission Creative Commons License

Photo by Guillaume Rodier, adapted, used by permission Creative Commons License

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

I confess that the Bible’s overabundance of masculine pronouns disturbs my indignant advocacy to lift up the voices of women and girls—named and unnamed, with voice or silenced—in the stories recorded in the Bible and in the stories of modern day women and girls. I realize that, for me, the male imagery in the Bible can limit my understanding of Scripture. Sometimes, like today, I’m not even aware of it happening. I was reading today’s highlighted Scripture in Luke 15. Jesus overheard the murmurings of the religious leaders: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus responded by telling them the parable of the prodigal son.

I have read the story of the Prodigal Son many times. I’ve studied it in Bible studies; I’ve listened to countless sermons about it; I’ve even acted it out in drama exercises, taking on the role of the elder brother, the prodigal son, and the father.

I’m startled to realize that I’ve never, ever contemplated the parable by recasting the story’s male characters as women and girls. What if? ….There was a church women’s group that had nurtured and mentored girls through their AB GIRLS group, and one day one of the girls ran away from home to go meet someone she had met on the Internet. She became a victim of abuse, she was taken against her will to seedy motel rooms and locked up in abandoned buildings, her body sold and sold and sold again for money that she never saw. Finally left for dead in an alley among the trash heaps, she hovers on the edge of consciousness, her spirit broken, her body torn and bruised, her self-worth long gone. What if?…. she weighed her chances of rejection if she were to go home and, drawing upon every last ounce of strength and ingenuity, she found her way back to her neighborhood, and she convinced a guy at the gas station to call home and announce her return. What if?….the church leaders turned their backs on her, recoiling with disgust and gossip. What if?….you were the girl…or her Sunday school teacher?

What if?….the girl had not been a part of your church family; but instead, you merely caught a glimpse of her story as a statistic on the news. What if?….her story had happened in Calcutta, or in Las Vegas, or in your neighborhood.

The story of rejection and abandonment by God’s people happens every day, everywhere. The story, in fact, happened on that day when one was arrested, scorned by the religious leaders, tried, convicted, and crucified on a cross.

During this Lenten season as we follow the journey of Christ to Calvary, ask God to gift you with grace and mercy and forgiveness. Then extend it to others. Celebrate and rejoice when a child of God was dead and comes to life, when once lost, is now found. Now that’s amazing grace!

Virginia Holmstrom 2012 smVirginia Holmstrom serves as executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.