Daily Lenten Devotional for Saturay, March 17, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 9:14-29
14When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. 16He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” 19He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23Jesus said to him, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”
When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Mark 9:14 When I first read this I had to wonder, what were the disciples who had not been with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration doing during that time. It looks like they were doing what Jesus had commissioned them to do earlier when Jesus sent them out into the countryside, to preach about the kingdom of God, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. Unfortunately, they were not successful in the case of the father and his son, and it is their failure to cast out the demon that is the subject of their arguing with some scribes. Since the scribes are consistently questioning the validity of Jesus and the nature of his ministry, as to if it is from God, perhaps because the disciples were not successful, the scribes were accusing them of being frauds and by inference accusing Jesus as being fraudulent. I could imagine some tempter flaring at this. The argument is still a good one. If the disciple’s ability to perform these signs and wonders validated their ministry, what does it mean when you aren’t able to do the signs and wonders? Self-doubt immediately comes to my mind and with that perhaps some overall doubt in what they were called to do by Jesus, perhaps even some doubt in Jesus as well. which does explain Jesus’ rebuke, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?” They really don’t have a lot faith if the whole house of discipleship comes crashing down with one failure. One failure does not eradicate all the successes. One failure does not invalidate an entire ministry. Confucius once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” In other words do not lose your faith in yourself, in your calling, in your God when things do not go as planned or as previously successful.
Ever faithful God, you have called each of us to follow you faithfully. You have entrusted to us a mission of sharing your love and grace with all those whom we meet. Sometime God, people are receptive to us and to our efforts in sharing, and sometimes they are not. Continue to strengthen us in our efforts and help us to take courage in our attempts at faithfulness rather than in our successes. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Friday, March 16, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 9:2-13
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 11Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”
It is often referred to as the transfiguration of Jesus. The word transfiguration according to the dictionary means, “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” In this case, Jesus is transfigured into a scene of Elijah and Moses talking to Jesus rather than a state. We could call this a word picture, that is definitely trying to say something about Jesus to Peter, James, and John. Add to the word picture a voice that Identifies Jesus as God’s beloved son. It is truly a sight and sound experience so real to the disciples that they are ready to build three shelters. A million questions come to mind, and the biggest one is why Moses and Elijah? There are others in the Hebrew Hall of fame that could have been in that picture. My best guess is that these two represent the tradition of the Law and the Prophets and Jesus is in the Jewish stream of both and at least on par with both, until the voice speaks, then Jesus supersedes both. This story is one more step in the unmasking of the true identity of Jesus to the disciples and to us as the Messiah, Savior, and Christ, that would not be complete until after Jesus is resurrected, and we’ve been peeling back the layers of meaning of that resurrection for over two thousand years. If we ever think we fully understand who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and what Jesus wants us to do, then we better think again.
Ever revealing yourself to us, God, we come to you acknowledging our inadequate knowledge of you, your words, and your ways and yet you continue to try to tell us more and more about yourself. Help us Lord to be willing to learn more by adding to what we know, and altering or changing what we thought we knew. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen
Daily Lenten Devotional for Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 8:11-26
11The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
14Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out – beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
22They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”
It is an interesting miracle. Jesus touches the blindman’s eyes twice. After the first time he could see but not very clearly. After the second time, the man’s sight was fully restored. But there was a step in between. Mark tells us that after Jesus touched the man’s eyes a second time,”he looked intently, and his sight was restored.” There seems to be some effort on the blindman’s part in his being able to see, some intentional concentration. You have to wonder what would have been the result had the man not concentrated on seeing. My guess is that he would still be seeing people as trees walking even after Jesus had touched him twice. The disciples had seen Jesus miraculously feed the multitudes twice and are still seeing people as trees walking. They still don’t get it, and it is not for lack of signs. They are still clueless after two massive miracles. They failed to see that there was more to the Jesus than just a miracle worker, just as there is more to believing than seeing miraculous signs. St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”
God it is easy to believe that we will believe if we only see some miraculous sign. Throw a couple of good miracles our way and we will be all in disciples, but make them good. How many would it take, we don’t know. Evidently it is at least one more than you have currently given us. Help us God not to ask for more signs, but help us to focus on what you have already shown us so we can clearly see you as you really are…love embodiment in Jesus. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 8:1-10
1In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2“I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” 5He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 8They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
Looks like round two. The first time it was five thousand, this time it is four thousand. When Jesus directs the disciples to feed the crowd, they give the same answer, How? How can we feed this many people in the desert? Again, Jesus asks how much food do they have, but this time there are seven loaves of bread instead of five and an undisclosed number of fish, rather than two. Rather than twelve baskets of food left over, there are only four. It is a second verse but not quite the same as the first. In the first story, Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Food was involved, but leadership or lack of it is his first concern. Here Jesus’ compassion is focused solely on the crowd’s physical welfare. If they stay they starve, if he sends them away on empty stomachs they faint. In both cases the resources to feed the crowds came from the disciples. There is one version of the feeding of the five thousand where the five loaves and two fish came from a child, but in this story, it is the disciples’ own bread that gets blessed, broken, and distributed. The question in my mind is why didn’t the disciples see this coming? Was their memory that short? Did they see the feeding of the five thousand as some fluke or a one and done? It is true that God doesn’t always do things the same way, but that doesn’t mean that God won’t come through somehow. What I think is crucial is to see the need, have compassion on those in need, be willing to give all you have to meet the need, holding none back for yourself, and then to trust God to do what only God can do. Don’t know why the disciples needed to be reminded of that again, but sometimes it takes doing things twice before it starts to sink in.
God of compassion, in the face of human need, we often dismiss our resources as inadequate, so we are reluctant to offer what we do have. We fail to see how our little can do a lot if it is given to you. You are more than capable of using what we have to make a difference in other’s lives. Help us Lord to be more trusting in your ability rather than on our inability. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Monday, March 12, 2018
Reading Mark 7:24-37
24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
It is not every day that we see Jesus being called out on his inherent racism. I know I just crossed some lines here. I could be more polite and say his inherent prejudice, but the hidden nature of both racism and prejudice is that often think we aren’t either until a person of the other race or culture steps into our field of reference, such as the woman this morning. Syrophoenicians have been historic enemies of the Jewish people for hundreds and hundreds of years. Clearly Jesus’ first response to her request for the healing of her daughter was dismissive. Some scholars might dismiss my dismissive comment, saying that Jesus, at this time, only saw the range of his ministry to be to the Jewish people and not for all people. Regardless, the woman challenged him not to limit the visible expression of God’s love to a select ethnicity and nationality. Everyone has value, including former enemies, even if we think because of our upbringing, some are more valuable than others. It is not every day that Jesus had to be reminded that God loves all people, everywhere, all the time, equally, without expecting anything in return. Judging from what happens from here on out, it was a lesson even Jesus took deeply to heart.
God, the scripture says that you are no respecter of persons, that you do love everyone everywhere all the time equally without expecting anything in return, and for that we are grateful. And we know that you have called us to imitate your kind of love. We are also aware that we may be unaware of our tendencies to limit our love to those we like and those who are like us. Help us Lord to value all people all the time everywhere equally and use whomever you will to remind us of our responsibility. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Saturday, March 10, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 7:1-23
1Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
9Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) – 12then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
17When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
If I had to give this section of scripture a heading, I would title it, “When Religion is Wrong.” Words like traditions, and rituals are associated with religion, in in we often refer to things we repeatedly with the word religiously. There is nothing wrong with Holy Habits, not so religious people have their own holy habits, little things they say or do with regularity, whether it is moments of silence or meditation. Sometimes we refer to these as spiritual practices. The hand washing incident was a spiritual practice where a Jewish person wash their hands ceremonially before they ate a meal, uttering a special prayer as they do so. You can still find these wash basins in restaurants in Israel today. The problem Jesus is highlighting is that these religious rituals may be used as an excuse not to do the right thing, the responsible thing, like taking care of your parents. Jesus adds to his critique because it seems some people are judging other people according to religious actions versus right actions. Now we all know that right actions and religious actions are supposed to reinforce each other. A person who goes to church regularly and reads the Bible regularly is not expected to lie, cheat, or steal in his business operations. However, as Jesus so bluntly pointed out, doing spiritual practices alone may not fix the heart of the problem, which is the heart. Purity of heart may require a completely different set of intentional practices and those are the ones we should practice religiously.
God, we know we look on the outward appearance, and we judge people by how they look, and what they do, and we think it is what and how people see us that matters most. You, however, look at the heart and judge people by what is in their heart. Help us Lord to pursue pure hearts that will lead to right and truly righteous actions. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Friday, March 9, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 6:47-56
47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
In the previous verses, Jesus had sent the disciples ahead so he could have a little alone time with God on the mountain top. It is there that Jesus sees the disciples in their boat struggling against the wind to get to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It gets weird here. Mark tells us that Jesus came towards them walking on the sea coming towards them, and Jesus intended to pass them by. Then the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they are terrified- they think he is a ghost because, only ghosts could do what Jesus is doing. Turns out he is not a ghost and tells them to not be afraid. When Jesus stepped into the boat the wind stilled, and they were astounded. My question is by what? The whole story is astounding. Were they astounded by Jesus walking on the water? Were they astounded that Jesus might walk right on by them in the wave and wind storm. Were they astounded that when Jesus got into the boat and the wind died down without Jesus saying a single word? The answer is Yes. There is so much hope, so much promise in this story. God is aware of our struggles- nothing escapes the eyes of God. Even when we are afraid, and we call out to God, God hears us, and doesn’t walk by us but gets into our boat, our life with us, and when God enters our lives, certain things die down- certain winds cease, and we coming out of hiding and we arrive at where we were heading.
Not a bad story for any of us in any time our lives. Lot of promise and lot of hope in that story, except the disciples were astonished because they somehow missed the meaning behind the story of feeding the 5,000 people of which the disciples played a key role in distributing the fish and loaves to the crowd. Whoever or whatever Jesus is, they somehow didn’t get the memo. Now it takes Jesus walking on water and quieting the wind and the waves without uttering a word before they start to get some idea of who Jesus really is. Some people hide behind their advantages and some people hide behind their disadvantages. This story is a story of the disciples not hiding anything from anybody, and getting the help they needed it when or how they needed it. We should be so lucky. But who to say that we can’t be.
Ever revealing God, We are sometimes blinded by what we want to see and miss what it is we can see, are supposed to see. Help us dear God to know you deeper. Help us to see how things are, and how they are supposed to be. Help us let you into lives and restore whatever chaos, confusion and destruction that may be taking place unknown to everyone except us. Help us also to connect with others because we are in the same boat. Amen
Daily Lenten Devotional for Thursday, March 8, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 6:30-46
30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
“He had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” A lot of things can happen when sheep do not have a shepherd. Sheep can get lost, wandering off getting into places where they could do themselves some real damage. Sheep without a shepherd are subject to theft. Sheep rustlers can make off some or all the herd. Wild animals like wolves or coyotes can attack the sheep, taking a few for dinner. Sheep if not moved from pasture to pasture, will eat all the grass and will starve to death. Shepherds provide safety and security and sustenance for the sheep. Kings were always seen as the shepherds of the people. It was there job to see to the welfare of all the people. Good kings were always in short supply. As human beings, they tended to look out for themselves first, everyone else second. But Jesus had compassion on them, so he taught them many things, feeding them words, stories, and sayings. Then he fed them food, fish and bread from his own meager supply. He gave the hungry all he had and it turned out to be more than enough. That day Jesus was the good shepherd, and Israel now have a good king.
Compassionate God, we confess that we often behave as sheep without shepherds- or more specifically as sheep in need of a shepherd, looking for a shepherd. Too often we look to something or someone other than you to provide us with what we need to be safe and secure and sustained. Help us Lord to acknowledge you as our good shepherd and to follow your lead. Amen
Daily Lenten Devotional for Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 6:13-29
13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Previously, the disciples had been sent out by Jesus and “13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Mark 6:13 Who is Jesus is the question people are asking, and they are coming up with all kinds of answers from a prophet to a reincarnation or resurrection of a famous prophet to a resurrected John the Baptist. King Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded sided with those who thought John the Baptist had been resurrected. It is an interesting choice because if Jesus really were John the Baptist resurrected, what would Herod do? Would he arrest Jesus and throw him into jail? Would he go to Jesus and seek forgiveness? We are told Herod grieved deeply when forced to carry out his vain promise. (This was wrong on so many levels.) Would he let Jesus continue his ministry unimpeded regardless of what Jesus does or says? Historically it seems Herod chose option three. He let Jesus wander around doing his ministry of healing and preaching and casting out demons for almost three years, and Herod wasn’t responsible for the death of Jesus, that was Pilate’s call. Herod would eventually come face to face with Jesus at his trial, but until then, Jesus was free to roam. In this case, no action was the right action. There is something to be said about not committing the same mistake twice. Herod had killed one prophet and he decided not to make it two. The one thing he didn’t do was to seek forgiveness, but that would entail admitting mistake number one. It was Herod’s vanity and pride that caused him to kill John the Baptist, and it was the same vanity and pride that kept Herod from seeking forgiveness from Jesus whom he thought was John the Baptist resurrected. Humility is a pill too large for some to swallow.
God, we know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We on the other hand, often let vanity and pride take us down destructive paths and we let that same vanity and pride keep us from amending those mistakes and repairing the damage. God, help us to learn from our mistakes, and shape our character so we are less likely to make the same mistake twice. Help us to be humble and seek forgiveness so that we be reconciled with those who were harmed by our prideful actions. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 6:1-13
1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
It is a sad story, Jesus not being honored in his own village by people he knew, people he grew up with, went to school with, and played with. He wasn’t looking for honor or praise or respect. However, when a local boy does a lot of villages put up billboards honoring someone who has become somebody. While riding a century in Mississippi through the pancake flat delta region, with soybean fields on one side and cotton on the other, I rode through a four way stop. There was a huge billboard at that crossroads, it read,” Welcome to Sledge Mississippi, Home of Charlie Pride.” Google him. He was one of the first black country western singers. It’s what villages do with favorite sons. Jesus was not a favorite son. Mark says, they took offense at him. What could be offensive about a man who went about healing people and giving wisdom and insight on how to connect with God and each other? It may be more of a statement about themselves than Jesus. It is not what Jesus was doing that offended them, it was who was doing it, someone who was supposed to be just like them, and someone who was supposed to always be like them. His presence reminded them of what they could be, what God wanted them to be, and that where you came from doesn’t always determine where you can go in life. Not everyone is a victim. I know it is hard to envision a different or better or brighter future particularly when life around us is pretty dark. However, the presence of Jesus is the presence of a different future, his healing a few in that town meant that you aren’t stuck with a future of misery. God can give a future filled with wholeness. Those whom Jesus healed were the only ones willing to be healed. They were the only ones willing to be open to a different future. They were the only ones who decided not to be victims any more.
God, you are our refuge and our strength our present help in our time of trouble. You are the God of hope in whom we place our hope. God, it is too easy to settle for what is, or even imagine that things could be different or that we can be different. Yet when there is no way, you can make a way. Help us to be open to what you would like to do in us and through us, in Jesus name. Amen
Daily Lenten Devotional for Monday, March 5, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 5:21-43
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
It’s story within a story. It is a story about the power of belief, or faith, in the midst of a story about the need to believe or have faith. The woman with the hemorrhaging issue, is down to her last hope, Jesus. She has completely run out of options. She has no more money to pay anyone for anything. She has however, heard enough about Jesus to believe that he might be able to do something so she presses through the crowd believing, faithing that if she were to just touch him she would be healed. In the past, Jesus did all the touching, Jesus did all the saying, Jesus did it all, but not this time. This time she comes to him, she reaches out to him and she believes that just a touch would cure her, and it did. Now it is time for the leader of the Synagogue to step up to the plate and believe. He has just witnessed a healing firsthand when he is in that room with his daughter whom everyone else has pronounced dead, what would he say, what would he do, what or how much would he believe, and would it be enough?
Or maybe just maybe, his daughter’s healing wasn’t dependent upon his believing enough or having enough faith. Maybe his daughter was healed the same way the woman was healed, because Jesus willed it. He wanted to do this for both regardless of how much or how little faith they had. He wanted to do this regardless of whether the crowd laughed at him or not. He wanted to do this whether the crowds knew about it or not. We do have a lot to do with our lives. A number of things are up to us, what we do, what we think, and what we believe. There are somethings that are not up to us, like God’s love. We may be responsible for our love for God, but we are not responsible for when and how God loves us.
Loving God thank you for your great love for us, regardless of our belief or lack of it. Help us to believe the best we can and to trust you the best we can, knowing in the end it more about you and your love than it is about us. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Saturday, March 3, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 5:1-20
1They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
14The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened.15They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Mental health is a hot topic, particularly as it relates to guns and mass shootings. We use words like troubled, unstable, and a threat to himself and others as descriptive. Mental health is a topic rarely talked about in church. It made to the forefront a little when Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. Rick Warren is a mega church pastor in California, and is the author of “A Purpose Driven Life.” We really don’t know what to do with the mentally ill, and most people are very uncomfortable around mentally ill people. We are not alone. The towns people in the Gospel struggled with a mentally ill man they called a demoniac. Rather than lock him up, they confined him the best they could by banishing him from their town. There he could only harm himself. Then Jesus shows up and we have this incredible story of a man being restored to mental wholeness. It came at a cost; a herd of swine. Unfortunately, rather than celebrate the restoration of a person back to sanity, they asked Jesus to leave. Made me wonder how many others Jesus could have helped had his visit not been cut short. It also made me wonder why pigs matter more than people, but not too long.
Healing God, you are a God who desires us to be whole people. You touched broken lives and made them whole. You touched violent people and people with violent tendencies and brought them peace. You took on the forces that led to their brokenness and the roots of their violence. Helps us Lord to look again at the mentally ill and the mentally disturbed with fresh eyes and compassionate hearts. Help us to see that people and their wholeness are worth the price if for no other reason than we wish this for ourselves if we were to be in that condition. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Friday, March 2, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 4:35-41
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Interesting phrase, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I don’t know anyone who likes to wake up because somebody is screaming at him. To be rudely interrupted because some panic-stricken followers think they are going to drown. I know it is scary to have water pouring over the sides of a boat. There is not whole lot you can do when the waves outside are larger than the sides of the boat. So, who could blame the disciples for being just a little terrified. Somehow, they saw Jesus’ demeanor as uncaring if not even suicidal cause the disciples are not the only ones in danger of drowning, so is Jesus. His life too is on the line, and yet Jesus is as calm as a cucumber. In Matthew 4:6-7, Satan tested Jesus saying, 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” So, Jesus didn’t throw himself off anything to prove something to someone. Perhaps he did believe the truth about the scriptures about himself. That really would command his angels regarding him, and the angels really would protect him from all harm- or at least from the wind and the waves of the storm. What Jesus did next had the look and feel of something done for someone else’s benefit. With a three words Jesus calmed the storm and the hearts of the disciples. As incredible as that miracle was, it raised more questions than it answered. Jesus is now a deeper mystery than before. Still, they continued to follow him, questions and all. Faith sometimes is learning to live with the questions rather than the answers.
God of wonders, we are rarely privileged to see huge miracles. We are even naïve enough to think that seeing a big huge miracle would make believing in you so much easier. Today’s story, God, is proof that our faith may not be strengthen after seeing a miracle. It raises questions and a variety of possible answers. God give us the faith to both raise honest questions about who you are and what you are doing in the world, and give us the faith to continue to follow without having the answers. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Thursday, March 1, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 4:21-34
21He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Have you ever heard of a “Lady Clairol Christian?” It is a Christian that only God knows for sure. (a takeoff from an old commercial) Another way of seeing it is that, a Lady Clairol Christian it is a lamp that has been put under a bushel basket or hidden under a bed. In other words, a Lady Clairol Christian is a Christian whose light does not shine, which goes against the very nature of light. The purpose of light is to dispel the darkness. The purpose of light is to help us see things as they really are. The purpose of light is to expose the flaws. When finishing one of guitars, I thought I had sanded out all of the scratches from carving the body. In the light of my garage it looked perfect, then I brought it out into the sun light, and I saw so many flaws that I had to re-sand and re-polish the entire guitar. We don’t like exposing ourselves to the light because no one likes to see their flaws. Exposing our world to the light is equally unwelcomed. It is what put Jesus on the cross. The most comfortable thing we can do with light is to dim it, whereas Jesus is advocating increasing the lumens. You can’t fix what is flawed if you can’t see the flaws.
God, in our creeds we speak of Jesus as light of light, very God of very God. And yet, God, Jesus calls us to light the world, to drive our darkness, and to show the world for what it is in all its broken glory. Ever illuminating God, help us, encourage us, empower us to bring the lamp out into the open so that your light can work its way into even the darkest corners of our world, so they can be transformed by your love and grace. Amen
Daily Lenten Devotional for Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 4:1-20
1Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3“Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
10When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'”
13And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14The sower sows the word. 15These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
It goes by many names, the parable of the sower, the parable of the seeds, the parable of the soils, and a variety of combinations of any of the above, it just depends. If you are a sower, the lesson is clear, you can’t expect the same results every time you sow a seed or share the good news of God’s indiscriminate love as embodied in Jesus. Some people just won’t get it. It doesn’t sink in because some situation or event or person immediately interferes. Some people get it for a while, because it makes a lot of sense at the time or met an immediate need. An enthusiastic response doesn’t always signal that you’ve hit pay dirt. A hardship hits and doubts or fears and it’s all over. Some people get it. They grow and continue to grow, but they’re not very fruitful. Other things enter their lives, distract them, cause them to shift priorities and choke the life out of them. Then some seed do hit pay dirt. It grows and produces the desired results. Not everyone is receptive to the love of God. The condition of the heart determines how well God’s love is received and prospers. However, the sower’s job isn’t soil management, it is distribution. Just get the seed out there. Throw it far and wide and don’t worry or get discouraged if the results aren’t what you’ve hoped for or expected. There’s an old saying, “God doesn’t expect us to be successful. God expects us to be faithful. “ It’s great when we do meet with success but also beware, early successes may not last. Rocky soil and weeds take their toll.
Sending and commissioning God, you have entrusted us with the good news that you love us all the time, everywhere, equally expecting nothing in return. And that love was embodied in Jesus. Thank you for loving us this way. God, you aren’t the only one who knows our hearts. We know our hearts. Help us God to have soft hearts, rich receptive hearts, hearts that stay the course that aren’t lured away by things promising more than they can deliver. Most of all, help us not to be discouraged when we attempt to share your love with others and it looks like we’ve failed and to keep trying, like you did with us in Jesus. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 3:19b-35
19bThen he went home; 20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
“He’s crazy. He is out of his mind,” this is what his family is saying about him, and family takes care of family so they have left their home in Nazareth, made the trek to Capernaum and have arrived outside his door to take the crazy man home. They aren’t the only ones who thinks he’s crazy, the religious leaders think he is crazy because he talks to demons. Now if Jesus were carrying on a pleasant conversation with a demon that would be one thing, but he isn’t chit chatting with some legion from hell for the fun of it. He is taking charge of a very destructive situation and restoring wholeness and sanity. If that meant confronting the powers of evil so be it. There’s an old cliché from the recovery movement that says, “Let go and let God.” It is a hard lesson for the family of Jesus to learn but one they will have to learn if they want to remain his family.
God, it is not always easy to know what you are up to in the lives of people. There are times when I think you are nowhere to be found or that nothing good could come from this person or that situation. I may dismiss something you are doing because I don’t understand it or it doesn’t fit my preconceptions. Help me Lord to be open to your movement and supportive of your efforts to make good triumph over evil in this world. Amen.
Daily Lenten Devotional for Monday, February 26, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 3:7-19a
7Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; 8hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 9He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” 12But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
13He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15and to have authority to cast out demons. 16So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
It is quite a rogue’s gallery isn’t it. There are at least two sets of brothers, one tax collector, one son of Alphaeus, which is of Greek origin as well as Thaddaeus another Greek name, Cananaean an apostle no one even remembers and of course the infamous Judas. If we were looking for some pure bloodlines here we would be hard pressed. If we were looking for purity of heart and souls here we would hard pressed. There is one name in there who sold Jesus out, but what Mark does not say beside everyone else’s name is that they all betrayed him, they just did not get any cash for it. They all deserted him. It would be nice to know what Jesus saw in every one of them when he called them. What qualifies four fishermen to make disciples? What gifts does a hated tax collector bring to the table? And Cananaean, what does he have to offer? Then again, what is it about us that Jesus sees when he invited us to follow him?
Awesome God, it is a mystery why you chose the people you did. They were not perfect by any means. Far from perfect, is a better description. Still you invited me to follow you, to be your disciple, to learn from you and to be about the business of the Kingdom of God. I know I have gifts and abilities that can be marshalled for your service. Help me use them as faithfully as I can, as long as I can, in Jesus name I pray. Amen.
Daily Devotional for Friday, February 23, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 2:13-22
13Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
15And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
21“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Levi, whom we affectionately call Matthew, was a tax collector. A contract tax collector or privateer tax collector whose sole job was to – you guessed it- collect taxes at whatever the going rate was or whatever the market could bear. The poor of course, like now, got the most money taken out by the tax collectors who were singularly responsible for poor farmers and other small businessmen going bankrupt and forfeiting their businesses and their properties. Which as we all know, made tax collectors persona non gratia. And yet, that is where we find Jesus. It is also why Jesus comes under criticism by the religious establishment. When pressed, Jesus compares what he is doing to a doctor making house calls. While everybody else is avoiding these sinners and tax collectors Jesus intentionally seeks them out signally to everyone that this is a new day and he is a new way for a new day. Makes you wonder what Jesus thinks of our attempts to regulate our children’s lives by limiting their contact with certain population segments. I do not think we ought to encourage our children to pull a Jesus and hang out with drug dealers. They may not have the strength and maturity to handle that environment. But what does it say about homeschooling and intentionally keeping our children from being exposed to different people of different races and languages? Segregation is not something that God designed nor desires particularly where God’s children are concerned. If Jesus saw fit to tear down the wall between the sick and well, the sinner and saint, do you think wants us to build walls?
Incredibly loving and gracious God. Thank for not including me on the do not speak to, touch or associate with list. Thank you by setting an example of who can be included, which looks to be anyone, anywhere. Thank you that you included me in your circle of friends as well.
Daily Devotional for Thursday, February 22, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 2:1-12
1When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – 11“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like thi
We’ve all heard this story either in Church or Sunday school or Vacation Bible Story. It is a great story about friendship. Four friends help the one person who can help himself get to Jesus in hopes that his reputation is right, the Jesus could heal their friend. We sense the frustration as they hit a wall of people and can’t find a way through. Chances are there were a lot of sick people ahead of them, so they found a very creative and destructive way to get to the head of the line-dig a hole in the roof and let him down. They did this, then there is the dialogue between Jesus and the man where he forgives the man’s sin, which causes some people to come unglued. Then to prove he has the power to forgive sins, he heals the man.
Great story of friends helping a friend. But then I wondered about what the owner of the house thought of people demolishing his roof. Granted it was for a good cause, but a roof is still a roof. Had they just waited their turn in line like everybody else, he wouldn’t have a hole in his roof. Their impatience led to a destroyed roof, after all this wasn’t a small hole. It had to be big enough for a bed to fit through length wise. That is five to six feet long and 3 three to four feet wide…that’s a fifteen to twenty-four square foot hole. Then I thought about whose house is it. Was it a friend of Jesus? If it was, I doubt he’d let Jesus stay another night. If it wasn’t a friend but the friend of a friend, then I can see that friendship being on the rocks. Mark says the house belonged to Jesus. “1When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.“ Mark 2:1 So I wondered what Jesus thought of someone destroying his roof to drop a man down for him to heal. As a homeowner he probably thought, not my roof! Maybe he wished they had exercised a little more patience. We do know that he saw what they did and what the man allowed them to do for him as an act of faith. It seems Jesus is willing to suffer the loss of roof for people to express their faith in him and allow others to have faith in him for themselves. We do know that Jesus was willing to suffer on a cross for the same reason. The Lenten question is simply, Do we have enough faith to bring ourselves or even our friends to Jesus? Do we have faith in Jesus period?
Gracious and Loving God, some of us have friends, neighbors and even family members who need you to touch their lives, to restore their spirits and their bodies. We confess that we may not have enough faith in you or even in ourselves to do whatever it takes, or whatever it costs to get them to you. We also thank you for allowing us to do whatever it takes to express our faith in you. In those now famous words, this is my prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief.”Amen
February 21, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 1:29-45
29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
40A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Popularity has its price. Part of the price Jesus paid for his popularity was his ability to go where the people are. It is always nice to get that personal connection with people in their own town and in their own home. You can discover a lot about someone just by looking around. You’ll discover what countries they have been to, how many children and grandchildren they have, and their taste in music, art, and furniture, either early attic or antique or modern. You can always understand people when you can see where they come from, in context. Popularity now has a price. Jesus can no longer enter a town or a home without causing collateral damage. He tried it once and some folks decided to demolish a roof to get a paralyzed man in front of Jesus in hopes that he would heal him. I do not envy the home owner that day. Fixing a roof is one thing, replacing a roof is another. So instead of going to where the people are-Jesus changes strategy and the people now have to come to him. On the plus side, he can speak to more people. He is not limited to the size of someone’s living room. A hillside now becomes an open-air auditorium with unlimited seating. To some degree he can heal more people, they will just have to wait longer in line. In other words, Jesus can now do more good things for the common good. On the negative side, he will have less and less personal time. It will harder and harder to get away by himself without throwing everybody else into confusion, and he will have to be more intentional to do it. Also, as his popularity increases, so does his presence as a perceived threat to those in power and since we are in Lent, we all know where this is going.
Incredibly loving God, Jesus because more popular for a reason. He loved people where they were and as they were. He helped wherever and whenever he could, and when forced to change, he did so to serve even more. Thank you, God that Jesus out of love, changed his strategy rather than settle for the way he had always done it before. Help me O God to be open to new ways to convey your love to more people. Amen.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Gospel Reading Mark 1:14-28
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
“Put your money where your mouth is,” is a phrase we use for saying that someone should do something, especially spend money, to show that they mean what they say instead of just talking about it. “Show me the money,” is phrase made popular by the movie, Jerry Maguire. It has a slightly different meaning. When people say this, they either want to know how much they will be paid for something or want to see evidence that something is valuable or worth paying for. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus by delivering the demoniac is putting his money where his mouth is. He is not just preaching that the Kingdom of God was near, but showing them how close it is. The proof is in the pudding. (Sorry to switch metaphors but I couldn’t resist.) Jesus spoke as one having authority and he backed it up with his actions in behalf of the demon possessed man. Which also had the effect of showing them the money. It showed the people how valuable Jesus is. If what he is saying about God, and what God is doing is true, then he is worth the investment of their lives and ours.
Incredibly loving and present God, I am amazed that your kingdom was so close to people that they could touch it in Jesus. God, he showed them that life was not hopeless and even self-destructive ways could be reversed. He also showed them that what he said was true, that his ways were the right ways. Help me Lord not to dismiss Jesus and his words as either impossible or nearly impossible to do. Give me the courage and strength to make the effort and trust you for the results. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Monday, February 19, 2018
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
It is not easy to be replaced. It is not easy to step aside. No wants to become second fiddle or yesterday’s news. But that is exactly what John is facing when Jesus shows up. It is what he was preaching. It was what he was hoping for all along. Equally, it is not easy to watch your leader, your pastor, your mentor, your friend take a back seat to some up and coming nobody from nowhere who has never done anything of significance his entire life. That is what John’s followers are facing. And if they were anything like me, they struggled with it, and probably tried to get John to dial back on the “someone greater is coming after me,” part of his message. Fame may be fleeting, but it can feel good for the moment. What John has going for him is his clear sense of call. His fame has not gone to his head. He stays on message. The word humble is what comes to my mind. It took humility for John to stay the course given the pressure from the crowds and his own disciples. And his humility enabled Jesus to step forward when it was his time.
Gracious God, thank you for the models of faith like John the Baptist who did what you called him to do the way you called him to do it. Thank you for his humility that kept him on task. Thank you that second fiddles play significant roles in your good intentions for this world. Help us God to follow John’s example and do what you call us to do, the way you call us to do it even if it is in a supportive role.
February 17, 2018
Gospel Reading John 17:20-26
20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
This is the last half of the great prayer of Jesus for his disciples. Its focus is that of unity. “that they may be one.” Jesus says, “that they may be one,” twice, and he expands it to “that they may become completely one.” Now for the toughest words in the prayer, Jesus makes the world’s ability to know that Jesus both came from God and his coming was a sign of God’s love contingent upon the unity of the Christian community. Unfortunately, churches and the Christians in them reflect the greater polarization going on politically in our country. It seems we are less united than ever before with one side disenfranchising the other. And I might add- pick a side because both are guilty. What’s needed is a way through that does treat the differences as irrelevant or unimportant. It has been said that we should judge others by their intentions rather than their actions. Not a bad turn of phrase. It certainly is the way we would like to be judged. Why not turn it up a notch or two and try to judge others as if their intentions were good, which makes their actions serious, albeit flawed attempts to promote goodness, at least we are less likely to throw out the person for their actions… It may not bring full unity, but it may move us closer.
O God who loves us indiscriminately, and one who is one and who makes us one in Christ, help us to love just as indiscriminately as you, so that in spite of our differences it is our link to you that unites us and not our agreeing on position or issues. Help not to judge or condemn since you neither judge or condemn us. For we ask this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
February 16, 2018
Gospel Reading John 17:9-19
9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Apart from the Lord’s Prayer, we have very few other prayers of Jesus. This prayer is one of the longest prayers of Jesus, and it is not complete. It begins with John 17:1 and ends with John 17:26. There are approximately 15 verses left out. And it is an intercessory prayer, meaning that Jesus is not praying for himself but for his disciples. He prays for their safety, asking God to protect them. He prays for their unity, he prays that their joy maybe complete, and he prays for their sanctification. In the prayer, he prays that he would be part of the answer to his own prayer. It is not bad to pray for those who are close to us- partners in life or partners in ministry. It is also not bad to pray to be willing to be a part of the answer to our own prayer and he is not expecting any more from his disciples than he expects of himself. Not a bad model of leadership.
Dear calling and commissioning God, so many people’s lives are teetering on the edge. There are forces that would send them down the wrong path. They need the protection that only you can provide. Give them the strength, give them the guidance, give them the encouragement they may need. And God, help me be the hands and feet of this prayer on their behalf, for I ask this in the name of the one who is the truth, Jesus, Amen.
February 15, 2018
Gospel Reading John 17:1-8
1After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
Life, particularly eternal or everlasting life is a major theme in the Gospel of John. We hear it in familiar passages like John 3:16 (NRSV) 16 “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.”
We mentally translate eternal or everlasting life as “going to heaven when we die.” However, Jesus in John 17 does not define eternal life or everlasting life that way at all. He says, “3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life, everlasting life is experienced in knowing God and in knowing Jesus Christ, whom John also tells us, is the way we know God. Jesus told Thomas, to know me is to know the father, for I and the father are one. It does not take our death to know God and know Jesus. It does not take our death to know who God is and what God desires for us to be and to do. And of course we can know all of this by getting to know Jesus.
So, if you want to experience life at a new level-an eternal and everlasting level, then what are you doing today to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent?
Gracious and loving God, you have chosen to reveal your true self to me in Jesus. Help me to want to know you more so I can experience the life you intend for me to have. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.