The Reflectionary – Week of March 8, 2020

For Lent 3

Text: Mark 12:1-12

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone;

the Lord has done this,

    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

 Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.

Reflection

I’m not sure what the owner of the vineyard was thinking, when he sent his own son to collect the fruit. Was he just not paying attention to what happened to the people he previously sent? Things kept getting progressively worse, from beatings to murder! Why in the world would he send his own son into that situation? This parable that Jesus tells is unsettling and troublesome.

So let’s begin with a little bit of context. This passage is located squarely between two significant events: Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his overturning of the tables in the Temple, and the Last Supper and his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. In other words, the events of Jesus’ final week have already been set in motion when he tells this parable. The tension has already started to rise. The chief priests and teachers of the Law had already started to look for ways to kill him. When Jesus tells this particular parable, it was directly to the group of leaders who came to confront him and challenge his authority.

When Jesus tells this parable, he locates himself firmly within the story of Israel. He locates himself in the line of prophets who had spoken on behalf of God. He locates himself as one, who like the prophets, spoke truth to power. And yet, unlike the prophets who were simply servants of the God of Israel, Jesus is his beloved son and heir.

It is extremely important to recognize that in this parable, Jesus is not slamming Israel. This is not a parable about how the church somehow replaces Israel. It is not a parable that accuses Israel as a whole of going after Jesus. Rather, it is a parable that is meant to remind this particular group of leaders that they are the ones who are no longer aligned with God’s message. They are the ones who are seeking to hold and maintain their own power and authority, so they will do anything to squash one who challenges that. This is important to recognize because this parable has a history of being interpreted as a slam against Israel as a whole. It has a history of being interpreted as a supersessionist parable (which means it is read in such a way that allows for the wholesale dismissal of the Jewish people, believing that the covenant God made with them is made null and void through the birth of the Church – a reading that is both false and dangerous).

So what is at the heart of this parable? Ultimately, Jesus is trying to show this group of chief priests and the teachers of the Law that in their aspirations to kill him, they are placing themselves in alignment with the ones who have, in fact, been the enemies of the prophets of God, and accordingly, God’s self. He’s warning them that they have forgotten who they are and whose they are. When they are more concerned about keeping their own power and authority, they have lost their way.

In this way, the parable is a reminder to us as well. When we seek to gain and hold power for ourselves, we have lost our way. When we fail to live in speak in such a way that aligns with the message of the prophets (which is ultimately about loving God and neighbor, especially the vulnerable neighbor), we’ve forgotten who we are and whose we are. When we undermine the message and the work of Jesus for the sake of what seems best for our own interest, then Jesus speaks this parable to us, just as much as he spoke it to this particular group of religious leaders. Jesus says to us all, let those who have ears, hear.

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   Where do you find yourself in this parable?
o   What do you find challenging in Jesus’ words?

Challenge

Consider the message of the prophets, which was most often to turn away from false idols and to care for the vulnerable. What might you do this week to heed their message? Consider any kind of false idol present in your life that you need to turn away from. What might it be? The need to be successful or admired by many? Money? Fixation on having the latest technology? Shopping? What might you do to turn it loose?

And/or

Consider what you might do this week to care for someone who is vulnerable or hurting.

Prayer

God, you call me to love and serve you, rather than myself. Give me the courage to stand in the long line of your prophets who did not seek power for themselves but sought only to communicate your goodness and truth. Let me walk with Jesus. Turn my heart towards him in all things. In his name, I pray. Amen.  

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of March 1, 2020

For Lent 2

Text: Mark 10:32-52

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again, he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” 

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered. 

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” 

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Reflection

This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. Some of you came out to worship and participated in the imposition of ashes. The imposition of ashes is a practice that has been around for a long time. The ashes are meant to remind us of our own mortality. When I make the mark of the cross with ash on a person’s forehead, I say, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about our mortality lately. With the recent passing of Darick’s grandmother and our preparations for her memorial service this weekend, and my grandmother having just been placed in hospice care, death is weighing heavily on my mind. Death is something that none of us escape. A particularly poignant moment for me was imposing ashes upon my toddler. I had already been holding him in one arm as I imposed ashes on others (he had somehow scraped his arm while I was preaching, which upset him, and he refused to be put down after that). After I finished imposing ashes on all of those who had come forward, I turned to him, made the mark of the cross, and said, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” There’s nothing quite like saying those words to a two-year-old.

Perhaps it’s not so much death itself that is weighing on me, but more the realization that we only have a limited amount of time on this earth. I find myself dwelling on the question, what kind of person do I want to be while I’m here? What kind of person will my child be? What kind of legacy do I want to leave?

In the text this week, Jesus continues to teach his disciples about his coming suffering, death, and resurrection. He’s trying to communicate to them what it will mean to follow him. He speaks of the servanthood of love and calls them to that kind of life and legacy. But James and John do not appear to be listening to a thing Jesus says.

Jesus reminds his disciples that in his kingdom, the “greatest” will be those who serve others. The “greatest” will be the ones who don’t claim power for themselves, but instead pour it out for the sake of others. It takes his disciples a long time to get there. They wrestle, they argue, they resist. But ultimately, as they follow Jesus, he shows them the way of the kingdom. Ultimately, the legacy they leave is Jesus’ legacy.

Jesus calls each of us to lay aside our own ambitions, whatever they might be. Jesus calls us out from the rat-race of this world and the ego-centric tendencies we all fall prone to. He calls us to the only true life. It can feel overwhelming and scary, but to quote Jan Richardson in her Ash Wednesday poem, “Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

I leave you with these words from my friend and colleague, Rev. Ashley Anne Sipe:

“’From dust you came and to dust you shall return’… isn’t a reminder that we are unimportant but that this earthly experience is short. We get too caught up in the hustle and bustle of climbing ladders of status to nowhere and gathering up storehouses of riches that fade and we can’t take with us. We forget sometimes that we are a beautiful creation made from the dust and we are to relish in the wonder and beauty of ALL that God has and is creating! That’s our purpose. So may you observe a Holy Lent… one that sacrifices the rat race for flower picking and gratitude for all the many small blessings from God!”

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   What do you need to lay aside?
o   Where have you seen the Holy One bring new life?

Challenge

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Spend some time thinking, praying, and writing on it.

And/or

It’s still too early in the year to get outside and play in the dirt, but if you are able, re-pot some plants, or perhaps play with some sand. Feel the dirt in your fingers and meditate on the phrase, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Prayer 

God, you have made me out of the dust of the ground and you have breathed your own Spirit into me, giving me life. May my life be characterized by love and service. Help me to lay aside those things that I need to lay aside. Remove selfish ambition from my heart and align it with the heart of Jesus. In his name, I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of February 23, 2020

For Lent 1

Text: Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” 

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Reflection

As the parent of a toddler, I enjoy watching him learn new words and concepts on a daily basis. One concept that he has very recently figured out is that of possession. “My” is quickly becoming his favorite word. I ask him if he’ll share a bite of his food with me. “No! My!” Another kid gets too close to a toy he’s playing with, he pulls it away, saying, “My!” He sees something I am eating/using/working on, and tries to grab it while uttering a demanding, “My!” In my toddler, I see a microcosm of the human condition at work – the constant compulsion towards possession.

In today’s text, Jesus encounters a rich young man. We don’t know very much about this man. We know he is rich, and we also know that he is concerned about keeping God’s commandments. He comes to Jesus, not to test him, but to ask a genuine question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He tells Jesus that he’s kept the commandments since he was a child. This does not appear to be an exaggeration, or disingenuous, because Jesus looks at him, loves him, and he says, “There is just one thing you lack.” Just one thing! That’s great news! Surely this man who has, apparently, kept all of these commandments from his youth can do whatever Jesus is about to ask of him!

“Go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then come follow me.”

When I picture this scene unfolding, I see the young man’s jaw hitting the floor. I see a look of befuddlement in his eyes. I see him scratching his head, thinking he must have heard Jesus incorrectly. Maybe Jesus said, give alms to the poor. Maybe Jesus said, sell some of your stuff. But when he realizes that what Jesus has asked of him is nothing less than selling everything he has and giving it all away to the poor in order to come and follow him, it is more than he can handle. He simply cannot even fathom doing such a thing, or why Jesus might require it of him.

When Jesus asks the man to sell everything he has, he is not saying that his wealth is bad, nor is he saying that this cost is something that all wealthy people need to undertake in order to follow him. What Jesus is saying, however, to this young man, is that he not only needed to separate himself from his possessions, but that he needed to also consider his relationship to those who were on the margins. The ask was not just to sell his possessions, it was to sell them so that he could then give to the poor. Jesus was asking him to re-orient himself in relationship to his possessions and also to his neighbors. For this particular man, his possessions had become a barrier to loving his neighbor, which then also became a barrier to loving God.

I can’t stand in judgment of this rich young ruler without standing in judgment on myself. I can’t look at this story from a place of disconnection and distance. While it is true that Jesus doesn’t require every person to sell everything they have and give it to the poor, that doesn’t mean that I can dismiss it, shrugging it off, saying, “Well, Jesus isn’t talking to me, here.”

Just as Jesus seeks to help the rich young man become radically reoriented in relationship to his possessions and his neighbors, he asks you and me to do the same thing. He asks us to look at what we have, and what we do with what we have. Do we see our possessions, our money, our status, or our social capital, as means for ourselves alone, or do we see them as assets we can use to better love our neighbors, and consequently, God?

Jesus called this young man, and he went away dismayed. Jesus calls you and me today. What is your response?

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   Why do you think the rich young man was unable to do what Jesus asked?
o   What do you think Jesus is saying to you through this story?

Challenge

Jesus calls us to use what we have to serve others. Identify something that you have: time, money, possessions, influence, etc. How are you currently using it to serve others, especially vulnerable and marginalized people? How might you more effectively be about to use it to love your neighbors? Spend time journaling, praying, and then, most importantly, acting.

And/or

Take an inventory of your possessions. Consider what you might need to give away. Make a commitment over the season of Lent to simplify and let go of things that need to be let go. Donate where possible.

Prayer

God, you call me out of my comfort. You call me to a life of radical discipleship. Give me a willing and courageous heart to respond to your call. Re-orient my heart and my life that I may better love my neighbor and better love you. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.   

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of February 16, 2020

For Epiphany 7

Text: Mark 8:27-9:8

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Reflection

“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question that Jesus asks his disciples. It’s the question that Jesus asks us. Peter responds with what he believes is the right answer: “the Messiah.” And he is, of course, right. But only partially. See, Peter does not understand what the word “Messiah” means. Or rather, he does not understand it in the way that Jesus radically redefines it.

For much of Israel’s existence, Israel held the idea that one day a Messiah (anointed one) would come to liberate them from oppression. The Messiah would come and overthrow the political powers that ruled over them, that enslaved them or held them in captivity. The Messiah would set up an alternative kingdom. The Messiah would be a powerful political revolutionary.

When Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, he still has this kind of idea in mind. Jesus was about to bring down the hammer and finally throw off their Roman overlords and set up a new kingdom of Israel.

But that’s not the kind of Messiah that Jesus is. Instead of talking about gathering an army and establishing a new rule, he starts talking about suffering, rejection, and death. Peter probably said something like, “I’m sorry, Jesus, what did you say? I’m sure I must have misheard you. When are you going to start organizing the revolt? We’re all ready! Let’s get this throne of David back in business!” Jesus pulls Peter aside and starts laying into him. “Get behind me, Satan! You have no clue what you’re talking about, and you clearly don’t have God’s ways on your mind!” Ouch. Harsh words for someone who would later be the Rock upon whom Christ would build the Church.

After Jesus rebukes Peter, he decides to gather everyone around him and make some things clear. He starts saying things like, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” I’m thinking this is not what Peter (or the others) thought they were signing on for.

To be followers of Jesus, we must be prepared to lay down power rather than to pick it up. We must be prepared for suffering and rejection. We must be prepared to go with Jesus to the cross. These words are hard to hear. We don’t want to listen to them. We just want to skip straight to the power and the glory part. The disciples did too. I think that’s why Jesus took three of them with him up onto the mountain where he was transfigured. God wanted to get their attention so he could give them a message. And just what was the whole message that God delivered on that mountain? “This is my Son whom I love, so you’d better stop talking about power and glory and setting up a new earthly kingdom, and LISTEN TO THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF HIS MOUTH!”

God wants to get our attention. God wants us to listen to Jesus. God wants us to understand that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. The fullness of God’s love is communicated to us through the suffering and death of the Messiah. Jesus embodies God’s love, and that self-giving love IS the power of God. The cross is inextricably bound up into that life-giving power and glory of God. If we are followers of Jesus, then we do not bypass the cross in order to get to the power and glory part. We don’t even go through the cross to get to the power and glory part. The cross itself is where we paradoxically find life and love.

I leave you with these words from Bishop Kenneth Carder: “When the love of power takes precedence over the power of love, both church and society have lost their way.” May we find ourselves living in the way of Jesus.

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   With whom do you identify in this narrative? In what way?
o   What is your reaction to Jesus’ teaching on suffering, rejection, and death?

Challenge

Think about someone who has exemplified the self-giving love of Christ to you. If they are living, write them a letter, giving thanks for the way God has worked through them to help you know Jesus.

And/or

Meditate on the image of the cross. Whether looking at a photograph, a painting, or simply in your mind’s eye, sit and listen for God to give you a word. It might come in the form of a memory or a phrase or a feeling. Sit with it for a time.

Prayer

God, you show me your love through the cross of Jesus Christ. Let his love move me and motivate me. Let his love shape me and pour through me. Lead me in his ways. Let me live in the power of his love rather than in the love of power. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.  

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of February 9, 2020

For Epiphany 6

Text: Mark 7:1-23

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

    their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” 

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Reflection

One of my clergy friends told me about a children’s sermon she recently preached. She told the children about how Jesus wants our hearts. One kid responded, as truly only a child can, with sheer horror. The child’s response was something like, “But I don’t want Jesus to take my heart! I need it to live!” She proceeded to explain that what she meant was that Jesus wants to live in our hearts. A comical moment, no doubt. I can imagine the chuckles of the congregation. But when I think about the child’s response of fear, thinking that Jesus wanted to literally take his heart out of his body, (a la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), I can’t help but think, maybe that response isn’t as far out there as we think. See, Jesus is actually concerned about our hearts – and what lives within them. And the work that Jesus wants to do with our hearts can be downright painful and scary.

In the text this week, Jesus and the Pharisees hash it out over what it means to be “pure.” The Pharisees become quite concerned when they see that some of Jesus’ disciples are not observing the practice of ceremonial handwashing before eating. To us, this might seem like it’s not a very big deal, but it was significant to the Pharisees. It was an important way that they showed their commitment to recognizing the blessings of God. The practice of ceremonial washing before eating was a traditional way that many Jews showed honor to God. It was an act they took seriously, even if it wasn’t technically Law, per se.

When that group of Pharisees see some of Jesus’ disciples failing to conform to this practice, to them, it felt like an affront to God, and they wanted to prove that Jesus was, in fact, a heretical teacher. Jesus’ response, however, is pure gold. The Pharisees are trying to indict Jesus by accusing him of circumventing the Law; Jesus’ response holds the mirror right up to the Pharisees to show them their hypocrisy in idolizing their own traditions to the point that they are actually the ones violating the Law! (This is what is going on in the whole conversation where Jesus quotes Isaiah and then talks about honoring one’s mother and father and the use of Corban, which was a practice of giving one’s assets to the Temple, assets that may no longer be used for the family’s, including elderly parents’, care).

Jesus continues on and moves the conversation to address the heart of the matter (pun intended). He shifts the conversation from outward practices and traditions to the content of the heart. He says, what actually defiles a person is what comes from within the heart. In other words, we can do or say all of the right things, but when we have hatred, or malice, or selfish desires in our heart, we, in fact, violate the Law. We might have all of the “right traditions, go through the “right motions” in worship, or even keep the letter of the Law, but those things are not what make us good or righteous. Jesus talks extensively about this very idea in his Sermon on the Mount.

(Please do note that in Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees that he is not making a blanket condemnation of all tradition or outward acts of piety. Rather, he is condemning the ones that circumvent the heart of the Law and become idols in themselves. Sometimes traditions can teach and train our hearts in the ways of Jesus.)

What is in our hearts matters. We might be very practiced at saying and doing all of the right things, but if, in our hearts, as Christians, we are filled with selfishness or hatred or lust for power, then we are no different from the Pharisees in today’s text. This is not to say that our actions don’t matter. They do. And in fact, goodness, kindness, love, and the other fruits of the Spirit are things that should flow out of a heart that is being changed. Jesus does want out hearts, but he wants them so that our whole lives and world can be truly transformed.

Jesus holds up a mirror to each of us. What do you see today?

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   What do you see in the mirror?
o   What traditions do you hold on to? What traditions have helped cultivate your heart in positive ways? What traditions might you need to leave behind for the sake of the gospel?

Challenge

Get a mirror. Look into it. Have a conversation with yourself about what you see – not physically, but spiritually. What might God be wanting to do in your heart today?

And/or

Think about someone (whether it is an individual, or perhaps even a group of people) to whom your heart has been hardened. Simply spend some time in prayer for that person or group of people – not prayers that they might change, but that God might meet their every need.

Prayer

God, you want to work in my heart. I give it over to you, to tend it, to prune it, to plant new seeds within it. Tear out the weeds of selfishness and fear and hatred. Make me new. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of February 2, 2020

Epiphany 5

Text: Mark 6:1-29

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. 

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” 

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Reflection

If I had to sum up this week’s text in one word, it would be “rejection.” First, Jesus experiences rejection in his hometown, where no one can believe this little kid they watched grow up is now this miracle worker, teaching with authority. They knew him when he was still in diapers, for goodness’ sake! Then, as Jesus sends his disciples out, he gives them advice about what to do if they are rejected. “Shake the dust off your feet!” he says. And then, in the third, and longest, segment of the text, we hear of the beheading of John the Baptist. If that isn’t a story of rejection, I don’t know what is. That third story is what we’ll be considering today.

Herod Antipas was the ruler of the Galilee. While he didn’t have the title of “king,” he was known as the Tetrarch (which means “ruler of a quarter”). He ruled Galilee as a client state of Rome, meaning that all of Herod’s power was derived from and subordinate to Rome. Herod’s own rise to power was one fraught with complications and manipulations. He was a younger son of Herod the Great, and it was never intended for him to rise to become a ruler. But after the executions of two older brothers, and another tried to poison his father, Herod Antipas was granted the rule of Galilee and Perea, which had to then be ratified by Caesar Augustus. Perhaps Herod Antipas felt like he had a lot to prove, and he sought to establish himself as a great and powerful ruler like his father.

As one who had grown accustomed to a life of seeking power for himself, Herod Antipas had a habit of taking what he wanted, which included his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. Herod divorced his own wife, in order to marry her. War broke out because of it. John the Baptist was an outspoken critic of Herod Antipas. Ultimately, that outspoken criticism led to his imprisonment and subsequently his beheading.

I don’t know about you, but these days, I am wrestling with Christianity’s relationship to the powers and rulers of the world. John the Baptist did not have any problem calling out and confronting Herod. John was definitely not a supporter of Rome or any of its subordinate institutions. His defiance and his proclamation of sin got him in big time trouble. I can’t help but look at our society today, where many who consider themselves to be a part of Christian evangelicalism appear to try to derive their own power from the “rulers of this world.” I can’t help but think about how many Christians are unwilling to confront corrupt and abusive powers of our leaders when they demonstrate such behavior. John the Baptist knew that his power did not come from Herod or from Rome. His power came from God. I can’t help but wonder, what would John the Baptist be doing and saying if he were living today?

John the Baptist reminds us of the cost of being sent out on God’s mission – it can mean rejection. Herod was afraid of John and the kind of life and kingdom John was proclaiming. He also came to see Jesus as a threat to his power and authority. There is much for us to wrestle with in this text. Where do you find yourself in it today?

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   How do you understand the relationship between faith and the political sphere? What do you consider to be appropriate or inappropriate interaction?
o   In your understanding, how would you characterize the kingdom of God?

Challenge

Where do you see corruption or injustice in today’s world? Consider how you might be called, as a person of faith, to address it. Take the first steps towards doing so.

And/or

Journal about how the idea of “rejection” sits with you.

Prayer

God, your kingdom is not like any kingdom of this world. Align me with your goodness, with your purpose In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of January 26, 2020

Epiphany 4

Text: Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. 

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” 

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” 

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. 

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. 

Reflection

In this week’s text, we see Jesus perform two dramatic healings: the raising of a girl presumed dead, and the healing of a woman who had been sick for so long, she felt like she had been left for dead.

Let’s consider the story of the little girl first. Her father, Jairus, was a leader in the synagogue. As such, he would have been a fairly prominent person in the community – the reason why we even get his name in the first place. He comes to Jesus, desperate for him to heal his daughter, who is close to death. (It should be noted, that while Jesus did face opposition from some of the Jewish leadership throughout his ministry, there were also many others who became followers – Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was, primarily, among the Jewish people, after all). Jesus responds immediately to Jairus’ request and goes with him.

But then, as they are going on their way, a large crowd has started to form around Jesus. People are pressing in on him from every direction. All of a sudden, Jesus stops in his tracks. “Who touched me?” he demands. How could he have even felt the woman’s touch, in the midst of all of the crowds? But Jesus knows. He turns, and he sees the woman – head turned down, eyes averted, falling at his feet and begging for mercy. Perhaps she can barely get the words out to tell him about her situation. Twelve long years of bleeding. Twelve long years of being identified as ritually impure. Twelve long years of perhaps longing to bear a child, knowing she had no chance whatsoever. This unnamed woman occupies a very different place in society than Jairus and his daughter. Rather than a place of prominence and respect, she exists on the edges, in the shadows, in the forgotten places. And yet, Jesus stops for her. He heals her.

Perhaps that is one of the jarring parts of the story for those who witnessed it. Shouldn’t Jesus have just gone on with Jairus? He was, after all, a very important person, and his daughter lay close to death. Couldn’t Jesus have come back later for the woman?  But maybe, just maybe, that is the whole point of this story. Jesus shows up not only for the well-to-do, but also for those who are forgotten or shunned by the community. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.

It may have been the temptation for those who were witnessing these events unfold to scold Jesus for stopping to heal this woman. She was not in a good place, but she wasn’t about to die. And she wasn’t the daughter of a synagogue leader either! In healing both the woman and Jairus’ daughter, Jesus reveals that he has come for all who are sick – for all who are suffering – for all who need healing. It’s not a competition with Jesus!

In his blog, “The Listening Hermit,” Peter Woods reflects on this passage with these words:

At times of great disaster medical personnel are trained to practice triage. To decide who is most in need of medical attention and care.  The injured are tagged with tape.  Green for not serious. Yellow for serious. Red for critical. Black for terminal. If Mark’s edit of the gospel tells us anything it is this… Christian, pack away your tape and labels. There is no need for triage in the kingdom of God.

So maybe we should pack away our tape and labels and let Jesus do what he will with whom he will, whenever he wills.

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   Have you ever felt judgmental and/or envious towards another person’s faith or healing experience? If so, why do you think that is?
o   Have you ever felt like Jesus was neglecting your need?

Challenge

Consider someone you know who needs healing. Lift them up in prayer, but don’t stop there. Give them a visit or a phone call. Send them a card. Let them know you are praying for them.

And/or

Think of a time when you have felt like God answered prayers for someone else, but yours got no response. Write about that experience. Offer all of your feelings and frustrations up to God.

Prayer

God, you offer healing to the powerful and to the powerless. You see us all. Cultivate in me the faith of Jairus and of the unnamed woman. Restore life to me as you did to them. Restore life to those whom I love. I lay this all at your feet – you are my only hope. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+