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.


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.


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?


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?


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


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.  


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.


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!”


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?


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


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.”


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.


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.”


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?


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?


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.


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.


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.