pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hosanna!

Reading: Mark 11:1-11 and 15-18

Verse 10: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest”!

Photo credit: Valentin Salja

After having two disciples fetch a colt, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. People spread their cloaks on the ground, along with branches that they had cut. It is an ancient version of the red carpet. The crowd cheers for Jesus as he enters. They offer praise mixed with hopeful expectations. They express both as they shout, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest”!

The people expect a Messiah that is a great king, much as King David was. He brought peace to Israel – through his great military exploits that were blessed by God. Israel was the big dog in their small corner of the world during David’s reign. To be rid of the Romans, to again be the big kid on the block – that was the peoples’ hope. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to be king – just not their type of king.

The second section of our reading today reveals how different Jesus’ kingdom will be. Driving the action towards its culmination on Maundy Thursday, Jesus goes to the temple and begins to announce the new kingdom. It is not a kingdom of power and privilege and gain. The sellers and money changers are driven out. The religious leaders get the message that such is not the proper use of God’s house. The line is drawn in the sand. The religious leaders begin to look for a way to kill Jesus. It has begun. As we enter Holy Week, we too begin the journey to the cross.

Prayer: Lord God, we too welcome Jesus with great hope and expectation. He is worthy of our praise. But how will we react when he overturns the tables in our hearts? Will we look within and see how we’ve wandered or will we seek to maintain the status quo? Guide and bless our journey through Holy Week, draw us deeper into Jesus’ kingdom of love and grace. Amen.


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Habits and Practices

Reading: John 2: 18-22

Verse 20: “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”.

Yesterday we read about Jesus clearing the temple and we’re asked to consider where we could stand against some wrongs or evils in the world around us. In today’s passage we see the reaction of the religious leaders – those in charge of the temple. They want to know by what authority Jesus can do what he has done. In a way, they are asking if they can just go back to business as usual tomorrow, when he is gone. They ask for a sign and Jesus does give them one. They will just have to wait to see the truth of him rising after three days in the grave. Most of the religious leaders will deny that event too. Almost all will fail to connect Jesus’ resurrection to his answer to the question about his authority.

The market place in the temple courts probably began simply – some guy looking to help out travelers from afar by selling doves for sacrifices. And then another guy set up shop selling sheep. Eventually the sellers moved out inside the temple courts and some priest thought about requiring temple coins for their purchases. Money changers became a necessity and soon enough a thriving enterprise was born. Jesus challenged the corruption of this system. In response to Jesus’ cryptic answer the religious leaders say, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”. In a way they are saying that the temple and the market place have always been here. In our churches and other organizations we say, “We’ve always done it that way”. So what it has become broken or corrupt or no longer is effective or isn’t holy or sacred anymore? One of the good things about the pandemic is that it has forced us to examine the practices and routines of the church. This season has been a time to let some things die, to imagine new possibilities, and to make changes to things that were ineffective, irrelevant, or outdated. Many of us have gone through the same process in our own lives and in our faith. This season of Lent invites us to do that hard work, to go deeper.

Although perhaps not 46 years, what habits or practices have you fallen into or out of that have lessened your walk with the Lord? What needs changed?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you still have the ability to do wonders and to work miracles. What in me needs addressed? Open my eyes to see and bind my will to yours. Make me more like you. Amen.


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.


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Calling Them to Come

Mark 1: 1-5

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

Last week we began Advent with the end of the story – the end of the age when Jesus will return in power and might. This week we jump back to the beginning of the story, with the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark begins his gospel quoting from two of the many Old Testament passages that point to Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God. Mark describes John’s ministry simply: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John set up outside of the temple, outside of Jerusalem – outside of all civilization for that fact. He was calling people back to a simpler way of life from a simple place: the wilderness. It was not a place to come and stay. It was a place to come to, to do what needed done, and to return home from.

As I try to imagine John out there in the wilderness, my mind thinks of “bullhorn guy”. He is that person standing on the street corner, yelling at people through a bullhorn, telling folks that they will end up in hell because of their sins. People tend to go the long way around street corners such as these. We, in general, do not like to consider our sins, much less confess them in public on a street corner. Although the basic message is the same – repent of your sins – John must have been as far from the bullhorn guy as one could get. Mark writes, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to see him”. There were, of course, some curious folks who went out to see what all this was about. These folks appear in our churches once in a while. A bump in life leads them to check out this faith thing. Others come to appease a significant other or their family at the holidays. The religious leaders showed up too. Not to be prepared or to confess or to be baptized, but to assess the threat to their own power. A lot of people were going to see John. But most people, large numbers of people, went to see John to be made right with God. In verse five we read, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him”. They emerged from the waters ready to live a new, more faithful life.

There was a hunger to be close to God, to be a better person, to live a more holy life. This is what drew people out into the wilderness to hear John’s message and to be changed. John called the people to more. As we too live out our days, may our witness call people to more. This day and each day, may our friends and neighbors, our co-workers and classmates – may they see the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ within us, calling them to more.

Prayer: Lord God, may I be an example of your will and way. May all I do and say and think point people to you and to the saving relationship that you offer in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Practicing #1 and #2

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 3: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”.

Jesus has been ministering for about three years at this point. He has had ample opportunities to interact with and to observe the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus and these religious leaders have the same audience, teach from the same source materials, live in the same society. Much like today, when you can get two radically different approaches from two medical experts concerning the safest way to live in these pandemic times, Jesus and the religious leaders had so much in common, but they differed radically in how best to follow God.

The religious leaders occupy a place – “the Moses seat” – that calls for respect and gives them authority, a platform from which to speak into the people’s lives. But this is an earthly platform, given to them by other earthly people. As is the case with many earthly positions of power, they were beholding to others. The leader of the group, the high priest, was appointed by the Romans. There were certain expectations that came with the appointment. The religious leaders were subject to the high priest, which also connected them to the political power of the day. Because these religious leaders held a place of authority, they could exert control over the people. Jesus acknowledges this place of authority. While he recognizes their place of authority, he does not agree with their practices. To this point, in verse three he says: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”. They say one thing and do another. They pick and choose what to say based on their current situation. For example, the religious leaders preach about loving your neighbor, but there are many they do not see as neighbors – the Gentiles, the sinners, the sick…

Jesus, by contrast, teaches and practices the belief that everyone is your neighbor. Jesus teaches it and then goes out and live it, loving the lepers and the blind, the tax collectors and the prostitutes… Jesus practices what he preaches, with love as the greatestest commandment of his faith. The religious leaders would cute law #217 or good old #359 (the one that previous religious leaders had made up) to avoid loving certain people. Jesus, instead would preach and practice #1 and #2, loving God and loving neighbor, in their rightful place: first and foremost. As we consider Jesus’ example, may we also do the same as we seek to live out, to actually practice, loving God and loving neighbor above all else. May we be love in the world today.

Prayer: God of love, when I look at Jesus, I see one who did as he taught. He loved one and all, yes, but he loved you most of all. Each day, guide me to live this out, loving you with all that I am, allowing that to lead me to really love others more than myself. Amen.


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Living or Practicing?

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verse 36: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

If one spends some time reading the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – one sees that the religious leaders and Jesus did not always see eye to eye. As the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others in the religious circles increases, these religious power holders begin to look for ways to discredit Jesus. As these attempts fail, they begin to plot to eliminate him. Today’s testing of Jesus begins with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

Much like he did with last week’s question about paying taxes, Jesus gives two answers to this week’s question. Often we too ask pointed questions, ones worded just the right way to force the answer we want to hear. The religious leaders think they know the correct answer to their question. And, in fact, Jesus begins with their correct answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus gives the #1 answer. From even the religious leaders perspective, keeping this commandment is essential to keeping all the rest. To possibly keep all 600+ commandments found in the law, one must love God with all of one’s being. To keep them all, of course, is impossible (except for Jesus). This aim or focus became the goal for the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees. It became so much their focus that Jesus had to add the second commandment to his answer.

Quoting from Leviticus 19, Jesus adds, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. This commandment takes the love of God and puts it into action, into motion, takes out into the world. Here we begin to see the source of the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. They were all about knowing and following the laws. Jesus was all about knowing and applying or living out the law. Jesus chose not to live by the letter of the law but by the spirit of the law. He lived out his faith. The religious leaders practiced theirs. As we too face this decision, may we choose to allow the word of God to bring life and feet to our faith as we seek to model Jesus for others.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so much easier to just read and study and even to appreciate the life of Jesus rather than to strive to live it out. So much easier. It is safe and comfortable and warm here at my desk, just down the road at the church. Jesus’ road is hard, it is narrow. Guide my heart to that road. Amen.


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Who and What?

Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22

Verse 20: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”?

As the end of Jesus’ ministry draws to a close, the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders has escalated. Early in the final week of his life the Pharisees send some folks to test Jesus, to try and trap him. Even when they are flattering Jesus to soften him up, their words have truth in them. The words of these envoys belie their dilemma. Jesus is a man of integrity – so why are they trying to trap him? Jesus is one who teaches the truth – so why begin with words that are not believed by the ones that sent them? Jesus is not swayed by men – so why try to trap him with a political and religious question? Because Jesus is all of these things, to find or catch him sinning is not possible. So the religious leaders distress to trickery.

After calling out the hypocrisy, Jesus asks for a coin to use in his answer to their question: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not”? A “yes” would anger many Jews. They resent the Romans and their oppressive taxes. A “no” would be seen as treason by the Romans. Jesus chooses a better answer than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. After receiving a denarius, he asks the questions, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription”? Before going on to hear Jesus’ answer to the original question (that is for Sunday), let us apply these questions to ourselves.

If our lives were held up for all to see and examine, what would be the answer to the question of whose image we bear? This question gets at the root or core of who we really are. When others look at us, do they see the image of Jesus Christ? Do they see one who has integrity, who speaks truth, who is not swayed by the things of the world? Or do they see one who is willing to be a little immoral at times, one who will occasionally bend the truth, one who sometimes does chase after the things of the world, or one who does all three?

Who and what we are matters. It matters to God and it matters to the witness that we have to the world. Who we are, and, more importantly, whose we are really are great things to consider. May our reflection today upon these questions lead us closer to living in the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord of all people and of all the earth, in each of my words, in each of my actions, in each of my thoughts, may I bring you the glory. May all that is selfish and prideful and sinful be laid aside in the pursuit of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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The Harvest

Reading: Matthew 21: 33-41

Verse 38: “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”.

Today’s reading comes as part of a quick succession of stories. Chapter 21 begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by Jesus clearing the temple, which had been turned into a marketplace, a “den of robbers”. This is a challenge to the religious leaders’ authority. After Jesus curses the fig tree for not producing fruit, the chief priests and elders question Jesus’ authority. He does not answer their question directly. Instead he tells two parables. In the first one son agrees to work in the field but does not. The other son says “no” but ends up working in the field. The religious leaders identify the one who does the will of the father as the son who obeyed. Jesus then points out that the tax collectors and prostitutes, those who originally said no to God, are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the chief priests and elders because they listened and repented. To further illustrate God’s displeasure with their hard hearts Jesus tells the parable we read today.

In the parable of the tenants, the tenants harvest a vineyard they did not plant. At harvest, a share is due to the owner of the vineyard. Twice the tenants abuse, kill, and stone those sent to collect the owner’s share. Then the owner sends his son. As the tenants see him approaching they say, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”. Indeed they do kill him. Jesus then asks the religious leaders how the owner will respond. They say that the owner will bring those wicked “wretches to a wretched end”. In our reading for tomorrow, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118. These verses would have triggered a connection for the religious leaders. Verses 19-21 speak of a triumphal entry and the Lord bringing salvation to those who believe. The religious leaders would not have missed what Jesus, the capstone being rejected, was implying. We will explore this further tomorrow.

The religious leaders and Jews often rejected the ones sent by the one who establisheded them in the Promised Land – a place they did not plant or build. Some of the prophets were rejected, beaten, even killed by leaders who did not want to hear God’s truths. These leaders would continue the pattern, this time crucifying the one who had come to save. Our question to consider is this: what do we do when the Lord gives us opportunity to produce a harvest? Do we hold tightly to all we have, refusing to let some go to build up the kingdom of God?

When the owner comes looking for us to contribute to the harvest, may we be a part of a fruitful harvest. May we be faithful tenants, giving unto the Lord, as we are led, to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Lord of all, as you give me opportunity to plant seeds or to nourish growth, lead me to be faithful and obedient. Guide me to step forward into those opportunities as I seek to be a part of building your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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Heart Condition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-20

Verse 18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”.

In response to the Pharisees, Jesus addresses what it is that makes a person ‘unclean’. A person who was unclean was cut off from or had to live outside of community. In terms of faith, it meant separation from God. For the Pharisees being clean or unclean boiled down to whether or not one followed all of the law. For Jesus, being clean or unclean came down to the condition of one’s heart.

At the start of chapter fifteen the religious leaders question Jesus about the disciples eating without following the ceremonial cleansing rituals. They did not properly wash their hands before they ate. The implication was that the disciples were now unclean. That meant seven days outside the temple, seven days outside of community – according to the religious leaders. Responding to their lack of understanding, he says, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”. Jesus bases the condition of our relationship with God not on what we eat but on what our heart is filled with. The “dull” disciples are sharp enough to know that these words jab at the religious leaders. Their man-made traditions and overemphasis on following the law of Moses has left them with a rule following, box checking religion. But no faith.

Today’s passage calls us to consider the condition of our heart. Does your heart contain some of what Jesus lists in verse nineteen – evil thoughts, false testimony, adultery, slander, theft? Or perhaps others – gossip, greed, lust, jealousy, pride? Or maybe doubt, fear, worry, stress, anxiety? What we have in our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths. Jesus’ point here is more about what is in our heart than about what comes out of our mouth. In the heart is where sin is born or is where we choose to stomp it out. If, instead of filling our heart with evil, what if we fill it with love and compassion, with mercy and grace, with generosity and a vent towards service, with kindness and self-control? Then there is less room for sin and evil.

What is the condition of your heart?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me daily with your word and your will. Send the Holy Spirit to whisper words of life into my heart. Guide me to be filled with your love so that I can be love in the world. Amen.


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Find Unity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 10-18

Verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”.

In our passage today Paul addresses the division in the church in Corinth. He begins by appealing to them to agree with one another so that there may be no divisions. The quarrels are not over the carpet color or whether or not to have a praise band. The quarrel is equally silly. They are arguing over who to follow. Most have gone astray but a few are still focusing in on the only one to follow: Jesus Christ.

It appears that many are following men who teach about Jesus. This is where the disunity comes in. They have allowed a secondary issue (human leaders) to shift their focus away from the primary belief (Jesus Christ). On one level the quarreling is good. Secondary belief issues do matter. Things like how one understands communion and baptism are, for example, secondary issues that are important. Carpet color? Style of worship? Third level topics at best.

In verse seventeen Paul focuses in on the primary belief. Here he writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. The message of the gospel is the only primary belief. To know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to know what the life, death, and resurrection mean as a follower of Jesus – this is the one core belief of the faith. This belief in the gospel is the “power of God”. Paul is calling the church in Corinth to find unity in the one core belief. The same call remains today for us. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, it is easy to get upset over second and third level beliefs. It is easy. Too often we take the easy way out. Draw us together in the good news of Jesus Christ. Your son told us to love one another just as he had first loved us. Help us to truly do so, God. Amen.