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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Marvelous

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 19-29

Verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”.

Have you ever been driving down the road and, as you looked ahead, thought there was water or oil across the road? Or have you ever approached someone, thinking it was a friend, only to have them turn at the last second, revealing the face of a stranger?

Psalm 118 is a song of God’s love for Israel. The psalmist writes of God as helper, refuge, defender. The psalmist rejoices in God’s strength, righteousness, joy, salvation. The Psalm speaks of the blessings of the one who comes in God’s name and of the festive parade when the faithful process to the temple. Is that King David we see in our mind’s eye? Or is that Gideon returning after defeating the Midianites? Or is it Ezra welcoming the exiles back to a rebuilt city and temple? Perhaps that is Jesus coming up the hill on the colt.

In verse 22 we read, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”. These words do not fit David or Gideon or Ezra or any other king or prophet that rode into Jerusalem. Only one’s “festal parade” would end with him being the sacrifice. The parade, the palms, the celebration of tomorrow is a bit of an illusion too. The cheering crowds of Palm Sunday will soon be the taunting and jeering crowds at week’s end. Many who shout “Hosanna”! and wave palm branches are caught up in the excitement. Soon enough many will reject Jesus Christ, enabling the religious leaders in their quest to be rid of Jesus. There is an illusion here too. They are not eliminating Jesus; they are an essential part of the glory that will be revealed on Easter, on resurrection day. There are many plot twist and turns in the week ahead. Much is not as it seems to appear. The tide rolls along, ever guided by the hand of God.

We begin tomorrow with the celebration, the palms, the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry. Knowing the end of the story allows us to walk with Jesus, knowing the truth of verse 23: “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”. Yes, Easter is coming. God is in control. Give thanks to the Lord! His love endures forever!

Prayer: God, you are the creator, the one who sets all things in motion. You sent Jesus knowing he’d be rejected and killed. You did so knowing he is the capstone of the kingdom you are building. You sent him to us, knowing what we’d do. Thank you for your great love, O God. Amen.


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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The Sure Foundation

Reading: Psalm 118: 19-29

Verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

The psalmist is going up to the house of the Lord to worship. In our opening verse today he asks for the gates to be opened so that the righteous can enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is what we do each Sunday morning – maybe in a virtual sense at this time – as we “gather” for worship. We praise and worship the Lord because we too can say, “You have become my salvation”.

Verse 22 is a common verse to our ears. Jesus himself quoted and claimed this verse, declaring himself the cornerstone (or capstone in some translations). In the Psalm we read, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. As the sure foundation of our faith, Jesus is surely “the way, the truth, and the life”. Jesus is the only rock upon which we can build our faith. With the psalmist may we too rejoice and be glad in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Turning to verses 26-27 we hear Palm Sunday calling. In verse 26 we read words found in the gospels as Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. Moving on, we recognize Jesus as the light that has shown upon the world and upon us. This Sunday is typically one with joyous festal processions in our churches, waving palms as we celebrate and yet look toward the beginning of Holy Week. At our church we are doing a car parade as we will drive though town waving our palms, celebrating the coming of the Lord.

This Sunday, each in our own way, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “You are my God, and I will exalt you”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in the rock, the cornerstone of my faith. Thank you for the gift of Jesus, the example and perfector of obedient and humble service. Draw me to his light, help me to walk his path. You are so good. Your love endures forever. You alone do I worship. You alone will I praise. Amen.


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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verses 1 & 29: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.

The words that bookend our passage today is a familiar verse. It is found in calls to worship, in prayers, in communion liturgies, and in at least one praise song. Just reading those words triggers the tune in my head. The Psalm is full of other imagery and words and phrases that are also familiar. Several lines of our text for today bring to mind Palm Sunday, when the gates were opened wide and people joined the “festal procession” with boughs in hand. Like the people did, we too will wave palm branches and say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” this Sunday.

In verse 22 we hear another familiar phrase – the stone the builders rejected. Jesus paraphrases this verse, calling Himself the cornerstone. We cannot miss the next verse: “the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”. We will celebrate what the Lord has done on Easter Sunday. And then the next verse, #24, is the start of the chorus in a popular praise song and is also often used in prayers. The Psalm is just full of lines and imagery that helps us connect to our faith.

When we slowly read through and consider the words and the meaning that we have attached to them, we too are led to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”. We praise God for His goodness and His love. We also have personal verses or songs from verses or experiences from our lives that also remind us of God’s love and goodness. May we each take a few moments today to recall some of these and to lift our praises to God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you so much for the ways big and small that you are weaved into my life. You will ever be my God and I will ever praise your holy name! Amen.


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Divine and Human

Reading: Mark 11: 1-11

Verse Two: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst a cheering and excited crowd of supporters. It is a proclamation of hope and longing by the people. They so want someone to free them from the Romans. For the most part, over the past three years, they have clearly missed seeing the type of kingdom that Jesus is building. It is not a kingdom of might and military power but one of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and community.

Today’s first clue comes in the mode of transportation. Jesus does not select a fine warhorse to ride into the city. Instead He gives these instructions to the disciples: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”. Jesus chooses a meek and young animal. That He is able to ride the colt amidst all the noise and celebration testifies to His quiet power. But at the time only His inner circle of disciples would marvel at this. The masses ignored the colt because they wanted and could only see one thing – a possible Messiah to save them from the Romans.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He goes to the temple. Many probably followed His there, presuming that He would raise His hands to quiet the crowd before giving a rousing speech to stir up the people even more. But Jesus enters the temple and simply looks around. He then quietly exits the city. Perhaps Jesus was just taking stock of the state of the temple and beginning to formulate a plan for His last week.

Jesus and His disciples quietly clip out of town and go to Bethany for the night. No crowds follow, eager to see what is next. We know that Jesus and company often take rest when they visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so we assume this is where they went to spend the night. Their home is a place that is special to Jesus. It is a place where He finds rest, peace, and community, surrounded by people He loves and that love Him. With the week that lies ahead it is a good place to be for a night.

In the small details of the passage today we get a glimpse into both Jesus’ obedience to God’s plan and into His humanity in needing to surround Himself with a loving community. One shows His strength and true power and the second shows a humble need to be loved and to belong. The divine and the human in one. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Eyes of Love

Reading: Mark 15: 21-40

Verses 37-38: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

In Mark’s gospel we get a pretty abbreviated telling of the crucifixion and events surrounding it. It goes something like this: man carries cross, Jesus crucified, divided clothes, people mocked Him, got dark, Jesus cried out then died, curtain torn, some women watched. Mark’s story does have a few more words and details, but not a whole lot more.

It is odd to read through the crucifixion story a week before it actually happens. On Good Friday we will wrestle with it a whole lot more. Yet it is good to think of this day as we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend. The children will parade around with palm branches waving, full of excitement, just like the first Palm Sunday crowd. The contrast with these two events is stark and sobering.

When we step back into our own lives, for most folks life is good. We have our routines and the little things that bring us joy. Then one day suffering comes our way. We cling to God and we get through it. After a time, we look back upon said event and we see it differently. We see how God loved and cared for us in the trial. We see what was pain with eyes of love and gratitude.

I think Jesus saw the cross this way – with eyes of love. He knew why He had come. It was to be this sacrifice. He also knew that resurrection was coming. He saw the other side of the suffering so He viewed this difficult and painful experience with eyes of love. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last”. A simple end. Across town, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The thing that kept people separated from the Holy of Holies, where they thought God dwelled, was torn wide open. All will now be able to enter God’s presence directly and personally. I suppose that was another reason that Jesus saw this event with eyes of love too.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, may we also keep an eye on both the crucifixion and the resurrection. As we do so, we see all of the last days of Jesus with eyes of love. May it be so.


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Sunday Is Coming

Reading: Matthew 27: 57-66

Verse 65: “Take a guard,” Pilate said, “Go, make the tomb secure as you can”.

It has been a busy week.  Palm Sunday got things started with a big, celebratory parade.  There was excitement and energy.  There was also anxiety and nervousness as well.  The religious leaders’ nerves were on edge.  As the week progressed, Jesus has remained front and center, His ministry to the people moving full steam ahead.  The tension with the religious leaders has escalated as the week progressed and culminated Thursday with Jesus’ arrest.  The trials and crucifixion buzzed through Thursday night and Friday.  By mid afternoon Jesus is dead and would soon be laid in a tomb.  The religious leaders must have breathed a huge collective sigh of relief as they sat in their homes on Friday night.

But then the thoughts crept in.  One or two or perhaps many began to recall some of Jesus’ words.  For those that did, they soon realized that the events of the past days have gone just as Jesus said they would.  And even though they thought they were running the show…  Didn’t Jesus say something about three days…

The religious leaders go to Pilate early on Saturday morning, on the Sabbath, to ask for soldiers to guard the tomb.  They call Jesus ‘that deceiver’ as they quote Him saying, “After three days I will rise again”.  The religious leaders then make a statement that is not entirely correct but contains truth.  In reference to the resurrection, they say, “This deception will be worse than the first”.  Yes, the effect will be worse for them.  Rising from the dead will be the ultimate verification that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  Just as the recent events unfolded as Jesus said they would, so too will the resurrection.  Pilate has had enough and easily gives them a guard, saying, “Take a guard and make the tomb as secure as you can”.

The entire Roman army could not keep the tomb secure enough to prevent the resurrection.  It is not done by human hands.  No matter what Pilate, the religious authorities, the guard, anyone… tried to do, Sunday was coming.  Yes indeed!  Sunday is coming!


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Hope, Deliverance, Praise, Joy…

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verse 24 – This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today we are blessed to join thousands upon thousands who have read this text and have been lifted by hope or praise or deliverance or joy.  The great cloud of witness that has read this Psalm begins in the earliest days of the Passover celebration, as they celebrated the day the Lord led them from slavery.  This Psalm is still read each year as part of the Passover liturgy.  Fast forward from that first Passover and you will hear these words being read again and again in times of trial and struggle. The Psalm was read often during the exile in Babylon and then in later years under the oppression and persecution of the Romans.  In these times, Psalm 118 brought comfort and reassurance of God’s love and gave them hope for a better future.

This well-known Psalm was used as a part of the Palm Sunday procession as well.  Verse 26 was one of the Old Testament passages shouted as Jesus entered the city.  Early on in the Christian tradition this Psalm took on new meaning as a key Lenten reading.  And certainly this Psalm was on Jesus’ mind as He entered Jerusalem.  He entered the gates in righteousness (verse 19), knowing full well the new meaning of verse 22 – the stone that would soon be rejected.  The light of God was shining upon the people as He joined the festal procession (verse 27).  As Christians today, we remain profoundly connected to the words of Psalm 118.

Verse 24 reads, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”.  Let us rejoice indeed!  Read through this great Psalm again and claim for yourself whatever you need or desire.  If you need deliverance or want to celebrate newfound freedom, read and connect to the earliest traditions of this Psalm.  If you need hope, read and celebrate the love of God that flows throughout this text.  If you are feeling led to lift your praises to God, read the Psalm as those first Palm Sunday participants did, offering praise for God’s presence and blessing.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.  Amen and amen!