New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
We’ve been stuck in the ice since Thursday night, victims of “Icemageddon 2013” in North Texas. We have come together to laugh and watch movies, gone to our separate corners to have time alone and have skated across the driveway to use a hairdryer in an effort to free the teenager’s car encased in an ice tomb. Our part of the world can get ice without snow and there is really no way to save the trees that have snapped and the cars that have collided when everything is covered in ice. So we are pretty much just hunkered down, waiting until we can peek above the freezing mark which will hopefully come soon so life can get back to normal.
I generally prefer NOT to have a day off from school – a day that will have to made up on a beautiful spring Friday where the weather is perfect, I’m sure! But I can’t even tell you how much this gift of time has been appreciated. All the hectic holiday schedules were cancelled and the tempo of time has slowed down considerably. As I have reflected and studied this week’s Gospel reading from Mark, I am struck by the image created in my mind of John the Baptist.
I picture this really crazy looking guy showing up when least expected. The Pharisees and Sadduccees are up to speed on the prophets’ stories and John seems pretty darn far fetched as the one who prepares the people for the coming of the Lord! Dressed as an outsider and maybe even smelling a little ripe, John comes on the scene shouting of repentance and that the Lord is coming, taking people to the Jordan river to experience baptism, a completely new concept in the traditions of the faith at the time.
As John is calling out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy, I can only imagine their confusion. That same confusion still exists today in those who proclaim their faith with television ratings and prosperity gospels, with our own hypocrisy in what we say we believe and the story our actions and words tell that conflict with those beliefs – the self-righteous were hustling to get baptized by John for sure. But John throws cold water on this party as he tells about Jesus who will separate the wheat from the chaff (or the righteous from the lowly) and bring those who need mercy into the fold while banishing the rest of them (or us!) from the Kingdom of God.
So here are a few observations about this story and what we can learn from it in today’s world:
- God doesn’t seem to select the high and mighty to tell of his kingdom. He chooses the lowly, the ones who look and sound different from the usual leaders. So listen to everyone with a discerning ear and a loving heart.
- Get ready y’all! Advent gives us the time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the future coming of Christ into the world. Don’t squander the time we need to get ready for all God has prepared for us.
- Don’t be the chaff. Don’t be a wasted part of the world. Add value to all you meet, love with reckless abandon, even when it is uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to listen to God’s message in your life.
- If you aren’t living the life you know that God is intending for you, take a step toward that today. One step forward brings you closer to God. Don’t assume that just showing up at church will ever be enough to meet God in his desired relationship with you. He wants to be known to us and makes himself available whenever we take the time to notice.
So, prepare the way of the Lord. Make it easy to find you on the threshing room floor when the time comes, or the ice thaws once and for all.
Giver of life, you have given us all we need to love you and follow you. Thank you for your goodness and mercy. Draw us nearer to you so that we may do the work you have called us to do in your kingdom. Give us strength and courage to love and serve you, preparing ourselves for your coming into the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son at Nain
11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Talk about being at the right place at the right time! Jesus has just left Capernaum where he healed the Centurion’s servant (https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/not-worthy-just-faithful/) and he walks in the gates of the town of Nain. He runs smack dab into a funeral procession, led by a grieving mother who has lost her husband and now her only son. I can only imagine her grief spilling out of her as she begins to accept this unwanted reality. I love verse 13 in particular; “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'” I love it because it is just so simple. God then brings her son back from the dead with a simple touch.
In the presence of God, why should we weep? I cannot begin to imagine this mother’s sadness and loss. As a mother, I feel like my heart is constantly walking around outside my body every day, even more so as our daughter is approaching the time to set off on her grown up life of college and long distance from my “controlling” ways as a mom. I know several friends who have lost a child and the pain is simply inexplicable and can cover up every other emotion; paralyzing grief I am sure.
But God’s promise for the world is that there is life eternal. I simply don’t understand what that means in any tangible sense and I spend very little time and energy trying to figure it out. I just know that it brings great comfort in times of challenge and overwhelming sadness. But come on; who wouldn’t want to have our loved one come back from the dead? That is one of the great pitfalls in this story of a great miracle.
God has a plan and we are given the greatest gift of love possible – to live life eternal with our Father in heaven. Grief is for the living and as humans, is part of our human condition. I lost my Mom last year after a swift and ferocious diagnosis of multiple primary cancers. Mom was young, professional and worldly and it didn’t make sense for this to happen to a person at the top of her game of life. We all reacted differently to the shock and pain, but for me, it gave me a challenge that was like a river of faith. I don’t know why and it certainly didn’t match other family members’ responses to the situation. And boy do I wish she was still here to talk to and guide me as a mom and our daughter as her beloved Kiki.
She wasn’t raised from the dead to come back to be with us, nor did I expect that to happen. I even got my feathers ruffled a few times when folks said to me, trying to be helpful I am sure, that they were praying for a miracle and that she could beat this disease. We knew better…the situation was grave right from the start. So instead of spending time hoping for Jesus to walk right up to us and heal her, I thought a better way to approach this was to embrace life eternal and that precious gift of perfect healing. loving mom and providing peace and compassion as she lived through dying.
We can’t pray hard enough, do enough good in the world or do just the right thing to invoke the miracles. They come when God’s plan matches our desires. And although I would give just about anything for a few minutes with my healthy Mom, I was so very grateful that her incredibly debilitating pain ended much more quickly than anyone thought or believed. Her healing didn’t bring her back to the human life but brought her into the presence of our Savior.
So we wept for our loss of her presence, just as the mother who met Jesus was doing. This is normal for folks who love and all of us experience loss of this sort. Jesus feels sorry for us too, but now that he gave his life for us, he can call upon us to look forward in anticipation to the great gift of our resurrection. Maybe that is the miracle that is enough…we know what this grieving Mother did not know, that we have life eternal as our promise of perfect healing now. I want to ready at the right place and the right time for that.
Saving Father, we are so very grateful for the gift of your Son, sent to save us from our sins and give us the promise of life eternal. Comfort us as we grieve and teach us to trust your saving love for us. Help us walk in faith and to accept your gift of mercy. We thank you for loving us and protecting us. In your Holy Name we pray. AMEN.
Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem
11 Now the apostles and the believerswho were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believerscriticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
This is a great story. As a parent of a teenager, it is so interesting to hear her discuss the hierarchy of cliques in school. There are the popular kids, the band geeks, the druggies, the loners, the wannabes, the do-gooders, the quiet ones, the athletes/jocks and those who don’t fit in anywhere. From her perspective, the “popular” kids have life so much easier than anyone else. They are smart, funny, attractive, date frequently and bad stuff doesn’t happen to them. And I am sure that those popular kids have some of the same insecurities that all teenagers feel, but they have the disadvantage of believing their own press – that they are better than everyone else simply because of their status.
This reading has Peter back in Jerusalem with the “circumcised believers” who just can’t believe that Peter has spent time with those “uncircumcised men,” even eating with them! Peter tells of a great vision from God, helping him understand that God cares nothing about the group you belong to and everything about believing in the Lord and Savior.
I love a good vision…the subtlety of looking for signs and discerning God’s will is hard for me. When God speaks to me in a vision, it seems stronger than a nudge and more like a push or a shove! Jesus spent his travels and teachings with the poor and meek; the religious hierarchy was not where he wanted to spend his time. The Bible has stories filled with Jesus healing the sick – not the rich and sick, but the poorest of the poor. Those who needed it the most and had nothing to lose by trusting in Jesus and his love for them were the leading characters in many of the miracles in Jesus’ life. Yet still, the “circumcised” (read: the most righteous folks in the land or the “popular kids”) couldn’t believe that Peter spent time and energy on them. What would it take? Why, a vision of course!!!! And Peter was still worried about eating “unclean animals” himself. The vision made things pretty clear – Jews and Gentiles alike were all called to follow God and were not to be separated by the things that humans use to divide ourselves from each other.
In today’s world, we spend a lot of time seeing the differences between ourselves and those near and far. We see the things that separate us as barriers to forming our community of believers. This vision of Peter’s that he tells to the men of Caesarea makes clear that we are called to reach across the differences between us to love one another and lead people to Christ. No one is to be excluded and all are welcome at the table. Now, do we live out this declaration from God or are we standing in the way?
God of all, we reach out to you in love and praise your name for all to see. We ask you to lead us to serve you among all people and love our neighbors as ourselves, even when the differences between us seem insurmountable. Help us to see our common ground and build up your community of faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus before Pilate
23 Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus[a] before Pilate. 2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”[b] 3 Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 5 But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
Jesus before Herod
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9 He questioned him at some length, but Jesus[c] gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. 12 That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Jesus Sentenced to Death
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[d]
18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus[e] there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]][f] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah[g] of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[h] “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding[i] him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?[j] Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into[k] your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Death of Jesus
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land[l] until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed;[m] and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”[n] 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Remember the childhood game of “Hot Potato?” The goal of the game was to pass an item of some sort from one person to another while music played. When the music stopped, the person holding the item (or “hot potato”) was out. No one wanted to be holding the item when the music stopped! That game reminds me of the passing of the buck as Jesus was brought before Pilate. As Pilate begins his inquisition, he soon realizes that this is somewhat of a witch hunt; no real crimes have been committed by Jesus. He asks if Jesus is Galilean, and when he learns that is true, sends him off to Herod, who just happened to be passing through the area. I’m sure he did so with a big sigh of relief, thinking that now this problem of Jesus and what to do to appease the chief priests and crowds that have gathered has just been taken off his plate.
Herod has waited for this for a while – a chance to see what this Jesus can really do! He has heard about the miracles and the great following of Jesus, but Jesus is no trained monkey. He doesn’t perform miracles on command for Herod at all, much to Herod’s disappointment, I am sure! So Herod and his authorities dressed him to mock him as a king, and then sent him back, passing the hot potato yet again. I have this image of Pilate smacking his forehead and shaking his head, as this problem appears right back in his lap. But instead of decision making, the job of Pilate in the first place, he turns to the crowd and asks them their thoughts. Passing the hot potato, yet again.
The Disney movie “Shrek” has a mob scene at the beginning of the movie, where the townspeople are chasing after this cartoon ogre with pitchforks and fire. As you watch the movie, Shrek’s loveable and caring sides come out, and you forget all about how the townspeople were gunning for Shrek from the start. That “mob mentality” ruled the day on that sad Friday all those years ago. The shouts to release Barabbas, a known murderer, and to crucify Jesus may have started with just a few of the folks in the crowd, but the adrenaline and frenzy of the crowd grew and grew, just like at a sporting event or rock concert. Before you know it, you’re high fiving strangers after a play as if you actually had a hand in the action on the field. From our 20,000 feet view of 2000 years of time passing, it seems incredulous that the very people who had witnessed Jesus living his life with love and extraordinary miracles would just turn on a dime and demand his death. So Pilate passes the hot potato this last time, reluctantly agreeing to the wishes of the crowd, even when knowing that the decision had no basis on fact.
How many times do we as Christians pass the buck when God leads us to a place where we would rather not be? “Not me, Lord; this is too hard, the burden too great,” we say to ourselves. “Maybe someone else will help that guy out.” “Maybe another person will support this ministry.” “We had a late Saturday night with friends – I think we’ll just sleep in on Sunday morning.” You know we’ve all said one or more of these types of responsibility avoidance statements. Pilate saw his hands as clean from Jesus’ bloodshed, because he only just did what the people demanded. But when we avoid our responsibilities, commitments, and duties and the hands and feet of God in this world, they don’t go away.
As we enter this Holy Week, listen carefully and answer God’s call to us. It may be a quiet whisper in the wind or a shout from a mountaintop. Don’t deny Him when He calls.
Dear Father, we know you love us. We don’t deserve the grace and mercy you pour out on us every day. Give us the will to persevere and do your work to glorify your name, even when it seems to hard or the crowds are leading us elsewhere. Thank you for giving your son to die for us. We love you, Lord. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.