Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday: The Passion of Jesus Christ

  Mark 15:16-20

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

What follows are the words of N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, to read the entirety of his lecture, click here...

What, after all, would it look like if the true God came to deal with evil? Would he come in a blaze of glory, in a pillar of cloud and fire, surrounded by legions of angels? Jesus of Nazareth took the total risk of speaking and acting as if the answer to the question were this: when the true God comes back to deal with evil, he will look like a young Jewish prophet journeying to Jerusalem at passover-time, celebrating the kingdom, confronting the corrupt authorities, feasting with his friends, succumbing in prayer and agony to a cruel and unjust fate, taking upon himself the weight of Israel’s sin, the world’s sin, Evil with a capital E. When we look at Jesus in this way we discover that the cross has become for us the new Temple, the place where we go to meet the true God and know him as saviour and redeemer. The cross becomes the place of pilgrimage where we stand and gaze at what was done for each one of us. The cross becomes the sign that pagan empire, symbolized in the might and power of sheer brutal force, has been decisively challenged by a different power, the power of love – and that this decisive challenge shall win the day.

The question is then posed to us in the strongest and clearest possible way. Dare we stand in front of the cross and admit that all that was done for us? Dare we take all the meanings of the word ‘God’ and allow them to be recentred upon, redefined by, this man, this moment, this death? Dare we address the consequences of what Jesus himself said, that the rulers of the world behave in one way, but that we must not do it like that? Dare we thus put atonement-theology and political theology together, with the deeply personal message on one side and the utterly practical and political message on the other, and turn away from the way of James and John and embrace the way of Jesus himself? Only so, I believe, can we even begin the task, to which the subsequent lectures will return, of working in our own day with mature, Christian and sober intelligence to address the problem of evil which still haunts the world which God loved so much.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Easter is coming...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday: Footwashing and the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 22:7-38, John 13:1-17)

As a child, I thought this day was called "Monday-Thursday," and even though that didn't make very much sense, I accepted my pastor at his word.  When I discovered it was "Maundy" I was even more confused.  Do you know why it is Maundy Thursday? #ChuckKnowsChurch briefly shares more about this day in Holy Week...

Over the course of time an out of convenience, many churches have developed Maundy Thursday into an evening that includes Good Friday remembrance as well.  This is true for St. Paul-- we will celebrate the Last Supper, participate in a service of Tenebrae (with special music from the Parish Adult Choir), and strip the altar of liturgically significant items. Hope to see you and yours for worship tonight at St. Paul at 7:00pm! There is a nursery available for children under the age of 5 years old.

Dear sisters and brothers, Easter is coming...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday of Holy Week: Jesus is Anointed (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8)

This story is in all four Gospels, but here is Matthew's telling of it... Matthew 26:6-13:
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

The following commentary is an excerpt from renowned blogger and modern theologian, Rachel Held Evans (you can find the rest of her reflections on this passage here)...

Just days before his betrayal and death, Jesus and his disciples were eating at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. While they were reclining at the table, a woman, who John identifies as Mary of Bethany, approached Jesus with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, worth about a year’s wages. Mary broke the jar of spikenard, pouring the perfume on Jesus’ body. The house filled with its pungent, woody fragrance as she anointed Jesus’ head and feet. 

Everything about the incident is offensive—an interrupted meal, an excessive gift, a woman daring to touch a man with her hair.

It's also highly symbolic.

In Jesus’ culture, the act of anointing signified selection for some special role or task. Kings were often anointed with oil as part of their coronation ceremony, usually by a prophet or priest. The Greek word christos, Christ,” is a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah, which means “the anointed one.”  And so this anonymous woman finds herself in the untraditional position of priest and prophet. In the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus, it makes perfect sense.  

Anointing the feet took things a step further, modeling the service, discipleship, and love Jesus taught. In a culture in which a woman’s touch was often forbidden, Mary dares to cradle the feet of Jesus in her  hands and spread the oil across his ankles and toes with the ends of her hair. And rather than measuring out a small amount of oil, Mary breaks the jar lets it all pour out.  She’s all-in, fully committed, sparing no expense. The oil she may have been reserving for her own burial, or the burial of a loved one, has been poured out generously, without thought of the future.

The humility of this action foreshadows the footwahsing that is to come and that we remember on this Maundy Thursday. Later, Jesus would imitate Mary by washing the feet of the Twelve, telling them to do the same.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Easter is coming...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday of Holy Week: Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44)

Luke 19:41-44
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’


There is but one face
   whose holy eyes
won't turn away,
   but focus on us
and weep...

Jesus, you!
  like a mother hen
yearning to gather us to you,
  but we would not...
for we have killed the prophets
   and stoned the messengers.

Now abandoned and empty,
  the stones of the temple
waiting to fall
  around our ankles,
we still do not come
to you,
and, even now,
you weep.

--Ann Barr Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem, 1993

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Easter is coming...

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday of Holy Week: Jesus Cleanses the Temple (Mark 11:15-19)

Mark 11:15-19

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, 
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

This passage is troubling, on a couple of levels.  It is also featured in all four gospels.  First, the jolting disturbance of people using God's house in a way that does not honor God.  I'll say more about that in a moment.  Second, Jesus' very physical reaction of "driving" the money changers and his very forceful message.  I'm not used to imagining Jesus posturing above people, or behaving with the rage summoned by an angry toddler.  A more consistent image in scripture is one of Jesus kneeling to serve, heal and receive us, no matter our condition.  

But, on to the first troubling point.  What is so offensive about the actions of the merchants and money changers?  I imagine that what they are doing was not new; rather, it was the way that things evolved in Jewish life.  Jesus probably witnessed this at other times in his life, but he chose this particular moment to literally make an example of this practice as ungodly. Keep in mind, Jerusalem was packed with Jews who had come for Passover, perhaps numbering 300,000 to 400,000. Jesus' actions were easily visible and experienced by the sea of pilgrims moving in and out of the Temple Courtyard. 

Some would make the connection to justice-- the exploitation of the "have-nots" by the "haves" being offensive and unacceptable in God's presence (yes, indeed).  Others might point out a modern connection to the ways in which the church today is a house for sinful behavior and activities, much like what Jesus experienced. Along those lines, it is easy and tempting to put ourselves in the shoes of Jesus and anyone on the end of our finger in the position of the merchants and money changers.

But a little later in Mark chapter 12, Jesus has a very telling exchange: One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

I invite you to join me in turning that finger from pointing outward and instead point inward.  We are the merchants and the money changers.  As we approach Easter on this Monday of Holy Week, perhaps this story begs the question: how is Jesus pressing upon you in this final week of Lent to cleanse your heart and mind?  To whom have you given your allegiance other than God?  Who do you oppress by your way of life and how might you begin to make amends?  

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Easter is coming...


St. Paul UMC- Fountain City

St. Paul UMC- Fountain City