Welcome to the March 2024 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes
















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Holy Days



Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.

A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2024

March 1, 2024

“Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which Yahweh God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Has God really said, “You shall not eat of any tree of the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees of the garden, but not the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden. God has said, “You shall not eat of it. You shall not touch it, lest you die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You won’t really die, for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took some of its fruit, and ate. Then she gave some to her husband with her, and he ate it, too. Their eyes were opened, and they both knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together, and made coverings for themselves. They heard Yahweh God’s voice walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:1-8, WEB

You’ve heard the phrase, “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” This is used for March, which is the most changeable of all the months. Sometimes March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. Well, March is coming to Texas like a lamb. If the adage holds true, that means we are in for some shaky weather in a few weeks.

We had a minor cold spell this week, after a meteorologist suggested that “freezing” weather was over. I have noticed the city wildflowers are blooming, and I even planted some plants last weekend. However, winter can rear its ugly head as late as April even in the south, although it usually doesn’t linger longer than the early days of March. By the end of the month, the fields of wildflowers will be in full bloom. In northern climates, the temperatures can be mild early and still return to cold and snow. I remember a late March blizzard that dropped more than a foot of snow when I was a child in Pennsylvania. The change of temperatures during this month can be extreme and always unexpected. We can see snow and rain, cloudy skies, and sun, cold and warm, wet, and dry. It is not unusual for us to run the heat and the air conditioning in the same day. So, they say that if March comes in like a lion, then the end of the month will be mild and delightful like a lamb. But if March 1st is mild, watch out! The weatherman who thought winter was over for us could be very, very wrong.

The phrase is often used in other ways, not just the weather. Y2K was expected to come in like a lion, when all the computers went bonkers because of the change of the century. Yet, it came in like every other year. They used this phrase back them because words and phrases often take on new meanings or change over the years. Language can easily be made to mean something different. This is particularly true when it comes to religious and political language, which is why we have such a difficult time talking to one another. If I understand a word to mean one thing while someone else understands it to mean the exact opposite, we might think we are talking about the same thing, but we aren’t. No wonder we are so confused.

We are no different than human beings have been throughout all time. Even in the beginning, Adam and Eve were confused by the misuse of God’s Word by the serpent. He twisted God s gracious intention for Adam and Eve by making it seem like God was trying to keep the good things from them when He was keeping Adam and Eve from the very things that would destroy life in the garden. See, we think that knowledge is good, and in many ways it is. When it comes to weather, meteorologists have knowledge, but it doesn’t always help. Those who relied on the forecast of spring weather staying may lose plants they put out in their gardens. In the story of Adam and Eve, the knowledge they gained separated them from God. They were thrown out of the garden not because they did something wrong and were being punished, but because the knowledge they gained made them afraid of God. Can you imagine living eternally in the presence of someone you feared?

God knew that the tree of knowledge would make Adam and Eve afraid, and He told them not to eat so that they would remain in a healthy and happy relationship with Him. The serpent told them that eating the fruit would make them like God. That’s the problem! We can’t possibly be God, so when we see Him fully and wholly, we see that it is impossible for us to be Him and that makes us afraid. The words the serpent used seemed harmless, and actually seemed good, right, and true. And yet, in the end, it was a deadly mistake to believe it.

“In like a lion and out like a lamb” may not lead to deadly mistakes although in Y2K it made many people very afraid. I doubt we’ll see a winter blizzard in the next few weeks, but we will do what we can to be prepared for possible severe weather. As for the Word of God, our world is very good at twisting it to make it fit into their understanding of what is good, right, and true, so we are counseled to be aware, to trust God, and to do what He says or we’ll end up living a life of fear and possibly worse. What words or phrases are being twisted today that seem good, right, and true, but are in reality, dangerous to our life, our faith, and our relationship with God?


March 4, 2024

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27, WEB

I have always thought it would be fun to own an old church building, and to convert it into a house or some sort of business, like an art studio or eatery. I’ve seen some impressive places, but it always makes me a little sad. I wonder about the congregation that once worshipped in that space. What happened to them? Sometimes they have moved to a bigger space, but these days there seem to be too many churches closing because there just aren’t enough people to keep it going. Many denominations are struggling to find pastors to lead their churches. An article from last fall suggested that there were 3000 new churches opened in 2019, but 4500 churches closed that same year. It is not a new problem, and I don’t think we will see a time when there are no more closures and church buildings for sale.

I thought about that as we sang our closing hymn in worship yesterday. The hymn “Built on the Rock” was written by N. F. S. Grundtvig in 1854. This is the first verse, “Built on the Rock, the church shall stand even when steeples are falling; Christ build His church in every land; bells still are chiming and calling, calling the young and old to rest, calling the souls of those distressed, longing for life everlasting.” Even a hundred and seventy years ago, Grundtvig understood that the Church is not just a building, it is a community that is built on Christ. Churches may close, steeples may fall, buildings may be repurposed, but the Church will always stand because of Jesus.

Jesus was a master builder. He laid the foundation for faith through His preaching to the people during His ministry on earth. Everything He spoke was a part of the whole, to build temples in the hearts of the believers. His materials were the Word of God, given freely to all those who had ears to hear. Word upon word, faith was built in the hearts of those who believe and they were taught how to live the life God was calling them to live.

Today’s passage comes from “The Sermon on the Mount.” This discourse is Matthew 5-7, and includes a number of examples, parables, and exhortations describing the life of a Christian. The foundation of that life is faith in God, humility before Him. The beatitudes are beautiful attitudes that show a life of submission and contentment for those who are poor, mournful, weak, hungry, and thirsty. They live as God has commanded, merciful, pure of heart, and as peacemakers. They might suffer persecution because of their life of faith, but they will inherit the Kingdom.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that we are saved to bless others, to be salt and light in the world. He expounded upon the commandments, not making them more burdensome for His followers, but bringing them more closely to the heart and intent of God. He called for believers to love their enemies. He warned them to have a right heart before God, giving and praying not for the recognition of man but for the glory of God. He told them not to worry and warned them that their judgment of others would be brought upon themselves. He promised them that their prayers would be heard and that all their needs would be supplied. He told them that the way was narrow and that false teachers would try to convince them of false doctrine.

Even when churches close, Jesus has promised that His Church will stand. When we hear Jesus’ words and make them a part of our life, then the temple He has built in our hearts will stand firm through anything, even when it seems even the church is falling apart. If we hear the words but do not make them part of our life of faith, the foundation will be like a house structure that will fall when the harsh winds blow, and the rain pours down. Christ is the foundation, and He has given the faith that begins the temple in our hearts. Let us hear His words and make them real in our lives so that we can stand with Christ through everything.


March 5, 2024

“Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. Or who is there among you who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:7-11, WEB

We have a very special theme park in San Antonio that is preparing to open for its fifteenth year. Morgan’s Wonderland is an ultra-accessible park that has been specially designed to meet the needs of special needs children and adults. Every inch of the park has taken their special requirements to heart, creating a place where those who are disabled can experience the world with the freedom of a butterfly. The rides have special seats for wheelchairs, there are six different types of swings, and the play areas are safe with activities that will make anyone happy. In the past fifteen years, Morgan’s Wonderland has expanded its activities, with even a water park and summer camp available.

Gordon Hartman, a former builder in San Antonio, retired from his work to begin a foundation that gives grants to organizations that serve the special needs community. He had a reason: his daughter Morgan was born with both physical and cognitive disabilities, and so he is familiar with the challenges of living with the special needs community and the joys that are found in overcoming the challenges they face. Mr. Hartman thought of the idea after watching his little girl try to play with a group of children at a hotel pool. The children wanted to play also, but they did understand Morgan’s unique distress in unfamiliar circumstances. The relationship never occurred.

Mr. Hartman thought that it would be a good idea to have a place where the special needs of these children could be met while offering an opportunity for others without disabilities to learn how to share time, space, and fun with these unique individuals. Everyone is welcome at Morgan’s Wonderland, and everyone leaves with a feeling of peace and understanding. I volunteered there for a time when it was first opened, and I saw many children and adults visit. Groups of school children and folks from nursing homes left happy after a day of fun.

The sad reality is that many people with special needs do not get enough time in the great outdoors. There are very few places that are suitable for their conditions. While many parks have tried to make the necessary adaptations to make a visit possible, there are still barriers that are hard to overcome. The trouble is that it takes more than a smooth pathway and wide doorways to make the experience pleasant; they need so much more.

The park is divided into many different areas, and the equipment is specially built to make it possible for people in wheelchairs and other mobility problems to not only visit, but also play. Sand and water activities centers are built at varying heights so that everyone can reach. An interactive village has themed areas that stimulate the imagination. They even have specially built swings that can accommodate all sorts of people, including those in wheelchairs. The park is well shaded for those sensitive to the sun, and sothe noise around the part is well adapted to those that are sensitive to sound. All the rides, including a carousel, a train, and off-road adventure ride, and even a Ferris wheel, have different types of seating for every possibility.

I’m sure that I could write a million stories about people who have visited the park, after all, millions of people from all 50 states and from around the world have spent time playing there. One success story is about a young man who had never been able to ride a swing. It is a simple task for most of us: you sit and swing your legs. But it is impossible for those bound to a wheelchair to balance and hang on. Some parks do provide special swings with seats that meet the needs of some children, but as a wheelchair bound child gets older, and larger, it is very difficult for a caregiver to transfer them from the chair to the swing. The young man in this story had just one wish: to ride a swing. Morgan’s wonderland has swings for wheelchair bound people. The wheelchair is wheeled onto a metal platform that is held up by heavy chains. The chair is then strapped securely, and the ramps are folded up to help keep the chair stable. The platform hangs a few inches above the ground, far enough so that the whole apparatus can swing. That young man’s wish was fulfilled. And he was happy.

This park came into being because of the vision of one father who wanted to do something to make the life of the daughter he loved better. His mission has reached the four corners of the world in so many ways. Thankfully, he had the resources to do it, and many people have benefited from his work. How much more does our Father in heaven love us? How much more will God give to make the lives of those who love Him better? Trust God, ask for His blessing, and believe that He can and will do good things for you.


March 6, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for March 10, 2024, Fourth Sunday of Lent: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

“For he satisfies the longing soul. He fills the hungry soul with good.” Psalm 107:9, WEB

Have you ever stood in front of a refrigerator or pantry full of food and find there is nothing to eat? Oh, there’s plenty of food, but nothing looks good. Nothing is worth the work and time to cook it. Everything is bland and unappetizing. We settle for something when we are hungry enough, but we are sure there must be something that would taste better and be more fulfilling. Instead of feeling blessed to have an overflowing abundance, we complain that it isn’t the right food.

The Hebrews had plenty to eat, but they were tired of eating the same old manna day after day after day. Can’t you see them saying, “There’s nothing to eat here!” just like we do when we can’t find what we really want? They complained about everything. They were tired of wandering in the wilderness. They complained against Moses and God. They wanted to return to the slavery of Egypt. Did they really expect that the food would be better in Egypt? After all, they were slaves and would never have received the best of fare. However, when we are not satisfied with our situation, we always expect that things will be greener on the other side of the fence. They thought that the food for slaves had to be better than the manna of freemen.

God was disappointed by their lack of faith and trust. The Hebrews wanted control. They, perhaps rightfully, felt helpless. Moses had led them into the wilderness away from their homes and everything they knew. Their life was not comfortable; they were oppressed and were being worked to death as slaves to the Pharaoh, and they hated their life. When Moses led them out of Egypt, they were excited to be alive and free. But the Promised Land was not right around the corner. Their wandering in the wilderness became such a burden that they began to look back on their sojourn in Egypt with fond memories. It had to be better in slavery than starving and thirsting, lost in the desert. Even though God was providing them with all that they needed - safety, food and water - they hungered and thirsted for Egypt.

The snakes got their attention. The people went to Moses and asked him to pray for them. Moses did pray and the LORD heard their pleas. Did He remove the snakes? That certainly would have been the most logical and loving solution to the problem, but in His mercy, God did not remove the poisonous snakes. Instead, He commanded Moses to create a bronze snake on a pole. When the people were bit, they could look at the snake and be healed. Ironic, isn’t it? Looking to the very thing that brought death brought them healing and life. God gave them the sign so that they could have a visible reminder of His salvation and deliverance.

The psalm for today is a call to praise God, given to those who know God’s redemption. It names several groups of people, including those who are wandering in the wilderness, freed prisoners and seafarers who have been saved from a shipwreck. In the section we read today, the psalmist calls out to those who have been healed from their sickness. They passage tells us that they abhor all manner of food and they draw near the gates of death. I’m sure we’ve all felt that way at some point. When we are suffering from the flue, we can’t possibly eat anything and we feel like we will never survive. At those times we do cry out for help and we eventually get better. Do we think God when we do? Do we really see our healing from the flu as an act of God?

Most often, I think, we see getting well from something like the flu as a natural course in the disease. While we felt like we were going to die from it, we knew we wouldn’t. We knew that we would eventually feel better and would be able to return to normal life as we know it. We don’t really give God the credit for making us better because there was nothing miraculous about getting over a cold or flu. So, we forget to thank and praise God for His healing, even though we did cry out for His help.

And what happens when our cry is not answered as we might hope? Sometimes faithful people get sick and never get well. Sometimes we ask for healing but we only see further deterioration of the one we love. Now, I am not saying the loss of a pet is the same as the loss of a human being, but how many of us have watched someone we love go through a similar process as our Felix? I’ve lost both my parents to disease, and prayed expectantly that they would both be healed. Though medical science is gaining ground on remedies and cures for disease, people still die. Does God not hear their cry, too?

God does hear their cry, but His answer is not always the answer we are looking to receive. Sometimes the best healing is the worst thing we can imagine: death. Sometimes God gives the redemption that will be eternal instead of a temporary return to whatever is normal in our world.

Marriage is the joining of two people, but it is much more than that. It is the joining of two families. Those families are often very different, especially in today’s world when young couples meet when they live far from home at college or at their first big job. These two families often have very distinct cultures. City girls marry country boys. Boys from New York marry southern bells. California babes marry Texas oil sons. In each case, their worlds are very different, and though they get along as a couple, it is harder to bring their families together.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen; those families only merge in name, meeting together only at that one big wedding event and never gathering together again. The couple often has to make tough decisions about where to go for holidays and who to invite for special events. On those rare occasions when the families do gather together, the atmosphere is strained as they try to deal with their differences, rather than celebrate their common love for the couple.

Christianity is the bringing together of two very distinct “families.” The Jews had a number of expectations of their people, rules to live by, and things to do. Those rules limited their gathering with people like themselves. They were not allowed to eat with Gentiles or purchase certain things. Their rules kept them separated from others, not because of their nationality but because of their actions. The Gentiles did things that made them unclean according to those Jewish laws. They ate food that was unclean. They worked on the Sabbath. They had followed other deities and practiced unacceptable religious traditions.

So, when Christ came and died for all men, those early Christians had to deal with the marriage of two very distinct cultures. They had to find a way to live together, work together, and worship God together. It was hard for them, and it is still hard for us. Despite two thousand years of trying to work out these issues, we still have many Christians who find it difficult to get along. “We” look at “them” and do not understand their culture or religious practices. Some argue against creeds, others think creeds are the way we define our belief. Some like liturgical settings of worship, others feel crowded by the routine. Some use the word “trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer, others use “debts.” These may seem minor to those on the outside, but they can be major stumbling blocks for those of us trying to deal with this incredible marriage between cultures.

The Ephesians were dealing with these issues, so in his letter to the Ephesian Paul wrote about what we have in common. We were all sinners in need of a Savior, and we all have faith in the same Savior, Jesus Christ. God loves us all. It isn’t by our traditions and practices that we are saved. It isn’t the way we say the Lord’s Prayer or the form of our worship that brings us salvation. We are saved by grace and are made alive together in Christ Jesus. We may have to be like those families that don’t get together but love one another because we have a common love. We may, sometimes, be able to find the courage and humility to gather together for His sake, despite our differences. Whatever happens in the family of Christ, we are who we are because of what God has done, and as we remember this, we will look at our “in-laws” (“in-graces”?) with a whole new perspective, through Jesus-colored glasses, so to speak. And we can work together to do God’s will in this world.

There are quite a few television shows that look into the paranormal, myths, legends, and other unexplained mysteries. I prefer the shows that take a scientific look at the study of these things. They go into places with reports of abnormal events and use specialized equipment to see if they can catch evidence to prove or disprove the claims. Some of the shows go into the situation certain that they will prove the paranormal, but others are purposely skeptical and try to prove that there are natural explanations for the events.

On one episode of “The Ghost Hunters”, the team went into a home where the residents were experiencing nausea, sleeplessness, depression, and sightings of oddly shaped shadows. When the team went through the home, they discovered that the man worked with many dangerous chemicals and that the heating system was located in the very room where he worked. The fumes from those chemicals circulated through their heating system into the rooms where the couple spent most of their time, especially the bedroom where they sleep. The team also found dangerously high electro-magnetic fields and mold. They found nothing on their video or audio tapes to confirm paranormal activity. So, as they revealed their findings to the couple, they said that it was necessary for them to take care of these other issues. The fumes, electro-magnetic fields, and the mold could be a natural cause for all their problems. Knowing this information meant that the couple could take control. They saw their problems and could deal with it. If, after getting rid of those problems they still experienced paranormal activity, then the crew could visit again and do a new study.

The crews of these paranormal shows usually investigate the sites at night. They set up their equipment and then turn out all the lights, banging around in darkness. Though some experiences happen during the daytime, paranormal activity tends to heighten at night. Plus, most of their equipment is designed to work in the dark, to capture fields outside the normal range of human vision and sound.

We often forget that the people are walking in darkness as we watch. On one episode, several people were inside an ancient chapel building late at night far from any light pollution. For them, the room was pitch black, so much so that they could not even see their hands. When two of the investigators were sitting side by side on a pew, one asked the other where she was. She thought the other investigator had just walked behind her. I wondered how she could make that mistake, after all, on film we can see them perfectly. How could she not know the other investigator was right next to her? Then I remembered, it is so dark they can’t see their hands, but with those special cameras, we are given enough light to see what is going on.

John 3:16 is one of the most beloved of all the scriptures; it is probably one of the most quoted (and perhaps even misquoted) verses in the Bible. Yet, there is so much more to today’s passage than just that one verse about God loving the world so much to give His only Son, so that all who believe in the Son will live forever. This passage is about light. Jesus Christ is the light, and without Him we live in darkness. He is like those night vision cameras that help us to see when there is no natural light around us. We might prefer to live in the world as we know it, without that Light of Christ, because there is so much in that world we enjoy. Yet, peace, hope, and life are found in the world Jesus has created by redeeming His people by His blood. Living in God’s love, living in love of others and serving them, might not seem like the happiest way of life, that’s why so many people reject it, but those of us who believe have seen the light and have eternal life that will be better than anything we can want or imagine in this life.

I have a cousin who got into trouble when he was a youth. He was caught up with the wrong crowd, doing the wrong things, acting out against everything and everyone. One day he was hanging out with friends and under the influence of something, when they decided to burn down an old, abandoned house on their street. They didn’t consider the consequences of their actions; they didn’t consider what could happen if they did this. They decided the house was worthless because it was empty and falling apart. It was an eyesore and a health hazard. It didn’t matter. Unfortunately, there was a homeless man sleeping in the house and he died in the fire. No matter how they justified the fire, they could not justify murder.

My cousin was caught and tried for arson and murder. He spent many years in prison paying for his crime. He could have responded to this defeat by living in darkness, turning to revenge and hatred and more crime. That’s what happens to many people who end up in prison. They think they have no choice but to do what is wrong. They learn how to fend for themselves, growing more egocentric as they sit alone in their cells pondering their lives. A few, perhaps very few, realize that they have done wrong, and they look beyond themselves for hope and redemption. They seek healing and peace.

My cousin wrote to me on several occasions about how thankful he was to have been caught. He believed that the life he was living was leading him toward death. Prison helped him see the reality: that he was a sinner in need of salvation. My cousin grew up in a Christian household; his mother was very active with her church, and she encouraged her children to follow her footsteps in the faith. They attended worship together and went to Sunday school. But everything he learned about God in those younger years was lost to his self-centered occupation of trouble as he grew older. He forgot the Savior that had already saved him. In prison he was set free from his selfishness and pettiness so that he could live truly free in the world. He saw that his trouble was not only because his actions were sinful, but that his attitude reflected his sinful nature.

It would have been very easy for him to stay in the dark. Many prisoners do, and when they are released, they return to the world to act out against the society that had imprisoned them. The crime builds, from minor infractions to major ones, from assault to murder, from theft to armed robbery. They take the lessons learned in prison and use them not to do good things, but to do bad things better. On the other hand, my cousin caught a glimpse of the Light he had known as a child and turned back to it. To him, prison was God’s way of calling him back to Himself.

God could have saved every one of the Israelites who were bit by the snakes, taking away the poison and making them well. He didn’t need to give them a snake on a pole to look at when they were ill. He could have removed the snakes from the situation, driving them further into the wilderness and away from His people. However, they had to learn how to trust God in their times of trouble, not to count on Him to always get them out of it. They needed a sign of God’s presence to help them look toward Him when they were losing hope. They needed a glimmer of light in the darkness to remind them that they were never alone.

We also need a reminder when we are caught in the midst of trouble. We forget that our worldly problems are temporary, and we sink into despair. Like those prisoners who return to crime when they are released, we often get more self-centered when we face difficulties. We don’t understand why God won’t just take it away and set us free. God can do it; He could make life nothing but roses and cake for us, but what kind of life would that be? God has given us the freedom to live as we wish in this world, but our desires often get us in trouble. So, He also gives us a reminder of His presence and love in our lives. He lifted Jesus on a pole, just as Moses lifted the snake on a pole. We need only look toward Him to find healing and peace. He calls us to this life of thanksgiving, looking toward the One who is the Light of the world.

Today’s story takes place well after Mt. Sinai, but the grumbling began just days or weeks after they crossed the Red Sea. They grumbled constantly during their journey which was meant to teach them how to trust. It was a hard earned but shortly held lesson. God’s people fell to unfaithfulness over and over again. When they did, God used the world to help them to look to Him again. Whether it was war, exile or oppression, the suffering they faced was given as a gift to bring about repentance and faith.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is the aftermath of one of those moments. Numbers 21:1-3 tells the story of their first battle as a new community under God’s grace. The king of Arad attacked the wandering nation as they passed near to his land and captured some of them. Israel vowed a vow to God: “If you will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.” It wasn’t enough for their people to be set free; they wanted to destroy those who had harmed them. God gave the Canaanites over to the Israelites and they completely destroyed them. God made it happen, but we get caught up in our successes. They believed they had the power to defeat a great enemy.

Moses next led them a roundabout way to avoid Edom. The people were upset by this route; they were impatient and thought it was a waste of their time. Why shouldn’t they go into Edom and use their new found strength to take what they needed? They could find fresh food and water; they could eat something besides manna and quail. The Israelites exaggerated their needs. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loathes this light bread.” They were sure they were going to die. I didn’t think I was going to die, but I must confess that during that storm, I exaggerated my complaints to God about my suffering.

The Promised Land was not right around the corner but they weren’t going to die from starvation. God provided for them: the manna and quail filled them, and they had enough to survive. They didn’t want to just survive and their desires turned them away from God. The Israelites wanted control; they spoke against God and Moses. They complained the way we complain when we can’t find something we want to eat in the pantry or refrigerator. Manna was not food to these people even though it filled their bellies. They imagined that back in Egypt they would be eating comfort foods like chocolate and fine wine.

The people exaggerated the dangers they faced in the desert, especially since they had the God of creation, the God of their forefathers, protecting and leading them. All they could see was what they had left behind. Sure, they had been slaves, but they had food other than manna and quail. God had to remind them that they were not in control.

This story of snakes is hard for us to accept. It doesn’t fit with our expectation of God. Why would He do such a thing? Why would He send dangerous snakes into the camp? Why would He allow so many to die? The poisonous snakes were a way of getting their attention before they did more harm to themselves by rebelling and returning to Egypt. Would Pharaoh welcome the slaves back with open arms and a huge barbeque? No, they would go back to their own deaths, and they would be alone, without God. If they turned back to Egypt, they turned their back on their Savior. Returning to Egypt would have been worse than poisonous snakes because it would have led to the annihilation of God’s people.

Thankfully, God gives us something to look at, to remind us of His grace. When we look to Jesus, we see the Light that reminds us that all God’s promises and covenants are real.

We truly see the God of mercy on the cross. Could God have removed the serpents from the camp of the Israelites? Of course He could have, but He didn’t. Instead He gave them a way to be healed. Could God forgive without the cross? Why didn’t He find another way to save us from our troubles? I don’t have the answer to that question, for I do not know the mind of God. I do know that when I need to know God’s presence, I can look to the cross and Jesus will draw me back by His grace. It is there I can most clearly see God’s love. In the cross I see my sin and my sinful nature and I see His mercy and His grace. Any freedom I have, or peace, or joy, or hope, or even faith has nothing to do with me. Everything is a gift from God, given not because I’ve done anything right, but out of His deep love for me. As a matter of fact, I was dead, and He died so that I might live.

We continue to do things our way, to rely on ourselves and put our trust in the things of this world that will perish. Yet, we need not fall into despair when things seem to be falling apart around us. There is hope that has been lifted up above a messed-up world. His name is Jesus, the Light. He satisfies and fills the needy soul with everything we need.


March 7, 2024

“I will bless Yahweh at all times. His praise will always be in my mouth. My soul shall boast in Yahweh. The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh magnify Yahweh with me. Let’s exalt his name together. I sought Yahweh, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to him, and were radiant. Their faces shall never be covered with shame. This poor man cried, and Yahweh heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. Yahweh’s angel encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh taste and see that Yahweh is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Oh fear Yahweh, you his saints, for there is no lack with those who fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger, but those who seek Yahweh shall not lack any good thing.” Psalm 34:1-10, WEB

A memory popped up on my Facebook wall from a wildflower adventure a few years ago. I have been thinking it is about time to go out to see what fields I can find. We noticed a lot of city bluebonnets blooming on the medium of a road we drove on last night. They seem small, but abundant. It could be a good year. I like to go south and east early in the season because the flowers begin there. There are also colorful fields filled with many different types of flowers. I love the bluebonnets, but I also love the fields that have reds, whites, yellows, purples and blues. I have some favorite places to go, including several cemeteries, and I follow some pages that list the best places to visit.

A few years ago I saw a post about a place that was abundant with bluebonnets. It was a hundred and twenty miles away, but I wanted to see it for myself, so I convince Bruce to go on a grand adventure with me one day. With small country roads and traffic, I knew this would be a long trip. We left after church and spent all day driving through the Texas Hill Country, hoping to find the promised fields of color. We were near the end of the season for Texas Bluebonnets, but the flowers were said to still be spectacular in the most recent report that was posted only a few days before our trip.

We saw beautiful fields of color all along the road, mixtures of all the colors. Occasionally we would see a large field covered with one particular color, but we didn’t bother to stop so that we’d have enough time to get to our destination. The drive seemed to take forever as we went mile after mile. The beautiful fields close to home made me wonder if it was worth driving so far. I began to doubt when we reached a region mid-trip that had no flowers at all.

A short while later, however, the landscape changed again and we saw more wildflowers. We found the roads and followed the path, still wondering if it would be worthwhile. The roads got smaller and smaller until it seemed like there was nowhere left to drive. But I saw a sign that indicated we were going the right way, and we turned the corner into a most extraordinary place. Another car was stopped by the side of the road, with several people taking pictures of a hillside covered in bluebonnets. We also stopped and spent a few minutes gazing at this amazing site. At this point we realized it was probably going to be worth the drive.

We drove about eight miles down this narrow country road which crossed through a river. The road became little more than a dirt driveway, barely wide enough for the cars that had joined us on this adventure. Each curve of the road opened up a brilliant new view. It seemed like every square inch of land was covered in blue. The bluebonnets weaved in between the trees like rivers flowing down the hills. We drove through the river and stopped to wander around a bit. There was a water fall and cactus growing everywhere. We found a few with blooms, growing right out of the stones. A few other wildflowers were peppered in between the bluebonnets. Other visitors were enjoying the scene. The next section of roadway, still growing smaller was even more spectacular, with huge fields of bluebonnets that made it seem like we were surrounded by oceans. This was the first time I ever truly smelled a bluebonnet, the scent of millions of the beautiful blue flowers hung in the air.

In the end, we knew we had made the right choice in visiting that tiny little corner of the world. It might have seemed to be too far out of our way, but Bruce and I had a wonderful day. It was worth the trip, every corner and hill revealed a new surprise for us to see and enjoy.

Isn’t that the way it is with God? Sometimes, along our journey, we wonder if it is really worth the trip. It is so much easier to just stay close to home, to enjoy the things that are within our reach. This is true of the things of God, too. It is much easier to stick with what we know rather than seek a deeper and fuller relationship with our Father. But those who go on the journey will find themselves blessed at the end of it. We were blessed by a spectacular experience of bluebonnets, but the blessings we experience with God are more amazing that we can even imagine. He is the Creator of all things, and He deserves our thanks and praise. He is good and blesses those who trust in Him.


March 8, 2024

“Only, as the Lord has distributed to each man, as God has called each, so let him walk. So I command in all the assemblies. Was anyone called having been circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man stay in that calling in which he was called. Were you called being a bondservant? Don’t let that bother you, but if you get an opportunity to become free, use it. For he who was called in the Lord being a bondservant is the Lord’s free man. Likewise he who was called being free is Christ’s bondservant. You were bought with a price. Don’t become bondservants of men. Brothers, let each man, in whatever condition he was called, stay in that condition with God.” 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, WEB

When we are saved, we are transformed, and for many people, this means a drastic change of lifestyle. When we come to know Jesus, we realize that there are things about our old life that we need to reconsider, although some believe they have to give up everything. We should consider bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and immoral jobs. Life in Christ is one that transforms a person into that which they were created to be. As God dwells in a person’s heart, they are made new, leaving behind that which does not glorify Him.

However, our outward life need not be so changed that it is unrecognizable to those around us. A person who is a CEO of a major corporation need not give up his job; he needs only to do it to the glory of God. An accountant need not run off to foreign lands to become a missionary. A teacher need not give up her job teaching to enter a convent. A housewife need not leave her family to follow some special calling.

During Martin Luther’s day, some people thought that God was only pleased with those who completely gave up the world to focus only on the work of His Kingdom. Service to God meant taking vows and living separate from the world. Monks, nuns, and priests were thought to have a greater salvation because they had some higher calling, a deeper spirituality. However, Martin Luther realized that they weren’t more holy than anyone else. They simply had a different vocation or office, and different responsibilities. All of God’s children, those who believe in the name of Jesus, are called to a special life, not a religious life, but a life of service to God and neighbors in our little corner of the world, using our gifts and opportunities to God’s glory. To Luther, the washerwoman and the bishop were of equal status as long as both were faithful to their calling to serve Christ and others in their daily life.

It is very easy, when we are new in faith, to assume that our mundane jobs in this world are unimportant to God. As we hear God speak into our lives, we assume He is calling us to something different, something new. Yet, God needs Christians in every aspect of life, in every job, in every corner of the world. Yes, God certainly does need missionaries and priests. However, He also needs janitors and high school principals, CEOs and construction workers. Luther’s idea was that all people called by God into faith were priests: the priesthood of all believers. He never rejected the priesthood, he simply established that it is just one of millions of ways to serve God. The life of faith, living daily using our gifts and talents wherever we are, is the way every Christian should live.

There is a modern trend to make Christian thought entirely about spirituality, ignoring the very basic understanding that everything in this world belongs to God. Neo-Gnosticism, New Age thought, mysticism are just a few examples of the modern teachings that focus on giving up everything of this world for the sake of Christ. If Christian faith were about being on some higher plane, about living some special life apart from this world, why did Jesus come in flesh? Why did Paul write that we should continue in our lives after we have been saved?

The spiritual aspects of faith are important. This is why we need to spend time in worship, in Bible study, in prayer, and in fellowship with other Christians. Our Lord Jesus Christ truly changes us and we are given a new life. Faith is not something that can be understood in the flesh, but it is given to us to live while we are in this world. The greatest commands from Jesus are “Love the Lord” and “Love your neighbor”. We don’t have to give up our jobs to become priests or leave our families to become missionaries. We are to be content exactly where we are, for it is to that place in life where God assigned us to be. In that place, we are to live in faith, use our gifts, and glorify God. He has blessed us to be a blessing and has ordained someone to be His representative in every corner of the world. He will use us for the sake of His Kingdom wherever we are.


March 11, 2024

“Have mercy on me, God, according to your loving kindness. According to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions. My sin is constantly before me. Against you, and you only, I have sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight, so you may be proved right when you speak, and justified when you judge. Behold, I was born in iniquity. My mother conceived me in sin. Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts. You teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, that the bones which you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all of my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. Don’t throw me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:1-12, WEB

I was driving down the highway one day when a plastic shopping bag flew into my car and got caught on my side mirror. I thought it would blow off, but it was trapped on the mirror and the force of the wind kept it there. I thought about opening my window to pull it off, but it was whipping violently, so I decided it was better to let it go. It wasn’t going anywhere, and I wasn’t distracted by it; I knew I could easily take it off when I stopped. Unfortunately, it fell off as I slowed down before I could get my window open, so it was free to fly into someone else s car.

Have you ever seen one of those plastic shopping bags flying through the air? They are very lightweight and well designed to catch the wind, like a parachute. They can fly for miles as long as they don’t get caught on a car or a tree branch. They look almost graceful dancing in the wind, but they are ugly and dangerous. I was lucky, but those bags can get caught in a way that can cause accidents. They can get caught up into jet engines. They can create problems for wildlife.

I’ve noticed those bags along the roadways, along with the other trash that is thrown or dropped by passersby. The fields can get filled with all sorts of plastic things caught on tree branches and wire fences. The breeze blows them constantly and eventually they become ripped and ragged. I can’t help but wonder how all the bags end up clumped together in one spot. It is possible that the winds just blow in a pattern that allows them to settle in those places. Perhaps it has to do with the number of trees or other things that can catch them.

I don’t know how the bags escape. It is so easy for the wind to catch and carry these bags, drawing them high and far so quickly that it is impossible to get them back. And how often do we bother to try to catch a bag that is already in motion, why chase after someone else’s litter? We don’t bother to go running after something that is blowing away, leaving it for someone else to catch. Unfortunately, they tend to end up in those fields were no one walks. Could I go to one of those fields and clean it up? Perhaps I could be the one, but there’s no parking, no gates to get through the fences too much trouble. I can come up with a million excuses.

Aren’t we like those fields with trash that has become caught up in our lives. That is sin. We don’t know how it comes to be a part of our life. We are tempted by the actions and inactions of others, and we fail to resist, so sin grabs a hold of some part of us. It might even appear to have grace and beauty, but it is ugly and dangerous, especially in how our sin affects others. We fail each other when we do not try to help one another be rid of sin, we don’t want to cross any fences or bother to stop and help. We have a million excuses to let sin continue in our lives and in the lives of those who cross our path. Sin makes our lives become ripped and ragged, worse as time goes on.

Lent is a time for contemplating our own sinfulness, and when we follow Lenten disciplines in the company of other Christians it is a time for helping one another clean up our fields. Are we ignoring the problems? Are we too lazy to find a way to help? Do we refuse to cross those fences that our fellow Christians have put up to keep us out of their business? Are we building big fences so that others cannot help us? Let us seek God’s help to work together to clean up our fields, sharing God’s mercy and grace and cleansing, so that by Easter our lives will look more like a beautiful meadow of wildflowers than an ugly field of garbage.


March 12, 2024

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. In this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples.” John 15:1-8, WEB

The Bible often uses the example of the vine and vineyard, usually representing God’s people or the relationship between God and those who are His. Most of us do not have any experience with grapevines or vineyards, besides enjoying a glass of wine or visiting a tasting room. I doubt there are many vineyard owners who are readers of this devotion.

It was a common subject in the scriptures because the ancient peoples were more familiar with vines. They did not have a local grocery store where they could buy a bottle of wine whenever they wanted one. They also had more limited choices of things to drink. They rarely drank water because it was unhealthy; fermented drink was best because the impurities were killed in the fermentation process. The wine they drank would most likely have been locally produced, on a vineyard that the people would have passed regularly. When Jesus, or any of the prophets, spoke about vines, they were familiar enough to understand.

As I read some websites about vineyards, I realized that creating wine is a very difficult process. The grapevines take tender loving care and patience. It usually takes three years to produce fruit, some vines are barren up to six years. The vines should be carefully pruned and trained to grow along a trellis or wires. Wine grows best in the dirt that other plants dislike, like rocky hillsides with low yielding soils. It costs a lot of money to start a vineyard and it takes many years before a vintner even sees a return on his investment. We have many vineyards in the Hill Country of Texas, and most of them began by using grapes they purchased from other growers until their own vines were fruitful. It takes many vines to make one good bottle of wine. It seems strange that such difficult agriculture would be the example that Jesus would use when talking about the relationship between God and His people.

Though we are not familira with grapevines or with vineyards, these are the perfect type of fields to use as an example of God’s relationship with His kingdom. After all, aren’t we all difficult to tend? Aren’t we like that low yielding soil, like a steep hillside full of rocks? We take careful pruning, and it takes a long time for us to produce good fruit. God, the faithful vineyard owner, cares for us lovingly and with patience, working the soil, pruning us perfectly. And like the vineyard, it takes far more than one person to produce the good works God has called us to do in this world.

Jesus says that He is the vine and we are His branches. In a vineyard it is hard to discern which branches come from which trunk, as they weave together over the years. So too do we grow together as we share our life of faith in the vineyard. However, we will not live or produce fruit if we are cut away from the vine. We are called into fellowship with Christ and with one another, working together to share God’s kingdom with the world. As we look at the vine, we are reminded that we do not live in faith alone, but rather we are woven together with Christ and with other Christians to glorify God with the fruit we produce.


March 13, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for March 17, 2024, Fifth Sunday of Lent: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:[32-34] 35-45

“For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45, WEB

I used to spend hours in online chat rooms. I loved talking with others about scripture and theology. It seems like there are a million different ways to understand the Bible and I think I ran across every one of them during my wanderings. Some of our differences were minor and often based on our own unique perspectives. We look at the text from our own point of view, understand it from our own experience, and see it as we need to see it in our current circumstances. We learned to listen to one another, to consider what they had to say, and sometimes we saw God’s Word in a beneficial new way.

Sometimes, however, there were people who saw God’s Word in a heretical way. Gnosticism is alive and well in modern Christianity, and there are too many who believe they have “special knowledge” of the scriptures and claim that those who do not understand have not received the same “gift.” “Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you,” they would answer, acting as if they were superior because they knew something you did not know.

This type of Christian finds it difficult to cope in the fellowship of believers. Their ideas are so different and their attitude so haughty that they find fault with everything and everybody. Instead of being involved in a local congregation they create their own, calling themselves priests and prophets and gathering a few people, either in their homes or on the Internet, who follow their teachings. They have nothing good to say about the visible church on earth, and feel that they are the chosen ones, a remnant anointed by God to declare the world’s sin.

One such woman was very respectful at the beginning of our conversations. She told me that she was taking courses on how to be a prophet and that she was starting a house church where she was preaching to a few followers. She emailed me one of her sermons. This writing was so full of error that it made me sad for those who were attending her meetings. She misquoted the scriptures, misidentified the passages, and her interpretations were confusing because she mixed ideas and themes from completely unrelated texts. Since she had asked for my opinion and some suggestions, I made some notes on the writing. She was so offended by my response that she answered me with a warning that she was one of God’s prophets and that I should beware.

The woman was not a prophet of God. She was self-appointed and twisted God’s Word to say what she wanted it to say. We may disagree with others who have a different point of view, but Christian love means listening to what others have to say, and humility helps us to remember that we may be mistaken. The woman’s biggest problem was that she was disconnected from God’s Church and was unwilling to listen when others want to help her grow and mature in faith. She preferred to go her own way.

The Jewish leaders thought that The Way was strange and dangerous. The Jews questioned whether “The Way” was real or acceptable. The preferred to fall back into their pagan roots or return to their Jewish heritage because Christianity was so different than anything to had experienced or understood. The writer of Hebrews, however, tells us that Jesus was not like that woman I met online. He was not self-appointed. He was sent by God, called the Son of God from God’s voice, and He was doing not His own will but the will of the Father. He was obedient, glorified not by what He did, but by God. He was Priest and King not because He decided he wanted to be, but because God promised that He would be.

We don’t choose our calling. We simply choose whether or not we will be obedient to the will and purpose of God. In doing so, we receive all that He has promised.

David had a heart for God. As a matter of fact, David was chosen to be king of Israel because God could see that his heart was in the right place. God doesn’t look for the strongest, or the most intelligent, or the most beautiful people to do His work; He looks for those who love Him and trust in His promises. David was a man like that, but he was also a sinner. The other psalm for this week was sung by David in response to Nathan’s accusation.

See, David fell in love with a married woman. He invited her to His palace while her husband was serving in David’s army on the front lines of a war. She became pregnant and David felt such guilt that he brought Uriah home to have sex with his wife so that it would appear to be his child. Uriah felt too much guilt about enjoying time with his wife while his fellow soldiers were dying on the battlefield, so he refused to lie with her. David knew no other way to solve his problem, so he sent Uriah back to the front lines and ensured his death. Bathsheba the widow was brought into his home as his wife and the child was accepted as his.

The author of Psalm 119 is uncertain, though many agree it was probably David at the end of his life. David could certainly have sung the words. He believed in God and sought God’s mercy and grace. In Psalm 51, David cried out “Against you, and you only, I have sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” He sinned against others: against Uriah and Bathsheba. He even sinned against his people because he lied to them, and he stole one of their own from their midst. But David understood the reality of our sin: no matter what we do, no matter whether or not our sin is seemingly victimless (there is no such thing as a victimless sin) or affects a nation, our sin is against the Lord. When we do what is wrong, we break our relationship with God. Even from birth we are broken and in need of God’s grace.

In Psalm 51, David asked to be cleaned; he asked for his heart to be made pure. God saw his heart and called him righteous, but He also knew David’s deepest secrets. It seems contradictory, but it is the reality of our life. We are saints and sinners, righteous by God’s grace but still capable of sinning against God and one another.

We, like the psalmist, asked the question found in today’s passage. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” How do we keep our way pure? God set a path for us to follow. He gave us a book to read. He makes His word dwell in our hearts so that we will be strengthened to try to be all that He has created, redeemed, and called us to be. We are righteous because of what Christ has done, yet we still seek God failing hearts. We beg that He will help us walk rightly, that He will teach us to do that which will glorify Him in the world. Jesus obeyed unto death, glorifying God on the cross. By His grace we treasure the Word He has placed in our hearts. A faithful and faith-filled life is one where we constantly seek what that Word means in our daily lives.

March Madness is upon us and for the next few weeks the talk around the water cooler is going to be about college basketball. With sixty-four teams to start, the crowd will quickly dwindle away to the final four teams that will play for the ultimate championship. People are making their choices, getting ready to fill their brackets with the teams they think will take it all. It is great fun for those who enjoy watching basketball. Some people just like the thrill of the game, and they don’t really care which teams are playing. Some people will see every game that is offered on television. Some people have even bought packages from their cable or satellite companies that will make every game available to them.

There will be late nights ahead for those who want to see every minute of the action, and tired eyes when they crawl into work the next day. There’s something about March Madness that draws people in and keeps them watching until it is over. I don’t get it, but I’m not really a fan. I suppose a lot of people get into it because they have teams they want to win, often their own alma mater. They get caught up in the excitement, even when their team is no longer in the running. I guess as an outsider I never saw the point. It isn’t in my heart, so I’ll be glad to find something else to watch while March Madness is going on.

God was available to His people from the beginning of time. He can be seen in the creation, in blooming flowers and magnificent sunsets. His strength can be seen in the high mountains and His power in the rolling ocean. Yet, God has had a special relationship with people since the days of Adam, Noah, and Abraham. This is especially true of Abraham and his offspring. Throughout the Old Testament we can see God interacting with His people, giving them promises and guiding their footsteps. He gave them the Law, anointed their leaders, and led them to the Promised Land. In those stories we can see that certain people had a special relationship with God, like Moses and David and the prophets. They had God’s Spirit to guide them, to give them His words and to teach them how to live. Those special people were then given the task to share it with God’s chosen people.

The people didn’t mind having a “go-between.” They were afraid of hearing God’s voice for themselves or seeing God’s glory. They thought they would die if they did. God gave them leaders to teach and guide them along the way. Yet, having someone to teach and guide did not make it easy for them to stay in a right relationship with God. They fell hard and they fell often, doing their own thing and going their own way. It was especially difficult when the leaders and teachers did not even follow the path God had ordained for their nation and their lives.

Through Jeremiah, God promised that one day it would work in a whole new way. One day everyone would have that Spirit of God in their hearts and in their lives. The Word would not be given to them by certain people who were called to be leaders and teachers; they would have it for themselves. Instead of pushing them from the outside, God’s Word would drive them from the inside. They could study and know God for themselves, hear Him and follow Him without the need for someone to do it for them.

This does not mean that there will be no teachers or leaders. We are faith-filled believers in a community with others who can help us to learn and grow and mature in our faith. We need one another, to keep each other accountable to the true Word of God, to keep from interpreting God’s Word to meet our own desires. In giving us the Spirit, God did not reject teachers and leaders. But we can know God ourselves, hear His voice, and respond to our own personal call to faithful living. Through Christ we are all made insiders, and by the power of the Spirit we are drawn into those relationships so that we might live and learn and grow together in forgiveness and peace.

We do a lot of things wrong. We lie, we cheat, and we steal. Sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. We are jealous of our neighbors and covet what they have. We may seem to be living a good, righteous life; our neighbors may think we are kind and generous, moral, and upstanding citizens. And perhaps we are. Yet we still do a lot of things wrong. We don’t always love. We sometimes hate. We don’t share everything we have. We are, at times, selfish. We get angry for all the wrong reasons. We do not forgive. We forget to do what is right. We sin in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. That’s our human nature: we are sinners, and we do a lot of things wrong.

I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where!) that the breaking of every covenant begins with coveting. I think most of us are guilty of coveting; we all want something that belongs to another, or we want something that we can’t have. Most of us have probably never murdered another human being. Perhaps we’ve even been innocent of theft or adultery. Yet, when we hurt someone or steal from them, it is because we covet something. We covet power. We covet something they have. We covet control which leads us to do something against others. Adultery is certain based in coveting. It goes even farther, though. We disobey the commandment about honoring our father, mother, and other authorities because we covet independence and control of our own lives, dishonoring our parents and usurping their place as the authority of our lives. We disobey the law (like speeding) because we covet the power that the lawmakers have. These commandments have to do with our relationship with other people, and when we do anything against them, it is because we covet something that we think we are missing.

It is a revealing of our dissatisfaction with our lives.

Let’s go one more step. The first commandments have to do with our relationship with our God. Adam and Eve broke the first commandment when they disobeyed God’s Word. They coveted God’s identity. They wanted to be gods. They were not satisfied with the life He had made for them. The irony, of course, is that they had what they wanted. They were created in the image of God, but they coveted more. And because they coveted more, they sinned against God. The original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden has become part of the nature every human being shares. We still covet more. We are still not satisfied and covet something we don’t need and should not want.

I don’t know any murderers, although I know people who have wished others dead. I know people who have committed adultery, but I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t lusted over some sexy body. Jesus once told the crowds that it isn’t enough to avoid doing the things that God has commanded against: He said that we shouldn’t even think about them.

The Commandments, and the rest of the Torah, help us see what we are doing wrong so that we might try to live a better life. The covenant God made with His people at Sinai demands that they live accordingly, or He will turn His back on the nation. Each of us has learned in our own way how hard it is to live by those laws and how we suffer when we don’t. We’ve experienced broken relationships, sickness and even death because of our failure.

We know that we do things wrong because of the covenant God made with His people. The Ten Commandments gave us a foundation on which to build the lives God wants us to live. We are meant to follow those rules. We are commanded to honor our father and mother and all authority. We are commanded not to kill, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet. Most of us can do a pretty good job at checking off these commands and perhaps we are “good,” living a life that impacts our neighbors positively.

God writes the Word on our hearts. We are His. He forgives and does not remember our sin. This new covenant promises that God will be dwell in each of our hearts, writing His Word on the very depths of our souls. This new covenant is not about obedience, it is about God changing His people so that they will live naturally according to His will. God promised that one day our relationship with Him would work in a whole new way. We have the Spirit of God in our hearts and in our lives.

James and John were important to Jesus, and they were witnesses to the miraculous and incredible things He did. They immediately left their father Zebedee to follow Him when He called. They were part of Jesus’ inner circle along with Peter; they were witnesses to the Transfiguration. They are known as the Sons of Thunder because they asked Jesus if they should call down hellfire on a Samaritan town that rejected Him as they were going to Jerusalem. They were zealous and loyal. They believed and lived their faith passionately. They also thought they were important enough to have Jesus give them special consideration when He entered into His Kingdom. They wanted to sit at His right hand and left hand. They wanted to be on the dais with the King, sitting beside His throne.

Jesus had authority over heaven and earth, but He could not fulfill their wish to have such seats of honor. They did not yet understand that the seats they coveted would never exist. They thought Jesus would be an earthly king like David, who would rule over Jerusalem and Israel to save the people from the oppression of the Romans. Jesus had just finished telling the disciples that the Son of Man had to suffer at the hands of the world and be condemned to death. He is that Son. He told them that He would be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed in Jerusalem. Jesus would never sit on the type of throne they expected. His throne was the cross and those on His right and left were common criminals facing the same punishment for their sins. The disciples had no idea that His cup and baptism would offer only suffering and pain. They were willing to follow Jesus anywhere, but they did not expect that it would mean following Him into death. They told Him they were able to follow Him. Jesus said, “You will.”

This was true for James. Just fourteen years after the Jesus’ death, James was beheaded in a lame attempt to halt Christianity. He was the first Apostle to be martyred, the only one of the eleven whose death was recorded in the scriptures (Acts 12). He did drink the same cup and suffer the same baptism as Jesus. James boldly asked Jesus for the wrong thing, but he continued to live out his life of faith and then he died for the sake of the Gospel. We all make the same mistakes, thinking our position or our experiences merit us greater attention or honor. We all covet that which is not ours. Jesus teaches us a different way.

Jesus called the twelve together and said, “You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all.”

Jesus was not self-appointed. He was the beloved Son sent by God. He was not following His own will but the will of His Father. Because of His obedience, God made Him Priest and King over this New Covenant that was promised in Jeremiah. He did not choose these roles; God fulfilled His promises in Jesus. These were not earthbound titles given for a brief period of time; He is Priest and King forever.

The journey we’ve traveled during this Lenten period has helped us see, and accept, that we have truly sinned against God. We have done what we should not do and failed to do what we should do in thought, word, and deed. While our sins may seem to be against our neighbors, the root of our problem is that sin keeps us separated from our God. Our failures make us unable to pay the debts we owe one another and our God. But God promised to take care of it all and He fulfilled that promise with Jesus on the cross. We do not need a priest or a king to intervene on our behalf because we have Jesus. God forgives our iniquity and forgets our sin because He was obedient.

We are still going to sin. It’s a fact of life that our flesh is weak and susceptible to temptation. Every day we will fail to do what is right. These sins are rarely anything major; we seem to be good and upright to the world. But sin is sin, and the effect of sin reaches far beyond our own lives. Though the work is complete, we still have reason to pray for God’s grace and forgiveness. We need Him to change us, to fill us with His Word.

Our Gospel passage for today is the beginning of the end for Jesus. He told the disciples that the hour has come. The catalyst seemed to be the arrival of some Greek believers who were in Jerusalem for the Passover. They were looking to meet with Jesus. They weren’t necessarily from Greece, but they were Gentiles from the Greek speaking world. Jesus was having such an impact on everyone, all the nations, that they were beginning to seek Him out. The world was ready to judge Jesus for His work.

But really, it was God that was about to judge the world for the works of fallible human beings. The “ruler of this world” was about to be defeated, not with military might but in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The world thought they were casting out a troublemaker, crucifying a rebel, but the truth is that God was destroying the hold of sin and death on His beloved people. We look at the story of Jesus and are saddened by the necessity of His horrific death on the cross, and yet in that very death He was glorified, and God was glorified by His obedience. It seems like the end of a story we do not like, but we know the rest. We know that Easter will come. And when Easter comes, the world will see God’s grace and mercy.

We do a lot of things wrong. It is our human nature to be sinful; we continually fail to live up to God’s expectations. When we do, we can trust in God’s faithfulness to keep His New Covenant. Our Lenten journey has led us toward repentance, turning to Jesus for His forgiveness. He has led us to the point that we can delight in His statutes and never forget His Word. In His great mercy and love, Jesus has provided for our reconciliation with God the Father, which then makes it possible for us to reconcile with our neighbors and all creation. He forgives us, forgets our sin and dwells in us, guiding our resurrection journey along the path He has ordained for each of us.


March 14, 2024

“‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ The disciples came, and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered them, ‘To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them. For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever doesn’t have, from him will be taken away even that which he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they don’t see, and hearing, they don’t hear, neither do they understand. In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, “By hearing you will hear, and will in no way understand; seeing you will see, and will in no way perceive; for this people’s heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes; or else perhaps they might perceive with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and would turn again, and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For most certainly I tell you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and didn’t see them; and to hear the things which you hear, and didn’t hear them.’” Matthew 13:10-17, WEB

A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels. There are other parables in the Bible, including in the Old Testament. Paul made frequent use of metaphors in his letters. While a metaphor is different in that it is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable, they are much the same in that they use simple ideas to convey something much deeper. In the scriptures, these metaphors or parables help us understand God and His Kingdom when we hear them with ears that will hear.

Spiritual things are difficult to understand. The things in the spiritual realms cannot be understood by sight, sound, or touch and we need something physical to grasp with our physical eyes, ears, or fingers. The parables of Jesus are stories that we must see, hear, and touch with our spirits. Most people do not know how to look beyond an earthly understanding of things. They see, hear, and touch the world at their fingertips, but leave the heavenly things to more spiritual people.

Jesus came to share the Kingdom of God with His people. He wanted them to understand that there was something beyond their human experience, something so incredible that it cannot be understood simply by sight, sound, and touch. The message was simple: God, our heavenly Father loves you so much that He dwells among you and makes you an heir to His Kingdom. In their experience, this simple message was hard to understand. After all, we could not see, hear, or touch God. As a matter of fact, God dwelt in a room in the temple where no one was allowed to enter except the High Priest, and then only once a year. Even he could not see or touch God, covering the Most Holy Place with smoke before entering. There were patriarchs and prophets who heard the voice of God, though most people only heard God speak through a few chosen people.

Jesus came as God in flesh to show His people the truth of His love. He spoke so that they would understand, in stories that touch on their earthly experiences of life. He often talked of farming or fishing, normal activities for the people who were listening to His teaching. By using parables, earthly stories with a heavenly meaning, He conveyed spiritual ideas to the people in a way they could understand. Parables may be simple stories, but they are actually quite complex. They begin by orienting us to the story by using familiar elements. Then they disorient us by using unexpected twists that shock the reader, requiring effort to understand. The parable then helps us see the world in a whole new way.

I read recently that the Church is a parable of the New Creation. The Church, not just the buildings where we meet, but the fellowship of all believers, the body of Christ, is the earthly place where God’s will is done. It exists visibly everywhere that two or more are gathered in His name. The Kingdom of God is revealed as His people glorify Him in all they do in service and worship. God cannot be seen, heard, or touched with our senses, but He was revealed to the first Christians when Jesus Christ dwelt among them. He is now revealed through the scriptures, the sacraments, and the body of Christ which is the Church. While we, as the Church, dwell in the physical, earthly realm, we also dwell in the spiritual realm and because we are part of the Kingdom of God by faith, we have ears to hear and in faith we understand the simple message of God: that He loves us so much that He saved us from sin and death so we can dwell with Him forever.


March 15, 2024

“Finally, all of you be like-minded, compassionate, loving as brothers, tenderhearted, courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or insult for insult; but instead blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good. Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears open to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” 1 Peter 3:8-12, WEB

A seer once told Julius Caesar to beware of the Ides of March. On the Roman calendar, the Ides fell in the middle of the month, somewhere between the 13th and the 15th. In March it fell on the 15th. The Ides of March signified the new year and was a day of feasting and religious ceremonies. Jupiter’s high priest slaughtered a sheep and there was a festival in honor of the Roman goddess Anna Perenna which celebrated the first full moon of the year on the Roman calendar with drinking, picnics, and lively festivities. It was a favorite of the common folk. Another ritual of the day was Mamuralia, an observance akin to the scapegoat of ancient Israel. Instead of a goat, however, an old man was dressed in an animal costume, beaten, and cast out of the city, perhaps to symbolize the passing of the old year. Other celebrations followed the Ides of March, telling the stories of other gods and goddesses they honored. I suppose it is easy to come up with holy days when you worship so many gods.

Caesar was a man without fear, so he did not take the warning of the seer seriously. He was a powerful man. He expanded the Roman world by conquering many lands. But his success led to his destruction, he let his power go to his head. As he conquered more and more people, he took upon himself a title that was not deserved; he became a dictator, removing the authority of other men. Caesar said, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” He wasn’t just referring to his military victories; he was referring to everything about his life.

Caesar was indifferent to the seer’s warning of impending doom. Men who he deemed loyal surrounded him. Take Marcus Brutus, for example. He was Caesar’s friend and a man who he pardoned from punishment. On March 15, 44 BC, Brutus led a group of upper statesmen in the murder of Julius Caesar. They were unhappy with the manner in which Caesar had usurped their authority. He had named himself dictator of the empire, making the Senate worthless. Caesar expected men like Brutus to remain loyal because they reached their positions of authority by his grace, but they did what they felt was necessary for the empire.

Caesar was not God; he was not even like a god. He was a man who stepped over the line of his given authority and stole an empire. However, murder is never the right solution. Caesar might be an extreme case of power gone wild, but it is not unique; every generation has had to deal with authorities that take more power than they are given. It happens in homes, in politics, in workplaces, and in religion. These usurpers use deceit and violence to get their way. Though this is wrong, we should not repay the deceit and violence with the same. Do not seek revenge when you feel you have been wronged. Instead, turn your eyes to God and let Him deal with the evil and trust that He will be faithful to overcome the usurpers by His power.


March 18, 2024

“King David was told, ‘Yahweh has blessed the house of Obed-Edom, and all that belongs to him, because of God’s ark.’ So David went and brought up God’s ark from the house of Obed-Edom into David’s city with joy. When those who bore Yahweh’s ark had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf. David danced before Yahweh with all his might; and David was clothed in a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up Yahweh’s ark with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. As Yahweh’s ark came into David’s city, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out through the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before Yahweh; and she despised him in her heart. They brought in Yahweh’s ark, and set it in its place, in the middle of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before Yahweh. When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Yahweh of Armies. He gave to all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to everyone a portion of bread, dates, and raisins. So all the people departed, each to his own house. Then David returned to bless his household. Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How glorious the king of Israel was today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!’ David said to Michal, ‘It was before Yahweh, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of Yahweh, over Israel. Therefore I will celebrate before Yahweh. I will be yet more vile than this, and will be worthless in my own sight. But the maids of whom you have spoken will honor me.’” 2 Samuel 6:12-22, WEB

Children rarely appreciate when their parents begin to act silly, especially in public. “Oh, Mom!” or “Oh, Dad!” are phrases that typically flow from the mouths, especially teenage girls. They are terribly embarrassed by anything that might be less than dignified. After all, their friends’ parents are normal and act old like they should. Anything less is unacceptable. They’d rather be dropped a block from a meeting place, walk twenty feet ahead or sit in a completely different row in the movie theater. They are willing to do anything to keep the world from knowing that those weird people are her mom and dad.

It is even bothersome if the silliness is in the privacy of our home. It is as if the whole world will know. Bruce and I were once going through a pile of vinyl records, deciding which ones we would like to try to sell at a yard sale. It was a journey down memory lane as we found our favorite albums. With each new discovery we began singing the songs, laughing together, and enjoying each other’s company. Add to it the fact that we were sitting in a closet at the time, and you have the makings of an entirely embarrassing situation for a teenager. Who would see us was beyond our understanding, but we certainly felt that our glaring daughter was about to close the closet door so that there would be no chance that someone might find out how weird we really are.

As parents we are supposed to be dignified. We should not dance around the house when cleaning. We should not laugh and sing at a concert. We should not enjoy the things of youth because we have to uphold the decorum of our position in life. We aren’t teenagers; we shouldn’t act like we are! This is also true of those with prominent roles in our community. We don’t expect church leaders, politicians, company presidents or teachers to act silly in public. It would be embarrassing and upsetting.

Saul’s children thought they would take over the throne of Israel when he died, but God anointed David to be the king. The event in today’s story is a most solemn and joyous occasion; the Ark of the Covenant was being moved into the city of David. God was to be honored with every footstep with sacrifices of blood and praise. David understood that he was in the presence of greatness and clothed himself appropriately: in linen without royal robes.

But Saul’s daughter was upset by David’s actions. He was not dressed or dignified as befitting a king. He was like a servant girl dancing in the streets. Yet, David knew that it was humility before God that would bring the blessings that Saul never saw. Saul sought his own agenda, raised himself above all others because he was king. David served the Lord and was lifted high and blessed beyond measure. Oh, perhaps there are times when we should, as parents, be a little more dignified in the presence of our children and for their sake. Yet, we should never let go of the joy and thankfulness of living. Most of all, we should be humble before the Lord even when we are in positions of authority so that we remember the One from whom all blessings flow.


March 19, 2024

“Yahweh, keep me from the hands of the wicked. Preserve me from the violent men who have determined to trip my feet. The proud have hidden a snare for me, they have spread the cords of a net by the path. They have set traps for me. Selah. I said to Yahweh, ‘You are my God.’ Listen to the cry of my petitions, Yahweh. Yahweh, the Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle.” Psalm 140:4-7, WEB

Joseph was a man, a carpenter in Nazareth, betrothed to a girl named Mary. Imagine his shock when this virgin became pregnant. What was he to do? Societal expectation meant she should be stoned for adultery. It was an embarrassing situation for Joseph. Yet, the Word of the Lord came to him and told him to take Mary as his wife, that the child was not conceived in the ordinary way. This decision to be obedient was a difficult one. It went against everything he knew as a good Jew, and it would bring him humiliation in the synagogue and with his peers.

Joseph’s troubles did not end there. He had to take his heavily pregnant wife a to register for the census in Bethlehem where there was no room in any of the inns. Soon after they arrived, Mary began to feel the pains of childbirth. Joseph found a kind innkeeper who allowed them to sleep in the stable, and Joseph acted as midwife at the child’s birth. He watched as kings and shepherds came to worship the child. Then an angel warned Joseph that Herod was sending soldiers to kill the infant king. He ran away from everything he knew to Egypt to protect this child. Through it all, Joseph never lost faith and remained obedient to the Word of God. He knew that God would guard him as he guarded his wife’s son.

I mentored a little girl in third grade when we lived in Little Rock. One day after spending some time alone together, we joined her classmates for lunch. They all gathered around, seeking the kind of attention my friend got every time I visited. The children asked me about my family and were surprised that I had been married to the same man for over 14 years. Most of these children came from broken homes, homes with missing or even abusive fathers. There were few that knew what it is like to have a loving father, one who takes care of his family.

Today is the day we commemorate the life of Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though we hear little about him in the Gospels and nothing during Jesus’ adult life, there is enough information to know that he was a faithful guardian. He took Mary as his wife after she was found pregnant, which was a sacrifice to his reputation and his personal welfare. He was most likely ridiculed for this decision, losing any respect he may have had by taking a fallen woman as his wife. He cared for the spiritual development of the child by presenting Jesus at the temple according to the law. He gave up any established business contacts he might have had by running off to Egypt for a few years to protect this child. He journeyed to Jerusalem for festivals as any righteous Jew would do. From what we see in the scriptures, Joseph made a good father.

There is a Sicilian tradition that remembers Joseph in the midst of the season of Lent. They combined the disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer by inviting the poor to a dinner called “St. Joseph’s Table.” The tradition began during the Middle Ages when there was severe drought in Italy. The prayers raised for rain were accompanied by promises to honor God and St. Joseph with a feast. The prayers were answered, rain fell, and the famine was over. So, the people held a great feast in the town square in gratitude to God for His blessings and the poor were invited to come eat their fill of the food offered. Today, the feast is still celebrated as an act of thanksgiving for prayers answered all around the world.

I began mentoring because I was blessed by a wonderful family, and I wanted to share that with a child. As it turned out, I adopted a whole class full of children to love. God blesses us for a reason, so that we might be a blessing to others. We need to be careful about making promises like those in Middle Ages who promised to feed the poor “IF” God answers prayer. God doesn’t work that way. He needs nothing from us, not even our promises. He answers our prayers according to His good and perfect will. However, though “St. Joseph’s Table” began that way, God honors those who give generously from their hearts of their harvest in thanksgiving to God.

God chose Joseph to be the earthly guardian of our Lord Jesus Christ. He blesses us to be a blessing, gives so that we might give, and loves us so that we will love one another. Joseph responded to God’s love by caring for that little baby in every way. During this season of Lent, let us remember God’s love for us and seek God’s grace to help us share that love with others.

King David wrote this psalm as a prayer for deliverance from his foes. David was a powerful man and had many enemies who were determined to destroy his kingdom and his life. Yet, David knew that God was his protector. Joseph was not a powerful man, but he was a man of faith who saw the troubled world around his tiny family. He did not have a great and powerful army to protect them. He trusted in God and obeyed his commands with practical use of the gifts given to him by God. Though little is said of Joseph beyond a few verses at the beginning of the Gospel narratives, Joseph has long been honored as the foster father of our Lord Jesus. God’s grace saw them through the extraordinary circumstances of this ordinary life. We are like Joseph, ordinary but loved by God, protected Him, and led by His Word through the difficulties of life, so that we can help others with our blessings.


March 20, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for March 24, 2024, Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion: Processional John 12:12-19/Passion Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

“Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11, WEB

Hindsight is twenty-twenty vision, so we know the whole story. We know what happens at the end. We know that even though Jesus died on the cross, He was raised and lives and in Him we have life. God exalted Him because He was obedient. The stories we hear during Holy Week are very familiar, but it is good for us to walk the journey again, waiting and watching as if we are ignorant of the future. Sometimes it is good to put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived it. They didn’t know what would happen on Easter. They didn’t even know on Palm Sunday what would happen by the end of the week.

Whispers of real danger were beginning to run through the people who were witnessing the actions of Jesus. He had done amazing things. The leaders were nervous because the people were crying out for a savior. They wanted a king that would save them from the Romans and make the nation great again. This kind of talk threatened the lives and lifestyles of those in control. It was not just selfishness and greed that made them hostile to Jesus; they knew a revolution would be dangerous to the nation of Israel.

They may have been afraid that they would lose their own power and authority, but they also perceived the danger Jesus posed to the nation of Israel and he wanted the council to consider everything. What they didn’t consider is that the path they were taking was exactly according to God’s plan. They thought that killing Jesus would end the danger. Killing Jesus would do something more extraordinary. These thoughts were already in their mind because Jesus seemed to be the Messiah for whom they were waiting, but He wasn’t the Messiah they expected.

According to Rabbinical tradition, there were three miracles that could only be accomplished by the Messiah. The first was the healing of a Jewish leper. Though the Torah gives a lengthy procedure for spiritual cleansing of a healed leper, there is no record of it ever being used. The scriptures tell us about Miriam’s leprosy and healing, as well as that of Naaman. However, Miriam lived before the Torah was given and Naaman was a foreigner. Jesus was the only one who ever healed a Jewish leper. (Luke 5)

The second Messianic miracle was the casting out of a dumb demon. Casting out demons was not all that rare, but there was a specific process that was followed. The exorcist had to establish communication with the demon and find out its name. Then the exorcist could then cast the demon out by commanding it by name to leave the person they were possessing. The religious leaders could not communicate with a dumb demon and so could not cast it out. Jesus, however, was able to do so. (Matthew 12)

The third Messianic miracle was to heal a man born blind. You might note that the man in the previous miracle was also blind, though we do not know if he was born that way. The disciples were curious about the man described by John; they wondered whose fault it was that he could not see. “Did he sin or did his parents sin?” Jesus answered that it was not caused by sin, but that God did it so that He would be glorified through the man’s life. Jesus glorified God as he healed the man born blind. This final of the three Messianic miracles should have opened the eyes of those who knew and understood the Law. (John 9)

The religious leaders were investigating Jesus from the first Messianic miracle. There was a process to authenticate the identity of the Messiah, just like the Catholic Church goes through a series of steps to decide whether a person can be canonized as a Saint. The religious leaders were following Jesus, asking questions, investigating to find the truth, but they had their own understanding of what the Messiah should look like. Instead of looking for the truth, they tried everything to prove that He was not actually the Messiah. He didn’t fit their expectations, and though Jesus accomplished the very miracles that they claimed only the Messiah could do, they refused to believe.

There was a fourth miracle found in the book of John that was beyond human ability: the raising of Lazarus. The Jews believed that a man’s soul left his body after three days in the tomb, and so it was impossible for him to be raised after that time. Jesus raised Lazarus on the fourth day. This particular miracle, or sign as John calls them, was the catalyst that set the end in motion. The religious leaders were threatened by Jesus, and they had to turn the course of events. This brings us to the moment of Jesus’ story that we hear on Sunday.

Then Jesus fed their concern. Instead of quietly slipping into Jerusalem for the Passover feast, Jesus came in a very public and extraordinary way. He fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament by arriving as a triumphant King, filling the people with such hope. But He wasn’t the kind of king that they expected. He is the King who was willing to spill His own blood to set us free from the real oppressor: sin and death. This is the reason for us to rejoice. Unfortunately, those who were there on the first Palm Sunday did not really understand the meaning of the Old Testament promise. They rejoiced as Jesus went into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, righteous and humble, because they thought that Jesus would deliver them from the Romans. They cheered as He entered the city, threw palms and cloaks along His path. They were unprepared for what would happen during the rest of the week. Even His disciples did not understand until after the Resurrection.

The leaders were worried on that first Palm Sunday because it seemed as though the world was willing to follow Jesus. The people cried out in celebration as He entered the city, praising God for finally sending the Messiah that would save them. The jubilation did not last very long, however, which we see in the story of Jesus’ Passion. They were easily turned by rumors and lies. They were shocked by the words and actions of Jesus during Holy Week. He did not act like one who was determined to take the throne. He acted like One who set His feet on a path that would lead to death. Wisdom incarnate was foolish in their minds and they looked for another who would do what they wanted and expected the Messiah to do.

My mom always said, “If you don’t give me flowers when I am alive, don’t bother to send any to my funeral.” She insisted that she’d rather enjoy the flowers while she is alive. “I can’t enjoy them after I’m dead!” She had plenty of flowers at her funeral, given by friends and loved ones, yet her request always made me wonder why we do so. Others must do so, also, because there are often requests for donations to be made to favorite charities in lieu of flowers.

There are several reasons why flowers are sent to funerals. First of all, in days long gone, the flowers helped to mask the smell of the decomposing body. Most bodies are now embalmed, so it isn’t as important, but we continue the practice because flowers also are a visual expression of love, sympathy, and respect. They are means of lending support and sharing the burden of grief. Some people have begun sending flowers or plants to the family rather than the funeral home so that they can be enjoyed.

Another reason for sending flowers is the image it conveys. One of the most beloved hymns for use in funerals is “In the Garden.” The flowers give a visual and olfactory impression of being there in the Garden, walking with the Lord as we wish our loved one a final farewell. An article I read said, “Flowers create a background of warmth and beauty which adds to the dignity and consolation of the funeral service. Those who have attended services where there were no flowers have expressed the feelings that something was missing... that the funeral was depressing.” Funerals are a time of sadness, but for those who are Christian it is also a time of joy. Flowers add to the celebration of life and remind us in the midst of our grief of the promise of new life.

The Gospel passage for this week begins in Bethany as Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon the leper. Mark’s version of this story has fewer details than the other Gospel writers, but we know that she had pure nard which she poured over his head. This perfume would have filled the room with an overwhelming scent. Some of the disciples were upset by the waste; Judas was upset about the cost of the perfume; he slipped out to betray Jesus.

Jesus used the experience as an opportunity to talk about His death. He told them to leave the woman alone and that her work was to prepare Him for what was to come. Anointing a body at death was a loving, intimate, and respectful ritual. As soon as a person was dead, they closed the eyes, gave their loved one a kiss, and washed the body. They often used perfumes like nard, myrrh, or aloe. The woman chose to do this before He was dead, and Jesus honored her sacrifice. I suppose, like my mom, He preferred to experience the love when He was alive rather than later when He would not experience it at all.

While the disciples were gathered at Simon’s house, the chief priests and teachers of the law were scheming about how to destroy Jesus’ ministry. They knew they needed to stop Jesus, but they also knew that they had do it in a way that would not set the crowds against them. The people were beginning to see Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the nation of Israel, and the leaders were concerned that the people would rebel if they did not act with caution. Judas went to see how he could help.

Many things happened between Palm Sunday and Maudy Thursday, but Mark next reports about the Lord’s Supper. This meal celebrates the Jewish festival that remembers the Exodus from Egypt, when the Passover lamb was slaughtered and eaten. This was a very special meal for the Jews. Jesus and His disciples were wanderers with no place of their own, so the disciples asked where Jesus wanted to celebrate. Jesus already had a plan; He already selected a place for them to gather. The disciples found everything as Jesus had said. At dinner, Jesus revealed that one of them would betray Him and one would deny Him. They couldn’t believe it, each denying that they would be the one. Despite the betrayal and denial, Jesus ate this special meal with those who still followed Him that day, sharing with them the hope of His presence in their lives, establishing the covenant of forgiveness and grace we still celebrate with bread and wine. Despite their commitment to Jesus, He told them that they would all fall away. Peter denied it, insisting that he would follow Jesus into death.

After the dinner, Jesus and His disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus wrangled between His human desire for life and His divine calling to die. He was obedient, but we see how closely Jesus’ identified with us. The disciples were facing a battle of their own against the effects of the huge dinner. In the peace of a cool evening in the garden, they kept falling asleep though Jesus needed them to be strong for Him. The third time He found them asleep, Judas returned with the crowds of soldiers.

Jesus was arrested and tried. The disciples went into hiding. Peter denied Jesus, just as Jesus said he would. Jesus faced the Sanhedrin and Pilate, the first unable to put Him to death, the second unwilling to do so. In the end, Pilate had no choice but to do what was meant to be done: Jesus was sent to the cross. Those last few steps were probably the most difficult of Jesus’ life. He was beaten and mocked, forced to carry His cross until He was unable to do so. On Golgotha, Jesus was nailed to a cross and raised for all to see. Even then, in those horrific moments, the people continued their cruelty. The soldiers cast lots for His clothes. The chief priests and teachers of the law insulted Him. They commanded Him to prove He was the Messiah by saving Himself.

His death came quickly. Mark gives us a few final words from Jesus. He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which Mark translates to mean, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The people gathered at the base of the cross misinterpreted His cry, thinking that He was calling for Elijah to save Him. He was remembering Psalm 22, in which David cried out as a godly sufferer; Jesus identified with the pain of David and all the people who suffer. It is a psalm of comfort, which gives hope to the sufferer in the midst of their trial by remembering the promises of God.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last breath. The curtain in the Temple was ripped from top to bottom, because God refused to be hidden away in the Holy of Holies. A Roman centurion who witnessed the death confessed that what they had witnessed was more than they realized by saying, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” The women followers of Jesus refused to leave Him alone even as His disciples went into hiding. They showed the strength to persevere as only mother, sisters, and female friends can show.

It was an important day in the Jewish calendar, so Jesus’ friends had to quickly put His body into a tomb. Joseph of Arimathea, an important member of the Sanhedrin, approached Pilate for the body. This was a surprise, considering the Sanhedrin were so intent on seeing Jesus humiliated and killed. However, not all the leaders agreed with the verdict. Some believed in Jesus. In the end, Joseph was willing to risk his power and position for the sake of justice. They quickly wrapped Jesus in a cloth and placed him in a new tomb. The women watched where He was laid so that they could return after the holy day and take care of Jesus’ body.

It is a long story to read, but it is worth taking time this week to read it again. The story of Jesus’ Passion has been presented in many ways, by many people, with their own vision of those events. Perhaps the most famous right now is the movie “The Passion of the Christ” that was created by Mel Gibson. It is hard to watch a movie that shows so much pain and suffering of the One we love, and yet it is a powerful film to reminds us of what Jesus really went through for our sakes. What do you hear and see when you read the story? What moments stand out for you? If you were to make a film, what form would it take? Which characters do you identify with? Where is the triumph? Where is the defeat? Who is in control? What promises do we see fulfilled? Where is the grace?

During the reading of the Passion story, we look at the events of that horrific week. Jesus suffered in so many ways. He was harassed, rejected, betrayed, and denied. He was beaten almost to death and experienced the physical pain of being nailed to a cross. You might think that nothing could be worse than that but imagine knowing that God has turned His back on you! Jesus took upon His shoulders the weight of the world’s sin which made it impossible for God to look upon His beloved Son. We see His Jesus’ human nature when He cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?.” He may have suffered the pain of all His wounds for hours, but He suffered most during that that one moment when He was truly alone.

God’s plan seemed uncharacteristic, unmerciful, and unloving, but Jesus continued in the path set by His Father. He did not save Himself even though the crowd shouted that He should. Instead, He gave a loud cry and died. He suffered the ultimate abandonment in the moment when He needed God the most, and He did it willingly. He was not willing to follow the cries of the crowd. They were fickle, following every wind. They did not know what they were doing. He had to die for God’s promises to be complete. His amazing grace was realized through the most incredible act of sacrifice: the beloved Son, the proven Messiah, the Priest-King, offered Himself as the Lamb of God for the forgiveness of all sin for all men in all time.

Jesus could have done everything the disciples suggested. He could have called down legions of angels to defeat the Romans. He could have pushed Herod off the throne. He could have even defeated Tiberius and toppled the entire Roman Empire. But that was not His purpose. He humbled Himself even unto death, giving up the glory of heaven for the torture of the cross to serve you and me. We did not deserve His love and grace; we will never deserve His love and grace. He did not do it to reward us for our goodness. He did it because our Father the Creator made us good and though we were the ones who were unfaithful, He desired restoration. God sent Jesus so that we could be saved from ourselves, forgiven for our sins, and set free from sin and death to live in His Kingdom forever.

God set us apart as Christians, but not above others. We are set apart because through faith we have been forgiven and made new. But that does not mean we can lord over those who have not yet found Jesus Christ. We aren’t appointed as their judges or called to force them into our way of living. It is not for us to strive to be anyone’s spiritual guide or father. Faith in Jesus makes us servants of God who are sent into the world to share His grace. The people wanted to appoint Jesus as King, but He didn’t come to be an earthly ruler. He didn’t come to take over the Temple and be the High Priest. He didn’t come to be set on a pedestal and worshipped as a god-figure in this world. He came to serve and to teach us to be humble like Him.

That’s why Paul writes, “Have this in your mind...” Jesus Christ was God but gave up equality with God to become one of us. He experienced what we experienced. He was tempted as we are tempted. He experienced hunger, thirst, pain, and heartache. His feet got tired. His humility is what saved us; His obedience is not only an example for us to imitate but is the very foundation of the salvation that God has promised to all who believe.

Jesus proved Himself to be the One God sent, though many throughout history have ignored or rejected the truth. And though He was God in flesh, He gave up the glory of heaven to glorify His Father by being obedient to His will.

We are to have the same humility in our own lives, taking on the nature of a servant. We cannot follow Jesus to the cross, but we can humble ourselves and become obedient to God’s will for each of us. The answers to our prayers might include humiliation, persecution, and suffering. It might even include death, but we willingly accept all these circumstances because Jesus did it first for our sake. Now we can see Him exalted, as was written in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The psalmist wrote, “Open to me the gates of righteousness. I will enter into them. I will give thanks to Yah. This is the gate of Yahweh; the righteous will enter into it.” Who are the righteous? In the days of Jesus, the “righteous” were the ones who had the power, who had the appearance of righteousness. They knew the scriptures and they knew Law. Yet they did not know God. They did not recognize Him in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. They rejected Jesus; they cast Him away to the cross.

We are Easter people, given life because He was raised, but the Passion is too important to ignore. If we truly listen to the story, we see the incredible suffering and degradation that Jesus underwent for our sake. This will cut us to the heart, bring us to our knees and cause us to cry out for mercy and forgiveness. After all, we are as guilty as those who rejected Him two thousand years ago. We were there, not in flesh, but in the same nature of those who actually witnessed the events. We need to experience it, too, to truly understand our sinfulness and receive the grace of God’s answers to our prayers. He will deliver us from the hand of our enemies. Jesus remained faithful. He did not fail when the world cried out for Him to take the throne or save Himself. He faced the suffering of the cross with boldness; He even faced the abandonment of His Father. He calls us to be faithful, humbly accepting the answers He gives to our prayers even when they don’t fit our expectations. He just might not do it the way we want Him to.

As we walk through Holy Week, reflect on the Passion story. Hear God’s grace in the midst of the horror. Feel the pain that Jesus experienced both in His body and in His spirit. Walk with Him, remembering that Jesus did it all for you and me.

One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Until then, we are called to have the same mind as Christ, putting God’s will ahead of everything else. We are called to live as Christ, willingly giving ourselves for the sake of others. This is the life of thanksgiving we are called to live. He is our salvation because He willingly gave Himself for us on the cross.


March 21, 2024

“Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, WEB

You’ve heard it said, “She looks at the world through rose colored glasses. Some people see the glass as half full. There’s a silver lining in every cloud. We can make lemonade out of the lemons. We look at the shelves at the local bookstore, or on the Internet and we’ll see that there are many reports, books, and articles about positive thinking. It has been suggested that negative thoughts can affect our lives negatively, so we should try to keep those words out of our heads and out of our mouths.

This is true not only in what happens in our lives, but also in how we see other people. If we think negatively about the people in our lives, they will appear to be that way. The mean boss will seem to be mean no matter what they do; we view any acts of kindness skeptically. We blame the neighbor we’ve described as “loud” even if the noise comes from someplace else. If we think someone is a liar, everything they say will be a lie. If we think someone is greedy, we will think that everything they do is motivated by greed.

When we see people only through these negative eyes, we can’t see anything good about them. We find it even worse when someone else can see the positive. Those who see in life only the glad things in every situation seem Pollyannaish to us. We think those people who see the world through rose colored glasses are naïve or dangerous. We want our “truth” to be known; we want to convince others of the negative. If there is mercy and grace, then there might be forgiveness and a chance for a new point of view. We get so caught up in our opinion of others, we would rather not allow others to see them differently.

The problem is that from a Christian point of view, the negative gives us an excuse for not sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we think they are beyond redemption, then we will not share the Gospel with them. Even worse, if we can’t find forgiveness, then we will not want them to be saved. We will keep them in the dark because we do not want them to have the light.

In Christ, however, we are called to look at people through a different point of view. Instead of seeing them in the flesh - in their failures and in their sin - we are called to see them through the eyes of Christ. We are to see them through the power of the cross, with mercy and grace. If we think someone is beyond redemption, we’ll never bother to share the Redeemer. We might even make up excuses for doing so, claiming they will not listen, refusing to “force our religion”, saying that we don t want to force our religion, supposing that we can’t change the spots on a leopard.

But Christ calls us to see others through His eyes, what I like to call “Jesus-colored glasses.” We are to have hope for them even when they seem to be beyond hope. When we do, we willingly share God’s grace and love them as Jesus loves them. It might seem naive to the world, but a kind word might just help someone begin to change. We might even realize that we are the ones who need to change At the very least, we will look at them from a new point of view and discover that they aren’t so bad after all.


March 22, 2024

“Now I would not have you ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. However with most of them, God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Don’t be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ Let’s not commit sexual immorality, as some of them committed, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell. Let’s not test Christ, as some of them tested, and perished by the serpents. Don’t grumble, as some of them also grumbled, and perished by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall. No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, WEB

I hated history when I was in school. It seemed useless to me to have to learn all those people, places, and dates. What good purpose was there in knowing what someone did a thousand years ago? After all, their culture and circumstances are much different than ours today. It even seemed silly to study history from just a few years ago. After all, what is past is past and we should dwell on things that cannot be changed but look forward to the future.

I had the same opinion of the Old Testament books of the Bible when I was younger. What good did it do to read those stories of Israel? Their culture and circumstances were so different than ours today. After all, things are different for those who live in Christ. Jesus restored our relationship to God, offering through His blood the grace and forgiveness that gives us true life. The stories we learned in Sunday School were fun, but they aren’t good for much else, are they?

They say that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. We study the things of the past, what worked and what didn’t work, to help guide our decisions for the future. The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun, and this is most certainly true in every aspect of human nature. American culture is not much different than other prosperous civilizations in ages past. Our political system was established based on ancient examples. Military, education, and welfare policies were founded on principles used many times before. If we refuse to recall the lessons learned throughout history, we will continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Just as ancient history is important for us to know and understand to keep from falling into the same traps, so too is the Old Testament witness important for Christians. Jesus is found in every book of the Bible, even the Old Testament. The Israelites had Christ before them, reflections of the promise to come. They were given the manna as a promise of Jesus, who is the Bread of life. Water flowed from the rock, foreseeing the Living water that is Christ. Yet they did not remain faithful to the One who fulfilled their needs. As we look back on those stories, we are reminded that Christ is the solid rock on whom we stand and get our strength. When we are tested, as the Israelites were tested in the desert, we are warned from their example to turn to God. Let’s not let history repeat itself in our lives; we need to learn from the past and stand firm for the future. Thanks be to God, who is faithful to His promises. He has provided a way out, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


March 25, 2024

“Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has looked at the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is for generations and generations on those who fear him. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty. He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.” Luke 1:46-55, WEB

In the final moments of His life, as He hung on a cross, Jesus spoke words that have been indelibly stamped on our hearts and minds. He began with words of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” This word of forgiveness was for the whole of humankind, meant for each of us because we so often do not know that our actions are the very reason that Jesus died on the cross. He answered the criminal’s confession of faith by saying “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This is a more personal word of forgiveness for those who repent and look to Jesus for hope.

The pain must have been excruciating as Jesus hung only by nails in His wrists and feet. He’d been beaten and humiliated. He cried out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus felt very alone. Yet, even as He was crying out in pain, He was also turning to the word of God, perhaps quoting the psalms for strength. This word comes from Psalm 22, a song of anguished prayer. He said, “I thirst,” and though God was always in control of every moment, Jesus still had very real human needs to be met. At the end, Jesus cried “It is finished.” We can ponder what He meant. Did He mean His life? Did He mean His ministry? Did He mean the work of redemption He was sent to do? Whatever He meant, He then commended His spirit into the hands God, His Father.

Despite His pain and humiliation, Jesus spoke specifically to people He loved. Jesus’ mother and His beloved friend John stood at the foot of the cross watching Him suffer. Seeing their grief, Jesus said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” To the disciple He said, “Behold, your mother!” John took Mary into His home and cared for her from that day. Even as He was dying, Jesus cared about the needs of others.

Mary was the one person who was there from the beginning to the end. Today, March 25, is the day that we traditionally celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord, the announcement to Mary that she would bear the Son of God in her womb. (Since this is Holy Week, it has been moved to April 8th.) It is also the day that has traditionally been believed to have been the actual day that Jesus was crucified, making it a day of both the beginning of His life and the end. Mary knew from the beginning that her son would face that day, for it was prophesied to her at Jesus’ circumcision and Mary willingly accepted God’s grace and purpose, though it seemed unbelievable.

We are told repeatedly that Mary treasured the things that were happening in her heart; I wonder if she treasured the cross in her heart. There at the foot of her son’s suffering and pain, a sword pierced her own heart as Simeon foretold in the Temple when Jesus was just a baby. She’d had a lifetime to ponder the moment that no mother ever wants to see. Yet, it was there at the foot of Jesus’ cross that Mary truly saw how much her Son loved her God and His world; there she saw her Savior and the redemption of Israel. Very soon we will stand with Mary, pondering the sacrificial love of Jesus as He carried our burdens to the cross. As we walk these final days with Jesus, pray for ears to hear His words of forgiveness and embrace the hope that one day we, too, will be with Him in paradise.


March 26, 2024

“You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience. We also all once lived among them in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10, WEB

What would you do if you knew that you knew you were going to die? How would you spend your last hours or days? If you were physically able, would you take that long desired trip? Would you spend it with family or friends? Would you eat all your favorite foods? Would you try to make things right with God? He probably did not say it, but Martin Luther is attributed with saying, “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!” The implication is that even if we knew our end was near, we should continue to live in hope that God can make good things happen tomorrow.

Jesus knew He only had days to live. He knew the plan of God was for Him to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders, to go to the cross to defeat that which defeats us: sin and death. He knew that everything He did this week would take Him a little closer to the inevitable. This was as it was meant to be. Yet, I wonder what we would have done. Would we have toppled the tables at the Temple? Would we have argued with the religious leaders? Would we have even gone out in public? Would we try to put off the end because we thought there was more to accomplish?

Jesus may not have planted a tree, but He continued to do what He came to do. He cleansed the Temple. He taught the people. He prayed. He gave His disciples a way to remember Him. He stood against the powers that were determined to stop Him. They didn’t know that they were doing just what God intended. He didn’t come to sit on a throne or change the daily circumstances of the people of Israel. He came to save the world, and though His death was just days away, He continued on the path that would lead Him to the cross. How many more people might have believed if Jesus spent a few more days teaching and healing? Were there not more people to be raised and demons to cast out? Surely a few more days would not have mattered. Couldn’t Jesus have waited until the next Passover so that His disciples would have more time to prepare for their ministry?

We can’t possibly answer the question of what we would do if we knew when we would die or when the world will end because we do not know when these things will happen. We should plant a tree today, because hope is alive and visible when we trust that God will make good things happen each day. Jesus didn’t doubt that He was on the right path. We are shocked that Jesus would topple the tables and argue with the leaders, but those actions took Him to where He needed to go. He knew what would happen, but He did it all so that we would have the hope that comes with His resurrection. We continued to be shocked and sad as we remember the story of Jesus’ Passion, but we can trust that He knew and accomplished this work for us anyway, because that was what His Father sent Him to do so that we will die to sin and be raised with Him. Jesus went through His Passion to save us by His grace so that by faith we will be His forever.


March 27, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for March 31, 2024, Resurrection of Our Lord: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

“It shall be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God! We have waited for him, and he will save us! This is Yahweh! We have waited for him. We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation!’” Isaiah 25:9, WEB

In the military, a person’s death cannot be officially announced until the next of kin is given the news. This also happens when someone dies outside a medical facility. The protocol is unique to each situation, but it most often includes an in person visit, with more than one uniformed person, whether military or police. An officer, often accompanied by a chaplain, will knock on the door. Imagine being the one to open it seeing several people in uniform standing on the doorstep. We know the news they bring is not happy. Military spouses pray that we would never have to face that horrifying experience. The experience is no easier for those who are sent to deliver the bad news. Who wants such a responsibility?

Isn’t it funny how we are equally careful with our good news? How many women with the knowledge of a pregnancy have to hide their joy until they tell all the right people? She can’t tell Aunt Gertrude before she tells Mother, because Mother will be upset that she wasn’t the first to know. A man can’t tell his co-workers about a fabulous new job until he’s told his boss that he has to resign. Good news is meant to be shared, but sometimes we have to hold on to our news until we’ve shared it with the people who matter most.

The story of Easter, the rising of Christ out of death into new life, is something that everyone should hear. We wonder why Jesus didn’t just show up in the marketplace or standing on the pinnacle of the Temple. Wouldn’t it have been easier, and more impactful for Him to do something spectacular in front of all the people in Jerusalem to ensure that the reality of His death and life was understood by all? As it happened, many people doubted the story they heard. The Romans thought the Jews had stolen the body. The Jews thought the disciples had stolen the body. It seems like those who doubted would have been silenced quickly if only they’d seen Him with their own eyes. But Jesus was very careful about who witnessed His resurrection.

Holy Week is an incredibly busy and stressful time for most churches. There are extra services with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, sometimes an Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday usually includes extra worship. We expect something spectacular on Easter Sunday, with flowers gracing the sanctuary and special music. The church pews will be overflowing with people, many of whom only see the inside of a church at Easter and Christmas. It is important that we give them the Good News, done well. I don’t want to say that it is about presenting an impressive show that will make them want to return, but it is the reality of the world in which we live. We have a brief window to give people the Gospel that can change their lives, and it is stressful to plan worship that speaks to them in a way that shares the faith that brings us peace and hope, the faith we hope they will receive so that they might be saved.

The first Easter morning was much different, but no less stressful. Imagine what it must have been for the women. They watched Jesus die a horrific death just a few days before. They were alone to suffer their grief. His body had to be laid in the tomb quickly so as not to make the most holy day unclean. They were not able to do for Jesus’ body all that was their gift to do. Of all people, He deserved the physical anointing of those costly oils that would help stave off the odors of decomposition.

The anointing is not really that important for the dead, but it is vital for the living. I once heard a story about a person who died at home under the care of a hospice nurse. The family was nearby and when the person died the nurse took out some ointment and began to prepare the body. She asked the family if they wanted to help and showed them how to carefully rub the oil into the body. The family members were unsure at first, but eventually moved to the bedside and began the task. They were amazed at how soothing and comforting it was to do this for their loved one. In anointing the body, they were able to share in that last moment and say good-bye in a most beautiful way. The smell and sensation of the oils calmed them in this moment when their world seemed to end.

In the stress of Holy Week, it is almost shocking to read the scripture for Easter Sunday. It seems like the passage for Easter Sunday should be more dramatic, like it is in Matthew with earthquakes, angels, and terrific Roman soldiers. Instead, Mark gives us a glimpse of normal people attending to the normal tasks of those dealing with grief and loss. They are talking amongst themselves as they approach the tomb, asking a simple question about how they’ll get the stone moved so they can do their work. There is nothing special or hurried about the moment.

The outcome in Mark’s story is not what we would expect, either. In this text we are left dazed and confused. The women were not excited about the words they heard from the man in the tomb, they were frightened. They did not go immediately to the disciples and tell them what they found; they stayed quiet. We know that the story was shared, or we wouldn’t be celebrating the Easter miracle this Sunday. Slowly, but surely, as we read the accounts from all the Evangelists and other writers, Jesus was revealed as risen and alive to those He loved and to many others. In the passage from 1 Corinthians, Paul gives us a list of the witnesses: Peter and the disciples, a large gathering of the faithful, Jesus’ half-brother James, and the ones Jesus sent out to do the work He had begun. Paul lists himself as the last and least of all the witnesses because he saw Jesus much later and only after he had persecuted the believers.

We join that list, not as witnesses of His appearance two thousand years ago, but as witnesses to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of those who believe. We gather in church on Easter Sunday to celebrate this incredible truth. For many, this is a day meant to be solemn and holy. This is how one reporter defined Easter Sunday worship in a news story I heard a few years ago. Defined properly, this is very true. Unfortunately, the reporter was using the terms to mean that Easter worship is sober, somber, and grave with serious formality. It is a holy day, set aside for us to celebrate something incredible and special, and yet the reporter made it sound like it was all too good and extraordinary for ordinary people. What average person can stand amidst the holy and who wants to be grave and serious on a day filled with chocolate bunnies, Easter eggs, and Peeps?

It is true that Easter Sunday is a solemn and holy day, but not because it is formal, somber, and untouchable. It is sacred because it is God’s incredible gift for His people. It is the celebration that everything holy has been made accessible. It is joyous because there is no longer a wall between God and His people. Jesus broke the barrier between humankind and the divine. He restored our relationship with God and we mark that reconciliation with a party. Actually, we mark that reconciliation every Sunday as we remember and celebrate the risen Lord every week, but we have set aside Easter as a special festival day as we complete the story begun on Palm Sunday.

Why would the reporter think that Easter Sunday worship is solemn and holy? Or the better question is: why did she interpret that to mean it is somber and beyond the reach of the average person? I don’t know. Maybe it is the beautiful lilies we use to decorate that make the sanctuary smell like a funeral parlor. Perhaps it is the incredible nature of the Easter story of a guy who died and rose again. For the rational mind this is beyond the possibility of reality. Perhaps it has to do with the expectation that everyone will arrive in brand new dresses and starched suits. Maybe the impression of the reporter comes from the idea that Christians are better or more spiritual than others.

I suppose in some ways the world sees our Easter worship as the opposite of the worldly celebration of Easter. They have Easter bunnies and eggs, chocolate, and jellybeans. They have egg hunts and carnivals, feasts of ham and buffets with champagne. They have joy and happiness, we have church. Of course, we have all those fun things, too, but we have something more. What the world misses is that our joy is not from a sugar high or a belly full of good food. We go to church on Easter Sunday to rejoice and to thank God for the fulfillment of His promises. It is a sacred joy that can’t be found in Easter baskets and egg hunts. It is the joy of knowing that the world has been made new by the most incredible act of God. The world has been changed forever, and we are called to live as Easter people from this day on. As we live as Easter people, the world will see that it isn’t about somberness and perfection. It is about living in the forgiveness of God’s grace forever.

When we worship, we look forward to a feast greater than anything experienced on earth. In the passage from Isaiah, we hear the praise of the nations as they rejoice, “Behold, this is our God! We have waited for him, and he will save us! This is Yahweh! We have waited for him. We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation!” Isaiah promises an extraordinary feast with the best of everything, and this feast is not for a few special people. It is for all who believe. The praise comes not just from the voice of the Jewish people, but it is the voice of all who trust in God for salvation. It is a future hope, but it also a present reality. In the Lord’s Supper, we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ a foretaste of the feast to come, a physical reminder of the promise. We gather to celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ. While it is sacred and holy, it not sober, somber, or grave. It is filled with joy and blessedness. Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! These words of rejoicing give us peace.

What is peace? We certainly can’t find it in the papers or on the nightly news programs. When we turn on the TV or scroll through our social media we are bombarded with information from home and abroad of violence, destruction, and loss of life. There seems to be no peace in our world today.

What is peace? Jesus knew peace. He didn’t live without threats of violence. One day the crowd tried to stone Him. The temple leaders accused Him of blaspheme and insurrection. He faced large crowds of hungry people with only a few fish and some bread without worry. He touched the sick, spoke to the outcasts, and ate with the sinners though they were all considered unworthy. He faced His trial without fear; He spoke only the words necessary despite threats from His accusers. He was crucified on a cross, but He had peace, the peace that comes from knowing God is close.

What peace are we praying for? Peace is not the lack of violence; violence is brought on by a lack of peace. The unending cycle of attack and retaliation will only be stopped when the hearts of the warriors find true peace. We have that peace; Christ’s peace is the assurance that God is with us, that He is at our right hand so that we will not be moved. We live in that peace singing praise and thanksgiving to God and we have been called to share that peace. God works in the hearts of those who are lost through our witness so that they will be transformed into people who trust in Him rather than seek their own kind of peace with weapons and threats.

Jerusalem wanted peace. The leaders of the Jews thought the status quo was good enough. They weren’t, perhaps, quite as independent as the nation under King David, but they were given enough freedom to live their Jewish faith. They feared insurrection because they believed the Romans would use it as an excuse to destroy what was left of their nation. They settled for their own power and prestige and knew that they would lose the most if there was a fight. Jesus wasn’t good for their future. Sometimes God gives darkness its moment so that the Light will shine ever more brightly.

The Good News is meant to be shared with others, but also with one another. This is why we gather to worship, so that we can confess our faith as one voice, to be encouraged to take the joy of Easter into the world.

From the earliest days of the Christian faith, believers gathered together to share their witness and confess their beliefs in Jesus. It did not take very long before they were praying familiar prayers or repeating the words of Jesus. Since much of their religious experience came from the Old Testament writings, we can even see their hymns by reading the Psalms. The letters of the Apostles were shared over and over again, establishing proper understanding of this new revelation of God. They began to form creeds, poetry, and songs that brought together the doctrines they had learned in a way they could easily remember and teach. By repeating these confessions of faith, the Gospel truth became deeply imbedded in their hearts and minds. When asked about their Christian faith, they could easily share the message in words that were seen as credible because the whole Church shared them.

Scholars generally agree that the passage from Paul is one of the earliest Christian creeds. It has been around since the earliest days of the church, having become a part of Christian worship within just a few years of Jesus’ death. By sharing this simple statement about the death, resurrection and appearance of Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord, the truth of salvation was written on the hearts and minds of the believers, giving them the strength and knowledge to continue Jesus’ work of calling people into the Kingdom of God.

The Gospel passage from Mark is hard to read because it ends so abruptly. The final sentence says, “They went out, and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come on them. They said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid.” The women were too afraid to say anything to the others. Obviously, someone figured it out. Matthew and Luke tell us that they did tell the disciples. John tells the story from Mary’s perspective. But in Mark, we are left hanging.

There are eight more verses that neatly tie up the story, but there is some controversy over whether those verses were part of the original text. There is another verse that is found between verses 8 and 9 in some manuscripts, that says, “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Again, this verse helps to alleviate the abruptness of Mark’s story.

These verses are helpful, but ending at verse 8 serves a purpose, especially for those who heard Mark’s story in the beginning. See, Mark was a storyteller. It is thought that he was reporting the story through Peter’s eyes. It began orally, a story shared over and over again among the believers, and it developed over time. Mark was young, the son of the woman who welcomed Jesus and His disciples in the Upper Room for the Passover meal that instituted the Eucharist. He was surrounded by the faithful when Jesus died and rose again. The disciples hid in the Upper Room when they thought it was all over.

You know how it is: when someone we love dies, we tell stories. “Do you remember that time when Jesus...?” “Jesus always liked to say...” They worked out their grief through those stories just as we do. They worked out their understanding through those stories. And the storytelling surely went on after Jesus appeared to them, and then long afterward. Mark knew as he listened to Peter and the disciples that the experience of being with Jesus was something to be shared. Mark overheard their stories, learned them by heart, and then repeated them to others. He could not believe in Jesus and remain silent. Neither can we.

Mark put all those stories into writing so that they could be shared with the growing groups of believers. I can imagine a group of people sitting around a living room, anxiously waiting to hear about the One that was raised from the dead. They were seekers in search of the truth. As Mark tells the story, we are held mesmerized by the immediacy of Jesus’ ministry. We sit on the edge of our seats in hopeful expectation. We can sense the fear and amazement of the disciples. We can feel the anger of the leaders. We are aware of the confusion and doubt in the crowds.

And then, after about two hours of storytelling, Mark says, “They went out, and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come on them. They said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid.” How would you react? I can see those first listeners erupting with questions and opinions. What happened next!?! Something had to happen after the women were afraid or we would not be Christian today.

But let us, for a moment, see that by ending so abruptly, Mark was inviting the hearers into the story. What happens next? Suppose you are like those women at the tomb. What do YOU do? Do you take the story to another, or do you run and hide out of fear? Do you join Mark, Peter, and Paul as witnesses so that others might believe?

We might think we have no credibility. Why should anyone listen to us? Like those women, who were not considered respectable witnesses, we may think we have nothing worth saying. Even Paul had reason to doubt whether anyone would listen to him. After all, he had persecuted the Christians.

Paul wrote that his word could be believed because it had been given to him by Jesus, just as it had been given to all the apostles who had been witnesses not only to the resurrection but also to the life of Jesus. He is also credible because he used the Old Testament promises and prophecies given by God to prove that Jesus was who He said He was. The thing we celebrate this week is not some holiday that comes just one Sunday a year filled with candy and bunnies and eggs. It is the culmination of God speaking to His world, fulfilling His promises fully and faithfully. It is Good News that has been passed to us by all those who came before, and now it is our turn to experience and share the joy that comes with Easter.

When we are preparing our activities for our churches, we often ask ourselves, “What are they looking for?” We want to know what our visitors want so that we can encourage them to return. People may want Easter egg hunts and BBQs, basketball leagues and teen dances, and they may be fun, but they will never be transformed by our programs and activities. The chances we have to reach those who do not believe are so rare, but the Good News has the power to create faith in hearts that need that which is sacred and holy, joyful and blessed. Programs and activities might bring people to the pews of our churches, but they will never save a soul. Only Jesus can do that. We need to tell His story, not only in our worship but in our daily lives. Only Jesus can give us feed us the feast that has been promised to us on Mount Zion, the feast that will last forever. Behold, this is our God who has saved us. Let us rejoice! Alleluia!


March 28, 2024

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and severely troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me.’ He went forward a little, fell on his face, and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire.’ He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, a second time he went away and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cup can’t pass away from me unless I drink it, your desire be done.’ He came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. He left them again, went away, and prayed a third time, saying the same words. Then he came to his disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let’s be going. Behold, he who betrays me is at hand.’” Matthew 26:36-46, WEB

We celebrate many important and holy days throughout the Christian calendar. Christmas and Easter are certainly on the top of our list, and we see the importance of these days in the attendance reports. Churches are often overflowing with members and visitors, or they schedule extra services to accommodate the crowds. Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday are also well attended. Though not really a religious holiday, the pews on Mother’s Day are often filled with grown children honoring their mothers. There are other days that are important but are not as well celebrated as the major feasts and festivals. Ascension happens on a Thursday, and many churches do not even hold a service on that day. Pentecost and Holy Trinity are important, and fairly well attended, although they often fall during summer vacation. Sadly, most Christians do not even pay attention to these last few special days or their importance to our faith and our walk with Jesus.

Today we begin the Triduum, the Three Days. These are the days that fall before Easter, holy days in the story of Jesus’ life, death, and teaching. Most churches will hold some sort of service for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. These services will not draw as many people as Easter Sunday. It is harder to get to church on a weeknight; we are so busy with our lives. Late nights at work and rush hour traffic jams make it difficult to get to church on time. Our children are so active with school and after school activities that we simply can't commit to another night out. Besides, who wants to face the emotions of the last supper and the cross? We prefer the joy of Triumph that we experience on Palm Sunday and Easter. The pain of sacrifice makes us uncomfortable.

However, these next three days, no matter how uncomfortable they make us, are the most important days in the Christian church year, perhaps even more important than Christmas and Easter. Without the cross, there would be no resurrection, and no need to celebrate the birth. We need to watch our Lord take our sin upon His shoulders on Good Friday to truly understand what it means to be saved. We need to mourn, wait, and watch with the disciples through the Easter Vigil to truly experience the surprise of Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday, today, is perhaps the best day of all. As we worship on this day, we experience intimacy with our Father as Jesus makes a new covenant with us. At the table, Jesus invites us to experience a foretaste of the wedding feast that we’ll enjoy for eternity.

Jerusalem was bustling with preparation for the Passover feast. This is the day many had waited for, the Day of Deliverance. Those that surrounded Jesus saw Passover as the ideal time for Him to grasp His kingship. This would have great meaning to the Jews, making a connection to Moses and the deliverance out of slavery from Egypt. The Messiah was to come and save the people, so throughout the week as Passover grew near, the people expected something incredible to happen.

The disciples asked Jesus where they were to celebrate the Passover feast. As usual, the preparation was in the hands of God, and Jesus gave them instructions; He told them where to go and who to see. As the evening drew close, the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, ready to celebrate this meaningful night with their Lord.

The evening did not go as they hoped. Rather than speak about being a king, Jesus spoke of being a servant. He spoke of death, betrayal, and denial. Peter, as typical of his nature, made great claims of his love for Jesus and his willingness to even die. Jesus told him that he would, that very evening, deny Him three times. Jesus knew Judas was the betrayer and was clearly in control as He told Judas to do the task quickly. The disciples were confused and became agitated as the vision they had of a kingdom began to fall apart before their eyes. Even though Jesus knew He would be betrayed and denied, He comforted His disciples and told them to submit to God and one another in sacrificial love.

Jesus didn’t just talk about that love, He loved. At the supper, He removed His cloak, wrapped a towel around His waist and got on His knees to wash their feet. This was a menial task that only the lowliest servant would do. Peter was so incensed by the action he rejected Jesus with the words, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus persisted because it was by His example that He showed them what they were expected to do. “For I have given you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you. Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither is one who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” The disciples were specially chosen and Jesus gave them a model they were called to follow, not of greatness, but of humble service to those to whom they would take the Gospel.

After washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus instituted a new covenant of faith. The Passover Seder was a meal to remember the deliverance of the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. It was highly symbolic, recalling the bitterness and affliction, as well as the rebirth and joy of their new life of freedom. The people celebrated Passover each year in expectation that the Messiah would come soon. There was great hope at this celebration because the people believed they had found the one who would free them from the oppression of the Romans.

The catalyst that sent many of Jesus’ followers away was His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They did not understand how He could say such things because their law instructed believers to avoid human flesh and to never drink blood. How could they do such things when God commanded them against it? How could Jesus be from God and tell them that the only way to live is to do so?

Jesus never promised that He'd be king. Rather, He made the promised New Covenant with His people through the elements of the Passover meal. He took the bread, gave thanks to God, and gave it for all to eat. He said He is the bread of life, so we can trust that His body is truly and substantially in, with, and under the bread of the sacrament, and we remember Him as we eat. After the supper He took the Seder cup of redemption, gave thanks, and gave it to all to drink. “All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.” We are forgiven by the shedding of His blood. This meal fulfilled His shocking words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood; at the table, Jesus offered a foretaste of the eternal banquet we will join when we, too, are raised into eternal life with Christ. On Maundy Thursday we join together in sharing this meal, recalling the words of His promise, and obeying the command to eat and drink the body and blood given for the remission of sin.

During the celebration, several of the disciples got into an argument about who would be the greatest among them in the kingdom. Even at this late hour, after all Jesus had spoken to them about sacrificial love, they still sought the power of this world. Yet, even in the betrayal, denial, and pride of the disciples, Jesus still had control. As He comforted them, He gave them the final, most important command of all, to love one another. That’s how the world will know that they are His disciples.

After the dinner was complete, Jesus took the disciples to Gethsemane so that He could spend time in prayer. It is at this moment that Jesus Christ makes the final and most incredible act of submission to His Father’s will. His prayer was so intense that His sweat was like droplets of blood. Jesus, as human as you and me even as He is divine, sought His Father’s mercy but willingly consented to do what was required. The disciples still did not understand what was about to happen; instead of watching and waiting, they fell asleep. The ministry of Jesus Christ was about to close in a most painful and horrible manner, yet He stood and walked right into the hands of His betrayer.

To be continued...


March 29, 2024

“Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom we also have our access by faith into this grace in which we stand. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were yet weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man. Yet perhaps for a good person someone would even dare to die. But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:1-8, WEB

The events of Maundy Thursday meld into Good Friday. After praying in Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested and taken to be tried. He was given over by the hands, and kiss, of His friend Judas. The next few hours were chaotic, and the world seemed to be in control. Jesus was lead before the chief priest and the Roman governor. He was questioned, mocked, and beaten. The disciples hovered nearby, too scared to do anything to help their teacher. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times while warming himself in the courtyard.

It had been approximately thirty-three years since the birth of Jesus. He spent His last three years sharing the Kingdom of God with the people. He did many incredible things: He healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed thousands. He even raised the dead. He preached a lost truth to the people: that God is merciful, full of forgiveness and love. He also taught that following Him would not be easy, that He demands much from our lives.

Peter tried to stop the arrest by swinging his sword; a guard was injured but Jesus healed the wound. The will of God would not be hindered by the desires of men. Jesus appeared before Caiaphas, the chief priest, so that the Sanhedrin could find some crime worthy of death. By Roman law, the Jews could not put a man to death. They found him guilty of blasphemy.

The disciples scattered. They hid in the crowds, trying to see each moment, but afraid of being discovered. Peter warmed himself over a fire, trying to fit into the crowd. Three people approached him and claimed they had seen him with Jesus. Three times, Peter denied knowing him, just as Jesus said. After the final denial, a rooster crowed, and Jesus looked directly at Peter. Peter wept bitterly because he knew that he had betrayed his Lord.

Jesus was taken before Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate could find nothing against Rome that would be punishable by the death penalty. When Pilate discovered Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to be tried by Herod. Pilate was anxious to be rid of this problem. His wife had a dream in which Pilate was be blamed for the death of this innocent man. Leaders from the temple were scattered in the crowd that watched the proceedings. He was taken to Herod who was quite excited about seeing Jesus face to face. He’d heard so much about the man that he wanted to see some mighty miracle performed before him. When Jesus would not prove himself, Herod humiliated Him and sent Him back to Pilate.

Pilate saw no reason for the death penalty, so he took the question to the crowd. He first tried to get past the problem by offering to set a prisoner free for Passover. They insisted on Barabbas, a notorious prisoner guilty of murder. Pilate was shocked, after all Jesus had done nothing wrong. But Barabbas, whose name means “the son of the Father,” seemed to offer a more likely figure in the salvation of Israel. When Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, someone yelled, “Crucify him!” The crowd that was yelling, “Hosanna” just days before were so agitated that Jesus refused to be their warrior king, that they turned into an angry, fearful, and violent mob. They yelled, “Crucify him!” Pilate had no choice. The final betrayal came when the people said, “We have no king but Caesar,” rejecting the Lord God Almighty as their King.

Through all this, Jesus was humiliated, beaten, and stripped of everything. They took His clothes and His dignity. They forced a cross onto His already sore and bleeding back and pushed Him on to Golgotha. He walked His final footsteps on this earth; along the way He faced the women who were weeping over His fate. He told them to weep for themselves, because the time would come when they would face great suffering.

It was difficult for Him to carry the cross; He fell under the heavy burden. A man named Simon, was ordered to carry it for Him. Other condemned prisoners were taken to the hill. The world went dark for three hours, from the sixth hour to the ninth hour. One thief begged Jesus to save them, but the other humbled Himself in repentance and accepted responsibility for the wrongs he had done. Jesus welcomed him to His kingdom. The soldiers mocked Jesus and tried to serve Him a poison that would bring death more quickly, but Jesus refused. He saw His mother at the foot of the cross, standing with John, the only disciple who did not disappear. He asked John to care for Mary as if she were his own mother and asked Mary to take John as her son, seeing to her welfare even in the midst of His pain. He controlled every moment, even the moment when He cried out “It is finished,” and breathed His last breath. At that moment the earth shook, the rocks split and the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. A centurion pierced Jesus’ flesh with his spear; water and blood poured from His body. The soldier declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The rest of the day was spent dealing with the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for His body. The hour of the Passover Sabbath quickly approached, and it was necessary to take care of the body as soon as possible. Pilate was shocked that He died so quickly, but when the death was confirmed, Pilate agreed. Joseph was one of the few Sanhedrin that believed in Jesus, although he did so privately; he refused to consent to the condemnation of Jesus. He took the body, wrapped it, and laid it in his own newly hewn tomb. Joseph rolled a heavy stone in front. The women watched where Jesus was laid, expecting to return after the Sabbath to anoint the body properly for burial. Then they went away to mourn.

Sometime during the day, Judas was seized with remorse and tried to return the blood money to the priests, but they refused to take it or offer him comfort in his repentance. They laid the responsibility entirely on him. He threw the money at their feet, went away, and hanged himself.

Was it finished? Was Jesus Christ really dead?

The dramatic account of the death of Jesus Christ ended rather abruptly. It is finished; Jesus Christ is dead. There is such finality to that statement. Jesus died at the ninth hour, 3:00 PM. The earth rocked with the anger of God. The ground shook and the rocks split. A centurion pierced Jesus in the side, and His blood spilled into the earth. The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. This curtain was not some flimsy piece of material like lace, easily ripped. It was thick, a wall like protective covering over the Most Holy Place, the dwelling of God Himself. The curtain covered the room where the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat was kept. This was the Throne of God. When Jesus died, God ripped the curtain from top to bottom, opening the way into His presence for all people, not just the High Priest. God would no longer live in a box, and we would be called the priesthood of all believers able to approach the throne of grace.

During the Easter Vigil on Saturday, we mourn alongside the disciples as they reflected on Jesus’ life. They probably gathered in the Upper Room, waiting anxiously for the knock at the door that would take them to be tried and crucified. Jesus was not the only Jew who had been crucified under the Romans. The Jewish historian Josephus and others wrote that thousands were killed in this horrific manner. Crucifixion was used for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. It was not just judicial murder; it was used to humiliate the criminal. After a horrendous beating which left the person near death, they were forced to carry their own cross piece to the place of crucifixion, which was placed at a busy crossroad for all to see. They were stripped naked and left to hang where they could be ridiculed by any passerby. The death was slow; they bled inwardly and outwardly from the beating, and breathing became impossible in their exhaustion.

Can you imagine how you would feel if someone you knew and loved had experienced this type of death? Can you imagine how you would feel if you thought you might be next?

The disciples hid in fear and confusion. Can you imagine the things they must have thought about, and talked about? Who was Jesus? Why did He die? Why did we spend these years following Him? What will happen to us? Had we truly wasted three years of our lives? Is this really the end? We, too, consider these questions as we journey with Jesus. Why me, why now, why this? Is this really the end?

Along with their grief, however, let us consider our own place in this story. Jesus Christ died on that cross for me a terrible, awful sinner. It is hard to say the words because in general we think we are pretty good people. I do good things for my neighbor. I’ve never committed any significant crimes. I go to church, pray, and read the scriptures. I am a Christian, and I think the world can see that in my words and deeds.

Despite my apparent goodness, Easter Vigil is a time for us to remember the role we played in Jesus’ death. I was among the religious who missed God’s presence manifest in Jesus Christ. I was among the crowds who were easily manipulated by lies to believe whatever I was told. I was among the Romans who beat, humiliated, and crucified our Lord. I was among the disciples who were afraid and confused, who betrayed and denied their master, teacher, and friend. Someone commented this week that we are all Barabbas, undeserving of grace, but granted life anyway because Jesus took our place. We all were there, sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus saw us; He took upon His own shoulders the very sins that put Him on the cross and died to save us from the wrath that we deserved. We mourn His death, but today it would do us well to mourn our own fault as well.

We know the end of the story. We know that it is finished, but this finish is just the beginning. We know that there is hope and forgiveness. We know that there is eternal life in Christ. We know that Easter Sunday will be a day of jubilation as we rejoice with the disciples that their story was not over. There would still be reason to fear; they would be persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, and humiliated. Some would even follow Jesus to crosses. Christians throughout history and the world live with the same fears.

But we have a hope that can’t disappoint; a hope that came to us on the cross. We put Him there, but only because He chose to be there for our sake. We can’t know His grace without knowing our sin. So, while we wait for Easter, let’s pray and ponder the reason He died: to win for us the forgiveness of sin and the victory over death that we rightly deserve, guaranteeing our place in God’s Kingdom forever.