Holy Week Blog 2015, Friday

John 19, NRSV:

19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe.They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters[a] again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat[b] on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew[c] Gabbatha.14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew[d] is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth,[e] the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,[f] in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”

25 And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ Side Is Pierced

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows[g] that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

The Burial of Jesus

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


I think this story tells itself. And I’m going to let it speak tonight.

Blessings,

Mark

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Holy Week Blog 2015, Thursday: …Before the World Existed.

John 17:1-5 NRSV:

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,since you have given him authority over all people,[a] to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.


The Lectionary reading for Thursday is all of John 17, and believe me, there is a lot upon which to reflect from John 17. As I read, though, I couldn’t get past verse 5. Jesus is completing his mission, preparing to go back to the Father (albeit through the cross and Resurrection). And he prays, ” Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” And I gotta say, that verse is a trip to me tonight. This is not only a mere human praying this. Jesus had glory with the father before the earth even existed. Now, we believe that is true theologically… The Son is co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit… but for some reason it does me good tonight to sort of hear it from his own lips. 

It’s encouraging to know the Christ was coming before the world was created, let alone before we sinned.

It’s encouraging to me Jesus exercises faith, and goes though with the plan even though he knows what’s going to happen.

It’s encouraging to know that whatever happens tomorrow (on Good Friday), Resurrection is coming. Glorifcation is coming. Death is not the end.

Blessings

Mark

Holy Week Blog 2015, Wednesday: When His Heart was Troubled

John 12:27-36, NRSV

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[e] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah[f] remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”


It had to be discouraging for Him. He taught them, did miracles among them, explained it seemingly every way he could, and still they didn’t really believe. He was facing the cross, and in a few short days all of them would forsake Him, and he knew it. And still He trusted. Still His prayer was for the Father to be glorified in Him– even (and especially) in His death. Still He’s drawing them to believe.

It’s impossible for us to really understand where Jesus is coming from here in this passage. All I think I can really say is that I’m reminded of what Romans says when it calls us to have the faith of Jesus… even (and especially) when we face trouble.

So.

Lord God, I pray for the faith of your Son. I pray when we face troubles, you would grow something in us that’s like Jesus. I pray that your name would be glorified in our lives. I pray for perspective, that you would show us a little bit of the bigger picture, so our light and momentary troubles could be seen as just that. I pray for the light, that you would indeed light our way forward. In the name of your Son, by the presence of the Spirit I pray.

Amen.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 36: The Fullness of God Dwells Bodily.

Colossians 2:6-15, NRSV

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives[b] in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe,[c] and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision,[d] by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God[e] made you[f] alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed[g] the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.


Our old “friend” Gnosticism is back, except it’s most decidedly not our friend. See, there was this idea that God is totally spirit. That flesh, and matter, and earthly stuff is evil. That the way to really get to God was to overcome all this lowly, earthly, fleshly stuff and get “in the spirit” or something, because that’s where God is, and that’s where God calls us.  On the surface, it doesn’t sound so bad, right? I mean, doesn’t God want us to get beyond this fallen earth with all its troubles? Isn’t heaven a place where our spirits can finally be free of these earthly bodies and become truly one with God?  Isn’t God going to destroy the earth anyway? Aren’t we to worship “in the Spirit,” meaning we’ve got to get our eyes off this stuff and lift them up? Isn’t “up” where God is?

The problem with all that kind of thinking is that in Christ, God most decidedly does not remain “up.” He does not remain totally “spirit.” In Christ, “the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Bodily. Like, bodily. God isn’t “up.” God, in Christ, is with us. God became one of us. And he did it so he can redeem, transform and reconcile all this earthly “stuff.” This is the heart of the incarnation and atonement in Jesus. Christ was fully God and fully human.

Remember that the next time some ignorant worship leader prompts you to set aside your context, your struggles, and the week you’ve had, and get “in the spirit,” so you can “truly” worship God.

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015, Day 34: Christ in Us.

Colossians 1:24-29, NRSV

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.


Kind of a back-to-basics message in this passage for me tonight. Paul waxes eloquent a little about his commission to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles… to share the big mystery that has been revealed after being hidden for so long. What’s profound to me is his statement in v.27  of what the mystery actually is: The Mystery is Christ in us. Paul talks a lot about people being “in Christ.” But here he speaks of Christ being “in” us.

The other main thing in that verse is this, methinks: The hope of glory is Christ, not us. Christ in us is the hope of glory. It’s not a human-made thing. It’s not us pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, trying to better ourselves. The best stuff really does come from outside ourselves. If it is human-made, or somehow it becomes a thinly-veiled form of humanism or something, then it’s not the Gospel. The power of the Gospel comes from Jesus. Paul admits as much in v.29 when he says his stuggle is powered by the energy inspired by Christ.

That’s a good reminder of the fact this whole thing really does rest on his strength and not ours.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 16: It’s time to grow up.

Ephesians 4:14-16; NRSV

 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.


I think it’s time to grow up. One of the things I’ve solidly learned in the last, say, 6 years of my life is that most of the people of God really are ready to go deeper in their knowledge of theology, scripture and doctrine. No, really- they really are. Now, a few brothers and sisters exist (in every tradition I suppose) who are content to stay theological children, seemingly comfortable in their theological puberty (though I doubt “comfortable” is the right word), and saying things like, “theological education has gotten us nowhere… it’s time to just chuck it and go back to Acts 2” or something. Such teaching sounds good and desirable… I mean, who wouldn’t want to get back to an Acts 2 kind of church, right?

The problem is, such teaching leaves people as theological children, immature in their faith regardless of how many ecstatic “experiences” they may have had. And though they may not realize it, the kind of emotionalism fostered in such teaching becomes addictive. It’s like a drug. People want the feeling of experiencing God’s presence in an emotionally charged gathering. Such an addiction must be fed, so folks look for more and different ways to generate that experience and the feelings it fosters. What winds up happening is such people, and their leaders, are “blown about by every wind of doctrine.” Emotionalism and anti-intellectualism are themselves doctrines. Bad ones. And it’s time for a lot of us to grow up.

How do we grow up? I think as pastors we have to be life-long learners, submitting our theology and doctrine to a mentor or two who have been around the block more than we have. Then we have to… HAVE. TO. Intentionally offer opportunities for our people to grow deeper. Don’t assume because someone is barely a high school graduate and not the “intellectual” type that they aren’t hungry to engage the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation of Jesus, and the reality of the atonement. I’ve seen proof of the exact opposite in the last few years of my ministry. Quit allowing our people to live under the false assumption that those words are just for seminary ivory-tower folks. They’re not. They’re for regular old folks in our churches. Farmers and teachers and plumbers and doctors. They’re for retired truck drivers and grandmas and college students and realtors.

Me must, as an act of worship (and a lot can and must be said about that), teach our people what it means to speak truth in love. We must learn what it means for the church to be the body that embodies the Kingdom. What it means to grow up into Christ, and what it means for Christ to be the head. In short, we must make disciples, and at some point, our disciples have to progress from baby’s milk to solid food. It’s time to grow up.

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015; Day 3: One very important, life-changing word.

Ephesians 1:3-10

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

NRSV


There’s a lot of classic Paul in this passage. Again it contains a bunch of classic Pauline theological buzzwords… including one of the most used and theologically important: the word “in.” This is the word that jumps out at me tonight, and that I’m pursuing. Look how many times Paul uses “in Christ” or “in him” in these few verses:

“In Christ”…

…we are blessed by the Father with every spiritual blessing.

…we are chosen to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world.

…we receive grace freely bestowed on us.

…we have redemption through his blood.

…the Father’s good pleasure is set forth.

…all things in heaven and on earth are gathered up.

And that’s just 7 verses.

That word… “ἐν” (in) all of a sudden becomes pretty important. What does it mean for all this to happen in Christ? What does it mean, as Paul talks about all over the place, for us to be “in” Christ or for Christ to be “in” us?

Probably we could all spend the rest of our lives pursuing being ἐν Χριστῷ. For now, I’m reminded that because all this happens in Christ, it’s not my creation. WE didn’t do any of this. Lest we think we are all that on a Popsicle stick, or that salvation is in any way us making the first or decisive move, we’re kidding ourselves.

My $.02 after a long, tiring, 18-hour day.

Blessings,

Mark