Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday, week three: Storms and faith (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Don’t you care that we are dying?
The disciples’ question isn’t so different from ours. When we face our most challenging and frightening moments, we too wonder where Jesus is and how he can allow such things to happen.

Don’t you care that we are suffering? How can you sleep at a time like this?
To add serious insult to the disciples’ injury, Jesus is present, sleeping through their trauma. Don’t we also wonder if Jesus notices or cares about us?

Jesus stills the storm, but there is more to this story than Jesus’ authority over nature. There are two less obvious places to find relief and hope.

First, Jesus is in the boat. That’s cause for reassurance. Whatever danger the disciples face on the sea, Jesus is in it with them. They may be freaked out and terrified, but Jesus is with them. They are not alone. He has made exceptional claims, exhibited extraordinary power, and is with them in the storm.

Second, Jesus is asleep. That’s cause for celebration. The disciples might be terrified, but Jesus isn’t fazed. He’s so calm that he has no problem falling asleep. Jesus isn’t scared at all. If he isn’t scared, why should they be?

Storms come. Storms go. Faith calls the disciples to see what isn’t so obvious. Faith calls them to remember Jesus is with them. Faith calls them to trust in the calm presence of Jesus when they are freaked out and terrified.

Jesus isn’t nearly as interested in the storm as he is in the faith of his disciples. He calms the storm so they can focus on his question, Where is your faith?

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
This is the disciples’ experience. It says something about the lives and the possibilities of those who are trying to draw near to Jesus in faith.

Things to do:
Wake Jesus up. Ask him for what you most need.

Jesus, help me to see reassurance and joy in my troubles.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday, week three: Parables (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Again Jesus gets into a boat and lakeside begins teaching the crowd in parables. These are stories with life meaning.

He later tells his disciples they have been entrusted with the secrets of the kingdom of God, but everyone else must learn in parables.  They don’t know what he’s talking about.  They don’t understand his parables.

The parables themselves? They are about seeds sown, soil hospitable to seeds and inhospitable, light being set out to light a room, growth taking place in secret, small things with huge potential, reaping, giving and receiving.

Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is like that. The kingdom of God is not like the kingdom of Caesar. It’s not about taxes, conscription into military service, subservience, or fear.

The kingdom of God is about light that cannot be contained and seeds with potential beyond the ability of the soil. The kingdom is about growth that can take place anywhere any time. The kingdom is about abundance and about human potential to forward it.

This is the first time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus has talked openly about the kingdom of God. He has been announcing the nearness of God’s Kingdom and calling people to repentance. He has been demonstrating God’s kingdom, now he is talking about it openly.

What does Jesus do with the ignorant disciples? He explains everything to them in private.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
The sower has an abundance of seed and throws it everywhere, even on the footpath. The seed is good and abundant and thrown into every human heart.

Things to do:
Notice the nature of the political kingdom of our day. How is the kingdom of God at odds with it? Pray for the enlightenment and courage of our political leaders, that they might be able to align themselves more closely with God.

Jesus, please keep throwing seed into our world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wednesday, week three: Inner circles (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

God summoned Moses to Mount Horeb; Elijah found God outside a cave on a mountain.

The crowds are pressing in on Jesus and what does he do? He retreats up a mountain. That was what people did when they wanted to be near God.

Although Jesus does something completely predictable by going up a mountain, he does something equally unpredictable. He doesn’t go alone. He goes up the mountain and calls to him “those he wanted.”

What follows are a series of passages in which people close to Jesus and people thought to be close to Jesus are named. Twelve apostles, Beelzebul, Satan, the scribes, his brothers and mother, crowd…who is actually close to Jesus and whom are “those he wanted”?

It seems that people can’t see Jesus the way he is. They see him the way they are. Those who are ignorant see him as wise. Those who are ill see him with healing power. The scribes see him as possessed and threatening. His family sees him as delirious.

As accusations, inquiries, and demands swirl around him, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Naming God in our image. Seeing God as we are, and not as God is.

The only characters with clear vision in Mark’s gospel, aside from Jesus himself, are the unclean spirits and the readers. Can we keep ourselves from the blasphemy we see throughout the gospel? Can we see Jesus as he really is, and not as we want or need him to be?

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
What are you demanding from Jesus? What is he trying to give you?

Things to do:
Pray for yourself and the people around you, that God will provide the things they need today, whether or not they know what they are.

Jesus, give me eyes to see you as you are.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tuesday, week two: Paying homage (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Things are heating up. Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. Of course he did. The man in front of him had a need.

But the Pharisees are looking for any reason to accuse him. They think he is a Beelzebul, or is possessed by Satan, or at the very least is irreligious. The healing of a withered hand gives them exactly want they want. They immediately head out, looking for co-conspirators with power and authority in these matters.

And everyone else? They are spreading the word. People are responding, coming from far and wide: as far west as the Mediterranean Sea, as far south as Bethlehem, and from both sides of the Jordan Valley, even east of the Dead Sea. The crowd is so large and oppressive that Jesus cannot move about freely.

They’ve heard about the man with a withered hand, the unclean spirits, the paralyzed man and his friends, and all the rest of the healings. They want Jesus’ proclamations and healing power for themselves.

The crowd presses in from all sides, so it is impossible for him to proclaim. But speaking is what he came to do. What he needs now is a stage and boundaries. He needs a way to speak to people without being swept along by them, so he orders his disciples to find him a boat and he retreats to the sea.

He teaches from a boat on the water and the healings continue.

The unclean spirits all fall before him and pay him homage. They cry out, “You are the Son of God.” They might as well be saying, “You are Caesar. You are Emperor.” He orders them to keep it a secret.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
In Mark’s Gospel, the unclean spirits know Jesus is ruler. The only other people who have that knowledge are those who read the story. What does that mean?

Things to do:
Take inventory of the mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional aspects of your life. To whom or what are you paying homage? Can you ask Jesus to be your teacher, healer, and ruler?

Jesus Christ, will you provide what I need?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Monday, week two: Rules, rituals, and righteousness (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

What was true then is true now: Jesus’ ministry affronts those in ministry. Jesus’ practice of religion challenges those who practice it.

To people around him, Jesus seems to be bending and breaking rules. He seems flippant and just plain wrong. He even seems antagonistic.

People are misreading him. His aim is not to insult people, but to free them.

Religion dictates it’s time to fast, but can you fast when you are elated? Or celebrate when you are sad? Can you schedule a time to cry?

Sometimes the seasons of life are too powerful for our plans, and there is nothing to be done except to be swept up in them. Trying to maintain a schedule or force an outcome, even a religious one, is just unnatural. There is a time to work, a time to play, a time to rest, a time to worship. Sometimes human need interrupts all of that. If someone is hungry, cold, or suffering, isn’t their need greater than your plan?

The schedule will resume once the tide has turned.

People matter more than rules. The needs of a person in front of you trump everything else. That’s why he heals the man with a withered hand. Jesus elevates his neighbor above his own worship; he honors the people around him more than his own fasting. He compels us to honor the people around us, even at the expense of our rules, rituals, and religion.

Is Jesus saying that rules, ritual, and religion have no value? Of course not.

He is actually demonstrating the power of them. Perhaps Jesus is able to set aside the laws and rituals of his religion only because he has practiced them deeply. Perhaps those things have made him right enough with God to care more for one in need than for his own worship.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
When might “religion” get in the way of loving God and others?

Things to do:
Set aside your plans to meet someone’s need today.

Where I am withered, O God, restore me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday, week two: Eating with tax collectors and sinners (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus has demonstrated power and authority amongst his fellow Jews. He has preached and taught, exorcised unclean spirits, healed many illnesses, forgiven sins, and restored paralyzed legs. He has withdrawn to deserted places to pray. In the synagogue and home, countryside and wilderness, his compassion and healing have extended to Jewish men and women, both clean and unclean.

Now he calls a tax collector to follow him. Tax collectors were worse than lepers. They were worse than anyone unclean. They were independent agents of the Roman Empire, collecting government tax, and making their own living by overcharging everyone. Tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were Jews sleeping with the enemy. Now Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to be his follower.

Levi invites Jesus to dinner and, as usual, a crowd follows. Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James, and John sit down with Levi and his friends, a group of tax collectors and others of ill reputation.

Amongst the following crowd are some religious leaders who cannot make sense of Jesus’ actions. They later ask Jesus’ disciples, “Why does he eat with such people?” They cannot imagine why he would keep company with people so vile. Overhearing their question, Jesus says to them, “People who are well do not need a physician.”

Clearly, Jesus expects his ministry to transform lives. Jesus expects his ministry to heal people. He expects repentance. He expects faith to make a difference.

Jesus comes to help those who have the furthest to go. He comes to help the helpless. He comes as possibility in impossible situations. He comes with cleansing and reconciling power to those living outside hope. He provides a way for those beyond help and beyond condemnation. He comes to those who need him most. He comes to the despicable. To them, he is like water in the desert. He is like an unexpected miracle bringing wholeness and restoration.

That’s why he chooses tax collectors and sinners.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
People who think they are right with God often begrudge God’s mercy to others.

Things to do:
Look for signs of Jesus’ inclusion, healing, and mercy in the people around you. Without drawing any attention to yourself, give thanks for what you see.

Jesus, teach me to see people as you do.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday, week two: The faith of friends (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus returns to Capernaum after proclaiming the message in synagogues and casting out unclean spirits throughout the Galilee region. He draws a crowd wherever he goes, and his own hometown is no exception. Once word gets out he’s there, it’s standing room only at Jesus’ house. The crowd is so large that the entrance is blocked. No one is getting in or out.

Some friends of a paralyzed man approach the house, four of them carrying him on a mat. Seeing no way to get near Jesus, these friends climb onto the house, dig a hole through the clay and thatched roof, and lower their friend down to Jesus.

Jesus looks up at the man’s friends. Seeing their faith, he says to the man on the mat, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

What a miraculous moment. Jesus doesn’t forgive the man’s sins because of his faith; he forgives them because of the faith of his friends. It’s a miraculous moment for everyone who believes, because this moment tells us that our faith matters. This moment tells us that when we pray and act faithfully on behalf of others, Jesus is moved to make a difference for them. That is a miracle indeed.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ day miss this entirely. They argue about authority and blasphemy. They get bent out of shape because Jesus is talking like God.

Of course, Jesus sees right through them. If it’s rhetoric they want, it’s rhetoric they’ll get. Jesus can play that game, too. He responds by calling himself “the Son of Man,” a title the prophet Daniel used to speak about the One given eternal dominion by God. Then, to demonstrate the extent of his power, he tells the paralyzed man to get up and walk. The man gets up and makes his way out of the house. That shuts everyone up.

In total amazement, they begin to praise God.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Daniel has a vision of the Son of Man interacting with the Ancient of Days. Read about it in Daniel 7.  In chapter 1, Mark calls Jesus “Son of God.” In chapter 2, Jesus calls himself “Son of Man.” What does this mean?

Things to do:
Pray for your friends. Pray for your enemies. Keep faith.

Jesus, be king and God in our world.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday, week two: Touching the untouchable (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

A leper approaches Jesus. He kneels before Jesus, begging, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Lepers were outcasts. They were Jews considered unclean and forbidden from entering every place people gathered. Keeping them outside of community was one way to keep the rest of the people well.

Jesus has healed those in the inner circles of the Jewish towns around Galilee. He has demonstrated power and authority in the world of Jewish men and women in community.

Now he is moved to pity one who is excluded from that community. Jesus is moved with pity for one who lives on the fringe. And he does the unthinkable. Jesus reaches out and touches him. He risks his own health and status in the community to restore the leper to all that has been lost.

Upon touching him, Jesus warns him not to tell anyone, but to follow the community’s procedure for being restored to fellowship. He tells him to submit to examination by the priest and follow the rituals for cleansing. Instead, he goes out and proclaims what Jesus has done to anyone and everyone who will listen.

The leper’s proclamation makes it impossible for Jesus to enter any town. There are two possible reasons for this: First, he may be unable to enter any town because he is so popular that everyone flocks to him to hear his teaching and be healed and restored. The other possibility is that touching the leper had made him unclean.

People flock to him anyway, even if he is unclean.  They simply don’t care. He stays out in the country, like one unclean, whether he is or not, and people come to him from every direction. He has power and authority over everything in their religious world and they want what he has to offer.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Every religion has rules that keep people in and out. Jesus lives in both places.

Things to do:
Who do you consider outcast? Who isn’t welcome in your church? Have a conversation with someone who comes to mind. Ask them to share their story with you. Can you withhold your judgments?

Jesus, help me break the rules for someone else’s sake.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday, week two: The crowds gather (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

As soon as the sun sets and the Sabbath rest ends, everyone gathers at the door of the house. Clearly, the men from the synagogue have been talking and that talk has been compelling.

The men were first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ mastery of the holy scriptures. With their own eyes, they saw a new teaching with power and authority that expelled an unclean spirit from their holy place of study. Jesus demonstrated that he is worthy of being their Rabbi.

Now, it’s one thing to demonstrate that you are worthy. It’s another when people actually grant you authority and are actually moved to action.

Jesus has so captivated the men of this small Jewish town that they move decisively.
At the first possible opportunity, they demonstrate that Jesus has authority. They flock to the place they last saw him, bringing with them everyone they know who is sick or troubled with unclean spirits. The whole town, in fact, is gathered at the door. The whole town hopes Jesus will do for them what he has done for one.

“Wholeness” is a big deal to Mark. He’s not interested in those who follow half-way or half-heartedly. Mark is interested in the Kingdom of God, a new empire ripping apart old schemes (remember the schism from Jesus’ baptism?) in ways that cause decisive moves to wholeness, and in ways that cause the whole community to move decisively. He heals them all. He moves throughout the whole region, doing the same in every town around Galilee.

In Mark’s gospel, people will move decisively, some toward Jesus, and some against him. There is no wishy-washiness here, only decisiveness in one direction or another. It all leads to complete healing or complete breakdowns. Either way, the Kingdom of God is near, and the call to repentance stands.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Jesus casts out one unclean spirit and the whole community moves decisively. What causes a community to move decisively today? Are those things worthy of the kind of movement they garner?

Things to do:
Talk with someone today about brokenness, wholeness, and decisiveness. Notice how your conversation binds you to each other.

Jesus help us move together toward wholeness.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday, week two: The healings begin (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever and things aren’t looking good.

In our time, a fever is generally no big deal. We take two fever reducers, bundle up, hunker down, and wait it out. If that doesn’t work, we consult someone capable of making an accurate diagnosis and begin treatment.

But in Jesus’ time, a fever was a big deal. A fever could knock you out, and because Jesus lived in the time before the discovery of germs and the invention of vaccinations, advanced medications, and surgical procedures, a fever was often the first sign of the beginning of the end.

Upon entering the house, they tell Jesus about her at once. Most likely they are not worried about their dinner. They are worried because her life is in danger.

What happens next happens quickly. No consultations, tests, lab results, or waiting for medications to take effect. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. The fever leaves and Sabbath life resumes.

Jesus had demonstrated a new teaching with power and authority just moments before in synagogue, the world of Jewish men. He does so again here, right across the street from the synagogue, in the world of Jewish women. He is Lord of the Sabbath, synagogue, holy scriptures, and those who study them. And he is Lord of the home, Sabbath meal, and those who prepare it.

Unlike Caesar, who calls himself “The Son of God,” Jesus exhibits power and authority in the places that matter most to people, in the heart of their worship and in the places they live and rest. Unlike Caesar, he exhibits a kind of power that demands nothing from anyone; not taxes, not military service, not even allegiance. He demonstrates that he is an emperor worth following.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
In Capernaum of Galilee today, you can visit the ruins of the first century synagogue and the house of Simon’s mother-in-law, which are directly across the street from one another. It is possible to stand in the places where Jesus’ power and authority were first displayed, and noticed that he didn’t travel far to change worlds.

Things to do:
Take a self-inventory. Are there any places in your life where you are unwilling to have Jesus demonstrate power and authority?

Jesus, demonstrate power in my heart and home.