The women, who go to grieve and tend the corpse of Jesus, become the first preachers in the Christian faith. Their news is too good to be true, so the disciples ignore and silence them, but Peter has to see for himself. When he gets to the tomb to see whether or not their news was too good to be true, he sees an empty tomb and old burial linens and his hope springs eternal. Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead inaugurates God’s Kingdom reality of all things becoming new. Even though we see crucifixion all around us, “Despite appearances, it is an Easter world.”
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, poking fun at earthly powers like Herod and Caesar who ride on great, white steeds in glorious parades to celebrate themselves and assert their power. The broader way of Lent liberates us to fearlessly laugh and find joy in the freedom our King Jesus brings. In the light of God’s love we are invited to not take ourselves and our faults so seriously, but rather experience grace by embracing laughter, joy, and our shared humanity.
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, laughter, love, joy, power, humility, grace, flaws, perfectionism
Mary pours a ridiculously expensive perfume on Jesus as an act of love, devotion, and preparation for his imminent death. Judas, who John does not give any grace, grumbles about how she should have sold it and given the proceeds away to the poor (with the possibility that Judas wanted to take a cut). Jesus speaks the cringe-worthy words which have justified so many careless, callous Christians to ignore the God-given social contract of care for the poor. Jesus, who reads the Isaiah scroll declaring himself to be a champion for the marginalized, honors Mary’s gift and shames Judas, because there will always be more work to do, more care to give, more needs to meet, and more justice to seek. Life is not just about doing or accomplishing or fixing, but also about resting in the lavish love and peace of God. Sabbath means we work six days and then we rest, and Judas tried to embarrass Mary by taking the seventh day to celebrate that Jesus was still with them, even if only for a little while longer. The broader way of Lent is not just about suffering and self-denials but also taking the opportunity to soak in Christ’s love and presence in extravagant ways.
Art by Julia Stankova of Bulgaria
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, worship, celebration, grief, giving, stewardship, justice, perfectionism, grace
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate. ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, welcome, home, love, grace, family, forgiveness, belonging
Jesus tells them a parable about a tree given new fresh manure on it’s roots, and that stuff, as gross, tragic, and terrible, as it is, will make or break that tree. And, if fruit is not bearing, sometimes we have to let fields lay fallow with enough time and distance before we can go back and plant again. Grow is not rapid or forced; it is gradual and incremental. The broader way of Lent reminds us how in our life journey it’s the manure of life that makes you grow.
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, suffering, struggle, self-reflection, self-determination, hope, courage, resilience
Leaving the mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration, Jesus is faced with reality down in the valley. His disciples, who he commissioned at the beginning of Luke 9, cannot heal a lonely boy suffering from a spirit of sabotage and self-harm–the only son of a father who brings his boy to Jesus. Jesus comes to set humans free from the destructive cycles of self-destruction and oppression. The broader way we travel this Lent invites us to not be shackled by our past pain but discover hope and healing in God’s light.
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, healing, loneliness, unclean spirits, miracles, family systems theory, power, courage, trust, love, advocacy
Jesus is lured into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the satan, the prosecutorial powers and principalities of darkness, who tempts Jesus in three ways: to abuse his power for his own self-satisfaction (stones into bread); to abuse his power for his own self-promotion and popularity (dazzle the crowds by diving off the Temple); and to abused his own power to bring his Kingdom with immediacy and force (to kneel to the Powers and rule the nations). The earthly Jesus remains faithful to his heavenly Father by trusting the promises of God through scripture and the Spirit. As we travel the broader way in Lent, we learn that even in times of trial God is worthy of our trust.
Jesus is transfigured before his inner circle disciples’ eyes and is met by Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, the story and witness of scripture. In Jesus’ preparation for his darkest hour, he chose to surround himself with the great story of God’s Promises in Scripture and with his closest friends. Even in our moments of fear or vulnerability, Jesus models the importance of surrounding yourself with Good News and good friends to support you, instead of going it alone. We are the stories we tell ourselves and we become the people with whom we surround ourselves.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
Jeremiah and the Hebrew Prophets preach against three sins of the people: idolatry, ritualism, and social injustice. These three sins are all rooted in giving people a false sense of security, but true trust in God come from the courage (from the Latin cor meaning “heart”) to be authentic, vulnerable, and honest with ourselves, with others, and with God. The Christian practices of confession and repentance protect us from the temptations to live under the weight of legalism and perfectionism which drive us to destructive choices, but Jeremiah tells us that those who trust in the Lord will be like trees planted by water.
Keywords: Courage, vulnerability, authenticity, repentance, honesty, confession, Baptists, Mister Rogers, truth, trust, faith
God appears to Isaiah in the Temple, the holiest place in all the world to the Hebraic imagination, but all it takes to fill the Temple is the hem of God’s robe. This peculiar little line was a signal to the people about to be cast out into Exile in Babylon: God is everywhere and cannot be contained in a building. There is no “far away” in God’s world. The Irish Christians used the language of “thin places” to identify those holy spaces in the world where God seems closer to us than the breath in our lungs, but even when we feel far from God or estranged from our neighbors, God invites us to reconnect and reengage by just declaring, “Here am I, send me.”
Simeon blesses the baby who blesses them with his very presence. For Simeon, he has waited his entire life for this moment, and offers us the peaceful compline prayer which concludes the day for countless Christians across the globe. This intergenerational blessing of Jesus becomes a powerful reminder to us today that there is a blessing in our friendships across the generational divide if we but only offer our patient presence and encouraging words.
Jesus comes to bring joy and honor to humanity. In the wedding feast, not only does he allow the celebration to continue, he covers the potential shame of the host who has run out of wine. A flourishing faith life is not about obligation or regulation, but rather is about learning to lean into God’s goodness by living with radical hospitality in all of our relationships across cultural, identity, and gender divisions.
Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Synopsis: Like all symbols, baptism bears a surplus of meaning for followers of Jesus who follow him through the waters. Baptism is a past, present, and future act. Baptism gives us a tangible act to teach us the failures of our past do not define our belonging to Christ in the present, or our opportunity to walk into a new, hopeful future filled with possibilities.
Keywords: Epiphany, baptism, Baptist, ordinance, sacrament, Kingdom of God, citizenship, peace, justice, love, life abundant.
Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Synopsis: Epiphany is a season of discover and illumination. In Epiphany people begin to realize who Jesus is and God became flesh. These strangers from the East arrive with even stranger gifts for the newborn king. The gifts perhaps symbolize the trifold calling of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. Gold fit for a king; frankincense offered by priests; myrrh to embalm the body of a slain prophet; strange, but illuminating gifts for the little king offered by strangers from a strange land.
Keywords: Epiphany, calling, vocation, ministry, grace, surprises, strangers.
Text: Luke 2:41-52
Synopsis: Jesus’ parents lose sight of the young savior on a routine journey to Jerusalem for Passover. Jesus startles and surprises his parents and the rabbis who are amazed by his precocious questions. As those who search for Jesus today, perhaps we can begin this new year with a renewal of spiritual practices like prayer, scripture reading, and taking time at the end of our days to remember all of the places where we found Jesus.
Keywords: Christmastide, Jesus, searching for Jesus, seeing Jesus in neighbors, spiritual formation, discipleship, New Year
Text: Micah 2:2-5a
Synopsis: The sermon preached by the prophet Micah, which we hear in Handel’s Messiah and understand retroactively as a Messianic prophesy about Jesus, is a hopeful word to the Hebrew people in their darkest hour. As the armies of Assyria beat on the doors of Zion, Micah reminds the people of God’s past promises and future plans to bring restoration, peace, and justice to the whole human family through the little town of Bethlehem. Even in the most chaotic of times, the God of Promise invites us to continue to carol and sing songs of love and liberation as we work to build the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. So, don’t let anyone steal your song as you carol through the chaos of life.
Keywords: Advent, Christmas, love, chaos, stress, peace, prophetic, Messiah, songs, singing, hope, Kingdom of God
On Joy Sunday, we hear a glorious Cantata from J.S. Bach and a Song of Liberation from Jesus’ mother Mary. Music lifts us from the mire of life and reminds us of the promises of God for a future where every story matters, every life has worth, and every hunger is satisfied. How can we keep from singing with such Good News?
Text: Philippians 1:3-11
Synopsis: Paul writes a word of gratitude and encouragement to the church in Philippi to remind them that the good work God has begun among them will come to fruition in time. God’s growth is gradual but also inevitable. So, give yourself the grace to know we are all God’s work in progress. God’s good work takes time.