pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.

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Divine and Human

Reading: Mark 11: 1-11

Verse Two: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst a cheering and excited crowd of supporters. It is a proclamation of hope and longing by the people. They so want someone to free them from the Romans. For the most part, over the past three years, they have clearly missed seeing the type of kingdom that Jesus is building. It is not a kingdom of might and military power but one of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness and community.

Today’s first clue comes in the mode of transportation. Jesus does not select a fine warhorse to ride into the city. Instead He gives these instructions to the disciples: “You will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden”. Jesus chooses a meek and young animal. That He is able to ride the colt amidst all the noise and celebration testifies to His quiet power. But at the time only His inner circle of disciples would marvel at this. The masses ignored the colt because they wanted and could only see one thing – a possible Messiah to save them from the Romans.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He goes to the temple. Many probably followed His there, presuming that He would raise His hands to quiet the crowd before giving a rousing speech to stir up the people even more. But Jesus enters the temple and simply looks around. He then quietly exits the city. Perhaps Jesus was just taking stock of the state of the temple and beginning to formulate a plan for His last week.

Jesus and His disciples quietly clip out of town and go to Bethany for the night. No crowds follow, eager to see what is next. We know that Jesus and company often take rest when they visit Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, so we assume this is where they went to spend the night. Their home is a place that is special to Jesus. It is a place where He finds rest, peace, and community, surrounded by people He loves and that love Him. With the week that lies ahead it is a good place to be for a night.

In the small details of the passage today we get a glimpse into both Jesus’ obedience to God’s plan and into His humanity in needing to surround Himself with a loving community. One shows His strength and true power and the second shows a humble need to be loved and to belong. The divine and the human in one. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Transform

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verse Seven: “A voice from the cloud: ‘This is my son, whom I love. Listen to Him!'”

Today is known as Transfiguration Sunday. It is the day when Peter, James, and John get a glimpse into what the heavenly Jesus may look like. To be present in his moment is a powerful and life-changing moment for the inner three. In its own way it was unique and special. But it is just one of many such moments that forever changed Peter, James, and John.

We too will have these mountaintop, transforming moments. We will also have our share of life-changing moments in the valley. Those moments on the mountaintop are things such as the birth of a child or the day we accepted Jesus. Our valley moments are the times we lost someone or something dear to us or the day life radically changed. Each of these unique and special moments also work within us to transform us, to make us more and more like Christ.

In the transfiguration, Jesus is elevated to a better and more perfect version of His earthly self. As we experience our own God moments, we too can be transfigured. Through our unique and special moments with God – whether on the mountaintop or in the valley – we can be changed and shaped more into the image of who God created us to be. I say ‘can be’ because we do have a choice. In those valley moments we can choose to continue to cling to God and to walk through it with God. During those mountaintop moments we can give God all the glory and honor, bringing Him praise. Both are choices. One choice is God’s path and that choice elevates our faith journey and brings us closer to Jesus Christ.

In our faith journeys and in life may we always choose to walk with Jesus. We were created in God’s image, chosen since we were woven together in the womb, marked as a child of God in the waters of baptism. May we ever choose to live into our identity in Christ, allowing each God moment to transform us one experience at a time, bringing us ever closer to our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Sunday Is Coming

Reading: Matthew 27: 57-66

Verse 65: “Take a guard,” Pilate said, “Go, make the tomb secure as you can”.

It has been a busy week.  Palm Sunday got things started with a big, celebratory parade.  There was excitement and energy.  There was also anxiety and nervousness as well.  The religious leaders’ nerves were on edge.  As the week progressed, Jesus has remained front and center, His ministry to the people moving full steam ahead.  The tension with the religious leaders has escalated as the week progressed and culminated Thursday with Jesus’ arrest.  The trials and crucifixion buzzed through Thursday night and Friday.  By mid afternoon Jesus is dead and would soon be laid in a tomb.  The religious leaders must have breathed a huge collective sigh of relief as they sat in their homes on Friday night.

But then the thoughts crept in.  One or two or perhaps many began to recall some of Jesus’ words.  For those that did, they soon realized that the events of the past days have gone just as Jesus said they would.  And even though they thought they were running the show…  Didn’t Jesus say something about three days…

The religious leaders go to Pilate early on Saturday morning, on the Sabbath, to ask for soldiers to guard the tomb.  They call Jesus ‘that deceiver’ as they quote Him saying, “After three days I will rise again”.  The religious leaders then make a statement that is not entirely correct but contains truth.  In reference to the resurrection, they say, “This deception will be worse than the first”.  Yes, the effect will be worse for them.  Rising from the dead will be the ultimate verification that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  Just as the recent events unfolded as Jesus said they would, so too will the resurrection.  Pilate has had enough and easily gives them a guard, saying, “Take a guard and make the tomb as secure as you can”.

The entire Roman army could not keep the tomb secure enough to prevent the resurrection.  It is not done by human hands.  No matter what Pilate, the religious authorities, the guard, anyone… tried to do, Sunday was coming.  Yes indeed!  Sunday is coming!


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Hope, Deliverance, Praise, Joy…

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verse 24 – This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today we are blessed to join thousands upon thousands who have read this text and have been lifted by hope or praise or deliverance or joy.  The great cloud of witness that has read this Psalm begins in the earliest days of the Passover celebration, as they celebrated the day the Lord led them from slavery.  This Psalm is still read each year as part of the Passover liturgy.  Fast forward from that first Passover and you will hear these words being read again and again in times of trial and struggle. The Psalm was read often during the exile in Babylon and then in later years under the oppression and persecution of the Romans.  In these times, Psalm 118 brought comfort and reassurance of God’s love and gave them hope for a better future.

This well-known Psalm was used as a part of the Palm Sunday procession as well.  Verse 26 was one of the Old Testament passages shouted as Jesus entered the city.  Early on in the Christian tradition this Psalm took on new meaning as a key Lenten reading.  And certainly this Psalm was on Jesus’ mind as He entered Jerusalem.  He entered the gates in righteousness (verse 19), knowing full well the new meaning of verse 22 – the stone that would soon be rejected.  The light of God was shining upon the people as He joined the festal procession (verse 27).  As Christians today, we remain profoundly connected to the words of Psalm 118.

Verse 24 reads, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”.  Let us rejoice indeed!  Read through this great Psalm again and claim for yourself whatever you need or desire.  If you need deliverance or want to celebrate newfound freedom, read and connect to the earliest traditions of this Psalm.  If you need hope, read and celebrate the love of God that flows throughout this text.  If you are feeling led to lift your praises to God, read the Psalm as those first Palm Sunday participants did, offering praise for God’s presence and blessing.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.  Amen and amen!


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Blessed Is He

“Hosanna in the highest!”  He who saves comes today in a parade.  We celebrate Palm Sunday for the same reason we celebrate Christmas: it is a significant event.  Jesus was born with one purpose: to show us the way, the truth, and the life.

The celebration and words we say today remind us of this.  People were cheering for a king that day.  Jesus is a king.  He just as not the kind of king people along the parade route were seeking.  They sought the only kind of king they knew.  They sought a king like King David, someone to lead them out of Roman oppression.

As our King, we know that Jesus leads us out of oppression.  On the cross he freed us from sin and death.  Because of the eternal life He offers, sin and death no longer have power over our lives.  Jesus also calls us to be agents who end oppression.  He calls us to help the weak, to care for those trapped by need, and to triumph justice.

“Hosanna in the highest!”  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Jesus is indeed mighty to save.  Today we celebrate this idea.  Then we go forth to bless others as we serve in the name of the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Scripture reference: Psalm 118: 26-29 and Luke 11: 8-10