A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day TWENTY-THREE

Mark 7:24-37, Common English Bible 

Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 

“Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

After leaving the region of Tyre, Jesus went through Sidon toward the Galilee Sea through the region of the Ten Cities. Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly speak, and they begged him to place his hand on the man for healing. Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself and put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. Looking into heaven, Jesus sighed deeply and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Open up.” At once, his ears opened, his twisted tongue was released, and he began to speak clearly. 

Jesus gave the people strict orders not to tell anyone. But the more he tried to silence them, the more eagerly they shared the news. People were overcome with wonder, saying, “He does everything well! He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who can’t speak.”

Like the prickly cactus flower in the picture above it, the first story in Mark’s gospel reading for this Monday is sometimes tough to appreciate.
What on earth is this one about? 
Try these ideas and see if anything grabs you:
     Jesus is tired, maybe even a little bit cranky, and he takes a very deliberate break – heading away from Galilee into Gentile territory. He is trying to find some alone time…and this woman tracks him down.
     The woman, even though a Gentile, is a True Believer, recognizing that even crumbs from the kingdom table contain richness, nourishment, indeed – the entire kit and caboodle.
     Even when exhausted and depleted, Jesus enjoys and responds to a little word play, especially if such play indicates that the Light has dawned.
     And even when he’s tired, spent, wrung out – even then – compassion rules in the heart and actions of Jesus.
Sometimes it is almost too easy to forget the humanity of Jesus, isn’t it? 
     ALL of the humanity of Jesus. 

The truth that he got tired, that he sometimes felt overwhelmed by the demands placed upon him, that he could speak sharply when he was displeased or depleted.

This time the sharpness is directed at an unnamed Gentile woman instead of at the Jewish religious establishment. And somehow, that makes this story harder to hear, doesn’t it?
What I hang onto are these true things:
     Jesus, like the God of the Old Testament, enjoys a good wrestle – this time with words.
     Jesus, also like the God of the Old Testament (and the New), can heal with a word. Just a word.
     Jesus, the Son of Man as well as the Son of God, knows our frame – he truly remembers that we are dust – and there is not one thing I feel that Jesus has not also felt.
And story number two?
Again, we’re in Gentile territory. 
Again, people are pushing up against him, asking for help – this time for a deaf and speechless friend.
There are two details that stand our for me in this account –
    * that Jesus took this man away from the crowd to interact with him individually, and 
    * that he looked to heaven and sighed deeply as he moved to the last stages of the healing process.

I’ve done my homework, in seminary and for the preaching process. So I’m fully aware that much of what is described in this small story is typical for ‘wonder-workers’ and ‘magicians’ in 1st century Palestine – the spitting, the incantation – taken together they constitute what might be called a magical formula by historians and sociologists.
But there are differences, too. Important ones, in my book. Jesus’ healing ministry is important – to him, to his followers, to those who are healed. 
But it is not all that he is, not all of what he does. 
These small details are part of what mark the difference:
     He is not a grand-stander, not out for the acclaim, the performance. 
     And he is visibly shaken and grief-stricken by the pain and suffering of the human beings he meets. The healing flows from who he is; it does not define him. 

Among so many other wonderful things, Jesus is a miracle-worker. And I believe in miracles. They may not always look like miracles to us and that’s part of the beauty of it.  

Sometimes they come as word play…
     and sometimes, they come with deep sighs.


I thank you, Lord Jesus, that you have dropped a few crumbs my way over the years. And I thank you for these reminders that you truly did live as one of us, your days full of people and pushing, of groans and sighs. Open my ears and loose my tongue that I might hear and speak your love, your grace, your power to heal and transform. And cause me to sigh over the suffering I see and to look for ways to be part of the miracles you want to work in this place, this time.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – FOURTH SUNDAY

Ephesians 2:1-10, The Message 
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. 
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
How many times in my life have I forgotten the powerful truth of this passage?
Too many to count. 
As a young Christian, busy with school, youth group, life – 
     I believed that somehow I could be my own savior… 
          if I just worked hard enough at it. 
As a young (and not-so-young) mom, 
     I tried really hard to be my children’s savior, 
          working to ‘fix’ their lives. 
As a sixty-something, 
     I’ve tried to fix my aging mom, 
          to figure out the next best thing to help her re-find  herself, the mom I’ve known all these years. 
And all the time
     I do battle with a deeply embedded works mentality 
          that shouts at me, 
     “DO more, serve more, read more, study more, pray more…” 
But if I’m reading these words of Paul correctly, 
     most of the time I get the cart before the horse. 
Ten verses here – and it’s only at the very last breath of them that anything at all is said about working. 
The whole rest of this prose-poem is 
     about being,
     about accepting the gift,
     about God going ahead and preparing the way,
     about the immensity of Love that sweeps away all my paltry efforts and says, 
               See this beautiful package right here in my hands? I’ve picked it out especially for you, 
     wrapped it with beautiful human skin, 
          given it a heart big enough to hold the universe, 
               and here it is. 
Yes, indeed, there is good work for me to do – and for you, too. 
But first comes the gift – 
     receiving it with humility,
          savoring it, 
               leaning into it, 
                    contemplating it, 
          saying thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord God Almighty, for the gift of Jesus Christ, who came to rescue us from ourselves, to give us life and hope, and to strengthen us from the inside out for the good works you ask us to join you in doing. Oh, help me to keep things straight – gift first, work second. Remind me that Love comes first, always.  

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day TWENTY-TWO

Genesis 47:27-48:7, The Message

And so Israel settled down in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property and flourished. They became a large company of people. Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years. In all, he lived 147 years. 
When the time came for Israel to die, he called his son Joseph and said, “Do me this favor. Put your hand under my thigh, a sign that you’re loyal and true to me to the end. Don’t bury me in Egypt. When I lie down with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me alongside them.” 
“I will,” he said. “I’ll do what you’ve asked.”
Israel said, “Promise me.” Joseph promised. 
Israel bowed his head in submission and gratitude from his bed. 
Some time after this conversation, Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” He took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and went to Jacob. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come,” he roused himself and sat up in bed. 
Jacob said to Joseph, “The Strong God appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. He said, ‘I’m going to make you prosperous and numerous, turn you into a congregation of tribes; and I’ll turn this land over to your children coming after you as a permanent inheritance.’ I’m adopting your two sons who were born to you here in Egypt before I joined you; they have equal status with Reuben and Simeon. But any children born after them are yours; they will come after their brothers in matters of inheritance. I want it this way because, as I was returning from Paddan, your mother Rachel, to my deep sorrow, died as we were on our way through Canaan when we were only a short distance from Ephrath, now called Bethlehem.”

Family life is nothing if not fascinating. It is in the midst of family that all of us are forged and shaped, for good and for ill. 

And one of the reasons I love our Holy Writ is that we get example after example of how true this is! 

All the mixed up messiness of it. 
All the glorious power of it. 

And the story before us on this Lenten Saturday is liberally laced with the complex family threads found in the last three dozen chapters of Genesis. 
The younger son getting the blessing rather than the elder 
shades of Jacob and Esau. (Genesis 25:19-27:40) 
The deep sadness caused by the death of Rachel, the one true love of Jacob’s life 
despite the other three women who fathered ten of his sons. (Genesis 29:15-30:24) 
The fact that Joseph is the recipient of Jacob’s dying wish, not one of the sons who has been with him all along 
decades after the coat of many colors. (Genesis 37:1-11) 
The interchangeable use of the patriarch’s two names – Israel and Jacob 
stirring memories of a wrestling match on the banks of the Peniel River, where the long-awaited blessing finally arrived, along with a new name. (Genesis 32:22-32) 
The re-counting of the promise of progeny and land 
 …the promise that came from the dreaming Jacob did on that stone pillow as he fled his brother’s anger. (Genesis 28:10-17) 
The almost primordial urgency to be buried in the land of his fathers, the land that was promised with these words, heard in that dream: 
     “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land…” (Genesis 28:15) 
Think about all that has happened during the lifetime of Jacob: 
     scheming for the birthright and blessing; 
     fleeing for his life; 
     dreaming of ladders and angels and promises; 
     falling for the beautiful younger daughter and ending up with both sisters; 
     losing the wife he loved; 
     favoring her son to the near destruction of his entire family system; 
     traveling in his elderly infirmity to a strange land;
     finding the loved son he thought was gone forever. 

And you think your family has problems? 

Yeah, your family probably does. 
That’s what happens in families – 
     great and wonderful and life-giving things…
     and hard and difficult and life-threatening things. 
And God’s word is not shy about showing it all to us – 
     over and over again. 
I don’t know about you, but that fact gives me a strange kind of hope – 
     hope that all is not lost, 
     no matter how bad it may look at any given moment in time. 
Hope that God is at work, 
     redeeming the broken bits, 
     helping us to tell our family stories well, 
          sometimes in spite of ourselves! 
You have set us in families, Lord. And when they work well, families are such a great gift. Even when they don’t work well, though –  you can redeem them, you can redeem us, turning our mourning into dancing. Help us to seek you there – in the middle of all the mess that comes from living in close quarters, in all the tangled up emotions and connections, the hurt feelings, the mystifying emotional highs and lows. Because even there, you are. Thank you.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day TWENTY-ONE

1 Corinthians 9:16-27, The Message 

Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don’t even have to pay my expenses! 

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! 

You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.
Nobody can call the apostle Paul a slouch.

The man worked HARD. Whatever he did, he put his shoulder to it. Before the blinding light and the pleading voice of the Savior on the road to Damascus, Paul put that shoulder to eliminating all the followers of The Way – those Jews who chose to follow after Jesus of Nazareth.

After his own encounter with the resurrected Christ, all that energy shifted –  
     to life, rather than death; 
     to hope, rather than despair; 
     to winning the confidence and the hearts
          of the people he met and mentored 
          rather than screaming accusations 
          at those he feared and mistrusted.
And this is what I love about the transforming work of Christ in the lives of those who choose to follow the Jesus Way: who we are is never lost; instead, we are deepened, enriched, stretched, and re-focused. 
Paul doesn’t become a mild-mannered, laid-back kinda guy. 
He is still Paul. 
But he becomes a richer Paul, 
     an other-focused Paul, 
          a mentoring, life-giving Paul. 
No more the bully, 
     the fear-mongerer, 
          the zealot with the murderous gleam in his eye.
Instead, he earnestly and passionately pursues people with the Good News, the message of hope and peace and joy that comes with Jesus alone. 

He is a deeply changed Paul – but he is…

     thanks be to God!…
          still PAUL – 
     that uniquely crafted, gifted human person 
          created first in the mind of God, 
               then molded by the Spirit of Jesus 
                    to look more and more like God’s original design.

Paul is willing 
     to go anywhere,
          to do anything,
              to become anyone
so that the life-changing Word can do its work in the lives of as many people as possible.
All of that drive, energy, intelligence, commitment, ability to work hard – all of it becomes a fine set of tools with which to ‘be all things to all people’ so that some might be saved. He runs the race well. Very well indeed.
Sometimes, Lord, I think Paul has gotten a really bad rap. I see those rough edges, the ones that rub people the wrong way sometimes. But I also see so much heart, so much joy! Lord, I want to be wholehearted, I want to be a joy-bringer. As we wander through this Lenten wilderness, help me to trust that you’ll work with me – just exactly as I am at this moment. Encourage me to believe that you designed me, wacky as I am, and that your deepest desire is for ME TO BE ME, but a me that by some outrageous miracle, looks a whole lot like you, too. Wow. And thank you.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day TWENTY

Mark 6:30-46, Today’s New International Version
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take almost a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” 
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. 
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. 

It was just one of those days.

You know the kind. You’ve poured yourself out, doing something you love to do but something which requires a lot of focused attention and interaction.

And you’re dead on your feet when you’re done.
The twelve are feeling like that – and Jesus sees it and suggests a remedy – a getaway, someplace quiet and isolated.
So off they go, clambering into a nearby boat, pushing off, relieved and gratified to be heading on retreat.
Maybe they should have guessed at what happened. They are now pretty fully immersed in ministry life – and this is what it looks like an awful lot of the time: needy people, 24/7.
And Jesus takes pity on the pushing, bustling crowd of them.
Several hours of teaching later, the disciples begin to wonder. So they decide to tell Jesus what is best.
“Send them home, Lord. That’s the best plan. Let’s be done for the day, okay?
And his response absolutely, positively flabbergasts them: 
Why should we send them away hungry? 
YOU feed them.
Say what?
WE’RE supposed to order in for this crowd??
No need for that, Jesus says. Look around.  All you need is right here.

And you know what?

He was right. 

There is enough. 
     There is more than enough. 
          There is an abundance.
               There is an extravagant abundance. 
                    There is more than they know what to do with.

Everyone is fed, everyone is full. 
     The sheep found their shepherd, 
          the apprentices learned an amazing lesson,
               and the shepherd?

He takes a hike. 
     Disciples – over there, in the boat. 
     Crowds – off you go, now it’s time to head home.
Jesus – up into the hills for prayer, refreshment, replenishment.

Everybody needs to be fed – even Jesus.

And there is always…always, more than enough.


You are indeed our Shepherd, Jesus. You know us inside and out. You know when we need feeding – and you know exactly the kind of food we need and when we need it. Thank you that you don’t distinguish or compartmentalize or prioritize our hunger – whether it’s spiritual or physical, you care about it, you move to meet the need. Remind us that we, too, are to look around, to find the resources available to us, and to share them with the starving sheep we meet from day to day. Help us to remember that there is always, always… enough. Amen.

And just because we are now at the halfway point on our Lenten Journey – and because I love these words so much, and because they fit today’s theme so very beautifully, I’m going to write them out for you in this space today. Because what we most deeply desire, what we need – is beyond our wants, beyond our fears. Oh, YES. We need a shepherd. Yes, indeed, we do. 

These are the lyrics from a lovely musical version of the Shepherd’s Psalm, #23, by Marty Haugen. (You can find a link to a sung version of this lovely call-and-response if you click here and head over to look at the bottom of this post.)

Refrain: (sung first and after every verse)
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.  

God is my shepherd, so nothing shall I want
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love.
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.
Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.
Though I should wander the valley of death, 
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.
You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred,
crowning me with love beyond my pow’r to hold.
Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore. 

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day NINETEEN

Lilly, in her ‘rainbow fwetter,’ giving her friend Alice a big hug and kiss at her 2nd birthday party last month.

Genesis 45:1-15, Today’s New International Version

(Yesterday’s devotional reading list had TWO texts I wanted to wrestle with and reflect on, so I’m ‘cheating’ today by using the 2nd of those texts in this post. Back on schedule tomorrow – I promise!)
   Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. 
     Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
     Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
     “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
“You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.


Don’t you just love reunions? 

Well, here is one of the best ever.

     the over-confident, 
          slightly obnoxious, 
               Daddy’s boy –
     big-time dreamer, 
          unwise teller of truth –
THAT Joseph, 
     sold by his brothers, like an unwanted plaything –
     many years of long stories later,  
that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. 

Those brothers
     the very ones who had betrayed him as a teenager;
     the very ones who lied to their father, telling him Joseph was dead.
     the very ones who have come, hats in hand, to beg for mercy
          one.more.time –
these are the ones Joseph weeps over.

Yes, he has tested those brothers, wanting to be sure they have outgrown their violent past. 

And they have passed every test. 

So now – it all comes gushing out:
     “It’s me, guys!”
     “It’s all fine, guys.”
     “I know you meant it for harm – but God…” 

“But GOD…” 

Possibly the two most beautiful words in the English language. 

Words that Joseph repeats and repeats, 
     assuring his terror-stricken brothers that all is well. 
     Things are as they should be, 
          as God meant them to be – 
               even as God had told him they would be, 
                    those many eons ago, back in his dreaming days. 

Ah, yes. Those dreams.

Never underestimate the power of a dream. Never. 

For in many ways, it is dreams that power this entire story:
     Joseph’s dreams as a young boy, full of himself, babbling and bragging…
     Prisoners’ dreams which bring Joseph to the attention of powerful people…
     Pharoah’s dreams which bring the gift of an entirely new life to Joseph – 
     the sold one, 
          the falsely accused one, 
               the imprisoned one, 
                    the forgotten one –
                          now…the exalted one.

But most of all, this story is about GOD’S dream. 
God’s dream of a people uniquely his own;
     God’s dream to preserve them when famine strikes;
           God’s dream for the salvation, healing and reconciliation of the entire human race through the choosing and the saving of that people…
                a dream which is planted as a seed here in Genesis,
                and then blooms into the beautiful Rose of Sharon, Jesus of Nazareth, whom we meet in the pages of the gospels. 

Talk about a God-sized dream. Wow.


O Dreaming God, thank you for planting your dream for our reunion with you deep in the heart of each one of us. And thank you for the story of Joseph – all of the story of Joseph – the hard parts, the scary parts, the exciting parts, the deeply satisfying parts. Help us to nourish our dreams, to test them and treasure them. And by your Spirit at work within us, empower us to live them. Amen.

Click here for day one of this series and an explanation of what it’s all about. 


A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day EIGHTEEN

Mark 6:1-13, The Message
He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?”
But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.
Jesus told them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all. He couldn’t get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.


Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:
“Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.
“And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.
“If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” 

Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits. 

Such an interesting juxtaposition of Jesus-stories Mark has chosen to put here in the opening verses of chapter six. 

Take another look at this phrase from the last paragraph – 

“They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing…” 

Lay that line out against another one, taken from the early part of this passage: 

“Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there; he laid hands on a few sick people there and healed them – that’s all.”

What’s the difference between these two? 

Why such dynamism in one story and the lack of it in the other?

Jesus brought his traveling band back to his hometown. And initially, he preached with power. 

“Yeah, man!” say some of the neighbors. “That guy can PREACH! Who knew?”

But then those townsfolk think about it a little – often a bad sign. Because when we have second thoughts, we usually share them with others, right? And we can really do a number on people when we whisper about them in the corners of life.

“Hmmm…we knew that kid. Didn’t he live down the street and run around the village with our children? He acts like he’s got the answers to all the world’s problems!  Who does he think he is?”


And Jesus sees this for exactly what it is: prideful stubbornness. An inability to believe their own eyes and ears, an unwillingness to acknowledge that this nondescript carpenter could possibly have grown into a full-fledged prophet/teacher/miracle-worker.

And here’s the power-point-great-big-starred-item for me in this text: 
     their own refusal to see 
          led to…
     the shut-down of Jesus’ ability to work his healing power in their midst. 

Talk about scary. 

God has given us an incredible amount of power, hasn’t he? 

Our refusal to see and to believe, our willful choice to say ‘no,’ seems to limit what God can do for us. 

But you see what happens next? 

Jesus blows right on by that town – he leaves and heads out to places where his ministry is welcomed. 

And then… 

Then he turns to his closest associates – the 12 disciples – and he pairs them up and he looks ’em in the eye and tells them they now have HIS authority and power to preach/teach/ heal/exorcise. 

And he sends them out to do exactly that. 


Who knew?


Jesus, your story just gets curiouser and curiouser. Our attitudes, our choices can somehow limit what you will do for us? Well, that’s just plain mind-blowing. And if that weren’t enough – you follow that little tidbit up with this one: those guys – those 12 who were so much like we are, all squirrely and confused and inappropriate – you authorize them to do the wild kinda stuff you do?

Gulp. Does that mean we have that authority, too? 

Lord, have mercy.

Click here for day one of this series and an explanation of what it’s all about. 


A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross – Day SEVENTEEN

Psalm 77, The Message

I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.
I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;
      my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.
   When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,”
      I didn’t believe a word they said.
   I remember God—and shake my head.
      I bow my head—then wring my hands.
   I’m awake all night—not a wink of sleep;
      I can’t even say what’s bothering me.
   I go over the days one by one,
      I ponder the years gone by.
   I strum my lute all through the night,
      wondering how to get my life together.
Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?
      Will he never smile again?
   Is his love worn threadbare?
      Has his salvation promise burned out?
   Has God forgotten his manners?
      Has he angrily stalked off and left us?
   “Just my luck,” I said. “The High God goes out of business
      just the moment I need him.”
Once again I’ll go over what God has done,
      lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
   I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,
      and give a long, loving look at your acts.
O God! Your way is holy!
      No god is great like God!
   You’re the God who makes things happen;
      you showed everyone what you can do—
   You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,
      rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.
Ocean saw you in action, God,
      saw you and trembled with fear;
      Deep Ocean was scared to death.
   Clouds belched buckets of rain,
      Sky exploded with thunder,
      your arrows flashing this way and that.
   From Whirlwind came your thundering voice,
      Lightning exposed the world,
      Earth reeled and rocked.
   You strode right through Ocean,
      walked straight through roaring Ocean,
      but nobody saw you come or go.
Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron,
   You led your people like a flock of sheep.

Oh. My. Goodness. 

I LOVE what Peterson has done with this wonderful cry of angst, this journeyman’s rage against the Machine. 

The psalmist is caught. 

     Feels trapped. 



And where does he vent all that emotion? 

“Just my luck, the High God goes out of business just the moment I need him.” 

He lets GOD have it

And can I tell you how much I love, love, LOVE this?? 

There is nowhere better to go with all that we are feeling than directly into the presence of God. 

Sometimes I think those of us who grew up in the church may be at a distinct disadvantage with this truth. Many well-meaning Sunday school teachers – and even some parents here and there – raised us to believe that ‘nice’ boys and girls don’t get angry. And most certainly, they don’t get angry at God! 

Yet, as I read the psalms,
     as I look at some of the vignettes in the life of Jesus,
I scratch my head at this sad truth. 

Clearly, anger 
     – in and of itself – 
is neither unknown nor unwelcome, 
          in our scripture, 
               or to our God. 

It’s what we DO with the anger that adds moral weight, isn’t it? 

And what the psalmist does here is just…well, wonderful. 

He vents it in God’s direction – honestly, fully.
And then…
     he remembers where he and God have been together,
     he remembers where his people and God have been together,
     he remembers that God is God –
and he…is not

And that last line?

“Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron, You guided your people like a flock of sheep.” 

This mighty God, the one the psalmist has been remembering,

     this striding God, 
          voice like a whirlwind, 
              a figure so terrifying that the ocean itself trembles in fear – 
this God ‘hides’ in the hands of people like Moses and Aaron, like you and like me in order to work God’s way in the world he has made. 

Remarkable. Just remarkable. 


O Lord, help me to remember that ALL of what I am feeling is seen and welcomed. Remind me that you cannot be overwhelmed or disgusted by my struggles, that you invite me to be more real with you than with anyone else. Help me to exhaust all of it right here — and then — help me to turn my energies to remembering and re-telling your story with me, my story with you. Thank you for giving me the gift of an emotional life – help me to steward it well.


A Lenten Journey: Climbing to Calvary – THIRD Sunday

 A completely over-the-top personal chapel in what is now a large monastery at Melk, Austria. The artwork is glorious, yet somehow the very grandeur of the place seems off-putting and out of synch with 
the simple power of the gospel message.

John 2:13-22, Today’s New International Version

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.


Did you catch the location of this passage? Gospel of John – chapter TWO.

Every other gospel has this episode located at the beginning of Holy Week, very late in the life and ministry of Jesus.
But John – ever the contrarian – puts this narrative at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry life, as a ‘kick-off’ event of sorts.

And what better way to start your life as a rabbi than to thoroughly tick off all the influential religious people in the Holy City? You know the ones I mean – the guys with the clout – the ones who could make or break you as a spiritual leader?

Well, tick them off he does. He clears the place of all the fuss and mess of folks offering their thoroughly inappropriate best-buys-in-sacrifical-animals. And he makes no bones about it, either: Stop this. Get this stuff outta here.

The mightily offended scribes and Pharisees pull their prayer shawls ever so closely and ask – what right, what authority have you to do this dastardly deed?

And basically, Jesus answers with a riddle. A riddle they do not understand – and I’m pretty certain Jesus knew they would not understand, they could not understand. Even those who were closest to him didn’t understand until much, much later.

John’s portrait of Jesus is dripping with theological insight, with glimpses of the confidence, acceptance and resolution with which Jesus embraced his life and his death. And right here, the hope of the resurrection begins lacing its way in and around the narrative – right from the very beginning of the book. 

Yes! Even as we wander our way through these 40 days and 6 Sundays of wilderness travel, let us never lose sight of that gaping hole in the earth! 

     It is the resurrection that makes our faith vibrate. 
     It is the resurrection that promises us a forever future. 
     It is the resurrection that anchors us all – 
          21st-century-struggler types. 
     It is the resurrection that anchors us all in 
          hope fulfilled, 
               promises kept, 
                    healing and wholeness and salvation delivered. 


Resurrected Christ, Great Heart and Hope of our universe, even as we wrestle with our own weakness, doubt, lack of understanding, dogmatism, addiction to forms and shadows rather than the simple Truth – point us to the empty tomb as well as the cross, remind us that you are LORD as well as friend, that you hate hypocrisy as well as love little children. Help us to see all of who you are – or at least as much ‘all’ as you think we can handle. Amen.

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to Calvary – Day SIXTEEN

Mark 5:1-10, Today’s New International Version

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Lent is a good time for confronting demons.
And here’s the thing about demons – they’re tenacious, they’re manipulative, and they’re scary as hell. Literally.
We might tend to read this story through our 21st century, western cultural eyes. We might want to think that the days of literal demons are behind us.
But I think the powers of evil have found lots and lots of new ones with which to entangle us, to ensnare us, to hiss and snarl and sweet-talk us away from the Truth. 

I have a few that I do battle with, sometimes until I feel exhausted and exposed, just like this wild man on the edges of town. How about you?

Do you think maybe you’re ready? Ready to do a little confrontational work?

Perhaps the language of the psychologists might be helpful as we confront the things that demonize us in this time and place:






Control issues. 

Egocentric ego. 


Family of origin issues.




           “I have met the enemy and s/he lives inside my head.”  

So said the very wise father of a friend of mine, and I think he nailed it.

Because everybody does battle with several of the personal demons on this list – and all of them hit us hardest where we spend about 99% of our time – inside our own heads. 
But then, just like the Gerasene demoniac, these demons inside our heads break through, frightening us and the people we live with, too often leaving us isolated, ‘crying out and cutting ourselves with stones.’

So, I ask you today:
     If Jesus were to stand in front of the naked, quivering you and say, “What is your name?”  
     Who do you think would answer?

Do you believe that Jesus has 
     the authority
     the will and 
     the power to release you from the grip 
        of whatever it is that holds you? 

Do you trust him…
     to do what is best for you, 
     to clear out the things that hold you captive,
          using whatever means will be most effective – from
               scripture to 
               prayer to 
               psychological or pastoral counseling to
               healthy eating to
               regular exercise to 
               the good words of friends to 
               a 12-step program?

Do you believe that Jesus is able to

               help you to find new clothes, 
                     seat you at his feet as a true disciple,
                          invite you to be a witness to his goodness?

Lent invites us to do exactly that: 
     to trust this time in the wilderness with Jesus, 
          or more accurately –
     to trust this Jesus in the wilderness  
          with all of who we are and 
          to invite him to make some deep changes in us.
I’ll admit, Lord, that I find this picture of you both captivating and terrifying. I so want to trust you, to hear you tell the things that hold me, “Get the heck outta here!” But these demons are so familiar to me, and I am so dang scared of change. Help me to trust in your goodness, to recognize your authority over the things that isolate me, to open myself to the life-changing work you want to do in me and through me. For your sake, Lord. And for mine, too.