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Jun 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 12 06/04/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to our RefleXion Community!      May the Grace of the Lord be with you!

It seems someone is always talking about putting up the ten commandments in courtrooms and classrooms.  I don’t know what you think about that.  A leader I follow suggested that we might want to consider putting up the Sermon on the Mount instead, since that’s new testament spirituality.  I mean, it would be interesting; because those in a courtroom are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, some want mercy, all want a measure of peace. The law is foundational; and Jesus said he didn’t come to throw out the law, but he said that he was fulfilling the law.  The Sermon on the Mount is the fullness of the law.  John said that Jesus was full of grace and truth.  Grace and truth fulfill the law.

Honestly, it’s not always easy for me to live by grace.  Sometimes I just want the law, the steps, a measurement of right or wrong in terms I can understand.  But grace…that’s a whole different way to live.  For me, grace stands between what I have and what I need, and it’s present for everyone all the time.  It helps us to do what we could never do on our own and is distributed according to the wisdom of God.  Following the law will not save us (and it never could, by the way).  It is grace through faith that saves; it always has.

We’ll all only be saved by the grace of God. Oh, I find myself wanting to live by grace, yet I sometimes insist that others live by the law.  I think Jesus knew that, so he gave us the law, encapsulated in two verses:  Love God, love each other.  Let’s just do that, as best as we can.

Will you join me in prayer:

Oh, Lord Jesus, from your fullness we have received grace upon grace.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Save us from the idea that we must measure justice in our terms.  We have faith that your grace is sufficient.  May we experience its life-giving power as we more and more put our trust in you.  We breathe deeply in the grace-filled atmosphere this morning, filling ourselves with your power and loveliness, truth and grace.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give teh vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the corner stone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
Mark 12:1-12

Intro: For the last few chapters, tension has been growing

The religious establishment has taken notice of Jesus
– in this chapter, the conflict leads to a public showdown
• this began at end of chapter 11 with priests, scribes, and elders
By what authority are you doing these thing or who gave you this authority to do them? (Mk. 11:28)
◦ so the ‘And’ at beginning of chapter 12 is a continuation of that encounter
◦ the ‘them’ in verse 1 refers to the priests, scribes, and elders
• the answer to their question is hidden in Jesus’ parable
– the climax of the confrontation comes after three failed attempts to catch Jesus in an error
(It was always a bad mistake for Jesus’ critics to try to trap him with trick questions)
• after several assaults, Jesus posed a riddle
And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions (v. 34)

This parable is a masterpiece

It is the best commentary ever written on Mark’s gospel
– it not only reveals the plot of entire story, beginning to end,
• it also reveals the mystery Mark has kept secret the whole time
◦ Jesus is the one who tells the parable – it is his autobiography
◦ he is the “beloved son” the Father sent (v. 6)
(the various “servants” he sent were his prophets–cf. Mt. 23:29-36)
• God’s vineyard was the temple and the spiritual life of Israel
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briars and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
but behold, and outcry
(Isa. 5:1-7)
– I do not believe that the similarity between Isaiah’s song and Jesus’ parable is a coincidence
• in both, God appears as a very busy farmer–there are lots of verbs (planted, put a fence, dug a pit)
◦ however, in Jesus’ parable, the busy activity of the owner is matched by the busy activity of the tenants
(they took, beat, sent away, struck treated shamefully, and killed)
My meditation: “The priests, scribes and elders were placed in charge of the temple. In their minds, the only answer Jesus could give to their question was, ‘I do not have anyone’s authority.’ However, Jesus uses the parable as an indirect answer to their question regarding his authority.
The parable builds to a climax and at the climax, a question. Basically the question is: Given the circumstances reported up to this point, what will happen next? Though the audience may not have guessed the exact course the story would take, they would have drawn a conclusion close to the one Jesus provided (which is what happens in Mt. 21:41).
The core of pure religion belongs to God, but how religion is practiced he placed in our hands—it is our part of the covenant with God. What God expects of us, is that we do his work his way. The temple and what went on within its walls did not belong to the priests, yet that is how they treated it—just like the tenants treated the vineyard as their own investment income. In order to make it their own, they had to get rid of the Son. Apparently they assumed the owner himself would never return. The temple was being run under the authority of humans, not heaven (cf. Mk. 11:29-30).
It grieves me to see churches that are treated like other human institutions by pastors and other leaders. Too frequently they manage them with the goal of turning a profit, and handle the church’s assets as if they were the rightful owners. I don’t think they realize, that by taking over the church and making it their own, they have to get rid of Jesus.
Not everyone who assumes ownership of religion is part of a church staff or Board of Directors. There are many Christians who act like their little bit of biblical knowledge empowers them to condemn, boss, and abuse others.
There are several ways I can think of how I need to hear and respond to this parable. This morning, it’s the realization that Jesus has the authority to walk into my life and throw out any wrong thing that he sees.”

The Pharisee’s famous attempt to discredit Jesus (Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?)

It is almost comical the way they butter him up
Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God (v. 14)
not swayed by appearance, literally translates do not look on faces of men
My meditation: “The praise of these posers was over the top and totally insincere. They began their question this way for effect, not respect. Had they believed what they said about Jesus not being swayed by appearances , they would have realized he would see through their dishonesty instantly.
Anyway, what they said was true, even if they were insincere and Jesus did see past their flattery. ‘But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them . . . .’ The word hypocrite is derived from the Greek word for actors, and in stage plays the actors would wear masks that represented the characters they played. Jesus saw through the Pharisees’ masks.”
– we can learn a bit of wisdom from Jesus’ response
• when someone reduces a problem to an either/or answer
◦ right or wrong, good or bad, black or white
◦ they are priming our minds to think only in those narrow terms
• I learned from Brian McLaren,
◦ gray is not the only alternative to black or white
◦ there is seeing in color – seeing more of what is there

Next, the Sadducees give it their best shot

Mark had to explain to us, that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection
– if the Pharisees have all the characteristics of Fundamentalists
• the Sadducees appear as the intellectual Liberals
◦ they could not bring themselves to believe in what the common people gobbled up
• Jesus begins and ends his answer to them with “you are wrong”
My meditation: “Their question was wrong, because it was based on an assumption. Since in their minds there was no resurrection, they thought they could disprove it by presenting a logical absurdity. It had not occurred to them that the resurrection would usher people into a new condition of existence. The rules and norms of this life would not apply.
How did they go wrong? By not knowing either the Scriptures or God’s power. I know the Scriptures; that is, I think I do. But I would not have seen in the Scriptures what Jesus saw—for instance, the fact of resurrection in the story of Moses. My understanding of the Scriptures is mostly rational. But that is not the only way of reading or knowing what is in them. St. Augustine said that to meditate on the deep meaning of scripture after studying the surface meaning is to ‘experience awe.’ Mark succeeds in his goal as a storyteller when I find myself in awe of Jesus—for instance, when in verse we read, ‘And they marveled at him.’
Regarding the power of God, I used to think that the Sadducees did not know the magnitude of God’s power. But now I think Jesus meant they did not even know what God’s power was—they did not know its nature. It is unlike any force or energy in our universe. The example he gives is a picture of the angels in heaven, ‘they neither marry nor are given in marriage’. A reality that is unknown to us. The Sadducees did not know enough to believe in resurrection.
But how did Jesus know this, that we will be like the angels who do not marry? This future state is not spelled out anywhere in scripture. This is knowledge of an unrevealed mystery—‘unrevealed,’ at least, until this moment.
We are all mistaken about some things—maybe about a lot of things. If we are wrong about one of the basic truths, it can blur our understanding of the peripheral truths. I think it is important for me to hear Jesus tell me, ‘You are wrong.’ It is as important as hearing him say, ‘Render to God the things that are God’s.’”

What we come to now may be the very heart of Jesus’ life and teaching

Jesus was asked, Which commandment is the most important of all?
– he wasn’t asked for the first two greatest! But he gave an answer for the second greatest anyway
• a few months ago a friend introduced me to Bob Mumford
◦ in our conversation, I mentioned that the law is relational, but we’ve made it moral
Mumford replied, “Yes! And our failures are relational, not moral”
◦ Paul agrees, “love fulfills the law” (Rom. 13:8-10)
My meditation: “We are to love God with our ‘alls’. In the Hebrew Scriptures, love has two parts that cannot be separated. One part is the feeling of love, and that was important for them, embodied in visceral language. But by itself, the feeling lacked substance to make love complete, and that required doing. So loving one’s neighbor involved justice, righteousness, and showing mercy to the weakest and most vulnerable members of society—the stranger, the infirm and disabled, the widow, and the orphan. Those acts of love mean much more to God than ‘all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ Jesus reiterated the fact that loving God and others is more important than worship when he quotes Hosea, reminding us that ‘God desires mercy and not sacrifice’ (Mt. 9:13 and 12:7).”
– Jesus told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom”
My meditation: ‘Not far’ is not the same as having arrived. How could this scribe close the distance? The answer was right in front of him, and was the same as with the lawyer to whom Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, and then said, ‘You go, and do likewise.’ He had the map to the kingdom, he just had to get on the road.”

Jesus’ riddle ended the verbal sparring (vv. 35-37)

I’ve explained this riddle several times before, so I want to skip it for now
– the chapter ends with a glaring contrast between the scribes and a widow
Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (vv. 38-40)
• what follows is the widow’s offering of two small copper coins
• as Jesus observed, it was “everything she had, all she had to live on”

We need Jesus’ warning about the scribes and their pretentious piety
– their true nature came out when they devoured widow’s houses
• Jesus said their condemnation will be amplified
– please! don’t imagine this is ancient history and Jesus has already resolved these issues
• last week I learned of a pious couple who cozy up to visible leaders in their church
◦ but the wife has plotted to rob a widow of her home (which she inherited when her mother died)
• I’ve never seen so much misrepresentation and misinformation as what is circulating today
◦ perhaps it seems rampant because social media gives angry, crazy and delusional people a forum
My meditation: “I think of Christian leaders who love notoriety and work at getting public attention. Jesus notices them too, and he is their greatest critic. He watched people making donations, but praised only one—a widow. She gave without drawing attention to herself, yet she drew Jesus’ attention. God knows his secret lovers.”


One more parting meditation
– I was thinking about what Jesus said to the Sadducees, that they did not know the power of God
My meditation: God has no limits. What could happen today is not limited to my resources, nor constrained by my circumstances, nor by those who work with me or against me. Today is not limited to what I can accomplish or will accomplish. God’s power does not end at my boundaries. God’s grace makes possible things I am not capable of imagining.

May 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 11 05/28/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to our RefleXion Community.  May the Spirit of the Lord be with you!

Thank you, Jim, for the beautiful and important message last week from the book of Micah.  I’m sharing two more verses from Micah that illustrate two kinds of power:  human and spiritual. First: “What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so.” And “But as for me, I am filled with power–with the Spirit of the LORD. I am filled with justice and strength.”

When Chuck is performing a wedding, he might say, “by the power vested in me…”  When you want to be able to make decisions for someone else you might get power of attorney.  There are many kinds of human power.  And then there’s dynamis power (from which we get our words dynamite and dynamic).

Today is the celebration of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus walked the earth after the grave for 40 days, and then, before He ascended to heaven (to sit at the right hand of the power of God by the way) He told the disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, when they would be empowered.  They gathered, and they were baptized with this new kind of power, dynamis power.  And then they shared it with others—for the rest of their lives. 

Dynamis power as defined is active, potent, effective, and energetic.  It’s always looking for a place to display its power; it is active.  It is potent, having might and influence.  It is effective; it does what it sets out to do. It is energetic, pouring out vitality and life.  This power raised Jesus from the dead.  This power was given to the disciples at Pentecost. This power raises us from the dead.  It is given to us in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit in you and in me is powerful:  active, potent, effective, and energetic.  So, what do I need power to do?  What do you need power to do? 

Let’s pray: Father, You gave us Your Son, Jesus the Christ; and You gave us the Holy Spirit to   empower us and to unite us, to make us one with You and with each other.  May the work You have commissioned each one of us to do come to its fullness; may the dynamic power of the Spirit remain with us and empower us to live in compassion, wisdom, truth, influence—everything that You have intended for us. We make space in our hearts and in our lives for Your work.  Come Holy Spirit and fill us to overflow for the sake of the world.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. On the following day, when they came from Bethany he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to se if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
. . . And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple . . . . And he was teaching them saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:11-17 (Please read through verse 25)

Intro: The chapter begins with Jesus’ dramatic entrance into Jerusalem

But first, he gives instructions to two disciples regarding the colt he was going to ride
– imagine this: the disciples go find the colt and begin untying it,
• wouldn’t the bystanders assume they were stealing it
◦ so Jesus instructed them to say,
The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately
• how does that make sense?
◦ would the bystanders know the two disciples were referring to Jesus?
◦ or would they assume the disciples knew the actual owner? (the “lord” or “master” of the colt)
• is Jesus telling them how to “borrow” a colt and get away with it?
– there is another, better lesson here
• they were on a mission, and if anything went wrong,
◦ they would not have Jesus there to resolve it for them
◦ so what would they do?
• Jesus arranged it, so even though they would not have him, they would have his word
◦ and his word would guide them
◦ in a way, he’s preparing them for when he would be gone
My meditation: “God gives himself to us in his word, and his word is always with us. Hang onto it!”

Mark gave the bulk of the chapter a specific arrangement (vv. 11-25)

It moves back and forth from the temple to the fig tree, from the fig tree to the temple, etc.
– Mark creates a connection between the temple and the tree, so the one reveals something about the other
• first Jesus goes into the temple and looks around–that’s all
◦ the next morning he sees the tree and goes to it for fruit
but he found nothing but leaves — it was all show and no go
◦ like sometimes people give us nothing but talk, or nothing but cliches, or nothing but platitudes
• then Jesus did something that seems completely out of character — he cursed the fig tree
My meditation: “What Jesus says to the fig tree evokes a peculiar effect. Addressing it as ‘you’ personifies the tree, as if it understood him and was responsible for disappointing him. When I was young, I remember reading this and feeling sorry for the tree. In this scene, the fig tree is more than a tree. If, by this point in the story, we have learned anything from Mark’s gospel, we know that truth is hidden everywhere and things are not always what they seem. Will we have eyes to see what is happening here?”
◦ the disciples took note of what Jesus said to the tree
◦ that’s all I want to say about this for now

Going from the tree, Jesus entered the temple again
– only this time he makes a scene
• he had gone to the tree looking for figs
◦ then, he went into the temple looking for—what?
◦ people encountering God, perhaps, and especially in prayer
• what did he find? commerce and exploitation
◦ his quotation was suited perfectly to what was happening
My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations
◦ visitors from other nations had to change currency to pay the temple tax
◦ and some had to purchase offerings that were approved by the priests
– rather than a house of prayer, Jesus found a ring of thieves

Again, going from the temple Jesus and disciples came to the fig tree
– they were surprised to see it had died and withered overnight
• by associating the temple and tree, Mark has uncovered a parable
◦ the tree was destined for one thing: to produce figs
◦ temple was destined to be a house of prayer for all nations
• if a fig tree is healthy, it is going to produce figs
◦ that is its nature, that’s what it was created to do
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind (Gen 1:11)
◦ but now we learn of a fig tree without figs and house of prayer without prayer
– when we get to chapter 13, we’ll see that a day or two later
as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down (Mk. 13:1-2)
• the exterior of temple, like the fig tree, looked wonderful
◦ and like the fig tree, would suffer a similar fate
My meditation: “Mark does not waste words. He notes that the fig tree was withered ‘to its roots’ for a reason. Roots and fruits of a tree are frequent biblical allusions. The bad fruit in the temple was a problem that went to its roots.”

Jesus used the withered tree to give his disciples instructions regarding prayer

Prayer was the fruit he did not find in the temple
– I think Jesus wanted to give his disciples incentive to pray
• whenever I have read this passage, three phrases stand out
“Have faith in God”
My meditation: “I think it is a universal human trait to look for a key to unlock a door to supernatural resources. The entire industry of psychics, palm readers, fortunetellers, Shamans, and so on is built on this desire. The world wants to tap whatever power can make its dreams come true. Some Christians believe that they have found the key here in what Jesus says about prayer.
Imagine what would happen if that was what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’ There would be complete chaos. On the same street one person would ask for rain and another for clear skies and another for a cool breeze and another perfect calm. Someone would ask for more daylight and another would ask for longer nights so they could get more sleep. And so on and on.
As students, Jesus’ disciples have not been quick to learn that there is a spiritual revelation within his teaching that is hidden behind his literal words. I should, at least, be cautious so that I don’t miss something bigger and more important than using prayer to get whatever I want.”

My meditation (Two hears ago): “Barb and I have been watching a TV series in which a young man is given the ability to release a blast of energy. The first time he discovered this, it happened by accident. Later, when he tried to make it happen, he couldn’t. Obviously his effort was useless. I felt that if he would relax and let the energy flow through him, it could happen again. At that moment I felt impressed that this was an important lesson.
The next morning I felt the same impression when I read Jesus’ words, “Have faith in God.” Jesus says that with faith, I can tell a mountain to jump in the ocean and it will. I’m not really interested in doing that, but what if I’m going to ask God to heal a friend who has cancer? When I pray, do I need to tense up all my muscles, tighten my jaw, concentrate until I give myself a headache? Would that help me pluck up the faith to release the power of God?
Human energy can be graced by God, but it is not grace. Grace flows. We can be channels of grace, but that is all. Grace is effortless.
Have faith in God.’ By that Jesus is telling us more than ‘believe in God.’ He tells us to trust God. If you cannot walk, is it really so difficult to let someone carry you? I need to get my mind out of God’s way. Trust does not require effort, but surrender. Let grace come, and it will. Open yourself to God, and his grace will flow.”

“Whatever you ask in prayer believe”
In 2017, I wrote a long and labored meditation on vv. 22-24
– I’ll spare you the first eight paragraphs
My meditation: “How humbling all of this is for me. But if humbling, then I suppose it is good for me; even if it doesn’t feel good. How incomplete I am—and after all this time. How fragmented and riddled with holes. I am hopeless.
[Then I imagined this conversation with Jesus]
‘Yes, so true. You’re hopeless.’
‘What, Lord? You agree with me?’
‘Yes, I do. That is why I saved you; why I watch over you; why I reveal these things to you; and why I have been patiently guiding your slow progress. In yourself, you are hopeless. But I love you and you will always find your hope in Me. Now what is it that you want?’
‘Lord, I want eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that does not doubt.’
‘Very well. You have asked for what you want and it’s yours. And I am yours, and you are Mine.”

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive”
My meditation: “Jesus raises the bar as high as it can go when he uses the words ‘anything’ and ‘anyone’ (‘forgive, if you have anything against anyone’) I am certain that everyone comes to an hour in their life when they cannot do this.”
[Early in 2020] “The Lord’s instruction that when we pray we must forgive is familiar. It is what he stressed when teaching the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 (vv. 14-15). What is unusual here is the context. Yes, he’s saying the same thing about forgiveness, but not in the context of an everyday sort of prayer like the Our Father. Here he is teaching the disciples about moving mountains, working miracles. Even in this context, he insists that forgiveness is a necessary facet of prayer.”
[Later, that same year] “I read in Hannah Arendt this morning that Jesus ‘likened the power to forgive to the more general power of performing miracles, putting both on the same level and within [our] reach.’ And in a footnote she adds, ‘faith will move mountains and faith will forgive; the one is no less a miracle than the other, and the reply of the apostles when Jesus demanded of them to forgive seven times in a day was: “Lord, increase our faith.”’
I find than when I am aware of being in God’s presence or when I’m aware of Jesus’ love for me, it is easier to forgive.”

Conclusion: I’ll sign off with a meditation that is not tied to anything in particular

My meditation: “I feel that Mark has given us a ‘warmer feeling’ for Jesus’ interaction with individuals than Matthew or Luke. Like he was with the first leper he healed, or blind Bartimaeus, or the rich young man whom he loved. Perhaps this reflects what Mark most wanted his readers to receive from the story of Jesus; that he cares, he comes close, he touches us.”

This is how I want to know and experience Jesus every day,
in his care, his nearness, and his touch

May 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Micah 6:6

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning all…welcome!                        The Lord is with you!

As a reminder, we are collecting offerings today for the Novi Community, our friends who are in Ukraine, helping children of war recover from trauma.  Please be generous; in particular, they need funds to buy trauma kits.  You might remember that we saw these backpacks a few months ago when Steve and Jon visited us.  These will go with the trained counselors who use the kits to minister to the children.  Please make your checks to Novi, or to RefleXion is fine too.

I wanted to open with a prayer for them.  I have learned to “Pray the Psalms,” and maybe that would be a way of prayer that you might enjoy.  I know that so many of the Psalms are from King David, his songs, laments, cries for help, his praise.  When I am reading the Psalms, it’s a bit like reading his personal journal.  I ask for the Spirit to reveal what I need to see and feel.  Maybe this is my cry, and so interesting that David wrote this about 3000 years ago, right?  I might not relate to what the psalmist is saying for my own life experience, but someone is experiencing this.  I read it slowly, and someone I love might come to mind and a prayer might be formed.  As I read through Ps. 68 this week, I thought of Ukraine and The Novi Community and found an intersection of psalm and prayer. 

I’m going to read a few verses and then offer my prayer, then read a few more and do the same a few times.  Would that be OK?  This how it came to me.

From Psalm 68, beginning in v. 1:  A Psalm of David. A Song. God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!  Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him!

My prayer:  God, you are our God and the God of all people.  You are present to the people of Ukraine.  Rise up, God!  Scatter their enemies, your enemies.  Let the time be now for your people to be glad, even jubilant with joy.  They have suffered so much.  Remember the children.  Give them a song to sing.  Remind them that you are with them and for them.

Verses 5-10:  Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.  God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.  O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.  Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad; you restored your inheritance as it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

My prayer:  You have provided, Lord.  Thank you for the caregivers, the helpers; remember them.  Provide comfort and strength for them too.  Thank you for the leaders and staff of Novi.  We ask for provision for the kits they need.  Rain an abundance of blessings that they might know the love of God in this way.  Let not their enemies have provision, that they must turn back. Let them be thirsty, thirsty for what matters most.  Let their hearts be broken by what they do and see. 

Verses 28-30:  Summon your power, O God, the power, O God, by which you have worked for us. Because of your temple at Jerusalem kings shall bear gifts to you. Rebuke the beasts that dwell among the reeds, the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples. Trample underfoot those who lust after tribute; scatter the peoples who delight in war.

My prayer:  Yes, by your authority and power Lord.  Do not let empire, power and greed control this war.  Scatter the people who delight in war.  We will use human power and tools—thank you for them; and what we really need is changed hearts.  Only you can do such a wonderful thing.  Let the leaders and soldiers of Russia realize truth, wisdom, and compassion. Change their hearts, O God. 

Verses 31-35:   Nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God.  O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.  Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies.  Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel–he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

My prayer:  Lord, let nations rise up to help the suffering.  Speak to all of us about righteousness. Plant seeds of hope that all people might declare your goodness, might know your mercy and justice.  Grant us power and strength.  Let each of us be a part of something that will bless, will give you glory, for you are an awesome God.  We pray in the name of your son, Jesus. Amen

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:6-8

⁃ More than 700 years before Jesus there was Micah. Micah was a prophet.
⁃ He came early in the stream of prophets. There had been peace for generations.
⁃ Things seemed to be going well.
⁃ But the people had lost the thread
⁃ They had lost the storyline.
⁃ They had forgotten who they were and what life was all about.
⁃ They were floundering and didn’t know it.

⁃ They were headed for disaster.
⁃ In 734 BCE things began to change.
⁃ The Assyrians went on the march to take Palestine.
⁃ They took aim at the region and began to pound away.
⁃ Each year for the next seven they came and made war.
⁃ In the end Damascus and its kingdom were dissolved and absorbed by the Assyrians.
⁃ Ammon, Moab and Edom were forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians. Tribute isn’t just taxes, but an expression of submission.
⁃ The Philistines, the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah are each made vassal states. The Assyrians controlled the states and territories without having to govern them. Part of the arrangement meant that the wealth of the vassal states would flow toward Assyria.
⁃ The northern Kingdom of Israel was the most prosperous of these three and chafed at this arrangement.
⁃ When the King that conquered them died, the northern kingdom rebelled. Over the next three years Assyria counterattacked and destroyed their capital, Samaria in 721 BCE after a three year siege.
⁃ After the collapses of the northern kingdom about 20 percent of the people were relocated to Mesopotamia (current day Iraq) about 600 miles away.

⁃ Others immigrated south to the Kingdom of Judah.
⁃ Most stayed were they were and became who we know as Samaritans.
⁃ The Assyrians also settled their own people in the region.
⁃ The Northern Kingdom was destroyed and the “ten tribes of Israel” were lost.
Why? Micah addresses the reasons and cites the following:
⁃ Unjust and corrupt leaders
⁃ The use of power for personal gain
⁃ Judges accepted bribes
⁃ Prophets and priests who exploited people for cash
⁃ Micah addresses how the poor were treated and he defends their rights against the rich and powerful
⁃ They wanted the land and homes and inheritances of others and then took them.
⁃ They defrauded them
⁃ They used false scales and weights
⁃ Micah also addresses the problem of idolatry.
⁃ Their pursuit of wealth was idolatry
⁃ And the wealth would be carried away by others and they would no longer enjoy it.
⁃ They had lost the thread

⁃ Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
“Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.”

⁃ They were unaware that they had lost the plot
⁃ Disaster came anyway.
⁃ Micah told the people that destruction was coming. First to the northern kingdom in Samaria. It happened in his lifetime.
⁃ Then in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. It happen in time about 150 years later.

How do we come to lose the thread?
⁃ The answer is found in the human condition
⁃ It is tremendously difficult for some of us to admit that we just don’t know
⁃ Not knowing makes us vulnerable
⁃ Some things don’t work as they should
⁃ We don’t always know when things aren’t working correctly
⁃ Anything that works in our lives may one day not work
⁃ We are easily disrupted
⁃ We are far more dependent than we like to imagine
⁃ The gap between needs and resources
⁃ Chronic stress = guilt, fear, anger, depression
⁃ We will often do anything we can think of to deal with the stress in our lives
⁃ This is one of the ways we lose the thread. We become so focused on what is creating stress in our lives that we turn our focus away from God.
⁃ Some of the ways we try to manage our stress just makes things worse.
⁃ They leave a long trail of hurt in our lives and in the lives of others.
⁃ One approach is we numb ourselves to our stress, our pain, our vulnerability. Unfortunately that means we also numb ourselves to the stress, pain and vulnerability of others, including those closest to us.
⁃ We add to the suffering of others and are unaware or we don’t care or both.
⁃ Things that were once unthinkable become everyday common
⁃ And we can get lost
⁃ We can get lost in our idols.
⁃ All of the substitutes we have for God
⁃ Micah is very plain about this.
⁃ The most powerful of these idols is money and wealth
⁃ It can corrupt our daily lives
⁃ It can corrupt our courts

⁃ It can cause us to treat others miserably, exploiting them, manipulating them, using them, destroying them and the whole fabric of their lives
⁃ It can corrupt even our worship
⁃ And it all seems reasonable, a matter of good practice and prudence since we are serving the idol to pacify our worries
⁃ And we lose the thread
Common good
⁃ The common good is good.
⁃ No need to talk it down or retreat from it. We can and should participate in it. It is our privilege and opportunity.
⁃ We can also get lost in the common good.
⁃ All the work to make life work for our families and our communities.
⁃ All the love, all the truth, all the beauty
⁃ It can fill a whole life. Absolutely consume it. And we forget there is something more.
⁃ We become blind to all that is happening. We congratulate ourselves for our happy families and good communities.
⁃ We forget that there is more to life and we lose the thread.
⁃ We say to ourselves
“Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.”

Micah gives us the path back.
⁃ First he tells us what is not helpful.
⁃ No need for grand gestures
⁃ No call for thousands of rams, ten thousand streets of oil or your first born.
⁃ These things use up all of our energies and we think we are done.
That we have appeased the angry God.
⁃ We don’t need to buy off God to make him love us again. He never stopped.
⁃ This isn’t what God wants at all.
⁃ He wants us to pick up the thread, to remember the story line, to re-engage with him and leave our idols behind and to trust him with our worries and fears and shame and anger and frustration and sadness and loss of hope.
⁃ He wants us to return to the path to remember who we are.
⁃ If you are feeling off the path then the best thing to do, the only thing to do is to return to the path. Not with sacrifices, not with promises to do better and be worthy
⁃ Return to the path to be on the path.
⁃ Return to the path to remember who you are, to refresh your love, to renew the meaning of your life
⁃ And if you wander from the path that is okay. Simply return.
⁃ We hold ourselves with enough compassion to gently encourage and allow ourselves to return to the path.

⁃ We remember that we are finite, flawed and fragile. And that is how it is. And that is okay
⁃ Meditation practice as an example
⁃ First to do justly
⁃ To live justly means to love God wholly and to love our neighbor, all of them, as ourselves.
⁃ I will never grow tired reminding myself and others that Justice and righteousness are relational, not rule based.
⁃ Pick up the thread and commit yourself anew to a life of the golden rule
⁃ Then to love mercy
⁃ Everyone we know is trying to work out their stress just as we are.
⁃ Sometimes they are doing great.
⁃ Sometimes they are making a big fat mess of things.
⁃ Hold them with kindness and gentleness and patience.
⁃ Even when you have to love them with limits and boundaries do so with mercy.
⁃ Just as you would want someone to do for you when you need some limitations
⁃ Pick up the thread anew and commit yourself to a life of compassion
⁃ And then to walk with humility.
⁃ It is terrifyingly easy to see how quickly we can become grandiose.
⁃ To think our thought are the same as God’s thoughts.
⁃ To think God could use a little education and thinking we just might set God right.
⁃ That God needs our help to defend his honor or to make him effective.
⁃ We can act, hold in our heart that God is impotent, ineffectual acting too slow.
⁃ So a business manipulates the books to increase their profits
⁃ So we treat people like garbage do we can climb over them to get ahead to secure what we think we deserve and God has promised.
⁃ So a judge accepts bribes to move the program along.
⁃ So political leaders can justify any excess to win.
⁃ There are political operatives that came out this week claiming they are “soldiers of the Lord” and this is a political battle to the death.
⁃ No it isn’t. And no they aren’t. They are political operatives attempting to manipulate Christian’s by getting them riled up and fearful. They aren’t prophets and they aren’t in charge.
⁃ They lost the thread
⁃ But now we need to pick up the thread
⁃ Remember that we are finite, flawed and fragile.
⁃ Remember that we are creatures of the creator
⁃ That we are here small fish in a small pond.
⁃ And we can act accordingly with gratitude, worship, and communion

⁃ That’s who we are.
⁃ That is our thread
God, I am finite, flawed and fragile. I sometimes wander away. Bring me back. Hold me close. Make me whole day by day. Show me the ways I can live with gratitude for all you do and all you mean to me. Thank you.

May 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 10 05/14/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning and welcome to our RefleXion Community!    The Lord is with you.

When we were young, we all memorized spelling words and multiplication tables, didn’t we?  And before we took our test, our mom or our teacher would ask, “Do you know them by heart?”  and we’d say something like, “Yes, we’ve memorized them, backwards and forwards, practiced many times; we know them by heart.”  I wonder why we use that phrase:  knowing it by heart; because we aren’t using our heart at all, are we?  But that’s what we say.

Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day!  Mothers know things by heart, for sure.  Mothering is not all about studying the rules or reading about someone else’s experience, but it’s your lived experience:  your love, your heart that makes you a mother.  If you delivered a child, raised a child, lost a child; if you’ve nurtured, supported, tutored, listened to, bandaged, coached, or otherwise made a place for a child, we celebrate your heart today—the heart of a Mother.

As we make time to listen to our own hearts and to the heart of the Beloved, we will know our God by heart, not just from a book or from what others say, but from our own lived experience, a heart-knowing.  That is knowing by heart.    It is a love relationship after all. From the Song of Songs:  I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.

Join me in prayer, will you?

God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to You.  Try our hearts and see what they need.  Have our hearts grown dull? Revive them.  Have they grown hard?  Soften them.  Mother us:  lead, strengthen, and heal us.  Let us hear Your words and take them to heart.  All this we pray that we may know You by heart and tell others our stories, tell them by heart.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. Mark 10:1

Intro: When Nicodemus visited Jesus, his first words were,
Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God

Nicodemus was correct — Jesus is a teacher
– Mark tells us teaching people Jesus’ “custom” – his usual response when people showed up
• that is what we witness as we watch Jesus move through this chapter
• Jesus never ran out of things to say
◦ and every word he spoke was enlightenment
– one of his teaching techniques was that he allowed people to ask questions
• and when they did, he typically answered their questions with a question
◦ what do they know–or think they know?
◦ this would give him the opportunity to reveal God’s higher thoughts

Jesus was asked a question about divorce (vv. 2-12)

Those asking were not disciples and the question was not sincere
the Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
– Jesus had to answer carefully — they had set a trap
My meditation:
“To me, it looks like Jesus played a trick on them, that he primed them. He planted a thought to influence their response. He asked, ‘What did Moses command you?’ That question suggests that the answer would be found in the law and its commandments. So their response was predictable–they referred to a well known passage in Deuteronomy 24. Did Jesus lead them there intentionally? He could have asked, ‘What did Moses say?’ or ‘What do the Scriptures say?’ but he specified Moses and command.
Jesus was ready for their answer. With surprising authority, he explained why Moses wrote that commandment–it was a concession because of their ‘hardness of heart.’ Then Jesus offered another quotation that predates Moses and the law. From ‘the beginning of creation,’ before Moses, before the law, before sin and hard hearts. This was a critical theme in Jesus’ teaching; namely, the significant difference between how they practiced the law and how he interpreted it (cf. Mt. 5). His concern was not the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law.”
– every marriage has challenges
• many are imperfect, but tolerable–or tolerable until someone else enters the picture
◦ then a spouse may stop trying (to connect, to renew the flame, to work on intimacy skills)
• there are several legitimate reasons to divorce,
◦ but to divorce to be with someone else is not one of them

“Hardness of heart” has been a theme since chapter 6
– it is an unwillingness to change or be changed
• hardness of heart is more common than I would like to admit
• Jesus’ mission was to expose our hard hearts and enlist our cooperation to change them

The Pharisees backed off, and parents arrived with their children

I’m always impressed with the ease in which Jesus received children
– small children make some people nervous – not Jesus
• he’s at home with them and they feel at home with him
– we won’t linger over this story, but only look at two items:
• first, the disciples “rebuked” the parents – remember that
• second, note what Jesus said regarding children and the kingdom of God

The next story takes up the most space in chapter
(Please read verses 17-27)

The question the rich man asked was, “What must I do?”
– but in this context, it is obviously not about “doing”
• the question is, What are you willing to become? To be?
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3)
– it turns out that “eternal life” and “the kingdom of God” are interchangeable
• this section begins and ends with “eternal life” (vv. 17 & 30)
◦ but in the center, Jesus switches to the “kingdom of God” (vv. 23-25)
• “the kingdom of God” is a domain, a spiritual dimension
◦ “eternal” is the nature of life in that dimension

There are lots of pieces of this story that have been my meditation over the years
– so what I will do is sort them by theme
Love V. 21, “‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’ When Jesus looked–at someone or something, he saw much more that his disciples could see (e.g., Mk. 8:19-21). What Jesus sees penetrates the surface, the appearance, the obvious. He sees the deep things of the soul–the true and the false, the good and the bad, the strength and the weakness. So when Jesus looks at people, he is often moved by compassion and concern. He looks and he loves.”
Discouragement V. 22 “I do not believe that Jesus wants anyone to be “disheartened” by his words. If Jesus caused the rich man pain, it was not for lack of love. Many times, being disheartened may be our initial reaction to what Jesus requires, but if we surrender, the moment will quickly pass. Following Jesus will eventually bring us to encouragement, peace, and joy.
Nevertheless, Jesus will not compromise the necessary conditions for entering the kingdom of God to avoid breaking someone’s heart. If he will have a follower, it will be forever, and his relationship with his followers will be forged in truth, devotion, and love.”
Contrast V. 23, “The contrast of wealthy adults who cannot buy or squeeze their way into the kingdom of God versus children who twirl, skip, and chase butterflies into the kingdom of God. It simply belongs to them. Their belief in Jesus comes to them naturally. ‘How difficult,’ Jesus said. Easy for children, difficult (in fact impossible) for the rich.”
Looking (again) “When the rich man walked away, ‘Jesus looked around,’ perhaps to read the crowd’s reaction. So he explained the dilemma of the wealthy. But that did not comfort them–it made them more anxious. So, again he looked, this time at his disciples and spoke to them with words that sank deep into their hearts until they reached the bedrock of their impossibility. And at that point, he revealed the unlimited possibilities with God.”
Greed “We would like to believe that wealth would not change us, that it would not take over all our thoughts and passion or threaten our relationship with God. Wealth does not make anyone a better person. It is well known that poor people are more generous and give a larger percentages of their income to charities than do the rich and famous. Wealth does not make anyone more patient and loving, nor does it increase anyone’s integrity or other virtues.
Greed may be the biggest problem in the U.S. today–maybe in the world. It is what makes all the other environmental and social problems so difficult to resolve. Greed takes possession of people. It drives them with an insatiable hunger. It makes them less sensitive to others and causes them to become spiritually blind.
I cannot help but wonder about the wealthiest Christian ministers, pastors, and evangelists in our nation. Do they disregard what Jesus taught? Do they think they’re immune? Do they realize that they cannot enter God’s kingdom without great difficulty? Or do they assume living in wealth is for them the kingdom of God?”
Hardship V. 30, “Whatever asset a Christian has in this life, whether monetary, status, or relationships, it will come with hardship. God does not mean for us to be too comfortable, too successful, too content in the world. He does not want us clinging so tightly to this life (because we have it so good) that we are not eager to give it up to serve him or come home when he calls.”

Now we come to another brief note regarding Jesus’ destiny
And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Mark 10:32

There’s an eerie feeling to this scene – amazement and fear
– Mark does not bother to explain it
• maybe we’re supposed to realize this moment is beyond us
◦ that walking by himself, Jesus is in his own world
• his thoughts are caught up in the darkness that will swallow him
◦ it becomes obvious that his disciples don’t get it

The last two stories are connected by the same question

“What do you want me to do for you?”
– James and John wanted Jesus to award them with a special honor
“Who will receive the honor of sitting next to Jesus? Not those who enjoy being honored now. Jesus was unassuming, and regarding his personal needs and desires, undemanding. So who is like him in these respects? Who is servant-like? Who drinks from his cup and is baptized with his baptism? Perhaps someone quiet and unassuming person who always is ready to volunteer for all kinds of service to others. Perhaps someone that religious people cannot recognize as being a Christian.”
– a blind beggar wanted Jesus to let him recover his sight
• I asked you to remember the earlier verse when the disciples “rebuked” parents
◦ here the crowd “rebuked” the blind beggar
“The first reaction of some Christians to strangers who enter their circle is rejection. This is especially true if the person is ‘different.’ Driving Addison to school this morning, she told me that last year the eighth-graders maintained their own circle and excluded the seventh-graders. A teacher this week encouraged her class to not repeat that behavior, but include the seventh-graders in their circle. It seemed like good advice for churches that tend to build barriers rather than bridges. Jesus’ mission was not to fulfill God’s purpose for church-goers, but for all people everywhere.
Who gets my attention and who gets ignored?”
• and another contrast (before it was the wealthy man and children,
◦ here I saw it between the wealthy man and the blind beggar
“It was much easier for the beggar to leave everything and follow Jesus than it was for the rich man. In fact, Jesus couldn’t get rid of the beggar. He told him, ‘go your way,’ but he followed Jesus on the road. The kingdom of heaven is the one place where the slave and the impoverished have the advantage.”

Conclusion: Given all that we’ve gone over,

Take your time and think seriously and deeply about these next three sentences

What is the question you want to ask Jesus?
What do you think will be the question he asks you?
If you aren’t sure you’re up for hearing what he has to say,
can you believe that with God all things are possible?

May 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 9 05/07/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Jim Calhoun

Heavenly Father give us your presence
Or rather, 
give us a sure knowledge 
that you are here already
Near to us, loving us
Concerned for us 
Aware of our struggles
Aware of our troubles
Loving us in our messiness
Loving us with our abundant flaws
Loving us knowing the truth of us
Care for us, Lord
Provide for us
Heal us
Teach us
Help us
Hold us up
Make us whole 
Please Lord be patient with us
Don’t give up on us
Hold us dear
Make all things well
Thank you
Thank you 

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. Mark 9:1-8

Intro: There are at least two ways to read the Bible

We can dive into it head-first or we can enter with our heart
– of course it’s important to think about what we’re reading
• but it’s also important to feel what we read
◦ to be responsive to the content of the text and how it affects us
• I study Scriptures with my head and meditate with my heart
– my meditations are mostly private
• they consist of what God speaks to me regarding my own issues
◦ so why am I sharing my meditations in Mark’s gospel with you?
• because even though Jesus walked the earth long ago,
◦ it’s possible to know and love him today
◦ how? By immersing ourselves in his story
• if we take our time, and observe him–his way with others
◦ his kindness, his goodness, his strength, his compassion–
◦ we come to know him and knowing him to love him

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is dramatic and all too brief

It begins with Jesus’ promise, that some of them would
see the kingdom of God after it has come with power
– maybe this extraordinary revelation is a preview
• that this is what the full arrival of God’s kingdom will be like
◦ glory, heavenly conversations, God’s divine presence
◦ and at the center of all of it, there is Jesus
• Mark realizes this event is amazing, yet he rushes through it
◦ his repeated use of the word “and” pushes story forward
– so, like Peter, we realize it’s good for us to be here,
• and we wish we could stay longer, but Mark won’t let us
• Mark knew the event was spectacular, but he does not sensationalize it

My past meditations on this include the following:

“The three disciples didn’t know why they were hiking up the high mountain. Jesus led and they followed. That’s what disciples do, they follow. Did they go in the spirit of adventure? Or were their minds filled with their usual worldly thoughts–as later on in verse 33, when ‘they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest‘? The three had no idea of what they were about to experience.
We are being led by Jesus. We’re not in charge of all the places we must go, all the people we’ll encounter along the way. We may not know the purpose of our going until afterward. Sometimes we feel like we’re blundering forward, but we find out we were being led into a revelation of glory.”

(Regarding Elijah and Moses) “At last Jesus had someone he could talk with who understood him, whose hearts were not hardened. These were also people with whom he could have a meaningful conversation about his approaching death and resurrection.”

“There is a Greek word that occurs at the beginning of this story, and then again at the end. It is the word monos–alone. The three went up the mountain alone with Jesus and came back down alone with Jesus. While there, two long-gone biblical characters arrived and spoke with Jesus. Then God manifested his presence and spoke with them. But afterward, they were looking around and saw no one except Jesus alone. All that they needed to take with them from that experience was Jesus.”

The next story contains contrasts and comparisons with the first

The first occurs on a mountain with a Father and his beloved Son
– the second took place down the mountain, with a father and his troubled son
• the Father in first story expresses pleasure in his Son
• the father in second story expresses desperate concern for his son
– the climax of both stories is each son’s transfiguration

The heart of this story is Jesus’ interaction with the father
– there are two key statements the father makes
• first: if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us
◦ Jesus was apparently offended by that
◦ he throws it back on the father: If you can! All things are possible for the one
“Jesus says this as if faith were natural and easy, but it is neither. Like the father, my faith needs help. In verse 19, Jesus bemoans this ‘faithless generation’–a people characterized by their lack of faith. Now he suggests that if there is just one person who truly believes, ‘all things are possible.’”

the second key statement: I believe; help my unbelief!
Imagine the suffering of both the father and the son as these attacks have been going on ‘from childhood.’ The father’s ‘help us’ is sadly compelling.
Jesus does not appear very cooperative at first. Twice he asks ‘How long’ –‘am I to be with you’ and ‘am I to bear with you?’. Then there’s Jesus sharp response to the father when he says, ‘if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ Not being able to hear the Lord’s tone, I imagine irritation in his voice. He sounds upset that he might have to put up with people and their ongoing ignorance and lack of faith. He sounds offended that the father would assume there is an ‘if’ in Jesus’ ability to do anything for them. Of course, I may be wrong. There are other ways of hearing what Jesus’ voice.
That the father had some faith is evidenced by the fact that he brought his son to Jesus. But isn’t this our cry? We cannot deny the weakness of our faith, we can only confess that we do have some faith. We need God’s help to deepen and empower our faith.
I cannot help but feel the father’s desperation and helplessness. In situations like his, it’s difficult to believe there is any hope for a real change. Unfortunately, at this critical moment when it seems Jesus may take the opportunity help the father with his unbelief, they were interrupted. ‘And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again”’ (v. 25). But maybe driving the spirit out of the boy was the answer to the father’s prayer. Seeing the miracle would certainly help him overcome his unbelief.
Is it okay for us to pray, ‘Help my unbelief?’ Well, of course it is.”

– I have two other thoughts about this episode:
• first, the most important moment in this story is when Jesus says, “Bring him to me”
◦ this is what we need to do with every need, every grief
• second, more important that having faith to work miracles, is having day to day trust in God
◦ it is not miracles that carry us through life, but trust that helps us to accept life as it is

When Jesus and the disciples move on, something is different
And he did not want anyone to know (Mk. 9:30-32)

“This reveals a personal side of Jesus. In the story of Jesus, it seems that, normally, he exists only for others and never has a life of his own. His needs and desires did not matter, the desperation of others prevailed. He could try to find peace and quiet, but the crowds always found him–even in desolate places. He was like a single parent, who never knows a moment’s rest. Here, however, he wants something for himself. I appreciate this moment, because it gives me the opportunity to move closer to him and empathize with him.”
– the disciples, however, were not able to do that
they did not understand his saying, and were afraid to ask
• but for them it was simply a matter of timing
“Several times I’ve started reading a book that I was not able to understand or appreciate, so I shelved it. Then, after several years, I picked it up again, and this time I had a different experience. It was the same book, but it not only made sense, it was rich in insight and very helpful. The experience of the disciples may have been like that. Each time Jesus made an announcement about the future, they could not figure out what he was talking about. Only later were they ready to comprehend his meaning.
It is alright for Jesus to know things we don’t know and that he won’t explain to us. He is familiar with mysteries that are not only beyond our comprehension but some are also none of our business. He is Lord, the unique Son of God.
If God withholds something from me, then it’s something I don’t need to know. I am given enough to go about my everyday routine. However, if the Lord lets me know that there even are such mysteries as to exist beyond me, it is to deepen my awe and reverence for him and strengthen my trust.”

Conclusion: We will find three “whoever” statements in last three episodes
whoever receives me (v. 37)
whoever gives a cup of water, (v. 41)
whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble . . . (v. 42)

“Why is it, every time Jesus brings up Jerusalem, where he will be rejected and crucified, his disciples get into discussions regarding which one of them is the greatest? Jesus’ response is worth coming back to regularly. Greatness is not about lots of money, influence, or fame. It is not about hanging out with powerful and well known people. Greatness is not being too important to care for the weakest, poorest, and neediest people in the world. And that is pretty much what the remainder of this chapter is about.
Whoever receives a child receives Jesus. Whoever gives a disciple of Jesus a cup of cold water, because that disciple belongs to Jesus, will not lose their reward. Whoever causes a small or insignificant person to stumble will pay a heavy penalty for it.
‘Whoever’ is a big word. It crosses boundaries, disregarding social circles, a person’s age, friend or stranger. ‘Whoever’ is more universal and more inclusive than many religious people are willing to accept.”

There is another lesson in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, and it is BIG
We learn, there is one thing that a disciple must do, and do well
and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him”
We must listen to Jesus
All the time and in everything
And for as long as I live, I’ll do my best to help us do that

Apr 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 8 04/30/2023



Prayer and Welcome: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to our RefleXion community!   May the Peace of the Lord be with you.

We’re in the season between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension, and what was Jesus doing those 40 days?  Well, for one thing, He was showing his scars to someone who needed to see them.  Remember Thomas? “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus showed Thomas his wounded hands, his scars.  It had me wondering if there is a difference between wounds and scars.  Wounds are injuries.  Scars are evidence of the healing of a wound.  

Scars tell stories.  Scars from an operation tell the story of an injury or disease, a surgery, and a recovery.  Scars from a burn are different from knife wounds.   Jesus must have had horrendous scars.  After His resurrection, why do you think that He still had those scars?  Perhaps they remind us that He is one of us, that He knows our pain, and that one day we will have all the healing we need. 

A couple of weeks ago I was remembering Lazarus and how He was raised to life but still had his wrappings, as we do, metaphorical bandages and coverings.  I wanted to say a bit more, because I know from personal experience that removing bandages and allowing ourselves and others to see our wounds is not at all pleasant!  Seeing our bloody mess might cause us to choose to just cover it up again. As we remove our coverings–shame, fear, addictions, blame…, if our wounds are still quite bloody, even infected and destroying the surrounding tissue, we certainly don’t want to cover them again; we want to seek healing and not to expose them to everyone right now.  Or maybe we just need some stitches to help us heal or perhaps an infection specialist. 

Perhaps we will see that we are already healed; we might see a scar, and that’s evidence of a measure of healing.  And then if someone needs to see to believe for themselves, we can show them our scars and tell our story.  I’ll bet you already do that; and for that, we are thankful.

Will you pray with me? Lord Jesus, we thank you for your healing powers.  We pray that we will see more and more of those powers working in us and for us.  We will not reject our scars but offer them as invitations to believe in healing.  Thank you for being our Savior and our Exemplar.  Help us, heal us, bring Shalom.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And Jesus went on with the disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” . . . “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
. . . . “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his [soul] will lose it, but whoever loses his [soul] for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:27-38

Intro: We are at the center of Mark’s gospel, heart of his message – the hub of the wheel

In chapter 8 Mark pulls everything together
– Jesus Christ appeared in the world on a mission
• he came to introduce people to the kingdom of God
• but making them aware of God’s presence and kingdom proved to be extremely difficult
◦ it is not easy for us to awaken to God’s Spirit
– this chapter reveals the tension our worldly mind and spiritual mind more clearly than any other
• I tried to describe this tension a few years ago in one of my meditations:
“A theme that Mark has emphasized, is that the human mind is geared to physical reality. As a result, our minds do not open easily to the spiritual realm, in fact, we are resistant to it. We are fixated on the material realm and how it is humanly perceived, experienced, and manipulated. The term Mark uses for our fixation is ‘hardened heart.’ This has been the disciples’ struggle for awhile. Their hardened hearts prevented them from gaining insight from Jesus’ miracles (Mk. 6:52). They keep missing the point, because their minds were stuck in material literalness.
When Peter rebuked Jesus, his mind was locked by his limited perception and consciousness. Jesus pointed this out when he told Peter he was not setting his mind ‘on the things of God, but on the things of [humans]’ (v. 33). It seems that Peter felt ashamed of a crucified Messiah. That resulted naturally from his one-dimensional perception. Given a more complete perception, he would learn that the real shame lies not in following a crucified Messiah, but being disowned by him when he comes ‘in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Jesus is the revelation that enlightens us to the dimension of God’s kingdom. He contrasts the realm of ‘this generation’ with the realm of ‘his Father [and his] angels,’ which is the same contrast we see between ‘the things of [humans]’ and ‘the things of God.’ The truth that has been illuminated in the previous stories, like light shining through stained glass windows, bursts through this chapter in brilliant color. I may not see the full spectrum very well, but I know the truth is here, and it is larger than my universe.”

The chapter begins with another “miracle meal”

The way Mark introduces it, is different from the previous one
– it begins with Jesus explaining to the disciples his compassion for the families gathered there
• they were in this “desolate place” because of him
◦ they followed him here because they wanted to be with him
• it’s true that they had to go home sometime, but he could not just send them away
◦ they’d have to labor across rugged terrain on empty stomachs
– how Jesus treated the crowd is a lesson for his disciples
• the concern for others that they needed to feel and act on
From my meditations: “This is Jesus Christ our Lord. ‘In the days of his flesh’ he knew hunger and weariness; he knew suffering and sorrow; he knew empathy and compassion. Jesus felt what the crowd felt. He feels what we feel.”

On the move again, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees

They came to him, not to be with him like the others, but to argue with him
– they asked for a sign to prove himself–that he came from God
• Mark describes Jesus’ initial response to their challenge this way: he sighed deeply in his spirit
◦ for years, that phrase has intrigued me
From my meditations: “My thoughts swirl around his deep sigh. What did it signify? Sorrow? Frustration over their demand that he satisfy their rational minds? Why could they not see that God was calling them to a larger reality than can be contained by this world or human minds? God’s kingdom is infinite space and eternal time. Signs may point people in the right direction –if they accept the sign–, but signs do not provide access to the kingdom of God.
How can we possibly know the depth of Jesus? From those subterranean depths there came a sigh. It is ‘in his spirit’ that Jesus sighed. What does it tell us? A sigh emerges from feelings too deep for words. Jesus does not feel the compassion for the Pharisees that he felt toward the crowd. The Pharisees do not get their sign. They get nothing from him other than a warning. God’s Spirit sighs over our stumbling around in the dark.”

I have come to believe that verse 14 is a setup

This sort of maneuver is sometimes referred to as “priming”
– a thought is placed in a person’s mind to influence their response to a question that follows
• we read “bread” then “yeast” and make an automatic association
◦ with the disciples we think “bread” — and it is important that we fall for this trick
◦ it puts us in the same position as disciples
• we need to realize that we have the same problem!
◦ our minds naturally turn to the physical and literal meaning of words
– what was the immediate danger the Pharisees presented?
• a mind-set that demanded physical or rational validation
◦ that God must let us touch the intangible, see the invisible for us to believe
◦ it is the mind-set of “human things” over “God’s things”
• if we let go of the materialist mind-set, we begin to see
◦ bread can be a sign; a fig tree can be a sign; a fishing net can be a sign

I notice in scolding the disciples, every sentence Jesus speaks is a question
– to me, the most devastating question is, “Are your hearts hardened?”
From my meditations: “A ‘yes’ answer to this question would answer his other questions. “Yes, I am blind; yes, I am deaf; no I do not perceive or understand, because my heart is hardened.”
The leaven of the Pharisees does not make bread rise, it makes hearts harden. A hardened heart is one that cannot change.”
• he also asks, Do you not yet understand?
◦ as if saying, “If you don’t get it by now, you’ll never get it”
• what were they supposed to understand by now?
◦ that with Jesus material needs are never the main concern?
◦ perhaps God meeting our material need is a secondary grace
giving us his kingdom may be his primary grace
seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Mt. 6:33)

I’m convinced Mark deliberately placed next story in this spot

It’s a story about a blind man – but it’s an odd one
– first, it follows the exact pattern of a healing before this chapter
• in both stories:
▫Jesus has just arrived in a location
▫ the people there bring a disabled man
▫ they beg Jesus to heal him
▫ specifically, to touch him
▫ Jesus takes the man aside
▫ touches him
▫ applies spit
▫ heals him (one hears clearly, the other sees plainly)
▫ Jesus instructed them not to tell
◦ besides sharing this unique pattern, these are the only healings stories in Matthew, Mark, and Luke in which Jesus uses spit in the process of healing someone
• Mark wants us to connect these two stories with disciples, who Jesus just now asked,
Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?
– the second odd thing about this story,
• the blind man is not healed instantly, but in stages

Here is how I read this story:
– Jesus has just dealt his disciples a devastating blow
• he’s demonstrated that they have not made much progress
◦ I imagine that left them feeling discouraged
• but it’s not only the disciples who take a hit,
◦ we the readers also realize we’re not getting anywhere either
◦ we feel just as blind, deaf, and uncomprehending
and, we may fear it’s a chronic condition with no fix
– eyes and ears are organs of perception
• in two stories, before and after his criticism of the disciples, Jesus worked miracles
◦ he made a deaf man hear and a blind man see
• Jesus was showing his disciples what he could do for them
◦ by working miracles, he could open their ears and eyes
◦ and he could also crack open their hardened hearts
• as frustrating as it may be for both teacher and student,
◦ receiving and owning spiritual insight comes in stages — as with the blind man’s healing

In an unusual twist, Jesus tested the blind man’s sight (v. 23)

That’s also what he did with disciples when warned them regarding the leaven of the Pharisees
– now, after his scolding them and healing the blind, Jesus he tests them again
Who do people say that I am? . . . But who do you say that I am?
• this time they pass the test – they have 20/20 vision
• but then he begins to inform them of what lies ahead
◦ Mark adds, “And he said this plainly”–unlike his analogy with the leaven
– what happens next is way too familiar – it’s definitely my MO
• Peter reverts to his rational-literal mind-set
• and we’re back to where we started at the beginning of this talk

Conclusion: Jesus sums up perfectly everything we’ve gone over

If there’s one point on which all of this is balanced, it’s your soul
What can a man give in return for his soul?
What kind of deal can you broker for your soul?
And once you’ve completed the negotiation, you’ve lost your soul

Awareness has consequences
We can no longer trust the rational, literal, material mind-set
We realize that there is no worldly road that brings us to a life worth living,
there is only the daily pursuit of following Jesus

Apr 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations in Mark – chapter 7 04/23/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to our RefleXion Community!          Peace be with you!

All my photos from my phone are saved “in the cloud” at Amazon, and every day I have the opportunity to look at my photos from “this date” in past years.  Do you ever do that?  This year I noticed a real difference in nature between this year and last year.  This year the trees outside my window are just barely beginning to get their leaves.  Last year they were full of foliage. In past years I had Monarch butterfly caterpillars already hanging in their chrysalises on this date.  This year I haven’t even seen a butterfly, let alone eggs and caterpillars.  Every season is different and has its own ways and timing. 

Don’t you wish we could look at our own souls from this day in past seasons?  If there was an audio message attached, I’ll bet it would say, “Look how far you’ve come!”  In any case, let’s be encouraged that there are seasons and reasons for our souls.  And we don’t have to judge or compare ours with others. 

Last week, Chuck reminded us that on the church calendar we are still in the “Easter” season, the season of resurrection. Can we look out our window and say to ourselves, “It is new season, that is all.  If I am in Jesus, I am still in the season of resurrection.  I’m being made new.” From Romans 8:38, “And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love.  Neither death or life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

Will you pray with me:
Lord, thank You for Your promises.  Let this be the season where we take hold of them, and You, where we let go of old ways, where we let things be that aren’t ours.  Give us, we pray, resurrection power to grow in You, to be made new for Kingdom life.  We welcome You, Lord, as we welcome each other in Your name.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, the do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Mark 7:1-5

Intro: I have been blessed with a number of extraordinary friends

One of them was incredibly creative
– he could hardly complete a project, because he was constantly distracted by new idea
• sometimes I would call him when feeling depressed
• his creativity was so inspiring, it changed my outlook
– he agreed to fill-in for me as a guest speaker
• it took him awhile to come up with a title for his talk, but eventually emailed it to me:
“Don’t Be the Kind of Christian There Are Already Too Many Of”
• Jesus gave talks on that same topic
◦ he said that regarding charity, prayer, or fasting, you must not be like the hypocrites (Mt. 6:5)
and in chapter 23, he tells his disciples,
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [to teach], so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For the preach, but do not practice (Mt. 23:2-3)
◦ he follows that statement with a long list of the wrong things they did

In my meditations that I’ll share with you today, I used the word “religion”

When we hear that word, we may think of a specific institution
– like the Roman Catholic Church or Southern Baptist Convention
• we may think of an organization built around a set of beliefs and practices
• religion is the visible expression of devotion to a deity or supernatural concept
◦ if we get no closer to God than external religion,
◦ we have an empty, lifeless container without the contents
– religion can bring out the best in people and the worst
• it can liberate people or oppress them
◦ it can be a blessing to a community or a curse
◦ it can make peace or it can make war
• all of my past meditations on this chapter focused on the dark side of religion
◦ in this passage, religion’s traditions turned people into self-righteous fault-finders

Jesus had little conflict with anyone other than religious people

The Pharisees and scribes imagined themselves to be in charge of religion
– it seems they felt they had to take control of religion and use it to control the actions of others
Gerald May, “I have to say again . . . that there is no ‘how to’ in [spirituality]. If we are willing for it, if we are open and awake to its possibility, it just happens. It is given. My religious faith explains it thus: God is endlessly, irrepressibly and unconditionally loving, always calling us home. But in that love, God leaves us always free to accept or decline the invitation. God treats us with absolute respect. God may beckon us gently or challenge us fiercely, but God will not make us puppets and pull our strings. . . . Love does not control. Love frees.”
• buried beneath the Pharisee’s and scribes’ complaint was a genuine concern
– in 2011, when reading Mark, I was also reading in Leviticus (roughly, chapters 11-15) — I wrote:
“The world of Leviticus was full of potential contamination that could pollute the soul. The list included things that could be ingested (ch. 11), touched (ch. 12), or issue from the human body (chs. 12 and 15). Every layer of human covering could be rendered ‘unclean,’ ‘impure,’ ‘defiled’; from one’s own skin, to their clothing, to their home (chs. 13-14).
“The infected person was excluded from the community of God’s people until they went through a cleansing ritual. The ritual of reinstatement occurred in stages that included inspection, a “sin offering” and bathing.”
• I have never fully understood this invisible pollution
◦ it wasn’t presented as a health concern (people then were unaware of germs or bacteria)
◦ it was more like a taboo that released dark energy
• the problem created by the religious people was how they interpreted those purity regulations
◦ their interpretation is presented here as
the tradition of the elders (v. 3) and . . . there are many such traditions that they observe (v. 4)

There is an element of their worldview that I find tragic

First, to them unwashed hands were not just dirty, but “defiled”
– they believed religious impurity could enter body and infect the soul
• there is another layer to this situation
◦ “defiled” translates the Greek word koynos, which translated literally means common
(the division in the purity code was between holiness and everything else)
◦ common or profane refers to everything that is shared by all people and everyday encounters
• normal human activities and interactions made people impure
◦ if you were someone susceptible to excess guilt, can you imagine what that thinking would do to you?
◦ every sensitive person would have an obsessive-compulsive disorder
– in verse 4, “wash” translates the Greek word for baptism
• this cleansing was a ritual purification and not a matter of hygiene
• I was invited to speak at a large Pentecostal church
◦ after service, pastor and assistant used disinfectant wipes to clean their hands
◦ it was probably wise, but I remember being bothered by it,
like they were wiping off the physical contact they had with “normal” people

Jesus did not defend his disciples directly

Instead, he pointed out what was wrong with the Pharisee’s and scribes religion

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. Mark 7:6-8

– the quote from Isaiah knocks the wind out of every believer
• I have to ask myself, when I pray and worship, where’s my heart?
• the heart will be the central theme of Jesus’ rebuttal
– what Jesus stresses from the quote is a mistake they’ve made
• and it’s a very common mistake among many Christians
◦ they did not distinguish between human traditions and God’s commandments
◦ they assumed they were the same thing
Chuck Kraft, “The Scriptures are inspired; our interpretations are not.”
• frequently we have failed to make this distinction
◦ it is one of the short-comings of the religious mind

As we read in verse 4, and there are many other traditions that they observe
– it boggles the mind how many things get tacked onto the basics
• in the book of Acts, there were Christian advocates who insisted,
◦ that though we are saved by grace, it is grace plus circumcision (Acts 15:1, 5)
• religion is always adding to the list – we are saved by grace plus something else

I have imagined a pause between verses 8 and 9

Jesus waited for a response from them, but they remained silent
– maybe they were stunned
• it never occurred to them this quote could apply to them (as Jesus claimed it was written of them)
◦ they could hardly believe that, given all their religious commitments,
◦ they weren’t really honoring God
• perhaps they never thought about this: whether their hearts were in the right place
– while they were mulling this over, Jesus gave them an example
You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! – and he finishes with, And many such things you do (v. 9)
• they created as many loopholes for the serious stuff,
◦ as they did commandments for the mundane things
• traditions can be used to avoid keeping the commandments
◦ interpretations can be used to avoid doing as Jesus taught
◦ religion is often used to keep us at safe distance from God

In verses 14-23, Jesus turns religion in the right direction

There are spiritual toxins that can defile a person
– and those toxins are produced in the human heart
• no germ that enters us can makes us a thief, or murderer, or adulterer
◦ but what’s in our heart can turn us those directions
• purity does matter, but its source is internal
◦ it works from the inside out, not the outside in
◦ no purifying action is effective that doesn’t reach the heart
– it is the heart that has to be purified
• it’s a lot easier to wash our hands than to wash our hearts

Friday I was reading in 1 Chronicles – King David’s last words
– instructions to Solomon and his prayer for the people
• listen to what he says about the heart
And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart, for the LORD searches the hearts and understands every thought and plan (1 Chr. 28:9)
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. . . . O LORD . . . keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments (1 Chr. 29:17-19)
• what we see is the heart is of central concern to God
◦ and that having a good and true heart is a cooperative effort
◦ God willingly works with us to make our hearts whole
– I always feel the need to work on my own divided heart
• it is encouraging to know God joins me — and he goes beyond anything I can manage
◦ he performs “heart surgery to remove stuff and to mend torn tissue
◦ he prescribe exercises to strengthen my heart
◦ and if necessary, God replaces my heart with a new heart (Eze. 36:26)

Conclusion: The remainder of the chapter is intriguing

Jesus travels to Tyre and Sidon, then Decapolis
Gentile territory, where the risk of contact with impurity was everywhere
In particular, he encounters a Gentile woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit
But, of course, Jesus was not defiled by his Gentile environment or contacts
He continued to do what he had always done
What he does for us today
He forgave, purified, healed, and brought God to people
Jesus doesn’t spread religion–he shares himself

Apr 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 6 – 04/16/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community!                        The Lord is with you!

I’m still thinking about Resurrection.  In John Ch. 11—you’re familiar with the story–Lazarus had died, had been dead a while.  Jesus told Martha that if she believed she would see the glory of God.  Jesus brought him back to life by a command:  Lazurus!  Come out!  He calls each of us out by name too.  He made a way for all, yet it is a personal coming to life, isn’t it?  And the next verse intrigues me, The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with graveclothes, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to the friends who had gathered:  Unbind him and let him go.

A couple of things I notice:  The man—though brought to life—was still wearing his graveclothes, and his face was covered.  Graveclothes are entirely appropriate when one is dead; but once we are brought to life, they are not!  Lazarus came to life but was still wrapped, still bound up.  Jesus could have done it all.  After all, when He rose from the grave, He left all his wrappings behind.  But now Jesus asks the community to help.  Graveclothes/wrappings/bandages/coverings—they all remind me that the man is still bound up with things that won’t allow his full movement and a face cloth that covered his true identity.  Bandages protect wounds, coverings protect shame; wrappings create an illusion or an image that we want others to see. Lazarus, though in life, is still bound up with things that won’t allow his full movement and true identity.

I am Lazarus; I am the community.  Where are my bandages wrapped around my identity?  How do these make me feel substantial, or safe?  Who’s helping us unbind?  Who are we helping take off their graveclothes and feel the freedom of life in Christ?    Are we?

Let’s pray: 

Dearest Lord Jesus, thank you for bringing us to life in you.  Thank you for giving us each other.  Let us not take that lightly.  We were all dead for a long while and may stink a little—or a lot, but it is our privilege and purpose to care for each other.  Let us see those opportunities and love one another as you have loved us.  Let us remove our graveclothes that yet may hinder our free movement in The Holy Spirit.  May the Peace of God fall on us this morning, in Jesus’ Name.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary . . . ?” And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. Mark 6:1-6

Intro: Years ago, a woman who worked at the church experienced an emotional or psychological breakdown
– her therapist recommended a clinic for in-patient care
• when she was allowed visitors, her family asked me to go see her
• right away I noticed she looked different – lighter, like a weight had been lifted
◦ she was definitely in a better frame of mind
◦ brighter, positive and hopeful
– she explained that to get well, she had to detach from her family
• she could no longer be around them
◦ hearing that shocked me–in fact, it upset me
• I knew her family – they missed her and wanted her back
◦ but I didn’t know them the way she did – so I just listened
◦ my responsibility was to support her progress, not question her therapy

In the church subculture, we expect God to fix families
– for Christians to repair ruptures and to reconcile with brothers and sisters,
• for spouses to develop closer connections in prayer and shared activities,
◦ and for children and parents to negotiate healthier relationships
• but at times the real breakthrough requires a break up
◦ some people must escape their family’s control or abuse
◦ otherwise, they will never become their true self
– there are good families, that are safe and nurturing
• but there are many others, even Christian homes, that are not
◦ to insist that people stay in an abusive relationship, perpetuates the abuse
• my encounter with that woman in the clinic opened my eyes
◦ and what I’ve learned since then has informed my meditations on the Scriptures
◦ especially Jesus’ teaching regarding family and way he treated his own family

In this chapter, Jesus is full of surprises

He surprised the people of his hometown – and they didn’t like it
– he surprised his disciples by feeding a crowd of thousands with small rations
• then surprised them again when he walked on water and calmed a storm
• we’ll begin with Jesus’ reunion in his hometown
– although his old neighbors knew of his “mighty works” (v. 2), in verse 5 we learn,
he could do no mighty works there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them
(I would be ecstatic if I ever touched a few sick people and they were healed!!)
◦ we’ll come back to this
• instead of celebrating their hometown hero, they took offense at him
◦ Jesus explained that a prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household
◦ so I’m sure he anticipated their reaction
• three of my meditations were formed around their rejection of Jesus

We create problems if we refuse the role we’ve been assigned

Let’s back up to chapter 3
a crowd gathered, so that [Jesus and disciples] could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind” (Mk. 3:20-21)
– why are they not able to see Jesus for who he is?
• because they knew him for who he was
• when Jesus lived at home, he conformed to their expectations
◦ he became what he had to be for their sakes
And he came to Nazareth with [his parents] and was submissive to them (Lk. 2:51)
◦ but now, as an adult, he was doing the will of his Father
– in a family, everyone is assigned a role
• I suppose there are a few rules about this
◦ for instance, “Children should be seen and not heard”
◦ but for the most part, it’s an unconscious process
• it has to do with individual personalities, how they mesh,
◦ and what is required for the family to function
◦ in time, family dynamics depend on everyone playing their role
– the dynamics and the roles may not be reasonable or healthy
• they may not even be sane–e.g., a child caring for alcoholic parent
◦ if someone outgrows their role, it throws the family off balance
◦ then the others will try to hammer them back into their role
(sometimes they face criticism or mockery, such as “You’ve become too big for your britches”)
• it is tragic that many people comply with their family and continue to wither
◦ they don’t want to cause problems, or feel it’s their duty to stay and conform,
◦ or they’re afraid they can’t survive without their family’s support
• Jesus tells us to put him above our family
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt. 10:37-39)

We must try to see our family members and friends for who they are

It can be really difficult to accept a loved one’s personal growth
– especially if becoming their true self changes our relationship with them
• I knew a hippie, who when he became a Christian, his mother told him,
“I liked you better when you were on drugs”
– it is always fair to renegotiate our relationship with others
• if the old ways of relating no longer work, renegotiate
• we may not enjoy the friendship in the same ways as before,
◦ but we’ll preserve what is best in a relationship

What we think we know may interfere with our faith or even cancel it

Regarding Jesus’ old neighbors, Mark says, And he marveled because of their unbelief (v. 6)
– earlier they were astonished at him, now he’s baffled at them
• what was their problem? They thought they knew Jesus
Is not this the carpenter . . . ?
◦ that was the extent of their knowledge
• remember Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus?
◦ that literal-minded Pharisee asked Jesus, “How?” but there is no how when it comes to something only God’s Spirit can make happen
◦ Jesus’ old neighbors were asking questions like this, Where? What? How?
– we think we know or that we need to know, when in fact what we need is to believe
◦ I think we have a constricted worldview of what is and is not possible
◦ and it gets in the way of our faith
• no one can exert more control over me than my own mind
◦ I create mental barriers for myself
◦ faith and hope are always sources of creativity and possibility
• the slender volume of my mind is not enough space for faith to do its work
◦ I need to believe and trust with all of my heart

I have often meditated on what the unbelief of the hometown crowd cost them
Matthew says,
And he did not do many might works there, because of their unbelief (Mt. 13:54)
– in one of my meditations, I wrote,
“It is truly tragic that I am able to limit what Jesus does for me. Do I ever leave him marveling at my unbelief? If so, I want to change this.”
• nothing God wants to do with me or in me depends on me or on what I can comprehend or figure out
• if God has something for me, I don’t have to get it to receive it

Another subject I have often meditated on is Jesus’ compassion for crowds (v. 34)

In vv. 33 and 55, we find people running to Jesus, literally
– wherever he went, Jesus drew desperate people
• what did he do for them when they reached him? he began to teach them many things
• what? Basic Bible doctrine? Be more judgmental? Decipher the day of his return?
◦ most likely he taught the kingdom of God–in parables
◦ how heaven enters us and transforms us
◦ and how we then affect others through his love
– the practice of Pharisees was to exclude people from their circle
• exclusivity is our nature; we draw lines and build barriers
• inclusivity is the nature of Jesus; he loves all and build bridges

Conclusion: There’s so much more here

For instance, we have the story of John the Baptist’s execution (verses 14-29)
– I once wrote in the margin of my Bible app:
“It is chilling to think that the fate of a great prophet of God could be subject to such trivialities as a birthday party, a girl’s dance, and a king’s ego. The death of his saints is still precious in God’s sight regardless of how their lives end. The glory or dishonor of our death is determined not by our exit from this world, but by our arrival in heaven.”

For our last meditation, Jesus took a stroll across the lake
– walking on water and calming the storm had his disciples “utterly astounded”
Mark says their reaction was because they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened (vv. 51-52)
• he is suggesting that after witnessing the “miracle meal,” nothing else that Jesus did should have surprise them
The benefit of soaking our souls in Mark’s gospel is that it feeds our faith
Absorbing these stories of Jesus as much as possible will deepen our faith in him
So when you read and pray and work and go to bed at night,
leave the doors of your mind open to faith,
because all things are possible

Apr 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Day of Resurrection! 04/09/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!       He is Risen!              Hallelujah!

“Come as you are,” “Just as I am;” I always think of Billy Graham when I hear these phrases.  I’ve been pondering these invitations this week, to come just as I am; and I realize there’s a part of me that still wants to come to Jesus with something shined up, straightened up, sinless, not “just as I am.” 

A sentence from a David Benner book also arrested my attention, “But again, I must come to love through sin and failure rather than success and self-improvement.” And this verse from Philippians 3: “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (which is, of course, is where I want to go).  But if, as Philippians tells us, we may know Christ and the power of His resurrection, by becoming like Him in His death (many translations say, ‘conformed to his death,’) I realize that as He carried the burden of sin with Him, I must carry the burden of my sin with me to the cross.

It is there that it is forgiven and resurrected, that it is transformed from a place of torture, which sin is, to an empty cross, and to a flowering cross. 

I keep reminding myself that The Way is the Paschal mystery, which includes death AND resurrection.  That is the Jesus Way. 

Join me to pray, will you: Almighty God, we pray that we might understand the incredible greatness of Your power for us who believe, the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.  Reveal to us through Grace this sacred paschal mystery at work in our own lives.  Raise us, O Lord, to new life in Christ.  You made a way for us to know You as a giving and forgiving God, a redeeming God.  We will follow Jesus on the Way He made for us, the Way of the Cross, the way of death and resurrection.  Hallelujah for this reality—we live because Jesus lives.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointment.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words.
Luke 23:55-24:8

Intro: Every year, one line from the Easter story comes to mind

I decided that I would talk about that line today
– the women came early in the morning,
• and they found the tomb, but they did not find Jesus
• however, two men met them, dressed in dazzling apparel
◦ I don’t know about their “apparel,” but that sounds like “Project Runway” to me
◦ the only other time Luke uses the word for dazzling, it’s translated “lightning”
(later they’re referred to as “angels”–vv. 22-23)
they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
– that’s the line: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
• it’s a good one, isn’t it? The kind that preachers love
• can we think about this line for awhile?

The question is off kilter

The angels knew the women were not seeking a living person
– if we back up a few verses we read,
they saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it (Lk. 23:55)
• they had not come seeking “the living”
◦ they came looking for a corpse that placed there two days before
• in Matthew, the angel’s first words were:
Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified (Mt. 28:5)
◦ In Mark’s gospel the angels say,
Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here (Mk. 16:6)
◦ both of those statements make more sense
– so in our passage, these angels knew why the women were there and what they were seeking
• why do they ask this question?
◦ were they pretending to be naive?
◦ were they teasing the women, the way brothers tease their sisters?
◦ were they gently scolding the women? They go on to say:
Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise (vv. 7-8)
• I doubt that naivete, teasing, or scolding was the point Luke wanted to convey
◦ perhaps Luke heard something bigger in their question,
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
◦ I see something bigger – do you?

Maybe Luke wanted to give special emphasis to fact that Jesus was alive

That’s the whole point of observing Easter, right?
– we celebrate life – not in the poetic sense of all living things
• nor is it a message to “make the most this one life”
◦ Jesus did not just “come back to life”
◦ his body was not revived, or resuscitated, or re-booted
• he moved forward through death to a greater dimension of life
◦ a life beyond the existence of biological organisms
◦ a quality of life infinitely larger than what we experience
– his resurrection requires us to adopt a new concept of “life”
• a quality of life we cannot fathom
◦ in John’s gospel Jesus said,
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10)
◦ the Greek word perissos means in excess, more than necessary, a superior quality|
◦ the resurrection life of Jesus was all of this — and it’s the life he came to give us

It is natural that we would find idea of life after death comforting

“Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live (Jn. 14:19)
– this gives us a sense of security – it makes us feel safe
• I want to believe that in some way the person I am will persist and not be extinguished
◦ and the same for those I have known and loved and lost
• but I think the New Testament is telling us something more than that
◦ telling us something about Jesus
He is not here–that is, in a tomb or a graveyard–he is risen
• the quality of life that Jesus has now affects our experience of him
◦ he is not in a grave, he is not in the past, he is risen
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Rev. 1:17-18)

Jesus’ resurrection tells us that we can know him in a new way

Yesterday, my meditation was on Jesus’ prayer in John 17

It is his longest recorded prayer, and fills an entire chapter
– I’ve always known that it is profound
• perhaps that’s why I’ve always struggled with it
◦ I follow it for a line or two, then it changes direction
◦ I try to track the change, but then it doubles back
◦ I think I understand one line, but the next line presents a different thought
• the words make sense – most the lines are manageable,
◦ but to me it seems jumbled and somewhat incoherent
– maybe John intended this prayer to come off this way
• as though we can hear the stress that grips Jesus hours before the cross,
◦ and his urgency to make this final prayer over his disciples
• early on in my reading of John, I would power through it
◦ the prayer was a riddle I couldn’t solve, a mystery too deep for me
◦ later I studied it line-by-line, looking for the rational thread that held it together
◦ but that also proved futile

Yesterday morning was different

It was nothing like any of my previous readings
– I wasn’t trying out a “new method” of interpretation
• in fact, I wasn’t even trying to make sense of it
◦ maybe “not trying” helped me relax into it
◦ I had never before felt its living power like I did yesterday
• it feels weird to say this, but it’s not that I understood it all,
◦ that the prayer finally made rational sense to me,
◦ but it felt like I absorbed it all – I received it and truth of it
– when I began reading I decided to listen as if I could hear Jesus praying the words
• what happened, was that I experienced Jesus’ prayer
◦ he was present, and he was praying, and I was with him listening
◦ and though I did not fully understand it, every word spoke to me

It would be wrong to suggest that I heard Jesus’ voice
– but listening to Jesus pray, I felt his voice
• when I was a small child, I would often sit on my dad’s lap when company came to our home
◦ with my head against his chest, I could feel his deep resonant voice vibrating through his chest
• feeling Jesus’ voice was something like that; like a smooth low frequency hum; a warm sound wave running through the natural world, holding it all together and giving it life; quiet and powerful

Jesus is speaking to his Father

The Father is not present in the same way Jesus is
– but neither is he far away
• he is right here, listening to his Son
◦ their intimacy is undeniable, yet shrouded in mystery
• I am listening, and I hear Jesus pray for himself
◦ I hear him pray for his disciples – I hear him pray for me
◦ he prays for all my Christian friends – and all my Christian enemies as well
(those that Phil Aguilar refers to as the “Christian Mafia”–and he knows because they’ve out a contract on him and his ministry)

I hear Jesus pray something strange, and I have to rewind to hear it again
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world (v. 11)
– how could Jesus say that? He was right there with them when he prayed these words
• they could hear him say this prayer – and later they could write it down
◦ within a few sentences, Jesus himself says,
But now I am coming to you [the Father], and these things I speak in the world (Jn. 17:13)
• Jesus used the present tense first person singular in strange ways in John’s gospel

For instance, Jesus told his critics, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” But they came back at him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham” (who lived and died many centuries prior to this conversation). “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (Jn. 8:56-59)

• Jesus could say “I am” regarding an event thousands of years prior to his birth,
◦ and he could say “I am” regarding a future in which he would no longer be in the world physically even while he was still in the world
– reading, I am no longer in the world worked a profound effect on me,
• because I could hear him in the present tense;
◦ that is to say, I could hear him pray those words in the exact moment that I read them
• and it was true; Jesus is no longer in the world but with the Father,
◦ impossibly distant, impossibly present here and now, praying for me – for us – it was uncanny!
◦ his prayer creates us, shapes and maintains all that is real
◦ and his prayer is ongoing in the eternal now
. . . he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25)

Conclusion: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

If Easter is only a fertility holiday of eggs and bunnies, it’s dead
If Easter only takes us back in history and leaves us there, it’s dead
But if Easter is resurrection, it initiates us into a greater quality of life,
an “abundant” life that Jesus shares with us,
so that Paul can tells us, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life” (Ro. 6:4)

Apr 3 / Reflexion Community

Palm Sunday 04/02/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!  Welcome to the RefleXion Community.  The Lord is with you.

The humble barnacle, those critters that attach themselves to the bottom of boats and dock pilings,  I don’t know anyone who has an affinity for them.  When they are born, they float for a very short time and then attach to the first things they find, and that is pretty much where they live out the rest of their lives.  They rely on the flow of the water passing by them, which they comb for food.  They have a hard shell, and if they sense a potential threat, they withdraw into those shells.  Wait….are we talking about barnacles or humans?!  We’re all pretty good at attaching to places we feel safe, retreating into our shells, and settling for what comes to us for our spiritual food.

But, what if one little barnacle had the desire to let go of what he’d always known and float down the flow of the river?  The ones he had been with would probably all yell, “No!  Don’t go!  Danger, Danger!”  But then he did let go and flowed freely again.  Then, what if the little barnacles who lived downstream saw him and they, too, felt invited to detach from what they’d always known, where they’d felt safe, and to follow the flow?  What if they said to each other, “I didn’t know we could do that!”

Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday.  Jesus was rejected by many, because He represented a new way to God and a new way to live.  Some yelled “No, Danger!”    And some felt invited to follow this man.  There was a large crowd around Jesus on Palm Sunday, people who threw down their cloaks and their old religion and chose to follow Jesus.  On this Palm Sunday, which people will we be?  Are we able to imagine that God will come to us in fresh ways?  Do we believe we can hear and trust His invitations?  Are we willing to be ones who can follow the New Way, the new Way of the Spirit?

Shall we pray? Father God, Jesus the Christ, Holy Spirit given to us, reveal to us Your Presence.  Thank you for opening for us the new and living way.  We will follow You.  Thank You for those who have led us and encouraged us.  Thank You for Your Holy Spirit Who is forming us.  We welcome You.  Amen

In our quiet time this morning, I wonder if we can step in to the Palm Sunday scene.   Let’s begin by taking a few deep breaths and then settling into a natural breathing and a comfortable yet alert posture.  Place yourself in the Palm Sunday scene as you imagine that it was.  You are arriving with others to the growing crowd.  It’s quieter than you imagined it would be.  Each one is attentive and waiting for Jesus to arrive.  Each one as the Spirit moves them is throwing down their cloak and laying down palm branches of welcome.  As we are waiting for His arrival, our desire to see Him intensifies, the passion of the crowd moves us into a collective anticipation.  We are here together, yet you are aware of your heart alone.  Let this be your moment to experience the waiting for and the coming of Jesus.

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

The beginning of the Passion

Let’s start with Jesus in Jerusalem. (John 10) The Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah)
There is a confrontation.
“If you are the Christ tell us plainly”
“I told you but you did not believe.“
“For which of my good works will you stone me?”

Jesus slips away and goes into hiding to Bethany across the Jordan some twenty-four miles away
While he is in hiding Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus is very sick.
He delays his departure by a couple of days and we don’t know why.
Eventually he travels to Bethany about twenty-two miles from where had be staying.
He is met by first one sister and then the other and is taken to Lazarus’ tomb.

Though it seems plain that Jesus knew he would resuscitate his friend he was deeply emotional at his tomb.
Many people were there and watched as Lazarus walked from the tomb.
Unlike before Jesus couldn’t put a lid on this. Too many had seen it.

This set off a whole chain of events that led to Jesus’ death. How can this be? The raising of someone from the dead seems to be an unalloyed good.
But the opinions of what they had seen were widely and wildly different. Some believed that Jesus was the Christ and some thought he used the power of the devil.
Some praised God and some reported his actions to the authorities.
The authorities in this case were the high priests, keepers of the temple. They were the Sadducees and the Pharisees and they had quite the conversation about Jesus.

He’s what they said: If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.
Judea was occupied territory and had been for a long time. People responded to this differently.
The Sadducees were most closely tied with Rome. They were the keepers of the temple. The head of the temple , the chief priest was appointed by Rome. The Sadducees had no expectation or place in their thinking for a messiah.
The Pharisees – they thought the law was primary in matters not the temple. They put up with Rome wishing to be more or less left alone.
So the Sadducees and Pharisees worried that Jesus, if he were the Messiah, would disrupt the deal with Rome. They would lose their jobs, status, lives and the nation would be sacked.

I’ll say that this was a reasonable thought. When Herod the Great took power in 37 BC he slaughtered forty-five members of the Sanhedrin (the high Jewish council). They knew from recent history how it could go. And they knew Rome was tougher than Herod. In fact in a few years, Rome would tear down Jerusalem stone by stone in response to a revolt against them.

The high priest says this: it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.
This is a classic political assessment. Unknowingly it is also a prophecy.
Jesus did die for the people and for the nation. In fact, for us all.

By now Jesus knew it was no longer safe to be seen in public so he went into hiding again. This time he went to Ephraim in the wilderness, about sixteen miles north of Jerusalem.
Jesus returns to Bethany six days before the Passover. He stays with Lazarus and his sisters. That night Mary anoints his feet with perfume prefiguring his death. The next morning they head into Jerusalem.

Jesus mounts a young donkey. It is a statement all will understand. He comes in peace. The prince of peace. The anointed one. The messiah who will bring peace to the world.
The people (from Galilee) recognize him. He was the one who raised Lazarus from the dead. They cheered him. They laid down their cloaks and palm branches in homage.
It is hard to imagine how long this lasted. A few minutes? An hour or two? I don’t know. Nothing I know clearly says. But it doesn’t last long. Soon Jesus is talking about his impending death.

This moment of triumph was the beginning of the end. It begins the passion week. As true and correct as it is that Jesus was to be celebrated as the promised messiah, it didn’t last long.

We don’t live in a triumphant age.
We aren’t there yet.
While we experience some of the redemption promised in Christ we don’t have it all.
We live in the era of now but not yet.
We want to be triumphant. We want the struggles and battles to be over. We want the suffering and heartbreaks to be done. We want to be without worry. But not yet. We are still in the thick of it.

Some people act like we live in the age of triumph. That we should have all we desire.
It isn’t so.
Every person who is healed and recovers will one day succumb. Every person we know will die. That is how it will be in this era. We live in the time of now but not yet.
Now we get Christ and one day every tear will be dried
Some people hold that prosperity is every Christian’s due.
It isn’t so.
Not in this era.
Think of our poor brothers and sisters, faithful in Christ. They don’t get private jets. They probably don’t have basic medical care.
And brothers and sisters closer to home, faithful in Christ do they get to name anything in their imagination and demand God give it?
Not in this era.
We live in the time of now but not yet.
Now we get Christ and one day all of God’s riches will be ours and ours to share.

Some people hold that we as Christians should be first among all people. That others should comply with us, bend their will to ours, grant us deference and privilege.
It isn’t so.
Our place is known by how we serve others not by how they serve us. This era is when we love our neighbors as ourselves, and we lay down our lives for others because there is still a need for that.
Now we get Christ and one day the whole world will know peace, shalom.

Savor the good gifts of God when they come The happy gifts
A fortuitous circumstance
A rescue from a bad situation
A problem resolved unexpectedly
A great parking space.
Whatever it is savor it
Celebrate it
Keep a journal
Revisit these stories
Hold those moments close.
You may need that encouragement

Learn to recognize the more difficult gifts of god.
These are the deeper gifts in this day. They cause us to turn to God
To depend upon God
To reorient toward God
Thank God for these in your life.
You can write these down too.
Cherish them.
Knowing God is with you in them just the same as the happy gifts.

These are the blessings of this age. Matthew 5
Listen carefully for your blessing. Thank God for what you hear. Listen carefully for the ones you yearn for and then give yourself to them.
This is the true spirituality of this era. Of the now but not yet:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.