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Jul 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Shepherd and the Star Pt. 1 07/16/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to RefleXion!     The Lord is with you!

A couple of weeks ago I shared a little story with my Lectio Divina group, and I referenced a book where I thought I had read it.  I went back to look for it this week, and it wasn’t in the book I thought, so I’m not sure where I heard this tale.

It’s like this…There was a young woman who lived in a comfortable stone cottage, one she had built herself and loved.  One day she found herself wanting to cross the stream that she could see from her door.  As she reached its banks, it seemed too wide for her.  She asked Jesus to help her; he brought her a stone to step on, and she took her next step.  The next time she was in the stream, the gap still seemed too big, so she asked Jesus for help again; he immediately brought her another stone to step on.  She made progress, but day after day it still seemed so far, so wide, so dangerous; and Jesus always brought stepping stones.  But one day, Jesus was late, so she turned around to look for him, in the direction of her comfy stone cottage.  To her astonishment, the cottage was being deconstructed stone by stone.  The stones she was stepping on were taken from her comfortable little place, and now she could never go back.

If you’re like me, you can look back and see the structures you had, comfortable, familiar, safe; but perhaps they  no longer a fit for your journey.  Scripture says, “all things work together for good.”  Nothing is wasted.  There’s always a bit of deconstruction going on.  Cells in our body break down and get rebuilt regularly.  In philosophy, deconstruction is the literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth. 

Many of our beliefs and ways of looking at things have changed, haven’t they? John Dewy, an American scholar in the early 20th century, said, “All learning begins when our comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate.”

I’ve heard people say, “Don’t look back, that’s not the way you’re going!”  But, like the young woman in the story, you can look back…and be astonished! Things are being deconstructed, but nothing is lost.  It has all had its way with you.  To deconstruct is not to destroy.  Scripture says, “all things work together for good for those who love God.” Let’s welcome the Spirit working a forward-facing work in us and take each step as it’s made possible.

Let’s pray:

O Jesus, what a marvelous, wonderful author and finisher of our faith You are. Let us not side-step our calling, but follow You, willingly and whole-heartedly.   Keep astonishing us.  Turn Your Face toward us this morning, we pray; as we turn ours toward You, in gratefulness that You are leading us in Glory .  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr. 

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17

Intro: Last week, God’s question to Elijah was, “What are you doing here?”

We’ll start with that question: “What are you doing here?”
– isn’t one reason that your here is because you came to hear what I have to say?
• Okay, I feel uncomfortable when I think that or say that
◦ not only because it’s like I have to give an oral report every week
(and feel like I’ll be graded on it),
◦ but because I can’t take myself that seriously
• I’m a mediocre guy who makes more mistakes than gets things right
– However, I do take God seriously and the work he’s given me
• and I take you very seriously – so I don’t want to waste your time
• but I’m like a court jester; the silliness of what I do and who I am, causes others to think

If what I do is part of the reason you’re here, then perhaps I should explain why I’m here
– so that’s what I’m going to talk about for the next two weeks

This idea came to me Wednesday night in our Lexio Divina
(Jim refers to our Lexio Divina meetings as a “workshop on learning to listen.” We listen for the Spirit to speak to us through the Scriptures, in silence, and through each other)

The reading was in Matthew 2, and was about the birth of Jesus and the visit of the magi
– one of the women in our group said that what spoke to her was,
“The shepherd and the star” – both images are were references to Jesus
• that had an immediate effect on me
◦ and the more I thought about it, the more it spoke to me
• a few days later, it was my inspiration for these talks
– so today we’re going to ease our way into it

John tells us how Jesus reconciled with Peter after his resurrection

It’s a beautiful and complex story, but we won’t go into those details
– we watch Jesus approach Peter and patch their relationship
• Peter needed the Lord to do this for him
• after reconciling with Peter, Jesus gave him his assignment
◦ he said it three times, in three words, and mixing it up each time
Feed my lambsTend my sheepFeed my sheep
– the biblical tradition of the shepherd-leader has a long history
• Moses spent forty years as a shepherd before spending another forty leading Israel through the wilderness…
• God removed King Saul and replaced him with David, whose primary qualification was he had been a shepherd
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel” (2 Sam. 7:8)
[The LORD] chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand (Ps. 78:70-72)
– Israel’s poets and prophets perceived God in role of shepherd
• the most famous psalm, Psalm 23, begins with, “The LORD is my shepherd”
◦ God leads, feeds, waters, and give rest and protection to every believer
• then we hear the prophet Isaiah announce:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isa. 40:11)

When Jesus came, he saw people through the eyes of a shepherd
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36)
– Jesus chose the shepherd as one of the images he used to describe himself
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (Jn. 10:14-16)
– and now here, at the end of John’s gospel, Jesus enlists Peter to continue his shepherding work
• later on, Paul regarded all church leaders as shepherds
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God (Acts 20:28)

The thought of being in pastoral ministry terrifies me

One of the most famous preachers of the 19th century, Charles H. Spurgeon, said,
“If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.”
– the writer of Hebrews said pastoral leaders:
are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account (Heb. 13:17)
• James wrote,
Not many of you should become teachers . . . for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness (Jas. 3:10)
• I’ve run into people around town who attended Capo Beach Church when I was there
◦ more than once I’ve been greeted with, “Hi, Pastor Chuck!” And I’ve answered “I’m not a pastor any more”
◦ one woman replied, “But you will always be my pastor” – that creeps me out
– there are too many ways that I can fail you
• I’ll give you one example

Suppose I assist you in deepening your life in God, but that part of your life is activated only on Sundays or only seems real when we meet together–when we pray, and enter the Scriptures–and the rest of the time and everywhere else we’re preoccupied with other things? What if every other day of the week we live like earthlings, unaware of God, and caught up in all the things of the world? What if on the weekdays we are worried about our bodies while neglecting our spirits? The the point I want to make is that I am a “supplement”! What I do is not your nutrition, your source of energy or healthy growth.

What happens when we’re here is reinforcement, a remembering, a refreshing, and refueling. Reflexion is a rest stop in this long journey and a break from the everyday pressures. We leave here and return to the road. A benefit of being here together, is that it supports our lives and gives us stamina in the trenches. Our real life in God is what we nurture and practice every day.

Abraham Maslow, a twentieth century psychologist and humanist,
– was convinced that humans have a “transcendent nature” that needs to be nurtured
• he believed there was a human need to experience transcendence
• he argued that church on Sunday could get in the way of that rather than provide it
Maslow, “The experiences of the holy . . . the divine, . . . of surrender, of mystery . . . gratitude, self-dedication, if they happen at all, tend to be confined to a single day of the week, to happen under one roof only . . . . ‘Religionizing’ only one part of life secularizes the rest of it.”
– Maslow refers to this kind of rupture between one day of the week and the other days as “dichotomizing” (dichotomy is a division of one thing into two parts)
• he argues that dichotomizing results in psychological disorders
Maslow, “Isolating two interrelated parts of a whole from each other, parts that need each other, parts that are truly ‘parts’ and not wholes, distorts them both, sickens and contaminates them.”
• St. James made a similar observation 2,000 years ago
People who are double-minded are unstable in all their ways” (Jas. 1:8)
◦ we can break this down further and make it easier to digest
Brenning Manning, “Christianity has designated certain places more sacred than others, some days holier than others, and some actions more religious than others, giving the impression that contact with God happens primarily, if not exclusively, on the first day of the week in a building called church. Confining God’s presence to certain predictable times and places is restrictive and leads to the unspoken assumption that the rest of the week is irreligious.”
My dad used to say, “Some people have enough of the Lord in them to be unhappy in the world and enough of the world in them to be unhappy in the Lord.”

If we correct the division between sacred and secular, what is possible?

Being here together will enrich our daily experience of God
– but the reverse is also possible
• our daily experience of God will enhance our being together
– let’s say we have a day that is unusually distressing
• we pray and we call or text to share our need with a Christian friend
◦ we breathe, turn our awareness to God, and receive peace
◦ the answer may not have arrived–yet–but it’s on the way
• then we meet together here and share our hardships and successes
◦ this is what the Psalms describe when the poet says,
“I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you” (Ps. 35:18)

Conclusion: Sometime ago, a friend of mine lost his wife after a prolonged illness

When I called him to see how he was doing, he told me that a minister involved in his wife’s memorial service told him to write out his eulogy; that way he wouldn’t risk losing a thought or rambling. Also, if he were to be flooded with emotion and unable to keep reading, his daughter could finish reading the eulogy for him.
The problem was that my friend did not consider himself a writer or capable of putting together something worth reading at her memorial. He was struggling with it and getting nowhere. So I asked him if he was busy, or if I could come over to his house, interview him briefly, and write the eulogy for him. He said he didn’t want to put that on me, but I told him, “This is easy for me. It’s what I do; it’s who I am.”

There are two specific places passages in the Scriptures where Jesus spoke to me and gave me my assignment like he did with Peter.
Years passed between these two events,
but on each occasion, Jesus said, “This is what you do. This is who you are”
Next week and the week after,
I am going to share those two words with you

Jul 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

1 Kings 19, The Low Whisper 07/09/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome RefleXion Community!           The Lord is with you!

Last week, when Chuck finished the Meditations on Mark, he offered that the ending, though seemingly truncated, was meant for us to extend by our lives.  I’m reading a book right now, by Parker J. Palmer entitled “On the Brink of Everything.”  His friend had described watching her toddler discover life, and in wonder said that the child was on the brink of everything.  And so are we!  It reminds me of the phrase Jim sometimes uses: “standing on the edge of eternity.” 

It is mysterious and a wonder to be in the meeting place of the unfolding of ourselves and the revealing of each day as it comes to us.  Perhaps the best that we can do is to stay awake and in awareness and to present ourselves as whole and willingly as we are able. 

Or are we striving each day to live the perfect life, and what does that look like anyway?  We believe that Jesus led the perfect life, don’t we?  Well, did He have trouble, temptations, and trials?  Did He have enemies?  Was there chaos and confusion around Him?  You bet. 

I quote here:

“It was fitting that God . . . should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10).

Wasn’t Jesus perfect when he was born in the manger? And didn’t he live a sinless life? Wasn’t his death the death of an innocent man? Yes. He was morally perfect. That is one kind of perfection or completion.

But there is another kind of perfection or completion that comes only by experience. Jesus entered fully into the sufferings of this world and emerged victorious over them. He was completed in his experience on the earth by the things he suffered. That is why he may be called the “author” of our salvation.”

A friend of mine says that when her children were little and she read them the fairy tales—you know, the ones that end with “and they lived happily ever after,” she always said, “and they lived happily ever after, with an occasional argument.”  We are on the brink of everything:  things happy and things very hard.

I’m going to try to remind myself of that every morning this week; I’ll let you know how it goes.

Let’s pray:  Dear Lord, save us from the temptation to be made perfect through anything but Your work.  Open our eyes to wonder and to the mysterious indwelling of Your Holy Spirit and to our own souls.  May this day reveal Your Presence to us and Your work for us.  May we awaken to it, and step in to it, for the sake of the Name of Jesus and His Kingdom come.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: We’re going to spend time this morning with a unique person

Elijah was one of the most gifted prophets in scripture
– in fact, he became the representative of all the prophets,
• right up to and including John the Baptist, who came
in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:17)
• Elijah will teach us a lesson on hearing the voice of God

Before we get into his story – two points I find interesting

First, if we look close at our story in 1 Kings 19, we’ll find obvious connections between Moses and Elijah (Ex. 34-35)
– Elijah journeys into the same wilderness that Moses had led Israel
• it will take Elijah awhile to reach his destination–forty days (Moses was there with Israel forty years)
◦ Elijah’s destination was Mount Horeb–the same mountain Moses climbed
◦ on Mount Horeb, Moses experienced God as close as any human could
• God told Moses he would pass before him and he did (Ex. 33:19 & 34:6)
◦ using the same Hebrew word, God passed by Elijah (v. 11)
◦ there is, however, a big difference between their encounters with God! (we’ll come to that)
– the other point of interest, is how the storyteller uses “behold”
• five times, we are invited to look at what is happening
◦ in one place we read that, Elijah looked, and behold
• in other words, we’re suddenly looking through Elijah’s eyes
◦ “behold” alerts us to what deserves our attention

Why do we find Elijah taking an arduous journey?

You probably know this story – if not, you need to hear it
• the queen of Israel was a real Jezebel–in fact, she was the original Jezebel
she had a gift for writing nasty letters
• in a letter to Elijah, she swore, “By this time tomorrow, you’ll be dead”
• Elijah read it and “ran for his life” – south, through Judah
down to Beersheba, which was a small town that bordered the wilderness
it was the last outpost of civilization
Day one: Elijah walked maybe twenty miles into the desert
towards evening he came to small tree and sat down in its shade
• before falling asleep, he prayed,
“I’ve had enough. I can’t do this any more.
O Lord, kill me – better I die by your hand than Jezebel’s.
I tried, but I can’t succeed any more than anyone before me.”
• like much of our prayer, this was not a complete prayer
it was only half a prayer–he just poured out his thoughts
he was venting, saying the words,
but he didn’t expect God to answer
• at some point in the night or next morning, “Behold”
someone was waking him up – an “angel” touched him and told him, “Get up and eat”
• Elijah looked, and behold . . . cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water
he ate, drank, and fell asleep again
• sometime later, the angel returned – he did and said the same thing
only this time he gave Elijah an explanation for the meal, for the journey is too great for you
• Elijah was back on his feet–and he walked for over a month,
day and night, until he reached Mount Horeb, “the mount of God,” according to the storyteller
that has an ominous ring to it
• Elijah settled into a cave – we’re not told how long he was there before the “visitation”
• while there, “behold, the word of the LORD came to him”
“word of the LORD” has a special significance in scripture
it refers to the way God communicated with his prophets
it’s not like a sermon, reading a letter, or listening to news
the word of Yahweh was a divine power – it came with energy
Jeremiah described it as a fire burning in his heart and bones,
and a hammer that breaks rocks to pieces
in this instance, the word of the LORD came with a question
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah replied, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away” (v. 10)
• I don’t know, but to me that sounds rehearsed
it sound like all the thoughts that kept tumbling around inside Elijah’s head
anyway, it doesn’t answer God’s question
an answer to God’s question would have been something like:
“I’m running away–hiding out”
“I’m giving up–handing in my resignation, I failed–I quit”
Or, “I’ve come here looking for answers”
• God’s short response:
“Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD”
And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper 1 Kings 19:11-13
• I said before that there’s a big difference in Moses’ and Elijah’s encounter with God
this is it – God did speak to Moses in thunder and fire
the writer of Hebrews tells us, For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. . . . Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” (Heb. 12:18-21)
Elijah did not hear the word of the LORD in the windstorm, earthquake, or raging fire
but if not in the cataclysms, then what?
• what shall we call what Elijah heard?
The King James Version: a still small voice
The New American Standard Bible: the sound of a gentle blowing
The English Standard Version: the sound of a low whisper and in the margin, a sound of thin silence
• when Elijah heard that quiet voice, he covered face with his cloak
then he stepped out in front of cave, And behold there came a voice to him
God repeated his same question – Why would he do this?
• I can only guess, it is because God didn’t accept Elijah’s first answer
Elijah, however, could not come up with a new answer
his brain was stuck in all the same repetitive thoughts
nothing is new, nothing has changed, nothing creative occurred to him
• So God tells him, “Get back on your bike and let’s try it again”
• in this story, what has God done for Elijah?
God fed him, gave him some physical exercise, had him rest for awhile,
and then God gave Elijah new assignments and sent him back to his work

The design of this story is made so obvious that even children can see it

We want to hear from God, have him answer our questions, reveal his will
– we want it to be so real to us, that there’s no room to doubt it’s him speaking to us
• but he chooses to speak so quietly and mysteriously,
◦ that we cannot be certain whether or not we heard him
• the lesson this story teaches us, is that like God’s prophet,
◦ we have to learn how to listen so that we hear
– if we’re waiting for something loud, or big, or audible, we may never hear God
• we have to learn to listen to the sound of thin silence
In the beginning of Revelation, Jesus dictates seven letters to seven churches, and each letter says,
Whoever has an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches
• it isn’t enough to read or listen to these letters read,
• people need to be attentive and hear the message in the letters
– sounds enter our ears constantly: animal and human voices
• sounds in nature and sounds of machinery
◦ but if they’re not calling my name, I don’t pay attention
◦ we can listen, but not hear (having ears do you not hear? Mk. 8:18)
• so the key to hearing God’s quiet voice is to pay attention
– when our orange tree is in bloom, I sometimes stand near it
• I want to inhale its fragrance – this releases pleasurable neurochemicals in my brain
• listening for God is like savoring – you slow down
you look and let your eyes receive colors, shapes, and shades
you breathe and smell the aromas of the moment
you swallow and feel how your soft palate and esophagus know how to process your food

This last week I was reading in the Psalms and one morning spent time with this one verse:
I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me (Ps. 131:2)
My meditation: “Every believer needs to learn how to do this! We need to be able to calm and quiet our souls in God. ‘Self-regulation’ is the ability to settle ourselves down when we’re upset, afraid, anxious, sad, and so on. In this psalm the poet self-regulates his emotions by visualizing God holding him as a small child is held in its mother’s arms. Those people who have the most unrest in their souls are the ones who trigger agitation in the souls of others, who incite fear and start fights. Because of all that God is to us, we can learn to regulate our own emotions in him and his loving care, and thereby become the calm and soothing voice to others”

Listening means focusing our awareness
– when we get good at this, all we have to do is ask:
“Am I in awareness right now?” and we’ll know instantly
– try this: without moving, be aware of your right hand
• how it is positioned – whatever it feels
• do this for a full minute
• now shift awareness to your left hand and do the same thing
• do you see that you’re able to focus your awareness wherever you want
– to hear God and receive his peace, know where to focus your awareness
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: the neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these (Mt. 6:26-30)
• focus your attention on things that are above on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, (etc.), then listen to one of those things with all your senses
Brennan Manning, “Being fully present in the now is perhaps the premier skill of the spiritual life.”

I hesitate to tell you this, but it’s important: Have some kind of Bible reading practice
I won’t say that you need to read through the entire Bible
If it helps, stay in your favorite parts and continue to reread them
Discipline yourself to read with awareness, and hold onto what God says to you
Do not simply listen to the Scriptures in your mind, but hear them in your heart and soul

Conclusion: We can choose to make aware listening a habit

It is so seldom that we listen in this way, that when we do,
we almost always receive an insight from God

Jul 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations in Mark Ch. 16 07/02/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

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

Take a deep breath.  Chuck and Jim almost always use this phrase to lead us in to our quiet time, whether it be here on Sunday mornings or in preparation for Lectio Divina.  Meditation teachers use the breath not only to prepare us, but as an anchor to bring us back to center if our mind wanders during meditation.  I’m familiar with using breath work in these ways.  And, just recently, I have realized that a deep breath or two will bring me back to Presence, to the present, in my daily walking-around life. 

I am often focused on the future: “What’s next?  How can I resolve that?  What’s the plan?”  I have an habitual “future orientation.” Some of us are more “past oriented,” ruminating on “What happened?  Why did I do that?  What if I had made another choice?  That was an awful experience, etc.”  Those types of thoughts keep us in the past.  Our minds can be habituated in either direction, as our pattern of thinking.  The breath has been very effective at bringing me back to being present—to the person in front of me, to God with me, to information being presented.

I’ve been noticing that when I’m stuck in my future orientation mode, it’s accompanied by a sense of urgency, and I have come to realize that that’s because there’s not enough oxygen there—in the future.  My breath is shallow, which creates a sense of urgency, of hurry. It feels to me like inhale, inhale, inhale just to keep going.  I mentioned this to a friend who gets stuck in a past orientation.  She said that to her living there was exale, exale, like a long sigh.  I don’t know if anybody here can relate, but I thought I’d share my experience.  In any situation I can use a few deep breaths to foster Presence.  So, when I catch myself not paying attention and my mind is wandering, I come back to a full breath of inhale and exhale, and that puts me in Presence; that’s where the oxygen is.

The book of Job talks about the breath of life:

“In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.  The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

Our opening prayer today comes from Psalm 150.  Please join with me:

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!  Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!  Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!  Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: We’ve come to the last chapter in Mark’s gospel

And to the enigma at the end of the book
– that’s because the story ends at Mark 16, verse 8
• you say, “Chuck! My Bible still has more verses”
◦ “Yes, I know, but read the fine print”
• the most ancient manuscripts that we have in our possession end at verse 8
◦ scholars tell us the quality of the Greek writing changes at verse 9
◦ the evidence supports the abrupt ending
– this has become a fascination for me – so, it has been a frequent meditation
My meditation: “Verse 8 is a fitting end to a story well told. Rather than satisfy our curiosity regarding what happened next, we are left in suspense. Verses 9-20 are clumsy in comparison to the rest of Mark. I imagine an ancient scribe coming to the last line and feeling like the bridge is out. Frustrated, he says, ‘No, no, no—this won’t do at all. Mark cannot come to an end with a cliffhanger.’ So at some point in history, someone or some committee added an epilogue that they felt provided a satisfying resolve to the end the story.
These editors had inspired material at hand to cut-and-paste, so it wasn’t like they were making stuff up. From John’s gospel, they borrowed the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus near the tomb. From Luke’s gospel, they took the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus and the setting for Jesus appearing to the eleven disciples over a meal. Matthew recorded the story of Jesus’ command to go into all the world with the gospel that the editors borrowed to fill out verses 9-20 here as an epilogue. The stories were true, they were just taken from the other sources.
However, this attempt to provide additional details was not nearly as creative or effective as Mark’s writing. One indicator of a foreign hand is the fact that this ending is very ‘preachy’—a characteristic that Mark avoided. There is a message in the final verses, but it is blatant and has none of the subtlety Mark has been careful to maintain. Some people who are not good storytellers or writers use an authoritarian style in which they tell people what they should feel and how they should respond. They do this to compensate for a lack of skill.
There is no other resurrection story in which Jesus rebuked his disciples for their ‘unbelief.’ Instead, in his post-resurrection encounters, Jesus approached them in gentleness and love. His first words to the frightened disciples was, ‘Peace be with you’ (Jn. 20:21). He willingly offered Thomas his hands to examine to verify that he really was Jesus. He lovingly restored Peter to discipleship and ministry. He ate a fish with his disciples to alleviate their fears that they were seeing a ghost. But the editors of Mark have Jesus scolding the disciples for their hardness of heart. If we go back into the substance of Mark’s gospel, we see that Jesus knew they would be shocked by his death and have difficulty believing in his resurrection. Jesus soothed, instructed, promised, and reconciled with his disciples, but there was no rebuke.
I think the editors were adding a rebuke of their own. Perhaps they felt it was necessary in order to frighten readers who came to the end of the story and did not believe Jesus had risen from the dead. The editors were warning those readers that their hearts were hardened. This is too often the very message that has been used to abuse faithful believes. The implicit message of authoritarian preachers, parents, youth leaders, and other Christians with ‘control issues’ is, ‘Jesus won’t love you if you don’t believe in his resurrection and eat your vegetables.’ But that is not what we hear from Mark or from the Lord himself. Jesus tells us that his ‘yoke is easy, and [his] burden is light’ (Mt. 11:30).
These extra verses were not necessary. Any reader who came to this apparent ellipsis—i.e., ‘dot, dot, dot’—would know this could not possibly be the end of Jesus. Anyway, I think the person-to-person reports of Jesus’ resurrection probably had a more dynamic effect than the bogus addition. Besides, Mark’s story was first told to communities of faith that would not have existed had Jesus not risen. They did not need convincing.”
• I have had a couple more thoughts about the way Mark ends:
◦ first, I think I know why Mark leaves off where he does (we’ll come to that)
◦ second, he’s already given us the ending–parable in chapter 12
Remember his story about the owner of a vineyard, who sent his son to collect the produce they owed him. But the tenants killed the son. Then Jesus asks, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” That is the question at the end of Mark. What will God do next? Jesus answered this question, “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Mk. 12:9). Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, God poured out his Spirit on the first Christian community, and within about forty years the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. God turned his vineyard over to his new church.

Now let’s return to the verses we can trust as original
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Mark 16:1-3

My meditation: “The Sabbath ended Saturday evening, so when the markets reopened the women were able to buy the supplies they would need to anoint Jesus’ body. However, they would have to wait until daylight to go to the tomb safely. Carrying spices and oil, there was good reason to wait until they could see clearly and fulfill their mission efficiently. That they went ‘very early’ indicates their eagerness to prepare his body for burial, even though he was already placed in a tomb that was securely sealed.
(I love the coincidence of words, in English, that the women went to the tomb after ‘the sun had risen’ and arrived at the tomb after the Son had risen.)
‘Anointing him’—that is, his dead body—was a kind and loving act that the family and closest friends would provide. They came regardless of what they had witnessed at the cross. What did they think of him now? That he was not the Christ after all? That he had failed his mission? That their hope in him would be buried in his tomb? If they had such thoughts, what they knew to be fact was all that he had done for them and others, that he was a good man, and that someone needed to perform this service to his body.
A number of obstacles stood in their way. One was their concern over the ‘very large’ stone that blocked the entrance. Another was the soldiers stationed there to guard the tomb. But something that would have never entered their minds was that the corpse would not be where it had been placed.
Though they were not able to not care for Jesus’ body as they had planned, we can recall that this service had already been provided to him. While Jesus was at dinner in Bethany, a woman poured perfumed oil over his head. Jesus explained the meaning of her actions, saying, ‘She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial’ (Mk. 14:8).”

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mark 16:4-6
My meditation:‘And looking up they saw that the stone had been rolled back . . . .’ Mark devoted a great deal of thought and creative storytelling to highlight the theme of looking and seeing as a necessary development in discipleship. In the heart—the very center of the book—he tells a story about the disciples looking but not seeing. To ‘look’ is to notice and perhaps observe, but to ‘see’ is to perceive. So Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Having eyes do you not see?’ (Mk. 8:18) In a normal day I look at countless things, but what do I see? Do I pay enough attention to whatever it is God wants me to see? I have been at this many years; has my spiritual vision improving at all?
The women had been worried about the large stone, but when they looked up it had already been rolled out of the way. We are pestered by some worries that could be resolved instantly just by looking up.
The women bravely entered the tomb, but what they saw (and what they did not see) alarmed them. The body was missing and a young man was calmly sitting inside. Mark says they were ‘alarmed’—I imagine their emotions were in free fall, plunging from grief to sudden panic.
‘Do not be alarmed,’ the young man told them. But why should they not be alarmed? Because Jesus had announced he would rise from the dead? Because they did not have time to panic because there was too much to do? Because overnight the world had changed and they were now living in the new reality? Perhaps that was it. From now on there would be no need for alarm. ‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’—Jesus’ last words to the disciples in Matthew’s gospel.
The young man (the other gospels tell us he was an angel) spoke from his vantage point and perspective, not theirs. He said, ‘You seek Jesus of Nazareth,’ but they were not looking for Jesus. They were looking for his corpse.
The angel invited the women to come closer and ‘See the place where they laid him.’ The women—and the readers too—are given a visual experience to help absorb what has happened. It was an experience of emptiness. The past-tense indicates the slab that once held the body of Jesus was no longer occupied.”

“But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Mark 16:7
My meditation: “The angel gave the women simple instructions as to what they were to do next. They were to go and tell Jesus’ disciples that he would meet them in Galilee. This was actually a reminder of what Jesus had told them the night before his crucifixion (Mk. 14:28). It was a prearranged meeting.
When instructing the women to inform the disciples, the angel made an odd specification, ‘and Peter.’ What?! Was Peter no longer a disciple? Had Peter wandered off alone? Had he separated himself from the others? Did he feel that he had disqualified himself and was not worthy to be associated with the true followers of Jesus? There is no way we can know. However, the angel did refer to him by his new name, the name that Jesus gave him.
I know people who would insist on cutting Peter from the team. They do not know what Jesus knows. That once Peter was ‘sifted like wheat,’ he would be a changed man, capable of strengthening his brothers (Lk. 22:31-32). Sometimes I am grieved and troubled by the absence of mercy among Christians and in many churches. Is it okay for me to harbor bad feelings toward these merciless believers? Only if I want to be like them. But Jesus tells me that God ‘”is kind to the ungrateful and the evil, and therefor, ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”’ (Lk. 6:36). Mercy must win!”

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized the, and the said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:8

My mediation: “The angel’s instructions were first of all to ‘go.’ Jesus’ first words to his disciples and others were, ‘Come, follow me’; his last word of instruction was ‘Go.’ ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,’ he told his disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . .’ (Mt. 28:18-19).
My meditation: “The women came to the tomb courageously. If soldiers were posted there, they would deal with them. If the stone was in place, they were already thinking about how it could be moved. They were preparing themselves for any potential problem. Nothing would stand in their way. But what they had not prepared themselves for, was an empty tomb and a heavenly angel. So they fled from the tomb. Mission aborted. Of all the instructions the angel gave them, the only one they obeyed was ‘Go.’ They were more than willing to do that post haste.
I look back at all the times Jesus performed a miracle or confided something with his disciples and told people, ‘Tell no one’—and more than once he said this with a stern voice. Now, at last, people are told to ‘go tell,’ but these women ‘said nothing to anyone—not even Peter. Eventually they got around to the disciples. Mark does not criticize them. He most likely learned their story from them. And he concludes his book with their story.

Conclusion: Now I will explain why this is the perfect ending

For Mark, there is no final chapter, no end to the story of Jesus
Whether the disciples went to Galilee or not, he leaves up in the air
But if the disciples were to go to Galilee, they would see Jesus
Mark’s message to us is, “Look for Jesus where he can be found, and you will see him”
Jesus can be found, for instance, in the story Mark has told us about him

If we still ask, “But how does the story end?”
Mark’s answer is, “That is up to you”
He slides the scroll across the table, hands us his pen, and tells us,
“Here, you write the end of this story.
How the story ends for you depends on what you do with it.”

Jun 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

A letter from Steve with The Novi Community

Dear Chuck,

Thank you for the support your community gave to Novi last month. It helped us push forward with Novi Life Kit orders and continue with distribution along the front lines of the conflict. Right now the Life Kits are being sent to summer camp locations along the front line and are being used as a tool to train children to self regulate and have fun even though their world is a battlefield. 

As of last week, we’ve also trained more than 600 adults (since January) to use the kits and a few other tools developed by our psychologist mentors we use to help children in war zones self-regulate and find their way through the conflicts trauma free.  Our work is affecting the lives of tens of thousands of children now. We’ve only been working in Ukraine since last June so it feels miraculous to us that we are making such a large impact. This knowledge is a deal changer for the children and their parents who can’t figure out how to get their children’s emotional life back on track.

I’m attaching a few photos from Novi’s last trip to the front line. My wife was on this team as you can see. The top photo is of Jon playing through the activities of the Novi Life Kit with kids living within five miles of the front line. Artillery hits this village every night and explosions were heard throughout the day while our team showed children creative and fun ways to be in a calm, instead of shut down and fearful, state. It was beautiful to see children respond so positively and even more inspiring to watch as the adults realized that they could have their beautiful children back at the dinner table with a giggle instead of a depressed and sad demeanor. Many parents told us their greatest concern was that they’ve permanently lost their children emotional health to the war and when they saw things change, begged us for more training. This was in Donetsk and Kherson and was organized by churches that remain at the center of these humble communities.

Please thank the generous souls at Reflexion for being part of this. I am grateful and empowered by your practical actions of love.

Best Regards,
Steven Gumaer | The Novi Community

Jun 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations in Mark – chapter 15 06/25/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

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

In honor of Chuck’s birthday, which he will celebrate this week, I want to begin with a scripture verse that I call “the birthday verse.”  From 2 Corinthians 4:16:  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

I think I’m one of the oldest people in the room, so I will give you my perspective on aging…. it’s not for sissies!  I think we all know that from birth our physical bodies, our mental acuity, and our emotions grow in capacity and strength; and then, by some unseen clock and timing, they diminish, and we become frail and weak.  “Everything goes south, as they say.”  That’s gravity, but, as this scripture reminds us, it’s gravity and grace.   The verses that continue after the “birthday verse” say, For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We don’t often think about our unseen spirit that is given to us by God as growing us, yet our spirit, which we’re born with, gives us the ability to search for and to know God. The Holy Spirit received reveals God to us and enlivens our spirit to become like Him.  Like a flower or a bird that is programmed on the inside, so are we.  Remember our grandmas who often said to us, “Look how big you’re getting!”  Well, maybe we all need spiritual grandmas who say, “Look how far you’ve come!”  I love this quote from Morgan Harper Nichols, who invites us to look and to see that “All along you were blooming.”

So, Chuck, thank you for letting us in on the ponderings of your spirit with these meditations in Mark.  May you never lose heart and may God bless each of your days with the Spirit’s renewal of hope and peace, and, yes, joy.

Join me to pray will you:

Lord, spare us the continuing demand for youth.  Give us instead the desire for maturity and for the wholeness of who you have made us to be.  Let the Spirit make real to us this truth from the inside out, that we might live our lives with integrity.  Thank you for our teachers, for our friends, and thank you for the way you have created us—to search for and to know you.  We welcome your work in us; let the desires of your heart be ours today.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?: And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take hi down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Mark 14:22-39

Intro: This story is about Christ the Victim becoming Christ the Victor

I’m going to jump right into my meditations on this chapter
My meditation: “I want Mark to use his remarkable storytelling skills to enhance the details of what is depicted here. I want him to enable us to visualize it and hear every sound. It would benefit us to begin to fathom what Jesus suffered and to feel the utter hopelessness of the cross. I feel it’s important to sit in dark shadow of his abandonment, aloneness, sorrow, and death. But here, when I think the action should slow down and perhaps zoom in on still frames, Mark hurries us along at his usual fast clip, using “and . . . and . . . and . . .” to keep the action moving quickly.
But Mark has his own agenda and his own purpose. He carries us from one critical point to another, rising and falling like peaks of a wave. That is how he presents the story and that is how we must receive it, noticing when he wants to emphasize a specific sentence.”

I have several meds on verses 1-20 that I’ll run through quickly

My meditations, verse 1:‘And as soon as it was morning . . .’ The Greek says, ‘immediately [in the] early morning.’ In scripture, to get up early signifies eagerness. Mark captures the enthusiasm of the priests and scribes to convene a meeting and rush Jesus to Pilate. Perhaps they feared losing ground if they were to wait for due process to run its course.
What inspires me to jump out of bed early in the morning? The chief priests and scribes were eager to get rid of Jesus. Am I equally eager to get up to meet with Jesus? Am I as motivated as the women who went to his tomb ‘very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen’?
Why did the pious trolls tie Jesus’ hands. Were they afraid he might Kung Fu his way to freedom? Did they do it to humiliate him or make him look like a criminal when they delivered him to Pilate? I like to think they were afraid he might try to touch and heal someone on the way, and so expose their wickedness. Jesus the innocent. Jesus the Savior. Jesus the Christ. Those hands! That touch!”
verse 2: “Mark has created a dark chapter. I find it disturbing this morning–it’s not what I think I need to read. My circumstances tell me I need a living, powerful, miracle-working Savior with me, not someone who allows the world to roll over him. Jesus is dreadfully quiet in this chapter, and reading it feels like I’m losing Jesus, my one hope. I want to skim the chapter, fast-forward to the resurrection, and move on.
I am afraid; afraid of being stuck at the ‘Place of the Skull,’ stuck in a world without Jesus in it, without my link to God, a world in which the crucifiers are in control and good things die. But this chapter is not the end of Mark’s story, and it is not the end of my story either.
And I know it’s a fatal error to think a dying Savior is not what I need.”
verses 4-5: “In the beginning of Mark’s gospel, people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching and how he spoke (with authority). Now his silence is just as amazing. I wonder if Mark intended for us to also find Jesus’ abrupt silence amazing? Perhaps Jesus fell silent because at that moment silence was the best answer (regardless of how defenseless it left him).
No doubt Pilate, who had seen many people on trial for their lives, assumed this would be the moment a person would be desperate to speak, desperate to defend themselves, when their life was on the line and many accusations were leveled against them. To witness the Lord’s absence of need to speak up, to counter his accusers, or justify his actions amazed Pilate.”
verses 6-15, “Barabbas: “I can see how Jesus appeared to be a threat to the religious trolls, but I do not know why they felt so much contempt for him. They despised and feared him so much that rather than see him released, they chose to free a murderer. Even Pilate was confused by this move, and asked them, ‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’”
verses 16-20: (The Roman soldiers tortured Jesus) “These verses are hard to read and digest. The soldiers scourged Jesus because that’s what they were ordered to do—everything after that was entertainment. Perhaps they were frustrated with being posted in Israel and viewed the Jewish people as a constant aggravation. After all, the legions were not there for the benefit or prosperity of Israel, but to maintain the Pax Romana, and brutally squelch any sign of revolt.
Their brutality ‘wasn’t personal.’ Jesus meant absolutely nothing to them. Of course, it’s personal to me. Seeing him suffer all the degradations of an abused criminal, the humiliations of a hated victim, the torments of a rebel of Rome is too tragic to absorb. But to know that he was dragged to the bottom of the world in order to identify with and redeem those who live at the bottom–those he refers to as his brothers and sisters who are ‘the least’ because of their zero status in society–well, this is a revelation of his incomprehensible love.
I wonder whether I can endure my relatively lightweight burdens and put up with my aches and pains and feelings of despair, and at the same time be responsive to the needs of others. I don’t feel like I can. I don’t have that kind of strength or energy left in me. However, seeing what Jesus endured, I want to keep moving forward. His example inspires me and his Spirit enables me.”

The following meditations are from the passage above

Here we come to the crescendo of Jesus’ suffering
– he entered Jerusalem with shouts of welcome and praise
Hosanna! (or, Save now), and Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Mk. 11:9-10)
• but here he staggers out of Jerusalem, wounded and bloody
• then, when his body is fixed to the cross,

he is jeered at, scoffed, and harassed
– for me, this is the most painful and frustrating part of the ordeal
• as a child, I was conditioned to feel foolish and clumsy
◦ for me, there was no such thing as simple embarrassment
◦ what I felt was shame, humiliation, and rejection
• for years I would get stuck in this passage because it bothered me so much
◦ it distressed me to see Jesus treated like a fool and just take it

My meditation: “Jesus was accused of being the Messiah, Israel’s Savior (14:61-62), so this became the nature of their insults. The sting was that they were not saying, ‘Save Israel,’ but ‘Save yourself.’ The chief priests and scribes joked among themselves, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself.’
No one there spoke up for Jesus. No one offered him comfort or support. Nor did the crowd allow him to die in peace. He was the laughingstock of the heartless bystanders. I imagine that the scorn of the pious trolls was most hurtful. They were responsible for engineering this injustice; responsible for bringing the ministry and life of Jesus to an end. Now that they had won their victory, they were not off gloating in a side chamber of the temple, but right there in front of his cross. They mocked Jesus and made sure he could hear them.
I have been misjudged and slandered. People who thought they knew something about me have taken potshots at me. A couple times I made the mistake of offering a friendly response to their criticism and insults, but all that accomplished was to trigger a more aggressive and demeaning reaction.
I think most people feel passionate about defending themselves, squelching rumors, and getting the truth out there. So I wonder how Jesus could allow those offensive words to be floated in front of his face and not strike back. I know it’s unrealistic to think anyone would listen to him, hanging there between two criminals, and I admit my imagination can go off the rails. I want Jesus to transform into a super hero, glide down from the cross, and kick their butts. In fact, it seems some people thought it possible that there could be a last minute rescue, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ But the Lord just takes their abuse, as if he were totally helpless–as if they were right and he deserved this horrible death. He lets them have their fun.
Can I comprehend in any way Jesus’ devotion to the Father or his devotion to us? Can I make sense of the Scripture that says, ‘for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame’ (Heb. 12:2)?”

In all the emotional intensity, we are liable to miss the impact of two events

The moment Jesus died, two miracles occurred
My meditation:‘And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.’ This weird phenomenon, when the barrier that protected the holiest room in the temple from the intrusion of anyone but the high priest, could signify one of two things: Either the ultimate desecration of Israel’s religion or the end of our separation from God. Never again would we have to feel alone or abandoned.”
My meditation: “The most amazing word spoken regarding Jesus is heard from the mouth of a Roman centurion. Only after his death, when Jesus could not hear it, and it could not do him any good, or relieve an ounce of his suffering, was one decent thing said of him, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’ Only in his death was the full revelation of the Lord Jesus seen by someone, and that someone was an outsider to Israel’s religion and covenant. Still, this is the point that Mark has been trying to bring us from the first verse of chapter 1. He has wanted us to make this discovery. And it comes not after a noteworthy miracle, but at the end of Jesus’ life. But still, Jesus’ crucifixion was not a mistake or merely a cruel martyrdom, but the culmination of God’s victory over all the powers of evil, seen and unseen.”

There is one other direction we need to look, off in the distance
There were also women looking on from a distance . . . . When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem Mark 15:40-41

My meditation: “Why does Mark bring these women into the narrative at this point? Were they brave to venture so close to the site of execution? Or were they so marginalized as to be invisible? Was it safer for females from Galilee to be present than the males? It is easy to forget that many of Jesus’ disciples were female. We learn that these women have been in the background all along, and were associated with Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. In those happier times, the only threat to Jesus in Galilee was the risk of so many people trying to get to him they might crush him or prevent him from having time to eat or sleep. But now it seems the women are light years from those pleasant days around the lake, when Jesus brought the kingdom of God so near that disciples were beginning to stumble into it. How sad that Jesus might have been reminded of Galilee and the loving care of those women in his dying moments.
Do the women surface now because in that culture women were more involved in caring for the corpse than men? (Remember in the previous chapter, as Jesus said, ‘she has anointed my body beforehand for burial’; Mk. 14:8.) Is Mark working a theme here, in which women are last at the cross and first at the empty tomb? Was it because women had a special attachment to Jesus, being present at his birth, his death, and everything in between? Does the presence of women heighten the sentimental effect of this phase of the story? I ask, because I am always wondering What am I missing? And not just in my study of scripture, but in my life and the life of my spiritual community.”

Conclusion: The last face we see is that of Joseph of Arimathea

My meditation: The women ministered to Jesus during his life; Joseph came after he was dead. Favors shown to the dead are small compared to those given to the living. But Joseph has this going for him, he was looking for the kingdom of God. His concern for Jesus’ body tells us that he had not given up that hope, and it was still connected to this wonderful person who spoke as no one else.

From the start, Jesus’ message was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1:15).
He did not say the time is at hand, but the time is fulfilled
Jesus brought the kingdom of God into our world,
and now we get glimpses of it, if we’re looking for it!
It will appear to us in flashes this week;
the smile of a stranger,
a spray of flowers,
a light breeze brushing our cheek.
When we see anything beautiful,
we will know God is near,
if we are looking for the kingdom of God
and step through the door when it opens

Jun 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 14 06/18/2023

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome, friends! Happy Father’s Day; may you take joy in the perfect love that Your Heavenly
Father has for you.             He is with you!

One of the metaphors that is used for our personhood, our souls if you will, is that we are an instrument.  Many types of tools and devices can be labeled an instrument, and of course, one type is a device for playing or producing music. 

Can we imagine that we are each an instrument in an orchestra. During our lives, each one of us has been fine-tuning our instrument, learning skills, gaining an ear for our own style of music, and knowing what our instrument can do.  So, we’re playing together as an orchestra, and we notice that one instrument is off—off key, off the beat—and we’re distracted and annoyed by it, or maybe even upset and angry.  So, we put down our instrument to go over to the other person to correct him or her. 

And what if each one of us found someone else that wasn’t harmonizing with the music, and we each put down our instruments to go tell them how they should be playing?  Well, if we all put down our instruments, there would be no music at all!

The message is to “keep playing your instrument.” If we have learned to play by
The Spirit notes of kindness, gentleness, and goodness, then we must keep playing for there to be music.  Perhaps the instruments next to that other one will be enough for them to begin to resonate with the orchestra from their position.  If need be, we can take up our instrument and go sit beside them and keep playing…loud and clear so they can hear and be attuned.  Attunement is relational; to tune something, we need the relationship of a related instrument, human-to-human, for example.  One doesn’t tune a piano by talking to it.  You can’t tune a cello with a tree, nor a violin with a squirrel! 

When we are with someone who isn’t attuned, it’s difficult for sure.  Yet, don’t you think, especially in the body of Christ, that we’re built for it? Personally, I have to remember to play my instrument of patience and kindness with family members, goodness and faithfulness with friends, and remember that I am an instrument of love and peace, always.  I can’t stop making music.

Will you pray with me:

Though our mother and father forsake us, you will never forsake us, Father God.  The prayer Jesus made for our oneness is beyond our comprehension.  Yet the mystery attracts us, to live like You, always inviting, always making space for the new way of the Spirit.  Open our eyes and hearts to the particular ways we can participate in this new way and live without betraying the very precious privileges that we have as ambassadors of the new kingdom.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, less there be an uproar from the people.”
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Mark 14:1-11

Intro: This chapter is like a collage, a patchwork of people

The story moves from one group or person to another
– each one adds something to the unfolding plot
• e.g., the chapter begins with familiar faces (priests and scribes)
My meditation: My first thought is that this is Jesus these religious leaders want to eliminate. He has done only good; he has opened windows to the kingdom of God; he has advocated for spiritual and humanitarian reforms; and he has healed countless people.
My second thought is the devious approach the religious teams use to eliminate him. There is something about injustice that disturbs me so intensely it keeps me awake at night. My feelings are intensified if the injustice is intentional, perpetrated through deceit, and manipulates the court. In the most horrific cases, the victim is not only innocent, but a good person.
A third thought is that God allowed this to happen to his Son! He allowed the bad guys to win.
Does this mean I have to give up my outrage at injustice? Not if it is in my power to ensure justice for someone else. However, when it comes to an injustice against myself, then quite possibly I must lay down my sword—and at the same time let go of the intense feelings that rise within me. I will need to stand close to Jesus. That is where I’ll find the grace to be at peace.
– in my next meditation I introduce the theme I want to develop today: “a beautiful thing”
My meditation: “Every phrase in verses 6-9 is a rich resource for meditation. The line I hear this morning is ‘a beautiful thing.’ The story of Jesus and this woman is framed by ugly things. Beforehand, religious leaders were plotting to arrest and kill Jesus, and afterward, Judas showed up to betray Jesus to them.
Jesus knew beauty. Doing beautiful things for others had been his trademark. Now this woman does a beautiful thing to Jesus.
I’m trying to recall a time when anyone else had done a beautiful thing for him. Perhaps the women who traveled with Jesus and his disciples, providing ‘for them out of their means’ (Lk. 8:3). Otherwise, who else among the thousands, came to Jesus to give him something rather than to get something from him?
Previously, Jesus had sent disciples on errands. Two of them fetched a donkey and two others located and prepared a room to celebrate Passover. On both occasions, these men were given clear instructions regarding what to do. No one told this woman what to do. She came up with the idea of this beautiful thing on her own, and went about it in her own way.
Love does beautiful things!
Obedience to a command, or doing one’s duty, or stepping up when work is required—these actions may get things done, but there may or may not be any beauty in them. There may not be any love in them either.
Hate does ugly things. So does fear. So does greed. The roots of ugly behavior appear in this chapter. But in this story, love gives generously. Love is creative. Love does beautiful things.”
• another time a different line caught my eye in this same story
My meditation: “At the end of verse 7, Jesus says, ‘But you will not always have me.’ The opportunity to do a beautiful thing for Jesus had an expiration date. Some opportunities will always be here. Others will come for only a moment. We may have a sincere desire to perform Christian service to others, but never get around to doing it. Perhaps we’re like Peter when Jesus said to him, ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (v. 38). As for this woman, did she discern Jesus’ sadness? Is that why she felt she had to do something for him, something that would perhaps make him feel better?
I don’t think it was likely that the disciples felt anything like empathy for the Lord. Not even when he confided in them that one of them would betray him. Instead, each man thought only of himself, and asked, “Is it I?”. And when Jesus told them his soul was sorrowful to the point of death; they fell asleep. And when he was arrested, ‘they all left him and fled.’ What could one of the disciples have done that night? At the least, perhaps wash Jesus’ feet.
Our opportunities regarding doing the good we can do depend on our resources, the nature of the need to be met, and timing. I ask, ‘What can I do?’ Jesus answers, ‘Well, she did what she could.’ Was that enough? For Jesus it was.
Jesus said ‘wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’ Maybe he meant more than a memorial in her honor. Maybe she demonstrates the way the gospel of Jesus works in people when they open their heart to it. Out of love for Jesus, they do whatever they can. Perhaps the most they can do is give a child a cup of cold, clean water. That is enough. It’s that simple.”

I was going to alternate my meds in this chapter between beautiful and ugly

But instead, I will highlight the unattractive parts
1. We’ve seen already the religious team conspiring with Judas
2. Then, the disciples scolding the woman
• at same time inadvertently insulting Jesus, by referring to the gift she lavished on him as a ‘waste’
3. The heartbreak of Jesus’ announcement during dinner (that one of the twelve would betray him)
• Jesus closest and most loyal followers, are consistently disappointing in this chapter
My meditation: “Jesus told his disciples they would desert him, but Peter told Jesus he was wrong. All the apostles promised Jesus they would not run away–but they did. Three times, Jesus told his apostles to stay awake, and each time they fell asleep. Right up to the end, they were stumbling over themselves. Were they the best that Jesus could find? I don’t know. All I know was that they were the ones Jesus wanted–and I am no better than they were. Jesus loved, chose, trained, died, and rose again for losers.”
4. In the garden, Jesus said, his soul was crushed with sorrow
• it’s terribly wrong that he was thrown into this agony
5. The arrest: they came ‘with swords and clubs,’ when they could have been civil
• it was also ugly that his arrest was intentionally hidden from the crowds
6. The lopsided trial–they were prepared to accept false accusations
7. The way Jesus was mistreated and abused
• they did more than rough him up–they wanted to humiliate him
• this wasn’t justice – it was pure animosity and hostility
8. Peter’s denials – this was a different order of ugliness
• Peter caused the kind of pain that only a trusted friend can inflict

I have often meditated on Jesus’ prayer in the garden

Once, in Israel, I sat with my son Mike, off by ourselves in an olive grove
– we closed our eyes and imagined Jesus begging the Father to remove this cup from me
• then rising to his knees, perhaps raising his hands to the sky, he prayed,
Abba, Father, . . . not what I will, but what you will
• in our guided meditation, we watched him walk away to check on the three nearest disciples
◦ then we heard the loud voices of those who came for him. And so on.
My meditation: “It upsets me to think of Jesus so ‘distressed and troubled.’ As he said to Peter and James and John, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’ As I read this, I long to be there with Jesus through his terrible night and crushing sadness. I want to be with him as he has been with me through my soul-wrenching grief. He asks his friends to keep watch. I think that would be easy to do, even if I felt sleepy, as long as every few minutes I could stroll to the gate and see if anyone was approaching the garden. But he told his three closest friends, ‘remain here,’ and I’m sure that made it more difficult for them to stay awake. It had been a hard week and a long day, and they had enjoyed a big meal. And the garden was so quiet and dark and the hour was so late. Seeing the Lord in his broken state was not enough to enable them to fight off their drowsiness.”
– another time, I carried this thought a little further
My meditation: “Jesus’ message in the previous chapter was, ‘stay awake – stay awake – stay awake’ and ‘be on your guard – be on guard – be on guard.’ Now in the hour of crisis, the disciples could not stay awake and they dropped their guard. Is there a better example than this of the way Christians can hear teaching on the ‘end times,’ even get worked up about it, yet that teaching does not result in changed behavior?
The first time Jesus returned to disciples and found them sleeping, he told them,
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation (v. 38)
– we are not creatures, obligated to obey a creator so that our work is blessed
• God has called us into a relationship with himself
◦ and he has sealed the relationship with a covenant
• there will always be two sides of this relationship, each interacting with the other
God’s side: In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, And lead us not into temptation
(temptation can be hardship, pain, or any difficulty that tests our faith and loyalty. The flip-side of that is, deliver us from evil)
our side: watch and pray that you may not enter temptation
– every Christian learns how to “say prayers” – that’s easy
• but prayer that consists in watching is something else
My meditation: “Sad to say, I find comfort in the fact that the disciples could not stay awake as Jesus asked, and yet they still belonged to him. If only they knew what was coming! They would have stood up straight with their eyes wide open. But that is precisely the point! We don’t know when, or how suddenly the next crisis will hit. We will either be awake and ready, or else the alarm siren will wake us up. On guard, we are better prepared to meet the hour. Awake and ready, we are less stressed or anxious. A good percentage of prayer consists in waiting and watching.”

What I feel while reading this chapter is chaos (seems like everything is out of control)
– but it isn’t! Everything went according to an ancient script
• for instance, when Jesus told the disciples, ‘You will all fall away,’ he added, ‘for it is written’ (v. 27)
• then at moment of his arrest, he did not put up a fight, but said, ‘let the Scriptures be fulfilled’
◦ the ancient Scriptures were the prophetic script
My meditation: “I hear Jesus announcing the beginning of what God had been preparing through the ages, the culmination of redemption in this dark hour.”

Conclusion: We can’t leave this chapter without seeing biggest moment in Mark’s Gospel

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven Mark 14:61-62
My meditation: “Until now, Jesus had been strict about keeping his identity a secret. Even when his own disciples accurately identified him as “the Christ,” “he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.” But now he boldly acknowledges his identity. Moreover, he reveals it to his enemies–the very ones who will use it against him! The high priest hears the ‘sworn testimony’ of Jesus. He and the council are given the complete revelation that Jesus had hidden all through the years of his ministry. But now, at last, his hour had come.”

Now we know where Mark has been leading us
He has wanted us to follow this person, from Galilee to Jerusalem,
across valleys and over mountains
He has wanted us to witness his healing touch,
hear his words of truth and revelation,
and discover how the heart of God beats within his chest
Mark wanted us to discover for ourselves,
that Jesus is no ordinary human person,
and know that we could trust him–now and always

Jun 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 13 06/11/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, welcome!            The Lord is with you!

Why am I here?  How many times a day do I move from one room to another and then stand there and ask myself, “Why am I here?”  Do you ever do that?  I knew what I was going to do, but even after a very short distance I lost track of it. I know even that I’m in the right room or standing in front of the right cabinet…but I don’t recall why.

Life can be like that.  We get distracted, off track; we lose our purpose.  Our minds are chattering away.  It’s often needful just to pause and ask ourselves, “Why am I here?”  Of course, this can apply to the existential “why?”—the meaning of life, our life, and that’s worth pondering.  But even just this morning, we started off knowing that we wanted to come to this place.  Now, we’ve had a lot of thoughts and conversations right up until now.  So, it’s good to pause and re-align ourselves with our “why”; and we can start by just asking the questions: “Why am I here?” “Why have I come to this place? “ 

We might have to give it some time to let the answers work themselves up to our consciousness, through all the chatter, to allow for the space to remember ourselves.  I think that’s why we do start in this place with some quiet time.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we return to the here and now, we return to Presence.  We allow the flow of Spirit to take us to where we need to be, in awareness and presence.  We remind ourselves that we have a purpose in your grand design and a place of belonging in the family of things.  We are yours, each an individual, alive and growing, known and loved, becoming whole, becoming love.  Set us in our rightful place, settle our hearts and minds, let us allow for a receptive space, that we might find ourselves, and find that you already here.  For the sake of the Kingdom.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And 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 on stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.”

Intro: The temple plays an important role in Jesus’ story

The one clear accusation brought against him at his trial was,
“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’” (Mk. 14:58).
– but they weren’t certain what that even meant
Yet even about this their testimony did not agree (Mk. 14:59)
• I tend to think, if something was sacred, it is sacred forever
◦ if God visited a place, the ground would always be holy
• that’s kind of the idea people have about going to Israel
◦ “I want to walk where Jesus walked”
◦ as if I’ll experience something unique or supernatural
– when Solomon built the first temple, a phenomenon occurred
And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD (1 Ki. 8:10-11)
• but God spoke to Solomon twice, first before it was built and then again afterward
◦ the LORD was willing to dwell there, but his presence was provisional (1 Ki 6:11-13; 9:1-9)
◦ the king and the people had to remain loyal to God’s covenant with them
• years later, God stationed Jeremiah in temple gate with a warning
◦ if they did not turn and do as God desired,
◦ he would abandon temple and it would be destroyed
Go now to my place in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel (Jer. 7:12)
– not long afterward, Ezekiel witnessed the glory of God departing from the temple (Eze. 10:4, 19; 11:23)

It was in keeping with this flow of prophetic history, that Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple

My meditation on these five verses has focused on two phrases

The first phrase is “Do you see?”
(this was Jesus’ response when a disciple said, “Look, Teacher”)
– by now we could expect to hear Jesus ask, “Do you see?”
• after all the times disciples have missed the point
◦ they’ve had trouble seeing with their eyes, and hearing with their ears
• the temple was a tribute to human design, engineering, and wealth
◦ but it wasn’t as rock-solid as it appeared – it was transient
My meditation: “Jesus saw the stones and architecture of the temple differently than they saw them. He saw what they could not see. They saw a temple, he saw a den of thieves–a people who had lost contact with their God. Jesus also saw into the future, when the entire complex would be torn down. Jesus sees through facades to essence. He sees the destiny of each religious institution and each believer–a destiny that is either fulfilled or forfeited.”
– the second phrase occurs in verse 3, “opposite the temple”
“he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple”
My meditation: “Jesus positioned himself ‘opposite the temple.’ He was on one mount and the temple on another, with a valley between them. It was a stare down. The temple would either be the end of Jesus, or Jesus would be the end of the temple.”
• for several chapters, Mark has tracked this conflict between Jesus and what was going on in the temple
◦ Jesus comes as a living force, empowered by God, for God
◦ the temple, with its dead religion, resisted and opposed him — it could not tolerate the “new wine”
• after 2,000 years, Jesus is still moving in the world
◦ but the temple has never risen from its ruins
◦ dynamic movements inevitably become institutionalized
• institutions can be very impressive and attractive
◦ but life in Jesus is not something we can organize and manage
◦ religion dies in our hands

For the remainder of the chapter, Jesus answers two questions

The disciples asked Jesus about the when and the what of his prediction
– humans are possessed by a fixation with the future
• Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth – sold 35 million copies
• many Christians believe we have an exact script for specific future events
– the questions the disciples asked are sort that can lead to wild speculation
• Jesus knew that! and so he inserted warnings in his teaching

I have written more than thirty years of meditations from the Scriptures
– but rarely have I ever meditated on any verse in this chapter
• when I came to it in Feb. 2020, I wrote myself a note
“This is a difficult chapter for me, mostly because I cannot enter it with a clear and innocent mind. I have heard it taught too often, and everything explained so fully that there is no room for new insights. It feels like the door to its meaning is locked, so I cannot hear a fresh word from Jesus in it.”
• what I did observe at that time were snippets of information
My meditation: “The scenes Jesus describes occur in a world where he is no longer present, ‘like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge’ (v. 34). Yet he continues to be represented by his followers, who will be dragged before ‘governors and kings, to bear witness before them’ (vv. 9-10). And one day he will return, ‘And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory’ (v. 26). Otherwise, history will move forward through dark ages of violence, betrayal, false christs and false prophets, over an unstable landscape in an uncertain world. Meanwhile God’s work will also continue to move forward within it.”
– in many minds today, our world fits this description
• I’ve read a couple of recent reports regarding billionaires talking with consultants
◦ the want to know the surest way to survive the end of the world
• some are building underground bunkers
◦ others are looking for inhabitable planets to colonize
◦ Luke records an additional line in this talk that speaks to the growing panic
“people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world” (Lk. 21:26)

What is the first answer Jesus gives his disciples?
“See that no one leads you astray”

This is his first and most important lesson
– Jesus repeatedly reiterates this warning
v. 9, But be on your guard
v. 23, But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand
v. 33, Be on guard, keep awake
v. 35, Therefore stay awake
v. 37, And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake
– in one med. I wrote, “I wish I had Secret Service training”
My meditation: “They are trained be always alert, to see everything, quickly assess their surroundings, observe everyone. A janitor may not be a janitor, a reporter may not be a reporter. They must be able to discern the presence of a concealed weapon. And so on.”
• but sadly, I am not always on guard–and easily distracted

Last Sunday a story broke regarding an embarrassing incident that occurred in April. An inebriated man broke into the home of Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser to President Biden. Mr. Sullivan forced the man from his home, and then went looking for Secret Service agents who were supposed to be on duty, watching his home. How had they missed the intruder? They were on their cell phones.

◦ what distractions are preventing me from being “awake” in the present moment?

I want to share one quick meditation from last November

It has to do with what Jesus says regarding “false christs and false prophets”

When I was a pastor in 29 Palms, California, my friends and I were young and zealous for God. Whenever we saw hitchhikers, we would pick them us so we could share our faith with them. That is how a couple of us met Glen. Glen had traveled from Colorado to San Francisco to purchase a van full of hash for himself and his friends. On his way home, he fell asleep, rolled the van, and his cargo burned to ash. So he was returning to San Francisco to resupply and make his way home again.
Glen had been raised in a Pentecostal church until he was old enough to choose for himself whether or not he would attend. He chose not to. But when our friends began sharing with him that they had also used marijuana and LSD, but now found meaning and fulfillment in Jesus, Glen decided he wanted to God in the way they did.
Glen stayed in 29 Palms for a few weeks, hardly ever leaving the dining room of the home that took him in. Every day, from dawn until evening Glen was reading the Bible. It was a phenomenon we had not seen before. One day he announced that he had to return home to face a warrant that was put out on him. He was convicted and given a six month sentence in an “honor farm” facility. He wrote to us frequently to tell us how he was doing. After the first couple of months, he told us about several guys he had been talking with about Jesus. Then he told us that he was teaching a daily Bible study to five of the inmates. A couple of month later the Bible study was up to ten guys, and by the last month of his sentence there were twenty in mates studying the Bible together. Glen felt torn about being released, because of his ministry with those men.
Early one Sunday morning, we receive a telegram from Glen’s mother. She thanked us for the influence we had on Glen’s life, that his relationship with Jesus was the answer to her desperate prayers for him. Then she told us that he had taken a job in the oil fields, fell from a rig, and was now in heaven with his Lord.
Once, when I had been asked to speak at my dad’s church, I told Glen’s story. The next week, a man contacted me and told me that he produced Christian films. He asked for permission to tell Glen’s story in film. We secured permission from Glen’s mother and the film make went to work. However, when he negotiated with the company that was going to distribute the film, they wanted to make some changes in the story line to make it more acceptable to church youth groups. They said to change the part where Glen was hitchhiking (they had him walking down a suburban street instead and meeting a Christian who was outside his home watering his lawn). They did not want the Christian youth who would see the film to get the idea it was alright to hitchhike or to pick up hitchhikers. They also said that no one would believe that twenty men were led to the Lord and attended Bible studies while incarcerated, so they dropped the number to five (for them that was miracle enough).

• of course there are other reasons why facts are ignored or discarded in film-making
◦ sometimes it is to accommodate the short duration of the movie, or make it more entertaining, or more marketable
– now, if I tell a story based on actual events and involving the people who were actually there
• and if I present it as a “true story,” and my motive is to introduce people to Jesus,
◦ but in telling the story, I make up conversations and events that never happened, or I misrepresent the people who actually lived the true story, have I sacrificed my integrity?
◦ have I done the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way?
• can I justify misinforming people if it brings them to Jesus?
◦ if people learn the story I told them wasn’t true, will they still trust me when I tell them truth of the gospel or will they wonder if I’m fabricating portions of that too?
◦ Paul asks,
if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? (Ro. 3:7)
◦ the answer is, because in God’s eyes, the ends do not justify the means

Conclusion: The point of Mark 13 is not for us to match “the signs” with current events

It is to live in a state of wakefulness and remain on guard
– my most useful meditations on this chapter have been about staying awake and aware
• in my first conversation with Fr. Romuald, he told me to
“pay attention to what you are doing every moment, because the divine could break through at any moment. You could be brushing your teeth or preaching your best sermon. God truly does not care at what point he enters or what you’re doing at the time. Be where you are right now; that’s all you have to do. Do one thing each day, fully present. Maybe then you could begin seeing differently.”
– the normal activities of our daily lives alternate between heaven earth
• we swing from the sacred to the mundane – the awe-inspiring to the boring
◦ we set aside time to pray and we pump gasoline into our cars
◦ rarely and only briefly are we fully aware of being here, now
When I wake myself to the moment, my thinking mind slows down, quiets down
My attention becomes more focused
and if in that moment I turn my attention to God, I wake up to him
I experience the reality of his presence
And I realize that he has been here the whole time

(I did have one other meditation from Mark that I could not fit into this talk, but I can share it here. So, only if you’re interested . . . .)

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
The sun set last night while I was walking Kona along the San Juan Creek. I was not expecting much from the sky, because it had been rather dull all day. Even when the first few shades of yellow appeared in the diffuse grayness, there was little indication of the light show that would follow. But soon the western sky was aflame with golden light from the lowest point on the horizon and upward into the heavens above. The unevenness of the clouds created breathtaking three-dimensional effects and gradations of color. There were luminous mountains floating in the sky, flanked by light that rolled out in ripples, and stretched eastward in long streaks. I walked backward to keep my eyes on as much of it as I could absorb. I stopped and let the magnificent display thrill my body. One word escaped my lips: “glorious.”

It seemed obvious to me that I would never share so much as a spark of Jesus’ glory. Then the passage from our Lexio Divina the night before returned to me, that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

No, I will never emit so much as a photon of glory. I am that dull gray mist that obscures the stars and distant mountains. But when the light of Jesus passes through me–glory.

What we experience in this world is meant to awaken us to a larger reality. Parables abound.

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.