May 14 – Psalm 47
To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.
1 Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2 For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5 God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
8 God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.
Among the ways of categorizing the psalms is one that asks how would a given psalm have functioned in life of the people of Israel. On that system, this psalm is understood to be an enthronement psalm. Celebrating the crowning of a king. But it is worth asking who in this psalm is being enthroned as the king?
It appears that it is God who is being enthroned as King – vs. 2,6,7,8. Therefore it is not surprising that the church has heard this psalm as an Ascension Day psalm, describing the joy of Jesus the king is being enthroned on his throne at the right hand of God the Father. We welcome King Jesus with shouts of joy (vs. 1,5) and even trumpet blast. King Jesus rules over all the earth (vs. 2,7), the nations submit to his rule (vs. 3,8).
In those times when it is hard to see that Jesus is reigning over all things, in those times when God’s kingdom does not seem to be on the move, advancing, in those times when God’s name is not being honoured, we are reminded that what we see is not the reality of the world. In the unseen, in the hidden, the truth is revealed – for the Ascension points to the truth that God has seated Jesus Christ on a throne, and that reign and that rule are real. In fact, in a world where many voices claim to be in charge – there is only one voice that rules over all – Jesus Christ.
King of the nations, we rejoice that you are Lord over all things. Truly you reign on high with your Son, Jesus Christ. Gather all the people of the earth that they would know that you are Lord, and that there is none other. Fill us with joy and expectation for the coming of your kingdom, teach us even now how to live as though the kingdom were already fully here. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 13 – Ascension Day – Acts 1:1-11
Starting today, Ascension Day, and running through to Trinity Sunday, May 30, the texts each day will take us through the Ascension, Pentecost, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity – which are in fact overlapping themes. At the end of May we will return to the Psalms.
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The Ascension of Jesus acts as the introduction to the book of Acts. Jesus, risen from the dead, spent forty days with the disciples (vs. 3), teaching them about the kingdom of God and telling to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit (vs. 4). Those themes reappear in vs. 6-8. When will the kingdom come? – the question the disciples ask; and Wait for the Holy Spirit – Jesus’ words.
Jesus, in ascending to heaven, completes the first part of the mission to bring the kingdom of God to full bloom. The ascension is about Jesus taking up his throne, it is an affirmation that Jesus was the “Man born to be King” (to take a line from Dorothy Sayers). As the angels say to the disciples, the one who ascended to his throne in heaven, will one day come again to take up his throne on earth.
Between those times – his going up and his coming back – the kingdom of God grows through the working of the Holy Spirit. So, while Jesus’ words in vs. 7 and 8 seem to be a non-answer to the disciples’ question, they are in fact the answer. The kingdom begins its work with the Holy Spirit giving all the followers of Jesus the power to be witnesses to the One who was born to be King.
The Ascension, so often ignored, is an important part of the story of the Kingdom of God being revealed in the world.
God of glory, you raised your Son to the heights of your throne in heaven, vindicating his claim that He was Your Son. We rejoice that He is the King, and that when he returns as the triumphant monarch we will see him as he is, the King of kings and Lord of lords. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 12 – Psalm 25
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the Lord? He will teach them the way that they should choose.
13 They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
14 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
David in this psalm is well aware of his sin and wrongdoing – “do not remember the sins of my youth and my transgressions” (vs. 7); “pardon my guilt, for it is great” (vs. 11); “consider my affliction and trouble, and forgive all my sins” (vs. 18). This is balanced with David’s request to be taught God’s way – “make me to know your ways” (vs. 4), “lead me in your ways and teach me” (vs. 5), “He instructs sinners in the way” (vs. 8), “He will teach them the way they should go” (vs. 12).
We are sinners, we have done wrong, we have broken relationship with God, with those around us, with ourselves, and with the creation. God desires that we live different lives. The question is how do we move from the sins that beset us to the life God wishes us to live? The humble (vs 9) are those who cross from the path of sin to the path of following God. The humble are those who come to trust in God’s “steadfast love” (vs. 6, 7, 10, 14 (in vs 14 the word is “covenant” which is another way of saying “steadfast love”)). This humility is rooted in a recognition that: God is God and we are not God. With that a central truth of our lives it is much easier to accept the guidance offered by the God of steadfast love.
This truth needs to be learned again and again, for we so easily slide into thinking we know best. In fact, again and again, we will need God’s forgiveness and lovingkindness to again “pluck our feet out of the net.” (vs. 15)
Lord God, we have done wrong. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, and we sinned against our neighbours. Give us humble hearts, open to being led by you in the paths you have for us. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 11 – Psalm 24
Of David. A Psalm.
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah
God’s glory is a past, present, and future reality. To proclaim God’s glory is the reason human beings exist, as the first question of the Shorter Catechism says: “What is the chief end (primary purpose) of human beings?” and the answer is “To glorify God and to enjoy God forever.”
God – the Triune God of grace – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – made the world, therefore everything living on the earth belongs to God. We are God’s, we owe our existence to him, as does every creature in the world. As we recognize how the universe draws us into awe and wonder, we recognize that God’s glory is greater than the wonder of universe for it is God who made the awesome and wonderful universe, and the glory of the creator is greater than the glory of the creation.
This God asks that human beings live by a pattern of life that is true and worthy and honourable and just – for this is the pattern of life that leads to human flourishing, both for those who live it and for those among whom we live.
And Jesus is coming some day as the great King, the King of glory. The whole of creation, made by God, will stand up to honour the arrival of the king. Even the city gates will burst open in welcoming the King of glory. The day of the king’s arrival is a certainty, and all of creation, including human beings, are invited to even now begin preparing for that arrival, leaning into the King’s coming.
God of glory, we lift our voices in praise to you. You have done all things well making the universe in all its wonder and majesty. You are present in our world acting with love and grace, giving as signs of your presence, and we praise you. Your Son, Jesus Christ, is coming again and all of creation will celebrate the arrival of the great king. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 10 – Psalm 23
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
How does one say something new about this very well-known, often-read psalm? I don’t claim to have anything original to say.
The NRSV translation of vs. 4, “the darkest valley” opens up the conversation to be about more than death and grieving over loved ones. COVID is a dark valley – and it has revealed other dark valleys such as loneliness and poverty. Racism is another dark valley that has been seen starkly in the last year, although present long before the present moment. The environmental destruction which is occurring in order to feed human greed is a dark valley as well. These dark valleys threaten us – physically, psychologically, spiritually – but we will not be afraid of these evils because God is with us. What more do we need?
And so back to vs. 2, we can rest, we do not need to be on edge all the time, we can relax. We can lean into the arms of Jesus and rest in him. For that is the only place in which our souls will truly be restored. Only in the care of the great good shepherd can we hope to find the restoration we need if we are going to be able to live in the face of evil without fear.
This is an important point, the more tired we are, the more we feel like we have no resources left, the more likely we are to be afraid in the face of the dark valleys of life. Resting in Jesus – letting him find places of quiet for us to rest – is essential if we are going to make it through those dark valleys.
Great Shepherd of the sheep, help us to rest in you, for we are tired, exhausted by the stress of this moment. We have no resources left, our resilience is gone, give us rest that with joy we may praise your name again and anew. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 9 – Psalm 22
To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled; 17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Jesus quoted the opening line of this psalm while he was being crucified. Vs. 6-8 describe the disrespect that people, including Jesus, have felt when their following of God was called into question. Vs. 14-18 are an apt description of the way crucifixion effects the human body and the fact that the soldiers did cast lots for Jesus’ clothes to see which of them would get them. Does that mean this psalm is only about the crucifixion of Jesus – a foretelling of it? My answer would be “no”, this psalm describes the disrespect and pain many people have experienced because they chose to follow Jesus. The psalm says that those who face suffering because of their following of Jesus, are walking a road that Jesus himself walked. Persecuted Christians know that Jesus has walked that road as well.
When the psalm turns in vs. 21 from a cry of despair, to the celebration of God’s answer, the follower of Jesus, even in the midst of persecution and oppression is reminded that Jesus who died was also raised to life again. For God did not “abhor the affliction of the afflicted” (vs. 24), in other words, God did not say to those who were suffering “you are a bunch of losers, I want nothing to do with you.” Instead, God delivered Jesus and will deliver all those who are face ridicule and attacks because of their decision to follow Jesus. God will vindicate, because as vs. 28 says, “dominion belongs to the Lord.”
What God has done will be told – people not yet born will be told of the deliverance God has brought in raising Jesus to life – the deliverance that God has brought turns our despair into hope, our mourning into dancing, our loneliness into companionship.
Lord God, with humble awe we stand again at the foot of the cross and are amazed at the depth of Jesus’ love for us. We rejoice that your Son walked the road of this world’s suffering so that we might follow him with joyful obedience, knowing that he has have gone before us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 8 – Psalm 21
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 In your strength the king rejoices, O Lord, and in your help how greatly he exults!
2 You have given him his heart’s desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
3 For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold on his head.
4 He asked you for life; you gave it to him—length of days forever and ever.
5 His glory is great through your help; splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
6 You bestow on him blessings forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the Lord, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
8 Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 You will make them like a fiery furnace when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their offspring from the earth, and their children from among humankind.
11 If they plan evil against you, if they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight; you will aim at their faces with your bows.
13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.
Setting aside the difficulties that arise in desiring the complete destruction of one’s enemies, the way the psalm blends past, present, and future is an important lesson for us.
The psalm has its roots as part of a covenant renewal celebration. In that celebration the ways God had been faithful to the promises God made in the covenant were remembered. We hear that in vs. 1-6, God has established David as king, this was God’s doing and God’s doings are marvelous in our eyes.
Vs. 7 is present tense, David trusts God and trusts that the God who has acted in the past, who has been faithful in the past, will remain faithful in the future. The past actions of God are precedents upon which trust for the future could be built. And so vs. 8-12 are the hoped for actions of God protecting his people from enemies.
We are invited to the same pattern. Recognizing that God has been faithful in the past, again and again, acting for our good, acting to protect and save. The memories of those past actions are stored as the foundations upon which we build our present trust in God, giving the future to the faithful God who loves us beyond all imagining, and who maintains his commitment to his promises. Our praise of God’s past actions becomes the fuel for our prayers giving the future to God.
O God, you have been good, you have been faithful. When we count our blessings, the signs of your faithfulness, the list is long. Upon that foundation, O Lord, we build our trust in you now. Upon that foundation, we trust you to carry the future secure in your faithfulness. Remind us your actions in the past, that we might grow ever deeper in our trust of you for the future. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 7 – Psalm 20
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.
7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.
9 Give victory, O Lord; let the King answer us when we call.
At one point in my life when I was in deep despair, God gave me this psalm, whenever I read it I remember that time and the hope I heard in this psalm.
The original context of the psalm is a prayer to God that David as King would be successful as a result of God’s blessing. But I do think we can apply this psalm to other situations.
David is confident that God will answer the prayers of God’s people and will give victories to God’s people. David may be thinking military victories, but there are other kinds of victories God gives: plans come together, opportunities open up, broken relationships are healed, a person gets their life on track, comfort and hope begin to replace grief and despair, and others we could name. Victories that God brings to our lives.
These victories, David reminds us, are not the result of chariots (think, technology) or horses (think, natural strength or ability), they are the result of God’s action. It is God who receives the glory and honour, it is in God’s name that the banners of celebration go up.
God is King, he is the one who will give us victory. Human plans and human efforts are used by God towards what he is doing. We have the opportunity to have our heart’s desires join in with the mission and dream that he is bringing into being in the world.
Lord God, we rejoice in the victories you have brought to our lives. Hope restored; joy rekindled. And we lift up banners in your name, for you are the great God who does all things well. We trust in you; in you we take pride. And we come to you again asking you to bring more victories to our lives. So that again we can raise your banners on high. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 6 – Psalm 19
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
John Calvin, the 16th century reformer, stated that God had given humanity two books which revealed who God was and what God was doing in the world. The Bible (the Word of God) and the “Book of Nature” (also God’s words to us). This psalm and similar passages are the basis for Calvin’s point.
Vs. 1-6 demonstrate that even though no voice is heard the creation proclaims the truth of God, the glory of God, and God’s constant and faithful presence – a presence that is as constant and as certain as the sun’s rising and setting. Nothing is outside of God’s presence, for everything that exists was made by and depends on God for its existence. (A tangential comment: the study of the Book of Nature – science – is an activity pleasing to God, just like the study of the Bible is an activity pleasing to God. The study of the sciences is a deeply Christian activity.)
Vs. 7-11 point to the Bible, the Word of God, the second book that humanity has been given by God. The words of the Bible teach human beings the path God desires for human beings to live, building on and deepening the truths that the Book of Nature teaches.
We are invited to wonder at God’s words spoken soundlessly in the creation and to wonder at God’s words written on the pages of the Bible, in meditating on both these books our words and actions are shaped into the words and actions God desires.
God who has revealed yourself to humankind, we thank you for the book of nature and the book of Your Word. We rejoice in what each book reveals about who you are and what you are about in our world. Show us ever more deeper depths of yourself as we study nature and the Bible. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
May 5 – Psalm 18
To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:
1 I love you, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears….
16 He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me….
25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
26 with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
27 For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28 It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him….
46 The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation,
47 the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me;
48 who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent.
49 For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.
50 Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.
The full psalm is 50 verses, 900 words long. It is a royal psalm, focussed on David’s ascension to the throne of Israel as God’s appointed ruler.
It would be easy to wonder what value such a psalm has to Christians today since we don’t have monarchs like David was monarch. And when many of today’s political leaders do not understand themselves as owing their position of power being the result of God’s working. In fact, contemporary politicians who articulate a belief that they have been put in their position by God are likely to be severely criticized.
I want to lift up three things:
First, throughout the psalm God is the actor who brings David to the throne, God removes the threats and the opponents. David trusts God to bring him to power, if that is God’s will. We too are invited to stop trying to push our way forward and let God open the way. Something that is much easier to say than to do.
Second, in vs. 19 David makes a bold claim: God delights in him. At first that sounds arrogant, but when we think about the words of Psalm 8 that human beings have been clothed with glory and honour by God and God’s desire that no one should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and that all would be saved (I Tim. 2:4), we recognize the deep love – the joy that God takes in us. God delights in you and in the relationship you have with God.
Third, the pattern of vs. 25-26 reminds us that the way we treat other people will be returned to us. We hear this in Jesus’ words: “with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:2) These words invite us to pattern our lives on the grace of God, a grace we ourselves so desperately need.
God of grace, we want to let you lead, we want you to make the way, give us the patience to move in your timing. We thank you for your love and grace for us, help us to feel that in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 4 – Psalm 17:1-13a
A Prayer of David.
1 Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
8 Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
9 from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush.
13 Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them!
This is the first ¾ of the psalm. I am stopping here because of length, also I admit I am avoiding a difficult part of the psalm.
David believes he is in the right, he has followed God, but he feels that he is under attack from people who want him destroyed.
Vs. 4 is fascinating. Others have disobeyed God, following a path away from God; but David has been held to the right path by God’s words. David has not given into violence because his life has been shaped by God’s word. He has made the difficult choice to let God bring about vindication (vs. 2). He will trust that God truly is the “saviour of those who seek refuge from their adversaries” at God’s right hand. And so vs 13a is a cry that God act, from one who has chosen the hard road of leaving the justice, the vindication up to God.
Trusting God to act, deciding to not take things into our own hands, is hard to do. We want to defend ourselves; we want to make the other side hurt, especially when they act in the ways described in vs. 8-12. Yes, David is using dramatic language, but we know the feeling of meeting an opponent and seeing nothing but anger and hate in their eyes, we know what it is to feel like we are being tracked down. But even in that situation David will not go on the offensive, he chooses to trust God to bring vindication in God’s time.
May we trust God to act with justice and vindication, leaving it up to God to act, as we wait in faith and trust.
Lord God, how often we want to hit back against those who have hurt us, ensuring they feel some pain. Shape us by your word that we would leave our vindication in your hands alone. Teach us the path of patience and trust. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May 3 – Psalm 16
A Miktam of David.
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Commentators on this psalm suggest two ways of life being contrasted. Vs. 1,2 introduce the followers of Yahweh (LORD) who declare that Yahweh is their boss (Lord). (Notice the difference in the use of capitals and lower case in the two Lords.) Vs. 3,4 introduce people who have chosen “another god”. “The holy ones in the land” probably refers to shrines to the other gods, to shamans, etc.
In vs. 5 David makes his declaration of who he will follow. He has chosen God, and as opposed to those who have taken the “cup” of another god (that is a swearing of allegiance), he has sworn allegiance to Yahweh (LORD).
Notice the statements of allegiance to God: vs. 7 David accepts God’s counsel, God guides his life; vs. 8 God is David’s leader; and vs. 11 David lives in God’s presence, that is God is present with David in David’s living.
Notice as well the hope David expresses: vs. 6 God is David’s “goodly heritage” – following God is a good thing; vs. 8 with God as leader and support, David will not be moved from his following; vs. 9 he is glad and rejoices; and vs. 11 repeats that refrain of joy in God for God’s way is the path of life.
Vs. 10 is not saying that the followers of God will not die, rather it is saying that God will not abandon those who follow him in death. Reading this psalm in the season of the Church Year called the 50 days of Easter (Easter to Pentecost), as we are, we hear this as a promise of the resurrection of the dead. Death is not the end, in Jesus Christ the promise of the resurrection in real, and we live in hope.
Lord God, we wish to declare our loyalty to you alone. We single-mindedly desire to have our lives declare that “Jesus is Lord”. We live in the hope of the resurrection, trusting in your promise. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
May 2 – Psalm 15
A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
This psalm fits well with the sermon series through James. David here and James in his letter say that faith in God should show up in the way that we live. They are not saying our actions (works) save us; but they are saying that our faith in God should shape our actions and patterns of life.
Here David suggests four life practices which indicate people are following God, patterns of life that are blameless and right.
First, our words. Speaking the truth from the heart, that is being open not hidden, transparent not having secret agendas. Also, no slander of others – and the not-so-innocent ways we convey slander with gossip and innuendo.
Second, no harming our friends and not becoming embittered against our neighbours. In other words, not letting things fester, clearing the air when we think there is a problem.
Third, knowing the good from the bad. There are people in the world, even people in our circle of awareness who do wrong, who do evil. We are not to speak of their actions, their pattern of life, as good. Instead, we are to praise those who follow God, even if they don’t follow God exactly the way we do. Sometimes we spend much time and energy criticizing other followers of Jesus because they follow exactly the way we do. Anyone who declares from their heart that Jesus is Lord, is a follower of God and is to be treated with respect.
Fourth, keep promises, do not take advantage of the poor and those struggling financially, and do not accept bribes. These may seem obvious, and they are, but at times keeping a promise costs a great deal and there are times it is easy to take advantage of our position to get something for ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance in living out these patterns.
We want to live the Jesus way, Lord God. Teach us to guard our words, to not harm our friends, to respect all who declare that your Son, Jesus, is Lord, and to act with integrity in all of life. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
May 1 – Psalm 14
To the leader. Of David.
1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.
6 You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.
7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
From a message board outside a Stratford hotel: “The problem with self-made people is that they worship their maker.”
The fool who says, “There is no God” is making the same mistake. To make ourselves god is the height of hubris and arrogance and will lead to a catastrophic showdown, as this psalm says. Humility is the way forward.
Humility begins in recognizing that there is a power outside of us that is worthy of being recognized and honoured. Humility shapes our lives to recognize that we are not the arbiter of all things.
Placing ourselves at the top of the heap, as those who know best is to quickly be on the road to using others, “who eat up my people” (vs. 4), and seeking to prevent others from realizing who they were created to be, “confound the plans of the poor” (Vs. 6).
Humility begins with the simple recognition, “I could be wrong.” Such a statement is not doubt, rather it is a recognition that all human beings are limited, and recognizing such limitation is a sign of wisdom.
Those who declare there is no God will be confronted with the hard truth that God does exist and has expectations about how the people He has made will act. God will hold accountable those who have harmed others. And God will lift up those who have been humble before him.
O Lord, you are God, and we rejoice in your majesty and glory. Keep us faithful to you when many around us deny your existence or relevance. Look with mercy upon this world in which so many believe You do not exist. In grace and love break through their preconceived notions that they might see You at work in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 30 – Psalm 13
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
How long? This has been the cry of God’s people again and again and again through the ages. The Black community in the United States against slavery and then discrimination. The Black community in South Africa against apartheid. The church in East Germany and Hungary and Poland under the control of communism. The people of Rwanda in the face of the genocide. The never-ending cry of mothers burying their children. The cry of the Chin, Kachin, and Karen people of Myanmar for the last half century. And we bring our own cries and the cries of our neigbourhoods in the midst of COVID and in the face of uncertainty. How long, O Lord? How long?
Our hearts break over so many things that we see and hear, that we experience and are told about. How long will evil and destruction win the day? So often it feels like the forces and destruction are winning, or in fact have won. We have been shaken by what we have seen and experienced.
But we have been here before, the church has been here before – there was a moment in the past when all seemed lost. Jesus was dead, the light of the world had gone out, there was no hope. And then the unimaginable happened, Jesus was raised to life again. Resurrection is the new reality. God’s salvation is certain, death and destruction do not win in the end. The day is coming when we will sing for joy at what God has done.
Lord God, we know only too well the agony of Good Friday – the pain of seeing loved ones die, the cry of those caught in situations that seem hopeless, the heartache of not knowing if hope is possible. O Lord, we know the agony of Friday. Remind us, God of grace, that Sunday is coming. Fill us with the hope of what we have not yet seen, lift our spirits with the certainty that your salvation is on its way for the resurrection of your Son has changed everything. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 29 – Psalm 12
To the leader: according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
1 Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own—who is our master?”
5 “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up,” says the Lord; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
6 The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind.
The opening statement is dramatic – “there is no longer anyone who is godly.” The last lines are equally dramatic – “vileness is exalted among humankind.” We are ready for a list of examples of terrible actions – things like murder, theft, sexual sins. But instead vs. 2-4 are about words, speech, tongues. Lies, flattering lips, boasting – these are the signs that no one is godly.
Words matter. Things have been said to us and about us that have hurt us deeply. Words matter. Lies have been told about us, lies that we have struggled to prove false. Words matter.
It is not just that we have been harmed, we start to recognize that we ourselves have done things on this list. Never told a lie? Never shaded the truth? Never embellished to make ourselves look good? Flattering people to their face and then stabbing them in the back with our words, what David calls having “a double heart”. Using our tongues to make ourselves look good, to put ourselves in the best light. This starts to hit close to home. We are among the “there is no longer anyone who is godly.”
The cry on our lips is the cry of vs. 7 – “You, O Lord, will protect us.” We need double protection, from the harm done by other people’s words, so protection from being hurt by others. And protection from harming other people with our words. We need a guard from being hurt and a guard from hurting others.
O Lord God, protect us. Protect us from being harmed by the words that others speak. Protect our hearts and souls from being wounded by insults, lies, and disrespect. O Lord God, protect us. Protect us from harming others by the words we speak. Protect their hearts and souls from being wounded by insults, lies, and disrespect that we speak. O Lord God, protect us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 28 – Psalm 11
To the leader. Of David.
1 In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
“Flee like a bird to the mountains; 2 for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence.
6 On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
This psalm hangs on two literary moments: the question asked in vs. 3 and God’s gaze in vs. 4.
If the community, society, has turned its back on the foundation of God’s pattern for human life, what are those who want to follow God supposed to do? If the followers of God are a minority in the population, what are they supposed to do?
The psalm challenges the premise behind those questions, the foundations have not in fact been destroyed, God is still in his temple, God’s throne is still in heaven. God has not been overthrown or removed, God is present and active.
The previous psalm (Psalm 9) played with the question about whether God sees what is going on in the world. Here, Psalm 10, not only does God see, but further God’s gaze beholds everything that is going on. Nothing escapes God’s gaze.
In academic circles there has been discussion about “gaze”, suggesting that people have a way of seeing the world that is shaped by their culture, their social and economic background, etc., etc. Here we are told what God’s eyes pay attention to – acts of righteousness and acts of violence. Those who participate in violence are seen and will be held accountable, caught in God’s gaze. Those who do acts of righteousness are living by the patterns of the God of righteousness, and God sees and loves those actions that line up with his pattern. The doers of righteousness will see God, will be invited into the presence of God.
Lord God, we confess that we are often drawn into believing the story human beings tell of You no longer being relevant to human life. Teach us that the foundations are still present for You are still on your throne. Guide us away from the paths of violence towards the ways of righteousness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 27 - Psalm 10
1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”; all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5 Their ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of their sight; as for their foes, they scoff at them.
6 They think in their heart, “We shall not be moved; throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.”
7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
8 They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
10 They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might.
11 They think in their heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed.
13 Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, “You will not call us to account”?
14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none.
16 The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
This psalm covers ground very similar to Psalm 9, although the wrongdoing is more concretely described as is God’s response.
The wrongdoing the psalm writer identifies is significant – deceit and oppression, ambush and murder, harming the poor and the helpless. All the while the wrongdoers believe there is no need to change, as they are arrogantly confident that they will never be held to account for their wrong-doing. Some suggest that there is no God, and so there is no one to hold them accountable. Others believe that God will not seek out wrongdoing and so there will never be consequences for doing wrong.
The oppressed, the innocent, those who seek to do right, are filled with helplessness and despair in the face of this arrogant flaunting of God’s pattern. That has not changed from the time of the psalm to our present time.
What also has not changed is that God sees and God knows. Vs. 11 the wrongdoers say “God will never see.” To which vs. 14 confidently states, “But you do see” And the statement of vs. 4 “God will not seek it out” referring to wrongdoing, is answered in vs. 15 with a call for God to seek out all wrongdoing until there is no more to be found.
God will hear the desire of the meek, giving them hope. God will bring an end to the terror that individuals bring on others. This truth needs to be heard at all levels – from the bullies who terrorize individuals at school, work, and in neighbourhoods, to those who cause whole communities of people to flee as refugees – all that causes terror will be ended in God’s breaking the power of “the wicked and evildoers.”
Lord God, our world is full of those who terrorize others. If we are among those who terrorize others, call us to account and change us. If we are among those who are terrorized, give us hope to live confident of the day you are bringing when people will no longer terrorize each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 26 – Psalm 9:1-10, 18-20
To the leader: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.
1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
3 When my enemies turned back, they stumbled and perished before you.
4 For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.
5 You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6 The enemies have vanished in everlasting ruins; their cities you have rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.
7 But the Lord sits enthroned forever, he has established his throne for judgment.
8 He judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with equity.
9 The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you….
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.
19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human. Selah
The psalm raises a question that has haunted the followers of God for centuries, a question the psalms return to again and again: “If God is God, then why are those who do wrong, who cheat, who mistreat others, never held to account? And why are the oppressed and the downtrodden so rarely vindicated? If God were God wouldn’t the poor be lifted up and the proud and arrogant brought low?”
This psalm says, “Do not be deceived the wicked have not prospered, the needy are not always forgotten. For there is a judge who is coming to judge the earth.” In vs. 4, 7, 8, 19 refer explicitly to God as the one who brings judgement.
God as judge is not a theme that preachers talk about very much these days. But that God is coming to judge is an important part of Christian theology. There will be a time when every person will be held accountable for the things they have done. And as vs. 20 says, that puts us in fear. That is the challenge of judgement – we are happy to have other people judged, but not so sure that we want to be judged ourselves.
Speaking of God’s present and coming judgement should humble us. For the psalm ends with a reminder that all of us are “only human.” And as the famous line says, “to err is human, to forgive divine.” Human beings make mistakes, do wrong things, all of us are deserving of judgement, the good news is that God in his setting of things right (and God will set all things right, the poor will be lifted up, that is a certainty) offers forgiveness to the guilty who are prepared to admit their fault and change their ways.
Lord our God, we want to trust you, but at time we are very confused what we see. It appears that the poor are forgotten and their cry for justice is not heard. Open the eyes of our hearts that we might see beyond what our eyes see to look upon the wonder of your kingdom be revealed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 25 – Psalm 8
To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals[a] that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
God’s creation draws awe and wonder from all people. The pinnacle of the creation is humanity. Vs. 5 says this clearly – making human beings a little lower than God and having “crowned” us with glory and honour. To be crowned is to have been made monarch, ruler, head – but as we know so well, those leaders who serve themselves are regarded as self-seeking and self-centered. To be crowned as having dominion is to be called to serve the creation, with authority comes the responsibility of caring for the creation.
This is part of the upside-down reality this psalm points to. God uses the words and praises of “babes and infants” – the weak and the helpless – to hold at bay the powers of “the enemy and the avenger.” In God’s kingdom, weakness is stronger than human strength, the cry of a baby is more powerful than the violence of the violent. The awe and wonder of the young at what God can do brings to a halt the cynicism and calculating pragmatism of the “worldly wise”. In God’s kingdom, the creator (God) pays attention to the creation, cares for the creation – not just as something the creator has made, but as an entity in and of itself God cares for it.
We are invited to live in the joy and wonder of this upside-down kingdom – proclaiming with David – “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have made all things well, and we are in awe of the beauty and majesty of the creation. Lord God, draw from us ever deeper love and wonder for the world you have made, until we join our voices with the babes and infants whose praise of You silences Your enemies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 24 - Psalm 7
A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning Cush, a Benjaminite.
1 O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
2 or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
3 O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,
4 if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause,
5 then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground, and lay my soul in the dust. Selah
6 Rise up, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
7 Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high.
8 The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
9 O let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.
10 God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.
We do not the details of what happened between David and Cush, but evidently Cush believed that David had broken the allegiance between David and Cush by harming Cush in some way. David believes that he has done nothing wrong, and in fact makes the statement that if he, David, has done what Cush says David did, then he, David, believes he should be caught, killed and buried in the dust (vs. 5). (The Selah there is likely for emphasis to highlight how dramatic the statement is.)
David is so confident that he has not done the wrong he is accused of that he asks God to judge him. David confidently declares his integrity in this matter, he believes God will save David because David is “upright in heart.”
In our lives we have been falsely accused of things, and those accusations have hurt us, leaving scars. We wished there could have found a righteous judge who would see our innocence and express their, the judge’s, indignation at the accusers for bringing false accusations. We know the desire to get revenge on those who have falsely accused us.
Jesus was falsely accused of crimes he did not do, but he did not seek revenge. He bore the false accusation. So while the psalm gives us permission in the privacy of our hearts and maybe with our closest friends to express the desire to have vengeance when we are falsely accused, we are invited ultimately to follow Jesus’ example and not seek revenge against those who falsely accuse us. As I Peter 3:16 says, “keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” We leave it in God’s hands.
O Lord, You are the righteous Judge, show us how to walk the path Jesus walked when he was falsely accused. Teach us the path that leads to a clear conscience and faithful service to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 23 – Psalm 6
To the leader: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
3 My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.
This psalm is generally regarded as the prayer of a person who is gravely ill. Some of the evidence suggested includes vs. 2 – “languishing”; vs. 4 – “save my life”; vs. 6 – “weary with my moaning”. To say “gravely ill” suggests the disease may end in the person going to the grave – that is the illness is life-threatening.
The psalm gives permission to readers to express the whole range of emotions connected to being sick. The anguish of the psalm is evident in “I flood my bed with tears” and other similar phrases. The end of vs. 3 is incomplete, the question “you – how long” simply hangs in the air.
The writer, David, takes the offensive in vs. 4 and 5, bargaining with God: “heal me to prove that you are a God of love” and “if I am dead then I can’t sing your praise.” We are taught to not bargain with God, but again the psalm gives permission to tell God what we are thinking and feeling, to tell God the truth about what is going on inside us.
Vs. 7 – “because of all my foes”; vs. 8, the “workers of evil” and vs. 10 “my enemies” – maybe these are people – but could it be that David is talked about disease as though disease is an enemy to be defeated. David feels that his prayer and his weeping have been heard by God, God knows and God sees, and that is enough for David to no longer experience the terror of vs. 2 and 3.
This psalm is a jumble of emotions, which is to be expected given the situation. We too have permission to put our emotions on the table with God, as we, or our loved ones, face disease and grave illness.
O Lord, we cry out to you – hear us and see those who are sick. Let us know that as we are held in your steadfast love, that you have heard our prayer and take away our fear. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Three Prayers for Earth Day
April 20, 2021
Almighty God, You spoke and there was light; You spoke and land appeared; You spoke and the land, sea, and air were populated with every living being plant and animal that Your creative vision could imagine. We praise You, God of creation and wonder.
And You spoke again and humanity was brought into being. You blessed them and called them, called us, to be stewards of the creation. We praise You, that You made us in Your image, and that You gave us a purpose and a task. We rejoice in Your call to us, God of creation and wonder.
But we have failed to live as good stewards of the creation, we have destroyed the forests, torn down the mountains, filled the oceans with plastic and polluted the sky. In our arrogance and greed, we have used the creation for our selfish purposes. We confess our sin, Lord, have mercy on us and help us to turn from our destructive ways.
In our abuse of the creation we have harmed, animals, fish and birds; flowers, plants and trees; earth, rocks and water. Remake us from people who harm into people who live sustainability and caring with the creation. Renew the creation, we pray, O Lord.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 21, 2021
God our Creator, at the dawn of time You spoke Your Word, the Word, and the creation was made. When the time was right, the Word became flesh and lived among us. Jesus Christ experienced the joys and challenges of living in this creation, the heat of the day and cool of the night, the joy of a long walk and the anxiety of a storm in the night. We rejoice that Jesus knows the wonder of the creation, both as the Word and as a human being.
In Jesus Christ, You are reconciling all things, in heaven and on earth. In him, You are bringing about reconciliation not only between human beings and yourself, not only between human beings, but also within creation itself. We look forward to the day that is coming when the wolf and the lamb will be together in harmony, and human beings and all creatures will live together in peace.
Teach us the way of Jesus that we might live as the servants of the creation, leaning into the hope of the coming peaceable reign that Jesus is bringing to the earth. Shape our lives that we might be examples of that coming reign, living simply and lightly in the creation.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 22, 2021
Lord God, Maker of Creation, before time began the Holy Spirit moved across the face of the formless and disordered deep, and You brought pattern and beauty out of the chaos. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, brought meaning and direction to the friends of Jesus who were drifting and without purpose. And by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they became participants with You, ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation, Your mission in the world.
We live in a world threatened anew by chaos and disorder. Global warming threatens devastation and destruction, which are already evident, brought on by humanity’s, our, rapacious greed. We confess our sin, O Lord, in harming the work of Your hands.
Pour out the Holy Spirit anew, so that we are transformed from people drifting aimless through the world leaving environmental chaos in our wake, into people committed to the care and nurture of Your creation.
O Holy Spirit, give us courage and strength to walk the hard and narrow path that leads to life; life for ourselves and life abundant for the whole of creation.
O Holy Spirit, come and make us ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation, that we might live as signs of the reconciliation You are bringing to the whole of creation.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 22 – Colossians 1:15-20
15 He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
We need to see the direction of the text – in v. 16 we are told that all things in heaven and on earth were created in Jesus. To make the point clear the verse says it twice – all things. That is not limited to human beings, it includes all of creation – animals, birds, fish, plants, earth, bacteria – all things. All things owe their being to Jesus, the one through whom and for whom the creation was made. Since the whole creation was made through and for Jesus, Jesus profoundly cares about what happens to the creation.
Vs. 20 picks up that theme of “all things, whether on earth or in heaven”. Here all things are being reconciled in Jesus’ death on the cross. This is a fully orbed reconciliation – all of creation is involved. Included in this reconciling work of Jesus is the healing of our relationship with God, with ourselves, with our fellow human beings (family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, opponents, etc.), and with the creation itself. All of these relationships are damaged – harmed both by what we have actively done and by what we have actively not done. If we understand this reconciliation to relate only to our relationships with God and with other people, we have failed to understand the full breadth of the reconciliation being offered in Jesus Christ.
So, what do we do? We are invited to live in reconciled relationship with God – rejoicing in the forgiveness he offers us; to live in reconciled relationship with others – seeking to live in healed relationships with those we have hurt and who have hurt us; and to live in a reconciled relationship with the creation – seeking to seek creation’s good and well-being.
Reconciling God, in Jesus Christ you desire to reconcile all things – shape us as people who have been reconciled to you, to one another, and to the creation. Transform the whole of creation by the reconciling work of Jesus Christ on the cross. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 21 – Isaiah 11
11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
We are used to hearing this text in Advent as a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus as the one who will bring the restoration of the world. While that is an appropriate way to read this passage, if we too quickly jump to the Christmas implications of the passage, we miss the extraordinary picture of the redeemed creation present in these verses. In many ways it is a picture of the way the creation was supposed to be before The Fall as human beings brought sin into the world (Genesis 3).
That wolves and lambs, leopards and goat kids, would get along together, in fact can rest, relax, in the presence of each other is an amazing picture of the creation. Because we know that is not the way the creation is, creation is a violent place, creation is at war with itself as predator and prey function together. But the picture of what could be, what should be, is: “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” Human beings can not bring that day, but we can lean towards that day, live towards that reality. In our interactions with the creation, we can choose to act in ways that seek to do as little harm as possible, to cause as little hurt as possible, to live towards the kingdom of God that is already here but has not been fully revealed.
This new reality is not just changing a few things about the present, it is a complete renewal of the present, a renewal that is about our minds being remade as radically as snake’s learning to not defend their nests against intruders. As Paul writes in Romans 12, this renewing of the mind is an action of the Holy Spirit.
Renew the creation, O Lord, come renew our minds that we would learn new ways of being in relationship with the creation. Take away our desire to dominate the creation, and teach us to live with the creation in peace and compassion. These things we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
April 20 – Psalm 5
To the leader: for the flutes. A Psalm of David.
1 Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.
2 Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.
5 The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
6 You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house,
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.
9 For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction;
their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.
10 Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover them with favor as with a shield.
The pull to follow the path of the boastful, the speakers of lies, the bloodthirsty, the deceitful, the flatterers, and those who rebel against God is very strong. It would be so easy to go that way, for it seems they face no consequences for their evil actions. The opening of vs. 4 feels as much like a question as it does a statement of faith -- “you are not a God who delights in wickedness”, are you? And while we may never have said that out loud to God, we have wondered it. That is one of the beauties of the psalms, we are given the words and the permission to say what the psalms say.
Vs. 7 and 8 are part of the recommitment to God we need to make each day. A recommitment based on who God is, on God’s love, and on God’s honour and glory. In awe and wonder the psalm writer bows before God and God’s ultimate majesty. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we walk the Jesus way, only through the power of the Holy Spirit do our lives begin to look like the lives God desires to be our way of life.
The psalm ends with a reminder that the motivation for living this pattern comes from rejoicing in, exulting in who God is. As the old hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
Holy God, we confess that we have not lived holy lives, we have been among the boastful, the liars, even the bloodthirsty. Show us how to turn to you anew, recommitting our lives to face towards you and you alone, that we might be overwhelmed again by Your glory and grace. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 19 - Deut. 20:19-20; 22:6-7
19 If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? 20 You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food; you may cut them down for use in building siegeworks against the town that makes war with you, until it falls.
6 If you come on a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs, with the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 7 Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may live long.
These verses give very specific rules about how the people of Israel, the people of God, were to treat nature.
The people of Israel were a nation, and at times other nations would attack Israel and Israel in defense might attack back. If military action involved building siege works, battering rams and catapults, the command is clear the wood used was not to be fruit trees. Buried in these instructions is the intriguing line, “Are the trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you?” There was a form of warfare in those days whereby armies destroyed everything in the enemies’ land – vineyards, orchards, crops in the field – everything. God’s rules here call for respect to be paid to the creation. And even thought trees could be cut down for the purpose of building siege works, this was not permission for the wholesale destruction of forests. Yes, creation was to be used by human beings, but in sustainable ways.
We see the same pattern in Deut. 22: 6, 7. The eggs and the fledglings could not survive without the mother bird, so to take the mother and leave the eggs would be to kill the mother and the young. Leaving the mother would give her the chance to raise another brood next year. This is a sustainable practice. The following of this pattern came with a promise, things would go well for the people of Israel.
The sustainable use of creation has a Biblical mandate. The people of God are called to live a sustainable pattern in their interactions with creation.
God of creation, you have made the world and given it to human beings to manage. We confess that we have not lived sustainably with your creation, forgive us, we pray. Shape the patterns of our lives to live sustainably with the creation that it may go well for both us and the creation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 18 – Psalm 4
To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed (or “are angry”), do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
David is in a hard place. All that is left is to pray, which in fact is a statement of confidence in God. To pray means the person praying believes God is capable of both hearing prayer and acting upon those prayers. David trusts in God.
I read vs. 2 as David being upset that God is being brought into disrepute and shamed by people believing lies over the truth. While this is a righteous anger, vs. 4 provides a warning. Even righteous anger can lead to sin. Even righteous anger can lead to the disrespecting and belittling our opponents. Even righteous anger can lead to insulting people who are made in the image of God, for all people are made in God’s image, even our opponents, even those who bring God’s name into disrepute.
David has cried out with others, “O that we might see some good! Let your face shine on us!” For only in God does hope reside, only in trusting that God sees and God knows is there a way ahead that is not the path of bitterness and despair. Clearly in vs. 7 and 8, the writer has found hope. But note there is nothing to suggest that the people who caused the anguish in vs. 1 and 2 have left the scene. They are still present, but trust in God allows the writer to sleep in peace.
We live at a time when anger quickly surfaces. It is easy to respond to anger with anger, even righteous anger. This psalm would invite a different pattern: one of trust, of looking to God, to see his face shining on us.
Lord God, we confess that we find it easy to become angry, and the list of things to be angry about is very long. Protect us from our anger that it not become bitterness, help us to trust that in the end you will prevail, just as your Son Jesus Christ prevailed over death and brought us the hope of the resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
April 17 – Psalm 3
A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.
1 O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me; 2 many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.” Selah
3 But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
4 I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah
5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.
6 I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
7 Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people! Selah
Two comments on psalms in general. First, some psalms, like this one, come with notes providing the author’s name, or the context in which the psalm was written, or musical directions. These notes are to be taken into account in reading the psalm. Second, the word “Selah” appears 71 times in the book of Psalms, including three times in this psalm. In some cases, “Selah” appears to be a shout of praise to God, but there are other times when “Selah” appears in relation to moments of sorrow or remorse. I think it is best to see “Selah” as an invitation to stop and reflect on the line just read.
To the psalm itself. The note tells us that this psalm comes form the time when David’s son, Absalom, was seeking to overthrow his father and become king himself. David had to leave the palace and seek safety on the run. It was a difficult time emotionally (a son is seeking to destroy him) and physically (being on the run is not easy). As David left Jerusalem he was ridiculed (2 Samuel 16:5-14), in vs. 2 of the Psalm we hear the criticism, “There is not help for you in God.” In other words, God is not on your side in this conflict.
But David is able to sustain his trust in God even though the road is difficult and there seems little reason to hope. In vs. 5 he is able to sleep, and to wake in the morning thanking God that God has sustained him through the night. David affirms that he will not be afraid, for God sustains him. Yes, David wants his enemies defeated, but such a deliverance is in God’s hands, and in God’s timing.
God who delivers and saves, we often feel that we live in hopeless times, we fret and worry, anxiety overcomes us. Shape our lives in trusting you, that we can sleep and awake confidant that we have nothing to fear, for you are with us. We rejoice that deliverance belongs to you alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 16 – Leviticus 25:1-7
25 The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. 6 You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; 7 for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
The land was to have a rest every 7 years – not just the crop land, but the orchards and vineyards as well. Work six, rest on the seventh. This pattern of working six and resting on the seventh – is the pattern of the work week; it is the pattern of the Sabbatical that is becoming increasingly popular; and it is the rhythm by which the people of Israel were expected to live their lives.
It was a pattern that demanded trust. It took trust in God’s provision to believe that there would be enough from six days to make it through day seven; and to believe that would hold true week after week. In this passage it meant trusting that it was not necessary to plant a crop every year – that one year in seven people could stop working, stop pushing the land; one year in seven to trust that God would supply. It meant learning to content with enough – believing there would be enough in the harvest in Year 6 to make it through the 7th year. In fact, it meant being confident that there would be enough to not only make it through the seventh year but that there was enough as well to plant the crop in Year 8 and to live until the crop from year 8 had been harvested. This was an invitation to trust God to provide for about 18 months.
What would it take for us to rest – to one day in seven stopped working? What if we chose to not push as hard – choosing instead to live with enough, trusting that God can provide. For if we rest, creation also rests from the demands we put on it.
Lord God, we know how hard it is for us to stop pushing, to stop striving – we know how quickly we start to fear that we do not have enough – that we will not have enough. Teach us to trust that you will provide, so that we can rest, so that we can stop striving. Teach us the joy of stopping one in seven. Teach us the discipline of stopping one in seven so that creation may rest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 15 – Psalm 2
1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling 12 kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
Human arrogance knows no bounds. Human beings come to believe they are in charge, are correct in all their thinking and actions, and are the masters of their own destiny and the captains of their own lives. The more power human beings acquire in human terms, the more they become convinced of their own importance. The more important an individual believes themself to be, the more likely they are to demand deference from those around, coming to believe that they have ultimate authority.
The psalm says there is a power, an authority, that drives all human powers to their knees: God who laughs at all human attempts to claim ultimate authority, all human attempts to unseat God. With only one person has God shared the authority that is God’s – and that is with Jesus (vs. 7, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”). Jesus alone is worthy of honour and of reverence.
The proper stance for all people, rulers and political powers on the one hand, and conspiracy theorists and the activists pushing against the authorities on the other, is to bow before God with fear and trembling, in humble recognition that God is the King over all kings, the Lord over all lords. Human beings are only human. God alone is worthy of being trusted. In Him alone can we find safe refuge.
Lord God, You alone are worthy of power and dominion, for You alone are all-powerful. We confess that we, human beings, often think we have the power and the authority, that we are in control of our destinies, and so we act with arrogance and pride. Teach us humility, we pray. We rejoice, O Lord, that you are our safe refuge. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 14 – Genesis 1:24-2:3
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
On Day 6 human beings enter the picture, made on the same day as the animals that live on the land – both domesticated and wild animals. Notice in vs. 25, before human beings are made that God saw what he had made and it was good.
Human beings are made in God’s image – this has led to massive conversation as to what does this exactly mean. A few things we know for certain. First, being made in the image of God is something that is true of all human beings. There are not some people who are more in the image of God than other people, Persons with physical, psychological, emotional, or mental challenges are no less made in the image of God than are those persons who are regarded as facing no such challenges. To be a human being is to have been made in the image of God. Nothing can limit that truth.
Second, the Hebrew word translated “image” contains the idea of reflection – for example the moon is the image of the sun – its reflection. To be made in God’s image is to reflect God’s action, attitude, love, care, etc. Applying that idea to vs. 28 – the invitation to “subdue” the earth and to “have dominion” over the fish, birds, and animals is to act as God would act, seeking order and beauty, not harm and destruction. “Subdue” is not about making creation submit to human desires, rather it is about seeking to bring peace to creation that is often in turmoil.
And as we will see on Friday – part of being in the image of God is rest. Rest for ourselves but also for the creation.
God of grace and creativity, you made us, human beings, in your image. We confess that we have not always acted towards other human beings as though they were made in your image, we have not honoured and respected other people. Teach us to see all human beings as made in your image, reflections of You. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
April 13 – Psalm 1
1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
As Bob Dylan sang, “You gotta serve somebody.” There is a choice to be made between following the “law of the Lord” and following the advice of the wicked and the scoffers. One definition of scoffer is "one who mocks, ridicules, or scorns the belief of another." Scoffers would invite us to not believe in God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, because they believe that such belief is foolish. And to follow God’s way is particularly foolish.
The psalm challenges the scoffers stating that those who delight in “law of the Lord”, who meditate on it day and night, find that it strengthens them, giving them the ability to continue to grow and flourish even in dry times. For in times of difficulty and trouble, struggle will come, for they are part of every human life, the scoffers, the self-satisfied, find that their resilience, their strength dries up quickly. They end but being blown away like dried up leaves, like dried out tumble-weeds, dust in the wind.
To survive, to thrive, in times of difficulty and struggle we need a resource beyond ourselves, a source that waters our dried and parched lives. God’s word is that source, for in it we find the words of life, the bread that feeds our souls, the living water that never runs dry. As we read God’s word and soak in it and soak it in, we find that we are strengthened for life, we are given a resilience to thrive even in the dry times.
Thank You, O Lord, for Your Law, Your Word, which waters our lives in dry times, giving us a resilience and a strength that only you can provide. Teach us to meditate on Your Word, letting it soak into our lives. Cause us to delight in it, that we might thrive in you, bearing fruit for your glory and honour. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
With the Stay-at-Home Order in place, I have decided to return to daily devotional material. We will be working our way through the Psalms starting with Psalm 1 – I realize I may be going over ground I have been over already – but “Oh, well”. The three times a week material I had developed for following April 12, I will use interspersed in the psalms. April 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 22 – will take us through texts that speak to God’s concern for and interest in the creation – this is a lead-up to Earth Day, April 22.
April 12 – Genesis 1:1-23
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
This passage is often read with the expectation of finding answers to the question, “How was the world/the universe made?” That is the mechanics of how the world was made. I think the passage says more about why the world/the creation was made.
There is pattern and order in this passage, God brought order and beauty to the “formless void and darkness” that was present before creation. Out of chaos God brought order and beauty. Here then we have a glimpse into the heart of God – God cares about order and beauty, in fact as the order and beauty grow from “day” to “day” – the language marking the end of each day also develops. Vs. 4, God saw “that the light was good.” On Day 2 there is no reference like that. On Days 3 and 4, God saw that it was good – in fact that line appears twice (vs. 10, 12) in the account of Day 3. And then with Day 5, God saw that it was good, and he blessed the fish and the birds that he had made. God brings order and beauty to the chaotic, order-less void.
In the middle of “the third wave” of COVID with many stories, instructions, and opinions – which at times seem to be in conflict with each – floating around, it feels like we are in a chaotic void. But God who brought order out of chaos will do that again, bringing order and beauty out of the chaos of this moment. Just as God, in the past, has brought order and beauty out of the chaotic moments in humanity’s history. We are invited to trust that God who created order and beauty, will do it again and again.
Lord God, in the beginning of time you brought order out of chaos and beauty out of the void, You and You alone are capable of such action. We give You this chaotic moment through which we are living, trusting that you will bring order and beauty again. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
April 9 - John 21:15-19
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
How do we treat those who have fallen away from church and who then want to return to the community of faith? How do we treat those who have hurt us and harmed us and then repent and want to become part of the community of faith, are they welcome or do we create hurdles for them to jump over before they can be accepted into the church? When the “fallen” return do people continue to talk behind their backs, “you know what they did”? Those are the questions that lie behind this passage – how will Jesus treat Peter who three times denied knowing Jesus?
Jesus not only forgives Peter, he gives Peter responsibility in the church – feeding and caring for the lambs and sheep of the church – that is, the people of the church.
If we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ, Jesus very clearly suggests that we should be able to forgive those who have hurt us. In fact, in the Lord’s Prayer we say exactly that – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Just as our being forgiven cost Jesus everything, so our offering forgiveness to others will be demanding of us. But this commitment to forgive is what Jesus calls us to. Those who have fallen away are welcomed back, those who have denied are invited into the church again. The past is gone, erased, not remembered – so there is no “You are welcome as long as you don’t mess up again” – there is no “We know what you did and we are watching you” – there is no “You are on probation, until you prove you are worthy of welcome.” No, it is forgiveness to all those who say they love Jesus and want back into the fold.
God of grace, we admit that we love being among those who have been forgiven by your Son Jesus, but that we are not so good at offering forgiveness to others. Help us to forgive as freely as we have been forgiven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
April 7 – John 21:1-14
21 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire(K) of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Growing up when I heard this passage preached on it was common for ministers to criticize the seven disciples for going “back” to fishing. It was interpreted as the disciples going back to their old lives. But what if we see this the other way round.
The risen Jesus meets them while they are fishing. Note they have caught nothing all night; it is Jesus – the risen Jesus – who says try the other side of the boat and then there are so many fish they can barely drag in the net. Jesus makes their hard work productive, takes their effort and blesses it. He joins them.
When they get to shore, they discover Jesus is already making breakfast, but he still invites them to bring some of the fish they have caught and add that to the meal. He invites them to participate in what he is already doing. It is like he says, “Do you want in on this? Come join me.”
In our lives, sometimes it is Jesus who joins us and takes our hard, frustrating, unproductive labour and transforms into something extraordinary. And sometimes Jesus says to us, “Do you want in on what is going on? Come join me.” The question is are we alert to noticing him, do we have our ears open to him saying “Friends, how is it going?”, would we be honest with him if he asked that question? Will we let Jesus help us in our work, will we accept his invitation to join him in what he is doing?
God of grace, in Jesus Christ you are remaking the world. We thank you for those times when he has joined us in what we are doing, bringing life and hope to what was hard-slogging kind of work. We thank you for those times when he invites us to join him in what he is doing. Keep us alert to his presence at work in our world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
I have very much enjoyed reading through Mark since early January and posting the rambling devotional material. Thank you for the kind words and the encouragement.
Mark is an amazing book, and doing this has reminded me of the extraordinary privilege of reading the Bible and listening for God’s word.
Starting on April 5 (Today) there is going to be a change to the Devotional Material. I will write material for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This week (April 5-11) on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday no e-mails will be sent. Starting the week of April 12 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays there will be other kinds of material sent out by e-mail – but that material will not posted on our website. And on Sundays we will take a break. This change is in large part because I can’t keep the pace I have set and also re-open for worship. Three times a week seems manageable. Thank you for your understanding.
April 5 – John 20:19-29
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed(E) when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I think Thomas is unfairly treated if we call him “doubting Thomas” – because he asks the questions we would ask if someone said to us – “You know so-and-so who died three days ago, well they are alive, I saw them.” We would say, “Until I see them face-to-face, until I shake their hand and go to Tim’s with them, I don’t believe you.” Thomas’ question brings the other disciples to a halt. Notice the situation in vs. 19 – they are behind locked doors; and vs. 26 – they are behind locked doors. The disciples have gone nowhere – they are in the same spot a week later – afraid, behind locked doors.
When Thomas sees the risen Jesus Thomas makes a statement that became the central – still is the central – statement of belief for the church – “My Lord and my God!” This is the first time a human being in the gospel of John calls Jesus Lord and God. The early church made “Jesus is Lord” a central statement of the Christian faith. Thomas is not a doubter – he is the first to understand who Jesus really is. Only when he makes his confessional statement about who Jesus is, do the other disciples figure out that they have an answer to those who say, “I need to see.” – The answer is “Jesus is Lord” and if you start following Jesus you will meet him.
For there is a blessing to those who will not see, that is us, but who will believe. We have believed without seeing, but we too know that Jesus is risen from the dead, that Jesus is Lord.
Lord God, we have not seen the risen Jesus with our eyes, but we know the truth of the resurrection in our hearts – in our lives. We proclaim “Jesus is Lord”. Give us courage so that we might declare our convictions with boldness, and might live our lives in ways that demonstrate that Jesus is Lord of our lives. In His name we pray. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
A Journey through the gospel of Mark – The Journey ends
April 4 (Easter Sunday) – Mark 16
16 1-2 When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint him. And very early in the morning on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb, just as the sun was rising.
3 “Who is going to roll the stone back from the doorway of the tomb?” they asked each other.
4-7 And then as they looked closer, they saw that the stone, which was a very large one, had been rolled back. So they went into the tomb and saw a young man in a white robe sitting on the right-hand side, and they were simply astonished. But he said to them, “There is no need to be astonished. He has risen; he is not here. Look, here is the place where they laid him. But now go and tell his disciples, and Peter, that he will be in Galilee before you. You will see him there just as he told you.”
8 And they got out of the tomb and ran away from it. They were trembling with excitement. They did not dare to breathe a word to anyone.
I agree this is a strange story, ending with the women saying nothing to anyone. These are the women who came with Jesus to the mount of execution, stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, were with the body when it was buried, and even on Sunday morning entered the tomb not knowing what they would find. These are strong women – but the resurrection is too much. Here they turn and flee. Why?
Because the resurrection changes everything. Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having said there are only two certainties in life – “death and taxes.” But the resurrection says that death is not ultimate – death does not get the final word. Just as the disciples were terrified when they realized that in the boat with them was one, Jesus, who could walk on water – the women are terrified when they realize that they have been following one, Jesus, who is not limited by death. Jesus is beyond the things at cause us to fear – and his resurrection re-writes everything we think we know.
COVID-19 has us spinning, the resurrection tells us to not be afraid of COVID. Governments have enormous power in our lives, the resurrection tells us that there is one, Jesus, who is more powerful than government. There are people in our lives who have tremendous power and cause us fear, the resurrection says that their power is less than the power of the one who has been raised to life again. The resurrection re-writes everything.
One quick final point – how do we know that Jesus rose to life again? – who is it that we have this story? – because despite human silence, God speaks; despite our failure to speak, God’s voice is heard. The good news will be heard – Christ is risen from the dead just as he said.
God of power and might, in fear and trembling we bow before you, for you have raised Jesus Christ to life again, there is nothing you cannot do. We rejoice that we have heard the good news of the resurrection. In the name of the risen Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
April 3 – 15:42-47 – Saturday
42-47 When the evening came, because it was the day of preparation, that is the day before the Sabbath, Joseph from Arimathaea, a distinguished member of the council, who himself prepared to accept the kingdom of God, went boldly into Pilate’s presence and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised that he should be dead already and he sent for the centurion and asked whether he had been dead long. On hearing the centurion’s report, he gave Joseph the body of Jesus. So Joseph brought a linen winding-sheet, took Jesus down and wrapped him in it, and then put him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the solid rock, rolling a stone over the entrance to it. Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on and saw where he was laid.
The disciples have left the stage, leaving it to the women who are there at the end when Jesus dies (Mark 15:40-41) to see where Jesus is buried. Joseph of Arimathaea, one of the elite, one we would expect to be opposed to Jesus, one we would expect would be glad that Jesus was dead, he asks the Jesus’ body to give him a properly burial. He is brave in going to ask for the body of Jesus, because in so doing he is identifying himself as a follower of Jesus – as one who believes that Jesus body needs to be treated with respect. (This stands in contrast to the way the tenants in the parable treat the body of the owner’s son, Mark 12:7,8.)
This feels like the end of the story. The hero who is dead, is given a quiet burial in a respectful manner, and the tomb is properly secured. It is over.
And there is nothing to do for it is now Sabbath – Sabbath having begun at sunset on Friday – there was nothing to do on Saturday but to think about what had been. Jesus was dead, and in the quiet of their own thoughts the followers Jesus spent a somber, sorrowful Sabbath.
We jump the Saturday between Friday and Sunday so quickly, but we know the sorrow of this moment well. We are in grief over loved ones who have died, that we long to be with. We come to this Saturday to mourn awhile, to know the pain of loss, to know the emptiness of the gaps in our lives. That grief, that mourning, is not a bad thing, for it reminds us that the things we have lost were important, were gifts we no longer have.
O Lord, we want to move quickly past the pain of Friday, past the pain of loss and grief, show us the value and power of lament. Teach us to let the quiet mourning of Holy Saturday into our lives. Teach us to mourn awhile with a world in pain. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
April 2 (Good Friday) – Mark 15:33-41
33-34 At midday darkness spread over the whole countryside and lasted until three o’clock in the afternoon, and at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
35 Some of the bystanders heard these words which Jesus spoke in Aramaic—Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?, and said, “Listen, he’s calling for Elijah!”
36 One man ran off and soaked a sponge in vinegar, put it on a stick, and held it up for Jesus to drink, calling out, “Let him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come and take him down!”
37 But Jesus let out a great cry, and died.
38 The curtain of the Temple sanctuary was split in two from top to the bottom.
39 And when the centurion who stood in front of Jesus saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly the son of God!”
40 There were some women there looking on from a distance, among them: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of the younger James and Joses, and Salome.
41 These were the women who used to follow Jesus as he went about in Galilee and look after him. And there were many other women there who had come up to Jerusalem with them.
I am suggesting that the high point, the crescendo, in the gospel comes in Mark 15:38 and 39.
First, in the tearing of the curtain in the temple God destroys the temple – or at least the system of the temple. The curtain, 8 to 10 centimeters thick, kept the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God’s presence, and the Holy of Holies, separated off from the rest of temple. God was behind the curtain and was accessed only by the High Priest once a year. In Mark 14:58 and 15:29 Jesus was accused of saying that he would destroy the temple and in three days build it back again. The anger was not that he could rebuild it in three days – the anger behind the accusation was that a human being would threaten to destroy the place where God was worshipped, that a human being would desecrate sacred space in this way. The tearing of the curtain stated that the system of sacrifices and approaching God through the priest was gone – all people everywhere had access to God. In Jesus’ death on the cross, God had torn through the barriers thought to keep God under control.
Second, at Jesus’ death the centurion, a Roman soldier, makes the highest statement about who Jesus is – “The Son of God.” The centurion is the first human to make that statement – Mark has been building to this moment since the start of the book. In Mark 1:1 he introduces Jesus – “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Now, at the cross, the truth of who Jesus really is dawns in the heart of the centurion. Another outsider who has spiritual insight. Jesus is the Son of God.
Lord God, Your Son died that we might be able to have unhindered access to you. In somber joy we celebrate that you have made a way for us to be in relationship with you. Thank you for making the way, thank you that Jesus was willing to pay the price to make this way possible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
April 1 (Maundy Thursday) – Mark 15:21-32
21 They compelled Simon, a native of Cyrene in Africa, who was on his way from the fields at the time, to carry Jesus’ cross.
22-30 They took him to a place called Golgotha (which means Skull Hill) and they offered him some drugged wine, but he would not take it. Then they crucified him, and shared out his garments, drawing lots to see what each of them would get. It was about nine o’clock in the morning when they nailed him to the cross. Over his head the placard of his crime read, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” They also crucified two bandits at the same time, one on each side of him. And the passers-by jeered at him, shaking their heads in mockery, saying, “Hi, you! You could destroy the Temple and build it up again in three days, why not come down from the cross and save yourself?”
31-32 The chief priests also made fun of him among themselves and the scribes, and said, “He saved others, he cannot save himself. If only this Christ, the king of Israel, would come down now from the cross, we should see it and believe!” And even the men who were crucified with him hurled abuse at him.
A comment on a story detail – “the drugged wine” (vs. 23) was a painkiller, offered to those being executed because crucifixion is such a terrible way to die that even the Romans realized they needed to make it a bit more humane by offering a painkiller to those being executed.
In each of Mark 15:2, 12, 18, 26, and 32 Jesus is referred to as a king – King of the Jews or King of Israel. These words raise the question about what kind of king is Jesus. We are not used to thinking of Jesus as a king – we see him as teacher, friend, miracle-worker, and saviour – king does not often make the list. How can this crucified one be a king? It does not make sense to talk about a king who is executed. How can someone be a king, if another person tells them what to do and can dictate the end of the king’s life? But in the upside-down economy of God the cross is Jesus’ throne – for the high point in the book is about to take place. The cross is at the very center of the kingdom of God – the kingdom Jesus is bringing into the world. A kingdom that comes from having experienced the worst that the world can do and having survived – no more than survived – emerged victorious. For in the new kingdom – the true kingdom – the last are first (Mark 10:31) – those who serve are the greatest (Mark 10:43,44) – and those who lose their lives for the gospel will save them (Mark 8:35).
Teach us, O Lord, to take up our crosses and follow your Son, who is the King. Teach us, O Lord, to take up our crosses so that we might find life in all its fullness. Teach us, O Lord, to take up our crosses. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 31 – Mark 15:16-20
16-18 Then the soldiers marched him away inside the courtyard of the governor’s residence and called their whole company together. They dressed Jesus in a purple robe, and twisting some thorn twigs into a crown, they put it on his head. Then they began to greet him, “Hail, your majesty—king of the Jews!”
19-20 They hit him on the head with a stick and spat at him, and then bowed low before him on bended knee. And when they had finished their fun with him, they took off the purple cloak and dressed him again in his own clothes. Then they led him outside to crucify him.
This abuse, violence and disrespect cause us to weep, how can human beings treat another human being this way? We live in a world where our Christian sisters and brothers face persecution and abuse. They know the cost of following Jesus. This passage reminds us that the king knows what the citizens of his kingdom suffer, he does stand aloof and distant and unfeeling, he has felt the pain they are experiencing. In Jesus Christ, God became one of us, experiencing the full range of experiences that are human life.
The abuse is not just physical but also psychological. In mocking Jesus by putting a purple cloak on him (a symbol of kingship), the soldiers are humiliating Jesus, making fun of him. Words can be as damaging as actions in causing harm to another person. Those times when we have been insulted for following Jesus, those times when we have been ridiculed for doing the right thing – we know that Jesus also was ridiculed and insulted, mocked and humiliated. In Jesus Christ, God became one of us, even to the point of experiencing mocking and verbal humiliation.
Jesus’ silence throughout this ordeal is astounding – Peter writes in I Peter 2:20b, 21, 23: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.,,,When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to God who judges justly.” May we be able to do what Jesus did, following our Saviour and our example.
O Lord, Your Son when insulted and abused did not fight back, teach us to not retaliate when we are insulted. Your Son when hurt and harmed did not threaten vengeance, teach us to trust You, who alone is the just Judge. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 30 – Mark 15:1-15 – Friday of Holy Week
15 The moment daylight came the chief priests called together a meeting of elders, scribes and members of the whole council, bound Jesus and took him off and handed him over to Pilate.
2 Pilate asked him straight out, “Well, you—are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, I am,” he replied.
3-4 The chief priests brought many accusations. So Pilate questioned him again, “Have you nothing to say? Listen to all their accusations!”
5 But Jesus made no further answer—to Pilate’s astonishment.
6-9 Now it was Pilate’s custom at festival-time to release a prisoner—anyone they asked for. There was in the prison at the time, with some other rioters who had committed murder in a recent outbreak, a man called Barabbas. The crowd surged forward and began to demand that Pilate should do what he usually did for them. So he spoke to them, “Do you want me to set free the king of the Jews for you?”
10-12 For he knew perfectly well that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him through sheer malice. But the chief priests worked upon the crowd to get them to demand Barabbas’ release instead. So Pilate addressed them once more, “Then what am I to do with the man whom you call the king of the Jews?”
13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
14 But Pilate replied, “Why, what crime has he committed?” But their voices rose to a roar, “Crucify him!”
15 And as Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, he set Barabbas free for them, and after having Jesus flogged handed him over to be crucified.
Criticism of Pilate is easy. He had the power to do the right thing, he knew that the religious leaders had brought Jesus to him because they were jealous of Jesus. Pilate tried to set up a situation in which the crowd would set Jesus free – he gave them a choice between Jesus or a murderer – “who do you want me to release to you?” But that did not work. Having set up the choice, and the crowd having chosen, Pilate operated on the belief that he could not go against the crowd. So, Pilate handed Jesus over to death.
Leaders are called to lead, to seek the morally correct path forward, even when that puts them at odds with the popular opinion. Popular opinion is fickle and is a highly inaccurate measure of what is the right thing to do. I have in mind leadership at all levels – from national political leadership to municipal – from political to corporations to churches to community groups. Leaders are called to make hard decisions even decisions that will go against popular opinion because they are the morally correct decision. We need to pray that leaders on all levels will be given the courage to make moral decisions even if that means going against popular opinion. Many of us, in our own context, are leaders, either formally named as such or informally because of our relationships and status, how to we decide? Do we like Pilate give in to popular opinion even though it is the wrong path, or do we have the courage to stand for the right?
O Lord, we confess that we are more like Pilate than we care to admit. Swayed by popular opinion, seeking to avoid making the hard decisions, wanting to be liked by those we lead. Come to us by your Holy Spirit and give us the courage to act for the right, not in an arrogant or defensive way, but with humility and faith in you. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 29 – Mark 14:66-71
66-67 In the meantime, while Peter was in the courtyard below, one of the High Priest’s maids came and saw him warming himself. She looked closely at him, and said, “You were with the Nazarene too—with Jesus!”
68 But he denied it, saying, “I don’t understand. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And he walked out into the gateway, and a cock crew.
69 Again the maid who had noticed him began to say to the men standing there, “This man is one of them!”
70 But he denied it again. A few minutes later the bystanders themselves said to Peter, “You certainly are one of them. Why, you’re a Galilean!”
71 But he started to curse and swear, “I tell you I don’t know the man you’re talking about!”
Accusations catch us off guard, dis-orienting us, making us defensive, that is part of why they scare us so much. We cannot prepare ahead of time about how to respond to accusations, but we have Jesus’ promise that we read in Mark 13:11, “do not worry beforehand about what you are going to say because you will be given the words.” But here, when Peter is confronted with the challenge and opportunity to say something he fails miserably. Why was he not given the words?
I would suggest that Peter is still trying to do this in his strength. He knew that he had run away when Jesus was arrested, he had not lived up to his brave words about going all the way with Jesus (Mark 14:50). But maybe he could slip into the same building that Jesus was in, and Jesus would see that he, Peter, unlike the others had not deserted Jesus. Still functioning in his own strength and ability, Peter breaks in the face of the accusation. Breaks not once, not twice, but three times.
About 5 years ago a book with the fascinating title “Ego is the Enemy” was a best seller among professional athletes. Professional sports is a context where ego is often on full display, where the thinking is, “I have the ability to win the game, I have to win the game to prove who I am.” Ego gets in the way of being our able to hear the Spirit’s voice. We don’t need to prove anything – accusations attack our egos. We need to learn to let go of ego, walking the path of humbling trusting the Spirit to be our courage and strength.
Teach us, O Lord, to die to self, to put our egos away, so that we do not feel the need to defend ourselves against the accusations that are thrown at us. Teach us to rely on your Spirit and not our ability and courage. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 28 (Palm Sunday) – 14:53-65
53-58 So they marched Jesus away to the High Priest in whose presence all the chief priests and elders and scribes had assembled. (Peter followed him at a safe distance, right up to the High Priest’s courtyard. There he sat in the firelight with the servants, keeping himself warm.) Meanwhile, the chief priests and the whole council were trying to find some evidence against Jesus which would warrant the death penalty. But they failed completely. There were plenty of people ready to give false testimony against him, but their evidence was contradictory. Then some more perjurers stood up and said, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple that was built by human hands and in three days I will build another made without human aid.’”
59-60 But even so their evidence conflicted. So the High Priest himself got up and took the centre of the floor. “Have you no answer to make?” he asked Jesus. “What about all this evidence against you?”
61 But Jesus remained silent and offered no reply. Again the High Priest asked him, “Are you Christ, Son of the blessed one?”
62 And Jesus said, “I am! Yes, you will all see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, coming in the clouds of heaven.”
63-64 Then the High Priest tore his robes and cried, “Why do we still need witnesses? You heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion now?”
65 And their verdict was that he deserved to die. Then some of them began to spit at him. They blindfolded him and then slapped him, saying, “Now prophesy who hit you!” Even the servants who took him away slapped his face.
Justice does not happen in many places in our world, where prosecutors are in league with the judges and witnesses lie. Trials are unjust. That is the case here. Jesus knows what it is to face an unjust judicial system. Jesus walks with the falsely accused, and the wrongfully convicted, for he has been there.
Even though the trial is unfair and the witnesses are making up evidence against Jesus, they are unable to be consistent in the evidence they have made up. Even in this unjust trial they have trouble getting the evidence to convict him.
So, Jesus gives them the evidence they need to convict him. When asked if he is the “Christ, Son of the blessed one” – Jesus says that he is. The High Priest and others, convinced that Jesus is not the Messiah regard his words as blasphemy of the highest sort. That is enough to convict Jesus. But the conviction hinges on Jesus’ words – if he had remained silent they would not have had the evidence they needed. Jesus gives them what they need to have him executed. He is controlling his fate.
The actions described in vs. 65 are despicable. These are religious leaders spitting on another human being, mocking another human being, abusing another human being. No one should behave this way, but especially religious leaders who claim to follow God. The challenge for all of us is this, as followers of Jesus, how do we treat our opponents? How do we treat those who we believe are wrong?
Lord God, we pray for those who are falsely accused and wrongfully convicted, for people who are lied against because they are followers of your Son, Jesus Christ. Let them know that he hears their cries and understands. Teach us to treat, all people, even our opponents with respect. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 27 – Mark 14:43-52 Late on Thursday of Holy Week
43-49 And indeed, while the words were still on his lips, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived with a mob armed with swords and staves, sent by the chief priests and scribes and elders. The betrayer had given them a sign; he had said, “The one I kiss will be the man. Get hold of him and you can take him away without any trouble.” So he walked straight up to Jesus, cried, “Master!” and kissed him affectionately. And so they got hold of him and held him. Somebody present drew his sword and struck at the High Priest’s servant, slashing off his ear. Then Jesus spoke to them “So you’ve come out with your swords and staves to capture me like a bandit, have you? Day after day I was with you in the Temple, teaching, and you never laid a finger on me. But the scriptures must be fulfilled.”
50-52 Then all the disciples deserted him and made their escape. There happened to be a young man among Jesus’ followers who wore nothing but a linen shirt. They seized him, but he left the shirt in their hands and took to his heels stark naked.
Now the forces of destruction arrive led by Judas. Judas is needed because the Mount of Olives was a large area with many hiding places, and in the dark (this is before electricity and heat sensing technology) Jesus and the disciples would have been very hard to find unless someone knew their regular spot to go to. Judas knows where they will be, and in the dark can recognize Jesus so that the officials arrest the right person. But betrayal by a kiss – that is a very bitter irony.
nd the disciples abandon Jesus a second time – physically deserting him and making their escape. They will not stay. (We think that the one who ran away naked is Mark, the author of this gospel. Who else would know such a thing and even tell it? It does point to the level of panic the followers of Jesus felt.)
The forces of evil do their work under the cover of darkness, hidden. They are not transparent; they are not in the open. Jesus’ words stating that those things that are done in the dark will be revealed in the light – speak to this moment. Jesus challenges the crowd (J.B. Phillips translates it “mob”) as to why they are acting in the dark. When have we acted in the dark, in hidden ways; when have we agreed with those who wanted to keep their actions hidden?
Jesus is being arrested by the agents of the religious establishment. The night of the arrest is Passover, the holiest, most religious, day on the Jewish calendar. How religiously faithful is the “mob” that is more interested in arresting Jesus than in marking the Passover?
Almighty Father, look with mercy on this your family for which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to be betrayed and given up in to the hands of wicked people and to suffer death upon the cross; who is alive and glorified with you and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 26 – Mark 14:32-42 Late on Thursday of Holy Week
32 Then they arrived at a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit down here while I pray.”
33 He took with him Peter, James and John, and began to be horror-stricken and desperately depressed.
34 “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them. “Stay here and keep watch for me.”
35 Then he walked forward a little way and flung himself on the ground, praying that, if it were possible, he might not have to face the ordeal.
36 “Dear Father,” he said, “all things are possible to you. Please—let me not have to drink this cup! Yet it is not what I want but what you want.”
37-38 Then he came and found them fast asleep. He spoke to Peter, “Are you asleep, Simon? Couldn’t you manage to watch for a single hour? Watch and pray, all of you, that you may not have to face temptation. Your spirit is willing, but human nature is weak.”
39-42 Then he went away again and prayed in the same words, and once more he came and found them asleep. they could not keep their eyes open and they did not know what to say for themselves. When he came back for the third time, he said “Are you still going to sleep and take your ease? All right—the moment has come: now you are going to see the Son of Man betrayed into the hands of evil men! Get up, let us be going! Look, here comes my betrayer!”
The pathos of the moment is profound. Jesus knows what is coming, he is “horror-stricken and desperately depressed.” And the disciples fall asleep. This then is the first of the disciples’ abandonments of Jesus. In his moment of deepest emotional pain, they fall asleep. He wants them to watch with him, to simply be present with him as he struggles – they cannot do that.
Even now Jesus invites his followers, invites us, to join with others who are facing the cup of suffering and even martyrdom. Will we be able to stay awake with them, praying with them? Jesus joins us as we pray on behalf of our Christian sisters and brothers who face such violence and hate?
Jesus is clear in his prayer; he does not want to go to the cross. He does not want to take up the cross anymore than we want to take up our cross. But in the end, he is able to pray, “not what I want but what you want.” Here then is our prayer as well, in those moments when we would sooner not carry our cross, in those moments when we do not want to be on this journey with Jesus, we are invited to do the hard thing, and pray with Jesus, “not what I want but what you want.”
O Lord, we come with two prayers today. We pray for our fellow Christians in so many parts of the world who face persecution and even death. Help us to pray with them as they face such opposition. Second, we pray that your Holy Spirit would gird us up so that with humility and faith we would be able to say, “not what I want but what you want.” In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 25 – Mark 14:27-31 Thursday of Holy Week
27 “Every one of you will lose your faith in me,” Jesus told them, “As the scripture says: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’.
28 Yet after I have risen, I shall go before you into Galilee!”
29 Then Peter said to him, “Even if everyone should lose faith, I never will.”
30 “Believe me, Peter,” returned Jesus, “this very night before the cock crows twice, you will disown me three times.”
31 But Peter protested violently, “Even if it means dying with you, I will never disown you!” And they all made the same protest.
How little the disciples know about themselves. How little do they recognize what is coming. But in that they are not very different than we are. We remember times when we spoke brave words about how we would act in certain situations, how we would be faithful. And then when the situation arose, we were not brave. But we also remember those times when we were profoundly afraid, but something compelled us to speak or to act in humble bravery.
The disciples’ mistake is to assume that in themselves they can be brave, that in themselves they will have courage. Courage is something the Holy Spirit promises those who are open to the Spirit’s action in their lives. To those who know they cannot do it on their own. (See Mark 13:11)
John Calvin wrote that to know one’s self is to be confronted with who God is; and to know God is to be confronted with who we really are. Self-knowledge is humbling, for we are confronted with our weaknesses and failures, with our own cowardice and disloyalty. And we recognize God who is faithful, Jesus who is brave, and the Holy Spirit who promises us courage.
We should not miss vs. 28 – even as the forces of evil are about to do their worst, even as despair is about to fill the disciples’ lives – Jesus reminds them “I will be raised to life again.” But they cannot hear him. Is it not the case that when we focus on ourselves, on our anxiety and concerns, we have difficulty hearing what Jesus is telling us?
God of grace, we are often critical of the disciples, but all too often we are exactly like them. Help us to be courageous not in ourselves, but in the Holy Spirit. Help us to be always attentive to your words of promise, rather than being pre-occupied with ourselves. These things we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 24 – Mark 14:12-26 – Thursday of Holy Week
12 On the first day of unleavened bread, the day when the Passover was sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples said, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
13-15 Jesus sent off two of them with these instructions, “Go into the town and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him and say to the owner of the house to which he goes, ‘The Master says, where is the room for me to eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upstairs room all ready with the furnishings that we need. That is the place where you are to make our preparations.”
16 So the disciples set off and went into the town, found everything as he had told them, and prepared for the Passover.
17-18 Late in the evening he arrived with the twelve. And while they were sitting there, right in the middle of the meal, Jesus remarked, “Believe me, one of you is going to betray me—someone who is now having his supper with me.”
19 This shocked and distressed them and one after another they began to say to him, “Surely, I’m not the one?”
20-21 “It is one of the twelve,” Jesus told them, “a man who is dipping his hand into the dish with me. It is true that the Son of Man will follow the road foretold by the scriptures, but alas for the man through whom he is betrayed! It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”
22 And while they were still eating Jesus took a loaf, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them with the words, “Take this, it is my body.”
23-25 Then he took a cup, and after thanking God, he gave it to them, and they drank from it, and he said to them “This is my blood which is shed for many in the new agreement. I tell you truly I will drink no more wine until the day comes when I drink it fresh in the kingdom of God!”
26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
Notice how careful Jesus is about his entry into Jerusalem on the Thursday. Up to this point, each day as evening fell Jesus and the disciples have left Jerusalem and retreated to the safety of Bethany – out of the easy reach of the authorities. But this night, the Passover night, he is going to spend in Jerusalem. But he does not want to be arrested too soon – he has things to do first.
So, he sends in the two disciples to look for an odd sight – a man carrying a jar of water – and they are to follow the man (notice, they never speak to him, they just follow him). Then under cover of darkness Jesus and the others arrive.
This eating of the Passover meal – the meal remembering that the people of Israel were freed from slavery – is dominated by two conversations. First, that someone in that room was going to betray Jesus. Which was shocking news – and led to a fury of questions. And second, the addition of bread and cup to the Passover meal – extending the being freed from slavery beyond freedom from Egyptian slavery to being freed from slavery to sin and death and hell.
At a communion celebration in a church sanctuary or by YouTube video in our living room – it is easy to forget the high tension of the moment. Jesus having just spoken about being betrayed – then speaks “this is my body” – “this is my blood” – those words would have carried a weight, a somberness in that tension filled room that is easy to miss in our safe contexts. To eat and to drink is to engage in a dangerous act, full of tension and commitment.
Lord God, your Son ate the Passover meal with his followers. And as the meal was ending, he added the bread and the cup – signs of his love for us – signs of his life given for us. We thank you for this holy meal in which we can become partakers of your Son’s life, being one in him with all who follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 23 – Mark 14:1-11 Wednesday of Holy Week
14 1-2 In two days’ time the festival of the Passover and of unleavened bread was due. Consequently, the chief priests and the scribes were trying to think of some trick by which they could get Jesus into their power and have him executed. “But it must not be during the festival,” they said, “or there will be a riot.”
3-9 Jesus himself was now in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. As he was sitting at table, a woman approached him with an alabaster flask of very costly spikenard perfume. She broke the neck of the flask and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head. Some of those present were highly indignant and muttered, “What is the point of such wicked waste of perfume? It could have been sold for over thirty pounds and the money could have been given to the poor.” And there was a murmur of resentment against her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone, why must you make her feel uncomfortable? She has done a beautiful thing for me. You have the poor with you always and you can do good to them whenever you like, but you will not always have me. She has done all she could—for she has anointed my body in preparation for burial. I assure you that wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the whole world, this deed of hers will also be recounted, as her memorial to me.”
10-11 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. And when they heard what he had to say, they were delighted and undertook to pay him for it. So he looked out for a convenient opportunity to betray him.
This is the Wednesday of Holy Week. After the intense time of confrontation and teaching (it takes just over 2 chapters to cover what happened in that one day) on the Tuesday, the Wednesday was very quiet. In fact, this is the only event we have as taking place on the Wednesday. In some traditions it is called “the day of waiting.”
Jesus is at the home of “Simon the leper” for a dinner party. If Simon still had leprosy, he would not have been able to have people into his house, he would have been cut-off from family and friends. Simon is one who had been healed – maybe healed by Jesus and that might be the reason for this dinner party.
The perfume jar is one where the top has to be broken off to open it – so it is an all-or-nothing kind of thing. The unnamed woman pours the entire contents of the jar over Jesus’ head. She gave it all. And immediately there is a response – the scent would have filled the space – people would have noticed what was happening. The criticism is that the perfume was worth 300 denarius – (J.B. Phillips’ 30 pounds is not helpful) – and the money could have been better spent. A minimum wage worker made a single denarius a day. This then is 300 days wages – a year’s wages – say $30,000. This is probably the most valuable thing the woman owned and she has given it to Jesus. How different her actions are from the rich man who could not sell what he had to follow Jesus?
The woman loves Jesus and her love is on full display. How do we express our love to Jesus? What act might we do to show our love of Jesus?
God of beauty and wonder, we are overwhelmed by this woman’s expression for love for you, it seems too much. But we confess that often we are worried about what other people will think of us if we express the feeling we have, if we let our emotion out. We are here to say that we love you, we love your Son, Jesus, Christ, we love the Spirit. Thee-in-one, One-in-three, we love you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 22 – Mark 13:28-37 Tuesday of Holy Week -- Apocalyptic Discourse
28-33 “Let the fig-tree illustrate this for you: when its branches grow tender and produce leaves, you know that summer is near, at your very doors! I tell you that this generation will not have passed until all these things have come true. Earth and sky will pass away, but what I have told you will never pass away! But no one knows the day or the hour of this happening, not even the angels in Heaven, no, not even the Son—only the Father. Keep your eyes open, keep on the alert, for you do not know when the time will be.
34-37 It is as if a man who is travelling abroad had left his house and handed it over to be managed by his servants. He has given each one his work to do and has ordered the doorkeeper to be on the look-out for his return. Just so must you keep a look-out, for you do not know when the master of the house will come—it might be late evening, or midnight, or cock-crow, or early morning—otherwise he might come unexpectedly and find you sound asleep. What I am saying to you I am saying to all; keep on the alert!”
When we lived in Flin Flon, in the late winter, when the calendar said spring was coming, one of the community clubs would put a derelict car on the ice in the middle of the lake that the town is built around. (I know the environmentally minded are cringing.) Then people would guess what day and time the car would go through the ice. That was how we measured the arrival of spring. Everyone knew spring was coming – but when the moment would happen that the car would go through the ice, that no one knew.
The two parables of Jesus tell this truth: “No one knows when the end will come. No one knows when Christ will return. So always be ready.”
That Jesus will return is certain, it is going to happen. When? That no one knows. Two things flow from this. First, don’t believe anyone who says they know when the end is coming, don’t believe anyone who gives a date and time, no one knows. Second, we need to live our lives in such a way that we are ready for Jesus to return. We need to be ready for him to be here on a moment’s notice, so that when he comes back he finds us doing the things he has called us to do. But since he seems to be so long in coming back it is easy to think Jesus may never come back. And so we start to slack off, to not do our best. Jesus says that he hopes to find us awake, alert, doing the tasks he has given us.
We rejoice, O Lord, that Jesus will return. Give us the patience and perseverance to keep at our tasks even though we do not know when he is coming back. By the Holy Spirit, help us to stay alert and awake, even through the long night of the present moment. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 21 (Sunday) – Mark 13:14-27 Tuesday of Holy Week – Apocalyptic discourse
14-20 “But when you see ‘the abomination of desolation’ standing where it ought not—(let the reader take note of this)—then those who are in Judea must fly to the hills! The man on his house-top must not go down nor go into his house to fetch anything out of it, and the man in the field must not turn back to fetch his coat. Alas for the women who are pregnant at that time, and alas for those with babies at their breasts! Pray God that it may not be winter when that time comes, for there will be such utter misery in those days as had never been from the creation until now—and never will be again. Indeed, if the Lord did not shorten those days, no human beings could survive. But for the sake of the people whom he has chosen he has shortened those days.
21-23 “If anyone tells you at that time, ‘Look, here is Christ’, or ‘Look, there he is’, don’t believe it! For false christs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders, to deceive, if it be possible, even the people of God’s choice. You must keep your eyes open! I am giving you this warning before it happens.
24-25 “But when that misery is past, ‘the light of the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give her light; stars will be falling from the sky and the powers of heaven will rock on their foundations’.
26-27 Then people shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send out his angels to summon his chosen together from every quarter, from furthest earth to highest heaven.
This is a terrifying picture of the end. Threat and destruction all around. It is easy to get swamped in the despair. But there is a refrain that runs through this picture of woe – vs. 20 “for the sake of the people he has chosen”; vs. 22 “the people of God’s choice”; vs. 27 “summon his chosen”. (The NIV and the NRSV use the phrase, “the elect”.) In the midst of the despair God’s promise is secure – God will act for the good of God’s people. God will shorten the days of destruction so that God’s people can be gathered up from every corner of the world. Even though the false messiahs and false prophets will try to deceive God’s people, the implication is that God will protect them. The “if it be possible” (“if possible” in NIV) invites the answer “If God has his people in his hand, then it will not be possible for the deceivers to take people out of God’s hand.” God will be with his people, even in the midst of the woe.
The other thing to see is that all of this is building to the moment when Christ will return – “with great power and glory.” This is the thing to keep always before us. Christ is coming back; the reign of God is on its way. It may be slow in coming, at least from our perspective, but it is coming. Of that we can be sure.
God of grace and glory, Your Son, Jesus Christ, is going to return some day. We live in that hope, for we know that You will not disappoint us, that you will be faithful to this promise. Help us to live now in that hope, certain of the transformation that is coming. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 20 – Mark 13:1-13 Tuesday of Holy Week -- Apocalytic discourse
13 Then as Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Master, what wonderful stonework, what a size these building are!”
2 Jesus replied, “You see these great buildings? Not a single stone will be left standing on another; every one will be thrown down!”
3-4 Then while he was sitting on the slope of the Mount of Olives facing the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew said to him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will there be that all these things are going to be accomplished?”
5-11 So Jesus began to tell them: “Be very careful that no one deceives you. Many are going to come in my name and say, ‘I am he’, and will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, don’t be alarmed. such things are bound to happen, but the end is not yet. Nation will take up arms against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in different places and terrible famines. But this is only the beginnings of ‘the pains’. You yourselves must keep your wits about you, for people will hand you over to their councils, and will beat you in their synagogues. You will have to stand in front of rulers and kings for my sake to bear your witness to them—for before the end comes the Gospel must be proclaimed to all nations. But when they are taking you off to trial, do not worry beforehand about what you are going to say—simply say the words you are given when the time comes. For it is not really you who will speak, but the Holy Spirit.
12-13 “A brother is going to betray his own brother to death, and a father his own child. Children will stand up against their parents and condemn them to death. There will come a time when the whole world will hate you because you are known as my followers. Yet the person who holds out to the end will be saved.
When will the end be? What will the end of time be like? These questions have haunted human beings for a very long time. Notice Jesus does not answer those questions, instead he points to what the lead up to that time will be like. There will be all manner of bad things – earthquakes, wars, rumours of wars – but that is not the end. Jesus is far more interested in how his followers will stay faithful during that time.
To follow Jesus will cost – does cost. A quick journey through the news reveals stories of Christians being brought before “councils” and “in front of rulers” for Jesus’ sake. This is taking place because God is on a mission to have the Gospel “proclaimed to all nations”, having the good news about Jesus told in every place in the world. The promise is that as we are on that mission with God, we don’t need to worry about what to say – the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. We simply need to be faithful to our commitment to Jesus and he will guide us how to speak. We only need the courage to speak.
Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart, it takes courage. But we do not do this alone. Jesus goes before us. The Holy Spirit is with us. God the Father’s purpose will be achieved. And we are cheered on by the great crowd of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who have gone before us and tell us that we too can finish the race well. PRAYER:
Lord God, you hold the future in your hands, and you will bring all things to their proper completion. Give us the courage to follow you through difficulty and challenge, trusting you to give us the words to say. We pray that the gospel will be preached to all peoples everywhere. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 19 – Mark 12:41-44 Tuesday of Holy Week Continued
41-44 Then Jesus sat down opposite the Temple almsbox and watched the people putting their money into it. A great many rich people put in large sums. Then a poor widow came up and dropped in two little coins, worth together about a halfpenny. Jesus called his disciples to his side and said to them, “Believe me, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. For they have all put in what they can easily afford, but she in her poverty who needs so much, has given away everything, her whole living!”
When I was in grade 2 or 3, I saw a play based on the story of the Tortoise and the Hare – we know the story – the hare is faster but fails to win the race and the tortoise’s persistent “never quit” attitude wins in the end. The hare in the play, at least as I remember it 50 years later, was arrogant and treated the tortoise with disrespect. Including at one point running circles around the tortoise to show off how fast the hare was.
Every time I read about the widow and her offering; I am reminded of that play. The people putting in large sums of money, I imagine as doing that with great fanfare – making sure that everyone saw how much they were putting in. They look generous, and they want everyone to know they are generous. (I am also thinking of yesterday’s reading.) The widow quietly puts in her tiny amount, and Jesus notes that her humble gift is more generous than those giving far larger amounts. For, the widow, Jesus says has given her “whole living.” (Notice she does what the rich man in Mark 10:17-22 could not do.) People may have looked at the little she put in and thought it nothing, Jesus recognized it for what it was.
Generosity such as the widow showed is rooted in gratitude. Gratitude to God for being God. Her life was not easy – she was a widow, she understood grief – she was poor, she did not have much – but she still was grateful for God being God. Gratitude and generosity rooted in the simple truth that God is God and is to be worshipped and praised.
Father of all good, we are humbled by the widow’s generosity. She gave everything, for in gratitude she recognized that you could be trusted to provide for her future as you had provided for her in the past. Give us, we pray, even a portion of her gratitude and trust. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 18 – Mark 12:37b-40 Tuesday of Holy Week Continued
38-40 The vast crowd heard this with great delight and Jesus continued in his teaching, “Be on your guard against these scribes who love to walk about in long robes and to be greeted respectfully in public and to have the front seats in the synagogue and the best places at dinner-parties! These are the men who grow fat on widow’s property and cover up what they are doing by making lengthy prayers. They are only adding to their own punishment!”
Here Jesus directly challenges the patterns of the scribes – the religion experts. They demanded to be treated with respect, even deference, while they themselves used the resources of the poor and others with limited resources to support their lifestyles. Jesus is highlighting the disconnect between the words these leaders speak and the way they live their lives.
Two directions to go with this. First, we frequently hear of religious leaders who appear to be shining stars, but actually have feet of clay or even worse. Leaders who cheat and abuse the people who gather around them. It is easy, and even appropriate to be indignant, angered, by such betrayal of the gospel. For that is what really matters, that such behaviour when exposed brings the good news of Jesus Christ into disrepute. We are invited to pray that Christian leaders who are in the public eye – internationally, nationally, and locally – that they would be protected from doing such things, so that the name of Jesus would be honoured.
Second, we need to examine ourselves looking to see if there are places where our lives that bring the name of Jesus into disrepute. Are there things that we say or do that declare we are religious people/church people – and then in another part of our lives we are not living by the pattern of following Jesus? We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will come and re-make our lives so that we are consistent in our following of Jesus.
Lord God, we pray for Christian leaders that they would be protected from falling into the temptations of harming and misusing the people impacted by their ministry. Keep leaders humble, resting in the gifts that come from the Holy Spirit alone. Shape the patterns of our lives so that our words and our actions are consistent with our commitment to follow your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 17 – Mark 12:35-37a Tuesday of Holy Week Continues
35-36 Later, while Jesus was teaching in the Temple he remarked, “How can the scribes make out that Christ is David’s son, for David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’.
37 David is himself calling Christ ‘Lord’—where do they get the idea that he is his son?”
Having been under attack Jesus pushes back in this and the next passage. Here he establishes his place as the Messiah using Psalm 110:1 (which Jesus quotes in the passage we just read). In the original Hebrew the first “Lord” is the word Yahweh (the name that God gave to Moses as his name forever). The second “Lord” is the Hebrew word “elohim” which refers to anyone who is boss, in charge, lord. And these words were written, tradition says, by David, the great human king.
The early church understood this verse meaning that God the Father (the Lord) said to Jesus, God the Son, (our Lord and Saviour), “Sit at my (God’s) right hand (the position of authority, second only to God the Father), until I (God the Father) have brought all your (Jesus) enemies into submission to God’s will.” David in writing the psalm calls both God the Father and the one seated at God’s right hand “Lord” – that is, they are both greater than David is.
In doing this, Jesus is saying that the Messiah is over all things and that as Messiah, Jesus has the right to interpret the law, declaring which is the greatest commandment (see Mark 12:29-31), for he is one with God the Father, the author of the commandments. In this passage we have clarity about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. They are distinct from each other, but they are above all of creation, and they serve each other. The Son obeying the Father, and the Father bringing honour to the Son.
God of power and might, we rejoice that the day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of your name. We rejoice that you will bring this about in honour of your Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ, whose name is to be praised above every other name. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 16 – Mark 12:28-34 Tuesday of Holy Week continues
28 Then one of the scribes approached him. He had been listening to the discussion, and noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he put this question to him, “What are we to consider the greatest commandment of all?”
29-31 “The first and most important one is this,” Jesus replied—‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these.”
32-33 “I am well answered,” replied the scribe. “You are absolutely right when you say that there is one God and no other God exists but him; and to love him with the whole of our hearts, the whole of our intelligence and the whole of our energy, and to love our neighbours as ourselves is infinitely more important than all these burnt-offerings and sacrifices.”
34 Then Jesus, noting the thoughtfulness of his reply, said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God!” After this nobody felt like asking him any more questions.
After three confrontational questions, this one appears to be an honest question, and Jesus treats it as such. The scribe is humbly seeking to learn more about following God and he is open to learning from Jesus, even though the scribe’s friends and colleagues would have regarded Jesus as an opponent. The scribe is taking a risk in asking the question, for it reveals that he believed Jesus had important things to say.
The quest is simple – what is greatest commandment? Jesus sums up the whole of the law into – “Love God and love neighbour.” We often jump over the opening piece where Jesus declares the place God has as Lord. Loving God is to declare loyalty to God above all other things. The scribe recognizes the call to give pre-eminence to God above all other things. This is the driver of everything that follows. God’s Lordship is the factor that motivates our love – loyalty, gratitude, commitment – to God; and our love – compassion, care, service – to our neighbour. Both flow from the statement of who God is. If God is not Lord then love of God and love of neighbour have no roots, nothing to stand on.
The scribe’s comment about loving our neighbours being more important than sacrifice is a subtle point. Sacrifices were usually for wrongs done – if my actions harmed another person, I needed to make things right with God and with the one I had wronged through a sacrifice. The scribe wisely notes that showing love to my neighbour in the first place would avoid needing to make things right.
O Lord, you alone are Lord of our lives, you alone are God. We desire to love you with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength – with the totality of who we are. And we desire to love our neighbours. But we often fail to love you or our neighbours – shape us moment by moment to love you more dearly day by day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 15 – Mark 12:18-27 Tuesday of Holy Week Continues
18-23 Then some of the Sadducees (a party which maintains that there is no resurrection) approached him, and put this question to him, “Master, Moses instructed us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no child, then the man should marry the woman and raise children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers, and the first one married and died without leaving issue. Then the second one married the widow and died leaving no issue behind him. The same thing happened with the third, and indeed the whole seven died without leaving any child behind them. Finally the woman died. Now in this ‘resurrection’, when men will rise up again, whose wife is she going to be—for she was the wife of all seven of them?”
24-27 Jesus replied, “Does not this show where you go wrong—and how you fail to understand both the scriptures and the power of God? When people rise from the dead they neither marry nor are they given in marriage; they live like the angels in Heaven. But as for this matter of the dead being raised, have you never read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him in these words, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not God of the dead but of living men! That is where you make your great mistake!”
Jewish religious elite, including the chief priests, and their supporters were part of a group called the Sadducees. The Sadducees doubted that God acted in miraculous ways in the world, especially denying the possibility of the resurrection. The Sadducees had a faith built on rational thought.
The Sadducees confronted Jesus with a ridiculous question, trying to show how absurd the idea of the resurrection would be.
Jesus responded with two things. First, he stated that in heaven there is no marriage and so the question is irrelevant to any discussion of the resurrection. Here then is a worthwhile warning to all, we should be very careful about assuming what we know about heaven beyond what the Bible indicates. From the Bible we know that heaven is a place of no crying and no suffering, it is like a great banquet of the best foods served to people who are hungry.
The second thing Jesus says is that if we use present tense language to talk about God – God is alive, and God is active. And if we use present tense language to speak about those who are presently eating at the banquet in heaven, then they are also alive enjoying eternal life. The words we use, the way we speak, indicates much about what we really believe.
The Sadducees remind us of the danger of being so logical and rational in our faith that there is no room for mystery, no room for God doing something outside of our expectations. Heaven is beyond description we need to trust God will be faithful even in the details of heaven.
O Lord, you are alive and active in our world, you are above us and beyond us – you act in ways that surprise us and unsettle us. Challenge the rational limits we put on you, free us to believe in your miraculous ability to make the dead live and the despairing have hope. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 14 (Sunday) – Mark 12:13-17 – Tuesday of Holy Week Continues
13-15a Later they sent some of the Pharisees and some of the Herod-party to trap him in an argument. They came up and said to him, “Master, we know that you are an honest man and that you are not swayed by men’s opinion of you. Obviously you don’t care for human approval but teach the way of God with the strictest regard for truth—is it right to pay tribute to Caesar or not: are we to pay or not to pay?”
15b But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why try this trick on me? Bring me a coin and let me look at it.”
16 So they brought one to him. “Whose face is this?” asked Jesus, “and whose name is in the inscription?”
17 “Caesar’s,” they replied. And Jesus said, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God!”—a reply which staggered them.
If outright confrontation does not work, then maybe by flattery the leadership can trap Jesus into saying something damaging. The opposition in this situation is made up of the Pharisees who despised Herod and some from the Herod-party who supported Herod. It is a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The test is tricky. If Jesus says “don’t pay taxes” then he has given the Romans something to arrest him for, because encouraging people to disobey the government is sedition. If Jesus says “pay the taxes” the crowd will be unhappy and may abandon him, and if the crowd abandons Jesus then the temple leadership may have an opportunity to arrest him (see Mark 12:12).
Jesus makes his famous statement. Caesar has a claim because Caesar is the government. But Jesus reminds people that God has a claim as well, the question arises – what belongs to God? The answer is “everything belongs to God.” So, then Caesar’s claim to money, loyalty, obedience, etc. is limited by the fact that everything comes from and will return to God. Caesar’s (the government’s) claim on our lives is limited. God alone has the ultimate claim to our loyalty.
Jesus’ words provide an opportunity to reflect on what authority the government can legitimately exercise and what are the limits of governmental authority. Determining that line is not easy. The piece that remains certain is that the Christian’s primary loyalty is to Jesus Christ, who himself acknowledged the role and Caesar (the government) in guiding a nation.
Lord God, we are citizens first and foremost of your kingdom, and we declare our loyalty to you. But we also live in this nation, and are committed to being good citizens of it. These two citizenships, O Lord, are sometimes in conflict, teach us to be loyal to you above all else, teach us to live faithful to you even as we are citizens of this nation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 13 – Mark 12:1-12 – Tuesday of Holy Week
12 1-11Then he began to talk to them in parables.
“A man once planted a vineyard,” he said, “fenced it round, dug out the hole for the wine-press and built a watch-tower. Then he let it out to some farm-workers and went abroad. At the end of the season he sent a servant to the tenants to receive his share of the vintage. But they got hold of him, knocked him about and sent him off empty-handed. The owner tried again. He sent another servant to them, but this one they knocked on the head and generally insulted. Once again he sent them another servant, but him they murdered. He sent many others and some they beat up and some they murdered. He had one man left—his own son who was very dear to him. He sent him last of all to the tenants, saying to himself, ‘They will surely respect my own son.’ But they said to each other, ‘This fellow is the future owner—come on, let’s kill him, and the property will be ours! So they got hold of him and murdered him, and threw his body out of the vineyard. What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard is going to do? He will come and destroy the men who were working his vineyard and will hand it over to others. Have you never read this scripture—‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?’”
12 Then they tried to get their hands on him, for they knew perfectly well that he had aimed this parable at them—but they were afraid of the people. So they left him and went away.
This parable is very pointed – Jesus begins with an owner planting a vineyard and building everything needed for the vineyard to function. This opening parallels Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 5:1-2. In Isaiah’s telling the vines produce bad grapes which are no good for anything. In Jesus’ parable the vineyard is fine but the tenants are the problem.
The tenants resist the owner’s claim to the land and therefore the owner’s claim to rent. The tenants treat any of the messengers from the landowner with disrespect.
The landowner is God and the messengers are the prophets. And in a moment of foreshadowing what will happen Jesus talks about the Son who is killed. In retrospect we can see this parable pointing to what will happen in a few short days.
But back to the tenants, they think that the landowner (God) has left the scene and is no longer taking an interest in the situation. God can be safely ignored, and so they take charge of things. We can easily fall into the same mindset, God often appears to be distant, seemingly not to be engaged in what is happening in the world. But God is not removed from the scene – he does send messengers – are we listening to their call? Following God’s call will mean acknowledging that he is the landowner – the one who has given all that we are and have.
Lord God, everything we have comes from you – our life and breath – our possessions and livelihoods. But we often think we are self-made. Forgive our arrogance. Teach us to recognize and obey your call in our lives – that we might rejoice in your presence in our world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 12 – Mark 11:27-33 – Tuesday of Holy Week
27-28 So they came once more to Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the Temple, the chief priests, elders and scribes approached him, and asked, “What authority have you for what you’re doing? And who gave you permission to do these things?”
29-30 “I am going to ask you a question,” replied Jesus, “and if you answer me, I will tell you what authority I have for what I do. The baptism of John, now—did it come from Heaven or was it purely human? Tell me that.”
31-32 At this they argued with each other, “If we say from Heaven, he will say, ‘then why didn’t you believe in him?’ but if we say it was purely human, well ...” For they were frightened of the people, since all of them believed that John was a real prophet.
33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” “Then I cannot tell you by what authority I do these things,” returned Jesus.
Jesus spends a long day teaching on the Tuesday of Holy Week, his teaching continues until the end of Chap. 13. Jesus and the disciples were coming to Jerusalem again. Sunday it was a victorious entry as the king. Now, on Tuesday, they were coming again to Jerusalem and the temple, but this time there us a very different feeling. The events of Monday have changed the tone leading to a showdown with the leadership of the temple.
The leaders, I don’t think unreasonably, are unhappy about what had happened, but they seem to be ready to give Jesus space to explain himself. They ask, “By what authority did you do what you did? How gave you permission to do that?” In asking this question the leaders are also saying that Jesus could not possibly be acting on his own authority. In other words, Jesus is not important enough to be able to make this decision himself.
Jesus has a question for the leaders – by whose authority did John the Baptist act – an authority from Heaven or human authority? The leaders are now trapped – as they themselves recognize. They do not believe that John was from God – but they are afraid of the crowd reaction if they say that John was not a messenger from God.
And here there are echoes of Mark 3:28-29. For the leaders are set in their thinking, they cannot see how John and Jesus – both of whom are disrupting the patterns of worship and disrupting the authority structures – could possibly be from God.
Disruption is uncomfortable. We fight against it. But disruption is one of the ways that God brings about change – catching our attention and causing us to re-evaluate if we are following him.
Lord, for a second time this week we are thinking about how you disrupt the patterns of our lives. We are living through a major disruption in this COVID moment. There are other disruptions that have come our way – health matters, job, family, and other things. Show us how through these disruptions we might grow deeper in our trust of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 11 – Mark 11:22-26 – Tuesday of Holy Week
22-26 “Have faith in God,” replied Jesus to them. “I tell you that if anyone should say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself into the sea’, and without any doubt in his heart believe that what he says will happen, then it will happen! That is why I tell you, whatever you pray about and ask for, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, you must forgive anything that you are holding against anyone else, and your Heavenly Father will forgive you your sins.”
We are now to the Tuesday of Holy Week. Peter noticed that the tree Jesus had cursed a day later was dead, Peter and the disciples were amazed. Jesus’s response was essentially, “If you have faith in God, you can do the same thing.”
Notice the progression of these three sentences. The first is the spectacular – the tree dying, a hill being moved into the sea – those just sound too incredible to be true. But Jesus says, “Just believe and it will happen.”
Jesus drives that point home in the second sentence – “Whatever you ask for in prayer, just believe and you will have it.” And at this point we have questions. We have prayed, believing, and what we prayed for did not happen. And the questions seep in, did we not believe enough, do we not have enough faith? I hear the pain of those questions. I have no good answers as to why some prayers get answers that are completely
But I want to return to our walk through the three sentences – the last one about forgiveness seems out of place with the other two – that point to doing astounding things in prayer – like moving mountains. But maybe forgiving others is just as hard as moving mountains. Maybe the forgiveness – the real forgiveness – of those who have hurt us is just as amazing as any of the other miracles Jesus performed.
God of mercy, we rejoice that you have forgiven us. Soften our hearts to be willing to forgive others. Help us find you moving the mountains of anger and bitterness from our lives, that we might live into healed and renewed relationships with those who once were our opponents and adversaries. These things we pray in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 10 – Mark 11:12-14, 20,21 – Monday of Holy Week
12-14 On the following day, when they had left Bethany, Jesus felt hungry. He noticed a fig-tree in the distance covered with leaves, and he walked up to it to see if he could find any fruit on it. But when he got to it, he could find nothing but leaves, for it was not yet time for the figs. Then Jesus spoke to the tree, “May nobody ever eat fruit from you!” And the disciples heard him say it.
20-21 One morning as they were walking along, they noticed that the fig-tree had withered away to the roots. Peter remembered it, and said, “Master, look, the fig-tree that you cursed is all shrivelled up!”
The following day (vs. 12) is the day after the Triumphal Entry – so Monday of Holy Week. Jesus condemns the tree for having no fruit, and it shrivels from the roots up in a day. Recognizing the questions that arise about Jesus destroying a tree, I want us instead to turn our attention to the context of this acted parable – because that is what this is.
This is one of Mark’s story-within-a-story narratives – the fig-tree tells us something about what it happening in the clearing of the temple. The fig-tree represents the worship life of Israel – or the worship life as seen in the temple – it was not bearing fruit; it is not drawing people closer to God. Instead, the worship life of the temple was driven by human beings try to manage the things of God.
Jesus clearing the temple (vs. 15-19) parallels Jesus saying to the tree, “No one will eat fruit from you.” It was not some minor pruning that was needed in the tree – it was not some minor tweaks that were needed in the temple. Rather wholesale change was required – a transformation in which the management team was replaced by leaders willing to be humble before God if the temple was again to bear fruit.
When we read the text that way, we immediately start to list the people we think are who are preventing the church – be that our local congregation or the denomination or the church in general – from bearing fruit. The harder work is to ask ourselves, “In what ways am I part of the problem? How do my actions and attitudes hamper the church from bearing fruit? What needs to change in me?”
Lord God, we recognize that we have not always borne fruit for your kingdom. We confess that we have sometimes hampered your church from bearing fruit. Do not reject us we pray, come to us anew to remake us that we might bear fruit for your kingdom, bringing honour and glory to your name alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 9 – Mark 11:15-19 – Monday of Holy Week
15-17 Then they came into Jerusalem and Jesus went into the Temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of the dove-sellers, and he would not allow people to carry their water-pots through the Temple. And he taught them and said, “Doesn’t the scripture say, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?’. But you have turned it into a ‘den of thieves!’”
18-19 The chief priests and scribes heard him say this and tried to find a way of getting rid of him. But they were in fact afraid of him, for his teaching had captured the imagination of the people. And every evening he left the city.
Here Mark unpacks the main activity of the Monday of Holy Week – clearing the Temple. (We will come back to the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14) in tomorrow’s reading.)
Some background. Travellers from all over the Roman Empire came to offer sacrifices at the temple. Unable to bring sheep or doves with them on the long journey, the travellers needed to buy animals for their sacrifices – and so there were kiosks inside the temple area where sellers sold animals to travellers. The merchants paid rent to the temple for the right to sell inside the temple, and in return the priests had started to say that only animals bought at these kiosks were acceptable sacrifices. Additionally, travellers came with all manner of currency, and the money changers exchanged everything into temple currency, for a fee.
The temple had become a mercantile business, and one where the priests favoured the businesses that paid rent to the temple. It was not a place of prayer – the people of all nations were not made to feel welcome as they paid for temple approved sacrifices with money exchanged by the moneychangers.
The anger of the priests and the scribes at what Jesus did is understandable, Jesus has made a mess of the temple, he has disrupted the patterns of the temple, how dare he do such things?
When we have become used to a particular pattern of doing things, a particular approach, it is often hard to recognize the ways those patterns are hindering our worship of God or our practice of the Christian life. Sometimes it is only when we are confronted by disruption that we are able to see clearly what is taking place. When has Jesus disrupted your life? Is COVID disrupting our lives so that we can see God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit more clearly?
God of grace, we do not like our lives being disrupted. We like things the way they have always been. But we acknowledge that in the disruptions of our lives we have often discovered new depths of who you are and what you are calling us to be and to do. In the present disruptions, open our minds to recognize the new ways you are inviting us to live and to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 8 – Mark 11:1-11 – Palm Sunday
11 1-3 When they were approaching Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage and Bethany on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, he sent off two of his disciples with these instructions, “Go into the village just ahead of you and as soon as you enter it you will find a tethered colt on which no one has yet ridden. Untie it, and bring it here. If anybody asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’, just say, ‘The Lord needs it, and will send it back immediately.’”
4-7 So they went off and found the colt tethered by a doorway outside in the open street, and they untied it. Some of the bystanders did say, “What are you doing, untying this colt?”, but they made the reply Jesus told them to make, and the men raised no objection. So they brought the colt to Jesus, threw their coats on its back, and he took his seat upon it.
8-10 Many of the people spread out their coats in his path as he rode along, and others put down straw which they had cut from the fields. The whole crowd, both those who were in front and those who were behind Jesus, shouted, “God save!—’Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ God bless the coming kingdom of our father David! God save from on high!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple and looked round on all that was going on. And then, since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
We are only 2/3rds of the way through the book of Mark and we are already to the last week before the crucifixion. The last week takes up the final 1/3 of the book.
This passage stands in contrast to what follows. Here the theme is that the Messiah has come, and all bow to his rule in this moment of clarity as Jesus is recognized as the Lord, the Messiah.
The two disciples who collect the colt are simply told to say – “The Lord needs it, and will send it back immediately.” “The Lord” – the king, the awaited one, the Messiah – needs this donkey’s colt. Who would not lend their donkey (in our world, their car) to the Messiah – to the King – to the coming one? The Messiah lays claim to whatever he needs for the advancement of the kingdom. “The Lord needs it.” Yes, the Lord can have it – for he is King.
The colt “which no one has yet ridden”, does not object to Jesus riding it. Usually, an unbroken colt would try to get rid of the person on its back. But here creation recognizes who has come, the King of all creation.
And the crowd’s shout announces that this is the one promised, the one who is bringing in the kingdom. The one who is coming in God’s name. “Here is the Messiah”, the crowd declares to anyone who will listen.
This one, the king, the Messiah, is not always recognized – but in this moment he was – the hidden is revealed – in joy we can joy the crowds that declare that Jesus has come – the king has come.
Lord God, your Son, Jesus, is the Messiah, the long awaited one. May we welcome him into our lives, giving him whatever he needs for the advancement of the kingdom you are bringing into being. With joy we welcome him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 7 (Sunday) – Mark 10:46-52
46-47 Then they came to Jericho, and as he was leaving it accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting in his usual place by the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth he began to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
48 Many of the people told him sharply to keep quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!”
49 Jesus stood quite still and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying, “It’s all right now, get up, he’s calling you!”
50 At this he threw off his coat, jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked him. “Oh, Master, let me see again!”
52 “Go on your way then,” returned Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” And he recovered his sight at once and followed Jesus along the road.
Three things to note in this passage.
The crowd tries to silence Bartimaeus, but are unable to do so. Jesus hears Bartimaeus’ cry. When have people tried to silence cry for Jesus’ attention? When have people told us that Jesus would not be interested in us? And then more of a challenge – when have we silenced people who were trying to get Jesus’ attention? Who have we told, by our words or actions, that Jesus is not interested in them?
Second, the blind man’s name really was Bartimaeus. But this is not a typical Jewish name – Timaeus was the name Plato gave to one of the characters in his treatise on the nature of the world. In the dialogue Plato wrote, Timaeus suggests that God is outside of the world God made, similar to the idea of the great clockmaker who made the world and walked away. Jesus in bringing sight to Bartimaeus, metaphorically opens the eyes of all people to the fact that God is actively present in the world right now, God has not walked away.
Third, giving sight to the blind is a unique action of the Messiah. No blind people are given their sight in the Old Testament – this was understood to be a Messianic act. In giving sight to Bartimaeus Jesus is continuing to provide evidence that he is the Messiah. Even as he is on the way to the showdown in Jerusalem.
Lord God, we cry out for your Son’s attention, for we need him in our lives. We rejoice that you are not a distant God, but that you are present and active in the world. Even as we cry out for Jesus’ attention, we confess that we have told others that their voices will not be heard by Jesus. Forgive us for trying to silence others who have called to him for help. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 6 – Mark 10:35-45
35 Then Zebedee’s two sons James and John approached him, saying “Master, we want you to grant us a special request.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” answered Jesus.
37 “Give us permission to sit one on each side of you in the glory of your kingdom!”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I have to drink? Can you go through the baptism I have to bear?”
39-40 —“Yes, we can,” they replied. Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink the cup I am drinking, and you will undergo the baptism which I have to bear! But as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to give—such places belong to those for whom they are intended.”
41-45 When the other ten heard about this, they began to be highly indignant with James and John; so Jesus called them all to him, and said, “You know that the so-called rulers in the heathen world lord it over them, and their great men have absolute power. But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”
James and John want to make sure they get to have the best seats in the house in the coming kingdom. They understand that Jesus the king is going to rule, and they want to be sure they are recognized for having been with Jesus from the beginning. They have earned this, they believe.
I am staggered by how easily they say they can go through what Jesus will go through – drinking the cup that Jesus will drink, etc (vs.38-40). They seem so naïve. But then I realize how naïve I am about the cost of following when I talk to Christians from Africa and the Middle East.
And we are then into an argument about greatness – we have been here before – and so we may skip past Mark 10:45 too quickly – this gem. Jesus says that he has come to serve – and the disciples are to follow his example; and then Jesus adds – “to give his life to set many others free” – and we have Jesus' death as our Saviour.
Here in one verse, we have Jesus as Saviour and Jesus as Example. The two are completely intertwined – Jesus saves us that we might follow his example; we can only follow Jesus’ example if we accept him as our Saviour. Here then is what it means to be part of the kingdom – accepting the gift of salvation in order to live the life of being a Jesus’ follower. The two are one – they are not separate things – we can not have one without the other.
Lord God, we rejoice that your Son, Jesus Christ, has come to be our Saviour and our Example – teach us even as we rejoice in the gift of salvation that is ours, to live into the life of his kingdom. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 5 – Mark 10:32-34
32 They were now on their way up to Jerusalem and Jesus walked on ahead. The disciples were dismayed at this, and those who followed were afraid. Then once more he took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him.
33-34 “We are now going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “as you can see. And the Son of Man will be betrayed into the power of the chief priests and scribes. They are going to condemn him to death and hand him over to pagans who will jeer at him and spit at him and flog him and kill him. But after three days he will rise again.”
The invitation is to feel the emotion of this moment. (See Mark 9:30-32 for the last death prediction.)
Jesus is leading the way as the little band are on their way to Jerusalem. The disciples may not like what Jesus has had to say, but they have heard what he had to say. There is a showdown coming with the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law. Jesus is headed towards Jerusalem where the chief priests are – to Jerusalem where the elders (read Sanhedrin) meet. If Jesus stays away from Jerusalem, if he stays out in the rural areas maybe he will be ignored. But if Jesus is in Jerusalem he can’t be ignored. If Jesus goes to Jerusalem the showdown is inevitable.
Jesus is leading the way and the disciples, dragging their feet are following. The rest of the followers are afraid of what is going to happen. But Jesus is walking out in front – psychologically dragging his followers towards Jerusalem.
Jesus is out in front of us – leading us – and so often we follow dragging our feet, dreading what is going to happen. How often have we said, “Ask someone else”; “This road it too frightening, I don’t want to do this”? We become so overwhelmed with fear over what is coming that we cannot hear the words, “But after three days will rise again.” We see only the despair and cannot hear the promise of hope. Jesus promises no rose garden – but he does promise that life, real life, lies on the other side of taking up our cross and following him.
God who leads your people, we confess that often we do not like the road you choose to lead us on, and our anxiety rises. We ask you to send the Holy Spirit to calm our anxious souls. Teach us to follow you, resting in the promise “after three days” – the promise of your resurrection power making all things new. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 4 – Mark 10:23-31
23 Then Jesus looked round at them all, and said to his disciples, “How difficult it is for those who have great possessions to enter the kingdom of God!”
24-25 The disciples were staggered at these words, but Jesus continued, “Children, you don’t know how hard it can be to get into the kingdom of Heaven. Why, a camel could more easily squeeze through the eye of a needle than a rich man get into the kingdom of God.”
26 At this their astonishment knew no bounds, and they said to each other, “Then who can possibly be saved?”
27 Jesus looked straight at them and said, “Humanly speaking it is impossible, but not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
28 Then Peter burst out, “But look, we have left everything and followed you!”
29-31 “I promise you,” returned Jesus, “nobody leaves home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property for my sake and the Gospel’s without getting back a hundred times over, now in this present life, homes and brothers and sisters, mothers and children and land—though not without persecution—and in the next world eternal life. But many who are first now will then be last, and the last now will then be first.”
Two important pieces to see in this passage.
First, having stuff, having things, being comfortable financially – gets in the way of entering the Kingdom of God. Think back to Jesus words “unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:15). Those with financial resources think that they can acquire – by money and hard work – the things they want – including the kingdom of God. Jesus says “No, the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven is with nothing, having accepted entrance to the kingdom as a gift.” We enter the kingdom of God (kingdom of heaven) with nothing of our own, it is all gift. Gifts comes with one requirement – gratitude to the giver. Gratitude is hard for those who think they have made it on their own, for those who think they are self-sufficient. As vs. 27 says – we do not save ourselves, we do not get to the kingdom by ourselves – that is God’s work and God’s work alone.
Second, to give up everything for the kingdom (as the rich man was asked to do and as Jesus implies in saying “take up you cross”) is to find ourselves with family and resources we could never imagine possible. Not ours – but gifts from God. The seeming losses become gains in the kingdom; that things given up to enter the kingdom find not merely replacement but are increased in the kingdom. The way things are measured in this world, are not the way things will be measured in the kingdom of God.
Lord God, we rejoice that Jesus called his disciples “children” for that reminds us that by your grace we can be children of your kingdom. We come with nothing in our hands, we come with nothing but a desire to accept whatever you wish to give us from your gracious and loving hand. We rejoice that the gifts of the kingdom are so much greater than anything this world might offer. Thank you for your gracious gift. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 3 – Mark 10:17-22
17 As he began to take the road again (after welcoming the children), a man came running up and fell at his feet, and asked him, “Good Master, what must I do to be sure of eternal life?”
18-19 “I wonder why you call me good,” returned Jesus. “No one is good—only God. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder’, ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honour your father and your mother’.”
20 “Master,” he replied, “I have kept carefully all these since I was quite young.”
21 Jesus looked steadily at him, and his heart warmed towards him. Then he said, “There is one thing you still want. Go and sell everything you have, give the money away to the poor—you will have riches in Heaven. And then come back and follow me.”
22 At these words his face fell and he went away in deep distress, for he was very rich.
This man has lived a good life, obeying the commandments. And by the expectations of the day, the proof that he had lived this good life, a life pleasing to God, was to be seen in the financial blessings he was enjoying. The reward for living a good moral life, was to enjoy financial blessing. The ancient world is not the only group of people to believe that. That view remains present in our world. “God blesses with financial blessings those who obey him”, is a widely expressed understanding.
This makes Jesus’ words that much more shocking – “sell everything you have, give the money away to the poor and follow me.” But we say, “The man has been following you, he has lived a good moral life how can you ask him to do this.”
And we are back with Jesus’ words about taking up the cross and following Jesus (Mark 8:34-37). This man was holding on to his wealth so tightly that he could not give it up in order to follow Jesus. This man’s story challenges many of us who live in North America, because many of us are among the well-off (in comparison to the world population). What if Jesus asked for our bank accounts, would we be willing to give them away to follow him? This man’s story invites us to deep reflection about our own commitment to following Jesus. What is it that we are holding on to so tightly that we would not be able to give that away in order to follow Jesus? What is so important in our lives that it is more important than Jesus?
Lord God, when we read the story of your Son Jesus asked this man to give up his most valued possession in order to follow Jesus – and we feel worry growing in us. What might Jesus as us to give up? Help us, Lord, to follow Jesus no matter what the cost. Teach us to cling to your Son alone, above all else. In his name we pray. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 2 – Mark 10:13-16
13-16 Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, “You must let little children come to me—never stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you that the person who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them.
Remember Mark 9:42 about disturbing the faith of the humblest – certainly telling parents that children are not welcome to meet Jesus is to “disturb” the faith of the humblest. No wonder Jesus is upset. This is the only time in the gospel that Jesus is “indignant” – a very strong word. Jesus declares that children are always welcome.
Jesus puts it bluntly, “Unless you receive the kingdom of God like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom.” What is Jesus saying? Is he saying that we are to be innocent like children? Anyone who has been with children for any period of time knows they are not innocent; they are wilful just like adults are. What children do well is openly accept gifts – they don’t think about whether they have earned the gift – or if they will have to do something because they have been given the gift. Children joyfully receive the gifts they are given. Children also live with trusting simplicity – they have no other choice. To be like a child in the kingdom is to trust that God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is acting for our good.
Jesus invites us to be like children in the way we accept the kingdom of God, to joyfully enter in, to joyfully accept the gift given, and be thankful. To receive it as freely as it is given, trusting the giver to be seeking our blessings and good in the gift being offered.
Then Jesus blesses the children – and by extension blesses all those who accept the gift of the kingdom of God with joy. Jesus blesses those who humbly receive the gift offered.
Lord God, your Son, Jesus Christ, invites us to become like children as we joyfully accept the gift of the kingdom into our lives. Teach us to accept the gift with trusting simplicity and openness that we might be among those who are welcomed into your kingdom, by your love and grace alone. These things we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Journey through the gospel of Mark
Mar. 1 – Mark 10:1-12
10 1-2 Then he got up and left Galilee and went off to the borders of Judea and beyond the Jordan. Again great crowds assembled to meet him, and again, according to his custom, he taught them. Then some Pharisees arrived to ask him this test-question. “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 Jesus replied by asking them, “What has Moses commanded you to do?”
4 “Moses allows men to write a divorce-notice and then to dismiss her,” they said.
5-9 “Moses gave you that commandment,” returned Jesus, “because you know so little of the meaning of love. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’. So that in body they are no longer two people but one. That is why human beings must never separate what God has joined together.”
10 On reaching the house, his disciples questioned him again about this matter.
11-12 “Any man who divorces his wife and marries another woman,” he told them, “commits adultery against his wife. And if she herself divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”
In our present culture this is a challenging text. To unpack everything here would take more than 300 words, so I will leave a number of questions unaddressed.
First, we need to recognize that this passage is between two passages about children (Mark 9:36-37 and Mark 10:13-16). It seems to me that the Holy Spirit’s guiding Mark to put the material together in this way is saying that the well-being of children is to be a primary part of any conversation about divorce. Children come first.
Second, Jesus clearly indicates that divorce is a concession to the hardness of human hearts – JB Phillips puts it bluntly, divorce is allowed because human beings “know so little of the meaning of love.” Jesus is not mincing words here – divorce is a result of one or both parties being willing to enter into the bond of being one. To be one means that what harms my spouse, harms me. Just as I would not seek to harm myself, I would not seek to harm my spouse. As a culture we have so elevated marriage that we rarely talk about how hard marriage is and how demanding it is to enter into the one-body-ness of marriage. In Matthew 19:10, we are given the disciples reaction to Jesus’ words, “If such is the case, it is better not to marry.” Jesus’ teaching here about marriage invite serious thought about what it means to marry and the commitment to the other such a commitment involves.
Third, notice the difference between vs. 4 – where the Pharisees quote divorce as going one way only – husband divorcing wife; and vs. 12, where Jesus imagines that wives can divorce their husbands. There is an equality in Jesus’ understanding.
Jesus does not say “no” to divorce. Living Faith, a statement of faith by The Presbyterian Church in Canada says it well, “When a marriage is shattered beyond repair, it is sometimes better that it be dissolved than that the family continue to live in bitterness.” But the goal is to work towards marriages staying together, even though that is hard work.
God of mercy, we confess that being married is challenging – we acknowledge as well that being single is challenging. Give to those who are married, we pray, the grace and discipline they need to stay married. Give to those who are single, we pray, companionship and friendship. Bless we pray both those who are single and those who are married. In Jesus’ name. Amen.