Lent 2

February 28, 2021

First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”
  15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Psalm: Psalm 22:23-31

23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
  Stand in awe of the Lord, all you offspring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;    neither is the Lord‘s face hidden from them;
  but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
  I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
  Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever! 
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
  all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
  who rules over the nations.
29Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
  all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before   the Lord.
30Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
  whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
31They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
  saying to them, “The Lord has acted!”

Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25

13The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
  16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Gospel: Mark 8:31-38

31[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


A favorite childhood tale that originated in the 10th century in Europe and which has several versions is “Little Red Riding Hood.”  A young girl with a red cape dances through the woods to carry goodies to her grandmother who is sick in bed.  She is not aware that the wolf has arrived first and eaten the grandmother.  The girl is anticipating and expecting her grandmother.  To her surprise the grandmother looks strange for the wolf has put on the grandmother’s gown and is lying in bed.

“Oh, grandmother, what big your eyes you have!”  The wolf answers, “All the better to see you with, my dear.”….

“Oh, grandmother, what big your ears you have!”  The wolf answers, “All the better to hear you with, my dear.”….

“Oh, grandmother, what big your teeth you have!”  The wolf answers, “All the better to eat you with!”  He grabs her and eats her in one swallow.

The woodsman arrives and kills the wolf with his ax, cuts him open and out come grandmother and Red Riding Hood whole and happy.

         Today we are like the girl wanting to have tea and a good visit.  The wolf is Satan.  We become confused when we do not experience what we anticipated and expected.  The woodsman is Jesus who rescues us from death.  Let us pray.

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart honor you, my rock and redeemer.


Do you ever make a “to do” list?  Perhaps you don’t write it down but somewhere in the back of your mind, there is a general idea of your plan, your hopes, your expectations for the day, for the season, before any event.  We anticipate and that anticipation affects to a degree how we celebrate the outcome at the end of the day.  My friend went to a care-center to celebrate the 94th birthday of her friend last week. She went prepared with all the trappings for a birthday party including cupcakes.  Yup, covid crushed her anticipation as none of the trappings were allowed.  All her work and expense was for nothing.  She could not express her love as she had wanted and felt very frustrated and disappointed. 

         Jesus gave the disciples his “to-do” list of what to expect when they get to Jerusalem.  The problem is that it does not make sense then – or now.  Jesus’ words clash with the disciple’s anticipations – and expectations.  They were expecting a king and deliverer.  Jesus said,  “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  The disciples are expecting Jesus to chase the Romans away and they are expecting Jesus to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant from our first text and to make Israel great again.  They did not expect suffering, rejection and death.

         Abraham in the Old Testament reading today was 99 years old.  When he was 75 years old God came to him and promised to bless him and that he would have children like the stars in the sky.  Read Genesis 12 for the prelude to today’s reading.  Now 24 years later, Abraham has to be reminded of God’s promise.  I doubt Abraham has forgotten that first God encounter and the promise for we see him trying to hasten the promise with Hagar, resulting in Ismael.  We see Abraham telling the people of Egypt that Sarah is his sister and God protecting her as the designated carrier of the promised child.  He heard the promise and we hear the promises but we don’t understand the “to-do” list to get to the promised blessing.  As my mother always said, “There is often a slip between the cup and the lip.”   At age of 99 God again reminded Abraham of the covenant to bless him and that Abraham would be a blessing.  God’s plan is blessing.  Remember.

         The disciples too hear Jesus’ words about the future suffering and death on the cross but the promise of blessing and resurrection is only remembered afterwards.  They too do not understand.  Suffering, rejection, and death on our “to-do” list come before the resurrection. We too forget the “to-do” that precedes blessing and we are often surprised by trials. We think faith is about happy-ever-after and we confuse God with Santa Clause.  Lent helps us remember.

         I love the song, “This World is Not My Home, I’m just a passing through.  My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”  This world is not our home and so it should not be a surprise that we feel dissonance and suffer.  James admonishes the early Christians scattered around the known world to “count it all joy when ever you experience trials.”  Suffering develops perseverance and perseverance leads to maturity.  It is fine for a baby to be a baby but when an adult acts like a baby, we look for a doctor.  Life implies growth and learning means mistakes, bruised knees and scars.  God’s goal is growth not pleasure.  Remember.

         Suffering also grows in us compassion and empathy so that we can encourage others who are going through trials.  As a committed sociologist who believes that we are creatures of community and our God is triune, a sociological concept, I believe that when you hurt, I hurt, and we are drawn together to help each other. Hospitals, schools, social services are examples.  Suffering builds community.  Remember.

         Suffering also drives us to God to seek wisdom, James continues.  It is in times of need that we remember we are dust and that we need the wisdom and help of God.  It is in the “dark nights of the soul” that we often grow.  We grow in our ability to persevere, our empathy for others in pain, and in our thirst for a deeper walk with God – we grow in prayer.

         Hmmmm, it is a little hard to give a loud “amen” to suffering.  Let’s skip that part of our “to-do” list and go to the next task.  Ooops, it is rejection.  This world is not my home and so not only will I feel tension and suffer but often there will be conflict of values and I will feel rejection.  The trip to the cross was the result of the religious authorities rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.  The crowds that hail Jesus as the Messiah on Palm Sunday will be yelling, “Crucify him,” by Friday.  The news interviews last night, pondering the future gave examples of how “popular” programs were hailed during campaign speeches but don’t bring the results often resulted in the popularity polls dropping very quickly. We are shocked when Olympic trainers abuse children who do not have the power or voice to reject their actions.  It’s wrong.  It’s sin! The saying is, “You can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.”

         Rejection is a values clarification experience.  What do we believe strong enough that we are willing to risk rejection?  Isaiah says that “all we like sheep have gone astray.”  The sheep I have seen follow the leader, head down and will walk right in front of a bus.  They are considered a bit dumb.  Not following the leader, not following the values of this world, not following the crowd will result in rejection.  It is as we wrestle with this tendency of ours to follow the crowd that we define ourselves and discover what we truly value and believe.

         Thus rejection often involves a “public stance.”  It implies that not only am I not believing as another believes but I am also not engaging with them or they with me.  Have you noticed how often when someone gives a “testimony” it involves a values clarification experience whose outcome is rejection but transforms the person?  I made a decision that going out drinking with my fellow teachers as a young adult was not getting me where I wanted to go and I came to a point of rejecting, not joining Friday nights at the bar.  I’m sure as a young adult some of that was realizing I was not meeting young men and often the conversation was a rehash of the grumps of the week – and financially draining.  But more importantly, I was not going where I wanted to go.  I was not having the sort of life I saw promised in Scripture.  Rejection is taking a stand.

         Oh my, suffering is not fun to think about and rejection takes more courage than I think I have.  Let’s keep moving.  Jesus says we must undergo suffering, rejection and death.  What!  Truly this world is not my home and I am just passing through.  We in the United States lead a pretty sheltered life, insulated in our wealth and materialism.  Death is something we think we have within our power to avoid whether that be with a vaccine, or going to the right doctor, eating the right diet, exercising, or living in the right part of town.  Death is something for tomorrow that we don’t want to talk about.  Lent is uncomfortable because we face the darker side of ourselves, of others, and of life.  We don’t want to die and we certainly don’t want our loved ones to die.  Death is for those older than us and usually for some other day.

         We see death as the punishment for sin.  “Whoever eats of this fruit of the tree in the center of the garden will die.”   Yet – we note that the good and the bad die, the young and the old, the rich and the poor.  Death and life seem to go together, not as reward and punishment but more like the half full, half empty glass.  Are we focusing on the pains of aging or on the blessings?  But our knee-jerk response to Jesus’ “to-do” list is that death is not so welcome.  We will all die and it is not “if” but “when.”  That is a serious forecast.

         Suffering, rejection and death await us.  All of these we know.  Jesus does not stop there, though.  BUT…  But what?  But on the third day Jesus will rise – and we will rise too.  That is unimaginable and often forgotten.  It feels like pie in the sky and we are accused of skipping the meat to get to the dessert.  The disciples heard but did not understand.  We hear and try to trust and believe.  We know we are dust and the future is hard to imagine. The to-do list ends with resurrection, not death.  Remember!

         Jesus continues, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  I read “take up your cross” as an invitation to embrace life.  Followers of Jesus are free to embrace life.  We know that suffering has purpose to grow us and develop us and draw us to others we can help.  Suffering draws us closer to our God.  We do not need to fear suffering for Jesus himself has suffered.  He knows our weakness and travels with us.  As followers of Jesus we can step into rejection.  As we learn to stand for something, we are less likely to fall for everything.  As we go public about our beliefs and values, hospitals are created, educational systems are developed, orphanages are built and the needy of the world are cared for.  We do not need to be afraid of being people of principle.  Unlike the disciples, we know that death was indeed followed by resurrection. We know that death does not have the last say.  We know that dust does return to dust, not to be recycled but to arise in a resurrection body.  We do not need to avoid visiting granma because her eyes are too big, her nose too long, and her teeth too sharp.  We can embrace the journey because the woodsman is our friend!

         Jesus closes with a question,

  • 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”  What does it profit us to journey through Lent?   We are adjusting our anticipation and expectations and remembering.  Suffering, rejection and death do not mean God has abandon us.  We will rise.  As we remember, we will not be so easily confused by the wolf that is waiting to gobble us up.  We will rest in the reality that the woodsman is there to rescue us from death. And perhaps we can be more patient waiting for God to fulfill his promises to bless. 
  • “What can we give in return”, Christ asks.  I think of the song, What can I render to the Lord for all he’s done for me?  I will offer up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

As we travel the Lenten journey we remember that our lives are important.  God had a plan to bless nations through Abraham and Sarah.  God had a plan to bless the nations as the disciples follow God’s
“to-do” list of suffering, rejection and death.  God blesses the nations through us.  But…but may we remember today that on the third day Christ resurrected and THAT is the end of our journey also.  Remember.

Day 10 of Lent: The Truth Spoken in Love

February 27, 2021

It is now Thursday evening and the Passover meal in the Upper Room.  Mark skips the foot washing and goes straight to the meal where Jesus says openly, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.”  Does God’s foreknowledge, his understanding of history and of our nature, predetermine that we must sin?  That is a question theologians have debated for centuries.  And I would suspect that we ordinary people do too.  That cake just jumped into my mouth.  I couldn’t help myself.  My family is alcoholics and I love drink.  We present this sense of fatalism and in essence dismiss our responsibility.  But Walter Wangerin Jr suggests that this confrontation of Judas and later Peter, forewarning them of what is about to happen, is really a three-fold gift. 

         God’s understanding of our nature and our weaknesses is a gift of knowledge, acknowledges our free will and leaves the responsibility of our actions on us.  Judas now knows that Jesus knows what is going on “stealthily” and Jesus has named it – “betrayal,” sin.  Even as Judas is eating with Jesus and acting like a friend, Jesus is the true friend telling the truth.  When I trained to be a chaplain, my teacher said, “The best gift you can give the patient is to be a true mirror.”

         Jesus does not force Judas to betray him and gives him now the chance to reconsider his actions and turn.  Jesus acknowledges Judas’ free will.  Knowing is not doing.  Realizing how angry I am is not sin as anger is an honest response to offense or grief but it is when I pull the trigger and carry that anger to action that sin enters.  Judas now has choice and voice.

         Thirdly Judas now assumes full responsibility for his action.  Jesus has given him an out.  Judas could confess and repent, but he didn’t.  Even after the deed he could ask for forgiveness, but he didn’t.  No one forces us to eat too much, drink too much, or hurt our friend.  “The devil made me do” seldom is a sufficient or satisfactory excuse. 

         The Lenten journey is heavy as we realize that God knows, we have free will, and we are responsible for our sins.  Likewise we are faced with the truth that God still offers us forgiveness, we are not robots, and we are valued “friends” given responsibility.  As we go to church tomorrow we will hear the Abraham Covenant – the promise made to Abraham over a 25-year period that God’s plan is to bless him to be a blessing.  That is still God’s plan for Lent – to bless us with knowledge, choice and responsibility.  Thank you Lord that I am not a robot but your “friend.”

In honor of Black History month, I offer as my Saturday hymn the first recorded spiritual,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T8qwVjfvms, the famous song  “Were You There.”

Day 9 Unnamed Men

February 26, 2021

Day Nine of Lent

Mark 14: 12-16, it is the day before Passover, Thursday of Holy Week, and preparations for eating the lamb are underway in many houses.  But Jesus is a “wanted” person.  He is wanted by religious leaders to kill him.  He is wanted by some of the common people for healing.  His own group includes a traitor, Judas Iscariot who has joined with the religious hierarchy.  Tension is mounting.  Where will he celebrate the Passover? 

         Jesus sends two disciples into Jerusalem to look for a man, not a woman (and what is that about?) carrying water.  They are to follow him to a home where the owner will show them an upper room already prepared.  The owner has already anticipated the need or been alerted and is willing to welcome Jesus and the disciples into his home.  Like the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus’ head, this owner has no name either. His actions will define him too and this evening will be remembered.

         In the first 16 verses of chapter 14, two nameless people have shown love to Jesus, not come begging for a healing, an exorcism or a favor. Their actions, their generosity remind us who they are.  I am challenged by these nameless people to ponder my actions and their motives. In Kenya I was never called by my name as that was socially inappropriate.  A name has power.  At the dispensary when asking a patient her name, she would turn to her neighbor and ask her to tell us!  These two people are nameless also.  I doubt history will remember my name but possibly my grandchildren will?   Returning to the States, the bank teller would address me by a shortened version of my name and yet I did not know him while Kenyan friends just addressed me as “mother of ….”  It is easy to be a friend when there is no cost but another thing to be a friend during hard times.  “Actions speak louder than words.” 

         Perhaps today we might reflect on how our actions define us.  Like the servant, are we willing to look silly carrying a jug of water like a woman?  Like the owner of the upper room, are we willing to share our wealth?  Let us take a few minutes and think whom we might bless.  Perhaps there is someone you could send a postcard of appreciation to or a deed of kindness that is unexpected.  Someone in your world needs the affirmation of love acted out.

         The two disciples do as Jesus instructed.  They went to town and there was a man carrying water.  The man did lead them to a home with an upstairs room.  The owner was not surprised at their request as the room was furnished and ready.  All the disciples had to do was get things ready for Jesus.  All we need to do is get things ready for Jesus to do his thing!  Blessings as you help today, even if I don’t know your name.  God does! 

Lent Day 8

February 25, 2021

We are still pondering Mark 14 and how the author sets the scene and the plot to the Passion story.  It’s two days before Passover, a big holiday.  The religious leaders are looking for a stealthy way to arrest Jesus because they don’t want a demonstration.  Jesus is staying with friends just outside Jerusalem where an unnamed woman shows deep devotion, anointing his head with perfume.  Up to now we have seen squabbles within the disciples over who should be first, just what the plan is, but nothing divisive.  Mark 14:10-11 tells us that in the wake of the shock of Jesus defending this woman and the extravagant waste of money, Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, the keeper of the money, goes to the chief priests to betray Jesus.

No more scene setting, it is time for the cameras to roll and events are put in motion.

         Why would someone who has seen so much of what Jesus has done and who knows whom Jesus is, set his heart to betray his friend?  History has debated the motive for the act.  We too look for cause when something goes wrong, where does the blame lie?  Shall we form a commission to investigate?  Who shall we call for witnesses on either side?  We are watching this process unfold in our government as we deal with the Capitol demonstration turn riot turn insurrection.  Why did this go wrong and what were the intentions?  How could Judas abuse his power and trust?  Different theories have been offered – was Judas offended by Jesus’ generosity because as the keeper of the money, he “borrowed?”  More recently we wonder if Judas was just trying to force/encourage Jesus to make his move to power.  Mark gives no comment or insight.  The motive is not important.  Often we do not know what went wrong.  Having done everything right, a diagnosis of cancer comes.  Having followed the rules, our car slides on the ice and great damage results.  Having masked and distanced, some still gets the virus.

         Ultimately “who dun it” does not reverse the event, no amount of money replaces the life, and revenge while sweet for the moment does not erase the memory.  During Lent we remember we are dust and bad things happen, bad things happen to good people.  The “justification”, finding the cause, of the “evil” may not be as important as the spiritual justification that comes from forgiveness given as we honestly confess the evil we have done.  Judas Iscariot and Peter both betray Jesus as we shall see and both are terribly repentant but one commits suicide from guilt and the other finds forgiveness.

         We talk about those “skeletons in our closet,” those actions that we hide and just cannot come to peace with.  Perhaps understanding why we did those things of the past is not as important as being forgiven.  Judas reminds us today that we are dust and we do sin for whatever reason.  As hard as we try, we fall short.  We’re not perfect.  Take a few minutes to examine your heart today to see if there is not a need to confess, a broken relationship that needs healing, or a wrong that could be righted.  Sometimes just journaling if the person has passed, helps.  Guilt from the past need not taint the events of today.  We will see as the Lent story continues to unfold that forgiveness and love are available.  There is hope as we are honest.  Blessings.

Day Seven of Lent

February 24, 2021

On the other hand! We live in a country polarized, politically, economically, and socially.  Demonstrations and presentation of opposing viewpoints is common.  Mark sets his story of the Passion in a culture of polarization also.  The religious are preparing for Passover.  The Romans are trying to control the masses.  The religious authorities are looking for a way to arrest Jesus “by stealth and kill him” because they are afraid of a demonstration. Some, on the other hand, are welcoming him into their home and showing their love and devotion.

           As the tension mounts, Jesus is spending his evenings outside Jerusalem, in Bethany, in the home of Simon the Leper this evening.  It is assumed Simon is someone Jesus healed and has returned to his home and invited Jesus in.  The authorities seem to be afraid and are trying to control the future while others like Simon are welcoming Jesus.  Into this setting walks an unknown woman, not a man, of unknown status, and certainly without authority.  In her hand she carries an alabaster jar of perfume that she uses to anoint Jesus’ head.  Her love, her heart obedience, her lack of fear of social opinion is remembered and recorded,

         As we remember we are dust and are going to dust, this nameless, generous woman, willing to show her love and act on her devotion is noticed and reminds us we are important.  Some of the men object to the extravagant waste but Jesus defends her.  Her act is important to him and she is remembered for it.  So what do we carry in our hands today?  It may not be a jar of perfume.  Perhaps we despair that anyone knows our name or notices our presence and certainly our thoughts and our life will not be broadcast on the evening news.  It is easy to see ourselves as grasshoppers in our own eyes.  But Jesus calls this woman’s act of devotion “beautiful”.  “She did what she could (14:8).”  We may not have an expensive jar of perfume, it may only be a mop to clean up a mess or arms to enfold a crying child but when we do what we can for love of Jesus, he notices.  Let us take heart today that even though we might be unknown and powerless in the social narrative of our world, our acts of love and devotion to serve Jesus are noticed and remembered.  What do you carry in your hand today?  Blessings as you use it.

Day Six of Lent

February 23, 2021

“Two days before Passover…” in Mark 14:1 continues to speak to us today.  Not only are dates important as we talked about yesterday but location and events are important.  These few words tell us that Jesus is in Jerusalem, the capital of Jewish authority, the place where the Temple was built, and the historical home of King David.  Location is important.  Riots at the Capital are treated differently than riots in the streets of our cities.  One is seen as insurrection and treason and the other is seen as a demonstration that got out of control.  Location is important and Jesus has left his home area in the north of Israel and traveled south to Jerusalem.  He is at headquarters.

         The location has a purpose, Passover.  During Passover the Jewish people remembered their captivity in Egypt at the time of Moses and how they were finally freed when the spirit of death passed over, killing the first born unless the blood of a lamb was on the doorposts.  During Lent we too reflect on our journey to freedom from sin and all the evils we advocate against.  Yesterday we heard the news that over half a million Americans alone have died from the virus.  Death walks our streets too.  Lent calls us to remember we are dust and to whom we belong.

         So were does that leave us today?  It is “before” “Passover” in our calendar year also.  What authorities speak into our lives and to what extent do they control us?  Perhaps we have compromised to save face and need to freshen up our spiritual disciplines.  What locations are special to you?  It is most likely not Jerusalem but I ponder if there is a location where you meet with Jesus to discuss in prayer his authority in your life?  I like “my chair” but others like a walk in the woods and being out in nature or a drive to that special spot where you meet with the Lord.  Lent is a time when we remember that we are dust and death will pass over us.  Tomorrow we will continue walking this journey with Jesus, reflecting on its implications for our lives.  For now, though, let’s take a few minutes to meditate on the authorities in our lives and where we go to meet with them, to wrestle over the power of their voice in our life. Blessings.

Day Five: Dates

February 22, 2021

Dates help us remember!  Do you remember where you were when JFK was shot?  OK, that dated me.  My physical therapist asked me, “Who’s he?  But my generation has many memories related to that question.  For others it is the turning of the millennium or 9-11.  We celebrate anniversaries on or near that special day.  Mark 14:1 suddenly shifts the account of the life of Jesus from non-specific times references like, “in the beginning (1:1)” or “as soon as (1:29)” to specific time, “It was now two days before the Passover (14:1).”  Mark has called us to attention and given us a context for the beginning of our Lenten journey this year, our journey to the cross with Jesus.

         “Before” Passover tells me preparations are being made for a holiday and life is busy.  Two days before Christmas or two days before the wedding bring strong memories of activity, of expectations, and of relationships.  As we start our Lenten journey, let us pause a moment and remember which spiritual discipline, activity, we want to do today – read Psalm 51, journal, make a phone call to a loved one or something else we decided.  There’s still time. 

         Next what are our expectations for Holy Week before Easter?  This year it will be different because of Covid but there are other ways we can make it special in our homes and for our families.  The chief priests and teachers of the law were looking for a way to eliminate Jesus quietly, without a mess.  Are there ways we can elevate Jesus quietly and respectfully?

         Relationships are associated with any memory, even if that significant other has passed.  Are there people we want to be sure not to forget this Lent?

         “Two days before” an event we are preparing our hearts, pondering our expectations, and valuing our relationships.  We remember we are dust, going to dust and two days before, like now, we ponder how we want to make that journey.  Blessings as you prepare and remember.

The First Sunday of Lent

February 20, 2021

 First Reading: Genesis 9:8-17

8God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Psalm: Psalm 25:1-10

1To you, O Lord,
  I lift up my soul.
2My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be put to shame,
  nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3Let none who look to you be put to shame;
  rather let those be put to shame who are treacherous.
4Show me your ways, O Lord,
  and teach me your paths. 
5Lead me in your truth and teach me,
  for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day   long.
6Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
  for they are from everlasting.
7Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
  remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
8You are gracious and upright, O Lord;
  therefore you teach sinners in your way. 
9You lead the lowly in justice
  and teach the lowly your way.
10All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast love and faithfulness
  to those who keep your covenant and your testimonies.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22

18Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


How many remember the Disney classic, Lion King?  When our family spent a year in the States in 1994-5 my children played the video daily and could recite it from memory.

         The Lion King Mufasa rules his kingdom from his den at Pride Rock.  He is the “good ruler.”  His brother, Scar, is jealous and bitter.  Scar, “the bad ruler,” together with the hyenas orchestrates the death of Mufasa.  Mufasa’s son Simba, which means lion in Swahili and the heir apparent, sees the death of his father and flees. The theme of what a good ruler is like unfolds.  Simba comes of age, “time is fulfilled,” and he must decide if he is going to return to claim his rightful throne.  “Looks like a real fixer-upper” says Simba’s friend.  Jesus, the true heir, appears to have been deposed by Satan, the prince of the world.  During Lent we walk with Jesus to reclaim our world, “a real fixer-upper”.

Let us pray:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, the true king.


Wednesday was Ash Wednesday.  We were marked with the cross and told to “Remember, from dust we come and to dust you shall return.”  One of my favorite lines from Disney’s Lion King was the turning point near the end when Simba, Mufasa’s son, bounds across the plains to the river, sees his reflection, and hears the voice of his father in the clouds challenging him, ”Remember.  Remember who you are.”  We start the Lenten journey by remembering who we are.  Our Old Testament text returns us to the story of Noah and the flood.   The Gospel reading takes us back to the beginning of the gospel of Mark and Jesus’ baptism.  These are stories that we remember and that define us.  “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

What do we remember?

         As the pastor marked our foreheads, if we were able to go to a church, we were charged to remember our mortality.  We are creatures that will someday die.  In Genesis 3:19 God confronts Adam and reminds him that humans are mortal.  The Noah story of our Old Testament reading reminds us that God holds our mortal lives.   He has the power to destroy and he has the power to bless. How fragile life is.  James echoing the psalmist laments that our lives are like a wild flower, here today and gone tomorrow, or a mist passing through.  People who may have worn masks, may have social distanced, may have gotten the vaccine, suddenly met with death on the icy roads of Texas this week.  It was not their sin that killed them, nor is it our goodness that keeps us alive.  Remember we come from dust and go to dust.

         Jesus incarnated and joined us in baptism. As Christians we remember that when we were baptized, we were baptized into the death of Christ and became children of God. The cross is marked on our foreheads.  We have been bought with a price.  

         I find it interesting that we put today’s gospel of the baptism next to the Old Testament reading of the dove returning to Noah with an olive branch in its mouth, signaling safety.  The Holy Spirit descends like a dove at the Baptism indicating its presence and participation in the journey Jesus is embarking on.  We believe the Holy Spirit enters us at baptism and leads us and guides our lives.  We remember who we are, children of God formed from the dust of the earth with God’s spirit accompanying and guiding us.

         The mark of the cross reminds us that we are children of God under a covenant.  Death is not the end of our days.  This clump of clay, handful of dust, that is me shaped into a person – a person that is valued by the God of the universe for we are his creation.  We remember the giftedness and grace of life.  We are dust.  We are dust formed by God.  We are dust formed by God for a purpose and we are valued.  We bowed our head and asked to be marked.  We remembered.

How do we remember?

         I don’t know about you, but I forget.  It seems to be more often these days.  I love things that help me remember.  Mufasa has to challenge Simba to remember for Simba has forgotten.  The silly uncle in the Christmas classic, It Was a Wonderful Life, ties a string around his finger to remind him and yet he could not remember where he misplaced the bank money.  We make scrapbooks and hang pictures of favorite times and people.  We carve statues and Bible verses that are important.  The wedding rings are not just jewelry.  All these things remind us who we are.    In our passages today God gives us three things to help us remember who we are: the rainbow, baptism, and the voice.

         During the time of Noah, God was so grieved at the wickedness of people’s hearts that he sent a flood.  Noah, wife, three sons and their wives were spared along with representatives of all animal species.  Forty days and forty nights the rain poured down.  Noah and crew emerge from the Ark to face a new world, a new world with a rainbow. The rainbow was there before Noah stepped out of the Ark.  The rainbow was not the reward for living through the flood and caring for the animals. The rainbow is the reminder to God and to us of God’s covenant with us.  He will never destroy the world with water.  God is committed to working with us in our limitations and sinfulness because of his faithfulness.  Remember we are dust and the rainbow reminds us of his commitment to us. Perhaps the question is how committed we are to working with him?

         Fast forward to the time of Mark and we read of the baptism of Jesus.  Jesus was not baptized because he was sinful but he identified with the people preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom.  In our baptism we are marked with the cross and baptized into Christ’s baptism, a step towards the coming kingdom.  Often we are given a candle to remember that special day. Our baptism reminds us whose we are.  We are God’s children and God is committed to us.

         In Jesus’ baptism the heavens are torn apart so that the spiritual world and the physical world are united and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove even as the dove returned to Noah with an olive branch showing it was safe to engage with the new world.  Then the voice of God speaks into our world.  God does not sit off in the heavenlies judging our actions but speaks into our reality.  The Holy Spirit is not far away but in our hearts.  Perhaps you have never heard God’s voice or felt his spirit but we read the words he spoke in the Scriptures.  We hear his voice as Scripture is read on Sundays or as a friend shares a verse with us.  Music brings God’s words to us – through radio, through television, and through zoom.  God cannot be silenced and God’s spirit communicates with us in various ways.  In Lent let us open our ears to listen and remember whose we are.

         The rainbow during storms, our baptism when we are marked with the cross and given the Holy Spirit for the journey, and the voice of God speaking to us through his word, are all ways of helping us remember whose we are.

 Lastly, why do we remember?

         Noah could not predict and survive the flood without remembering his creator, God.  His vision for the Ark came from God.  “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and for sure we need wisdom beyond ourselves to lead life.   Because we are sinners, we deserve to die, but it is only our relationship with God, remembering we are but dust, that humbles us for the salvation offered on the cross.  Why remember?  We need help and we need humility to remember that.

         One of the great parts of Jesus’ baptism is the appearance of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and the voice from the cloud speaking.  The Trinity stood together and supported each other in the journey to the cross and through the crucifixion.  The baptism reminds us that we need the community of the body, the fellowship we find with others even though they are made of dust also.  We remember we are part of a body, part of a community with different roles and different gifts, following Jesus.

         Jesus opens his ministry with the call to repentance and belief.  As much as the other may offend us, we must never forget our need to repent, our weakness, and our proneness to hurt the other.  Remembering our own weakness opens the door for asking forgiveness and restoration.

         In Lion King, Mufasa calls to Simba – “Remember who you are.”  But he continues, “You are more than you have become.”  I do not believe that we of ourselves can become more than we are by sheer will power.  Certainly we can achieve great heights, perhaps even claim our own Pride Rock, but it is only as we remember whose we are as reflected in the journey to the cross.  We are dust.  We are marked.  We are valued.  God is committed to us.  We remember that when we see the rainbow.  We remember when we see the cross.  We remember when we hear the word of God.  Why?  Because we need to remember we are dust and need God’s wisdom.  We need our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  We need to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness so we can be forgiven.

         Our world is a real “fixer-up” but it is God’s world that he is committed to and willing to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk – all the way to the cross.  Remember!


February 20, 2021

Day 4 of the Lenten Journey

The movie Australia has one of those turn about endings.  As the Japanese bomb the port city, the hero thinks the heroine is killed tending communications, the heroine thinks the child is killed in the bombing of the island where mixed race children were taken and the hero and heroine have had a huge fight separating them.  Whew. Tension.  But of course the hero rescues the children from the island.  On the pier they are all reunited in extreme joy – the joy that comes when the obvious death all knew was true, is defeated.  The villain is killed and all live happy-ever-after.  It is a movie worth watching more than once.  We enter the Lenten journey with a story headed to a tragic ending.  We, the inheritors of history, know the ending, or believe the ending, but those disciples living the events of the Passion must have been devastated at the cross and overjoyed, if not confused, at the resurrection.  We travel with Jesus during lent

  • because facing death is how to best appreciate life,
  • because we know death is the wages of sin and we are sinners,
  • because Jesus will meet us in the Galilees of our life showing us how to live,
  • and because we cannot know real joy without knowing real despair.

         Happiness is momentary and fleeting.  The stimulus check came and we rejoiced and the next day the check came in the mail that used up the money.  My son will visit today but must leave this evening to be shipped out.  The vaccine shot was given but now new strains are on the horizon and I am still advised to wear my mask.  In the book of James we read at the beginning, chapter 1: 3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when ever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” 

         Having studied the need for the trip, Monday we start Mark 14.  Today, though, let us sit back and enjoy a Lenten hymn written by Fanny Crosby and first published in 1869.


February 19, 2021

Our Lenten journey will carry us through Mark 14 to 16.  Mark 14:1 sets the scene, kind of like the opening of Star Wars and the scroll rolling in the sky.  Our context is the week of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  We are in Jerusalem.  The chief priest and the teachers of the law are looking for a way to arrest and kill Jesus – quietly.  Interestingly, in verse 27 and 28 Jesus gives away the ending – if we’re listening.  He says, this is going to be real scary and horrible and you’re going to run away BUT, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  They missed it.  The angels at the tomb repeat the message in Mark 16:6-7, “go tell the disciples and Peter, that he is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him, as he told you.”  Today we read these words as historical narrative and perhaps do not grasp the implication for the disciples and for us.

         Jesus goes before us.  He does lead the cavalry charge to rescue us after we have messed up and gotten ourselves into trouble but he also goes before us.  He knows the events that are about to unfold in this story that has become so famous but he also knows the future that will unfold.  He holds time so can predict, can walk through the events with us, and knows the meeting point after the trauma.  Mind boggling and we only kind of understand.

         Interesting is also that Jesus chose Galilee to meet the disciples, not Jerusalem.  He does not take his victory lap in the places of power that sought his life but rather says he will meet the disciples and us on our home turf in the battles we are going to face and which he fought in the first part of Mark.  He will meet us in our power encounters with unclean spirits, when we are diminished by illness, when we are scrutinized, when we are young, and when we are old, walking through death as he did.

         As we face our challenges today, let us remember we are dust. Jesus goes before us, he is with us, and he knows death is not the end of the story.  Blessings as you trust him.