Week 7: April 6 – April 12, 2020
Monday, April 6, 2020
Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus was crucified between two criminals. There was something strangely fitting in this, for Jesus had spent most of his public ministry trying to reach people just such as these. As he once had told the Pharisees, The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He had said,” Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). Even as he hung on the cross, Jesus showed the kind of compassion and concern for lost people that he had demonstrated throughout his ministry.
Both thieves initially joined the crowd and the religious leaders in mocking Jesus as he hung between them. But one of them had a change of heart as he listened to Jesus’ words from the cross. This thief spoke to Jesus saying, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Was the man simply offering kind words to Jesus; or did he truly understand that Jesus, by his death, was ushering in his kingdom? In either case, at that moment Jesus promised the man that he would join Jesus in paradise.
The criminal knew virtually nothing about Jesus’ teachings. He had not been baptized. Yet Jesus offered him paradise, based solely on the man’s desire to be with Jesus in his eternal kingdom. What does this teach us about the grace of the Lord?
The word paradise originally signified a park or orchard. The Bible begins and ends in paradise. It begins with Eden. God’s orchard. And it ends in Revelation 22 with a description of the heavenly kingdom—a picture of paradise. It was paradise that Jesus offered the thief on the cross.
Some years ago, a parishioner named Ruth told me about her grandmother, who had slipped into a coma days before her death. As the woman’s life drew to a close, the family gathered around the bedside. Minutes before she died, she opened her eyes, sat up in bed and looked right at her granddaughter. She smiled and said, “Ruth, it’s absolutely beautiful.” Then she laid down and died. Ruth, seventy years after this event, told me that since hearing her grandmother’s words, she never again had feared death. I believe that Ruth’s grandmother saw paradise.
Lord, I want to be with you in your kingdom. Please ready my heart, that when this life is over, I might be with you in paradise. Amen.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Why Have You Forsaken Me?
Mark 15:33-34 and Luke 23:46a
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
To whom do you turn in the depths of soul-crushing despair? This year, we remember the 75th
anniversary of the liberation of Oswi^cim-Brzezinka, known to the world as Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Advancing Soviet forces uncovered the largest, though not the last, of the more than 2000
Konzentrations-Lagerm the perfidious Nazi system of forced labor and mass death. From the desolate railway sidings at Betzec to the final field of ashes behind Birkenau, millions of humans sought relief from oppression in their faith. They were exhausted, completely crushed, and groaned with anguished hearts and woeful sighs as their human strength failed, and they succumbed. (Psalm 38:8-10). Jesus on the Cross expressed the same pain of body and anguish of soul. He cried out “why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15: 33-34) questioning the very essence of the relationship he shared with his Father, our Lord. Yet it is important to note is that he did not call out to the Pharisees, Sadducees, guards, or Pontius Pilate – he called out to his Father. Even at the hour of greatest physical pain and strongest spiritual doubt and temptation to turn away, he forged a new relationship built on questioning and faith.
There is an essential truth here: a true faith is not just blind – but questions, probes, and seeks
explanations and deeper meanings across the totality of existence in this world and beyond. If one looks at the whole of Holy Week in Jerusalem, Jesus sought greater meaning, dared to probe beyond the “bumper stickers of faith,” and sought a reconciliation of the painful life of human existence on earth and the full glory of faith and redemption that lies beyond this temporal life. During the Holocaust and the clearing of the Warsaw Ghetto, a great debate raged amongst Jews even as the Nazis relentlessly closed the circle and deported their victims to Treblinka. Should they stand and fight against hopeless odds in defense of their faith, or should they accept their fate as a reinforcement of their faith? Decades after the end of the Shoah, there are still fierce debates about fate and faith during and after the Holocaust. Primo Levi and many others have asked, poignantly, if there is a God, where was He in Auschwitz?
Where do you find your source of faith even as your strength fails and your resilience fades? Psalm38 tells us of a faith-filled person “groaning with an anguished heart,” who “sighs.-.as strength fails.” Yet, we are also reminded that we must “entrust my spirit to your hand.” (Psalm 31:5) At the end of it all, suffering the disgrace and discomfiture of a common thief’s death, Jesus cried out and entrusted his faith to his Father. (Luke 23:46)
Apart from Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur may be the most well-recognized church in Paris. During the war and siege of 1870, two young men swore that if they survived, they would build a church to symbolize their faith during the terror, disease, and starvation that accompanied the siege. They kept their word, and left a symbol of faith even in the depths of despair for everyone to see. At Auschwitz, Father Maximilian Kolbe took the place of a stranger to be executed. Decades later, that stranger, his children, and grandchildren commemorated that sacrifice and Fr. Kolbe’s faith. In the chasm of pain, despair, and doubt, even a questioning cry of pain to Jesus is an act of faith (Matthew 4:1-11).
Lord, there are times when I have felt forsaken too. Help me to call upon you in my hour of need. It comforts me to know that you understand what it is like to feel abandoned by God. Help me, in my moments of despair, to place my life in your hands. Amen.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
After this, when Jesus knew that all was finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
In John 19:28-29, Jesus says “I am thirsty”. A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to His mouth. Jesus was to die to cover all man’s sins, sins that would be forgiven long before we were born. If we have faith in Christ Jesus and live like He wishes us to live, love our brothers in kindness, sharing food, clothes, and living “ritually clean”. God is our “living water”. We partake of His Body and Blood in Communion and we strive to deserve what He gave up for us by loving, clean daily lives in glory to God.
Lord, I remember how you suffered on the cross and how your pain has saved me from the death of sin. May I be forever filled with your living water. Amen.
Thursday, April 9, 2020
It Is Finished
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30a)
When Jesus’ life was in its final moments, John tells us that his final words were, “It is finished. “What did Jesus mean? Was Christ simply indicating he was taking his last breath, or as many theologians and scholars believe, he was referring to his completion of the task that God had sent him to accomplish. The sacrifice of himself to atone for mankind’s sins. We know from John 17:4 the night before his death, Jesus said to his father, “I have glorified you on earth by completing the work that you have given me to do.”
Christ, being fully man and fully God could have stopped the pain and suffering at any time, but that would not have accomplished what he was sent here to do. In John 19:30a it says, “when Jesus had received the wine…”. Many translations use the word “vinegar” rather than wine There was set a vessel full of vinegar, probably according to the custom at all executions of this nature; or, possibly for an abuse to Christ, instead of the cup of wine which they used to give to those that were ready to perish; with this they filled a sponge, and wetted a hyssop-stalk for they would not allow him a cup, and this they gave him to drink when he was thirsty; a drop of water would have cooled his tongue better than a draught of vinegar: yet this he submitted to for us.
The dying word he breathed out his soul (John 19:30): When he had received the vinegar, as much of it as he thought fit, he said, it is finished; and, with that, bowed his head, and died. Normally, the last act of the individual being crucified would be to raise their head to try to catch a breath and they did not drop their heads till they had breathed their last.By Christ bowing his head, shows his participation in, and submission to his Father’s will, and his obedience to death.
Lord help me to understand the depth of the pain and suffering you accepted in order to save me from my sins.
Friday, April 10, 2020
The Curtain… Torn in Two
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this was God’s Son!”
When Jesus Christ died on the cross. He did it for all. As he took His last breath, the curtain in the tabernacle torn from top to bottom. It was the place where once a year, the high priest would bring the blood sacrifice for the atonement to cover the sins of the Jewish people.
But now, after Jesus Christ died for me, I can go with boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him. I can talk to Him as I would my father. As you pray, your spirit connects with His spirit and you become one with the Lord. Let us therefore come boldly into the throne of grace. That we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Lord, I am sorry for the ways I fall short of God’s will. Forgive my sins—those committed in thought, word, and deed, as well as those committed by my failure to do what God requires. Help me to live my life in grateful response to the gift of your salvation. Amen.
Saturday, April 11
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.
This is one of the few stories that is told in all 4 Gospels which gives it a high level of importance in the story of the life of Jesus. In Matthew 27: 57-60, we’re told that Joseph is a rich man from Arimathea who asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. He wraps the body in a clean, linen cloth and lays it in his own, new, rock-hewn tomb and rolls a great stone across the tomb as he leaves. In Mark 15, verses 42-46, Joseph is identified as an honored member of the Jewish Supreme Court who has to gather his courage to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. We read that Pilate is shocked that Jesus has already died, this is not the usual timeline for a crucifixion. We read that Joseph takes the body of Jesus down from the cross, wraps it in a linen sheet and lays it in the tomb before rolling the great stone across the entrance. Luke tells us in Chapter 23, verses 50-54 that Joseph was a godly man who had been expecting the Messiah’s coming and had not agreed with the decisions and actions of the other Jewish leaders on the Supreme Court. He buried the body of Jesus before sundown on the Sabbath in compliance with Jewish custom. The story from John, above, adds the part of Nicodemus to the story.
Four versions of the same story. Four slightly different views of Joseph of Arimathea. Four sets of varying details. But when woven together we get a beautiful story of love and devotion to our Lord. After so much brutality and hate, we see a hint of the love for another that Jesus compelled us to practice. After so much betrayal and denial, we see one man’s respect for the holiness of Jesus when Joseph publicly asks to take responsibility for the body of Christ and gently removes the broken body from the cross. After so much violence, we see one man’s gentle ministrations to the body of our Lord, anointing him with a wise man’s gift of myrrh and wrapping him in clean white linen. After the horror of the cross, we see one man gently placing our Lord’s human body in a brand new tomb and protecting it with a great stone across the entrance. A story of love and respect on a day when it seemed humanity had gone into hiding. A story of one man’s love of Jesus put into action.
Dear Lord, Thank you for the example of Joseph of Arimathea and of his service to our precious Lord Jesus. Help us to show love and respect for others in all that we do. Help us to be worthy of your love. Amen.
We greatly appreciate each of the persons who took time to write a devotion.
Week 6: March 30 – April 4, 2020
Monday, March 30, 2020
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged (John 19:1)
Pilate was convinced of our Lord’s innocence, and he adopted several expedients to save His life. He did everything, indeed, except to act with absolute justice and discharge the case. If he had promptly and firmly refused to be a party to the unrighteous act to which the Jewish leaders were goading him. Before they could further inflame the popular sentiment, the whole matter would have come to an end. But he let the golden moment slip, and each succeeding hour made it more impossible to retrieve.
1800 years later, in the period following the American Revolution and before the War of 1812 another Governor was faced with a flogging he did not want to see carried out. Rhode Island Governor Wilbour, a Quaker was on his way by horseback from the state capital to his home in Sakonnet. The Governor, a handsome young man, was accompanied by a couple of officers, the Sheriff and a Constable. As they approached Tiverton Four Corners they were met by a huge rowdy crowd. A woman convicted of a misdemeanor had been sentenced by the Court to be flogged. She was tied to an upright granite post and her dress ripped to expose her bare back. A large number of angry and agitated women demanded the Governor do something. After explaining that his hands were tied as he had sworn an oath to uphold and carry out the laws of Rhode Island. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a copy of the “Laws of Rhode Island”. He read to the crowd the appropriate statute: “The Condemned Prisoner shall be tied to an upright post and flogged according to the sentence of the Court”. The mob was really getting ugly. The Governor called for silence and then offered a suggestive inquiry, “But ladies, if it should happen that there be no upright post, how could the law be carried out?” Where upon a hundred willing hands united in overthrowing, not just for the occasion, but for all time this offensive instrument. From that day onward no woman was publicly flogged in Rhode Island.
Lord help me to understand the depth of the pain and suffering you accepted in order to save me from my sins.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
The Humiliation of The King
Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.
There are many different dimensions to the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Among them is the idea that in Jesus’ suffering and death, God was fully identifying with us and was able to experience what we go through as human beings. God knows what it means to feel small, to be attacked mentally and emotionally, and to be physically abused.
Matthew, Mark, and John tell us of the humiliation Jesus suffered at the hands of the Roman soldiers. He was taken before the entire cohort-some three hundred to six hundred soldiers-who stripped him naked, mocked him, crowned him with thorns, struck him and spat upon him. He stood there naked, accepting the meanness, the hate, the cruelty. I envision his strength, staring at his tormentors with determination and perhaps even a glint of pity. He took their spittle, their blows, their taunts.
I am reminded of a girl in my third grade class at Prairie Elementary School. I do not know why she was picked on, but picked on she was. I remember walking out on the playground one day and seeing her sitting there, surrounded by kids who were teasing and taunting her. This continued over the course of a semester; and though I do not recall joining in, I know I never stood up for her. By the end of the semester, she was no longer in our school. It is not only Roman soldiers who know how to be cruel and inhumane.
For every child who was ever picked on, taunted, and humiliated, Jesus stood there that day. For every man and woman who was ever made to feel small by others, he stood there that day. For every victim of torture, everyone falsely condemned, everyone who has been abused by another, he stood there as if God were saying, “I subjected myself to the hate and meanness of others so that I could identify with you.”
Lord, my heart aches as I imagine you standing among the soldiers as they hurled insults and spat upon you. Thank you for enduring shame so that you might know the pain we human beings sometimes experience. Thank you for identifying with our hurt and pain. Forgive me for those times when I have been on the giving end of this hurt, when by my words and actions I made others feel small. Amen.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Simon Compelled To Carry His Cross
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.
When Jesus faltered in carrying the crossbeam to Golgotha the Roman soldiers commandeered Simon, an African Jew coming in to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, to carry it for him – in the opposite direction. How annoying! This was not part of Simon’s Passover plan, but he had no choice. In the grander scheme of things, what did it matter – just a few hours of lost time? It turns out plenty. He helped Our Lord and likely witnessed his crucifixion and became a believer. Mark identifies Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Throughout the Bible men are identified by who their father was rather than by who their sons were. This means that the readers at the church in Rome, to whom Mark most likely wrote his gospel, must have known Alexander and Rufus or he wouldn’t have mentioned their names. Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, specifies greetings to Rufus, who “is chosen in the Lord”. (Romans 16:13) He was a devout Christian, this son of Simon! How likely was that to happen if his father had not helped Jesus by carrying his cross?
I feel that the message for us from this passage is that chafing or balking at interruptions to our plans is not productive because we never know what God has in mind. He could be bringing amazing good out of what we view as annoying and disruptive, opportunity out of interruption. What an awesome God we serve!
Heavenly Father, we do not know what tomorrow or even the next hour will bring, but You do. Help us to submit our wills to Your Will and commit to serving Your Kingdom, interruptions and all. We ask in the precious Name of Jesus, Amen.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
I purposefully chose this passage to contemplate a devotional. The crucifixion has always deeply affected me on many levels. One part of me says that he didn’t have to do it. He could have taken a different path. One part of me is so thankful that he stayed true to his path to save me and all people. The method of crucifixion is so cruel and demeaning. In the context of the time, it was the custom, but for us today, it is a totally barbaric act. Not only is it physically painful, and dehumanizing, in the end death is caused by asphyxiation. Yet Jesus knew this fate awaited him resigned himself to do God’s will for us. How do I follow this example in my life? Can I? Would I? I don’t think that is what God wants me to do necessarily. I think I need to stay true to my faith as Jesus did on the cross. I need to surrender myself to God’s will as Jesus did on the cross. I need to forgive people as Jesus did on the cross.
Lord, I cannot fully comprehend the humiliation and suffering you endured on the cross. Nevertheless, help me to understand and be affected by this story. Help me to tremble at the thought of the One who loves me giving his life that I might live. Amen.
Friday, April 3, 2020
Father, Forgive Them
Then two bandits were crucified with Him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if he wants too; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
Yet, hanging from the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus not only taught us how to face those who taunt us; he demonstrated it as he prayed from the cross.
So often we say things without realizing our tone or the hurtfulness of our words. We tend to make quick assumptions, unfounded negative judgments and let our pride and ego (insecurities), get the better of us. Lord, help me to be more sensitive and understanding, when hurtful things are said. Father, soften my heart, so that I can love others the way you love me. Lord, guide me with your wisdom and strength during challenging times so that I may be worthy. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). May the suffering you endured on the cross be a constant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of your love. Thank you, Lord. Amen.
Saturday, April 4, 2020
Behold Your Mother
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.
I cannot imagine the heartache Mary felt as she stood at the foot of the cross, watching her first born child die the agonizing death by crucifixion. Suddenly, the words of the Christmas anthem, “Mary, Did You Know” echo through my mind. The lyrics ask what Mary knew when she first held her baby boy in her arms. Was the joy she felt then mixed with tears for what would happen 33 years later? I doubt it. She knew her son was the Son of God. However, I cannot fathom that she even began to suspect what his life would be really like.
Yet, now, she is standing at the foot of the cross, listening to her son tell his beloved disciple to care for her. In the transient world we live in, children and their parents no longer live in the same city, or even the same state, or country, Yet, Jesus still speaks for us to care for our parents and the parent figures, who have nurtured us throughout our years. We are asked to share our love and faith, and maybe even our resources. I pray that we will all respond as John did.
Lord, even in the midst of your suffering you were thinking not of yourself, but of your mother. I remember the terrible price that she paid, that you might offer us your salvation. As you cared for your mother, help me to care for my parents. Amen.
Thank you to the people from the PUMC Community who contributed to this week’s devotionals.
Week 5 – March 23 – March 28, 2020:
Monday, March 23, 2020
A Choice Between Two Saviors
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
In the winter of 2020, we are confronted daily by the evil that seems to be running rampart in our world. Mass shootings on the streets, in shopping centers and other public places, and even in our schools and churches occur regularly. It is far too easy to accept these happenings as the “new normal”. We turn on the television or surf the Internet, expecting to find bad news and we are not disappointed.
Yet, the presence of evil has always been with us. Look back at Eve and the serpent, what the world was like in the time of Noah, or even in Jesus’ day with the Roman occupation. Move forward to the Spanish Inquisition, or World War II with Hitler, and his attempt to exterminate the Jewish population. Focus on today, where several countries are still attempting to practice genocide, or where telephone scams are an everyday occurrence. It is too easy to find the presence of evil.
Yet, as Christians, we are not only called to a higher standard, we are called to love our enemies and even forgive them. Those directives from our Lord and Savior are as timely and challenging now, as they were when Jesus was hanging on the cross, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” As Jesus asked His Father to forgive, we are also called to forgive, move on, and love our neighbors, despite the fact that they may be cantankerous, or maybe, even evil. Jesus never said it would be easy, but He did promise to be always with us. Isn’t that assurance worth it?
Lord, help me to turn the other cheek and love my enemies. Today I pray for peace in our world. Guide our leaders to work for justice and peace. Help us to choose your path over that of Barabbas. Amen.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
The Conscious of a Spouse
While [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him. “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”
In reference to Genesis, marriage was ordained by God in creation. It was the union of one man, Adam, and one woman, Eve; having created Eve from Adam’s rib. God brings us together in our marriage. What God has joined together let no man tear apart.
We need to support and be there for each other, to have each other’s back and remain devoted to each other, to support each other to make righteous and just decisions that follow Christ’s teachings; even when it’s really difficult, scary and when we are unsure of how our spouse will respond. We need to pray and ask Jesus for courage and strength to approach our spouse when we think they might make an unjust or sinful decision that could hurt themselves or others. We also need to be open to the constructive criticism and approach of our spouse who may be able to help guide us in the right direction, and who might be inspired by God, as Claudia Procula was with Pontius Pilate. In this way we grow with each other and strengthen our marriage.
Lord, help me to have the courage of Esther and Procula by speaking up in the face of wrong. Give me the wisdom of Ahasuerus, who listened to his mate and changed his course of action as a result. Teach me courage and humility. Amen.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
The Examination by Herod
“He sent Jesus off to Herod Antipas, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and wanted to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him and sent him back to Pilate.”
Bullying is a nationwide and possibly worldwide problem; some say “I was bullied as a kid, I’m fine” and maybe that’s true. But, bullying today has changed from picking on someone or pushing a kid around or taking the good parts of a lunch to having “must be met” legal guidelines. Bullying is an act of aggression either physical or emotional against a person of lesser power (either real or perceived). It usually continues over time, but it can be a one-time incident. There is no reason for the aggression except to be mean or to show power over another.
Make no doubt about it, Herod Antipas was a bully 2,000 years ago and he would qualify as a bully in the courts of today.
- Herod Antipas was one of the four sons of King Herod (a name we all remember with negative connotations). Herod’s kingdom was divided between the 4 brothers; Herod Antipas had power over the people of Galilee.
- At a birthday party for Herod Antipas, a young girl performed a dance that pleased Herod Antipas so he said he would give the girl anything she wanted. Her mother urged her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a tray. Herod ordered that it be done. Herod Antipas had power over his servants, Herod had already jailed John the Baptist for telling him it was wrong to marry his brother’s ex-wife. So this meets the standard of over time as well as the power differential: Herod jails John the Baptist for an unjust reason, Herod kills John the Baptist for an unjust reason, John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus and now Herod is unjustly condemning another member of the same family.
- Herod Antipas belittles Jesus; he allows his soldiers to mock him. Emotional aggression against a person of lesser power for no other reason than to prove that he could do as he wanted whenever he wanted to whoever he wanted.
- Herod Antipas was a bully.
And though we see Jesus as the victim of bullying by Herod in this story, there are others responsible, too. Those who stand by and watch, who do nothing to stop it, who encourage the bully by refusing to stand up to him or her. Over time, refusing to stand up for what is right and just eats away at our humanity. When you have heard someone speak ill of Jesus or curse His Holy Name or refuse to love another as Jesus loves us, have you stood up to the bully? Have you stopped the bullying? Have you stood up for Jesus?
Gracious Lord, help me look deep into my heart and vow to do your will on earth as it is in heaven. Amen
Thursday, March 26, 2020
What is Truth
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me? Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
We have to give Pilate some credit. He tried to get out of crucifying Jesus. He interrogated him when Jesus was sent to him by the Sanhedrin. While questioning him, Jesus declared that “He came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate attempted to soften what Jesus said by philosophically asking, “What is Truth?” Then Pilate appeared to change tactics and says he has found no fault with this man and even tried to get him released instead of the notorious prisoner, Jesus Barabbas. I wonder if he ever thought the crowd would tie his hands by calling for Jesus Barabbas to be released.
Jesus had already clearly defined truth earlier when he had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) It is also obvious that despite Pilate’s good intentions, he is not a follower of Jesus and does not hear his voice. Although Pilate’s questions sounded confrontational, they aren’t. For he dropped it, like the hot potato it was. He turned to the crowd to make the decision that was really his to make. There is a saying: “Not to decided is to decide.” and Pilate was guilty of that. He could have flogged Jesus and released him. However, I suspect that he knew that would only lead to more insurrection and unrest. We will never know what moved Pilate to do what he did. However, we who follow Jesus, do know the rest of the story. We do not need to ask, as Pilate did, “What is truth?” We have already accepted that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life when we invited him into our lives.
Lord, I wish to live as a subject in our kingdom. Reign in my life. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May your words and your life be the defining truth of my life. Amen
Friday, March 27, 2020
The Shout of The Crowd
Pilate said to [the crowd], “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more. “Let him be crucified!” So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Pilate is portrayed in almost sympathetic terms in the Gospels as he tried to convince the crowd gathered outside the praetorium that Jesus was innocent. Likewise the crowd gathered there is portrayed as bloodthirsty and on the verge of riot. Unfortunately Gospel accounts of the trial have been at times used as the basis for justifying anti-Semitism and atrocities against the Jewish people. This particular passage was a source of debate surrounding Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. Some were concerned that the words “His blood be on us and on our children!” might bring about a resurgence of anti-Semitism.
In the community where my church is located, Jews were not permitted to own homes well into the 1960s. The city limits were actually redrawn to exclude a neighborhood where several Jewish families lived. How is it that the followers of Jesus could come to act in such unChristlike ways?
When we read the story of the crowd shouting “Crucify him,!” we are meant to remember several things: (1) Jesus and nearly everyone in the earliest church were Jews; (2) some of the crowd members were most likely merchants whose tables Jesus had overturned earlier in the week, and certainly not all Jews in Jerusalem were present; and (3) if we look, we can see ourselves in the crowd.
There is an evil that lurks within all of us, a capacity to hate and an ability to participate in hateful activities. I am reminded of the interviews Jean Hatzfield conducted for his book Machete Season. Hatzfield interviewed ten Hutu men who were in prison for crimes committed during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when Hutu countrymen killed as many as a million of their Tutsi neighbors over the course of just a hundred days. What is so disturbing about Hatzfield’s interviews with these killers is that they show just how easy it was for ordinary human beings to set aside their humanity and commit terrible acts against others.
When Luke tells us the Pilate petitioned the crowd three times in the hope of releasing Jesus, we are reminded of other significant events in the Gospels. Three times Jesus was tempted by the devil. Three times the disciples fell asleep in the garden. Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus. Three times the crowd, when told of the innocence of Jesus, cried out “Crucify him!” And three times Pilate could have said, “I refuse to crucify an innocent man.” But he did not.
What darkness do you see in your own soul? Bigotry? Hatred? Anger when your sin is exposed? Frustration when others do not see eye to eye with you? Can you see yourself in the crowd?
Lord, help us see the darkness that lurks in our souls. By your Spirit change us, that we might overcome our fear and hate with faith and love. Amen.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
Wishing To Satisfy The Crowd
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Who is the crowd? I am a people pleaser! That I definitely know about myself. So, if the crowd is my family, my friends, my coworkers, or my church family. I have a tendency to try to make everyone happy, even at my own expenses. This has happened my many times throughout my life. I don’t know if it comes from being a mother, a daughter, or just the person God made me to be. Or, does it come from the fact the I don’t like conflict or the ups and downs that conflict can create in my life and those of other people. God knows when I have been silent and when I should have spoken out, and because of this I shall add something new to my daily prayers.
I wake up every morning and thank GOD I am alive. I pray for him to help me get through this One Day. Whatever the day may bring. I don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, because today is all I have.
And this is the part that I decided that I am going to add:
And if conflict arises during this One Day GOD, I’ll remember that you’re always with me. And I will try to remember that it is not “the Crowd” I am supposed to satisfy or please, but YOU, my Lord and Savior. So please teach me boldness, courage, and love.
Thy will be done. Amen.
Lord, you know every time I have had a crisis of courage. You know when I have been silent and when I should have spoken out. Forgive me; and teach e boldness, courage, and love. Amen.
Thank you to the people from the PUMC Community who contributed to this week’s devotionals.
Week 4 – March 16 – March 22, 2020:
Monday, March 16, 2020
The high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took hi over and beat him. (Mark 14: 61b-65)
Mark 14: 61-65 tells us the existential anguish of the entire Sanhedrin. Jesus not only claimed to be the Messiah, but He explicitly referred to Psalm 110 and Daniel 7 with the vivid imagery of suffering, power, and redemption. The assembled high priests, unable to process the raw power of the words and the accompanying allusions despite their exquisite education, screamed blasphemy.
Their piety and practice were unable to prepare them for the existential challenge of Jesus’ teaching. Unable to recognize that the Messiah had indeed arrived, because he did not pass the “duck test,” and unwilling to consider that everything they knew might be wrong, they instead fell back on the must damning charge of all – blasphemy. Even today, it is a word rarely used, as most everyone associates it with the so-called priests of the Israelis. To accuse someone of blasphemy is to attempt a conviction based on belief and ideology. It is more than a capital crime, as blasphemy carries not only an earthly sentence, but an eternal one.
This results in the final explosive anger of the Sanhedrin. If Jesus is accused and convicted of blasphemy, and put to death for it, how can He possibly claim that He will come back from the dead to upend the Temple tables yet again? Some of the Pharisees evinced anguish, not because they did not believe Jesus – but because they did, and understood the ramifications. Jesus “broke” the rules long before he arrived in Jerusalem for the last week of His pre-crucifixion mission, but He seemed go out of His way during that week in order to elicit the final, strongest charges against Him. It was only in the final deployment of the gravest charge that the true redemptive power of Jesus could be revealed.
Consider the counter-factual. It is you who say I am, I might be, I will leave that to Pontius Pilate, one man’s messiah is another man’s crackpot, maybe it was John and you have the wrong prophet…. All of this would have been a letdown, a flaccid dénouement, that would not have served the purpose of drawing extra precautions, extra attention from Jew and Gentile, and thus more amazing grace and glory on Easter morn. Jesus had to elicit that reaction, and its fateful consequences, in order to finally, fully, reveal the true power of the eternal God.
Instead, Jesus finally reveals the full extent of His power and His presence even as he faces the final suffering at hands of his tormentors. The fire flashed in his eyes, and some (at least) must have marveled at His composure and His restraint. Others, though, in a final act of vanity, poked fun at him, and told Him to play the Prophet. Unable to reconcile the words and actions of Jesus with their extant beliefs, they resorted to the gravest possible charge left in the rule book – blasphemy.
Lest anyone think themselves better than our human predecessors, we would do well to recall that the Catholic Church forced Galileo to recant because he challenged their beliefs. Accusations of blasphemy when the math did not square with perceptions and beliefs caused Copernicus to stay north of the Alps. The bigger lesson for us all here is that we are no “better,” no less mortal, no less filled with bias and prejudice, than the finest minds of law – religious and otherwise – of Israel and the Roman Empire. Before we accuse someone of blasphemy, we had probably first better check ourselves, our beliefs, and our actions. (John 8:7)
Lord, it is easy for me, like the Sanhedrin members, to act in ways that seem religious while sin lurks in my heart. Forgive me and change me from the inside out. I trust you as the source of life and hail you as my King. Ready me for the day of your return. Amen
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Giving Peter Credit
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. (Luke 22-54-55)
There is no doubt in my mind that Peter had courage.
How difficult it must have been for him, and all of the disciples, to follow Jesus, especially when they didn’t fully understand where this was all heading. Of course, their real courage came later when they had to carry the word throughout the known world, without Jesus’s direct presence.
As I look back on my life, I can’t recall a time where my faith, belief system, or religious practices were at risk personally. Yes, there were folks who didn’t believe the way I did, but no one threatened me with serious consequences if I continued to believe and practice as I was doing.
I imagine that many of you who have served in the armed forces did face such challenges, and I thank you for your service, and admire how you came through those experiences.
Of course, there have been existential threats (I was born near the end of WWII, and lived through the Korean War, the cold war, Vietnam, and recently the Afghanistan/Iraq wars). These were enemies that would have buried our faith if they could. But I was not personally and directly threatened.
What I have faced in my life are what we might call political threats. We don’t talk politics at church (although I am not always sure that is a proper absence from our religious dialog), so I won’t dwell here on what I truly believe are fundamental threats to our democracy, and therefore to our right to say, think, and believe what we want. But we can see the same partisan divide in our greater Church. Pastor Mike tells us that we may face a split in the Church over the marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.
I feel and believe very strongly about these issues – be they be national politics or Church discipline. And I see them as challenges to God’s plan for us. The question is, as I sit here enjoying my 6 weeks in Ormond Beach, Florida, what am I doing about these things?
Sure, I talk to others who believe the same way I do, and we lament the bad things and celebrate the good ones. But what if I talked to, and listened to, others who are on the other side of the issues I feel strongly about. Perhaps they think that their way of looking at these issues is part of what God has planned for them. Maybe I would learn something that might influence my way forward, and maybe so would they.
Certainly, I can pray, and ask God to guide me as I cope with these issues. Maybe I could actually be active in some way (My daughter-in-law who lives in Baltimore is being active in the political campaigns in Pennsylvania, where she thinks it might make a difference).
Would it take courage for me to enter into such dialog, or to write letters to our government representatives, or to learn about and attempt to influence the LGTBQ+ issue in our church, or, heaven forbid, to join a peaceful demonstration? The answer is YES. Would it approach Peter’s courage? The answer is NO. But perhaps it is better than sitting on the sidelines.
Peter showed great courage by just not running away for good. How can we show courage to back causes that are based on our Christian beliefs? How can we do so in a manner to demonstrate some inkling of Christ’s love for us.
How can we not do so?
Lord, grant me courage to follow you even when it is frightening. Amen
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
A Failure of Nerve
“One of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking abut.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter . . . broke down and wept. (Mark 14:66-72
If you travel to Jerusalem today, you have a choice
in terms of tourism routes when you stand before the Zion Gate that enters Old
Jerusalem from the south side. Most take the more obvious route to the north,
towards the walled Old City, King David’s Tomb, the Upper Room, and the
bustling byways and alleys of the ancient city. Jesus, Peter, Pontius Pilate
and others all walked these same stony streets. But… you have another choice – face south,
and face our repeated failures as Christians. From the
parking lot and bus stop just below the Upper Room, you can gaze south across the Kidron Valley towards the place where it all began, Bethlehem. Today, as 2000 years ago, walls and guards divide the peoples and faiths of Jerusalem and its environs.
But… you don’t have to travel through the guarded gates of Bethlehem to face your own failures and the redemptive choices that Jesus offers you every moment of every day. The first words that Jesus spoke to Peter were “Follow me.” (Mark 1:17) Scripture tells us that the last words Jesus spoke to Peter were (wait for it) “Follow me.” (John 21:22). In between, Peter reveals to us, or more properly, Jesus reveals to each and every one of us through Peter, what it means to fail repeatedly, and get up and struggle forward again.
Jesus was human, yet not human – Peter
was all too human. Even with his spirited debate with the rest of the
Disciples, Peter frequently let his tongue and his heart get ahead of his head
and his judgement. Can you imagine if Peter had a Twitter account? Even during
the week of Jesus’ crucible, it was Peter who failed the most: he fell asleep
in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:37), and then denied knowing Jesus (Mark
14: 66-72). Yet, Peter was there, and we must remember that presence counts,
and absence walks. He did willingly – and at great personal risk – follow Jesus
Garden into the lion’s den of Jerusalem. Peter “The Rock” was known as such for his deep faith, not (necessarily) the size of his shoulders. Even as Peter failed, he recognized his failure, picked himself up, and endeavored to do better while trying (yet) again. Peter’s actions (Matthew 7:20) shout out to us “be not afraid to follow, fail, and try
again.” Better to fail a/following, than to fail to follow.
To return to contemporary Jerusalem,
today St. Peter in Gallicantu stands on the spot south of the Zion Gate where
tradition holds that Peter denied knowing Christ. Less than 100 yards away,
Oskar Schindler is buried in the Mount Zion Roman Franciscan Cemetery. Like
Peter, Schindler failed at a great many things and in a number of
personal actions, but he risked everything when it counted to try and make some
small difference in the face of terrible adversity. 1 do not believe it to be a
coincidence that these two men, separated by two millennia, are remembered in
such intimate physical proximity. As 1
stood looking out over the Kidron Valley, the church that commemorates St.
Peter’s crisis of conscience, and the gentle sloping cemetery where Schindler
lays, the sun was just peeking above the mountains east of Jerusalem. The cock
crowed three times. Coincidence, or call to service?
Lord, there have been moments when I, like Peter, have been torn between my desire for the acceptance of others and my desire to please you. Forgive me and help me boldly stand and be counted as one of your followers. Amen.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
If Judas Had Only waited
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Scripture says very little about Judas after his betrayal of Jesus. Mark, Luke, and John are silent on this; only Matthew addresses it, and he says only that Judas repented, offered to give the money back, and then committed suicide.
Andrew Lloyd Weber, in his rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” suggests a more interesting version: Jesus and Judas argue over the betrayal, with Jesus telling him to “just go do it”. After the betrayal, Judas tries to return the money and explain to the high priests why he did it. Then he sings to Jesus, who is not there at the moment (I paraphrase): “Christ, I know you can hear me……; I have been saddled with innocent blood;………You murdered me, you murdered me” Obviously in this version Judas slowly begins to understand the impact of what he has done. He realizes that the betrayal was necessary for the God’s plan for Jesus (ultimately crucifixion and the subsequent resurrection), and then he further realizes that he has been used. He then commits suicide and dies.
This scene ends with the choir mournfully singing “poor old Judas; so long Judas”
Many in the Church condemn Judas for the betrayal. The instructions that came with this devotional assignment seem to focus more on his failure to suffer through his grief and guilt and ask forgiveness. Surely Jesus would have forgiven Judas if Judas had asked.
I have always believed that Judas got the short end of the stick, the raw deal. He was used by God, but did not realize it until too late. It was not a situation in which he prayed, got guidance, and then did what he believed God wanted him to do. In this case a bad guy was needed, and Judas was it. I believe (and scripture suggests) that he really did repent. But he was so crushed by what he did that he could not find a way to forgive himself, much less ask for forgiveness from God or Christ.
We all say we believe that we want to do God’s will. We pray that his will be revealed to us. We also say we believe that we have a choice every time that God asks us to do something. I think the Judas story is one in which Jesus really needed something to be done; he needed it so badly that he had to use one of his disciples to do it. Given that scenario, how can we believe that Judas has not been forgiven?
I believe in the fundamental goodness of God, and his
absolute unfailing love for us. I believe that if we do our best, evaluate as
best we can what we have done, and ask for forgiveness for those times we fall
short, we are ok in the eyes of God.
I do not like the phrases in our songs and readings that call us sinners. I believe we are all seekers, trying to do our best, and who along the way sometimes sin. Sometimes we may sin a lot. But God’s love is relentless, and forgiveness is there for the asking.
Perhaps one lesson from this story for us is to not be too hard on ourselves. If God can forgive us, who are we to not forgive ourselves?
As for Judas, I believe he will be there in the good place we find ourselves after we pass from this place.
Lord, at times I, like Judas, have betrayed you by my actions. Forgive me, I pray. In those moments when life seems hopeless, may I remember the tragic end of Judas’ life and the story of your resurrection; and help me to trust in you. Amen.
Friday, March 20, 2020
Where Were the Dissenters?
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:63-64).
This passage explains how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the leader of the Jews, who were sympathetic toward Jesus, stood in silence as Jesus was condemned to die. Both men were at the trial of Jesus, and as the crowd agreed to sentence Jesus to death, neither men were documented as arguing the decision. Joseph and Nicodemus stood by in silence.
I decided to clear out the cobwebs of my memory and recall any moments in my life where I have been in such a situation. There was one moment while I was in a work meeting, and the director yelled at another staff member. The loud yelling was harsh, full of anger and frustration. Yet we all sat quietly, myself included, while our peer was criticized for her performance, as tears began to run from her eyes.
This is not as severe as a person being condemned to death, but there are parallels to each situation. My experience occurred decades ago while I was young and just starting out in my career. I asked myself several questions as I reflected on my past. Now that I am older, could I stand up to my director? Has life experience trained me to be more assertive? Is my faith in God enough to give me courage to speak out against harsh behavior toward another?
I feel comfortable assuming that many of us have had experiences where someone we know was attacked, and we did not react the way we thought we would. Perhaps it was a childhood bully, or an adult co-worker. Perhaps it was someone we trusted. I know for sure is that we live with the questions and concerns of our actions. This includes the members of the crowd. I wonder, did those members of the Jewish faith that decided Jesus’ fate, did they have feelings of regret as he cried out to his Father on the cross? Perhaps there was a fleeting notion that what they decided was harsh and unnecessary? Maybe my director, after lashing out at a subordinate, had immediate regret at her actions.
I believe there are reasons for both sides of a situation, the ones who commit the harm, and the ones who knowingly let it happen. Everyone has love and gives love to others. Looking towards the higher power of God through prayer can provide us support that is necessary to take that first step of speaking out against mistreatment, or reach out and support those who were victimized. The main question: Is your faith in God enough to give you courage to speak out against harsh behavior toward another? If not, seek support through communication with God.
Lord, forgive me for the times when I have gone along with the crowd rather than stand up for others or for what I believed was right. Give me the courage to speak up when injustice is being done. Amen.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
On trial before Pontius Pilate
They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him. “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again. “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed (Mark 15:1b-5)
Many things come to mind as I read this scripture. Was Jesus just accepting his fate? Did he reject the moniker of “King of the Jews”? Did he simply not recognize the authority of the chief priests and Pilate himself? I wonder what he was thinking, how he was feeling, what perhaps he wanted to say but did not. In the end, I think this scripture captures the humility of Jesus. He was not interested in the trappings of authority, only the authority of God. That is hard for us to understand in this day and age when multiple forms of authority influence everything we do. The challenge for us is to try to capture some of the humility of Jesus and commit ourselves to following his example as best we can.
Lord, though you were rejected by the Sanhedrin and crucified by Rome, I hail you as my King. Help me faithfully to follow you wherever you may lead. Amen
Thank you to the people from the PUMC Community who contributed to this week’s devotionals.
Week 3 – March 9 – March 15, 2020:
Monday, March 9, 2020
Father, Let This Cup Pass From Me
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me.”
“Take this cup from me. Yet, not what I will, but what you will.” These are the words Jesus prayed when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. For me, the important phrase is “Not my will, but thine.” Back in November, 2011 our church had a soup and prayer service the Monday after Thanksgiving. I was scheduled to have a needle biopsy on my left breast the following morning. That Monday evening, I prayed, “Let this cup pass me by, dear Lord. Let this tumor be benign.” I wasn’t able to say then, “Not my will, but thine.”
Three days later, I sat with the radiologist, who informed me that the tumor was malignant. I can remember feeling a sense of peace as we discussed the next steps. As I walked the corridors of Newport Hospital, I asked the question you would expect me to ask. Why me? Before these words could take root in my mind, another question wedged its way in. Why not me? These words were spoken by our previous district superintendent as he sat by the bedside of his teenage son, who was dying from cancer. In the days that followed, God’s peace and love surrounded me. It’s easy to cry out, why me? However, I can give testimony to the fact that this is not where our focus should be. Our focus always needs to be with our loving Father, who promises to be with us each step of our journey. Trust Him and know in your heart, that He is always with you. Jesus did.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
John 18:1 and Mark 14:36
There was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. (John 18:1)
Not what I want, but what you want. (Mark 14:36)
What is God’s will for my life? In Genesis we read about the presence of God and His relationship with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had been given life in a beautiful garden filled with all kinds of growing things. They also had received God’s warning that they not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil or they would be punished. And we know what happened…they ignored God’s will and did eat the fruit from the tree, and were subsequently banished from the garden and from God’s presence.
Then there is another garden, mentioned in John 18:1, the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the garden where Jesus and some of his disciples went after the Last Supper. And here is where Jesus prayed “If this cup can be taken from me…but not my will, but your will (God’s) be done.” And Jesus’ choice and sacrifice brought about the reconciliation of God and humankind, the presence of God was now made available again to His people.
In each of these events, God’s will seems to be known clearly by the humans involved. Their relationship with God was clear and unequivocal. Adam, Eve, and Jesus knew what God’s will was for each of them and chose to either follow or disobey it.
The message is clear to us. We should follow God’s will for our lives. But how do we know what that is? We have been taught morality, know the Ten Commandments and the Greatest Commandment given by Jesus. We know the laws of the land, and pray for others and ourselves. We reach out to those in emotional and physical distress. Is this enough? Is this following God’s will for our lives?
I have recently been meditating on the intention of Acceptance. This has come out of my year-long focus on “Gratitude in all things”. Acceptance is a two-fold path, in my view. On one hand, I acknowledge the value in accepting my limitations, be they physical, financial, or work-related. And yet, I also can accept the fact that after all the learnings my life experience has given me, I may have more to offer at this time of life than ever before.
Thus, while I feel I have followed God’s will for my life, I need to know where God wants me to work and live for Him now in this time of change. And so the question comes again: What is God’s will at this time in my life?
What is God’s will for your life?
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
He Came and Found The Disciples Sleeping
“He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’. And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come.’ ”
Every time I read this passage I cringe because if I’d been there, I’d have fallen asleep also. How embarrassing! So much so that the disciples didn’t know what to say because there wasn’t anything they could say. They blew it. They were asked to stay awake and pray when they were tired and in a resting position in the dark. Sleep just overtook them.
This also speaks to our prayer times. Being awake implies our spirit’s readiness to do God’s Will. If our communication with God is limited to when we are in bed ready for sleep, then it is more likely than not that we will fall asleep before we finish praying and/or hearing God’s response to us. Not that prayer isn’t appropriate as we prepare for sleep, but to be our only or primary opportunity for prayer could well put us in the position of the disciples. Setting a time daily when we are fully awake to pray and read Scripture is much more likely to increase our relationship with our Lord.
Dear Lord, so many times my flesh has been weak and I have fallen asleep instead of being in communication with You and ready to do Your Will. Help me to find ways while in the flesh to overcome this weakness so that I may serve You and others better. In Jesus’ Name and for His sake, Amen.
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Betrayed With a Kiss
Mark 14: 43-46
“And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas (one of His disciples) arrived with a mob equipped with swords and clubs, sent out by the chief priests and other Jewish leaders. Judas had told them, “You will know which one to arrest when I go over and kiss him. Then you can take him easily. So as soon as they arrived he walked up to Jesus. “Master!” he exclaimed and embraced Him with a kiss. Then the mob arrested Jesus and held him fast.”
Betrayed With A Kiss
When we were teenagers we often had to make choices: follow the crowd, have that cigarette or drink, or walk away and follow our parents’ advice. Those were teaching moments. GO with the crowd and learn the consequences; walk away and learn that there are others there, you are not alone. As we get older, these choices become harder, they affect not only ourselves, but those around us, our circle. When we choose not to come to church, to not say Jesus’ name, think “I don’t need to be part of a Christian community” we not only deny Jesus’ teachings, but we spread that feeling to others around us. Much is written and said about the sad state of our country; the divisive politics, the lack of ethics and morality, seems that we have followed the crowd. Judas denied Jesus, he followed the crowd. What are we doing? What are you doing?
Lord, please guide my choices that I may turn from the path that takes me away from you. I know that I have made choices that have caused pain to you and to others, please forgive me. Lead me in love and faith toward you, our Savior and Light. Amen
Friday, March 13, 2020
The Trial Before The Righteous
Mark 14: 53,55
They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders and the scribes were assembled….Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death.
What is Your Belief??
A belief is different from faith or what you know. A belief is the transfiguration of knowledge into action. If we live a life of unchallenged faith, though, can we ever really, truly, know what we believe? The Gospel of Mark shows us the desperate seeking of belief-cum-action of not only Jesus, but Peter, the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate. Roman soldiers, Mary, the disciples, and fellow crucifixion victims. In Mark 14: 53-55 we see all of this brought together, physically and spiritually, in one place.
Different versions of the Bible have an important, yet subtle, nuance in the phrasing of verse 53 between “law” and “religious law.” This underscores the centrality of belief and the radical transformation that Jesus brought to Jerusalem and the nation of Israel. Belief could no longer be hidden beneath the shrouds of sanctimonious pretense. It was not so much the Jesus the Man that the Sadducees hated; rather, it was Jesus the Idea. He did not just overturn their money changing tables in the Temple (John 2:15) – he attacked and overturned their carefully cultivated beliefs in how to live, pray, and worship. Jesus believes in the overarching power of redemptive love, and acted on those beliefs in an atmosphere filled with worry, fear, uncertainty, secular power, divisive politics, wealth inequality, and fomenting unrest against the existing political and military power structures. Thank heavens those days are past!
But we also see Jesus – yes, even Jesus – sorely tested (at least) three times in his final day. He is tested first in the Garden when at least some of his disciples draw arms to fight. He is tested at the end in the Via Dolorosa and final three hours of strangulation upon the cross. But in the middle, he is tested in the scourging, mocking, and questioning he faces. Some believe that Jesus was lowered into a pit while the temporal powers argued over his fate. Further, they believe that he prayed Psalm 88 “O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee.” Yet in this hour of physical and spiritual darkness, Jesus reveals what He believes.
It is Jesus who stands trial before the self-proclaimed righteous, yet it is Jesus, the Son of Man, who is righteous. Even as His persecutors torment Him, it is He who endures and reveals His Righteousness, and the vacuity of those who have replaced belief with process, prayer with phrases. It is also a display for the rest of us, of what belief in action looks like. It is also a stark reminder that just because the last cup of coffee was cold, or the IRS sent you a love letter, there are other, harder trials.
My Uncle used to say, in times of stress, “Now the true colors will come out.” Peter made a mistake when fear collided with belief. The Jewish high priests mistook procedure for belief. We all have opportunities – some of them fleeting, some of them enduring – to show our true colors. As oft as not, we will fail to attain the standards we set for ourselves, and the expectations that God has for us. When we succeed, we must be grateful (Proverbs 16:18); when we fail, we must allow the grace of forgiveness to restore us. Where our beliefs are found wanting, we must pray for the will and ability to strengthen them; where they are a bright candle on a hillside, we must seek to spread that light. While we may seek to be judged by our intent, we are evaluated by our actions, and especially those under the duress of trial. Work daily to build the strength and resilience to not be found wanting when it counts most.
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Destroy This Temple
Many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony not agree.
The Parable of Jesus being the temple.
Jesus was silent after false testimony, that he would destroy the man-made temple, and in three days rebuild it (the Parable). Jesus answered the high priest, when asked if he was the Christ, the son of the Blessed One, with “I am and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of Heaven. “ It was not understood that He was to die (temple) and in three days raise again (rebuild) and ascend into Heaven.
Sunday, March 15, 2020
Third Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 15, 2020
Condemned by the Righteous
They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled . . . Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death . . . The high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him. While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” . . . After a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
(MARK 14:53, 55, 61-68, 70-72)
Jesus entered a long night of betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, and trial by ones claiming to be “righteous” judges – a night none of us would like to face. “Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley” as the song says. We encounter the poisonous work of fear from those afraid to lose their position and status. Our Lord confessed his true identity as The Messiah – “I AM” . . . and suffered the consequences.
Join us for Saturday or Sunday Worship to hear about the faith and faithfulness of our Lord Jesus facing the greatest night of testing ever known to mankind. We worship One who knows the pain of rejection, injustice, abandonment, and unfair punishment – He understands what we are going through.
Thank you to the people from the PUMC Community who contributed to this week’s devotionals.
Week 2: March 2-March 8, 2020:
Monday, March 2, 2020
What is Your Price?
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
What is the price of eternal loyalty? Can it be measured in numbers, or is it purely qualitative, defying conventional calculus? We are called to sustained service. Our lives, representing the totality of love as agape and service to and for others, are priceless. No matter your profession or your calling, it is the total accumulated value to others that is the measure of your life. Despite this, though, every one of us falls short of the mark, time and time again. Sometimes, especially when the halcyon days of youth are naught but receding memories, we wonder how we got here, have we held true, or did we sell out, and if so, how did it happen?
Amidst these sepulchral doubts, we encounter the troubling story of Judas and Jesus. Judas lived amid what might have been called “The Roaring Thirties,” a time of corpulent wealth, heavy taxation, income inequality, desperate power struggles in the eastern Mediterranean, and fiercely contentious different visions of the future (thank goodness none of that is happening today!). Much like the country carnival, there was no shortage of hucksters and charlatans trying to seduce people with various offers and schemes of dubious value and duping simplicity.
For reasons never fully explained in the Holy Scriptures, Judas decides to betray Jesus for blood money – thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 24: 14-16). Judas approaches the Pharisees; they did not approach him, although John 11:57 does tell us that they were in circulation trying to find Jesus and track his movement. Evil does not always do its own work. If the Great Denier can find a proxy for his mendacious ways, how much the easier for him to corrupt and poison others do to his nefarious labor? The reference to thirty pieces of silver completes a trinity of references. The value of a slave gored by an ox is set at thirty pieces (Ex 21:32), and the value of a potter at the temple is the same price at the end of the Old Testament (Zech 11:12). We know that the value of thirty pieces of silver was roughly six weeks’ wages. That is no small amount of change when confronted by bills, invoices, taxes, and still more bills, but it is inconsequential to the value of one’s soul.
We are all tempted in unique ways by the Great Temptor, who knows us so well. We know he seeks out the strongest first, as they represent the greatest threat to him and his plans. Perhaps, in some way, Satan saw Judas as a threat. Even Jesus, knowing full well what was about to happen, seemed to take pity on Judas. (John 13:27, Matthew 26:50) When we fall short, or make conscious decisions to abandon the Via Dolorosa for an easier pathway, we, too, feel remorse. We would do well to recall that if Jesus could appear to bestow pity on Judas, how much more might we be worthy of some small Grace from him? (2 Corinthians 9:15)
Only the cleansing redemption of Jesus can save us. We will – again and again – make deliberate decisions that betray the letter and intent of the words of Jesus. I don’t think we know the fate of Judas after he committed one last sin. In taking his own life, he denied our Creator a final chance at redemption. Judas decided that the price for his sin was much greater than thirty pieces of silver. But, rather than offer his life as a living sacrifice, he denied our Lord one last chance at even that. We can guess at what the eternal price of that is; what’s your temporal price?
Lord, forgive me for the times I have compromised my faith for the sake of having more. Help me to remember that my life “does not consist in the abundance of [my] possessions” and to desire to serve you with all that I am, and all that I have. Amen.
Hamilton, Adam. 24 Hours That Changed the World: 40 Days of Reflection. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
I Go To Prepare A Place For You
John 14: 1-3
“ Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
“In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Before starting out, I would like to mention that the first sentence is worth memorizing, the first sentence above in bold print. I recognize these verses from funerals and have found these words of Jesus to be comforting.
Jesus describes himself as escorting the Believer from earth to a prepared place in heaven.
When I was called to
come to the bedside of my 92- year- old Mother, “Molly Ingalls,” I understood
this verse better. My Mother’s doctor had phoned me that he had tried
everything and that there was nothing more he could do. All her physical systems were failing.
Knowing this, my Mother had arranged for 3 of us to take communion from her pastor, Stephen Smith, –just Mother and I and the Pastor present. After this bedside service, Mother started to lose consciousness, but I kept talking to her, knowing that modern science has told us that the sense of hearing stays with the person right up to the moment of death. I told her Mother I loved her and I talked about happy times, and that in the near future she would see Dad—and Jesus Christ.
But I was not prepared for what happened next. Was it part of the Christian experience?
It was a hot day in May, 2001, the 17th of the month, and the room at Clark House (Westwood MA) was hot and stuffy. Suddenly there was a whirlwind movement of air right above my Mother and, at that moment, as I held her hand, she passed from this world to the next. Tears came.
To this day, I believe that I saw the soul pass from earth to heaven and that Christ was communicating: “where I am, there you may be also.”
Lord, help me to trust that you love me; that you will not let go of me; and that you have prepared a place for me to be with you in your eternal kingdom when my earthly life is over. Amen.
Hamilton, Adam. 24 Hours That Changed the World: 40 Days of Reflection. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
Wednesday, March 4, 2020
The Mandates of Maundy Thursday
John 15:5, 8-13
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:5,8-13)
A lot happened on Thursday of Holy Week. For centuries this day has been called Maundy Thursday. The day includes Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the beginning of Jesus’ trials.
During the Passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples before he was betrayed, tried, condemned and crucified, Jesus gave three commandments to his disciples:
- As was customary at the Passover Seder, Christ being the host, would have posed the traditional question before the meal, “What is different about this night”, and by custom, John, being the youngest disciple in the room would have answered with an account of the Exodus from Egypt, when God smote the first born of Pharaoh’s kingdom. When John finished, Jesus would have taken a loaf of unleavened bread, pronounced a blessing, broke it into pieces, one for each person present and passed it to them. Normally the passing of the bread is done in silence, but on this occasion, Jesus spoke as to the significance of the bread. Take, eat, this is myself. When the meal was finished, he took the wine, take drink, this is my blood. “Do this in remembrance of me.” It is clear that whenever we partake of his Supper in this way that we miraculously receive with the bread and wine his true body and blood.
- After the meal he got up from the dinner and took off his outer clothing, and taking a towel, tied it around himself. Then he poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them dry with the towel which he had tied around himself. As he washed their feet, he commanded them to follow his example by serving one another.
- John 15 tells us, “Just as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have spoken these things to you in order that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be made complete. This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you.
Lord, give us faith to believe that you gave us your true body and blood with bread and wine for our forgiveness, and give us the faith to receive it with trust and with thanks. With this special meal you strengthen and nourish my faith in your work of salvation. Amen
Thursday, March 5, 2020
A Song Of Praise In The Face Of Death
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (MARK 14:26)
THE LAST SUPPER likely concluded sometime just before midnight. Jesus had broken bread with the disciples, washed their feet, predicted Judas’ betrayal, and taught the disciples the final lessons he wanted them to learn before his death. Now he was preparing to lead them across the Kidron Valley to the garden of Gethsemane, where he knew he would be arrested. The end was drawing near. Yet there was one last thing he and his disciples did at the supper before beginning the journey to Gethsemane: They sang a hymn together.
The hymn that traditionally closes the Passover Seder, and hence the hymn that Mark likely refers to in this passage, is Psalm 118. This hymn begins and ends with the words “O Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; / his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1, 29). The psalm is an invitation to trust in God even in the face of enemies that would destroy. With the singing of these words, Jesus prepared himself and his disciples for what lay ahead.
Singing praise to God in the face of adversity is an act of defiance toward evil. It is also an act of trust in God, one that gives strength, peace, and hope. By singing praise to God in the face of hardship or even death, we are saying, “No matter what happens, no matter how bad things may be, I will trust in God to deliver me.”As Jesus approached his death, he sang a hymn of praise to God.
The apostles followed this practice. In Acts 16 we read that Paul and Silas had been flogged by the authorities in Philippi and then cast into a dungeon, their feet in shackles. But Acts records, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell as the other prisoners listened (Acts 16:25).In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul instructs us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”
Jay was a man about my age, and he had been battling cancer. He had been released from the hospital recently, and it was becoming clear that the treatment would not be successful. Because he was weak from both the cancer and the treatment, I was utterly astounded when I saw Jay walk into worship on Sunday morning. It was Easter, and Jay was not going to miss Easter worship. That was the last time he came to church. Several weeks later, he died. But I will never forget the image of Jay singing, praising God, and being surrounded by his church family on that day.
As Jesus approached his own death, he sang a hymn with his disciples. Take a moment to read the words of the hymn Jesus probably sang that night, and then reflect on what those words would have meant to Jesus at that time. Read Psalm 118. (below)
Lord, I give thanks to you; for you are good, and your love endures forever. Help me, even in the face of adversity, to sing your praise and to trust in you. Amen.
Hamilton, Adam. 24 Hours That Changed the World: 40 Days of Reflection (p. 44). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
This year Karen Meyer and the Worship Committee have taken on the project to coordinate and publish Lenten Devotions based on the Book “24 Hours That Changed The World” by Adam Hamilton. Pastor Mike will be preaching on the exact same topics from that book each week in Worship. Devotions are for each weekday (except Sunday) with a Sunday summary of the preaching topics provided for each weekend. We greatly appreciate each of the persons who took time to write a devotion. Today’s selection is from the actual book by Adam Hamilton © 2009 by Abingdon Press
Friday, March 6, 2020
The Mount Of Olives
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.
WHY DID JESUS return to the Mount of Olives to pray and await his arrest?
The upper room where he ate the Last Supper was just a stone’s throw from the high priest’s home where he would be brought after his arrest to stand trial before the Sanhedrin. The garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, by contrast, was a twenty- to twenty-five-minute walk from the high priest’s home. Following his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would be led in chains back down into the valley and then up Mount Zion to stand trial. I recently walked that path, and I can tell you that the journey is strenuous and left me winded. I cannot imagine doing it in chains. Why didn’t Jesus, knowing his arrest was imminent, remain in the upper room in prayer awaiting Judas and the Temple guard?
Luke tells us that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the Mount of Olives each day during the last week of his life. John tells us that Jesus often met on the Mount of Olives with his disciples. This place had special meaning for Jesus. But why?
The prophet Zechariah holds the clue. Starting with his entrance into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives a few days earlier, it is clear that Jesus had been reflecting on the words of this prophet. It was Zechariah who had described Judah’s king riding on a donkey. In Zechariah 14:4 we read, “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives”; and Zechariah continued in verse 9, “And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.”
At Jesus’ birth, the shepherds and wise men came to see him who was born king of the Jews. When Jesus began his public ministry, he told parables of the Kingdom and did deeds of power demonstrating the nature of the Kingdom. He taught people to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In a few hours a crown of thorns would be placed on his brow and a sign nailed over his head: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37).
Jesus had come to the Mount of Olives in part because there he felt closely connected to the mission his Father had sent him to fulfill. But he had also come so his presence and arrest on the Mount of Olives would be one more sign of his true identity and one more picture of the blindness of those who sought his death.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). It is in yielding our hearts and lives to God’s will that we become a part of his kingdom. Take a moment today to yield your heart and life to God, to seek to do his will in your life.
God, I accept you as my King. Help me to know and do your will. May my life bring glory to your name. Amen.
Hamilton, Adam. 24 Hours That Changed the World: 40 Days of Reflection. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
This year Karen Meyer and the Worship Committee have taken on the project to coordinate and publish Lenten Devotions based on the Book “24 Hours That Changed the World” by Adam Hamilton. Pastor Mike will be preaching on the exact same topics from that book each week in Worship. Devotions are for each weekday (except Sunday) with a Sunday summary of the preaching topics provided for each weekend. We greatly appreciate each of the persons who took time to write a devotion. Today’s selection is from the actual book by Adam Hamilton © 2009 by Abingdon Press
Saturday, March 7, 2020
He Began to Be Distressed and Agitated
They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed; And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here, and keep watch.”
This scripture portrays an image of Jesus as a natural man under extreme duress. Peter and James and John witnessed Jesus experiencing distress and agitation. We know how we feel when we anticipate something unpleasant or difficult that we must do. It is natural to feel anxious or afraid, and we understand that colliding with negative thoughts or emotions may even have a physical impact resulting in a highly uncomfortable condition. As Son of Man, Jesus knows and understands much more.
Believers can only imagine how Christ felt anticipating His betrayal, arrest, torture, crucifixion, and mankind’s sins put upon Him. Jesus was the only man who would endure the greatest measure of mental and spiritual suffering associated with His complete sacrifice.
What did Jesus actually say about how He was feeling? “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death…” When I meditate on Christ’s indwelling Holy Spirit grieving, other passages of scripture come to mind; scriptures which speak directly to man’s sin/rebellion causing the Holy Spirit of God to grieve:
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” (Genesis 6:5-6)
“How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert!” (Psalm 78:40)
“But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit:” (Isaiah 63:10)
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:30-31)
Mark tells us that Jesus was clearly distressed and agitated. In retrospect believers know that when Jesus was at the Mount of Olives, He was anticipating His impending circumstances. Through scriptures, I believe the deepest sorrow to Christ’s soul was the persistent sinfulness of man (past, present and future), causing Jesus to grieve “to the point of death.” It is sorrowful to think of Jesus in His agony in Gethsemane, yet joyful to know that His complete suffering and sacrifice was followed by His resurrection and complete victory over sin and death.
I give thanks that Jesus has saved me from my rebellious and sinful nature. “Thanks be to God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Dear Lord and Savior, Thank you for bearing the burden of the sins of mankind. The mental and spiritual agony that grieved Your Holy Spirit was beyond any suffering a human has endured. Thank you for your sacrifice. When I begin to feel distressed or agitated, help me to remember that You understand all human suffering and need; by Your Holy Spirit lead me to You in prayer. When the Holy Spirit convicts me in my heart that I have strayed from obedience to You, lead me through repentance and enable me to seek Your grace and forgiveness, restoring my right relationship with You. Amen.
Sunday, March 8, 2020
They went to a place called Gethsemane.
This week we look at the experience Jesus had in the Garden of Olives (Gethsemane) and how He prayed and anticipated his own suffering and death – with faith in God the Father. We see clearly our Lord’s anguish and ultimate submission to God’s will. Can we bring ourselves to that same level of submission to whatever God is doing in our own lives ?
Lord, give us the strength and courage to submit our wills to Your Will, even as we are suffering and in pain, anticipating the price we will have to pay for faithfulness to your calling upon our lives. Amen.
This year Karen Meyer and the Worship Committee have taken on the project to coordinate and publish Lenten Devotions based on the Book “24 Hours That Changed The World” by Adam Hamilton. Pastor Mike will be preaching on the exact same topics from that book each weekend in Worship. Devotions are for each weekday (except Sunday) with a Sunday summary (like today’s) of the preaching topics provided for each weekend. We greatly appreciate each of the persons who took time to write a devotion.
Week 1: February 26-March 1, 2020:
Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Preparing For The Meal
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So, Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” “Listen”, he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will me you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
According to scripture (Luke 22:7-13) Jesus told Peter
and John to prepare for the Passover meal. “Listen” he said, and gave
them the instructions about where to go and what to do. Peter and John went
willingly and carried out the wishes of Jesus. Can you imagine
how Jesus felt at that moment knowing that this would be his last supper
with his friends. “Listen” the
Lord says to us….the last supper in our lives may occur at any time,
are we ready? Most of us expect tomorrow to be just another day.
During the Lenten season may we take a good look at the wonderful life we have been given and prepare our hearts and minds with prayer and devotion. Let us serve the Lord with gladness just like Peter and John.
Lord, I offer myself to You. Use me to do whatever is needed, no matter how small. Like the owner of the Upper Room, who is the unnamed disciple in this scripture passage, help me to serve without recognition. I will do everything for Your Glory only. Amen
Thursday, February 27, 2020
Supper with Jesus
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Who are your Disciples? Who of them would you invite to your Last Supper?
On two different occasions in the past several months I have had the opportunity to be invited to sit at a dinner table with family members and converse with no TV and no cell phones. I reflect on these times and wonder how often this happens for others. The opportunity to have time to share, reflect, and think about others in the moment.
Jesus states “As often as you do this remember me”. How often do we think about our devotion to God and desire to be with others at meal time?
Think of others at any gathering where you will “break bread’ and not what they give to you but what you receive from them. It may not be encouragement or strength, but an awareness of why you are gathering with them. It is not the act of physical eating and drinking but the mental act of questioning. Question what can I give to others as we share this time? Do I need to forgive them for past sins? What role do they play in my life?
Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed and someone would deny their knowledge of him but still he chose to forgive and have the chosen apostles with him. May those you gather with take away with them a thought you shared or a smile across the table or just the knowledge that you listened.
Lord, Help me to remember You every time I eat a meal and break bread. Be present at My table, Lord. Help me never to forget that You are the Bread of Life who alone satisfies the deepest longings of my soul. Amen.
Friday, February 28, 2020
The Measure of Greatness
Luke 22: 24-26
“A dispute arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest; and the leader like one who serves.
How does the world measure greatness? Today, it seems to be all about wealth, possessions, and titles. However, sometimes, it is also about the life one leads, in addition to these three. Bill and Melinda Gates are prime examples of people who give back. Yet, the vast majority of us will never know such people, or benefit from their philanthropy. Dave and I have been richly blessed throughout the years, by getting to know some really “great, ordinary people” – people who have actively put their faith into loving action. Many of them belonged to this faith community before they passed into God’s loving arms. Some are still among us. I believe God send people into our lives to walk with us on our journey, right when we so need such a companion. They all have similar traits. They are caring, loving, compassionate, good listeners, and willing to walk the extra mile with you right when we need it most.
One of our special friends in Deerfield, NH was Dave Coffman. He and his wife, Barbara, were members of our Saturday morning canoe group. One morning, while we were paddling together, they invited us to go to church with them the next day. We joined them, and thus began our 38 year ongoing relation ship with the Deerfield Community Church. Dave never considered himself to be an evangelizer, but he was. He introduced himself to visitors, and in turn, helped them to meet others. His manner of service changed as he aged. However, when he was 98, he participated in training and became a Stephens Minister. I am blessed to have been and continue to be surrounded by the great people that God has sent into my life. Who are the great people that God has sent into your life? I encourage you to remember and honor them this day.
Lord, You know that, like the disciples, I yearn to be considered great by others. Grant me a servant’s heart so that I may discover that true greatness is found in humility and service. Amen.
Saturday, February 29, 2020
One of you will betray me
“And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”
Have you ever felt it was you against the world? That you stood alone, no one on your side, while life’s pressures swirled around you. Have you struggled with a decision about the path of your life? Questioned your most basic decisions? So did Jesus.
The tide of public opinion was turning against Jesus, not everyone had rejoiced and cried “Hosanna” when Jesus entered Jerusalem just a few days before this reading occurs in the story of Holy Week. Jesus has already told His disciples that He would be betrayed and crucified. He has thrown the money changers out of the temple. He has confronted the Jewish leaders and challenged them with stories from the Scriptures and examples to explain them; he has clarified the 2 most important Commandments. He has foretold the end of time. And now the Passover observance has begun, how significant that the disciples are celebrating the angel of death “passing over” the families of the faithful in Egypt when Jesus is talking of his impending death with His chosen. Death will not pass over Jesus.
Jesus tells His disciples, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They are shocked and ask, “Is it me? Am I the one?” How their hearts must have broken when Jesus answered, yes, one of you will betray me, and one will deny me, and all will abandon me.
We must try our hardest to never betray Jesus, or deny Him, or abandon Him. And as Jesus told us, what we do to and for the least among us we do to and for Him. This puts our actions and words in a rather powerful perspective. How would we live our lives differently if we remembered that everything we do and say is directed at Jesus or someone created in His image? I think we would try harder to be worthy of Him.
Gracious Lord, Forgive me for the times I have betrayed You. Sometimes I betray You with my words and sometimes with my actions. Sometimes, I betray You by withholding my words or choosing not to act when You ask me to speak or do Your will. Forgive me, please; and strengthen me to Your will. Help me to forgive others who betray and desert me when I need them to be present. Help me to forgive others like Jesus forgave me. In Your Name, Amen.
Sunday, March 1, 2020
The Last Supper
Mark 14:12, 22-25
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed . . . he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
On the very night that our Lord Jesus knew that all of his own friends, his disciples, would betray or deny or desert him, He took the bread of the Passover meal and broke it and offered it to them as a symbol of his body. He also took one of the Passover meal cups and offered it to them as a symbol of his own blood. The last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples was filled with sorrow and yet anticipation, with close fellowship and sharing yet a sense of impending death. Join us for Saturday or Sunday Worship to hear about the importance of the last words Jesus would share with his closest friends.
Thank you to the people from the PUMC Community who contributed to this week’s devotionals.