Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 14 of Lent, Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 8:26-56

The crazy demon-possessed man living among the tombs is being forced by these demons to leave all his friends and family - all his support - and to live alone.  The images of unclean things dominate this reading: tombs, demons, pigs, blood and finally death.

Jesus shows up and is ready to provide resurrection.  He does so three times in this passage - once with the demoniac, once with the woman bleeding for 12 years and literally with the daughter of Jairus.

The opening scene of the tombs place us with the dead.  It reminds me of when the women come to prepare the body of Jesus and the angel asks the question, "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?'

Jesus pulls the full potential of these lives forth and sets them free.

This medieval illustration of Jesus healing
the demon-possessed man is fascinating and rather
disturbing in showing the demon emerging
from his mouth.  I'm reminded of Jesus telling us
that it is what comes out of our mouths that defile us. 

On another note, I've always associated the song, "Don't Drink the Water" by The Dave Matthews Band with the story of the demoniac.  The tale told in the song seems to be from the perspective of a demoniac and when he is screeching and yelling at the end, it seems to be when he is being exorcised.

These stories are about separation from society and from God.  Jesus comes to restore life and to restore these people in society.  It is interesting how these two things go hand in hand.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 13 of Lent, Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 8:1-25

The Sower
by James Tissot, c. 1886
These passages are rich to spend time with since they appear to be disconnected.  However, we can see connections as women round out the disciples becoming the family of Jesus as they "listen to God's word and do it."

The beauty of the parable of the soils is that we can place ourselves within different facets of them.  Sometimes we are the sower, planting the word along the way.  Other times, we may be the seed that God uses to allow the word to spring forth.  Conversely, we may also be the different kinds of soil - hard path, rocky ground, thorny dirt and maybe even good soil that is productive and rich.

Of course as disciples, we know that sometimes we are also in the boat with Jesus and we worry about what  we think are storms when they're really only changes in the weather.  We forget the one who calms the storms is with us all along.  If we can remember, this helps us to be richer soil more often than hard, packed earth.

We can listen to God's word and do it.

We are the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 12 of Lent, Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 7:36-50

Today's story about the harlot who is moved to express her gratitude toward Jesus.  It is set at the scene of a dinner at Simon the Pharisee's house.  This would have been more of a public affair than the dinner parties we hold today.  It would be more akin to a neighborhood backyard barbecue, where others may gather as a more informal affair. Therefore, we have a woman who has come ready to anoint Jesus - she is ready in that she has brought and alabaster vase with perfumed oil.
Feast of Simon the Pharisee
by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1618

Her devotion makes us assume that she's had some previous experience with Jesus of which we are unaware.

As Simon begins to criticize Jesus, we see Jesus turn it around to make it about Simon's lack of hospitality as opposed to her graciousness rather than her sinfulness.  She ends up forgiven while he's on the outside looking in.

Simon as a Pharisee would have been well-acquainted with the hospitality of Father Abraham (see Genesis 18:1-16).  Rather than follow through with this as an example, Simon fails to be a good host.

Good hospitality is all the rage at local churches right now.  As we self-assess, we have found that we've too often been more like Simon rather than the harlot.  Our problem is that we haven't really embraced the stranger as Jesus no matter what Matthew 25 says. The Benedictine Rule, "let everyone that comes be received as Christ" is good for churches, homes and society in general.

How will you respond differently the next time you encounter Jesus?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 11 of Lent, Monday, February 25, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 7:1-35

As we read Luke in order, it is fascinating to see the teaching from the Sermon on the Plain from yesterday's reading acted out by Jesus in today's.

He begins by healing the servant of a Roman Centurion.  How better to show love for one's enemies?  Certainly many Jewish readers would have bristled at giving him any aid at all.

Jesus follows this with raising a widow's only son from the dead.  We hear his words echoed, "Happy are you who weep now because you will laugh."  She would also fit the description of the poor because children were the social security of the day and she had just lost hers.

Finally, Jesus enters into this discourse about judging and condemning.  It seems that the Pharisees weren't baptized by John because in their own eyes, they didn't need the repentance that others did.  They're willing to look at the splinter in their neighbor's eye but not the log in their own.

The last words of frustration by Jesus remind us of his words, "How terrible for you when all speak well of you".  This is certainly not happening to Jesus.

In his day, what happens to gluttons and drunkards?  Deuteronomy 21:18-21 gives us a strong clue of what they would like to do to Jesus when they call him this.

As we read through Luke's Gospel, we are likely to see this core teaching of the Sermon on the Plain represented by the actions of Jesus in each chapter.  This gives us plenty of material to work on for our lives!

A photograph taken by Will Counts of Elizabeth Eckford
attempting to enter Little Rock School on 4th September, 1957.
The girl shouting is Hazel Massery.  Do you think Jesus
could understand how Elizabeth felt at this moment? 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 6:20-49

Somewhat overshadowed by Matthew's Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount is today's similar material in Luke commonly called the Sermon on the Plain.

It can be stated "Go the extra mile" when encountering other people.  We are not to be kind or compassionate only to the friendly.  We are not to love only those whom we don't find annoying.  We are not to be happy only for those whom we don't consider to be our enemies.

In this we find the core teaching of Jesus and he expects actions and results.  That bit about the trees and the kind of fruit they produce is referring to us.  He follows it up with houses standing firm (those with action) and houses being smashed in the flood (those ignoring this teaching).

I realize that many Christians write off this teaching as seemingly impossible or reserved only for God's special saints.  I think that we are selling ourselves short.

If we assume mediocrity is our standard for anything, we are likely to achieve just that. This is about excellence in love and spirituality.  They go hand in hand because the kind of love that Jesus sets out for us is likely impossible without the help of God.

Constantly going head to head with people
often gives us headaches and we look kind of silly.

And so as we move into Lent, what if you picked someone you consider an enemy or maybe someone you are holding a grudge against.

Do you have someone in mind?

What if you prayed for blessings for this person each day of Lent?

Jesus seems to be asking for excellence here.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 10 of Lent, Saturday, February 23, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 6:1-19

We are clearly on the side of Jesus and righteousness in this passage.  It's easy to see how wrong-headed his opponents are.  To quote Shawshank Redemption, how could they be so obtuse?

Holiness was something awe-inspiring in Jesus' day.  It was not something they took lightly.

Healing on the Sabbath was frowned upon because back then like today, some miracle workers made it about them rather than God.  There are also some who may be ill (but not so ill) who capture everyone's time and attention.  Frauds ruin it for those who are really sick and all these things just add to our creeping cynicism.

If they really need healing, why can't they just come back tomorrow?

Yet Jesus cuts through all of our excuses and declares God's priorities.

The miracle of healing couldn't come outside of God and so once again, Jesus receives God's implicit agreement with his teaching.

Rather than humbly bowing before God acting on this holy day, they decided that they would rather keep God boxed in to what is comfortable.

Surely I've never done this!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Day 9 of Lent, Friday, February 22, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 5:27-39

Tax collectors were considered traitors in the days of Jesus because they were Jews who worked for the Romans and often cheated people for their own gain.

When I read about Levi being called by Jesus and how crazy this made the establishment, I'm reminded of the song, "Blackbird" by the Beatles.

Paul McCartney wrote it in 1968 in response to the racial tension going on in the United States at the time.

You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

So many people beg out of leadership in the church because they claim that they aren't good enough or don't know enough.  Maybe they've forgotten the story of Levi.

Or maybe they've never heard it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Day 8 of Lent, Thursday, February 21, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 5:1-26

Miraculous Catch of Fish
by Anton Losenko, 1762.
Within the Gospels, only Luke and John record when Jesus directed the disciples to an abundant catch of fish.  In Luke's Gospel, it occurs following his teaching from the boat and right before he calls Peter, James and John to follow him.  In John's Gospel, Jesus is on the shore and it happens toward the end following the resurrection (John 21:1-14).

Peter declares himself to be a sinner and Jesus begins to break down the barriers common to the day by bringing him into the fold as his disciple.

The next instance of healing the leper is also a break from what is proper.

In verse 13, Jesus touches the man which would be taboo.  He bids him to show himself to the priests as per Leviticus 14:2-32.  In doing this, Jesus is returning the man to his community - to his family and his friends.  He is restored to his place in society.

Jesus then claims authority to forgive sins outside of the rituals required by a priest.  He heals the man which showed the Pharisees that he implicitly had God's favor to forgive sins since it would be through God's power that the paralytic was able to walk again.

The real question for us within this passage for Lent would be the following:

"Which is easier?  To say, 'your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'Get up and walk?'"

Our own power to forgive our neighbors lies within us and is easier to grant than physical healing.  Jesus begins to break people out of our standard categories - sinner becomes disciple, leper returns to society, paralytic is forgiven and healed.  How would our forgiveness of others move us toward healing what is broken?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day 7 of Lent, Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 4:31-44

There is a real difference in how Jesus is received in Capernaum and how he was received in Nazareth (see verses 16-30 in yesterday's reading).  In both instances, he is preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  In Nazareth's scroll, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 saying,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is rejected at his hometown of Nazareth but is embraced at Capernaum.

Ruins at Capernaum
taken by Brett Wagner, Nov 8, 2008
As they embrace Jesus, he goes on to free a man of an unclean spirit and to heal Simon's mother-in-law (in Luke's gospel, this is before he calls Simon to be a disciple).  The word gets around and he begins to heal and exorcise many of the townspeople.

They called for these miracles at Nazareth but you get the sense that it is more out of the need for proof or validation rather than the faith that he could actually deliver on Isaiah's words.  Their cynicism led to their missing out on the blessings of God among them.

There are certainly days when we reject the teachings of Jesus in our own lives - sometimes willfully and sometimes through ignorance.  What are the blessings we've missed because of this?

Maybe today's passage will help us to redouble our efforts to faithfulness.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day 6 of Lent, February 19, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 4:1-30

In this reading, we really capture the spirit of the forty days of Lent with the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days.  We each take up our own fasts for these forty days as we prepare ourselves for Easter.

Sunrise over Mt. Sinai
taken by Mark Southron
The fast of Jesus is characteristic of the fasts of Moses and Elijah.  Moses sets the example of a forty-day fast when he goes to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 34:27-28).  Elijah then follows in his footsteps when he conducts his own fast in going to meet God at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus will later meet with these two leaders in the faith on the mount where he is transfigured (Luke 9:28-36).

There is a long history in religion world-wide of spiritual visions being related to fasting. Just as Christians may fast during Lent, Jews fast during Yom Kippur and Muslims fast during Ramadhan.  Of course Hindus and Buddhists have fasting days as well.

I believe that giving up something for Lent can be really beneficial to us because the denial of the self is something that is important for us spiritually.  If we can deny ourselves something small such as chocolate or coffee or pop, the victory can propel us to greater achievement over larger temptations.  We have assurance in more important things because we have mastered the minor things.

If you're struggling with temptation, I would ask you to give something up for Lent (it's never too late to start something new).  If you've already given something up and are struggling, it is important to pray and visualize your victory over your discipline as a greater strength for battling the more damaging issue.

Temptation is something all human beings face.  Carrie Helm used this video of Jesus fasting in the desert during Tweens and I really thought it was helpful using the illustrations of Simon Smith.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Day 5 of Lent, February 18th, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 3:15-38

The Baptism of Christ by Tintoretto, c. 1550.  Note the
pink color of the robe of Jesus.  Pink can represent
unconditional love while blue can represent piety
and sincerity.
Luke diverges in his presentation of the Baptism of Jesus in that his is the only Gospel that mentions the Holy Spirit coming in bodily form like a dove.  The others allude to the Holy Spirit coming like a dove but Luke is the only one mentioning that this is no vision but a physical manifestation.

The dove has long been a symbol of peace.  Hebrew readers would be reminded of the dove sent out by Noah.  Genesis 8:11 states, "The dove came back to him in the evening, grasping a torn olive leaf in its beak. Then Noah knew that the waters were subsiding from the earth."

The olive branch is also a sign of peace.

Early Christian theologian Tertullian mentions that the dove in Genesis symbolizes the end of God's wrath as the flood waters dried up and in the Baptism of Jesus, the dove symbolizes the peace of God descending upon the earth in Jesus Christ.

Luke's use of the physical seems to be a tangible sense of God's presence that we can touch.  We have it in Jesus as well as Luke moves from baptism into the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew and Mark move into the fasting in the wilderness and the temptation).  This list of ancestors seems to place God definitively within human history - a physical marker.

For United Methodists, baptism is a physical sign of God's grace manifest among us.  If you are baptized, do you remember yours?  If it was done when you were an infant, have you been told about it?  Who was there to celebrate it with you?

As we proceed into Lent, we are reminded of our baptismal vows.  We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of our sin.  Sometimes we may need something physical or tangible to aid us spiritually.  Touch some water and remember your baptism!'

Picture from

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday in Lent, February 17, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 3:1-14

John the Baptist arrives on the scene in chapter three as a preacher popular with the people.  As I imagine John the Baptist, I quickly forget that Luke has just told us that his father, Zechariah, was a priest in the Temple.  John would have been raised with this career in mind.

Something changed for him along the way.

God's word comes to John and he moves away from the Temple and to the Jordan River which was reminiscent to the people of their ancestors crossing into the promised land.  For the Jewish people of John's day, to wash in the Jordan is to leave your old self behind and cross back into Zion as a new person, renewed in the faith.

Aside from his critique of Herod, the majority of John's message that we have in the Gospels is about repentance and looking toward Jesus as the Messiah.  However, we have in verses 10-14 of today's reading the moral interpretation of what repentance should look like.

The masses are asked to share what they have with the poor.

The tax collectors are asked to limit themselves on what they collect from the people.

The soldiers are told to shape up in dealing with the citizens.

These are shown as his responses to their questions.  This means that they did attribute authority to him.  The fact that they were listening to him and being baptized showed his popularity.

In John's call to repentance - in his call to prepare the way for Jesus - what is he calling you to do?  For what  do you need to repent in your life and how might you prepare for Jesus?

Imagine yourself at the river's edge and asking John, "What should I do?"

What do you think his answer might be?

St. John the Baptist Preaching to Herod, c. 1601 by Pieter de Grebber

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day 4 of Lent, Saturday, February 16th 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 2:25-52

17th Century painting of Jesus as a child by
Bartolome Estaban Murillo.  Jesus doesn't
look interested in playing, does he?
Outside of Matthew's trip to Egypt, Luke is the only Gospel to account for any part of the life of Jesus before his baptism.  Each of Luke's stories revolves around the Temple in Jerusalem.  As an infant, the Holy Spirit testifies to Jesus being the Messiah (which in Greek is the Christ) through both Simeon and Anna.  As a boy of twelve - not yet a man but close in terms of Judaism of that day - Jesus was amazing the teachers and everyone else surrounding the Temple area with his wisdom.

We often speculate on The Wonder Years of Jesus.  We're not the first Christians to inquire about his early life.  There are later gospels not included in the canon of scripture that tell stories about his childhood.  In some of these, Jesus is portrayed as being pretty precocious.

I think that the stories were designed to reflect on a boy who would eventually do amazing things and die on a cross and be raised from the dead.  These stories are told from the other side of the cross and that is important for us to understand.  Because we know what we know, it is hard to imagine Jesus doing anything rough and tumble as a boy.  It's easier to see him reading the Torah (even though no peasants in his day could read) than playing in the mud.

As we reflect upon our own childhood, we each have a lens through which we look back.  There are times from our own youth that may be pretty earthy or not very dignified.  How have these shaped you to be the person you are today?  We believe God is present throughout our lives.  So how was God present in your life growing up?


Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 3 of Lent, Friday, February 15th, 2013

Today's Reading: Luke 2:1-24

It doesn't feel like the Advent and Christmas seasons were all that long ago and yet it feels a little strange reading Luke's nativity in Lent.

As I read over it again though, I saw the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness begin at his birth.  He has humble beginnings - relegated to the room where the animals were kept (likely a part of the house in that day).  The guest room (rather than inn) may have already been filled with other relatives coming from away.

Maybe more important relatives.

Maybe older relatives who needed more comfort.

What we don't see in this scene are Joseph's relatives coming to assist with the birth. There would surely have been a mid-wife there.  My grandmother served as a mid-wife to the old Hoover's Orchard neighborhood in Wichita.  They were not well-to-do and she delivered all of her own children there in her home.  The last one almost seventy-five years ago.

Today, we are not so far from the manger and yet we are light years from it.

Not a glamorous job even today
but maybe fulfilling by its own right.
Note that there are no wise men in Luke's Gospel.  There are no gifts of gold given to Jesus here.  If you place a star on your Christmas tree, you favor Matthew's Gospel.  If you place an angel, you may be more partial to Luke.

Instead, he is visited by shepherds.  These were the heralds of his birth.

A poor man's trade and not one of sterling reputation either.

Finally, we see that Jesus is presented at the temple in accordance with Jewish Law.  Note the significance of a pair of two turtledoves or pigeons.  In Leviticus 12, it states that these were to be given if you couldn't afford a lamb.

God came for all people - even people of humble status.

Even you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thursday, February 14, Day 2 of Lent

Today's Reading: Luke 1:26-80

The Annunciation by Pietro Perugino
circa 1489 from Wiki commons
There's a lot going on in over fifty verses of today's reading.  As you consider what stands out for you, we have some important scenes including the Annunciation, the Magnificat and Zechariah's prophecy.  

I like the painting to the right in that the angel Gabriel is presenting her with white lilies representing her purity.  We also see the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary like a dove which reminds us of the baptism of Jesus later in the Gospel.

I've always liked Sting's version of the song, Gabriel's Message which you can check out for yourself here:

I like how we end with Zechariah's prophecy in verses 78-79: 

Because of our God’s deep compassion,
    the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
        to guide us on the path of peace.”

Important words for the second day of Lent, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The beginning of Lent

Day 1: Luke 1:1-25

I find it interesting that Luke doesn't begin with the story of Jesus but rather with the story of John the Baptist.  His parents are entrenched in Judaism as descendants of the house of Aaron (brother of Moses).

These were faithful people who had no children.  In that day, they had no social security!

Zechariah is promised a son.  He wonders how this could be since they are so old.  Does this remind you of Abraham?  In Genesis 17:17, Abraham laughs but he doesn't get the silent treatment like Zechariah!

Imagine giving up speaking for nine months!  I've heard of vows of silence.  These aren't very practical for today's world.  What if you gave up speaking derogatory comments about others?

As we begin the Lenten season, we have a little less than fifty days until Easter.  I hope that you'll consider some discipline to take on during this time that will deepen your faith - maybe reading through the Gospel of Luke with me!

photo credit: <a href="">ttcopley</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lent Begins Tomorrow

The season of Lent arrives this year on February 13th which is also known as Ash Wednesday.  There are some pretty good resources online which explain both Ash Wednesday and Lent.  Many people try to give something up for Lent and may wonder what to do. 

I’m always asked about this and so here is my Lent FAQ for you!

If I give something up, can I do it on Sundays during Lent? 

Sundays are not actually part of the forty days of Lent.  Some people choose to discipline themselves for the entire period and some give themselves a grace period on Sundays.  It may depend on what you choose and how hard it is to go “cold turkey”.  I try to include Sundays in my discipline but it is between you and God.

What are things that are helpful to give up?

When I've talked about this with the youth, there is always one person who says that he or she is giving up broccoli.  I try to make it clear that it should be a sacrifice.  It shouldn't be easy to do.  Some people I know have given up their smart phones, texting, television, gaming, Sonic, Starbucks and the internet (all different people).  I've given up sweets (including pop) many times before.  One year I gave up jalapeno peppers and another year, I gave up beef (both these were tougher than sweets for me).  I've given up eating anything after dinner which is difficult for those who like to snack.  I've fasted on Fridays.  I always anticipate Easter! 

What about fasting?

Fasting can be done all day long or it can be done only during daylight hours.  It can be the fast of a single meal per day.  Some put the proceeds of what they spend on lunch toward a ministry dealing with hunger.  I don’t advise children or youth to fast more than a meal and I encourage anyone fasting to drink milk or juice during the day.

Can I add something instead of giving something up?

Certainly.  A daily prayer routine is a great thing to add.  Praying for something specific each day can be helpful.  I once took on reading one of John Wesley’s sermons each day.  I will be blogging every day through Easter and we will try to get through the entire Gospel of Luke so following this blog might be something you would like to do daily during Lent.  I will also be offering a weekly Bible study on Elijah this year on Sunday nights and Wednesday mornings at the church.

How does this improve my relationship with God?

This is the key question.  Whatever you do – whether giving something up or taking something on – it should deepen or strengthen you spiritually.  Giving something up is not just to annoy you and make you hate Lent!  When we experience a craving, we are to be reminded of God’s love for us and what Jesus suffered on the cross.  It allows us to remember that we are more than physical beings.  It also is to remind us that there are some in the world who do not eat daily.  It should strengthen your love of God and neighbor!

There are a few of the basics - I hope you have a meaningful Lenten season this year!