Archive for October, 2020

Mark 15:33-39

October 30, 2020

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?”

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

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 man was God’s Son!” Mark 15:33-39

Many passages in the Bible bear witness to the power of God’s love, but none more powerfully than this one. Jesus, experiencing the utter absence of God, embodies the pure gracious merciful love of God’s presence. And the first person converted to belief in Jesus is one of the Roman soldiers who killed him.

The curtain of the temple was, indeed, torn in two.

The other time when the Greek word for “torn” was used was back in the very beginning, when Jesus was baptized. Mark 1:10-11, “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

These “tearings” are the picture frame within which Jesus ministers to the world. Heaven and earth meet, in baptism, in crucifixion, and soon, in resurrection. These are the ultimate images of the “dividing walls” being torn down. The rejected One becomes the focus of all being accepted, just as they are, even a feared Roman soldier.

The last words that Jesus hears before breathing his last are the taunts of the crowd. He is offered a sponge full of sour wine from those who have no idea of the significance of the blood running down from Jesus’ torn up body. Would they act that way if they truly knew God’s love for them?

This weekend we will celebrate All Saints Day in worship. That day took on a special meaning for me back in 2006 when my father died in October. The Sunday when I came back to Houston to worship at Faith Lutheran was All Saints Day. Even though I was well aware of the theological and liturgical significance of remembering the “saints of God of all times and places”, that Sunday became personal.

We are living through a pandemic. Every corner of the earth is being touched with death. We might not live in fear but we are all aware that there is a lurking virus that knows no distinction between people. Millions are grieving lost loved ones who died alone, absent of human touch and consolation. Many are crying out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

Today we claim the truth – God has not forsaken us, God is right here in, with, and around us. The dividing walls have been torn apart. Love wins.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, may we always see, in your death, the reality of life. May we see our sin exposed, and forgiven. May we see our hard hearts softened as we join with that unnamed solider in confessing our faith. Truly, you are the Son of God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Mark 15:25-32

October 29, 2020

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”

In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. Mark 15:25-32

Everyone jumps on a bandwagon; everyone jumps from a sinking ship. As far as everyone else in the story is concerned, Jesus is a sinking ship. See how they run!

Jesus was executed by the political authorities. He was set up by the religious authorities. He was ridiculed by the disappointed, disillusioned, masses.

Crucifixion was a common Roman practice. It was a sheer exercise of power intended to intimidate the local populace. The heavy posts were planted alongside the major paths into a city or village. Once crucified, the bodies were left to rot until the post needed to be used again.

Every year when we remember this scene, we end our worship with a recitation of Psalm 22.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!

The only aid that God would send were the words implanted in Jesus’ heart, the purpose for which he lost his life. Evil would win this battle – love will win the war.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, to the very end, despite such a horrendous cost, you were faithful. May we see in your death the path to life and may we see in the faces of those who humiliated you, our own humiliation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 15:16-24

October 28, 2020

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. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

 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. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. Mark 15:16-24

There is a lot of power in a uniform. I know that from personal experience. As an athlete, it was an exciting day when they pulled out the new uniforms for the season (even the same old raggedy uniforms from years past.) You put that uniform on and you were suddenly playing for your school, your community, instead of just for yourself.

When I needed money in my first year in the seminary, I got a job as a patrolman for a security company. I dressed just like a police officer. I had a badge, brass buttons the needed to be polished, black boots, a stripe down the leg of my pants. I carried a billy club instead of a gun but I had the same long hard flashlight. And they taught me how to use it if need be. They also said that it was my uniform, and the respect it engendered, that gave me the authority to do my job.

Today my uniforms are a black shirt with a white tab in the collar and a robe on Sunday. Only when I am dressed like that do complete strangers ask me to pray for their loved one when we meet in a hospital elevator. There is power in that too.

And, if not handled appropriately, power is a dangerous thing.

I suppose it was just another day on the job for those soldiers. They got dressed that morning in the garb that set them apart. The uniform that brought more fear than love. They went to work. There was a special prisoner that day. Some said he was the king of the despised, low life, superstitious, Jews amongst whom they were there to control.

They went to work on Jesus. They weren’t concerned about justice or honor or civic duty. They stripped him. They beat him. They hurt him. They humiliated him. They used him as a model to the crowds – THIS is what happens to you if you cross Rome!

The irony is that they dressed Jesus like the King he was. They even recruited a servant to help him carry his cross. But, in the end, stripped of his clothing, stripped of his dignity, his throne would be a cross. His humiliation would be his exaltation.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we pray today for all people who wear uniforms as signifiers of their authority, that they might do the jobs entrusted to them with dignity, excellence, compassion, and mercy. We pray for those who have suffered, even died, at the hands of those who abuse their authority. We trust your love for all people and your particular concern for the powerless, as you yourself experienced the ultimate powerlessness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 15:6-15

October 27, 2020

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.

Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15:6-15

Now the crowds get their say in this Jesus matter. Pilate, magnanimous guy that he is, gives them a choice.

Who will be set free?

Barabbas? In Mark’s account, he was a rebel in prison as an accomplice to murder in a revolt against Roman rule. Such revolts weren’t uncommon. Call them freedom fighters or terrorists or guerilla soldiers, such resistance had been shown against the Romans from the very beginning. It never ended well for them. That Barabbas was being held in prison was a very temporary thing – the authorities were just waiting for the right time to make a public spectacle of his punishment. The penalty for such civil disobedience was crucifixion.

Jesus? We know who Jesus was and what he did. And we know that, as far as Pilate was concerned, Jesus was innocent of anything except riling up the animosity of the superstitious religious leaders. They were jealous and Pilate knew it.

The crowd chose to free Barabbas. Jesus would die in Barabbas’ place, suffering as Barabbas had been destined to suffer. Jesus died for us.

Why did the crowds reject Jesus?

I suppose the easy answer is that it was God’s will. It was what was required for Jesus to complete his mission on earth. It was his destiny. He embodied Isaiah’s Suffering Servant “by whose stripes we are healed.” That’s the common answer. The easy answer. Easy for us.

Another possible answer is that the crowds were just as jealous of one another as the religious authorities. Rather than marveling at the Jesus who fed huge crowds or healed the sick, most in the crowd probably thought, “Where was this Jesus when I was hungry? Where was this Jesus when MY child was sick?” Or perhaps, “I thought the Messiah would defeat the Romans and restore our rightful place as the most powerful people on earth. This guy? He’s no Messiah.”

The crowds rejected Jesus because he didn’t deliver the goods. That he was the very embodiment of goodness didn’t matter to them.

The crowd didn’t care about what was good or right or just or true for anyone else but themselves. They sent Barabbas home for dinner and Jesus to the cross.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it was selfishness, self-centeredness, and resentment that sent you to the cross. It was sin that rejected you then and rejects your ways now. Open our eyes and hearts that we no longer choose the ways of Barabbas over yours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 15:1-5

October 26, 2020

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. 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 15:1-5

I didn’t write last week because Kelley and I are moving to a different house. We are making the shift from renters to homeowners, hopefully the last move we make in our lives. So I took the week off to do some work in the new place and prepare for the movers to come tomorrow. It was exciting. And, for this newly minted 60 year old, it was exhausting.

As we come into the 15th chapter of Mark, Jesus too is making a shift in his ministry. He has spent his life thus far making the love of God real in the lives of people by healing, teaching, and exposing the vast gulf between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The tradition tells us that the public era of his ministry lasted three years. Common sense tells us that Jesus was always a little different, from the very beginning.

But now he is in Jerusalem. Now he finds himself at the heart of the matter. The City on a Hill. The pulse of the people. John’s gospel says he was there three times, thus the tradition of the three years of Jesus’ public ministry. We should note that, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all written long before John – Jesus only goes to Jerusalem one time. One, last, time.

We know why Jesus was such a threat to the religious leaders. He played fast and loose with all of their most cherished religious traditions. He mixed with the wrong people. His followers were a motley crew. He saw that hungry people were fed and sick people were healed and possessed people were set free – none of which the religious leaders could do or hardly even tried to do. When he taught people to pray he invited them to address God as “Daddy.” It was all too much for them. They were losing power, losing control. Jesus needed to go.

So they bound Jesus and handed him over to Pilate.

Pilate’s presence in Jerusalem is a sign of how important Jerusalem was to Rome. The northern two thirds of the country were ruled by the sons of Herod the Great. But Jerusalem, the capital city, was ruled by a Roman official sent specifically to maintain order and control. Pilate answered only to the Emperor. His job was to maintain law and order. “Justice” was what Pilate said justice was. Pilate was amazed that the religious leaders were so threatened by this peasant standing before him. What would Pilate do?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we remember you bound and led to Pilate we are mindful of how important justice-seeking is in our lives today. We know you were innocent of sin but we can also appreciate how upsetting your ways of being were to those who lived in fear of losing their power. Yet you stood silent before your accusers. Their words only condemned themselves. May the courage you modeled that day be the courage that helps us seek justice today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 14:66-72

October 16, 2020

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.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed.

And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the 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 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 14:66-72

What motivates us to deny the truth? It really isn’t all that complicated. Doesn’t it usually have something to do with either what we hope to get, or what we hope to avoid? And in that, doesn’t denying the truth usually flow from a place of self-interest? Beyond that, isn’t it true that, if you deny reality consistently, relentlessly, shamelessly, you might have the power to replace reality in peoples’ minds with a new version of the truth that better serves your purposes?

We learn that lesson in childhood. We learn it as we contort the truth to “get away with something.” If it works, we do it again. If it keeps on working, we keep on doing it. If we keep on doing it, it becomes a feature of our character. It might even come to define us.

Peter said, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” This is quite obviously a lie. This isn’t fake news, alternative facts, or a hoax. This is a lie. A lie told to a servant girl. Peter not only knew he was lying, it must have bothered him so much that, Mark tells us, he immediately left the side of the fire and escaped into the courtyard.

But she wasn’t done. Again she named the reality that Peter was a follower of Jesus. Again he lied. Others joined in, each proclaiming the truth, again he lied. Only then, hearing the sound of the cock crowing, does what he had done hit him. He broke down and wept.

Why did a simple, powerless, servant girl have such power over Peter that she could cause him to deny even knowing the man who Peter had pledged his life to protect? Because she wasn’t powerless. Despite her place on a humanly created pecking order of her place on the social hierarchy, she possessed the only power that rises to the level of love – she possessed the truth.

The power she wielded over Peter was the power of truth. She held the truth against him and he crumbled. To protect himself. He lied.

There are only two bits of good news in this story of Peter’s denial. One is the power of the truth. The other is that Peter broke down and wept. He knew what he did was wrong. He wasn’t shameless, he was broken. His tears were honest tears.

Whenever I read the story of Peter’s denial I remember how John would later write the Jesus story. At the end, after Jesus rose from the dead, he shows up along the side of the Sea of Galilee to cook breakfast for the disciples who had spent the night fishing. They had returned to their old lives. When Peter sees Jesus on the shore he dives into the water and swims into his presence. We know why. We know what Peter was seeking. Mercy. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. And that is exactly what he received.

And then Jesus gave him a gift. Jesus gave him a sense of purpose. Love my sheep. Feed my sheep. Live, not for yourself, but for the sake of others. The truth set Peter free.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we’re not shocked by Peter’s denial. We’ve heard the story before. This time, let this story speak deeply into our hearts, calling to mind the many times and many ways that we have ran from the truth in self-serving ways. You named the evil one the “father of lies” and you promised that it would be the truth that would set us free. May we trust that to be true. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 14:51-65

October 15, 2020

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire.

Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For 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 did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer.

Again 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. Mark 14:51-65

Sometimes, when I read the verses for the day in these devotions, I worry that some readers might skip actually reading the Bible and just read what crosses my mind. I hope that doesn’t happen. Especially today and tomorrow.

So, now, go back and read today’s verses again….

It begins with this strange verse but the unnamed young man who almost gets caught by the authorities – they catch him by what little he is wearing – but he wriggles free and, naked, runs to safety. What a strange verse!

Some interpreters have suggested that this is John Mark, the possible author of the gospel. I have no idea what the basis for that suggestion would be. We ought instead just let the verse stand as it is. One more follower of Jesus stripped naked as he flees for his own protection. Can we blame him?

Then we move to the “trial”. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice sits on a six acre site in Montgomery, AL. It was created to force us to remember the terror and injustice of the wave of lynching African Americans that spread across the country from 1880-1940. Every “trial”, which preceded every such lynching, looked just like the “trial” that Jesus faced.

It was never about justice. It was only about power. And when justice falls victim to power then the darkest sides of fallen human nature rule the day.

Some things never change. Unless people decide they must change and go to work to do it.

Jesus bravely stands his ground. The high priest is so enraged that he tears his own clothes – he too, like that unnamed young man – is stripped bare. He too, who ought to have known better, shows his true colors. He only cares about retaining his own power. Even if that means killing an innocent man. Meanwhile, Peter sits quietly outside.

Now, go back and read the verses again…

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, in your trial, in your bravery, in your powerlessness, you stand with and for all of those who were murdered without justice, simply because of the imagined threat they posed to those clinging to their own privilege and power. May we never sit idly by, silent, in the face of devastating injustice. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 14:43-50

October 14, 2020

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.

But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” All of them deserted him and fled. Mark 14:43-50

If you have ever invested money, then you have heard something like this: “Past performance does not predict future returns.” Except, over time, with a large enough sample, it usually does. The leopard can’t change his spots.

Jesus is betrayed by Judas with a kiss. A sign of friendship and trust is perverted. This betrayal cuts much deeper than Judas “telling on” Jesus.

A church member once reminded me of this passage when he was explaining the godliness of the 2nd amendment. He assured me that “Even Jesus’ disciples were armed!” I guess we are always tempted to do what we want with Bible stories.

It is interesting to note that Matthew, retelling this same story, includes Jesus’ response to this feeble attempt to be helpful: Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” (Matt. 26:52-54)

Luke goes even farther in cleaning things up. He writes, “When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

No surprise, I didn’t change my friend’s mind about the godliness of violence, even in self defense, Luke and Matthew didn’t help either. We’re always tempted to hear only what we want to hear. Jesus used to say that…Let those with ears, hear.

What ought we hear in this story? The scriptures were being fulfilled. Or is it that the scriptures were being repeated? Because there is nothing new about people rejecting God and God’s ways of being in the world. From the forbidden fruit to the Dance of the Golden Calf to the excesses of Solomon to the rejection of the prophets, there is nothing new to see here.

What ought we hear in this story? Jesus was left alone. Everyone fled but his captors. The very people who ought to have known better were the ones leading the charge.

It is so much easier to focus on the innocence of Jesus than to acknowledge the shame of everyone else. We’re always tempted to twist the story to suit ourselves even if that means turning this passage into an argument for the 2nd amendment.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we’ve seen this happen far too many times. Crowds gather and blood is in the air. Violence breaks out and, once again, you are betrayed with a kiss. Teach us anew to reject violence, to meet the crowds with love rather than joining them in hate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 14:32-42

October 13, 2020

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”

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; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

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; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:32-42

The best stories are the ones that draw you in, won’t let you go, and never run out of meanings. You read them – you feel like you are right there – you ponder them – and you keep seeing something new.

Jesus takes his friends to a garden. Today, it is a fenced in grove of olive trees. Ancient olive trees. The trees give you a sense…that you are THERE where it happened. Your mind reaches back to the very beginning. To another garden where all was well. But all is no longer well.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace. From this garden the Prince of Peace will soon be cast out to get a dying lesson in what peace looks like in the land ruled by the Roman army.

Jesus prays. His prayer, the intimacy in how he addresses God, reveals his humanity. He is torn, distraught, full of grief. Then he says it, the words which echo through history, “yet, not what I want, but what you want.

This is the prayer of a leader. This is what leaders look like. Self-giving, servant-hearted, love.

But leaders cannot be leaders without followers. And this is not the finest hour for those following Jesus. They can’t stop falling asleep. They’ve been told “stay awake” but they just can’t pull it off.

Their slumber is part of what draws us into the story. Wanting better from them turns inward and suggests that we ought to want better from ourselves. To stay awake, alert, prepared. But we know how we are – the burdens and cares of life, the times of trial – overwhelm us and we just want to sleep in. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is still weak.

Meanwhile, the Roman SWAT team assembles, every soldier grabbing their precious instruments of war, preparing to march smartly into the garden of peace, to assert their dominance over a single Jewish peasant who wishes no one harm.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, penetrate our spirits with the prayer of Jesus. Not our wills but your will be done, in our lives, in our world, despite the cost. Rouse us from our slumber that we might stay awake. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 14:26-31

October 12, 2020

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”

But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. Mark 14:26-31

Peter was absolutely sure that he would stick with Jesus through whatever life might bring their way. He was a true believer. A warrior. The best of friends. Dedicated. Devoted.

Everybody else might back down. They might give up. They might crumble and crater. But not Peter. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

Weirdly, reading these verses reminds me of a fight that happened in middle school between two good friends of mine. Tony was a talker. He put himself out there as a tough guy. George? George was George. He was just a good guy. He was the kind of guy who wouldn’t hurt anyone. Everybody liked George. But Tony called him out and George followed.

One punch later and Tony changed his tune. A couple more punches and Tony was done. I never saw either of them ever fight anyone else again.

I know this memory didn’t come back to me this morning because I encourage fighting. I don’t. And no, I don’t think anything in the story would have changed at all had Peter later showed that he had the walk to back up his talk.

I remember this story because all it took was one punch.

One punch to reveal our true selves.

Jesus saw it coming. Jesus knew that he alone would have to do what he alone could do. Jesus knew that the only power he possessed was the power of love. He couldn’t – and more importantly, he wouldn’t – force anyone to trust him. To follow him. To love him. Only love could do that.

The love that possessed Jesus was not a selfish love. Just the opposite, it was a self-giving love. Peter thought he loved Jesus in the same self-giving way. One punch was all it would take. One punch and Peter’s faith would crumble in the face of his fear.

Jesus knew that punch was coming. We never know when it will come. But it will. Again and again and again. We will betray our best intentions; we will deny our deepest values. We will trade it all in because of the fear that hides our selfishness and self-centeredness. We will break on our own brokenness. And when it happens, we won’t even see it coming.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, like Peter, we too are steadfastly determined to trust ourselves and our own ability to stay the course of trusting, of following, of standing up for what you have taught us to do. This morning we take great comfort in knowing that you know us far better than we know ourselves – yet you still love us enough to give your life for us. Thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.