While my church isn’t meeting in person due to social distancing, my pastor has been putting out weekly video reflections (with some announcements at the end, but don’t let that scare you off). I thought today’s was beautiful and moving and I wanted to share it with you all.
Here is the Holy Monday prayer and reflection from my church. Leaders from the church are doing videos for each day of Holy Week, going through our prayerbook liturgy for the day and offering some personal reflections. You can also find the audio version on our podcast.
We cannot come before God
unless we are first honest with ourselves
about who we are,
about the mistakes we make,
and about how well or poorly we care for others.
In this spirit, let us offer our prayers to God.
O God of peace,
I have built up walls to protect myself from my enemies,
but those walls also shut me off from receiving your love.
Break down those walls.
Help me to see that the way to your heart
is through the reconciliation of my own heart with my enemies.
Bless both them and me,
that we may both come to grow in love for each other and for you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
~ Silent Confession & Reflection ~
Selection from Mark 11.20 – 13.36
Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Jesus was rejected and overlooked. Take a moment to have a conversation with someone who is often overlooked — perhaps an acquaintance you know is lonely, perhaps someone living on the street. After your conversation, spend some time praying for that person.
For Families: Ask your children if they have ever felt rejected or overlooked (explain these concepts if necessary). Ask them if you, as their parent, have ever been the cause of them feeling that way. If so, apologize and repent to them. Help them connect this feeling to Jesus’ experience and let them know that, whenever they may feel that way in their life, Jesus knows and never rejects or overlooks us.
I just wanted to point you to a series my church is doing. Leaders from the church are doing videos for each day of Holy Week, going through our prayerbook liturgy for the day and offering some personal reflections. Here is the first one for Palm Sunday. You can also find the audio version on our podcast.
If you participated in Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, you may have felt the shocking way Lent sneaks up on us. It refuses to ease us into its contours and instead hits us in the face with as much blunt force reality as it can: You are ash. You will die.
For those uncomfortable with these sorts of truths, the text below does not let up. It is a scary and confusing one, speaking of death, torment, wars, and destruction–even among those most innocent in society. The confusion of this text led some Christian traditions (especially the 19th-century American Church) to separate these words from their original context and history and see them as terrifying images of the end of the world. Perhaps you grew up in such a tradition and read these words with that filter.
To the extent there is good news in this, it is that these words are not in fact talking about the end of the world. The bad news? Well, the truth of what it is saying is even scarier.
Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world Armageddon here. Instead, he is predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans 35 years later) and telling his people what to do when it happens. Just look at the verses immediately preceding the scary ones. Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed, his disciples ask when that’s going to happen and what will it be like, and then Jesus says all this stuff. When you start reading it that way, it’s pretty straightforward. But why does this matter?
Reflection: A Fragrant Offering
As Mark’s plot picks up speed toward Jesus’ death, the story pauses to show us a quiet interaction between Jesus, a woman, and Judas. In it, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume as a symbolic preparation of Jesus’ body for death. While Judas seeks to betray Jesus, she has a different sense of who Jesus is and his purpose on earth. Jesus is the only one to notice that “she has done a beautiful thing” by preparing Jesus’ body with perfume prior to his burial, and so this beautiful thing stops the story in its tracks. As the Lenten season unfolds, we don’t want to miss what God is doing in the midst of our hearts and lives. May her posture reshape how we purposefully engage the journey to the cross.
The Lent tradition began in the 3rd-century of the early church and is a 40-day season of preparation and repentance in anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. Whether you are only beginning to explore the claims of Jesus, or have been a Christian for some time, Lent is a perfect season to allow God to shape your life around the cross and empty tomb of Christ in fresh ways.
Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity. If you’re like me, you forget to think about this until Lent has already started, so hopefully this helps us all.
If you think of these practices as external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life, then fasting is a process of removing things to create a space, prayer is the way we fill those interior spaces, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.
To use another analogy, prayer is like the soul’s inhale, and love/generosity is its exhale; fasting or other ascetic practices are ways to increase our “lung capacity” or quicken our breath for a time from spiritual exertion in order to take in and give out more than we normally would. Continue reading
This Epiphany reflection is the final meditation from the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook.
The Transfiguration has always bothered me deeply. Jesus takes his closest friends to a mountain and is “transfigured”: his clothes turn white, he talks with some Old Testament prophets, God says nice things about him; everything then calms and they walk down the mountain like nothing happened.
But… what is a “transfiguration”? Translators use that word because no one knows what this moment is or was. “Transfigure” doesn’t mean just a change in appearance, but an actual change in substance and form. There’s simply no word in language that can communicate it. “
Transfigure”, then, is an almost nonsensical word. It’s merely a placeholder for something whose meaning we can’t ever know. So even though the words sit there in black-and-white before us, we will never know nor have access to what this actually means or is saying.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Jessa Stevens.
I started a company six years ago and I truly felt I was following God’s plan for my life. I saw him leading me through challenges, making connections, providing financially. I was filled with hope and motivation. I felt like what I was doing was helping people, healing friends and family. I was doing something I loved that connected me to God and his vision for my life.
If you’ve spoken to me in the last year, however, the road has been more bumpy and more challenging. And surprisingly, though at times I’ve been angry, confused, and discontent with the struggles of this company, I’ve been relying more on God daily than I had when I was praising him for all the ease and fun of this job.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Amanda Mahnke.
Growing up, I was always intrigued by the story of Rahab. As a tween and teen, it was somewhat perplexing to me that the Bible celebrated this woman as righteous for lying to protect the Israelite spies. Given Rahab’s less-than-reputable profession —and a wealth of biblical heroes who did far worse than she — I’m not sure why the deceit was my biggest hangup. I do know, though, that ruminating on Rahab’s story was an important step in my journey toward a less black-and-white, judgmental kind of faith.
The story of Rahab begins as Joshua and his army are preparing to destroy the Canaanite city of Jericho as an offering to the Lord. In an act of treason, Rahab hides the enemy spies and lies to her own government officials regarding their whereabouts. We have no real way of knowing why she does this. What we do know is that, somehow, this Canaanite prostitute has heard about the miracles of the Israelite God, and she has believed.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Maria Lipkin.
When I read some of the episodes of David’s story I often think, “what a coward! How did God let him get away with so much?!” I feel this way especially when I read the story of David and Bathsheba. Here is a king who was supposed to be fighting with his men but is instead lounging around his palace. At the first sight of a naked woman, he makes her have sex with him even though she is married to one of his own valiant soldiers! They conceive a child and David kills her husband to cover up his act. The child dies because of David’s sin.
“If our mortality is overcome as the mortality of Jesus’ humanity was, we do not leave our mortal lives behind after death, as if our deaths (and sufferings) have been cancelled out. We are not replaced by new immortal versions of ourselves, any more than the resurrected Christ appears as someone who is not visibly the crucified. It is the crucified body that is glorified to immortality in the resurrection of the body. Our mortality is not changed into immortality after death, mortal bodies replaced by essentially immortal ones. Instead our mortality is (even now, though unapparently) clothed in immortality. (1 Cor 15:33)”
– Dr. Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity
I got this book in Advent last year and never actually read it. This quote makes me think that, with where my soul is now, the delay was providential. This will be my Advent read this year. Join me!
Reading through the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda, I was struck by a series of things I wanted to share with you all today, in no particular order. (But first, read the story in John 5.1-9):
First, the man doesn’t go to Jesus or ask him anything–he doesn’t even request the healing himself! Jesus just goes to him and heals him.
Some Thoughts on Blaspheming Oneself
I’m going to talk some theology today, but first let’s talk about some feelings. I’ve got a dear friend that struggles from time to time with deep fears, shame, and insecurity around his relating to God and the state of his soul, and his anxious heart tends to latch onto religious and theological reasons for these feelings.
In the years I’ve walked with him, different aspects of Christian faith and theology have shaken his assurance that he is, in fact, a Christian and that he can have a hopeful belief in his present and future relating to God.
Recently, he’s been struggling with an idea that’s gone by a few different names throughout history: “The Unpardonable Sin”, “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit”, “The Unforgiveable Sin”, among others. It’s repeated and reframed in a few places of the Bible, but here is Mark’s version:
[And Jesus said,] “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they [his enemies, the Jewish leaders] had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Many, many of you out there may brush this aside as one more cryptic saying of Jesus on which you can’t base the whole weight of eternity. Others may think this is such theological minutiae or so random out of everything in the Bible that they find it confusing someone would be overly concerned with it.
I feel far, Lord.
But I know you’re here. I know it.
It’s the nature of the matter; a matter of nature, I suppose.
Perhaps only now I feel at the deepest existential depths:
“I believe! Help my unbelief!”
Warning: this post talks about self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing this, you can chat online with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call at 1.800.273.8255.
We are in the final weeks of the Christian season of Lent: a time where we focus on the fact that we are not yet who we will be, and that we still live in much darkness, weakness, and self-obsession. On its own, this could become masochistic or over-indulgent depending on your personality. But this is why Easter comes on the other side as a call to cast off the brooding and soul-spelunking to rise into the highest heights of celebration and freedom the Resurrection offers.
But still, this time lends itself to sadder reflections. The other day, my coworkers and I were sharing stories of social work clients we’ve worked with over the years and I was brought back ten years to my first time encountering a suicidal client when I was brand new to the field.