Lent, the End of the World, & the Coming of the Son of Man | Mark 13.1-27


This meditation on Mark 13.1-27 is expanded from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook

__________

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?

Continue reading

Lent: The Anointing & The Plot to Kill Jesus [guest post]



This meditation on Mark 14.1-11 is excerpted from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook, and is for the second week of Lent. It is by Tara Ann Woodward.

__________

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.
Continue reading

Transfiguration: Christmas Revealed (An Epiphany Reflection)


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.
Continue reading

The Gospel of Mark & Laureti’s “The Triumph of the Cross over Paganism”


For each preaching series at my church, we take time in choosing a piece of art to reflect the content. This is a reflection I wrote for our series going through the Gospel of Mark.

Of all the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is the most stripped-down, earthy, human depiction of Jesus. It is spare and humble, with an earnest pace, and ironic wink. Yet it may seem odd that we’ve decided on Tomasso Laureti’s 1585 fresco Triumph of Christianity as its thematic image—a painting that hangs in one of the most opulent, larger-than-life halls of power in all the world.

Laureti’s piece lives on the ceiling of the Hall of Constantine, the largest room in the Vatican’s Papal Palace. It is not part of the original design: it replaced the original wooden ceiling in 1585, six decades after the room was finished. This being the case, there is an odd tension between this art and the garish displays on the walls below; and this tension embodies much what we will be explore in our sermon series through Mark.
Continue reading

Shame and The Unforgivable Sin Against the Holy Spirit | Mark 3.28-30


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.
Continue reading

Tender words for a terrified father | Mark 5.35-36


While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Mark 5:35-36

Jesus first offers comforting words to this father. He doesn’t put down his lack of faith, as he does with the disciples on the boat in the previous chapter, nor does he brag of his own authority to raise the dead. Instead, Jesus simply gives him a call not to fear, only to trust. What sensitive, heartfelt, loving words these are.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Is There No Rest for God’s Weary Ministers? | Mark 6


Lucien Simon-Christ Performing MiraclesReading through the sixth chapter of Mark, I recently noticed a way that Jesus relates to his disciples which is, at first, incredibly encouraging, but then gets exceedingly hard.

This is right after he had sent his disciples out, two by two, to try out this whole “ministry thing” by themselves. According to Mark, it was an incredibly powerful and effective time of ministry for them. They saw powerful things done, and they were able to play a part in them. They return from their first “ministry internship”, and this is where we pick up the story.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Mark 6.30-31

Jesus’ pastoral concern extends not only to his flock but also to the shepherds. They have done so much ministry and now he insists that they withdraw and rest and eat. Also, they shouldn’t simply do this by themselves as individuals, but with those who are also doing ministry. The leaders of the church should rest together as fellow weary workers.
Continue reading

Name the Darkness: Jesus & Our Persistent Demons | Mark 5:6-9


When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
Mark 5:6-9

Well this is interesting. It seems like Jesus had said words of exorcism earlier and it, in a sense, hadn’t “worked”. I wonder if the tradition behind this story was of a man so demon possessed that Jesus’ first try at getting rid of them failed. That certainly seems to be the case here. Jesus had commanded the demon to leave the man, and it didn’t.

Now, I don’t like pulling what seems like “self-help lessons” from things like this, or appealing to pop psychology, but this could be instructive in a ministry context. Jesus has appealed to his word and his authority to bring healing and to cast out the disorder and evil in this person’s life. It hasn’t worked. It is so big, it goes so far back into the past, and the issues seem so numerous, that it just isn’t going to take a quick shot to the soul.

So in light of this, how does Jesus respond? He asks the person’s name. Yes, the demon responds, but there’s no indication that Jesus is only talking to the unclean spirit here. He asks the man name, and he answers by identifying himself by his evil. But this is still progress. He gives name to what is haunting and hurting him, and this diagnoses his soul and gives Jesus the insight on how to bring healing to this man.

Giving name is powerful for healing and change and even getting rid of demons.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

As Jesus said: the Bible is NOT “the Word” | Mark 4:33


With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it…
Mark 4.33

Those that are not Christians can still do righteousness. But Take note: it is within the parable that the “word” is found. It is not the parables themselves. It is a vehicle for “the word” even as it is not that word itself. The “word of God” is not as simplistic as one ancient text or book. It must be discerned, sought after, and found. The Word is within the Bible’s words–“behind them”, in a sense–it is not the words themselves. We can’t confuse this.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Sometimes God’s Heart breaks mine | Mark 4:10-12


When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables in order that

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
    and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

Mark 4.10-12

I simply don’t understand what this says about the heart of God. It seems at odds with everything else Jesus does. Is this just a temporary thing in order for the Gentiles to join in the mystery of redemption? Or is it truly as cold and calloused as this seems? Any help here would be appreciated.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Useless Details of Mark | selections from Mark


Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. —Mark 4.1

Mark is famous for useless details like this. He “sat there”? Seems to imply an eyewitness dimension.

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. —Mark 4.36

Another useless detail implying eyewitness sources here. Peter?

[After raising a little girl from the dead,] He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5.43

Haha. another useless, funny detail hinting at this coming from an eyewitness. That is so funny. Reminds me of the statement early on in Mark about how after fasting for 40 days, Jesus was hungry.

Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. —Mark.6.39

“Green grass”?

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.Mark 14.51-52

Forget the Nephilim, this is the oddest thing in the Bible.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Ancient Miracles, Skepticism, & Historicity | Mark 2.12


And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Mark 2.12

Even ancient people knew magic tricks. This was utterly different than anything else they’d ever seen or even thought was possible. This point is especially interesting considering the things they believe God had done in history in the past. Even though they “believed” the things happened, it wasn’t until they were face to face with the New Creation that they really saw the things this God could do.

Similarly to today, I wonder if there’s a subtle, unconscious “wink-wink” about how seriously we take some of these things. In their case, I actually think it was right, however, as those miraculous things in their stories were to be seen more as symbols and shadows that would point forward to an “actual” manifestation in Christ–not as historically-essential events. And yet, when that Christ was there, it still blew there minds.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Joy of Mark & the Looming Cross | Mark 2.1-2


When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.
Mark 2.1-2

Who would have guessed where this story was ultimately heading? Who could see at this point the shadow of the Cross? There’s such joy and excitement at this point in the story. To know where it ends, gives these verses an odd weightiness to them.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Of Seed, Scattering, & Harvest-Time | Mark 4:26–29


He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4.26-29

So beautiful. We can’t discern the movements of the Kingdom of God: how it grows, to what point it will grow, and what it will look like. But we’ll know when it is Harvest time. I also like the image that the farmer has scattered the seed. It isn’t just one type of seed. Sure, he could mean he has scattered “Christians” all over the place, and that’s true. But I like the idea that he’s at work all over the place.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.