Lifted Up

Mercy Labyrinth by Amber DjpgMessage for Lent 4 on John 3:12-21 given on March 14, 2021 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, TX. This sermon and all worship videos can be seen on YouTube.

About seven years ago I was in a time of transition. I had resigned from the church I was serving and was not sure yet what my next ministry would be. Five years post cancer treatment, I was still battling fatigue and other issues that were not going away. Dan was also in pastoral transition. Our oldest child was in college and the next two were not far behind. I was perplexed, frustrated and ready for answers about my health and our future. On a fall day in September, I felt a strong inner urging to go up to a retreat house and walk their outdoor prayer labyrinth. It is a great way for me to pray when I have a hard time sitting still for long. Maybe God would finally give me some answers—as you can imagine, I was ready for a plan—chop, chop!

Just before our Gospel reading today, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, also came to Jesus for answers. Jesus had turned his world of religious rules and customs upside down—cleansing the Temple and doing signs of healing such as Nicodemus had never seen. He recognized God’s power at work in Jesus, but Nicodemus wanted to understand what Jesus’s message really was. What was the true point of his mission? What was his purpose and where did Nicodemus and we fit into it? Nicodemus was ready for Jesus’ plan—chop, chop!

Jesus does give Nicodemus what has become the most famous passage of the bible, seen on bumper stickers, placard signs at football games, t-shirts, and ball caps: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” It’s a darn good mission statement, but not really a plan.

Our passage does, however, give us much more than just this one verse. We hear what comes before and after John 3:16 so with Nicodemus we can discover what this really means for him and for us. First Jesus makes a somewhat odd reference to a passage in Numbers when the Israelites complained against God’s provision in the wilderness. God did not like their grumbling and punished them with poisonous serpents; the people who were bitten, were dying. The Israelites repented of their grumbling and asked Moses to intercede with God on their behalf. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up above the people. When they looked at the bronze serpent they were healed of their bites, and spared from death. Notice that God did not take away the source of their pain. Instead, when looking to the bronze serpent, the Israelites would see both the consequence of their sin, and their need for God. This one image symbolized their brokenness and their dependence on God’s provision, their need for God’s forgiveness, and the pure grace of God’s gift of life—none of which would have happened if God just took away the serpents that tore at their ankles. As Jesus says later in the passage, their deeds had to be brought into the light, and once acknowledged, they are forgiven and given life.

Jesus explains to Nicodemus: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

We may wonder why God did not just take away sin without the cross, but Jesus’ image of the Son being lifted up like Moses’ serpent gives us an idea. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross of crucifixion, we are reminded of our own sin while, at the same time, acknowledging our need for God. In looking up at our suffering Lord, we must see the violence we inflict on others, on ourselves, on this planet, we must see our own suffering, and the suffering of this world; and we also see our need for God’s forgiveness, and the pure grace of God’s love given in Jesus, and the gift of eternal life—none of which we would grasp if God just eliminated sin for us. Our darkness had to be brought into the light and then we are given life. Those who looked up at the bronze serpent were given life; those who look up at the cross and believe in Jesus are given eternal life.

But Jesus does not only speak of his crucifixion when he talks about being “lifted up—for Jesus will be lifted up two more times. He will be lifted up in the resurrection with power over death, so that we can see this promise of eternal fulfilled here and now on earth. Jesus will be exalted over the power of sin! The truth can come into the light because Jesus conquers the power of all that separates us from God.

And then, even more so, Jesus will be lifted up in the Ascension when he returns to the Father so he can prepare for us, the abiding places and the many mansions in his Father’s house. The One who has descended will also ascend to make the abiding relationship he has with the Father available to each of us—that we may be one with Father as he is one with the Father.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus that God did not send him into the world for us to remain separated from God, but that through him we may have an abiding, eternal, on-going, relationship with God, the Creator that begins right now. That is Jesus’ mission and plan according to John’s Gospel—as he is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself, so that they will abide in God as Jesus abides in God.

Abiding with God is to abide in the light, always recognizing our need for forgiveness and love in our sin and wrongdoing. God’s love and grace and life are always offered alongside our failures. The serpent and the gift of life are lifted up together. The suffering of the cross and the gift of grace are lifted up together. The reality of living in a fallen world and abiding in an eternal relationship with the Father through Jesus exist right now together. It is not a plan—chop, chop—it is a lived reality; it is being willing to dwell in the light every day; it is accepting that life is both deeply painful and full of immense love at the same time. It is being willing to let go of duality, either/or, and black/white thinking, and instead dwell in God’s “now” where God abides with us and we know fully even as we are fully known. Right this minute, we abide in God as we accept that we are a sinner and a saint, broken by sin and full of grace, a clay pot and a temple of the Spirit, in need of forgiveness and a gift to the kingdom always at the same time. Right this minute, we are broken by sin and abiding in God and God is abiding in us, all at once and the same is true for our neighbor, and the people we love, and the people we hate.

And that is what happened to me in labyrinth on that fall September day. I wanted an answer, and like Nicodemus, I wanted a plan—chop, chop. As I walked through the labyrinth, winding my way through the long circular paths—which was supposed to be meditative—my mind raced, filled with a jumble of issues and questions, and mostly, my desire for a plan, for a future, for, a little clarity. I arrived at the center and sat on one of the tree stumps to listen to for God to give me my answer. But that is not what God gave me. Instead, I got a picture, an image of God’s movement through time—eternal life is abiding with God now. Abide with me and I will abide with you. Live with the unfolding, engage in the journey, abide in the relationship. And finally, that is the only plan there is—I am with you until the end of the age.

There are parts of me that still do not like this answer. I still crave concrete direction—chop, chop. But so often, the response is not an answer, but an invitation: abide with me. This is the purpose of any of our spiritual practices, whether a walk or a table prayer, it is to listen, to be aware, notice, and pay attention to the presence of God who is abiding with us and in us. Jesus, who descended into the world has been lifted up on the cross, lifted up in the resurrection and lifted up in the ascension, so we might look to him and know that he prepares a place for us here and now that we might abide with God, and know that eternity begins right now.

Reflection Questions:

  • Read the first part chapter 3 to put the conversation Jesus has with “Nic at night” into context. When have you wanted clarity and plan from God? What kind of answers did you receive?
  • What are your experiences with John 3:16? Have you stopped to think about what it really means? How would you express this verse in your own words?
  • Ultimately, God’s greatest power is to love us through suffering rather than take it away. Is there a time of suffering in your own life that deepened your faith because you had to rely solely on God?
  • For the Gospel of John, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension are one event—salvation is not complete without Jesus returning to prepare “abiding places” or “many mansions” in the Father’s house (see John 14). This makes the ultimate act of salvation, not forgiveness from sin or damnation, but an eternal relationship with God that is real and begins here and now. How does this change or impact how you think about and experience your own faith?
  • Martin Luther taught that we are at the same time sinner and saint—like the Israelites looking at the serpent and us looking at the cross—we see our sin and God’s love simultaneously. How does this help you balance pride and humility, ego and shame, healthy self-esteem and unhealthy self-negation? What are creative ways you deal with this inner duality?

Photo: Amber D., 2020 on Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/mercy-conference-and-retreat-center-st-louis?select=j2LBfwTcP-wFFRf9nyL9Ag

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Focus on Jesus

Mafa006 mediumMessage for Lent 3 on John 2:13-22 given on March 7, 2021 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, TX

This sermon and all worship videos can be seen on YouTube.

In making plans to worship outside this Sunday, I have been powerfully reminded of an extraordinary worship experience I had when I was a seminary student and spent a semester in the southern African country of Zimbabwe. I traveled for a long weekend visit to the Zion Christian Church, a rural, indigenous independent Christian church. Much of the church’s membership lived on a cooperative farm. They greeted us with biblical hospitality—arriving as strangers unannounced at their door, we were welcomed with open arms, given food and drink, a place to stay in someone’s hut, and time to visit with the Bishop. We worked in the fields during the day, breaking for a lunch of stewed greens and tea. On Sunday morning, as we gathered for worship, we look for the church building. Instead of an edifice we were led to long wooden benches under a huge tree. The women led the singing, clapping, dancing, and ululating while drums played, full of joy at God’s blessings and Jesus’ forgiveness. The bishop read a passage from the Bible and preached, followed by more singing and dancing. Their sanctuary was creation, God’s first and best cathedral, and their focus was on Jesus.

My experience in Zimbabwe resonates with our passage from John. Jesus, through his words and actions, asks the question: Where is the focus of your worship? By overturning the tables of the money changers and the sellers of animals, Jesus leads our worship in a new direction.

It is important to note that there was nothing wrong or immoral about selling animals for sacrifice in the Temple Courtyard. Indeed, the book of Deuteronomy, as it instructs everyone to bring their tithe to the Lord, says if the distance is too great to bring their goat or a tenth of their grain to the Temple, they can turn their first fruits into money for ease of transport, and then purchase animals for sacrifice once they arrive in Jerusalem. So, the moneychangers and animal-sellers have set up tables in the Temple courtyard to accommodate the faithful traveling in from out of town to make their sacrifices for Passover.

So, in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ concern is not criminality or the illegitimacy of buying and selling animals, but instead the authentic worship of God. Arriving in the Temple, Jesus observes people going about business as usual—purchasing sacrifices, preparing tithes, and getting ready for Passover as if nothing has changed. But everything has changed. God has become embodied in a human person is present with and for them at this very moment. The Word has become flesh! God’s presence and God’s name is no longer confined to the building in one location, but is now extended and present in the person and power of Jesus himself. The focus has shifted from the Temple to Jesus. In other words, God has left the building.

One’s worship and devotion is no longer lodged in a monetary exchange to make an offering or in animal sacrifice, but in an on-going relationship with the God who has invested in creation and within humanity and in all the details and fullness of life. The Word became flesh who dwells among us is the fullness of God who is present in everything and in our every day—not in one exchange, in one market, in one location, at three festivals a year.

In order to shake things up and in order to get people’s attention, Jesus goes for the grand gesture –he turns over tables, dumps out coins, and scatters animals. The new focus of worship is Jesus—and the relationship with the God you can now have with the One who came to walk among you.

The Jewish leaders ask for a sign—Jesus tells them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” Jesus is saying, Do you not get it? God is not simply “in there.” I am God. I am the Temple! Yes, God has left the building. Focus on Jesus.

If we have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that God has left the building! We may prefer worship in the sanctuary, we may like the altar, the pulpit, the pews, and all that goes with it, but we have learned through both difficult and I hope beautiful and meaningful ways, that God shows up everywhere, because Jesus is everywhere.

• At home on video—Jesus is with us.
• In the parking lot outside—Jesus is with us.
• In our car or sharing a video on Zoom—Jesus is with us.

We have all discovered that we worship Jesus wherever we are. What matters to us is the same thing that mattered to Jesus when he cleansed the Temple, and what mattered to the rural indigenous church worshiping under tree: the main thing is that we keep the main thing, the main thing.

The main thing is not the building or the sanctuary—nice though they are. The main thing is not the flowers, or the paraments, or pipe organ, or the coffee—lovely as they can be. The main thing is not the pastor, or the style of music. The main thing is Jesus. Focus on Jesus, the Word made flesh who lives among us. He is the Temple, he is the presence of God everywhere for us now. The Temple is everywhere, because Jesus is everywhere.

As more people become vaccinated and the pandemic winds down, Council hopes that we can return to worship in the sanctuary this summer. As we spend the next few months preparing for this transition, Jesus reminds us that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing—and that is him.

• How will we use our building so that more people have a chance to experience of God’s grace in Jesus?
• How can we use technology to expand the number of people who experience God’s forgiveness in Jesus?
• How can make sure our ministry leaves the building so people are fed, and visited, and forgiven and given hope in the name of Jesus?

That is the main thing. “The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” We can keep the main thing, the main thing because we know in our own hearts and lives the fullness of the risen Jesus dwelling in and with us—wherever we are because we, too, have left the building.

We have witnessed the presence of God in new ways in our own home, at our dinner table, worshiping at our home altar, through the miracle of technology, in our new connections with old friends, in discovering new ways to pray, to serve, and to be Christ to each other while we are apart. God will continue to expand our experiences of God at home, in the cathedral worshiping outdoors, and in the world, because Jesus Christ is in all, through all, and with all and within each of us.

Yes, God has left the building and dwells in Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh and living among us, and through us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Reflection Questions:

• Have you worshiped outside before and what was it like (perhaps at camp as child? In college?)

• If you have worshiped outside during this pandemic, what has been your experience of it?

• What is the most powerful part of worship for you or where you feel the presence of Jesus Christ most intimately? Has this changed over the course of the pandemic and the changing styles or methods of worship?

• How has your relationship with Jesus changed over this last year of the pandemic?

• Have you thought of the significance of Jesus’ body as the new Temple, and later in the New Testament, Paul calling all our bodies the “temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19). What does this mean to you?

• What do you think is important for your congregation moving forward to help keep Jesus, the main thing, as the main thing?

• In what new or surprising ways have you experienced Jesus in the world, in your daily life, or in video/Zoom/Outdoor worship? 

Image: Jesus Mafa, Camerooon, http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact)

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Following Jesus For Life

image0 1Message for Lent 2 on Mark 8:31-38. Video of this service can be found on YouTube.

Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Perhaps Twain was referring to passages like this one today, “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” In a Lenten season when we desire to be filled up by God and nourished by Christ as we recover from a year of crisis and a season of natural disaster, these are not the easy words for which we long. We want to join Peter in his rebuke, and say, “No, Lord, No! Please, no more death—not for you, not for us, not for anyone.”

But Jesus’ response is to call us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him”—reminding us that following him does in fact, include suffering and death. But there is some grace and good news in this passage that we can mine when we dig deeply enough. Let us start with the command to “deny yourself” as we follow Jesus. How can this be? Do we really want to know what this implies? We often take a superficial interpretation of this phrase, especially during Lent—that if I give up something I enjoy like wine or chocolate for 40 days, and then go back to it on Easter, I have done something for God. Well, if you have given the money you would have otherwise spent to the hungry, used that time in prayer, and felt your faith deepened, then I would say, “yes, you have done something for your relationship with God.” But is that the self-denial Jesus is talking about here? If we chuck this new practice out the window when six weeks are up, and we go back to how we lived before, has anything really changed?

I once heard a preacher say, “don’t give up anything for Lent you are not willing to give up for good.” In other words, Jesus is not interested in superficial sacrifices. If there is a substance or a habit that is getting in the way of your devotion to God or in the way your health—and therefore your stewardship and service to God, do not give it up until you are ready to give God your all. That is what it really means to “deny yourself.” This phrase really means to dis-own yourself. To accept that you are not own. You belong to God. All of you—body, mind and spirit, are God’s possession, God’s property, God’s vessel, the reflection of God’s divine image and the vessel of God’s Holy Spirit. Let that sink in for moment. Take a deep breath. When we get past the anxiety that we might have to do without our favorite things, and settle into the truth of being shaped by God, belonging to God, a mirror for God, an instrument used by God—we relax a bit, we begin to feel love and peace, our bucket fills up, our anxiety goes down, and our breathing slows.

When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, he invites us to attach more and more to this identity and ownership by God, while simultaneously letting go of our attachments to our own agenda, and our earthly identity. Let God’s identity, love and claim on who you are be the strongest, most powerful identity you stand on—that is to be nourished like a watered garden in Lent. The Ash Wednesday reading in our Lenten devotion book talks about shedding down to a state of “wild indifference,” to our own agendas, outcomes, and interests, so in being stripped down, we are infused with God’s love and ready to receive Christ and follow where he leads.

Next Jesus asks us to “take up your cross.” Every time we hear this passage, I am compelled to correct past misinterpretations. Suffering abuse, violence, or trauma at the hands of someone else, is not your cross to bear; it is part of sin, and our job is to help remove people from harmful situations and get everyone help. Many of us suffer from chronic illness, ongoing pain, mental health challenges, or family difficulties, and we may do so with grace, and courage. This is admirable, but it is also not our cross to bear. All of us have suffered from the pandemic, the recent terrible storm, and many challenges others do not even know about. We have soldiered on nobly, but again this is not our cross to bear. Our cross is not our mother-in-law, the loss of a job, financial difficulties or any other trouble life throws at us, however greatly we rise to the challenge.

To pick up your cross is to make a choice—it is suffering that we choose in order to serve someone else. To pick up your cross is to intentionally take up a life lived for others. This is why Jesus lists, “deny yourself” first—because only when we so deeply root ourselves in God’s identity and let go of our agenda, outcomes, and interests, can we choose to intentionally suffer to bring about life for someone else. For this is the essence of Jesus’s mission—to bring about life for us and others. Jesus mission is about life, after all, not death.

• Jesus’ healed people that they might have life.
• Jesus’ fed 5,000 that they might have abundant life
• Jesus’ forgave people that they might have eternal life.

To take up your cross is to be on the mission of life! To take up your cross is to make a choice as Jesus did, at every turn, in every town, in every conversation, to extend himself, to offer himself, to suffer himself to give someone else life.

Finally, Jesus says, “follow me.” Jesus calls us as ones who are rooted in God, and committed to sharing life, to follow him in his mission of making sure everyone experiences the good news of God’s love. Jesus makes clear a special focus of his mission is to reconcile those who are not already a part of the religious fold—the lost, the broken, the outcast, the marginalized, the sinners, the rejected. These are the ones who need life and life abundant brought to them. These are the ones Jesus spends times with and heals—those who are blind, or cannot walk, those who are mentally ill, or have dying children, the foreigners and tax collectors, the poor widows, and the prostitutes—all those who are rejected by the powerful religious, the well-educated, and the wealthy. The village masses flock to Jesus for healing –it is to these people that Jesus asks to follow him. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me”—base your identity so deeply in God that you can disconnect from your own interests, choose to live intentionally to bring life to someone else, and follow me to those who society rejects the most.

Jesus does not make a small ask, but his ask is rooted in life. We see that life as he predicts what will happen to him: "the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, and be killed!" But that is not the end of his prediction. He concludes his prediction with these six words: "and after three days rise again.” This is no passion prediction! It is a resurrection prediction. Jesus’ mission is about life! Even after death, it is about life. He tells them that even when they kill him, he will rise again, and his mission will still be about life! So, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus!” It is about life here and now for those who needs us most. It is about life abundant even after death.
The powers that be can never win, because the mission of Jesus is always about life. That is a mission we embrace at St. Luke’s. That is the mission of our Community Breakfast—here are some pictures that Rick Rodriguez took when he and Steve delivered free, hot burritos to some homeless camps last Saturday. They provide a great example of what it looks like to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus so that we and others might have life, and have it more abundantly and eternally in Jesus’ name.

Reflection Questions

Deny Yourself

  • Have you thought of yourself as being "owned" by God before? What impact does this way of thinking have on you?
  • When your identity is rooted in God, how does this shift how you think about priorities? What is the most difficult outcome for you to let go of?
  • What are the behaviors, substances or other things that get in the way of your relationship with God or prevent you from fully trusting God?

Take Up Your  Cross

  • What suffering in the world breaks your heart? This is often an area where God calls us to take up our cross and make a choice to serve.
  • Who do you know who has been example of taking up their cross, making a choice to sacrifice to bring life to others?

Follow Jesus

  • Sometimes we focus so much on Jesus's death, we forget how much his mission was to reconcile, save and bring life to the broken and the lost. He was killed in part because he would not let those in power deter or derail him from the mission of bringing life and salvation to all. As the church, what does it mean to be on the mission of bringing life? to our community? to issues of race? homelessness? hunger?
  • What happens when we bring this question to all our ministry and life challenges: “what does it look like to bring or foster life in this situation?”

 

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Filled & Overflowing

garden with water pumpMessage for Lent 1 on Mark 1:9-15 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas. View Linda's preaching & worship videos since March, 2020 on YouTube. 

"Lent" comes from the Old Engish word for "lengthen," referring to the lengthening of days as we approach spring. As such, Lent is often referred to as the "springtime of the soul." After a year of loss and sacrifice, the Lenten theme is "Filled & Overflowing" - to be nourished by God and replenished in weariness. 

I keep seeing that image of the pile of crashed cars, and semis and twisted metal on I-35 West from last week. It has become a fitting image for me of how this whole year has felt:

• Trying to manage something that is beyond us
• Everything going wrong
• Life suddenly changing and even disappearing
• Way too much death

The image of the tangle of cars on the highway mirrors the twisting of our own souls over the last 12 months, the loss of life, and of control and ease and peace. This is how we come to Lent. We are exhausted and discouraged – we just want to chuck it all out the window. But we need this Lent. We need the ashes, we need the dust, we need the wilderness—if for no other reason than to tell the truth about how awful we feel, how weary we are, how depleted our bodies are, how broken our hearts feel, and how much we need God.

The twisted events of this year have left us wandering in the wilderness, wondering how we can go on. How much longer? How much more difficulty? It is not just the pandemic—it is the protests and the experience of some of our citizens that their lives do not matter, are not valued, can be snuffed out by a knee on a neck, by under-funded schools, by neighborhoods that do not even have equal access to the internet much less to a life-saving vaccine.

It is the deeply divided politics and the feeling that we cannot even listen to someone with a different opinion or perspective, that justice does not matter, and that cancel culture is more important than relationships, than community, than the common good.

If that were not enough, we are recovering from a natural disaster with bitter cold, loss of power, and more loss of life. And while my home got down into the 40’s, at least I have a home when many do not. At least I could heat food on a gas stove and warm up when the heat came on a few hours at a time. Thank goodness for Gary Bowers and Nancy Slaughter where I got a hot shower today and where I will get warm bed tonight.

It has been a wilderness year that has twisted us up with grief and sadness, and depleted us as if we have not taken in sustenance for forty days. Is this how Jesus felt in the wilderness? So depleted and weary, so exhausted and troubled, so tired of death and ashes and dust he was ready to chuck it all out the window or better yet, throw it all back in God’s face?

We do not know in our story from Mark what the temptations were that Jesus faced in the wilderness, but they were bad enough to twist his soul, to tempt him to give up on God, to believe that nothing good was left. It was bad enough to tempt Jesus to trust evil, to think that wrong was right, to imagine that the devil had won. It was bad enough to prod Jesus into fear that the Holy Spirit who entered him at Baptism had now abandoned him in the wilderness. All of these lies are so easy to believe when we are in pain.
As his soul was being twisted to the breaking point, God intervened and brought Jesus relief. The report of that aid is brief – it is just six short words, but it gives us hope as we go through our wilderness time: “and the angels waited on him.”

In Scripture, angels usually reside in the heavenly realm. They only come to earth when God sends them with a specific message to share—like the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and Zechariah, and the angels at the empty tomb. They communicate their message and return to heaven. But as Jesus recovers from his terrible time in the wilderness, God sends multiple angels, not with a message, but with a ministry. The angels minister to Jesus:

• they untwist his soul,
• they nourish him,
• they fill him with springs of living water,
• they soothe him with hope
• and the salve of the Spirit’s healing balm.

Jesus is not alone, he has never been alone, he will never be alone. The angels surround him and fill him with kindness, encouragement, nourishment, affirmation, community, healing, hope, and love. They fulfill the promise in Isaiah:

The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden.

The ministry of God’s angels moves Jesus from a parched wilderness of temptation to watered garden. That is what Lent is for us this year. Rather than focusing on our own efforts of sacrifice, giving up something, trying a new discipline of prayer and fasting, this Lent is a time to pause and cry out that God might send His angels to minister to us.
This season, God invites us to depend on his angels that we might be filled up and overflowing, trusting that we are not alone, have never been alone and never will be alone. We will not be tempted by evil’s empty promises that twist the truth and make us believe we are alone and that death wins.

Jesus comes with his angels to surround us and fill us with kindness, encouragement, nourishment, affirmation, community, healing, hope, and love. Rather than looking to ourselves to do better, this season of Lent, we will look to the Lord to guide us continually, to satisfy our needs in parched places, to make our bones strong, so that we shall be like watered gardens.

In these watered gardens of being strengthened and loved and nourished by God, the springtime of the soul takes root in us: our faith grows deeper, our compassion spreads wider, our service blossoms in new directions, and the fragrance of our generosity blesses others. The spiritual practices of Lent flow easily from a rich soil that renews us to follow Jesus out of the wilderness into a life lived for and ministering to others. 

Reflection Questions

Anger

• At what point(s) this year have you been ready to chuck life right out the window? How have you been able to express your anger and frustration at God?
• Have you ever felt permission to do this? Why or why not?
• If not, are you willing to try this Lent?

Angels

• Have you noticed the angels playing a different role in this passage than in other passages in the Gospels? Why does Mark include this detail, but not the details about the kinds of temptations like Matthew?
• If you had an angel visitation, what would you want from them?

Watered Garden

• What would you need from Jesus this Lent to feel like a watered garden, filled and overflowing?
• Have you ever had a Lenten practice that focused not on sacrifice and sin, but rather on growth and the “springtime of the soul?” How does this emphasis feel to you this year?
• Imagine yourself feeling refreshed and renewed on Easter, April 4. What would need to happen for that to become real?
• Are there realistic actions you can take in that direction to nurture body and soul with God’s help?

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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