We are their children

Sunday Evening

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

Mark 14:1-16:8

File:A Woman Praying over the Dead Body of Christ LACMA AC1998.240.2.jpg14:39 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!”

It’s pretty clear from the Greek that the Gospel of Mark was composed as an oral Gospel. When you listen to someone tell the story of something that has happened to them, it has a much different rhythm than a written document. To put it simply, the stories we tell tend toward extensive run-on sentences joined by the words ‘and’ and ‘but’: “we went here and we did this and we did that and then this happened and then somebody said this and then we all agreed to that….”

You can see this in the Greek of Mark’s Gospel. Translators take out all those ands and buts and turn it into a written document, but it is a living voice, the story of a community, the story that is our story. When Mark names Simon of Cyrene you can see the congregation nod, because they know him or his family. When Mark names Mary the mother of young James and Joses, you can hear the murmurs of appreciation for these men and their mother.

When Mark tells us of Peter challenged by a servant girl and trying to deflect her attention by going into the outer court, and you hear the challenge growing as others begin to question it, you know there are people present in the listening congregation who have stood in that courtyard – or their parents have stood there. And they know about Peter’s understandable but unthinkable betrayal, and they are filled with appreciation for the grace of Jesus who knew this would happen and who received Peter back. And they know what Peter has meant to them all.

When Mark tells his story, there are people in the congregation who have faced that ultimate test and failed. And others with friends and family who did not fail, but were crucified by the Romans or became the victims of violence from their neighbors and friends. No one holds it against Peter. It is our story. And it magnifies Jesus.

He died with eyes open. He died with courage and strength and dignity. He is not beaten into silence before the High Priest or before Pilate; he is possessed of that inner stillness that knows when to speak and when words are of no use.

He died with honor, so that even the Roman centurion had to admit he seemed like a son of the gods – or, as they all now know – the Son of God, the beloved, the anointed one.

He died with courage and endurance in the face of great suffering, refusing the drugged wine. He died with a confession of faith on his lips – the psalm the begins “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that confesses “You are the Holy One, enthroned, the Praise of Israel” and prays “deliver me from the lion’s mouth” and declares “Let the ends of the earth pay heed and turn to the LORD.” It is not a cry of abandonment, but a prayer of faith and trust.

He died with courage and dignity and only the leaders of Judah shamed themselves, snatching him in the dark though he taught openly in the temple, plotting to act by deceit and trickery rather than nobly in the open, sending thugs in the night rather than acting openly in the day, abusing an innocent man.

He showed himself honorable in a dishonorable world. He showed himself true in a deceiving world. He showed himself compassionate in a brutal world. He alone merited the royal purple, though they put it on him only to taunt and torture. He alone wears a true crown, though they gave him a crown of thorns.

He was not a fool. He was not surprised by what happened. He knew what was coming. He knew that one in the inner circle would betray him. He knew that all his inner circle would abandon him. He knew that his body would be broken like the bread and he would not drink wine again until that day when God’s kingdom dawns in its fullness. He knew Peter’s denial.

He was not a fool. He knew what was to come, but he trusted God would use this to reclaim and redeem his rebellious world. He sought God’s will not his own safety.

All this is in the story Mark tells. A living story for a living community. A community who knows that the empty tomb inspired terror at first. But Jesus went before them. The risen Christ met them. God voided the sentence imposed by the Jerusalem council and by Rome. God voided the judgment that Jesus was a liar. There was no mortification in the tomb, no decaying of the sinful flesh. God raised Jesus, declaring him righteous – raising him as the firstborn of the dead, the first of the resurrection when all humanity is judged and the world made new.

And that little band of refugees and survivors that listens to Mark tell his story, that little band that gathers around a shared table, that little band gathered in allegiance to Jesus and to one another, that little band is an anticipation of what is to come when all creation bows before the holy and righteous one.

And we are their children, gathered around the same table, telling the same story, and kneeling before the same Lord, trusting God’s declaration that he is the one who reigns and shall reign over a world where the debt of our sins is wiped away and we inhabit once more the garden world God made.


Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_Woman_Praying_over_the_Dead_Body_of_Christ_LACMA_AC1998.240.2.jpg



Philippians 2:5-11

File:Kirche San Michele de Murato, Korsika - Der Sündenfall (die Schlange reicht Eva die Frucht vom Baum der Erkenntnis).jpg

San Michele de Murato, Corse – Fall of man

6Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

The Greek word for Christ’s emptying of himself is ‘kenosis’. In seminary we wore the cloak of learning with theological jargon that identified us as members of an elite class. Every educational discipline does the same thing. We use technical terms and language to define ourselves as members of a special class of the knowledgeable.

It isn’t just academics that love this illusion of being special. Those who work with their hands mock those ‘eggheads’ who can’t fix a thing. We mock the ‘fruits and nuts’ of California as they the ‘rubes’ of the heartland. So-called liberals mock so-called conservatives – and vice-versa – as if they were utterly ignorant of the most basic truths. Abortion, sexuality, guns, pick a topic, any topic, and we lift ourselves over the ‘others’.

In a world of constant king-of-the-hill, of a perpetual squabble over the pecking order, Jesus is among us as one who emptied himself.

And then we use him to lift ourselves over others – because we know how to use the word kenosis, or because we are true believers of one kind or another.

Christ emptied himself. He who is Lord of all becomes the slave/servant of God. He who is master of all accepts a master. He who is bound by none becomes bound to all. The one who is the incarnation of the eternal word of God bends to wash feet. I am among you as one who serves.”

We all want to escape the servant class. We want to be our own boss. We hunger for freedom from, not servant to. We promise that Christ will make you free, without carefully pondering the sentence that freedom comes from abiding in Jesus’ teaching, from letting Jesus’ teaching and spirit be your guide and – shall we say – master.

He emptied himself. And we struggle mightily to turn that submission into some kind of self-assertion, some kind of courageous individuation, some bold and exalted lead by example. But it is what it is, submission to the will of another.

Our forebears chose themselves when they clutched at the fruit of the one forbidden tree – the tree that was sure to grant us knowledge not only of life’s beauty and joys (which they already knew) but its sorrows and horrors, the fruit that promised we could be like God who knows every woe. Is there a child killed God does not see? Is there a woman abused, a man tortured, a body desiccated by hunger or disease that God does not know?   A hellish cruelty God does not taste? Ah, but we will be like God? We will be our own gods!

Jesus doesn’t reach out to pluck that fruit. He doesn’t grab and grasp. (I don’t know why the translators use ‘exploit’ for a word used of robbery and rape, the seizing of a prize.) Jesus doesn’t seek to be as God. He chooses to be a slave/servant of God. He chooses to be what our first parents were created to be.

Jesus declared that the reign of God was dawning. And everywhere he went he embodied that reign: forgiving sins, healing, freeing, restoring, uniting, reconciling. It was a journey of submission to the will of another, not the assertion of his own will. Every fiber of our being wants to go the other way. We are children of the first Adam not children of the new Adam. Still he stands before us as the completely faithful one, the one we crucified but God raised, the one who bears perfect witness that the true and imperishable life is found in relationship to the eternal one rather than submission to our passing passions and desires.

We are children of the first Adam. But God has invited us to be a child of the new Adam, to be united with his son, to die with him and rise to newness of life. God invites us to bend the knee now before the one to whom all creation shall ultimately bow. God invites us to enter now into the glory that awaits.

It is an invitation we do not deserve. But he is among us as one who serves.


Photo: By Dnalor 01 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“I stand at the door and knock”

Watching for the Morning of March 29, 2015

Year B

Palm Sunday / The Sunday of the Passion

File:Northwestern College Chapel Door.jpgSunday, the young person carrying the cross representing Christ in our midst, will leads us in procession from our picnic area up to the sanctuary, She will stop at the closed doors of the church, knock loudly and cry out with the words of the psalm: Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.”

It is a symbolic gesture that reminds us of Jesus coming to Jerusalem to claim the allegiance of the city. Jesus’ arrival on a donkey amidst shouts of acclamation was a claim to kingship, following the ancient pattern of Judah’s kings coming up from the Jordan and knocking at the door of the temple.

With those three loud knocks the usher will throw open the doors so that the cross and the crowd may enter. He will answer the crucifer’s request with the words that are also from our psalm:

“This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through them.”

I will call out to the crowd:

“The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone!”

And the people will answer:

“This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes!”

In that simple yet profound action lies the most important question for any congregation’s life: Is Christ welcome in our midst? Is our door open to him? Do we recognize him as the Lord of our sanctuary? Do we rejoice in his presence?

The answer to that question is never truly clear. Every parish, of course, claims to belong to Christ. But what we claim does not always match what we are.  Jerusalem was the city of God. The leaders of the city and temple believed that all they did was for the glory of God. But the story that follows is one of rejection and murder. The Christ is slain, not welcomed.

Palm Sunday – the Sunday of the Passion – is great fun. The gathering before worship with coffee and hot cross buns, the children escorting the cross and the energy of the procession with palms, the singing of “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as we crowd into the sanctuary – it’s delightful. But it all contains a serious question. And that question is not only whether the congregation receives Christ with joy, but whether each of us welcomes him as our true and eternal king. For the kingship of Jesus is not like the British monarch – good theater, parades, and a benevolent smile on a variety of good works – Christ has come to reign. Christ has come to do the actual governing: to be the prime minister, the house of Lords and the house of commons, to set policy and practice.

Christ knocks at the door to claim our allegiance. Christ has come to govern our hearts and our lives. Christ has come to make us sons and daughters of God.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for the final week in Lent: Renewing the World with Faith, Hope and Love


The Prayer for March 29, 2015

As Jesus came to Jerusalem, O God,
the crowds were overcome with hope and joy.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that we may receive him as our true Lord and King
and prove faithful to him and to all
in lives of Faith. Hope and Love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for March 29, 2015

Processional Gospel Mark 11:1-11
“’Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.’” – Jesus arranges to enter Jerusalem as the kings of old, and a great crowd responds with cries of acclamation.

Processional Psalmody: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” – A song of salvation from an ancient festival in Israel as the community enters through the gates into the temple, rejoicing in God’s deliverance.

Gospel Mark 14:1-16:8
“It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” – The climax and center of Mark’s Gospel is the sequence of events in Jerusalem when Jesus is arrested and crucified.

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11
“He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
– An early Christian hymn reciting the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. It is used by Paul to remind the community of the mind of Christ and to call them to abide in his Spirit.


Photo By Micah Taylor (originally posted to Flickr as Knock) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Come and See


John 12:20-33


‘Jesus in Gethsemane’, asking God for help, statue made by Piet Gerrits in the village Heilig Landstichting (NL)

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

John’s Gospel has all the same elements as the other Gospels, but he uses them in such different and intriguing ways. We all know that in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus anguishes over the destiny that awaits him on the cross. Luke says his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. They all record that the disciples, with bellies full of food and wine, are dropping off to sleep, leaving Jesus to face alone the cup before him.

John doesn’t tell that story. Not in the familiar way or in the familiar place. Instead we have Jesus here declaring that his soul is troubled. With this simple remark John alludes to the prayer that God would take this cup from me.” Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus struggle towards the prayer “not my will but yours be done,” but in John Jesus inhabits that prayer completely. The “trouble” in his soul is quickly dismissed: “What should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

File:Lascar O Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) - One of the New Seven Wonders of the World (4551738882).jpg

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

John has meditated so deeply and for so long on this Jesus that he sees what the others see through a mirror dimly. Jesus has come for this hour. His struggle is but a slight momentary affliction. He knows why he has come: to be lifted up that all nations may come and see.

Come and see. Come to him who is the living water and bread of life. Come to him who is the new wine and good shepherd. Come to him who is the light in our dark world, the living one, the embodiment of God’s eternal word of grace and love and life.

Come and see. See with eyes opened, with eyes once blind now seeing. See the true and eternal. See the imperishable and abiding.

Come and see, like Nathanael whose skepticism – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – turns to insight and fidelity: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

“You will see greater things than these,” says Jesus, “You will see heaven opened.”

Some Greeks have come to see Jesus. The nations have come to Zion. Now is the hour Jesus will be lifted up. Now is the hour he will be revealed to the world. Jesus need not struggle at the thought of this cup, for John recognizes that this is not tragic suffering; this is exaltation. This is the bronze serpent lifted up that all who have been bit by the poisonous serpent may see and be healed. It is for this Jesus has come. It is for this the Word became flesh.


Image 1:  I, LooiNL [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2:  By Jorge Láscar from Australia [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Death, Resurrection

Watching for the Morning of March 22, 2015

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

File:Christ en croix cluny 2.jpg

Christ en croix, The Musee national du Moyen Age, (National Museum of the Middle Ages)

Shattered covenant, shattered world. New covenant, new world. A grain falling into the ground to die, yet bringing forth life. An exaltation upon a cross. A priest, like the cryptic figure of Melchizedek to whom Abraham gave a tithe, who is an eternal priest. A son made perfect through suffering. A priceless revelation of the heart of God come to abide in our hearts: I treasure your word in my heart.” The way and will of God written on our hearts.

The mountain range that was far off when we began this journey towards the Paschal Triduum, the three-day celebration of the cross and resurrection, draws ever nearer. The cloud and thunder at the mountain peaks echo across the plains. We hear the dramatic and transforming sounds of the coming days.

Through Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, God promises a new beginning. That covenant created at Sinai, “I will be your God and you will be my people,” has been utterly and completely shattered. It lies on the ground like the broken walls of the city, the burnt cedar beams and collapsed stone of the temple, the gold and bronze and jewels stripped and added to the royal treasury of a foreign nation. Priesthood and Kingship ended. The people have betrayed the one who was a husband to them. Irredeemably. And yet: the promise of a new creation, a new covenant, a new day.

And Jesus, by all accounts betrayed and broken, stripped and shamed, crushed and dead upon the timbers of a cross, yet exalted for all the world to see. For all the world to believe. For all to enter the world of living bread and new wine and the broken made whole and the blind now seeing. To enter the world of imperishable life.

A high priest forever, writes the author of Hebrews, the source of eternal salvation. “With my whole heart I seek you,” sings the psalm.

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 5: Renewing the World with Justice and Mercy


The Prayer for March 22, 2015

In your Son, O God, we see your face,
giving yourself to bring life to the world.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, your law of justice and mercy
may be written in our hearts,
and we prove faithful to you and to all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for March 22, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” – In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, God promises to make a new covenant with crushed and scattered nations of Israel and Judah. Though they have betrayed and broken their covenant with God, God will start again, promising to write God’s commands on their hearts.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:9-16
“I treasure your word in my heart.” – A portion of the majestic hymn to the revelation of God’s will and way in the Torah, God’s word/law/teaching.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10
“He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”
– Jesus the faithful one has become our perfect high priest.

Gospel John 12:20-33
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – When Greeks come to “see” Jesus (see with faith), Jesus knows that the hour is at hand for him to be exalted/lifted up on the cross. He will lay down his life like a grain of wheat – and his followers also – for the sake of a rich harvest that gathers all people into life.


Art: By Chatsam (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

God loved the world in this way


John 3:7-21

File:Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church light cross.jpg

Interior of the Church of the Light, designed by Tadao Ando, in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture.

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.

I can’t think of any other Biblical reference that is held up as a sign at a football game. It is recognized as a simple, concise summary of the Christian message. God, love, Jesus, eternal life – it’s all there. But something of the power and glory of this verse is lost when it gets separated from the rest of John’s Gospel.

First, we should note that there tends to be a grammatical misunderstanding in the way we hear this verse. It doesn’t say God loved the world ‘so much’, but God loved the world ‘in this way’. The manner in which God shows his fidelity to the world is in giving his Son.

But does the word ‘give’ mean offer him up on the cross as a redeeming sacrifice? or does it mean sending him from above to grant us new birth ‘from above’? These are not entirely separate ideas, but the accent is very different. A sacrificial lamb may carry off my sins, but it doesn’t abide in me and I in it. I am still very much a child of the earth not a child of the heavens. Water is not turned into wine. Eyes are not given new sight. I am not reborn as a citizen of heaven.

This Jesus is not a mere sacrifice that happens out there on Golgotha to change God’s attitude to me or the debt I owe; he is the light shining in the darkness that illumines and transforms the human heart, my heart.

God loved the world in this way: he brought us light and new birth. He brought us the breath of God. He brought us the imperishable life of God. In his Gospel, John piles up the metaphors for us: bread of life, living water, light of the world, gate of the sheep, the way, truth and life – all pointing not to an objective act of sacrifice on our behalf (with a promise of life after we die), but a new and transformed existence as members of heaven’s household now.

God loved the world in this way: he sent the incarnate word to abide in me and I in him.

And we haven’t yet come to the truly surprising element in this simple little verse: God did this for the world. We take this for granted, that God’s love is for everyone. ‘The world’ just means ‘everyone’ to our ears. But this word, ‘the world’, in John’s Gospel is not morally neutral. The world does not know this word from above (1:10). It hates him (7:7). Its deeds are evil (7:7). It doesn’t know the father (17:25). It cannot receive the Spirit of truth (14:17). It rejoices when Jesus is killed (16:20). And yet, it is for the sake of this world that Jesus comes and that the believers are sent.

God loves a hostile and rebellious world, God shows fidelity to this hostile and rebellious world, and shows it by sending Jesus as light into the darkness.

God shows fidelity to the Oklahoma SAE chanting racist chants by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the Syrian regime dropping barrel bombs on its people by sending his son. God shows fidelity to a world largely ignoring the Syrian refugees by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the drug gangs in Central America by sending his son. God shows fidelity to the privileged elite protecting their wealth by sending his son. God shows fidelity to every torn and tormented home by sending his son who is the voice of heaven and the light of Grace and the possibility of new birth. God shows his fidelity to every grieving heart by sending his son who is the life of the age to come. God shows his faithfulness, his allegiance to us, his passion for the world, his love, in this way – a man who is the embodiment of the face of God, who is the path to life, who is the resurrection.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like enough. But what if those students could have seen at the front of their bus an African American with arms outstretched, covered with the spittle of their hate, yet radiant with light and truth and love? Do we not, at some point, begin to regret the hammer and nails in our hands?  How many does it take on that bus, how many must begin to see, before the song loses its voice?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life. But he is more. He is the good shepherd who calls us by name and leads us out to good pasture. He is the gate that leads us into life. He is the vine to us, the branches, who through us bears much fruit.

God loved the broken and rebellious world in this way: he sent a son to bring us birth from above and make us children of heaven, sons and daughters of God.


By taken by Bergmann (ja:Image:Ibaraki_Kasugaoka_Church_Light_Cross.JPG) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The power to heal


Numbers 21:4-9

File:Staff at Sunset.jpg

Brazen Serpent Sculpture by Giovanni Fantoni atop Mount Nebo

8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

There is no magic in the bronze serpent. No power in the image. The power is in the promise of God and their trust in that promise.

I suppose God could have said, “stand on your head and you will be healed,” and it could have functioned in the same way, as an act of trust. But that would have been more magical than looking at the bronze serpent. For the bronze serpent is an image not only of the plague, but their own bitter, poisonous words. The bronze serpent is the truth of who they have become and what has happened to them. To look on the bronze serpent is to take the first step in rehab: to admit they are powerless over their addiction. It speaks the truth about themselves.

We are vipers. We are a brood of snakes. We have become the offspring of the cursed one who turned our first parents from trusting God. And if the limp and broken body of the holy incarnation of God is not enough to convince you of this, then consider the masses of humanity that have been hacked, shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged, gassed, poisoned, irradiated and burned to a crisp in the last century – or just allowed to perish from starvation. They are all present in the body of the crucified one.

We are vipers. We are crucifiers. Healing and confession go together. There is no healing without truth.

There is no requirement that the people feel badly about their bitter words against God. Confession is not about the feelings of guilt – it is about the objective reality of guilt. This is who they are. This is what they have done. Speaking that truth opens the door for God’s healing.

But in the bronze serpent they are not only looking at the truth of their bitter tongues. They see not only the consequence of their rebellion. They see also the promise of God to forgive. God does not hold their sin against them. God wants to heal them. God wants to create faith and trust and fidelity in them.

And in us.

And so we can see why Jesus says he must be lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness. We, too, must see the fruit of our rebellion from God. We must see the truth of the violence in the heart of humankind. We must acknowledge the bitter poison on our tongues. We must recognize our distance from our true humanity. We must see the truth.

But there, in the crucified one, we see also the promise of God to heal and forgive.

There is no magic, here. The power is in that promise – and our trust in that promise.


By JoTB (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For a world in rebellion

Watching for the Morning of March 15, 2015

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

File:Klu Klux Klan1922.jpgThe term ‘world’ is not morally neutral in John’s gospel. The world is the Judean society that has refused the invitation to be born from above. It is ‘the world’ that cannot see and denies what the blind man now sees. It is ‘the world’ that has decided that anyone who confesses Jesus is to be put out of the synagogue. It is ‘the world’ that ‘hates’, that shows no allegiance to, Jesus or to his followers. It is ‘the world’ that did not receive the Word made flesh, the true light that the darkness cannot extinguish. And yet, it is because God loved this rebellious world that he provided his only-begotten. Because of God’s steadfast love, his faithfulness to his promise, the Word came down from heaven that we might be born of heaven.

The author of Ephesians recognizes this. We were dead in our trespasses but have been made alive in Christ. We were following the powers of this age, we were driven by our passions, we were inheritors of wrath – but now, now God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ.

The people of Israel in the wilderness were in open rebellion from God – refusing to take the land (there are giants there!) and then, when they hear that message about forty years, they rebel again and try to take the land without God. Beaten down they are headed back towards the Red Sea, mouths full of bitter, poisonous words. And then there are poisonous snakes. But God in his mercy offers them healing – if they will trust and obey. God in his mercy delivers them, as he delivered the sick in our psalm.

Faithful to a world in rebellion. Merciful to a world without mercy. Light for a world in darkness. Love for a world enmeshed in hate and hardness of heart. Jesus didn’t come to judge – we are already in the realm of wrath. Jesus came to heal, to save, to grant us birth from above.

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 4: Renewing Communities of Faith


The Prayer for March 15, 2015

In the lifting up of your Son, O God,
you revealed your glory
to bring your imperishable life to all.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our communities of faith
that, rooted in Christ, our trust in you may be deepened,
and we prove faithful to you and to all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for March 15, 2015

First Reading: Numbers 21:4-9
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’” – Having failed to trust God in God’s first attempt to lead them into the land of Canaan, the Israelites must turn back towards the Red Sea to come to the land by another way. Their words become poisonous as they turn against God and against Moses. Met by poisonous snakes, they cry out to God and God answers – and in trusting God’s word (to look upon the bronze serpent) they are saved.

Psalmody: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
“Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction… Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.” – A psalm of praise for God’s faithfulness to his covenant, shown in his acts of deliverance.

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
– By God’s Grace we have been brought from death into life.

Gospel John 3:7-21 (appointed, verses 14-21)
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – Jesus speaks with Nicodemus about being born “from above” and testifies that he alone has come from above (the heavens, the realm of God) and returns there. Just as seeing the bronze serpent “lifted up” brought healing and life to the Israelites in the wilderness, looking to Jesus “lifted up” grants the life of the age to come.


Photo: By National Photo Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Words worth speaking


Psalm 19

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Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O LORD,
my rock and my redeemer.

I wrote about this verse, a portion of our psalm this coming Sunday, in my blog: Jacob Limping. That reflection was more personal, about these words as a pastor’s prayer in preaching.

But these words are meant to be our prayer, all of us. And what would the world be like if all our words, and all that we meditated on, all the words that we speak and those we rehearse and relive again and again in our heads, were acceptable to God?

So much of our speech is vain in the sense of empty. Some is vain in the regular sense, puffing up the self. Some is petty. Some is angry. Some is just theatrics, the feigned outrage of politicians and the nattering nabobs. Some is malicious. Some deceitful. Some terribly destructive and degrading. Who thinks it appropriate to text another that they should commit suicide? How did we get to such a place?

14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O LORD,
my rock and my redeemer.

This is not just the psalmist’s prayer that his poem may be pleasing to God. It is a prayer that all speech would be right and good and honorable, building up not tearing down, healing not wounding, giving life not taking it.

Words are precious things. Thoughts are too. We should not waste them.

I had a friend in college who believed that all of us were given a fixed number of words to speak in our lifetime. When we used them up, we died. Needless to say, she was a person of few words. But when she spoke, they mattered. They were words worth speaking.

14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O LORD,
my rock and my redeemer.


Photo: By Pink Sherbet Photography from USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Where heaven touches earth

Watching for the Morning of March 8, 2015

The Third Sunday of Lent

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Mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection takes an entirely different form in John’s Gospel than we read last week in Mark, but once again the Gospel points us towards Jerusalem (and towards our keeping of the Paschal Triduum, the three day observance of the cross and resurrection). The one who transformed water into wine, turning tears to joy and bringing the joy of the wedding feast to come, is the true temple where heaven touches earth.

In the background stands God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai: the stunning encounter wherein the people pledge their loyalty to the one who brought them out of slavery – and God proclaims his loyalty to them: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

But being the people of God requires fidelity to the character and values of this God who delivers the oppressed. And so we have the “ten words”, numbered differently by different faith communities, but expressing the fundamental obligations of a people freed from slavery lest they enslaves themselves again – or enslave others.

The psalmist sings his praise of the ordering work of God, shown in creation and in God’s law/teaching.

It is that broken covenant that jeopardizes the temple. Instead of becoming a refuge for all nations it has become a “marketplace”, a commercial center for the exploitation of pilgrims. It no longer proclaims justice and mercy. It no longer bears witness to light and life. It no longer is a place of encounter with the mercy of heaven. Now all this is found in Jesus, destroyed and raised up, crucified and risen.

Paul knows that the message that encounters us from the cross is power, power to save, power to cast down and raise up, power to kill and make alive, power that carries us into the new creation. It is judgment against all human sin – and the stunning proclamation that God has dismissed our debt to him, opening the path to new life.

(For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.)

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for Lent 3: Renewing Families

The Prayer for March 8, 2015

In the temple, O God, Jesus cried out
against what was unholy and untrue
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our families
that, cleansed of all selfishness,
our love may be deepened,
and we prove faithful to you and to all.;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for March 8, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – God gives the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai.

Psalmody: Psalm 19
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” – A majestic hymn celebrating God’s good ordering of the world.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– The Word which comes from the cross is a power that casts down and raises up, foolish in human eyes, but the power of God to set us in a right relationship to Him who is eternal.

Gospel John 2:13-22
“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their table.” – Jesus engages in a prophetic action declaring God’s coming judgment upon the temple system, and proclaims his death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”


Photo: By Sibeaster (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons