To be a house of prayer

Mark 11_17Mark 11:15-19

If Jesus were to enter into your church today, what would he find? Would he find a pastor who is diligent in leading the worship? Would Jesus find the pews filled with faithful children of God, gathered for the express purpose of offering their thanks and praise to the Father? If Jesus were to sit in on one of the church council meetings, would he read the reports and approve of the way everything provided by God is managed?

When Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem, he found it to be anything but the house of prayer it was intended to be. The place for religious rituals and worship had become a place of exchanging foreign currency and selling animals for sacrifice. Faithfulness, it seems, had given way to entrepreneurship, worship turned into business.

In his judgment, Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold animals and goods. He drove out all who bought and sold, for they had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers. It is interesting to note that the word Mark uses to describe Jesus driving out the abusers of the temple is the same word he uses when Jesus casts out demons. Just as Jesus drives out the evil spirits that have invaded God’s people, so he also drove out the evil taking place in the temple.

What is it that needs to be driven out of our churches; what sorts of abuses need cleansing? Are there harmful attitudes Jesus would rid us of? Would our Lord enter into our midst, pass judgment and drive out the perceived power brokers and those who would hoard the money given to do the work of the gospel? If we are going to be honest, we have to admit these conditions exist.

Just as there was no place for the abuses of the temple, there is no place for such behavior within the church. Jesus calls God’s people to faithfulness; he calls us to follow his example and become imitators of his ways. Jesus teaches us that our worship is to be true, our love for God and neighbor genuine. And when we fall short, we must remember that in the place of sacrificial offerings, Jesus drove out the powers that defy God and offered his life for the sake of God’s people.

Gracious Lord, rid us of the attitudes and practices that turn us away from you. Create within us clean hearts, that we may keep your house a place for worship and prayer. In Christ we pray, Amen.

Image: St. Mary of the Mount; Pittsburgh, PA.  August, 2013

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Blessed is he

Mark 11_9Mark 11:1-11

Following his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus set out in his public ministry preaching a message or repentance and the nearness of Gods kingdom. He performed many miracles; healing people of leprosy, feeding great multitudes, and raising a little girl from death.  In the middle of chapter eight, Jesus encountered a blind man who begged for his sight. Spitting on the man’s eyes and laying hands upon him, Jesus restored his vision. This miracle, and the miracle healing of blind Bartimaeus in chapter ten, form bookends for Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. It would seem the world blinded by sin would need a miracle in order to recognize Jesus for who he is.

Making his way onto the city of Jerusalem, one might say such sight was given. The people recognized Jesus and greeted him as their king. As he rode into the city on the colt, people waved branches and lined the streets with their coats. They shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” But did they see truly? Did the crowds see Jesus as Savior? By week’s end their shouts were much different. Hosannas were replaced with calls for crucifixion.

Today, so many walk through the world, blind to their need for God’s mercy and grace. Living for the sake of themselves, so many who do not recognize Jesus, also fail to recognize their sinfulness. Rather than listen to a message of repentance, an even louder message rings in the ears of society; “If it feels good do it.” Others will recognize Jesus, but define his grace according to their own set of circumstances, replacing God’s law with their own definition of love. It seems our world is no different than those in Jerusalem witnessing Jesus’ triumphal entry. So many love Jesus for who they want him to be, not for who he truly is.

People of God, through the eyes of faith, we can recognize Jesus; he is our savior and Lord. In a world filled with false teachers, empty promises and blind ambition, Jesus, our king, Jesus has opened our eyes to the nearness of God’s kingdom. He has shown us the way to the kingdom; love God with all our heart, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Through him there is forgiveness, mercy and grace. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Open our eyes, O Lord, that we may recognize you always as our Savior and King. Amen.

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Restoring sight

Mark 10_51Mark 10:46-52

“What do you want me to do for you?” It’s the same question Jesus posed to James and John when they asked him to grant a request. James and John wanted positions of importance; they wanted status above their peers. It does not take much thought to recognize the inward focus of the sons of Zebedee. James and John had been with Jesus for nearly three years. They had been with him as part of his inner circle, his closest disciples. Now, as Jesus was talking about going to Jerusalem, these brothers wanted to secure for themselves places of importance.

As they came into Jericho, Jesus and the twelve encountered a crowd along the side of the road. Among the crowd was a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Once he could see, now he cannot. He called out to Jesus, but the crowd tried to stifle his cries, for to them he was a nuisance. Bartimaeus, however, was a man of faith. He knew Jesus could heal him so he called out to Christ for mercy. Summoning him, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”

How many today are blind to the sin of the world? How often do those who call themselves followers of Christ deny him and follow the ways of a fallen and broken humanity? The world is filled with inward focused people seeking status or places of importance. Within the Church, there are far too many Christians who fail to recognize their sin, and do not take the time for worship. Few earnestly study scripture and only a small percentage engage in acts of service for the sake of their neighbor. In this light, consider what your response might be when Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

As we seek mercy from our Lord Jesus, the request is the same, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” We want to see Jesus for who he truly is. We want to know the truth concerning God’s redeeming of that which was lost to sin. In our asking, we want to recover the joy of being called beloved children of God. Then, having received mercy, may we be like Bartimaeus and follow along the way of our Lord.

Lord and Christ, let us recover our sight, that we may receive your grace and follow your ways. Amen.

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Can you drink this cup?

Mark 10_38Mark 10:32-45

Since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, it has been God’s plan to save his people. The parameters were set as God gave the vocation of tending the garden to the first humans; “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Gen 2:16-17 The wages of sin have always been death. Adam and Eve disobeyed God; they ate of the forbidden fruit in order to become like God, thus earning their wages of death. Still, it was God’s plan to save the humans whom he created and loved.

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus once more told his disciples of this plan for salvation; the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests, they will condemn him, and hand him over to the Gentiles. They will put him to death. Using words from Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant, Jesus explains the working of God’s plan for redeeming our fallen world. Given the proper reflection upon Jesus’ words and God’s desire to save his people, there can be but one faithful response, praise and thanksgiving.

Along the way, James and John had a much different response. Being part of his inner circle and not understanding the magnitude of Jesus’ words, they asked that they be given positions of honor and greatness. In their short sightedness, these Sons of Thunder completely missed the point that God will deliver his people through suffering, compassion and love. He asks them, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” Without thinking, James and John said yes, and they would, and they did.

The cup Jesus drank is the cup of suffering, the cup of self-sacrifice. For God’s people, drinking this cup means putting those aspirations of greatness behind and becoming a servant of all who are in need. Jesus asks, are you willing to allow others to unload their burdens onto your already overburdened shoulders? Are you willing to put yourself into conflict? Are you able to love those whom the world casts aside? Being great in the kingdom of God tomorrow means taking on pain in the suffering of others today. Can we drink such a cup? Can we live for others as Christ lives for us? With God’s help we can, and we will.

Give unto your Church, O Lord, the will to drink the cup of discipleship and share the cup of blessing poured out by your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Inheriting the kingdom

Mark 10_17Mark 10:17-31

What must I do to inherit eternal life? This is the question asked of Jesus by a wealthy man as our Lord was on his journey to Jerusalem. It is also a question asked by so many others today. People might rephrase the question; “What must I do to make it into heaven?” but the connotation is still the same. The rich man in question is undoubtedly of higher than average status; he must have enjoyed a certain amount of security through his wealth. He might have even been one of those millionaires, one who religiously gives charitable contributions. After all, he did tell Jesus he kept all the commandments. One might wonder why he was asking in the first place. At first glance, it seems he’s on the right track, yet Jesus tells him he lacks one thing.

This rich man is an illustration for us of just how hard it is to be a follower of Jesus. Those who have wealth often look to their riches to provide for their desires. Those who have little tend to seek wealth in order to deliver them. Personal wealth, no matter the sum, quickly becomes a stumbling block for those striving to follow Christ. In our text, Jesus tells the man to sell all he has, give it to the poor and follow him. There will be no need for personal wealth as he will have treasure in heaven. Sadly for this fellow, he can’t bear to part with his worldly possessions.

So is that how we inherit eternal life, selling all we have? Does the act of passing on our wealth to the poor, filling our days doing good works, and keeping the commandments provide the final punch for our ticket to heaven? No. If we believe this we also will find ourselves lacking. So what must we do to inherit eternal life? Well, actually there is nothing we can do. That’s right, nothing. Inheritance is not gained through accomplishments, nor is it a reward for being a person who does good deeds or gives generously. To inherit something, one must simply be an heir, a child, one to whom the inheritance is passed down.

Through Holy Baptism, God makes us his children, heirs to the kingdom of God. Through water and the Word, the baptized are forgiven their sins, blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit and united in Christ’s victory over death and the grave. As heirs, we are free to share what God provides, for the treasure that endures is our inheritance which is stored in heaven.

We thank you, O Lord, for your grace, for making us your children, so that we may be inheritors of your kingdom. Through Christ we pray. Amen.

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