March 30: Good Friday, The Final Exam

The questions of Jesus, the High Priests, and Pilate—real and rhetorical—form a kind of final exam study guide for the disciples graduating on Good Friday. The questions are Jesus’ own and those put to him and to the disciples, but, finally, they examine us. They help us clarify our steps of faith with Christ and finish well our Lenten Journey:

Whom are you looking for? Are you looking for me?

Am I able to drink the cup that the Father has given me?

You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?

 Who are your disciples, and what is your teaching?

Why do you ask me? Why not ask those who heard what I said to them? 

If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?

You are not also one of his disciples, are you?

Did I not see you in the garden with him?

What accusation do you bring against this man?

Are you the King of the Jews?

Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?

I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?

So you are a king?

What is truth?

Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

Where are you from?

Do you refuse to speak to me?

Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”

 Shall I crucify your King?

Let us prayerfully prepare with these final Good Friday “study questions.” May they be signposts to where our spiritual life will lead beyond the Lenten road with Jesus.

Which questions linger with you through Lent?

 Direction for Prayer:

As you finish this Lenten journey, it is our hope that God has spoken to you through these days and through these thoughts. As you reflect on all you have discovered and as you look to list of questions above, what is God speaking to your heart? Whatever He is speaking to you, go to Him now in prayer and speak to Him about these things.

Peace be with you,

-Dr. Bill Daniel and Rev. Tab Miller

Advertisements

March 29: A God Who Serves

Daily Reading:

John 13:1-17, 31-35 (NRSV):

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Reflection:

Jesus never shied away from complex teaching. At the end of our passage, Jesus is yet again teaching us to love. Loving one another seems straightforward enough. Yet, the thing that complicates this teaching is that Jesus says, “A new commandment.” What can this mean? Jesus has already said elsewhere that the greatest commandment is to love God and each other. He has already said that this is the way to life. So, what can He mean when He says this is new?

Perhaps He is cluing His disciples in on the fact that they are going to be able to love like they have never loved before. As Jesus prepares to depart, for He knows His hour has come, He has this last command to give. The mark of His people will be in their love. As a matter of example of what this love will look like, He tells the disciples to love each other as He has loved them. Jesus has just finished washing their feet, a sign of serving. Jesus is telling us the greatest way to love is not to stand over someone as we try to lift them up to our level, but, instead, we should get down at the person’s feet.

Are we loving each other through service?

Prayer:

Father, may we be a people who follow your new command to love as Christ. Give us the eyes to see each other as you see us. Keep forever in our minds that we are to lift each other up through service, never in judgment. Thank you for your Son, who was willing to wash our feet. Amen.

-Rev. Tab Miller

March 28: The Questions We Ask

Daily Reading:

John 13:21-32 (NRSV):

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

Reflection: 

The pace and the pathos of Jesus’ passion story picks up in our Wednesday text. Disciples are falling away through betrayal and confusion, even as the clarity of Christ’s mission comes into sharper focus as glorifying God going to the cross.

The question “Lord, who is it?” voiced by Peter is echoed by all disciples in history. Lord, is it I? Will I betray you walking along this hard path of discipleship that leads through death to abundant and eternal life? Lord, who is it that betrays you when evil tempts us to do quickly the things we think we must do to protect our agendas? Who is it that glorifies you in the difficult choices we must make about the direction of our faith journey– often in the dark night of confusion?

Wednesday of Holy Week poses penetrating questions about the choices disciples make on the path of Christ’s passion. Lord, who will find faith to continue confessing Christ through confusion onwards to the Cross?

What questions are sharpening your view of life in light of Christ’s mission?

Prayer:

Father, thank you for your long patience with those of us who have questions for you. In our uncertainty, give us strength to trust in you. As we tarry in the dark night of confusion, may our faith journey lead us in the light you have given. As we walk from death to life, we know the terrain will be rough at times. When we hit those rough spots, remind us of your presence. Amen.

-Dr. Bill Daniel

March 27: His Wise View of Us

Daily Reading:

I Corinthians 1:18-31 (NRSV):

For 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. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Reflection:

It is human nature to compare ourselves to others. Am I as smart as she is? Am I as successful as he is? Is my family as influential as that family? Corinth was also concerned about their appearances. What would it mean if our church is made up of the lowly of our society? Will people lose respect for us?

Paul again reminds his reader that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. All are in need of God, rich and poor, great and small. In fact, it is by lifting up the oppressed, weak, and poor that Christ shows His power. No king of this day wanted to associate with the weak, for they feared being seen as weak. But, Christ came to us. The Almighty God came to us and made Himself like us.

When we feel weak, when we feel despised, this is when we have only One option for hope. To the world, it is wise to let the poor and the weak to take care of themselves. It is wise to leave them be. But, Jesus comes to the weak. He comes to those who know they cannot save themselves.

Do you take comfort in your hopelessness, because of Christ?

 Prayer:

Father, we thank you that you come to us, not based on our success or other merits. When we feel despised, you show love. May our sorrows in this world not eclipse our knowledge of your love. Lift up all who feel lowly. Amen.

-Rev. Tab Miller

March 26: Hints of Destiny

Daily Reading:

John 12:1-11 (NRSV):

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

Reflection:

From Palm/Passion Sunday through Easter, Gospel lectionary texts in John will guide our readings and steps. The events of Jesus’s final days– from his arrest to death—formed into a fixed early traditional core. The Gospel writings emerged around this Passion narrative, as the evangelists related similar details to their unique communities. The Gospel of John has its own characteristic theological emphasis on signs of Divine presence revealed in Jesus passion. The narrative guides our own spiritual perception to eternal life through Christ’s resurrection.

As characters and imagery of death gather at Passover, the text displays signs that Death is Christ’s destiny. Mary’s anointing of Jesus draws on biblical imagery of a ceremonial coronation of king. Yet the presence of the event at Lazarus’ house, hints this will be a kingship crowned with death that leads to life once again.

Words and actions with double meanings point to deeper significance in the challenging way of the cross. Mary’s use of the perfume, challenged by the embezzler Judas as defrauding the poor, provokes conflict about a misplaced ministry and monetary focus. The words of Jesus ironically remind that Mary’s use of the perfume was foreseen as necessary for his burial. This costly act marks the way forward through death, towards the richest ministry act to come: celebrating the coronation of Jesus as King over death and eternal life through resurrection.

What words and actions of Jesus in the passion story reveal hints of your destiny?

Prayer:

Father, we recognize that the way of the cross is challenging. In fact, the way of the cross would be impossible for us if it weren’t for Christ’s leading the way. May we be a people who look to your words and actions as signposts along the way of the cross, so that we might journey well. Amen.

-Dr. Bill Daniel

March 24: Pilgrims On His Path

Daily Reading:

Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV):

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Reflection: 

 

Our passage is often referred to as the “Kenotic hymn”, from the Greek word kenosis (to empty) in verse 7. There is scholarly disagreement on whether we should translate the opening line as “Have the same mind which was in Christ”, or “Have the same mind (together), which is (possible) in Christ.” In either case, the hymn depicts the big picture of Christ’s way. The entire passage as a whole exhorts us to look to Christ in our motivations and movement through Lent.

Paul appears to have taken a hymn composed earlier and employed it in worship and teaching within the Philippian congregation. It functions to sharpen the motivations and mission of the congregation towards self-sacrifice and service to the world. The hymn links Christ’s act of relinquishing Divine power to his obedience unto death on the Cross (vv.6-8). Because of Christ’s submission to death, God has raised and exalted him as the Lord. All heaven and earth will bow and confess Christ as the source of redemption (vv.9-11). Therefore, the hymn directly connects global human redemption to the renewal of all Creation.

Paul is making a remarkable claim about the Philippian congregation, and every faithful church: the heavenly mission that redeems humanity and renews Creation runs through earthly congregations following the way of the Christ. Palm Sunday proclaims this in prophetic imagery, as the royal road of the celebrated King will lead to a crimson red cross of the Suffering Servant. Let us remember that pilgrims on this path may wave the Palm of celebration, but all heaven and earth are being reconciled and remade through the sacrificial Passion of Christ. How will we join that sacrificial way?

What mindset of yours is being challenged to conform to Christ’s motives and mission in Lent?

Prayer:

Father, you have prepared our journey and have sent your Son before us. May we take His path and not invent our own. Give us the mind to journey together, not just as individuals, but also as a family in unity. Give us the grace to trust you along the way so that we may give up our own mindset for the mindset you would have for us.

-Dr. Bill Daniel

March 23: His Presence In Our Pain

Daily Reading:

Psalm 31:9-16 (NRSV):

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
    my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
    and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,[a]
    and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies,
    I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
    those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
    I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
    and plot to take my life.

 

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands;
    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
    from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
    save me in your unfailing love.

 

Reflection:

A Psalm of lament such as this would have been prayed by a congregation seeking to confront its suffering (vv.9-13), moving through confident worship (vv.14-15) towards the faithful petition for redemption (v.16). It also guides Lenten pilgrims making a spiritual journey to confront the full range of psychological and physiological challenges to our faith. The Psalm shows the transforming power of facing our pain and finding our bearings together gathered in worship.

Indeed, the problem of suffering and its roots in estrangement from God and our faith community finds its resolution in worshipping together faithfully. Suffering and pain is real in every person’s journey. The Psalmist with unflinching insight claims that even the person of faith is often like one already dead—passing out of life and even out of memory (v.12). Through worship we regain our sense that all our tribulations and our times are in God’s care. This Psalm guides the hearts of pilgrims to remember that God has not forgotten us, and his care assures us of ultimate redemption.

This Psalm of lament is for all penitential pilgrims in Lent: confronting affliction, confessing sin, and contending with evil forms the language of our prayer life. Yet worship leads the faithful forth together with calm assurance–risking all on God’s steadfast love coming to save us in Christ’s resurrection.

What pains are you facing and faithfully naming before God in prayerful lament? 

Prayer:

Father, this life leaves us with much grief. Remind us always that our way through pain is in turning to you in praise. As we look upon your glory, give us peace in the midst of life’s turbulence. Amen.

-Dr. Bill Daniel