By: Maggie Leonard
Refection—v. 24, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light’
My brother lives in the 2017 eclipse path of totality. That made it very easy for my entre immediate family to gather and watch the once-in-a-lifetme phenomenon together. In this Markan prophecy, the turning of the sky sounds very dramatc. So was the eclipse. But what struck me most was the length of the process. To the discerning (and protected!) eye, watching the waxing and waning of the eclipse took hours. Signs were all around us of what was to come, if we knew what to look for. For example, the crescent shadows of leaves were a tell-tale sign of the looming eclipse—though honestly, I was so busy looking up, that I forgot to look down. And really, that’s all prophecy is—an interpretaton of what is already around us, if we are looking in the right directon. The signs are there, for sure. But usually the process is longer than we hope. This passage speaks about God gathering together God’s people—not dividing us. In this Advent season, do we notce the ways in which God is gathering us together? Let us stop pointng fngers and begin to look for the ways that God gathers us as one people into God’s kingdom—where everybody is loved and valued.
Prayer God of all seasons, may we see the signs of your love and transformation.
By: Maggie Leonatd
Refecton—v. 28, ‘from the fig tree…branch becomes tender’
When I walked the Camino de Santago in September, I was struck by the abundance of food. Every field and yard was dripping with food from plants, vines, and trees. There were grapes, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, corn, cabbage, and figs. Oh, the figs! Their sweet branches blocked the sun from our backs and offered us sustenance with their fruit. But this passage doesn’t talk about fruit. It talks about tender shoots growing leaves. There aren’t even fowers on these trees, much less fruit. That’s true of this season, too. The season of Advent is a season of darkness and preparaton. It’s a time when we survey ourselves and the world and consider what needs to be done to be ready to welcome the Son of God. The fruits of our labors are not yet seen, but we act with hopeful antcipaton nevertheless. Now is the time to do the unpopular work of confessing our shortcomings with our whole hearts. Growth is a slow process that makes us vulnerable. We become tender, more susceptble to hurt, but its in that place of vulnerability that we can know that good things are near. Every failure is an opportunity for learning. Every injustce is a chance for justce to prevail. Every division creates space for reconciliaton. I hope that during this season, we can keep those growth moments tender—not distractng with humor or ratonalizatons, but truly feeling what is being done and to let that be okay.
Prayer God of tenderness, may we see the signs of your love and transformaton.
Refection—v. 36, ‘or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly’
I suffer from FOMO. It’s been a struggle my whole life. I have the Fear Of Missing Out, FOMO. It’s that fear that has kept me up late at slumber parties, conferences, dance par- ties, and family gatherings. I want that experience. I want that connection. I want that memory. After all, sleep is for the weak! If I’m honest though, I haven’t had much FOMO when it comes to my relationship with God—which is problematic. I suppose my mental- ity is that God will always be there, so I can catch up with God later. And surely, God wants me to take care of myself, right? God understands that I need to sleep, even if my friends don’t. But it seems like I could be missing out on an awful lot. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we had a Fear Of Missing Out of God and God’s Kingdom? I’m not talking about that guilty, shaming, knee-knocking, hell-fire-and-brimstone type of fear, but rather that fear of missing out on the beautiful, the awe-inspiring, the well-rested, the fun-loving and loving-kindness peaceful existence that could be found in God. How is it that we aren’t scared of missing out on that? It’ll require a change of priorities, courage, and abundant hope, but I suspect that it will be well worth it.
Prayer God, help us turn to you that we may partcipate in your joyful kingdom.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 7, ‘…they brought the colt to Jesus…’
During Holy Week, Christians consider what it means to follow Jesus as we remember his journey to the cross. We watch as Jesus confronts religious and governmental institutions and calls into question societal norms. Jesus challenges the lifestyles of those around him—and us. In Lent, we are called to observe and bring into conversation the way of our lives with the way of the cross. In Mark, from the beginning of his ministry, as early as the third chapter, the Pharisees have been hostile to Jesus. And it does not take long for the Pharisees to confront him after he makes a very public entry into Jerusalem—the center of Jewish and Roman power in Palestine. Jesus’ entry on a colt, rather than a steed, conveys humble resources rather than military might. When confronted by power, how we respond does make a difference. I hope that our response may be defined by humility also.
Prayer Jesus, your way of love is a way of the cross, a way of humble means and not violent strength; teach me to confront power with humility.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 9, ‘Hosanna!’
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David. Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ The word hosanna remains untranslated in most Bibles. In Today’s English version, it is translated ‘praise God!’ And that is how most of us in the pews understand it–as a cry of adoration. But hosanna is a Hebrew word, and in the Old Testament it is often translated ‘save us’ or ‘deliver us.’ It is a reference to how God will liberate God’s people from enemies, usually political oppressors. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people entreat him, ‘Save us! …Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! In the name of God, save us!’ Jesus was recognized by them as the coming messiah, God’s chosen political leader, who would save them from yet another politically and religiously oppressive empire. His entry into Jerusalem was the beginning of a revolution.
Prayer Hosanna, Lord! Blessings on the one who brings the kingdom and the revolution of love!
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 12, ‘…into the wilderness…’
The heart is a wilderness, too. There are many ways to describe the geography of our interior life. But imagine that beyond our active thoughts and feelings, beyond our memories and the narratives we construct to make sense of our lives, beyond all our worries and anxieties and fears–beyond all of these familiar terrains of the spirit–there is a wilderness of the heart. At the center of our being, it is a place deeper than our daily distractions, persistent addictions, and convenient lies. It is silent–but not because we are alone. God dwells there–freely, truly, powerfully, and beyond our capacity for control. Like the wilderness Jesus experienced, it is an ‘outsider’ space, even though it is found in the depths of the heart. It is the ground within each of us where we encounter God in the most profound way. The mothers and fathers of our faith, who spent their lives in the desert, understood this. ‘Enter your cell,’ they tell us, ‘and it will teach you all you need to know.’ Alone at last, we are forced to enter the divine wilderness of our hearts and encounter the God of our salvation.
Prayer Spirit, drive me into the wilderness of my heart.
Reflection—v. 12, ‘…into the wilderness…’
Wilderness is ‘wild’ space. Untamed and dangerous, it is outside any domesticating control. It is a place is for ‘outsiders,’ those who survive just out of reach of the powers-that-be and the rule of law. Bandits, thieves, and outlaws hide there. Wild animals roam there–and apparently the random wild prophet. And, if we take our text at its word, it is the domain of devils and angels, too. Its sands carry memories of a people on-the-run, led by an outlaw, escaping the long arm of Pharaoh. The same wilderness still shimmers with shadows of Jesus and his own lonely pilgrimage and testing there. Why does God choose a place like this to act? Maybe God is more free to act for us when we are outside the bounds of our safe, secure lives. The streets where many of us live are a modern wilderness–the over-grown back alleys, the dank shadows beneath bridges, the dirty concrete, and the ‘catch-out corners’ where very little is ever caught. God still prefers to work in these places, outside the world we have made for ourselves. Here God can remake the world–if we are willing to brave the wilderness.
Prayer Spirit, drive me into the wilderness of the streets.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 13, ‘…for forty days…’
Lent is a season, having a beginning and an end; we enter it, and just as surely, we will leave. But while here, we are called to engage it, wrestling with its challenges and discovering its hope. These forty days deliberately point to Jesus’ own forty days in the wilderness before setting out on his public ministry. The convergence of forty and testing and wilderness echo the journey of God’s people for forty years in the wilderness–a time of testing and trial for them–before a new generation was ready to enter the land of promise. While their sojourn was marked with disobedience and a lack of faith, Jesus endures the wilderness and all its temptations with faithfulness. Jesus is purposely re-working the story of Israel in his own story. Even so, each time we enter the season of Lent we are called once again to make the story of Jesus–and with him, the larger story of all God’s people–our own story, too.
Prayer Jesus, be with me these forty days, and lead us to the life you promise.
Reflection—v. 14, ‘Jesus came to Galilee…’
To ‘change our hearts and lives’ because the ‘kingdom of God is at hand’ is to turn continually toward the presence and power of God in Jesus. Jesus fulfills the promise of the prophets that God would come again–presence–to set his people free–power. This is Isaiah’s good news: ‘Here is your God… your God reigns’ (40.9, 52.7). In Jesus, we come to understand what that presence and power truly mean for us. The presence of God is not billowing clouds and thick smoke. It is Jesus, a human being like us, poor like us, experiencing the depths of the struggle we also experience. This is God come to us, with us, for us. And wherever God is present, there is also saving power. Mark makes sure we see Jesus as the ‘Stronger One’ (1.7). Jesus shows God’s liberating power in the very first act of his public ministry in Mark–casting out a demon on the Sabbath (1.26). God’s relational presence is Jesus of Nazareth, who has come to save us with power–freeing us from every other power that seeks to destroy human life.
Prayer Jesus, I turn to you; come to us and save us.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 15, ‘…the kingdom of God is at hand…’
Our repentance is joined to the good news that Jesus preached: the kingdom of God is at hand. At Mercy, everyone likes to take part when we study the Bible. Adam would often raise his hand first–even before I had finished reading our text. One of his toughest questions still lingers: ‘What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God?’ I am not sure I ever gave a satisfying answer. But what strikes me now is that Jesus embodied the content of his proclamation. He was the practice of the gospel he preached; the walk of the kingdom he talked. In Mark, we have been told from verse one that the whole life of Jesus is the good news. That means all that Mark shows us about Jesus is the answer to Adam’s question. The kingdom of God is casting out demonic powers, healing the sick, and forgiving sins. It is eating with outcasts, challenging the powers-that-be, and going out with nothing for the sake of a greater mission. The kingdom of God is dying on the cross–and leaving an empty tomb.
Prayer God of Good News, help us to practice the kingdom your Son preached.