Reflection for March 30 – Kate Heichler

Today’s Passage from The Bible: Mark 15:25-47

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 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!’

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Reflection – Kate Heichler

We have come to the end of the story – or what many people assumed was the end of the story. In our 40-day journey through the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the written accounts of Jesus’ life and death, we have arrived at his execution and burial, the events we marked yesterday in our solemn observances of Good Friday. His bruised and broken body, lifeless, now cold, has been taken off that instrument of torture, loosely wrapped in a linen cloth as there was no time before the sabbath began to prepare it properly, and placed in a borrowed tomb hewn out of rock. A great stone has been rolled across the entrance to keep animals out – and perhaps grave robbers. His disciples are not there to see where he is laid – they have all fled, lest the authorities who had Jesus killed should come for them next. Only Joseph and two of the Marys who traveled with Jesus and his band of followers see where the grave is. They will return early Sunday morning, just after sunrise when the sabbath is over, to prepare him for a proper burial. 

And now, on this Saturday, they have nothing to do but wait. Wait and grieve, lament and wail in outrage. Wait and absorb the trauma they have endured. The trauma their beloved Lord endured. Wait and think about the love, the power, the healing, the forgiveness they witnesses with him. Where is God now? 

We too have nothing to do but wait today – and perhaps take some time to reflect on our journey through Lent this year, this journey through Mark in the company of all the wise women and men in our two churches who have offered their insights on the story as we went. Oh, some of us will be decorating churches or preparing for Easter dinner; some practicing music or writing sermons. But let’s make sure we also take time for quiet, for Sabbath. Even God rested after creating the world. And Jesus rested after redeeming it. 

But the next day…

Reflection for March 29 – Danielle Webber

Today’s Passage from The Bible:  Mark 15:1-24

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

Reflection – Danielle Webber

In Mark 15, Jesus’ indifference to authority takes a deadly turn. Jesus is brought before Pilate, who questions him about his kingship. Despite numerous accusations, Jesus remains silent, leaving Pilate amazed. Per the Passover tradition of releasing a prisoner, Pilate offers the crowd the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a known insurrectionist.  Influenced by the chief priests, the crowd chooses Barabbas. Pilate, seeking to placate the crowd, orders Jesus to be crucified. Next, the soldiers cruelly mock Jesus, crowning him with thorns and hailing him as King of the Jews. After their derision, they lead him out to be crucified.

Mark 15 portrays the depths of human cruelty contrasted with divine love. Amid the pain and sorrow, moments of faith and recognition stand out. This is where my understanding of Jesus’ true victory really starts. I have learned that even in the darkness, I can see glimmers of hope.  I once had a pastor tell the congregation about an assignment that he gave to his confirmands. The students were to ask members of the congregation when they most doubted God in their lives and when they most felt his presence. I thought about this and picked the same event! I was not alone in this discovery. Many of those being asked picked the same event for both questions.  

Reflection for March 28 – Bonnie Rafer

Today’s Passage from The Bible: Mark 14:53-72

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” ’But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But he was silent and did not answer. Again, the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again, he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.

Reflection – Bonnie Rafer

There are two parts to this reading – Jesus Before the Council, and Peter Denies Jesus. I find these passages very disturbing, as they show humans intent on destroying another human, even without evidence, or with manufactured evidence. Why would a group of people want to incriminate someone? Are they threatened by this person? Are they jealous of the following that surrounds him? Are they simply following along with the crowd, in an effort to be popular, or to eliminate the person who is causing disruption in their way of thinking? Why do they hate him so much? 

The presence of false testimony combined with the apparent lack of integrity in their legal system is a deadly combination. At a point, the priests and council seem to be reaching for straws to put Jesus to death, even without testimonial evidence – there are holes in the stories, and the stories don’t match up.  For some reason, possibly because he is no longer the “fun Jesus,” many of Jesus’ followers decide to turn against him. All of this time, Jesus remains innocent, and remains silent, which reminds me of the adage about remaining silent when dealing with fools. And with his knowledge of the course of events to come, he surely sees them as unworthy of his interaction, and he knows he cannot change the final outcome.

The crucial part comes in verse 61 when Jesus is asked, point blank, if he is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One.  And Jesus answers, in effect, that he is the Christ, and that one day he will be seated beside God, coming with divine power. After this revelation, Jesus seems free to admit who he is, and the meaning is clear: He is stating he is the Christ, and not just a showman who does miracles. This is a shocker because now there is the fear of him, that he will be beside God, and have power and judgment.   

This is not what anyone expected and, in turn, brings forth the claims of blasphemy, and finally they have what they think is a reason to put him to death because of what he’s saying about tying himself closely with God and being Christ. This likely seemed to them to be insanity, narcissistic and completely wrong. They now had the reason they were desperately searching for, and could blame it on Jesus, no need for further testimony! 

Meanwhile, the part about Peter denying Jesus is another example of the frailties of human nature. The bystanders persisted in asking him about his relationship with Jesus and although Peter denied any association, they continued to pester him. Peter obviously didn’t want to be aligned with the man whom he now saw as being a loser. Peter is portrayed as a very weak person, I think, as everything was fine when Jesus was in the limelight and everyone loved him for being the miracle worker, but when things began to go downhill, Peter and others wanted nothing to do with him…..trying to save their own hides!   In the end, Peter realized what had happened, and that it all had been predicted by Jesus. At that instant, he knew…. he knew and he wept…. as well he should have, for himself in self-pity, and for Jesus, who had been his friend, and the subject of his betrayal.

And so, the story continues, being told through the ages. Unfortunately, some humans continue to persecute others, making judgments without evidence, and employing “fake news” tactics, and supporting causes to go along with the crowd.  Let us pray that we can employ Christian behavior, seeking to see the good in people, working together for common goals and defending those who have been unjustly condemned.  

Reflection for March 27 – Mary Kercher

Todays’ Passage from The Bible: Mark 14:32-52

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ All of them deserted him and fled.

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

Reflection – Mary Kercher

This passage shows how messed up we can be as disciples of Christ. The first instance occurs when Jesus asks the disciples to stay awake with him. Three times he asks them this! How awake are you when you’re supposed to be having a holy moment with Jesus? Does your mind wander during the sermon or the prayers? Are you with Him or somewhere else?

When we act from our own thinking of how WE think things should go, without God’s guidance, we can do pretty stupid things like Judas that have serious consequences. When WE get angry and act out of that anger, WE may do things like the disciple who cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. It may not be physical violence that we do, but it could be hurtful words or actions. 

Who stood with Jesus when he was arrested? No one! They all fled and the one who got caught escaped by running away naked. 

(This is in the next passage, but it makes my case stronger.) When WE say that WE would never deny Jesus like Peter, we don’t know how we might be denying him in ways we aren’t even aware of. Every time we don’t speak up when we should, or fail to act when we should, we are denying the Jesus that we represent as Christians. It reminds me of Ghandi learning about Christianity and being so impressed with Jesus, but he chose to stay a Hindu because he did not see Jesus in most of the “Christians” he met. 

We Christians are human and sometimes it is very, very evident. If disciples who lived and breathed with Jesus could act this way, I guess God can understand how we might follow suit. 

Lord, we are human, and we make mistakes. Jesus recognized that we sometimes know not what we do and He still forgives us. Help us to draw closer to you so that we feel your presence and honor your guidance in all we do and say. Amen. 

Reflection for March 26 – Kate Heichler

Today’s Passage from The Bible: Mark 14:32-52

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, The Teacher asks, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So, the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.

Reflection – Kate Heichler

In today’s passage we meet Jesus in a place that should be very familiar to regular churchgoers, for we reenact this part of the story every Sunday – that last meal Jesus had with his followers, when nothing went according to custom and plan. Mark doesn’t tell us about the foot-washing we read about in John’s gospel, but he does include the similarly dislocating thing Jesus said about the bread and the wine – his body? His blood? What on earth was he talking about? 

We’ve all been at strained family meals, but this one seems the most laden with tension I’ve ever heard of. The cloak and dagger business of finding the room to rent. The talk of betrayal. The talk of his blood being shed for many, for them – and the insistent “Do this to remember me,” suggesting he would not be with them. No wonder they fell asleep in the Garden! No wonder they ran away, their promises notwithstanding. Would we have been any different? 

The next time you come to the eucharistic feast, the Holy Communion, the Last Supper, as some churches call it, imagine it as an actual meal, with friends, and maybe some you’re not so sure about, with Jesus as your host. He is the host at all our tables, and he still invites us to remember him in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine. 

Reflection for March 25 – Kate Heichler

Mark 14:1-11

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; for they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Reflection – Kate Heichler

Is this act by an unnamed woman (in John’s gospel this act is attributed to Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus’ feet with the nard…) – is this an act of worship or of wasteful extravagance? Obviously, many of the men who witness this event see it as scandalously wasteful. It gives Judas Iscariot the push he needs to follow through on the plans for betray Jesus to the religious leaders. Jesus saw it another way, as an act of honor presaging his imminent death and burial; he predicts that this woman’s act would be told all around the world and across time. And it has been. 

Here’s a question for us: Shouldn’t worship always be wasteful? Extravagant, inefficient, overflowing in beauty? Is time spent in worship productive? Is it cost-effective to build, preserve and heat buildings of towering beauty that are used for a few hours a week? Are all those words and prayers and songs and flowers and publicity really gaining anything? Not by the world’s standards.

But we don’t live by the world’s standards. We are invited to live by God’s standard’s – a God whose love for us is so extravagant, he gave his only Son to come into humanity in order to save us. One Good Friday I was feeling depressed about the world, and I said to Jesus, “Was it worth it? For this? For us?”

Obviously, he thought so or he wouldn’t have given himself over unto death – for only so could he break the hold death had on us. We worship a God of extravagant love – and this woman knew that was the best way to love God back. Let’s love God back by the time we “waste” in worship this week!

Reflection for March 23 – Kate Heichler

Today’s Passage from The Bible: Mark 13:1-37

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.

This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything. ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ 

Reflection – Kate Heichler

We do not meet Jesus at his cheeriest in this passage – not for nothing do scholars call it the “Little Apocalypse.” Jesus knows he is approaching the end of his earthly sojourn, and perhaps that has him thinking about the end that will come to this phase of his movement and his followers, and to the whole created order. It can be hard to remember that God lives outside of creation – this universe is all we see and know; it is so vast – how could there be something greater, more vast – and more lasting? How could this all come to an end? Notice, Jesus doesn’t invite his followers to focus on that “at the end of the Ages” end, but to be alert to the movement of God in their own lives. “Keep awake” is good counsel for us all the time, especially this coming week as we hear again the stories of how Jesus gave himself over to the worst that humankind can do. What do we notice as we move through the various observances of Holy Week and Easter? Where is the Spirit nudging us? Stay alert… God is up to something!

Reflection for March 22 – Beverlie Ludy

Today’s Passage from The Bible: Mark 12:28-34; 39-44

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question. and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’

He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ 

Reflection – Beverlie Ludy

How do you love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength? My mother (who was a pastor specializing in spiritual guidance and contemplation) introduced me to Brother Lawrence, a 16th century Carmelite monk, who wrote about practicing the presence of God. “To practice the presence of God is to take pleasure in and become accustomed to His Divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly in our hearts with Him at all times, and at every moment, especially in times of temptation, pain, spiritual dryness, revulsion to spiritual things, and even unfaithfulness and sin.”

It does takes practice! I wake up every morning and thank God for the new day and the sleep that has refreshed me. I thank God that I am so blessed to live a privileged life in a wonderful cottage by the water, where I am aware constantly of the beauty and wonder of creation. I thank God throughout the day when something good happens (maybe a surprise call from a friend) or something bad is avoided (like when I stumble but don’t fall). I sing hymns in my head. Those are the easy parts. 

Listening to or reading the news, I try to ask God to be near to those being affected by all the terrible things going on in the world. It gets harder when I lament those terrible things, but I’m learning that lamentation also is a form of prayer (as in many Psalms) and can be an act of love in offering my pain and despair to God. In time of unfaithfulness and sin, asking for forgiveness is an act of love.

I don’t expect I’ll ever achieve true oneness with God, but frequent daily conversations, prayer and worship is a way to get there. And by the way, loving God is the first step toward being able to love your neighbor!

Reflection for March 21 – Kate Heichler

Today’s Passage from The Bible:  Mark 12:13-27

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 

‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.’

   Reflection – Kate Heichler

I wonder if Jesus got tired of the constant attempts by the religious leaders to trap him – to get him to say something that would get him into trouble with the people who adored him, or with the Roman authorities. There are two traps in this passage – one about taxes, one about marriage, but Jesus eludes both by affirming this simple principle: the realm of God and the realm of humankind are not the same. 

As followers of Jesus, united with him in baptism, it is our calling to live in both realms, bringing the power and love of God into the human realm, while already living the eternal life Jesus won for us. In this life we pay participate in civic life and enter into covenanted relationships with one another. We engage fully with all our embodied gifts of emotion and intellect – while learning to live in that realm of God that is eternal. All that means most to us in this realm is passing away. But the love gets carried over. 

We may not love one more than another in the Life eternal, so human institutions like marriage will not apply (remember, it’s “till death us do part…”) But we will live awash in Love, with nothing to pay for. All has been paid. 

Reflection for March 20 – Barry Kercher

Today’s Passage from The Bible: Mark 12:1-12

Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally, he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 
this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”?’

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So, they left him and went away.

Reflection – Barry Kercher

“Parable of Evil Farmer” is about a sinful man who leased land from a righteous landowner, then reneged on his lease when the owner sent his servants and his son for the lease payment. The parable points out that the evil farmer should be forgiven by the righteous landowner, and for the landowner not to seek revenge for the betrayal.

The moral to forgive rather than retaliate is a lesson in most Bible Scriptures. In the end the best outcome for the evil farmer would be to repent, reconcile and seek atonement. Jesus’ message to sinners is that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than 99 people who need no repentance.