Sixth Sunday of Lent (Palm Sunday): Mark 11:1-11

By Rev. Gina Jacobs-Strain

Imagine you just purchased a new car, perhaps your dream car; the keys were just handed to you. As the salesperson walks away, two people approach you, reach for the keys, and say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.” The request is a little vague and, in the back of my mind as I write this, I hear 2 Peter 3:8, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” What would be your response to the request?

Similarly, the disciples, following Jesus’ instructions, take a new colt, never ridden, from a doorway. When asked about their actions, they say these very words to the bystanders. It is not clear in the text that the owner is present, but others in the community see the disciples approach and they release the colt, without resistance, for Jesus’ celebrated entrance into Jerusalem.

These few words raised so many questions for me. Did the “bystanders” recognize the two disciples and therefore knew they were connected to Jesus’ ministry? Did they recognize the term “Lord” as one that distinguished Jesus’ holiness and divinity? Did they know the Lord, Jesus Christ, having witnessed his miracles and having been blessed by his words? Had they surrendered their hearts unto “my beloved son with whom I am well pleased?” The disciples have my undivided attention with these words, “The Lord needs it.” My soul and heart are pierced with these words, no matter how many times I read or hear it.

Jesus, the consummate teacher, is showing us how to live in community. The statement conveys humility and invites the community of bystanders, the colt owner, and the disciples to participate in Christ’s ministry. Jesus also models inclusion and respect as Jesus promises through the disciples to return the colt shortly. Maybe the bystanders understood that all that we have belongs to God. Yet today, we often allocate our time, resources, and spiritual gifts that we have received from God back to serving God in a measured manner. It is funny that the things that God requires are often simple yet our willingness to be obedient make things complicated and not easily achieved.

As we approach Palm Sunday thinking about Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem, we should prepare our minds and hearts for Holy Week. Is God saying to you, “The Lord needs it?” Prayerfully, our sacrifices during the Lenten season, as well as our deepened spiritual practices, will renew and sustain us well beyond Lent because we have become more firmly planted in the holiness of our Savior. Let us persist and ask ourselves, “What does the Lord need from me so that I may participate more fully in sharing and doing the Gospel?” And so, I wonder with you, would I release the keys to my car (which has over 100, 000 miles and persistent issues) to someone who I knew was a devout Christian? Would I release it without resistance and a plan for its return? Where are the opportunities in my life for me to ask for help? Are we too busy, too smart, too “I-know-how-to-do-it” that we forget to invite others into the blessings of Jesus ministry? Let us ponder these words, asking God to show us new ways to witness God’s call to us and new ways to be in community. The Lord needs it.

We introduce Rev. Gina Jacobs-Strain as the new executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. Welcome, Gina!

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Fifth Sunday of Lent: I Want to See Jesus (John 12:20-33)

By Rev. Aracelis Vasquez Haye

Photo courtesy Victoria Goff, (c) 2012

What will your response be, if someone tells you,  “I want to see Jesus?”

I believe that we are living during a time that many are seeking for answers, clarity, in need of healing and restoration, and searching for meaning and purpose to life’s problems and challenges. In my own ministry, like the Greeks seeking to see Jesus in the Gospel of John 12, I have encountered many women in search of Jesus, especially during their crises:

  • A 21-year-old college student who dreams of becoming a lawyer one day. However, her future is at risk. She is a DREAMER, a young woman who was brought to this country when she was ten months old. She now fears that the outcome of having to go back to a country that she never knew would rob her of her dream and aspirations. She came to see me to tell me, “I want to see Jesus.”
  • A young woman who as a child was sexually abused and now as a young adult has struggled to forgive herself, told me, “I want to see Jesus.”
  • A woman who has lost her marriage and children due to drug addiction, and now finds herself homeless and helpless, tells me, “I want to see Jesus.”
  • An elderly woman, who spent her life advocating for peace and racial justice, and who has recently confronted bigotry in her own church, told me, “I want to see Jesus.”
  • A mother who lost her teenage son to gun violence tells me, “I want to see Jesus.”

I was present as I listened to their stories and I asked myself, “How do I show them Jesus?” I heard their grief, felt their pain and brokenness, and I saw their desperation. They wanted to see Jesus: that Jesus who healed the sick, cared for the marginalized, and resurrected the dead. For some, this was the point of no return: they desperately needed Jesus. And they came to me because they knew that I know Jesus. My response to them? “Look, Jesus is here.”

Through life’s ups and downs, I have learned that behind the shadows of my own sorrow and brokenness, Jesus was and is here. Though it is hard to comprehend and, like Mary and Martha, I may have said in various occasions, “Jesus, if you had been here…”, (John 11), I later realized that he had been there the whole time.  I learned to look further and deeper into my situation. It was there that I changed my request into an invitation, allowing Christ into my crisis and seeing him intervene and interrupt my circumstance, even if it was solely with his presence and peace.

Like the Greeks in our Scripture passage, and like those women who shared with me, I wonder if they initially knew what they were asking. The request may seem simple, but at times Jesus’ response is anything but simple to the human condition. There are moments where Jesus will invite us to sit at the foot of the cross, and perhaps other moments when we will witness the resurrected Christ.

Do you want to see Jesus?

Rev. Aracelis Vásquez Haye serves as associate pastor at Church of the City in New London, Connecticut, and as Protestant Chaplain at Connecticut College and The Waterford Country School. 

Fourth Sunday of Lent: No Condemnation (John 3:14-21)

By Karen Yee

 

http://bit.ly/2CbtKkM Used by permission CreativeCommons.org

Before becoming a pastor, I taught 6th grade at Taylor Middle School. One of my best friends was a fellow 6th grade teacher, Mr. Alvarez. We were always talking, sharing ideas, and working together on a variety of projects. We were partners, except for one week during the school year: Big Game Week. You see, I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley (Go Bears!), and he was from “the Farm,” Stanford University. For that one week, our classes would taunt and tease each other, drape the other’s classroom with the other school’s school colors, and blast our respective fight songs as we paraded into each other’s classroom. Finally, the football game would be played and there would be a quick “we won” cheer, and things would return to normal. At the end of the day, we respected each other and knew the most important thing was to let our students know the importance of going to college.

Unfortunately, our society no longer knows how to have differences and still get along. We live in a polarized society where we are quick to judge and condemn the “other,” or anyone who doesn’t think, vote, believe, look or act like us. People are grouped: you are either good or bad, for us or against us.

John 3: 16 is the most recognizable verse in the Bible. We see it on posters, at sporting events, and on the bottom of the soda cup at In & Out Burgers. However, it is only part of God’s story. I always want to scream, “Keep reading!” “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” (John 3:17). We have become so polarized that we think it is our job to judge others and decide their validity or worth. However, if Jesus did not come to condemn, then why are we doing it? Jesus came to love and save the world and our purpose, our job, is to point people to Jesus so that they can be saved: saved from hopelessness, saved from the lack of purpose and meaning in life, saved from death, and given abundant life, now and everlasting.

These verses are part of the story of Nicodemus, who came in the dark of night to meet Jesus. He was too afraid of what others would think. Even back then there was division in society. There were those who loved Jesus and those who wanted to condemn him. Jesus reminds Nicodemus, and all of us, that, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil,” (John 3:19). We must come out of the darkness, step away from our cliques and groups, go beyond our stereotypes and presuppositions of others, and come together in the light of Christ to love, to serve, and to point each other to the One who saves.

Rev. Karen Yee is English Ministry Pastor at lu-Mien Friendship Baptist Church in Richmond, CA, and is Associate Pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship in Castro Valley, CA.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualsugar/4123864009/in/album-72157624840737437/ Used by permission Creativecommons.org.

Third Sunday of Lent: Zeal for God (John 2:13-22)

By Rev. Christine Smith

See bottom of post for citation

The reading of John 2:13-22 is striking for many reasons. A few verses earlier, Jesus was attending a wedding with his mother and friends, being a “hero” of sorts, turning water into wine. A few verses later and the ground work is being laid for his crucifixion!

When Jesus entered the Temple and observed the “money changers,” most probably taking advantage of poor people, manipulating their desire to honor and obey the Temple system of sacrifice, the text says that he fashioned a whip and chased them all out! Grappling with what they just beheld, understanding the power of the religious leaders and the significance of the Temple in Jerusalem, the disciples reflected upon a verse in the Psalms, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (Psalm 69:9, NIV).

What could Jesus mean? Why was he being so disruptive? Did he have the authority to challenge the “Temple business?” The answer is a resounding “YES!!!” Jesus still has the authority to challenge, “Temple business!” Back then and today, Jesus is not concerned with a physical structure, but rather the “temples” of our bodies, hearts, and minds.

When the disciples considered Jesus’ apparent “zeal” for the Temple, they didn’t realize the power and implications of their reflection. The Temple represented the presence of God. It was meant to be a place of high worship, praise, education, sacrifice, and atonement. Religious leaders and thieves turned it into a place of oppression, abuse, and hypocrisy.

Jesus, however, wanted the people to have a deep love of God…a reverence, a desire, a hunger, a “zeal” for God. He wanted them to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). The shallow religious activities that evolved over time in that sacred space grieved Jesus and thrust him into righteous indignation.

What about us? Has our worship become distorted and shallow? Do we recognize our bodies, our hearts, our minds as the “Temple of God?” Have we allowed religion to replace our relationship with God? Do we recognize how our stale “religiosity” impacts or even oppresses others?

As we walk through this Lenten season, may we seek to regain our zeal for God. May we hunger and thirst for righteousness. May we, like deer, pant for the “living water” that is Christ. May our relationship with God flow over in sweet, lifting, liberating, and strengthening ways towards all we encounter.

Rev. Christine Smith is senior pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church in Euclid, Ohio, and author of Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2013).

 

Photo credit: JESUS MAFA. Jesus drives out the merchants, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48271[retrieved February 28, 2018]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).