Who Will Roll Away the Stone?

I finally made it to the last chapter of the book of Mark. I’ve been reading through it in a prayerful, meditative way known as lectio divina. The day after the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Salome head out to the tomb to annoint His body. On the way there, they begin saying to one another,

“Who will roll away the stone for us at the entrance of the tomb.?” Mark 16:3

This stood out for me for a couple of reasons. Years ago, our pastor preached an Easter sermon around this text. I don’t remember much about that sermon, but the title stuck with me ,probably because it reminds me of myself and my own anxious over- planning — trying to figure out what might happen and how I can deal with it. If I had been one of that group of women, I definitely would be worrying and wondering. That stone was huge and heavy! How on earth would we be able to move it and get on with our task?

Of course, we know the end of the story, and they didn’t have to worry at all. The stone was already removed. They were focusing on a problem that didn’t exist any longer.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan ahead. What I am saying is that sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and fret about things that haven’t yet happened. Often when we are called to do something for Jesus, we just need to step out in faith and trust Him to roll away the stones we envision standing in our way. I need to remember this — so do you!

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

For more study of the book of Mark see:

A Beautiful Thing

The Lord Has Need of It

And He Said This Plainly

Crucify Him!

In chapter 15 of Mark, the crowd has a choice to make. Jesus has been arrested and taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect. Pilate finds no harm in this obscure rabbi, and offers the people a chance to save Him. Amazingly, they choose to save Barabbas, a notorious criminal! How could this be? I would never do that, would you?

Unfortunately, if I’m honest, I do it every day, and so do you. When we use His name carelessly, or hear others do so without objecting, haven’t we denied who He is? When we choose the practical, worldly solution to a problem instead of trusting the Word of God, haven’t we chosen Barabbas? When we ignore that homeless person on the street, walking by him without a thought for his condition, haven’t we failed to show compassion for Christ? When we chose to follow religious leaders who are not godly, aren’t we part of that crowd that condemned Him? When peer pressure leads us to run after more and more material goods when we could be contributing to the church, aren’t we as bad as those who yelled, “Crucify Him?”

I would say that we are. We all sin and it is our sin that made it necessary for Jesus to die.

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” 1 John 3:4-5

For more on the book of Mark see these posts:

,You Are Not Swayed by Appearances

No One is Good Except God Alone

Stay Awake!

A Beautiful Thing

There is lots of action in Chapter 14 of the book of Mark. Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples, He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, He is arrested, brought before the Council and denied by Peter. However, what strikes me in my meditative reading is a small incident that comes before all the “big” things. He is anointed with nard by a woman at the house of Simon the leper. In the gospel of John, this woman is identified as Mary of Bethany. Some of those present grumbled at the waste of this costly ointment, but Jesus replied:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6

I’ve been pondering what made this gift so special and here’s what I came up with:

  1. It was sacrificial. The nard was not only expensive, it’s been suggested that it might have been part of Mary’s dowry.
  2. It was personal. Mary did not send a servant, but anointed Jesus herself. In the account in John, she wiped his feet with her hair.
  3. It was compassionate. She seems to realize that Jesus will not always be with them. As someone who was a friend and “sat at His feet” listening, perhaps she actually heard and understood that His death was coming, because Jesus said “she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.”

Now I’m questioning myself — what beautiful thing have I done for Jesus? When have I been sacrificial and compassionate? When have I taken the time to give what’s needed in a loving and personal way? This is not easy to consider. Although I do many things “for Jesus” they don’t always measure up to Mary’s example. I often do my “things” in a way that’s rushed and distracted. I’ve got a list of “church chores” that need to be checked off my list. I guess that’s the “Martha” side of me. This phrase encourages me to slow down, listen carefully and be a “Mary.” I, too, want to offer a beautiful thing.

Mary and Martha

For more posts of the study of Mark see:

The Lord Has Need of It

Be At Peace With One Another

Rest a While

Stay Awake!

As I read prayerfully through the book of Mark, what stands out for me in Chapter thirteen is this phrase: Stay awake! Rather ironic for me, since I suffer from insomnia and staying awake is not what I want to do. However, in this context Jesus is not telling us to refrain from sleeping; He is saying we must be alert, be observant, pay attention.

It’s easy to get caught up in our daily lives and routines. The expedient often becomes the important in our human minds. Things like our jobs, our work at church, taking care of our families, even vacationing and hobbies. It’s not that these things are wrong, but here Jesus is warning us not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

All of this in in the context of the last times. Most Lutherans say we’re in the last times now — they started when Christ ascended. So now is the time to stay awake. Bad things will happen (they are happening) — wars, false teachers, persecution, earthquakes, famines. This means we need to remain strong in our faith. We need to study the Bible and know what it says; we need to be firm and not give in to heresies that may seem to make sense in our culture; we need to prepare to be persecuted by maintaining strong Christian communities.

The end of all time is coming. We clearly don’t know when. All we can do is be prepared. STAY AWAKE!

“But concerning that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” Mark 13:32-22

For more lectio divina study on the book of Mark see:

He Said This Plainly

Rest a While

Why Are You So Afraid?

You Are Not Swayed by Appearances

As I continue reading and praying with the book of Mark, I am struck by what the Pharisees have to say about Jesus:

“For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.” Mark 12:14b

It hurts my heart to think how often I (and probably you) are influenced by how people and things look on the outside. How easy it is to judge the homeless man who looks disheveled and dirty, or even the friend who is overweight. How quickly I am impressed by somebody’s beautiful home or adorably dressed grandchildren. This is wrong. I don’t and can’t know anyone else’s full story. The one person who does is God, and the Bible tells us in the book of Romans:

 God does not play favorites.” Romans 12:11

We can’t impress God with how we look, or what we have. What is in our heart is much more important. When Samuel was about to anoint a new king for the Hebrew people, God rebukes him for assuming that Eliab, one of Jesse’s older sons was the best choice :

“… Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

In truth, God’s choice often confounds us:

” … God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Jesus Himself said:

“I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” Luke 5:32

Regardless of how good we seem to be superficially, we’re sinners (No One is Good Except God Alone). We’re all lucky to have a high priest who looks into our hearts and has compassion on our failings ( Our High Priest). If we’re His followers, we should do likewise. Be quick to love and slow to judge. Don’t be swayed by appearances.

The Lord Has Need of It

I’m continuing a prayerful reading of the gospel of Mark. In chapter 11, Jesus tells two of the disciples to go into a village and take a colt which they will see tied up there. If anyone questions them about making off with the animal, they are simply to reply:

“The Lord has need of it.” Mark 11:3

As children, we imagined this as a mini-miracle — why would someone just allow a stranger to take one of their possessions? In actuality, it was most likely planned — Jesus knew these folks, and if He hadn’t alerted them in advance, they were at least willing to trust Him. This passage stood out to me as I wondered, “what do I ‘own’ that the Lord has need of?” Here are some ideas:

  • Maybe He needs financial support to keep His body, the church, alive and well. This should not be a tip, but a tithe.
  • He might need my time to prepare or serve a meal at the local mission for the homeless
  • He could need my ability to write so that this blog or the church newsletter is available to encourage others

The list could keep going, and of course, in one sense, Jesus doesn’t “need” me at all. His purposes will be accomplished with or without my help. However, He has chosen me and has graciously allowed me to be part of His plan. He has worked out ahead of time things that I can do. When I hear, “the Lord has need of it” I should be willing to simply comply, not question or complain. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

What does He need from you? Are you listening?

For more posts of the book of Mark see:

Be At Peace With One Another

And He Said This Plainly

Rest a While

No One is Good Except God Alone

Once again it seems that Jesus is speaking directly to me when he interacts with the rich young ruler in Chapter 10 of Mark. I like to think I’m a good person. I haven’t broken any of the “big” commandments. I’ve never murdered anyone or committed adultery. (Of course, this omits the occaisional murderous thought or harmless flirtation). I don’t lie (unless you count lies of omission — why stir up conflict?). Coveting — well not usually material things, but maybe I do envy those who seem to have an easier life than I do. I try to put God first, although pressing matters get in the way sometime. I guess you’re getting the picture. Just like the young man in Mark, my “goodness” does not stand up to close examination. It’s laughable. I’m a sinner, like you, like everyone else. All of my good deeds are tainted with self-interest and egotism. Often when I sin, I’m not even aware of it. Other times, I know I’m making a wrong choice, but I excuse or justify it. I sin because it’s easier, it’s convenient and above all, it’s who I am. It comes naturally.

Then there’s the human race as a whole. We want to think we’re getting better and better, but it’s simply not so. The holocaust was not a one time event — instances of genocide happen over and over. Slavery was abolished with the Civil War — it’s going on in other ways in other places. Check into almost any history book and you’ll find that even organizations and programs intended to do good, often become corrupted and evil.

What are the implications of this? Well, we don’t just make mistakes, so even a great teacher won’t keep us from sinning. We can’t just chalk our sinning up to traumatic experiences, or the way we were raised so we need more than a therapist. A good friend can guide us and point out some of our sins, but she can’t be around 24/7 and isn’t privy to every sinful thought. There’s only one answer. We don’t need a teacher, or a counselor, or a good buddy in order to become a righteous person — we need a savior. Nothing else will work, nothing else will do.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

For more study on the book of Mark see:

Why Are You So Afraid?

We Never Saw Anything Like This!

Go Home

Be At Peace With One Another

I’m now up to chapter 9 in Mark, reading prayerfully. What stands out for me today is at the very end:

“…. be at peace with one another.” Mark 9: 49

How often this is lacking in our lives, even our lives as Christians in the church together. We become offended; we’re angry with others; they disappoint us; and so on. It can be challenging to get along. We all have different priorities, different skills, different backgrounds. We tend to think our way of doing things is the right way. We want to be noticed and appreciated. Earlier in the chapter, the disciples had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Jesus called them together and read them the riot act. This was not the appropriate way to behave.

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

So it’s clear. In order to live at peace with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I must put aside any feelings of entitlement. My part (everyone’s part) in the body is to serve, not to be a big shot. Not to get my way all the time. Not to boss others around. To do this, I must put others first. I must not dwell on my own feelings, but honor those around me. As Paul says in the book of Philippians:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves ,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

This isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. It’s the only way to live in peace.

For more study on the book of Mark see:

The Commandment of God or the Tradition of Men? ]

Rest a While

Why Are You So Afraid?

Mind Your Mind

I recently received a publication from a local mental health organization. One article talked about the stressful, challenging times in which we are living and the need to control our thoughts. It’s easy to become negative, dwelling on ideas that may not even be true or likely. As the author puts it:

“Every action, decision and spoke word originates with a thought. The idea of minding our thoughts can quite literally be life changing.”

Negative thoughts can lead us to negative words and actions. They can take us to places we really don’t want to go.

The Bible talks about this too. Jesus Himself said:

there is nothing outside a man [such as food] which by going into him can defile him [morally or spiritually]; but the things which come out of [the heart of] a man are what defile and dishonor him.” Mark 7:15 Amplified Bible

In other words, our thoughts, which come from our mind and our heart, have a lasting effect on our moral and spiritual life.

The apostle, Paul, echoes this truth in his letter to the Philippians:

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

Minding our mind is one way to survive times of fear, doubt, grief and more. Instead of imaging a catastrophe, remind yourself that God is in control. Instead of listing the things that may go wrong, repeat the promises of God. The Bible is God’s love letter to His people. Study it. Hold it in your heart. It will help you to mind your mind.

For more on being healthy spiritually see:

Improve Your Health, Make a Friend

Choose Spiritual Health

The Commandment of God or the Tradition of Men?

Here’s what stood out for me in my lectio divina reading of Mark, chapter 7:

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  Mark 7:8

I didn’t really want to address this verse, and I even tried reading the chapter over a few more times, hoping something else would replace it.  No dice.  This is the one God wants me to hear.

At this point Jesus is telling the Pharisees what hypocrites they are.  They use their traditional religious practices to justify ignoring God’s Word and His real intention about how their daily lives should be lived.  For example, they avoid helping their parents by telling them they have no excess to give them — it’s promised to God.

This brings up several thoughts in my mind.  Lutherans (and I’m sure many others) are often accused of immediately countering a new idea with the phrase, “we never did it that way before.”  I must admit, I like my traditions.  I love the liturgy;  I love certain hymns that I associate with particular seasons of the church year; I love taking prayer requests during the service, so that we hear and can share in our common griefs and joys.  There are good reasons for doing these things.  The liturgy teaches us words directly from Scripture;  the hymns reinforce the mood of the season we’re experiencing;  group prayer binds us together.  However, I also need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing.  All of these traditions, good and helpful though they may be, are adiaphora, a Greek word meaning indifferent or unimportant.  I need to focus more on why we’re doing something than how we’re doing it.  As humans, all of us are likely to start thinking that our particular and comfortable way of doing things is the “right” way.  Doing something new can be helpful, as long as the something new is taking us in the right direction — loving and obeying God.

There’s another way to think about this verse, however–the way we let society and the ways of the world influence us.  We twist the words of the Bible, or ignore them, because they no longer suit our worldly understanding.  Pronouns and certain ways of referring to God become offensive and politically incorrect.  Things that are commonly accepted as part of life are no longer seen as sin.  We pick and choose the parts of Scripture that fit into our culture, and reject the parts that don’t.  This also seems to me to be putting our own traditions above God’s commands.

I’ve pondered about all this long enough.  It comes down to this:  in making a decision, go to God and His Word.  What does it say?  What does it mean?  What’s really important?  Would God be pleased with my choice?

For more on the book of Mark see:

Take Heart; it is I

Why Are You So Afraid?

Come Here!