Tag Archives: Lent

Down To The Cross

Friends, this week we have a meeting to attend. It’s not a business meeting, so no business casual attire, and no business class seats (or pews), with a window view from which we can look down upon the world, and our fellow humanity. We are traveling by foot, down an unpaved road, on a crowded street. It is a meeting with Jesus down at the foot of the cross. But before we get there some decisions must be made. You see for our meeting to take place we must decide to go with and stay with him there. This is not a moment of pomp and circumstance, but of abandonment and transformation. A decision to follow him, will mean checking your status, your pride and worldly education; (not brain) at the door. To follow him to this cross may mean death for us, but guaranteed death for him. Understanding the true Gospel of Jesus, in today’s nationalized, center left or far right, commodified religions is not easy.

His birth and presence challenged an empire. An empire which sought to acquire, control and define the peoples Worship. This society was numb to the pain, suffering and despair of this broken but beautiful world. We will talk about beauty another day, but today I want us to see the tragic murder of an innocent man named Jesus from Nazareth. The very same empire sent his mother, Mary, fleeing from her homeland to save the life of her newborn baby. Why? What had this child full of promise done? After some time away, for safe keeping he returned a boy, ready to become a man. A child full of promise, steeped in the knowledge of his purpose and mission, he began his ministry. He would not pass by the woman at the well. He would not allow a woman accused of committing adultery to be stoned. He would not allow the crowd on the banks of the river to leave hungry, and after showing them compassion and healing them he feeds the multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread. This caused such a disturbance to the religious, contemporary and earthly authorities’ way of life, that a plot to kill him was ultimately conceived. The empire which claimed and comforted that prominent religious community, struck at night. Attempting to hide their acts by cover of darkness. Jesus was there announcing a new “Kindom” (Rev. Starlette Thomas). Yes, as in those whom you oppose and oppress are my Kin, they are my family. And, as his time with us will be short, the Word made flesh demonstrated the power of God. The same power which will liberate us.

He does not come to bring peace, nor to enlarge our territory. No, he comes with a sword. He comes with a word, words which still keep the powerful up late at night, words which strike fear into the heart or mind of the rich and powerful: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Something must be done. And with their hands wringing, and minds spinning, a trap is set. One of his closest friends will sell him out! An arrest is made. He will be beaten all night long and mocked. A show trial is had, and the verdict pronounced. GUILTY. Pilate tries to wash this man’s blood from his hands, but the water is powerless to make him guilt free. Just as our baptism with water alone does not, and will not guarantee freedom from our transgressions, or a guilt ridden conscious. His execution is scheduled for Friday morning. A rugged cross is made for him, a crown of thorns pressed in his head, and he is made to walk a road to a hill of skulls. Along the way a black man is seized and made to carry the cross behind Jesus. “Luke 23:26, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.” His unwitting participation paints a map for the journey we too shall take.

We too must be seized by the spirit, in order to carry this cross. It alone ensures the ultimate downfall of empires which mock God, as they brutally attack and oppress the innocent. Author and scholar: James Cone’s book: “The Cross and The Lynching Tree”, expresses the theological significance of this poignantly. As we make our way to our own meeting with Jesus; remember to pack light. Take nothing with you for your journey. No race, no class, no currency and no hate. Our Great High Priest became a sacrifice for the liberation of the oppressed. The Son of God, The Word made flesh, signs a New Covenant for us in his blood. To partake in this covenant requires more than rituals, or membership in good standing. It will require more than an allegiance split between God, career and country. It announces a reckoning; “Repent, the Kindom of God is at hand”. The Gospel makes reordering of our very way of life necessary. It will mean symbolically leaving behind the world which welcomed him not, and still holds hostility for the immigrant. It brings an end to the dominate social order and brings about the Reign of Christ’s Grace and coming Glory. This sounds like foolishness to some folks, yet 1 Cor. 1:18 says “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. 19 For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” And as we find ourselves in this Holy meeting, at the cross of Jesus, may we come to see in God’s wisdom and righteousness, just how foolish and often cruel, this world so loved by God truly is. May we find the strength to re-prioritize, be re-educated, and renewed as we go with Jesus; down to the cross.

For God So Loved the World

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 3:14-17

Jesus’ advent amongst us can lead to life or it can confirm one’s place among the dead, much like what we read in Ephesians chapter 2. God’s motivation for sending Jesus is not condemnation, but as John 3 says, God’s motivation is love.

God sends Jesus into the world, and that trip culminates with Jesus’ own placement upon a stake, a pole, a Roman cross. Lifted high, Jesus’ pierced body demands attention, our attention. Just like the serpent in the wilderness Moses used to save the Israelites, Jesus’ body, which is the very location of God’s glory, is the most staggering revelation of the gospel and the life it offers. Rather than judging, Jesus’ form suspends and hangs, in order to be seen by those who dare face the abhorrence of “the sin of the world” that caused the Lamb of God to die.

Yet, rather than despair, this sight is also the place of life, the sign of God’s profound love for all of creation, for all of us. Just as the Israelites in Numbers 21 looked to the serpent, a sign of their sin, in order to be healed, we too must look at our sin in order to be healed. Again, I say we must look at our sins in order to be healed.

Do understand Jesus did not sin, but Jesus took on our flesh, and on the cross Jesus accepted all of our sin upon him, he took on the sins of the world past, present, and future, and he did so that we might have life. Hear the good news this Lenten season, the good news of God’s love for you. God so loves you he gave his only begotten son for you. Jesus so loves you he took upon himself all of your sin, so you may have life.

~Rev Nick

107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble

107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

107:17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;

107:18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

107:19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;

107:20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.

107:21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

107:22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Despite Our Good Intentions

There’s an old saying that goes, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” The saying usually is to convey, “So-and-so were trying to help, but they didn’t realize…” or, “So-and-so thought if they did this, it would be a good thing,” or the classic, “They meant well.”

More often than not, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions,” is said when someone did or said something from a place of ignorance and unawareness. And the point being made goes to show that ignorance is not always bliss.

Jesus begins to tell His disciples that He must endure great suffering, be persecuted by the authorities and those in power, and then killed. This is the first time Jesus brings up death in the Gospel of Mark. Until now all the disciples have seen and heard were healings and restoration of life.

Peter took Jesus aside, and perhaps said something to the effect that Jesus shouldn’t be talking like that, the disciples were there for Him. Jesus in turn then says, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Here’s the point I want to make. Peter meant well. His good intentions came from a seemingly good place. Peter obviously cared for Jesus and this is why he took Jesus aside. Yet, Jesus’ response was another way of like telling Peter the path to hell is paved with good intentions, except Jesus got straight to the point – “Get behind me Satan.” But, Jesus’ rebuke didn’t stop there; He continued with instruction.

I’ve heard it said before that rebuke is a fork in the road for a wayward soul. Will we cringe at correction as if it were a curse, or embrace the blessing of rebuke? The book of Proverbs is packed full of wisdom regarding rebuke as something to embrace the blessing thereof.

During this Lenten season, a season of reflection, I encourage you not to let those moments of rebuke, especially self-rebuke, bring you down and derail you. Give yourself a little extra grace and hear the good news of God’s generous grace and love for all of us.

I feel confident in saying I’m pretty sure none of you has been called “Satan” by Jesus, but even if you have, just as Peter was embraced by our loving God and became the rock on which the church was built, so are you embraced, so are all of us loved and embraced.

As Paul says in Romans Chapter 8 nothing, and he means absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God. And so, that all embracing love, no matter how well intentioned we are, is the hope we live by each day.

~ Rev. Nick

Baptist Participation in Lent

Lent is the liturgical season in which Christians prepare for Easter through prayerful and solemn penance, and contemplation of mortality. Lent is derived by shortening the Old English word lencten which means “spring season.” It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends some forty days later on Maundy Thursday. The forty days of Lent represent the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Unfortunately, some Baptists have viewed the observance of Lent as being associated with “works righteousness.” It seems this view misses the depth and richness of Lent. Lent offers us a chance to reflect, respond, and strengthen our relationship with God. It also demonstrates a practice that is ecumenical, transcending denominations.

Traditionally, Lent has been observed by giving something up; it could be meat, alcohol, coffee, sweets, dairy, or any number of things. The sacrifice is in part meant to demonstrate our reliance upon God and emulate Jesus. An alternative to sacrifice could be taking something on as opposed to giving something up. This could be by way of community service or volunteering or kind acts or donating to a charity that you normally wouldn’t. A third option is a hybrid of both, such as giving up your afternoon coffee purchase and instead donating the money to a charity that provides clean drinking water for those in need. There are obviously any number of ways to observe Lent.

The essential factor is using your observance to deepen your relationship with God and prepare your heart for Easter. Regardless if you choose to participate in Lent or not, I hope and pray God’s blessing upon you during this season.

~ Rev. Nick

Ashes to Ashes: The Season of Lent

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Growing up in a Southern Baptist context, I never heard of Lent. I had no idea the Christian Church had “seasons” or its own calendar.  That was unfortunate.  Discovering this in my college years came as a great surprise and a benefit to me ever since.  For it became apparent to me that my navigation of this world and my life would be –if not easier then–more meaningful simply because I could comprehend my life as developmental, evolutionary which is to say, an unfolding mystery and journey.

The Lenten season begins this Ash Wednesday and marks the formal beginning of the season of Lent and that season is one of reflection, examination of our consciences and souls and repentance. We do this especially as we recall the testing of our Lord in the wilderness, just after his baptism.  I sometimes get myself down to an Episcopalian church to have the sign of the cross made on my forehead with ashes. Baptists do not hand out ashes or participate (as a rule anyway) in this ritual act.  I can tell you from my own experience, it is a powerful moment to have a priest rub those ashes onto your forehead as she says those solemn words, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Whether or not you participate in such a rite, the truth of those words should stir us to a season of contemplation and repentance.

Ashes as a sign of sorrow have been with us for a long time.  In the ancient book of Job, we find that the stricken man “sat among the ashes.” This was a sign of grief and sorrow.

Leon Wieseltier in is book,  Kaddish,  wrote in his book about rending one’s clothes as a sign of grief. He pointed out that the mourner who rends thus gestures outwardly what has in fact takenplace inwardly. “This act of violence,” Wieseltier writes, “dignifies the external truth and the internal truth of what has happened.”  So with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads: it is an outward sign of an inner sorrow and grief: for our participation in the ruin of the world, for our grief for life that is short and brief, and a declaration that we will live more faithfully and justly in the days to come.  As the Book of Common Prayer declares:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.  Have mercy on us, Lord.


A Mission And A Mandate


Christ, woodcutter Steffan
Christ, woodcutter Steffan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Johannes Baptist Metz writes that becoming a human being is both a mission and a mandate.  We are not given our humanity or our destiny as other animals who simply live out of their “natures.” That’s what dogs do. That’s what cats do.  That’s what a lion does. And then of course the next statement is, that is what humans do.  To which Oscar Wilde responded that if a person says they were just acting like a human being you can pretty much count on their having just behaved as an animal.


Your mission and my mission is to be fully human. We want to live up to and through what is most noble about that.  This is also a mandate, a call and command to us to grow, expand, and reach for what is best in ourselves and others.  This Lenten season offers us a chance to be introspective about how we’re doing with that mandate.  We do so within the Christian religious context of Christ’s forty days temptation in the wilderness. There he struggled with his human poverty and limits, resisted the temptation to be something other than what God had called him to be and stepped into and through his destiny as the Savior of the world. When he finished those temptations, he came out of the wilderness preaching that God’s Kingdom was near.  What about us? What about you?  If you’re going to “give up something for Lent,” then how about this:  give up those less-than-noble calls that would diminish your humanity and dignity, your life in God. And embrace the mission and mandate to be like Christ. If we do that, we might awaken to that kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is very near.


Enhanced by Zemanta