Apr 17

Follow the (Awkward) Way that Leads to Life

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washing feet

This Sunday, don’t get distracted by the glitz and glamour, the pastels and white shirts and (bow) ties. Don’t get lost in what everyone is putting on. See if you can look beyond all that, all the way back to Thursday night, this night, when

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washing feet

This Sunday, don’t get distracted by the glitz and glamour, the pastels and white shirts and (bow) ties. Don’t get lost in what everyone is putting on. See if you can look beyond all that, all the way back to Thursday night, this night, when Jesus takes off his outer garment, and instead of throwing on his best tunic and shining up his new sandals, he puts on a towel.

A towel Jesus uses to dry the disciples’ feet, once he’s washed them.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. A new commandment. Love. Footwashing.” I know you’ve heard it all before. “Let’s just get this over with. Only three more sleeps til Easter.”

It’s hard to fully experience the joy of Easter without the awkwardness and foot odor of Maundy Thursday.

We all like Easter because it’s the way we want to see ourselves: bright, happy, and put together, straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

The mask firmly in place, we step into church, to give the world our best. “Break a leg out there!” The mask gives you control, it lets you rule the situation because you don’t have any problems, any doubts, any fears, any secrets, any pain. Everything is good.

But Jesus doesn’t want anything to do with your mask. Unsolicited, your Creator and Redeemer, who knows you will desert him, bends down and washes your feet.

Sure, it’s your decision, you’re in control.

“You’re not going to wash my feet, are you, Lord? I’d rather keep my feet covered up and hidden. My feet are ugly and dirty from the road, if you touched them you’d be disgusted!”

“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

The world settles for your mask, for surface level relationships and interaction. You can live a shell of a life out there.

But, when the sugar high fades and you long for more, Jesus welcomes you into a new community. There are some requirements: confession and forgiveness–admitting you don’t have it all together–are the entry way to new life, better life than you could have imagined before.

“Secrets draw their power from shame. I convince myself that I am too messed up, too tainted, or too tarnished for others to accept. Or maybe people will think I am a fraud. As I believe these lies, shame grows into fear, which is almost always, at some level, fear that if others truly know me, they won’t love me. Or at least love me as much or in the same way” (Jonathan MerrittJesus is Better Than You Imagined, 93).

Tonight, look around at everyone in church and stop living whatever lie you tell yourself. All these faces, gnarled feet being washed, stumbling toward the table, hands outstretched for the bread that alone can satisfy–have fled and betrayed the one who will never betray them.

No one is worthy. This is the One who truly knows you and loves you still. And these people? They’re trying to figure out what it means to know and love each other well.

So take off your mask, let down your pride, untie your shoes and let the cleansing waters wash over your toes and your soul. Yeah, it’s a little awkward and it might even tickle a bit. But this imperfect interaction is the stuff of life in this community that follows a crucified Lord.

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Apr 16

Twilight of Holy Week

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twilight

Today is the worst hump day of the year. Next week, hump day will mean the midpoint of the week, a casual slide into the weekend and rest and relaxation. But this week, it’s just not the same. This holy hump day seems  like the

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twilight

Today is the worst hump day of the year. Next week, hump day will mean the midpoint of the week, a casual slide into the weekend and rest and relaxation. But this week, it’s just not the same.

This holy hump day seems  like the last glimmer of twilight. Tomorrow darkness sets in and it will be dark…for three days.
So forgive me for not being as excited about hump day this week.
I’m a liturgical nerd. I love the services of Holy Week and the fact that they only come along once a year. I love the reminder that we have all like sheep gone astray, yet there is One who is faithful to us even still (Isa 53:6).

Most years I even love the waiting and hoping for Easter Sunday to arrive. Those agonizing moments on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

But, what I don’t think about and don’t know how to love rightly is the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.

The rest of the year we can skirt around the conflict. Sure there are some skirmishes when the authorities aren’t pleased with Jesus. Sure, folks try to throw Jesus off a cliff. But, mostly we can proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and Jesus’ declaration that all are welcome in this new reality.

But this week, after today, it’s hard to sit in the pain. The pain of the reality that you and I will betray (have betrayed) the One who has welcomed us.

That for all our holy thoughts and Lenten fasts, we’re still more prone to choose our way–the way of this world–then follow Jesus to the cross.

That at the same moment we want to single out Judas, we remember Peter and the others deserted Jesus, too (Matt. 26:34).

That we too might be willing to sell out our best friend for thirty pieces of silver.

taking of Christ

**Taking of Christ, Caravaggio

Because this is the crisis point for the kingdom of God.

In the next few days we’ll get to see the two sides trot out their best:

  • The fickle crowds’ shouts will turn from “Hosanna” to “Crucify.” But the faithful one will walk the long road to Golgotha.
  • The men (Peter and the boys)–respected and deemed worthy by society–will flee in fear, but the women (The Mary’s and others)–second class citizens in the first century–will stand with Jesus at the cross.
  • Rome will try to thwart kill this “King of the Jews” to mete out “justice,” but Jesus will submit and bring a greater justice than Rome can imagine.

But before all that, there is one last glimmer of twilight. After Jesus predicts that Judas will betray him, he doesn’t cast him out:

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matt. 26:26-29)

 Jesus commands them to drink–all of them–even Peter, even Judas.

Jesus commands you to drink, too. Not because of your faithfulness, but his. Not because he’s ignorant of the events to come, but (to steal a phrase from Lewis) because he knows the deeper magic.

Even in the face of the darkness to come, Jesus still has time to share a meal with his friends. Even though he knows we, like them, will desert him, he promises to drink with us again in his Father’s kingdom.

It’s going to get dark, but hold on to the twilight.

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Apr 15

Just Like Me: A Reflection on Mark 14:32-36

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Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

This is a guest post by Taylor Mertins. While I was at Duke, I took a class on the Greek Exegesis of the Gospel according to Mark. Throughout the course of the semester we translated the entire gospel from Greek into English and we dissected

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Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

This is a guest post by Taylor Mertins.

While I was at Duke, I took a class on the Greek Exegesis of the Gospel according to Mark. Throughout the course of the semester we translated the entire gospel from Greek into English and we dissected every verse looking at the grammar and discussing the depth of the Word of God.

On one such occasion we found ourselves translating the story of Jesus in the garden (Mark 14:32-36):

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.”

We discussed certain grammatical options when my professor finally asked, “Why does Jesus pray for the cup to be passed from him? This is a very troubling verse. On the eve of his execution he calls out to God to save him from death. So, why does Jesus pray for the cup to pass from him?”

One of the saddest things about seminary is that everything became a competition:

I tried to explain why Jesus prayed this, “I’m sure he knew what he was doing, he prayed this for our benefit in the future, so that we would know about prayer.”

“No,” one of my peers interrupted, “Jesus did this to help us recall the Psalmist words of prayer to be delivered from the pit, Jesus wanted us to understand his command over the Old Testament Scriptures…”

This went on and on. We showed off in front of our professor explaining and rationalizing why Jesus said what he said.

agony in the garden

Our answers got better and better, we began to yell at one another across the room when all of the sudden my professor slammed his hands on the table and said,

“I am so sick and tired of hearing young seminarians like you, try to explain away what Jesus said. This verse in Mark is one of my favorites. Do you know why? Because in this scripture Jesus is just like me.”

Then it was silent.

Though we still had thirty minutes left in class, my professor packed his belongings and walked out of the room.

For days it was all I could think about, and even now I think about it all the time. That in the garden, in this precious moment we have recorded, we see Jesus just like us.

You can bet that if I was in the garden and I knew what was going to happen to me, I would’ve shouted out, “Please God don’t let it happen!” If I found myself hanging on the cross I would’ve shouted out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is just like me.

But at the same time, Jesus is completely unlike me. My prayer would have stopped with, “God take this cup from me.”

But that’s not where Jesus’ prayer ended. Jesus continued on to say, “not what I want, but what you want.”

For as many ways as Jesus can be just like us, he is completely unlike us because he knew the Father’s will and marched up to the top of Calvary to hang and die on a cross for you and me.

So I wonder: what are your prayers like?

Are they like mine: O God please deliver me from this and that…?

Or, are your prayers like Jesus’? “God I know I’m in a tough spot right now, I know that you can fix me and heal me, you can make my son or daughter well, but, in the end it’s not about what I want, it’s about what you want.”

You know that great part of the Lord’s prayer? Thy Will Be Done. Many of us say it everyday, but, do we really want God’s will?

How are you thankful Jesus is just like you? How are you thankful Jesus is completely unlike you? How do those reflections shape your encounter with God during this Holy Week?

Taylor Mertins PhotoRev. Taylor Mertins is originally from Alexandria, Virginia where he was baptized, confirmed, and raised in Aldersgate UMC. He graduated magna cum laude from Duke Divinity school in 2013 with a Masters in Divinity. Rev. Mertins currently serves as the youngest Provisional Elder commissioned by the Virginia Conference of United Methodist Church at St. John’s UMC in Staunton, VA. You can find copies of his sermons and devotions here: www.taylormertins.wordpress.com

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Apr 14

Jesus Flipped Your World, So Why are You Still Walking on the Floor?

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Lying on my back, eyes tracing each line and curve, slant and obstacle. Would door frames be a hurdle? Would the vaulted ceiling become a pit from which I couldn’t climb? What would it be like? To walk on the ceiling? I practiced this exercise

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Lying on my back, eyes tracing each line and curve, slant and obstacle. Would door frames be a hurdle? Would the vaulted ceiling become a pit from which I couldn’t climb? What would it be like? To walk on the ceiling?

I practiced this exercise for hours as a kid. The couch seat seemed made for my back, head hanging down, rather than the conventional way of sitting. The question was: which would flip? The house or me?

It didn’t matter on those lazy afternoons; either way I was walking on the ceiling.

Jesus had his own way of walking on the ceiling, and it flipped the world as we know it.

nos blimp upside down

After the pomp and drama of the triumphal entry, Jesus’ trip to the temple would’ve made first century reality TV gold. The one called the Messiah, whom the crowds praised with “Hosannas,” enters the temple and loses it.

Jesus, who used to be a temple prodigy (Luke 2:47), now drove out everyone making or spending money. He overturned their tables and reminded them that this house was supposed “to be a house of prayer for all nations.” (Matt. 21:13, Isa. 56:7).

I can see the headline now: “Supposed Messiah’s Fall From Glory.”

Most paint Jesus in this moment living out the divine wrath and anger at the money-changers. Jesus is upset that they turned the temple into a shopping mall. Movie scenes show Jesus with a bull whip, looking more like a crazed Indiana Jones than the Son of Man.jesus clears the temple

But notice what happens next:

“The blind and lame came to him at the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the amazing things that he did and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became angry” (Mt. 21:14-15).

The resident religious authorities get mad–about Jesus’ healing and the children’s praise; about “the amazing things that he did.”

The lame and blind didn’t come to Jesus because he cleared out the temple. Children didn’t praise him because the mall had been cleaned out. These “things” were just the next in a long line of amazing. Like Jesus’ casting a vision for a reality where the poor and marginalized are blessed and welcome at the table (Matt. 5).

These “amazing things” pointed to a new reality. They were a sign of the world changing events that had already begun, with more to be revealed. After the events of that week, everything would change, forever.

There is a commentary on Acts entitled World Upside Down,¹ which is how the disciples felt after the events of Holy Week.

The tables Jesus flipped over in the temple are just the first of many things to be turned upside down in his last week on earth.

He’ll overturn our notion of a God and master, when he kneels to wash his followers’ feet, (even Judas who will betray him). He’ll overturn the expectations of a violent overthrow of the empire when he submits to Pilate’s ruling. When all hope is lost and he’s laid in the tomb, he’ll overturn the reality of death.

And through it all, if you’re paying attention, he’ll invite you to live a different reality. One where death isn’t the last word, and the way of the empire isn’t as compelling as the way of the cross and resurrection.

There’s a lot of talk about “Post-Christendom” right now (60 years ago Sunday church attendance was culturally assumed, now it’s not much of a conversation). Some folks are scared of the possibility, the church has always been part of the power structure for them, so it’s frightening.

But, this new moment is just the next in a long line of God turning things upside down.

The question is: Will we live into Jesus’ reality or cling to what we once had?

Will we be angry with the “amazing things” happening outside the four walls of our church buildings?

Will we be upset that when we proclaim “He is not here, he is risen!” Here might refer to our sanctuary? That he’s gone out before us to overturn the world? Will we hope for a return to things as they once were?

Or, will we rejoice and walk on the ceiling with him?

¹C. Kavin Rowe, World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (Oxford Press, 2010).

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Apr 11

A Holy Week Invitation

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triumphal entry

As Lent comes to a close, beginning with Palm Sunday this weekend, our focus shifts to Holy Week. The week when we remember the last days of Jesus’ life. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his command of love to the disciples, the last supper, his

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triumphal entry

As Lent comes to a close, beginning with Palm Sunday this weekend, our focus shifts to Holy Week. The week when we remember the last days of Jesus’ life. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his command of love to the disciples, the last supper, his crucifixion, and ultimately, resurrection.

In order to enter more fully into the week, we invite you to join us in a rhythm of daily prayer. Our social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) will offer selections from the Psalms and appointed Holy Week texts. If you haven’t already, be sure to “Like” us on Facebook or follow on Twitter/Google+ so you can receive the updates.

Beginning Palm Sunday, readings will be available around the traditional schedule of praying the hours (12 am, 3 am, 6 am, 9am, 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, 9 pm). Come and go as you please, and feel free to share with anyone who might benefit from the exercise.

We pray this will be an opportunity to enter more deeply into the events of Holy Week as the church around the world follows Jesus’ journey to the cross.

“All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned each to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” –Isaiah 53:6

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