Reflections on the Readings

March 22, 2015 – Year B – Fifth Sunday of Lent

For This Purpose

By Dennis S. Hankins

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

I’m not sure how the prosperity preachers would handle today’s readings. There are riches in these readings for sure, but not the kind that would line the pockets. Jesus is troubled in his soul and weeps with tears only his Father can understand. Jesus agonizes in the great depths of prayer in anticipation of a cruel and mocking death, knowing that his closest associates will betray and deny him, a grain of wheat that must fall into the ground and die and become fruitful as a field of wheat. The hour is filled with God’s purpose for a new humanity – ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven!

In the days of his flesh, Jesus wrestled in prayer with loud cries and tears. These are some of the most descriptive and moving words in all of scripture. We do well in meditating upon them. Jesus did not seek a way around the cross. He bore the cross before he died on it. In his own body, the Son of God showed what can be known of holiness in the flesh like our flesh. In his flesh Jesus reveals how it is possible to say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” In that prayer Jesus gives us a picture of humility; humility that comes from obedience of heart, faith that is the sweet aroma of Christ, a new humanity of sons and daughters born again by the Spirit of grace.

“For this purpose,” says Jesus, “I have come to this hour.” Our Lenten pilgrimage is leading us to Jesus, to his purpose for us to grow in holiness. There are moments in time in which we sense a fulness, a resolute purpose of heaven to which we are called. Our day is such a time. News of wars and rumors of war are everywhere. Humanity is enduring the butchering of the innocent in the womb and of faithful Christians in the Middle East. Ours is a moment in history when genuine voices are needed to pierce the darkness with truth, goodness, and beauty. As servants of Christ we are called to a life of surrender to Christ, and to have hearts filled with the prayers and tears of Jesus. That is our purpose in this life, the purpose for which we were created: namely, to know, love, and serve God and to make him known.

Our world surely needs the witness of an authentic Christian life, a witness unafraid to make him known, bringing a little bit of the Kingdom where we are. This requires a heart filled with the aroma of Calvary. Let us make it our Lenten promise to be full of all that Jesus wants to give us, that all of the strength and power and love of his salvation be more and more increasing in us until our world and all the world around is filled with his purpose!

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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March 15, 2015 – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Lent

Just As I Am

By Dennis S. Hankins

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Lent, if it is anything, is a spiritual necessity. We need this season of grace to know more assuredly Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is a season in which to grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18) We don’t want our relationship with Jesus to be a periphery experience that’s something like a spare tire, there if we need help.

The readings today speak of the endless mercy of our Father. If we spurn, ignore, resist and otherwise push him away, the Lord remains rich in mercy. In countless ways and by the many inspired voices of his messengers and prophets and apostles he tells us of his undying love for us. Even when we go astray adding infidelity upon infidelity and look more like the world around us than like the Lord above us he reaches out to us. He finds a way when there seems to be no way. He sends us his mercy because of his great love for us.

Even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins God so loved the world and gave us his only Son. The Apostle Paul explains that it is by grace we have been saved and that in the ages to come, seated with Christ in the heavenly places, he will show us the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness.

How is it possible to be surrounded by all the sacraments of grace and mercy and yet not know Christ as Savior and Lord in every facet of our living? Have you invited Jesus into your heart and surrendered yourself to him and to his embrace? Christ stands at the door and knocks. Are you there? Will you let him in? We must, you know. We cannot make heaven our home unless we allow Jesus to be at home in our hearts. The Savior of the world made us the center of his affection when he died on the cross for us. Now let us come to him in this great season of Lent and invite Christ to be the center of our lives.

We cannot make ourselves holy. Only in Christ can we live and have the hope of heaven. In the sacraments of initiation, baptism, confirmation, and eucharist, Christ comes to us and receives us. Let us love him back. Let’s come back to him more often and welcome him more and more into our hearts. It’s true, without him we are nothing, but in Christ we are more than conquerors. In Christ we learn that real strength is faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love and it never fails.

Jesus will begin with us right where we are. A popular hymn of invitation in the evangelical world is Just as I am. It’s inspiring and welcoming words include:

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

May we come one and all to him who does not condemn but rather receives us so that through him we might be saved.

Dear Jesus, I come. Just as I am, I come. Amen

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March 8, 2015 – Year B – Third Sunday of Lent

My Father’s House

By Dennis S. Hankins

(Jesus said,) “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.”

The outer court of the Temple is called the Court of the Gentiles. In this area, non-Jews gathered at the Temple to pray. The Temple therefore is a ‘house of prayer for all nations.’ In this area, for example, is where the tax collector in Luke 18:11 beat his breast while praying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Also, in this area where anyone could pray, is where the money-changers and the selling of oxen, sheep, and doves for sacrificial offerings took place. These merchants, with the apparent approval of the Jewish authorities over such things, operated their business under the guise of convenience, displacing ernest seekers for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. One wonders what deal the Temple authorities struck with the merchants.

But we surely are not surprised by Jesus’ reaction as much as the temple authorities are. Or are we? Do we understand the great hope and sign the temple is? The temple is a sign of the Messianic hope embedded deeply in the psyche of Israel, where prayers and sacrifices were made with an expectation of the coming of the Messiah.

It is to the temple Mary and Joseph carried the infant Jesus to be circumscribed. Here in this house of worship is where Simeon took up the baby Jesus in his arms and exclaimed, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” And then Anna, the prophetess, an eighty-four year old widow who had spent her entire widowhood in prayer in the temple, upon seeing the son of Mary, gives thanks to God and tells everyone about him who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

So when Jesus speaks of the temple as his Father’s house, he’s making a really big statement.

First, he understands that the merchandisers occupying a place dedicated to prayer and seeking God, had become a distraction and a hindrance to those sacred actions.

Second, Jesus, demonstrates his love for those unable to pray in his Father’s House by driving all of the profit makers and money changers out of the area meant to be sacred space. In my opinion, Jesus’ whip of cords is a sign of authority rather than an instrument to inflict pain. And the temple authorities do not arrest Jesus but rather demand that he produce evidence of his authority to do what he did. Do I hear a little bit of nervous tone in that demand? I think so.

Thirdly, the event draws us into the mystery of our redemption. Along with the first reading, this event reminds us that God is God. He speaks and chisels his words in tablets of stone, and fills his temple with his presence, by sending the true Temple not made with hands, to restore the sacredness of prayer. The last thing that the place of prayer should ever be is that of turning it into a money making opportunity. We cannot serve God and mammon.

Our Lenten journey is a pilgrimage. The Father is leading us to deeper prayer and to a greater awareness of his love. When we arrive at Calvary on Good Friday, Roman soldiers will throw dice for the clothes that once covered the Temple of the Son of Man seemingly unaware of the sacred sacrifice of prayer occurring on that Sacred hill.

For us, however, the Cross is neither a stumbling block nor a foolish act, but Christ crucified, Christ the power and wisdom of God defying all worldly and human strength and wisdom. On Calvary, Christ, through the veil of his flesh, brings forth his Church, a new dwelling place of God through the Spirit, a Temple not made with hands, the Father’s House of Prayer.

Amen.

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March 1, 2015 – Year B – Second Sunday of Lent

It’s Good For Us To Be Here

By Dennis S. Hankins

Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.

Abraham and Isaac worship on Mount Moriah, the mount in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was built. Elijah and Moses are both associated with Mount Sinai, sometimes known as Mount Horeb, or the Mountain of God. All three hear the voice of God on their respective mountains. And in today’s Gospel, Peter, James, and John are privileged to hear the same voice of God exclaim, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

I like hiking in the Smokey Mountains. The view from the top is the reward for the winding, upward, sometimes harrowing effort. For me, it’s always something of a spiritual time, a sacred experience. It’s as though I hear the words from the excellent glory, “It is good!” It’s good being on the trails with my daughters, either, Melissa or Bethany; it’s good seeing the streams caressing the ancient stones, it’s good meeting people on the trail; it’s good to take a deep breath of the air at the top; it’s good to look on top of the trees and to imagine if for a moment there is no more war or pain in the world. And I say, “Amen.”

Abraham was 75 years old when he entered into the story of redemption. Called by God to leave father and mother and all things familiar he obeyed even though he did not fully know where he was to go. (Hebrews 11:8) All he knew is that God said, “I have made you the father of many nations.” And to his credit, he believed God and his promise, trusting that he gives life to the dead and calls things into existence the things that do not yet exist. (Romans 4:17) He did not weaken in faith even though his body was as good as dead in that he was about a hundred years old and Sarah was barren.

Today we see Abraham with unwavering trust in God. For he considered that God was able to raise him from the dead because he said to the men with him at the base of Moriah, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder to worship, and come again to you.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)

Luke explains in his gospel that Elijah and Moses are in conversation with Jesus about his exodus that he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. The exodus Jesus will effect is the liberation of humanity from the tyranny of sin. That is the conversation Peter, James, and John overhear. It’s such a good experience that Peter exclaims how wonderful it is to be present for such an apparition. It’s so good that Peter suggests that three tents be set up so that proper hospitality is offered for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

But fullest meaning of the moment will not be fully grasped until the Son of Man is raised from the dead, something Peter, James, and John did not yet understand – the mystery and the mission of Christ, God’s only Son, whom He did not spare, but handed him over for us all. To this the law and the prophets all point and on this sacred mountain the plan of redemption reaches its summit.

When our Lenten pilgrimage arrives at Good Friday we will sing again about another hill, a sacred mount, Mount Calvary, where the Son of God on an old rugged cross opens his arms for us all.

May we say every time we gaze at the old rugged cross suspended above our altars, “It’s good for us to be here.”

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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