Palm Sunday Audacity: Love Remains



Palm Sunday. The day of Jesus’ brilliant subversion of the Empire—mocking both the Roman authorities and the Jewish religious authorities. Such audacity. If the disciples were anxious for Jesus before they returned to Jerusalem, I can only imagine how they felt when Jesus entered Jerusalem with all that fanfare.

Jesus wasn’t subtle on Palm Sunday. He took on the establishment—the Empire—in outlandish ways: miracles on the Sabbath, teaching in the synagogue, growing up in Nazareth, continuously challenging the religious authorities.

Then Palm Sunday. The crowd in Jerusalem asked, “Who is this man?” I’m sure the religious authorities asked that question long before Palm Sunday with increasing bewilderment to annoyance to anger to fury to planning his assassination.

The religious authorities also asked: “Who does he think he is?”

Who did Jesus think he was?

God. Showing us Love.

  • Love that continuously flows toward us.
  • Love that is beyond our comprehension.
  • Love that we receive in small amounts because receiving larger amounts is overwhelming for us.
  • Love that believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  • Love is. Love is generous and kind, thinking the best of the Other, of wanting what is best for the Other.
  • Love is humble—not boastful or needing to elbow Others out of their place in line.
  • Love doesn’t classify who is important and who isn’t important.
  • Love doesn’t judge but honors Others.

The ways of the Empire do not work in Love. The Empire views Love as a threat and will do whatever is necessary to squelch Love. The Empire believes it has ultimate control and power (although how hard it works to maintain power reveals how slippery that power actually is). The Empire doesn’t really understand that Love is the real power—kindheartedness, gentleness, humility, modesty, generosity, yieldedness. These qualities are perceived by the Empire as weaknesses and foolishness and responds with disdain and sneers.

But Love remains. Despite all the attempts of the Empire to squelch Love, Love remains.

(For an earlier Palm Sunday reflection, here).


Giotto, 1266?-1337. The Entry into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

The Story of Intimates

Jesus raises Lazarus to life - John 11:1-44


Lent 5–John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.


I am intrigued with the interconnectedness of the people in this story. The friendships, the siblings, the affection and regard between the primary characters in John 11. According to The Women’s Bible Commentary (WJK, 2012-3rd ed), “This is a story about intimates … Jesus’ own future and the future of this family are inextricably linked.” (p. 523)

The passage begins with the sisters, Martha and Mary, felt free in their relationship with Jesus to send word to Jesus that Lazarus, their brother, was gravely ill. The language they used indicates the depth of friendship and affection between Jesus and the three siblings: He whom you love is ill.” The subtext here is “Your dear friend is dying and you can do something to stop his death.”

And Jesus lingers for two more days until he announces to the disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But the disciples tell him no, not back to Judea because they knew that Jesus’ life was in danger as the religious leaders tried to stone Jesus when they were last in Jerusalem.

Jesus tells the disciples “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping.” They understood Jesus’ words literally—Lazarus was taking a nap. To them, Jesus didn’t need to risk his death for a napping Lazarus. The disciples were worried for Jesus: Why should Jesus risk his life for Lazarus if he’s only sleeping?

Then Jesus tells them: Lazarus is dead. The verse says: “Jesus spoke plainly to them.” I laughed out loud when I first read this passage last week. Often throughout the gospels the disciples are portrayed as thick-headed and a wee clueless. I imagine Jesus saying something obscure and opaque and the disciples looking at each other, “Did you understand that?”

“No, did you?”

“Me neither.”

Even if the disciples didn’t always understand Jesus they loved him and they decide to go with Jesus and die with him.

As they approach Bethany, Martha meets Jesus out of town and speaks freely from her grief. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

And Jesus asks her if she believes in him and Martha makes a beautiful statement of faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Martha returns to their house and whispers to Mary that Jesus wants to see her outside of town. Mary goes to Jesus, falls at his feet and weeps, and also tells Jesus that if he had been there Lazarus would’ve lived. Then we have a glimpse into Jesus’ emotions: He is troubled. Some translations say he was angry, others say troubled.  Jesus asks Mary to take him to Lazarus’ tomb and, again, Jesus has strong emotions. The Women’s Bible Commentary suggests in this moment is the “… the intersection of the intimate and the cosmic: the pain of this family reminds Jesus of the pain of the world.” (p. 524)

At the tomb, Jesus calls for the stone to be moved. And the wonderfully sensible and practical Martha says: He’s gonna stink—he’s been dead for four days. But she trusts Jesus and has the stone rolled away.

Jesus then prays aloud: “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that sent me.”

He then calls for Lazarus. And the text says: “The dead man came out.” Not Lazarus but the “dead man” to underscore the magnitude of this miracle. Many believed in Jesus in that day.


Jesus’ conversation with Mary and Martha transform this story from a miracle story about the raising of Lazarus into a story about the fullness of new life that is possible to all who believe in Jesus. For John, the initiative of these women sending for Jesus, their bold and robust faith, the grief and pain that they bring to Jesus, their willingness to engage Jesus in conversation about life, death, and faith, and their unfaltering love for Jesus are marks for discipleship. (ibid)

The interconnectedness of all these people model faithful discipleship for all of us.


*JESUS MAFA. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

What has been capturing my attention


*My friend Eric Massanari is a chaplain at a retirement center in Kansas. He recently wrote about an interaction with a resident here.

*Another friend, Rachel Miller Jacobs, is an associate professor of Christian formation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) wrote an powerful reflection on Psalm 146 here.

*The book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. You can find my review here.

*Reflections about Michael J. Sharp, a Mennonite man working in the Democratic Republic of Congo with UN and human rights violations. He was kidnapped on March 12 with his colleague, Zaida Catalan from Sweden, and their bodies were found earlier this week. From Mennonite press and from mainstream media.



*The “George Gently” series on Acorn. I love British mysteries!

*The Trevor Noah stand-up special on Netflix. His impression of Nelson Mandela is riveting. Warning: some language.

*The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer and activist James Baldwin. I saw this in a full movie theater where everyone was silently engaged with the film. Very powerful film and necessary viewing for everyone.



*We placed this sign in our front yard about a month ago and I am pondering how I can support local refugees. I’ve been reading D.L. Mayfield’s blog and she offers many suggestions for developing friendships and supporting refugees. Also, her book Assimilate or Die is excellent and you can read my review here. (You can read the backstory about the signs here).

Glad You are Our Neighbor Sign

*Lent. I’ve been reading Paula Huston’s book, Simplifying The Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit for daily reflections. I’ve also been participating in the Lectio Divina Lent study with Abbey of the Arts.

We are quickly approaching Palm Sunday (April 8) and Easter (April 16). I am enjoying my gospel lectionary study as well. Here are my reflections for Lent 2 and Lent 4.


*Kevin and I celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary this weekend. This photo was taken a few years ago at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia when we celebrated his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with Kevin’s family. I love this photo of us.Kev and June at Peggy's Cove


What is captivating you?

Who sinned? Lent 4

Jesus cures the man born blind - John 9:1-41


John 9:1-41

9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.


The lectionary gospel text for the fourth Sunday of Lent is long and dense. There are many layers that could capture our attention but I want to focus on one thread running through the entire passage: sin.

The story begins with Jesus and the disciples walking past a man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus: who sinned—the parents or the man? They assumed that sin was the cause, or source, of his disability. This was a common belief then and is one now.

Jesus responded that sin didn’t cause the blindness but instead the blindness was an opportunity to reveal God’s glory by healing the man. Then Jesus made a few mud pies, placed them on the man’s eyes and told him to wash at the pool of Siloam. The man’s eyes are healed and he could see. He returned to his neighborhood and new set of problems began.

His neighbors couldn’t believe this was the same man—how could this be? He told them what happened and the neighbors took him to the synagogue leaders, the Pharisees. They begin interrogating him about the healing but they focused instead on the fact that Jesus broke the rabbinical Sabbath laws. The Pharisees declared: “This man [Jesus] is not from God because he didn’t observe the Sabbath.” Others chimed in: “Yea, so Jesus must be a sinner … but how can a sinner perform miracles?”

As the religious authorities continue interrogating the formerly blind man they continually circled back to sin—the man’s sinfulness, Jesus’s sinfulness, offense that someone accused them of sinning, etc.

But here’s the thing: in the gospel of John, sin is not based on behavior, it is focused on one’s relationship with God. According to The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Volume IX):

In the Fourth Gospel, ‘sin’ is not a moral category about behavior, but is a theological category about one’s response to the revelation of God in Jesus. (p.653)

By the time we get to verses 24-25, the formerly blind man’s insistence on what he knows from experience confronts the religious authorities with their own contradictory understanding of sin. Their focus on the violation of the Sabbath laws keeps them from seeing the glorious wonder of the healing.

Finally, in v. 41, Jesus redefines the meaning and understanding of sin. While the Pharisees have physical sight they are unable to see God’s loving face revealed to them through Jesus. For John, sin isn’t about what we do but almost exclusively about one’s relationship with Jesus, and whether we believe that God was revealed in Jesus.

Sin is witnessing the healing love of God, but not recognizing it as such. Sin is sitting in the presence of a beautiful sunrise, but staring at your phone.  Sin is deciding what the Bible says, instead of being open to hearing God’s active voice though the Bible. Sin did not cause the blind man’s blindness, but blindness to God causes sin.

The story of the healing of the blind man and the ensuing discussion about sin invites me to reconsider how I view others and my own behavior—am I quick to judge someone as sinful when only God can do that?  And, will I pray for eyes that see and ears to hear God’s presence in me and around me? I hope so.


JESUS MAFA. Jesus cures the man born blind, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Attentive Living: A review of Liturgy of the Ordinary

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren  (InterVarsityPress, 2016)


It is easy for me to zone out while doing tasks by listening to a podcast, or a recorded book, or NPR. I dislike doing chores without distraction. On occasion, I practice the discipline of silence and  imbue my chores with sacredness. I remember Brother Lawrence, the Carmelite brother who worked his adult life in the monastery kitchen and while cooking, washing dishes, and sweeping the kitchen floor as a time for prayer: “It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God,” from Practicing the Presence of God.

But usually, well, my chore practice is to be distracted, and will organize my chore schedule to coincide with the NPR schedule so I can be absorbed in something not related to the task at hand.

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, writer and Anglican priest, Tish Harrison Warren suggests that all our tasks can be imbued with the sacred. And, truthfully, she is making a convert of me. She reminds the reader that spiritual formation is taking place in us during these daily activities: “Is it in the repetitive and the mundane that I begin to learn to love, to listen, to pay attention to God and those around me.”

She shapes the book on themes which we find in ordinary life: checking email, sitting in traffic, fighting with her husband, calling a friend, and sleeping. She reminds us through an Annie Dillard quote that, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So then, how do we spend our days—distracted and not fully present to our lives or mindful of God’s presence in and around us? Harrison Warren confesses, “It is hard for me to believe that checking email could ever be a place of prayer.” Nevertheless, she hopes her work, her tasks, will be blessed God.  Additionally, Harrison Warren suggests being mindful of God’s love and presence during the repetition of our daily life is similar to the repetition of our transformation, or, our sanctification:

Daily life, dishes in the sink, children that ask the same questions and want the same stories again and again, the long doldrums of the afternoon—these things are filled with repetition. And much of the Christian life is returning over and over to the same work and the same habits of worship. We must contend with the same spiritual struggles again and again. The work of repentance and faith is daily and repetitive. Again and again, we repent and believe.

Importantly, Harrison Warren reminds us that bringing the sacred into the everyday is not a mental effort but it involves and engages our bodies:

If we don’t learn to live the Christian life as embodied beings, worshiping God and stewarding the good gift of our bodies, we will learn a false gospel, an alternative liturgy of the body …. Our bodies are instruments of worship.

Her reflections are robust, and, truthfully, convicting (especially about checking her social media the first thing in the morning). The book includes discussion questions and practices that could be used for personal study or a small group study. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life is well-written and accessible for readers who are seeking more meaning into one’s everyday life, especially while doing chores.




Waking up singing a prayer

celtic triple knot with swirls

“Confitemini Domino”

(“Come and fill our hearts with your peace.

You alone, O Lord, are holy.”)

–from the Taize tradition

Fill my heart with peace, O God.

Only you can fill my heart.

Only you can give me peace—

the peace that is incomprehensible,

unexplainable, beyond knowing.

You are peace beyond peace.

You are peace beyond.

With this peace, fill my heart.

You, only you.

How I Relate to Nicodemus (from John 3:1-17)

Nicodemus - John 3:1-21


Nicodemus doesn’t receive any benefit of the doubt in this Sunday’s lectionary reading from John 3:1-17.  I have heard sermons on this text with explicit or implicit superiority that surely “we” would have understood what Jesus meant. Truthfully, I would’ve been as baffled as Nicodemus was in his conversation with Jesus.


But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me back up: Nicodemus was a leader of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the Jews in occupied Palestine. These religious leaders found a way to live with the Roman Empire and were given authority and oversight for their people. The Pharisees had figured out a way to maintain power and status within the realm of Empire.


Although Nicodemus had power, authority, and status he was also intrigued with this particular Jewish teacher, Jesus, who came from Nazareth. We know that Nazareth was a woebegone place from John 1:46 when Nathanial, a future disciple said, “What good can come from Nazareth?” I imagine the Pharisees in Jerusalem, the center of religious and military power, were prejudiced toward Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus was teaching and healing in the countryside and word was spreading to the center of Jewish power about Jesus’ miracles. And part of the Faustian bargain the Pharisees made with the Empire was they kept a lid on any anti-Empire activity going on around the country. And we know that some of the Jewish people, including some of Jesus’ disciples, were hoping that Jesus would be the one to lead the rebellion against the Occupiers. It is possible that Nicodemus was sent by the Pharisees to check Jesus out under the cover of nightfall gossips wouldn’t learn of the meeting.


Or, Nicodemus was intrigued with this teacher and wanted a private conversation with Jesus without the hypervigilant eyes of his Pharisee peers. So, Nicodemus stealthily visits Jesus, at night, to remain hiding from the civil and religious authorities.


I think it’s important to note two facets about this nighttime visit. First, “night” is used metaphorically in John’s gospel to represent the absence of God. Indeed, later in chapter 3:19-21, the writer condemns those who prefer darkness to light. Second, discipleship (or faithfulness) begins when we approach God. Nicodemus approached at night for his own reasons, most likely fear—fear of being seen by others but, perhaps, fear of being seen by Jesus in the bright sunlight.


With this first approach to Jesus, Nicodemus is completely baffled and confused. I am reminded of when I first met Dallas Willard in the late 1970s and he spoke with a deep knowingness and experience about God but I was completely baffled by what he said. So, I completely identify with Nicodemus in his confusion when Jesus began talking about being born from above then about the wind and being born of water then brings in Moses lifting up the serpent. I easily imagine me sitting next Nicodemus with my eyebrows furrowed, thinking,“Huh?”


But Nicodemus showed up again and is recorded twice, in John’s Gospel: In 7:50-52 Nicodemus gave a modest defense of Jesus in the midst of a fierce conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities; and in, 19:38-42 where he helped Joseph of Arimathea (a secret disciple) bury the body of Jesus. We are reminded in v. 39 that Nicodemus first approached Jesus in the night and here he was at the burial of Jesus, Nicodemus provided an abundant supply of spices with which to use for the body. I envision the act of enveloping Jesus’ body with burial spices then to the burial itself as an act of proclamation by both Nicodemus and Joseph. Is the gospel writer suggesting that Nicodemus moved out of the night shadows of distrust to the bright light of trust? Nicodemus’s appearance throughout the gospel suggests that belief in Jesus is movement, or a journey, if you will. One commentary writer notes: “In the Gospel of John ‘faith’ is never a noun. Believing … is a verb.”


I identify with Nicodemus because my own journey is distrust, curiosity, wondering, bafflement, tepidness, doubt, wandering, fear, and, hopefully, believing with fidelity and trust.


JESUS MAFA. Nicodemus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.