The Revised common lectionary has a cycle of readings that focus on 1 of the 3 Synoptic Gospels. This year explores the Gospel of Mark in depth. With only 16 chapters it is the shortest of the Gospels. Take some time to read this gospel in Lent. Take note of what sticks out.
First, one of the characteristics of Mark is that it is a Gospel of action. The word “Immediately” comes up about 41 times in Mark and 11 times chapter 1 only. God’s work of Saving grace is available to us now. The Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus is here. The question we must ask ourselves is how do we respond to Jesus? Do we wait, or procrastinate, saying will listen or get to it later? If we are honest we say no. Or we just don’t quite get what Jesus is asking of us. We are in good company. The disciples had a hard time grasping what Jesus is doing too.
Second, Mark’s Gospel focuses on the Authority of Jesus as the Son of God or the Son of Man. Jesus is clearly identified as the Messiah or the Christ. He challenges authorities, the devil, the religious establishment, and the local government. What are your expectations of someone who challenges Authority? The disciples had many expectations for who Jesus was and what he was about. Jesus also urged his Disciples to remain quiet. What is Jesus waiting for?
Third, Mark’s Gospel spends a long time on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. The Cross is central to the story of Jesus. It makes everything become clearer. As you read Mark’s gospel keep the cross in the background. How does thinking about the cross change your thoughts on what the disciples and others are saying? How do Jesus’ and others actions move us toward the cross?
My prayer for you is that you know Jesus deeper in your exploration of the Gospel. May Jesus comfort you, confuse you, convict you, and most importantly may you know the Jesus is with you. Amen.
Here is my first sermon for my preaching class. It was well received. Feedback would be nice.
Gospel Text: Matthew 3:16-4:11
It is the first day of class. We have heard various rumors or information about what the class is like and especially what the professor is like. Is the professor mean, scary or nice? How do they teach? What are their expectations? However, you do not really know until you actually meet the professor. As you begin to dialogue with the professor you get a better idea of who they are and their expectations for you.
The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is like that first day of class, full of expectation. We hear the story of Jesus’ birth and his genealogy. There are a lot of expectations about who Jesus is. Has he come as a king or a conqueror? No one really knows for sure. But there are expectations.
Jesus is named and claimed as “The Son of God” at his Baptism. He is then lead into the wilderness to be tempted. As Satan begins to tempt and ask questions of Jesus, this is the first time Jesus speaks for himself. The first time Jesus finds his voice and tells us, who he is. This is where we find out if this Jesus, meets our expectations about who God is.
Jesus is no doubt very hungry from fasting. Satan asks him “Turn these stones into bread if you are the Son of God?” He is the Son of God so sure we expect him to be able to do it. But NO! Jesus replies using God’s word “Man is not fed by bread alone but by every word of God” Jesus’ response takes this offer to satisfied physical need and defies our expectation with the promise of something greater. He offers to satisfy our spiritual need. The kind only God can give. Soldiers in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan deal with a variety of needs, physical, emotional and spiritual.
In a recent, article about Army Chaplain Brian Kane. He notes that there were often long lines outside the chapel with those needing prayer, confession, and spiritual guidance. Although overwhelming, he said, “The source of strength comes from knowing that God called me to be a priest and that Jesus promised that he helps us to carry our crosses and do very difficult things.”
We often settle for less. For the here and now. For the physical and not the spiritual. However, Jesus offers us more.
Satan then asks, “If you are the Son of God, thrown yourself down for the psalmist says God will save you.” Jesus responds with God’s word again, “Do not test the Lord your God” The Jews were expecting a miracle worker and magician. They wanted signs to prove who he was. Even during his Crucifixion, it is echoed. “If you are the Son of God, save yourself.”
Have you ever tried to bargain with God? , “God answers this prayer and I’ll go to church more?” or “If I don’t sin for a week, God will you bless me?” We put conditions on God. God does not want that kind of shallow faith. He wants our obedience. He wants our trust. Trust and faith are given, not bargained for. Trust and faith come with relationship. Joe Kapolyo a Zambian pastor writes “We can trust God for safety as we serve him obediently but, sometimes his will is best fulfilled by having to undergo suffering.” When we put conditions on God we forget about his unconditional grace. A grace so great he went to the cross to show us an example. Not because we asked or deserved it but because he loves us.
Satan then asks his boldest question yet “Look at all the kingdoms of the earth. You can have power over all of these if you just worship me.” The Jews were expecting God to save them and show his mighty hand here on earth. We often expect our politicians to use their power as well, to strong arm and make the world the way they want it.
Jesus rather forcefully tells him to get lost and with God’s word states, “you shall only worship the Lord your God.” If you know any history at all, you know that great leaders and empires come to power and fall again and again. Jesus rejects the devil’s offer of earthly power. A power that will fade and wither away. Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus offers us something better than we expected, his kingdom, his reign over heaven and earth. One that is eternal. After all Jesus is the Son of God.
I think the hardest part of temptation is choosing whose expectations we will follow. Will it be our peers, our own, the media or our God? When I was younger and did something wrong, I often thought, “My Mom and Dad are going to kill me?” I knew they were not going To,. But I knew what they expected of me. I knew I had missed the mark. I had let others expectations affect what I did. Jesus being God’s Son knew his father intimately. My parents know me better than anyone else. I want to make them happy and I want to meet their expectations because I love them. I sometimes forget that unlike my human parents, God’s expectations come with a grace that is abundant even when I do not measure up.
However, is not the end of the Jesus story. It is not the last we have seen of Satan. This is still just the first day of class. The beginning. As we get to know Jesus more, I wonder how he is going to change our expectations yet again?
Ahoj and Greetings from Slovakia, Thank you everyone for your prayer and other support.
My time here as been very full and very fast. A lot of exciting things have happened. I feel like I am just starting to get to know the students. Each student has a unique personality and brings something special to the classroom. In many of the classes I teach the level of English they know is varied. I have to be constantly aware so that I can make sure I am addressing all of the students’ needs and prepare them for the years ahead. I have also learned a lot about my faith, church here in Bratislava and the Slovak Church.
Near the end of the year, the 5th year students take exams called Maturita. These exams are subject specific and cover everything they have learned over their 5 years of study. These comprehensive exams consist of a written part and an oral part. I teach a few 5th year students and they definitely get nervous around this time of year. Taking these Exams is a huge deal. They weeks studying and on test day they where suits, ties and dresses. There is quite the pomp and circumstance. Many of these tests will determine if they will attend university or not. We try to study and prep them as much as possible, but it is up them. It has made me more aware of the challenges and skills I need to teach to my younger students. It is definitely something I will take with for next year.
The written portion is standardized by the Slovak Ministry of Education. The Oral part is conducted by their teachers and a representative from another school. I participated in the grading process for the oral examination of English Language. They are supposed to demonstrate their knowledge and ability to communicate based on a topic that is selected on the day of examination and they are given 20 minutes to prepare notes. The students I taught did very well.
Another thing I have been enjoying is the summer weather has it gets close to summer. It is nice to see be able to sit and chill in an outdoor cafe. I have enjoyed going to see some of the other American teachers play baseball in a Slovak recreational league. They aren’t pro-player by any means but, I have seen some nice double plays. Since it is the end of the year the students have been hosting several events to celebrate the end of the and the 5th students who get to leave school 3 weeks earlier because they have completed their exams. The only downside to all this nice weather is the students don’t want to be wasting their time in class. I try my best to make my lessons exciting but, there is only so much I can do.
I only have several more weeks of school. I feel like I just got here and now I’m leaving. I feel like I just have gotten to know my students and started to enjoy teaching. I am looking forward to a new experience next year as I move to a smaller town called Tisovec to teach.
Next year will be quite different for everyone because Pastor David Schick and his wife Karla, will be leaving after 6 faithful years serving the Bratislava community. I haven’t been in Bratislava long but, they are definitely a light of Christ that will be missed. They have done a lot to reach out to the English speaking community to give them a place to worship and experience faith. They have made connections with the Slovak church, learning, teaching, sharing how different cultures experience God. They have truly been a blessing and we hope dearly that God will bring a new pastor just as amazing.
One of the things I struggle with here is how faith is viewed by some in the Slovak Lutheran Church. They tend to emphasis Doctrine quite a lot. They tend not to be very Evangelical despite being known as Evanjelicky in name. They have a hard time expressing their faith in the world. But, don’t we as well? When taking a deeper look, this is a universal church thing. We all struggle trying to live a life of faith. The Slovak church had to deal with the repression of religion under communism and is reluctant to be more active in sharing its faith because of this. My job here is not to just to teach English but it is to live and show a life that expresses my faith daily. To my students, to other teachers and to the Slovaks. This should be the goal of all Christians. I struggle sometimes just as the church struggles. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Part is engaging in dialogue. The English speaking congregation gets many visitors from students at the Slovak Seminary. It is exciting to talk to discuss things of faith and how we can learn from each other to express it. The next generation of Pastors are excited about their faith and enjoy seeing what others are doing to express our faith. I am excited to see how they will lead the Slovak Church in the future.
One of the other things I have been participating in is a Bible study based on “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller. We have had a lot of insight into what faith is, where it comes from, What atheist think about God. We always get a variety of perspective as we have people from Africa, Asia, Europe. Everyone has brought something unique to the table. These discussion have really strengthened my faith. I recommend taking a gander at this book, it will definitely challenge how to look at God.
As the school year starts to end I must begin thinking about my summer plans and next year. Starting in July I will be working at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp as a counselor and/or various other tasks working with Children doing outdoor and faith building activities. I had worked there about 2 years ago I enjoyed it emensely. In Mid-August I will be returning to Slovakia to teach again. They cost of travel and finding quality English teaching resources can be expensive. I am hoping to raise around $1200 to help with airfare and teaching resources. That’s 100 people who give $12 each. It is very do-able.
Every little bit helps. I want to thank all of you for your prayer support and that you continue to pray for me in the following ways. – Patience and Perseverance in my teaching. – My Summer as I work at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp – Bratislava International Church as it searches for a new pastor this upcoming year and goes through transition. – The People of Bratislava- that Christ may be known. – That I would be successful in raising funds to help me with Travel Expenses to Slovakia and English teaching materials.
God’s Blessings and Peace be with you, Christ’s Servant in Slovakia
I found out my grandmother has passed away. I was unable to attend the funeral because I’m in Slovakia. My mother was very lucky to have spent the last few days with my grandmother alive. My grandmother was rather happy despite dealing with the pneumonia and have eating problems. She died peacefully. My mother said the funeral was nice. She gave the Eulogy. Please pray for me and my family in this tough time.
Rest in Peace BETTY LURENE VAN RENSALIER Aug. 25, 1926-April 20, 2009
Death is a funny thing, we hear about so often we become numb to it. It seems to hit the heart when it is someone you know. I knew it was coming, but somehow I didn’t expect it so soon. I’m still try to figure out what to actually feel. As I sort through my feelings I am reminded of one of my biggest fears: Not death itself but, Dying and nobody caring. Sometimes it scares me to think about it. I have to remind myself that I have friends and family who will mourn, be sad, care and remember me with fondness. And most important ,that I have a God who has gone through death and cares for me when my moment comes.
Every now and then I’ll read the news and my heart will beat just a little off rhythm and feel heavier in someway when I hear about people that have died that day. I think in some small way that feeling is God’s way of sharing his pain and concern for all those who die, with us. No one dies alone or unmourned because we have a God who is there and cares deeply.