Thrown into the Wilderness


1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

Mark spends two whole verses to describe what to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. That’s it. Jesus is baptized, receives the Holy Spirit, and is immediately driven into the wilderness or desert. We are told that Jesus is there for 40 days, he is tempted or challenged by Satan, was with wild animals, and waited on by angels. Those are some pretty exciting things, but Mark leaves us with a bare-bones, Spark Notes version of the story. If George Lucas wrote stories the way Mark’s author did, then Star Wars would have played out a lot differently. We would see Luke Skywalker making friends and allies in the fight against the evil empire, training with Obi-Wan and Yoda, learning how to wield a lightsaber, traveling to the Death Star, and just when he is about to confront Darth Vader, the long-anticipated villain, we get a black screen with yellow text that gives a quick summary of what transpires next, “Luke and Vader fought each other, and Darth Vader revealed that he was Luke’s father.” Roll credits. The End.

So the big question is why? Why doesn’t Mark give us any juicy details for what happened to Jesus in the wilderness- with SATAN? With WILD ANIMALS? With ANGELS? Continue reading


Honestly Dusty

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

A big part of our observance of Ash Wednesday is hearing God’s honest words about us. If we are being honest with ourselves and honest with God’s vantage point of our lives, our lives are pretty broken and fleeting- individually and communally. Individually we spend our time over-indulging in fleeting pleasures of food or drink, propelled by our pride we cut down our enemies with sharp, hurting words, or we spend too much time caring for ourselves and not our neighbors.

Communally, we try to ignore the epidemic of violence in our communities or the epidemic of poverty or the epidemic of shame. As a society the unspoken, dishonest “truth” is that those who are poor are lazy, those that are the victims of violence are thugs, and all of these people should be ignored so that their wicked ways won’t end up anywhere near us.

We are fragile beings, we are dust. With just a few harsh words, our spirits are crushed to despair. When we hear, “You are lazy,” “You are stupid,” “You are ugly,” “You are a waste,” we start to believe it.

We are fragile beings, we are dust. With just one unexpected medical bill, a mistreated or undertreated mental illness, or a single addiction, we can find ourselves unemployed, alone, or even homeless.

We are fragile beings, we are dust. With just one misguided declaration of religious moral righteousness, we can find ourselves at war with our “enemies,” we can alienate and shun our loved ones who do not meet our righteousness requirements, or we can conveniently distract ourselves from the greater problems of poverty, violence, and shame.

We are fragile beings, we are dust. With just one diagnosis of cancer, one car accident, or one bullet our lives come to an end.

If we are being honest with ourselves we will hear God’s words to Adam in the Garden as if they were spoken to us, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” Continue reading

Old and New Adventures

Transfiguration of Christ Byzantine circa 1200
Transfiguration of Christ
Byzantine circa 1200

Transfiguration Sunday

2 Kings 1-12

2 Corinthians 4:3-7

Mark 9:2-9

Leaving home for the first time was a difficult and exciting experience for me. I know that some people had bad experiences of their high school years, but I was fortunate enough to have some pretty good years then.

I was in the marching band, the jazz band, the concert band, the chorus, I ran cross country. I had a small, close group of friends that I hung out with constantly. These were people that I could have fun with and be myself, but they were also people that I could count on to support and care for me in whatever struggles I was going through. I had a girlfriend at the end of high school. I got along well with my parents and my brother. I had a loving church that helped shape my faith. I had a good thing going. High school had been a pretty enjoyable adventure.

I, however, had to see the end of that adventure. Continue reading

Good Courage


One of my favorite prayers is this sending prayer:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 304)

I shared my love of that prayer with a friend once and she said, “Oooo. Good courage. I like that.”

I like that too and have been thinking about what makes good courage so “good.”

As we journey into the season of Lent, we intentionally reflect on the “ventures of which we cannot see the ending” and the “perils unknown” and the fact that God is present with us throughout that journey. During Lent, some people abstain from a joy such as food, drink, Facebook, or TV and others take on a practice to focus their self on God such as more regular prayer, Bible study, or community service. The purpose of these disciplines, I think, is that by the Holy Spirit’s work, we might more fully see that God is the source of all goodness and that God’s love continues to support us wherever we go. What leads us through the challenges of our lives is not food, drink, money, Facebook, or TV, but it is the grace and lovingkindness of God. Continue reading

Eagle Powers

Epiphany 4B

Isaiah 40:21-31

I Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

Ignacio is a monk serving in an impoverished orphanage. Since he was a child, he has had a great dream and continues to have incredible passion to pursue his dream. Ignacio has dreamed of becoming a luchador, a masked wrestler. He spends every waking moment thinking about his dream to become a luchador. He painstakingly assembled a wrestling costume complete with shiny, red boots and a red cape. He practices his “moves” in the cemetery each day. He admires the local luchador celebrity, Ramses. He daydreams in chapel about new ways to tweak his costume or new moves that he can perfect.

In the children’s movie, Nacho Libre, Ignacio finally musters the courage to pursue his dream. With the help of his tag-team partner, “Esquelito” (Skeleton), Ignacio enters the ring under his new persona, Nacho. Despite his great passion and new friendship with his scrawny, tawny tag-team partner, Nacho loses match after match.

Esquelito tells Nacho that he might know someone who can help. He knows a “water gypsy” who can tell them where to find eagle eggs. Esquelito believes that by eating these eggs, Nacho will gain “eagle powers” and become an unstoppable wrestler. Convinced, Nacho scales a perilous 100 foot tall cliff, finds the eagle’s nest, grabs an eagle egg the size of cantaloupe, and in a scene that makes me gag every time, drinks the raw yolk of the massive egg. Nacho is now confident that he can mount up with wings like eagles and emerge victorious in the wrestling ring. The next night, Esquelito and Nacho have another wrestling match and they lose again.

Very frustrated by his losses, Nacho lifts up a prayer to God, “Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?” Nacho begins to feel abandoned by the God he has spent his whole life serving. Continue reading

What Have You To Do with Us?

what have you to do4th Sunday After Epiphany B

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? We all have “unclean spirits” that hold us in fear and compel us to ask this question: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” This question is rich with fear-filled meaning. The question itself exercises authority over us.

What have you to do with us? The question could be genuine. We may really not know what the point of Jesus’ ministry was.

What have you to do with us? The question could be about the judgment of Christ in God. When God looks at our lives and evil we’ve done and the good we’ve failed to do, will God reject us when we stand before the throne? Have we already been rejected?

What have you to do with us? The question could be about our self-doubts. When we receive grace and forgiveness, we may not feel worthy of it. We may feel that our realities of poverty, anger, injustice, or apathy are too great to be overcome by Jesus of Nazareth.

That final emphasis is particularly haunting to me. We can say with our lips that we believe that Jesus has more authority than any evils in our lives or our world, but it is another thing to believe it when we are in the midst of feeling the great pain that the evils cause. Continue reading