Holy Saturday | Deborah Tepley

Hebrews 4:1-16

In today’s passage we read this wonderful description of the implications of Jesus’s incarnation, death and resurrection: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Last night we departed in silence from our Good Friday service. Jesus has been hung on a cross and laid in a tomb. Together we are re-enacting the great event of history when the Son of God was seemingly defeated by death. Today is Holy Saturday, a day of sober and solemn reflection. But unlike the disciples, who were caught off guard and utterly shocked by Jesus’s death, we know the true end of the story. We know that Jesus in fact came for this very reason: to die for our sins. We know that he will be raised to life and ascend into heaven. We know that Easter is coming! But it is not here yet. And while we know what happens next, we choose not to skip to the end prematurely. We choose to experience Holy Saturday.

We participate liturgically in Holy Saturday because we believe that this part of the story matters. While it would be easy to rush to Easter, Holy Saturday is a chance for us to enter into a fuller appreciation of the hope of Christ’s resurrection. Today we are powerfully reminded that we have a great high priest who can only atone for us and sympathize with us because he took on human flesh and died a real death. We are freely given a mercy and grace that was not cheap or easy – it cost him everything. And we receive comfort today, the fruit of the sufferings of Christ. For while we continue to experience sin, temptation, suffering, failure, disappointment, death, and grief in this life, we know that this is not the true end of our story. There is an empty tomb, and we are waiting for the renewal of all things.

A reminder that the Easter Vigil – an ancient tradition that dates back to the early church – will be held at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University at 7:00 pm tonight. Come celebrate the story of God’s saving work in history through music, dance, visual art, and liturgy. Doors open at 6:30 pm. You won’t want to miss it! 

Deborah Tepley is Executive Director at Church of the Advent. An Enneagram 3 with a 7’s fondness for celebration, she is very excited that Easter is almost here!

Good Friday

 Study for Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland, 1947. Oil on canvas. Vatican Museum, Rome.

Study for Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland, 1947. Oil on canvas. Vatican Museum, Rome.

"Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, 'This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.' Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.' And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.' And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, 'Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.' And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" Matthew 27:27-54

Join us tonight at 7:00 PM for our Good Friday service at Canaan Baptist, 1600 Newton Street NW.

Repeat and Remember | Jane Olson

Mark 14: 12-25

What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?

I remember pizza, eaten from the box on the living room floor of my empty childhood home, while the movers loaded up the truck outside. Or maybe it’s the hamburgers my dad flipped on the grill every Saturday night, as long as it was above freezing outside. I wish I could say I remembered the food at my wedding (salmon, right?), but I definitely remember the pancakes, cardboard-like in density and texture, that I scarfed down in my hospital bed shortly after my daughter Claire was born. I remember these meals because they defined important moments in my history, or because the sheer repetition of the meal made it a ritual in my family’s life.

For centuries, the Jewish people have celebrated one meal, the Passover, as a memorial to the defining moment of their history: when God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The repetition of this meal, the rituals around food preparation and consumption, were to remind the Israelites that God alone saves.

In Mark 14, Jesus transforms the Passover Feast.  No more will God’s people need to sacrifice a lamb. He, the one true lamb, will die to put an end to death once and for all.  And to help his people remember their new relationship with God, Jesus gave us a meal. He took the two most common elements found in any meal back then—wine and bread—and turned them into new symbols of his love and sacrifice. Jesus wants this meal, the Eucharist, to be the ritual that defines his people and rewrites their history. Jesus wanted this meal to be habit-forming. That’s why each Sunday, we gather together to share it. We remember the things that we repeat.

My prayer for myself, for my children, for my church, is that the Eucharist is our most memorable meal. That the texture of the bread in my fingers and the taste of the wine on my lips will call me, call us, to remember:

·       That it is finished—Christ has poured himself out on our behalf. There is nothing left for us to do but to drink in his love.

·       That Christ’s spirit is in us—just as the bread is in us—and is working to renew us.

·       That this feast is a foretaste of the eternal feast we will enjoy with him when he comes to make all things new.

So, as the liturgy reminds us each week, this Sunday, let us take and eat, in remembrance that Christ died for us, and let us feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving

Jane Olson is the Director of Children's Ministries at Church of the Advent. She enjoys good food, good wine, and good company.

Inheriting the Kingdom | Liz Downey

Mark 12:1-11

As a renter since college, I’m used to the process of periodically making new places feel like home. You hang pictures, paint the walls, and generally treat the place like it’s yours. But when the lease is up, you spackle over the nail holes, hope the landlord doesn’t notice that scratch in the floor, and move out, because in fact, it isn’t yours.

Jesus is addressing this parable to Jewish leaders angered by his teaching on his rightful authority, and what that meant for their place in the religious hierarchy. Matthew Henry describes the leaders’ error this way: “There is an inheritance, which, if they had duly reverenced the Son, might have been theirs…but they slighted that, and would have their inheritance in the wealth, and pomp, and powers, of this world.” Instead of giving the owner the fruit that is rightfully his, the tenants plot to steal it for themselves and react with escalating violence towards the agents – "some they beat, and some they killed" (v.5) – until even the owners’ beloved son falls prey to their greed. In response, the owner “will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others (v.9).” Instead of glory, the leaders inherit judgment.

What struck me in reading this passage is how like the tenants I am. Daily, in ways big and small, I seek glory for things I am simply renting from the Father. I camp out in the land that I was placed in to cultivate on His behalf and claim the fruit as my own.

How often do I respond like the religious leaders when God exerts his rightful ownership? When my perch as master of my vineyard is threatened, I react not with violence, but with bitterness and discontent. A season of singleness longer than I would have chosen, prayers that seem to go unanswered, plans that fall apart – this is enough to challenge my illusion of control and make me doubt the care and goodness of the Savior.

The wonder of the Gospel is that we trade places with Jesus; that His honor is marked as ours, despite years of going rogue in the Father’s vineyard. He is the true heir, but he gives us the riches owed to the beloved son. We can have confidence in the fact that the Lord is merciful, and able to root out the hard-heartedness and sense of entitlement that lies in our rejection of Him. May He be gentle, but thorough, in the uprooting.

Liz Downey is Advent's Operations and Communications Coordinator. She's an avid horseback rider, a huge fan of public libraries, and loves traveling to new places near and far. Liz lives in Woodley Park.

Courage | Amy Atchison

Mark 11:27-33

It seems to me that self-deception is among the most pernicious types of bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16) that exist. By the very nature of the case, it is difficult for the truth to become clear to us because we have some sort of self-interest in believing a lie. This is the trap into which the leaders of the people have fallen in today’s passage, Mark 11: 27-33.

As this scene from the life of Jesus opens the representatives of the Jewish Sanhedrin, something like an ultimately authoritative judicial court, have been scandalized by Jesus’ clearing the temple of the “money changers” who were exploiting the most vulnerable of God’s people by taking economic advantage of the requirements for worship. This action by Jesus is a declaration of his authority over God’s house. The leaders of the people know this, and because they feel their power and authority threatened, the seek out Jesus to question him. Using a rhetorical technique typical of the rabbinic style, Jesus answers their questions with his own.

And then, like a parent who’s seven-year-old has just asked where babies come from, the Jewish leaders are stuck, panicked. Either answer they might give short-circuits their own self-serving authority and defers to God’s authority. Instead of a truthful, praise-worthy answer that honors Jesus as the true Son of God with all authority in heaven and earth, they lie. To themselves and to Jesus. They say that they don’t know if John’s authority, and therefore Jesus’ authority, has come from God or not. Though in their heart of hearts they seem to know the right answer, they confuse themselves and are rendered speechless, too afraid to give up what they see as their power and position.

The irony is that human power and position, rights and resources only extend so far, last so long. Bank accounts drain, someone more politically astute or well connected takes the coveted position, and what we once saw as a “right” becomes a burdensome millstone. These leaders’ self-deception and refusal to submit to Jesus’ authority was the path to soul-crushing sin and death. 

And certainly, these men were not unique in the human experience. We are all tempted to sit in authority over God and the Scriptures, to justify to ourselves and others why our actions, words attitudes are just fine. We refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ power and authority over our own lives. 

It takes courage to tell ourselves the truth. It takes God-given courage to say that we are a mess and that Jesus is the only remedy for our sin and brokenness. But just as Jesus longed to embrace those Jewish leaders in his arms and lead them back to right relationship with God, he longs to do the same for us. May God grant us all this type of courage in this season. Amen.

Bearing Fruit | Victor Sheldon

Johanneskirche_Freiburg_-_Glasfenster_-_Verfluchung_des_Feigenbaums-56a04c2a3df78cafdaa0f6db.jpg

Mark 11:12-25

My car is amazing!  Truth be told, it is too complicated for the likes of me.  My car has a vast array of dashboard lights, indicators, and sounds.  When one of these lights or sounds goes off, I can pay attention and take action, or, I can choose to ignore the warning, foolishly dismissing it, but often at my own peril (ever run out of gas?).

This section of Mark is a bright warning light to all who would pay attention to their own spiritual dashboards.  The story of the fig tree, sandwiched with the Temple drama in the middle, is difficult, and rather confusing at first.  My initial reaction is to instinctively recoil when I see Jesus cursing the fig tree.  It doesn’t seem fair.  It seems so out of character for Jesus, and it would appear that the fig tree is the innocent party.  Upon closer examination, however, I discover in the book of Jeremiah that the fig tree is a symbol, not only for the Temple, but also for the people of Israel.  The point of the passage is that God has a right to expect fruit from His people, and from their experience of worship.  Instead, many of the religious people of Jesus’ day, and the Temple system itself, put roadblocks in the way of those who were seeking God.  They trusted that their religious ritual and pedigree would keep them in good standing with God. They foolishly ignored the warning signs, but to their great peril.  It is not sacrifice that God desires, but a broken and contrite heart. If I say that I love God, but do not love my neighbor, then my religion is worthless, and in fact it is an affront to God. The Temple, and its sacrificial system, would soon be completely demolished. The followers of Jesus, in the fellowship of His Church, would become the praying and forgiving community of faith…the new and living Temple of God.

What are the dashboard indicators in my own soul? What are the warning lights I should pay closer attention to? Am I, (are we), doing the things God rightly expects of us in order to keep our spiritual tanks full, or am I passing up on opportunities to stop and “fill up”?  Am I doing too much, and need to say “no”? Am I (are we) bearing the kind of fruit that God rightly expects?  If not, then why not? If yes, then give the Lord the praise and the glory He rightly deserves (for He is the vine…we are the branches.  If we abide in Him, and He in us, we will bear much fruit. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.)

The Church exists to make new Christians, and to make Christians new.  Are we becoming the community of faith (am I becoming the person of faith) that Jesus desires, where those seeking God can experience the praying and forgiving new life of Jesus?

Victor Sheldon is a Navy Chaplain currently serving with the 4th Marine Division in New Orleans.  He longs to return home to Church of the Advent and to Washington, DC, but must suffice on creole gumbo crawfish etouffee, and coffee with chicory until the time when his wilderness wanderings are complete.

The Tears and the Temple | Ellen Vest, with Rob Vest

Luke 19:41-48

In the first of two events covered by these verses, Jesus interrupts His triumphal entry to have a good cry. Gazing out over Jerusalem, he stops to weep over her. The city that failed to recognize Him for who He was will not last. He looks ahead to see its beloved streets and lanes in ruins, the temple collapsed, and its inhabitants destroyed. There in the dust of the road, He grieves over pending horrors that could have been prevented. 

Continuing on to the temple, he surveys the scene there; as he does, his grief changes its expression. He’s angry now, and it shows.

Recalling Dan’s talk on anger from earlier this season, I wondered about the connection here between Jesus’ anger and Jesus’ love. Surely his anger is righteous; now what is it that He loves? For starters, He loves the city and its people. The Matthew account of this mourning for Jerusalem includes an expression of tender longing, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…!” He also loves the temple. 

But today, His father’s house looks like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange—plus livestock. His anger is kindled, and decisive action is swift to fall. Driving off the animals and turning over the tables of the money changers, He makes himself heard over the din of business as usual. There will be no more deceitful exchanges or untruthful valuations. There will be no more purchase of sacrifices. There will be no more compromised access, no more chaos in courts meant for intimate conversation.

The one who will be scourged until He’s bloody makes a whip of cord and chases out what does not belong. The one who will become the sacrifice freely given for all drives off the over-priced cattle, sheep, and birds. Very shortly, His people will no longer come to him through a house of stone but through His own flesh. His body, which he once referred to as the Temple, will be violently torn down. . . . He has not come to cleanse only the Jerusalem temple but the hearts of men. His dream and plan for us is that we will become temples of the Holy Spirit.

But my temple is crowded. I am obsessed with all manner of things: with errands and cleaning, with work and with earning, with easy outrage and potential improvements… . I bustle and hustle in the service of parenting demands, worries, fears, and with dreams and hopes both relevant and irrelevant to holiness. I too am a marketplace. What would Jesus drive out of me if given the opportunity? 

Lent is the time for these kinds of questions.

“When He drew near to the city, He wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace.” Lord, help us, even us, to know what will make for peace, to come to you in response to your love, and to trust you enough to allow your work.

Rob and Ellen celebrate 23 years of marriage this summer. They and their son Corin enjoy pastry counters immensely.

Cry Out to Jesus! | Kate Burke Gibbs

 Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco (Domeniko Theotokopoulos), 1570,  47 x 57 1/2 in. (119.4 x 146.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco (Domeniko Theotokopoulos), 1570,  47 x 57 1/2 in. (119.4 x 146.1 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Mark 10:46-52

Throughout this season of Lent, we have read of Jesus and how his ministry drew more and more people to seek him out. Indeed, throngs surrounded Jesus. I’m struck by the question of how to seek when one cannot see. While this passage speaks of Bartimaeus, who was physically blind, we are all blind to so much, and often seek from our own darkness.

Bartimaeus cries out and seeks Jesus in the way he can. He cries out and will not be set aside by those who rebuke him and tell him to be quiet. I don’t know what those rebukers were thinking, yet can speculate from my own experience of having felt rebuked in the past, that his way of seeking didn’t make sense to the others. Might they have thought it rude or boastful? Some sense of “know your place” – that he would be better off groveling, or hiding himself?

I recall a time when I was still bumbling around in the dark. I knew Jesus, but felt trapped somehow in silence and a sense of heavy despair. My family history and messages I had learned when I was younger twisted the truth, and I had a hard time shaking despair. I heard the accusing message, “Who are you to receive the love of God?!” I sought out prayer from two elders at my church at the time, one man and one woman. I wanted healing, and for it to reflect God’s good creation. I cried out! God met me in this time. I heard a healing message, from a man who spoke from a perspective of a loving father. Reflecting God the Father. I also received a blessing through the woman who anointed the time of prayer with a clear message that God both knew my particular pains and loved me where I was. Reflecting the Holy Spirit. She also shared the words, “Do not stand on the side of your accuser.” Reflecting Jesus Christ, who was wrongfully accused, yet is our hope for the future.

Bartimaeus too cries out! He calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” as one in the throng who recognized Jesus’ Messianic nature. His seeking without eyesight allowed for insights to our triune God that others missed. Jesus, with keen perception, hears this cry from the throng, stops, and calls to Bartimaeus in return. Bartimaeus springs up and comes to Jesus. After asking for another type of sight, Jesus proclaims that Bartimaeus’ faith has made him well and heals him. Immediately, he recovers his sight and follows Jesus.

During this Lenten time, and all your days, let no one stop you as you seek Jesus and cry out for him. Jesus shines out God’s glory, and sends his Spirit to meet you. He came to draw us out of darkness and into His light. We look forward to and remember that the glory of the Lord will shine out. We will see in ways we never imagined, and the darkness will be driven out. Seek and you will find.

Kate Burke Gibbs is a sojourner, mostly through CA and DC, and is currently living and celebrating newlyweddedness with her husband Steve in Cleveland Park. A lover of God’s majestic nature - sea, air and land - she holds hope for authentic living and reflecting God’s glory.

Real Power | Lisa Schultz

Mark 10:32-45

There I sat near the front door answering phones and offering smiles as people walked in and out of the organization’s main entrance. It was my first job in Washington, DC, after having lived in Europe for seven years. I remember the “higher ups” who held all the organizational power giving me a nod, but never saying more than a few words. I was a receptionist, the lowest woman on the office totem pole. “They” were seasoned executives and we all worked together, serving the Lord at a Christian political organization. The power difference was obvious. I struggled to serve.

Fast forward fourteen years after I landed my first job and I find myself sitting in one of the most powerful buildings in the entire world, the US Capitol. My title names me as Chief of Staff, one of the “higher up” positions on Capitol Hill. When people walk into my office, they still smile, but they have more than just a few words for me. For various other reasons, I still struggle to serve.

The hierarchy scale of power that we all see, experience and try to climb with mixed motives in DC is nothing new. In today’s passage we read that James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples and close friends, requested to be Jesus’ “higher ups” and to sit at his right and at his left.  Jesus, knowing the intention of their hearts, declares that “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-5).

It’s so easy for us to point fingers at James and John because of their desire for power, but during this reflective season of Lent, may we turn our eyes inward. In a city where titles and jobs with power have extreme significance, Jesus exhorts all of His followers to take a lower posture—to be a slave and servant to all. No matter where we are located on the scale of power, may we remember that whoever wants to be first must make themselves a slave.

Lord Jesus, use this body to serve. 

Come, Follow Me | Mary Grace Short

Mark 10:17-31

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

In this passage Jesus encounters a “rich young man” who asks this question. Like many of us, the man is looking to check a box and earn his way to the “good life”; instead, Jesus sees him, and speaking the truth in love, challenges his heart. 

Jesus responds to the man’s question with a select list of commandments, and the man replies: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (v20). You may recognize the commandments Jesus rattles off in that initial response as the second half of the ten commandments, or the ones dealing with how we ought to interact with others. However, what’s not included in this initial list is the first half of the ten commandments—the ones that point us to how we ought to act towards God Himself, including: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). Those first four commandments are crucial as they remind us that God alone is worthy of our praise, reverence, and rest. Without God at the center, the rest of the commandments fall flat—they merely become a checklist. So, when Jesus responds to the man saying, “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (v21), He’s calling him out. In His all-knowing nature, Jesus is asking: but what about the first four commandments? Are you willing to trust me? Or are you bowing down to other idols—to wealth, to comfort, to security?

Mercifully, Jesus doesn’t end there. The passage reads: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” He knows this man and He cuts to the idol at his heart, but He also offers an invitation: “come, follow me” (v21).

Following Jesus means entering into His upside-down Kingdom, a kingdom that belongs to children (v14), where the last are first and the first are last (v31), where the wealthy and privileged are the least likely to enter in (v25), and where, by God’s grace, the impossible is made possible (v27). Still, like the rich young man, I find myself distracted by other idols, losing sight of the gospel of grace, and looking to my own self-sufficiency, saying “I’ve kept all of these commands.” This passage reminds me that, in these moments: Jesus sees me, He loves me, and He pierces through my self-righteousness to the idols of my heart, asking me to let go and follow Him.  

Instead of being disheartened by the gospel’s challenging call, we can embrace Jesus’ call to “follow me” with the hopeful knowledge that this is not something we enter into alone. Jesus walked this path ahead of us. Like His call to the rich young man, Jesus Himself gave up all that He had, trading His Heavenly Kingdom to take on flesh. Praise God!

In this season of Lent, may our practices of self-denial and giving up be daily reminders to let go of our idols and respond with a joyful “Yes” to Jesus’ call. Because, unlike the rich young man, we know the end of the story. We know the resurrection is coming, and Jesus is inviting us into His Kingdom, whispering: “Come, follow me.”

Mary Grace Short lives in Mt. Pleasant, works for Studio Theatre, and finds joy in friends, family, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

The Great Divorce | Zach Hauser

Mark 10:1-16

I had a friend say to me that divorce is more emotionally heart-wrenching than death. Death is clean pain. Divorce is dirty pain. Divorce takes the pain of loss and compounds it with feelings of betrayal, resentment and regret. Everyone knows something of this.

Here’s the spoiler. This is hard and the problem is not understanding the how/when/why of Christian divorce - it's your heart and it’s my heart. This isn’t really even about divorce.

Given this, the question of divorce in Mark 10:2 is a particularly barbed question for the Pharisees to lob at Jesus and pin him to the wall. Will he deny the law, choose between competing interpretations, or risk the ire of Herod for indirectly condemning his divorce and remarriage? I see familiarity in the Pharisee’s positioning in my own life as I regularly seek answers from Jesus on my own terms and for my benefit. “Jesus, here’s my problem and desire, now tell me which of my options you will bless, please.” A barbed lob of my own.

Jesus instead speaks of divorce as a result of hardness of heart. Divorce is not God’s design but he doesn’t forsake us for not keeping the rules. Instead, God provides a concession through Moses to live within the chaos of a broken world, but everyone still doesn’t get it. Jesus says marriage is shattered because of our hard heart. While we look for loopholes to get divorced, Jesus responds with a picture of marriage restored. He takes us to Genesis and speaks of covenant, promise and a new joint identity in God that should not be dissolvable by man. Then as now, we mistake God’s gracious provision in allowing divorce as His approval of it.

The disciples are scratching their heads next to the rabbis on this. Is Jesus saying divorce is not allowed? Is divorce and remarriage always sinful and always adulterous? What about experiences of loss, betrayal, resentment, and regret? Adultery was different in the first century right? I’m uncomfortable, aren’t you? Mark’s passage here is one of 5 New Testament texts that discuss divorce and I encourage any of us to push into this further with a pastor so long as we don’t miss Jesus’ point:

Divorce is not our problem, our hard heartedness is.

Our hard heartedness is lacking sorrow over sin, choosing self over others, responding with defensiveness, rightness, refusing to forgive or humble ourselves, lies and deceit of all stripes and a million others. It’s in marriage and divorce because its at the core of humanity’s brokenness writ large.

How do we change the condition of our heart? Hosea 10:12 says we need to sow righteousness and reap love, till the ready earth and dig in with God. We need to break the fallow ground of our heart and choose God.

Perhaps the reason Mark then transitions to Jesus speaking of entering the Kingdom only like a child is to give us a contrasting picture of a softened heart.

In Lent, we seek repentance, renewal and restoration. Jesus came not with a new rulebook but to reorient our affections to love the things he loves and cling to him in faith and find our deepest longings in him. That’s the good news of the Gospel and also of marriage. Our problem is deeper than divorce, it’s our hardness of heart and Jesus came to eradicate it.

Zach is a recovering Kansan and lives in Cleveland Park with his wife and her omnipresent instagram feeds of puppies. He enjoys 90s nostalgia, watching so-bad-it’s-good action movies, and can often be overheard because he does not possess an inside voice.

Light to the World | Ali Phillips

Mark 9:42-50

The first half of Mark’s gospel tells of Jesus coming with power. He heals, feeds, and astonishes. The crowds, disciples, and even the Pharisees recognize Jesus’ authority. The second half of the Gospel describes the very same Jesus. He who has tirelessly and gently tended to people now offers words of warning. Jesus speaks some of His most severe words to the disciples: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Jesus adds that if your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, you should cut them off. It’s better to be physically lame than to be “thrown into hell.” Jesus concludes by urging the disciples to have salt in themselves and warns them of losing their saltiness.

Donald English provides some helpful context hints: 1) “little ones” may actually refer to children or new believers (such as those whom the disciples had just stopped from healing in Jesus’ name); 2) millstones were pulled by donkeys and were much heavier than what a person could handle; 3) being “thrown into the sea” was a Roman punishment; 4) “life” refers to eternal life; 5) fire purifies; 6) salt prevents decay.

There is no reason to conclude that Jesus’ intent was for people to amputate parts of their body in order to stop sinning. His extreme language demonstrates how grave sin is.

Ultimately, He’s making a point: He is asking His disciples (and us) where we want to be: “life” or “hell”? Jesus calls attention to the weightiness of our individual sins because they affect both the individual and the community.

Think for a moment about the people in your life whose lives have nudged you closer to Jesus. Think about the gentle saints who have encouraged and strengthened you through their words and actions. Now, allow yourself to recall a time when one of those saints' sins became apparent to you. How did you feel the first time you saw one of those saints lash out in anger or malice?

Jesus speaks harshly to His disciples because He fiercely loves all His people and He wants everyone to join Him in “life.” He likely feels deep anguish and anger when He sees His own children undoing the work He has begun in His beloved children’s lives. As Christians, we represent Christ to each other and to the world. Our sins obscure the light of Jesus. We misdirect the “little ones” Jesus loves as much as He loves us. God grants us power to work alongside Him and bring light and life to the world, but we have the capacity to bring darkness and decay as well. Jesus wants to awaken His disciples so that they can see how their sins work counter to the kingdom of God.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15: 5-7)

Ali Phillips lives with the Manuels in Takoma DC and proudly holds the title “lady in the attic.” She deeply loves bike touring and most recently discovered (by bike) why people adore San Francisco. Ali hopes to visit Puerto Rico in the near future.

It's Not About Us | Jill Shimek

Mark 9:30-41

Jesus begins this passage by pointing out that the story isn’t about the disciples—it’s about Jesus. The disciples don’t understand what he is saying and don’t ask him what he means (Mark 9:32). They want to present an image to Jesus (and everyone else around them) that they know what’s going on. But they can’t hide from Jesus. When they begin to argue about who is greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34), they lose sight that it isn’t about them—it’s about Jesus. Then they launch into telling Jesus about the man casting out demons in Jesus’ name who wasn’t part of their group (Mark 9:38), forgetting again that the story isn’t about them—it’s about Jesus.

How often do I want the story to be about me? About my abilities? About my servant’s heart? About my perseverance? I want the awards and the recognition, to be a part of The Group. How often do I want to put parameters around what it means to follow Jesus?

Jesus answers these questions for us:

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)

“For no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39-40)

As we follow Jesus, we want to make the work of God about us, but Jesus reminds us that in our quest to make the story about ourselves, in our quest to define what it means to follow him, it is not about us. Our service isn’t about making ourselves stand out as individuals or even as a church, but elevating Jesus’ name.

Jill Shimek lives in Columbia Heights with her curmudgeonly husband, Luke; their lovable dog, Kaylee; and her cat, Skywalker, who is an acquired taste (just ask Luke). She spends most-to-all of her free time knitting.

Stepping Into God's True Family | Sarah Wade

John 8:46-59

This passage is about the true family of God. It’s a pretty intense scene. In the verses leading up to it, Jesus pulls the rug out from under some Pharisees by telling them they aren’t the genuine descendants of Abraham they think they are. If they were, Jesus says, they would “do what Abraham did” and humbly obey God (John 8:39), rather than resist him and look for a way to kill Jesus, whom God has sent to them. Each time the Pharisees protest, Jesus carefully uses Scripture to show them that the very family they’re laying claim to--the family of Abraham, and ultimately of God--is a family they deny by their actions and pride.

Jesus even invites the Pharisees’ scrutiny with humility: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46). They can’t. But they won’t stop trying. When their arguments fail, they insult him (Jews hated Samaritans, so that name was a deep insult), and claim he’s under the power of a demon rather than God. Eventually, they ask him who he thinks he is, and when he tells them--“before Abraham was born, I am!”--they prepare to stone him.

Jesus tells the Pharisees they’re rejecting him not because of their learning or intellect, but because their hearts are closed to God’s voice: “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (8:46-47). In saying this, Jesus redefines the family of Abraham. It’s a family determined not by blood relations but by heart relations, by the heart’s submission to God through the acceptance of Christ. And that submission can’t remain something private. Jesus explicitly connects it to outward behavior, to visible obedience through actions.

I’m thinking, unexpectedly, of the scene in Matthew when Peter climbs out of a boat in the Sea of Galilee, and walks on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33). The boat is safety. The boat is comfort. The boat is whatever we have in this life that gives us a sense of security, belonging, identity, or--underneath all those things, really--pride. For the Pharisees in today’s passage, the boat is their identity as descendants of Abraham. My boat changes from day to day. Sometimes it’s my relationships. Sometimes it’s abilities or my appearance.

Regardless of what it is, though, it’s never the safe place I think it is. And my heart is always being called to step out of it, onto the water, toward Jesus. Walking to him in obedience is scary. But as Jesus did for Peter, he’s ready to catch me the moment I cry out to him. What matters is that I open my heart, hear God calling me to his true family, and take that first step out of the boat toward his Son.

Sarah Wade wanted to keep this Lenten blog post to 250 words but then got a bit too excited. She lives in the Woodley House and attends Advent’s Columbia Heights service. She is definitely not a robot engineered by the Russian military.

I Believe | Katherine Ryan

Mark 9:14-29

In today’s reading, we see Jesus drive out an unclean spirit from a possessed boy. The boy’s father brings his son to Jesus’s disciples, yet they are unable to heal him.

When the father asks Jesus if he can heal his son, Jesus simply responds, “If I can?!” (He was incredulous, I imagine.) Then, “All things are possible for the one who believes.”

The father cries back, “I believe, help my unbelief!” And Jesus heals the son.

This story is a reminder to me of how often I doubt the Lord, His ability, His power.

I believe that God has a plan for my life, yet I can’t stop worrying about the future. I believe that God is good, yet I look around and only see pain and brokenness, mass shootings and seemingly never-ending conflicts. I believe that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, yet I can be quick to tear others down, or believe that I am not enough. I believe that I need God, yet I daily try to live my life without Him, to do it on my own.

After reading this story, I want to adopt the cry of the Father. To daily profess to the Lord, “I believe, help my unbelief.”

But I also want to take hope in the fact that despite my unbelief, despite my brokenness and sin, God will still heal. In fact, He’s the only one who can. In this passage, the boy cannot defeat the demons on his own. The disciples, who have been able to cast out other demons, are unable to cast out this boy’s. It’s a problem that only God can fix. Jesus is the Creator and he has power over all created things, even the most threatening, scariest things we face. The father humbly recognizes the need for Jesus in healing his son, believes, and still asks for help with his unbelief.

“Help our unbelief” as we accept our limitations to fix ourselves, others, and the brokenness of the world. “Help our unbelief” as we entrust these things to the Lord.

During Lent, we have an opportunity to examine the things that are preventing our belief – preventing us from fully trusting in the Lord and his faithfulness. And as we take the time to explore what these things may be, we can also find comfort in this story – in the fact that God will always remain faithful to us, even in our unbelief and weakness.

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Katherine often goes by “K-Bear.” She loves when people visit her in NOMA.

Transfiguration | Abby Hall

Mark 9:2-13

Suddenly they saw him the way he was, the way he really was all the time, although they had never seen it before, the glory which blinds the everyday eye and so becomes invisible.        -  Madeleine L’Engle, “Transfiguration”

As a child, I fell in love with stories like A Wrinkle in Time and Harry Potter in which characters are suddenly swept out of ordinary life into a great adventure. For instance, Harry Potter has a dull, depressing life in a closet until he discovers that his true identity is part of a reality that was previously invisible to him. He is a key player in a magical battle between good and evil beyond what he could have ever imagined. I wanted my own letter from Hogwarts, for my life to turn into one of these narratives that so captivated my imagination. And still, I want to be invited into an adventure that is beyond my own small life.

The Transfiguration is teaching me that I don’t have eyes to see the real story I have been invited into. My “everyday eyes” are blinded to Jesus.

Seeing is a thread that runs through Mark 8 and 9 leading up to the Transfiguration. The disciples argue about not having food after literally watching Jesus miraculously feed thousands of people. To which Jesus responds, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” After Peter sees Jesus open the eyes of a blind man at Bethsaida, his eyes are metaphorically opened to Jesus’s true identity as the Christ. Jesus then tells the disciples that some standing before him will see the kingdom of God come. This all builds to the climactic moment when Jesus transforms before Peter, James, and John on a mountaintop so that they see Him in His glory.

The entire time the disciples were with Him, Jesus always was the Son of God. But up to this point, the disciples struggled to see Jesus for who He really was.

Similarly, Jesus is at work and the story of the Kingdom is unfolding all the time, but I have very limited awareness of this reality. There are glimpses of glory all around me that go unnoticed because “having eyes I do not see.”  

Maybe the real adventure I’m called to is learning to see what I deem as my ordinary days with ordinary people for what they really are, in their full eternal weight. Maybe the invitation I so desire has been laying unopened in the small encounters of my daily life.

As we enact the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection in Lent, we are invited to renew our imaginations, to see the ways our seemingly small lives are swept up in the story of all stories. My prayer is for eyes to see Jesus and the story of His Kingdom with a renewed hope and imagination.

Abby Hall lives in Woodley Park and teaches fifth grade. She can often be found trying to convince ten-year-old video game addicts to give her favorite books a chance. 

Changing the World | Josh Rombot

Mark 8:27-9:1

Today’s passage is one of the more direct and honest exchanges that Jesus had with his disciples.

Make a move (or not). It will affect the world.

What’s fascinating about Washington, DC is that its day-to-day happenings can easily have a force multiplier effect that reaches the far ends of the world (and beyond). It is no surprise that, whether intended or not, folks from all over the US and the world converge in DC to use their positions, platforms, and connections to make a meaningful difference. The examples don’t have to be grand. Think of the things that happen and don’t happen when your next work trip gets cancelled. You probably won’t have that conversation with a fellow passenger or client, not get that middle seat in the airplane, not listen to your cab driver’s happenings at home. Given our authority in various capacities and the daily choices we make, what then is our role and responsibility as Christians?

Jesus. Who’s that?

In verse 29, Jesus asks the disciples, "who do you say that I am?” It is a question that we should ask ourselves all the time when we wake up, when we decide on a job offer, and before we interpret a gray situation. However, immediately before that, Jesus asks, “who do people say that I am?” Given your answer of the place God has in your life, how does this impact your day-to-day life? Consider what would have happened if Peter had gotten his way, and Jesus hadn’t gone to the cross.

Where faith fills the gap of understanding.

Based on where you place Jesus in your life, what does that mean in situations where you have influence or make final decisions? Moreover, what is your posture about the things in life you cannot control? This is something I personally face each day, as I continue asking God for wisdom. I may never get the answers, if at all, that are satisfactory. This is where the response of Jesus to Peter hits me in the face in verse 33: “…for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” That’s where my faith kicks in.

I invite you throughout the remainder of this Lenten season to examine your posture in your decisions and current circumstances in life. As Jesus said in verse 34, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Consider who God is in your life when you have to make your next decision in and around DC. Trust that, by God’s grace, your decisions can somehow make a difference around you and beyond.

Josh Rombot was born in Washington, D.C., raised in the Virginia suburbs, and now lives in Mount Pleasant. Having a career in professional services across industries and mission spaces, he is passionate about the customer experience, especially in the hospitality industry.

Bread of Life | Liz Laird

Mark 8:11-26

Right around this time two years ago, Mason and I were sitting in a cafe in the south of France, eating baguette number 7,345 of our second “babymoon” (geez, who even comes up with these terms?!). There’s something about those bread products in France: the perfect combination of a crispy, beautiful golden and browning exterior and the perfect little air pockets when you rip it open.

If you gave up bread for Lent, I sincerely apologize.

When we returned home from our trip, unable to find the perfect baguette anywhere in DC (if you know where to find it SEND ME AN EMAIL WITH THIS INFO IMMEDIATELY), we of course set out to make it ourselves....and we (mostly) failed miserably. While Mason’s attempts were admittedly better, my baguettes resembled a dense police baton.

Most likely, my leaven was off.

In today’s passage, Jesus must’ve had bread on the mind, too. On the heels of his miraculous feeding of the four thousand, Jesus warns those with him to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The Pharisees were known for strictly observing the purity laws both inside and outside of the temple and for placing the letter of the law above its spirit (Matthew 15:1-9). They were judgmental, self-righteous and self-absorbed (Matthew 23). They prayed outside, loudly, for all to hear. They “argue[d] with [Jesus], seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him” (Mark 8:11). And most heartbreakingly, Jesus even says that they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13).

This hard-heartedness, this inability to understand the spirit of the law, this unwillingness to admit their own need and recognize the very one who could supply all their needs, may very well be why Mark tells us that Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit” (Mark 8:11). And it is this leaven that Jesus warns his followers of, and of which we must be wary, too.

We must be wary of our own self-righteousness. We must be wary of our own inability to admit our brokenness and need. We must be wary of seeking the answer to our need from our own abilities, when right in front of us is the person of Jesus (in this way, we often mimic the followers in the boat in verses 14-21, who complained about their lack of bread after witnessing Jesus feed 4,000 people!). We must be wary of rote religion that involves no interaction with the person of Jesus. And just as bad leaven keeps the bread from expanding out, we must be wary of how our hard-hearted self-righteousness actually shuts the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.

So what does good leaven look like? Interestingly, we see one picture of it right here in this same passage in verse 22. There we read about a group of people bringing a blind man to Jesus and begging him to touch him. Begging him.

I don’t know their story. I don’t know exactly why this group of people brought this particular man to Jesus. But I do know that their hearts could not have been hard towards Jesus; they knew of his power and wanted it for this man, after all. I know that they desperately wanted this man to encounter Jesus. They wanted him to be healed and transformed.

What would our city look like if we longed to be this same sort of leaven? What if we unashamedly admitted our own need in a city that is about everything but “neediness”? What if we desperately wanted the hurting, sick people in our life to be transformed by a touch from Jesus, just as we have been? What if we gathered together as a community to come alongside people and walked with them to Jesus?

What if we more desperately wanted our city to taste with us of the goodness of the Bread of Life?

The whole loaf would be transformed.

Liz Laird lives in the greater-Brookland neighborhood with her husband Mason and two sons, Henry and Roy. She is currently helping to start a nonprofit. She is also (still) really bad at making bread, but you should try her chocolate chip cookies.

Breaking Bread | Bethany Fleming

Mark 8:1-10

 “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him...”

I imagine Jesus and his disciples moving among the people from group to group, listening and ministering to the crowd’s individual needs and questions, revealing God’s love, and demonstrating God’s power through healings. I guess no one expected to be there three days since they were in the middle of a food desert. I bet it took Jesus and his disciples three days to get to everyone. By the end of three days, people were weak from hunger but probably full of love.

During Lent, we gather together as a community, and we might fast from physical food. Yet, we are also called to receive the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In our Lenten reflections, we might acknowledge how weak we are apart from God when it becomes difficult to deny ourselves dessert and alcohol (guilty). Or we might enter Lent already broken and overwhelmed, keenly aware that we are weary, remembering all we have lost or given up this past year. We intentionally reflect on the condition of our hearts and our relationship with God in community like the crowd in Mark 8.

Lent is also a great opportunity to fill each other up with love as we realize our humanness, just as I imagine Jesus and his disciples did for the Gentiles in Mark 8. When Jesus fed the 5,000 in Mark 6, he was among other Jews near Bethsaida and the Sea of Galilee. In Mark 8, Jesus and his disciples are among 4,000 Gentiles, near the region of the Decapolis, signaling to us that his provision and compassion are for all humanity made in God’s image.

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”

I love how Jesus does not want anyone to pass out—whether it’s from striving to know him better or because they are weary from life and need to experience God’s power. What’s also really beautiful is that the disciples convince those who have been hoarding their food and carefully conserving it so that they don’t pass out to actually give up their sustenance. That is what it’s like to live in community. You give up the stuff you care about—even the things you earned—because you care about the weary people in your community. You put other people and their needs before your own, believing that God is powerful enough and compassionate enough to meet your needs too. That’s how I know Jesus wasn’t just talking at the crowd for three days. Jesus was with them and among them showing them His compassion and provision. That’s why there were people who were willing to give up the bread and fish they had been saving for the journey home.

“And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people […] And they ate and were satisfied.”

If you are aware of your weariness or weakness, receive the Lord’s compassion. May God put people in your life to share and break bread with you, so that you don’t faint. May the fellowship of believers multiply in you the Lord’s compassion and provision, and may you become broken bread for others who grow weary and weak.

Bethany Fleming, a Furman transplant, lives in Brookland with her husband TJ. She enjoys fine wine, being outside with friends, and most recently yoga.

 Rightless Assertiveness | Ana-Maria Sinitean

Mark 7:24-37

The dialogue of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is one of the most uncomfortable passages for me in the Bible. It seems very unlike Jesus to be so rude, exclusive, uninviting, and offensive when he is often the first to accept the outcasts, untouchables, and sinners. I’ve struggled a long time with this passage to find something to write that would be edifying and relevant for this season of Lent.

But it’s exactly the notion of “giving up” that is threaded throughout this interaction. Jesus proclaiming that he’s come for the children of Israel does not offend her, nor does it stop her. Instead, she’s giving up any rights she may have (or wish to ever have as a Gentile woman) in exchange for assertiveness. Tim Keller provides a helpful interpretation: “In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have assertion of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our own dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is rightless assertiveness, something we know little about. She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness–and I need it now.”[1]

Throughout Scripture, Jesus asks those who want to follow him to give up their homes, families, comforts, religion, identity, and even life. In this passage, one can argue that Jesus is asking her to give up her right for healing because she is not Jewish. And yet, she never claims to have that right in the first place. She is clear about where she stands and boldly accepts her place while proclaiming the Messiah’s power to save even those that were not chosen.

How often does our perseverance in prayer, our persistence in pleading, our cries for help come from a place of giving up our right to an answer not because we are owed something but because we know God is able to encompass even our request? How often does our posture towards God still rest on self-righteousness instead of humility in knowing that it’s not our asking that makes God capable of answering? How often do we base our striving on a notion of perseverance when in fact it’s simply entitlement?

During this season of Lent, let’s examine what it looks like to practice rightless assertiveness in our prayer life. The woman did not contradict Jesus’s description of who she was. She simply accepted the truth of who she was but even more, who He was, in order to plead her case and for that she was given what she was not owed.  May this be an encouragement as we come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Ana-Maria Sinitean was born in Romania, grew up in Chicago, has been calling DC home for the past 9 years, and a proud Mount Pleasant resident for the past 6 years. She loves hosting people in her living room, discussing apologetics, hiking, exploring little towns in Virginia, and reading all the books.

[1] King’s Cross, pg.88-89