Returning Our Hearts | Karynna Asao

Mark 1:14-28

On December 7, 1970, during a state visit to Warsaw, German Chancellor Willy Brandt visited a monument for Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, and after laying down a wreath, he spontaneously knelt.  

This physical act of humility and penance, known globally as Kniefall von Warshau (German for Warsaw Genuflection), stirred the world and advanced reconciliation for Germany and her victims.  As a youth, Willy Brandt actively resisted Hitler as part of the anti-Nazi underground, which made the act even more surprising to the German public and the world.  A reporter wrote, “Then he who does not need to kneel knelt, on behalf of all who do need to kneel but do not--because they dare not, or cannot, or cannot dare to kneel.” 1

In Mark 1:14-15, Jesus’s first proclamation is “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”  God has fulfilled His promise to the Jews by sending His son, the Messiah.  The kingdom of God is imminent, and we must “repent and believe the good news.”  

What is repentance?  The greek word for repentance, metanoia, means “to change one’s mind.”  

In the Old Testament, Israelites repented for their disobedience to God with physical gestures--fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes, and singing songs of lament.  In Joel 2, God commands them, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”  Return to me with all your heart.  Our Father’s words are full of longing and desire.  

Rituals of repentance are intended to tear our hearts, to change our minds, and to bring us back to God. R.C. Sproul explains, “In this metanoia, this changing of the mind, the direction of my life was radically altered.  Before metanoia, before the repentance of conversion, one’s life is moving away from God . . . From the moment of our conversion, our lives are moving in a different direction, back toward God.”2

Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Repentance is bound with faith in God’s redeeming grace through Jesus Christ. Our penitence for our sins is preceded by God’s forgiveness and love.  David sings of both in Psalm 51--”create in me a pure heart,” followed by “restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

Individual and corporate repentance are marked throughout Scripture with Paul’s conversion and the confessional prayers of Daniel, Nehemiah and Jeremiah for the sins of the Israelites.  How should we at Church of the Advent individually and corporately repent for our disordered desires, the racial and gender brokenness of our neighborhoods and country, our materialism and exploitation of God’s people and His creation, and the ways we consistently turn away from God and His will?   How can we glorify God to our neighbors and all nations by rending our hearts and transforming our entire beings?

As we draw near to God this season of Lent, let us repent individually and corporately for the “things we have done and left undone.”  Let that repentance change our entire beings and return our hearts to God.  And out of His abundance love and grace, let that life-altering repentance bear fruit (Luke 3:8).  

Karynna Asao serves on the Parish Council as your People’s Warden.  She originates from the 50th state and lives in Woodley Park with her six housemates.  

1 Schreiber, Hermann.  “Ein Stück Heimkehr.” Der Spiegel, 1970, http://magazin.spiegel.de/EpubDelivery/spiegel/pdf/50110009.

2 Sproul, R.C.  What is Repentance.  (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2014).  

In the Wilderness | Amy Atchison

Mark 1:1-13

Mark 1 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 

In the summer of 2006 I was driving through the desert of the Sinai with friends. Hour after hour passed with mile after mile of the desperately hot, desperately dry, desperately barren moonscape that must be the best example of true wilderness there is. It is a place of desperation and waning hope. So, I find it curious that immediately after God’s most beautiful and direct affirmation of Jesus as his own Son, the scripture says that the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness. The other gospel writers use more gentle language for the experience by describing Jesus as “led” or “led up” into the wilderness. Certainly, these two descriptions don’t contradict each other, but Mark doesn’t pull any punches. Being driven carries the feeling of inescapability and compulsion. But why? Why would a loving Father drive his beloved child into a place of suffering and trial?

The idea of suffering is unpopular, to say the least. We marginalize the poor who suffer economically, we prefer to spend our time with those who achieve career and personal “success”, and we isolate the elderly in self-contained colonies, all to avoid being reminded of our own potential for and eventual weakness and suffering. The gospel view of suffering couldn’t be any different. Though we should never rush head long into suffering, Christians are encouraged to receive it, and take it as a display of God’s care for our holiness. God uses the wilderness times of our life to train us in holiness and prepare us for more fruitful service:

Hebrews 12:7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons…., but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Isn’t it curious that God drove Jesus into the wilderness right before he appeared on the scene to begin his public ministry? The suffering of the wilderness trains us, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, to turn to God in our need and in the midst of temptation. We learn how to lean, depend on, and cherish the presence, in-dwelling and supernatural encouragement of the God who has himself suffered. 

In this Lenten season, are you finding yourself in what seems like the wilderness? Are you searching for a job, but finding nothing? Are you hoping for a marriage partner, but remaining single much longer than you had hoped? Are you struggling to juggle work and love your family well? Perhaps you care for children day after day and feel lonely and exhausted? Have you followed what you though was God’s call, only to see everything turn to dust? If this is you, know that this isn’t a sign of God’s absence. He has not abandoned you! Our God deeply desires to use this time to draw you closer, to share with you his own strength for your weakness and exhaustion. Jesus has walked in the wilderness before you, and He will care for you and tend you during even the most difficult times. 

Amy Atchison lives in Langdon Park with her husband Bryan and two children, Cade and Nora.

The Final Word | Liz Downey

John 12:44-50

It's not a new or earth-shattering idea to say that words have power. We live in a culture saturated with thousands of words competing for our attention. Twitter and cable news are a never-ending stream of the latest controversy, tragedy, and celebrity scandal. Texts and emails pile up with demands on our time and energy. That stack of Dickens and Brontë you bought intending to read more classics collects dust in the corner (might be speaking from experience here...) All the while we feel an enormous pressure and immediacy to be in the know and have our voice heard.

In this passage, we see Jesus speaking as the clear and ultimate Word, under the authority of the Father. Instead of bringing a word of judgment, the Word’s purpose is to illuminate the dark places and drive out the evil in the world through His presence. "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness (v.46)." This echoes John's earlier words about Jesus, that “in him was life, and the life was the light of men (1:4)." God didn’t simply issue a decree from on high to save us. Instead he sent a person, both fully God and fully man, into the physical reality of our world, to free us from the darkness of our sin that caused us to be separated from God. In an example of the beautiful mystery of the Trinity, Jesus is pointing to the person of the Father, saying that “whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me (v. 44,45).” To see Jesus is to also see the Father who sent Him, in a way we never could apart from the Son.

While the words in this passage bring comfort, they also challenge. The Word that brings light and life has a hard message for those who hear his words and willingly choose to stay in darkness. In verses 47 and 48, Jesus says that while he did not come into the world as a judge, “the one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”

This passage calls us to an increased focus on the Scriptures during Lent. Through reading the Word, we can let the light cleanse our hearts of its dark places and brighten our path. Hebrews 4:12 says that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Let's cling to that word, the Word that knew us and loved us before the world began. The Word that is more eternal, more life-giving and more perfect than any of the clamoring voices that threaten to crowd it out.

Liz Downey is Advent's Operations and Communications Coordinator. She's an avid horseback rider and loves traveling to new places near and far. Liz lives in Woodley Park.

Christian Unity | Jane Olson

John 17: 20-26

I saw a headline the other day which filled me with contempt: “Major evangelical leader says Trump gets a ‘mulligan’ on Stormy Daniels affair.’” Apparently, Christians are willing to overlook the president’s affair with (and subsequent hush-money payment to) a porn star because Trump will “punch back at the bully.”

As I read the article, my heart bubbled with a poisonous mix of loathing and shame.  Public figures like this evangelical “leader” are one reason why my non-believing friends view Christians with derision.  It confounds me that sincere Christians would willingly sell their souls to support such a morally bankrupt man as Trump. But if I’m really honest, the most troubling emotion I felt was disgust---disgust that I shared the name “Christian” with this evangelical leader (and who knows, perhaps even the president himself).

In these closing verses from John 17, Jesus prays that his followers “may all be one, just as you, Father, and I are one…so the world may believe that you have sent me.”  Unity in the church—Christians demonstrating radical, sacrificial love toward one another—is our loudest testimony to the truth of the Gospel.  A cursory reading of church history will show that we Christians have a lousy track record of showing this love toward one another. And our lack of charity and unity causes those outside the faith to look on Christians with contempt.

It’s tempting to read these verses from John 17 and resolve to just “do better” at loving fellow Christians. But it is impossible to generate this kind of love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ on our own power. If we want to experience unity in Christ, the first step is to admit that we cannot love one another without God’s help.  That’s why in verse 26, Jesus concludes his prayer by asking the Father that we would know God’s love just as Jesus has experienced as God’s son.  God loves me, you, and that evangelical leader with the same burning passion with which he loves his own Son. Knowing how little I deserve this kind of love, and yet how certainly Christ has guaranteed it for me, is the starting place for my love of all other people.

But before we embark on the quixotic task of loving all Christians everywhere, maybe the first step is committing to love our own church family. Church is the place where we practice Christian unity by demonstrating charity, humility, and patience in our interactions with one another. I suggest we, individually, commit to a few practices this Lent which would encourage greater unity in our church:

·   Seeking to know God’s heart though regular prayer and scripture reading

·   Committing to regular Sunday worship attendance—the time each week when our wayward hearts are recalibrated to Christ, and where we are reconciled to one another at his table

·   Remembering to practice hospitality to those in the church outside of our immediate circle of friends

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

A Sanctification Project | Deborah Tepley

Jesus saying farewell to his eleven remaining disciples, from the Maesta by Duccio, 1308–1311.

Jesus saying farewell to his eleven remaining disciples, from the Maesta by Duccio, 1308–1311.

John 17:9-19

This year, I’ve been struck by similarities between New Year’s and Lent. Both are often preceded by a time of intentional goal setting. We commit to giving things up: we’ll lay aside unhealthy eating habits or cease our social media addiction. And we resolve to do other things more, such as reading the Bible or getting more exercise. But these seasons only bear a surface resemblance.

While I am a New Year’s junkie (just ask me about my spreadsheet of goals for the year!), in the end our January resolutions tend to represent one big self-improvement project. We want to enhance our resume, be healthier or otherwise get our act together. Lent, on the other hand, is the antithesis of self-improvement. We give things up in order to intentionally make ourselves weak, so that we will be forced to rely on God. We take things on so that we can draw closer to our Lord, who took up his cross and laid down his life. Instead of self-improvement, we seek to be sanctified, that we might receive the kind of glory and beauty that only Jesus can give us.

In this passage of John, we meet Jesus just before his death – in the middle of his “high priestly prayer,” also known as the “farewell prayer,” the longest recorded prayer said by Jesus in the gospels. We see that Jesus prayed for you and me – for those who would come to believe in him. His final prayer reveals what we truly need to succeed in this world. He prayed for our protection – that we might be kept safe from the wiles of our enemy, who always seeks to deceive and destroy us. He prayed for unity, that despite our differences and self-preoccupation, we might be unified in our worship and mission. And he prayed for our sanctification – not that we would achieve more or be more attractive, rich or successful, but that we might be made holy. Finally, he prayed for joy. Jesus desired that we might know the fullness of life and delight that can only be found in him – never in our accomplishments.

While Advent is the true New Year for those who follow the liturgical calendar, Lent ushers in its own unique renewal. It is a time when we are moving from suffering to relief, from repentance to salvation, from death to resurrection. And while we long for Easter Sunday to arrive, we continue to prepare our hearts and to remind ourselves that there is nothing worthy in us, that we are but dust, and that the way to real life is not paved with goals or self-actualization. For ultimately, we can never muscle (or spreadsheet) our own way into the kingdom. As we come to know and embrace our weaknesses and failings, giving up our pretense of success in order to rely completely upon our risen Lord, we will be welcomed into that place we were striving so hard to enter.

Deborah Tepley is Advent’s Executive Director. She lives in Mt. Pleasant with her husband, Luke Jackson, and their two cats.

Undying Love | Rev. Dan Beilman

John 17:1-8

In Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, the jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam, played by Denzel Washington, pokes fun at the vapid lyrics found in pop music in his own song called “Pop Top 40.” He is as cynical as his name suggests and criticizes pop music not just for its banality—every song is a love song—but for the kind of love that these songs represent: “lustful, selfish, end-of-the-world love.” I remember chuckling out loud the first time I heard the lyric, “Let me spend the rest of my life with you…tonight.” 

Bleek was right about popular notions of romantic love. It really can’t fulfill its promises, and when it’s combined with selfishness (as seems most often the case), it seems to end in contradictions. But while we find contradiction in modern romance, we find beautiful, paradoxical harmony in God’s love: His children experience eternal life in the present moment.

The Apostle John had a lot to say about eternal life. In writing his Gospel, he mentions it 18 times. It motivates much of his writing: towards the end of his first letter, he writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). However, in His Gospel, he fails to give much description about what eternal life will be like in terms of the afterlife. John is focused on the present realities of eternal life, or to put it in theological terms, on how God’s children can experience the “age to come” in the present age.

In the new heavens and the new earth, “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). Knowledge of God—that is, intimate relationship with him—is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, such as in Habakkuk 2: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” But Jesus says that the knowledge of God and the intimacy with God that  we will experience for eternity is something we have in the present: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Do you know God? Personally, intimately? You may have firm beliefs about him, but do you experience a relationship with him? During this season of introspection and repentance, it may be easy to shy away from him as we see the ways we have failed him. Instead, make these moments doorways into deeper intimacy with him: Each time we confess our sins, he rushes to us, wraps his arms around us, and declares his undying, eternal love for us. Doubt that? Look to the cross, the place where his love is made most clearly visible. He loves you, forever, right now.

Dan Beilman serves as Advent's Pastor of Worship Arts and Spiritual Formation. He and his wife Jen live with their four sons in Cheverly.

Pride Is A Rat | Rev. Thomas Hinson

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus’ parables can sometimes be obscure, but the one in Luke 18:9-14 is an exception. It is entirely straightforward. Suspiciously straightforward. Two men go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prays aloud: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” The tax collector, by contrast, beats his chest and cries out for mercy.

Clearly, we need to be like the tax collector. God, we thank you that we are not like that legalistic Pharisee! Easy peasy.

And just like that, we’ve sprung the trap.

Pride is like a rat in the basement of our hearts. It feeds in the darkness of our self-ignorance, spreading sin, evil, and discontentment wherever it goes. And like rats, pride is notoriously difficult to exterminate. We cannot just walk down there with a broom and sweep it out the door. It has to be baited, coaxed out of hiding, and trapped. Jesus’ parable is like a rat trap for spiritual pride.

But even after we’ve trapped it, our work is not done. If we just throw it out, it will only sneak back in when we’re focused elsewhere. Social media is full of pride-rats scurrying from house to house, heart to heart:

“God, I thank you that I am not like those Trump supporters, who are ignorant racists … that I am not like those Hilary supporters, who want to murder the unborn … that I am not like those men who abuse their power and exploit the vulnerable … that I have not been emasculated by those shrill feminists … that I have checked my privilege and am now proudly woke … that I can face the harsh realities of life, unlike those liberal snowflakes … that I actually care about the poor, unlike those greedy capitalists … that I understand the power of a free market, unlike those misguided socialists … that I am not like those stay at home moms with no life, and I have a career … that I am not like those career-driven moms, and I love my kids … that I believe in love, tolerance, and inclusivity, unlike those close-minded bigots … that I believe in traditional family values, unlike those progressive deviants … that I am not like those heartless nationalists, and I care for all people … that I am not just looking for a free pass, and that I am a hard-working citizen …”

Pride cannot be driven out. It has to be killed.

Lent is the season to clear out the basement and kill the rats. We wear ashes, because ashes kill pride. We fast, because pride hides in our comforts. We deny ourselves, because pride feeds on the self. And we cling our savior, Jesus Christ, whose death humbles the proud, whose resurrection exalts the humble.

Thomas Hinson has served as Advent's Rector since 2007. He and his wife Laura have two sons, Riley and Maddox, a daughter, Emmeline, and a dog named Jasper.

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