Do You Reproach God? | Andrew Schools

John 2:13-22

When we come across or talk about uncomfortable passages like this in Scripture, how quickly do we disavow God for what he has done? We know God is love, but when we read about him driving away people and animals with a whip, overturning tables, and scattering money to the ground, do we still trust that he is love? Or do we reproach him and think, There is no place in the heart of God for such behavior. I wouldn’t worship a God like that.

Perhaps we join with Christ’s disciples when we think this way. I would imagine that as Jesus was “cleansing” the temple, his disciples were likely not all that eager to say, “Oh yes, I’m with him, and (by the way) he does love the whole world! Here, take a pamphlet on your way out.” Thankfully, however they reacted, we do know that in this moment they were enlightened by Psalm 69:

“Zeal for your house will consume me.”

And further the Psalm continues with,

“and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”

Thanks be to God that the disciples (and we along with them) were not left in the dark. We look to the to the Psalms to reveal the heart of God, and the hearts of men. In the context of John 2, the Psalmist pulls back the curtain to expose the heart of God and the hearts of men and the great eternal divide between them. Zeal for his Father’s house has consumed the Son, and for this reason we reproach the Son, just as we have reproached the Father.

During Lent, let us examine ourselves. How do I reproach God? Why? What attributes or stories of God have caused me to disapprove of Him? What outside ideas of love or justice have infected me and caused this divide between his heart and mine? With our hearts exposed to the unsearchable depths of God’s character and all He has done (including this cleansing of the temple), we may find many weeds and roots in our hearts that must be plucked out to wither to be replaced by new seeds of faith and love of God.

Today, let a new seed of faith be this: Christ bridged the eternal divide between his own zeal and our reproach of him. He said,

“Destroy this temple. And in three days I will raise it up.”

Destroy this temple. Even this holy place that I have been so zealous for (my Father’s house!) has been overrun by sin. There is still division here between God and man. Even this place of sacrifices needs an atoning sacrifice. A new way must be shown.

And in three days I will raise it up. I will become the Way. I will not leave my people in their sin, divided from me. I will take on all that needs cleansing, and I will bear all reproach. I will become their pure sacrifice.   

In anticipation of Holy Week, let’s join with Christ in zeal for his new temple and new sacrifice. His body and blood. Let’s join in zeal for his body, the Church, confessing our reproach, receiving his sacrifice, and sharing this new Way with others, again and again in rehearsal for the day we are finally fully united with him!

Andrew Schools lives in Brookland with his wife Annie and their two cats. Andrew is passionate about the mission of Advent in DC and currently serves as Treasurer on the Parish Council. In his spare time, Andrew sits in traffic to and from client sites all around the DMV area.

Filled to the Brim | Liz Downey

Still Life with White Wine and Water; Joseph Mellor Hanson, 1958; Oil on canvas; The Met, New York.

Still Life with White Wine and Water; Joseph Mellor Hanson, 1958; Oil on canvas; The Met, New York.

John 2:1-12

What’s the most embarrassed you’ve ever felt? A quick survey of my memories runs the gamut from mildly embarrassing (waving at a stranger who’s actually waving at someone else) to fairly excruciating (most of my high school interactions with boys I had a crush on...).

This passage from John’s gospel finds a newly-married couple on the verge of one of the most embarrassing days of their life. It’s their wedding feast, and they’ve run out of wine. From a modern perspective, this is a social faux pas, but hardly likely to ruin your life. However, as N.T. Wright puts it, in the ancient world “running out of wine was not just inconvenient, but a social disaster and disgrace. The family would have to live with the shame of it for a long time to come; bride and groom might regard it as bringing bad luck on their married life.”

It’s in this situation that we find Jesus and his disciples. Informed by his mother of the predicament, Jesus tells the servants to gather jars used for the Jewish rites of purification and fill them to the brim with water. He then instructs them to “draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” The master of the feast is impressed by the bridegroom’s generosity in saving the best wine for last and the couple’s reputation is saved.

What’s amazing is that verse 11 tells us that “this, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” Other miracles Christ performs later in his life have dramatic physical impacts – healing the blind and the paralyzed, raising Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and casting out demons, to name a few. So why was the first sign Jesus performed one that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to have a huge impact beyond the reputation of a few families?

I think it speaks to the lavishness of God’s grace, and his care and compassion for even the smallest details of our lives. It also has amazing echoes of the sacrifice Jesus will make on the cross later in his life. He takes the jars of the Jewish purification rites and uses them to produce something that nourishes the crowd at the bridal feast. Similarly, He pours out his body and blood on the cross so that everyone who believes in him will experience the overflowing abundance of his healing, and “the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

This Lent, how is He working through the details of your circumstances to transform them into something new? Maybe the places that feel empty and barren are even now being filled through God’s care and attention.

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

Fasting and Feasting | Jane Olson

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Mark 2:18-22

Lent is the time in the Christian calendar when we are encouraged to adopt spiritual disciplines—physical behaviors designed to reshape and reform negative habits of the heart. For thousands of years, Christians have chosen to fast during Lent as an intensely physical reminder of our total dependence on God.

Fasting can be good for a particular kind of spiritual diagnosis. Just as doctors ask patients to fast before a thoracic MRI so the scan can reveal a tumor (and not last night’s Big Mac), fasting empties us and reveals the cancer of spiritual self-reliance. Fasting is a physical way to acknowledge that, too often, we seek first our own comfort, and not God’s kingdom.

Fasting also, as John Piper wrote, “[puts] a physical exclamation point at the end of our prayers of longing for Christ’s return.” Just as we might hold off on eating a big meal right before a wedding banquet, this type of fasting-as-waiting teaches our spirits to long for the Bridegroom. This is one of the reasons that fasting in Lent has a particular rhythm: we fast during the week, but feast on Sunday, the day we remember that the Bridegroom has come. At the wedding banquet of the Eucharist, we experience Jesus feed us physically and spiritually.

But just as every discipline method is not appropriate for every child, fasting is not meant for every Christian. Before you decide to fast this season, do the following diagnostic test:

Am I tempted to use fasting to justify myself before God? Does fasting make me feel proud of my self-discipline?  Do I get a warped satisfaction from my ability to control what I eat?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the above, you probably should not fast.

As for me, fasting may just be the spiritual discipline I need because I hate self-denial. And I hate waiting. And I do whatever I can to avoid even the smallest amount of discomfort.

But more than the discomfort, I don’t like what fasting reveals about me spiritually. When I fast, I discover that I am riddled with tumors of discontentment.  And I become acutely aware of how I use food, good wine, internet shopping, temperature controls, Sephora, and Instagram to satiate what God alone can fill.

And so, my prayer for me, and for you as you choose a Lenten discipline, is that Christ will use our efforts to reveal our desperate need for Him. In this season of waiting for the Bridegroom, may our longing for the feast reflect our love for Him. And each Sunday at the Eucharist, may we get a taste of the new life that comes through Him.

Jane Olson is the Director of Children's Ministries at Advent. Though her list of hobbies makes her sound a little too much like Martha Stewart for her own comfort, Jane genuinely enjoys flower arranging, baking, cooking, and wine tasting. She lives in Brookland with her husband Lars, and children Claire and Teddy.

Under a Fig Tree | Deborah Tepley

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John 1:43-51

While we know little about Jesus’ disciple Nathanael, we do know that he had a very unusual first encounter with Jesus. Introduced to Jesus by his friend Philip, Nathanael initially is a questioner, a skeptic. He is a devout Jew and the alleged Messiah’s home town does not line up with his expectations or assumptions. But for some reason, Nathanael is convinced wholesale when Jesus tells him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” After this curious exchange, Nathanael is the first person in the Gospels to declare who Jesus is: the Son of God, the King of Israel.

Why does Nathanael respond in this way? What was so convincing about Jesus’ words? And what in the world was Nathanael doing under a fig tree?

Fig trees are steeped in meaning throughout scripture. One of the oldest known fruit trees, the fig tree is first referenced in the book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve used its leaves to cover their nakedness after they sinned. In the Old Testament, figs are a symbol of blessing and security. Moses was told that Canaan would be a land replete with “vines and fig trees” (Deut. 8:7-10). Because figs are difficult to grow and must be nurtured and cultivated over years, when we’re told that the Israelites “lived in safety, everyone under their own fig tree,” this implies stability, rootedness and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25). The fig tree was also understood to refer to Israel itself (Hos. 9:10, Joel 2:21-25). 

We know from rabbinic literature and tradition that students would often sit at their rabbi’s feet under a fig tree, enjoying both its shade and fruit as they learned. It was also common to study the Torah – God’s law – and pray under a fig tree. To be under a fig tree was to be in a sacred space.

We don’t know exactly what struck Nathanael about Jesus’ special knowledge that he had been under a fig tree. But we do know, based on Nathanael’s response, that Jesus was able to say exactly the right words to win him over, to bring him from a place of skepticism and doubt to a place of heart knowledge and true belief. Jesus did not argue with Nathanael or debate him or offer a lengthy explanation. Rather, he cut to the chase, going straight to the core of the matter and addressing the question beneath his question. Jesus met him under his fig tree – in his place of deepest longing and prayer.  

We can receive much encouragement from Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus. First, we can be heartened in our attempts to introduce our friends to Jesus. While it is our job to say, “Come and see,” it is Jesus who sees inside their hearts; only he can speak the words each person uniquely needs to hear. We can also be encouraged that Jesus sees our own hearts, that we are truly, deeply known. Whatever your questions and longings are this season, Jesus will meet you where you are at and speak the words that you need to hear. During this season of Lent, expect to encounter Jesus under your own fig tree.

Deborah Tepley is Advent’s Executive Director. She is a huge fan of HASfit workouts, YNAB budgeting software, and Luke’s fresh bread. She lives in Petworth with her husband, Luke Jackson; TJ, Bethany and Mary Hayley Fleming; and two cats.

What Do You Want? | Rev. Kevin Antlitz

John 1:35-42

Sean: “So what do you really wanna do?”

Will: “I wanna be a shepherd. I wanna move up to Nashua, get a nice little spread, get some sheep and tend to them.” …

Sean: “Look at me: what do you wanna do?”

Will: [Silence]

Sean: “I ask you a very simple question and you can’t give me a straight answer… ‘cause you don’t know.”

This dialogue is from one of my favorite movies of all time: Good Will Hunting. Much of what makes this movie excellent is the character development that occurs during counseling sessions between Sean (Robin Williams) and Will (Matt Damon). In this poignant scene, Sean finally gets to the bottom of things with Will by asking what is perhaps the most difficult question for anyone to answer: at the end of the day, what is it that you are really after? What do you want?

Will is utterly exposed. He knows he doesn’t know. Despite the library of knowledge stored in his brilliant mind, he is ignorant about himself in the ways that matter most. So what does he do? He replies with a silly (albeit hilarious) answer as a deflection strategy. In many ways, this scene captures the entire film. Maybe it also captures all our lives?

What strikes me about this scene is how it illuminates what’s going on when Jesus calls the first disciples in the Gospel of John. The scene begins with John the Baptist seeing Jesus walk on by and declaring, “Behold, the lamb of God!” Then, as if magnetically attracted to Jesus, two men start trailing him. We read that “Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What do you want?” (1:38). I imagine the surprised disciples bumbling through this deeply introspective question. Having no better answer, they ask Jesus where he’s staying. “I wanna be a shepherd.” They are following Jesus but they don’t really know what they want.

It is profoundly illuminating that this is the first question Jesus asks his disciples in John. In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith suggests that this question is “the first, last, and most fundamental question of Christian discipleship…It’s the question that is buried under almost every other question Jesus asks each of us. ‘Will you come and follow me?’ is another version of ‘What do you want?’” This is the most important question because what we want, what we desire, shapes our choices, behaviors, and ultimately the trajectory of our whole lives.

At the end of the day, I think St. Augustine was correct: because God made us for himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. This is another way of saying that our most fundamental desire is peace. Ultimately, we desire peace with God and from this flows peace with others and ourselves. If St. Augustine is correct, the truest answer to the most fundamental question is peace with God through Christ (even if we are unaware or unable to articulate it). Apart from the reconciling work of the lamb of God, such peace is elusive. I think this is why the disciples seem to instinctually follow after Jesus, even if their heads are slow to catch up with their hearts’ desire.

So, what is it that you want? I encourage you to contemplate Jesus’ essential question today and throughout this Lenten season. As you do so, let this exquisitely beautiful version of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), Op. 11 composed by Samuel Barber give shape to your prayers.  

Agnus Dei                                Lamb of God

qui tollis peccata mundi         who takes away the sins of the world

miserere nobis                           have mercy on us

Agnus Dei                                Lamb of God

qui tollis peccata mundi      who takes away the sins of the world

miserere nobis                        have mercy on us


Agnus Dei                                Lamb of God

qui tollis peccata mundi      who takes away the sins of the world          

dona nobis pacem grant us peace

Kevin Antlitz is Advent’s curate serving as an Assistant Pastor. He loves to read and travel. Nowadays, that mostly takes the form of wanderlust while reading the Travel section of the Sunday NYT. Kevin and Susan have three children and a (very) naughty dog. They recently moved to North Michigan Park.

Behold | Rev. Daniel Beilman

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John 1:29-34

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! “ —John 1:29

The Scriptures are full of calls to a physical response: clap your hands, shout for joy, be still. One particular call we find quite often in Scripture: “Behold!” Which I find interesting, in that I never use that word, nor does anyone I know. Yet the Bible says it all the time. “Look! See! Do not miss this!” To behold is to turn one’s full attention, one’s whole self—body, mind, soul—to an object. It would not have done to simply glance up from one’s smart phone at the carpenter from Nazareth, and then back down again: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

John’s call is fitting as we begin Lent. But how does one “behold the Lamb of God”? We can’t see him. Nor, for that matter, could any of John’s original audience see more than a simple carpenter preparing to be baptized. John is calling us to turn our soul’s sight to an invisible reality.

This turning is how the French Catholic philosopher Jean-Louis Chrétien describes prayer: “an act of presence to the invisible.” This act of presence before God is not without a sense of risk, for it “puts man thoroughly at stake, in all dimensions of his being. It exposes him in every sense of the word expose and with nothing held back.” 

Which should begin to make us nervous. Who of us doesn’t try to keep things hidden before God? How often do we choose not to pray because we feel unworthy?

Chrétien continues: “He who addresses himself to God always does so…from the depths of his manifest or hidden distress, from the depths of his sin. In his prayer, he confesses the divine holiness, before which he stands and to which he addresses himself. If he truly stands before it, he is by that very standing dispossessed of all the beliefs that he could ever hold about his innermost self. In the at once discrete and inescapable light of prayer, he himself is visible from now on, and in this light he discovers that no man is worthy of prayer, if ‘worthy’ means resting on previous merit.”

The Good News is that the divine, Holy One that we behold is He who takes away the sin of the world. Because Jesus provides our merit, our un-worthiness ceases to be an obstacle in prayer and is transformed into a resource :

Though great our sin and sore our woes, 

his grace much more aboundeth.

His helping love no limit knows,

Our utmost need it soundeth. 

The way I am beholding the Lamb of God today and through Lent is to pray the Jesus Prayer. For a few minutes each morning—or however long it takes to quiet my mind and soul before God—I find a quiet spot, sit in a comfortable position, and focus on my breathing. As I exhale, I pray, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

There’s nothing magical about these words, but I do find myself “centered” by repeating them: I behold the One who provides me my worth and my very breath. As former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wrote, “the day begins with a physically concrete and specific reminder that [my] own individual existence is breathed through by a life that isn’t [my] possession.”

Rev. Daniel Beilman serves as Advent’s Pastor of Worship and Spiritual Formation. Dan lives in Cheverly with his wife Jen, four sons, and dog Fritz.

Ash Wednesday

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

— Malcolm Guite, A Sonnet for Ash Wednesday from Sounding the Seasons

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