“Drink the Cup I Drink”

Mark 10:32-45

32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

39 They replied, “We are able.”

Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Going Up to Jerusalem

The journey we read about in this morning’s text is the journey we’ve been on all Lent: the journey from the safety and anonymity of Galilee to the danger of exposure in Jerusalem. Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, announcing the kingdom of God come near and demonstrating its arrival with miracles. But Jerusalem is the great climax of Jesus’ mission on earth, the ultimate purpose for which Jesus came to earth in human form: to be betrayed into the hands of the religious leaders, tortured, crucified, and buried; and three days later, to be raised again to new life. Jerusalem is where Jesus will inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth, and triumph over death and sin once for all.

And the disciples are beginning to sense all of this, that Jerusalem is the end of the road they have been walking with Jesus all along. And with it, they are beginning to feel somehow what this journey to Jerusalem will mean for Jesus, and for them. They cannot be ignorant of the rumors that have begun to circulate, that Jesus is a very unpopular figure among the religious and political authorities. His controversial teachings and disruptive miracles have undermined the customs and laws that the priests and scribes and Pharisees have spent their whole lives to maintain. In the mind of the disciples, the end of this journey they are on can only be dark and empty and bitter, because the disciples see that Lent can only end in death.

The disciples, and the crowd of faithful followers around them following Jesus, see where he is headed, and we read that they are astonished and afraid. They are amazed that Jesus would go to the very place where he is most in danger; they are afraid that he will knowingly and willingly go to his death. But what should astonish us and amaze us, and even terrify us, this morning, is that Lent does not end in death. The culmination of Lent’s long journey to Jerusalem is not the cross, but the empty tomb. We discover at the end of this journey that in dying, Jesus Christ has conquered death, and in rising, Jesus has instituted a new kind of life: an everlasting life with God that breaks into and transforms our everyday lives now.

The disciples and crowds and chief priests and scribes cannot have understood this great news that Jesus tells them. No one rises from the dead; no one comes out of their tomb, only into it. When Jesus tells them that “after three days he will rise again,” what could they have thought he meant? Every other time we read in Mark that Jesus warns his disciples of his death, and promises them that he will rise again, Mark writes that the disciples are perplexed and confused about what this could mean. But in this particular episode, we read that James and John have a very different response.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

James and John may not understand what Jesus means when he says he will rise again; but these brothers believe Jesus enough to sense that something bigger is coming, something impossibly new. All of Jesus’ teachings and demonstrations of the coming kingdom of heaven have begun to sink in for James and John, and this latest hint tells them that it is nearer now than ever. They take this opportunity to show Jesus that they believe what he’s been saying all along, but they also show that they have their own ambitions for their role in this coming kingdom.

They must know that what they want from Jesus is selfish and inappropriate, because they don’t ask Jesus outright. We read that they come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” They don’t ask Jesus for what they want: not yet; instead, they tell Jesus to answer, “Yes,” to what they’re about to ask, as if they can somehow trick Jesus into granting their wish, like some genie bound to his lamp. How many of our prayers begin this way? Maybe we don’t say this in so many words, but don’t we begin our prayers with the silent, secret expectation that Jesus will do for us whatever we ask, that he will blindly and swiftly grant our wishes? And isn’t that right? If Jesus loves us, why wouldn’t he give us whatever we ask for? Isn’t that what Jesus himself promises us, that he will do whatever we ask in his name?

In this morning’s text, Jesus does not answer James and John as they ask. Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes, whatever you ask. Your wish is my command?” But Jesus also doesn’t rebuke them. He doesn’t wag his finger in their face and tell them, “You wicked students, how dare you try to manipulate your Teacher!” Jesus simply replies, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  Jesus neither affirms nor rejects the request of James and John; Jesus invites them to ask. When we ask for something – anything: whether we truly need it or merely want it – Jesus listens to us. Jesus invites us to ask for whatever we will, regardless of our motives or our desires or our needs, as long as we come to him openly and honestly, in faith that he hears our prayers. But our prayers are not wishes to be granted, and Jesus is free to respond for our good.

James and John ask for positions of status and prestige in the soon-to-come kingdom of God on earth. The brothers have been listening closely and carefully to what Jesus has said, but they have misunderstood what kind of kingdom this is going to be. They are sure that Jesus’ new kingdom will be just like all the other kingdoms of earth, like David’s kingdom was, or Rome’s is. And if Jesus is going to Jerusalem to take the throne, they want to be a part of it. They ask to sit at the right and left of Jesus’ throne, and they are prepared to help Jesus take that throne by force. The other gospels remember James and John as “the Sons of Thunder,” and they must have been eager to prove their nickname for Jesus. So when he asks them if they’re prepared to drink the cup he drinks, to be baptized with his baptism, again they misunderstand their Teacher. They hear their General asking if they’re ready to fight his fight, and they eagerly agree. Jesus sees that they don’t understand, so he answers them as best he can: that they will share in his mission to Jerusalem. But they cannot understand that this mission is not to kill, but to be killed. The paradox is that Jesus is going to Jerusalem as a conqueror, but a spiritual conqueror; not to topple any earthly kingdom, but to destroy death itself. James and John have signed on for this mission, but the reward for their loyalty will not be the positions of power that they expect.

And when the other ten hear what James and John asked for, to be Jesus’ number 1 and number 2, they are angry; not because James and John made a foolish request, but because they didn’t get to ask first. All twelve of Jesus’ closest students would like to sit at Jesus’ right hand, to be rewarded for their sacrifice and courage and faithfulness with positions of comfort and authority. And what do we expect from Jesus for our faith? Aren’t we counted among Jesus’ disciples in this? What if Jesus were standing here this morning, and asked each of us in turn, “What is it you want me to do for you?” How would you answer? What do you want Jesus to do for you? Maybe you expect comfort from Christ, or financial security, or peace of mind. And maybe we even feel that we’re entitled to what we want, because we said “yes” to Jesus when we could have said “no.” We have given up the easy and broad street of sin and selfishness; shouldn’t we be given something in return? And maybe we even believe that Jesus should do whatever we ask, if he loves us. If he loves us, wouldn’t he want us to be happy? But happiness is not our ultimate good. Jesus’ mission is not to make us comfortable in this life; Jesus’ mission is to destroy the old life ruled by sin, and offer us a new life in him.

The Cup Christ Drinks

Lent’s difficult and terrifying journey to Jerusalem and the cross reminds us that following Christ does not always come with comfort or reward. Sometimes, following Christ will demand everything from us, and ask us to continue following only for the sake of being close to Christ. If you have encountered one of these times, or if you are walking through this right now, you know that this can be one of the darkest moments of life. Many of us will come to or have already come through a season when comfort and joy leave, and only the desolation of God’s seeming absence surrounds us like a night without dawn. And in these “dark nights” we come face to face with the question: is Jesus enough? Or am I following Christ like the crowds – and sometimes even disciples – did: for what he can do for me? This is a hard place, a barren wilderness, that we are sometimes led through in order to grow deeper in our faith and stronger in our trust in God. Jesus is inviting James and John, the other ten disciples, and maybe some of us this morning, into that very space of deep trust, where we discover that Jesus Christ is enough, and we drink the cup he drinks.

James and John are told that they will drink the cup Christ drinks, that they will participate in what Jesus is about to do. Jesus makes sure that his disciples hear him clearly before they get to Jerusalem, that his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of the world. He is not going to rule as other kings do, by lording over his people as a tyrant. The power of the kingdom of Jesus is not like the power we’re used to, the power that the disciples expect: controlling, manipulating, self-serving, self-aggrandizing. The cup that God has given Christ to drink is not to enjoy any earthly position of authority and status, but instead to become a servant, and pour out his very life for the sake of the world. Jesus talks about his cup here, this bitter cup of suffering and shame and servanthood; in the garden of Gethsamane, Jesus prays that this cup would be taken from him. We are all given griefs and pains and sorrows that we would rather not endure, cups that we would rather not drink. Jesus tells James and John that they will drink from his cup, that they and all the disciples will share in his journey to the cross. Jesus invites us all this morning to drink the cup that he drinks, to become a servant to others rather than seize positions of power for ourselves.

But remember what Jesus told his disciples in the first few verses: Yes, the cup that he is about to drink will be violent and awful and lonely, but three days later he will rise again. We are invited to share in that cup, to take upon ourselves here now the dark way of the cross, because after the cross comes resurrection. After Lent comes Easter! We cannot get to the new life in Christ without first going through the painful process of giving up our old lives and putting them to death. This putting off the old self is not a one-time ceremony, but a daily response to the grace of God, whose mercies are new every morning. Every morning we are offered the bitter cup of self-denial: if we choose not to drink from it, then we spend the day asking Jesus our selfish, small prayers and expecting great things, only to be disappointed when we go to bed at night exhausted and humbled and burdened by everything we tried and failed to accomplish ourselves; but if we drink from this cup, if we deny ourselves, if we agree to be servants to everyone rather than rulers of our own kingdoms, then we spend our day with open eyes to see where Jesus Christ is leading us, open hearts to love those we meet as Christ does, and open hands to receive all of the good things that God is constantly showering upon us through Christ, and at the end of the day, we can rest in God’s goodness and love satisfied and at peace in Christ. But we cannot enjoy the new life that is saturated with Christ’s presence, without first laying aside the old life, without drinking the bitter cup that Christ himself drank from first.

The good news of Lent is that when we drink the cup of Jesus Christ, he is present with us, and we come to discover, if we respond in patient faith, that Jesus Christ is enough. And the really good news, the mystery we celebrate, is that when Jesus is finally enough for us, we are set free from our wants and needs and thrones, to live new lives in Christ. Receive this good news, friends, and live.

Going Deeper

A guide for personal reflection and family/small group discussion

Psalm for prayer: Psalm 107:1-9

Questions for reflection and discussion:

Listen: What is God saying to you in Mark 10:32-45? What new life is God calling you to? What old life is God calling you away from?

Reflect: Why were those following Jesus “astonished” and “afraid” that Jesus was leading them to Jerusalem (v.32)? How is what Jesus tells them a comfort (v.33-34)?

Study: Read Genesis 1:26-31, and listen for what humans are created to do. What does it look like to “subdue the earth” and “have dominion over it” according to God’s original plan? God created us to rule, but what does Jesus show us about how to rule? Now read Mark 10:41-45 again, and listen for how Jesus teaches his disciples about ruling. Can anyone rule by serving? How? How do our leaders rule over us? How do you “rule” your household, or business, or friendships? How does Jesus challenge you and our leaders in his teaching and example?

Commit: How will you become someone’s servant this week? Who in your life is in need of your attentive care and service? What thing(s) will you do to serve them? Could you serve in secret?

Exercise for spiritual training: “Drink This Cup”

Hear Jesus ask you, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” Prayerfully ask, ”What “cup” has God given me to “drink”?” John Calvin interprets the cup as “the measure of afflictions which God appoints to everyone.” Each of us has experienced something difficult in our life that keeps us trapped in our own misery, unable to trust God and others. What in your life makes it difficult for you to trust God and believe that he is good? What might it look like to “drink this cup,” to “take up your cross,” to let in this difficult reality of life so that with it Jesus Christ can also give you the power of his resurrection and new life to overcome it? Who can help you do this? How will you ask for help?

Closing prayer: “I must decrease, that You may increase.” (John 3:30)

Next week’s sermon: Mark 12:1-12, “Respect My Son”

“Sell Everything, Follow Me”

Mark 10:17-31

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the moneyc to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it isd to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another,e “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,f 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

This morning’s passage immediately follows last week’s passage. Last week we heard Jesus’ instructions that we are to become like children in order to receive the kingdom of God, that the kingdom belongs to those with child-like faith in God as their heavenly Father. In this morning’s text we hear the counter-point: that those who rely on their wealth for their security and status have the most difficult time entering the kingdom of God. The man we meet in this morning’s passage is the chief example of someone whose hope is found in their own resources and abilities, instead of in the gracious, providential hands of God and in his kingdom. The invitation for us this morning is the same invitation we have heard throughout Lent: to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. In light of this morning’s text, denying ourselves looks like putting our absolute trust in God as Father to provide for our every need in every situation; taking up our cross looks like using what resources and abilities we have, not to protect ourselves, but to support our neighbors in need; and following Christ may look like losing everything we have, only to find it again in the life to come.

The Rich Man’s Bold Request

We meet the rich man abruptly, catching up to Jesus as he begins another journey, and falling down at Jesus’ feet. The man asks Jesus the only question that really matters, the question that only Jesus can answer: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. This question is for all of us who recognize that our lives on this earth are temporary, fading. How are we to be sure that our deaths are not the end? How can we know that we will be welcomed into heaven’s glory when our time on earth is finished? This is the burning question that drives the man to Jesus, to run to him and fall on his knees at his feet. It is this same question that draws us to Jesus, and inspires us to seek his kingdom first in everything we do.

But if we read this man’s question a little more carefully, we discover that the man is perhaps not seeking the kingdom of God first. The man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. First we notice that this man is busy trying to save himself. He is not looking for salvation as something God does for us; he is asking Jesus what he can do to attain and produce his own salvation. He wants eternal life on his own terms. The second clue that this man is on the wrong track is seen in what he’s ultimately asking for. Other New Testament passages from Jesus or Paul or Peter talk about inheriting the kingdom of God, the whole reign of God as king over all of life. But this man is not asking to inherit the kingdom of God, to become a child and heir of the king. This man is only asking for eternal life, as if he could have reward without the relationship. This man wants all the benefits of salvation without the reality of adoption into the family of God as one of his beloved sons. The rich man in this morning’s text asks to inherit eternal life not out of a desire to love God and enjoy him forever, but as insurance against death.

As we stand in the middle of Lent’s journey, I wonder if we see ourselves at all in this rich young man with his bold question. Are we working for our own salvation, to earn God’s eternal life on our own terms? Are we following Jesus Christ for what he can give us, or because we recognize that this is the purpose for which we were created: to be the children of God he made us to be, to be adopted through Christ to be heirs to the kingdom of heaven. We cannot expect to receive the benefits of salvation without receiving first the one who saves us, Jesus Christ. And Lent’s long road to the cross reminds us that following Christ will not always come with benefits. At times, following Christ may, in fact, take everything from us; this is true for countless of our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world today, whose lives are in danger because they have given up everything to follow Christ. Christians in China and Muslim countries and other places hostile to Christianity understand that following Christ and becoming part of the family of God is our ultimate good, and their only comfort in the face of persecution and torture and death is the promise that abundant life with God in Christ does not end in death, but is everlasting.

The Good Teacher’s Hard Answer

We Protestant Christians often look back to Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, and remember his great doctrine that started the whole Protestant Reformation: justification by faith alone. We are made right with God, not by observing commandments, not be doing anything to achieve our own salvation, but by God’s grace received through faith, which is a gift from God. If we hold this to be true, that only faith in God through Jesus Christ can save us and restore us, then we must ask, “Why does Jesus give this man the commandments?”

When we read Jesus’ answer, we are surprised to discover that Jesus answers the man’s question how the man expects to be answered. Jesus tells him, “You know the commandments.” If we are eager to earn our own eternal life, then we have all the instructions we need: all we need to do is follow the Law perfectly. The Law was not “Plan A” to save God’s people, which turned out not to work because we’re not perfect, so he sent his Son as “Plan B;” Jesus did not come to replace the Law, but to fulfill it. When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai, he fully understood that sinful humanity is incapable of perfectly obeying the Ten Commandments. The Commandments were not a checklist for personal piety in order to earn salvation; God gave the commandments as a blueprint for the community of faith that, when used as the architecture of the community, created a space for life in a world ruled by sin and death. That’s what the commandments do, that’s what they’re for: to make space for life in the land of death. So when Jesus answers the man’s question about eternal life with, “You know the commandments,” he’s not being flippant or dismissive of the man’s question; he’s answering the question he was given very directly, because the commandments are the faith community’s first rule for life.

And if we look at the commandments that Jesus names, we discover that it isn’t even all ten. The Ten Commandments can be divided into two tablets: the first four commandments direct our relationship with God, and the last six commandments direct our relationship with our neighbors. Jesus summarizes the two tablets by commanding us to Love God and Love our Neighbor. In this instance, Jesus only names the second tablet, the commandments concerning our neighbors, without any mention of the first tablet, the commandments concerning God. For some reason, Jesus offers this rich man instructions to love his neighbor if he would inherit eternal life. But this isn’t enough for the man. The man answers – perhaps a bit presumptuously – that he has kept all these commandments since he was a child, and yet there must be more. The Law might help structure the community while it lives in this world, but how can we hope to live beyond this world, beyond the death that inevitably comes? Surely the law cannot save us from death, can it? What are we to do?

We read that Jesus then looked at the man and loved him. Jesus understands the anxiety and dread that death produces in all of us. Jesus in his fully human heart feels the terror of death, because Jesus is on his way nearer and nearer to his own death, and he is beginning to feel the weight of it. And so Jesus has compassion on this man, and invites him to follow him with a unique call to discipleship: “Sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” Sell everything, give away what’s left, and follow me. This is not the call he gave to his other disciples, this is a unique call for this man specifically, because this man’s wealth and possessions will need to be dealt with before he can follow Jesus as a disciple. Jesus loves this man, and invites him to follow and learn the only way to eternal life; but before the man can follow, he must deal with what’s in the way. He must deal with the obstacle to faith.

We read next that the man’s face fell, and he went away deeply saddened, because he had great wealth. This rich man has heard the invitation to follow Jesus Christ, who is the only Way to eternal life, but he cannot give away his wealth and possessions first. His wealth and possessions are too important to him; maybe they have even become an idol for the man, one of the ways he has tried to earn or produce eternal life for himself. Jesus tells this man that he lacks only one thing, but what he must gain is not another physical object, another trophy or prize or symbol of his status. What this rich man must gain is the child-like faith we read about last week, the faith that everything we need in this life and the life to come is to be found in the hands of God who loves us as a Father. This man must let go of all his great wealth in order to gain this one thing, this absolute faith, and he cannot do it.

The Confused Disciples’ Difficult Lesson

Jesus uses this brief encounter with the rich man to teach his disciples more about the nature of the kingdom of God. After the man leaves disappointed and saddened, Jesus turns to his disciples to explain to them that wealth is an obstacle to faith, which is how we enter and inherit the kingdom of God. Remember what we heard on Transfiguration Sunday a few weeks ago: that our souls are like mirrors, and whatever we place first before us is what we reflect to the world. When we place our wealth first in our lives, what we have and earn and save and spend, we reflect that to the world. We evaluate ourselves by how many dollars we are worth, and we evaluate ourselves in comparison to how many dollars others are worth. And what is worse, our world works in such a way that if someone gains more wealth, it means I must be losing mine. Placing wealth first in our lives creates in us a spirit of competition and an attitude of scarcity. We can have very little hope of receiving God’s grace when we are preoccupied with who has more than we do, and how little there is to go around. That is not how God’s grace works. That is not how the kingdom of God works. If we place wealth as our number one priority, we are training ourselves to walk away from grace and out of the kingdom. Let’s be careful.

Peter once again interjects, this time to protest that he and the other disciples can’t be who Jesus is talking about, that they have left everything – their nets, their families, their communities, their reputations: everything – to follow Jesus. Jesus responds by reassuring Peter: 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Jesus reassures his disciples that they are on the right path, that it is when we let everything else go in order to follow Christ and inherit his kingdom that we discover everything we released will be restored to us. What is perhaps most surprising is Jesus promises to restore all things to us in this present age. When we place the kingdom first in our lives, we discover that we are surrounded by the family of God – all of those people who have also left everything to follow Christ. And in this family, in the kingdom of God on earth, we also discover that what we have is not for us, but for others; and what we need is not in our own hands, but in the hands of another. This is what happens when the kingdom of grace starts to sink in, that we begin to trust deeply as we start to share generously. The answer that Jesus gave the rich man is not poverty, but trust: child-like trust in our good and loving Father who is willing and able to provide for us, protect us, and preserve us in his care.

And the natural consequences of all of this is that many who are first in this world will fall behind as they fail to understand the growing kingdom of grace, while those in last place, the ones who know they need the help of others to survive, begin to grow and flourish in God’s kingdom of abundance and generosity. As we trust more and more that God really will provide for all of my needs in any and every situation, we sense in us a growing concern for the lowest and last and least among us, that gradually replaces the world’s preoccupation with gaining prestige and privilege and power.

The rich man put his hope in his own resources and abilities; the disciples put their hope in God’s gracious kingdom. God invites us this morning to deny ourselves by completely trusting in God our Father to provide for our every need; God invites us to take up our cross by using what we have to protect and provide for our neighbors in need as agents of God’s kingdom; and God invites us to follow Christ by losing everything we have, only to find it restored to us completely in his kingdom of grace.

Going Deeper

A guide for personal reflection and family/small group discussion

Psalm for prayer: Psalm 23

Questions for reflection and discussion:

Listen: What is God saying to you in Mark 10:17-31? What new life is God calling you to? What old life is God calling you away from?

Reflect: How has God provided for you recently? Do you regularly look for what you need to come from his hands, or from your own?

Study: Discuss this quote from James Bryan Smith’s The Good and Beautiful Community:

Forbes online magazine quantified how much money a person would need to “live well.”…The bare minimum amount needed to finance this kind of life is $200,000 annually, but in many cities that number goes up. If this is the standard of the good life, then it might make we who live on much less feel as if we are exempt from giving because we are not truly living – at least living well.

Discernment will mean asking, How is God leading me to use my financial resources? In light of the great need in our world, what is God calling me…to in terms of standard of living and material possessions? It will not necessarily mean that we will be asked to sell everything and live among the poor. But it does mean that we will look at our income and assets in a new light – one illuminated by the light of the kingdom of God.

Commit: What has God given you that he is asking you to pass on to someone else? How will you be a conduit for God’s riches to those in need this week?

Exercise for spiritual training: God is My Shepherd

Write out all the ways God is like a shepherd: e.g., a shepherd provides, protects, leads, rescues, etc. Next to all of your descriptions, write out one way that God has been like a shepherd for you. How does God protect you? How does God lead you? How does God care for you? How does God watch over you? For each of God’s shepherdly acts for you, write out a sentence or two of prayer in gratitude for God’s mighty work and love for you for his Fatherly gifts.

Closing prayer: “I must decrease, that he may increase.” (John 3:30)

Read ahead for next week: Mark 10:32-45, “Drink the Cup I Drink”

Kingdom Feasts

Before we get to this morning’s readings, I feel it’s important that we go over where we’ve been, since it’s been a couple weeks since last we met. We have been walking through the Gospel of Mark together. Mark’s gospel is the shortest and clearest gospel we have, and I would encourage you, if you have an hour or two this week, to read it through in one sitting. It is believed to be the disciple Peter’s memory of Jesus’ life and ministry. After Jesus was crucified, rose again, and ascended into heaven, Peter remembers all that Jesus said and did during his life, his teachings and miracles, and Peter realizes what Jesus was up to in the years leading up to the cross. Mark records these stories, to show us what Peter and the other disciples quickly realized about Jesus in light of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The disciples of Jesus did not understand who Jesus said he was and what he had come to do until after he had completed his work; only then did they fully grasp what he was up to during his whole ministry.

But that’s often what we mean when we say “gospel.” We say, “gospel” and mean Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection to new life. And yet that’s also what we call these four books of the Bible: “gospels.” The Gospels are eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ whole ministry, including his death; so why do the disciples go all the way back to the beginning to tell us about the Good News, if the Gospel happens at the cross? I asked at the beginning of this series: Which is it? Is the good news Jesus’ death, or his life? Is it his sacrifice on the cross, or is it his healing and casting out demons? The answer, as it often is, is both.

That’s what we’re up to in this sermon series. We are getting to know our Lord Jesus Christ as his disciples did, by following him closely, looking to him and watching him and listening to him and obeying him, all in order to understand what this new thing is that Jesus is doing, what he calls “the Kingdom of God.” Of course, we know better than the disciples did that all of this is leading to the cross; Lent is on its way, and then Good Friday, and then the glory of Easter’s Son-rise. But we’re not there yet. The cross of Jesus is the climax of a long journey that Jesus calls us on as his disciples.

We have been on that journey these last several weeks. Mark sets up some patterns to help us on the journey: the first week we heard Jesus teaching about the kingdom, and then witnessed his authority over demons and experienced his miraculous power to heal and restore. The next three weeks repeated the pattern in greater detail: first we focused on Jesus’ teaching, listening to the parable of the farmer sowing seeds. Next we witnessed the dramatic contest between Jesus and the Legion of demons; and last week we would have finished the pattern by reading of two impossible healings: restoring the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, and raising the 12-year old girl who had died. Jesus proclaims the kingdom is coming, and then displays the kingdom is near in power. That’s the pattern so far.

This morning we discover another facet of the character of our King while on the journey with him. Mark writes down Peter’s stories with Jesus, and this morning we look at two stories that sound like they’re really the same story. But Peter remembers both of these miracles for a reason, and Mark tells them both to emphasize for us the great heart of Jesus Christ, the King, for his beloved people. Listen to these gospel stories with ears that hear, and hearts that receive.

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.

1 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, 10 he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

The Compassion of the King

In both of the miraculous multiplications of the loaves and fishes, we see on display Jesus’ great heart for the people; not in general, not out of obligation, but because of his deep concern for the needs of each, individual person. Both of this morning’s stories begin with Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has a purpose, a great work that he is doing to reveal God’s kingdom on earth, and here in these desert places, Jesus reveals God’s fatherly care for his children, just as he did for the Israelites in the wilderness by giving them Manna to eat. Rather than send the crowds away to fend for themselves, or let them leave hungry, Jesus chooses to feed them out of the riches of God’s mercy. This is our King. This is our Lord, revealing God’s heart of tender love toward us, and his desire to satisfy all of our needs.

We read that Jesus was planning a retreat for his disciples, who he had just sent out into the villages to practice proclaiming the Kingdom of God. His disciples are weary, and he has in mind to bring them somewhere remote to debrief and encourage them. And here we see Jesus pauses from his plan, and he focuses his compassionate heart on these hungry people. He gives them not just any bread, but his very self. The gospel of John records this a little more clearly, because it is here that Jesus announces to all gathered that he is the Bread of Life that satisfies our spiritual cravings and nourishes us unto eternal life. Jesus is feeding these people from himself, giving them bread that feeds their souls, as well as their stomachs.

Peter remembers both of these miraculous feasts vividly after Jesus’ resurrection, because it is after Jesus is risen anew that he meets Peter on the beach of Galilee, after Peter has disowned Jesus three times. Jesus asks him three times, “Peter, do you love me?”. After each time Peter answers that he does, and each time Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” Peter remembers these feasts, how Jesus fed these sheep without a shepherd, and realizes what Jesus was trying to teach them then already.

The Mission of the King

At the time, the disciples didn’t understand the lesson. These miraculous kingdom feasts are important work, and Jesus takes time to sit and eat with the ones he cares for. But he also wants his disciples, the inner 12, to fully grasp his mission. These feasts are above all gestures of Jesus’ compassion, but Jesus also uses them to show his disciples that there is more at work here than a potluck.

In both instances, Jesus takes the few loaves of bread that are offered, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to his disciples to distribute to the crowds. Each disciple is holding a part of a loaf of bread, and they must be terrified that Jesus has now sent them on a truly impossible task: to feed groups of fifty and one hundred people with the little chunk of bread in their hands. What would you do in their place? And yet they obey, as foolish as it seems. I’m sure they started small, giving those first groups only little bites of bread, hoping to spread the little they have as far as they can. At some point, though, they must realize that the bread in their hands isn’t shrinking. In both stories, Jesus works the miracle of multiplication in the disciples’ very hands! Somehow, there seems to be enough to go around, group to group, giving each person enough to satisfy their hunger.

And more than enough! In both stories, we read that the leftovers are carefully counted: 12 baskets first, and 7 baskets later. In the first story, we read that Jesus was in Jewish country, speaking primarily to Jewish listeners. Peter remembers the picnic baskets of bread and fish left over, that there were 12 of them, and understands in this that Jesus came as the true Shepherd of the 12 tribes of Israel. In the second kingdom feast, Peter remembers the 7 baskets of leftovers collected. The Greek word for basket used here is the same word for basket in Acts, when Paul is lowered in a basket over the city walls to escape persecution. These are man-sized workbaskets, for carrying heavy loads. This is a wealth of bread, many feasts worth. But the second feast takes place in Gentile country, among the Roman Decapolis, and the crowds here would be mostly Gentile or Samaritan people. Another key detail Mark records is the number of baskets again, this time 7. In that world, 7 was a number of completeness, signifying wholeness, entirety. Mark writes these details down to show us that Jesus Christ is not only the King of the Jews, but he is the Emperor of the Whole World!

And the disciples were given the bread to distribute, and the baskets to collect; Jesus is directing them to rehearse the mission he has for them! Later on, he will send them into all the world with the good news of the Kingdom of God; these sacramental feasts are dress rehearsal for the grand enterprise that awaits them. The disciples of Jesus, then and now, are to be agents of Jesus’ great compassion.

The Bread of the Kingdom

But they didn’t understand. Somehow all of this escapes them, even after seeing it twice! Jesus’ heart breaks at the plight of the people, without any shepherds to lead them in paths of righteousness; his heart breaks again when after all of this, the Pharisees ask for a sign, refusing to accept the kingdom of God as it comes. And I imagine on that last boat ride, when Jesus warns them about the leaven of the Pharisees, and the leaven of Herod, that his heart breaks again when his disciples once again fail to grasp the lesson. They think to themselves, “Well, he must be saying this because we forgot to bring bread.” Rather than hear the lesson Jesus wants to teach them, they are worried about their stomachs! How quickly they have forgotten that Jesus multiplied the few loaves to feed the multitudes, not once, but twice! This isn’t about the scarcity of food. Quite the opposite!

Jesus is warning the disciples about the influences of the world. Leaven is a metaphor throughout Scripture referring to the way sinfulness spreads and puffs up within a person or a community. This is why the Passover feast in Exodus requires unleavened bread, bread without yeast, to remind the Israelites of the purity that God is calling them to. And Jesus playfully tweaks this popular understanding by announcing that the kingdom of God is like yeast; a small amount is mixed into the dough, and it changes the whole batch! So here in the boat with the disciples, Jesus returns to this idea, that leaven mixes in, spreads, and changes things. The leaven of the Pharisees changes the character of the community to one of hypocrisy, of legalism, of a preoccupation with the rules. The leaven of Herod, on the other hand, changes the character of the community to one of officiousness, violence, conquest, and scheming. Jesus warns his disciples against the transforming influence of the religious and political leaders of the day, offering instead his own influence, his own kingdom, as the better way. And he uses bread language to remind them of what they’ve seen: that Jesus Christ can multiply a few loaves to feed thousands, because Jesus Christ is himself the Bread of Life, given for the ones he loves.

The disciples didn’t get it at the time, but they certainly understood the significance of the bread after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus Christ offers himself to us, just as he offered himself to the crowds, and to his disciples, as the spiritual bread that feeds our souls, that satisfies all our spiritual appetites, if we will receive him as hungry people. That’s what we re-enact here at the Lord’s Table, when we take the bread, bless it, break it, and receive it from Jesus Christ, who is the host of this sacramental feast. And what we are eating and drinking is not bread and juice, not really; by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, this feast becomes for us the very presence of Jesus Christ, his real body and blood. And just as we will go to our homes to eat our Sunday dinner for our life and health and strength, it is at this table that our souls receive Jesus Christ for our spiritual life, our spiritual health, our spiritual strength. All that is asked of us is that we come hungry, believing that Jesus Christ himself is the only bread that truly satisfies. And as we receive the bread of life, the leaven of his kingdom works in us and changes us and makes us anew, to follow and serve him in all we say and do, to the glory of God the Father.

The Kingdom of Life (pt. 1)

In this morning’s text, we follow Jesus into forbidden territory. First, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee to Gentile country, which no good Jew would have done, if they could help it. Jesus risks becoming ceremonially unclean, and then makes sure he becomes unclean, by going near the tombs, to find a man possessed by a host of unclean spirits. The disciples, and we, follow our Lord of life into the kingdom of death, to witness together how he brings to us the kingdom of life.

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Living in the Kingdom of Death

As we enter into the story this morning, we discover that everyone Jesus meets is living in the kingdom of death. Everyone is beset with the consequences and conditions of death – physical, emotional, spiritual, relational.

The first person we meet living in the kingdom of death is the legion-possessed man. He comes out from among the tombs, and his story is evident. The remnants of chains hang from his arms and legs, broken by his brutal strength. His body is covered in scars and open wounds, put there by his own hand, tormented by the demons within. And if that’s not terrifying enough for a group of good Jewish boys to encounter, they quickly discover that this man is more than wounded and tormented, but he is weary and terrified himself from living among the tombs and graves too long, surrounded by death and decay.

The second group we meet, very quickly after meeting the man, are the demons inside him. They are compelled out of the tombs, their natural home, to come before Jesus, by his very presence. The will of the demons is to keep this man isolated from his family, his community, his work, and fixated on death – literally – by trapping him among the tombs. When no one else could bind this man, the demons are able to bind him among the dead.

The demons belong in the kingdom of death, it is their natural environment. This is made clear in how they respond to the presence of Jesus. Jesus’ very presence means they cannot continue to control this man; they see their end in his coming. They make one last request, to not be destroyed, but only to be sent away, so they can continue torturing and killing and wounding people. They wish to live in their own kingdom of death, even after being forced to recognize the kingdom of life. Seeing a herd of pigs, a large herd, they beg to be sent into the pigs. They beg Jesus, the Lord of life, to have one last chance at ruining this community’s livelihood: 2000 pigs would have been a core percentage of the whole community’s work and wealth! The last wish of the demons is to destroy not just this man, but the whole city, trapping them in the kingdom of death.

We find out in this morning’s story that this Gentile village in Galilee is also living in the kingdom of death. A legion of demons is keeping one of their own out among the tombs to torment him and wound him and terrify him, and they have no power to free him or protect themselves. The fear and anxiety this must produce among them is the reign of the kingdom of death at work. Fear is always the first sign of living in the kingdom of death. We don’t meet the Gerasenes until after the man is restored, and the demons are gone, and the people come out to see what has happened. The story reads that they saw the man in his right mind, dressed, fully restored, and that’s when they become truly terrified. Why were the people afraid of the restored man? Wouldn’t they be happy to have him whole, and sane, and back?

Not if the power that restored him is still among them. This power freed a man from a legion of demons, yes, but in doing so, this power also cost their village the core of its livelihood, the herd of pigs. This power has shown itself as a power to free and to ruin, and such a power as that is a dangerous, unpredictable power, a terrifying power. The people beg to be rid of this power, to be rid of demons and exorcisms, and just live as they have lived, under the reign of the kingdom of death. The influence of death over them for so long has blinded them to see life at work among them.

The Arrival of the King

And that’s what Jesus’ arrival means. Jesus’ coming to this village is the coming of life into the land of the shadow of death, and that life terrifies them. This power of life at work is not a wild and undisciplined power, fickle in its work and capricious in its will. That’s what the Gerasenes missed, the Legion understood all too well, and the freed man discovered first-hand. This power to free, to restore, to revive, arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, who serves his Father in heaven for his glory.

When Jesus arrives, the demons are compelled to come out of the tombs and bow before Jesus in worship. Throughout the gospel stories, the demons are among the first to worship Jesus for who he truly is. This may surprise us. But we are reminded that the contest is not between two rival kingdoms, equal and opposite in power and will. In a surprising revelation, we see here that Satan’s kingdom of death is subject to Christ’s kingdom of life, subservient to it, and the demons bow down – albeit reluctantly and bitterly – before their Lord.

The demons and the Gerasene people saw and understood the power of the king at work among them, and it inspired in them only fear. The kingdom of death was still reigning over them, and the arrival of a new kingdom with new rules and new goals meant only danger and change to this village. The man who was freed, however, experienced the goodness of the king, and the joy of the kingdom of life, and it inspired in him love. We see his response is very different from the demons or the Gerasenes.

Living in the Kingdom of Life

I think it’s interesting that the story follows the demons, and the townspeople, more than the changed man. I wonder if he bowed down again, this time with a joyful and grateful worship for this gift of freedom. I wonder how his appearance changed, if his eyes softened, and his wounds were healed, and his chains disappeared. But whatever the physical change, the internal change is complete. He is freed from the demons, and freed from the kingdom of death. He sees in Jesus Christ the king of life he has been craving, and begs not for Jesus to leave him in peace, but to go with Jesus, wherever he’s going. The restored man is brought fully into the kingdom of life, and he wants to become a disciple.

But the restored man is not permitted to come with Jesus. Jesus instead sends him home, to tell his story. This man – we don’t even know his name – is the first apostle, a Gentile! The word “apostle” means “sent one,” and this man embraces that charge whole-heartedly. He doesn’t only tell his story at home, but in all of the Decapolis, the ten major Gentile cities around the Galilee region.

This is the power of transformation in Christ, of being transplanted suddenly from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life. Some of the stories we hear about this transformation are like this: dramatic, sudden, complete. Addictions are broken in an instant; hatred and jealousy leave all at once; and the change in friends or work or lifestyle are immediate. And sometimes these people who are transformed by the gospel are the very people we would least expect. In fact, sometimes it’s the people we have had the hardest time with, the people we have been most hurt by. I wonder if that’s another reason why the Gerasenes were so afraid to have this man back. Here was a man who knew what it was like to be the home and puppet of not just one unclean spirit, but an army of them; no one can be the same after that. There’s no normal after an experience like that. And yet, Jesus sends him back to his own people precisely to tell them the story of his change, of how nothing is the same after experiencing the kingdom of life.

Transformed & Transforming

The nature of transformation is radical; the task of the transformed person is to go and transform others, to share not only the story of transformation, but also the effects of transformation, with the world! That’s the necessary order of events. We cannot be expected to transform others if we ourselves have not first been transformed. We must experience the kingdom of life, receive it, and enter into it, before we can invite others into and carry it into the world.

And we don’t do this alone! This work is our denomination’s vision for Reformed churches over the next 15 years. “Transformed & Transforming” is the work we are all called to be about, as those who have experienced the kingdom of life firsthand, and who are sent back to those still living in the kingdom of death. The Transformed & Transforming vision has three major components to it: Cultivating Transformation in Christ, Equipping Emerging Leaders, Engaging in Christ’s Kingdom Mission (repeat). These three pieces have a logic to them, a flow from one to the next that fits this morning’s story. The man experienced transformation in Christ; he was equipped and sent as a leader of transformation to his own people; and he engaged in Christ’s kingdom mission. We are called to be busy about these three works ourselves, in ways that are unique to our church family, to our history in this area, and to our local community.

We must listen, as the restored man did, to how Jesus Christ is calling us cultivate transformation in those who are still being touched by the kingdom of life. There are opportunities listed in your bulletins to grow and serve, to be transformed; take a look at those opportunities, and commit to one of them in the coming weeks.

We must listen to how Jesus is calling those of us called and equipped to be leaders, in whatever role God has given us. This vision is not age-specific. Just because you’re retired, and stepping back, does not give you an out when it comes to Christ’s call on your life. And just because you’re still in school doesn’t mean you don’t have gifts that Jesus is looking for to help build his kingdom. The youth are not the future of the church, as we often say they are. Youth are the present, as well! We are all called to lead in the unique roles God has given us.

And we must listen to how Jesus is sending us out, to engage in his kingdom mission right in front of us. We do not build the kingdom; Jesus does that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. And he is at work even now, maybe where we least expect it: among the Gentiles, the unclean, the tombs. Or maybe he’s building his kingdom of life under your very feet, if you only slow down and listen for the sound of transformation happening. We don’t always see transformation occur so suddenly, so fully; but if we learn to listen for it, we will see opportunities to work alongside Christ to help build his kingdom of life among us.

We are being transformed, brothers and sisters. Our communion with one another, our hearing the story of the kingdom told in Scripture, our living it out together in the week to come, all powered and directed by the Holy Spirit within us, all work together for our transformation. Just as we are being transformed, so we are called to offer our transformed lives to those still living under the shadow of the kingdom of death. Have courage, and go forth to be agents of the kingdom of life, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; amen.