Lent 2017

Lent 2017 - In a Tomb

There is no day quite like today. We remember Christ’s death and celebrate his resurrection throughout the year, but today provides a unique focus. This is the only day of the year on which God is dead. We sometimes hurry so quickly to the resurrection that we miss the opportunity to really reflect on the the concrete actuality of Jesus’ being dead. He joins us in the farthest reaches of our humanity—even beyond the vale and veil of death. We killed the Author of life. So in order to meditate on the whole mystery of Christ, today we rest—not in peace or enjoyment but in grief. 

  1. Read Mark 14:42–47.
  2. Ask God for the grace of holy grief.
  3. Join the mourners and make their grief your own. For them, this is loss, defeat, and despair. Pay attention to the care with which they bury their teacher and friend. Feel the linen wrapping around his lifeless body. Stand before the blunt fact of his tomb.
  4. Reflect on the reality of Jesus’ death. What does it mean that he truly dies? How does it affect the way you see death in your own life and world?
  5. Imagine walking through the empty garden where Jesus used to pray; dwell in his absence. Instead of the usual conversation, spend time in complete quiet. Pray without speaking, sitting in the silence of the garden.

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - To Golgotha

These final hours can be taken in from an overwhelming amount of perspectives. Each one offers insight into into the meaning of Jesus Christ crucified. Consider the crowds, who days ago were enthusiastically welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem. Consider the Jewish leaders who stir up the people into bloodthirsty mob. Consider Pilate and his political maneuvering. Consider Barabbas, the violent insurrectionist who is set free instead of Jesus. Consider the soldiers who revel in humiliating and torturing Jesus. Consider the women who follow and watch Jesus every step of the way. Consider Simon of Cyrene, a bystander stopped and made to bear Jesus’ burden. Consider all the onlookers who know only rumors and half-truths about what is going on. Consider the criminals crucified on his right and left. Consider the centurion who carries out orders and is grieved to realize who Jesus truly was and is.

Consider Christ in his silent suffering and isolation. In Mark’s gospel, he says only one thing: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Consider yourself, standing before the cross where the Son of God dies. 

  1. Read Mark 15:1–41.
  2. Ask God for the grace to know him more intimately, to love him more intensely, and follow him more intently.
  3. Choose one or a few of the characters listed above and immerse yourself in their part and perspective in the story.
  4. Reflect on Jesus’ pain and suffering and once again “how the divinity hides itself.” Why doesn’t he do as the people are taunting him—come down and show his power? Why is this how God accomplishes the redemption of the world? Meditate on this paradox of horror and beauty, hated and love, evil and goodness.
  5. Have a conversation with Jesus as he dies on the cross. What do you want to say to him or ask him? Also ask yourself these questions:
    1. What have I done for Christ?
    2. What am I doing for Christ?
    3. What should I do for Christ?

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - Council and Courtyard

Imagine the night Peter is having. At dinner Jesus says that he is going to die and that all are going to desert and deny him. Peter falls asleep in the garden and wakes up into a fight-or-flight scenario—and he does both, attacking and abandoning. Then, whether he is wandering in a stupor or he comes to his senses—shaking off the wine, the nap, and the adrenaline—he circles back to “follow him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest.” As Jesus stands before the priests and council, Peter faces his own trial. He gathers with others by a fire, probably barely aware of the conversations around him. His mind is consumed with confused questions: “What is happening? Why am I even here? Is it all over? Have I been believing a lie this whole time?” Suddenly a voice pierces the fog and stokes paranoia in his heart. He has been found out. Countless feelings could trigger his reaction: “There’s no point in both of us getting caught” or “He was a fraud anyway” or quite simply “I don’t want to die.” Whatever his heart, the cock crows and convicts him. The shadows of the night are broken, the truth sets in, and he weeps.

  1. Read Mark 14:53–72.
  2. Ask God for sorrow over your sin and Christ’s suffering.
  3. Follow Peter into the courtyard. Feel the warmth of the fire, and watch the scene in its dim glow. Hear the fear and denial in Peter’s voice as repeatedly swears and denies knowing Jesus. Hear the rooster announce the dawn. See Peter break down and weep in his shame and grief. What can you learn from Peter’s journey through this whole night?
  4. Reflect on Jesus’ refusing his right to defend, explain, or justify himself against false accusations. Why does he submit to this? Contrast that with Peter’s denial in the face of true charges. Why does he try to escape?
  5. In Luke’s gospel, after the cock crows, it says that “the Lord looked straight at [Peter].” Speak with Jesus, imagining this very gaze fixed on you, completely exposed before him.

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - In the Garden

First off, before we go any further—we are the disciples. Their place in the story is not to amuse or affirm us but to be a mirror showing us ourselves: foolish, forgetful, and faithless. We fail and need forgiveness. We already heard their declarations of devotion: “I will never leave you, Jesus.” Now we see them doze off in the garden (twice). We see them panic and abandon Jesus. If at any point in our reading we smugly assume that we would have done differently, we ironically find ourselves right in their shoes, saying “Surely not me, Lord.”

Consider the contrast as we turn to observe Jesus. While the disciples are confident and conflict-free about their faithfulness, Jesus agonizes “even to death.” Doubt and struggle are not symptoms of weakness but the way of strength. Doubt does not have to destroy; it is not the opposite of faith but rather a movement within faith. Without it, faith is likely as flimsy and naive as the disciples.

  1. Read Mark 14:26–52.
  2. Ask God to keep you awake and faithful.
  3. Feel the dark night settling heavy around you. See the grief in Jesus’ face; hear the distress in his voice. Follow him into his solitude in the garden, and watch him fall to the ground. Hear his anguish. Find the disciples asleep. Feel their drowsiness and Jesus’ disappointment. Do this all over again. Then watch as Jesus allows his betrayer to kiss him, stops the disciples from fighting back, and is led off abandoned and alone. Spend a few moments in the deserted garden, in the silence left behind by betrayal. 
  4. Reflect on Jesus’ inner struggle and his humble obedience. He wrestles with God and remains peaceable toward his enemies. Consider how the temptations he experienced at the beginning of his ministry return to him here in Gethsemane. Lastly, as Ignatius puts it, “consider how the divinity hides itself.” Jesus could show his power, conquer his accusers, and establish his authority in another way. Instead he submits to the Father’s will and sacrifices his own.
  5. Talk with Jesus in the garden about what he suffers and what he is about to do.

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - At the Table

Two dinners take place in this passage, both of which prepare the way to the cross. These table-stories embody the love between God and man in generous acts and physical elements—ointment, bread, wine. First a woman pours out a costly jar of ointment for Jesus. Then Jesus shares bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood, sacrificed for all. In an exercise contemplating love, Ignatius reminds us “love is manifest in deeds rather than words,” and that “love consists in a mutual sharing of goods.” In other words, love is active and generous. Love gives whatever it has. It does not keep to itself; it pours itself out for the sake of the one loved.

  1. Read Mark 14:1–25.
  2. Ask God to know and be grateful for all the loving blessings you receive in Christ.
  3. These stories are especially fruitful for Ignatius’ use of the senses and imagination. Sit at the table to witness the woman’s “wasteful” act of love. Smell the fragrant ointment. Hear the disciples’ protests. Then enter the upper room. Let the space take shape in your mind: the room, the table they sit at, the dishes they use. Hold the bread; chew and taste it. Take the cup; sip from it and swallow. Listen to Jesus’ words, and watch the disciples anxiously glance at one another. Imagine their actions and conversations.
  4. Reflect on how God communicates his love in creation—giving life, providing food, etc. Reflect on all Jesus is preparing to suffer and do—on the real tangibility of his love. He gives his own flesh and blood, which we remember in the physical act of eating and drinking. Lastly, think about Jesus’ faithfulness and forgiveness to those who are about to abandon him.
  5. Sit at the table with Jesus after eating. Thank him for all his gifts of love. Pray this prayer from Ignatius:
  6. “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will—all that I have and possess. You have given all to me; to you I return it. All is yours; do with it whatever you will. Give me your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - In the Temple

We usually break this passage up into bite-size lessons, but today we read them together as a whole day unfolding in and around the temple. Our distance from first century Jerusalem wears some of the sharp edge off of Jesus’ words. We must remember where he was and who he was talking to. For example, the widow’s two coins is a familiar image during offering time. “We should be more like her,” we say. In context, though, Jesus has just condemned the scribes who “devour widows’ houses.” He immediately turns around and basically says, “See? There’s one right now, being robbed of all she has.” He points her out not necessarily to commend her generosity but to condemn the injustice of the temple system. He levels these incisive critiques in the very heart of Jewish civic, economic, social, and religious life. Immerse yourself in this day in the temple with this mind—that Jesus did not deserve death, but he certainly did ask for it.

  1. Read Mark 11:27–13:44.
  2. Ask God for the grace of alertness and discernment.
  3. Walk through and around the temple with Jesus. Look at all the impressive architecture the disciples point out. Feel the rising outrage of the religious authorities. Why are Jesus’ words so offensive? 
  4. What is at the heart of all Jesus’ lessons? 
  5. Now walk with Jesus through your church. Try to transpose his teachings from first century Jewish society under Roman rule into your own social, political, and religious context. What questions and challenges does he have for us?

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - Hosanna

Today we pray through Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to prepare for Palm Sunday. Jesus chooses to ride in on a donkey, consciously fulfilling a prophecy of the Messiah:

“Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

This symbolized that Jesus was the anointed one sent by God to save Israel from their enemies. This is not the only prophecy Jesus fulfills here. He is also the long-awaited return of God’s own presence to the temple. Ezekiel envisioned this day:

“And there, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east; the sound was like the sound of mighty waters; and the earth shone with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city…and I fell upon my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (Ezekiel 43:2–5).

To summarize centuries of expectations and stories, Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem means that God has returned to deliver and purify his people and claim victory over their enemies. But when he shows up, he pronounces judgement not Israel’s enemies, but on Israel’s leaders. He declares the temple “a den of robbers” and compares Israel to a dead fig tree (both images taken from Jeremiah). A whole history hinges on this event, when Jesus both fulfills and confounds all expectations.

  1. Read Mark 11:1–25.
  2. Ask God to continue and complete his saving work in you.
  3. Walk into Jerusalem with cloaks and branches beneath your feet. Hear the crowds shouting What is their tone? Why do they greet Jesus like this? Hear Jesus’ puzzling curse to a tree. Enter the temple and feel his outrage as he flips tables and shuts down the business being conducted. Survey the confusion and chaos.
  4. Reflect on all the meaning and history packed into this short story. If Jesus is both the King sent to judge and deliver and the presence of God himself, what do his actions mean? What is the source of his outrage?
  5. Talk with Jesus after he “cleanses” the temple about things in your own life and world that need similar cleansing. Where do you see injustice, greed, or false and fruitless religion? Reflect on the consequences of such sins—how they affect our selves, our earth, and our fellow human beings. That Jesus “cleanses” means that he both judges these evils and saves us from them. Receive this by praying: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Lent 2017 - Have Mercy

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Two things stand out about this healing: the man is actually named—Bartimaeus—and Jesus asks him what he wants. This question stops most of us in our tracks. Our deepest needs and desires are obscure, even though they control the way we live. 

This we know: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Here is the catch: delighting in the Lord transforms the desires of our heart. We become like what we love. If our heart is shaped by loving God, of course he is going to give us what we want—because what we want is changed from selfish to generous, from destructive to life-giving.

  1. Read Mark 10:46–52.
  2. Ask God to search your heart and have mercy on you.
  3. Walk through Jericho with Jesus. Hear Bartimaeus’ cries for mercy and the hushing of the embarrassed crowd. See his persistence, his refusal to be suppressed and silenced. 
  4. Reflect on Bartimaeus’ intimate awareness of his need; he cannot avoid or deny it. This is the source of his unashamed cries for mercy. Reflect on Jesus’ willingness to meet that need.
  5. Answer Jesus’ question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Search your heart for what you really desire and expect from Jesus. Ask for the mercy you need. It may help to use the Examen (March 7).

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - The Rich Man

For the third time, Jesus shares with his followers that he is going to be handed over to death and will rise again three days later. The surrounding stories are rich with meaning, but they all reinforce Jesus’ teaching that the way of the Messiah is one of suffering and self-sacrifice. For example, a rich and righteous man asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life. He is not like the others trying to trap Jesus; he is genuinely seeking God’s way. He is not lost, but he is stuck. When Jesus calls him to sell everything he has, the price is too steep. Once again, the apostles are stuck in patterns of petty power struggles. To the outrage of the others, James and John sneak around to try to secure seats of power (still assuming that Jesus is planning a political revolt). Jesus tells them that they still don’t understand how things work. His “seat of glory” is the cross. His cup is sorrow. His baptism is death. 

This is not, however, just something Jesus had undergo so that we don’t have to. Honestly, most of us usually want what Jesus did to guarantee us a life of safety, security, and happiness. But he calls us to his same life of servitude, suffering, and sacrifice. Even if we do serve and suffer and sacrifice, we often try to make it an investment or exchange, vying for that seat on Jesus’ right or left. We are willing to sacrifice, but we want the reward. All of this invites us into Igantius’ radical third kind of humility—to actually want poverty and suffering for their own sake, in order to live like Jesus. If wealth itself is an obstacle to entering the kingdom, shouldn’t we prefer poverty? If Jesus came to be “slave of all,” shouldn’t desire to do the same?

  1. Read Mark 10:13–45.
  2. Ask God for the real desire to serve and suffer in his name.
  3. Imagine yourself in the midst of this series of stories. Watch the rich man run up and hear his enthusiasm. Observe Jesus’ face as he “looks at him and loves him.” Then watch the man walk away in disappointment. Hear Peter defend and commend himself—“Look what we did, Jesus!” Watch the quarrel unfold as James and John’s ambition is revealed. Throughout all of this, how does Jesus respond? What is his demeanor?
  4. Reflect on Ignatius’ third kind of humility—to desire to imitate Jesus in all things, actually preferring poverty rather than riches, insults and insignificance rather than honor, and to be considered foolish rather than wise. Consider the rich man. What kind of humility does he possess, and what is holding him back from growing? Consider Peter when he responds to Jesus’ teaching (10:28). What kind of humility does he possess, and what is he concerned with?
  5. Tell Jesus “what you want out of life.” Where do these desires and expectations come from? Ask him for the very thing James and John unwittingly requested: to actually share in his suffering and sacrifice. Pray with Paul’s words: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - Who is Greatest

Jesus tells his closest friends and followers that he is going to be killed, and they are too nervous and confused to even ask what he is talking about. Instead, they occupy themselves with petty arguments about who is the “greatest.” They are too busy with spats about status to hear Jesus’ message of service and sacrifice. They are still trying to secure their lives and reputations, still trapped in the patterns of comparison and competition that lead to division and hostility. The desire for credit creates cracks in the foundation of our unity. In their self-importance and insecurity, the disciples even want to stop and suppress others from doing good in Jesus’ name. This ties into Ignatius’ second stage of humility—to be indifferent toward wealth and honor, free from the need to be recognized and rewarded. This humility does not suppress but celebrates goodness regardless of who is responsible. Without concern for credit and contest, we can be free from mentalities of “you vs. me” and “us vs. them.” In this context, Jesus’ lesson on stumbling blocks and severing sinful body parts takes on a new dimension. It is about eliminating impulses to compete and compare—instead forgetting yourself and making sacrifices to practice peace. If your hand is holding down your fellow human being, cut it off. If your eye is fixed on what you don’t have, cut it out. If your ear is straining to hear what others think about you, cut it off.

  1. Read Mark 9:30–50.
  2. Ask God for the freedom to be indifferent to riches and recognition.
  3. Feel the disciples’ embarrassment—like children caught fighting about something they immediately realize is stupid. Feel their shame deepen as Jesus challenges them to amputate their ambition and “be at peace with one another.” 
  4. Reflect on the second kind of humility—to be unaffected by wanting honor, money, or even long life, instead desiring only whatever will best serve the Lord and save one’s soul (by losing it for Christ). What would it mean to be completely free of the impulse of compete and compare with others? No more basing your identity and worth on others, no more jealousy of peoples’ social media posts, no more eagerness to get credit for things, no more seeing other churches as competing with yours, no more self-seeking ambition, no more needing nice new things.
  5. Imagine Jesus with a child on his lap. Talk to him about becoming free in his “salty” way of service and self-sacrifice.

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Associate Minister at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, GA and the former Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC.

Lent 2017 - Transfiguration

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We might wonder what is actually happening in Jesus’ “transfiguration.” What seems like a confusing sidetrack is actually the culmination and confirmation of many threads in the story of salvation. As Mark’s gospel turns towards Jesus’ death and resurrection, his identity as God’s Son is re-affirmed. Many of these images—the mountain, the cloud, the voice of God, and Moses himself—evoke the story of God’s presence on Mt. Sinai. With these interpretative keys, the message is clear: Jesus himself is God’s presence on earth. For a brief moment, the apostles closest to Jesus are shown his true glory and authority—the same of God who delivered and led Israel. The Transfiguration is a glimpse into the mystery of God himself. It reveals Christ not only pulling together the whole salvation history of Israel but uniting the whole universe to God in himself: “With all wisdom and insight [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:8–10).

  1. Read Mark 9:2–29.
  2. Ask God for a greater glimpse into his glory.
  3. Walk alongside Peter, James, and John up the mountain. Watch in wonder as the veil between heaven and earth is pulled back and Jesus’ true appearance shines through for just a moment. Stand with them as Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, these almost mythological figures of God’s history with Israel. Hear Peter’s giddy confusion. Within a consuming cloud, hear the Father speak the same words you heard when Jesus was baptized.
  4. Imagine staring into the sun or through a dense fog. In what ways is this like encountering the presence of God? Reflect on Jesus’ insistence on secrecy. Why is his true identity—his divinity—something hidden?
  5. Squint through the splendid light, and step into the conversation between Elijah, Moses, and Jesus—probably speaking about what Jesus is about to suffer and accomplish. Talk to Jesus about your place in this massive and mysterious history of his people. 

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC


Lent 2017 - The Messiah

Today is a turning point in Mark’s gospel, when Jesus begins to speak openly about the trajectory his ministry his taking—toward suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. Throughout this week, in between other stories, Jesus will repeatedly try to get it into the disciples’ heads who is truly is and what is going to happen. In doing so, he turns upside-down our usual way of thinking about power, greatness, and success. Today, he confirms Peter’s claim that he is the Messiah, but immediately turns around to confront Peter about what he thinks that even means. For Peter, the Messiah suffering and dying makes no sense. For Jesus, it is exactly God’s way of doing things. Jesus beckons the whole crowd and throws down the gauntlet: “Following me means marching into your execution. You must die every day. You can’t run from suffering or seek to save yourselves."

Ignatius is relentless in his focus on Jesus’ way of suffering and self-sacrifice. In pursuit of becoming more like Jesus, he identifies three kinds of humility, respectively characterized by obedience, spiritual freedom, and actual preference for poverty and rejection in the world. We will reflect on these three stages this week as we listen to Christ’s call to follow him into suffering and death.

  1. Read Mark 8:27–9:1.
  2. Ask God for the humility and obedience to lose yourself.
  3. Hear the boldness of Peter’s confession: “You are the Messiah.” Then, as Jesus tells them he is going to suffer and die and Peter protests, hear the tone of Jesus’ rebuke: “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” As Jesus addresses the whole crowd, what is the vibe? Is there enthusiasm, confusion, outrage, or uneasiness?
  4. Reflect on Ignatius’ first kind of humility—to be so obedient that you would not violate God's word and will for anything, even to save your own life. How do you see Christ living this humility? How can it become real in your life?
  5. Listen to Jesus speaking to you: “If you want to become my follower, take up your cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Respond with your genuine questions and concerns. Don’t hold back. Tell him he’s a ridiculous masochist. Tell him you’re scared. Give him your whole and honest impression of his way of doing things.

Lent 2017 - More Bread and “Water”

Today may feel like deja vu. Jesus again multiples bread to feed thousands. He again uses his own saliva to heal. The repetitiveness is not without purpose. In between, we see the disciples continuing to misinterpret Jesus. He warns them about the subtle influence of Herod and the Pharisees; they miss the metaphor and think he is scolding them for forgetting bread (right after he just miraculously produced a feast of thousands no less). The disciples’ slow journey toward understanding is reflected in the healing that immediately follows. At first, the man starts to see “people, but they look like trees walking.” He gets a glimpse, but things are still blurry and obscure. His healing is gradual; it doesn’t sink in all at once. Progress in knowing, loving, and following God takes time and repetition. Usually, we are more like the Pharisees, demanding clear and certain proofs. Our inclination to revert to easy ways, simple truths, and comfortable life is much stronger than our drive to seek the Way, Truth, and Life.

  1. Read Mark 8:1–26.
  2. Ask God for eyes to see, as well as patience and protection from forgetfulness.
  3. Once again watch the bread multiply and the crowds feast. Once again feel Jesus’ saliva on your face. Revisit these kids of miracles in your imagination, letting them inform and transform your understanding of who Jesus is.
  4. Reflect on the way Jesus leads his followers—step by step, patiently, and sometimes being somewhat secretive. There is almost always ambiguity. How do you experience his guiding and teaching in your life?
  5. Talk with Jesus as if you are the blind man halfway to sight. (This is where we all are anyway, perceiving things “through a glass, darkly.”) Don’t ask for signs and certainties like the Pharisees do. Instead, ask him to help you to see exactly as much as you need to see and understand exactly what you need to know.


About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC

Lent 2017 - Table Scraps and Saliva

Jesus uses and blesses the ordinary elements of our world—even things we consider disgusting and undesirable. God does not just unite himself with the nice, clean, admirable parts of humanity; he takes it all—the dirt and the darkness. In a word, the Incarnation is vulgar. The grace of God himself is active in spit. Jesus showed yesterday that he isn’t above “bathroom talk.” In John’s gospel, he actually heals a blind man by making a miraculous mud pie with saliva and dirt. Nothing is too low. Nothing is excluded. There is no room for elitism in the gospel of Jesus. Remember this when reading the first part of today’s story.

  1. Read Mark 7:24–37.
  2. Ask God for his humble and generous heart that embraces all things.
  3. Sit at the table as the woman approaches. See her modest appearance and meek voice. And yet she is also bold. What is the tone of their conversation? Why does Jesus say something that seems so insensitive and even racist? Imagine the disciples' reactions. Then move on to observe this private healing. Feel Jesus fingers in your ears and (gross as it may seem) his spit on your tongue.
  4. What do these stories show you about Jesus and thew ay God works?
  5. Give Jesus thanks for his saving help. Ask him how to tell the story of his deliverance without restraint. Pray this portion of Psalm 40:9–10, singing along with the man who can now speak:

    “I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
    see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
    I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
    I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation” (Psalm 40:9–10).

    Repeat this shorter verse throughout your day: “Lord, open my lips; and my mouth will declare your praise” (Psalm 51:15).

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC

Lent 2017 - Eating and Washing

The human heart is like a river. It has both its source and its end in God, the Alpha and Omega. He is our Creator and the true fulfillment of all we seek and desire. Our heart is never still; it is always living and loving toward something. When we desire other things, more immediate or petty things, the currents of our heart spill over its banks toward some other destination. As streams split off and splinter the river, its flow is slowed and the water becomes stagnant and polluted. We must build up the banks of our heart and re-direct the flow of our desires back toward their toward goal: "Keep your heart with all vigilance; for form it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).  It is much easier to assign “unrighteousness” to some specific tangible thing than it is to discover the unrighteousness in the ambiguous depths and currents of one’s own soul. It is much easier to measure and control outer behaviors than to do the patient and painful work of purifying our the inner motives. Religious practices are only worthwhile insofar as they seek this goal. If they actually serve to obscure and neglect the heart, they do the double damage of deceiving us into thinking we are righteous when we are not (or vice versa).

  1. Read Mark 7:1–23.
  2. Ask God for the purity of heart to will and want only him.
  3. See the outraged Pharisees confront Jesus and his followers, then watch them react to Jesus' scathing response. Then observe Jesus' patience with the disciples’ confusion.
  4. Reflect on Jesus' single-minded devotion to the word and way of God. How does he distinguish between “God’s commandments” and “human traditions?”
  5. Practice the Examen today, using the guide from March 7. On step three, pay special attention to the things that stirred your emotions, desires, and gut-level reactions. Do you notice any of the things Jesus says come from the human heart (greed, lust, jealousy, deception, pride, or anger)? How do these things splinter and scatter your heart?

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC

Lent 2017 - Water

Water is a powerful and rich symbol in Scripture. It is both life and death—fear and faithfulness. In the beginning of creation, the Spirit broods over the waters. God sends a flood to wipe out and remake the earth. God delivers Israel from Egypt through the sea and swallows up their enemies behind them. Baptism symbolizes and summarizes all of these stories, as well as the ultimate story of Jesus' death and resurrection.

The sea can also symbolize for us the life of God himself. It is what it is—an unfathomable paradox of both stillness and activity, surface and depth. We can hardly harness it, let alone master it. Likewise, eternity is completely beyond our comprehension and control, and yet it is exactly the mystery into which we are welcomed. We are called not to "take control of our life" but to surrender and live beyond control. We die to ourselves and are reborn with the life of Christ.

  1. Read Mark 6:45–56.
  2. Ask God for trust that he is always who he says he is.
  3. Put yourself again in the disciples’ boat. The weather is picking up. Feel your muscles burn as you strain the oars against the wind. See the obscure figure approach on the water, and hear him call out, “Don’t be afraid. It is I.” Follow the disciples through their experience of terror, confusion, and astonishment.
  4. Imagine gazing out into a vast sea. Soak in its magnitude, its depth. Dwell in your inability to change, control, or even comprehend it. What feelings does this stir in you (fear, wonder, peace, captivation, etc.)? How do these feelings relate to the way you see God?
  5. Jesus walks on the water after withdrawing into solitude to pray. Go up on the mountain with him. Ask for greater faith and freedom from fear as he calls you deeper into the mystery of who God is.

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC

Lent 2017 - Bread

What was supposed to be a quiet retreat is swarmed by thousands of people. When the disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds away to find food, he insists that the they feed them—when they themselves have just returned from journeying with no money or food. What hey find isn’t hopeful: a child’s lunch. Nevertheless, the meal is multiplied by gratitude. Jesus gives thanks, breaks and distributes the bread—a sort of rehearsal of the meal he will share with his disciples before his death. Just as a feast for the multitudes is yielded from the breaking of few humble loaves, so also abundant life with God is yielded from the breaking of the body of Christ. We are all invited to receive this bread thankfully and by doing so receive eternal life. Christ multiplies his life in us so that we are never wanting. We have everything we need and more in him, the Bread of Life.

  1. Read Mark 6:30–44.
  2. Ask God for his provision and for a heart of gratitude.
  3. See the eager and helpless multitude—“sheep without a shepherd.” See the disciples growing tired and antsy. Watch Jesus give thanks for small portion, break the bread, and begin to distribute it. Take and taste the bread and fish. Watch the disciples pass out the food, while it mysteriously multiplies and never runs out. Look over all the leftovers that no one can even finish.
  4. Reflect on the helplessness of the crowd. What are they looking for? Notice how Jesus’ compassion overwhelms his desire for privacy and rest. Get into the disciples’ side of the story—what are they feeling, thinking, doing?
  5. Talk with Jesus as he breaks and distributes the bread. What in your life never seems like it is enough (time, money, energy)? Give thanks for exactly that thing, seeing it as a gift. Ask God that however much he has given you would be more than enough. Then let that thing go, and spend time focusing not on what you lack, but on all that God has given in his Son.

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC

Lent 2017 - On a Platter

While the apostles travel through the villages, Mark takes a detour in his gospel to talk about the fate of John the Baptist. Just like most prophets throughout Israel’s history, he had some critical things to say about the king, Herod. So through the plots and pressures of Herod’s wife, the king has John beheaded. Soon the rumblings of a Messiah at the edges of the world begin to make their way to the ears of the powerful. In the paranoia that can only come from power and guilt, Herod fears that Jesus is actually John, back form the dead. 

  1. Read Mark 6:14–29.
  2. Ask God’s peace to finally overcome all worldly power and persecution.
  3. Imagine the confrontation between wilderness-man John and King Herod. Maybe you wince at John’s boldness. It seems excessive. Why does John call him out? Now get into Herod’s head—from his hesitation and hand-wringing, through the social and political pressure, to his concession to simply have John killed. What feelings, fears, and priorities could possibly lead him to this point? 
  4. Read and reflect on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12. What are the “real-world” consequences you see for being poor, grieving, restless of justice, merciful, meek, pure, peaceful, and persecuted? What actually happens to people who are like this? On the other hand, what does God promise for these people? How do you reconcile and make sense of this?
  5. Talk with God about the relationship between God’s people and today’s “powers-that-be.” Ask about the ways in which we are supposed live against the grain. Pray through each of the beatitudes, and pray that they more and more characterize your life and community.

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC

Lent 2017 - The Sick

Mark intentionally weaves these two stories together. Jesus is approached by two people in need of his healing power. One is a figure of status and stature in the community. The other is not even give a name. One is leader in the synagogue, the center of Jewish society. The other, according to Jewish custom, is excluded from society because of her sickness. One summons Jesus to his home. The other must creep near him in secret. One is likely financially secure. The other is destitute from spending everything on medical bills.

But regardless of everything else, both are shaken to their foundations by need. We remember the haunting and humbling truth of Ash Wednesday: “you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Sickness and death find us all, regardless of wealth, wisdom, privilege, security, health, and freedom. As the psalmist puts it, “Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.” (Psalm 49:13). But this story reminds us that Jesus’ power, mercy, and grace have also no boundaries. He indiscriminately bestows life on all. Even death, the great boundary that we all share, is undone by his resurrection. When we pray for healing, we know that whatever happens, resurrection is our ultimate hope.

  1. Read Mark 5:21–43.
  2. Ask God for insight into the things that unite all of humankind.
  3. Look into the face of Jairus. Feel the despair of a parent whose child is dying. Look into the face of the woman. Feel the desperation of someone who has been sick without answers for twelve years.
  4. Dwell on the contrast between Jairus and the bleeding woman. Now dwell on their likeness in two things: sickness and grace. Neither can escape the effects of sin and death. Both are made whole by Jesus. Meditate on the boundless vastness of Christ’s grace. Imagine specific places and people it can reach.
  5. Imagine yourself bowing before Christ—even physically get on your knees—just as both Jairus and the woman did. Realize your own need for grace, and ask for whatever healing you need. Hear him respond to you, “Do not fear; only believe."

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC

Lent 2017 - The Legion

Here is a man living among the dead, trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. He is a burden to his community, who have tried everything to keep him from hurting himself and others. This is a poignant portrait of spiritual desolation—“darkness of the soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to  what is low and earthly, restlessness arising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, hope, and love.” This man seems utterly abandoned to desolation, but he is not without hope. Ignatius says that one of the reasons God allows desolation is "to give us a true knowledge and understanding of ourselves,” specifically to know—not just in our head but in our hearts—that we are completely incapable of attaining peace, joy, and love by ourselves. All of this is a gift of God’s grace. In the cave of desolation, we learn to turn the darkest parts and patterns in our soul over to the healing of grace.

  1. Read Mark 5:1–20.
  2. Ask God to restore the lost and hurting (including yourself) to "the land of the living” (Psalm 116:9).
  3. Walk into the shadows and stale air of the demoniac’s cave. See the scars all over his skeletal frame. Feel the weight of his shackles and chains. Hear his haunting howls echo through the cavernous tombs. Do you see yourself reflected in him any way?
  4. Imagine speaking with the man after he is set to rights. What does he understand about who Jesus is and what he has done for him?
  5. Talk with Jesus by the boat as he begins to leave as if you are the person who has just been given freedom and consolation. Even as you cling to him, what does he tell you to go and do?

About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC