How to Use this Devotional

Each entry in this collection includes a passage from Mark’s gospel and a reflection on that passage written by one of the clergy of the Merion Deanery. Some of the entries also include a prayer that is pertinent to the theme of the reflection. At its heart, this devotional is intended to help readers do the work of self-examination. While there is no “right” way to use this resource, but you may want to try the following approach:

  • Begin by reading the gospel passage slowly and carefully, paying attention to those words that stand out to you. When you finish reading, pause for a few minutes and think about those words or phrases that touched your heart. Read the passage again, noting whether you experience the phrases you noticed before differently.
  • Read the reflection. Consider the ways the reflection changes your understanding of the gospel text.
  • Finally, take a moment to pray, either with the text or prompt provided, or with your own words. Think about what God is calling you to do in response to this passage from Mark’s gospel. How does it change your perspective on the world?

February 25, 2018

The Second Sunday in Lent

Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Mark 8:31-38

 

Jesus is a realist. He knows the ways of the world, and he knows the ways of God. He refuses to deny either reality.

Peter is also mindful of both – somewhat. As do many of us – and maybe all of us at times in our own lives – Peter wishes to ignore the inevitable collision between the two. In this exchange with the Master, he opts for the comfort of encouragement over agreement with Jesus’ conclusion of the inevitable. In his immediate and definite response, Jesus compares Peter to Satan.

Who is Satan? We meet him in the first chapter of this Gospel. Satan is the tempter of Jesus. Satan’s chief goal is temptation … to forsake the truth of God’s reign in order to achieve earthly status and comfort.

In this brief encounter, we witness the intensity of Jesus’ harsh retort to Peter, a harshness perhaps born of the power of temptation upon Jesus to claim the comfort of his own immediate human worldly wishes.

We are thus enabled by the Son of God to come to ourselves as we really are at this moment. Through God’s loving acceptance and parental-like strength, we are then invited to confront the challenges of our own lives with an outstretched hand to God’s hand, leading each of us home, again and again.

The power of this faith increases in us as we come to our God continually with our faith, hope and love. This life is why we strive especially in this season to keep a holy Lent.

 


O God, whose glory is always to have mercy, bring us again and again to embrace and ever hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The Rev. Bill Wood
Saint David’s Church, Radnor

February 24, 2018

Saint Matthias the Apostle

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” Mark 14:32-34

 

Jesus is moving closer to the hour. In these few words we can feel his emotions, his human emotions, as the full impact of submitting to God’s will hits him. While he invites the companionship of his disciples, he also seems to be distancing himself from them at each step. First, he leaves most of the disciples to just sit – no other command or thought was given. He takes a few disciples further along the path and the command to them is to stay in that place and keep awake as he moves into a solitary place – literally and figuratively. But at the same time, he knows that the disciples need to prepare themselves. What was going through the minds of the disciples? I’m sure they had no comprehension of the brutality that was about to happen. Jesus did not ask them to pray, just to sit and keep awake. If I put myself in this space, I would like to think I’d be concerned about Jesus’ words “I am deeply grieved,” words uttered by the man I had come to believe was the Messiah. Would I have gone after him? Would I have stayed awake in prayer? Would I not have sensed anything wrong – to the point of being able to quickly fall asleep? I don’t know what I would have done, but I can engage in this deep need for prayer for Jesus as he comes to realize the full impact of submitting to God’s will; and for each of us as we experience (and accept) God’s will in our lives. Lent allows us the opportunity to do both.

 

The Rev. Karen Kaminskas
Saint Mary’s, Ardmore

February 23, 2018

Friday after the First Sunday in Lent

Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. Mark 14:29-31

 

The disciples were with Jesus at the Last Supper when he startled them with these words: “…one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me”. We are told that “They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, Surely you don’t mean me?” Can you imagine being told that one of your intimates was about to betray the person around whom your life had centered for three years?

Yet there was a bit of the disingenuous about the disciples’ reaction. Their question was a denial; it wasn’t, “Well, it’s not me, Lord.” Rather it was, “You don’t mean me (do you)?” This subtle question reveals the reality that each of them understood that they were capable of the betrayal. While it was Judas who would betray Jesus to the authorities, the other disciples also betrayed him. Peter would betray him sitting around a blazing fire warming himself outside the High Priest’s house. His betrayal took the form of the threefold denial of knowing Jesus. All of the other disciples would flee from the authorities and leave Jesus abandoned to face his death alone.

In Lent we are asked to look at our lives and their estrangement from our Lord. It is a period of reflection and repentance. It is also a time of hope and mercy. Just as each of the disciples betrayed our Lord, so do we when we break the bond of love which belongs to God alone – “you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength.” Yet we also ask the question, “Is it I, Lord?” afraid to admit the answer, “Yes it is I.” When I was in elementary school, the Dominican nuns taught that it was our sins that crucified Jesus, and that God’s love was so great that even if there was no other sin than mine, Jesus would have gone through with the Passion. In the great Holy Week hymn, “Ah, holy Jesus” we sing the words, “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus,” I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.”

Lent is another chance our Lord gives us to make those changes which allow us to be reconciled to himself, but to do that requires us to look into the depths of our souls, to look into the mirror of our souls, because that will give us the honesty to answer the question the disciples posed, “Surely you don’t mean me?” Reconciliation requires change and that is frightening; yet it the only way forward. During Lent the refrain from the song, “Man in the Mirror”, sums up this inward introspection beautifully, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/I’m asking him to change his ways/And no message could have been any clearer/If you wanna make the world a better place/Take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

Let us join Jesus at the rock and pray for the courage to change by reconciling our lives with God. This God who brought Jesus from his great ordeal to the day of resurrection and will bring us from the death of sin to a new life of grace. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 103, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins/nor rewarded us according to our wickedness./For as the heavens are high above the earth/so is his mercy great upon those who fear him./As far as the east is from the west,/so far has he removed our sins from us./As a father cares for his children so does the LORD care for those who fear him.”

 

The Rev. Frank Wallner
Saint John’s, Lower Merion

February 22, 2018

Thursday after the First Sunday in Lent

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Mark 14:26-28

 

It struck me as rather odd that Jesus would be singing on this night, a night of betrayal, following a last supper, knowing the agony and abandonment that lay ahead. I don’t recall any other place in the Gospels that mentions Jesus singing. So, it caused me to research what he might have been singing following this Passover meal. I learned that throughout the meal portions of Psalms 113 – 118 (the “hallel” psalms) would be sung and that it is likely that Psalm 118 would be sung at the conclusion. That psalm begins with the words “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” In my Bible, this psalm is entitled: “A Song of Victory.” Jesus’ life is a song about the steadfast love of the Lord and he sings it to the very end. It is his life’s composition and even in this very dark moment, his proclamation does not waver. He knew God’s love would be victorious.

We all find many reasons to doubt God’s love. We can become deserters, who flee when the crushing weight of life is too much, when our disappointments mount and our hearts are broken open by betrayal. Lent is a time to hear again Jesus’ song to “the steadfast love of the Lord.” For no matter what happens, his love is victorious and Jesus always goes before us to Galilee, to the places where we live and work and play and he will keep us close and be the shepherd of our souls.

 


I invite you to pray Psalm 118 sometime this day.

 

The Rev. John W. Sosnowski
Christ Church, Ithan

February 21, 2018

Wednesday after the First Sunday in Lent

And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14: 22-25

 

Our unbelieving, “impious” age tends to have a problem believing in the miraculous. This ought not to surprise us: The human mind, in its fallen state, generally has a problem believing in perfectly believable things. The deceit of self-love, our delusional attempts to make ourselves “as gods, knowing both good and evil” blind the mind and soul to the realities of God’s truth surrounding us in the order of his creation and those more perfectly revealed through the prophets and, in these last days, by His only begotten Son. Indeed the Son of God was incarnate to “destroy the works of the devil” whose aim, from our infancy, has been to convince us of this very lie: That divinity consists in rebelling against God; that in knowing something other than God, we can be “as gods”. And yet we are left with this simplicity of this truth: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” If our end is to be the divine life, then it can only be by the measure of God’s righteousness, it can only be accomplished by our conforming to the image of God and not on the basis of walking apart from God. That God condescended to take our nature upon Himself to teach us this truth, to become our righteousness, is made all the more profound to us when we consider that though our vain attempts to be as God separate us from Him, yet his humbly becoming a man and emptying Himself of His Glory accomplishes the end of making us like Him.

Lent is the Church’s annual reminder to us of the truth of the fall in us; of the truth of our sin and the greater truth and reality of God’s love, witnesses in the redeeming work Jesus Christ on the Cross. George Herbert, that great master of Anglican divinity, reminds us of these two fundamental principles, these “two vast, spacious things” in his poem “The Agony.”

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

 

The Rev. Edward Rix
All Saints, Wynnewood

February 20, 2018

Tuesday after the First Sunday in Lent

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ Mark 14:17-21

 

One thought I have each Lent is how often the focus is on the “one” who betrayed Jesus. But reading between the lines, every one of the twelve were, in all likelihood, dipping their bread in the bowl as well as Judas, and all of them abandoned Jesus at the end of his earthly life. I find Lent puts the reader into the story, and forces us confront the realities that make us most uncomfortable. When did we see someone arrested unjustly? When did we see someone in trouble and run scared? When did we sell someone out for money? Our actions matter. The practice of being at the Eucharist each week takes on a new immediacy as we realize that we eat and drink with Jesus at least each Sunday, and then betray him throughout the week. This realization is not a guilt trip, but an opportunity to love and serve the Lord and recommit to the radical table fellowship we share, in worship, with one another.

 


Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name. Amen.

 

The Rev. Michael Giansiracusa
Saint Mary’s, Ardmore

February 19, 2018

Monday after the First Sunday in Lent

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. Mark 14:12-16

 

This passage describes the events of the afternoon before Jesus was arrested and crucified. Jesus had somehow already initiated the preparations for the Passover meal, and here he instructs two of his disciples to complete the preparations for this last, crucial meal with his friends. In order to complete the task given them, the disciples had to keep their eyes open for the man carrying the jar of water, and carefully follow Jesus’ instructions.

As twenty-first century followers of Jesus, our task follows the same pattern. In Scripture, we have the general outline of Jesus’ instructions for us, summarized for us in our baptismal covenant. The general outline of the task Christ has given us includes continuing in the apostle’s teaching, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers…persevering in resisting evil…proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ…seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace among all people (BCP, 304-5). Yet, in order to understand how each of us is to apply this general outline to the specifics of our daily life, we must keep our spiritual eyes open. We must look for those mysterious signs indicating that the Spirit of Christ has gone ahead of us, preparing the way for us to do God’s will. Lent is a time to slow down and cultivate those spiritual senses that allow us to see where Christ is moving, what Christ has been preparing for us to do to further God’s kingdom. Through Scripture reading, regular participation in the sacraments, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines we are learning see what God is already doing in God’s world. When we can perceive that, all we have to do is get on board.

 


A prayer for mission, to be said after receiving the Eucharist
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, we thank you for the Sacrament of your son, Jesus Christ, his body in this bread, his blood in this cup. We thank you that you sent your Holy Spirit to reveal the light of Christ’s presence to us in Word, in Sacrament, and in the prayers. May your Spirit kindle in our hearts, warmed by the Sacraments, the fire of Pentecost. Send us out now to do your will. As you have fed our spirits, feed also our imaginations to see you acting the world, so that we may witness to your great and mighty deeds. Amen.

 

The Rev. James Stambaugh
Church of the Holy Apostles, Penn Wynne