29 February 2012

The Second Sunday in Lent - 4 March 2012

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
St. Mark 8:31-38

Background: Names for God
Several names for God surface as we read through the cycles of the Pentateuch (The Five Books of Moses).  Some will be familiar, while others will not be, having been translated into terms in English, that mask their meaning or original usage.  The most common is YHWH, which forms an unpronounceable word that is now transliterated as Yahweh.  Since it was not to be pronounced, the reader would substitute Adonai (Lord) instead.  Other forms and names are: Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, (I will be what I will be) spoken to Moses at the Burning Bush.  We see another name for God, Yah, especially in proper names that end in God’s name, such as Elijah, or Adonijah, or in the ending of the phrase Hallelujah (Praise be to God.)  Elohim (translated as “God” although it is actually a plural) is often joined with the word Tzevaot – of hosts.  We know this name from the old translation of the Sanctus, the holiness of God, was located in Lord God of Sabaoth (of Hosts).  Go to a synagogue and you will hear the name HaShem (the Name) used in conversation about God, whereas in prayer to God the term Adonai is used.  El is an ancient near eastern term for God, usually used in combination with other terms that further describe God, such as elohe Yisrael (the God of Israel), Elyon (Most High God), Shaddai (God Almighty?) this is an Ugaritic term, around which there is no small debate. There are many other variations on this name. 

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

God said to Abraham, "As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."

Several covenants are made between God and Abraham.  In a previous chapter (15:18) God cuts a covenant with Abraham, reflecting the ancient practice of dividing a sacrificial animal in two, and both parties to the agreement walking through the midst of the animal.  Here God gives a covenant to Abraham, promising that Abraham will be the “ancestor of a multitude”.  Various commentators make a great deal of the name change (Abram – Abraham), an archaic form followed by a more modern form.  What may be happening here is not so much theology as the weaving of two traditions about the patriarch and the matriarch, one tradition used archaic forms while the other used more recent forms.  The changing of names was common in this period, especially among the royalty, where individuals would adopt a “throne name” to symbolize the main point of their rule.  The point in the lectionary, however, is the promise given to both Abraham and Sarah, which promise is tied up in the covenant that God makes with them.  This theme of the covenant will reverberate throughout the Lenten readings.

Breaking open Genesis
  1. What do you understand by the word “covenant”.
  2. What do Abraham and Sarah get out of this covenant?  What does God get?
  3. What is the future of your family?

Psalm 22:22-30 Deus, Deus meus

Praise the LORD, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.

For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.

My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

For kingship belongs to the LORD; *
he rules over the nations.

To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.

My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the LORD'S for ever.

They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.

We will revisit the initial verses of this psalm during Holy Week, when it is sung during the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday.  The final verses of the psalm, which form the response to this morning’s readings, focus on God’s deeds done for the benefit of the author.  Thus it is a psalm of praise, rather than one of intercession.  The horizon of the psalm extends from the past (during which God’s good deeds were experienced) extending into an unknown future, where God’s grace is expected.  Key to that expectation is the saving deeds of the past that are made known to succeeding generations.

Breaking open Psalm 22
  1. When you praise God, do you know why you are?
  2. Have you ever praised God in the company of others (outside of Church?)
  3. Do your descendants either know or have a love of God?

Romans 4:13-25

The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations") -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become "the father of many nations," according to what was said, "So numerous shall your descendants be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith "was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

In this reading we see the reason that the framers of the lectionary chose the first reading for the day.  Abraham is Paul’s example of the one who lives in faith.  Abraham becomes the bridge between his descendants and the gentiles who are Paul’s audience, and in Abraham, Paul sees all the force of the Covenant that God gives.  Paul uses the story as an example of the difference between the Law and the Promise.  Paul’s view is that the Law does not provide for a future other than judgment and suffering.  The Promise, however, provides for a future of faith and connection with God.  The whole experience of both Abraham and Sarah become examples of the church of not only how to live, but how to be clothed in the promise – and to be reckoned as justified.

Breaking open Romans
  1. Paul sees Abraham as one of the prime examples of faith.  Whom do you see as such an example?
  2. Who are “the many nations” of whom Abraham is the father?
  3. How does Paul compare us, as Christians, to Abraham?

Mark 8:31-38

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

As we hear this Gospel today, we need to hear in our mind the preceding pericope in which Peter, at Caesarea Philippi, announces his belief that Jesus is the Messiah.  Now in these verses, Jesus delivers up the costs of such a belief.  He announces his first Passion Prediction to the disciples, and Peter objects, thus setting up a pattern in Mark of Prediction, Misunderstanding, Instruction.  It is a pattern that stretches across the whole spectrum of the disciples’ experience with and of Jesus.  Peter’s objections to Jesus’ “bad talk” is met with a terse, “Be gone, Satan!” which is soon followed by the rationale and teaching that is necessary to understand God’s intent.  Both Sarai and Abram laugh at God’s promise of an heir.  Like Peter they misunderstand God’s power and intent.  Perhaps Peter stands in as Jesus’ straight man, but it is he, in all of his misunderstandings and foibles who will be the Rock of the Church.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why does Jesus rebuke Peter so sharply?
  2. What is Jesus attempting to tell his followers?
  3. What does it mean to deny yourself?  How do you understand that request?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

23 February 2012

The First Sunday in Lent - 26 February 2012

Genesis 9:8-12
Psalm 25:1-9
I Peter 3:18-22
St. Mark 1:9-15

Background: Covenant
The Hebrew word for “Covenant” appears 286 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and represents an important concept in both Judaic theology and later in Christian theology.  Its roots are in the Ancient Near East where covenants were made between peers, or between non-peers, with conditions or without conditions, in a religious context, or attested to by local deities, or absent all of that.  There are several prominent stories in the Hebrew Scriptures that illustrate the various covenants addressed to the patriarchs such as Noah, Abraham (who had at least 4 separate covenants), Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David.  Several writers in the Hebrew Scriptures take aspects of covenantal terms, and shape further theological statements around them.  One such idea is the notion of blessings and curses; another is the notion of natural witnesses.  In the blessings and curses idea blessings are assigned to one or both parties should they keep the terms of the agreement, curses are assigned when they do not.  St. Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount is written in this style.  Often covenants will be witnessed by “the heavens and the earth” or other natural elements.  Our first reading for this morning is the Noahic Covenant.

Genesis 9:8-17

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

This reading, taken from the latter parts of the Noah Flood Story, mirrors the Mesopotamian flood hero Utnapishtim, a principal character in the Gilgamesh Epic.  The theme of life (the gift of the gods) and the inevitability of death is the major theme of this work.  There are several themes and traditions that are interwoven in the biblical version, and here the focus is on God’s promise (covenant) not to destroy the earth with a flood – and to grant life.  One aspect to this story is its etiological nature – a story told to explain a natural occurrence or event.  Here it is the rainbow, to which the story supplies a theological purpose.  The event also functions as the cusp of a new era, during which God plays a different role over against humankind.  This subtext is the probable reason the reading is included on the First Sunday in Lent.  It anticipates the readings in the Great Vigil of Easter in which the Flood becomes a type of Baptism.

Breaking open Genesis
  1. What is the point of the Flood Story for you?
  2. What is the point of the “rainbow ending”?
  3. How has God kept his promise?

Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

Show me your ways, O LORD, *
and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

Gracious and upright is the LORD; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.

All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

In this psalm, the psalmist takes a long view, casting his vision to his youth.  From that vantage point (verse 7) he confesses his “offenses” and his “crimes” (Alter), and pleads with God for understanding and mercy.  The psalm begins with a startling phrase, “I lift up my soul”.  The word for “soul” is in Hebrew an expression of “essential existence” or “breath”.  Thus he not only lifts up a conceptual part of himself, but rather his very being.  In line with the season, the psalmist requests God’s instruction, show me your ways, and having walked these new paths of God’s own design, the request is made for God’s mercy and kindness.  The psalmist seems to have a notion of self not dissimilar to that of Luther’s notion of simil justs et pecator (at the same time justified and sinner) with his phrase Good and upright is the Lord. Therefore he guides offenders on the way.

Breaking open Psalm 25
  1. What were the “sins of your youth”?
  2. How has God helped you to deal with them?
  3. What kind of instruction or paths has God provided for you?

1 Peter 3:18-22

Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you-- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

This is a rich text, full of several themes and comparisons.  It begins with the dichotomy of “flesh” and “spirit”, and “righteous” and “unrighteous”.  Thus Jesus shared flesh with us so that we might share life in the Spirit with him.  Jesus (the righteous) dies for the sake of the Gentiles (the unrighteous).  In a happy serendipity, the author recalls Noah and his family (see the first reading) and views their salvation in the ark as an example of the efficacy of Baptism.  A similar contrast is made between cleansing (washing away dirt) and the cleansing of Baptism (a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Breaking open I Peter:
  1. How are you righteous in your living?
  2. What unrighteousness burdens you?
  3. Did you baptism make a difference – do you look back on it for strength?

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

The themes of the first and second readings for today flow into Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan, and the Temptation. If Noah’s covenant with God marks the beginning of a new relationship with God, a new era of revelation, then Mark’s account of the Baptism marks a similar division and horizon.  The signs at Jesus baptism are personal, only known and experienced by him.  These markers are important: 1) The opening up of the heavens, 2) the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, 3) the appearance of a “dove” (a symbol of Israel, and 4) The heavenly voice.  This personal revelation to Jesus is in keeping with Mark’s keeping of “the Secret” of who Jesus really is. 

Mark’s temptation is rather brief, and has a different purpose than that of Matthew or Luke.  In Mark’s temptation, Jesus is the conqueror over the evil spirit of this age, another expression of the rift in time seen in the “opening up of the heavens.”  Mark’s account of the temptation is not so much reportage as it is a mythological vision of the mission of Jesus.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How does Mark reach back to the past and forward to the future to speak about Jesus?
  2. In what ways is Peter naïve?
  3. What is meant by the secrecy in Mark?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

21 February 2012

Ash Wednesday - 22 February 2012

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 103:8-14
II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Background: Ashes
The imposition of ashes has deep roots in the usage of the Hebrew Scriptures and perhaps other cultures as well.  It was a way of signifying to others mourning, or of penitence as well.  There are examples of this practice in most of the cultures of the Ancient Near East.  The biblical witness is full of examples as well.  Readings from Job (42:3-6) and Jeremiah 6:26 (O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes.  Daniel (9:3) mentions the practice as well (I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.)  The ancient practice is tied to what is expected during Lent, the ashes, the sackcloth (seen in many an English parish as the “Lenten Array” that hides the altar and its decorations, and the fasting that can be a part of an individual’s Lenten devotion.

Joel 2:1-2,12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
 sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
 Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, 
for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near--
a day of darkness and gloom,
 a day of clouds and thick darkness!
 Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes; 
their like has never been from of old,
 nor will be again after them
in ages to come.
 Yet even now, says the LORD,
 return to me with all your heart,
 with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
 Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
 slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
 and relents from punishing.
 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, 
and leave a blessing behind him,
 a grain offering and a drink offering 
for the LORD, your God? 
Blow the trumpet in Zion; 
sanctify a fast;
 call a solemn assembly;
 gather the people. 
Sanctify the congregation;
 assemble the aged; 
gather the children,
 even infants at the breast.
 Let the bridegroom leave his room,
 and the bride her canopy.
 Between the vestibule and the altar
 let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.
 Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD, 
and do not make your heritage a mockery, 
a byword among the nations.
 Why should it be said among the peoples,
 `Where is their God?'"

If you remove the yoke from among you, 
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
if you offer your food to the hungry
 and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
 then your light shall rise in the darkness 
and your gloom be like the noonday.
 The LORD will guide you continually,
 and satisfy your needs in parched places,
 and make your bones strong; 
and you shall be like a watered garden,
 like a spring of water,
 whose waters never fail.
 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; 
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
 you shall be called the repairer of the breach, 
the restorer of streets to live in.

Written to explain and to apply an eschatological point of view on a natural event (a plague of locusts) this passage from Joel is intended for everyone who will listen to him.  All conditions of men and women, and all ages as well are mentioned by the prophet as he asks them to ponder the disaster that has happened.  It is not like the disaster that their forebears understood with the invasions from Babylonia, but rather a disaster seen and understood in nature – in the creation that God provided.  How then, the prophet wonders, does one react to the difficulties of creation?  What Joel prescribes is our prescription for a holy Lent: a fast, notice to all people, blessings for all, weeping and prayers.  The prophet will in the latter chapters of the book describe the situation in end-time terms.  For now, however, he is content to comment on the devotion of our daily lives, regardless of our circumstance. 

Breaking open II Kings:
  1. When difficult things happen to you, do you feel as though they were a sign from God?
  2. How do you determine what the meaning of these events are?
  3. How do you alter your living during Lent?

Psalm 103:8-14 Benedic, anima mea

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.

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.

For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

In this psalm the psalmist records a discourse intended for his soul and inner being.  In verse one, which is not used here, we get the clue, “Bless, O my being (nephesh – breath, soul, interior existence), the Lord, and everything in me, God’s holy Name.”  His musings about what God is, does, and expresses, are not unique to this particular psalm.  Verse 8 (The Lord is full of compassion…) is a quotation from Exodus 34:6, where God explains God’s being to Moses.  The psalm makes promises based on the covenant between God and the people God has chosen.  It is an agreement, indeed a relationship, that has as its basic assumption a life lived in God’s forgiveness.  The remaining verse underscore this theme over and over.  God understands the difficult of our living.  In verse 9, the author explains God’s awareness and remembrance that we are dust – a theme appropriate for this day.

Breaking open Psalm 103:8-14
  1. Do you have some sins or behaviors for which you cannot forgive yourself?
  2. Does God forgive you?
  3. How does God act as a loving parent for you?

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

"At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you."

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul’s usual hallmarks of both listing and contrasting are evident in this reading.  The tone is set by the remark that Paul makes about the nature of Jesus, made sin for us, yet never having actually experienced it.  Paul’s relationship with Jesus was accomplished after the “acceptable time” (the crucifixion and the resurrection), and now it is his ministry and one that he commends to us as well that is to be accomplished.  The context of this ministry is in the midst of hardships, and goodness.  Living and serving Christ in the midst of this knowledge and proclamation, we see contrasts in our life (as dying, and see – we are alive!).  Thus in the midst of life, on this day we remember the death that awaits us as we receive both ashes and forgiveness.

Breaking open Corinthians:
  1. How has God’s grace changed your life?
  2. Have you seen this grace at work in the lives of others?  How?
  3. What have you endured for the sake of Christ?

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

What do we do with Lent?  The ceremonies of the Church ask that we do something physical, accepting ashes, introspection and deprivation.  Jesus’ comments are not about these things, but rather about our state of mind – our attitude.  Thus he talks about the aspect we affect when we are in the beginning or midst of our Lenten discipline.  The good deeds still remain and the ashes mark our quiet prayer – but they are our private and secret piety. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How does Mark reach back to the past and forward to the future to speak about Jesus?
  2. In what ways is Peter naïve?
  3. What is meant by the secrecy in Mark?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.