Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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This Lent I’m preaching a sermon series at the historic Old Stone Church in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The series is called Cross Words: There’s Power in the Cross! 

This afternoon, after our staff meeting, Old Stone’s Associate for Care, my friend and colleague in ministry, Rev. Dr. Charles D. Yoost shared this beautiful prayer from the Iona Community with me which connects so well with our Lenten  focus on the cross. Today, I share this prayer with all of you along with my own prayer that the cross may bring you closer to God and God’s purpose for your life this Lent and always.

O Christ,
The Master Carpenter,
who at the last through wood and nails,
purchased our salvation,
wield well your tools in the workshop of the world,
so that we, who come rough-hewn to your bench,
may here be fashioned to a truer beauty by your hand.
We ask this for your name and for your sake.

– From the Iona Community, Scotland

LET’S ADMIT IT. WE MAINLINE PROTESTANTS GET DOWNRIGHT SQUEAMISH WHEN ASK US IF WE’RE BAPTIZED IN THE HOLY SPIRIT OR FIRE! We tend to leave that kind of Spirit and fire business to our peppy Pentecostal siblings and their speaking in tongues, or to our quirky Charismatic cousins and their rolling in the aisles. No siree Bob Jones! A baptism of Spirit and fire just isn’t a part of our party line.

Baptism for us mainliners tends to be all about water. We have peace like river, joy like fountain, and love like an ocean but that Spirit and fire talk has been a bit of stumbling block for us forward thinking, Princeton University founding, academic loving, progressive Presbyterians and mainline Protestants.

Well listen up! That locust-breath, desert-dwelling prophet John the Baptist says baptism with Spirit and fire is what Jesus brings. “I baptize you with water,” says John,  “but one who is more powerful than I is coming . . . He will baptize you” en pnuemati agio kai puri – “with the Holy Spirit and purifying fire.”

Baptism with Spirit and fire is for even us Presbyterians, Methodists and the like, too. Perhaps there’s a way for God’s frozen chosen to get thawed out by God’s fiery Spirit but we just have to think about it in a new way.

Walter Brueggemann, one of the foremost biblical scholars of our times says that being baptized by fire means that “we may be visited by a spirit of openness, generosity, that “the force” may come over us, carry us to do obedient things we have not yet done, kingdom things we did not think we had in us, neighborly things from which we cringe.” Being baptized in Spirit and fire inspires a belief that “God may act in us, through us, beyond us” and in greater ways “than we imagined.”

In other words, being baptized by Spirit and fire means that we live with a certain confidence, a holy hope, because even though we can’t imagine a brighter future, or better outcome, or even a distinct possibility,  we know that our very good God can. God holds out more than we ever imagined! It’s like that old hymn says, “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow!”

Baptism with Spirit and fire takes us beyond the limits of our own imaginations and opens us to the limitlessness of God’s. Baptism with Spirit and fire is the very essence of our faith that allows us to live with less fear and more trust, more courage, and more hope. More. Baptism with Spirit and fire allows us to get up off the couch and go up against the odds to work for peace and justice even in a world as divided, broken, and unjust as our own.

Next time you hear a voice from a closed mind – whether it belongs to someone else or even yourself, say, “Hey, sounds really nice, but somehow I just can’t imagine it ever happening!” You just tell that voice, “That’s okay, God can!”

Blessings of Peace and Love,

One of the first lessons of faith is also the hardest for me: There is a God, and I’m not it! Whether my heart is heavy with worry or sadness, or I’m burned out from the day-to-day grind, that’s when I have to remember this important rule more than ever. I’m not God, and not every load is mine to carry, at least not by myself. God is there to help me!

Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
– Jesus (Matthew 11:28-29)

What burdens are you shouldering right now? What’s weighing heavily on your heart or mind? Are you able to let it go or hand it over to God? Be still. Breathe deeply. And ask God to take it from here. Remember: God’s got this!



ARE YOU USING YOUR GOD GIVEN GIFTS AND TALENTS? Never be ashamed to share the gifts that God has given to you. They are unique to you. And they are yours and yours alone to offer. Remember, God has a divine purpose for them. That’s where joy is rooted!

Be the joyful blessing this year and always!
– Mark




On Palm Sunday we wave palms celebrating, by commemoration, Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We sing “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” And, perhaps, like the folks who gathered at the city gates of Jerusalem 2000 years ago to welcome Jesus, we sometimes imagine Jesus will bring us victory of one sort or another. Maybe he’ll fix what ails us, or get us that job we’ve been praying for, or gift us with some other miracle.

But as it turns out, Jesus was not who the crowds imagined him to be that day of palms and parades. He didn’t fix it for them at all. There were miracles, for sure. But this miracle-man also lost his cool and flipped tables around in their beloved temple. He got himself arrested and flogged. Some of the very same people who had waved palms and chanted “Hosanna” at the city gates, less than one short week later, stood in front of Pilate’s praetorium and shouted “Crucify him!” Were they just fickle in their faith? Or was it a case of mistaken identity? Clearly, Jesus had failed to live-up to their misplaced expectations, at least for the moment.

For me, even as I wave my palm, Palm Sunday is a day to remember that I don’t fully understand Jesus. I’ve studied his word for a lifetime, worshipped him, prayed to him (and, I believe, with him), and I still can’t nail him down. But then again, who could?

Maybe Jesus isn’t something to be grasped like some new life plan, or packaged as a self-help strategy. He’s not to be comprehended like a math solution, or a philosophical concept. Rather, Jesus and his die-on-a-cross love for us and the world are mystery to be lived. Jesus and his cross-shaped loved are not a destination at the end of our spiritual journey, but the journey itself. Jesus and his love for us is mystery that can only be understood by walking in his footsteps, and by carrying the cross of love with him for a little while.

In his book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner says that best mysteries are not to be solved but to be lived. “And you do that not by fully knowing yourself, but by fully being yourself. To say that God is a mystery is to say that you can never nail him down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective.”

As you journey through these final days of Lent, preparing for Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then on into the glory-filled season of Easter, I invite you to join me in living the mystery, not by trying understand Jesus but simply by being with Jesus. That’s when real miracles start to happen. That’s when the healing truly begins.

Don’t worry about grasping his version of love, just live it. Find your moments to be still with him in prayer and worship, and to look for him right beside you. He’s there. Allow his cross-shaped love to overflow from within your heart. The case of mistaken identity – yours and his, gets resolved as we work less at knowing Jesus fully, and more at fully being with him.


Luke 15:1-10 – Jesus’s parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin follow accusations from some of the Pharisees and scribes that “this fellow” Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

YOUR IDEA OF SUCCESS AND JESUS’S MIGHT BE DIFFERENT IF … you believe that to succeed you have to surround yourself with successful people. Jesus surrounded himself with the lowliest people of his day: sinners and tax collectors and, if you look closely and honestly, he had a good time with them, and them with him, eating and drinking and celebrating God’s amazing grace at every turn.

Even though Jesus was accused of being a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19), he seemed to prefer the company of the disenfranchised to those of the establishment. The Pharisees chose to critique Jesus, even accuse him of doing something wrong because of his grace-filled relationship with those on the edge. They missed the fact that there was room for them at the table, too.

Maybe the lost that Jesus is talking about in his peculiar parables that follow aren’t the ones who are already with Jesus – the sinners and tax collectors, but the Pharisees and the scribes who can’t seem to shake loose from tangled knots of the establishment. They’re surrounded by the so called successful in their midst, they enjoy a worldly power and privilege and, even though there’s little life in it for them, they’re not willing to give it up to hang out with this rogue from Galilee.

The question we might ask ourselves today is this: do we prefer to surround ourselves with successful people or to be at the party with Jesus?

– R. Mark Giuliano, September 2016


Proper 19C / Ordinary 24C / Pentecost +17

Happy Fourth Day of Easter!