Lent Day 8 | John 4:1-42

Today’s reading: John 4:1-42

OpeningMother God, thank you for raising the woman at Jacob’s well in power and joy. Please delight in us as we drink of the living water.

ReflectionThe moral of John 4 in many sermons has been something like this, “No matter how horrendous a person you are, Jesus will still come and rescue you.” This passage so often seems to have been the tale of a bad woman dealing with a particularly egregious sin to whom the Messiah was revealed.

But in Jesus’ day, to be married was not a woman’s choice. It was a familial decision restricted by the societal rules of marriage, with the power of choice in marriage delegated solely to men. It was more likely than not that this woman could not even invite men into her home without a man’s consent, let alone decide to be married to five different men. Therefore, it was more likely that she had been taken by a man that either subsequently died or discarded her, and this happened to her five times in succession. This Samaritan woman was a woman that had likely endured great suffering.

The status of her clean state, however, is not the most significant piece of her story, but rather it is the fact that the two had a profound conversation in the light of day. The Christ sits with her and speaks to her as would a friend, on a meandering myriad of topics that range between her personal life to a multicultural theology. Specifically, they discuss her intimate relationships and move on to discuss the tenets of the worship of their differing ethnoreligious groups. The questions and answers are filled with a hunger for wisdom and knowledge. It is in this conversation that Jesus first reveals himself as the Messiah.

And at the close of their encounter, unlike in other interactions of spiritual and physical healing, Jesus doesn’t tell her to stay quiet or to sin no more. The disciples think that after his long walk and over these long hours, Jesus must be hungry and so they ask him to eat. But he responds, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.” There is a saying in Korean that means: Watching you eat makes me full. It’s an expression that captures the very specific delight of witnessing a loved one eat to her heart’s content. Upon the conclusion of this profound conversation at Jacob’s well, the woman leaps up and runs back to town to tell everyone what she’s just experienced. In these moments, Jesus delights in her.

What is more is that the epilogue of this story isn’t about Jesus and an unfortunate woman. This story ends with the Samaritan woman guiding her townspeople to Jesus. And do you know what Jesus said about being a prophet in your own home?

ClosingThe Samaritan woman was misunderstood in her day and is still misunderstood in many circles today. In what ways do you think your community misunderstands you? Do you believe that God understands, that you bring Jesus joy?


Created by: Charlene Choi
About the author: Charlene is a voracious reader and creative storyteller. She is the Director of Strategy at one of Orange County’s largest Asian American nonprofits, Korean Community Services. KCS is home to KCS Health Center, KC Services, 복지 센터, and Korean American Center.

Image by: Sheri Park

Sheri Park is an interdisciplinary visual artist, with a focus on video & performance. She completed her undergraduate degree from Union College in 2013, and her Certificate in Theology and Art from Fuller Seminary in 2015. When she’s not making art or at her graphic design job, she enjoys making breakfast, reading, and watching ducks by the lake with her husband in Fremont, California.

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About the image:
Touch (In the Image)
48″ x 58″
oil on canvas

Lent Day 7 | John 3:22-36

Today’s reading: John 3:22-36

OpeningGOD, I praise you for the work that you have done in this world before I was born,
for the faithfulness of all those who came before me.
Thank you GOD for everything you have done through them,
that I can be inspired by their faith and their example.
When I feel discouraged or lost, remind me that I am not alone.
Strengthen my heart with the reminder that Jesus walked before me
Help me to center my heart on Your Truth instead of my fears
Bless me with a spirit of selflessness as I walk with Jesus and leave a legacy for those who will come after me. AMEN

ReflectionIn 2007, I was in my first year as a teacher at an elementary school.  My 4th grade “portable” classroom was filled completely with all the energy and excitement of 25 young humans.  Freshly graduated with a master’s degree from a Jesuit university, I thought I knew everything about education.

Pressured to perform, I’d spend hours preparing lessons and feel defeated the next day if the students weren’t successful.  I took their failures personally and as the year ended, this thought nagged me, “Was I having a positive effect on these students?”  Four years later, I’d find an answer.

During a field trip to the neighboring middle school, I ran into Derrick*, a memorable student from that first year.  As a 4th grader, he was skinny and quiet, the kind of introverted kid whose slim frame would hunch over while reading a book.

In middle school, Derrick had completely blossomed into a different kid – tall, strong, confident, and elected by his peers as president of his 8th grade class.  He recognized me first, and surprised me by saying that I was his favorite teacher in elementary school.  His words still stick out to me: “You were the first teacher that made me like school. You cared.”  He updated me about his family, the mentors he had found since that year.  I was deeply moved, not only by Derrick’s compliment, but the sobering realization that my work with him was just one part of his present success.   

I share this story because of today’s reading in John.  Today’s Scripture is well known for v.30 “He must increase, but I must decrease,” which describes the sovereignty of God and the need for our lives to be centralized on God’s Kingdom rather than our own ego.

The apostle’s writing in v.22-36 note that the followers of John the Baptist felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity and went to complain to John.  Imagine their surprise when John not only reminded them he was not the Messiah (v.28), but also that he was filled with joy to occupy a place of lower status than Jesus, the one who is above all (v.31). Yes, John’s ministry of preaching repentance and baptizing was important, but that importance was never centered on John himself.

To live as both a Christian and progressive is to engage deeply in God’s heart for people that have been oppressed and forgotten.  This is important work, work that Christ invites us to join in, however, it is of paramount importance that we do not center that work on ourselves or our own ego.  This does not diminish the value of our own stories or experiences, but we must always remember our calling from God exists as part of something greater. We must honor those that preceded us, just as we must also honor those that succeed us.  The work of God belongs to God.

When we lay aside a self-centric ego, we can feel confidence, peace, and joy – just as John the Baptist felt joy at seeing the prophecy of the Messiah filled in Christ.  For the progressive Christian, we should understand we may not see the fruit of God’s work in this world within our lifetime and that’s OK.  Our faith journey is not driven purely by results, but our faith is a process where we can bear witness to God.  

*Not his real name; identifying details have been altered to protect his privacy

ClosingIn what ways are we tempted to center “good work” on ourselves rather than God?
How can we keep ourselves from being egotistical about our work or progressive values?


Created by: Anonymous
About the author: 4th generation Chinese American. Full time dad, full time teacher.

Image by: Hisu Lee

Lent Day 6 | John 2:23-3:21

Today’s reading: John 2:23-3:21

OpeningSpirit, give us a new understanding of fresh truths as we read this familiar text, and help us learn to follow a cosmic Jesus.

ReflectionThis past year, alongside many evangelicals of color, I have been interrogating aspects of my identity: follower of Christ; evangelical; ethnic Chinese growing up in a post-colonial society; immigrant. What does it mean for me to embrace and represent the Good News when I am in disagreement with “the 81 Percent” — my brothers and sisters who call themselves evangelical?

In this passage, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Kingdom of God is not just for the privileged. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a “ruler of the Judeans,” wields systemic religious and political power. His religious system regarded Jesus and his ragtag band as suspect, because they flouted a system constructed to preserve hierarchy and oppression.

To avoid risking his status of privilege, he brings his questions to Jesus under cover of night.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Kingdom of God is not granted to those lucky enough to be born into the right tribe. It can only be seen by someone “born from above” and can only be entered by someone “born of water and spirit.” Jesus’ response to Nicodemus is to inform him that the Kingdom of God extends beyond his privileged group. This is God-initiated belonging, a cosmic belonging.

I have been musing on Richard Rohr’s conception of the “Cosmic Christ” in meditating on Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus. My deepening understanding of the Good News considers not just my personal sin, but the systems of oppression rightly characterized as Evil. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross defeats the power of these evil systems, systems which destroy the image of God in each person as well as degrade the health of all of Creation. Furthermore, God’s Kingdom involves the redemption of these broken systems into the Way of Love. At the end of the Age, Love stands victorious over Evil as Creation is restored.

This cosmic understanding of the Good News is reflected in David Bentley Hart’s* translation of John 3:16, every evangelical’s foundational verse. “For God so loved the cosmos as to give the Son, the only one, so that everyone having faith in him might not perish, but have the life of the Age.” Further, in v. 17: “For God sent the Son into the cosmos not that he might pass judgment on the cosmos, but that the cosmos might be saved through him.” Hart calls the “cosmos” the “whole of the created order.”

This is a much deeper reading of the “world” than most of us grew up with. Perhaps “world” is not a collection of humans on this earth whose souls need to be rescued from only their personal sin before it is too late. This text tells me that Christ, the embodiment of God as Love, comes to destroy the power of Evil and Oppression so the entire created order can not only survive, but also have life; to thrive. Jesus comes not just for the privileged, He comes for all.

Standing up for a cosmic justice—for the restoration of the Imago Dei in all humans, and for our planet and beyond—is integral to embracing and representing the Good News. Nicodemus has a choice here: enter into Love, or perpetuate an unjust and oppressive religious and political system.

This Lent, I am finding fresh freedom and direction for my journey with Jesus. I resolve to forge ahead with my siblings in the wider Church, follow a marginalized, impoverished, Middle Eastern, and cosmic Christ, and participate with Him to work towards redemption, renewal, and restoration of all things.

ClosingHow do we respond, with our whole identities, to the challenge of this text beyond the common evangelical understanding of John 3:16? How do we participate in Jesus’ healing work of justice in our communities?

 

*Hart, David Bentley, The New Testament (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 173–174.


Created by: Jennifer Lien
About the author: Jennifer Lien has worn several hats in her life in two continents: newspaper journalist, opera singer, music professor. She still sings, but she is also finding fresh meaning in doing justice and loving mercy in her roles as mother and professional volunteer.

Image by: Steven Lee
About the artist: Steven Lee is an 18 year old Taiwanese American. He has been doing fine art all his life, exploring digital art at Chapman University, and he also enjoys singing in choir and a cappella groups, playing violin and composing/arranging songs. Music, art, the love of Jesus, and sociology are the main focuses of his life, and he is dedicated to connecting the four of them in unifying and healing this world’s injustices along with others like-minded.

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Lent Day 5 | John 2:13-25

Today’s reading: John 2:13-25

Opening“Okay, deep breaths. Confession time. We’re still angry. Help us know what to do about it. Amen.”

ReflectionOh, Jesus. What just happened?

Today’s passage is John’s account of the day when Jesus got so pissed that he improvised a whip and ruined everyone’s Passover. But did he do it because anger got the best of him and he got a little carried away, or was this part of the plan? And what was he so upset about?

Since John intentionally places this story at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (unlike the other gospels that place it at the end) not only is it part of the plan — it is the plan.

So let’s first talk about Jesus getting angry because if we have the wrong ideas about anger, we will inevitably bring our biases into understanding what’s happening here. Also if we understand anger then we can know his motivations.

Anger is an emotion. Like all emotions, anger is purposeful and good, but it is one of those emotions that doesn’t feel good. The purpose of emotions that make us feel bad is to make us aware that we have an unmet need, and in our discomfort it provides us the acute awareness, the sense of urgency, and the immediate motivation to restore things towards healthiness.

Specifically when it comes to constructive anger, we’re triggered when we recognize that something is wrong in our world, but unlike guilt where we feel a private and personal responsibility to make things right, anger is a public and social emotion that compels us to compel others towards righteousness.

Constructive anger does not come from the most primitive and immature parts of our mind, but rather it is activated by our beliefs, oftentimes the most sophisticated and complex beliefs we have — our morality, our convictions of how things ought to be, our core values.

What core values of God incarnate were offended as he surveyed the temple courtyard?

As he saw the monopoly of money changers — was it that the powerful were taking advantage of people’s religious beliefs for their own personal gain?

When he saw that families were spending all their money only to be able to offer what was judged to be second-rate sacrifices — was it that the systematically disadvantaged were being disproportionately burdened, and still being criticized for doing the best that they could?

Was it that this marketplace had taken over the Court of the Gentiles, the part of the temple that was already an environmental microaggression that said that the religious “in crowd” deserved more access than the equally devout outsider who wasn’t born with the right identity? And now, even that limited opportunity to worship was literally being blocked by those born with privilege?

Was it that he saw thousands with earnest hearts investing so much into these rituals, and yet they were left to feel unsure that they had done enough to earn God’s approval?

Was it that he saw another large number going through the motions with minimal personal cost, and yet believing that they were inherently more entitled to God’s favor?

Can you also feel how Jesus would be angry? Not because he had a temper, but because he saw suffering and had compassion? This was because he saw systems of oppression reinforced by religiosity and prejudice. So he responded to his anger and started to make things right.

In order to do so, he had to first drive out all that was wrong. This is not unlike the process of deconstruction that many of us who have grown up in the church have been going through. And just like on that day in the temple, driving out wrong is chaotic, painful, scary, sad, and confusing. These are a lot of emotions that don’t feel good. But they are good because they give us insight, urgency, and motivation to move ourselves towards peace, healing, security, acceptance, and truth.

Once the courtyard is cleared, then and only then can we appreciate what remains. Jesus remains.

He reassures us that deconstruction is only the first step, because he plans on building it all back up, but differently (and much more quickly than you would expect).

He tells us that not only are we welcome in the Court of the Gentiles, but he leads us through the inner courts, where others had previously told us we don’t belong because of the way we were born.

ClosingHe doesn’t stop there either. He brings us to the Holy of Holies, takes the veil and tosses it aside. Hand in hand we enter in.

“This is your home. You belong here. This is the way it ought to be.” – How does that feel?


Created by: Joseph C. Lee
About the author: I’m a husband, parent, and life-long learner. By profession, I’m a Psychiatrist with a psychotherapy-based practice in the Los Angeles area. Put it all together and you also get a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) evangelist.

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Image by: Lexi Vega Koch

Lexi lives in LA with her husband and cat. She plays drums in an indie pop band called Nebulamigo and is currently taking classes in UX Design.

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Lent Day 4 | Selah!

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Today’s reading: Isaiah 41:18-20

As we reflect on these past few days and the beginning of Lent, I invite you to soak in this illustration, read the following poem, and take a breath. Remember Jesus coming to this green earth, how the disciples were called, and how water was turned into wine.

And then, empty your mind and rest.

ReflectionFor creation to rise and be seen,
In gathering to witness miracles be free,
Greatness will come in fullness of light.

Midst courage in pain some friendships begin,
And married to hope with justice complete;
Let followers of grace testify to darkness,
And forgiveness welcome the innocence run wild.

Through thorntrees of mourning endured the truth,
In search of large arks with wine;
Rivers will run to baptize thou art.

Like every tree that is differently defined
And promised with each some beautiful figs,
May renewed peace be fragrant with life
And Love of truth cheerfully evergreen.


Created by: Miya Kim
About the artist: Miya is a realistic optimist who sees all things as art. Through her gifts and beliefs, she is on a journey to help this world be a better place.