Lent Day 33 | John 18:28-40

My Kingdom is Not of this World

Today’s reading: John 18:28-40

OpeningGod, I praise you for the story You tell, the ultimate wonder tale You invited us to become part of. I praise You for a Kingdom with doors wide open. Show us that wonder is not far.

ReflectionSomething I immediately find interesting in this passage is the fact that the Jewish leaders are meticulous about being ceremonially clean. But they miss the heart of such cleanliness with their handling of Jesus. They find loopholes anyway!

They complain to Pilate that they have no right to kill anyone. While asking him to help kill Jesus. As if calling on another to do your dirty work leaves you with no blood on your hands.

Loopholes, you know?

Is that how we believe God works? When we participate in or perpetuate a system that allows for torture and brutality, let me tell you right now, just like that we are guilty. When we aren’t the ones that assault, but are still the voices who allow for assault, we are guilty.

Now Pilate, who doesn’t want to get involved, gets hung up on whether or not Jesus is King of the Jews, trying to define this person before him.

But Jesus shifts the focus from men’s entitlement to His life’s purpose:

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Jesus doesn’t care for this world’s label of “king” and concept of greatness. He emphasizes something else entirely.

“My kingdom is not of this world.”

Well, what is of this world? Measures of greatness in desperation, and violent battles for a name. Oppression of one people group over another, human beings tearing at one another then shrugging off the blood, going, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Many of us long for something not of this world. There’s a reason why the Cinderella tale is found in thousands of traditions–we are still shaken in wonder that an ashen and abused slave, mistreated and misnamed, can be first chosen into a kingdom with doors wide open. We’re in love with the idea that someone will find us even if we’re shut away from the palace that sent invitations to all.

Let’s get wild for a moment, even giddy and childlike. When I say a magical kingdom, what comes to mind? An isle of dragons and people soaring on their backs? A Disney castle with the clearest streams of water gleaming in the moonlight? A grassy expanse of the savannah with a tree of life under the stars, where lion and antelope lie in peace?

Now what about the people? How diverse is your image of heavenly people? Can you look at people different from you and see them as rightful citizens of heaven? No one is an illegal immigrant to heaven as far as Jesus is concerned.

Jesus also says He was born for this reason: to testify to the truth.

Now, usually when I hear Christian insistence on telling truth, it’s this rush to say, “Jesus died for you. Accept it!” and check off the back of a pamphlet and say, “Welcome, you’re in!” And ingrained with an almost shallow idea that those still on a spiritual high are more securely in than those left to so much thinking, feeling, and questioning.

But Jesus is talking about “the truth” before He dies. Surely, He wasn’t born to go around telling every town and country, “Hey, I’m gonna die, accept it, and welcome, you’re in. Oh, don’t even think about it. Really. (Or else.)”

Sorry to echo Pilate, but, what is the truth He meant? What else could He have testified to?

Perhaps something less literal and with less loopholes in it. Not just the message that He is going to die. But the truth that these people, I love them. They are now reconciled with you; you can be brothers and sisters again.

He didn’t come for conquest, as kings of this world come and go for, as Christians still make clubs about crusading in His name. He didn’t come to make us all the same image, as we’re already all equally the image of God.

He came to find us in our time, live alongside us in our cultures, and never deny us in our ashes and dirt. To prove to us, cut off and far apart, that we are still invited, never forgotten, and so loved.

Truth is, These people belong, even if you find us crazy. This is what the Kingdom looks like.

ClosingWhat truth would you testify to? What would Jesus not just die for, but live for?

What shall we do to love a kingdom not of this world?

Created by: Ellen Huang
About the author: Ellen Huang is here for the changelings, the dragons, and the unicorns of this world. She takes joy in writing twisted fairy tales, directing original skits, and venturing out to the ocean. She also loves cake, dark humor, and the occasional Thai iced tea.

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Image by: Varshesh Joshi

Lent Day 32 | John 18:1-27

Truth-telling is

Today’s reading: John 18:1-27

Something is very, very wrong in your church right now. Your church is being hijacked. I’m made to feel alone and in the wrong. But I believe you’d also want this wrong in your church to stop. I’m feeling small and scared.

Please curb sexual predators in the church. Please also rewire the worn route of a wrong and harmful church leadership response: a cover up and silencing.

I’m disheartened and I need you to encourage me with the Holy Spirit that you’ve got me. It will be a long road to convince the church of women’s value, so please reassure me right now as your daughter of the kingdom that I matter too. I need your validation to avoid leaving the faith. Jesus, remind me that you have the last word and that I belong.

ReflectionWomen were leaving the church. They were threatened into silence by church leadership that if they were sexually harassed by an elder, the girl must have provoked a verbal/physical attack by how she dressed or because she had made direct eye contact. I was freshly graduated from college when I moved back home and attended my parents’ conservative immigrant church.

He was repellant with his unwanted phone calls filled with inappropriate suggestions. He grabbed my wrist forcefully in front of the entire congregation. His wife apologized, admitting that her husband had done this before to young women.

The following Sunday, the leadership team of the church intervened against me for allegedly seducing a married man. I was asked to not repeat what was said to me by the sexual harasser, to forgive without expecting an admission of guilt and apology. I was also pressured to submit to correction and discipline by the church for provoking this. Instead I told the leadership that I strongly believed that something is amiss and that women were not safe if the approach was to ignore chronic sexual harassment by this same man. Since it was an unsafe space, I told them I would cease attendance and certainly no longer recommend my young women friends to visit that church because there was an unchecked sexual predator there that took away the peace of worship and robbed women of the comfort of a safe church family for fellowship.

A few points to learn about truth-telling from Jesus’ arrest:

  • Be comforted knowing that the corrupt church tried to punish Jesus for telling the truth too. Retaliation by the corrupt church doesn’t mean Jesus is not pleased with you.
  • Jesus is not taken by surprise. Judas’ betrayal didn’t shake him. Simon Peter’s rashness didn’t distract him. Peter’s abandonment did not detract from Jesus’ mission.
  • Yes, it is valuable to view this passage contemplating the times we like Judas, Simon Peter and Peter have failed Jesus.
  • However, it’s also valuable to revisit this passage during times we as Progressive Asian American Christians find ourselves at odds with the church and remind ourselves that Jesus went to the cross while being insulted by the religious leaders of his day.
  • Corrupt man is not stronger than God. Jesus went to the cross because that was the plan. Even when the church Jesus died on the cross for were jackasses, he still triumphed.

Truth-telling is the remedy and antithesis of denying Jesus:

It was tempting to leave the faith out of disgust towards how churches reacted to reporting sexual harassment by an elder. I was made to feel unclean and victim-blamed. But you can clear your head and console your soul that truth-telling brings justice. Evil should be called out even if justice may not be immediate.

Peter warmed his hands by a fire as he denied association with Jesus (John 18: 18, 25). He crept further and further into the shadows, distancing himself away from the hardships that came with being a follower of Jesus. The point of Jesus’ work was to expose sinfulness and save everyone from themselves. Peter’s desertion was that he was majoring in the minors and missing the main point.

ClosingWhen I was victim-blamed by the church, it felt like a gaslighting effort to convince me that church existed for appearances and the comfort of leadership in prestigious roles rather than true community where leaders were interested in serving Jesus so everyone could be safe. Peter, in his denial of Jesus, distanced himself from the hard work of the collective followers of Jesus: maintenance against evil even when painfully inconvenient. Just as the church that victim-blamed me suggested I no longer belonged and aligned themselves with the predator, Peter by his desertion of Jesus said he didn’t belong with Jesus.

If truth-telling is not tolerated at churches and considered a threat, then they have lost their way and are not following Jesus anymore. Truth-telling can be us, speaking out against corruption in the church and exposing sexual harassment by its leaders harming the flock with racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant perspectives and other forms of excluding people from the kingdom. Silencing truth-tellings is corruption by the church.

Created by: Renee Marchol
About the author: Renee Marchol is a teaching artist and filmmaker. She also eats waffles while writing.

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Image by: Symphony Chau
About the artist: Symphony (she/her) is an avid reader, part-time artist, and self-proclaimed plant parent. A 2nd generation Chinese-American, she grew up between Northern Jersey and NYC’s Chinatown, where she developed her passion for youth empowerment and anti-displacement movements. Symphony loves all the shows your teenage sibling does, and chances are if she’s not journaling with a coffee in hand, she is forwarding articles to CAAC’s about what’s wrong with the evangelical church. Symphony lives in Brooklyn where she works in communications and public health, forever adding new plant babies to her apartment.

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Lent Day 31 | John 17

Today’s reading: John 17

OpeningProtect us, O Lord, from those who would do us harm. Help us live out of the deep reality of who we truly are, and to whom we belong, that we may work to make this world a place in which everyone belongs.

ReflectionIn late January, while down-to-the-wire in budget negotiations, Democrats decided to remove DACA from the negotiations table in exchange for spending on domestic programs. A Republican senator commented, “We are six inches away from a spending deal. It’s just simply the DACA issue and the immigration question.” It’s now late March, and Congress is once again two weeks from a funding deadline, and DACA, it seems, appears to be a topic of much conversation, but no willpower. “Immigration has not elevated itself to that rarefied top tier where Democrats across the board are willing to go to the mat,” said one Democratic aide.

So it is that we find ourselves in this elevator called America. “Come one, come all,” they beckoned us from faraway lands: Enter the ride, get to the top, but be sure to stand pressed against the doors. Because if things get too crammed, you will have to be the first to step out.

We, immigrants, are the first on the chopping block, the easiest give-away, the carrot dangled before our enemies. It is our lives that are being sacrificed so that “domestic spending” can be increased for the rest of Americans. It seems that all it takes for this polarized country to achieve union and agreement is for both political parties to collectively turn their backs on us.

In the last hour with his disciples, Jesus is trying to impart words of farewell, comfort, and wisdom. Perhaps he intuits the trials, tribulations, and persecutions that his band of followers will encounter for the next couple hundred years. Indeed, the Gospel of John is the latest dated gospel (90 to 110 C.E.), a time in which Jesus’ followers must have been in the thick of things.

Halfway through his last hour of prayer, Jesus prays about his disciples, “The world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” So it is for us: We are in this country, but we are not of America, because we do not belong to it. We live in a world of white supremacy, capitalism, nationalism, and patriarchy, but we are not of it, because we do not belong to it. We do not fit. We have contorted our bodies in order to fit, and now we are in pain.

For who has tried harder to belong than us? Some of us have erased our accents; some of us have picked up new sports; some of us have forgotten our mother tongues; some of us have learned how to put on bravado. Some of us hold down multiple, minimum-wage jobs; some of us burn midnight oil in the air-conditioned towers of Wall Street; some of us have gifted this country with our grandmother’s recipes; others of us have rallied at protests as Americans to make this country better. All of us have paid our taxes.

For the disciples who did not belong in this world, Jesus prays a prayer of protection: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

ClosingThen he prays: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus’ prayer is a prayer for one-ness. Because only then can we can live out of the true reality of who we are: A people who belong to God. A people who are one with God. This is the real world we belong to – it’s a truth that may be difficult to internalize, but it is the truth by which we must be sanctified. And from this deep, deep well, we can find the strength and imagination to manifest this spiritual reality in our current material world.

Created by: Sarah Ngu

Sarah Ngu (@sarahngu) is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s the host for the Religious Socialism podcast, co-leader of her church’s LGBTQ ministry, and occasionally reports.

Image by: Michael Wei
About the artist: Painting is a process that resonates within me. My work ranges from: portraits & figures of people who may have little voices but loud messages; still life experiments of those ordinary unrevealed treasures; and more confrontational narrative pieces. Recent socio-political events have drawn me back to my dormant easel.


Lent Day 30 | John 16

Today’s reading: John 16

OpeningGod, envelop me in grace and patience as I delve into discovery and truth. Let me find freedom in questioning and security in spaces of growth. May I not be discouraged in the slow process of revelation, but instead, find joy in divine wisdom.

ReflectionWhen the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for she will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever she hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come. She will glorify me, because she will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16: 13-14 NRSV*

When I read the Gospels, I often find myself confounded and impatient with Jesus. Why must he speak in riddles, offer cryptic morsels of truth, and leave me lacking clarity? In the margins of my Bible, next to particularly puzzling passages, you will find scribbled notes like: Why can’t he just say what he means?, This is annoying., and Seriously, Jesus, don’t you want me to get it?. Well, to answer that last question, I’ve come to believe that he does, but maybe not quite yet, and not all at once. Jesus’ disciples actually asked the same question as I – what is the purpose of parables? Jesus responds:

…to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight. These are people –
Whose eyes are open but don’t see a thing,
Whose ears are open but don’t understand a word,
Who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.
Mark 4:11b-12 MSG

Through his (sometimes frustrating) parables, Jesus gently teaches us that knowing is a process, truth is far more than the letters of the law, and that there is a fullness and depth to resting with complexities. He is preparing us for revelation. He challenges the masculine modes of communication so prevalent here in the West. He convicts us of the impulse to arrive at solutions quickly and to distill multifaceted situations into maxims. Jesus, wisdom embodied, queers and deepens the meaning of teaching, understanding, and certainty. Jesus, so full of grace, allows us to explore, and with the help of the Spirit, develop into truth. This is the major pivot of John 16. Jesus assures us that it is better for us that he goes so that the Spirit comes, and with her, understanding (v.7).

Navigating meaning can often feel like blindly grasping at wisps. But be encouraged. Jesus does not require that we understand everything right away. In fact, the opposite is true. He requires that we work through the questioning and allow nascent thoughts to be led by the Spirit into her truth. It is through her that the obscure will be made known. So be patient and joyful in the process—revelation comes!

*The Spirit, without physical form, has no gender or sex. However, I have opted to use female pronouns to highlight the femininity of God. Pronouns are originally masculine in the NRSV translation.

ClosingAre you uncomfortable with uncertainty and the process of revelation? If so, how can you shift into a posture of joy as you wait on the Spirit and wrestle with truth?

Created by: Christal Chiu
About the author: Christal is a Development Officer for The Rescue Mission in Tacoma, Washington (raising funds to do really cool things in the community). She graduated with a MA from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and a BA in Communication Studies with Biblical and Gender Studies minors from Biola University. She is a pastor’s kid, a native Californian, and the type of person that brings up money, sexuality, and religion on the first date.

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Video by: Charlene Choi
About the artist: 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.

Lent Day 29 | John 15

The Ground of Our Faiths

Today’s reading: John 15

OpeningGracious God, in order that the children of earth might discern good from evil, you sent your Son to be light of the world. As Christ shines upon us, may we learn what pleases you, and live in all truth and goodness, now and forever. Amen.

ReflectionChristian Moueix is the owner of several renowned vineyards in the Bordeaux region of France and Napa Valley in California.  Among vinegrowers, he is especially famous for producing several of the world’s most valuable red wines, such as Pétrus and Dominus.  Christian notably prefers to do much of the pruning himself and eschewing irrigation techniques in order that the vines can draw from the terroir, the unique minerals and characteristics of the soil.  “The key is to get the [vines’ roots] to dive [deep] into the soil,” he explains in another interview.  If the roots don’t grow deep, not only will the vines suffer from drought, but the wines resulting from the grapes do not have the subtle tastes from their local terroir, making wines unremarkable. By ensuring that the grapes grow naturally while taking in the minerals and characteristics of the local ground, Moueix’s wines are not only expensive, but also can be stored for several decades as they age and mature further.

In our reading today, Jesus likens himself to a grapevine that is being pruned by God, the vineyard master.  And like Moueix, God prunes the branches in order that the grapes can bear more fruit.  It is easy to read our passage in a utilitarian manner – without Christ, our ministry and our witness cannot be bountiful.  There’s some truth in that, to be sure, but the point of a vineyard is not to maximize fruit yields.  Tons of unremarkable grapes do not a great wine make.  For the grapes to be unique and flourish, not only must they abide in the vine, but the vine itself must draw richly from the terroir.  This actually has some bearing on our faith, for abiding in Jesus requires understanding that Jesus the True Vine is not separate from the soil he grows from.

Because the True Vine is not independent of the soil it grows in, it means for us that God reveals Godself to the world in local contexts  God’s vineyard has a variety of soils from which vines grow.  As we drink deep of God’s wisdom in Christ, we must remember that this wisdom is not universal, but has local characteristics.  Some values that we consider delightful may be rather strange in other contexts.  But that is fine.  Christian faith does not benefit from being made uniform.  For much of Christian history, the story of Jesus Christ and his church has often been told from the perspective of Europeans and Americans.

The True Vine is unashamed of the soils it grows in, and to abide in Jesus is to value the grounds on which our faith is built, for without the terroir, our faith is bland and easily disposed of.  This is not a call to glorify Asian or Asian-American culture.  Valuing the grounds of our faith is hypocritical without appreciating the grounds upon which Christians of other traditions and cultures approach the gospel.  In January, Women’s Marches were held in many major cities throughout the world.  One sign by a young Asian-American woman that resonated with me said, “Asian Silence = Black Violence.  Solidarity”  She is taking her identity as an Asian-American seriously, because valuing our own cultures and uniquenesses also involves critiquing the ways in which certain values in our communities have devalued others.  To reflect on the ways in which Jesus sustains the church and makes it “salt and light of the world” requires reflecting too on how Jesus’s ministry, suffering, and witness transforms how we live as Asian-American Christians.

As we approach the last week of Lent, perhaps it is a time where we can connect ourselves even more so to the True Vine that sustains us.  In doing so, may we also connect ourselves to the grounds of faith.  In doing so, may our prayers rise like sweet incense that not only blesses the God we worship, but also the world around us.  

ClosingAs we abide in Christ, and he abides in us, what are the ways in which our ministries have not uplifted our communities and the world?  May we commit ourselves to repentance from participating in oppressions and silences so that we can join in solidarity with others against the evils plaguing our world today.

Created by: Henry Kuo
About the author: Henry is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, focusing on the theology of the church. He preaches once or twice a month at the First Chinese Presbyterian Church in New York City.

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Image by: Nidhil Amen