• Rev. Izzy Harbin

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus gets asked this question on three separate occasions—two involving the man in our passage (once in Mark 10 and once in Luke 18), and one involving a lawyer in Luke 10 (better known as the story of the Good Samaritan).

If ever there was a time for Jesus to spell out in no uncertain terms what we must actually do in our lives to inherit eternal life, this is that moment. But Jesus’ response reorients us to a different reality, an unfolding kingdom of God that we are invited into in this moment. Jesus’ understanding of eternal life is a call to be present in “the here and the now,” not for some unknown heaven that feels inaccessible while still living.

Let’s start with the more familiar story of the Good Samaritan.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, an attorney asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds to the attorney with a question, “What does the law say?” The attorney states, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (The answer given by the attorney mirrors the answer given by Pharisees in Matthew 22). Jesus agrees with the man stating, “You have spoken rightly.” But then the attorney gets cheeky with Jesus and asks, “Yes, but who is my neighbor?” To this question, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In the end, we have our formula for inheriting eternal life: love God, love neighbor, love self, and show mercy.

Now let’s look at the story of the rich man in both Mark 10 and Luke 18.

In both the Mark and the Luke passages, we are confronted by a man (In Mark, just a man; in Luke, a ruler; in both, wealthy) who asks Jesus the all-important question regarding the inheritance of eternal life. This time Jesus points to the law. Jesus doesn’t really ask the man if he has kept the commandments, but instead makes a declarative statement about the commandments, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” The man in both accounts does not miss a beat; he immediately states, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” I don’t know of many people who could boldly state that with any confidence, believing that it is actually true.

In these passages (the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man), there is a harkening-back to the law—either to the letter of the law: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother,” or to the spirit of the law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is drawing our attention back to our behavior; back to how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis.

What the “rich man” struggles with in our passage isn’t that he doesn’t understand the law—both letter and spirit—but he wants to hold on to all that the world has afforded him. Jesus is asking this guy to go one step further; not just live the law in its most basic form, but to examine his heart, see where the world is keeping him trapped, and to let all that stuff go. For this guy, his wealth was his barrier to following Jesus.

We, too, must ask ourselves this question. What binds us to the world? What prevents us from being fully invested in God’s kingdom? This second question also gets played-out in this passage, even though it isn’t clearly stated in Mark 10. Luke 18 spells it out: “24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” For Jesus, the kingdom of God was a present-day reality. It was unfolding in front of them. Jesus invited the rich man to sell everything and join Jesus; to enter into the kingdom of God in a way that required self-sacrifice, but the man could not let go of what bound him to the material world to which he had grown accustomed. Are we able to join in God’s unfolding kingdom, to be fully present with God now? What binds you to this world? What do you need to give up in order to fully enter into God’s unfolding kingdom?

May God continue to bring about change and transformation in your life, may you take time during this Lenten Season to self-reflect and determine those things which bind you to this world. May we enter into God’s unfolding kingdom NOW, and enjoy a life of service, one to another.

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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

The transfiguration of Jesus is the culmination of our series on Change and Transformation. We arrive at the moment in the biblical text where Jesus is changed right in front of the eyes of Peter, James, and John. This proves to me that change is possible, even though I doubt that Jesus’ transfiguration is the kind of change that occurs in us as we are molded and shaped by God over time. This is certainly a miraculous story told by those who witnessed the event, but I’m not sure that Peter, James, and John entirely got the point. The writer of the Book of Mark tends to paint the disciples as sublimely daft and this story follows that trend.

What strikes me most is the location of their encounter and how folks continue to have remarkable encounters with God on the mountain. (Any mountain really. If you are like me, you intentionally go to the mountains to meet God in a more intimate way. I have never failed to have a close encounter with God on the mountain.) Here’s what doesn’t happen on the mountain: I don’t drive all that way, hike all that way, sit all that time, pray all that time to, at the last minute, disrupt the encounter with a statement like, “Let us make three tents…”

Yeah, that’s where I get stuck.

Peter pointedly illustrates just how insecure we humans can be when we encounter God. After climbing the mountain and having intimate moments with Jesus, Peter wrecks the whole experience for everyone. We are masters at the art of wrecking intimate moments with God. The mountaintop is one of those places where we SHOULD be able to let go of all the stress and strain of the day and just relax into the presence of God. Usually, though, we are hesitant to engage God fully. It’s as if when we do glimpse the glory of God—the brightness that shines out from Jesus—we immediately recognize our own unworthiness. We, like Peter, wonder if we should even be present for the moment, even though we have been invited to participate in this relationship we share with Jesus/God.

Unfortunately, too many of us find this kind of invitation counter to that which we are most comfortable. Instead, we are looking for ways to control the outcome of our experience rather than letting the experience unfold. We are busy looking for ways to manage all the parts of the journey rather than allowing the parts to be what they are. Peter’s need to quickly find the materials necessary to build three separate tents speaks to his anxiety in the situation and how he needed to quickly redirect everyone’s attention to practical solutions to a problem that did not need to be fixed in the first place. And his solution was to usher everyone off to their own designated space, speaking again to the manageability of the situation.

Peter’s actions mimic someone who was terrified at what he saw. He, no doubt, was thinking, “No one should be that white and glow-y, especially on a mountaintop.” Just about the time Peter was most likely coming completely unhinged, they were shrouded in clouds and God spoke to them all saying, “This is my beloved son; listen to him.”

In some ways, Peter missed the point of Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah—the moment of Jesus’ transfiguration—because he was unable to see why he was worthy to be there in the first place. God is consistently calling us to participate in the life of Christ, to engage all of our senses in this intimate relationship that we have with the divine. It is we who are quick to dismiss, redirect, avert, or otherwise downplay our encounters with a life-affirming, life-changing God who longs to see us shine as brightly as Jesus.

Being able to lean into these encounters with God is what takes us deeper into a faith that informs our ability to live justly, to be compassionate toward self and others, to remain humble with a continued thirst for knowledge and wisdom, and to recognize that these connections are made and cultivated because, we too, are beloved by God, made in God’s image. Instead of running from these moments, or erecting tents that physically separate us from the presence of God, we need to find ways to sit in God’s presence without fear or fixing.

This metamorphosis of Jesus is available to us all, but we must walk boldly into that space where we are willing to be shrouded in all of God’s glory. I would like to believe that God is waiting patiently for us to submit willingly to the process of transformation. May we pray for the willingness to be willing if that will lead us toward a deeper more inspired relationship with God.

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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

Malachi 3:1-5 (The Inclusive Bible)

1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. 5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, against those who oppress the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi, a minor prophet called by God to preach reform to the Israelite people in Judah. Malachi most likely originated in the first half of the 6th century BCE. The history of Judah and Israel are central to this passage, as well as the role of the tribe of Levi and their teaching of the Torah. Around 1000 BCE Jerusalem was made the capital of David’s kingdom. The temple was built under Solomon’s rule (David’s son) around 960 BCE, becoming the national and spiritual center of the Jewish people. Around 930 BCE the kingdom of Israel is divided—the southern kingdom becomes known as Judah and the northern kingdom becomes known as Israel. The majority of the Israelites lived in their respective tribal territories within the northern kingdom. In 720 BCE the northern kingdom was invaded and crushed by the Assyrians. The tribes of Israel are scattered and many of the tribes are lost to history. Next, Judah is conquered by Babylon in 586 BCE and the temple was destroyed. Most all Jews living in Judah were exiled in Babylon. Fortunately for Judah, Babylon was attacked by Persia and defeated. As a result, the Judeans were allowed to return home in 538 BCE but were still under Persian rule.

The Persian Empire was lenient regarding religious practices and, therefore, allowed the Jews to continue practicing the tenants of their faith without persecution. The tribe of Levi, who owned no land but who were in charge of caring for the temple, had become rather corrupt in their dealings with the people under their care. For generations, prophets foretold of a Messiah that would come and lead them out from under foreign occupation and into freedom. They waited not-so-patiently for this day to come, but their hope was waning. When Malachi begins to preach to the people, it is at a low point in their history; not dire, but certainly not as hopeful as had been promised by previous prophets.

Malachi’s message is clear. A Messiah will come, but the Messiah that Malachi promises may not match the kind of Messiah for which the people are waiting. Malachi harkens back to the covenant God made with the people long ago, reminding the people that this Messiah is coming to the Temple and coming for a specific purpose; to purify the descendants of Levi. This specificity of this refinement is geared toward the religious leaders of the Jews and not to the general population, which is curious. This assessment of the Levi priests, however, is similar to what we see in the Book of Matthew when Jesus also calls out the Priests (the Sadducees and the Pharisees) for not fulfilling their priestly duties.

The lectionary limited this pericope (a section of biblical text) to verses 1-4, ending with the call to present offerings of righteousness. This section of the passage can be interpreted in at least two ways. First, it was incumbent upon the Levi priests to offer to God all of the karbanot (sacrifices or offerings) made in the temple for every occasion. These offerings were designed to create an opportunity for an individual to “draw near” to God. The most common offerings were burnt offering, peace offering, sin offering, guilt offering, food and drink offerings, and the red heifer. These offerings were made as often as is necessary, or on specific holy days, such as the Day of Atonement. Second, this is a reversal of some of the other latter prophets who claimed that God no longer wanted sacrifices, as in the days of old, but rather a renewed spirit of connection and covenant. Malachi saw the fidelity of the old days and longed for a time when the people took seriously their religious fervor. For Malachi, bringing offerings to the temple was the primary way of holding onto the covenant instigated by God with Abraham.

Without v. 5, however, it is difficult to know where Malachi intends to take this tongue lashing. Malachi is complaining about the same kinds of things that Jesus complains about in the Book of Matthew. Jesus rails against the religious leaders of his day calling them broods of vipers, twice as fit for hell as those they serve. There is a mixed bag of offenders listed in Malachi; sorcerers, adulterers, those who swear falsely, oppressors of all kinds, and those who do not fear God. Malachi is speaking to the whole of the people of Judah, but with a special eye toward the priestly tribe of Levi. Malachi is indicting the priests for engaging in all manner of depravity. Jesus mirrors Malachi’s specific allegations, especially those against oppression of widows, orphans, and the resident aliens.

Might we take from Malachi, and later from Jesus’ own words, that we are also being refined in the refiner’s fire. God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is continually refining us for the work we are called to in our own time. This call to action isn’t optional, it is mandatory. God is making it clear to the people of Israel that these behaviors set them apart from all others. Jesus echoes this mandate by calling out the religious leaders of his own day and holding them accountable for their behaviors. Jesus, though, goes one step further in calling ALL the people to the same lived experience of caring for the most marginalized in our society, for widows, orphans, and the resident aliens living among us. He charged EVERYONE with living the ancient practice of hospitality, of offering the best you have to offer—in this case, what Jesus offered was a new vision for God’s kingdom. We are now called to be a part of that vision; God’s unfolding kin-dom.

How can we take this passage and apply it to our current circumstances? What might we glean from Malachi that prompts us to listen more, give me, be of greater service? Are we living into who God called us to be? Are we allowing God to refine us daily? My prayer for all of us is that we stop resisting God’s work in us and in the world, and that we learn to love like Jesus.

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