Monthly Archives: April 2019

Lent.36: Mob Action

holy week

Mark 15:6-15

During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead. Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”

They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”

Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.

Mark 15:6-15, Common English Bible (c) 2011

The crowd.  No estimate on size.  No description of individual participants.  No longer are there are individuals.  All have been sucked into something outside themselves, beyond their best judgment.

With a few choice words the crowd becomes a mob.  Thinking, caring, rational human beings lose their identities, say horrible things, and act in ways foreign to their ordinary daily lives.  No effort is made to consider the consequences.  Caught up in the moment, there is no time for second thoughts.

As Mark tells the story, Pilate knew better but bowed to the crowd.

This business of going along to get along still happens today – even when we know it is not in our best interest.  How do we resist?

-Teressa Clark, 2019

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 36


Lent.35: No More Answers

holy week

Mark 15:1-5

At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” The chief priests were accusing him of many things.

Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations?” But Jesus gave no more answers, so that Pilate marveled.

Common English Bible (c) 2011

They “formed a plan.”  As I read and prayed with these texts this year, I’ve noticed how Jesus’ enemies wanted him to disappear but (a) they were afraid of the crowds (Mark 12:12) and (b) they really had no idea on how to make it happen.  “Delighted” when Judas offered to give Jesus up (Mark 14:11), they couldn’t manage to find two witnesses who agreed on Jesus’ crime (Mark 14:56, 59).  Having Jesus in custody seems too good to be true.  But now what?  They seize the opportunity to do harm.

Meanwhile, other than answering one question from the High Priest and one question from Pilate, Jesus is silent.  Silent.  Accusations fill the air and Jesus says nothing.  I, too, marvel at the silence.

Over the centuries, Christians have broadly blamed the Jews for Jesus’ death.  The gospel accounts point to the Jewish leaders of the day who first arrested and convicted Jesus.  But they were not the only ones who saw Jesus as a threat.  To be identified as “King of the Jews” is to be marked as an enemy of Caesar.

-Teressa Clark, 2019

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 35


Unwilling to Understand


Photo:  TLClark, 4/14/19.

It’s Palm Sunday.  But the sermon I heard this morning could have been given any Sunday of the church year.

I remember exactly one phrase:  “unwilling to understand.”  It fit beautifully with whatever the Deacon (we were worshiping with Roman Catholics) was saying.  But I’ve already forgotten the exact context and that’s OK.  Even when I’m the preacher I don’t necessarily remember the sermon.

How often are we willfully unwilling to understand?
Whether it’s the changing climate or the plight of the refugee,
whether it’s the rising water or the post-storm debris,
whether he is an unknown immigrant or a well-known relative,
whether she was born recently or decades ago,
whether they live a world away or just down the street,
whatever the situation
it’s ever so much easier to simply ignore what is reported,
to look away from what is shown,
to shut mind and heart to what is revealed,
so we can pretend it is – or they are – someone else’s problem.
I know I’m guilty.

Meanwhile we Christians say we follow Jesus – one who did not ignore what was going on around him.   Jesus did not look away from the people before and beside him.  He did not shut his heart and mind to the great needs of the world.

Lord, make me willing to understand.  And willing to act.


Photo: TLClark, 4/14/19.

Lent.34: Denial

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Mark 14:66-72

Meanwhile, Peter was below in the courtyard. A woman, one of the high priest’s servants, approached and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus.”

But he denied it, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And he went outside into the outer courtyard. A rooster crowed.

The female servant saw him and began a second time to say to those standing around, “This man is one of them.” But he denied it again.

A short time later, those standing around again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.”

But he cursed and swore, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”  At that very moment, a rooster crowed a second time. Peter remembered what Jesus told him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down, sobbing.

Mark 14:66-72, Common English Bible (c) 2011


Who, me?

No, not me.

Couldn’t be.

Or could it?

-Teressa Clark, 2019

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 34


Lent.33: Questions

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Mark 14:60-65

Then the high priest stood up in the middle of the gathering and examined Jesus. “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?” But Jesus was silent and didn’t answer. Again, the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one?”

Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Human One[f] sitting on the right side of the Almighty[g] and coming on the heavenly clouds.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we need any more witnesses? You’ve heard his insult against God. What do you think?”

They all condemned him. “He deserves to die!”

Some began to spit on him. Some covered his face and hit him, saying, “Prophesy!” Then the guards took him and beat him.

[f] Or Son of Man   [g] Or the Power

Mark 14:60-65, Common English Bible (c) 2011

I wonder who first told this story.  I wonder when it was first told.  I wonder how it changed over time.  And I really wonder if they truly “all condemned him.”  Once the high priest had spoken and few of the more outspoken or high-ranking leaders agreed, I wonder if anyone dared disagree.

– Teressa Clark, 2012

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 33

Lent.32: Lies

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Mark 14:53-59

They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders, and legal experts gathered. Peter followed him from a distance, right into the high priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the guards, warming himself by the fire. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they couldn’t find any. Many brought false testimony against him, but they contradicted each other. Some stood to offer false witness against him, saying, “We heard him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple, constructed by humans, and within three days I will build another, one not made by humans.’” But their testimonies didn’t agree even on this point.

Mark 14:53-59, Common English Bible (c) 2011


As I read and re-read this text I keep coming back to the lies.  One group goes looking for a crime committed by Jesus.  They have been watching and waiting for him to slip up; some have tried to trick him or trap him into teaching against the rules.  But it has not happened so they get a few folks to come in with a made-up tale.   Once we human beings make up our minds, we sometimes do not have enough sense nor enough humility to change our thinking.  We begin to believe the lies we have been telling.

Another thing about lies is that they are hard to keep consistent – especially if two or more people are trying to corroborate a phony story.  The details will vary with each telling; the sequence will change inexplicably.   Besides that, rarely do two people tell a true story the same way.  Eye witness accounts of the same event are often at odds with each other.   As individuals with unique experiences in life, we do not hear or see or notice the same things at any given time.  It is something to remember as we wander through life.

-Teressa Clark, 2012

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 32


Photo Challenge – Cake

A made-from-scratch pumpkin cake was my first thought for this week’s photo challenge.  The picture is from my husband’s birthday and shows some of his favorite food.  Must have been soup for supper that night!  (We probably went out for fish & chips another night.)

Cake - Pumpkin

He once made a pumpkin cake for a cake auction and I ended up in a bidding war to take it home.  It would have been ever so much cheaper to just make a second cake!  But the money was going to a good cause:  Bag of Blessings (see below for information about this fabulous program).

Just for fun, here are pictures of two cakes I made for the first cake auction for Bag of Blessings. Cake - Pretty in PinkThe doll is not edible – but her skirt is all cake! A preschooler absolutely insisted her mother get the cake for her.

Cake - Circus Train EngineConducted by a bear, each car of the Circus Train is a mini-loaf cake; all the decorations are edible.Cake - Circus Train

* * *

In case you’re curious, here is part of an old news release about the Bag of Blessings program which began when I was the pastor at Faith UCC.

Bag of Blessings News Release
Faith United Church of Christ, 3307 Mulberry Avenue, Muscatine, IA  52761

August, 2011

As summer drew to a close, members of Faith United Church of Christ, Muscatine, prepared for another semester of “Bag of Blessings.”  This program sends a small paper bag of food home each Friday with elementary age students who might otherwise go hungry on the weekends.  Having served 62 students at a cost of $3.00 per child per weekend last spring, the goal this year is to serve 70 children at a cost of $3.50 per student per week.

Bag of Blessings began in October 2009 … Faith United’s middle school students took up the cause.  Their initial goal was to raise $1200 for 30 children to receive food each Friday during the second half of the school year. The youth decided to hold a telemarketing campaign and told the congregation about it the first Sunday in December.  …  The following week youth called church members and made their pitch.  By the time they were done, 56 families had pledged more than $2200.  A cake auction after worship in mid-January raised an additional $1055.

Other monetary gifts were received from First Presbyterian Church, a fourth grade class at Bishop Hayes Catholic School, employees of Muscatine Physical Therapy, and employees of HON.  Grants from the Iowa Thank Offering of the Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ and Operation Rice Bowl of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport have also helped fund the program.

As the new school year began, elementary school principals were asked to identify children who were coming to school too hungry to learn. More than 55% of Muscatine students in kindergarten through fifth grade qualify for the free/reduced meal program.  A small portion of these students (30-75) rely almost totally on the school meals for their daily nutrition.  The parents of these children are asked to complete a simple application giving permission for their children to receive a “bag of blessing” every Friday afternoon of the school year.

… The students in Tammy Ales’ class at Madison School gain life skills as they pack the bags each week.  With a little help from fourth grade buddies, they read the menu for the week, do inventory, and pack the food into paper bags.  Each bag contains two breakfast items, two entrees, two fruit items, two fruit juices, a snack item and a seasonal beverage.  …

The Bag of Blessings program is now under the auspices of the Muscatine Community Food Pantry, a 501.c.3 organization.  Moving the program away from Faith UCC’s Benevolent Fund allows more funding opportunities – particularly from organizations whose policies prohibit giving money to a church. …

Lent.31: Jesus Arrested

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Mark 14:43-52

Suddenly, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came with a mob carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests, legal experts, and elders. His betrayer had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss, and take him away under guard.”

As soon as he got there, Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi!” Then he kissed him. Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

One of the bystanders drew a sword and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear. Jesus responded, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like an outlaw? Day after day, I was with you, teaching in the temple, but you didn’t arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”

And all his disciples left him and ran away. One young man, a disciple, was wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They grabbed him but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked.

Mark 14:43-52, Common English Bible (c) 2011

A mob – more than enough to take on Jesus and those with him.  Armed with swords and clubs – prepared for a fight.  And “someone” responded with a sword.

The other gospels indicate the “bystander” is one of Jesus’ disciples.  John names him as Simon Peter and says Jesus told him to put his sword away (John 18:1-12).  Only in Matthew does Jesus respond with the line “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:47-56).  Luke is the only gospel to report Jesus did one last miracle, healing the ear of the high priest (Luke 22:47-54a).

Note that “All his disciples left him and ran away.”  Peter is going to get a bad rap for denying he knew Jesus.  But what about the rest of the disciples?  What about us?

-Teressa Clark, 2012, 2019

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 31


Lent.30: Pray

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Mark 14:37-42

[Jesus] came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”

Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words. And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One[e] to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”

[e] Or Son of Man

Mark 14:37-42, Common English Bible (c) 2011

From the entry into Jerusalem to the intimacy of the Passover meal, it has been an emotionally charged week.  I imagine the disciples being both exhilarated and exhausted.  Now they have a chance to sit down, to be quiet, and to reflect on all that has happened.  But it is too much.  Their eyes refuse to stay open.  They lean back and fall asleep.  They did not mean to.  They could not help it.  Jesus tells them they need to pray.  But the effort is too much.  They stumble and try to wake up as they scramble to their feet when Jesus says “Get up!  Let’s go.”

We know we need to pray.  It strengthens our relationship with God and helps us keep our priorities straight.  Regular times of meditation and conversation with God remind us that we are not alone, that God and others do care, and that we are loved beyond measure.   Too often our eyes will not stay open and we drift to sleep – as the apostle Paul says “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

-Teressa Clark, 2012, 2019

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 30


Lent.29: Beyond Sad

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Mark 14:32-36

Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

Mark 14:32-36, Common English Bible (c) 2011

Jesus is “ if dying” (CEB), “deeply grieved” (NRSV), “sad and troubled” (CEV).  And so he turns to God.  I am struck by the sheer honesty and gut-wrenching feelings expressed.  Jesus names what is in his mind and on his heart.  He does not hold back, but tells God how it is with his soul.  It is not well.  The future does not look promising.   At this point, Jesus is fully human and definitely prefers a different cup to drink, another path to walk, an alternate route to follow.

I remember being a young, single, professional adult when neither work nor a relationship were going well.  The future looked bleak, dismal and discouraging.  I wanted to escape.  Instead, I went for a walk.  It was a rather dark evening and a cold wind was blowing.  Tears streamed down my face.  As I neared my home church, I screamed at God.  The exact words are long forgotten, yet I know I named the deep anxiousness, uncertainty and fear pervading my life.  I had my say and kept walking.  There was no reassuring voice from God.  Yet little by little a sense of calm enveloped me.  As I approached my apartment, I saw a friend – an angel – who had come to check on me.  And I knew deep within that God cared, I was loved, and it all would work out okay.  Professional counseling proved extraordinarily helpful as I sorted out my next steps.  More than a half a lifetime later, I can testify it all worked out.

-Teressa Clark, 2012, 2019

Lenten Reflections 2019:  Following Jesus from the Mount of Olives to the Tomb ~ Day 29