summer solstice!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pentecost 4B

Mark 4:26-34

26Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."

30He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

As the church's year of grace keeps moving into the green and growing structured, ordered, and organized Season of the Spirit of Ordinary Time, today we continue in the gospel according to St. Mark, the featured gospel from Revised Common Lectionary Year B, a.k.a. "Mark's year." Last week we discussed Mark's eschatological perspective and mentioned how the Messianic Secret "don't tell anyone about the signs and wonders" directs listeners and readers to the cross that's the true revelation of God's power and identify. As the earliest and shortest and most immediate of the four canonical gospels, Mark is the one for the texting and tweeting crowd!

The Gospel According to Mark probably is not by Peter's ministry companion John Mark, but from an unknown author or group. Mark may have been compiled as early as 45 C.E., most likely between 60 and 70 close to the time of the destruction of the second Jerusalem temple.

Prior to Mark, good news or gospel was the returning Roman general's announcement of annihilating the other army's troops. This gospel according to Mark subverts that into the Good News of God's victory over the powers of sin and death, the triumph of the reign of life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is economic, political, religious, social, and cultural. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims life and brings life – resurrection out of death – everywhere.

Mark has no birth narrative; no resurrection account.

Mark particularly asks and answers where do we look for God? Where do we find God? In Jesus Christ, God no longer is far away, behind the clouds, ensconced, contained, and protected in the the brick and mortar of the temple. We supremely find God in the openness, exposure, and vulnerability of a human dying on the cross. We find God not in established religious, economic, political institutions, but outside the city limits, in the wilderness. In the stranger and outcast. In, with, and under all creation.

This week we have a pair of parables well-suited to an agricultural society and culture. A parable is a comparison, analogy, illustration: the kingdom of heaven is like, similar to, parallels. But please take note... a parable is not an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Sometimes it seems as if Jesus had a particular interpretation in mind; other parables lend themselves to a variety of interpretations.

Common sense human ideas would compare God's strength and power with visually majestic tall, strong, unbending trees like cedars, oaks, or redwoods, or possibly palms whose branches bend, but whose trunks stay stable. The famous mustard seed parable compares the inbreaking reign of God to a bush, shrub, or plant that's not especially desirable if you haven't planted it, though it has many medical, culinary, and other practical uses. Although Jesus' illustration sort of turns it into one, technically mustard's not a weed. Around here we have mustard plants interspersed with California golden poppies.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Pentecost 3B

Mark 3:20-35

20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons."

23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— 30for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 33And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

Today the Church's year of grace continues in Ordinary Time, the structured, organized, green and growing Season of the Spirit as we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost. Although ordinary refers to organization rather than mundane or commonplace, we still hold these Sundays together in common with each other and with the rest of the ecumenical church catholic.

The Revised Common Lectionary that provides our scripture readings (except for those rare times the pastor decides to go off-lectionary, or when we study different scriptures as we did for Earth Day 2018), continues with gospel readings from the gospel according to Mark. Mark is the earliest and shortest of the four canonical gospels. Each gospel has a distinctive style and approach. Mark's is particularly apocalyptic. Apocalyptic means revealing, uncovering, in a similar sense as epiphany. Mark's apocalypticism brings us the inbreaking rule or reign of God—the end of the world as we've known it. Apocalyptic typically uses many signs and symbols. Sometimes a symbol has a discernible meaning; at other times it's best to do our best to comprehend the meaning of an entire passage rather than analyze each word or phrase.

Just as in Luke, in Mark Jesus' journey to the cross is incessant and highly intentional. Mark uniquely has the "Messianic Secret" with Jesus doing something or saying something and then telling everyone to keep quiet about it, not to reveal it to anyone. Mark finally reveals the secret at the crucifixion when the Roman centurion who's not a Jesus-follower insider declares, "truly this was a Son of God." [Mark 15:39] In short, the cross it the ultimate revelation of Jesus, the cross is the proper time to reveal the secret. Outsiders in Mark often have insight into Jesus' actions and identity.

We're currently in chapter 3, not far from the start of Mark's gospel. Today's lection begins with a crowd, Jesus' family of origin, and scribes or religious leaders from Jerusalem. Verse 23 tells us Jesus spoke in parables, a style of story that prompts us to listen on a deeper level than what's immediately obvious. As I mentioned, signs and symbols sometimes have a particular meaning; at other times it's best to consider them as part of a larger narrative.

Verse 35: Jesus doesn't negate the nuclear biological family, but expands the family of God to include everyone who follows him, keeps the commandments, does justice and mercy.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Pentecost 2B

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

12Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Mark 2:23—3:6

23One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" 25And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." 27Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."

3:1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." 4Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity; now the church's year of grace moves into six months of Ordinary Time, the Green and Growing Time Season of the Spirit, Time of the Church, when the church comes into her own as we continue following the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ as his presence in the world. Wherever we go. We'll be counting or numbering Sundays after the Day of Pentecost. Today is Pentecost 2.

Ordinary time refers to structure and organization, not to its being common and mundane, though it does have a sense of "commonality" because everyone shares in it.

Today we're back in Mark's gospel this revised common lectionary year B features all year long. Two of our readings – the first reading from the Hebrew scriptures and the gospel account – related to the commandment to observe Sabbath rest. We find the commandments in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. Today we read from Deuteronomy, when God through Moses tells us everyone needs Sabbath or intentional rest (not laziness!) because God freed us, liberated us, from the burden of working under the often unreasonable demands of empires and other bosses of all kinds. With a different focus, the Sabbath commandment in the book of Exodus explains we need Sabbath rest in imitation of God because as we labor along faithfully to claim that imago dei [divine image], some of our work imitates divine creativity, almost all of everyone's work contributes to the realization of God's new creation. As we frequently discuss, sometimes our sabbath/rest needs to be at times other than the historical biblical Sabbath day of Saturday or the Lord's Day Sunday many Christians set apart as a day of worship and rest.

Pastor Peg pointed out how wonderful God tells us everyone needs Sabbath rest—guests, strangers, animals—the land, as we read elsewhere in scripture. We spent a few minutes discussing the Mark passage about the religious leaders, Jesus, and Jesus healing on the Sabbath in order to free the guy with the withered hand to do the work he needed to do to be a contributing member of society and probably provide for his family.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Trinity Sunday B

John 3:1-17

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 5Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above.' 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Today in the Church's Year of Grace we celebrate a doctrine, a teaching, rather than an event. Scripture strongly implies God as triune or three-in-one, but scripture never uses the word "trinity." In our readings we've had at least two explicit theophanies or revelations of the Trinity: the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration. In the year 325 the Council of Nicaea articulated the doctrine of the Trinity with the Nicene Creed we often recite during worship as a testimony of faith. Orthodox Christians in mainline denominations like the ELCA, PC(USA), United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox churches are formally and officially Trinitarian. Some others–Disciples of Christ, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confess Jesus as Lord and speak of the godhead (a term we also use), but don't claim to be Trinitarian.

Trinity Sunday is the Octave of Pentecost. The church long has celebrated important events in octaves of eight days (similar to an octave of eight notes in music). Rather than attempting an analogy that never ever approaches the essence of the godhead, Early Church Fathers and Mothers frequently talked about the perichoresis of the Trinity. "Peri" refers to in the vicinity of, around, nearby. "Choresis" has the same root as the familiar choreography. Father, Son, Holy Spirit interact with each other, interpenetrate, share similar functions. Hymn of the day will be "Come, Join the Dance of Trinity," as the Trinity models our interactive and cooperative lifestyles and ministries. Though happily no one at all attempted one of the too many analogies of the Trinity, Sara mentioned Irish Christians noticed the shamrock plant with its three equal leaves and made it a famous trinitarian symbol.

Next week we'll begin counting Sundays after Pentecost as the Church moves into its own in the long, green, and growing season of Ordinary Time. We'll very consciously continue walking the talk as we follow Jesus into worlds around us as his presence in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost each of us received at baptism in a special way.

Today's gospel reading again is from the community gathered around John the beloved disciple. We meet the religious leader Nicodemus coming to Jesus, the light of the world, in the dark of night. John's gospel brings us Jesus' seven "I am" sayings; although it's not one of those, in this passage Jesus essentially announces "I am the Snake" that heals, saves, redeems, brings us eternal life. [Check out Moses in Numbers 21:9.] With his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, in a sense Jesus' "lifting up" is triune. Today's gospel reading includes John 3:16 quite a few of us read in many different spoken languages last week on the Day of Pentecost.

In John 16 we meet this same Nicodemus as he and Joseph of Arimathea anoint Jesus' body for burial and lay Jesus in the tomb, their form of burial since they didn't dig graves in the ground.

This gospel reading has a unique feature with its use of kingdom/reign of God in verse 3. Synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke say Reign of Heaven / Kingdom of God literally all the time, but John doesn't.

Good discussion of the less familiar verse 17, "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." We talked about stereotypes and mistaken ideas many people have about God and church. Pastor Peg told us we can help proclaim and be the good news that God loves, God saves, God does not condemn.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Day of Pentecost 2018

Acts 2:1-6

1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Starting with the creation accounts, the witness of scripture reveals innumerable ways the Holy Spirit always has been present on earth. The Day of Pentecost especially celebrates the more spectacular manifestation of the Spirit Jesus' followers experienced after Jesus' Resurrection, after the forty days he spent on earth before his Ascension to sovereignty and authority over all life. Every year we revisit images of visible fire and audible wind as evidence of the HS's presence among us and within us. As with many physical locations of events we read about in scripture, no one knows the exact location of the narrative Luke brings us in chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles, but strong tradition claims it was in the same upper room as Jesus' last supper / founding meal we remember on Maundy Thursday.

Speaking in other languages and hearing in the native language of each definitely refers to spoken, verbal language; however, in that place and time almost as much in this year 2018, people needed to comprehend other types of communication that would include cultural habits, body language, social class differences, ethnic styles. Pastor Peg pointed out Jesus is God's Word and words are communication. I mentioned though I hope most of what I produce as a graphic artist-designer is pleasingly artistic, above all I intend to communicate, as de-sign implies.

As the church's year of grace segues into the green and growing season of Pentecost when we number and count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost, we can be confident our baptism / immersion and filling with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost will enable us to live as Jesus's crucified and risen presence everywhere we go. The ELCA's tagline expresses it, "God's work – our hands [and feet and voices and ears and eyes, etc.]."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ascension 2018

Acts 1:1-11

1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Luke 24:44-53

44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The seventh Sunday of Easter is day 43 of the fifty days of Easter. The Easter season is a week of weeks, (the biblical number of) 7 times 7; next Sunday we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the third of our great Trinitarian festivals. Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter! And then the church's year of grace segues into the long, green and, growing season of Pentecost, "Season of the Church."

As we prepare to replicate and continue Jesus' earthly ministry, today we read from with Luke's pair of Ascension stories from his gospel and from his Second Volume / Act II Acts of the Apostles.

Three days ago on the 40th day of Easter, church and world (to some extent) celebrated Jesus' ascension with its declaration and confirmation of Jesus' authority over everything everywhere. Although we calendar the day of Resurrection according to the full moon and the spring equinox, making it a movable feast, Ascension Thursday remains fixed as the fortieth day of Easter.

Over the Sundays of Easter we've visited Jesus' post-resurrection actions, examples, and teaching. The past few weeks (and in the gospel reading from John appointed for today) we've heard from Jesus on Maundy Thursday, before his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

Each gospel writer brings a particular perspective:

• With his persistent emphasis on justice and righteousness that never ever lets go, Jewish Matthew is very much in the tradition of Pentateuch and Prophets;

• Apocalyptic Mark dramatically brings us the end of the world as we've known it—a literal new world order;

* The community gathered around the beloved disciple reveals abiding and obeying as one and the same, shows a very different worldview than the synoptic gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who – despite measurable distinctives – essentially view and interpret Jesus' life and ministry with a single eye = syn + optic;

• We can scroll through Luke's gospel and notice Jesus' repentance (and forgiveness) commands and actions are far more than a simple "I'm sorry." Jesus demands restoration of what has been taken or broken and then walking the talk differently from before. Jesus demands we demonstrate our sorrow and repentance with action.

Rebalancing relationships and restoring the integrity of creation aligns with the Jubilee year we hear about in Leviticus. Jubilee is (the biblical number of) 7 times 7 years, with the 50th or Jubilee year one of forgiveness, restoration, new beginnings—in a sense resetting the clock. Cancellation of debts, return of land to its original owners, release of slaves and bond-servants, letting land lie fallow for a year of healing rest jubilee provisions go along with Mary's Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55] that proclaims God's social and economic reversals, with Jesus' first act of public ministry in the synagogue [Luke 4:15-21] as he announces comfort to those who mourn, release of the captives, sight to the blind, etc.

As we prepare again to focus on living as Jesus' presence in the world everywhere we go, it's appropriate this morning we're considering both Ascension passages from Luke: his account in the gospel that bears his name along with his account from the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus promises us baptism or literal immersion in the Holy Spirit of life; Jesus promises our lives will witness to him, but we don't do this under our own steam, but by trusting the power of God's life with us.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Easter 6B

John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7 times 7 + 1. The third of our great trinitarian festivals, the day of Pentecost, is the fiftieth day of Easter! On this sixth Sunday of Easter that's the 36th of the 50 days of Easter, we're back again with Jesus on Maundy Thursday and his concluding discourse (speech, talk , homily, reflection, sermon) to his disciples and friends. We're back with Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection.

During this season of Easter, our readings from John's gospel and from the Acts of the Apostles particularly have shown us the shape and form of the servant church God calls us to be—and in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, God enables us to be. Just as in last week's gospel account, this week we hear more about obeying and abiding in Jesus Christ. Abiding means staying put wherever you are.

In our Maundy Thursday liturgy, we participated in a rite of hand-washing that parallels Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and friends in the gospel according to John. Towel and basin ministry particularly point to the calling of deacons, the servant order or class of the church, yet God calls every one of us to lives of nitty-gritty helping out with the needs of others. But we do not do any of this alone by ourselves. Our lives are like last's week's image of God as the winegrower / vine dresser, Jesus as the vine, as as the intertwined (inter-vined?) branches that support, compliment and complement each other.

The relationship between patron / sponsor and client / servant was socially constructed and expected in Jesus' day; in this passage Jesus tells us our relationship with him mainly is friendship and all the intimacy and closeness friendship entails.

In her summary of the readings for last week, Julie mentioned joy. In verse 11 this week Jesus tells us, "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." In our class discussions we focus so much on "do not fear" and our human tendency to be scared and apprehensive, we often forget joy. You can't be afraid and joyful at the same time.