Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent 3B

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

8For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Short explanation again of how Hebrew bible prophets technically spoke against the ruling status quo – political, economic, social, religious. Prophets also called people to repentance, to turning around and change the style and direction of their lives. But more than anything, prophecy announced God doing a new thing, the inbreaking of the reign of heaven, resurrection from the dead! This week's particular proclamation is exactly that: urban rebirth; rebuilding cities from ruins and blight and devastation; reversing, turning upside down, the community's sorrow, grief, lack of initiative. Resonating with the universalism we find throughout the entire book of Isaiah, these words affirm God does all this for everyone, everywhere!

Verse 11 in the Hebrew uses the word sprout three times: earth sprouts; garden sprouts; righteousness sprouts.

Interesting how this passage uses three different words for God/Lord: Yahweh; Adonai; Elohim

I had so many notes and ideas about this amazing passage from 3rd Isaiah, who wrote for the people who'd returned from exile in Babylon and also for the people who never left Jerusalem, but had stayed behind. However, we can't do everything every week or any week, so at least I pointed out how in Luke's gospel, Jesus' reading and commenting in the synagogue on these promises via Isaiah opened Jesus' public ministry.
Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

As I'd planned, we took time to discuss our most memorable and meaningful advent and Christmas memories and traditions. I mentioned Blue Christmas again, because this time of year is unhappy, difficult, and challenging for many people who hardly can wait until the media and local blitz of carols, decorations, and festivities ends.

Stayed tuned for next week, Advent 4, and the Magnificat from Jesus' mother Mary / Miriam!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Advent 2B

Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

We opened with the responsive psalm:

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

1Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. (Selah)

8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. 9Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

Overview of Mark's gospel from last week...

Review and reminder: Mark's the gospel for the texting and tweeting crowd. Gospel originally was the returning Roman general's victory announcement of wiping out his enemies—a proclamation of death and destruction. Mark was the first to subvert that concept of gospel into God's victory of life over death, the triumph of resurrection.

With the season of advent the church begins a new year of grace and prepares for Jesus' birth at Christmas.

Luke's gospel starts out with genealogy and then moves onto the angel's annunciation to Mary, the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, shepherds, angels... the traditional nativity manger scene.

Matthew's gospel begins with genealogy, an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream about Mary's pregnancy – " do not fear", the famous visit by magi from the east, flight into Egypt with Jesus as a refugee.

John begins with the pre-existent logos that's also a type of birth account.

Mark skips all that early stuff and brings us a wilderness scene of John the Baptist by the riverside.

Mark 1 is "the beginning of the good news..." is this chapter the start, or is the entire book of Mark with its 16 chapters the beginning of the good news? Probably! Because the good news continue for centuries, up until today in the 21st century as we become angels or messengers of the gospel!

Discussion of style, context, and content of the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin. Locusts and grasshoppers in the bible are the same thing. John as a nature guy, outside the social and religious establishment, outside polite society. On the edges of the margins.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Advent 1B

Mark 13:24-37

24"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

With the start of the new church year, we spent a fair amount of time with an overview of the gospel according to Mark; here's a short blog for Advent 1.

Today with the first Sunday of Advent, the church begins a new year of grace. Blue is the color for Advent; blue is the color of hope. Advent with its hope is a harbinger of Easter, the fulfillment of hope. Every year the scripture readings open Advent with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it—the end of death, destruction, empire, violence, exploitation.

Remember apocalypse, apocalyptic, apocalypticism? Revealing, uncovering, unveiling. Apocalyptic literature usually includes code words and images we need to interpret or unwrap on a level beyond the obvious. The passage from Mark's gospel that opens Advent this year 2017 comes from the middle of Mark's passion narrative!

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Mark RCL Year B Intro

As the earliest and shortest and most immediate of the four canonical gospels, Mark is the one for the texting and tweeting crowd!

Although all known manuscripts carry the heading The Gospel According to Mark, it's probably not by Peter's ministry companion John Mark, but from an unknown author (or group thereof).

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.

Probably written from Rome to Greek speaking gentile Christians, maybe as early as 45 C.E., almost definitely no later than 60 C.E..

Between them, Matthew and Luke include 631 of Mark's 661 verses. We find about 90% in Matthew; 50% in Luke. A year ago we talked about a possible source called Q for the first letter of the German Quelle meaning source or river. Was there a Q? Not known. Was Mark Q? Probably not.

No birth narrative; no resurrection account.
Mark doesn't mention Joseph, Jesus' earthly father.
Mark includes a lot of miracles, healings, and exorcisms.
Mark famously features the Messianic secret – Jesus' don't tell anyone!

Just as in Matthew and Luke, Mark's Jesus loves to refer to himself as "Son of Man" – the Human One. Daniel, Ezekiel, Enoch.

After his baptism followed by 40 days in the wilderness (also in Matthew and Luke), Jesus calls disciples Simon, Andrew, James, and John; then his first act of public ministry is casting out a demon in the midst of a synagogue service.

Just as for Luke, in Mark's gospel the journey to Jerusalem and the cross is intentional and incessant.

Mark particularly brings us God coming near to humanity and to all creation. Think of how central the Jerusalem temple was to economic, political, and religious life. God no longer is far away, behind the clouds, ensconced, contained, and protected in the temple. But then again, all the gospel accounts are about God-with-us, God-among-us, God-for-us...

Where do we look for God? Where do we find God?

Not in the temple – but on the cross
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.
In the mainline church and in mainstream society? Can we answer that question?