Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Advent 4C

Luke 1:39-55

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Three weeks ago on the first Sunday of Advent, the Church began a (Happy) New Year of grace. Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent; this year Christmas is on Tuesday, so we have less than two days to wait for Jesus' birth.

This is Revised Common Lectionary year C, Luke's year, so most of our gospel readings come from the Gospel According to Luke. As we journey through calendar year 2019, we'll get a good taste of Luke's perspective, Luke is a synoptic account that views Jesus' life and ministry in a similar manner to the gospels according to Mark and Matthew, despite all three having pronounced distinctives.

Luke uniquely brings us three canticles that essentially are psalms or songs:

• Mary's Magnificat: "My soul magnifies the Lord; he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly..." –Luke 1:46-55

• Zechariah's Benedictus: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has visited his people." –Luke 1:67-79

• Simeon's Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace; mine eyes have seen they salvation, which thou hast prepared..." –Luke 2:29-32

Psalm Notes

You may remember the psalter is the synagogue's prayer book or hymnal; rather than divine words addressed to humanity, psalms are human words addressed to God. The psalter was the hymnal for John Calvin's Geneva Reform; many of the hymns in our current cranberry red hymnal are directly based on psalms; many many others contain an allusion or reference to one or more psalms. Every week our worship service includes a psalm or portion of a psalm. Technically those are not scripture lessons or readings, but responses, as in "responsive psalm."

Magnificat

Among other specialties, Luke emphasizes women, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and history. Today for the psalmody and the gospel reading, we hear Mary's Holy Spirit-inspired canticle called the Magnificat. We've mentioned how well people knew and memorized scripture two millennia ago; although we have the words Luke wrote, it's very likely Mary sang a very similar song because this passage is closely based upon Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. In other words, Mary would have been so familiar with large chunks of scripture, she'd have been able to recite and paraphrase them, making those texts her own.

Magnificat is Latin for making larger, magnifying, making greater. Like a magnifying glass; same root as "magnificent." The office of Vespers/Evening Prayer (that's ideally prayed just at sunset) in the liturgy of the canonical hours always includes a spoken or sung Magnificat.

Neighborology – the word about the neighbor, the word for the neighbor – is another strong theme throughout Luke. Mary's description of how the world will change when Jesus arrives promises no more super-rich, no more super-poor, because there is enough for everyone if those rich folk don't insist on keeping more than they need. Mary anticipates how The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent 3C

Luke 3:7-18

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 10And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 11In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 14Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Two weeks ago on the First Sunday of Advent, the church started a new year of grace. Today we hear about John the Baptist from Luke 3:7-18 as he instructs people (a brood of vipers who need to repent) how to get ready for the arrival of God in their midst in the person of his cousin Jesus.

Do you remember John and Jesus were very close in age? J the B's official church birthday is June 25, right after the summer solstice; although Jesus's birth likely was during the season of spring, we celebrate his birthday right after the winter solstice, on December 25. Birthdays of increasing and decreasing light symbolize nicely John's observation, "Jesus must increase, I must decrease." Actions of Jesus' followers – ordinary, everyday lives of those baptized with water and with fire – become a big aspect of Jesus' presence increasing and growing on earth.

People in general imagine doing things the world will consider amazing, nut Jesus' cousin tells us to get ready for The Coming One by living life simply where we already are and sharing essentials like clothing and food. He doesn't even advise tax collectors and soldiers who are in the employ of the occupying Roman government to quit their jobs that potentially oppress and even could bankrupt people. We basically need to bloom where we're planted, and do everything the best we can with fairness and righteousness.

Two Sundays ago in my intro to Luke's gospel, I mentioned he emphasizes:

• neighborology – the word about the neighbor! The actions towards the neighbor! During Year C the lectionary includes quite a few readings from jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also emphasize the neighbor, the other, living together faithfully in covenantal community.

Would God among us not be an alleluia moment, a time to sing praises?! In this riverside narrative, John the Baptist has people preparing for God's arrival in their midst by starting to live as he knew Jesus would teach us to be and to act; when that happens, everyone will shout alleluias!

• Starting with John the Baptist down by the riverside counseling people to share what they have with others in order to prepare for the arrival of God in our midst, we find a lot of "social gospel" throughout Luke. However, this isn't let's see how many good works we humans can accomplish on our own; it's always about the indwelling and outgoing power of the Holy Spirit.

Today's gospel reading anticipates the same Luke's Acts of the Apostles where everyone has everything in common, where members of the nascent church literally provide for the common good. Acts includes some pretty amazing accounts of missions to distant places, too, but more than anything, it's about serving the people, right here in this very place, giving of ourselves and our excess. This is the outcome of the presence in our lives of the One who baptizes with cleansing water and purifying fire. Our everyday lives become part of the magic of the ordinary for our neighbors.

Just as Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness, Luke never lets up on living for the other, for the neighbor, correcting the imbalance of some having more than they need, others trying to get by with less. Early on in Luke's

Acts 2

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Advent 1C • Luke

Advent

On the first Sunday of Advent, the church begins a new year of grace. Happy New Year!

Every year Advent opens with a splash of apocalyptic scripture, signaling the end of the world as we know it. No more status quo, the beginning of a new way of living and being—the world is about to turn. Some time during this Advent, we'll probably sing Canticle of the Turning that's based on Mary's Magnificat.

Blue, the color of hope, is the official color for Advent. Although it includes a theme of repentance, the season of Advent is especially about hope. In Spanish esperar/espero means wait, hope, and expect. We hope for and anticipate not a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays as the rest of the world sincerely might wish us; we hope for the incarnation of mercy, grace, and love. Instead of the rest of the world's irenic peace that's more or less a temporary cease-fire, we hope for, wait for, and expect the fullness of shalom the Prince of Peace brings us. We hope for the dawn of the new creation the death and resurrection of the Prince of Peace will initiate.

This is Revised Common Lectionary Year C, Luke's year. Luke is a synoptic gospel that views Jesus' life an ministry in a similar manner to Matthew and Mark.

Luke's Gospel

Luke is the only Gentile, non-Jewish writer in the entire New Testament. Luke was a highly educated physician, but think "bronze age" in terms of sophistication. Luke wrote a two-volume account, a gospel and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. We often refer to Luke-Acts as one word.

Luke's particular perspective includes an emphasis on:

• world history and Jewish history

• Luke brings us Jesus' genealogy that ends with Adam, son of God. Luke's human Jesus and divine Christ both minister to each one's body and spirit.

• presence and activity of the Holy Spirit – the HS has been prominent throughout the Bible's witness, but Luke-Acts brings a fulfillment of God's reign in the Spirit

• prayer

• women

• marginalized people of every class and type, the underclass.

• table fellowship.

• neighborology – the word about the neighbor! During Year C the lectionary includes quite a few readings from jeremiah and Deuteronomy that also emphasize the neighbor, the other, living together faithfully in covenantal community.

• Starting with John the Baptist down by the riverside counseling people to share what they have with others in order to prepare for the arrival of God in our midst, we find a lot of "social gospel" throughout Luke,. However, this isn't let's see how many good works we humans can accomplish on our own; it's always about the indwelling and outgoing power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke includes three psalm-like songs or canticles based on Old Testament sources:

• Mary's Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord; he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly..." – Luke 1:46-55

• Zechariah's Benedictus, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has visited his people." – Luke 1:67-79

• Simeon's Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace; mine eyes have seen they salvation, which thou hast prepared..." – Luke 2:29-32

Uniquely in Luke we find:

• Sermon on the Plain – Luke 6:17-49, which emphasizes the physical re-distributive justice and material well-being. Matthew's parallel Sermon on the Mount is more about spiritual well-being.

• Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

• Prodigal Son – Luke 15: 11-32

• Stones cry out Luke – 19:37-40

• Emmaus Road in Luke's post-resurrection account takes us back to the Maundy Thursday Upper Room and to Luke's many accounts of Jesus' table fellowship with all comers – Luke 24:13-35

We concluded class by reading the first section of the assigned gospel for Advent 1C. Rather than coming from the beginning of Luke's gospel, this is Jesus speaking toward the end! We hear about signs and symbols coming alive in nature/creation; we'll soon celebrate the birth of Jesus who is not a god in nature, but God and Lord of nature.

Luke 21:25-28

25"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Friday, November 30, 2018

Gospel According to Mark Overview

The account of Jesus' trial in John 18:33-37 was the assigned gospel reading for the last Sunday of the Church's Year of Grace, Reign of Christ; instead of an overview of the nature of Jesus' authority and reign, we did an overview of Mark's gospel to assess where Mark has taken us during lectionary year B, and to prepare for Revised Common Lectionary Year C that will feature Luke, another of the three synoptic gospels.

All four canonical gospels show us Jesus has complete lordship, rule, kingship, sovereignty over every aspect of life: political; economic; religious; cultural; spiritual; social. The Reign of Jesus the Christ is comprehensive and touches everything we are, everything we do..

Mark is one of the three synoptic gospels with a similar (syn) viewpoint (optic) of Jesus' life and ministry, despite each having a distinctive style or personality.

As I've been saying for the past twelve months, Mark is the earliest and shortest gospel—the one for texters and tweeters. Mark is urgent and direct. Especially for Mark and Luke, the journey to Jerusalem and the cross is relentless and incessant. Mark is the only canonical gospel that styles itself gospel or good news. Prior to Mark, "gospel" was the returning Roman emperor's (actually bad news) announcement of victory that had vanquished his enemies in violent death and destruction; Mark subverted the word gospel (that literally means good news) into God's proclamation of the victory of life.

Mark brings us a fair amount of apocalyptic, a style of writing that draws upon symbols and signs, frequently taken from nature. Similar to epiphany, apocalypse means revealing or unveiling. Last week Steve suggested apocalyptic was about the future; it truly is, but instead of speaking directly, it uses symbolic words and natural objects that require interpretation. Mark and all the gospels bring us the end of the world as we've known it. Mark is highly counter-cultural, anti-religious, anti-economic, anti-political establishment. Mark constantly asks where we find God; and answers not in the temple, not in conventional religious, economic, or political structures, but outside the center, on the edges, on the underside of polite convention and typical expectations. Ultimately, we find the fullest revelation of God in the human Jesus of Nazareth dying outside the city on a cross of shame.

Unlike the other three gospels, Mark includes no birth narrative and no actual resurrection account in the easiest manuscripts, though your bible probably has a resurrection story tacked on at the end. Mark opens with "The beginning of the gospel." People forever have asked is that beginning the first paragraph of Mark's chapter 1, the entire 16 chapters of Mark, or is everywhere and every time still the beginning of the good news of death and resurrection, the end of the world as we've known it?

Mark famously and uniquely includes the messianic secret—when Jesus says or does something astonishing, he often advises everyone not to tell anyone. It's not about signs and wonders that easily impress humans, it's about the cross. Mark starts out with "Jesus, son of God"; at Jesus' death a Roman soldier announces, "truly this was a son of God." At the cross, Jesus' life, identity, and purpose no longer are secret, but recognized and revealed by an outsider. Outsiders, strangers, or others not part of Jesus' Jewish community recognizing Jesus' identity and purpose is another Markan theme.

Each of the four gospels opens Jesus' public ministry with a different type of event that then continues as a theme of that gospel. Mark goes from Jesus' wilderness baptism by John, to the Spirit driving him into a deeper wilderness where he experience temptations (Matthew and Luke describe the temptations, Mark doesn't), then returning to Galilee and calling the first disciples. After those events, Jesus exorcises (expels, casts out) a demon from a man during a synagogue service—Mark 1:21-26. Mark (and Jesus, of course) continues subverting and overthrowing structures, events, people, and impulses that interfere with human freedom.

Next Sunday with Advent, the church begins a New Year of Grace that will feature the gospel according to St. Luke. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Pentecost 26B

Mark 13:1-8

1As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The church's year of grace is coming to an end! After today we have one more Sunday – Reign of Christ / Christ the King – and then Revised Common Lectionary Year C, also known as Luke's year, begins with the first Sunday of Advent.

Today is the last time we'll consider a passage from the gospel according to St. Mark. Although this Year B has been Mark's year, for Reign of Christ we'll hear from John, the Fourth Gospel.

Last Sunday we talked some about organization, structure, budgets, and accountability. Among other things, we heard the story about the widow who gave her last two tiny coins to the huge temple system that according to God's mandate needed to protect and provide for her rather than the other way around. Whether organizational like committees or physical like buildings, structures are absolutely necessary so life doesn't turn chaotic.

Today's gospel reading from Mark includes some apocalyptic. Steve suggested apocalyptic points to the future, and that's frequently the case. Basically, apocalyptic writing uses symbols and words that don't mean what they sound like at first hearing; they need to be interpreted. In scripture, those symbols often come from nature such as fires, floods, and earthquakes. Similar to a sign, a symbol points to or indicates something beyond itself. The word "symbol" can be confusing; we sometimes refer to the scriptures and the sacraments as the symbols of the church and often include the confessions in the church's symbols. On the other hand, in literature and in visual art, we refer to one object that stands in for another as a symbol.

On to today. The disciples are so very very extremely impressed by the huge temple building built out of ginormous stones. What is it about large objects, shiny bling, and ostentation that impresses humans? More accurately, what is it about humans that many times large, shiny stuff, and displays we can see from miles away impress us?

Jesus is in the shadow of the temple, still on his way to trial, conviction, crucifixion—and resurrection. He's been telling us and showing us real life is about faithful relationships, about care for those without power, about distributice justice. There is enough of everything to go around.

Monday, November 05, 2018

All Saints 2018

John 11:32-44

32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Today we celebrate All Saints Day/Sunday. Although historically this feast day has focused on the Church Triumphant, the celebration very much includes those of us still in the visible church that's sometimes called the church militant. We'll talk about sanctification, theosis, divinization: those three words mean the same thing. In baptism we become saints and receive the spirit of life that's the spirit of resurrection from the dead we hear about in today's reading from St. John's gospel. The sanc prefix to a word means holy, just as in the Sanctus/"Holy, Holy, Holy" we sing during the liturgy. Western churches generally use the term sanctification to refer to the process of becoming holier, more consistently thinking, acting, and being like Jesus; "divinization" with the divine root means the same; Eastern Churches typically refer to Theosis that has the Theo or God word root—all three terms describe claiming, growing into, and living out our divine nature of being holy, just as God is holy.

As we did for All Saints 2017, we'll talk about saints we have known in our own lives. These holy ones could be neighbors, parents, friends, relatives still on earth or in the company of heaven; they could be people in scripture or famous saints known to most of the world like Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Kolkata, Francis, Claire, Augustine, etc.

Our scripture readings necessarily are what we call pericopes, literally cut out from the surrounding passages ("peri" = around, surrounding; "cope" = cut). Although we need to consider the probable historical context of any scripture, and we need to consider events before and after it, obviously we can't talk about everything every time. However, to contextualize Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead, we need to know the event comes after Jesus' "I am the resurrection and the life" statement in verse 25, and before Lazarus' sister Mary has anointed Jesus into his death {referenced in John 11:2, described in John 12:2-7). John 12:2 tells us about Martha, Mary, and the formerly dead man Lazarus hosting a dinner party. Remember post-resurrection Jesus as dinner host and guest on several occasions?

Just as later on when we read about Jesus' death and resurrection, this gospel reading brings us a dead man, a tomb, grave cloths or embalming wraps, a stone, a weeping Mary. In baptism we receive the holy spirit of life, the power of resurrection from the dead. Jesus commands the people witnessing his raising Lazarus to new life from death to participate in the act of resurrection to "unbind him, and let him go." We also have the power to help unbind and release people from aspects of death that prevent them from moving and living; we possess the spirit of resurrection to help free and liberate individuals and creation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reformation 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Last year we celebrated Reformation 500; this year we continue in a church that's still reforming—a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted "worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular" was a mark of the true church. Especially with Reformation we're considering a vernacular church, a church that speaks the common language of the people, that presents Christianity (that's so very other than business as usual, other than status quo) with vocabulary and symbols everyday regular people understand.

Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation. This is one of the four classic Reformation scriptures; today we'll also be hearing from Romans 3 and from Psalm 46 that Martin Luther paraphrased for his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, but instead of the truth will make you free from John 8, we'll continue in Mark's gospel from where we left off last week with the story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus from chapter 10.

God's covenants or agreements with humanity and with all creation are a prominent feature of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament and continue into the New Testament / New Covenant scriptures with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from co-venire, coming together, and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East.

A new anything implies an old one, but this is more a new location than it is a new agreement. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't so much the seat of emotions as we think of it in the contemporary Western world as it is the location of a person's will. In Hebrew biology and bible, it goes beyond will or intention to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment, etc. (and also emotion). Jeremiah announces a covenantal word about the neighbor. This new proclamation of God's eternal covenanting relates to creating and sustaining community by following the guidelines God gave the people with the commandments; it will become natural and almost instinctive because it will be incarnate or embodied as part of everyone's being.

Remember the reference in last Sunday's gospel to kings? Remember God's people asking for a king like the other nations had to rule them?

God gave the commandments to the people with very recent freedom or liberation from working under conditions of imperial Egyptian slavery as the background. The people received the commandments as words of grace in the wilderness on their way to settling in the promised land, not when they reached their destination. Although God remained and still is the ultimate ruler (king, sovereign, monarch) of all of us, the commandments show people how to govern and rule themselves.

The commandments shape the people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves my considering the needs of each other, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff.

Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the Sinai covenant of the ten commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the reverse of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets our wrongdoings.

Closely related: a note about the apostle's Paul's telling us in Romans the law doesn't save us. Almost every time Paul says "law," he refers to ceremonial, sacrificial, law and not to the covenantal, neighbor-oriented ten commandments.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pentecost 22B

Mark 10:35-45

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
This episode of the church's year of grace will conclude at the end of November. We're still in the gospel according to St. Mark. Next week we'll take sort of a break for Reformation Sunday (note: I found out that next week we'll be hearing from Mark's gospel rather than from John's classic Truth Will Make You Free Reformation gospel reading, but the other scriptures will be Reformation standards Psalm 46, Jeremiah 31, and Romans 3.) Reformation 501 won't be as much of an interruption as it also will remind us of God's faithful, merciful presence and ongoing reconciliation of all creation by grace rather than by human initiative and effort.

During the following Sundays Jesus will confront the religious leaders and authorities and affirm following the commandments brings a person close to the reign of heaven/ kingdom of God; Jesus will deplore the dehumanizing economic violence of the religious temple system that has demanded an impoverished widow's last shekel; this year will end on Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday with the account in John's gospel of Jesus' trial, conviction, death, and burial—and the declaration of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth as King, Ruler, Sovereign.

Jesus' first act of public ministry after his baptism and triple temptation in the wilderness in Mark's gospel? Driving out (exorcising) a demon from a possessed guy during a synagogue service. Looking at Mark's broad sweep and trajectory, we find freedom or release from everything that binds, enslaves, dehumanizes, kills us. That includes institutions, organizations, governments, structures of all kinds that become so literally tied up in their functional details they deal in death rather than life. Mark especially brings us an apocalyptic revealing or uncovering of God's upside-down reign of life—the New Creation in the wake of the death of the Old Creation.

We discussed how humans and entities like churches, schools, workplaces need structure, but those structures need to function for the sake of the lives of the individuals and entities they serve, not for their own sake. Examples: LCM's church council; LA's county and city governments; a denomination's regional judicatory and national governing headquarters.

James and John Zebedee's request to Jesus may be outrageous and arrogant, but I'll cite a class member's observation a couple weeks ago that Jesus and his followers had such a high level of trust and intimacy they knew they could say anything to each other and wouldn't get un-friended. In Mark 10:39 James and John insist they are able to do whatever Jesus leads them to, so (1)does that mean they implicitly trust Jesus, or (2)does it mean they still don't realize Jesus is on the way to his trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, burial? And resurrection?

Like most humans, they always default to theology of glory that Jesus always refutes with theology of the cross; again, Jesus describes the shape and the reality of the reign of heaven on earth as absolutely the opposite of what most humans aspire to.

Baptism reference is a bit obscure. It may be about John the Baptist's water baptism of repentance and forgiveness; it may be about immersion in the way of Jesus (per the Apostle Paul's comprehensive meaning in Romans 6); same with "cup" that may be one's life purpose, calling, goal, or destiny. In any case, this section of scripture happens after Jesus' third passion prediction in Mark's gospel.

Moving from a small micro level to a large macro level:

• Last week for Pentecost 21 we read about Jesus' micro encounter with a guy who had a lot of money and a lot of stuff—Luke's and Rembrandt's Rich Young Ruler, though among Matthew, Mark, and Luke that all include a version of this story, we don't know his actual social identity. Last week we heard Jesus call the guy beyond rote obedience to the commandments to fully living the commandments by divesting himself of money and property he didn't really need in order to help people in need, or simply his neighbors who had less than he did. "Neighborology." This is the only place in Mark's gospel that tells about Jesus loving an individual person; the word for love is the divine agape love.

• This week for Pentecost 22 our text brings us to an overarching macro level with Jesus telling us with servant and slave language he will ransom (release, free, in a similar manner to releasing or freeing a slave or bondservant) society and all creation from structures and systems that dehumanize and kill rather than give life—what the letter to the Colossians calls "powers and principalities."

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Pentecost 21B

• Two weeks ago on Pentecost 19, we discussed our experiences with different branches and styles of Christianity—ecumenism, ecumenical.

• Last week on Pentecost 20, before our Blessing of the Animals during the Eucharistic liturgy, everyone talked about their particular passions and concerns regarding creation.

• Therefore—no class notes for either of those days.

Mark 10:17-31

17As 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?" 18Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You 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.' " 20He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21Jesus, 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." 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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." 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

28Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

The Church's year of grace continues to move toward Jerusalem, the cross, and the empty grave. We continue with main gospel readings from Mark. Mark is the shortest, earliest, most concise, and direct of the four canonical gospels. Along with Matthew and Luke, Mark is one of the three synoptic gospels; despite different emphases, they essentially view Jesus' life and ministry with a single perspective or eye.

"syn" as in synonym, synagogue, synthesis, synergy, syndicate, synod; "optic" as in optical, optician, optometrist, optimistic.

Today is about neighborology, the word about the neighbor, the other. You remember neighborology was prominent in Luke's gospel; Luke's lectionary Year C that begins again soon with the first Sunday of Advent also featured particularly neighbor-oriented readings from Jeremiah and Deuteronomy.

Jesus and his disciples continue on the journey or the way to Jerusalem and the cross. In Mark and in Luke, the journey to the cross is especially relentless and intentional. Maybe you recall early on in its accounts, Luke's Acts of the Apostles refers to people who follow Jesus as followers of The Way

In terms of economy and culture, two thousand years ago the ancient near east was somewhat of a subsistence economy, with people precariously balancing their lives with income from fishing and farming; they generally had little if any surplus. Besides farmers and fishers, there were landholders who became landlords and demanded rent in cash or in kind for farming on their plot of earth. Empires long had made inroads into that part of the planet; Jesus and his people dealt with the occupying Roman army, puppet governors, and high taxes on a daily basis.

We find versions of today's famous reading in all three synoptic gospels, with variants that show we don't quite know the social status or age of the guy who converses with Jesus. Today's well-known reading is about keeping the commandments, words and the actions that relate to the other than me; getting out of yourself and detaching yourself from your stuff and your money and being there for your neighbor. Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann calls the commandments the working papers for life in covenantal community. In this passage, Jesus quotes commandments only from what we call the second table of the law, the part that deals directly with our neighbors; we've discussed how breaking any commandment violates the first command to have no other god (nothing else first in our lives and thoughts and hearts) but the true God. "Do not defraud" is not in either Exodus' or Deuteronomy's version of the commandment, though other places in the Hebrew Bible mention defrauding.

Today's reading is about a guy with lots of stuff who basically has made money and possessions into his real god, into what comes first in his life and heart. Trust, belief, and faith all are the same word in biblical Greek. You can't trust cash, stocks, bonds, and so-called "securities" (ha ha); you can trust God who fills heaven and earth, the God and Father of Jesus the Christ.

This is the only place Mark's gospel tells us Jesus loved someone; it's the unconditional, divine, agape love.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Pentecost 18B

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

3 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

4 1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. ...

Old Testament & Wisdom Literature

A few weeks ago on Pentecost 13 / August 20, when we studied a passage from the book of Proverbs we did an overview of the content of the Hebrew Bible, especially contrasting the Wisdom literature Proverbs belongs to with the rest of scripture.

The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible has three major sections: Torah; Prophets; Writings. Torah or Pentateuch ("penta" refers to the number five, as in pentagram, pentagon, pentatonic).

* Torah carries and conveys a sense of God's definitive self-revelation, along with covenantal and other history, and includes commandments and related instructions for human behavior.

* Prophets break into the current setting or situation with words or challenges from God, often speaking truth to power, frequently revealing restored hope for the future, promises of resurrection from the dead.

* Writings are a diverse body of literature that aren't so much as words from heaven to earth as they are words from earth to heaven. The writings include books of Proverbs, Psalms, Esther, Daniel, Chronicles, Song of Solomon, Job. ...

To review some characteristics of Proverbs for today's discussion, in alignment with many wisdom writings in the Ancient Near East, its articles, exhortations, essays, and poetry tend to be about discernment from the human side, rather than revelation from God's side; they emphasize obedience, learning from living together in community, and obeying God's word along the way: heart knowledge and foot knowledge we acquire from walking the talk! They have a sense of mystery and hiddenness rather than an aura of command.

James: Author & Content

The Revised Common Lectionary that provides most of our Sunday scripture readings has been in a semi-continuous reading of the New Testament epistle or letter of James. Like Proverbs, James is within the tradition of wisdom literature. Most weeks we have time to discuss only one lection, so this group has been missing out and this is our first Sunday with James; maybe not the best passage to start with, but here we are, anyway.

Jesus' apostle James Zebedee almost definitely didn't write the book of James. It might have been by Jesus' biological brother James; someone else could have written it and honored either of those James by using their name. Even most recent critical scholarship considers dating uncertain; it remotely could have been written even before Paul's 1 Thessalonians we generally regard as the earliest NT book; it could have been written several decades later. Steve's Study Bible suggested possibly well into the 2nd century, but that feels way too late. For what it's worth, James' grammar and syntax are quite consistent. In any case, James wrote to scattered, dispersed Jewish Christians in a diaspora either fairly nearby or relatively far away.

Throughout five short chapters, James is about neighborology, how to live together in community, how to obey the commandments so everyone will be their healthiest and best. James brings us echoes of Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Luke. Remember how often we discussed those books during Luke's lectionary year A? James also sounds like Jesus in his Sermon on the Plain and Sermon on the Mount.

Luther & James / James & Luther

The reformer Martin Luther famously did not like Jimmy, notoriously referred to the book as an "epistle of straw." Reasons for Luther's opinion aren't entirely clear. It could have been because so much of James emphasizes we need to be doers of the word of God, and not merely hearers of the word; that would appear to be works-righteousness that violated Luther's theology of grace. It could have been because Pastor Martin wasn't crazy about the idea of serving some of his more boorish, bumpkin-like nearby neighbors. It well may have been because James nowhere affirms or confesses Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God, so the epistle does not contain even a hint of the high Christology Luther would have desired.

One more note: in addition to James, Luther did not want to include Revelation, Hebrews, or Jude in the canon of scripture. He also had lesser opinions of 2 John, 3 John, and 2 Peter. That group of Luther's leftovers sometimes gets referred to as antilegomena, literally "spoken against."

Monday, September 17, 2018

Pentecost 17B

Mark 8:27-38

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

The church is more than three quarters of the way through this year of grace that especially features gospel readings from St. Mark, the earliest, shortest, most concise narrative of Jesus' earthly ministry. Today's passage is considered a literary and theological hinge between the two major sections of Mark. Moat of the first half happens around Jesus' hometown area of Galilee; most of the second occurs on the way to, near, and in Jerusalem.

Jesus and his disciples are in a Caesarville—Caesarea Philippi, a center of worship of the god Pan (Pastor Peg told us our word panic relates to Pan's activities; I mentioned Pan was a musician), worship of the Ba'al place gods, worship of the Roman Emperor. Besides dividing different locations of first and second half of Mark, these verses form a kind of hinge between sections of Mark because they demand an answer to the question of Jesus' identity and call, and, by extension, a response to the question of our identity and calling as people of God who bear the name of Christ Jesus.

Especially in the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is particularly incessant and intentional. Surprisingly(!), this is the very first place in Mark where Jesus uses the word "cross."

Like many during the last three or four millennia, we live in a Caesarville—a place defined by one empire or another. Do we live where Trumpville, Forty Five City, Big Pharma Nation or Mass Violence Villa hold sway and try to have the final say? Yes, all of those, and lots more we can think of too easily.

Mark 8:34 – the cross Jesus calls us to carry is not the sorrows, losses, struggles, trials, disappointments. difficulties everyone experiences to some degree in life. Jesus' especially calls us to carry the cross that's a loud "no" to death, "no" to violence, "no" to exploitation, "no" to inequality, "no" to imperial excesses of every kind, "no" to hatred, etc. When we carry the cross of Jesus Christ, we speak a resounding "yes" to life, "yes" to peace, to equality, community, to neighborology, to love, to inclusion, etc.

We had surprisingly little discussion of the famous conversational exchange between Jesus and Peter. One class participant pointed out what a deep level of trusting friendship Jesus and Peter must have had to speak so freely and openly to each other. Think about it! No risk of a sudden angry de-friending between them!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Pentecost 16B

Isaiah 35:4-7a

4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

The church – that's us! – has journeyed ¾ of the way through another year of grace as we've concentrated on gospel readings from Mark, the earliest, most concise, most direct account of Jesus' ministry; maybe you've noticed I like to call Mark the gospel for the texting and tweeting crowd?

Today we'll consider a passage that's very much "God's work – our hands." Today we'll study a passage from the 66 chapter long book of Isaiah that includes a "do not fear" charge (command!). You may remember we divide Isaiah into three main sections:

• chapters 1-39, 1st Isaiah, before the Babylonian exile;
• chapters 40-55, 2nd Isaiah, during the exile;
• chapters 56-66, 3rd Isaiah, after the exile—

though it's not quite that neatly delineated. Since 1st Isaiah comprises chapter 1 through 39, at first glance it looks as if Isaiah 35 comes from the individual or committee that wrote down most of the first section, though in many ways chapter 35 conveys the same spirit of hope, renewal, and resurrection from the dead we find in the second section. Someone observed, "2nd Isaiah funded Handel's Messiah." The Messiah even opens with the same words that open 2nd Isaiah, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God."

Quick note: vengeance in verse 4 is not necessarily violence, but can refer to vindication, benefit, a payment that restores justice, or simply God's response or answer, as "He will come and save you" suggests.

Do you remember when John the Baptist was in prison and he told his followers to go ask his cousin Jesus if he (Jesus) was the promised one "who is to come," or if they needed to keep looking and searching for someone else? Jesus told John's followers, "Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, dead are raised, good news proclaimed to the poor..." [and blessed are those who take no offense, do not consider me a stumbling block/ scandal..."] Matthew 11:4,5,6 Luke 7:22,23

With lame people not only walking, but leaping like deers, speechless people not only talking but singing, this Isaiah passage is even more dramatic.

Do you know Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by farmer / poet / theologian Wendell Berry? Among other things he advises us:
Every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
...
Practice resurrection.

In baptism we have received God's Spirit of Resurrection from the dead. Discussion of how sometimes life out of death is physical and bodily, sometimes it's most spiritual, it can be emotional or psychological. Sometimes we don't receive a cure for physical ailments in this life, but healing always is possible. Like God's promise through whichever Isaiah recorded today's scripture passage, like Jesus' reply to his cousin John the Baptist, God often calls us to be the reversal, the newness, the resurrection to new life God promises and people need. God calls and enables us to help the blind see, deaf hear, lame walk (or leap), speechless talk (or sing). Jesus was the promised one who'd change the course of history; now we are Jesus' presence in the world as our hands do God's work. As we practice resurrection!

Pastor Peg suggested considering an event or a person that has changed our perspective on something, or even changed the direction of our life.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Pentecost 15B

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

1So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.

2You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.

6You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!"

7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

9But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children.

At the 15th Sunday – and still counting! – after the Festival of the Day of Pentecost, we've journeyed three quarters of the way through the Church's Year of Grace. We're continuing in Revised Common Lectionary Year B with its focus on the gospel according to Mark that's the earliest, shortest account of Jesus' life and ministry. I often call Mark the gospel for the texting and tweeting crowd.

Today we have another passage from Deuteronomy. You may remember we heard a lot of Deuteronomy during Luke's lectionary year C. We recently discussed some of the desert wanderings of God's people Israel from the book of Exodus.

Deuteronomy 4:7 asks, what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? But in Exodus 3 we've discovered a God who hears the cries, sees the pain, heeds the complaints, and is there before anyone thinks to summon God. This is not a new or different God than before; this is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the One we meet as the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

Exodus 3:7-8 "I have seen the pain of my people; I have heard their cry; I know their sufferings. I have come down to deliver them and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey." Similar reminders of God remembering, not forgetting, maintaining the covenant of grace with Abraham continue through the first half of Exodus.

Deuteronomy 4:8 asks what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just, as righteous, as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

What other nation, what country, gathered people, community, assembly, has such a wonderful way of being, way of living, lifestyle, Torah, set of guidelines for living together, for loving the neighbor, for maintaining the common-wealth, for neighborology? We talked about neighborology a lot during Luke's year when we also discussed Jeremiah and Deuteronomy.

Exodus and Deuteronomy refer to the ten commandments of the Sinai Covenant not as statues, ordinances, or commandants, but as words.

At least twice in Exodus, the account of the formation of Israel as a people, God's people / Moses' people who are one and the same, announce "we will do all the words the Lord has spoken." Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7

Reformer John Calvin insisted "there is no pre-obedience knowledge of God." Reformer Martin Luther began his Small Catechism – traditional preparation for first Holy Communion – with the Commandments. Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us, "It is the God of the Commandments with Whom we commune."

Continuing Sunday's discussion: backtracking to our recent five weeks of John 6 along with hearing about manna and quail from heaven, water from the rock in Exodus, we constantly receive signs or evidence of God's presence. These signs or symbols include bread and wine of holy communion; waters of baptism. Signs or symbols of God's nearness include the commandments that share God's attributes of holiness, righteousness, justice for the neighbor. Signs of God's presence include us, the contemporary people of God, wherever we go...

Monday, August 27, 2018

Pentecost 14B

John 6:56-69

56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.65And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" 68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Today marks the fifth Sunday in a row of chapter 6 of John's gospel! John is the gospel of abiding presence, the gospel that (maybe particularly) emphasizes the incarnation, enfleshment, embodiment of the pre-existent, eternal logos. Today we move from Jesus' "I am" declarations (that equate him with Yahweh's "I am" revelation to Moses) to the disciples "You are / Thou art" the Holy One of God.

Pentecost 10 • 29 July • John 6:1-21

verse 1 going over to the other side
2 signs
4 almost passover
9 five barley loaves & two fish / twelve baskets of leftovers
19 Jesus walks on water / "I am"

Pentecost 11 • 05 August • John 6:24-35

24 crowd to Capernaum seeking Jesus
26 "you ate your fill"
30 sign, work, manna = not from Moses
35 "I am" the bread of life

Pentecost 12 • 12 August • John 6:35,-41-51

35 "I am" the bread of life
41 Jesus complained
42 Joseph's son / from heaven?
49 your ancestors ate manna and died
51 eat my bread and never die / my flesh for the life of the world

Pentecost 13 • 19 August • John 6:51-58

51 "I am" the living bread from heaven / bread for the life of the world
58 eat my flesh, drink my blood, abide, life forever.

Pentecost 14 • today – 26 August • John 6:56-69

56 eat and drink = mutual abiding
58 bread from heaven
59 teaching in synogogue
60 difficult teaching, saying = hard logos
62 human one ascending = In John's gospel, Jesus' ascension is his lifting up on the cross and not his ascension into heaven we read about in Luke / Acts
63 Spirit gives life / flesh is useless does not negate John's and the church's celebration of the human body, but instead refers to the conventional human viewpoints, similar to the Apostle Paul's telling us we're still looking at everything in human terms.
68 To whom can we go?
69 You are the Holy One of God – "I am"

The historical question of the original setting in time and place (and purpose, to the extent we can figure it out) of a passage always is our first question when we read scripture, before we apply or discern the passage as God's word to us and for us. Jesus' disciples later would be with him in the upper room when he broke bread and told him it was his body, when he poured wine and declared it the cup of the new covenant, but that hadn't happened yet; Jesus' disciples would not have heard this chapter in Eucharistic terms, though the contemporary church often does. During distribution of the sacrament, the contemporary church often sings Sr. Suzanne Toolan's "I am the Bread of Life" based on John 6.

We call Jesus "Lord". In Saxon England, the Lord provided the loaf, the bread, the sustenance to the community.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Pentecost 13B

Proverbs 9:1-6

1Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. 2She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 3She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 4"You that are simple, turn in here!" To those without sense she says, 5"Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight."

Hebrew Bible Overview

As we mentioned last week, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible has three main sections:

1. Torah or Pentateuch, the first five books, sometimes called Books of Moses, not because Moses could have written them, but because parts of them focus on Moses as liberator of God's people.

2. Prophets include Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings—the former prophets; and the writing prophets or latter prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel plus the Book of the Twelve or the Minor Prophets that are minor in length but not minor in content.

3. Writings, a miscellaneous collection that includes Psalms, Proverbs, Chronicles, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Song of Solomon...

1, 2. Pentateuch and Prophets both carry a sense of an authoritative, revelatory Word of the Lord; Pentateuch brings us creation accounts, stories of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God's people Israel in mired Egyptian slavery, their exodus or departure from Egypt, Ten Commandments twice, journey to the edge of the Promised Land. Prophets bring us disruptive words from heaven, promises of a future, of death and resurrection. Pentateuch and Prophets emphasize God's covenanting with humanity and with all creation.

3. Writings are not a coherent body of literature; the official canonical content even varied some over the years. Among other angles, they bring us human words to God and human speech about God. They have a sense of discerning God's work in the world from observing creation and social structures, a sense of what we learn from living daily life. Some books report narrative events (Chronicles, Nehemiah, Ezra, Esther for example) or address God in temple or another worship context as the Psalms do.

Proverbs

Although the Proverbs belong to Israel's religious literature, they're not about covenant or temple, but for the most part they're practical advice for living with integrity or wholeness in community. The Proverbs reveal structure, order, continuity of creation and of all life. The book's 31 chapters contain short essays like the one we'll read and hear today, metaphors, similes, memes/ cultural pieces of different types; poems.

Some bibles say King Solomon wrote the Proverbs; most likely they're from many different authors over a span of 400 years. In a similar way to Moses' connection with liberation, Israel correlated Solomon with wisdom, and some of the content of Proverbs probably is from the united kingdom monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon. Wisdom in Proverbs and in the other scriptural wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes isn't so much head knowledge as it is heart- and foot knowledge—the sense of how life comes together people often gain after they've journeyed for a while.

During this year of grace, we'll read several selections from Proverbs, so I'll probably repeat this basic outline.

Proverbs 9:1-6

Today's reading from Proverbs aligns with Jesus' declaration that he is the Bread of Life. As Barbara pointed out, sometimes we try to read too much into simple passages of scripture. The woman in this story is not vegetarian.... but just as Jesus does, she offers radical, fully inclusive hospitality and welcome to everyone without exception. In both Hebrew and in Greek, the noun for wisdom is feminine. We have the biblical number 7 in this reading.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Pentecost 12B

1 Kings 19:4-8

4But Elijah himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

More About Sources

When we discussed the Manna from Heaven narrative we find in Exodus last week, I used the technical German theological word Heilsgeschichte that combines Heil=salvation and Geschichte=history and means God's action in the lives of the people, in creation, in all the world. I mentioned a huge group of people probably never left Egyptian slavery, traveled months and years through deserts trusting God every step of the way, but almost definitely quite a few small bands or tribes of people broke away from slavery or other unpleasant situations, trekked through a wilderness in trust, and afterwards told their stories that also got written down and much later became part of the larger story of The Exodus. These stories are about some of the historical (measurable in time and space) experiences of the people; they're even more about their emotional, psychological, human experience. They typically contain saga and myth and have a high degree of multi-layered density. As Pastor Peg mentioned in her sermon, scattered scrolls got compiled and edited into larger books after the Babylonian exile.

Hebrew Bible Sections

The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is in three major sections: Torah or the five books of the Pentateuch; Prophets; Writings. Deuteronomy (the fifth book of the Pentateuch), Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings come from the same group or committee of authors we often refer to as the Deuteronomic Historian—almost definitely more than one person. Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings belong to the Former Prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the book of the twelve (Minor Prophets in the Christian bible) belong to the Writing Prophets.

During Luke's lectionary year A, we talked about neighborology, the word about the neighbor, the other. We discussed similarities between Jeremiah and Luke in that regard. The texts the deuteronomic historian(s) gave us concentrate heavily on being good neighbors. In fact, the book of Jeremiah probably got edited by the same post-exilic committee that compiled the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets.

Hebrew Bible Writings include Job, Psalms, Proverbs. Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Song of Solomon... I may have left out a few.

1 Kings 19:4-8

Today we're reading one of the famous Elijah stories from 1 Kings. If you'd asked me about Elijah, I'd have remembered (1)water and fire in the moat and the prophets of Ba'al; (2)God in the still small voice; and today's account of (3)bread and water for the journey. But I couldn't have told you what kind of bush or tree or shrub it was, so I researched Broom Tree. Turns out it's more of shrub than a tree; people made coals from its roots, trunks, and branches. Broom embers retain heat a long time; Elijah's bread probably baked on a fire left from an earlier traveler. I discovered broom trees symbolize renewal and resurrection; a hot fire can sear open the seeds so they germinate and begin to grow, information familiar to us in southern California where fires are a major hazard.

"Angel" means "messenger." Evangelical in the ELCA's name is the good (eu or ev) messages or news (angelical). Elijah was in a deep blue funk (long story—read what comes before this); God sent the angel who pointed out the ready to eat food because without physical sustenance the journey would be too difficult. Then there's the basic human need for community, the fact eating alone can be too lonely... but this short reading focuses on physical feeding. As it is throughout scripture, 40 days and 40 nights is approximately one month. Horeb and Sinai are the same place—which word depends upon the source.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Pentecost 11B

Exodus 16:1-15

1The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." 4Then the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

5"On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?" 8And Moses said, "When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord."

9Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.'" 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12"I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.'" 13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."

Can God really set a table in the wilderness? Can God really provide a feast in the desert? Psalm 78:19b

Welcome to the eleventh Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost! We've journeyed two-thirds of the way through this Year of Grace, not only as People of LCM, but together with the entire ecumenical church, the worldwide church catholic.

Today's first reading is from Exodus, the second book of the Pentateuch, a name we give to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: penta=5. When we include Joshua, the sixth book of the Old Testament, we can refer to the Hexateuch: hex=6. I began with a verse from earlier in Psalm 78 than the portion appointed today as our responsive psalm. (Too sad the lectionary peeps didn't include it.)

Similar to the word exit, Exodus means leaving or departure. You probably know most of the Exodus account about God's people Israel escaping slave labor in Egypt, wandering through a series of deserts in total trust of God's provision on their way to the Promised Land, receiving the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant during their trek.

Let's talk about Heilsgeschichte! It's a technical German theological term that means salvation history: Heil=salvation, redemption; Geschichte=history. Heilsgeschichte brings together fairly objective, empirical facts with the lived experiences of the people, often with a sense of saga or myth; Heilsgeschichte has a far great degree of density than the cause and effect history we study in school.

In terms of the Exodus narrative, it's very unlikely a huge group of thousands of people left Egypt together in one fell swoop for the promised land under a leader names Moses. However, almost definitely quite a few smaller groups or bands of people escaped harsh conditions trying to survive under empire and spent quite a lot of time wandering through the desert in trust, relying on God's provision. The book of Exodus formally and officially got compiled from different written and oral sources after the Babylonian captivity, as a committee put together several discrete narratives. Again, the salvation history of God, people, and creation is far denser (I love that word!) than conventional history. It includes saga, myth, meaning, emotion.

At the start of today's reading, God's people have left Egypt and passed through the Sea of Reeds (sometimes called Red Sea); we've enjoyed freedom songs of Moses and Miriam; experienced Moses throwing a healthy tree branch into bitter water to make the waters at Marah potable; after the current reading they'll watch Moses strike a rock at Horeb with his shepherd's staff at God's command in order to give everyone water to assuage their thirst. In a foretaste of Sabbath-keeping, God instructs Moses, "On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." Along with Deuteronomy, Exodus is one of our two main sources for the Ten Commandments, but they don't happen until chapter 20 of Exodus.

In Genesis we mostly encounter the people of God as a family that grows from nuclear to extended; you remember the stories of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in Genesis. Exodus is about identity-formation as God's people become a nation, a constituted (echoing our familiar word constitution) people. The Ten Commandments become the touchstone of their identity.

Today's text includes bread of Egypt that was counted, stockpiled, all administrated up—in our world, bread/food of empire even contains preservatives, will last almost forever, and in general isn't particularly healthy or life-giving. This Exodus passage contrasts breads and foods of Egypt/empires with the freedom bread and other types of sustenance God provides as gifts of grace. Whether four thousand years ago or right here and now in 2018, freedom bread is healthy and life-giving; it doesn't stay fresh very long, so there's no point in stockpiling or hoarding it. Steve told us an employee of a nearby grocery store mentioned they got a whole lot more bugs when they began bringing in and selling more organic food; read the rest of Exodus16 and find out what happened when the people tried to save some manna for later!

Manna is a semitic word asking "what is it?" The manna itself might have been cilantro/coriander; it could have been tamarisk. Scripture and church talk about the Kingdom of God, Reign of Heaven, Kingdom of Heaven, Reign of God. Here we read about the Rain of God, as God rains nutritious food from the sky!

Can God really set a table in the wilderness? Can God really provide a feast in the desert? Psalm 78:19b

Monday, July 30, 2018

Pentecost 10B

John 6:1-21

1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down."

Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

The church's year of grace has reached the tenth Sunday after the feast of Pentecost! None of scripture suddenly popped onto the scroll or page in fully finished form as plenary inspiration erroneously imagines; all of it was the result of a long transmission and development process that included a dynamic tradition of oral, spoken, stories and commentaries that changed a little with each narrator and each community. We're still in Revised Common Lectionary Year B, Mark's gospel year. Because Mark is the shortest, most concise gospel, this year we hear more readings from John's gospel than we do in Matthew's or Luke's year. The gospel we received from the community gathered around the beloved disciple John is the outlier, rogue gospel and almost didn't make the canonical cut. John's account of Jesus draws upon two main written documents: the signs source and the I am source. Today's reading includes both a sign (John's word more or less for miracle, for an action that points to a reality beyond itself, as a street sign or product label does) and one of Jesus seven "I am" declarations that refers back to God's revelation of Godself to Moses as "I am" and thus reveals Jesus as God incarnate.

Today's story of five loaves of bread and two fish is amazing on many counts—among them the fact all four gospels include it:

Matthew 14:21 – Mark 6:44 – Luke 9:14-16

In John's loaves-fishes account, Jesus himself rather than the disciples feed the people. Jesus gets bread and fish from a little boy. John's Maundy Thursday upper room account doesn't include the founding meal of the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion, Eucharist), but in its stead features the servant task of washing feet that likely happened at the hand-washing point of the Passover liturgy, just as we observe it here on Maundy Thursday. Because of this, some commentators have suggested loaves and fishes may be John's "founding meal." I mentioned barley was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the Promised Land; Robin's study bible said barley was the grain of poor people. Jesus' followers were fishers by profession; in the surrounding culture, fish was a food of the gods. Also, we have the initialism ichthys where the letters of the Greek word for fish are the first letters of Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Pentecost 5B

Mark 4:35-41

35On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

Today we'll talk about water and word – creation and chaos – divinity and humanity.

As we number Sundays after the Day of Pentecost, the Church's Year of Grace continues in the 6-month long green and growing season of Ordinary Time. "Ordinary" is common to all of us, but more than that, it's structured, organized, ordered and has a regularity about it.

This event happens "on that same day" as the two agricultural parables we discussed last week. Today's gospel reading brings us water and the word. What does that remind you of? (Julie knew the "baptism" answer.) This exact same story's also in Matthew 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25. The closely related narrative of Jesus walking on water is in the gospels according to Mark, Matthew, and John.

Review

There are four canonical gospels; we call three of them synoptic, meaning viewed (optic) the same (syn). Similar words include synonym, synthesis, synod, synagogue. Optometrist, optician, optical, optimistic. This is Mark's year in the ecumenical Revised Common Lectionary that gives us our scripture readings and that all the denominations share. Mark, Matthew, and Luke each have a distinctive personality and viewpoint, but they generally convey similar perspectives (syn-optic) on Jesus' life and ministry. John is the very different outlier gospel; it's the latest and almost didn't get into the canon of scripture. More than the synoptics, John's community brings us realized eschatology, the right now, everyday presence of the Reign of Heaven in our midst.

Today's Gospel

Jesus tells everyone they're going "across to the other side." That other side was where non-Jews lived. Genesis tells us Abraham was an ivri – Hebrew – one from "the other side." Jesus includes everyone, maybe especially the other than us, the people from that other side, and calls us to do the same.

The actual body of water in this passage is freshwater Lake of Galilee, but Mark always refers to it as the Sea of Galilee. In scripture sea or ocean is a symbol or sign of chaos and disorder. In Genesis 1 and in Psalm 104 the chaotic, untamed waters are the womb of creation. God's word speaks order into the waters, separates water and dry land, (check out today's reading from Job 38:1-11) gives limits and boundaries to the sea and to all creation. We know about the sea of the Exodus crossing. Noah's flood. Quite a few rivers throughout scripture. A recent hymn by Thomas Troeger sings, "God marked a line and told the sea its surging tides and waves were free to travel up the sloping strand, but not to overtake the land."

Here we read about a great storm, great (=dead is mega in Greek) calm, great fear. This fear really is frightened, scared, and not the "awe" fear of Luther's Small Catechism.

We've talked about God's call to us to live as careful stewards of creation as God's presence on earth—God's work, our hands. That includes the waterways, particularly urgent with the devastating pollution and species destruction that's been happening. In today's gospel reading, Jesus' word controls and subdues the movement of the water. The somewhat parallel stories of Jesus walking on water illustrates Jesus, God's offspring, having power over chaos by walking on calm waters that otherwise would be chaotic and impossible to tread. We hear about the smooth "glassy sea" in the book of revelation and in the hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy." God creates us in the divine image and calls us humans to live out that divine nature, these days particularly by caring for each other and for all creation.

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.