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.