Saturday, January 30, 2021

Epiphany 4B

Mark 1:21-28

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." 28At once Jesus' fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Prayer from Psalm 111

Give thanks to God with everything we've got—
Wherever good people gather, and in the congregation.
Splendor and beauty mark God's craft;
Divine generosity never gives out.
This God of Grace, this God of Love.
Remembered to keep the ancient promise…
And ordered the Covenant kept forever.
The good life begins in the awe of God—
God's Hallelujah lasts forever!

The Message (MSG), alt. Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus' Inauguration Day

Each of the four gospels brings us a different perspective; even synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke with a "one eye" viewpoint have marked distinctions. Each gospel inaugurates Jesus' public ministry with a different event. Which was first? Most likely they all happened within a month or two after Jesus' baptism. Jesus Initial Public Offerings broadly set the style and stage for the rest of Jesus' ministry according to each writer. They also preview style and content of the ministries God calls us to in Jesus' name, lives of services the Holy Spirit of life enables.

• Matthew 5-7
Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses; Jesus' public ministry begins with the Sermon on the Mount and parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words/Commandments on Mount Sinai.
• Luke 4:16-29
Luke's Jesus inaugurates his ministry by reading in his home synagogue on the sabbath. Via Third Isaiah and echoing his mother Miriam/Mary's Magnificat, he announces good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for imprisoned and oppressed: the Jubilee year.
• John 2:1-11
John's Jesus literally performs signs of his identity and mission to bring abundant life; he begins with a splash by turning ordinary water into best ever wine at a wedding.

• This Week: Mark 1:21-28

We're still in the season of Epiphany that particularly reveals Jesus as light for the world—not only for ethnic, religious, and geographical people like him. This is the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year of Mark's gospel. In today's pericope (selection cut out from the surrounding scripture), he's in the synagogue after calling Simon-Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus called those first disciples after John the Baptist baptized him in the Jordan River. You may remember the Trinitarian theophany, or revelation of all three persons of the Triune God at Jesus' baptism: the voice of God the Father; bodily presence of Jesus the Son; a visible icon of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus begins his public ministry in Mark in the synagogue during worship by battling forces that defeat life. This opening salvo is especially striking because when Mark asks where we tend to look for God and where we usually find God, his gospel generally shows us we don't most often discover God in conventional religious, economic, or political institutions. In Mark, we most often find God's reign of life in the wilderness, on the margins of polite society. You may remember Mark starts out at J-The-B's wilderness assembly and incessantly leads to Jerusalem and the cross, where Jesus dies outside the city limits, where a Roman Centurion identifies him as "Son of God." A foreign military officer and an agent of empire rather than an insider to God's people is the first to recognize Jesus.

The unclean spirit (demon in some translations) Jesus confronts and casts out of the guy in the synagogue (during worship!) contrasts with the Spirit of Life that at baptism identifies and calls Jesus and us into ministries of defeating death and resurrecting dead individuals, institutions, and ideas. The Good News according to Saint Mark begins by announcing, "The beginning of the gospel." The gospeled Good News of our baptism is life-giving, world-changing, society-transforming, creation-renewing death and resurrection stuff!

COVID-19 and Other Deadly Forces

Martin Luther reminded us all sin is idolatry; all sin violates the first commandment to have no other divinity than the God of life, love, truth, mercy, and justice: God whose Word creates out of nothing—God whose Word summons the New Creation out of the death of the old.

Despite still worshiping and interacting as church mostly online, the USA and many other countries continue battling a death-dealing triple threat of global pandemic, ethnic injustices, and political fragmentation. With micro and macro always closely intertwined, life-negating forces creep into cracks and crevices, sometimes when no one's paying attention, sometimes well-disguised. Are they in our own worship, in our committee meetings and scripture study groups, even when we gather virtually? Are our eyes open? Do we see them? Are we listening? Do we hear them? Are we in denial? Will our life together during this uncertain season and later post-pandemic confront and defeat them?

Questions This Week

Martin Luther reminded us all sin is idolatry; all sin violates the first commandment to have no other gods besides the God of life, love, truth, mercy, and justice.

• If Jesus ventured onto your church campus and into worship on a typical Sunday, what would he find?
• If Jesus happened into your homeowner's association, elementary school board, or neighborhood watch meeting, what would he hear?
• Can we easily discern deadly (demonic) forces within the church, in civic gatherings, in local and national politics? Or do they tend to hide?
• Can we easily notice life-affirming powers in church (local congregation, regional judicatories – presbytery, synod, conference, classis, district – national / global expressions), in not specifically religious gatherings, and in the world at large? Or are they mostly hidden?
• Mark's gospel narrative mostly discovers and uncovers God outside religious, political, social, and economic establishments. Can people find God in the mainline church and in mainstream society?

Short Overview of Mark's Gospel

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