Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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 his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

We're still in the liturgical season of Epiphany and counting Sundays according to the Feast of Epiphany that's 06 January every year (we celebrated on the closest Sunday 07 January). Epiphany especially reveals Jesus as light for all people and all creation everywhere—not only for ethnic, religious, and geographical people like him! Scripture readings bring us images of light and also a series of call stories that remind us of God's call to everyone to live as light to the world. During this entire year of grace that opened with the First Sunday of Advent on the first Sunday of December (Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day on 30 November), our gospel readings mostly come from Mark's Gospel; today we hear about Jesus' first act of public ministry. He's in the synagogue after calling Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John, which happened after John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. We find a contrast between the Holy Spirit of God and an Unclean Spirit Jesus casts out of the guy in the synagogue. Countless interpretations of the unclean spirit have been suggested and insisted upon.

I mentioned how each of the four gospels brings us different stories and a different overall view of Jesus—even the synoptic gospel Matthew, Mark, and Luke with their basic "one eye" overview also have marked distinctions. Our major discussion for Epiphany 4 was what each of us would choose for our gospel account: particular stories, parables, events? Since I sprung the idea and hadn't even considered my own response, I plan to talk more about it on Epiphany 5.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Epiphany 3B

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2"Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.


The church's relatively new year of grace still is in the season of Epiphany that emphasizes God as God for all people and all creation, Jesus as savior and redeemer for all the world, not only the Jewish people. Scripture readings for epiphany emphasize a far-reaching universal salvation; they include several call narratives—God calling all of us to be light to the world, especially the world that immediately surrounds us. Last week we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus that's a call – and identity – narrative, just as our baptisms are.

The Revised Common Lectionary that chooses our scripture readings brings us a chunk of Jonah only once in the 3-year cycle, and it's more of a very small sliver than a substantial chunk. Let's do a quick summary of the entire book of Jonah today. Jonah is about God calling Jonah to a particular task more than once; Jonah is about God's love for the brutal Assyrian empire that's an enemy of Jonah's people. Who are our brutal enemies? Do we want to tell them about and show them them God's infinite, expansive love and mercy?

Maybe you know about what we sometimes refer to as types or icons of Jesus Christ in scripture? For example, Moses as liberator and law-giver is a type of Christ. David is a type of Christ as ruler or sovereign. Adam, the first human is an icon of Jesus Christ, the new human. Jonah spent 3 days and 3 night in the belly of the great fish, just as Jesus spent 3 days and 3 nights buried in the ground. Beside God call to Jonah and God's love for all people and all creation, something else we find in Jonah? Death and resurrection! BTW, Middle-eastern culture considers a day or a part of a day an entire day. Also, semitic languages have no word for "some, a few, or several," so they use the expedient "three."

Over the past two plus years, we've studied many (many) passages from the apostle Paul. For Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection! For us as well, the good news of the gospel is our dying in every way possible, God raising us to every possible kind of new life. I asked Steve W to read short passages from Matthew and Luke along with the commentary in his study bible.

Matthew 12

38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." 39But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 41The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!"

Matthew 16

1The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' 3And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away.

Luke 11

29When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation."

Long ago I learned a Vacation Bible School song about Jonah by the late (as in deceased) pastor Ewald Bash.


1. We sail a ship with a man named Jonah... early in the morning.
2. Lord, our God, have mercy on us, ... early in the morning.
3. Fall on your knees, for the sea is raging ... early in the morning.
4. Who is the guilty one among us?...
5 Cast the lot, and the number's Jonah ...
6. Row, men, row to save this Jonah! ...
7. O Lord God, we've got to drown him ...
8. Done, and the sea has ceased its raging ...
9. Lord, send a fish and a resurrection ...
10. What shall we do when the world is drowning?...
13. Lord, send a fish and a resurrection ...
12. Lord, our God, have mercy on us, ...

I mentioned how in the early days of Christianity if someone wondered if their conversation partner was Christian or not, they'd casually draw half of a simple fish in the sand with their foot; if the other person was Christian they'd complete the fish figure from their side—if not, nothing subversive had been revealed. They did this because the Greek word for fish spells out the first letter of each word in the phrase, "Jesus Christ God's Son Savior." (Ichthyology is the study of fish.) It's a bit crazy that when I finally looked at our Sunday bulletin, beyond ascertaining it included the text I planned to discuss, it mentioned this Fish Fact! Cool!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Baptism of Jesus B

Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

This week for the baptism of Jesus, we continue in the gospel according to Mark—the short, direct, energetic account for texters and tweeters.

We're still in the liturgical season of Epiphany. Last week we discussed the "epi" (upon) and "phan" {revealing, revelation) roots of the the word. The feast and the season of epiphany specifically brings us the revelation of Jesus as savior and lord for all the world. On the Day of Epiphany (or the nearest Sunday, as we observed Epiphany last week), we hear about the wise guys, star gazers, astrologers, Zoroastrians, foreigners to Israel (etc.) from the east visiting Jesus. That event has become an icon of God's gracious universalism that in Jesus Christ redeems all people and all creation. We know how a special star guided the magi from their country to Jesus; then we discussed choosing a star word, or a word to guide us through this year, which several of us did.

Today for Jesus' baptism by his cousin John the Baptist, we experience a trinitarian theophany, or revelation of the trinity: the voice of God the Father; the presence of Jesus God the Son; the familiar dove symbol or icon of God the Holy Spirit / Holy Ghost. Mark 1:10 brings us the heavens torn apart with a word that means a rip or rupture that can't be mended. I asked Steve W to read from Mark 15 in his study bible along with the commentary:

37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

This "tear, tore, torn" is the same word for an irreparable rupture or break. I explained how important the temple imagery is; Israel built the Jerusalem temple modeled after temples of other religions because they wanted a contained place where God (actually the name of God that in Hebrew Bible theology is God's presence, identity, etc.) could reside and be kept safe. HIstorically, only the high priest had access to the central chamber of the temple, the Holy of Holies, and only one day each year, the Day of Atonement. Tearing or ripping wide apart the temple veil or curtain that separate the holy of holies from the rest of the world revealed the reality of a God of all, God for all, who cannot be limited or contained anywhere. Another revelation of God's universal salvation and redemption of all creation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Epiphany 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6

1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms.

5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

epiphany, epiphanies, darkness, light, stars star words

Let's start by looking at the word epiphany:

epi – upon

episode / epistle / epiclesis / epistle / epistemology / epigraph / epigram / epiphany

phan / fan – appearance, revelation, showing, manifestation, etc.

tiffany / theophany / fantasy / fancy / epiphany / phantom / phenomenon

I mentioned a fan that gives us a breeze isn't from the same root. Steve asked about fanatic, and I promised to check it out—but I'm posting this blog before researching fanatic.

The early church numbered Sundays according to Epiphany, Easter, and the Day of Pentecost. Epiphany was a huge deal!

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany that emphasizes Jesus as savior to all nations, a light to all the world. Technically Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, but that was yesterday, so we're having thirteenth night rather than twelfth night. Epiphany is Three Kings Day, when we remember magi (astrologers, wise guys, stargazers) visiting Jesus from an country east of Judea. Scripture doesn't tell us how many there were, but they brought three gifts, so tradition again sings about and talks about three kings. Their religion probably was Zoroastrianism. Today's passages from 3rd Isaiah and from Matthew both emphasize east, dawn, rising, light. As you know, it takes only a tiny amount of light to begin transforming darkness; only a small candle or flashlight literally to light our way, at least to the next step or two we need to take. I mentioned the city of Tucson is an official International Dark Sky Place that forbids businesses and buildings to emit more than a limited amount of artificial illumination—a formally protected nightscape. Being able to see that many stars within the city limits is astonishing! Pastor Peg mentioned a stargazing area outside Holden Village that's famous for blankets of stars covering the sky.

Immediately after God speaks through a dream to the rulers from the east, Matthew's gospel brings us another of Joseph's dreams, telling him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt.

On the festival of light that's Epiphany, a new tradition has started of choosing star words to guide us for the calendar year. You can ask someone else to choose your word; you can look over the past year and at your current situation and in the Spirit decide on an emphasis to guide you the way a star led the magi. Particularly throughout scripture (and in the world of design, as well), we know word holds source (origins / beginnings), and immanence (future /possibilities). That's also the case with our star words.