Monday, February 26, 2018

Lent 2B

Mark 8:31-37

31Then Jesus 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."

34Jesus 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?

Today is the second Sunday in (but not of) Lent. Today's passage from Mark's gospel ends the first half of Mark's gospel. Maybe surprisingly, it comes before the Mark 9:2-9 Transfiguration account we studied two weeks ago. The peeps who assembled the Revised Common Lectionary that provides most of our scripture readings didn't include Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ that immediately precedes today's reading and that we'll hear next September 16 on Pentecost 17:

Mark 8:27Jesus 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.

As we discussed extensively last week, the word lent derives from days lengthening as we move toward spring in the northern hemisphere. Lent is a penitential time to repent of past misdeeds and turn around in the opposite direction to do better. Lent also is a time of awareness that we receive life as a gift of God's grace and mercy, and a time freely to offer grace, mercy, and life to others. Life as gift and not transaction.

Richard and Julie both mentioned being more thoughtful and intentional before saying anything to anyone; Pastor Peg explained Lent is like our personal spring cleaning time and if we don't slow down, we'll relocate the dust bunnies of various kinds instead of getting rid of them. Sara said she needs to do everything Lentissimo that's the extremely slow tempo designation in music.

Here Jesus talks to his disciples about the way of the cross, about paradoxically losing their lives in order to gain their lives. In verses 35, 36, 37 the word for life is the same as "psych" where we get a wide group of English words. It implies not only psychological and emotional, but every aspect of our being—similar to heart in Hebrew. It is not the ZoĆ« life that brings us the familiar name Zoe.

During Revised Common Lectionary year C, Luke's year, we talked about neighborology, the word about the neighbor. During that year we heard a lot from the prophet Jeremiah with his concern for the neighbor, the other than us. In today's scripture Jesus essentially talks about giving up our own druthers and preferences to help take care of the needs of our neighbors.

For most of us, service to the neighbor begins where we find ourselves here and now. It's unlikely God will send us to spend a season with St. Teresa of Kolkata's peeps or on a mission of some kind to the people of Syria; it is for sure that God's calls us to thoughtful action and service in order to offer life as gift to those nearby us.

Today's scripture portion opens with Mark 8:31, sometimes referred to as Jesus' first passion prediction of three in Mark's gospel.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lent 1B

Mark 1:9-15

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."

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

The Church's year of grace has moved into the 40-day long season of Lent. "Lent" is an old word for springtime that refers to lengthening days and more daylight. The music tempo lento is a lengthening, slowing-down pace. Lent is one of the church's oldest observances that probably began not long after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, although throughout the centuries lent has had different lengths ranging from a few days to our current practice of forty days minus Sundays. As our worship folder cover indicates, Sundays are In Lent but not of Lent, since every Sunday is a festival of resurrection.

Like 7, 40 is a famous biblical number. Moses spent 40 days of Mount Sinai; Elijah spent 40 days on Mount Horeb. (Probably different names for the same mountain.) Israel trekked through the exodus desert for 40 years. Jesus 40 days of being tempted in the wilderness.

Lenten practices and observances emphasize repentance – thus colors of purple and lavender – and baptism. Just as with baptism, the turning around, repentance aspect of Lent is one of daily walking and living bathed in grace. Traditionally Lent has been a time of preparation for baptism that historically happened during the Easter Vigil; it's also a time for those of us already baptized to remember how in grace God claims us, names us Christian, calls us to witness and service, and in the power of the Spirit sends us into the world to be the gospel, to live as good news to everyone everywhere we venture.

Every lectionary year (A, B, and C) the first Sunday in Lent features Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. The reading for Mark's year includes the account of Jesus' baptism we studied a few weeks ago. You probably remember Matthew and Luke both specify the exact temptations Jesus underwent; Mark doesn't. It's striking how we move from Jesus' baptism in the wilderness alongside the Jordan River to the Holy Spirit Jesus received in his baptism catapulting him out into a deeper, denser, level of wilderness.

After talking about the scripture text, we discussed some of our particular Lenten practices for this year and what we've done in previous years. Consensus was we need to slow down, be very thoughtful and intentional. As Pastor Peg observed, Lent is a kind of spring cleaning, and if you rush through the process you'll relocate all the dust and clutter rather than get rid of it.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Transfiguration B

Mark 9:2-9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

On this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany that's three days before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Western Protestant churches celebrate the trinitarian feast of the Transfiguration. The Roman Catholic Church observes Transfiguration (T-Fig) on the second Sunday in Lent; Eastern Churches celebrate Transfiguration during August as an octave or 8-days long festival; it's that theologically important to them!

Jesus' baptism by John with its trinitarian theophany or revelation and Jesus' transfiguration with its trinitarian theophany bookend the Epiphany season. The declarative voice at Jesus' baptism speaks to Jesus, "You are my beloved son." The voice at T-Fig announces to everyone, "This is my beloved son."

"Six days later" happens after Jesus [in Mark 8] reminds his disciples about his feeding the crowd with a few loaves and fishes, after he heals a blind man at Bethsaida, after Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah, after Jesus' talk about denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following him. Mark 9 opens with Jesus telling them some people in his midst will not taste death (still will be alive) before they see God's reign arriving in power. Death and resurrection!

All three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – include similar accounts of Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop. The scripture passage is packed full of symbolism.

In judaism, mountains were places of divine revelation; examples include Moses on Mount Sinai [Exodus 20:1-17], Elijah on Mount Carmel [1 Kings 19:12]. Pastor Peg and Charlene told us Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the Transfiguration, though scripture doesn't cite a place. Related to mountains of God's self-revelation, the NT brings us Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; God's ultimate self-revelation in the cross of Mount Calvary.

Transfiguration in the Greek text is the familiar to us metamorphosis. The light show on the T-Fig mountain continues the epiphany theme of light as an aspect of God's revelation. Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets – yet ultimately we need to listen to Jesus, not to his antecedents.

Elijah represents or symbolizes the prophets; Moses the law. In Jesus we encounter the fulfillment and the embodiment of the law and the prophets. Three dwellings, small houses, tabernacles, refers to Succoth, the Jewish liturgical festival of booths that commemorates the exodus desert wanderings. Word here for dwelling is the same word John's gospel uses for Jesus dwelling amount us, "pitching a tent" a portable structure, as The Message expresses it. The tent or booth is open to the natural elements and it also shelters inhabitants from the elements. Peter was correct about Jesus' bringing a new exodus, a new liberation. The Hebrew scriptures feature the cloud of the shekinah, of God's presence. Today's lectionary passage ends with another instance of Mark's messianic secret: tell no one what you've seen and hear until Jesus (the son of man, the human one) has risen from the dead—until Easter, which is especially ironic since original versions of Mark's gospel don't include a resurrection account.

There are many possible interpretations of this passage. Let's move beyond the truth that you can't stay at the party forever, you can't remain on the mountaintop, engrossed in deep conversation (or whatever your pleasure) because you need to get back to real life, return to the daily walk of the public witness. Let's move beyond the fact you can't contain God, put God in a box, beyond the truth the God of the bible is not a place god for a particular location.

Ash Wednesday starts the 6-week long season of Lent. "Lent" comes from a word for the season of spring and refers to days lengthening. This is similar to the music tempo "lento" or slow.

One more thing! On Transfiguration we bury the alleluia because we don't sing or pray "alleluias" during the penitential seasons of Lent.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Epiphany 5B

Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." 38He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
We're still in the liturgical season of Epiphany in the church's year of grace that began a couple months ago with Advent. Epiphany (revealing, revelation. manifestation) emphasizes the universalism of Jesus as redeemer, savior, sovereign for all people and all creation everywhere—not solely for his own ethnicity, nation, and geography. Epiphany features light! We know how far into the dark a tiny candle shines. Scripture readings for epiphany also include call stories that relate to God's calling people who lived long before us, and relate directly to places and ministries God calls us to shine as light in our own worlds.

Next Sunday the season of Epiphany concludes with the Feast of the Transfiguration. On Transfiguration (T-Fig) we experience a theophany, or trinitarian revelation. Earlier in the season at Jesus' baptism we also had a theophany of the triune God. That pair of manifestations of the Trinity basically bookend the epiphany season. Lent, the season of lengthening, longer days that initiates spring in the northern hemisphere) follows epiphany. Lent begins in ten days on February 14, Valentine's Day.

I asked Steve and Charlene to note highlights of the Gospel According to Mark from the intro to the gospel in their study bibles. Today's assigned text brings us a pair of Mark's ongoing emphases: resurrection and service. In 13 verses, we get a tremendous amount of action, several changes of scene. I asked Richard (who's a member of the Motion Picture Academy, grew up in the field and is an expert on most things film-related) if this would make into a 90-minute movie; he replied it would be two hours long. Mark uses the word for "raised up" we find in 1:31 sixteen times in his gospel; it means resurrection to new life. In fact, the theme of resurrection from death pervades both Old and New Testament.

Service is the second prominent biblical current in this particular passage. Diakonia / deacon and related nouns and verbs make a pathway through the entire New Testament; this includes Jesus' declaration he is among us as "one who serves." In today's text, Jesus raises Simon Peter's MIL to new life so she'll be able to serve again. Pastor Peg mentioned some very cool interpretations of this in her sermon! From the Acts of the Apostles, we learn the early church first ordained (laid hands upon and prayed over to authorize for a particular ministry) deacons or servants.

Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7

1Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."

5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Deacons daily model Jesus's act of foot washing – towel and basin ministry – that many churches demonstrate during their Maundy Thursday worship. The church didn't first ordain Ministers of Word and Sacrament that we tend to think of as the church's primary "ministers"! Created in the image of God and called to lives of neighbor-oriented service as God acts, the servant class or group or tribe of deacons historically has had a world-facing, world-serving call. To the world the church is supposed to look like people called to serve. Of course, that includes Ministers of Word and Sacrament or pastors when they're out in the world, too, although the Minister of Word and Sacrament's primary stance is facing the church.

Stay tuned for next week's Transfiguration!