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.


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 Jesus 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 is 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.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Pentecost 2B

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

12Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Mark 2:23—3:6

23One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" 25And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." 27Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."

3:1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." 4Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity; now the church's year of grace moves into six months of Ordinary Time, the Green and Growing Time Season of the Spirit, Time of the Church, when the church comes into her own as we continue following the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ as his presence in the world. Wherever we go. We'll be counting or numbering Sundays after the Day of Pentecost. Today is Pentecost 2.

Ordinary time refers to structure and organization, not to its being common and mundane, though it does have a sense of "commonality" because everyone shares in it.

Today we're back in Mark's gospel this revised common lectionary year B features all year long. Two of our readings – the first reading from the Hebrew scriptures and the gospel account – related to the commandment to observe Sabbath rest. We find the commandments in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. Today we read from Deuteronomy, when God through Moses tells us everyone needs Sabbath or intentional rest (not laziness!) because God freed us, liberated us, from the burden of working under the often unreasonable demands of empires and other bosses of all kinds. With a different focus, the Sabbath commandment in the book of Exodus explains we need Sabbath rest in imitation of God because as we labor along faithfully to claim that imago dei [divine image], some of our work imitates divine creativity, almost all of everyone's work contributes to the realization of God's new creation. As we frequently discuss, sometimes our sabbath/rest needs to be at times other than the historical biblical Sabbath day of Saturday or the Lord's Day Sunday many Christians set apart as a day of worship and rest.

Pastor Peg pointed out how wonderful God tells us everyone needs Sabbath rest—guests, strangers, animals—the land, as we read elsewhere in scripture. We spent a few minutes discussing the Mark passage about the religious leaders, Jesus, and Jesus healing on the Sabbath in order to free the guy with the withered hand to do the work he needed to do to be a contributing member of society and probably provide for his family.