Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reformation 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Last year we celebrated Reformation 500; this year we continue in a church that's still reforming—a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted "worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular" was a mark of the true church. Especially with Reformation we're considering a vernacular church, a church that speaks the common language of the people, that presents Christianity (that's so very other than business as usual, other than status quo) with vocabulary and symbols everyday regular people understand.

Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation. This is one of the four classic Reformation scriptures; today we'll also be hearing from Romans 3 and from Psalm 46 that Martin Luther paraphrased for his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, but instead of the truth will make you free from John 8, we'll continue in Mark's gospel from where we left off last week with the story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus from chapter 10.

God's covenants or agreements with humanity and with all creation are a prominent feature of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament and continue into the New Testament / New Covenant scriptures with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from co-venire, coming together, and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East.

A new anything implies an old one, but this is more a new location than it is a new agreement. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't so much the seat of emotions as we think of it in the contemporary Western world as it is the location of a person's will. In Hebrew biology and bible, it goes beyond will or intention to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment, etc. (and also emotion). Jeremiah announces a covenantal word about the neighbor. This new proclamation of God's eternal covenanting relates to creating and sustaining community by following the guidelines God gave the people with the commandments; it will become natural and almost instinctive because it will be incarnate or embodied as part of everyone's being.

Remember the reference in last Sunday's gospel to kings? Remember God's people asking for a king like the other nations had to rule them?

God gave the commandments to the people with very recent freedom or liberation from working under conditions of imperial Egyptian slavery as the background. The people received the commandments as words of grace in the wilderness on their way to settling in the promised land, not when they reached their destination. Although God remained and still is the ultimate ruler (king, sovereign, monarch) of all of us, the commandments show people how to govern and rule themselves.

The commandments shape the people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves my considering the needs of each other, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff.

Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the Sinai covenant of the ten commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the reverse of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets our wrongdoings.

Closely related: a note about the apostle's Paul's telling us in Romans the law doesn't save us. Almost every time Paul says "law," he refers to ceremonial, sacrificial, law and not to the covenantal, neighbor-oriented ten commandments.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pentecost 22B

Mark 10:35-45

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
This episode of the church's year of grace will conclude at the end of November. We're still in the gospel according to St. Mark. Next week we'll take sort of a break for Reformation Sunday (note: I found out that next week we'll be hearing from Mark's gospel rather than from John's classic Truth Will Make You Free Reformation gospel reading, but the other scriptures will be Reformation standards Psalm 46, Jeremiah 31, and Romans 3.) Reformation 501 won't be as much of an interruption as it also will remind us of God's faithful, merciful presence and ongoing reconciliation of all creation by grace rather than by human initiative and effort.

During the following Sundays Jesus will confront the religious leaders and authorities and affirm following the commandments brings a person close to the reign of heaven/ kingdom of God; Jesus will deplore the dehumanizing economic violence of the religious temple system that has demanded an impoverished widow's last shekel; this year will end on Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday with the account in John's gospel of Jesus' trial, conviction, death, and burial—and the declaration of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth as King, Ruler, Sovereign.

Jesus' first act of public ministry after his baptism and triple temptation in the wilderness in Mark's gospel? Driving out (exorcising) a demon from a possessed guy during a synagogue service. Looking at Mark's broad sweep and trajectory, we find freedom or release from everything that binds, enslaves, dehumanizes, kills us. That includes institutions, organizations, governments, structures of all kinds that become so literally tied up in their functional details they deal in death rather than life. Mark especially brings us an apocalyptic revealing or uncovering of God's upside-down reign of life—the New Creation in the wake of the death of the Old Creation.

We discussed how humans and entities like churches, schools, workplaces need structure, but those structures need to function for the sake of the lives of the individuals and entities they serve, not for their own sake. Examples: LCM's church council; LA's county and city governments; a denomination's regional judicatory and national governing headquarters.

James and John Zebedee's request to Jesus may be outrageous and arrogant, but I'll cite a class member's observation a couple weeks ago that Jesus and his followers had such a high level of trust and intimacy they knew they could say anything to each other and wouldn't get un-friended. In Mark 10:39 James and John insist they are able to do whatever Jesus leads them to, so (1)does that mean they implicitly trust Jesus, or (2)does it mean they still don't realize Jesus is on the way to his trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, burial? And resurrection?

Like most humans, they always default to theology of glory that Jesus always refutes with theology of the cross; again, Jesus describes the shape and the reality of the reign of heaven on earth as absolutely the opposite of what most humans aspire to.

Baptism reference is a bit obscure. It may be about John the Baptist's water baptism of repentance and forgiveness; it may be about immersion in the way of Jesus (per the Apostle Paul's comprehensive meaning in Romans 6); same with "cup" that may be one's life purpose, calling, goal, or destiny. In any case, this section of scripture happens after Jesus' third passion prediction in Mark's gospel.

Moving from a small micro level to a large macro level:

• Last week for Pentecost 21 we read about Jesus' micro encounter with a guy who had a lot of money and a lot of stuff—Luke's and Rembrandt's Rich Young Ruler, though among Matthew, Mark, and Luke that all include a version of this story, we don't know his actual social identity. Last week we heard Jesus call the guy beyond rote obedience to the commandments to fully living the commandments by divesting himself of money and property he didn't really need in order to help people in need, or simply his neighbors who had less than he did. "Neighborology." This is the only place in Mark's gospel that tells about Jesus loving an individual person; the word for love is the divine agape love.

• This week for Pentecost 22 our text brings us to an overarching macro level with Jesus telling us with servant and slave language he will ransom (release, free, in a similar manner to releasing or freeing a slave or bondservant) society and all creation from structures and systems that dehumanize and kill rather than give life—what the letter to the Colossians calls "powers and principalities."

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Pentecost 21B

• Two weeks ago on Pentecost 19, we discussed our experiences with different branches and styles of Christianity—ecumenism, ecumenical.

• Last week on Pentecost 20, before our Blessing of the Animals during the Eucharistic liturgy, everyone talked about their particular passions and concerns regarding creation.

• Therefore—no class notes for either of those days.

Mark 10:17-31

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.' " 20He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

28Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

The Church's year of grace continues to move toward Jerusalem, the cross, and the empty grave. We continue with main gospel readings from Mark. Mark is the shortest, earliest, most concise, and direct of the four canonical gospels. Along with Matthew and Luke, Mark is one of the three synoptic gospels; despite different emphases, they essentially view Jesus' life and ministry with a single perspective or eye.

"syn" as in synonym, synagogue, synthesis, synergy, syndicate, synod; "optic" as in optical, optician, optometrist, optimistic.

Today is about neighborology, the word about the neighbor, the other. You remember neighborology was prominent in Luke's gospel; Luke's lectionary Year C that begins again soon with the first Sunday of Advent also featured particularly neighbor-oriented readings from Jeremiah and Deuteronomy.

Jesus and his disciples continue on the journey or the way to Jerusalem and the cross. In Mark and in Luke, the journey to the cross is especially relentless and intentional. Maybe you recall early on in its accounts, Luke's Acts of the Apostles refers to people who follow Jesus as followers of The Way

In terms of economy and culture, two thousand years ago the ancient near east was somewhat of a subsistence economy, with people precariously balancing their lives with income from fishing and farming; they generally had little if any surplus. Besides farmers and fishers, there were landholders who became landlords and demanded rent in cash or in kind for farming on their plot of earth. Empires long had made inroads into that part of the planet; Jesus and his people dealt with the occupying Roman army, puppet governors, and high taxes on a daily basis.

We find versions of today's famous reading in all three synoptic gospels, with variants that show we don't quite know the social status or age of the guy who converses with Jesus. Today's well-known reading is about keeping the commandments, words and the actions that relate to the other than me; getting out of yourself and detaching yourself from your stuff and your money and being there for your neighbor. Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann calls the commandments the working papers for life in covenantal community. In this passage, Jesus quotes commandments only from what we call the second table of the law, the part that deals directly with our neighbors; we've discussed how breaking any commandment violates the first command to have no other god (nothing else first in our lives and thoughts and hearts) but the true God. "Do not defraud" is not in either Exodus' or Deuteronomy's version of the commandment, though other places in the Hebrew Bible mention defrauding.

Today's reading is about a guy with lots of stuff who basically has made money and possessions into his real god, into what comes first in his life and heart. Trust, belief, and faith all are the same word in biblical Greek. You can't trust cash, stocks, bonds, and so-called "securities" (ha ha); you can trust God who fills heaven and earth, the God and Father of Jesus the Christ.

This is the only place Mark's gospel tells us Jesus loved someone; it's the unconditional, divine, agape love.