Saturday, February 27, 2021

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?"

Celebrate! from Psalm 22

Shout Hallelujah and worship God;
give glory, sons of Jacob;
adore God, daughters of Israel.
God has never let you down, never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
God always has been right there, listening.

Down-and-outers sit at God's table
and eat their fill.
God has taken charge;
and from now on has the last word.

Shout Hallelujah, worship God;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore God, you daughters of Israel.
God has never let you down!

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


Lent 2 Currents / Recently in Mark

Today is the second Sunday in (but not of) Lent; Sundays don't belong to Lent because every Sunday is a festival of resurrection, a "little Easter." Lent derives from lengthening days as the Northern Hemisphere moves toward spring. Lent is a season of repentance and re-orientation; Lent is a season of awareness that we receive life as a gift of God's grace and mercy, a season freely to offer grace, mercy, and life to others. Today's reading concludes the first half of Mark's gospel. Maybe surprisingly, it comes before the Transfiguration we studied two weeks ago in Mark 9:2-9.

For today for some reason the Revised Common Lectionary didn't include Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ that immediately precedes today's reading in Mark 8:27-29… we'll hear it next autumn toward the end of the season of Pentecost.
• 8:27-28 Jesus asks his disciples, "who do you say that I am?" "Some say…" "But who do you say I am? 8:29 Peter answers, "Thou art the Christ."

In the same way Jesus insisted on hearing not the opinion of others, but who his disciples believed he was, although we need to listen to and consider what other people say, ultimately each of us needs to talk and walk our own testimony of Jesus' identity.


Today's Gospel Reading

Today's scripture portion opens with Mark 8:31 that's sometimes referred to as Jesus' first passion prediction of the three in Mark's gospel. Jesus then teaches his disciples about the way of the cross, about paradoxically losing their lives in order to gain life. The word for life is "psych" that we know from a wide range of English words. Psych implies psychological, emotional, volitional, relational, and every aspect of our humanity—similar to heart in Hebrew. Jesus doesn't say Zoë–life that brings us the name Zoë. As with most events in Jesus' ministry that made it into the gospel accounts, this teaching probably wasn't a one-time occurrence; most likely Jesus repeated it on several occasions so his disciples heard it more than once.

The Greek text says the cross, though some English versions read their (as in yours, ours possessive) cross. Jesus talks about taking up the cross and following him—about giving up our own druthers and preferences to help take care of the needs of our neighbors. Jesus' cross becomes our cross. For most of us, service to the neighbor begins where we find ourselves here and now; except for medical, fire, police, and some retail workers, for the past stay safe stay home pandemic year, being neighbors has been extremely local.

Jesus original context was the Roman empire that occupied his homeland and controlled every facet of existence. His ministry of love, healing, and compassion, his nonviolent resistance to religious, political, and economic powers was contrary to Rome's values and ultimately led him to the cross.


Where We Live – #Resist

As twenty-first disciples of Jesus baptized into his death (and resurrection), our contemporary context is Jesus' current setting: Jesus' cross has become our cross.

Some interpretations of this text have neglected Jesus' cross and ignored his clear charge to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, for the possibility of God's reign in our midst. Denying our instinctual preferences and following Jesus means to recognize, to name, and to resist planetary and human suffering that happens because of neglect, indifference, empire, and exploitation. Pain and loss that's been going down in the wake of COVID-19. Denying-following means to embody God's love, mercy, compassion, and justice in the face of hatred, discrimination, enmity, injustice, and every dehumanizing force. In the contemporary vernacular, it means to #resist everything that results in death, desecration, and marginalization, etc. You can make your own long list. In alignment with our baptismal promises, along with nonviolent resistance, God calls us to act in ways that lead to justice and hope, that translate words into actions.

As Pastor Eugene Peterson says in his translation of today's responsive psalm, "from now on God has the last word – down-and-outers sit at God's table and eat their fill." Does that sound like Jesus? Does it sound like us?


Where We Live – 7 Marks

Martin Luther listed seven marks of the presence of the church—please take note of the seventh:

• the proclaimed word
• baptism
• Holy Communion / Lord's Supper
• keys and confession
• ordered ministry
• prayer—including the liturgy
• the cross

Saturday, February 20, 2021

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. 13Jesus 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."

Collect for the First Sunday in Lent

Book of Common Prayer, traditional version

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted of Satan: Make speed to help thy servants who are assaulted by manifold temptations; and, as thou knowest their several infirmities, let each one find thee mighty to save; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, contemporary version

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Lent 2021

Last week on Ash Wednesday the Church's year of grace segued into the season of Lent. "Lent," an old English word for springtime, refers to lengthening days. If you're a musician, you know the tempo lento is broad and slow.

Lent was one of the church's earliest observances, beginning with only a few days, gradually expanding into the current forty. Churches that observe the Three Days-Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter – generally count Lent from Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week; others go from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday evening. Because every Sunday is a festival of resurrection, Sundays are in Lent but not of Lent.

Lent emphasize repentance, with somber purples and lavenders Lent's typical colors. Lent also focuses on baptism; just as with baptism, the turn your life around, penitent aspect of Lent is about living bathed in grace as we confess sins and shortcomings, then move in a new direction. Traditionally Lent has been a time of preparation for baptism during the Easter Vigil on Easter Eve or very early Resurrection Sunday morning. Lent is a season for those of us already baptized to remember how in grace God claims us, names us Christian, and in the power of the Spirit sends us into the world to live as good news for all creation.


Today's Gospel Reading

Every lectionary year (A–Matthew, B–Mark, and C–Luke) the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent is Jesus' testing by Satan, who traditionally is the prosecuting attorney in Judaism. Every year! This event is that important!

This year's reading from Mark begins with Jesus' baptism we discussed on January 10th. We need to remember Jesus did not receive our trinitarian baptism into his death and resurrection, yet his baptism by John still related to repentance and newness and like our baptism, it signified (was a literal "sign") that affirmed his identity. Sounds like an excellent choice for opening up our journey through Lent!

Jesus goes from John baptizing him in the Jordan River wilderness into deeper, denser wilds. (By the way, Greek uses the same word for wilderness and desert.) Matthew and Luke both specify three of the temptations Jesus experienced; Mark doesn't provide details. Jesus refutes each challenge by quoting scripture.

After being baptized and spending about a month in solitude, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Mark 1:14-15 Jesus told them and then he showed them.


More for Lent 1

The first reading for today, Genesis 9:8-17, describes God's covenant with Noah, his sons, their descendants, and with "every living thing." This short passage says every living thing three times! God disarms, setting his weapon (rain-bow) in the sky as a sign of covenantal promise; surprisingly, Genesis 9:15-16 tells us the rainbow is so God will remember. As twenty-first century people, inside the church and outside, we often use rainbows with their full range of colors as signs of inclusiveness.

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." Mark 1:14-15

Mark 1:13 tells us Jesus was "with the wild beasts." Richard Bauckham, in The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (new to me book I recently got on eBay!) points out that elsewhere in Mark's gospel "being with" is the language of love and conveys close friendship. Bauckham suggests Jesus’ presence evokes Isaiah of Jerusalem’s vision of messianic peace that encompasses all creation, with humans and animals living tougher in harmony, with animals neither predators or prey. This Peaceable Kingdom belongs to the many ways the Good News of God's reign comes near in Jesus—and also in us, Jesus' contemporary disciples.
Isaiah 11

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Lent during COVID-19

Matthew's and Mark's gospels tell us Jesus answered the devil's challenges by quoting scripture he'd memorized—"knew by heart." How about us?

• What scriptures, prayers, hymns, do you rely on when the going gets rough and tough? When you're confused or uncertain about your next move (pandemic, anyone)?
• What scriptures do you recall when life is glorious and you want to thank and acknowledge God?
• Favorite Easter hymns?
• Have you started spiritual practices or service projects for this Lent?
• Are they the same or different from previous years?
• Jesus said, "the time is now, and the Reign of God has come near." The word here for "time" is kairos, and means an unrepeatable opportune moment. Chronos in Greek is linear calendar and clock time, as in "chronology, chronological." Are you thinking of brand-new or renewed ministries for return to campus?
• Has COVID-19 led to some unique moments and opportunities?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Transfiguration Year B 2021

God's Glory from Psalm 50

God, the Lord God, has spoken;
God's summons covers all the earth,
like the sun from its rising to its setting.
God has shone forth from Zion;
perfect in its beauty.

Gather to me my faithful ones;
the ones that make covenant with me by sacrifice.
The heavens declare God's righteousness
and proclaim, "God, the Lord God, is judge."

Psalm paraphrase from The Billabong, a lectionary worship resource by Jeff Shrowder, Uniting Church in Australia

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, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Transfiguration?

Depending on how you structure the church's year of grace, opinions differ as to whether the Christmas season ends at the Day of Epiphany, at Jesus' Baptism, or at Jesus' Presentation in the Temple. But with Lent beginning next week on Ash Wednesday, without a doubt Transfiguration concludes seasons that specifically magnify Jesus as God incarnate and Jesus as light to the world. However, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican churches observe Transfiguration on August 6th, and some Orthodox Christians on August 19th. The Roman Catholic calendar also schedules T-Fig on the Second Sunday in Lent. As we've seen, a happening in Jesus' life is a strong sit up and take notice when more than one gospel records it. All three synoptics that view Jesus' ministry in a similar way include Transfiguration:

• Mark 9:2-9
• Matthew 17:1-9
• Luke 9:28-36

Metamorphosis is the Greek word translated transfiguration; even if it's not in your daily vocabulary, you probably know metamorphoses from caterpillar to butterfly, a redecorated room, a transformed human life. It's essentially beyond (meta) the original shape, form, appearance or likeness (morphe), and strongly implies what people perceive with their senses.

In Matthew and Mark, six days later comes after Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ of God. In Luke they've just celebrated Succoth, the Feast of Booths–Tabernacles–Tents when people re-enacted God's protection during the exodus (Leviticus 23:39-43). Those temporary structures provided shelter yet people remained somewhat exposed to nature, so it's possible Peter, James, and John imagined offering hospitality to Moses and Elijah because their memory of Succoth was fresh.

Scripture and our every days consistently reveal creation as the setting for God's activity. Mountains often were arenas of divine revelation; OT examples include Moses on Mount Sinai (also called Horeb), Ezekiel on Mount Horeb. The NT brings us Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and God's ultimate self-revelation in the cross of Mount Calvary.


Transfiguration!

In this literal mountaintop experience Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, who represent Old Testament law and prophets. Particularly in Mark and in Luke, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and to the cross is focused and incessant. In Mark, transfiguration comes after Jesus' first of three predictions of his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31). With Transfiguration so closely following foretelling his passion, death, and resurrection(!), the way of Jesus begins to take the shape of a cross. But also—as the four companions descended the mountain Jesus ordered them "to tell no one until the Son of Man [Human One] had risen from the dead." For those first disciples and for us as twenty-first century Jesus followers, a cruciform life that resists death-dealing temptations and accretions of consumerism, empire, and violence also forms us into Easter people who testify to God's power to bring new life out of death.

Traditional and valid interpretations of this transfiguration event include:

1. You can't stay on the mountaintop forever.
2. The party needs to end because you need to go back to the daily rhythm of life with its public witness out in the world.
3. You can't contain God or put "god in a box." Martin Luther talked about a domesticated god.
3. God is not a place god of a single particular locale; God is God of all places, all people, everywhere.

Like Jesus' Baptism a few weeks ago, the Transfiguration famously brings us a Trinitarian theophany, a simultaneous revelation/showing forth of all three persons of the godhead.


Listen to Jesus


For Transfiguration the voice (from the clouds, technically not "from heaven") charges us "listen to Jesus," not look at him, despite the resplendent glory and bling surrounding him. Listen to jesus, not to his antecedents Moses or Elijah, who didn't quite get everything right all the time. Ultimately we need to listen to and hear Jesus, the ultimate Word of God. "Listen to Jesus" and not to any other cultural, economic, consumerist, national, or ecclesiastical voice.


Into Lent

Unlike Advent that has become reflective and hope-filled rather than penitential, Lent remains a season to consider and repent of the countless ways all of us fall short of God's holy demands, to ponder our mortality as we anticipate the astonishment of Easter. Burying the alleluias in hymnody and prayer until Easter contributes to that somber mood.

Traditional Lenten practices include "giving up" something, often a favorite food like chocolate or desserts or eating meat—Meatless Monday extended to six weeks. People often "take up" something; pre-pandemic, service activities were super-popular. Food bank, clothing center, church food pantry, animal shelter, reading to kids, etc., all provide fulfillment for both giver and recipient. There are countless excellent Lenten devotional books, booklets, along with scriptural reading plans related to Lent's emphasis on Jesus and the written Word. At our church we're offering a special series on reading and discussing Mark's gospel together with a very small in-person group, two or three on Zoom.

Glancing backwards and looking forwards helps ground us in this here and now. You've heard "if you keep looking back, you won't see where you're going." But if you don't appreciate the past, you'll probably keep making the same mistakes and missteps.

• How do you interpret the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus?
• Does this anticipation of Jesus' cross and resurrection inspire you? Lead to questions? Feel reassuring?
• How does God's "listen to Jesus" command relate to the church as a whole and to you as an individual member?
• How does the transfiguration story prepare you to journey through Lent?
• Or can you think of a better story to help get ready?
• Have you thought through your practices for Lent 2021?

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Epiphany 5B

Praises from Psalm 147

Hallelujah!
Sing praise to our God!

God's the one who rebuilds cities,
who brings us home.
God counts the stars
and gives each star a name.

Sing to God a thanksgiving song,
play music to this God—
Who fills the sky with clouds,
preparing rain for the earth;
Then turning mountains green with grass,
feeds both cattle and crows.

Jerusalem, worship God!
Zion, praise your God!
God makes cities secure, and blesses our young.
God keeps peace at the borders,
and puts the best bread on our tables.

God spreads snow and scatters frost.
Then at God's command it all melts;
God breathes on winter—suddenly it's spring!

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

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 Jesus 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 Jesus 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, Jesus 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.

Continuing…

The church's year of grace still is in the fairly short ordinary time season of Epiphany. Epiphany means revelation or manifestation; it emphasizes the universalism of Jesus as redeemer, savior, sovereign for all people and all creation everywhere. Light is THE Epiphany symbol; we know how far into the dark a tiny candle shines. Scripture readings for epiphany also include stories of God's call to people who lived long before us; these accounts relate directly to places and ministries God calls us to so our light can shine. Not surprisingly, evangelism – reaching out to those around us with the Good News of Jesus Christ – is another focus of the epiphany season.


Resurrection

Today's gospel reading 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. Mark uses the word for "raised up" we find in 1:31 sixteen times in his gospel; it actually means resurrection to new life. In fact, the theme of resurrection from death pervades both Old and New Testaments.


Expectations

As we've noticed from reading the gospels, Jesus' followers, whose tradition believed God would send a Messiah, assumed God's chosen anointed (Christ and Messiah both mean "anointed") would be a military leader who'd violently zap all of Israel's enemies and restore the Davidic reign.

Partly a human doing, marginally a divine initiative, the people's pleadings for "A King Like the Other Nations" had been answered with the both-kingdoms (northern Israel and southern Judah) United Monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon. Despite their conviction a Ruler like David eventually would come onto the scene, by Jesus' day they wanted and expected an updated, better, more effective version. On some level many were primed and ready to do military battle alongside the anticipated new monarch; even after Jesus called the first disciples with, "Follow me," they never expected to be asked to follow a servant God. The outrageous idea of a ruler who would wash the feet of his followers was way beyond their comprehension. They could not have imagined a divinity who would allow himself to be put to death without resistance. Their default image of salvation and sovereignty was a king who would fight with all his might—surrounded by fully armed troops, of course.


Service

Service is the second prominent biblical current in this passage. Diakonia/deacon with related nouns and verbs weaves a path through the New Testament; this includes Jesus' declaration he is with us as "one who serves."

In today's text, Jesus resurrects Simon Peter's MIL to new life so she'll be able to serve again. In the Acts of the Apostles, we discover the nascent church didn't first ordain the Ministers of Word and Sacrament that people tend to think of as the church's primary "ministers"; in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, the church first ordained the servant class of deacons. Early Christian communities followed Old Testament patterns of laying hands on and praying over a person to authorize them for a particular ministry.

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.

Deacon

Deacons replicate Jesus's act of foot washing – towel and basin ministry – that many churches demonstrate during Maundy Thursday worship. As with all humanity, God first creates those individuals in the divine image; later God specifically calls them to neighbor-oriented caring love. Deacons – ministers of word and service – draw on Jesus' model to reflect God's own servant nature. Historically, the class or group or tribe of deacons has been world-facing: to the world the church is supposed to look like people who serve! Of course, that includes Ministers of Word and Sacrament/pastors when they're out in the world, although the Minister of Word and Sacrament's primary stance is facing the church.

As you've learned, all this is somewhat generic, because God's calls usually aren't so clearly demarcated. God baptizes all of us into lives of direct and indirect service; God calls all of us to spread the Word in a wide range of ways; God calls everyone to celebrate and share the sacramental holy ordinariness of creation.


Next Sunday

For Western Protestant churches, the Epiphany season concludes next Sunday with the Feast of the Transfiguration. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some churches in the Anglican tradition celebrate Transfiguration on August 6th, often for an octave of eight days. Lent, the season of lengthening, longer days that initiates spring in the northern hemisphere begins in ten days with Ash Wednesday on February 17th.