Friday, June 28, 2024

Pentecost 6B

psalm 30:11 mourning into dancing
Though hast turned for me
my mourning into dancing.
Psalm 30:11
2 Corinthians 8:7-15

7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.

12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."


An epistle is written communication – basically a letter – addressed to a person or group, although these days some blogs qualify as epistolary. Examples? Lead article in the church or organization newsletter. You may get some substack letters; I get a bunch (too much), but Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson's daily Letters from an American is the must-read.

In addition to seven letters the Apostle Paul wrote to various churches, the New Testament contains other epistles attributed to him, as well as letters that cite Peter, John, and James as author. Back then when they didn't have necessary copyright laws, attributing your writing to a well-known person was commonplace and not considered dishonest.

New Testament epistles received edits and annotations as they circulated to different churches, so every word and phrase might not be from the original writer. Paul's letters were earlier than any of the gospels—predating even Mark's Gospel.


Today's second reading from 2 Corinthians addresses the Church at Corinth that famously was full of vanity, competition, and divisions that reflected the opulent, cosmopolitan style of the city. Particularly as it relates to money and finances, this passage is a default for stewardship campaigns. However, Paul doesn't focus on balancing the budget of the Corinthian Church; instead, he's concerned about connections and relationships between local churches.

In this section of the letter he wants the mostly gentile Corinthian congregation to provide financial assistance to the mostly Jewish Jerusalem church. Twenty-plus centuries later, different denominations have different polities or governance structures, but whether highly centralized like today's Church at Rome or almost autonomous local churches like free-standing Baptists, we're all interrelated and interdependent in Jesus Christ.

Grace and Economics

All of 2 Corinthians 8 says a great deal about grace; Greek for "generous undertaking" in verse 7 is gracious endeavor and charges the Corinthians to excel or abound in grace because of Jesus Christ's "generous act" that's simply grace in verse 9 – "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor" – and echoes Paul's earlier Philippians 2:6-7.

In Greek, economics literally is the household law. Although verse 14 reads, "…so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance…" Christian economics is both material and spiritual and it's never zero-sum with one party depleted if they give to another. Not surprisingly Paul relates the meaning and impact of gifts of cash in the light (and in the shadow) of Jesus' death and resurrection.

This reading easily expands to spiritual and material gifts of service, prayer, compassion, food, presence, clothing, facilities maintenance, knowledge, and other specialties. Stewardship and giving need to encompass (1) cash ("legal tender") to exchange for stuff we need but can't produce ourselves; (2) time we need to get things done; (3) talents we apply (spend – you may remember a talent was a chunk of money in Jesus' day) toward ongoing or one-time only ministries. And, of course, stewardship of God's gracious gifts incorporates intelligence, prayer, scripture study, and – to all outward appearances – doing nothing as we wait to discern and learn what's next for us.

Where We Live

You probably remember reading about the nascent church in Acts 2:

43 Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Many many groups since then have tried living communally; monasteries usually function in ways to be sure everything has enough. Some monasteries and other religious groups freely provide for the surrounding community; others sell their produce, handicrafts, and other specialties to support themselves and those they reach out to.

In the world of Western liberal democracies, governments on all levels attempt a type of "fair balance" distributive justice. You probably can share your own experiences of sometimes giving, at other times receiving, of studying the issues and possibly acting by signing petitions or serving on advisory boards.
psalm 30:5
Darkness may endure for a night
Joy cometh in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

Friday, June 21, 2024

Pentecost 5B

Psalm 107:1
O give thanks to the Lord!
Psalm 107:1

Mark 4:35-41

35 On that same day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But Jesus 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?"

39 Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

Where We Are

Mark's gospel was written down around the time of the destruction of the second Jerusalem Temple, which served as a cultural, social, economic, and religious landmark for everyone; the J-Temple was THE reference point for every Jew. No more temple meant the end of the world as they'd known it.

This account approaches a cosmic scope that encompasses memories and hopes of the Temple and other establishments. We can parallel environmental devastation, cyberhacking, racism, democracies struggling against totalitarian governments, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a once in a century worldwide pandemic, a foreign entity invading the USA on 9112001 (you can add to this list) as the end of worlds we had known and expected to continue.

Today's Good News

This event happens "on the same day" as last week's agricultural scattered seeds and mustard seed parables. Today's gospel reading brings us water and the word. And yes, that provides more than a hint of baptism's power to drown old established systems and summon the new creation. This same story's also in Matthew 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25; Mark, Matthew, and John include a related narrative of Jesus walking on water.

The body of water here is freshwater Lake of Galilee, but Mark always refers to it as the Sea of Galilee. In the Old Testament a sea or ocean often is a symbol or sign of chaos and disorder. Untamed waters in Genesis 1 and in Psalm 104 are the womb of creation. You remember the sea of the Exodus. Noah's flood. Jonah's ocean, and quite a few rivers besides the iconic Jordan. Check out today's reading from Job 38:1-11.

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." Including everyone by bringing outsiders into the inside is a particular hallmark of Mark's Jesus. To what extent can we do the same?

This meteorological event is a great storm surrounded by great (mega in Greek) fear, with Jesus' word leading to great – mega – calm. "Fear" here really is frightened, terrified, scared, and not "awe" fear of Luther's Small Catechism and some Psalms. In today's gospel reading, Jesus' word that subdues the water is the same word he used to exorcise the demon.

• Mark 1:25 Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit
• Mark 4:39 Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind

A related reflection for Storm Sunday 2010

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Pentecost 2B

2 Corinthians 4:5
We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord
and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake.
2 Corinthians 4:5

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But 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.

15 Remember 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

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

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward."

4 Then 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. 5 He 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. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Ordinary Time

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, everywhere 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 common and mundane, though it does have a sense of "commonality" because everyone shares in it.


The first reading from the Hebrew scriptures and the gospel account relate to the commandment to observe Sabbath rest. We find the The Words or Commandments in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. Today we read from Deuteronomy, when through Moses God says everyone needs Sabbath or intentional rest (not laziness!) because God freed us, liberated us, from the burden of working under the usually unreasonable demands of empires and bosses of all kinds.

With a different focus, the Sabbath commandment in Exodus explains we need Sabbath rest in imitation of God because as we labor 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. Sometimes 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.

In this passage, Jesus heals on the Sabbath in order to free the man 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.

Deuteronomy and Mark

In the sparse environment of the exodus desert, Israel had to trust life and sustenance as a gift. They'd left slavery in Egypt, where everything was about production quotas, counting, keeping up. To what avail? To keep their jobs so they and their families could get by.

Out from Egypt, with water from the rock, manna from the sky, a cloud to lead them during the day and fire at night, Israel experienced God's supply and trustworthiness before God asked for their trust. They knew life as gift before entering the land of promise where they'd again need to work to produce agricultural and practical goods essential for everyday survival and for a more abundant life. But there would be a difference. It wouldn't be non-stop, and everyone would have a measured time of rest, of grace. Everyone: animals; servants; guests; non-Israelite strangers; the land.

The actual Sabbath never changed from Saturday, though Sunday, day of resurrection became the day of worship and rest for most Christians. People in some occupations must work on the Sabbath; for overall health, they're wise to take a dedicated day or two of rest and re-creation each week. As Jesus reminds us, The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath/ Shabbos is for all creation, not the other way around.