Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

"The kingdom of God in Mark is good news because it brings liberation at a number of levels. The central thing is enabling people to be how God made them to be."

"First Thoughts on Passages from Mark in the Lectionary," Epiphany 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Prayer

A Byzantine church was built on top of a synagogue in Capernaum
In Christ your Son, O God, you impart to us a new teaching from one who speaks with authority, for Jesus is the unique master of wisdom, and our only liberator from the forces of evil.  Make us convinced and courageous in professing our faith, so that by word and deed we may proclaim the truth and bear witness to the happiness enjoyed by those who center their lives and put all their trust in you.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.




Some Thoughts on Mark 1:21-28

What is unbound in us?  This is the question that I am taking with me into the Gospel reading from Mark appointed for this Sunday.

This is a very dense and important passage. The author of the Gospel is very much laying a firm foundation upon which he is building his revelation of who Jesus was and the import of his mission in this world and in the world to come. 

First, let me caution the reader and preacher against taking this simply as a story about healing.  I think this is an important caution as there are people in our congregations who are prone to seizures and epilepsy.  They, like their loved ones, are very wounded by preaching on this lesson that does not embody Good News for all people.  We as pastors and leaders should not do anything in our teaching or in our preaching that implies that these people are filled with some demonic spirit when what we know is that they are ill.  In point of fact to say that this story is solely about healing and the casting out of demons from a person is to miss a great deal of what is going on in the passage and in the entirety of the Gospel according to Mark. 

Is this a story about healing? Yes, by all means it is.  But what is it that we are being healed from? What is it that is being unbound in us? How and for what are we being freed? These are the questions that must be answered as you prepare your sermon for Sunday.

A couple of things to note: First is that this passage parallels the passage in Mark 5:1-20; wherein Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac.  It parallels the passage EXACTLY.  The difference is that this passage takes place in the midst of the Jewish community and the passage in chapter 5 takes place in the midst of the gentile community.

The second note is that the community of Mark was indeed a community oppressed on every side.  Joel Marcus writes:

For Mark's community, which feels itself to be the focus of the hatred of the whole world because of its preaching of the good news about Jesus (13:9-13), this feature of the initial exorcism would function as a reassurance that eh world's reaction of convulsive hatred does not invalidate the community's claim that its preaching imparts God's eschatological message. (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 195)
In keeping with most of the scholarly perspectives around this passage, it is my opinion that Mark's community feels bombarded by hatred from both the religious leaders of the day and the political leaders of the day.  As the passage in chapter 5 reflects the political attacks and adversity to the Jesus message; so here in our passage for this Sunday we can see the attack from the religious leaders of the day.

Let us look at the passage closely.We remember that John the Baptist is now faded to the background. Jesus is taking up his full teaching mission. He is calling people to follow him and he is proclaiming absolutely good news of God and the kingdom of God.  We find ourselves then in this Sunday's passage following him into a major center of religious life - Capernaum.  It is the sabbath and so he goes and he teaches in the synagogue.

They are astounded at his teaching in part because his teaching is good news but also because he teaches with authority.  This kind of teaching is different than the leaders of religion that they normally hear from.

As if to sharpen the distinction between the different messages and preaching a force enters the synagogue.  Characterized in a demon possessed man, this force challenges Jesus' teaching.  This is essential. We can get caught up in the demon part and not realize that the dialogue here is of the utmost importance. The man says, in the midst of this religious center filled with people:

24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
We might remember that the earliest manuscripts had no punctuation so that these may not be questions at all.  We might read this as:  What are you doing. Why are you teaching here. This is not good. You have come to destroy us.  And, yet too in the enmity cast on Jesus (and for Mark's community anyone who is proclaiming Jesus as Lord) we see a recognition and proclamation of Jesus as son of God - the Holy One of God.  Let us also remember the rest of the story and how these same religious authorities will decry Jesus' ministry and that of his followers.

Jesus unbinds the man from his rejection of the Gospel and his preaching.

The response to this is that people are amazed. Amazed at the freedom to believe? Amazed at the revelation of Jesus as Holy One? Amazed at his power over and against the religious authorities? "Yes," I say.  All of these and there is in verse 27 a recognition that this is a new teaching and one that comes from God. The response of the people is one that affirms Jesus as preacher and teacher of this new movement. He is bringing reform to an old way. He is in fact leading a new way of being disciples of God.

I am currently reading the Bonhoeffer biography by Metaxis.  In it the author makes a persuasive case that Bonhoeffer while on the one hand believed in the importance of Christian community he also recognized the reforming nature of Jesus' words and ministry upon a Christianity that was simply religious.

Yes, people who trust in Jesus do experience healing of life. I have seen it. I know it is true.  But the passage for this Sunday is about the reform of religion. The Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges all Christians and their communities to remember the Holy One of God and the Good News of Salvation at the core of its life. It challenges Christian communities to boldly proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.  It challenges Christian community hear the absolute and grace filled message of love. 

I want to take a moment and ask you to think about your religion. Now I am not talking about your denomination. I am not talking about your church. I am talking about your personal religion? I am wondering if you might make a list of certain things that are required for you when you go to church. Only men as priests or women as priests, incense or no incense, lots of vestments or no vestments, Rite One language or Rite II language or non gender specific language, ancient hymnody in Latin or guitars... I can tell you these are not requirements of Jesus. None of these are mentioned in his teachings.  Yet people are constantly at war over these or other lists of required religious iconography in order for the true gospel to be preached.  The Gospel is there every Sunday and Jesus is present but I wonder what shackles we bring into church that keep us from hearing it and proclaiming it.

Let us think of our own church now.  As a church embattled in structure and economy, in a church struggling with the different orders of ministry and asking questions about how we do our mission, we must hold the mirror of Mark's Gospel up and ask some serious questions about reform.  Has the religion become more important than the message? Is the benefit of Christian community lost in the chaos of a faith at war with itself? 

As Christians, as Episcopalians, we are imprisoned by our religion.

Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes right down into the center of every congregation this Sunday.  He challenges us to teach our faith with authority. To boldly claim the Holy One of God as our own.  To proclaim that God is love and that we are to love one another. We are challenged to teach our response to that love is mission.

Jesus comes in and this Sunday looks at our heart's religion and he seeks to free us from it.  Jesus offers us unbounded love, free from the shackles of our inherited religion, and challenges us to be at work in the mission field.

I am an Episcopalian and I love being an Episcopalian and I want other people to meet Jesus in our church and worship him as Episcopalians. To do that we must be freed from our heart's religion and our church's religion that says it is my way or the highway. We must be freed and unbound from those ties that bind us to a certain death that our faith and our communities may be part of the kingdom that is coming.

And, like the demoniac in that synagogue and the religious leaders of Jesus time you and I both know our religious heart and our puritanical faith rejects this invitation be to be free.

Jesus keeps coming though.  Again and again he invites us along the way just like his disciples and those he first goes to in Capernaum.  He invites us to allow those parts of ourselves that do not glorify God to fall to the wayside, and invites us to be freed for mission.  We are invited to live lives in communities where the Holy One of God is present and alive and proclaimed.  He invites us most of all to change the nature of our dying religion, that all that are around us (in our neighborhoods and cities) might be amazed at our proclamation of freedom and our teaching with authority -- the unbounded love of Jesus and the freedom to lay our religious shackles down and follow him.



A Little Bit for Everyone




Mark 1:21-28

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Third Sunday after the Epiphany year B

"The two verbs in the second part of Jesus' proclamation are present tense imperatives. That implies continued or repeated actions. "Keep on repenting!" "Keep on believing." Repent and believe are not like a door that we pass through once, e.g., I repented and I believed, so now I'm in the kingdom. Rather they are part of an ongoing lifestyle of the people to whom the rule of God has come near."
Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen, at Crossmarks.

Prayer

In your Son, O God, you have given us your word in all its fullness and the greatest of all your gifts.  Rouse our hearts to grasp the urgent need of conversion, and stir up our souls with longing to embrace your gospel.  May our lives proclaim to those far away from you and to those filled with doubt that the one Savior of us all is your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.




Some Thoughts on Mark 1:14-20

We begin this passage as Mark clearly breaks from the testimony of John the Baptist and focuses directly on the work of Jesus.  Jesus is now the focal point of the Gospel and of Mark's witness.

A second theme emerges directly as Galilee. We are beginning to read Mark more regularly in this year's cycle of Gospel readings.  In Mark's Gospel Galilee is the "land of salvation" while it is contrasted throughout the story with Jerusalem; which is the place of rejection. (This was pointed out by such great New Testament scholars as Lohmeyer and Lightfoot; and has been repeated throughout most Markan commentaries.)  In Galilee great and miraculous things happen.  Healings, exorcisms, teaching, and the growth of the Jesus movement all hallmark Galilee as the place of salvation.  Mark as a Gospel author so focuses on this theme that it is the primary and driving force behind his confused geography. For the Gospel author the story and miraculous works are more important than factual place.

In our passage, John is handed over, Jesus comes from Galilee, and he proclaims "good news."  I love Mark's Gospel and I have studied it quite a bit.  What stood out for me in this reading is Joel Marcus' point that this is "good news" really stood out. In his exegesis of the text (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 171) Marcus points out that the word "God" and "kingdom of God" were later added and not necessarily part of the early Christian witness to Jesus' ministry.  Marcus even reminds us that John's Gospel does not even use the term "euangelion," or Good News. This is Good News! It is not good news +; or good news but.  The early Christian testimony preserved in Mark's account is that what we have is Good News.

Then Jesus teaches our response.  Our response to the Good News that God is near, that God claims us, that God reinserts himself into the world, that God invites our relationship is to discover that we are in a new age of God; we are now in an age of the kingdom or dominion of God...our response is repentance and belief.

What seems very inspiring here is the notion that this is not a one time event. We are not to repent and believe; but rather we are to live a life of repenting and believing.  These words of good news and repenting/believing are words that would have resounded in the ears of the newly baptized Christian.  They are words deeply connected with the earliest Christian tradition.  We are a people who recognize our relationship with God; we celebrate the grace of God and the goodness of God. We then are constantly responding attempting to glorify God in this world by moving our lives closer and closer to the life of God.

We are a people who are not satisfied with the old age or the past; we are a people who want to come ever closer to God's kingdom. We are a people not satisfied with the world as we experience it for we know that when we try and work and repent and move ever closer God's love and grace transforms us and the world around us. It does this through kindness, charity, and good works.  This is the center of living a life virtuously.  The virtuous life is one that is constantly trying to remove the old and dead life; letting it fall away.  And, consequently attempting to live a life where belief matters and affects how I am going to act in the next moment.

This opening reading from Mark's Gospel would have reminded the first hearers of the first moments when they followed Jesus. (Marcus, 176)  As we read it today and think about our words for Sunday morning we must recognize that we have the opportunity to stir up and reinvigorate our discipleship. We have the opportunity to see again for the fist time what it means to turn and follow Jesus. 

Good News of our salvation and the unique proclamation of God's kingdom and our invitation to be a part is good news indeed!



A Little Bit for Everyone




Mark 1:14-20

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.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.