Finding the Lessons

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

You will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday.

The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date.

You can open the monthly calendar to the left and find the readings in order.

You can also search below by entering the liturgical date, scripture, or proper. This will pull up all previous posts.


Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Proper 5B/Ordinary 10B/Pentecost +3, June 10, 2018


Creator God, we are fashioned, male and female, in the likeness of your glory.  Gather us around Christ, our teacher.  Grant that by doing your will we may truly become disciples, brothers and sisters of the Son.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord 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 3:20-35

"In Mark's Gospel, Satan is always behind the opposition to Jesus regardless of who or what the vehicle may be. In this case, it is his own family and a delegation of scribes from Jerusalem."

"Getting on the Right Side of God," Alyce M. McKenzie, "Edgy Exegesis," Patheos, 2012.

"When we rush to explain away Jesus' miracles, we risk overlooking the deeper message of his liberating power."

"Jesus Christ: Exorcist," Susan R. Garrett, Beliefnet.

"Here is the Good News: Jesus is not out of his mind; Jesus is not filled with demonic spirits. Rather, Jesus has the mind of God; Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit - and invites all of us to be of the same mind and same Spirit in a new family as his sisters and brothers."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 3:20-35, David Ewart, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

In the gospel story of Mark we locate ourselves just after Jesus has called the disciples (including the mention of the one who would betray him) and we also are in the midst of a response by the religious leaders of the day to his first teaching.  In our passage for today his relatives also react to his teaching.

The parable of the "binding of the strong man" is a teaching about the Gospel's message for freedom from that which binds us.  In Mark this teaching is powerfully dualistic; nevertheless, the image cast in the story and the teaching of Jesus is clear: we are to be granted freedom from the one who comes to bind the forces that rebel against God. 

This is wonderful news!  What seems important though is to remember that humans are bound as well. That this strong man runs our house. That this strong man, who himself is in need of binding, is a destructive force that humans cannot be free from.  In fact, we are perpetually in the grasp of this strong man. It is always easy to blame someone for our own problems and I don't mean to do this here. I am simply saying that God in Christ Jesus comes because we are not able to do this ourselves and for ourselves.  We are dependant upon God's working this out. 

The image of disciples who will turn against Jesus, the religious home that turns against their own son, and a family that turns against Jesus reminds us of how unable to be free, truly free, we are.  He reminds them (similar to the passage from last week's Gospel of John) that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and that it cannot be stopped.  Strong words are used by Jesus, but it is as if to say, "woe to anyone who dares stop the spirit."  I am reminded of Emil Brunner's thoughts in his classic text The Church Misunderstanding, where he explains the difficult spot between the church and the ecclesia - God's church.  Religion is always attempting to point towards God but it is always something that is still bound by the strong man and our nature in this world and so a mere reflection of the ecclesia.

Then Jesus teaches about a radical new reorientation of creation.  He says: "Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  It is those upon whom the gaze of Jesus falls that become a new family, a reordered family.  The faith and religion that Jesus grew up in demanded birth into the family.  Literally a lineage of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters that was tied to the mortal body.  Here Jesus is offering a vision of the family of God that is based upon the gaze of Jesus, the working of the spirit, and the discipleship of the person which makes their will open to the movement of the will of God. 

So, we are remade in Jesus brothers and sisters one to another.  We are to view ourselves through the eyes of Jesus and see in one another the Holy Spirit moving and drawing us ever closer together in a new family, an ever expanding family.  And, we are to be known as those who do God's will.  We are known as people who do not rebel against God's spirit but embrace it and are formed by it. 

I believe for Jesus, for our author Mark, and for his community this notion of communal life as a new family, which is at work doing God's will is essentially the binding force of life lived following Jesus. 

Now here is the thing...and it is an important thing of which we should be aware.  And that is, because the strong man is in us, we Aristotle-ize the passage.  That is right, we Aristotle-ize the passage.  Aristotle in his Ethics writes:

Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it: people become builders by building and instrumentalists by playing instruments. similarly we become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate ones, brave by performing brave ones. This view is supported by what happens in city states.  Legislators make their citizens good by habituation; this is the intention of every legislator, and those who do not carry it out fail of their object.

We immediately move from understanding the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, and Jesus' gaze upon his friends as the marks of the new family and take the last little bit of this passage out of context and we say, "If you do not do the will of God then you are not true believers."  Wow! It happened so quickly, we Aristotle-ize Jesus' teaching.

The problem is that the strong man within us understands this is the way of the world.  You do it, you become it.  It is a way of being and becoming.  That however, is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus and contrary to Paul's arguments. Righteousness is NEVER acquired by action, even the action of believing.  (Rom.1)  The reality is that the strong man is in us, we are him, and so our action and our believing flow out of our ego's desire, our self concern, for salvation.  No one may be a member of the family by doing good works or obeying the law.  One is not justified into community by being good or by doing...but by God and by God's work on the cross.  Actions flow from the love affair with God.  They flow out of being made family by God and by God's Holy Spirit. God makes us a vessel of Grace.  (Romans 3, 1 Cor. 1) 

To be named brother and sister in God's family is not something that takes place because the church says so, it takes place because of God's gaze and the Holy Spirit's blowing this way and that.  The Church recognizes this reality in sacrament but does not make it so.  God's grace and love, God's invitation to be family, is free, as free as the gaze of Jesus upon those friends gathered around him.  It free to those who do good works and those who do not.  It is free even to those who reject him out of their religious convictions.  It is free to those family members who wish he would stop causing so much trouble. It is free to those disciples who will deny and betray him and run away.  It is free.  To be made a member of the family of God is pure grace and pure love.

So we might preach and pray, come Holy Spirit, gaze upon me Jesus Christ, bind the strong man within my soul, and open my heart to your love, that your will may be done in me.

[Thanks this week to Collins book on Mark, for Marcus' book on Mark, and for Gerhard O Forde's reflections on grace and the cross from On Being A Theologian of the Cross.]

2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1

"Amidst real hardships and suffering, Paul expresses hope in God's work to redeem and to transform."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Paul's confidence rests not in the details - they don't bother him - but in the fact of God."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 2, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The self can die only if and when it loses all wonder, either this side of the grave or beyond."

"The Gift of Aging," Caroll E. Simcox. The Christian Century, 1987. Republished atReligion Online.

In this passage Paul is using Psalm 116 vs 10. This is a psalm about suffering and a near death experience. Like many people who have used the psalms for comfort Paul too draws on their wisdom to offer a sense of his struggle. He too fears he is close to death. Yet he believes that is work is still before him. He is to continue to proclaim the Gospel. He has kept his faith despite the afflictions and sufferings of his time. 

Paul is relying on the foundation that he is working towards God's future. He has hope because he believe God will be victorious. This refrain of doing the work for the sake of Christ and the sake of the Gospel is constant in Paul's writing. I only imagine this is because of his profound feeling of grace placed upon him by God. 

This is what enables him to not lose heart in the midst of his ministry. 

What is important here I think is that Paul is failing physically AND he is heading into very strong opposition. In fact as we read the whole text what we know is that the Gospel he is proclaiming is being pounced upon and defeated at many a turn - in Philippi for sure and doubts have crept in elsewhere. 

Paul though has faith, he believes in his message, he believes the Gospel will win. 

As I think about this I wonder about my own feelings when I receive criticism. Do I believe that the Gospel will win (in spite of my weakness)? Do I have faith that if I do my part and offer the vision I have inherited - believing it from the Holy Spirit - that God will correct it, mold it, shape it, reform it as needed for God's cause? 

Here might I rely upon God! Here might I find a bit of strength to be human and allow God to be God. Here I might find and discover that I will make mistakes and speak out of tune but that the Gospel will work and win. The work of Christ on the Cross shall be victorious. 

Humbly we pray as church leaders then:

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

1 Samuel 8:4-20

"Voice, leadership, and power are anchoring themes of this story for the Second Sunday after Pentecost."

Preaching 1 Samuel 8:4-11(12-15), 16-20 (11:14-15), Jill Crainshaw, Lectionary Homiletics sample.

"It's easy to side with Samuel and God in this passage, from our vantage point in a democracy, but we may not be giving the people the credit they deserve."

Commentary, 1 Samuel 8:4-11 [12-15] 16-20 [11:14-15], Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"When he reached retirement age, he might have turned things over to his sons, but they were a bunch of crooks who sold justice to the highest bidder, and the Israelites said maybe he'd better get them a king instead."

"Samuel," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"The abject impossibility of God's desertion of Jesus on the cross speaks volumes to us in this moment. Jesus, who is God among us, experiences the loss of the relationship caused in every moment we enthrone other kings in our lives “ be they Saul or be they ourselves."

"Enthroning Kings," Peter Lockhart, A Different Heresy, 2012.

In our passage from I Samuel we have the great moment in Israel's history where by the people cry out for a king to rule them. There are two reasons to this, the first is  out of fear of Samuel's potential absence. The second is that they see that they are surrounded with monarchies.

Samuel is not happy about this of course. Samuel believed that what was most important was the relationship between the people and God.

God says, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

The point God is making is that the people are eager to have rulers over them. They believe that the powers of the world will bring upon them great riches and prosperity. God tells Samuel to warn them. But...quite frankly God is a little tired of their complaints. He reminds Samuel they have been like this since Egypt and they had the same complaints with Moses. People long for earthly power and kingdoms because they hope to have a part in them...forgetting that most serve the powers and few get to be powers. This is not a rejection of Samuel just as it was not a rejection of Moses. This is a rejection of God.

So Samuel warns them. He prophesies, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Of course the people don't listen to him. So, what does this have to do with anything? Is there more there for us and how does this fit with Christianity?

As Christians what we know is that when Jesus comes the people are living exactly within a world that Samuel prophesies. God points out in this passage that the people from the time of Moses have wanted greatness for themselves. The kingdom will be a deliverance and a short lived time of prosperity under David and Solomon - though the price the people will pay is substantial. There will then be a fall into exile and a long time of existence as a lesser vassal within wider kingdoms - the Roman Empire being the last before Jesus.

This moment is essential because it reminds us that we want a human king. This is the king they cry out for but not the kingdom Jesus delivers. The rejection of Jesus is the very rejection of God in this passage.

Deeply rooted here is the notion that we Christians, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, reject the notion that humans are created to rule over each other. We reject the notion of economic enslavement.

This passage as part of the overall Jewish and Christian theology that community is about the mediation of freedom between the structures of this world. We belong to a faith tradition that is rooted in God's giving freedom to his creatures. God gives us freedom. This begins when God explains to Cain that sin is part of choice and that there is nothing in the created order that forces us to do anything. (Jonathan Sacks, On The Limits of Power.) Renowned psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl believed that when all every other conceivable freedom is removed from a human being, there is left one. The basic freedom from which all other choices flow is the freedom to chose how one reacts to their context. It is this freedom that roots us to our first ancestors. It is this freedom that takes us to God himself. It is this freedom that is a reflection of God's image and likeness. (Ibid.)

While even this basic freedom cannot be removed even with the calling of a monarch, the rejection of God, and God's servant Samuel, it is quite something else to ask for a monarchy. In other words a free society is something quite different. Moreover, it does not begin by the rejection of Samuel and God but by the taking on of other lesser gods, powers, and monarchies. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:

Individual freedom, though, is one thing; a free society, another. In virtually every society known to history, the strong have attempted to use their power against the weak. The biblical paradigm for this was ancient Egypt, which turned the Israelites into slaves. It is no coincidence that the formative experience of Israel was that of G-d, the supreme power, rescuing the powerless and leading them across the desert to freedom. The task he set them was to create a society built on the rule of law, together with social welfare and practical compassion, in which no one’s freedom would be purchased at the cost of others being reduced to servitude or humiliating poverty and dependence. 
The ideal society, as the Torah conceives it, is one in which no one rules or exercises power over anyone else, other than G-d himself. To be sure, that could not be achieved overnight. The struggle has taken over three thousand years and is not over yet. Its closest approximation is Shabbat – a world experienced one day in seven in which no one can force anyone else (not a servant or an employee or even a domestic animal) to work for them. The idea of one human being ruling over another is anathema to the Jewish mind. Only one being is entitled to sovereign powers, and that is G-d. That is what Gideon means when he says, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”
...The building of a body politic is, the Torah warns, fraught with conflict, but out of this conflict great things come. The command to appoint a king tells us that power is much but not all. You need it to create a state. You need something else altogether to build a society that honours the image of G-d that is mankind. (Ibid.)
I believe the same is true for Christians. Jesus does not offer us a revelation of something that was out of sync with the ancient invitation to create community by God in the very first place. God invitesus in Jesus Christ to something more than a projected notion of a worldly monarchy upon God. This is where the church has gotten it so wrong. It is where the church has in fact done nothing more than offer a vision of God that is different from the complaining people desired from Samuel, and the Harodians of Jesus' time hoped to achieve with the  Romans. No, Jesus once again comes and offers us an ideal society where (as Jesus says in Matthew's Gospel 20:25-28) we live differently. We do not lord power over others. We are not students or slaves and servants...we are friends. This is a relationship spoken of by the early theologians of the church who suggested that this friendship with God and one another was an idea of society where power is not exercised over one another.

When we live with the powers we are enslaved as Samuel promises: the powers will take your sons and daughters and make them wage war and support the war machine; the powers will make you migrate to places and harvest this or that, and they will eat a plenty while you will not make a just wage and will starve; the powers will make you work in machine shops, in bakeries and you will become the maker of things while others enjoy them; you will be taxed to pay for the machine of government itself; you will be the subjects but you will be enslaved to the system you choose.

Human beings ruling over others was "anathema" to God, to Moses, to Samuel. It was anathema to Jesus, his apostles, and those who followed very early on in the history of Christianity. If Christianity is to join the Jesus movement it will have to take off the Constantinian yoke it places upon its people so that it may no longer rule and lord over God's friends like a monarchy.

Genesis 2:15 - 3:21

"That the two become one flesh has echoes in the Christian Testament, that men who held power in that patriarchal context should no more mistreat their wives than themselves."
Commentary, Genesis 2:18-24, Wil Gafney, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"Reading the Genesis 3 text in light of Jesus' confrontations with people who thought he was 'out of his mind,' focuses our attention on expectations about the relationships between God and humans, and humans and creation."

Commentary, Genesis 3:8-15, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"The pericope concludes with the formula about "leaving and cleaving," which again is quite well known. But it is helpful to note that it is the man who is identified with his parents, and the woman stands alone, a contrast with certain wedding practices!"

Commentary, Genesis 2:18-24, Sara Koenig, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We last read this passage as part of our readings for Lent 1.A.

Our Old Testament reading today is the story of the fall. It is an origins story. The sweeping creation of all things includes the making of human beings. Many scholars of the text will tell you that there is a second creation tale woven in. This tale seeks to tell us of why we are the way we are.

I am reminded of the ancient Norse myth of where poetry comes from. The story though is entitled something akin to: where bad poetry comes from. This genesis, this beginning, story is about where our bad poetry comes from - if you will. It is about wisdom that pulls us from our intended relationship with God and death.

The text itself speaks of God's desire to walk in the garden with his creatures. God has created these trees. one is of good and evil and the other is life. Formed from dust we are created as images of God. But the humans are tempted to understand and to know. They are tempted to have life. There is a creature who is crafty, walks on legs, and helps the humans along their path.

You well know the rest of the story and how they eat from the tree and discover they are naked before one another and God. So it is they receive a bit of punishment from God...the creature will be like snakes we know today...the woman is going to have pain in child birth...the man will have to work. And, finally, we are told that the snake and the humans will be enemies.

Episcopalians do not espouse biblical literalism and so we dismiss this and the other story as a factual account of creation. Episcopalians do espouse that the scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. So it is that as we consider the passage we wonder what this has to do with salvation.

Now, what is curious about this text is that it never is used by the writers of the Gospels or the letters in the new testament. It is referred to as in passing in some of Paul's writings. He frequently compares being led astray by the serpent to being led astray by those who wish to offer a contrarian view to the Gospel. Cross references will lead you to other passages regarding sin, lust, and death...but that is a way of looking back into the passage and seeing there what we want to see.

This passage would be referred to endlessly by the early church fathers as a text on modesty, lust, and the veiling of virgins. By the reformation Calvin writes this, "The design, therefore, of Moses was to show, in a few words, how greatly our present condition differs from our first original, in order that we may learn, with humble confession of our fault, to bewail our evils. We ought not then to be surprised, that, while intent on the history he purposed to relate, he does not discuss every topic which may be desired by any person whatever." (Commentary on Genesis:

What I want to point out here is that while we have inherited the notion that the God's rectifying act is rooted deeply in a midcourse correction of Adam and Eve, there is barely a mention of it until we get to a more modern time.

It is clear that the Gospel authors saw Jesus in the frame of Adam. The Gospel was to be a new beginning...a re-genesis if you will. Moreover, that the gospel this week of Jesus' own tempting is in some way to give a nod to previous temptings of others. Most especially the temptations of the Israelites while wondering in the desert and maybe a small nod to the creation story.

But the creation story is our topic so lets stick with it a bit more. The first thing is that I want you to put out of your mind all that business of somehow there was perfection in the story prior to the eating of the tree. I am not sure where we all get that...but it is not the case. Now, I am leaning on my Robert Farrar Capon here (Genesis the Movie, 287) I am taking this, like Capon and Paul (for that matter - Galatians 4:24) as allegory. They did not have anything on...meaning that they were literally and figuratively naked before God. The idea here is that their goodness and badness was all out in view. Creation was a folly of revelation where in humans were known by each other and by God. Their "foibles" were out there in the open. (Ibid) There was innocence and most "criminality". (Ibid) You see the story doesn't say they were perfect to each other, or that they didn't make mistakes, or even that somehow they were innocent. It just isn't in there. What is clear is that there was no knowledge of their follies and foibles...there was no knowledge or shame of their sin.

We human beings want to sanitize the text and make the garden of eden a world of perfection and in so doing live out the story itself. That world was perfect, this world is not = sin. So... God does not like sin and wants us to live in a perfect world and be perfect and so we must create a lot of morality dances and laws so as to recreate the perfect sinless world. But that really isn't the story nor the case at all.

I am going to leave you with this to ponder. God's saving act, by one who knows no sin (that pre-fall nod I talked about), is an act that removes the shame from us so we might return to the arms of our beloved - God. Capon says, "God makes shamelessness his supreme virtue." (293) God in Christ Jesus came to save the shameful, shaming, shamed, and all the rest. He hung out with them and he hung out with the religious doing the shaming as well. Jesus' death on the cross does not return us to perfection but instead makes our imperfection our way back in.

Previous Sermons On These Passages

Let There Be No Church Misunderstanding

Jun 9, 2015, Sermon preached at All Saints in Austin and St James La Grange.

Supermarianation: Consider the light that is in us, Jun 29, 2012, This is a sermon reflecting upon Gerry Anderson's Supermarianation and Ireneaus and the light that is in us, St Timothy's Lake Jackson

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