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.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Proper 5B/Ordinary 10B/Pentecost 2 June 7, 2015

"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.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


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

We return in this weeks passage to our readings of Mark's Gospel and of course will march through them until we reach the end of this season we call ordinary time, or the Sundays after Pentecost.  We begin our seasonal reading of Mark with 15 radical verses that reorient life.
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?”34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!35Whoever 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

Textweek Resources for this week's Epistle

"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.

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