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 27, 2018

Proper 6B/Ordinary 11B/Pentecost 4 June 17, 2015


Jonah and the Gourd Vine by Jack Baumgartner
From your bountiful hand, O God, you have sown generously in our hearts the seed of your truth and your grace.  May we welcome with humility and confidence what you sow in the soil of our lives and cultivate its growth with the patience the gospel teaches, trusting completely and knowing full well that peace adn justice increase in the world every time your word bears fruit in our lives. 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 4:26-34
"The passage as a whole emphasizes the hiddenness and smallness of the quiet beginnings of the kingdom and also underscores the sense in which the sower does not make the kingdom happen by force of will..."

Commentary, Mark 4:26-34, Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"So what if we sent people out this week with a mission, Working Preacher. What if we sent them out to look for those places where's God's kingdom is sneaking in, or spreading out, or taking over little corners of our world?"

"Mission Possible," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"...we have the promise of Jesus that along with the call to repent and believe the good news, God in Jesus continues to equip and shape us as hearers who have all we need as God hears our prayer and the kingdom continues to take shape among us and in our world."

Commentary, Mark 4:26-34, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

The DIY [Do It Yourself] channel is fun to watch. It has shows like how to redo your bathroom or how to build your own log cabin.  It features shows about how to find or build your dream house.  Americans (and maybe people in general) love to "do it yourself." 

We do this with God as well. God makes us and God gives us grace through his Son Jesus Christ.  One of the most subtle manners in which we reject this is through a "do it yourself" theology.  If I am truthful, I am one of these types.  I turn my back on the gift of grace and say to God that I am glad to live a good earnest Christian life but I don't need God's charity, God's grace, I can do it myself.  "I got it from here God," I often say just before I fall.  "I can do it myself God.  Watch what I can do!"  The work, the law, the way, is all much better for me.  I like building plans and drawings on how to be the very bestest Christian. 

This is a very prideful stance.  It builds up my self-esteem.  As a "Do It Yourself" Christian I am more comfortable in the law side of things and in insuring others follow it as well.  But in the end this breaks the relationship with God provided by his grace, it turns it on its side.  In point of fact in my best "Do It Yourself" mode I am no different than the one who says, "I am going it alone without you God."  The righteous, like the lawless, are doomed because at the end of the day they do life on their own and by their own power.  (Personal reflections after reading On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard O. Forde, p 26ff) 

In Mark's Gospel Jesus is teaching his disciples.  He is offering them stories, metaphors, and images of what the kingdom of God is like; and who they in the midst of its rule.  Jesus has just finished teaching the disciples about the seeds and a sower.  He then takes the image of seed and turns it a little to look at it in a different way.

The first few verses remind us that the seed grows in the ground and it does so not of the will or work of the sower or planter. It grows forth under the work of God.  It is the work then of the sower to be at work harvesting.   The sower does not grow the seed.

Then he gives another example: the mustard seed.  A weed to farmers, the mustard seed is a veracious unwanted bush that takes over fields and causes trouble.  Sown into the ground as a small little thing it grows with wild abandon; also not from the aid of the sower but of its own accord.

God is at work creating the conditions, God is at work growing and creating the circumstances by which plentiful fruit and veracious plant life springs forth.  Joel Marcus in the first volume of his text on Mark (pp 326) writes:  "For the real causative agent of the word's fruition is not the farmer who plants the seed but he ground, which "by itself" brings the plant forth and causes it to develop until it is ready for harvesting."  It happens automatically, meaning in God's time and upon God's working God's purpose out in creation.  God's kingdom is growing and "unfolding" before us.  The word is growing in us and around us by the working of God. It is small and it will grow large, it is tiny but it will overtake the field.

I am powerless to do it myself!  I am not the grower. I am not the one who makes life spring forth. I am not the one who creates the spirit for the building of the kingdom. I am not the one under whose power and direction the dominion of God takes shape.  I do not do this myself, for myself, or for others - God does it for us.  Our sins are forgiven and our blasphemies too! (Mark 3:28)

I am too often like Jonah, proud of Nineveh's conversion, resting under the little bush which soon shrivels and dies. (Jonah 4.6ff) I listen to this parables of the seeds and am reminded that God is at work and that it is God's grace working in me and in the world that brings forth the fruit of health and vitality in relationship to God. It is God who is making all things new. (Revelations 21.6)

The kingdom of God is not a "Do It Yourself" kingdom.  It is one that depends on having ears to hear, and eyes to see what God is doing in the world around us.  It is a relationship that recognizes God's working in our lives and that it is God alone who draws us close. It is God who directs our sowing and our harvesting.  It is not by the work of my own hands but by the grace of God that I am saved; just as it is not by their own work that others are saved. (Psalm 61.5ff) 

It would be a very interesting thing if the mission of the church were one where people left the premises to go out into the world to seek and discover where God is growing the harvest and his buidling up his kingdom. It would be quite a different mission all together if we left and planted ourselves in the world around us (in the midst of "do it yourself"ers and the lawless ones) and allowed ourselves to be grown by God's grace amidst his crops, fields and vineyards.  What a different church we would be if we sat and became rooted by God's grace in the living word which is making its way this very minute through God's creation. 

What would we find there? What would we discover? If we listened and learned? What new images of the Gospel and of grace would spring forth if our ears were open and our eyes could see the grace of God growing God's creation into the his new dominion?

It is both a freeing and disturbing thing to be freed from having to do it yourself.  It is even perhaps more fear and anxiety producing to imagine God unleashed in the world about us, at work, and drawing all creation to himself. 

Ephesians 1:3-14

"I believe that Buttrick was right and that the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ's kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it."

"The Longing for Home," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"God's act of new creation completely changes the way Paul sees the world around him -- including his perception of death."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13]14-17, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"We are obsessed with externals ? with youth and beauty, accomplishments and credentials, productivity and profit. We are constantly tempted to judge our own worth and that of others according to "a human point of view." We are tempted to view worldly success as a sign of God's favor, and conversely, to view weakness and suffering as a sign of God's absence or even God's punishment."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

So we switch from 2 Corinthians this week to Ephesians and we are presented with the scripture right after Paul’s greeting. We have perhaps one of the longest sentences in scripture.

John Stott wrote about this passage, “A gateway, a golden chain, a kaleidoscope, a snowball, a racehorse, an operatic overture and the flight of an eagle: all these metaphors in their different ways describe the impression of color, movement and grandeur which the sentence makes on the reader’s mind.” (Stott, John R. W.: God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians: Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1979)

As we pull on the string what we begin to understand is that Paul is offering a vision of God’s family – God’s dream for us.

Paul reminds the Ephesians that God intends God’s family to grow through adoption and that many are even now being drawn into life with God through Christ Jesus. It is Christ’s death and resurrection that we are brought into the family and specifically as we too are baptized.

We are the “forerunners” of this family – God’s dream of church, or the ecclesia. And, the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit is working on us drawing us near, giving us wisdom, and uniting us with God.

What is profound is despite our differences as Christians (across every spectrum from Protestant to Orthodox) we are to be one. Christ’s great act was intended to draw us together into one family and into the family of God’s embrace.

While Paul offers clarity about God's vision what we humans experience continually is the difficulty of holding our selves between the tension of deeply held beliefs where we are not in agreement and God's desire that we be unified.

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13

"While promise, covenant and anointing have become exalted terms in both Jewish and Christian traditions, ancient Israelites perhaps had a more realistic view of what they entailed."

Commentary, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Karla Suomala, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Samuel would judge Jesse's sons by what was exceptional, what met certain standards, what impressed, what was beautiful, what was secure, appropriate and fitting. But the Lord?s choice and the economy of the Lord?s rule are not subject to such criteria. In fact, what the Lord sees can even offend such standards and break open what is misleading in such criteria."

1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13, Pentecost 2, The Old Testament Readings: Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

Our passage takes a huge jump in action. God and Samuel and Saul have been in a wrestling match. God is explaining to Saul in our passage that the time has come. While Saul is a leader, victorious general king, God is now regretting having appointed him. The reason? He is not carrying out the commands of god. God had given a particular prophecy through Samuel to deal with the Amalekites. But his soldiers have not followed God's command, and Saul has in the end fails God. 

Whenever we are confronted by a passage wherein God asks for vengeful blood I like to pause. Here I like Rabbi Maslin's conversation with Martin Buber and recommend it to you.
What bothered Buber most was the reason Samuel gives for his slaying of Agag: God commanded the slaughter of all the Amalekites. 
The portrayal of a vengeful God full of wrath has led many people to reject the Bible as the fountainhead of faith. Buber himself was moving in that direction when he experienced a chance encounter with an old Orthodox Jew on a train. Buber told him of being very troubled by this episode. He admitted that he did not believe that God had commanded Saul to kill every Amalekite. The old man responded in a gruff tone:

"So, you do not believe it?" "No," I answered, "I do not believe it." "What do you believe then?" "I believe," I replied without reflecting, "that Samuel has misunderstood God." And he again slowly but more softly than before: "So? You do not believe that?" And I: "Yes." Then we were both silent. But now something happened….The angry countenance opposite me became transformed…."Well," said the man with a positively gentle tender clarity, "I think so too." [Martin Buber, Autographical Fragments]
Buber concluded: "An observant Jew…when he has to choose between God and the Bible, chooses God." (
Our passage continues with the rejection of Saul tears the hem of Samuel's robe as a sign of being torn from the kingdom.  Samuel then does as the Lord requires and goes to find David. The people, Samuel, and many sons believe they are to be the ones. However, it is the boy shepherd who is chosen as the king.

One of the key issues in this text is that Saul was that Saul was not leading. In the dialogue between Samuel and Saul what becomes clear is that Saul has in fact simply done whatever his soldiers wanted. Like Aaron before him, Saul blames the people - in this case the soldiers.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes of the whole of the Jewish pilgrimage with God:
The truth is that when a crowd runs out of control, there is no easy answer. That is why the whole of Judaism is an extended seminar in individual and collective responsibility. Jews don’t, or shouldn’t, form crowds. When they do, it may take a Moses to restore order. But it may take an Aaron, at other times, to maintain the peace. (
I have learned from reading Sacks over these past few years, and my own study of vocation, that there are truly two calls. There is the call to be. This is the first call. The creation call, the breath call, that makes us God's. This is what we affirm in baptism - that we are God's. But then there is often the second call. This is a call to lead, to do, to free, to speak, etc. Saul had been chosen by God, but the call to lead was a greater responsibility. To be king, the second call, meant not to follow but to lead. His call from God was not simply to follow the people's good ideas.

Now, this passage and its themes are very important to both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. Why? Because it is here that we have a play on Jesus as the inheritor of David's rule. In Mark is it made clearly throughout that the Christ is the anointed one. He is the chosen one with whom God is well pleased.

The passage is also important in John's Gospel for a similar reason. Here though it is a more subtle play and an important one. Jesus reminds us in John 7:24 that God does not see as human beings see. Scholar Richard Hays points out that this connection may be purely accidental. However, it is clear that Jesus' words are meant to show that his teaching and healing are consistent with God's way of seeing the world. In other words, God sees the heart. God in Christ Jesus do not see with eyes and hearts but have a different righteous ness kind of view which will look first and foremost towards the meek, the lowly, the poor, the sick, the hungry and the imprisoned. (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 298.)

I believe we are meant here to play with the Saul and David and Religious/Political leaders and Jesus dichotomies. Just as Saul has been rejected for not being a leader, a shepherd without care for God's people, one who goes along with the powers that too the religious and political leaders of Jesus' own day are to be characterized in this manner. The anointing is passing from them to Jesus.
Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.* 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;* do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God
The point I am here making is that the rulers that Paul is speaking about are those who reflect the rule of Romans 12. These rulers rule in a reflection of Jesus. These are the kinds of rulers appointed by God. The relationship with our leaders is not a blanket rule to be followed if the rule is evil.

Romans 12 and 13 are clear about how this is interpreted by the first generation of Christians.

Here is a great piece by Stanley Hauerwas on this new kingdom rule of the anointed one, and what citizenship is to be like.

Sermons Preached on these Texts

Confession: I am a Do It Yourself (DIY) Christian

Jun 19, 2012, Sermon preached at St. Thomas Episcopal, 2012

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