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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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Proper 10B/Ordinary 15B/Pentecost 8 July 15, 2018


Famous Actress/Dancer Maude Allen as Salome
Let nothing, O God, be dearer to us than your Son, no worldly possessions, no human honors; let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ, who alone makes known tot he world the mystery of your love and reveals the true dignity of every human person.  Grant us onlyt hre riches of your grace, and pour forth on us the full measure of your Spirit, that by word and deed we may prclaim Chrsit, in whom you betsow forgiveness and redemption on all.  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.

Mark 6:14-29

"Just in case we are getting too excited and thinking this business of being a disciple of Jesus is going to be a piece of cake, is going to be a story of ever increasing fame, miracles, and wonders, Mark gives a story of a good man being executed because of weakness, capriciousness, and vengence."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 6:14-29, David Ewart, 2009.

"He turned pale when he heard that a new prophet named Jesus was stirring up trouble because he was sure that it must be John come back from the grave to get even, and he decided to have him taken care of a second time."
"Herod Antipas," "Salome," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"However one understands the relationship between John and Jesus, one thing is certain: agents of God who challenge those in power usually suffer significant consequences."
Commentary, Mark 6:14-29 (Pentecost 7B), Emerson Powery, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

A purely historical critical review of the text places this as a mere court legend. It is a kind of rehearsal that makes for good story tellings say some.

However, we read this in context of the Markan text. A story intentionally chosen to sit here in part to transition focus from the Baptist to Jesus. But it plays within the larger frame of martyrdom and its message needs to be tangled with.

Jesus and the disciples have been and are on a missionary journey. We have taken a side trip here in this passage.  Jesus and his followers are making their way to the cross slowly and surely.  Here in the passage today we are told of the martyrdom of John the Baptist who was a "holy and righteous man."  This is a side journey in which we see the powers of this world rebelling and slowing the progress of the kingdom down.  We cannot understimate the thematic battle between the powers that is being shaped in Mark's gospel.  This very wierd detour is an example of just such a battle. Her there is death and martydom in store for the followers of Jesus.  Just like John the Baptist the message is clear that those who choose the way, choose the way of the cross and will loose their life along the pilgrim way.

In Mark's narrative John the Baptist has an important role to play. He is the one who is making way for God.  He is the Elijah of our story.  As the story goes a masterfully gothic tale unwinds itself in the eventual macabre beheading of John.

Again, we see here the powers of the world are rebelling against the mission of God.  This is a stumbling block a moment when the mission is attacked by the forces that would see the reign of God end in favor of a far more worldly reign of Herod.

Ched Myers captures this with the following words:
Mark's account of the death of John is scarcely apolitical! A more sarcastic social caricature could not have been spun by the bitterest Galilean peasant!  Yet it stands well within the biblical tradition that pits arrogant kings against truth telling paves the way for Mark's supreme political parody, the trial and execution of the Human One by the collaborative Jewish and Roman powers. (Binding the Strong Man, 214.)
In the other gospel accounts the story of John the Baptist and his death makes room for Jesus to take center stage. Something different is happening in this martyrdom.
John the Baptist, perhaps like all those whose murders go unavenged, dies unjustly at the hands of power, authority, and the pleasures of this world.  His death, and the death of the saints martyred, shall be consummated in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is rejected and dies a death as gothic and macabre as John the Baptist, as many of the saints; Perpetua and her friends for example.  His death though is not rejected by God but is the redeeming act, the new cornerstone, of a new creation.  Jesus' death redeems and makes new the lives of the martyred saints.
This would have been powerful and hopeful news to a community not unlike Mark's own which was most probably in the midst of persecution. 

And, as we are immediately reminded in 6:30ff, out of death and wilderness places comes life and abundance. 

I pause to ask how are we dying today?  How are we dying in our lives? What is dyng?  I find that as I reflect on my own life experience typically what is taking place is that my true self is dying. My imperfect self which desires and hopes for love is dying. My soul which longs to belong and waits for community is dying.  The real me is dying. That is what is being martyred.  It is be martyred in the banqueting hall of my ego.  There my ego enjoys all the false appetites and fake symbols of life lived to the max.  It is the death of the ego that I resist; and it is my heart that I am willing to be pulled out of me.

I live a life where in my true self dies and awaits resurrection by the God who gives mercy and love.  I have hope that God chooses me, the real me, the martyred me.  I await the death of all the false banqueting halls of power in favor of the feeding of the thousands by the bread of life himself - Jesus. 

Ephesians 1:1-14

"Eudokia is a reminder not only of God's purpose, which is also very much emphasized by the long-range planning of God (coming up in a moment), but also the good gifts which it was God's long range plan to impart. God's interaction with humankind, both Jew and Gentile, is based on God's favorable purpose."
Commentary, Ephesians 1:3-14, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"That vision of Christ is then a vision for the church and the whole world. It already shows itself where barriers and prejudice are broken down. The 'you, too' is part of the realisation of the vision."
"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 7, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"In a world full of injustice, pain and division, these words of adoption, grace and gathering all things up are sometimes hard to hear. Indeed, there is tension between what God has already done in Christ and what is left to be done in the world."
Join the Feast, Ephesians 1:3-14, Elizabeth Smith, Union PSCE, 2009.

A couple of lessons well learned from scholar Marcus Barth on Ephesians:

1) God as the living Word means that the highest purpose of speech is in fact the praise of God. "Theology is doxology". Not unlike what poet Malcolm Guite rehearses - everything you read in teh scriptures should draw you closer to God.
2) As all things are created by God then all things have a unity through God - specifically through the incarnation. This unity is not "conditioned" by the world. Nor, is it "formless". "in place of determinism and predestination stands the Living Christ," recites Barth. God in Christ Jesus is the one working out the purposes of creation.
3) That there is a unity in witness between the Gentiles and the Jews to Christ's victory of grace and love.
4) God's grace is active with the saints in light as well as on earth. (Barth, Ephesians, 144.)
This is all very deep theology. What Paul is proclaiming is the fact that the work of the theologian is appropriately located within the worshiping community. Theology is praise of God. It is to help us speak and converse of God and Godly things. We are to root ourselves deeply in it because the living word itself is about this work. In other words, one cannot but engage in the work of reasoning about God because the word itself is alive in the reflection itself. While philosopher William of Ockham wished to create a divide between earth and heaven, philosophy and religion, there is no such division for the worshiping community and its theologian(s). For the Christian, since the time of Pauline thought there is no such separation.

I love what theologian Stanley Hauerwas says about the work of theologians in and among the church(es):
In truth, however, without the practice of the faith in Jesus Christ by the church, the work of the theologian is unintelligible. Our job is not to know more than those who gather Sunday after Sunday to worship God, but rather our job is to help us better to know what we do when we are so gathered. 
The work of the theologian, I think, is not unlike English teachers who insist that the noun and verb agree. English teachers do not make us speak and write English with nouns and verbs. Rather they help us speak and write English well. (Begotten, Not Made: The Grammar of the Incarnation)
There is here another something. Paul is not simply claiming that the deep truths of the ages are accessible to all people through Christ and with the help of communal reflection. No. Paul is also offering a vision tied deeply to ancient Platonic philosophy that reveals that the Christ is nothing less than coeternal with God. The Christ exists before time. 

Hauerwas continues with this remark about our passage:
For example, consider Paul's letter to Ephesians (Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19). After beginning with his usual salutation he provides a blessing, a thanksgiving, to God, the Father of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He continues noting that we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing because we have been chosen "in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love." According to Paul we have been destined, elected, adopted from eternity by Jesus Christ to be God's children. 
Paul's blessing - a blessing he seems to think is not in any way extraordinary - entails what I can only describe as maximalist Christological claims. Paul assumes that Christ was with God before there was a "was." That Christ was before there was a "was" is a grammatical remark that suggests that Christ is not some subsequent thought God might have had, but rather that whatever it means to say God means we must also say Christ. Unlike us, there was or is no time when Christ was not. (Ibid.)
We cannot underestimate the power this hope filled messaged offered the society at Ephesus and across Rome. Embattled, pessimistic, and disheartened, Paul's message was one where everyone (not only the philosopher citizen) could receive the transformative wisdom/knowledge of God but that this same citizen could be part of the community of God. This was a powerful message. It was an answer to a longing that was particularly ripe in the moment. The very God of creation was in fact able to be known and to be part of one's own life: fishmonger, laborer, woman, servant, and slave. This is radical theology indeed!

2 Samuel 6:1-9

"Of course, it is true that the church, and even the synagogue, has tried to flatten the picture out that 2 Samuel has provided. "David is good and beloved of God," we have chanted, "and Saul was weak or arrogant or stupid or plain evil and was rightly rejected by God in favor of the boy shepherd of Bethlehem." Yet, even a cursory reading of the long story should give us pause; is it so simple as all that? Is Saul the equivalent of an ancient pedophile while David is one-step from sainthood? At every step of the way, David acts so as to bring at least a small lift of an eyebrow to any careful reader. And the stories of 2 Samuel 6 are no exception."
"David's Dance," John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2012.

"In other words, David's motives are not pure and yet God is involved. Sin is real and faith is real; at times they are concurrent in one event and one character. The narrative leaves room for both readings. Perhaps it even insists on both readings, and thus depicts a world that has resonance with our own."
Commentary, 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Richard W. Nysse, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"We have a choice with this text. We can minimize the Michal’s voice, or we can try to understand her through the text. We can see her role as a literary device—a manifestation of the loss of Saul’s kingdom. We can simplistically see Michal as a nagging wife. Or we can see her as a fuller person, justified in her criticism of David."
"Michal" Lia Scholl, The Hardest Question, 2012.

Oremus NRSV Text

This is the story of the fall of the house of Uzzah and it is the rise of the Kingdom of David. The God is present in the ark and is present when it is brought into the city.

I was a student of Dr. Murray Newman and cannot help but read this passage without the historical critical eye that on the one hand we have the tale of David and on another the liturgical rite that was carried out long after David's death to reenact God's entrance into the city. 

Here though is the important key to the text for me, this is a shift from the old Israel to the new. It is a the moment in which the old people's ways and reign up to Saul are coming to an end. It is a culmination and high water mark of David's victory over the past. What is old has now fallen away like Uzzah and now David dances a new dance of victory. Even Saul's Michal cannot rain on the parade.

Internationally known dancer Jodi Falk writes this:
As I asked in the beginning of this essay: who was David dancing for - his God, as he states (2 Samuel 6:21), for the crowd and specifically for the women in the crowd, as Michal suggests (2 Samuel 6:20), or for the sake of celebration? David’s dancing was the catalyst for the transformation of the nation of Israel from Saul’s royal family to his own kingdom. David was dancing for the power change on which the narrator in 2 Samuel 6 is focused. The nature of the dancing itself, the rituals that surrounded it and enlivened it, and the reaction of Michal and the inferred consequences all contribute to creating and then finalizing this historic shift of power and fate for the Israelites. (Dance of Transformation)
This is a particular move, a calculated move, a political move. In his commentary on Samuel Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage:
Now, under David, in order to have access to the ark and to its old significance, even conservative Israelites with long memories and keen theological sensitivity must make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the new city with David’s new power and new ideology. They have nowhere else to go. To make contact with the ancient symbol, they must give tacit assent to the new royal apparatus. (Brueggemann, 1 and 2 Samuel, 248).
Now, why is this all so very important. SPOILER ALERT. This is important because we are on our way to 2 Samuel 7 and the Gospels. This is an important book for Christological reasons. God is soon to make a covenant with David. Chapter 7 will connect all that has come before with all that is about to come after. God's next covenant is with David and commits to bringing about a kingdom and offspring. shortsightedness allows us to see this is about David and Solomon before the fall of the kingdom. But as Paul will make clear the great Dravidic rule will be unraveled and given away to Jew and gentile alike through the grace and power of God in Christ Jesus. Romans 1.3ff:
the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ...

Amos 7:7-17

"Amos 7:7-17 describes two episodes in the prophetic career of Amos, set in the northern kingdom of Israel around 750 BCE."
Commentary, Amos 7:7-15 (Pentecost 8c), Blake Couey, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"Far from wishy washy is the judgment of the Lord that comes from the mouth of Amos. Rather, it is clear, to the point, biting...and surprising as it comes to Israel, the Northern Kingdom, in a time of peace and prosperity."
Commentary, Amos 7:7-17 (Pentecost +7), Samuel Giere, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"Proclamation in word and deed is scary business."
"Whose Word Is It Anyway?" Jenny Williams, The Ekklesia Project, 2010.

"The similarities of context between the social injustices of Amos? day and our own make an uncomfortable link between the judgment Amos foresaw for his people and the implications of the prophetic word for our day."
Amos 7:7-17, The Old Testament Readings: Weekly Comments on the Revised Common Lectionary, Theological Hall of the Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.

Oremus NRSV Text

When in Jerusalem our guide, The Rev. Canon John Peterson, took us to a little hillside near Tekoa. In the hill beneath a mound of rubble and centuries of pot shards was a little cave. The cave is long believed to be a small ancient Christian church site to Amos the prophet. On this hill, and the valley below, one gets an understanding of the man from Tekoa, who was a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees. Like the fruit of the sycamore tree (which is like a date) and must be punctured in order to be dried and eaten, Amos punctures the pearly visions of the ruling class of his day.

The time in which Amos prophesied is a time of a divided kingdom of Israel. The Northern kingdom and tribes are ruled over by King Jeroboam (786-746 BCE). 

God calls Amos to invite his people to repent. His prophecies are not good for the kingdom.

The reason is the long standing problem with those who chose to follow God - we are a fickle people. We are wont to find other god's who promise us prosperity, power, and health. The religious powers of the court are no different. Whenever the kings of Israel drifted away from their loyalty to the God who freed his people out of Egypt, the prophets were raised up by God to speak a word of return. 

An important piece here is that we easily place our trust in the world and powers of the world. God can become distant and far off. When this happens, and our anxiety rises, we will give ourselves, our wealth, time, and families over to the authorities of the world around us for an economic promise of safety. 

We can easily focus upon Amos proclamation that the kingdom will soon fall because of its prostitution to these ungodly forces. But what seems more important is to wonder out loud about how Amos' prophesy might have a word for us in our own time of anxiety and desire for security?

How are the sanctuaries - institutions of our day - passing away even as they promise security with reinvestment? (v 8,9) What have they promised in the passed and fallen short in their delivery? (7ff) How has our use of violence in order to prosper our own desires brought violence and death to our shores? (v 11) How have we rejected those who continuously invite us to the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love of God? (v 13) 

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