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, September 20, 2015

Proper 21B/Ordinary 26B/Pentecost 18 September 27, 2015

"As a sermon preparation strategy, use your social media platform this week to ask 'What stumbling blocks do you put in the way of others?' or 'What stumbling blocks do Christians put up that hurt the cause of the gospel in the world?'"

Commentary, Mark 9:38-50, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"It is not so much that salt ceases to be salt but it becomes contaminated by additions over time, dirt, stones, etc, so that it becomes useless. He links salt with peace. In the context salt is an image of integrity and wholeness."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 17, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Beyond all human boundaries, O God, your deeds of power take place, and your healing mercy is at work.  Ours is not to restrict the wonders of your saving grace but to give joyful thanks for your compassion wherever we may find it.  Teach us to use well the riches of nature and grace to care generously for those in need and to look carefully to our own conduct.  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 9:30-37
In the first section of the narrative we are reminded by Jesus that just as creation is working God's purposes out, so too are our actions; along with the actions of others. We are involved in minor and major ways in building up the kingdom of God.  Notice that the statement from Jesus is not, "You are either with us or against us." But rather, Jesus offers a positive statement that if someone is working with us this is good.  Here we have the key positive message that frames the rest of our reading today.  Jesus is saying that we are to be working with one another and that we are to see that when others work with us (regardless of their place in or outside our community) they are working towards a positive end.  They are working towards and in concert with the laborers in the vineyard who are building God's dominion.
I think this is a very difficult piece of Gospel wisdom. Perhaps it is difficult because we are so rooted in our ancient reformation war, I don't know.  The reality is that we are being called to spend time focusing on building up the basileia - the dominion of God.  And, we are to not spend time talking about how they (over there) do it wrong.  Even though as humans we would rather, by our nature, spend most days pointing towards other Christians in our own denomination and outside, take their inventory, and help them see that they are doing it wrong.  Moreover, we are sure they are appreciative of this help.

It is as if Jesus is lifting up our eyes and saying, "Now stay with me.  Stay with me.  Stay focused on our work."

As soon as he does this we receive from him some more teaching. Remember, as in last week's lesson, Jesus is teaching, and teaching, and teaching. So, in the next verses we see Jesus taking up this notion of focused attention on the kingdom of God, and like a jeweler reviewing a stone, he turns his subject in the light and offers us a vision of our work.

These special sayings are in Jesus' time not meant literally but allegorically. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 690)  Even Philo, the Jewish philosopher and biblical scholar living circa Jesus, understood these sayings as images or symbols and necessary for teaching.  Key to this understanding seems also to be the underlying notion that those who are lame in life are made whole in the afterlife. I don't particularly want to go down this road of discussing the afterlife. My intention though is to point out that Jesus is proposing that it is better to live life wholly supportive of the Gospel.

First we have the person who offers the cup of water.  This person's tiny action, Jesus points out, will have a momentous impact on the kingdom of God.  Jesus' words about the "little ones" is a reference not to children but the emerging Christian community.  It is a reminder, as in the passage before, that we are to work together and towards the kingdom in our small and big actions.  We are not to get in the way of people. Certainly, Jesus is clear that those who get in the way of the kingdom will suffer for it.  Like the cup of water, getting in the way of the kingdom in small and big ways will also manifest itself in the future. 

Then Jesus turns to the Christian community.  He says to the "little ones" themselves: life is better with all your parts and a lot less sinning.  Like in Matthew's gospel (18:6-35) he first offers a vision of a kingdom in this world with all the parts of the body of Christ working in concert.  Don't be looking at how others are doing it; Christian communal discord itself is not helpful in the kingdom of God. 

Furthermore, Jesus asks his followers, while paying less attention to others, pay more attention to themselves.  Jesus is saying if your own hand offends you don't commit sin, if your foot offends you don't put it anywhere you may commit sin, if your eye offends you don't think about committing sin.
And, like in Matthew's gospel we see some metaphorical connections with sexual sin being one of Jesus' concerns.  I'll let you read Joel Marcus for a more in depth study of the metaphors.  (Marcus, 697)

Just as we are dissuaded in the beginning of the passage from a notion that the kingdom of God will only be for a particular sect of Jesus followers doing it right, in this passage we are not left believing that simple communal division or sin is the goal of his teaching.  Then, Jesus continues by speaking about salt.

Jesus says we will be salted with fire.  In my opinion (choosing one of the scholastic sides in this debate) Jesus is saying that fire will refine in a positive way.  Furthermore, that we are to be careful and keep our salt flavorful. Finally, Jesus says that this flavorful salt is a metaphor or sign of our inner harmony with God and God's kingdom and our eternal harmony with our neighbor.  Salt, a metaphor for wisdom, is part of living life with Jesus.  Jesus says, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”    Be wise, and live in harmony with one another.  Be wise and work together.  Be wise, and build the kingdom together.

So we end where we left off.  Selfish behavior, sectarianism, disunity, intolerance, creating conflict, and the rest of basic human behavior will lead us away from the kingdom of God.  Such action, Jesus is clear, will derail the work of the community seeking to build up the kingdom of God through God's mission.  Yet, Jesus invites us to share, be one with our brothers and sisters, to stop and step away from the things that draw us from the love of God, and to be filled with God's wisdom.  God in Jesus Christ is offering us a communal love instead of a religion which is focused on individual loneliness.  We are being shown the wisdom of God in living together and for one another; as opposed to living for ourselves alone.

So this week as you and I take the pulpit perhaps we might all think about offering a message of communal tolerance, sharing, virtue, and peace.  After all, everyone already knows how millstones work and what if feels like to have one around your neck.

James 5:13-20

"The words about faith and works are dotted with examples about how others are to be treated. The plight of the sick, then, is not that they simply pray by themselves and have an individual faith. The community is to gather; this seems to be a central dynamic of the understanding of the healing."

Commentary, James 5:13-20, Micah D. Kiel, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Not only are the prayers of the righteous powerful, James reminds us that the prayers of the righteous are effective. Prayer still changes things and it changes people."

Commentary, James 5:13-16, Christopher Michael Jones, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

We continue to make our troubling way through James.  Some scholars think that this last bit of James is actually a sermon, regardless we come to the conclusion with an eye to the work of prayer. We have already been speaking about our response to God's grace and the work we must be about if we are to immolate the Christ we claim to follow. Now we are to bathe that work in prayer.

Pray in and out of season, whether we are happy or sad, in good health  or bad. We are to call upon God and make our petitions known.

Using the image of anointing oil for healing we are to anoint all that ails us with prayer.

We are to pray for the leaders of the church, for each other, pray for the righteous and pray for the sinner. Confess your sins and I will confess mine.

When praying we might be mindful of Luke 18:9-14: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The truth is that we are all sinners and we have all fallen short. We are saved by grace alone to be sure. We should always be wary of praying for others and what we might pray for them. We might be wise to take James' prayers and pray them fervently always eager to confess our sins rather than to pray for the others' sinfulness.

Prayer is a powerful tool. We know it helps with healing, it helps with community, it enables us to come into the nearer presence of God. If we pray for our enemies we will learn to love them. If we pray for brokenness we may find a way of peace. If we pray for healing we may obtain it.

Typically the prayer of the religious leader mentioned by Jesus doesn't go very far except to make the person praying more distant and separate from God.

So with humility, gentleness, and honesty approach the altar of God and pray to him asking for mercy, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, grace, and love.

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