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.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Proper 22B/Ordinary 27B/Pentecost 19

No longer running interference for Jesus--or creating interference for ourselves--we, like Abraham, know ourselves to be blessed in order to be a blessing to others, embraced by our Lord so that we may embrace others.

"Tuned Out, Tuned In," Chris Repp, Sabbatheology, The Crossings Community, 2009.

The anecdote on divorce may well derive from an historical encounter between Jesus and Pharisees busied with the issue of divorce, wanting his view. If this was anything like the earlier forms which most of Mark’s anecdotes took, it probably had as its punch line a typical two-liner quip on the part of Jesus: ‘What God has yoked let no human being separate.’ We have already found such quips in 2:9; 2:17; 2:27; 3:4; and 7:15. It is clever: of course it is outrageous for human beings to undo what God has done up, to un-join what God has joined. The effect was to shift the focus from what might justify divorce to the more fundamental issue: breaking apart what God has joined must be seen as departure from God’s intention.

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"A text like this already has taken, and will continue to take on, a life of its own given the current circumstances surrounding and challenges to definitions of marriage. A sermon, whether explicitly or implicitly, needs to acknowledge these assumptions."

Commentary, Mark 10:2-16, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

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 10:2-16

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

We begin our lesson today with a conflict between the religious leaders of Jesus day and himself.  Perhaps they are hoping to catch him in debate; perhaps to make him look foolish. They are engaging in a discussion on marriage and divorce.

Jesus switches the conversation which begins focused upon human beings and reorients it towards a focus upon the nature of God to bring people together and build up communities.  Jesus is clear that God draws us together and that we often defile this drawing together. 

We could spend quite a bit of time on the nature of marriage as offered in the Gospels.  I think Joel Marcus on Mark, vol 2, does a good job of taking a part Jesus and Paul's teaching on marriage.  I want to focus on the broader theme which appears when we attach the second part of the lesson. 

If we take a step back what we see is that God is constantly drawing people together.  Mark's Gospel is a gospel of the new creation a recreation of drawing people together.  God is drawing people who are different together and Jesus is clear that we are the ones who defile these relationships. We defile marriage relationships and we defile communal relationships. We do this by turning away from the "other".  We are drawn away from the "other" into relationships that boost our power, our voice, and our authority.  We engage in relationships that diminish the "other" with whom we are bound. 

God is remaking a new community. God in Christ Jesus as bridegroom is recreating the world and his bride the community of "little ones" (the term Mark uses for the first followers of Jesus).  So as we look and we read we must remember that the defilement of this wedding garment will take place with Peter at the cock's crow. It will be the crowd who shouts "crucify him." 

Jesus knows all too well perhaps the fickle nature of God's people. Perhaps he is already aware of how easily they will be drawn to save themselves while he makes his way to the cross.  Regardless what we see as he offers this message is that God is working in the world. God is bring and joining and knitting the fabric of creation and disparate lives together in Christ.  God is joining many together and how easily we will chose another spouse and let loose the one who troubles us.

So it is that Jesus then offers an icon of this joining together.  Jesus chooses the weakest, the poorest, the most powerless as an example of God's faithfulness.  While the crowds and even followers will chose another lover of convenience, God will be faithful and will reach out and continue to love and embrace God's friends the poor and those in need.

Jesus embraces a child and in so doing he is offering us a view that God embraces the lowly. The children have no voice, no cultural value, an no political or religious worth.  As Jesus embraces them he offers a vision of the kingdom of God that exists for those who are outside of the world's systems of power and authority. Just as Jesus is continuously clear with his followers that he has come for the sinner and not the righteous, so too here at the end of our reading he shows us through this physical embrace, through access to himself, that God is present in the world for just such as these.  He blesses, he touches, and he embraces those wholly other.

God is faithful. God will not chose a marriage of convenience with the righteous, but the God we believe in will chose a marriage of trial with the very ones most in need.

As I reflect on both of these pieces, here combined into one reading, I realize that I am blessed by God. I am the other. I am one who is loved and upon whom God's grace falls.  For my sins, for those things done and left undone, and so I am sure that God loves me and God embraces me. I am beloved of God and I trust that God will be faithful no matter how often I stray into convenience and ego satisfaction.

And, at the same time I am keenly aware that in my powerful, loud voice of authority, and influence I must be challenged to look around me and see those to whom Jesus is embracing.  I must own my own unfaithfulness.  I think this lesson always reminds me that our lord will always be about embracing those who live and move and have their being in my blind spots.  God have mercy on my soul for not seeing my own infidelity to the join the wedding feast of our Lord - the kingdom of God, the dominion and mission of God.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 1:1 - 2:12

"In the city of Macon, Georgia, the Harriet Tubman African-American Museum honors the memory of the 'Black Moses,' the best-known conductor on the Underground Railroad..."

Commentary, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Pentecost 18, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"...Hebrews holds together a profound image of Jesus as God's very reflection with a very earthy and human figure just like us. That reinforces also our understanding of God and of the spiritual life not as something from or in another world, but as something which fully enters the here and now of flesh and blood."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The concept of incarnation is an affirmation that Jesus really and truly does show us what God is like. When we look at Jesus, we see him embracing the ones nobody else would embrace. We see him confronting the religious people with the falseness of their self-righteousness. We see him forgiving sinners and restoring people to their right mind. And we see him freely and joyfully playing with children!"

In seminary we were taught that there is no such thing as a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament. Yet, Christians have struggled to always put into context the reality of violence throughout the scripture including in the New Testament. Somehow we have never really quite figured out how to deal with the various rules, covenants, demands, and variety of things God wants or doesn't want for us. Even Walter Brueggeman when asked about such things says something like, "I like to think God is getting over his use of violence."

The author of Hebrews is certainly trying to figure out how to speak of these things and to parse clearly the trajectory of a God who is both alpha and omega while at the same time exhibiting different behaviors and desires.

God communicates to Israel and God communicates to us. We believe as theologian Ben Johnson once remarked, a God who raised Jesus out of death and raised Israel out of Egypt.

What is clear for the author of Hebrews and for Christians there is a clarity that all is to be defined now through the words and actions of God through Christ Jesus. It is his work and words that are to define and radically focus our attention across the great expanse of God's communication with his creatures.

The Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is a particular vision of God - revealing to us God's intent to be with us and to bridge the chasm between heaven and earth.  Sin and death will not be victorious over this divide. Moreover, that this person of Jesus is a forerunner of our humanity.

We are in some miraculous and mysterious way to become like Jesus in this world making here heaven on earth - just like we pray in the Lord's Prayer. We are to make here God's neighborhood.

What is an interesting part of this passage is the unique and important reality that the author offers a special place for humanity within the cosmos. Using the words of the psalmist (Psalm 8:4-6), the author reminds us, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor..." I once mentioned that the angels are jealous of humanity for what we have in Jesus and in the holy communion and how special this is for us in the order of things. We are blessed as humans to experience God in and through Jesus in this world and through the inbreaking of God in the incarnation and in the bread and wine. I really got skewered online when I said this. People thought it was heresy. I am of course in good company with the psalmist, the author of Hebrews
and the polish Roman Catholic St. Maximilian Kolbe who once said, "If Angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion."

We are to see who God is and how God is moving in the world through Christ Jesus as is present in scripture and in the communion itself. And what do we see? We see a God who lowers God's self and breaks God's self open for the sake of those other than God or even godlike. God becomes one with the other and so raises the other up into community. Here is the Gospel.

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