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Friday, November 24, 2017

Advent 1B December 3, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent is certainly not anticipated and most likely not welcome."

Commentary, Mark 13:24-37, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"So remember how you answered that question about what you would do if the world were to end tomorrow? Well, guess what? You don't need to wait. You can do those things now!"

"If the World Were to End," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


Through all generations, O God, your faithfulness endures, and your fidelity to the covenant can never fail. Since you are the potter and we are the work of your hands, remember us and strengthen us to the end by your grace; that with a love beyond reproach, we may faithfully keep watch for the glorious coming of our Redeemer, and be found blameless on the day of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 13:24-37

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The lesson for this Sunday describes the coming of the Son of Man. In Mark's Gospel this is a prophetic vision of the apocalyptic judgement. It is a passage filled with first century understandings about the end time and it places Mark firmly in the tradition of apocalyptic writers.

I remember teaching my first adult forum class at my field work site. The class was on the Nicene Creed. When we got to the part about judgement I was asked by a leader in the congregation if I believed that Christ was going to come back and judge the world. It was a question that caught me off guard as I had never really thought of it in that pronounced a fashion. Did I believe this to be true? Will our Lord, Jesus Christ, come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will his kingdom have no end.?

The man's point was that he didn't believe it and he didn't think most people believed it. There it was in the middle of my Sunday morning class - a non-believer, confronting all of us in the room with the very words we say every Sunday but don't think about and he was certain we didn't believe.

Let me tell you first that I have hope. My normal human mind begins to dance this way and that and I think honestly that first (if I am honest) I don't want a judgement. Second, if I am wrong, then I want for the judgement to have already occurred and having been found guilty have now had the price of my guilt paid for by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Thirdly, just for safety, I want to believe that Jesus' Christ's mission is already complete. (For the theologians among the crowd we do well to remember the Brunner and Barth debate on this issue as a perfect example of the divide and impasse of the varying views on this topic.) Yes, that is what I hope, that is what my human mind wants to believe. That is indeed what my heart longs for: Jesus to be ultimately and perfectly victorious and to save the whole world.

And, I want to believe in the great capacity of goodness in all human beings to live in that grace and give freely of themselves for the work of the kingdom of God and of his righteousness.

Having said all of that, some interesting things begin to happen in terms of our lives with God and our lives with one another.

Over the years as I have reflected about his passage and others like it. I think something interesting seems to slip away as we deal with it - or don't as the case may be. Sure we all want this great salvation to be true. And, being the humans that we are, we then let ourselves off the hook. Yep! That's right. What happens is that we let ourselves off the hook because the mission is successful, there is no urgency to act, and after all what does it really matter?

In Mark's Gospel, and in point of fact, in all of the Gospels - it matters. It matters a whole lot. Over time the emerging church of the first century had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus did not return as quickly as they thought - but they believed that evangelism, virtuous citizenship, mission, and service to others was essential. We can even see the change in Paul's own letters preserved in our New Testament. Paul wrestled with the time it was taking for the second coming. Even still, Paul inspired and encouraged people because it mattered how people treated one another and what they did or did not do. Even the Gospels written in the later part of the first and early part of the second centuries have a different tone regarding the urgency - but Matthew's Gospel which is focused on this emerging church of the centuries offers a vision of a community that is waiting but where it matters.

Over the years there have been blossoming apocalyptic movements. Some have even birthed churches. Still others have ended in disaster. Probably all of them have created a general public sense that thinking apocalyptically is silly at its most innocent and dangerous if taken to its natural conclusion.

Dismissal seems to let us off the hook somehow.

Over the years I have come to understand that I think it really does matter to God how we live our life on this earth. I think it really does matter how we treat one another. I do think that to the God we believe in it matters how the poor are cared for and it matters how we take care of the earth we have some measure of control over. I think it matters to God. Moreover, based upon our current global societal troubles (the economic turbulence of recent years, the great divide between the rich and the poor, the lack of good education, the comoditization of a person's health leaving millions without care, and the destruction of the housing market where in others make money off of what is one of the most important human needs - shelter) we should all be concerned.

Regardless of if you or I will live out our whole lives and pass into the arms of Abraham (God willing) before the end time, or we together only have a few moments left on this earth, we are measured by how we treat and take care of others. This is and continues to be one of the central themes of scripture.

Those who go without have an urgent need today and our actions matter to them as well.

In the immortal words of Bishop John Hines (IV Texas, and TEC Presiding Bishop) "the Kingdom of Heaven is for all people." Some of those people are still waiting for the Good News and transformed lives and God is waiting for us to do something about it.

In this season of Advent, I hope you won't excuse Jesus' message in Mark's Gospel. I hope you won't pretend like it doesn't matter or that it isn't urgent. I hope you won't dismiss the judgement. Rather, I hope you will challenge your people to think about: how is their report card with God going? If God came back today what would he say to them? You might invite them to think about the Advent Conspiracy and how we might change how we do things in our lives, beginning with today and this season.

I hope you will challenge them to see if they have lost a sense of urgent work on the part of God in Christ Jesus and his Gospel. I hope you will inspire them to see that God is hoping in us and that we are being judged by our actions. And, by the way the people of this world are also judging us by our actions.

I can say today, "I believe." I have come to believe the words I speak and I pray: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom have no end. Let me work to the end of days on behalf of God and on behalf of his kingdom and his special friends the poor and those in need. Let me hope eternally for grace enough for me a sinner of his flock. And, finally let my work in word and action see no rest; after all, who knows when the master of the house will return?

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 1:1-9

"It is perhaps not surprising that Paul, as he addresses the church in Corinth, speaks of the gift given, God's grace shared, as "speech and knowledge of every kind" and wealth (i.e., being enriched in Christ Jesus)."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Epiphany 2,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

In this passage we have a typical Greek greeting and form for a letter. Paul emphasizes his call to ministry and his apostleship and addresses the letter to the community at Corinth. 

He reminds them that they are to be at work in the world, as saints, on behalf of Jesus Christ. He also reminds them that they are unified beyond Corinth with other followers of Christ Jesus. 

He blesses them with grace and peace. And he gives thanks for their ministry on God's behalf. He reminds them, finally, that God has given them the gifts needed for this ministry. They are lacking in nothing spiritually to undertake the work of God in Corinth and within their community. 

So what is this all for? Certainly we know that Paul is writing because their is conflict. Here though is something more than just a letter about bringing peace out of division. Paul tells them that they have these gifts and that the purpose of the gifts is this "fellowship of his Son." Fellowship here could also mean companionship of Christ according to scholar Joseph Fitzmayer (First Corinthians, Anchor Yale Bible, 2008, 134). Paul is referring to the community quality of unity around the Lord's table - koinonia. (Ibid) Paul is in some way reminding them that they are, the people of Corinth, united by Christ for the purpose of salvation and the kingdom. (Ibid) 

Fitzmayer points out this is particularly Pauline - the idea that Christ is the unifying agent and Christianity is the living companionship with Christ. It is also, as we will see as we read his letter, a companionship of peace and unity at the table to be brought about by his followers one to another. 

In other words, those who follow Jesus are to be united. This is a very real icon of their unity in Christ. If they are not one in companionship with one another - then this reveals that they are not one in Christ. For Paul, our inability to be together, work collaboratively, work peacefully, and be united is not a revelation about us but a revelation about our individual dependence upon the koinonia created by Jesus Christ on his cross. 

I would go a step forward to say that the way we frame the relationship between God and the world attempts to sever the unity of this koinonia - meaning:

  • that companionship and fellowship with God yes 
  • companionship and fellowship with one another maybe if you agree with me 
  • and companionship and fellowship with the world - no
We so separate the world so that we are not accountable to these values and way of being. We separate our own life within Christian community so as not to be accountable with the companionship and fellowship of Christ. This particular predicament would have been completely foreign to Paul and his theology.

Paul sees the world as one cosmos - united by God as creator and Christ as the bringer of salvation and reconciliation of the world with God. So there is no disunity - but only unity. God is unified with his creatures and his creation. The whole world is re-united - united - with God. We are to be a goodly and Godly community. Paul imagines a seamless unity between God and the individual, the individual follower of Christ and the other followers of Christ, and the followers of Christ and the people of the world - our neighbors. So it is that we offer a witness of a church community unified by God's reconciling love and at work in the world building a unified peaceable kingdom for all people. 

As William Loader reminds us - 
"Even 1:8 which focuses on the day of the Lord most likely contains some hint of another problem to be faced: some Corinthians were denying a future resurrection. Their understanding of the future was so much bound up with the notions of eternal souls, it seems, that they saw no need for anything beyond the salvation of individual souls. Who needs embodiedness? Who needs a community? Who needs a day of the Lord, which would establish a kingdom of justice and peace? Isn't it enough to know that my soul will go to heaven? Here in 1:8 and in 1:9 Paul celebrates the future with Christ and the future in community (koinonia).
Some Corinthians had difficulties with such images of the future and any literal interpretation is likely to meet similar hesitations today, not without ground, but Paul's logic is driven by an understanding that salvation has to mean something bigger than the individual. Many Christians still have difficulty making it to this level of understanding. It opens up too many questions about the social and political implications of the gospel. Private faith of a personal future is more comforting and marketable, but has little to do with the hope Jesus came to bring and doesn't really spell good news for the poor except in another life."

God's companionship, fellowship, and koinonia is about a unity of purpose and calling where all our gifts, given by God, are put use in transforming the world and lives of those around us.

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