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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Advent 2B December 10, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"This is the kind of change that stops us in our tracks and makes it impossible for us to live the same way anymore."

"The Change Within and the Change Without," John van de Laar, Sacredise, 2011.

"To be at a beginning is to find that we are not prisoners of the past. John the Baptist announced as much. We and our blessed and foolish land need not be bound to our idolatries or regrets, our greeds or fears. We can begin again."

"On Your Mark," John Stendahl, The Christian Century, 2002.

"So…is it actually possible amidst our abject familiarity with the Christmas story to again hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ Son of God as Good and as News and as that which only just Began with the birth of Jesus and is yet to end?"

"Go Ahead, Judge a Book By Its Title," Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Hardest Question, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

O God of all consolation, to us who journey as pilgrims through time you have promised new heavens and a new earth. Speak today to the inmost heart of your people, that leading lives of holiness and godliness, and with a faith free from spot or blemish, we may hasten toward that day on which you will manifest in the fullness of its splendor the glory of your holy name.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:1-8

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

A tale of Thanksgiving: Good news, as it had been forecasted by news media who sent out word well in advance, people made their way from their Thanksgiving tables (some at midnight) to the malls and stores and worldwide web. They cried out in the wilderness for deals. The way was cleared and stores made ready, the paths for savings and deals galore were opened so that all could find the perfect gifts for loved ones. It was a wilderness out there! Commercials, advertisements, and emails proclaimed savings and people from the whole countryside, in fact the developed world over came out and bought and charged. You should have seen some of the people, in all kinds of clothing, ragged by the days end. They looked and they looked so the story goes until at the close of the day Black Friday (the shopping day after Christmas) and Cyber Monday (the online shopping day after the thanksgiving weekend) saw the sale of over 53 billion in merchandise goodness.

As I reflect on the week that is past I have several topical thoughts rumbling around in my head.
Global desires and hopes for spending to help our economy.
Football games galore.
A ton of food.
The poor and the hungry on a wet and cold weekend.
Advent wreath making.
Time with family.
People dealing with the complexities of family.
Reflections on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Thanksgiving Day parade.
Political election anxiety and hope.
The readings of Advent 1 regarding the coming of the Messiah.
It was a great holiday in so many respects. Yet it was a holiday of extremes as well; was it not? I wondered first: what is it that we are looking for? As a culture and as individuals what is it that we are hoping to have in all these things? With all these gifts?

I have decided that the truth in such spending, chaotic action and wild divergent events is actually not best described by analyzing what we sought through our actions but in what drives us in the search.

I think the real thing we must deal with is "human desire." Humanity is made to desire and long for that which is outside of itself. Certainly we are seeking to purchase and make real our own some kind of imagined normal life. We are trying to attach ourselves by virtue of our needs to something meaningful. We are hoping that somehow we will fill the emptiness that is inside with something that is outside of us.

It is as if the desire for our constitutional right of "happiness" has become confused. One might even say that for a people who have the right of happiness, consume most of the world's resources, we are some of the most unhappy people.

I offer all of this because the Christian understands that human desire is created within so that we will long for that which is outside of our selves - in particular God in Christ Jesus. We are created to be in relationship with God. We are created to long for God. And, we are created to long for one another.

What we do though is that we fill that longing with all kinds of other things. This is an age old axiom and is explored in the first autobiography by Augustine of Hippo: Confessions.

Today we fill that longing by purchasing massive amounts of gifts to show we care. We fill that longing with goods and products that promise beauty and normalcy. We fill that longing with media. We fill that longing by consuming food. We fill that longing by hoarding. We fill that longing by not dealing with family dynamics or by not facing up to our own shortcomings. We fill that longing by scapegoating others in our lives, in our workplaces, in our governments for problems we ourselves are intimately involved in.

I say all of this not to be some Christmas (or Advent) scrooge. Quite the contrary. I say this because the message of Mark's Gospel this Sunday it turns out is really good news (and quite inexpensive). The message is that God is the one we are longing for and his incarnation Jesus Christ came into the world so as to fill that missing piece of our own soul for the sake of the relationship God himself desires.

As Ireneaus once described, the reality of God's creative act is the ultimate outpouring into creation of God's own longing to walk with his creation in the garden at the eve of the day. The incarnation of Jesus helps to mend that hole. He has paid the ultimate price and we may find our longing transformed into fulfillment in the community of friends called the church.

It is a wilderness out there! It is our wilderness. We live in the wilds of consumer goods, aging parents, and complex lives, poverty, and longing. It is a wilderness and the voice is crying out and proclaiming, "Stop! Listen! Here is some good news!" This voice is important and one to be listened to.

The wilderness is a refuge it turns out in Mark's gospel. It is a place tied to the fleeing slaves from Egypt. It is the place of good things, and good happenings.

Tied intimately to Isaiah's proclamation of freedom to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40.3) this passage refers to the same promise of freedom to those who now choose to live a different life in the wilderness of our time and culture.
Unlike many apocalyptic communities in Israel at the time of John's proclamation, his was not a proclamation of sectarian private life or private faith; that certainly was present but it is not a Gospel notion. In point of fact it was quite the opposite of what most people will experience as church this coming Sunday. The proclamation was public, it was in the wilderness of the world, the confession was public, the washing was public, and it was all focussed on living life in the world.

As we lean into the Gospel of Mark we must be aware of the central motif of "The Way." This is a Gospel of The Way. And, the way leads to the cross and to resurrection. John proclaims, Jesus shall lead us, and as disciples Mark intends us to follow.

As we read John's charge to us today the message is much the same. We are leading a particular life, in a particular world, making our communal way with Jesus.
We are to make room in our lives for the God who chooses to make us companions. Notice the passage does not say that God makes the paths straight and the valleys low. It i is we who are to do the work of making room in our lives for God. We are the ones, not unlike the inn keeper, who in Advent remind ourselves and so create space in our calendars, at our tables, and in our lives (privately and publicly) for God.

John the Baptist like a new Elisha or Elijah is offering us a moment of change. A moment to see the world differently and to be differently in the world. Most scholars believe there is a scriptural link. At the same time for those gathered at the waters edge and those hearing Mark's Gospel for the first time would have actually recognized John as a vision of the great prophet because of the word pictures used to describe his clothing and eating habits.

John himself, in his words, and in his actions, is making way in the wilderness. He is both prophetically offering a word of transformation and the vision of his ministry also offers an understanding that now is the time!
The understanding was that the waters themselves remade the body right and that this was an event of urgency. They prepared it for the mission ahead. Furthermore, important is the proclamation that a public confession and a singular baptism given by another, as opposed to daily ritual cleansing administered by yourself privately, was enough.

John's unique baptism for sins, for repentance is a message of incredible grace. It is one where in we understand that the waters of baptism are themselves the powerful waters of grace and freedom to live in relationship to this God. We are freed to live without the great consumptive game being played out all around us. We are freed to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ alone, and for our neighbor. We are given in the words of Isaiah and in the proclamation of John the Baptist an opportunity to turn and repent from lives lived for ourselves alone and not for God or others. We are invited to walk a path, a road, with Jesus allowing our desire for other things other than God to be crucified and our false selves as well.
And what we discover is that in the end, though we are not worthy to embrace our savior Jesus or to stoop to untie the thong of his sandal as if a servant, this God calls us friends most of all.

Some Thoughts on 2 Peter 3:8-15

"The believers to whom Peter writes have, in his view, two interrelated problems: they doubt the coming of Christ and they are drawn to immoral living."

Commentary, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, L. Ann Jervis, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Part of our task is to transpose the eagerness and urgency from the cosmological speculation to the register of human need and the state of the present world and its future."

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

We begin this portion of the letter from Peter with a reminder that just because God in Christ Jesus has not yet returned he will return. Using images that remind us of Jesus' own teachings, Peter reminds us that we do not know when the thief or the master comes. The author then goes on to say that this time of waiting should be used to work on walking The Way of Jesus. 

The work of the follower of Jesus is to live lives of holiness and godliness.  We are seeking after, hungry for righteousness, and should long for and wait patiently for the coming of God. 

The description of the end time is cataclysmic and is unique in its vision within the rest of the New Testament. Anne Jarvis writes:
This is the only place in the New Testament where the day of the Lord is described in this manner. The New Testament writings agree, by and large, that a cataclysmic event is in the offing when God, with the agency of Christ, will set everything right. They disagree on whether there will be intelligible signs of the impending day (for instance, 1 Thessalonians [5:4], like 2 Peter, claims the day will come like a thief in the night, whereas 2 Thessalonians [2:1-4] argues that there will be a visible signal that the end is near). They also disagree on whether what is will be destroyed (2 Peter) or will 'pass away' (Revelation 21:1) or whether it will be renewed (e.g., Romans 8:18-23), perhaps in light of the revelation of the true and eternal heaven (Hebrews 9:24).
Jarvis continues:
Peter's proof for this is that it will not be the first time the world will have been destroyed (3:5); and that both his scriptures, our Old Testament and the inspired word of the apostles (3:2), have said it would be so. There is no doubt in Peter's mind; and he takes it as essential to faith to believe this. Moreover, he warns his readers that doubt about the day of the Lord leads directly to what he calls "licentiousness" (2:2).

Peter is clear that this is a time of repentance and a time to take seriously not only God's judgement but an opportunity for us to take seriously God's invitation to change.

Scholar William Loader writes
The purity and godliness espoused in this letter may have a strongly moral quality and focus on piety. For us such purity and godliness has to be transposed into singleness of endeavour and solidarity with God's action and promise that there can be peace and there can be justice in this world - within people and among them. Part of our task is to transpose the eagerness and urgency from the cosmological speculation to the register of human need and the state of the present world and its future.
The question for us is what are we to do with this time?  We are to work for God and God's kingdom. We must set about the co-creating of God's reign. If we are to take seriously the urgency and the work then we must not delay in addressing those issues that plague our reality and context today.

We must not delay in feeding the hungry; and, setting about to build a community where people do not go hungry. We must not delay in providing clothes and shelter for the naked; and, setting about to insure that all people have a safe place in which to dwell. We must not delay in caring for the sick; and, we must set about the work of transforming a culture where all those who are ill may find health care. We must visit those in prison; and, we must set about to create a just system of government.  Moreover, we must examine carefully what the social determinants of these failures to be a goodly and Godly society may be and we must act today to stem their power tomorrow.

Every act of goodness and righteousness that we undertake in this life will be taken into the kingdom to come and will in fact be the living stones upon which Jesus will build his reign.

So do not wait. Do not joke and jest as if the coming of the Lord is just an old idea. Do not pretend as if the end will not come. But in everything and in every way let us transform the society in which we live and move. This is the invitation of Peter and Jesus alike.

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