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)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany B January 28, 2018


In Christ your Son, O God, you impart to us a new teaching from one who speaks with authority, for Jesus is the unique master of wisdom, and our only liberator from the forces of evil. Make us convinced and courageous in professing our faith, so that by word and deed we may proclaim the truth and bear witness to the happiness enjoyed by those who center their lives and put all their trust in you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 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 1:21-28

"The kingdom of God in Mark is good news because it brings liberation at a number of levels. The central thing is enabling people to be how God made them to be."

"First Thoughts on Passages from Mark in the Lectionary," Epiphany 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

A Byzantine church was built on top of a synagogue in Capern
"The law against working on the Sabbath is an example found in the Gospels. If it is a question of whether or not you should perform the work of healing people on the Sabbath, Jesus' answer is clear. Of course you should heal them is his answer."

"The Law of Love," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

What is unbound in us? This is the question that I am taking with me into the Gospel reading from Mark appointed for this Sunday.
This is a very dense and important passage. The author of the Gospel is very much laying a firm foundation upon which he is building his revelation of who Jesus was and the import of his mission in this world and in the world to come.

First, let me caution the reader and preacher against taking this simply as a story about healing. I think this is an important caution as there are people in our congregations who are prone to seizures and epilepsy. They, like their loved ones, are very wounded by preaching on this lesson that does not embody Good News for all people. We as pastors and leaders should not do anything in our teaching or in our preaching that implies that these people are filled with some demonic spirit when what we know is that they are ill. In point of fact to say that this story is solely about healing and the casting out of demons from a person is to miss a great deal of what is going on in the passage and in the entirety of the Gospel according to Mark.

Is this a story about healing? Yes, by all means it is. But what is it that we are being healed from? What is it that is being unbound in us? How and for what are we being freed? These are the questions that must be answered as you prepare your sermon for Sunday.

A couple of things to note: First is that this passage parallels the passage in Mark 5:1-20; wherein Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac. It parallels the passage EXACTLY. The difference is that this passage takes place in the midst of the Jewish community and the passage in chapter 5 takes place in the midst of the gentile community.

The second note is that the community of Mark was indeed a community oppressed on every side. Joel Marcus writes:

For Mark's community, which feels itself to be the focus of the hatred of the whole world because of its preaching of the good news about Jesus (13:9-13), this feature of the initial exorcism would function as a reassurance that eh world's reaction of convulsive hatred does not invalidate the community's claim that its preaching imparts God's eschatological message. (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 195)

In keeping with most of the scholarly perspectives around this passage, it is my opinion that Mark's community feels bombarded by hatred from both the religious leaders of the day and the political leaders of the day. As the passage in chapter 5 reflects the political attacks and adversity to the Jesus message; so here in our passage for this Sunday we can see the attack from the religious leaders of the day.

Let us look at the passage closely.We remember that John the Baptist is now faded to the background. Jesus is taking up his full teaching mission. He is calling people to follow him and he is proclaiming absolutely good news of God and the kingdom of God. We find ourselves then in this Sunday's passage following him into a major center of religious life - Capernaum. It is the sabbath and so he goes and he teaches in the synagogue.

They are astounded at his teaching in part because his teaching is good news but also because he teaches with authority. This kind of teaching is different than the leaders of religion that they normally hear from.

As if to sharpen the distinction between the different messages and preaching a force enters the synagogue. Characterized in a demon possessed man, this force challenges Jesus' teaching. This is essential. We can get caught up in the demon part and not realize that the dialogue here is of the utmost importance. The man says, in the midst of this religious center filled with people:

24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

We might remember that the earliest manuscripts had no punctuation so that these may not be questions at all. We might read this as: What are you doing. Why are you teaching here. This is not good. You have come to destroy us. And, yet too in the enmity cast on Jesus (and for Mark's community anyone who is proclaiming Jesus as Lord) we see a recognition and proclamation of Jesus as son of God - the Holy One of God. Let us also remember the rest of the story and how these same religious authorities will decry Jesus' ministry and that of his followers.

Jesus unbinds the man from his rejection of the Gospel and his preaching.

The response to this is that people are amazed. Amazed at the freedom to believe? Amazed at the revelation of Jesus as Holy One? Amazed at his power over and against the religious authorities? "Yes," I say. All of these and there is in verse 27 a recognition that this is a new teaching and one that comes from God. The response of the people is one that affirms Jesus as preacher and teacher of this new movement. He is bringing reform to an old way. He is in fact leading a new way of being disciples of God.

I am currently reading the Bonhoeffer biography by Metaxis. In it the author makes a persuasive case that Bonhoeffer while on the one hand believed in the importance of Christian community he also recognized the reforming nature of Jesus' words and ministry upon a Christianity that was simply religious.

Yes, people who trust in Jesus do experience healing of life. I have seen it. I know it is true. But the passage for this Sunday is about the reform of religion. The Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges all Christians and their communities to remember the Holy One of God and the Good News of Salvation at the core of its life. It challenges Christian communities to boldly proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It challenges Christian community hear the absolute and grace filled message of love.

I want to take a moment and ask you to think about your religion. Now I am not talking about your denomination. I am not talking about your church. I am talking about your personal religion? I am wondering if you might make a list of certain things that are required for you when you go to church. Only men as priests or women as priests, incense or no incense, lots of vestments or no vestments, Rite One language or Rite II language or non gender specific language, ancient hymnody in Latin or guitars... I can tell you these are not requirements of Jesus. None of these are mentioned in his teachings. Yet people are constantly at war over these or other lists of required religious iconography in order for the true gospel to be preached. The Gospel is there every Sunday and Jesus is present but I wonder what shackles we bring into church that keep us from hearing it and proclaiming it.

Let us think of our own church now. As a church embattled in structure and economy, in a church struggling with the different orders of ministry and asking questions about how we do our mission, we must hold the mirror of Mark's Gospel up and ask some serious questions about reform. Has the religion become more important than the message? Is the benefit of Christian community lost in the chaos of a faith at war with itself?

As Christians, as Episcopalians, we are imprisoned by our religion.

Jesus Christ comes into our midst. He comes right down into the center of every congregation this Sunday. He challenges us to teach our faith with authority. To boldly claim the Holy One of God as our own. To proclaim that God is love and that we are to love one another. We are challenged to teach our response to that love is mission.

Jesus comes in and this Sunday looks at our heart's religion and he seeks to free us from it. Jesus offers us unbounded love, free from the shackles of our inherited religion, and challenges us to be at work in the mission field.

I am an Episcopalian and I love being an Episcopalian and I want other people to meet Jesus in our church and worship him as Episcopalians. To do that we must be freed from our heart's religion and our church's religion that says it is my way or the highway. We must be freed and unbound from those ties that bind us to a certain death that our faith and our communities may be part of the kingdom that is coming.

And, like the demoniac in that synagogue and the religious leaders of Jesus time you and I both know our religious heart and our puritanical faith rejects this invitation be to be free.

Jesus keeps coming though. Again and again he invites us along the way just like his disciples and those he first goes to in Capernaum. He invites us to allow those parts of ourselves that do not glorify God to fall to the wayside, and invites us to be freed for mission. We are invited to live lives in communities where the Holy One of God is present and alive and proclaimed. He invites us most of all to change the nature of our dying religion, that all that are around us (in our neighborhoods and cities) might be amazed at our proclamation of freedom and our teaching with authority -- the unbounded love of Jesus and the freedom to lay our religious shackles down and follow him.

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

"The message of Paul for the church of today is that one may well have freedom in Christ, but it must be used with discretion and, in particular, with care for the sake of the vulnerable."

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Arland J. Hultgren, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"The issue is always relationships, seen in the context of God's will of wholeness for people. It can never just be about being right or about getting people by hook or crook to do things our way."

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

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We continue our reading this week in Corinthians. You might look at last week's Hitchhiking notes for context. One of the issues here is that the meat that is being sold in the market is left over from pagan festivals.  The issue has arisen as some thought that what they ate defiled their bodies and still others did not. We might remember that Jesus said that it is not what goes into the body that defiles but what comes out. (Matthew 15.11) Paul is of course in a like minded place - but with some reservation.

Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that it is not knowledge that builds up the body of Christ but rather love. Love is the vessel by which humanity knows one another and God truly.  

Paul then explains that there is only one God and that sacrificing to Roman Gods doesn't do anything. For those who do not know God or are not mature they believe that these Roman Gods have power and sacrificing to them has meaning and so eating this meat is bad for you.  Those who still are acculturated and immature believe then that eating this meat is some how doing something unfaithful.

Having dismantled the argument of the non-meat eaters Paul then turns his attention to the meat eaters and says you must be careful not to be so irreverent as to keep those immature Christians from making progress towards God. This is important because it is reminds the community that just because you are right your behavior may actually be a stumbling block for others. 

What seems important here is that Paul wants all of the Christians in Corinth to grow towards God in Christ Jesus and desires not to leave anyone behind. Therefore, he invites the community to stop shaming one another and to realize that as a community their love is a revelation of God's love. Their unity is a revelation of God's grace. Their common life together is where they will all find salvation.

How easy it would be to be on the winning side and to disregard that God invites all people (meat eaters and non meat eaters) into the kingdom of God. Those who believe they defile their body and faith in God by eating meat are invited into the kingdom just as those who agree with Jesus and Paul. 

I wonder what conflicts in your community and in mine are so easily won without consideration about how our winning and disregard for the "other" impedes their progress towards God. Victory may be fun but Victory with a disregard for those who loose is without honor and has no place in God's kingdom.

Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 18:15-20

"Prophets are a rather complicated gift."
Commentary, Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Callie Plunket-Brewton, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"The ethics of the 'jungle' vs. the ethics of the Torah."

"The Torah, Survival, and 'Survivor'," Torah Commentary by Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman. BeliefNet.
The scripture is a very radical document in the face of both the ancient and contemporary world. It offers a picture of the human place in the midst of creation and the cosmos as intentional. All of that which surrounds us is in the words of chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "neither hostile nor indifferent." We are here because God intends us to be, we are cared for, and God seeks our well being. (Ibid.) To this we are to respond chiefly by loving God - and giving thanks. To be grateful for what is given in the cosmic relationship. Secondly, we are to love others. Everything in the scripture points to the invitation to love God and love others. And, in the words of my friend and poet Malcolm Guite the whole of scripture draws us towards those goals - and if it doesn't we are not reading it correctly. Our place in creation and our call to be a place of orientation within the wider creation and cultures that surround us is unique. 

This God is, while greater than that which we can think or believe, stands outside our comprehension while at the same time continuously invites worship through the service of the other. How God treats us is the way we are to treat others. We are, Sacks says, "bidden to love the neighbour and the stranger, to engage in acts of kindness and compassion, and to build a society based on love... God created the world in love and forgiveness and asks us to love and forgive others... I believe that to be the most profound moral idea in human history." (Rabbi Sacks, "The Morality of Love.")

Our passage today captures this clearly in the discussion about prophecy. 
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty and awesome God who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. So you must love the stranger, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10: 18-19) 
The mission to be a particular kind of community is not new, not given by Jesus, but instead highlighted by Jesus in and through his teaching. For the Christian we see in Jesus the manifestation of this God who loves without partiality and bribes. God's love as exemplified in the unique person of Jesus is not able to be purchased. Moreover, it is meant for the least and lost. It is a love that comes to the side of the fatherless and the widow. It is made real as it stands in solidarity with the stranger. Jesus offers us an image of God's love for those who are loveless and unloveable. God's grace is free and unbounded by the conventions of powers and philosophies, social norms and politics. And, the God who called the pilgrims at Moses' side invites us in the words and practices of Jesus to create a similar kind of peaceful loving community. The community of God is to be a blessing to the world and by this blessing the world itself will be judged. 

Those who live differently, chose to live in the world of judgment, isolation, and greed are judged by their own actions and words.

Our passage today reads:

15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
The prophet of yesterday and the prophet today are prophets of a particular kind of kingdom. There are many kingdoms and many powers and principalities who also have their prophets. The prophetic voice of the reign of God is one that reminds us who our God is and what we are made so to do.

It is true that John's Gospel is clear that Jesus is not another Moses or prophet. However, the Gospel of Luke clearly places the The New Testament story within the communal trajectory of the Old Testament captured in this lesson from Deuteronomy. Luke sees the ecclesia (the band of Jesus followers, their life together, and mission) as a part of the arc of God's blessed community of Shalom. The prophets pointed in the past to the future community which follows Christ - in as much as that community resembles the community imagined in Deuteronomy. It is to be a community of prophecy. Prophesy that is lived out and prophesy that is spoken. Prophesy oriented around the divine loving creator and prophesy that gets its hands dirty serving the people of God. 

The Rt. Rev. John Hines, leaning on this notion, preached, “[T]he Body of Christ must be prepared to offer itself up for the sake of the healing and the solidarity of the whole human family, whatever its religious or racial identities. Especially must the Body of Christ risk its own life in bearing and sharing the burdens of those who are being exploited, humiliated, and disinherited! " (John Hines—The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice".) 

The world is to be, IS, turned upside down by the ecclesia. (And, I would add: if this is not at least half of the consequence of the church's existence then we are probably not doing something quite right.) 

The people who present themselves as Godly and righteous will only be accounted as such in as much they mimic the God who hears the cries of the prisoner, the slave, the orphan, the widow, the poor man crying at the gate.

The scripture is clear that the work of empire and power in that such principalities offer a claim that an economic exchange of difference and bribes will bring peace and prosperity - this is a lie. Just as the Pax Romana was no peace at all but a violent oppressive power. Power is exchanged for its promises of individual allegiance. In God we trust is a radical statement. But when the god we are speaking about is synonymous to the power of a state or nation we are dealing with something quite different than the God of Deuteronomy and the Gospels. Luke's message, which is the same as on that day recorded in Deuteronomy, a radical message of grace and mercy for the least, the lost, the sinful and sin sick soul. The community that proclaims that it is God's, is a community that feeds, houses, and heals the poor, widow, and orphan. A nation that forgets this whether it is Israel (as in Deuteronomy) or the United States is no nation under God. The prophets are clear - let the people hear.

To be chosen by God to be a particular kind of people, unified in a particular kind of community, meant for a particular purpose is a complicated gift indeed. It is a responsibility not simply to worship a god of our own making but to worship a God who expects that the first neighbors on our mind will be the lowliest ones in our community and country.

No comments:

Post a Comment