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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Lent 1B February 18, 2018


Gracious God, every true to your covenant, whose loving hand sheltered Noah and the chosen few while the waters of the great flood cleansed and renewed a fallen world, may we, sanctified through the saving waters of baptism and clothed in the shining garments of immortality be touched again by our call to conversion and give our lives anew to the challenge of your reign.

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

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:9-15

"Believe in the good news" is better translated as 'Trust into the good news,' since the whole point is not, 'Have an opinion about the good news.' Rather, Jesus is calling for a radical, total, unqualified basing of one's life on his good news."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 1:9-15, David Ewart, 2012.

"To preach the temptation of Jesus in Mark is to call attention to our greatest temptation -- the temptation to think that God is not present."

"The Greatest Temptation," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

"The loneliness of God's servant, a theme that persists throughout the gospel, is already suggested in these verses. "

Commentary, Mark 1:9-15, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

Oremus Online NRSV Text

We move quickly from the image of Jesus resplendent in light at the moment of transfiguration in Mark's Gospel, Chapter 9, to his baptism and the immediate work of preaching the Gospel in Chapter 1.  This is the first Sunday in Lent and we are reminded as we make our way from Ash Wednesday that we are utterly dependent upon the grace of God - the Good News of God proclaimed by Jesus on the edge of his own wilderness journey of preaching and healing.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (vs 15)  Could our author have captured the words of Jesus and the words of an early baptismal formula? Perhaps both. What is very clear in the scholarship is that these words that Jesus offers in our passage today is key to the understanding of his message.  Joel Marcus (Mark, vol 1, 176) writes:

"Repent, and believe in the good news!" - at their baptism they would have heard this exhortation as a call to bury the moribund world in the water and to rise from it to view, through the eyes of faith, God's new creation.  They would in short, have been reminded by Mark 1:15 of the moment when they became disciples of Jesus."

Jesus' proclamation begins following the imprisonment of John the Baptist.  This is the first public ministry of Jesus recorded in Mark's Gospel.  We might remember from a previous Sunday that while Jesus has come to heal and to over power the evil of this world, ultimately he is here for this single purpose.  To bridge the divide between this world and the kingdom of God - the dominion of God.

Joel Marcus (Mark, vol 1, 175) gives us a very clear suggestion of what Jesus is saying:

time has been fulfilled  AND   dominion of God has come near
repent                            AND   believe in the good news

The time is now, the dominion of God is near.  Our response to that grace is repentance and to trust in the good news of God.

For those who now are making their way in Lent, and for those who are still seeking to be restored to the family of God,  the faith reality is one that challenges us to change. To be aware.  To take notice of our own selves and the way we do not live in the ways of God and to amend our lives.

I was interested recently in an interview that I did and the question that I was asked: Do you think that at times like this we especially need Ash Wednesday? Our culture is a mess the interview seemed to be saying perhaps we all needed this special day and season in order to make things right.

Human nature is the same. Ash Wednesday, as is Lent, a very personal discipline.  The confrontation of this ritual life of repentance we so carefully cling to during this season as Christians is one that is not just for today but true for us year round. It is not specifically more important today than it was when Jesus invited us to respond to the dominion of God and the good news.  It is only specifically so because you and I today choose to follow Jesus. Relevance to the culture and all of our want to be special is washed away somehow in this invitation of Jesus.  Our season is not a time when we are to critique others, a time when we are to find the splinter in another person's eye, or blame and castigate our culture, rather (and on the contrary) it is a time when we remind ourselves personally that we have not done what Jesus asked us to do.

I claim to follow Jesus but fail. I try to amend my life and fail. I make the kingdom of God my goal and do not reach it.  Yes the dominion of God is near and I rest fully upon his grace and mercy to discover it. I repent because of my continuing human frailty which is my nature. I take a moment on this Sunday to be reminded of Jesus' invitation to rise out of the depths of my failure and moribund world/life/relationships and to see before me grace, mercy, forgiveness and invitation.

Some Thoughts on 1 Peter 3:8-13

"In our text, Peter counsels a very different response to persecution. Rather than focusing on your persecutors and being overwhelmed by fear and hatred, keep your eyes on Christ."

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"While talk of principalities and spirits bound in prison may strike us as a vestige of a bygone world, we should not be so quick to discount the contemporary relevance of this text, especially during this season of Lent. "

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

The letter of 1 Peter is written in the midst of Christian persecution - many believe. So it is that the author concerns himself with the questions about how to be ready. Be ready to make your defense of your faith he offers. This is not to make some kind of argument though which wins the day. Instead we are to give, according to the author, our understanding of hope. We Christians have hope in our life when it is going well and we have hope in our life when we are suffering. We have hope because we know that we are not alone in this work of suffering - Christ too suffered and so God understands and knows what we go through on our behalf. But this is not where hope comes from. 

Partnership with God is not the locus of hope. Instead hope is in the certain faith that death has no victory. We share in Christ's death and in Christ's resurrection. So it is that we shall on the last day enter into our heavenly habitation. We will be forever united to God through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.

Baptism is our earthly entrance into this new life believes the author. In our own baptismal words we hear the hope of people delivered out of slavery, people delivered into freedom and the promised land. We understand that for the Christian, the follower of Jesus, pain, suffering, and death do not have the last word. And, that when the end does come, in hope we make our song to the grave: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Some Thoughts on Genesis 9:8-17

"The Old Testament readings for the first three Sundays in Lent give us glimpses of three covenants: God's covenant with Noah, God's covenant with Abraham, and God's covenant with Israel at Sinai."

Commentary, Genesis 9:8-17, Cameron B.R. Howard, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"This is a salvation story, a tale of commitment to the opposite of genocide, commitment to preserving the diversity of life and all of life's messiness. And God is actively part of this commitment."

"Lent - The Season of Good News," Nancy Rockwell, The Bite in the Apple, 2015.

"Contemplating the destruction of an entire civilization is disturbing, and so it should be."

"When Bad Things Happen to Bad People," Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman. Torah Commentary at BeliefNet.

Oremus Online NRSV Text 

Let me be honest. As I have grown older, I have become more uncomfortable with the story of the flood waters. Rabbi Litman's words about it resonated with me:
I find that my discomfort with the flood story is not so much with the Torah's sacred narrative, but with our modern response to it. The Torah relates a fearful epic of evil, punishment, and salvation. By ignoring the most chilling part of the story, we have trivialized and discounted the Torah's moral message. This is a common American cultural process. One only has to look as far as this week's holiday of Halloween to see how we have to come to trivialize and discount even death. It's pretty difficult to feel much genuine awe around an 8-year-old Grim Reaper complaining that it's cold outside. 
The unjust suffering of the innocent still evokes moral outrage and pain in most of us. We wish and hope that the good are rewarded. But we have become uncomfortable with the reverse. We know that human evil is complex, sometimes as much a sickness as a sin. We are often unwilling to grapple with human cruelty and wrongdoing, to expect justice against those who harm others, because that justice is often very difficult to define. Even God's justice, as in the mighty flood, makes us nervous.
("When Bad Things Happen to Bad People," Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman. Torah Commentary at BeliefNet.)
When we Christians read this story we read it through the eyes of our childhood and a small version of our story of creation and redemption. With more than two thousand more years of reflection on this passage I find the Rabbi's words resonate in a deeply powerful way. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says:
The story of the first eight chapters of Bereishit is tragic but simple: creation, followed by de-creation, followed by re-creation. God creates order. Humans then destroy that order, to the point where “the world was filled with violence,” and “all flesh had corrupted its way on earth.” God brings a flood that wipes away all life, until – with the exception of Noach, his family and other animals – the earth has returned to the state it was in at the beginning of Torah, when “the earth was waste and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (
Perhaps there is more here than another creation story - or recreation story. Perhaps there is more here than a story of an angry God at the unjust behavior of humanity.

As Sacks reads the texts compared to Genesis he notes that Genesis 1 tells us God makes humanity in God's image - he and she God created them. Genesis 9 tells us that other human beings are made in the image of God. As if bringing full circle the sin of man (murder which is created by humans - see Cain and Abel story) this story reminds us that not only am I created in Gods image but you are too.

Again Sacks writes,
Genesis 9 speaks about the sanctity of life and the prohibition of murder. The first chapter tells us about the potential power of human beings, while the ninth chapter tells us about the moral limits of that power. We may not use it to deprive another person of life. 
This also explains why the keyword, repeated seven times, changes from “good” to “covenant.” When we call something good, we are speaking about how it is in itself. But when we speak of covenant, we are talking about relationships. A covenant is a moral bond between persons. 
What differentiates the world after the Flood from the world before is that the terms of the human condition have changed. God no longer expects people to be good because it is in their nature to be so. To the contrary, God now knows that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8: 21) – and this despite the fact that we were created in God’s image. (Ibid)
It is not good for humans to be alone and the flood narrative tells us that we are to see each other, those of our tribe and those outside our tribe as created in the image of God.

This is a new idea and a constant theme for Christians. God is interested in a human community bound together for our common goodness, that in fact when we do this, we are reflecting a kind of fullness of God. Other religions teach fear of the other. Other religions teach sacrifice of the other. Christianity rooted deeply in its ancestral faith of Judaism is about being the beloved community - a blessing of peace, of shalom, to the world.

Interestingly, the New Testament does not play on this message from Genesis very much at all. There are not quotes, no parallel passages in the Gospels. Certainly there is mention of "Noah's Ark"in the letters - I Peter for this day's reading is an example. Only later would Roman Catholic Theologians compare Mary to the Ark. However, one might argue that as this passage is partnered with Mark there is something important here. That is: God in Christ Jesus continues his work of reconciliation and solidarity by breaking open the community of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit including all people. The mission to the other cannot be lost and is intimately tied to a heritage that did not begin with Jesus but is deeply rooted in the ancient texts of Israel that we find in our canon. In my sermon from 2018 I point out that a theological case (beyond typology) could be made that God's saving act from a sin sick world in the Ark is what Jesus does permanently. From the word "good" to the word "covenant" we see a story arc (pardon the pun) to Jesus and his cross which becomes a new ark and a permanent promise. Creation, de-creation by humanity's inhumanity to man, and recreation by God.

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

Moving into the Desert to Meet Jesus

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