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)

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.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Proper 21B/Ordinary 26B/Pentecost 18 September 27, 2015

"As a sermon preparation strategy, use your social media platform this week to ask 'What stumbling blocks do you put in the way of others?' or 'What stumbling blocks do Christians put up that hurt the cause of the gospel in the world?'"

Commentary, Mark 9:38-50, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"It is not so much that salt ceases to be salt but it becomes contaminated by additions over time, dirt, stones, etc, so that it becomes useless. He links salt with peace. In the context salt is an image of integrity and wholeness."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 17, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

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 9:30-37
In the first section of the narrative we are reminded by Jesus that just as creation is working God's purposes out, so too are our actions; along with the actions of others. We are involved in minor and major ways in building up the kingdom of God.  Notice that the statement from Jesus is not, "You are either with us or against us." But rather, Jesus offers a positive statement that if someone is working with us this is good.  Here we have the key positive message that frames the rest of our reading today.  Jesus is saying that we are to be working with one another and that we are to see that when others work with us (regardless of their place in or outside our community) they are working towards a positive end.  They are working towards and in concert with the laborers in the vineyard who are building God's dominion.
I think this is a very difficult piece of Gospel wisdom. Perhaps it is difficult because we are so rooted in our ancient reformation war, I don't know.  The reality is that we are being called to spend time focusing on building up the basileia - the dominion of God.  And, we are to not spend time talking about how they (over there) do it wrong.  Even though as humans we would rather, by our nature, spend most days pointing towards other Christians in our own denomination and outside, take their inventory, and help them see that they are doing it wrong.  Moreover, we are sure they are appreciative of this help.

It is as if Jesus is lifting up our eyes and saying, "Now stay with me.  Stay with me.  Stay focused on our work."

As soon as he does this we receive from him some more teaching. Remember, as in last week's lesson, Jesus is teaching, and teaching, and teaching. So, in the next verses we see Jesus taking up this notion of focused attention on the kingdom of God, and like a jeweler reviewing a stone, he turns his subject in the light and offers us a vision of our work.

These special sayings are in Jesus' time not meant literally but allegorically. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 690)  Even Philo, the Jewish philosopher and biblical scholar living circa Jesus, understood these sayings as images or symbols and necessary for teaching.  Key to this understanding seems also to be the underlying notion that those who are lame in life are made whole in the afterlife. I don't particularly want to go down this road of discussing the afterlife. My intention though is to point out that Jesus is proposing that it is better to live life wholly supportive of the Gospel.

First we have the person who offers the cup of water.  This person's tiny action, Jesus points out, will have a momentous impact on the kingdom of God.  Jesus' words about the "little ones" is a reference not to children but the emerging Christian community.  It is a reminder, as in the passage before, that we are to work together and towards the kingdom in our small and big actions.  We are not to get in the way of people. Certainly, Jesus is clear that those who get in the way of the kingdom will suffer for it.  Like the cup of water, getting in the way of the kingdom in small and big ways will also manifest itself in the future. 

Then Jesus turns to the Christian community.  He says to the "little ones" themselves: life is better with all your parts and a lot less sinning.  Like in Matthew's gospel (18:6-35) he first offers a vision of a kingdom in this world with all the parts of the body of Christ working in concert.  Don't be looking at how others are doing it; Christian communal discord itself is not helpful in the kingdom of God. 

Furthermore, Jesus asks his followers, while paying less attention to others, pay more attention to themselves.  Jesus is saying if your own hand offends you don't commit sin, if your foot offends you don't put it anywhere you may commit sin, if your eye offends you don't think about committing sin.
And, like in Matthew's gospel we see some metaphorical connections with sexual sin being one of Jesus' concerns.  I'll let you read Joel Marcus for a more in depth study of the metaphors.  (Marcus, 697)

Just as we are dissuaded in the beginning of the passage from a notion that the kingdom of God will only be for a particular sect of Jesus followers doing it right, in this passage we are not left believing that simple communal division or sin is the goal of his teaching.  Then, Jesus continues by speaking about salt.

Jesus says we will be salted with fire.  In my opinion (choosing one of the scholastic sides in this debate) Jesus is saying that fire will refine in a positive way.  Furthermore, that we are to be careful and keep our salt flavorful. Finally, Jesus says that this flavorful salt is a metaphor or sign of our inner harmony with God and God's kingdom and our eternal harmony with our neighbor.  Salt, a metaphor for wisdom, is part of living life with Jesus.  Jesus says, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”    Be wise, and live in harmony with one another.  Be wise and work together.  Be wise, and build the kingdom together.

So we end where we left off.  Selfish behavior, sectarianism, disunity, intolerance, creating conflict, and the rest of basic human behavior will lead us away from the kingdom of God.  Such action, Jesus is clear, will derail the work of the community seeking to build up the kingdom of God through God's mission.  Yet, Jesus invites us to share, be one with our brothers and sisters, to stop and step away from the things that draw us from the love of God, and to be filled with God's wisdom.  God in Jesus Christ is offering us a communal love instead of a religion which is focused on individual loneliness.  We are being shown the wisdom of God in living together and for one another; as opposed to living for ourselves alone.

So this week as you and I take the pulpit perhaps we might all think about offering a message of communal tolerance, sharing, virtue, and peace.  After all, everyone already knows how millstones work and what if feels like to have one around your neck.

James 5:13-20

"The words about faith and works are dotted with examples about how others are to be treated. The plight of the sick, then, is not that they simply pray by themselves and have an individual faith. The community is to gather; this seems to be a central dynamic of the understanding of the healing."

Commentary, James 5:13-20, Micah D. Kiel, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Not only are the prayers of the righteous powerful, James reminds us that the prayers of the righteous are effective. Prayer still changes things and it changes people."

Commentary, James 5:13-16, Christopher Michael Jones, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

We continue to make our troubling way through James.  Some scholars think that this last bit of James is actually a sermon, regardless we come to the conclusion with an eye to the work of prayer. We have already been speaking about our response to God's grace and the work we must be about if we are to immolate the Christ we claim to follow. Now we are to bathe that work in prayer.

Pray in and out of season, whether we are happy or sad, in good health  or bad. We are to call upon God and make our petitions known.

Using the image of anointing oil for healing we are to anoint all that ails us with prayer.

We are to pray for the leaders of the church, for each other, pray for the righteous and pray for the sinner. Confess your sins and I will confess mine.

When praying we might be mindful of Luke 18:9-14: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The truth is that we are all sinners and we have all fallen short. We are saved by grace alone to be sure. We should always be wary of praying for others and what we might pray for them. We might be wise to take James' prayers and pray them fervently always eager to confess our sins rather than to pray for the others' sinfulness.

Prayer is a powerful tool. We know it helps with healing, it helps with community, it enables us to come into the nearer presence of God. If we pray for our enemies we will learn to love them. If we pray for brokenness we may find a way of peace. If we pray for healing we may obtain it.

Typically the prayer of the religious leader mentioned by Jesus doesn't go very far except to make the person praying more distant and separate from God.

So with humility, gentleness, and honesty approach the altar of God and pray to him asking for mercy, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, grace, and love.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Proper 20B/Ordinary 25B/Pentecost 17 September 20, 2015

"In our own time, no one wants to look uninformed, confused, or clueless. We withhold our toughest questions, often within our own churches and within Christian fellowship. We pretend we don't have hard questions."

Commentary, Mark 9:30-37, Amy Oden, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"...once again Jesus is challenging us to reverse long-standing, ingrained, human habits. To set aside our common human understanding of how to win fame and glory, and instead learn from Jesus God's deep hospitality and honouring."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 9:30-37, David Ewart, 2012.


O God, whose hand shelters the just and righteous, and whose favor rests on the lowly, banish hypocrisy from our hearts and purify us of all selfish ambition.  Let your word sown among us bring forth a harvest of peace.  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.

Jesus is teaching and teaching and teaching.  The opening verses tell us that this one not a one off kind of teaching but regular occurrence. So the disciples have been listening to him teach over and over again and for days.

What is he teaching?  He is telling the disciples, and anyone who will listen, that he has to be turned over to suffer and die.  Prophets of God do this regularly of course, but Jesus is saying something different. Jesus is saying this is the way of the kingdom. I am going to be turned over to authority and I am going to suffer and die. But there will also be resurrection.  It is a "reversal of the way it ought to be." (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 669)  And, no matter how you look at this first part of the text it is clear that there is "apostolic silence" and a complete disengagement with the message. (Ibid, 670).

It just isn't the way it is supposed to be.  The disciples with clarity continue to manifest an understanding of Messiahship that will bring them power and authority.  This is shown with clarity as Jesus confronts them about their discussion on who gets to sit where in the new kingdom. 

Now here is what I found interesting about Jesus' engagement with Peter, and what is interesting about Jesus' engagement with the disciples: he doesn't shame them or belittle them for not getting it. 

Instead, Jesus continues teaching.  Jesus seems unfazed or at least disinterested in convincing his most intimate followers. He is teaching and teaching and teaching.  He offers instead of a rebuke an image. 

Jesus picks up a child (though the word may also mean slave) and puts the child in the middle of the circle and embraces the child.  (Marcus, 681)  The image is certainly about receiving others (the child/slave) means receiving Jesus, and receiving Jesus is about receiving God. 

Now here is what is most fascinating.  How many sermons have you heard where the topic is about receiving Jesus like a child?  Thousands, millions, billions?  That is right...BUT that is not what the text says.  Jesus is saying receive the child/slave receive me.

The text says that when one receives another human being, embraces that human being, one welcomes and embraces Jesus and thereby the Father who sends him.  Moreover, that those in their midst who have no standing, no wealth, no voice, no value (the child/slave) are the ones we are to embrace.

How quickly we, like the disciples, skip to our place next to Jesus.  In the Gospel of Mark it is clear that if we are to come to God in Christ Jesus we must do so by embracing the child/slave and the outsider.

James 3:13-4:8

"Envy is the consuming desire to have everybody else as unsuccessful as you are."

"Envy," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"After several chapters of warnings and vivid illustrations of the consequences of living contrary to the plan of God, James moves in this passage to describe the good life and give some positive guidance for pursuing it."

Commentary, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"The kind of wisdom the Scriptures envision is a way of life that is born of walking humbly with God. It is a way of life that is inspired by the presence of God’s Spirit. When you live in such a way that you are consciously aware of God’s presence, it tends to create a sense of inner strength; but it is always a strength that manifests itself in gentleness, in humility, in self-sacrifice, and in kindness."

"Gentle Wisdom," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2009.

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

The author of James begins to pull and tug at a sin he believes is found in all Christian community: boasting in one's self.  

Christians can be very proud people. We can be proud in our traditionalism, our conservatism, our biblicism, our purity, our liberality, our generosity, our correctness, and even our justice making. 

We Christians are good at boasting about ourselves and shaking our fist at the others. Why, I even have known Christians who have proudly proclaimed their suffering. 

The author writes:
But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.
Christians and their communities are instead to be known for something quite different. The author writes:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Here is a key to understanding the work of reconciliation. We are to be at work healing history, celebrating and honoring our difference, and we are to create a peaceful commons. Only in peace may we find righteousness. 

We as Christians and as Christian communities are to be known not for our violence against others or the world, but for our peacemaking.

It is clear to the author, but I say it is clear to the world and to God, that when we are not peace makers we are not of Christ who is our peace maker. We are showing the world an marred vision of the reign of God. We are in fact not fooling anyone. The author says it is clear:
4Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.
What is so very true is that we cannot be in love with ourselves or our stuff, we cannot be in love with what we have and fear what we might lose. We are not as Christians to worry or hold tightly to the things of this world because we are to be people of a different place, a peaceful place, a place where God's love reigns. This is not courtly or Victorian idea of love either - this is a sacrificial love. This is a love which brings peace (not because another makes the sacrificial offering) because we make the sacrificial offering of ourselves, our security, our truthiness, our rightness. 

It is no wonder that most Christians don't want to spend much time on James. The author holds up a mirror to our Christian way of life and reveals a very earthly and sordid affair that is in much need of a house cleaning.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Proper 19B/Ordinary 24B/Pentecost 16 September 13, 2015

"These verses are crucial for understanding the Gospel according to Mark as a whole and for fathoming what it means to be Christian."

Commentary, Mark 8:27-38, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"All we have to do is trade what we've been led to believe is life for the real thing."

"Preaching the Anti-King," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

"To 'deny yourself and take up your cross' invites us into what the cross can also mean -- not just death and suffering, but God choosing human relationships."

"A Different Kind of Denial," Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Countryside of Caesarea Philippi

Not in easy words, O God, but in selfless deeds is the faith we profess made real and the love our Master commanded made present.  Give us the strength to take up the cross and wisdom to follow where Christ leads, losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  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.

There is no shortage of theological and New Testament scholarship on this passage.  In bible studies across the church for decades past and decades hence, I imagine, people are quick to pick up "their cross."  But we might pause to ask again what exactly is it we are picking up?  For whom do we pick it up?  And, what is the real cost to our manner of living.  For it is in this passage that we see the prism of discipleship so sharply focused and our keen shadow of sin so quickly to be at work to hide it.

Not unlike many passages in the Gospel of Mark a healing is followed by an important teaching. Jesus has healed a blind man suggesting a kingly power.  We have already been at work trying to understand who Jesus is:

1:27 "What is this? A new teaching with authority!"
4:41 "Who then is this? -- For even the wind and the sea obey him!"
6:2 "Where does this man get these things form?"  (Marcus, Mark, vol 2, 61)

Part of what we begin to understand is that Mark is intent on telling us who Jesus is so that we might recognize him in our own life.  In our passage today Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them who do people say that I am.  And they respond.  It is not a particularly unique question.  Though as a friend of mine (the Rev. Lisa Hines) reminded me the culture in which Jesus lives is one where the community defines the person.  Thus we might remember the endless adjectives that describe the people in the Jesus narrative. The syrophoenician woman is but one example.  People are constantly named by their community.  So then Jesus is also named by the community. 

Peter offers a glimpse into the reality of who Jesus is: The Messiah. Jesus is recognized by the community for his work, his power, his teaching. He is named by his community as the Messiah. 
But we are reminded of Isaiah 55:8 as we ponder the meaning of this title and its work of suffering, death, and resurrection.  "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways."  (Marcus, 614)  And it is here that is the difficulty.  

I know myself, so I am going to claim the reality that I am the one who constantly is choosing my cross.  It is indeed mine.  And, because it is so, it is rarely Jesus'. 
To follow this messiah means a suffering and death not of our own choosing.  If we are to make our pilgrim journey with this God then the crossroads of our redemption will rarely be found in the comfortable setting in which I choose to make my stand.  Rather, the edge of my discipleship is always an edge more often chosen by God and revealed by others.  If I am to truly make know the Good News of God in Christ then I must be also willing to realize and act out of a complete giving up of my self.  And, I should add, "myself" is not too keen on that idea.
Scholars point to John Chrysostom's meditation on discipleship:
He that is denying another...should he see him either beaten, or bound, or led to execution, or whatever he may suffer, does not stand by him, does not help him, is not moved, feels nothing for him, as being once for all alienated from him...[In the same way, the disciple of Jesus should] have nothing to do with himself, but give himself up to all dangers and conflicts; and let him so feel, as though another were suffering at all.  (Marcus translation, 625)
We are to give up ourselves completely to this work. And, we are to see in our lives the areas of failure, shame, pain, and suffering as moments on the edge of this new life of discipleship.  We are to see that at the very edge of our life, in the regions we dare not go, lest it cost too much - that it is this abyss where lies redemption. 

Are we willing to allow the Messiah Jesus to save the world?  Even the world we don't like? The political party we don't like? The candidate we don't like? The person in our family who drives us crazy...does Jesus save them?  Can we see the prostitute as someone saved by God? Can we see the homeless person as someone saved by God? Who is on your list of the people God does not save?  I have a list too.  It is true. And, in giving up myself to the cross I find that I must in some very strange way live on the edge of a life where God is at work saving those I am most likely estranged from. 
Is it not true in the Gospel?  Does Jesus in Mark's Gospel not save all kinds of sinners, demon possessed, unclean, bleeding, dying, unfaithful people?  Is this not the edge of the world in which we live.
In some way I guess, for the Christian who reads this passage today, we are encouraged to look up and out of our safe community and I at the crossroads? Am I picking up Jesus' Cross of Grace? Am I standing on the edge?

Or, have I chosen the safe road, the road well traveled?  Have I chosen the safe Messiah who is safely kept in the church?  Have I chosen a Messiah that requires very little change of me; and certainly one that would not dare to invite me to soil myself in the service of others?

So, we might ask on this Sunday, who is your Messiah and what is his cross like?  Maybe, just maybe the Messiah the church and her good and saintly people have chosen is not quite dangerous enough for the Jesus of today's Gospel.

James 3:1-12

"The preacher encountering this text might be forgiven for the sudden urge to suggest, in lieu of the sermon, that the congregation engage in a time of silent prayer."

Commentary, James 3:1-12, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"James is right. The tongue is a fire, its flames spreading wherever it can find a source of fuel."

"Sticks, Stones, and the Power of Words," Eric D. Barreto, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2012.

"We are called to refuse the form of power that is practiced in the ideologies that set nature on fire all around us. The deceitful words of those in power, the words of blessing and cursing from the same mouth, these the words we are called to reject."

"Setting Nature on Fire," Halden Doerge, The Ekklesia Project, 2009.

I think a lot of preachers will avoid this Sunday. The truth is that it is a good Sunday to preach and to ponder the power invested in the teacher and preacher within the Christian community. 

I think a lot of time the preacher wishes to exonerate his or herself from the high calling and expectations of such leadership. It is true that priests and pastors are just other human beings. But at the same time they are given certain powers and authorities and their actions affect these powers and authorities in many ways. Here lies James' point. 

When a priest, for instance harms someone in word or in deed, their action has an effect upon the community. A married male priest cannot sleep with a woman who is not his wife and expect that such an act does not directly impact the way in which people see marriage or the words that he says during a marriage service. It does not mean that the priest or woman are not forgiven by God or loved by God. It does mean that their actions have consequences within the Christian community. 

Another example is the priest who speaks of God's love and mercy and grace for a select few but multiplies hate and violence against a minority or someone different than themselves. The Christian who ignites violence against blacks, immigrants, or the GLBT community is not someone who is speaking the commandment of God to love neighbor and welcome the stranger. 

These are extreme examples but it is to say that there are areas of our ministry that are directly impacted by areas of our life, our conduct, and our words. 

James says look preachers you can't go acting out or teaching things that are not true. He says basically a teacher of God who goes off on their own and starts making stuff up or speaking outside of the provinces of God's own decrees is not only not a teacher but a person whose tongue is like fire and can enflame the whole community. God intends to us not to kill or make violence on others. God intends us to be faithful to one another. God intends us not to abuse one another. God intends for us to share what we have. God intends for us to create just structures for the common good. God intends for us to embrace the person who is different than us. God's mercy is abundant as is God's love.

James is clear that the preacher and his tongue are a dangerous thing:  It can be used for good and for evil: we honour God with it, but we also curse fellow humans (“made in the likeness of God”, v.9). It should only be used for good. In nature, any one “spring” (v. 11) only produces good or bad water. Fig trees and grapevines only yield what God has intended – so we should only speak good. The devil (“salt water”, v. 12) only yields evil. (This is blogger Chris Haslaam's synopsis.)

What goes for the preacher goes for the follower of Jesus. What we say can have profound damages. In 2015 a pastor's spouse took a picture of another woman in the congregation. She then posted the picture on her facebook page and asked if what the woman was wearing was appropriate for church. The picture and the survey went viral on the internet getting thousands of views, shares, and comments. Most of them were negative and shamed the church going woman for wearing what they thought was an inappropriate dress. The damage was done. A woman who came to church to hear about God's love, unconditional acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness, was publicly shamed by the community's leadership. This is the kind of act which springs forth from the tongue, has global consequences, reveals to those who suspect the church of mean spiritedness, and harms another human being. It is the kind of act that James is saying isn't appropriate - most of all not from the leadership of God's community.