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.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Proper 4B/Ordinary 9B/Pentecost +2, June 3, 2018


Creator of the planets and their courses, you created the Sabbath as one day in seven for all. Having invited us to rest, to breath, to pause; now, encourage us to rest our demands on others, listen in the place of speaking, and pause our impact upon the cosmos. You make the sabbath to universally benefit  humanity and all creation. We give thanks for this benevolent provision that enables us to to experience a life with you that is well lived in the shadow of your wing. In the name of
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Some Thoughts on Mark 2:23-3:6

"In this pair of scenes, Jesus does not assail Judaism. He does not reject the law. He does not render the sabbath obsolete. He does not even call the Pharisees blind guides or a pack of dotards. A sermon on the passage should not do those things, either."

"As best I can tell, most Christians follow eight commandments, not ten. The second commandment was dispatched at the Council of Nicea in 787, when the church decided graven images were OK. If it had pleased God to become incarnate in a person, the church reasoned, then it should not displease God for us to have images of that person. Iconoclasts have continued to rise up over the years, but few Christians regard icons, stained glass windows or Jesus T-shirts as sinful.

The fourth commandment has undergone a more gradual demise. When Jesus declared that the sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath, many of his followers deduced that they were free from sabbath observance. Since the rabbis themselves had said as much ("Sabbath has been given to you; you have not been given to the sabbath"), it seems more likely that Jesus was sharpening his disciples' sense of sabbath as divine gift instead of divine burden.

This gospel is very important. It teaches us about how Jesus approaches the Law. In so doing it offers us a means by which we might interpret his teaching and approach scripture as Christians. Furthermore, it offers us some thoughts about our own words and actions around keeping the Sabbath.

This passage comes as part of the first wrestling match with the religious leaders. You will note as we read through the Gospel of Mark there is a chiastic flow. That means that the author moves through a series of repetitive movements arriving at a point and then back out mimicking the first. In poetry you talk about it this way: "Chiastic structure, or chiastic pattern, is a literary technique in narrative motifs and other textual passages. An example of chiastic structure would be two ideas, A and B, together with variants A' and B', being presented as A,B,B',A'." (Thanks wiki!) for my more visual friends it looks something like this:

Marks Gospel is filled with them. They exist through the actual writing. But they are also thematic. So, this story of the conflict with the religious leaders can be broken out in parts. Here is a new code for community, then will come a new social order, then will come the epilogue for the first teaching series which ends about 11 Sundays from now. If we think of this graphically we are at about C in the thematic chiasm. For more about this read Ched Myers work on the text. He does a good job of breaking out the themes. Knowing them allows you to make reference later to how this particular text connects with the others. For our purposes what is important is that Mark reveals two assaults on the Roman System of governing and two assaults on the religious leaders of the day.

The Story
Our lesson today comes as part of the first assault and Jesus is here teaching clearly that there is a different kind of spiritual and relational economy at work in the kingdom of God being manifest. It is the first of the two controversies over the Sabbath and, it is also part of the feeding narrative in Mark.

All we need to know as we turn to the passage is that people were not supposed to walk very far on the sabbath and they were not to do any work.

So, Jesus is walking and as they pass through a grain field his disciples pick grain and eat it breaking both the religious rules for the sabbath including, but not limited to: transit, sowing, and reaping. Now...Deuteronomy is clear that travelers can actually pluck grain if needed. (Deut 23:25)

The religious leaders say to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Normally in Mark there is a teaching and an act of power. So what follows then is a healing. Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The religious leaders, we are told, went out and immediately conspired with other religious political leaders against Jesus. They wanted to destroy him before Jesus and his teachings destroyed their carefully crafted system.

They make way. Way is one of Jesus' words for his movement. They make way through the field. But they do more.
  • Jesus, using 1 Sam 21:1-6, asserts his kingly right to violate the Sabbath with his followers who are in need 
  • David of course was on a campaign, he was commandeering bread 
  • Jesus is on a campaign (remember he will commandeer an “ass” on his way to Jerusalem too) 
  • Each confrontation Jesus has with the religious leaders is over food and table 
  • Jesus may very well be challenging the code by his teaching: disciples along the way must be fed, along with the poor and those who go without 
  • The Sabbath was made for all, this bread was made for all 
  • Those who follow Jesus will be fed 
  • After all, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath 
  • Jesus is Lord of the House and he has come to claim it as his own 
  • Jesus is restoring creation to its rightful order and inviting those who follow the way to join in the restoration (Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 160.)
Jesus is creating a new community that is intimately tied to the old, but is flying in the face of the present day religious leaders.

A Way To Read Scripture
There is something more though. Here we see Jesus choosing a manner of reading the scriptures. This is very important. Modernism has created all kinds of ways of reading the scripture. Very few of them look at how Jesus reads the scripture and uses it. Lets take a brief look.

Jesus reminds the religious leaders of a story. The story contradicts their story. There is a rule and someone, David who knew the rule, also broke it. Jesus is using an ancient form of reading the scripture that is called "halakhic".(Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 49.) We have talked about it before but it is important if you want to understand how Jesus reads the Old Testament over and against the religious practices of the day. (We had a passage like this on Lent 4.A)

The halakhic controversy is a debate about the collection of religious laws in Jesus’ day which at times were in conflict with one another. The Gospels are full of attempts by the people and religious leaders to trip Jesus up with questions about these conflicting laws. Richard Hays, scholar and theologian, points out that in Mark’s Gospel he first leans on the idea that like David in our passage from today, Jesus is anointed but his full authority is not yet recognized by the leaders all around him. But, Gospels go a step further.

We see this in the Gospel of John too, our author uses our I Samuel passage to show that God sees differently that human beings. In so seeing God solves the conflicting religious laws by setting out priorities. John’s Gospel will pick this up in chapter 7. Here too we see the conflicts in play. Jesus is making a case that because God sees the world and humanity different, God’s love may “override” other commandments.

Let me end with Hays’ brilliant words for us on the use of I Samuel by Jesus. Hays writes, “This implies that the law’s fundamental aim of promoting human wholeness and flourishing can in some instances over-ride its ritual prohibitions. This is certainly not a negation of the law; rather, it is an argument profoundly respectful of the law’s own inner logic, an argument that operates within well-established Jewish hermeneutical precedent… That this is so is underscored by the subtle scriptural allusions in the final thrust of Jesus’ rejoinder to his critics, ‘Do not judge according o appearance, but judge with just judgement.’” (Hays, Scripture, 298)

A Vision of Christology
What this means is that God's goal of feeding and healing, on the sabbath and not on the sabbath, is a priority to other things. Poor health and hunger are immediate needs that Jesus says take a priority to the religious rules.

What we see is that Jesus is making a case for feeding and healing those in need. And, we see Jesus doing this using a particular form of reading the scripture that is known in his day and rarely practiced by Christians since! Now, there is Christology at work here too. We see it in the narrative. What we seek is that God in Christ Jesus is first of all revealing who he is and what his mission is to be.

Jesus is claiming his messianic role by healing, and pronouncing the new boundaries for community. Episcopal priest and New Testament theologian Robert Farrar Capon writes that by the time he reaches the end of this section of Mark's gospel we see Jesus as a "wonder working, demon-exorcising claimant to the messianic title", as a "sabbath-breaking upstart with a dangerously arrogant sense of his own authority - as somebody, in other words, who is neither interested in, nor palatable to, the religious sensibilities of expert Messiah watchers." (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, 51.) Jesus is not beginning a new religion, he is inaugurating the messianic kingdom.

Furthermore, this Lord of the Sabbath teaching is important because the sabbath is being redirected beyond the non-work regulations of one day a week. Instead, Jesus is broadening the work to say that the creation itself, its practices, its economy, its common life local and global, is in fact oriented around the sabbath. A sabbath where people have enough to eat and a sabbath where people's sins are forgiven. Using the moniker of Daniel 7:13: “one like unto a son of man” descends “with the clouds of heaven” representing himself to God's people, “the saints of the Most High.” In the book of Enoch we see the Son of Man as the Lord of Lords, who has come to create the next chapter of life for the people of God. In the Book of Enoch he is of great dignity and power (I Enoch 46:1, 3; 48:2f.; 51:3; 62:2, 6f.; 69:27-29). From Isaiah we receive the prophecy that this power is to be directed at freedom and comfort - he is a prophet. (Isaiah 53) Theologians like our own Hooker understand Jesus' use “conjured up all kinds of associations: prophetic calling, the mission of God’s obedient people, the possibility of suffering for those who were faithful to his will, and the promise of vindication.” (Hooker, St. Mark, 93. Ezekiel, the prophet, and Daniel are addressed as ‘Son of Man’ (see Dan. 8:127).

It is not about the Grain. 
So let us come back to the place where we began...remember that the scripture says it is ok of a traveler finds themselves hungry on the day of the sabbath and picks and eats. So, this cannot be the real issue. I think, as does Hooker, Myers, and others that the issue is not that they are picking grain. It is that they are "making a way." What is against the religious and scriptural sabbath rules is making a road. 

As they are traveling through the fields the action is one of making a road. They are trampling wheat. The words used literally mean they  “make their way” (hodon poiein), means literally “to make or build a road”. 

Mark understands the action of the disciples as making a way by tramping down the standing corn. (J. D. M. Derrett, Studies in the New Testament, Vol. I, 85ff. Remember that Mark uses hodos in 1.2 and elsewhere to talk about making way for Jesus. They are making their way to Jerusalem with jesus. The way is about a way of life, a communal way, a new and renewed way of being community. Like others, I believe that Mark makes a particular and unique choice of words. This is a story about the Messiah who is making a way, building a road in the wilderness. A road where all might follow and find. A road where there is plenty of food, healing and redemption.

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

"There is a strong link here between Paul?s longing, his almost reckless candor about himself, and his sense of freedom. He understood himself as having been made a ?slave? to Christ, and of having been set free from the bondage of sin and death. This was not abstract theologizing."

"Dying to Rise," Chapter 13 of Reframing Paul, by Mark Strom, Intervarsity Press, 2000.

"A mother once confided that until her own son developed leukemia, she had never known a seriously ill child. Her eyes were opened in the hospital to the vast and varied problems that can afflict our very young. She could only conclude either that they had all been previously hidden in some closet or her own view of the world was too narrow and protected."

"Hearts Untroubled," Diane M. Komp, Theology Today, 1988.

Stanley Hauerwas makes it clear in his foreword for Malady of the Christian Body by Brock and Wannenwetsch that the first generation of Christians in Corinth were exactly that...the first to live in a new evolving age of faith. Paul is writing, he says, as a thinker who is faced with the trouble of living out a life that seeks to continue the work of Jesus.

Our passage for this week goes well with the Christology of Mark. 

We are not about making our own way but instead preparing and making the way for Jesus. We are the workers who Jesus prayed for and called to help harvest. We are the ones who are casting Jesus' light across the wilderness that a path may be found from our heart to God's. 

We are truly human, fallible and flawed. We are the clay jars barely able to be mirrors of God's glory and power. The work we do as a community, our plucking and tending, our road making, is not of our own doing but clearly the power of God working in and through us. We are not blessed, as so many people are want to say today, because we do this work or because of our faith. We are fortunate to recognize God is at work in us, on us, and through us. As Paul says often, it is not we ourselves but God through us.

Paul writes, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies."

Death is at work in us, but life too. Despite our short fall of the reign of God we are still the ones called to do the work. 

Some Thoughts on 1 Samuel 3:1-10

"The Lord was with Samuel, but somehow, this divine appointment does not at all diminish the totality of the human experience."

Commentary, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Roger Nam, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"From the very beginning, God has been fully present to everyone and everything in this world. And God is still with us because the Spirit of God still "hovers" and "resonates" over and around and in us all."

"Sacred Space," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer.

In our Episcopal tradition the call of Eli and Samuel is one of those passages that is most frequently read at the celebrations of new ministry. And, what happens is that we hijack the scripture by making it about us and how much we are like Samuel. In this way we miss the message for the old existing religious tradition.

Let us think through the passage from a missional perspective and try to envision a word for God's church.

In a time when we flounder as a religion it is hart to hear the word of the Lord. It becomes stale. It is a tradition of the dead instead of the living tradition. (3.1) Remember Jaroslav Pelikan wrote “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” (The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities) At such times it is hard for the people stuck to see, our eyesight, our vision, dims. (3.2) Yet God is present and people are listening. Typically they are different, younger, eager. (3.3)

Note that we know quite clearly that part of what is happening is that Eli's sons are keeping the best of the offerings for themselves and not passing that along to God and to the poor. (Verse 3:13 is coming.) "For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

People who hear God calling in times like this can easily get everything confused believing that it is the ancient tradition and religion that is calling. So, we go and we we are. But the tradition says clearly: we did not call you. We are resting in our traditionalism. (3.4-3.8) The traditionalists sometimes have to be awakened several times by the visions and hearings of the young in order to truly realize - God is not dead. In fact, God has come calling. And, when the tradition like Eli awakes it is awaken and listens carefully. 

Eli tells Samuel to listen - and he does so respectfully. He will then speak the words to Eli and offer the vision that God has spoken. Eli receives the news faithfully. "So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (3:18) We are told, now that Samuel has figured out how to listen anew, that the word is with him and "none of it falls to the ground."

It will be Samuel's work to give voice to the people's cry for help and to God's deisre to comfort. He will preach against systems that abuse the weak. And, when God gives in to the monarchy, he will remind the monarchy that it is their work, indeed their calling, to seek the good of the people in his care and to help God care for the weak, powerless, and the hungry.

Callie Plunket-Brewton, who is a Campus Minister at the University of North Alabama wrote:
Just as the call of Samuel sets the tone for his prophetic career and foreshadows the oracles he will deliver against the human leaders of the people, the song of Hannah represents the central focus of YHWH's leadership of the people: concern for the poor and powerless, and judgment of those who prey on the vulnerable and abuse their power.
Samuel received a vision about religion that revealed to him that it, nor the powers of this world, may take advantage of the poor. Aging religion, aging monarchies, aging governments loose their sight that they are merely tools and vessels with the opportunity to do good. They have the power and authority to serve the weakest. So often they chose systems of death and corruption over the other. So often they loose sight of the reign of God. Sometimes, religions and principalities, need new prophets to help them here.

Some Thoughts on Deuteronomy 5:12-15

"God requires balance, rest and work. Those of us who are able to engage in both, must also never forget those who are restricted from enjoying much of either."

Commentary, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Proverbs 14:23, Robert Charles Scott, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

"Congregations are 'soul communities,' in which young and old are soul-mates, bound together as an extended family of God, who love, support, and sustain one another. They should assure that senior adults are cared for and honored as resourceful contributors to community life, wisdom-givers, exemplars of the faith, and worthy recipients of care. How do we make this biblical vision concrete in our lives?"

"Caring as Honoring," Anne E. Streaty Wimberly, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2003.

"Honorable work and restful renewal are both aspects of responsibility."

Radical Shabbat: Free Time, Free People. Rabbi Arthur Waskow. "Living the Word," in Sojourners Online, May/June 2000.

One of the things that most Christians get wrong is exactly what day the sabbath falls upon. The sabbath is not Sunday. Instead it is Saturday. Saturday is to be our day of rest. Christians go to church not on the sabbath but instead on the first day of the work week. We begin our work by doing the work of the people - liturgy. We begin our work week by reminding ourselves that God is the creator of all and that the creation, our days, and the work before us are all gifts.

The passage begins by remind us who this God is. This God is the one who first raised Israel out of the land of Egypt and raised Christ from the dead. 

We are given then the who of the law - the ten commandments. 

Interesting factoid: in the 1950's there was a group called The Fraternal Order of Eagles. The F.O.E. is an international fraternal organization that was founded on February 6, 1898 in Seattle, Washington by a group of six theater owners including John Cort, brothers John W. and Tim J. Considine, Harry. "People helping people" is there motto. Wiki tells me  that "Touring theater troupes are credited with much of the Eagles' rapid growth. Most early members were actors, stagehands and playwrights, who carried the Eagles story as they toured across the United States and Canada. The organization's success is also attributed to its funeral benefits." And, they claim responsibility for "mother's day". Though that is really not true - though they helped popularize it. Anyway...they got with Cecil B. DeMille and funded a promotion in 1956! Together they donated monuments to the Ten Commandments (which was DeMille's new movie) across the country. It was the same decade when "in God we Trust" was on our money and the Pledge of Allegiance was amended to include "under God." (See American Grace by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell.) Yes...that is right, those things don't date back to the revolution. You heard it hear. The ten commandments were a movie promotion!

Now, back to our story...I encourage you to turn to the back of your prayer book and see in the catechism of the Episcopal Church how we interpret the ten commandments and how they are a good mirror to a holy and full life lived as God intends. Here is how our Book of Common Prayer Catechism speaks about the Ten Commandments:
Q. What do we learn from these commandments?
A. We learn two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors.
Q. What is our duty to God?
A. Our duty is to believe and trust in God;
I. To love and obey God and to bring others to know him;
II. To put nothing in the place of God;
III. To show God respect in thought, word, and deed;
IV. And to set aside regular times for worship,prayer, and the study of God’s ways.

Q. What is our duty to our neighbors?
A. Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to other people as we wish them to do to us;
V. To love, honor, and help our parents and family; to honor those in authority, and to meet their just demands;
VI. To show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God;
VII. To use all our bodily desires as God intended;
VIII. To be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God;
IX. To speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence;
X. To resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people’s gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.
Q. What is the purpose of the Ten Commandments?
A. The Ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors.
Q. Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?
A. Since we do not fully obey them, we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.

We are not simply people after peace and justice but we are people who are deeply rooted in a tradition that seeks to tell our story through virtuous action. We know God’s will for us and for creation. We know what we are to do... We are to be virtuous citizens not only on Sundays, not only within the walls of our homes; we are to be virtuous citizens at work in the political and social environs of our community. And, when we don’t follow these commandments we are to repent and return to the Lord, and begin the work again.

Jonathan Sacks, the once chief rabbi points out that this passage takes a major turn from all that has been read before it.  He writes, "The book of Deuteronomy is saturated with the language of love. The root a-h-v appears in Shemot twice, in Vayikra twice (both in Lev. 19), in Badmibar not at all, but in Sefer Devarim 23 times. Devarim is a book about societal beatitude and the transformative power of love." Then he asks, "Why is it that love, which plays so great a part in the book of Deuteronomy, is so much less in evidence in the earlier books...?"

Sacks then jumps to ask...why is forgiveness not mentioned until this book too? He points out: "God does not forgive Adam and Eve or Cain (though he mitigates their punishment). Forgiveness does not figure in the stories of the Flood, the Tower of Babel or the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain (Abraham’s plea is that the cities be spared if they contain fifty or ten righteous people; this is not a plea for forgiveness). Divine forgiveness makes its first appearance in the book of Exodus after Moses’ successful plea in the wake of golden calf, and is then institutionalized in the form of Yom Kippur (Lev. 16), but not before. Why so?"

His answer is that God does not insert forgiveness and so love until we have learned to forgive and to love one another. 

Not unlike forgiveness before it, love is present in the book but love is not a political, social, or moral principle until Deuteronomy.

For instance he writes: "Abraham loves Isaac. Isaac loves Esau. Rebecca loves Jacob. Jacob loves Rachel. He also loves Joseph. There is interpersonal love in plentiful supply. But almost all the loves of Genesis turn out to be divisive. They lead to tension between Jacob and Esau, between Rachel and Leah, and between Joseph and his brothers. Implicit in Genesis is a profound observation missed by most moralists and theologians. Love in and of itself – real love, personal and passionate, the kind of love that suffuses much of the prophetic literature as well as Shir Ha-Shirim, the greatest love song in Tanakh, as opposed to the detached, generalised love called agape which we associate with ancient Greece – is not sufficient as a basis for society. It can divide as well as unite."

You see, Sacks helps us because what he sees that we do not is that that love, forgiveness, come along in Deuteronomy with the word justice.

Simon May, a philosopher writes:
[W]hat we must note here, for it is fundamental to the history of Western love, is the remarkable and radical justice that underlies the love commandment of Leviticus. Not a cold justice in which due deserts are mechanically handed out, but the justice that brings the other, as an individual with needs and interests, into a relationship of respect. All our neighbours are to be recognised as equal to ourselves before the law of love. Justice and love therefore become inseparable. (Simon May, Love: A History, 19-20.)
Sacks concludes by stating that "Love without justice leads to rivalry, and eventually to hate. Justice without love is devoid of the humanizing forces of compassion and mercy. We need both. This unique ethical vision – the love of God for humans and of humans for God, translated into an ethic of love toward both neighbour and stranger – is the foundation of Western civilization and its abiding glory. It is born here in the book of Deuteronomy, the book of law-as-love and love-as-law." You can read his whole article here: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Morality of Love

The reality is that the God of love invites us into a particular covenant relationship of love, justice, and forgiveness with God first. Then God invites us into a similar relationship with one another. As God has chosen to be with us so are we invited by the commandments to be in relationships with others. 

God's forgiveness in Christ is not a new thing, but the very next thing in the neverending relationship between God and humanity. God's forgiveness is that prime move by the creator God's self to do what God has done since the beginning - be in relationship with us.

Previous Sermons On These Passages

Walk this Way Jun 3, 2018, St. David's, Austin, Pentecost 4B

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