Advent is both terrible and hopeful. It’s terrible because it’s about a hopeful word, a newness about life – which promises to overthrow all our old, comfortable, sinful ways. And it’s hopeful for the very same reason. We know the shape of Advent, and yet we don’t know it. We may know the stories of the prophets, the Exile, the Exodus and the birth of the Messiah – but we often struggle to see that this “old” God is also breaking in upon human life in awesomely new ways still today – even here in 2012! Who would ever have looked for God to enter the world through a baby born to poor parents in a dry desert land dominated by the Romans and overshadowed by the wealth of Egypt?
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
The Third Sunday in Advent
Joy | The Shepherds
Joy is a great thing, one of the best parts of human life. And yet completely unexpected joy, the realization that deeply held hopes will be or have been fulfilled, is especially awesome and freeing. It’s not just waking up to find presents under a tree, it’s like waking up and discovering that you do have a tree and gifts underneath it. Joy is the realization that life is a gift, which we haven’t earned, deserved – or even really asked for. It’s what set the shepherds in motion to see what happened in the manger that night – and sent them exuberantly into the world to share what they’d witnessed. Joy is our response in faith to the discovery of the love of God that we know in Christ – a love that overcomes all things, heals all things, undoes all things, frees all things
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, December 2nd
The First Sunday in Advent
Hope | the Prophets
Advent is the liturgical season or period marked by the four Sundays preceding Christmas. In the Ancient Church it was a reflection of the season of Lent – a time of preparation, reflection and celebration before the feast of Easter (for Lent) and Christmastide (for Advent). The word Advent comes from the Latin for coming, or arriving. We celebrate Advent by special markers: the colors purple or blue and the Advent Wreath of 4 candles, one for each Sunday, culminating with the lighting of the Christ Candle (the 5th one) on Christmas. It’s a concrete way for us to articulate the waiting that defines this season.
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, November 11th
This week has been filled to overflowing with talk of politics, partisanship, gridlock, decision-making and agenda-setting. We see the unavoidable challenges before us that cannot be ignored away with a magic wand, or avoided until the solve themselves. How do we do leadership as Christians? The day after the election I heard CNN talking about how Protestants and Born-Agains voted for Romney while Catholics and people of color vote for Obama. I doubt that things are that clear and simply categorized. Maybe part of the reason for which we have such difficulty in our democracy regarding addressing the problems we face is that our media outlets play to the extremes, they like “good TV” – rather than speaking with bridge-builders and door-openers they focus upon fear mongerers and demagogues.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
We live in culture plagued by a vicious cycles of instant and incessant gratification. We want to quench our thirst, satisfy our hunger – and we want it our way! Our culture has become a society defined as consumer and consumeristic. In the midst of our hungers and thirsts (which are natural) somehow we get lost. The fear that there isn’t enough to go around, leads us to symbiotic anxiety and mistrust. We need to get ours or get git. In such presumed scarcity our needs are morphed into wants, desires and fantasies. We want it all, otherwise we might not get any. We want it how and when we want it, otherwise it might not be around. And yet the God of the Bible points towards a different way of life together, a community of koinonia or fellowship based upon the shared life-transforming experience of God’s love known in Jesus of Nazareth who gave his life rather than give into the anxiety of scarcity. His sacrifice changes everything, giving us a new lens through which to see the world as it truly is. How do we live this paradoxical truth by faith in a society based upon the myth of scarcity? How do we love our neighbor when we are told that our neighbor is out to get what we have? How do we testify to a life-sustaining God in a culture in which we are told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and to save ourselves, because no one else will?
Friday, October 26, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, October 28th
The Exodus. This is the big climax (or is it?) of the story of the Exodus the Israelites are free. Chased out of Egypt, they pillage their former slave masters. They leave not just free, but masters of their own future. But quickly Pharaoh changes his mind, and the greatest army of earth sets off in pursuit of a ragtag bunch of slaves hobbling along with their cripple and lame, their livestock and unleavened bread. And just as quickly the Israelites change their mind about the nature and purpose of God. They seem to lose faith. Is this story just history, myth, good story or does it have something to say about the way that we live and an answer to our own metaphysical questions about the existence and activity of God?
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, October 21st
Passover: it’s the beginning of months, the religious festival that marks time from the freedom of Israel from slavery, it’s the celebration of the experience of God’s redemptive action – it turns the past into a celebration of the future. As Christians we don’t necessarily follow, observe or celebrate Passover – and yet it’s more than just history, more than just the cultural background of the world of Jesus. It’s also an invitation to us as seekers of God, followers of the teachings of Jesus, and practitioners seeking our center in the Spirit. Passover is an invitation for all those who follow God to live with a new sense of time, a new sense of social relationships and identity, and to have a new relationship to the past and the future.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, October 14th
Freedom: it’s the bedrock value of our national identity. Freedom is also at the heart of what it means to be a follow of Jesus the Christ, who promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32) And yet how often do we feel truly free – to see and be who we are? Are our actions determined by our past, our psychological baggage, family systems, our racial and cultural identity, our educational experience, and our faith journey? Exodus wrestles with the metaphysical question: From what are we free? What are we given freedom to do? Can you have freedom and yet have constraints, rules or limits? It’s not just a question for adolescents. We are faced with our freedom in terms of the decisions we’ve made, or not made, in our lives, in our relationships, and the paths for action that seem to lay before us.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, September 30th
Is God really there for and with us? If so, shouldn’t life be easier? Shouldn’t we not suffer? Since we still suffer, struggle and live in strife, does that mean that our hope is misplaced in God? That God is unloving? Or that God is impuissant to save, protect and heal us? Theologians call this existential question that of THEODICY: is God good? Is God all powerful? If so why is there evil? If not, how can God be God? Today’s passage tells the return of Moses to Egypt, his initial confrontation with Pharaoh, and what seemed to be a great failure in the eyes of the enslaves Israelites. The Israelites only see the bricks their made to make. God sees something else: the bricks with which God wants to build a new land, a new people, a new hope.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, September 23rd
What’s in a name? That’s the question with which today’s scripture from Exodus wrestles. Always a propos, the question seems even more poignant in this time of increasingly vehement and violent religious discourse, political action and violent extremism. All the religions of the world lift up compassion, justice and peace. And yet multiple mysterious things are done in the name of divinities: the storming of an embassy in Libya, the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Korean Peninsula, the blockade of the West Bank, the enslavement of Africans, the Crusades, the 9/11 bombing, the Spanish Inquisition and the cold blood murders of medical workers who perform abortions. It’s easy for us to look at actions taken in the name of other gods and traditions as see how they are twisted, and yet we have to admit that in our own faith community tragically destructive things have been done in the name of the God we serve and follow. So where does that leave us? If we claim to do things in the name of God, are we religious extremists? When we pray in the name of Jesus of Nazareth are we intolerant activists? If we don’t invoke the name of God in our actions, decisions and talk are we denying our faith out of the fear of being labeled extremists or even terrorists?
Friday, September 14, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, September 16th
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
We’re starting a new series wrestling with the story of the Exodus. The underlying theme of the book is about freedom. That God frees us from slavery for covenant life together. As you read that sentence, and as we work through the text in the coming weeks our guiding interpretive question is what does that mean? Then? Now?
We also should ask ourselves How does this mean? “Unlike the recipes in a cookbook or the instructions in an elementary arithmetic book, there are meanings and truths that simply are not sayable in a series of simples sentences. Indeed the richer the meanings, and the more important the truths, the more difficult it is to say them simply in the spirit of one plus one equals two. Therefore, poets, and storytellers, too, resort to a variety of strategies for using words in ways that will catch and embody meanings and truths that we may all have felt and believed to be real or at least hoped against hop might be so, but find it difficult to express.” – J. Gerald Janzen in Exodus.
Friday, September 07, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, September 9th
We’ve been reading through the gospel of Mark on Sundays for several months. Today we arrive at the end of the story. It’s either the worst ending to a story, or a great ending that’s actually a re-beginning. Most Biblical scholars esteem that the original ending of the gospel concludes with verse 8 (our proposed reading), advancing that the early church added what we call verses 9 – 20 in order to smooth the rough edges of the story of the women who remain mute, passive and afraid.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, August 19th
"The killing of Jesus, however incidental to the tasks of governance for the Roman and Jewish authorities, masks the worst in human brutality. Regimes do this to people in the name of all kinds of claims to common good and, not least, to the furtherance of peace. People do this to people, when anger and fear conspire to suppress love and goodness. We all do it. Mark's is an 'in your face' account of the killing of love."
This week’s passage in our ongoing reading of Mark, is commonly read on Good Friday, as the passion narrative. Other texts habitually read with it are Isaiah 50:1-9 and Philippians 2:5-10. We reflect and celebrate the paradoxical horror of Good Friday because, as the world continues to turn upside down, Jesus is still at work transforming lives, transforming governments, and transforming societies. That’s the theological affirmation underneath this story of suffering, desertion and ultimately death and finally new life.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, August
As we finish our reading of Mark’s gospel, we arrive at the climactic end (and re-beginning) of the story of Jesus. I’m struck by the way in which the passage for today, commonly called “the Last Supper” is presented as customary, normal, the established way of celebrating the Passover: the ritual meal that creates community and names the love of a God who delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Ancient Egypt. Jesus takes this “normal” or “customary” way of explaining God, naming God’s love and experiencing God’s freedom and reinterprets it, turning it upside down and right side up. His interpretation of the meal is sandwiched between two stories of betrayal, denial and desertion. His love – best summarized in the offering of the communion meal – seems to be ineffective, not stopping betrayal, but preceding it; not preventing denial but rather naming it. Is the Love of Jesus that we invoke, proclaim and ask for merely a metaphor? Is it just pretty words intended to make us feel better in our own betrayals and suffering? How can it be true when Jesus seems to be a failure more than a victor in the story of the cross?
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Questions for going deeper
with the Scriptures for Sunday, July 22nd
with the Scriptures for Sunday, July 22nd
Show and Tell. That’s both the game and the expression that keeps bouncing around in my mind while I wrestle with this text from Mark’s gospel telling. Increasingly it seems that the best way to talk about faith in Jesus is to show it – to live what he taught, practice what he preached, draw close to the people, needs and purposes to which he drew close. It seems like there are too many words – too many things spoken and said – in our culture inundated with words, images, status updates, tweets and programs. What we hunger for is an encounter, human interaction. And yet while a picture says a thousand words, and an encounter can be expressed in a novel – words still are vital, the bedrock of how we communicate, share what we know and name what we live. Where is the balance between showing and telling faith in our pluralistic postmodern image inundated society?
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, July 15th
Apocalypse. The word has many connotations for us. Even more in this year of 2012 seen as auspicious and foreboding in the Mayan Calendar which stops at it. Our current pop culture imagination is seemingly obsessed by it. We can see that in the ever popular Zombie catastrophes that have become the major theme of many movies, shows and books.
Is it merely a way to sell books, products and movies or is it a deeper fascination or fear of where our world is headed in the sociological jungle of the Arab Spring, deepening technological dependence, growing social isolation and the ever-widening global market? Often times apocalyptic talk can push towards a fight or flight mentality: fight to preserve the purity of what we’ve known, or a flight or retreat waiting for an escape or something better. The word literally means uncovering, as in revealing something that was hidden or obscured. Quite different than the popular and despairingly hopeless visions of total annihilation and mayhem.
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, July 8th
Greatness. It’s what many in our society strive for, on a certain level it’s the American dream. But what makes a person great? Wealth? Accomplishments? Relationships? Possessions? Achievements? Diplomas? Having your wedding announced in the New York Times Sunday edition? The encounters in today’s passage wrestle with the notion of greatness in Jesus’ day. The example was the religious leaders. Those that weren’t great were the everyday poor. Things don’t seemed to have changed much, except that in on our culture today rare is it that the religious leaders define greatness with their example. What makes the church so great? – at least historically? And why do we struggle with that today?
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, June 17th
Love. It’s both a noun and a verb. Yet often times it seems like in the church we’re better at talking about it as a concept, subject or noun as opposed to actively, creatively and imaginatively doing it. As I wrestle with the passage for this Sunday I’m struck by the two encounters including in the proposed reading. The first is a hypothetical situation posed as a philosophical conundrum by the religious rulers of the day (the Sadducees). Jesus responds directly, bluntly telling them that their question isn’t the correct one to be asking. Rather than dealing in hypotheticals, they should be living in reality, not wondering who is the neighbor they should love, but actually practicing what they preach. I read that and wonder how it interrogates me and challenges my life? How do I practice love more as a noun than as a verb? And is it an either/or situations or a both/and one?
Friday, June 08, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for
Sunday, June 10th
Sunday, June 10th
Authority. That’s the key issue underneath the scriptures that we wrestle with this morning. The religious leaders of the day are challenged and confused by the authority that Jesus seems to have. Their antagonism seems to come from the fact that he has taken a different path then they have. He’s not studied like them. He doesn’t speak like them. He’s outside of their sphere of influence. Are they jealous?; insecure?; threatened?; close-minded? What we see throughout the text is the fear the leaders have of the crowd (11:32 & 12:12). The leaders are politically isolated, fearful of the very people they purportedly serve. As I study the text I find myself wondering how I – how we as a faith community – are like these leaders – out of touch with the crowd, the people on the street, the larger population? How are we stuck in our own box and unable to think outside of it? How do we understand that in a time of great, radical and overwhelming change that impacts us in terms of society, technology, relationships, communication and life-style? How do we act as coherent, authentic followers of Jesus in a world that is increasingly pluralistic?
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, June 3rd
Prayer. It’s something that we all invoke, even if we claim to be spiritual but not religious. But what is prayer all about? Is it us expressing our needs, hopes and fears? Is it God listening to us? Is it an energy that we plug into through centering actions of silence and mindfulness? Is it a way in which we relinquish our will and accept God’s, connecting with the work that God is already about in our world? Today’s scripture points to all these facets of prayer and also offers a deep challenge to an exclusive vision that God only listens to prayers done in one particular spot. Common in Jesus’ day, and mostly foreign to us, this notion of having a privileged or exclusive relationship with God still makes up part of the religious perspective we move in. How do you experience prayer? How do we as a community? How is God calling us to move beyond our expectations, to being a house of prayer in a deeper and wider way?
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Blogging Towards Pentecost Sunday, May 27th
Mark 11:1-11 (Crowning the King),
Acts 2:1-21 (what does this mean?),
& Acts 2:42-47 (the gospel embodied in community)
Pentecost is a unique day in the life of the Church Calendar in which it is connoted by the color red, (remember our Godly Play lesson from 2 weeks ago?) Red is the color of passion, strong feelings, fire. It evokes the heat and passion of fire similar to the passionate purpose and transformative presence of God’s Spirit when it moves in the world. Pentecost is a reminder that God calls the Church to a risky endeavor, to engage the world, in the world, to declare in word and action that God loves the world and that we most know God through the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. If that’s the meaning of the birth-day of the Church, I find myself wondering what kind of legacy we’ve been leaving as the church? When folks encounter our church on College Avenue, or when the wonder about the Church in general, do they imagine a community of people making meaning in life together around a shared core value that we most know, experience God and grow in faith through knowing Jesus & practicing what he preached?
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday: May 20th
The Way of Jesus is different than the way of the world. Today’s scripture point to that mystery, which supersedes any discussion that merely reduces faith to a particular set of morals or ethical actions. The Way of Jesus leads to and through the cross, and then out of the victory of the resurrection and the paradox of the empty tomb. Today’s passage closes the center literary nugget of Mark’s gospel which began with the healing of an anonymous blind man in 8:22, echoed and inverted in today’s healing encounter of another blind man Bartimaeus in 10:46-52. The Way of Jesus moves us from anonymity, to relationship with God through Christ. In that movement we confess, naming Jesus as the Christ and in the life-giving and universe-transforming love of that relationship we too receive our true name and discover our identity as servants of the Resurrected One.
Friday, May 04, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday,
May 6th Mark 10:17-31| Salvation as a Gift
May 6th Mark 10:17-31| Salvation as a Gift
We often look for answers, but maybe it’s our questions that most define and shape us as human beings. What defines us? Is it our jobs?; zip code?; possessions?; faith?; class?; ethnicity?; choices? Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Commitment is an act, not a word.” In his existential viewpoint he echoes to a certain extent what Jesus is getting at in his encounter with the young rich ruler in today’s section of Mark. Philosophy grew out of the essential human question as posed by the ancient Greek Socrates: What is a good life? How does one live one? Can one even live a good life? Does the good we do come from a greater good? Do we have to be religious, or spiritual, to have a good life? Do we need to be saved from something? If so, what? It gets at the fundamental heart of Christian faith.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday: April 29th
Mark 10:1-16 | Bonhoeffer’s notion of Costly Grace
If you've been to Frog Park in Oakland's Rockridge district this past week you've seen some major construction and trench-digging emerge. I go there for dog park breaks with my dog David during the day. Throughout the week I reflected upon the marks that appeared on the street, sidewalks, even the bushes indicating what was below. It was striking to realize how much is down there, and how ignorant I am of its presence - and exactly how important it all is to and in day to day life. I think this week's passage is like those markings, pointing to what lies below in our identities, our relationships and our day to day life.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday April 22nd
A common joke among pastors goes like this: “If it weren't for the people, I'd love my church!" While irreverently funny, it points to the true challenge of following the teachings of Jesus: other people. It’s easy (or at least seems easier) to work to love God, as Jesus said, with all our intelligence, passion and life-energy. It’s other people that are difficult. There’s a reason that Jesus claimed that anyone can love their friends and family. What’s truly revolutionary is to actively love your enemies in a way that transforms us, them and the world.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday: April 15th
WWJD? [What Would Jesus Do?] is a phrase commonly printed on bracelets and t-shirts these days to proclaim a message of Christian ethics, morality or world-view shaped action. It’s an acronym that has entered the lexicon of our national and pop culture. It comes from the work and thought of Walter Rauschenbusch, an American theologian and Baptist minister of the last century [1851-1918]. He was one of the key figures in what became known as the Social Gospel movement: an effort to care for the poor, widowed, orphaned and excluded. It began out of an effort to live out the teachings of Jesus, to truly be able to pray may your will God be done on earth as it is in heaven. That movement faded in glory, losing popularity in the beginning of the 20th century to the growing evangelical and fundamentalist perspectives. But now, the essence of the movement is back, feeding those later movements with its vigor. I wonder though if the acronym isn’t wrong in itself? I don’t think Jesus asks us to do what he did so much, as he asks us to find our identity in his kingdom and Way, asking us What Will You Do when you are confronted with….?
Saturday, April 07, 2012
Blogging Towards Easter Sunday: April 8th
Easter is about more than just eggs. It seems stupid to say it. Yet in our current cultural context, commercial settings and pop culture vernacular, it has to be said. What is Easter about? Historically, we know that the group of Hebraic and Israelite followers and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth claimed that he rose from the dead, leaving his tomb empty, at sunrise on this third day after his crucifixion, as the Jewish Sabbath ended. That community soon became diverse and different, incorporating and engrafting people from diverse cultures, languages and nations; as well as involving both men and women as full participants. This diversity – which today seems commonplace – was radical in the time of the Roman Empire. In the Ancient Worldview nations and tribes all worshipped their own gods. And so didn’t mix with other peoples by marriage, real estate location outside of their cultural ghettos and in religious communities.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Blogging Towards Palm Sunday, April 1st
What is power? We live in a season in which several people in our country are scrambling to become the President – the most powerful man (or woman) in the world. What makes power? A super PAC? An Ivy League degree?; Money?; a particular zip code?; military power?; connections?; luck? We are in a confused age in which greatness, power, authority, fame, are aspired to – and yet often times responsibility to those over whom power is given, is shrugged off. Look at our schools. Look at what is happening in Syria. Look at the major themes of the box-office smash movie of the past week “The Hunger Games.” In an age and culture in which the squeaky wheel gets the oil, the loudest complainer gets ahead; the message of Jesus is counter-cultural, pointing to a parallel way of being in, but not of, this world.
The greatly influential German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) best frames the way that our world today envisions and defines power. He wrote of the will to power, believing to be the main driving force in man (and he meant man as he was an open misogynist). Achievement, ambition, the striving to reach the highest possible position in life; these are all manifestations of the will to power.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday March 18th
What is faith? It’s a common question today in our culture in which many indentify themselves as spiritual but not religious. Is faith about an institution?; or is it about the God at the center of it all? Can you still doubt and have faith? Can you lose your faith when you struggle with the difficulty of believing? Today’s scripture passage wrestles with those questions in the context of a story about the remarkable faith of a father who radically loves his sick son, coming to Jesus for help.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, March 4th
This past week our neighbors were robbed. An occurrence that’s all too common in our city of Oakland. I was most likely home, being dropped off by the car repair shop shuttle. Odds are that I scared off the robbers, who left without the TV that they’d unplugged from the wall, while I chummed it up with the driver. It’s not all that uncommon, as I’ve said; but I’d just spent the 20 minutes in the shuttle ride talking with another passenger, who lives in a less “edgy” and that’s not urbanite for “cool”, area of town than I do. Her concerns were all about burglaries, violent crimes, with the fear of living in the city. She saw true – but only part of what is.
Oaklanders seem to take pride in the grit. Isn’t that why Oaklandish is so successful? If you live in a dirty, tough town, it’s better to take pride in surviving it than to be paralyzed by shame for staying there. For many of us, the city, and maybe Oakland in particular, is one of the last places to come to mind (if it comes to mind at all) when we think about where we encounter God in our lives or find spiritual renewal. Instead, our minds wander to more peaceful and serene settings outside the hurried and complex life of the city: the mountains, the desert, parks, the ocean beach-side, silent retreat houses in the redwood forests of the North Bay.
Thursday, March 01, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, March 4th
Spiritual sight is something that most of us are looking for. It’s not primarily the capacity to know all things that we long for, but more for perspective, balance and direction. I’ve spent years praying for sudden illumination, the sort of explosive religious experience that comes to mind when you think of Paul on the way to Damascus, Moses in front of the burning bush, or Esther in her journey to queenship.
We live among a few spiritual giants: Mother Teresa, MLK Jr., Desmond Tutu, Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, other yogis. We have our own lists which differ with specifics, but have the same focus. I’ve been around people who had an authority that you could feel. It was as if the air was different around them, the space changed, their perspective stretching out to impact me, to invite me to deeper vision, wiser words, radical humility and action. But how do you achieve that? You can’t buy it in the dollar bin at Target. Nor can you order it from the Great Speakers’ Series.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, February 26th
How much is enough? We live in a society where we want to super size everything. So we should supersize faith right? We should have a supersized demonstration of proof that God is and that God is what we think, before we believe. It’s not asking the impossible. It’s just asking for a little more, not that hard to get. It only costs like another quarter to get it at McDonald’s, so God should be able to do it – easy!
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, February 19th
Today’s passage is rather shocking and potentially embarrassing for it shows Jesus mouthing prejudice. His comments in verse 28 seem to affirm that God loves the Jews more than the Gentiles; that he has come not for everyone but only for his people. It’s embarrassing because it seems so –un-Jesus and also flies in the face of other scriptures and historic church affirmation about Jesus coming for all peoples, nations and languages. Does this racist Jesus change his mind? Is he won over by the theological argument of the woman?; convinced by her great faith?; or merely using her as a rhetorical device in order to expound upon his version of good news?
This peculiar story, recorded only here in Mark among the four gospels, points to the reality we face today. How do we interact with others? How do we approach not only racial and social class diversity in our faith communities, but how do we encounter those among us who have a different faith story, spiritual practice, or theological viewpoint? How are we as the church called to live in our world of today, but not of it? What is great faith? What does it look like?
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday February 12th
After several striking demonstrations of miraculous healing power in the Jewish west bank of the Sea of Galilee, Mark turns to a narrative of an argument between Jesus and the Pharisees and the Scribes. Today’s sections contain 5 teachings all organized around a common theme of ritual purity. They start in 7:1, 7:9; 7:14, 7:17, and 7:20. We divide them up in a literary fashion because of the change of location, or the use of transitional words such as “and he said….”; or “Again Jesus….”
Before we study the text we need some historical reminders of things that we may have forgotten or never known. In Jesus’ day there were several principal sects (or denominations or schools of thoughts) among the Jewish believers: the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Zealots (or Siccari).
Friday, February 03, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday February 5th
This is a curious story. The second miracles on the water – of the sea of Galilee. It echoes what we’ve already experienced in Mark 4:35-41 when Jesus calms the storm, and goes beyond it. Are they the same story edited because it’s such a good one? Or is this wonder on the water moving the disciples – and thus us: the current readers, by extension – to deeper faith?
After feeding the 5,000 Jesus does something even more radical: he defies gravity.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, January 29th
This pericope (section of the gospel) seems to be perfect for us as we gather today for worship and our shared ministry work of discernment, discipleship and rededication as a community of faith at our annual congregational meeting. Mark tells this story in juxtaposition with the story of the horrific feast at which the 1% of ancient Palestine gorge themselves at the table of Herod Antipas and punctuate the debauchery with the beheading of John the Baptizer all for a king to avoid shame and his mistress to exact revenge on a too courageous prophet. (Mark 6:14-29)
In the larger scheme of Mark’s retelling of the Jesus story, we see that these two contrasted stories about feasts follow Jesus sending out the twelve disciples to do ministry (Mark 6:6-13). On one hand it’s remarkable that he would dare to do so: the disciples seem so clueless: They were terrified by Jesus’ calming of the story (Mark 5:35-41). They don’t seem to get the parables and basic teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:10). And yet on the other hand, Jesus has redefined family – the principal thing in terms of identity in the ancient world. Family isn’t about your family name, your gender, your tribe; but rather it’s about who you follow and how you follow them in your life. For Jesus, anyone who follows God, seeking to do God’s will in the world, is part of his family. So in the end the disciples might not be 100% clear on what’s going on, but they get the big picture (even if not very clearly). They too seek to know God, to follow God, and to do God’s will in the world. Maybe we ourselves are not all that different than the disciples today?
Friday, January 13, 2012
Blogging Towards Sunday, January 8th
As I read this pericope (section of the gospel) it seems to be about authenticity and boldness. How far are we called to go in standing for what we believe to be right? How bold are we in proclaiming what we believe to be true, right, gospel-good-news? Do we proclaim it with just words, or do we do so with all of our lives and livelihoods? In a world that often is toxically tainted by hypocrisy, polished messages, photoshopped images and smooth talkers who promise everything, I’ve been told to not lose my head. No one expects you to go that far in doing what you think, or what the Bible says. And yet in a world that’s bankrupt of belief in promises made – whether that be by politicians, bankers, bosses, union leaders or clergy – aren’t we all looking for some sort of authenticity that’s organically earned by doing what is preached and promised? In my life, I first had a transformational faith experience as an adolescent when I encountered and dialogued with people – principally adults who weren’t in my nuclear DNA based family – who actually did what they believed and what Jesus taught. It was experiencing that radicalness that shaped and reshaped me.