Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 11: 1-33

Mark 11: 1-33

Two seemingly contrasting stories. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by his messianic act of cleansing the temple, that corrupt shrine dedicated more to Herod than to God.

When Jesus “cleansed” the temple, I think he was saying that “sacrifices were no longer required. I am the sacrifice. Human made shrines will fall to dust, but I will live forever. And through me, you will too.”

Jesus was breaking down everything that stood between us and God. It was a rebuke of the human impulse to power and glory. He was saying that God cannot be caged, that God is everywhere people need God. God’s Holy Temple was in Jesus, and now in us, the Body of Christ. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, everyone claimed by Jesus for God’s upside down kingdom is God’s Temple.

Lenten Reading Mark 10: 32-52

Mark 10: 32-52

Clearly, the disciples didn’t know what they were asking. They probably had images of gilded thrones and fawning masses when they asked Jesus if they could sit with him in the kingdom of God.

But Jesus had his mind on other things. He knew that God’s kingdom had nothing to do with what we get for ourselves, but that God’s kingdom is about what we give to others. And Jesus gave his life for the sake of the whole world. The kingdom that Jesus was thinking about was the cross.

And it wasn’t his disciples who were at his left and right hands in that kingdom. It was two thieves. But at that moment, I’m guessing James and John didn’t want to trade places with those at Jesus’ side.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 10: 13-31

Mark 10: 13-31

Today’s reading seems to be the climax of chapter 10. This is where Mark ends a string of increasingly demanding and uncomfortable Jesus sayings. This bible reading, this text from Mark’s gospel, chafes and burns like sandpaper. It shows our discipleship as nothing but dirty rags.

“Turn the other cheek,” Jesus says somewhere else, and we remember the time when we angrily swore at the guy who stole our parking spot.

“Love your neighbour as yourself,” Jesus commands, and we remember when we crossed the street to avoid the homeless person coming our way.

“Go sell all you have and give it to the poor,” we overhear Jesus tell that rich, young, man. And we hope those words are meant only for him, because we don’t want Jesus to ask the same thing of us.

“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Ouch! What was personal for the young man all of sudden became uncomfortably universal.

It wasn’t as if this young man was a bad guy. He was your model Sunday school student. He knew the bible inside and out and he could recite the Ten Commandments backwards and forwards. He listened attentively in confirmation class, memorized the catechism, and turned in his worship notes ahead of time. He was the kid with all the right answers.

But Jesus cuts him no slack.

He was asking the question that was probably on everyone’s mind, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That’s a great question, don’t you think? I’m guessing everyone has asked that question at one point in their life. But Jesus’ answer gives him no relief.

“If you want to inherit eternal life, you need to get rid of everything. Your house. Your car. Your job. Leave your wife and kids behind. Everything you believe to be true, everything you possess – even your relationships – leave it all behind and come follow me.”

That’s not quite what I had in mind, Jesus. Certainly, you mean you just want us to help out now and then at the soup kitchen; feeding those who can’t feed themselves.

“No, I want you.”

Jesus, of course you mean that you want me to give more money to the church. After all we have a building project we’re fundraising for.

“No, I want it all. Everything.”

C’mon Jesus, you mean to say that you want us to take our faith life more seriously, to read the bible more often, to pray more frequently, to attend church more regularly.

“No, I want your very life.”

Jesus, no one can do what you’re asking.

“Exactly. What you can’t do, God can.”

Lenten Reading Mark 10: 1-12

Mark 10: 1-12

This is a hard teaching from Jesus. Especially today when divorce rates seem so high. I say “seem” because some suggest that people stayed in marriages in the past because there was no where for people to go when the relationship deteriorated. Abused women stayed with their abuser because, to leave, would mean they’d be on the street.

This saying of Jesus was meant to protect women from men who divorced their wives on a whim. Since the women were dependent on their husbands for food and shelter, a certificate of divorce meant destitution. The same happened if their husbands died. That’s why the bible talks so much about helping widows and orphans.

In a male dominated society, women and children were vulnerable. And left on their own, they received no help, other than the charity of family and friends, when the male of the house decided to move on.

So, I see this passage not as a hard and fast rule against divorce. But as a means of social justice and human compassion. It’s actually a strike against selfishness and a call for men to live up to their familial and social obligations.

To use this passage as an assault against those whose relationships fell apart is to miss the deep social contract that marriage was, and to hurt those who’ve already been wounded by broken relationships. Jesus had no interest in kicking people when they're down. He was VERY interested in protecting the weak and the vulnerable against the attacks of the strong and powerful.

Today, I think its important to see divorce as a tragedy rather than a sin.

Lenten Reading Mark 9: 38-50

Mark 9: 38-50

Those who say the bible is literally true might have some trouble explaining this passage to their friends. Cutting off your feet and chopping off hands are not rational responses to dealing with sin. In fact, they’re downright dangerous.

But then again, who ever said that following Jesus was rational?

Of course, Jesus is talking in hyperbole, using extreme language to make a simple point. “Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll fall into temptation.”

On the surface that sounds reasonable, doable. If you look at it more deeply, it’s harder than it sounds. Unless, as Jesus suggests, we pluck out our eyes, plug our ears, and live underground, temptation will always be with us.

Maybe that’s the point Jesus was trying to get at. We CAN’T escape temptation. If we could, then we wouldn’t need Jesus.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 9: 33-37

Mark 9: 33-37

“Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all” (v. 35b).

There’s a whole genre of leadership literature on so-called “Servant Leadership.” Some of it, admittedly, misses the point, suggesting that the leader employ a “servant” attitude to gain personal power.

Most books argue, however, that servanthood is a lifestyle, one that connects deeply with others, seeing others as equals, no matter who they are or where they come from.

This is closer to what Jesus is talking about. I think Jesus was saying that that true greatness comes from serving. Which makes paradoxical sense according to God’s upside down kingdom where weakness is strength, wisdom is foolishness, and wealth is poverty.

But we need to realize that Jesus isn’t asking his followers to become doormats. Stephen Ministry distinguishes between “servanthood” and “servitude.” Servitude makes unhealthy demands and drains all love and compassion. Servanthood is born from love and treats people as equals. Servanthood gives life. Servitude drains life.

What does being a servant look like in your life? Do you fall into the servitude trap?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 9: 9-29

Mark 9: 9-29

In a roundabout way, this story warms my faithless heart. It’s because the disciples don’t always get it right either. Their prayers aren’t always answered, their power is often limited by their lack of faith.

When my prayers seem ineffective, when God’s power seems a million miles away, I turn to this story to know that I’m not alone. That it’s only by God’s grace that my work has any effect.

This doesn’t mean that I sit back and let God do everything. It DOES mean that I can’t control God. If I could, then would it really be God I am controlling?

Lenten Reading Mark 9:1-8

Mark 9:1-8

I don’t know about you but one of the greatest temptations I face is to re-create Jesus in my own image, just so I don’t have to listen to what he has to say. I know I’m not alone. A quick survey of biblical scholarship over the past 50 years and you’ll encounter a whole lot of Jesuses.

We hear that Jesus is a wandering philosopher. Others say that he’s a great moral - even an inspired - teacher. Others see Jesus as a political revolutionary, where others say Jesus is their best friend.

But Jesus says that he is the one who descends from the glory of the mountaintop to the shame of the cross, and then asked us to do the same thing.

That’s hard to listen to. Most people I know aspire to the mountaintop, not to the cross. It’s easier on the mountain. It’s that stuff about the cross that leaves most of us cold.

Lent, we take the 40-day journey with Jesus to the cross. On the way, before the journey’s end, we’ll hear stories of Jesus facing opposition, resistance, cruelty, and death. And Jesus points to us and says, “You’re coming with me.”

Maybe you’re all ready there, down in the valley, waiting for him. Maybe someone you love has been in the valley for so long that you really don’t believe there is a way back out. And even if there were a way, you don’t know if you can find the strength to pull yourself out, much less believe you can climb any mountain.

That’s why Jesus asks the rest of us to be the mountain for you.

There is a character in one of Iris Murdock’s novels that that says, “Saints are those who are able to absorb evil without passing it on.” Just like Jesus. Someone else said that saints are those who, like windows in the church, some of the glory of God shines through.

And I don’t think they mean Saints – capital S – I think they mean us little saints, those who have been called by God through the waters of baptism to be light for the world, to shine in the dark places, to glow with the love of God for all who are brokenhearted and need God’s healing.

I think God is asking us to be mountaintops shining into valleys, so you will shine God’s love and glory upon everyone you meet. God is asking us to blaze like the sun when the lives of those around us go cold.

It is my prayer that you will shine, that you will so manifest the love and power of God, that people are around will say, “It’s good for us to be here.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sermon: Lent 4 - Year B

I have uber-sensitive teeth. Despite all my brushing and flossing, hot coffee and cold water become my own personal torture chambers.

So, my quarterly trip to the dentist feels like a date with the Russian mob, to whom I owe a month’s salary. I don’t know what’s worse, the digging into my gums with a sharp metal hook, or the needle the size of pruning shears they jab into my jaw to freeze it - to stop the pain.

And when I’m done, the dental assistant looks just as traumatized as I feel.

While dental work has its own unique discomforts, at least we know what to expect, and we know it’ll all be over and done with by the length of a Simpsons’ episode, life itself doesn’t promise an end when pain and suffering intrude in our lives.

But the question for me is, Can pain, somehow, be redemptive? Can it have meaning beyond the present torment or heartache?

“For God...(whole thing here)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How to lose friends and alienate countries


On a day when we lost four soldiers. Astounding.

UPDATE: Fox apologizes.

UPDATE II Apparently some Canadians think such mockery of Canada just after losing four soldiers is just fine, and we look "stupid" for getting angry.

Lenten Reading Mark 8: 27-38

Mark 8: 27-38

Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me.”

Not pain for pain’s sake. But the consequence of believing a different story than the one our cultural tells. The story that we are not in change of the world or our lives, but that God is. The story that says that person’s worth is not decided by how much money he makes or how by how much stuff is in her garage, or by how smart they are, but by how much they loved and served others the way Jesus loved and served.

That’s Jesus’ story, and the story he calls us into.

A baptist church in Atlanta decided that there were going to live that story. The looked around and saw that there were enough generic, megachurches, in the city, and so they were going to be different.

They weren’t going to worry about growing, there wasn’t going to be a high-profile marketing campaign, they weren’t going to pay people $100 to attend church like one of their church neighbours did, they weren’t going to auction off a Porsche on Easter Sunday like another church did, they weren’t going to hire a professional rock band to lead the singing. They were simply going to live as Jesus asked them to live.

They were going to follow the way of the cross. They were going to be servants to the community and tell them Jesus’ story.

They organized a food pantry that grew into a food bank. They handed out sandwiches and coffee to homeless people and prostitutes. They prayed for their neighborhood, not that people would come to church, but that a woman’s cancer would be healed, that the guy next door would find a job, that the boy from down the street would be kept safe while serving in Afghanistan.

They marched against racism and child poverty. They advocated for abused women. They challenged gangs in their neighbourhoods.

And soon folks started coming to their church. They formed membership classes where the faith was explained and expectations were outlined. If you were healthy and in town on Sunday, then you were at church. No exceptions. You had to join a small group. You had to help out in one of the church’s ministries. And you had to tithe 10% of your income. No tourists allowed.

“They crazy thing is,” the pastor said, “people did it- joyfully! We grew despite all the expectations we threw at people. The more expectations, the more we grew. I guess people aren’t just looking for a Sunday morning fix. It looks like folks are hungering for the real thing. ”

Of course, the danger is that Christianity can then be seen and experienced as a bunch of tasks and obligations, do’s and don’ts, rather that living in God’s forgiveness and love. But one thing I found fascinating about that church was that they didn’t specifically worry about growth, they worried about living the way Jesus asked them to live.

But did they invite people to church? Absolutely. Did they work hard at sharing Jesus’ message of new life with their neighbours? Definitely. Did they love their neighbours’ with Jesus’ love? Undoubtedly.

And they did more than that. They called people into a story that wasn’t of their own telling, a story they couldn’t make up for themselves. They called people into a story that went beyond themselves, beyond their consumer needs, beyond their petty hungers and desires. A story that asks them to die, so that they may rise again with new eyes and a new heart. A story that says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Lenten Reading Mark 8: 14-26

Mark 8: 14-26

It’s not always easy to see God in action, is it? “Do you still not understand?” Jesus asks, bluntly?

No, actually, we don’t. We don’t see God at work, even if its happening right in front of our faces. I don’t know about you but often I need some distance before I recognize what God was doing.

Looking back at my childhood, I can see God’s fingerprints all over what was, at the time, just life unfolding. My musical involvement, the seminary I ended up at, the woman sitting at the table who became my wife. Through all of these events God led me down a jagged path to where I am now.

That doesn’t mean that I’m a fatalist, and neither is God. But it does mean that God is - somehow - involved in our lives whether we notice it or not.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 8: 1-13

Mark 8: 1-13

Haven’t we already been here once? It seems odd that Mark would include yet ANOTHER feeding of a multitude story. But here it is. The feeding of the 4000. Not quite the 5000 as from chapter 6 (vv. 30-44), but still, impressive.

I think the key to understanding this feeding story is found in verses 11-13 when the pharisees don’t quite get what Jesus just did. Even after feeding 4000 men (the 4000 does not include women and children), with just a few loves of bread and a couple fish, they still ask for a sign that Jesus is who people say he is. They’re checking up on him.

I don’t blame them. As a religious leader I’m always concerned with preachers who’re more interested in lining their own pockets and building their own empires than in preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Slick tongued preachers were as numerous then as they are today. The pharisees were simply looking after the people under their care.

And maybe that’s why the pharisees kept asking for signs. They wanted to be absolutely clear that Jesus was the real deal. They didn’t want anyone being hurt by harmful teaching.

But, Jesus, on the receiving end of these questions is understandably perturbed. Even saddened by the pharisees. He refuses them a sign and takes the next boat out of town.

I think the questions the pharisees are the same questions people have today of Jesus: Are you really who people say you are? Are you really from God?

These are questions that no sign can answer. Only a liberating encounter with God’s only Son can answer the great questions of God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 7: 31-37

Mark 7: 31-37

Again, Jesus didn’t want people to know about the miracles he was performing. You’d think he’d catch on; the more he demanded his miracles be kept secret, the more people wanted to tell everyone what they’d seen.

I think Jesus didn’t want people to know that he was a miracle-worker because he didn’t want to become a circus freak. He wanted to point people to God, not to the cool tricks he could perform. Jesus wanted to show people how much God loved them, not that God can and does change the laws of nature on a whim.

He was afraid that people would focus on the wrong things. And it turns out, he was right.

For many Christians, God becomes an errand-boy, sent off to fetch anything their consumerist mindset demands; that God’s only job is to make us healthy, safe, and self-satisfied. God’s job is to meet our selfish needs.

But, in Mark, Jesus’ job is to save us - and the world - from our sins, to re-start creation, to free people from their bondage so they can live more fully in service to God and neighbour.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dudamel's Mahler

This kid rocks. One of the best Mahler 1sts I've heard in a long time.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Lenten Reading Mark 7: 1-30

Mark 7: 1-30

Personally, I don’t see the problem. Isn’t it just good hygiene to wash your hands before eating, as well as cleaning your dirty pots and pans? For the sake of keeping the flu contained, I think Jesus would be on board.

I guess the problem here was the religious leaders elevating such practices to the level of religious obligation. “If it was good enough for Moses, it’s good enough for me.” No need to change.

But Jesus wasn’t interesting human traditions taking the place of a vibrant faith life. In fact, there were so many obligation heaped up on people under the guise of moral imperatives that some forgot who and what these practices were for.

I think we do the same thing as 21st century Christians. We tend to baptize established practices and call it “tradition.” We don’t like singing new songs. Newer forms of worship make us uncomfortable. We believe our organizational structures fell from heaven. We don’t like change.

Some have said that the church is the most conservative organization on the planet. That may be true. It might be because we look back 2000+ years to find our defining story. But we forget that the old, old, story creates, new, new, people, and a new, new heaven and earth. Our faith may be rooted in an ancient message, but it’s just as rooted in the future, God’s future.

So, I think this story is asking is to thinking about what traditions are getting in the way of our proclamation, and resist a change because we don't like change itself, not because the idea is bad.

And what practices enhance our message of new life in Jesus. That's a hard distinction. But one I think we need to make.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 6:30-56

Mark 6: 30-56

English theologian NT Wright on Jesus feeding the 5000 then walking on the water,

“...For generations people have supposed that walking on water is offered as evidence of Jesus’ ‘divinity’ (as opposed to being hungry, sad, or, thirsty, which is supposedly evidence of his ‘humanity’). It’s not as straightforward as that.

‘When Mark draws the veil aside in chapter 8...the conclusion is not that Jesus is divine, but that he is Messiah. True, Mark will point beyond that to deeper truths as well; but at the moment this is where the story is going. Somehow the remarkable things Jesus is doing point, in Mark’s mind at least, to the truth that Jesus is truly the human one, Israel’s Lord, who is to be the world’s Lord, anticipating in his rule over wind and wave, over bread and fish, the sovereignty that Israel believed would have over the whole world. When the New Testament writers want to tell us that Jesus is in some sense divine, this is not something to be set apart from hunger, thirst, fear, sorrow, and death itself, but found mysteriously in the middle of them all. What we see now is his genuine humanness; this is the authority that humans were supposed to have over the natural world, and lost - forever, it had seemed - with sin and death” Mark for Everyone, pp. 83-84)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 6:14-29

Mark 6: 14-29

Herod understood the resurrection. Sort of. He was afraid that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. After all, if Jesus could perform all sorts of miracles. Perhaps being raised from the dead was one of them (which, of course, it was. But later.)

But John was punished for speaking the truth. The truth about the morality of Herod’s incestuous relationship with his wife. John demanded moral leadership from the offical king of Israel; but what he got instead was the temper tantrum of a queen scorned.

I think we have to be careful with texts like these. I know too many preachers who use John the Baptist as their model. Fire-breathing, angry, moralistic preachers who prefer to condemn sin rather than forgive sinners. I know too many Christians who see the faith as a bunch of “do’s and don’ts” rather than living in God’s grace through Jesus.

It’s not that I think Christians don’t have a role to play in public morality. Quite the opposite. But like John, Jesus, and the prophets, our job is to point to a different reality - God’s reality - and call people into it. A reality of justice, love, compassion, peace, and forgiveness.

After all, John baptized people to give them a new start. Jesus died and rose again so that people and the world would be re-newed. That’s the vision that God has for us. That’s why John was executed.

Lenten Reading Mark 6:1-13

Mark 6: 1-13

The first time I preached at my home church, people didn’t know what to make of me. They remembered the little boy who played Joseph in the Christmas play, who refused to walk arm-in-arm with the little blond girl playing Mary. They remember the kid who banged his teeth against the railing and the blood that coiled around the drain. They remembered the teenager who disappeared from church as soon as he the confirmation classes droned to their principled end.

They didn’t remember someone in a clerical collar and big white robe; having the temerity to speak for God.

People had memories of Jesus as a little boy, too. And healing diseases and casting put demons weren’t part of the shared memory. Mark says that Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief” (6: 6), but I’m guessing they were equally amazed at him.

But maybe Jesus remembered something about them that they had forgotten. After all, he grew up with them, prayed, learned, and worked with them. Maybe he remembered how faithful they were, and how important they were in shaping the man who he grew up to be.

And now, they couldn’t see beyond their own memories to see what God is doing among them.

What is keeping you from seeing God kingdom growing around you?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 5: 21-43

Mark 5: 21-43

I don’t know about you, but ever since I became a dad, almost eight years ago, I’ve become more sensitive to children’s suffering. Some say that when you become a parent, you become a parent to all children everywhere. I know that's true for me. Whenever S or N get a fever, I worry. Whenever I see pictures of young children hungry or abused, I get angry.

So, I think I know why Jesus was like a man on a mission when he heard a little girl from the local synagogue was sick and dying at home. And why he dropped everything and ran to find her.

Along the way, a woman who’d been bleeding for 12 years – 12 years! – grabs his cloak, hoping, believing, praying, that she could be healed without any attention being drawn to her. After all, if anyone knew her condition, she could get in a lot of trouble.

She wasn’t supposed to be in public, let alone touch any one. The bible was crystal clear. Women with her condition were “unclean.” Those she touched were then “unclean.” And if she was caught making others unclean, there would be consequences. Terrible consequences. The book of Leviticus was unambiguous.

So, she reached through the crowd and touched his cloak. Good News: she’s healed. Bad news: Jesus stopped cold. She knew that he knew that she touched him. Now, she was in big, BIG trouble.

“WHO. TOUCHED. ME!?” Jesus roars.

Silence. All eyes descended on this newly healed, terrified woman, cowering at Jesus’ feet.

She hoped that her death would be quick and painless. But they would probably bury her to the waist, and then throw rocks at her until she was dead. Her fear gripped her so hard she could barely breathe.

Here was a great teacher who knew the bible inside and out, so he knew that she broke God’s law.

But instead, he looked in her eyes, and with gentle love and calm compassion said, “Daughter, you faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

He knew who she was and what she had done. So did everyone else. Some grumbled about how he completely disregarded clear biblical teaching. But others saw his compassion and love was really what bible teaching was all about. Still others saw that in her willingness to claim God’s love for herself, she taught them all a bigger vision of God’s justice and how God wants to gather all people. There were two teachers there.

Meanwhile, back at the house, the news was not good. This was every parent’s worst nightmare. The child was dead.

“Thank you, Jesus, but your services are no longer required.”

“She’s not dead, she’s just sleeping,” Jesus says.

Some preachers just don’t know when to shut up, do they?

“At least let me see the girl,” Jesus says.

Taking with him her parents and his inner-circle, Jesus took her hand and said, “Talitha cum,” or “Little girl, get up.”

Her eyes opened, and she got up out of bed.

It’s a wonderful story, I think. It says that people were amazed by his ability to heal and raise the dead. To anyone’s eyes, these were deeds of tremendous power.

But to God’s eyes, these were acts of love, not all that different from the dad asking Jesus’ help or the woman grabbing Jesus’ cloak. Jesus talked about faith being the great healer. But I wonder if faith is less about strong belief and more an act of desperation.

The dad hunted the city looking for Jesus and the woman fought her way through the crowd, their faith was the result of being at the end of their ropes, of wanting something – anything – to happen. There was nothing else they could do. Jesus saw their hurt, and he responded with love.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 5:1-20

Mark 5: 1-20

OOPS! It looks like I made a teeny-weeny mistake when I suggested you finish reading at verse 13. The story of the Gerasene Demoniac concludes at verse 20. My bad.

No that we’ve gotten that out of the way, does it seem strange to you that no advocates for pig farmers in this story? I’m guessing that’s because pigs were considered filthy creatures (they do, after all, like to roll around in their own crapulence), and Jews were forbidden to eat them.

However, this wasn’t a Jewish area (why would there be pig farmers working on Jewish land?). Also, this man, living on Gentile land, foaming at the mouth, howling at the moon, and living in the cemetery was doubly unclean, since graveyards were considered unclean.

Some say that the man represented Israel being overcome by the evil forces of the Roman empire. Other suggest that the man represents the evil of sin and death that keeps us in bondage.

Maybe its both. “At the climax of Mark’s story Jesus himself will end up naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as he is torn apart on the cross by the standard Roman torture, his flesh torn to ribbons by the small stones in the Roman lash. And that, Mark is saying, will be how the demons are dealt with. That is how healing takes place. Jesus is coming to share the plight of his people, to let the enemy do the worst to him, to take the full force of evil on himself and let the others go free.

“This story shows that underneath the pain and injustice of political enslavement there is a spiritual battle. Leave that out and you simply go round the endless cycle of violence and counter-violence. Mark see Jesus’ kingdom-movement, which reached its climax in his death, as the means by which all earthly powers are brought to heel, even though the messengers of the kingdom may suffer in the process. Those who follow Jesus are now to put into practice the victory he achieved” (NT Wright, Mark for Everyone).

How are you putting into practice the victory Jesus has achieved for you?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 4: 26-41

Mark 4: 26-41

The first section marks the end of Jesus’ first sermon in this gospel. He concludes with a couple of sower and seed stories that folks would have immediately connected with, given the rural, farming audience.

Jesus talks about the growing seed getting ready for the harvest, and the mustard seed - the smallest of all seeds - growing into a bush, feeding birds and giving shade.

People would have realized that the harvest that Jesus was talking about was the day of abundance that God was going to provide. People were struggling to feed themselves, were taxed beyond their ability to make a living, and often saw their children enslaved to pay Caesar what was owed. They were angry at God and at the Romans.

Some Jews tucked themselves away to devote their time to prayer (The Essenes) as a way of resisting the Romans. Others banded together as a violent revolutionary force in effort to oust the Roman occupiers. Jesus had a different, but no less revolutionary method for dealing with the Roman oppressors.

The small seed will be “raised up” implying that the mighty will be cast down. “‘The way of the sower’ will...be revealed as the way of nonviolence: servanthood becomes leadership, suffering becomes triumph, death becomes life. The lesson of the ‘unknowing farmer’ is that the means of the kingdom must never be compromised by attempting to manipulate the ends” (Myers, p. 181).

Jesus’ revolutionary organic way of resisting the powers of the world is hard. It doesn’t make sense. When we see injustice we want to do something about it NOW! We don’t want to wait for the seed to grow.

But Jesus is saying that the who we are is reflected in what we do. We are being asked to live the future that God has planned for us. Not to allow the destructive policies of principalities and powers that govern the world to determine how we live. But that God’s way of love and forgiveness may seem like weakness. But, in fact, is the strongest force the world has seen.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 4:1-25

Mark 4: 1- 25

The parable of the sower is a retelling of the story of Israel, specifically about Israel’s exile and return. “Israel’s [God] is acting, sowing his prophetic word with a view to restoring his people, but much of the seed will go to waste, will remain in ‘exillic’ condition, being eaten by birds (satanic forces, or perhaps predatory Gentiles) or lost among the rocks and thorn of the exilic wilderness. The eventual harvest, though, will be great. We are not far from Jesus’ story about the great banquet. The party will go ahead, and the house will be full, but the original guests will not be there. Judgment and mercy are taking place together” (NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 234).

Lenten Reading Mark 3:20-31

Mark 3: 20-31

Jesus arrives home and people won’t leave him alone. His family thought Jesus was crazy and tried to have him locked up for his own protection. And their fear wasn’t without merit. Along comes the scribes accusing him of having a demon (Beelebul meaning “Lord of the Dwelling”).

Jesus bursts out with a “parable,” ”How can Satan drive out Satan. If a kingdom if divided against itself it cannot stand...no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house will be plundered!”

So Jesus was clearly talking about an an adversarial approach to dealing with evil. But what the scribes may or may not noticed was that Jesus wasn’t necessarily talking about demons, but was talking about THEM.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin - for they had said ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”

They had given Satan credit for the work that God had done. And as Uruguayan theologian Juan Luis Segundo points out:

“The blasphemy resulting from bad apologetics [defense of what God has done] will always be pardonable...What is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation [illustrated in the man healed of an unclean spirit] into something odious. The real sin against the Holy Spirit is refusing top recognize, with ‘theological’ joy, some concrete liberation that is taking place before one’s very eyes.”

Which is what happened with the scribes. “Thus by the end of his defense, Jesus has turned the tables completely upon his opponents; it is they who are aligned against God’s purposes” Myers p. 167).

So, this passage digs Jesus’ conflict with some of the religious deeper, as he reinterprets religious authority. His relationship to official religion become more tense as he goes along.

Lenten Reading Mark 3:13-19

Mark 3:13-19

“Jesus went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13).

This was no ordinary mountain and Jesus’ climb was no ordinary act. He wasn’t getting away on a mountain retreat with his buddies. Those who knew their scriptures would have immediately remembered in Exodus when Moses went up Mount Sinai to hear from God, and where God then gave Moses the Law, which provided the fledging, struggling Israel, a basis upon which they built a nation.

So here, Jesus was putting himself in Moses’ place. And instead of the 12 tribes of Israel carrying out God’s sacred mandate, Jesus calls twelve disciples who were given God’s authority to confront evil and bring God’s healing to the world; a “New Sinai.”

One bible commentator says that Jesus was creating a sort of “alternative government,” “government in exile,” or “community of resistance” (Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man) where Jesus sought to replace the corrupt religious system that enabled the Roman Empire to oppress the people of Israel.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sermon: Lent 2 - Year B

I had a professor in seminary who said that if your church is growing the first question you need to ask is “What are we doing wrong?”

He’s not alone. I’ve noticed that, within Lutheranism, growing churches are met with suspicion, envy, or outright hostility.

“They must be soft peddling Jesus’ hard message,” they would say. “Any church that’s growing must be catering to peoples’ selfish, consumer demands rather than calling them to the hard road that Jesus walked.”

Pope Benedict would agree. He predicts that the worldwide Catholic population will be significantly smaller in the next century than it is today. He says that the Catholic Church will be smaller, but stronger. The deadwood will be discarded, spiritual tourists will be ushered off the bus. Only the committed core will remain.

Hypocrisy alert! I’ve made that same...(the whole thing here)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 3:1-12

Mark 3:1-12

Verses one to six of chapter three seem to really connect with the final verses of chapter two, in that the questions posed to Jesus seem to unpack the run-in with the Pharisees over his rather liberal interpretation of sabbath-keeping.

If were back then I probably would have sided with the pharisees. When Jesus stuck his finger in their sabbath-affirming eyes, he was, in fact, committing treason, AND bordering on blasphemy.

The sabbath wasn’t just a day off and Jesus wasn’t just thumbing his nose Jewish law. The sabbath, for Jews then and now, is a foretaste of the Great Day of Rest when God will liberate Israel from their pagan oppressors. The sabbath looked back to the beginning of creation when God rested on the seventh day, and marked their liberation from Egypt, the event that made them a nation. So, the sabbath wasn’t just a good idea, it had deep historical roots and resonances of faith.

Which is why Jesus’ behaviour and attitude is so puzzling. Yes, he heals the man with the withered hand, but he must have understood why the pharisees reacted the way they did. Calling the religious leaders “hard-hearted” must have seen irrational when all they were trying to do was protect their faith from foreign incursions. If all they had left was their religious practices, it looked like Jesus was trampling all over what they were trying to preserve.

But I think maybe a better term for the pharisees would be “short-sighted” rather than “hard-hearted.” By performing a healing on the sabbath Jesus was enacting that Great Day of Rest when Israel and the world would be healed from sin and tyranny, and repaired from all its brokenness. They Day when God’s reign of justice, peace, and freedom covers all of creation.

So, maybe, the best time for healing might actually be on sabbath, when we look forward to the Day when God heals the world’s wounds.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 2: 23-28

Mark 2:23-28

It’s easy to look down on the Pharisees. The way they’re portrayed in the gospels make them seem like they’re more interested in keeping every little jot and tittle of the law, down to the fine print, rather than being mediators of God’s love.

But we forget that the Pharisees were trying to hold on to a faith that was quickly disappearing. To be Jewish was to obey the Jewish law. Judaism wasn’t as much a belief system, as it was system of practices. And those practices were codified in the Law.

Take today’s reading for example. It was the sabbath and the disciples were hungry. So, they picked some grain to chew on. The Pharisees rightly noted that such behaviour was contrary to the traditional Jewish understanding of sabbath-keeping.

But Jesus took it to a new level, invoking the story of David and his friends who ate the holy bread of the “house of God” to calm their grumbling bellies. This is the story of when David (anointed by Samuel but not yet enthroned) and hiding from King Saul, and waiting for his time to come. By making this comparison, Jesus is comparing himself to David, a king whose time has not yet come.

As theologian NT Wright points out, “He therefore has the right, when he and his people are hungry, to by-pass the normal regulations. In other words, this kind of sabbath-breaking, so far from being an act of casual or wanton civil disobedience, is a deliberate sign, like the refusal to fast [see Mk 2: 18-22]: a sign that the King is here, that the kingdom is breaking in, that instead of waiting for the old creation to come to its point of rest the new creation is bursting upon the old world” (Mark for Everyone, pp. 27-28).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 2: 13-22

Today's Reading

One job I would HATE is to be the one to hand out parking tickets. Can there be any more thankless job? Being yelled at, cursed, or threatened is not my idea of job fulfillment.

But that’s the life that Levi had as a tax collector. I’m guessing that was the only job he could find. Also, we probably made good money on it. Tax collectors had a habit of over charging people and pocketing the difference for themselves.

Plus, he was collecting taxes for the Roman empire who had taken over their land, and executed a generation of young men. Levi was aiding the enemy.

So, here comes Jesus. He didn’t shout. He didn’t swear at him. He simply called Levi out the life that was hurting people - and himself. Jesus’ love transformed the most hated man in town into a disciple.

Not everyone was pleased. Especially not the other disciples. But Jesus explained that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who sick. I’ve not come to call the righteous, but the unrighteous.”

And who among us doesn’t need what Jesus came to give?


via WarrenK

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 2:1-12

I notice a few things about today’s reading (Mark 2:1-12):

1. It was probably Jesus’ house that got its roof ripped open. The text says, “When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for the at the door” (vv.1-2).

2. Jesus equates healing and forgiveness. So often, some churches are accused of downplaying sin and emphasizing brokenness. In the paralyzed man, Jesus doesn’t make a distinction. That doesn’t mean that he sees physical infirmities as sinful, but sin, disease, and suffering are part of life in a fallen world, a world he came to redeem and set free.

3. In forgiving the man’s sins and thereby healing him, Jesus takes the place of the temple, where officially recognized forgiveness happened. The paralyzed man’s friends brought him to Jesus instead of the temple like most other Jews would have. And for Jesus to forgive the man’s sins was to put himself in the place of, not just the temple priests who mediated between God and the people, but God as well. Jesus wasn’t properly “credentialed” to forgive sins. This would be like me handing out drivers licenses. I’m simply not authorized to do so. But Jesus took on - embodied - the temple’s authority, therefore replacing the temple in himself. And in so doing, made God’s love and healing available to all.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sermon: Lent 1 - Year B

What are you giving up for Lent? That’s the question of the day, isn’t it? What you’re giving up to share in Jesus’ 40 day desert fast?

That’s where the whole “giving something up” thing comes from. Folks read the story in today’s gospel about Jesus going into the desert to fast for 40 days and thought that it might be a good way for us to find ourselves in his story by fasting for the 40 days of Lent.

But, of course, not everyone’s going to book 6 weeks off work to go sit on a rock in the woods and pray. People aren’t going to go without creature comforts, much less bare necessities for a month and a half. In fact, if you did I’m sure your family would invite those nice young men in those clean white coats over while you sing “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha.”

So, Christians, through the centuries, did what we did to most church rituals that made us look crazy or caused discomfort: we house-trained it. At first it was no food on Fridays and Wednesdays. Then it morphed into no MEAT on Fridays and Wednesdays. But then came the Wednesday night chicken wing special and folks said, well, maybe we’ll just have meat-free Fridays. Now...?

Now...people...(whole thing here)