Man in Black

A Sermon For the 2nd Sunday in Lent: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38 

Ashton is home. It seems as if everything went right; 18 local, county, state, Federal and private agencies all worked together to bring Aston safely home (Courier News). At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 17 people died and 14 more wounded in a mass shooting. Yes, there were acts of heroism, a coach, some teachers, a janitor, and three Jr. ROTC students all acted to save others, some were injured, and some died because of their actions (Chavez). But overall it seems as if nothing went right. An armed officer on site did not enter the building. Multiple agencies FBI, Sheriff’s office, school officials, and mental health professionals missed opportunities to intervene. Nikolas Cruz’s story looks very different when you have all these stories together. But no one did ahead of time, and we don’t know if there is any way to share information from various sources.

Ashton’s is a story where so much goes right. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting is a story where so much goes wrong. Both call us to John’s Gospel story of the man born blind, in which Jesus says something like No one sinned. This man was born blind. Now is the time to work the work God has given us to work. What is that work? Let’s see what Jesus, through Mark, has to teach us.

This morning we heard a story of Jesus teaching the disciples about him being the Messiah He calls himself ‘the son of man’. Both terms carry significant cultural and religious implications. The vision of Israel’s savior ascending to the divine throne found in Daniel (7:13) provides a framework for understanding Jesus as the son of man, Israel’s messiah (Perkins). While what Jesus says comes to be, he is not predicting the future so much as he is teaching the disciples the hard truth of discipleship, because how elders, the chief priests, and the scribes treat Jesus indicates the challenges Jesus’ disciples will face.

Jesus also teaches the crowd about being a disciple or follower. The suffering involved with carrying their cross is not the consequences of personal tragedy, it the consequences of behaving as Jesus teaches, or the consequences of proclaiming the gospel into the face of empire, in any of its many forms. Carrying our cross also means recognizing Christ crucified in the suffering world around us (Jolly). The disciples do not want to hear this, the crowd does not want to hear this, we do not want to hear this. In Jesus day, honor and shame preoccupy society. Jesus, contrary to anybody would think,  is associating honor with faithfulness to God (Gaventa and Petersen). Jesus’ suffering, our suffering, in picking up our cross, comes out of such faithfulness seen in obedience to God’s call. This suffering is necessary, it is grounded in God and cannot be avoided, it is a central teaching, a central characteristic of discipleship. Danger from our testimony to the truth of the gospel is not limited to situations in which witnessing to the gospel brings physical danger. It also includes negative religious, social, political, and economic consequences. None of our social, ethical, philosophical, political, or economic standards can explain the necessity of such a commitment. A commitment to carry our cross can only be grounded in the willingness to trust God, and God alone (Perkins).

This suffering may not belong to us; it may come from be willing to embrace the pain of others. Not to explain it, not to simply seek to comfort it, not to fit it into some larger plan but to embrace it, accept it as our own because we trust that God is in the midst of our and in the midst of our neighbors’ brokenness. Jesus’ healing and feeding miracles and his compassion for individuals and the crowds tells us that human suffering it not a divine desire (Perkins). But we know, in our heads and in our hearts, and in our experience, that everyone knows suffering, brokenness, abandonment, betrayal, loss, death, or oppression (Lose). The biblical call to follow Jesus’ cross is a call to a vocation to a never-ending struggle (Black). Johnny Cash sang it true

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go, (Cash).

Jesus’ disciples expected to follow him to the kingdom, not to martyrdom (Keener and Walton). They are looking for a savvy political – military leader to put the Romans in their place (Jolly). It is not what they are hearing. So, we get why Peter takes Jesus aside. Mark frames it as a bit over the top by using the verb “rebuke” (ἐπιτιμάω epitimaō) which is also used to silence demons (Perkins). Socially, to openly challenge your teacher, as Peter does,  is a serious breach of behavior  (Keener and Walton). In challenging Jesus, Peter is claiming for himself authority that is not his to use and is, in fact, devilish (Black). His over the top inappropriate behavior comes from Peter’s confusion; how can Jesus make anyone’s life better by having his own life end? It just doesn’t make sense, didn’t then, doesn’t now (Hoezee). In three short verses we see that Peter and the disciples are beginning to understand that the God they want is not the God they are coming to know in Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah,  the Christ (Jolly). Peter’s rebuke reflects his and the disciples desire to follow their vision of Israel’s messianic savior, and (perhaps more deeply) their fear of suffering (Perkins).

If we can step back, just a bit, we might honestly see how we respond to Jesus’ teaching with similar shock and denial. First of all, there is no way our convention leaders, or bishops, or vestry would betray, torment, reject, and kill Jesus. Right? And there is no way, just no way, that our social, political, or business leaders would either; couldn’t be. But a way we might, no a way we have, is to take Jesus’ suffering out of its biblical context, cast it on to some others’ suffering, call it God’s will, and then say that they should not work against their oppression, and we are not called to stand with them in opposition to their behavior. This has been and continues to be damaging to women, LGBTQ persons, immigrants, and third world populations (Harrelson). “In our ‘pain-killer’ culture, a balanced understanding of suffering is difficult to achieve” (Perkins). We continue to rebuke the call of the cross and refuse to enter into the suffering of others. We are still confused; we know that God/Jesus can control cosmic forces. It continually confounds us that Jesus’ permits the enemies who wish to destroy him to succeed (Perkins). Like Peter, part of our confusion and reluctance to follow as called is grounded in our fear of suffering.

The version of lentil soup and what are we selling our Christian birthright for this week are found within the realm of ethics. We tend to think of ethics as making the right decision and taking the right action. It is as this level that the difference between Aston’s and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting stories are so very different. Aston’s story where so many right decisions and right actions result in a happy ending as opposed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where so many wrong decisions and wrong actions resulted in horrific tragedy are contrasting stories of good and poor ethics; good and poor decision making, good and poor actions.

However, there is more to ethics than front line decision making. There is the need to examine the background to understand what allowed the event to occur and make the faith, religious, social, political, and economic changes necessary to ensure that it will not happened again. Or as Johnny Cash sings But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right. The backgrounds to both stories require close examination. Ashton’s might include to learn how a bad actor half way across the country can make contact with a vulnerable teen / young adult and lure them into danger and put a stop to it. This could very well include changes to the freewheeling nature of social media. We think healthcare is hard to change, try that one. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting back ground appears to already be fiercely underway, in the debates of tighter gun sales regulations and examinations and treatment of those with mental illness. Both are complicated by themselves, but they are more complicated by not impinging on the freedom of many for the dangers caused by the actions of a few. They are worthy and necessary debates. However, both debates have deeper back stories that need examination, and corrective decisions made. I suspect they will be far more difficult because I am seeing how they involve the challenge the disciples and Peter face with Jesus’ revelation of his betrayal, suffering, rejection, and death which results from placing human things above divine things, such as valuing money more than each other as images of God.

If we insist on holding onto this life, of seeking solutions to life’s difficulties by grabbing still more of that same life, then Johnny Cash will forever be the Man in Black. But if we are willing to let go, to release our fierce grip on our own egos – and on the life we hope will boost and bolster that ego; if we can just die along with Jesus, then we can get behind Jesus as a disciple and then with Johnny don that rainbowed suit of white that tells the world that everything’s OK (Cash).


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 25 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Cash, Johnny. “www.google.com/search Johnny Cash Man in Balck.” n.d. /www.google.com. BMG Rights Management US, LLC. 25 2 2018. <https://www.google.com/search?ei=WJqRWt_FJofVzwLhw4igBQ&q=Johnny+cash+man+in+black&oq=Johnny+cash+man+in+black&gs_l=psy-ab.3..35i39k1j0l2j0i67k1j0l6.55168.57590.0.59045.8.8.0.0.0.0.178.783.2j5.7.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.4.483…0i20i264k1.0.6PLirbgPoRs>.

Chavez, Nicole. “These are the heroes of the Florida school shooting.” 17 2 2018. CNN.com. < https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/17/us/florida-school-shooting-heroes/index.html)>.

Courier News. “Talley found safe in Washington; two in custody.” 23 2 2018. http://www.blythevillecourier.com. <https://www.blythevillecourier.com/story/2487905.html&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 8:31-38. 25 2 2018.

Jolly, Marshall A. “More Than Fixing, Lent 2.” 25 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lose, David. Lent 2 B: Take Up Your Cross. 25 2 2018.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. Abraham’s Faith. 25 2 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

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Avoidance

A Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent; Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15

Ash Wednesday, we explored the story of Esau selling his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of “red stuff” or lentil stew. We asked how lentil stew is present in our lives? We asked what have we sold our Christian birth-right for? We will continue exploring these questions throughout Lent, by looking at three things in each gospel reading: What is Jesus doing in the Gospel? How do the disciples, the people, and/or the authorities react? How do we ~ you react?

This morning we go back to the verses the follow Jesus baptism. We heard Mark’s version of Jesus being driven into the wilderness. There is none of the familiar back and forth between Satan and Jesus, there is just Jesus, 40 days of temptation, the wild animals, and the angels. After that Jesus comes to Galilee preaching ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ Mark 1:15 (Olive Tree).

Beyond his words, it doesn’t appear that Jesus has or is doing anything. However, Jesus’ ministry is closely connected to John’s ministry. And John was very good at his job of pointing to Jesus. People were coming from all over the place to hear him. And John is always clear he is not the messiah. And then Jesus shows up (Johnson). And anyone could see, everyone could see, that Jesus is different, Jesus ~ is the one John has been talking about.

John’s arrest is not caused by Jesus’ appearance. However, from a story telling standpoint, it is an effective way for John to leave the stage to Jesus.

There are also the details of Jesus’ language. The word for time is not clock time, it means the right time, i.e. now is the right time. It references the Hebrew prophecies of God’s kingdom. The word ‘kingdom’ means ‘reign’ (Keener and Walton). Jesus is announcing the arrival of God as the undisputed King over all people and all creation (Harrelson). Another clue is that the verbs indicate that his action is continuing in Mark’s time and into the present time (Harrelson). There is no doubt Jesus is intruding, bringing God’s judgement into the present both then and now (Black). To prepare for such judgement, people are called to make a radical turn and trust only in God, and no longer rely on worldly insurance policies of social, political or religious institutions (Perkins). All together it is a challenge to both existing ruling parties in Israel, the Jewish Temple, and religious authorities and the Roman Empire.

Now we have a glimpse of what Jesus is doing. What about the responses? Although the timing is before Jesus wilderness adventure and preaching, John’s arrest reveals the response of the authorities. If John is arrested simply for pointing out the messiah, we can imagine their response to the one who is the messiah. At least Herod Antipas, the local representative of Roman authorities, is a threat to Jesus.

So far, we have explored how Jesus preaching the Gospel of the presence of the Kingdom of God and we see how that attracts the active ire of the Roman authorities in John’s arrest. What about our response to the intrusive presence of God.

Last Monday David Brook’s column explored the world of the early 90s. Then it was all very good news. There was the reunification of Germany, the liberation of Central Europe, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the Oslo peace process. It was a time of abundance. But, there was outlier event, the breakup of Yugoslavia along simmering nationalist loyalties. Brooks see this as an indicator of our times in which we experience the financial crisis, a shrinking middle class, the unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – spreading to Syria, Yemen, and beyond and how limited resources lead to conflict (Brooks). The shooting in Florida on Wednesday brings the violent nature of American society once again into the lime light. The Senate’s failure to pass any of the 4 immigration bills on Thursday indicates our political and social inability to make hard decisions. Both are a response of a culture of scarcity, whatever it is, there isn’t enough of it, so I/we will do whatever it takes to keep what is mine, and deny whoever, whatever is in the way.

And the lentil soup? Well, I am wondering if there are two bowls of lentil soup. In the 90s we came to believe we could overcome evil on our own (Lewis). Bruce Epperly wrote

Mysticism alone cannot guide our vocational path. Jesus needs to ground his mystical encounters in prayer, meditation, and fasting (Epperly).

Even though the world was moving in a direction we, the US, and the western world, favored, the powers at be still wanted to stay in the reality they knew and (believed they) controlled. The 90s form of lentil soup was the illusion of earthly power and control. We neglected the necessity of the Gospel of the reign of God. The current form of lentil soup is whatever the current the populist talisman against sacristy happens to be, nationalism, white power, gun control, universal healthcare, election maps, and the power of wealth. In all these movements, if you will, we continue to neglect the necessity for the Gospel of the reign of God.

Upon deeper reflection I began to see how these are simply different servings of the same bowl of lentil soup. We have a deep seeded fear of the wilderness, so we rely on the soup of avoidance, we just refuse to go there. And that is understandable, the fear is rational, the wilderness is a sign, if not a place of grave spiritual danger; and we avoid it because we do not trust anyone, not even God to be there with us.

We are wrong.

In Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptation, Jesus is forced, ~ driven by the Spirit ~ into the wilderness. But she does not abandon him. The Spirit is present in the wild animals. She is present in the angels who serve Jesus, as Simon’s mother in law will serve Jesus. This is a story that calls us to trust that the Spirit will be there ~ no ~ already is, with us, as we dally around on the edge of the wilderness, that feels a whole lot like the shadowed valley of death. The story also shows us that where ever Jesus goes, even into the depths of places of spiritual danger and evil shalom, the divine wholeness of life, follows (Hoezee).

In our time of deep divisions driven by deceptions of scarcity I pray we turn to our birthright that divine love which endures all the approval driven, silly, wrongheaded, selfishness, hateful, violent, evil, that has ever resided in our hearts, or the hearts of others.

I pray we walk on by the illusion of lentil soup and trust the strength the peace of God that pass all understanding.

 


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 1:9-15. 18 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Brooks, David. “The End of the Two-Party System.” 12 2 2018. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/02/12/opinion/trump-republicans-scarcity.html>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Lent 1 B Mark 1:9-15 . 18 2 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Johnson, Deon. “Wilderness, Lent 1.” 18 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. A Tempting Silence. 18 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 1 B: Lenten Courage. 18 2 2018.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

Lentil Soup

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday; Joel 2:1-2,12-17, or Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103 or 103:8-14, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

 Sometime after the first of the year, it came to my attention that Easter is on April Fool’s Day which means that Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day. This concurrence raises the delicate liturgical question is the proper color for the day? pink? or that deep purplish red? I asked a couple of deeply knowledgeable liturgical colleagues of mine. The first answer was to be sure and use red glitter for ashes and make the shape a heart on penitents’ foreheads. The other suggested using the little chalky heart candies for Communion wafers. Alas, I have waited too late and the traditional ashes and communion wafers lovingly baked by the sisters of Monastery of St. Clare will more than suffice.

Over these many years, have preached on the dire warning the alarm horns and gathering clouds of darkness and gloom from Joel. I have preached on Isaiah’s exhortation to announce God’s people their rebellion, and to the house of Jacob their sins. I have mentioned that the merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever. One way or another it is always necessary to remind us that now is the acceptable time to be reconciled to God. I’ve even preached on what you should do in secrete and maybe that God already knows what you do in secrete.

None of this inspired me. But only because Monday a week ago I was inspired by the Daily Office reading from Genesis (25:19-33). It includes the birth of Esau and Jacob, how Esau grew up to be a great hunter who loved the field and that Jacob became a quiet person who preferred a tent. It also includes the story of Esau coming in from the fields famished. Jacob is cooking some stew that Esau wants to satisfy his enormous hunger. Esau is so famished he sells his birthright to Jacob for bread and bowl of lentil stew. The divine muse nudged me, laying two questions on my heart and soul: How does lentil soup manifest itself in our lives? What have we sold our birth right for?

But before we can get to the depth of those questions we have to understand our birthright. As Christians what is our birthright? In the Episcopal tradition the go to liturgy is Baptism where we are washed in Christ’s baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We are one with Christ. It is Christ who stands with us before God. It is through Christ that God’s unconditional love is made fully known. A long-time colleague of mine wrote this week and reminded us of Henri Nouwen’s wisdom:

We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.

God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold on to the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God’s ever-present love. (Adams-McCaslin)

Our birthright is that divine love which endures all the approval driven silly, wrongheaded, selfishness, hateful, violent, evil, that has ever resided in our hearts, in secrete, or boldly there for all to see.

It is such a precious thing. And yet we seem to follow Esau’s path far too often. Our desire for the lentil soup of the moment takes precedence over everything else. Our momentary desire seems more important than what is right, than what is just, than our birthright. Sometimes our desires are manifest in the behaviors of others who speak and act publicly what is secretly in our hearts and are secretly joyous. At times such persons are from the margins. At times such persons are our leaders; social, educational, business, political, and religious. Sometimes our desires are manifest in our own words, and actions; spoken or unspoken, done or undone. Sometimes our words and actions are the public manifestations of what is secretly in the hearts of others and one way or another, we welcome slight approving smiles, nods of heads, and other small signs of approval.

As we have for a life time this Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a time of inner reflection. A time to acknowledge the ominous dark clouds not so very far from the center of our lives. A time to raise our heads at the blaring sound of the trumped alarm. A time, with naked vulnerability, to explore the depths and strength of God/Jesus/Sprit. A time to acknowledge all our secretes trusting that our father, who see in secrete, will welcome you into your acceptance of your birthright of unconditional love, from God, for all that is made in God’s image, you and all of creation. A time to leave aside Esau’s path and embrace your birthright. A time to see the truth; every day is valentine’s day; because every day is the acceptable time to receive and reflect God’s unconditional love, secretly, or boldly and publicly; for every day is the day of salvation.

So today, I invite you to with both fear and trembling and with trust explore just how does lentil soup manifest itself in your lives? and what have you sold our birth right for? for knowing this truth will set you free to receive the depth and strength of God’s eternal unconditional love.

 

Transformation – Listen to Him

A Sermon for Last after Epiphany Transfiguration; 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

You know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. You know the mountaintop, that boundary place between heaven and earth, is similar to one of Moses’ cloud covered mountain top excursions. You know how visually stunning Jesus’ clothes are; glowing so bright they outshine even White Brite® Laundry Whitener.

They glow so brightly it is easy to forget the visual reference to heavenly beings (Perkins). You know the word ‘transfiguration’ means change and its root is the same as the word ‘repentance’ to change one’s behavior. You know Moses and Elijah represent the twin pillars of Jewish life the law and the prophets (Sakenfeld). You heard this morning that Elijah is taken into heaven and did not die, and you may remember Moses’ burial place is a secret and that he did not really die but lives in heaven with God (Perkins). You remember that Peter answers Jesus’ question “Who do you think that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” just a before Jesus take him, James, and John up the mountain. You all have heard that Peter’s 3 booths is an effort to capture the moment or contain it, by making a reference to the Festival of Booths (Harrelson) or maybe to Moses’ Tent of meeting (Perkins). You connect that God’s announcement This is my Son, the Beloved (Mark 9:7 with You are my Son, the Beloved (Mark 1:11) at Jesus’ baptism. We might be so caught up with this connection that we miss the complete surprise that in the middle of a Super-Bowl size visual extravaganza (Hoezee; Butler) the most significant moment, literally the final act, is spoken as God says …listen to him! Jesus’ transfiguration has been so central to study and preaching of this story that we focus only on Jesus’ transfiguration and not the broader transformation swirling around Peter, James, and John.

There is no question of the significance of this story in Jesus’ ministry. One indication of that is that it is also in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel accounts. And though it is not directly evident, there is also a lot going on in the discipleships of Peter, James, and John. I mentioned Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But, it is also important to mention that just after this Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for predicting his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, only to be rebuked by Jesus himself (Mark 8:31-33). It doesn’t take James and John long to make their request for positions in Jesus’, soon to be established, royal court (Mark 10:35-40). These, and the other similar signs, that the disciples do not truly understand Jesus’ calling, are steps in the wrong direction. However, they are also signs of their transformation, which by the way shares the same root as repent, and transfiguration.

That the disciples have trouble following Jesus should not surprise us. We heard the story of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven. It includes a story of Elisha’s dedication, and his request for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. The Living Church’s reflection notes that Elisha is formed under the direction of a human master, which is a slow learning process, it takes time (The Living Church). To get caught up in Jesus humanity versus his divinity is to miss the point that Peter, James, and John, indeed, all the disciples, including us, are all human. Their learning, our learning is a slow timely process.

Having witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration Peter, James, and John can never be same. The heavenly living presence of Moses and Elijah, the cloud, the brilliant light, associated with heavenly beings, the commanding voice of God, telling them, directing them to listen to him, is enough to change anyone’s life. True, it takes some time, and it takes some miss steps, nonetheless their presence at Jesus’ transfiguration is part of their transformation to the fullness of discipleship (Lewis).

By way of sacred story our witnessing the disciples witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration is a part of our story. This is not just another miracle story. This is not just another affirmation of baptism. This story intrudes into our lives. Though we may put into action our own version of three booths, we can no longer stay where we are. The transfiguration experience propels [us] to make manifest the Kingdom of God (Lewis). Inspired imagination redirects our attention from a glowing Jesus, up-there somewhere, to sharing the Kingdom that is right here, right here in River City, right now. Are we ready? Of course, not but, that is okay; we will go anyway, the disciples did, and Jesus will lead us just as he led them.

Today we stand at the very edge of Epiphany For the past 7 or 8 weeks we have been in the light of Jesus’ birth – the incarnation God coming among us, as one of us; we stand in the visionary light of the Wise men who follow the strange star and listen to urgent dreams to find the Christ child and to not unwittingly lead Herod’s fear-driven murderous action. Jesus was majestically transfigured revealing the light of his divine being. We have been mystically immersed in transforming light of divine presence. We stand at the boundary of that light and retrospection. The fruit of our next journey is born of the commitment ~ to listen.


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Butterworth, Susan. “Behind the Veil, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).” 11 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. It Is Good To Be Here. 11 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. Ascending Flame and Descending Love. 5 2 20108. <livingchurch.org>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

And

A Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-12, 21c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

 Like many Bible stories, this morning’s Gospel story has a central character, whose name we do not know. Reading the story isn’t often a problem, pronouns do just fine. However, preaching or teaching can be a challenge because pronouns don’t work as well, the distance between the pronoun and its associated noun phrase is too great. So, we are left with a long cumbersome descriptor; this morning it is “Simon’s mother-in-law.” That is a lot to say repeatedly. I wondered if it might be appropriate to imagine a name. I took the first letter of each word ‘s,’ ‘m,’ ‘i,’ and ‘l’ and googled it using a find a name web site. I got an answer ‘Smiljana’ (pronounced Smil’ ja na). Does the name fit the character? I googled the name and learned it is of Indo-European origins likely Serbian. It means dear or beloved; which is a good meaning for a biblical name; so, maybe it makes sense to use it. On the other hand, why did Mark not give her a name? To know someone’s name is to have power over them. I don’t think Mark is protecting her, nor do I think he is concerned about anyone having power over their mother-in-law. Power over is not the concern; but, a name does make a character specific, and I wonder if Mark isn’t providing us with a casting for everyone. Therefore, “Simon’s mother-in-law” it will be; and I’ll have to say it 85 times to have saved any words.

There are two stories in this morning’s reading from Mark’s Gospel narrative. The first one is the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. The other is Jesus’ decision to leave Capernaum to proclaim the message in neighboring towns. Both have the common feature – the revealing power of ‘and.’

You know the story of Simon’s mother in law. They leave the synagogue, where Jesus taught and cast out a demon, and returned to Simon and Andrew’s house. They tell Jesus Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. He lifted her up, the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

The phrase lifted her up has been translated he raised her up (Hart; Kittredge) which is clear resurrection language. Here is the first occurrence of ‘and’ that caught my attention. This time connecting us to the phrase she began to serve them, which has an unfortunate history. The phrase has been improperly used to put women back in the kitchen or in their place. However, the verb diakonein is the verb used when the angels serve Jesus in the wilderness. It is used to define Jesus’ ministry who came to serve (Mark 10:45). Karen Lewis writes

She serves because this is what discipleship looks like. She serves, showing us what following Jesus will really means.

Lewis sees this as Simon’s mother in-law’s calling to discipleship (Kittredge; Lewis; Harrelson).

Illness is more than the physical issues. There are also emotional, social, and spiritual effects. When Jesus raises her up she is freed of her fever and she is no longer emotionally isolated (Perkins); she is restored to the honored social position of being a hostess, and her spiritual life grows as she serves Jesus as a disciple. Simon’s mother-in-law is healed, she is restored to wholeness of life; she knows shalom.

After dark, when Sabbath is over, all Capernaum, can bring their sick or possessed family to Jesus, and all of them do (Keener and Walton). He heals many and casts out many demons. Early the next morning, Jesus has gone off to a quiet place to pray. The disciples aggressively hunt him down (Harrelson), rudely telling him “Everyone is waiting on you!” Jesus did not come here to be a local healer or holy man. Jesus’ calling is to share the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near throughout the region (Perkins). So, he tells them Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come. (Mark 1:38, The Message) They follow Jesus and he proclaims the message and casts out demons. Here is that word ‘and’ again. This time it connects Jesus’ preaching with Jesus’ healing. In Mark’s Gospel story preaching and healing are connected; to do one, is to do the other (Perkins).

Today’s Gospel reading is full of connections. There is the connection between healing, serving, and calling; and the connection between healing, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near. Connections like these are and will be important for us.

Today is our first Sunday together when I am not your full-time vicar. As I have said and written I will continue to lead Sunday worship and as a pastoral presence. We will have to learn to go our separate ways together. For me not being a full-time vicar/rector/missioner will be a challenge. I don’t know how not to do what I have been trying to do for 23 or so years. You have some experience without a fulltime vicar or rector. It has been awhile and many, actually, most of those who were here then are no longer here. St. Stephen’s resources are not what they were, and it will be a challenge. You have a challenge, and I have a challenge. However, that we share this trait is not the ‘and’ I see that we share with this morning’s Gospel. Actually, I think we share the ‘and from both stories.

As you become a church without a full-time vicar or rector and as I become a priest who is not a vicar or rector we will continue to proclaim the message in how we become this particular reflection of the image of the Kingdom which is right here, right now. As Jesus’ healing and proclaiming the message are one so our living into our new callings is the same thing as our proclaiming the message. As Simon’s mother-in-law is healed she is restored to shalom fullness of life, physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually; in our living into our new callings we are being restored to shalom fullness of life physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. A lesson from these two stories in Mark’s Gospel narrative is that life with God is not a series of independent events that have to be carefully balanced by some secret knowledge in order to gain access to God’s Kingdom sometime in the future, someplace else. This morning we witness how life with God has many facets and all of them are interconnected to all the others, just as the lives of all people, are interconnected images of God. None of the facets and none of the images is complete on their own. Each of them is dependent on all the others, and all the others are dependent on you as the emerging lay lead St. Stephen’s and me as the emerging well I’m not even sure what I will call myself and that is okay, I’ve always wanted to be an enigma.

Even as I see darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) at this moment. I am sure of the future because even as we are less connected to each other in a formal way we remain interconnected, along with all of creation to God/Jesus/Spirit who makes us whole and who loves us forever.

References

Avalos, Hector. Health Care and the Rise of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999.

David, W. Peters. “Touch, Epiphany 5 (B).” 4 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hart, David Brently. The New Testament: A Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. e-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. A Call Story. 4 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. 2002. WORDsearch Database – 2008.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.