Finding the Lessons

The latest blog post will be the bible study for the next week. Scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday. The blog will be labeled with proper, liturgical date, and calendar date. Enjoy.

Search This Blog by Proper and Year (ie: Proper 8B or Christmas C or Advent 1A)


Monday, October 5, 2015

Proper 23B/Ordinary 28B/Pentecost 20 October 11, 2015

"If we imagine Jesus looking at and loving us, I wonder what is the 'one thing missing' he would see. And what is it that he would ask us to do in order to finally be fully following him?"

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Mark 10:17-31, David Ewart, 2012.

"The deceit of wealth is almost inescapable; the burden of guilt, both individual and corporate, impossible."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 20, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Jesus says that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Maybe the reason is not that the rich are so wicked they're kept out of the place but that they're so out of touch with reality they can't see it's a place worth getting into."

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

More precious than gold or silver, O God, more enduring than health and beauty, is the spirit of your wisdom: in her hands, uncounted wealth, in her company, all good gifts!  Send this wisdom from your holy heaven that we may hear and follow the Good Teacher, Jesus, who looks on us with love, and gladly forsake all lesser wealth for the unrivaled treasure of your kingdom.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 10:17-31

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

Oremus Online NRSV Text

In the last passage we read that Jesus invited us to embrace children and to invite children into our midst. We were told to be like the child as well.  All of these are passages wherein Jesus takes a powerless, voiceless, person without authority and shows how central they are to the dominion of God which is spreading throughout the community as he teaches, preaches, and heals people.  We are confronted then in this weeks passage with the opposite of the child (who has nothing) with a young man who has much.
The language used to describe the man is well off physically, financially, socially, and within the religious power structure of the day. He is a good man who is following all the rules set out before him and he benefits from his position.  Again, he is the opposite of the child. 
What many preachers will do this week (because I have routinely done this as well) is use this to speak about how the man does not give enough.   Jesus tells him to give it all and the man cannot so he walks away.
The reality is that the kingdom of God is a gift, it is grace.  The man simply receives it.  He cannot earn it.  Better stewardship will not earn the kingdom.  Meeting the budget will not earn the congregation a dream year of abundance, not will it provide assurance for heavenly gate entry.  The kingdom is something that is given freely.
It is with this that Jesus seems to confront the man.  It is his wealth and self assurance of perfection that is in the way of the grace God offers.  The man does not rely upon anyone or anything outside of himself and his wealth.  He is the one who fulfills the law.  Unlike the child who has nothing and is completely dependant upon God's grace and the kingdom mission; the young man has trouble coming to this place of acceptance because of his successes and abilities.
We find this sown up in the conversation between the young man and Jesus. What must he do to inherit if he has done everything?  Jesus moves from the fulfillment of the law the notion of receiving the kingdom as grace.  Human beings are alienated from God, we are different from God, we are not God.  God is good, God is graceful, and God gives and invites.  Elsewhere in scripture Jesus does speak of people as good. But it is here, for the point of reminding the young man that he is not able to enter into the kingdom without the grace of God, that Jesus uses the words from the Shema so effectively.
Jesus then speaks of the reality that wanting, coveting, desiring, and craving things just leads down a path which will ultimately distance us from God.  Jesus then speaks again of the new family being formed in the kingdom and I believe he truly hopes for the young man to follow.
The man of course walks away because, I think, he just can't trust God enough.
This it seems to me is the core of the passage and the core of Jesus' teaching in this section.  To be a little one, a follower of God in Christ Jesus, you have to trust God.  The man's inability is what saddens Jesus as he walks away.  Jesus then turns and begins to teach on how this trust in God and in the family of God is always eroded by not having enough.
Jesus says, it is just hard for people dependent upon money to receive freely the grace and dominion of God.  Wealth gets in the way.  As soon as you live as one of the "firsts," or order your life as a "first," and make your needs "first" one is in trouble and will continue to have trouble following Jesus.
Jesus again brings into the conversation talk about the new family and children - it is a family that is marked by discipleship and dependence upon grace freely given.  It will be those who lose it all in the service of the kingdom who will gain the most.  Jesus himself will model this as he descends to the cross and the valley of death. 
I think as we think and ponder what to say on Sunday we must be prepared to offer a glimpse of those things which keep us from receiving God's grace.  The passage is ultimately about discipleship. We have an intimate view of the teacher attempting to help the disciple see what it is that is holding him back from receiving grace or living in the new family of God. 
How will we help our congregations see what holds them back from faithfully walking the way of the cross?  How will we lose the binding cultural ties of being "first" in order to follow the one who is last?

Hebrews 4:12-16

"There should be no greater encouragement to us as Christians than that of the mercy and grace God promises to us, mercy and grace that are based on Christ having loved us enough to identify with us to the point of suffering and death."

Commentary, Hebrews 4:12-16, Scott Shauf, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Compassion and kindness, grace and mercy, are there when we face our times of need. This is not so much about when we fail, as it is when we face hard times and are confronted with temptations which threaten to overwhelm us."

"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 20, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Remember that for the author of Hebrews Christ is our great high priest. He has come to be with humanity, lower than the angels, and in both his incarnation and in his suffering, death and resurrection he has freed humanity from the power of evil forces which insure death and separation from God. Christ is the reconciling agent which bridges God and humanity and the chasm below. 

The word, the logos, is that from which all life flows. Through Christ, we proclaim, all things were made. It is through this very living word that we are known to God. It is important then that we lean into this relationship with Christ because it is this very relationship in which we are found, discovered, sympathized with us, and discovered by God. 

So it is that our great high priest, God in Christ Jesus, is our mediator and our advocate before the throne of grace.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Proper 22B/Ordinary 27B/Pentecost 19

No longer running interference for Jesus--or creating interference for ourselves--we, like Abraham, know ourselves to be blessed in order to be a blessing to others, embraced by our Lord so that we may embrace others.

"Tuned Out, Tuned In," Chris Repp, Sabbatheology, The Crossings Community, 2009.

The anecdote on divorce may well derive from an historical encounter between Jesus and Pharisees busied with the issue of divorce, wanting his view. If this was anything like the earlier forms which most of Mark’s anecdotes took, it probably had as its punch line a typical two-liner quip on the part of Jesus: ‘What God has yoked let no human being separate.’ We have already found such quips in 2:9; 2:17; 2:27; 3:4; and 7:15. It is clever: of course it is outrageous for human beings to undo what God has done up, to un-join what God has joined. The effect was to shift the focus from what might justify divorce to the more fundamental issue: breaking apart what God has joined must be seen as departure from God’s intention.

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"A text like this already has taken, and will continue to take on, a life of its own given the current circumstances surrounding and challenges to definitions of marriage. A sermon, whether explicitly or implicitly, needs to acknowledge these assumptions."

Commentary, Mark 10:2-16, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

Beyond all human boundaries, O God, your deeds of power take place, and your healing mercy is at work. Ours is not to restrict the wonders of your saving grace but to give joyful thanks for your compassion wherever we may find it. Teach us to use well the riches of nature and grace to care generously for those in need and to look carefully to our own conduct. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 10:2-16

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

We begin our lesson today with a conflict between the religious leaders of Jesus day and himself.  Perhaps they are hoping to catch him in debate; perhaps to make him look foolish. They are engaging in a discussion on marriage and divorce.

Jesus switches the conversation which begins focused upon human beings and reorients it towards a focus upon the nature of God to bring people together and build up communities.  Jesus is clear that God draws us together and that we often defile this drawing together. 

We could spend quite a bit of time on the nature of marriage as offered in the Gospels.  I think Joel Marcus on Mark, vol 2, does a good job of taking a part Jesus and Paul's teaching on marriage.  I want to focus on the broader theme which appears when we attach the second part of the lesson. 

If we take a step back what we see is that God is constantly drawing people together.  Mark's Gospel is a gospel of the new creation a recreation of drawing people together.  God is drawing people who are different together and Jesus is clear that we are the ones who defile these relationships. We defile marriage relationships and we defile communal relationships. We do this by turning away from the "other".  We are drawn away from the "other" into relationships that boost our power, our voice, and our authority.  We engage in relationships that diminish the "other" with whom we are bound. 

God is remaking a new community. God in Christ Jesus as bridegroom is recreating the world and his bride the community of "little ones" (the term Mark uses for the first followers of Jesus).  So as we look and we read we must remember that the defilement of this wedding garment will take place with Peter at the cock's crow. It will be the crowd who shouts "crucify him." 

Jesus knows all too well perhaps the fickle nature of God's people. Perhaps he is already aware of how easily they will be drawn to save themselves while he makes his way to the cross.  Regardless what we see as he offers this message is that God is working in the world. God is bring and joining and knitting the fabric of creation and disparate lives together in Christ.  God is joining many together and how easily we will chose another spouse and let loose the one who troubles us.

So it is that Jesus then offers an icon of this joining together.  Jesus chooses the weakest, the poorest, the most powerless as an example of God's faithfulness.  While the crowds and even followers will chose another lover of convenience, God will be faithful and will reach out and continue to love and embrace God's friends the poor and those in need.

Jesus embraces a child and in so doing he is offering us a view that God embraces the lowly. The children have no voice, no cultural value, an no political or religious worth.  As Jesus embraces them he offers a vision of the kingdom of God that exists for those who are outside of the world's systems of power and authority. Just as Jesus is continuously clear with his followers that he has come for the sinner and not the righteous, so too here at the end of our reading he shows us through this physical embrace, through access to himself, that God is present in the world for just such as these.  He blesses, he touches, and he embraces those wholly other.

God is faithful. God will not chose a marriage of convenience with the righteous, but the God we believe in will chose a marriage of trial with the very ones most in need.

As I reflect on both of these pieces, here combined into one reading, I realize that I am blessed by God. I am the other. I am one who is loved and upon whom God's grace falls.  For my sins, for those things done and left undone, and so I am sure that God loves me and God embraces me. I am beloved of God and I trust that God will be faithful no matter how often I stray into convenience and ego satisfaction.

And, at the same time I am keenly aware that in my powerful, loud voice of authority, and influence I must be challenged to look around me and see those to whom Jesus is embracing.  I must own my own unfaithfulness.  I think this lesson always reminds me that our lord will always be about embracing those who live and move and have their being in my blind spots.  God have mercy on my soul for not seeing my own infidelity to the join the wedding feast of our Lord - the kingdom of God, the dominion and mission of God.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 1:1 - 2:12

"In the city of Macon, Georgia, the Harriet Tubman African-American Museum honors the memory of the 'Black Moses,' the best-known conductor on the Underground Railroad..."

Commentary, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Pentecost 18, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"...Hebrews holds together a profound image of Jesus as God's very reflection with a very earthy and human figure just like us. That reinforces also our understanding of God and of the spiritual life not as something from or in another world, but as something which fully enters the here and now of flesh and blood."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"The concept of incarnation is an affirmation that Jesus really and truly does show us what God is like. When we look at Jesus, we see him embracing the ones nobody else would embrace. We see him confronting the religious people with the falseness of their self-righteousness. We see him forgiving sinners and restoring people to their right mind. And we see him freely and joyfully playing with children!"

In seminary we were taught that there is no such thing as a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament. Yet, Christians have struggled to always put into context the reality of violence throughout the scripture including in the New Testament. Somehow we have never really quite figured out how to deal with the various rules, covenants, demands, and variety of things God wants or doesn't want for us. Even Walter Brueggeman when asked about such things says something like, "I like to think God is getting over his use of violence."

The author of Hebrews is certainly trying to figure out how to speak of these things and to parse clearly the trajectory of a God who is both alpha and omega while at the same time exhibiting different behaviors and desires.

God communicates to Israel and God communicates to us. We believe as theologian Ben Johnson once remarked, a God who raised Jesus out of death and raised Israel out of Egypt.

What is clear for the author of Hebrews and for Christians there is a clarity that all is to be defined now through the words and actions of God through Christ Jesus. It is his work and words that are to define and radically focus our attention across the great expanse of God's communication with his creatures.

The Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is a particular vision of God - revealing to us God's intent to be with us and to bridge the chasm between heaven and earth.  Sin and death will not be victorious over this divide. Moreover, that this person of Jesus is a forerunner of our humanity.

We are in some miraculous and mysterious way to become like Jesus in this world making here heaven on earth - just like we pray in the Lord's Prayer. We are to make here God's neighborhood.

What is an interesting part of this passage is the unique and important reality that the author offers a special place for humanity within the cosmos. Using the words of the psalmist (Psalm 8:4-6), the author reminds us, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor..." I once mentioned that the angels are jealous of humanity for what we have in Jesus and in the holy communion and how special this is for us in the order of things. We are blessed as humans to experience God in and through Jesus in this world and through the inbreaking of God in the incarnation and in the bread and wine. I really got skewered online when I said this. People thought it was heresy. I am of course in good company with the psalmist, the author of Hebrews
and the polish Roman Catholic St. Maximilian Kolbe who once said, "If Angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion."

We are to see who God is and how God is moving in the world through Christ Jesus as is present in scripture and in the communion itself. And what do we see? We see a God who lowers God's self and breaks God's self open for the sake of those other than God or even godlike. God becomes one with the other and so raises the other up into community. Here is the Gospel.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Beyond all human boundaries, O God, your deeds of power take place, and your healing mercy is at work.  Ours is not to restrict the wonders of your saving grace but to give joyful thanks for your compassion wherever we may find it.  Teach us to use well the riches of nature and grace to care generously for those in need and to look carefully to our own conduct.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 5:13-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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


O God, whose hand shelters the just and righteous, and whose favor rests on the lowly, banish hypocrisy from our hearts and purify us of all selfish ambition.  Let your word sown among us bring forth a harvest of peace.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 3:13-4:8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons

Countryside of Caesarea Philippi

Not in easy words, O God, but in selfless deeds is the faith we profess made real and the love our Master commanded made present.  Give us the strength to take up the cross and wisdom to follow where Christ leads, losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 3:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

Proper 18B/Ordinary 23B/Pentecost 15 September 6, 2015

"Many times it has been disciples who have least understood the issues as they have uncoupled devotion to God from devotion to people, because they have uncoupled God and people. Then a prejudiced "god" feeds a prejudiced people."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 14, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"A few months ago on my morning walk I was surprised by 'crumbs' left behind. They were not meant for me at all. I even knew there were not meant for me, but left over, they fed me still."

"Of Sidewalk Messages and Crumbs from God's Table," Janet Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

"...there is your story and mine−that Jesus is in our house, with full power to heal; that we need to approach him with compassion and perseverance, praising God the sender of the Savior of all people, not just people like us."

Commentary, Mark 7:24-37, Alyce M. McKenzie, Preaching This Week,, 2009.


O Good and gracious God, you have chosen little ones, the worlds' poor and lowly, to become rich in faith and to be heirs of your kingdom.  Help us to speak words of encouragement and strength to all whose hearts are fearful, that the tongue of the speechless may be loosened and all of our wounded humanity, unable so much as to pray, may join us in singing the mighty wonders of your love.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

So, we might pause for a moment and ask: what has Jesus been up to lately? He has challenged dietary laws, offered a new vision of sin and its root cause, challenged community separation based upon these laws thereby offering to the religious leaders of the day a vision of a new kingdom of God.  All of these also have offered a vision of a kingdom that is no longer divided between Gentile and the faithful community in Jerusalem.  Early church theologians such as Chrysostom saw the erasing of this "particularism" clearly as they reflected on this passage. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol. 1, 466)

I remember this passage clearly from my seminary days because of the fact that we debated its meaning over coffee.  We used it as the case study for whether or not God changes God's mind.  Certainly the passage is unusual in the way that it offers the story.  Jesus says no; makes what is nothing less than a horrible metaphor about dogs.  Jesus then listens and then offers healing.  In the midst of this debate about God and God's changing mind (or not) is a critical New Testament scholar debate over the two pieces of dialogue belonging together.  A number of scholars march through that debate very well and you are welcome to read more about it in either Joel Marcus' work or in Adela Collins' text.

So what do we have here?  Joel Marcus has a great reflection on the characters and events. He writes: "In the overall Markan context it forms an inclusion with the narrative of the woman with the hemorrhage in 5:21-43.  The latter is, like the heroine of our story, an anonymous, plucky, ritually unclean woman who 'hears about Jesus' and receives healing from him, and is coupled with a younger girl (Jarius' daughter, the Syrophoenician's daughter) who is healed." (Marcus, 466)  Joel Marcus also gives us the short and sweet of the story in his words when he writes, "Not only does it present the only example in the Gospels of a person who wins an argument with Jesus, but it also portrays a Jesus who is unusually sensitive to his Jewish country-men's claims to salvation-historical privilege and unusually rude about he position of Gentiles: the Jews are God's children, and their needs come first; compared to them, non-Jews are just 'dogs.'" (Marcus, 470)  Thank you Joel for the frank reader's digest version!

So here is what I find fascinating.  Never in our discussions in the bottom of the student center at seminary, over our steaming cups of coffee, on a cold winters day, arguing over God' changing God's mind did we stop to think about or discuss what this passage might offer us as individuals trying to follow Jesus or what it might offer the church communities we were preparing to serve.

This is what I have come to understand.  I am challenged by others who are not like me or my preconceived notions about Christianity, church, the Episcopal Church, life the universe or anything for that matter. I am predisposed to believe, as a human being, that I am right.  As an old T-shirt I had once offered: "I may have my faults but being wrong is not one of them."  This uniquely human condition (sometimes called sin) always gets in the way of what God is doing in my life when by providence he introduces me to people that are different than myself. 

Second, I believe that I and our Episcopal community are challenged to see in our brothers and sisters, specifically the Jewish people, God's special dispensation; and we might add the Muslims as well.  This is not to deny our particular revelation at all but it is to say  that God does have a special relationship with ALL THREE of the Abrahamic faiths and that such a relationship deserves attention.  At times such a relationship may be difficult and painful but all three religions hold a special place in God's heart rooted deep in a promise made on a desert's eve to a wandering but faithful Abram and Sarai.

Lastly, I am challenged and I believe our churches are challenged to see that God may in fact be, in this very moment, choosing a new people to incorporate into our family.  The passage is very clear that God's kingdom and its embrace of the Gentile world is key to God fulfilling God's mission.  Certainly the word "Gentile" itself means in particular those people who are not Jewish.  That is certainly true.  It has a broader meaning as well, as an adjective it means: not belonging to one's own religious community.  And, this is the catch for us. It is very difficult for those involved in a privatized world of religious faith to see that God is at work in the world around us; in a very public manner. 

In order to embrace the kingdom of God and be a missionary church we as Episcopalians must come to terms with the fact that God offers his healing balm to those who do not belong to our church.  We are challenged and encouraged to join in the Gospel work when we see that God's is out and about and in particular at work in the community of people who are NOT in our churches or who are particularly Episcopalian. 

Now that, my friends and readers, is a challenge far more interesting to preach and consider as we hear this story.  And the church would be well served by a whole host of preachers on Sunday morning got up and instead of talking about the woman who changed God's mind, talked about the followers of Jesus and how they were encouraged by Jesus' witness to go out and accomplish a mission to the gentile world that would change the course of history and would begin its work of building the Kingdom of God.

James 2:1-17

"The second chapter of James opens with an illustration that is as relevant in the contemporary church as it must have been to James's first readers."

Commentary, James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"...James is making himself quite clear: Christians, both individually andcollectively, have a moral responsibility to the poor."

"Poverty, Wealth, and Equality?" Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2012.

"Social justice christology is 'in' at the moment - but like the term, social justice, itself, can die of its popularity as our fascination with it innoculates us against engagement and the vision dies to become just an idea and a good concept to include in our strategic plans and visions."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Pentecost 15, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Textweek Resources for this week's Epistle

Oremus Online NRSV Epistle Text

We continue this week with our readings form the Epistle of James. Our theme continues to reflect the author's challenge that we “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers”.

I found a few quotes that are I find very helpful to me in thinking about this passage. They are from theologian's Miroslav Volf and amplify well this portion of James.

As James offers the notion that our relationship with God leads to a response from the follower which necessarily includes the other. Challenging the reader to understand that God shows no partiality so the follower of Christ in turn shows no partiality.  There is not stranger in the intimacy of relationship with God. If we believe in the triune God then we are always and everywhere connected with the other(s). 

Volf writes in his book AFTER OUR LIKENESS: 
“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a "foursome," as it were-- for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.” 

If we truly believe in a triune God, and we are truly followers and intimately connected with this God, then we are forever connected to others. There is no "favoritism". We are not the judge of appearance, or to discriminate.

Volf continues:
"The sufferings of Christ on the cross are not just his sufferings; they are “the sufferings of the poor and weak, which Jesus shares in his own body and in his own soul, in solidarity with them” (Moltmann 1992, 130). And since God was in Christ, “through his passion Christ brings into the passion history of this world the eternal fellowship of God and divine justice and righteousness that creates life” (131). On the cross, Christ both “identifies God with the victims of violence” and identifies “the victims with God, so that they are put under God's protection and with him are given the rights of which they have been deprived."
We are to conduct ourselves differently because we are saved by a God who opens himself up to us and shares and gives of himself for us - even when we were far off. We are to love God and to love others as a response to God's mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

James is clear if in any way we do not recognize God's impartiality, love of neighbor, special relationship to the poor and the lowly then we are not ourselves in relationship with God. For to be in relationship with God at this deep level is to recognize our true and common humanity with everyone.  To honor others, to not kill, or destroy, to share and to not steal, to care for our family, and to not use God to build up our own power are all ways in which we reveal the health of our own relationship with the Godhead.

Finally, Volf offers:
"Engagement is not a matter of either speaking or doing; not a matter of either offering a compelling intellectual vision or embodying a set of alternative practices; not a matter of either merely making manifest the richness and depth of interior life or merely working to change the institutions of society; not a matter of either only displaying alternative politics as gathered in Eucharistic celebrations or merely working for change as the dispersed people of God. It is all these things and more. The whole person in all aspects of her life is engaged in fostering human flourishing and serving the common good.”
If Christians do not accompany their faith with love and care for the other then they aren't much of a Christian I am afraid. The hard news here is that claiming to be one is quite a different thing than living as one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 30, 2015 Proper 17B / Ordinary 22B / Pentecost +14

"The question that drove the Pharisees and that motivates some contemporary Christians is an important one: in a religiously diverse culture, how does one maintain Christian identity and integrity?"

"ID Check," Cynthia M. Campbell, The Christian Century, 2006.

"By the end of the passage for today, Jesus has turned the whole notion of consumption that defiles on its head."

Commentary, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"What seems to have made him angriest was hypocrisy and irrelevance, and thus it is the Pharisees who come in for his strongest attacks, the good people who should have known better. 'You brood of vipers,' he called them. 'How can you speak good when you are evil?'"

"The Longing for Home," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.


Behold, O God, your Christian people, gathered together on this day of the Lord, our weekly celebration.  Let the praise of our lips resound in the depths of our hearts, the word you have sown, the word that has taken root within us to sanctify and renew our entire lives.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Oremus Online NRSV Text

Jesus has just shown his miraculous healing powers and now an argument over doing work on the sabbath begins between himself and the religious leaders of his day.  The argument centers around the eating of ritually clean food by people who are ritually clean.

Rather than answer the questions directly, Jesus changes the question and instead holds up the difference between human tradition and God's word/commandment.  By so doing he has transferred the positive notion of the "tradition of the elders" into a negative one. (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 451).  Jesus' second rebuttal shows the religious leaders and to the reader that instead of the "tradition of the elders" being a positive or necessary expansion of the commandment it is now getting in the way of the commandments of God. It is in fact betraying God's Word - perhaps even working against God's grace. So, while in scripture and guided by scripture it is not of the same authority of God's desire to gaterh in his people.

He then makes a pronouncement about purity.  He states that because the "tradition from the elders" comes from the person (who we believe to be fallen)  it actually corrupts everything that is attempted, including the word of God.  He then (in the passage that we do not read this Sunday) will explain that instead of food being the presenting issue of this corruption, or we might postulate the cleaning of hands/pots/cups/and bronze kettles, it is instead the human heart.  For Jesus the seat of corruption is the human and their heart. (Marcus, 454)

This is a "revolutionary" notion. (Marcus, 456)  It was revolutionary for the disciples who want to hear more, it is revolutionary for us as well.  Just as we might recall the heavenly voice speaking to Peter in Acts about ritually clean foods, Jesus says God made these things, they are of his creation, they are good. What is actually happening is Jesus is himself saying that parts of scripture while important may not have the same validity as other parts of scripture. In a very Anglican way of thinking Jesus is saying that while the bible contains all things necessary for salvation, not everything in the law and in scripture is necessary for salvation

Jesus' teaching in the Gospel of Mark is clear: the human heart is the seat of a lot of bad things.  Joel Marcus says this well when he writes:

"[The] catalogue of human offenses is incorporated into a truly hellish picture, in which the interior of the human being is depicted as a Pandora's box, a cave of malignancy out of which hordes of demon like evils emanate....a wild force that propels people willy-nilly into actions that are opposed to God's will.  Nor is it by chance that, after this global category, the first specific misdeeds to be mentioned are sexual sins; in Hellenistic popular philosophy these sins were the premier example of the chaotic, ungovernable aspect of human nature, which precipitously pursues its own desires and is blind to its own true good, and in Judaism these sins were frequently associated with the promptings of the Evil inclination." (Marcus, 459ff)

The next important piece seems to be the notion that the disciples themselves do not stand apart form the group of humans whose hearts pour forth this evil in the world. (Marcus, 460)  That too is revolutionary.

This passage offers us a glimpse into Jesus' belief that we ALL are fallen creatures. We all suffer from this incurable corruption.  All of us, the religious leaders, the disciples, the first Christian community to which Mark is writing, all of us are naturally about the work of corrupting God's Word.  All of us.

Certainly, we then might respond that such a group of reprobates as the human race have no hope; so what does it matter anyway. Isn't this just an invitation to "moral disorder." (Marcus, 461)  Here I would pause and first say that the key message of Jesus is that all are saved in his work of the cross.  We must remember that every footstep, every word of Jesus, is walked and spoken on the way to the cross.  We ourselves are on our way to this dying.  Joel Marcus too, offers us a thought that defies tradition, logic, and law when he writes that Jesus wants us to understand that transformation lies in seeing the creation, the society, our religion through Jesus' eyes. (Marcus, 461)  In these two notions is our hope and salvation.  In these two critical pieces do we receive grace and learn a new transformational way of life.

All of this is uttered in the physical geography between the worlds of biblical Israel and the world of the Gentiles.  (Marcus, 461)  So this week as we ponder our inability and the root of our corruption, we might also ponder the notion of a new kind of religion.  Perhaps we might imagine a religion (lets say the Episcopal Church for instance) that steps out onto the boundary that lies between our church steps and the world and proclaims grace from our Lord's cross and simultaneously looks at the world with the eyes of Jesus, and in so doing does miraculous work. 

A Little Bit for Everyone

Oremus Online NRSV Text

"Glib pieties do not suffice purify the heart of a believer; if one thinks oneself secure simply for praising the Lord and carping at sinners, one has not made spiritual progress but is half-heartedly trying to hold on both to God and to sinful desire."

Commentary, James 1:17-27, A.K.M. Adam, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"Perhaps, if we as Christians were to follow James's precepts, we would do a lot less talking and a lot more listening."

Commentary, James 1:17-27, Sandra Hack Polaski, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Why do I find James -- at least in this instance -- so attractive? Because it reminds us of two incredibly important things: 1) faithfulness does not need to be heroic; 2) Sunday is not the most important day of the Christian week."

"Ordinary Saints," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2012.

This is the first time we have had the opportunity to read the letter attributed to James in a long time! It is described, and many people think of it, as a letter.  However, it is really more of a description or encouragement concerning the conduct of a disciple of Jesus. It is probably given the name of the brother of Jesus in order to give it teaching authority in the midst of the late first century Christian community.

The premise of the letter is very much a dualist one. The Christian is a good the world is bad. The Christian is moral and the world is evil. The faith that Christians are called to then is to be a witness in this world.

Blogger Chris Haslaam (found here) describes it this way:
In a situation where trials and tribulations abound, and where the poor suffer at the hands of the rich, the author exhorts them to joy, endurance, wisdom, confident prayer and faithful response to the liberating word of God, as they await the second coming of the Lord. The recipients appear to be a group of Jewish-Christian communities outside Palestine. 
In our passage for this Sunday the author is encouraging people to be wary and to not be deceived by the teachings of others or the world. God has given a perfect gift in Christ Jesus. Just as he has given abundantly in the very act of creation, so God has continued to give and to creation. Christ is the first fruit of a new creation - a reordered creation.  

The reason is that followers of Christ are to be examples of God's recreative act. We are, through our own offering of ourselves, to be about the work of God in the world. We are to do and act out our following of Christ Jesus. 

Here then is that great passage: we are to be doers of the word and not only hearers of the word. Once we are baptized, once we accept the great gift of Christ, the all powerful all forgiving act of Christ, we are then to respond. This is very important.

God does the saving. It is to this saving grace filled action of recreation that we are to respond. How are we to respond. The author says we are to hold up our lives to the Gospel. We are to be quick to listen to God and the Gospel. We are to be slow to anger or speak. So we are to listen to God and ponder what we hear. The follower of the Christ is to care for the poor especially orphans and widows. We are to be active in the betterment of the world by caring for other people.

For the author of this passage it is clear that the world does not care for the poor, for the orphan, for the widow. The world does not intend the transformation of the world as a sustainable creation. the world is filled with anger, deceit, and self-care. 

The author is clear, the follower of Christ Jesus is not any of those things. The follower of Jesus is one who is other centered and focused in their life and in their ministry - not just their ministry alone. The work is to be as Christ was for the world.