Reading Between the Lectionary Lines July 2-8

July 5, 2018

Again this week we have no extra, skipped text between last Sunday and this Sunday.  Last Sunday, as we recall, we had two healing stories, both of female characters– Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage. This Sunday we will hear about Jesus in Nazareth– how he is disrespected in his hometown and is unable to use his power; we will also hear that he sends out the disciples, empowering them to heal and drive out demons (which they do.)

The healing of the female characters, neither of which are named, points to the egalitarian nature of Jesus’ ministry. Jairus is a temple official, presumably well to do and important in local culture; yet he falls at Jesus’ feet begging Jesus to heal his daughter. As Jesus turns to go with him, he is interrupted by an unknown woman who has been sick for many years. She boldly touches his garment and he feels the power go out of him; he stops to find out who had done this and gives her a blessing. Then he goes on to Jairus’ house where the little girl has died; yet when he takes her hand she rises and is alive. Note that being touched by the sick woman and taking the hand of the dead girl were both acts that would render Jesus ritually unclean– a serious thing in Jewish religion and society, and yet he does not shy away from them.

We go from these displays of Jesus’ power to Nazareth, where Jesus can barely do anything at all. How do people in Nazareth respond to Jesus’ ministry? What do you think is keeping him from being able to use his power? In our ministries in our own communities where do we find resistance? What can we do to overcome that resistance?

Jesus then sends his disciples out two by two into the villages and towns where he will be going. Why do you think he does this? What effect do you think it has on the communities? What effect on the disciples?

Do you have any stories in your life that are similar to these stories? Of a time you took a risk for ministry? Of a time you were healed or helped heal someone else? Of a time you were disrespected by people close to you? Feel free to share you stories in the comments below.

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Reading Between the Lectionary Lines–June 25- July 1

June 27, 2018

A big crowd. Confusing stories about the kingdom of God. A stormy boat ride. We are coming to the middle of the gospel of Mark, and the middle of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.

Sunday June 24 we read the story of Jesus calming the storm— which we also talked about in last week’s RBLL blog.   On July 1 our passage will be a “Markan Sandwich” which wraps one story into another– in this case, the story of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage.

Between the storm and these two healings, however, we have the story of what happens when the storm ends and Jesus and the disciples come to land.  Mark 5:1-20 reads:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

When Jesus and the disciples step out of the boat, on the heels of almost drowning in a storm, they are met by a man who lived in the tombs. That he lived in the tombs, essentially in a graveyard or cemetery tells us he didn’t have the usual life; and in fact the passage tells us that he has an unclean spirit and cannot even be restrained. We are reminded that Jesus also was accused of having a demon and might compare/ contrast Jesus’ behavior (he sat at dinner with sinners, so many he couldn’t even eat) with this man’s behavior (superhuman strength, living in the tombs and mountains, howling and hurting himself.)

Jesus once again displays his power: the unclean spirits cannot resist when he commands them, any more than the water and wind could when Jesus told it to be still.  We can note here that this is the region of the Gerasenes, a Gentile region. Crowds come to see Jesus but instead of crowding around him for healing they ask Jesus to leave. Only the man, now released from the unclean spirit, is willing to go with Jesus. He is told by Jesus to go home and tell what has happened to him, and thus the man, now released from the unclean spirit, becomes an early evangelist to the Gentiles by proclaiming in the Decapolis what had happened.

We’ll see, if we read forward to the Lectionary reading for July first, that Jesus leaves the Gerasenes and goes back across the lake, where the “Markan Sandwich” healing stories take place. We notice that we have gone from Jesus being accused to having a demon, to teaching about the kingdom of God to large crowds of people; to commanding the wind and waves to be still, to healing a man by commanding the unclean spirits (demons) to come out of him, to two more stories of healing. The story arc continues to follow Jesus as he moves around in Galilee and aligns himself with the outsiders of the world.

Questions to ponder:

Jesus goes from describing the kingdom of God as something subtle or small that grows without being noticed. How does the growth of Jesus reputation mirror the growth of the kingdom of God?

Jesus commands the waves and wind to be still and commands the unclean spirits to go out of the man. How are these two events related? How is the response of the disciples to Jesus in the boat the same/ different than the Gerasenes? Why do you think the Gerasenes tell Jesus to go away?

To what might we today attribute behavior like that of the man in from the tombs?

Where do we see the power of Jesus displayed today?

What does the boat represent in our lives today? What do the landings of Jesus in different locations represent?

Rev. Sharon is pastor of Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, KY. Please feel free to leave comments in the box below.

 

 

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines, June 17-24

June 20, 2018

This week there is no break in the flow of Mark as we read through the lectionary. June 17th the reading was Mark 4:26-34, which consisted of three parables: one about putting a lamp on a lampstand instead of under a basket or bed; the second was another ‘sower’ parable; and the third was the parable of the mustard seed. A bit of commentary says that Jesus used parables very often to teach the crowds but to his disciples he spoke more plainly. June 24ths reading will be Mark 4:35-41, the story of Jesus in a boat with the disciples when a storm comes up; the disciples are afraid but Jesus makes the storm go away.

If go back a little further, to last week’s RBLL we remember that the in-between passage was the parable of the sower– the parable in which a sower sows seed willy-nilly so that some falls on the path, some on rocks, some in the weeds, and some on good soil. According to Raymond Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday, 1997, p132) these three seed parables are meant to be taken as a commentary on Jesus’ ministry to that point. Point 1: the kingdom grows  and prospers when seed falls on the right kind of soil; point 2: seeds grow under their own power and sometimes the smallest seed will result in the largest growth. This set of points would have helped Mark’s audience understand the difficulties in bringing the gospel to the world, as well as give them hope that the way of Christ (and the kin-dom of God) would spread regardless of their difficulties.

We are in a time in which similar questions arise in our churches and our communities. How is it that some people hear the good news and believe, while others (many others, it seems) don’t? Why are there churches that seem to be thriving while others are shrinking? Is growth in numbers a sign of being good sowers of seed? Or is it a sign that the soil around us is fertile (and if there is no growth are we bad sowers or is the soil sterile?) In any event it can be frustrating to pastors and church members and leadership to watch as something you’ve put your heart and soul into, sometimes for many years, grow fallow in the form of membership loss and lack of new members and making for smaller and smaller congregations that are growing older and less energetic.

If you are in the habit of reading church growth and revitalization materials you know that there are many, many explanations of why this happens, and solutions suggested for how to fix it. The world has changed (yes!) Secularization has taken over, ‘big-box’ churches pull away members from mainline denominations; we were complacent or frozen or rude or embroiled in infighting over doctrinal issues. I’d say all of these things and more are true; none of us within the Christian faith are exempt from taking a hard look at ourselves and our ministries to discern the cause of the declines we’re seeing. And none of us seem to be able to stop comparing ourselves to the church down the street when looking for solutions. Rock-concert music and coffee? That’s what works for them– we should do that! Be more welcoming? We should do that! Small groups? We should do that! (never mind that our church is already a small group by itself.) Hire a young pastor who can relate to the young people? We should do that! There are so many ideas and suggestions for change that, frankly, it makes my head spin.

So to look at these parables is to take a step back from the guilt and the shame that a declining church feels; it is to take a step back from rushing to judgement and seeking quick solutions; it is to say, consider the soil around us and be grateful when we find some fertile ground. It is to say, our job is to spread the good news– period. To bring water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and friendship to the friendless– period. Yes, we are called to make disciples; but we can’t force or coerce people into becoming disciples– that isn’t what Jesus did at all. But we can offer loving acceptance to our neighbors, showering love and compassion as Jesus did; we can teach our children to love others and care for others– even if we don’t like them sometimes or if they aren’t the ‘cool’ kids or they look or sound or smell different than we do. We can do all of these things– this is the ‘sowing’– and before we know it new life will begin to spring up in our communities and our fellowships, more than we can ever imagine.

 

 

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines June 10-17

June 12, 2018

For the summer I am Reading Between the Lectionary Lines by looking at the scripture passages that the Revised Common Lectionary skips over. 

This week our “in between passage” is Mark 4:1-25. If you recall, at the end of Mark 3:20-35 (June 10) Jesus was eating with a large crowd of people– a crowd of tax collectors and sinners, not the best of company. His family had come to remove him from the situation because he was “beside himself” and the Pharisees claimed he had Beelzebub. When his family arrived and the crowd passed on the information that they were there waiting for him, he dismissed them saying that the crowd was his family, that anyone who does the will of God is his family. The passage for June 17 is a set of parables: the parable of the clueless sower and the parable of the mustard seed; this passage closes with commentary about Jesus teaching by using parables. As we begin to think about these parables for this coming Sunday, let’s look at the in-between passage:

Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3“Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
10When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” 13And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14The sower sows the word. 15These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. 20And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 21He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? 22For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” 24And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

This is a very familiar passage to most of us, I think– the parable of the sower. It is the story of  someone sowing seeds willy-nilly, not caring if the seeds fall on good soil, rocks, the path, or in the weeds. Not a very efficient way of sowing seed! The second part of the passage is an explanation of the parable by Jesus– the only place in the gospels that this happens. The third part of the passage is a short parable about letting light shine, not keeping secrets or hiding anything. “For to those who have, more will be given; to those who have little, even what they have will be taken away.”

At first glance this passage doesn’t seem to connect to the previous one at all. Jesus goes from challenging the Pharisees and eating with a huge crowd of people at home, to teaching beside the sea. He is still in Galilee, though, and there is still a large crowd of people who have come out to hear him. The passage has a better connection with the text for next week, which contains another set of agricultural parables.

Because we have Jesus’ own explanation of the parable we know he’s talking about: how different people receive (or don’t receive) the word of God. Seeds fall on a path, on rocky ground, on thorny ground and on good soil. A path, of course, isn’t going to sprout seed at all– those seeds are lost. Rocky ground allows the seeds to sprout but their roots aren’t deep enough so they wither. Thorny ground allows the seeds to sprout but the thorns are an invasive species that kill off any seeds that try to grow. But good soil, of course, not only lets the seed sprout but also has the nutrients the seed needs to grow and thrive.

Things to ponder:

  • In this parable, what do the following images stand for? Sower, Seeds, Path, Rocky soil, Thorny ground, good soil, grain.
  • Why does Jesus teach in parables? What does he tell his disciples about parables?
  • How does teaching in parables relate to hiding a lamp under a basket versus letting it shine?
  • Why does Jesus tell the disciples “The measure you give is the measure you get” and “the more you have the more you receive and if you have nothing whatever you have will be taken away?” How does this connect back to the parable of the sower?

 

Reading between the Lectionary Lines

June 9, 2018

We are in year B of the RCL and I’m starting this sort of in the middle of things, but you have to start somewhere, right? And what better time than at the beginning of Ordinary Time, along with vacation and General Assembly that will take me out of the pulpit for two weeks?

Year B means that we are in Mark, mostly, until about September; then we’re into John for a few weeks and then back in Mark for the rest of the church calendar year. Mark is perhaps my favorite gospel– although they all have their charms! On Sunday, June 3 I preached from Mark 2:23-3:6, a passage about law and observing the sabbath and who gets to decide anyway? (Click here for my sermon on this passage.) Next Sunday the lectionary text is Mark 3:20-35 (spoiler alert! People call Jesus insane and say he has Beelzebub!) In between the two Sundays is Mark 3:7-19:

A Multitude at the Seaside
7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; 8 hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 9 He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10 for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11 Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” 12 But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
Jesus Appoints the Twelve
13 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles,[a] to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15 and to have authority to cast out demons. 16 So he appointed the twelve:[b] Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

To notice in this passage:

  1. There are so many people eager to meet Jesus, hear his message and be healed by him that he had to put out to sea in a boat to keep from being crushed.
  2. Unclean spirits recognized Jesus and would call out his name, but Jesus orders them not to identify him.
  3. At this point Jesus appoints his disciples and gives them authority to do certain specific tasks.

How does this passage continue the action of the story? What had just happened at the end of the lectionary text (that ended with Mark 3:6) and what happens next? How do these passages begin to establish a picture of who Jesus was and what his ministry was? What in this passage connects to the lectionary text for May 10 (Mark 3:20-35)?

Summer Time!

May 21, 2018

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend, a time that we set aside to remember those who have died while serving in the military. It also marks the beginning of summer, or at least summer vacation season. Kids are getting out of school for the summer, the weather (at least in Northern KY) has finally gotten warm, and people often slow down and take time off from various activities.

At COF we have some changes and new things coming up. First of all, beginning Sunday June 3 our worship will begin at 10:30 instead of 11:00. The session decided to do this to allow families more Sunday afternoon time together.

Also in June we will be holding auditions for Smoke on the Mountian, a musical comedy set in a small church in the North Carolina mountains. Auditions will be June 3 from 3-5 pm and June 4 from 7-9 pm, and the show will be performed in August.

Stretching and meditation will be the topic of a class held in our labyrinth on June 6 at 6 pm. Led by Phoenix Wilson and myself, we’ll enjoy learning how to meditate as well as how to walk the labyrinth. We are hoping to build this into a series!

As it says in Ecclesiastes, for every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. If you’ve been thinking about checking us out at COF, why not this summer?

Peace,

Rev. Sharon

Audition Time!

May 3, 2018

God is doing a new thing at Community of Faith: Jeff and I are working to create a community theater company there that we are calling “The RefplayersReformation Players.” Our mission is to bring creative people together to produce quality theater productions as an offering to the Northern KY community. We are lucky in that our congregation is a theater-loving bunch and are supportive of our efforts, and with their blessing we begin this effort!

Our first show will be “Smoke on the Mountain,” a musical comedy set  in a small country church. The show revolves around the pastor, who is trying to bring his congregation into the modern age. To do this he invites a traveling gospel music group, the Sanders Family, to put on a show at the church– to the delight and dismay of the congregation. Between their renditions of classic bluegrass gospel songs each family member gives a testimony of God working in their lives.

Auditions are open to the public and will be held on Sunday, June 3 from 3-5 pm and Monday,Auditions June 4 from 7-9 pm. Casting needs include 4 men and 3 women, including two teen roles; actors must be able to sing. The auditions will consist of a short reading from the script and a demonstration of singing ability. We will also be auditioning musicians to accompany the Sanders Family. Auditions will be held at Community of Faith Presbyterian Church, 1400 Highland Pike, Covington, KY 41011. For more information see our Facebook page or email us at revscarter1400@gmail.com.

The show will be held on August 24, 25, 31 and Sept. 1 at 7 pm, and there will be a matinee on Sunday, August 26 at 3 pm. Tickets are $10; children under 6 are free. Tickets will go on sale soon, so mark your calendar!

Comcast Cares Day at COF

April 16, 2018

This Saturday is Comcast Cares Day at Community of Faith. Comcast, as you probably know, is a nationwide cable TV service provider. For the past 18 years Comcast has sponsored a day of service, Comcast Cares Day, to work with non-profit organizations across the country. Because of our connection with SPARK we (and SPARK) were nominated and selected as one of 6 non-profits in the Cincinnati area to be chosen for this project.

With some hands-on help, some tools and a grant from Comcast we’ll be filling cracks, scraping and painting; we’ll be cutting bushes and planting flowers; and we’ll be doing some deep cleaning in places that we’re not usually able to clean. At the same time we will come to know some of our neighbors from Comcast– even if they’re not from our “neighborhood.” We’ll get to know some SPARK parents and have a day of fellowship and partnership with them. And you’re welcome to stop by see what we’re doing, have a sandwich, or even grab a paint roller, shovel or shop vac and help out!

Considering Technology

February 23, 2018

So I’m going to rant a little today.

And no, it isn’t going to be about guns– at least not in this post.

I’m going to rant about the internet. Well, not the internet, per se; but some of the effects of the internet, some of the unintended consequences we’re facing, that I’d guess most people don’t even think about.

First of all, let me say that even though I was born before personal computers became a ‘thing’, I was a pretty early adopter. In about 1981 at a family reunion I became aware of the very first Apple computers, the ones you had to program yourself. A family member had bought one, another family member was working on a degree in computer science– this was my first exposure to the world of computers. My sisters got an Atari for Christmas soon after that and in my college courses they were beginning to appear. Unfortunately I didn’t have a knack for writing code nor the patience to acquire the knack; but once PC’s came along, I was all in. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it through seminary without a PC and today I have a laptop, a smartphone and a Kindle that I use all the time, all in different ways.

So when I started working at the library I was shocked to discover the number of people who don’t know how to use a personal computer. I was even more shocked when I discovered that many of those people are my age and younger, that it isn’t just elderly people who are computer illiterate (in fact, many people older than me do very well with computers. My parents are both internet savvy and my mom is even on Facebook.)

What’s even more shocking is the way our social structures have changed in response to internet use. You can’t apply for a job without going online. You can’t make an appointment to visit a friend in jail without going online. You can’t apply for social security benefits, unemployment benefits and many other public services without going online.

I know this because, as an Information Services Assistant at the library, it is a big part of my job to help people use our computers. And a big part of that job is helping people with those particular categories of computer use.

Now, you might think I’m making too big of a deal about this. After all, it’s easy, right? You just show someone how to log into the computer and they’re on their way, right?

If  only it were that easy.

First of all, to do anything on the internet you have to be able to read, and read pretty well. Then, you have to have an e-mail address. Yes, Gmail is free and easy to sign up for– that is, if you know what a username is and a password is and can create a username and password that you’ll remember. Because to apply for a job, or make an appointment to visit your friend in jail, or file unemployment or file for social security benefits on line– which you must do– you have to have an account.  An account requires an email address.

It’s the job thing that gets me. It’s no wonder people have trouble getting jobs.

A guy came in to my library yesterday and he said, “I’ve been hired at [local restaurant] and I need to fill in an application on line. But I don’t know anything about computers. They told me to come here and you’d help me.” Okay, that’s part of my job, and I’m more than happy to help.

But here’s the thing: many people who don’t know how to use computers lack that knowledge because they never had the privilege of learning how to use one. Perhaps they struggled in school and couldn’t get the hang of technology. I’ve noticed that many of the people who are computer illiterate have trouble reading. Perhaps their school didn’t have the funding to acquire computers, so they never really were exposed to them. And a lot of people who haven’t been exposed to technology are afraid of it.

But there comes the day that they are trying to get a job, maybe they got laid off from a job they’d had a long time, from back in the days when you could get a job by filling out a paper application; and as I said they don’t have a computer or an email address or a smart phone and they’ve been living their lives just fine without all that stuff. So they come to me, knowing nothing, needing to fill in this application right now, today!

If you have used computers all of your life you forget how complicated they seem when you first sit down at one.

The man I was helping yesterday was trying to get a job as a dishwasher– a dishwasher— and had been promised a job but had to fill out the online paperwork. And, God bless him, he had no idea. He had no email address or any idea of how to create one. He had no idea how to find the employer’s website, even though he had the address; he had no idea how to find the job application page, he had no idea how to go about this process that was far more complicated than it needed to be. He kept saying to me, “I have the job, I just need to do the application on line, they told me I have to do the application online and I can start work tomorrow.”

No shame in being a dishwasher. My kids have both worked as dishwashers. But it shows a lack of respect for a person’s humanity when a person applying to be a dishwasher must fill out an online application before they can begin working. It shows that the company’s convenience is more important than the human being they’re trying to hire.

This man needed someone to sit with him and walk him through this process and I could not do that. And I had other patrons come in and I tried to balance helping him and helping them but finally I think he got frustrated and left. I felt that I had failed him.

But even though perhaps I could have done more, it really isn’t me, or the library, who failed him and many others like him. It is a system that has a one-sized-fits-all way of doing things, making no allowances for those who can’t or don’t understand technology. It is a system in which the odds are stacked against you if you didn’t have the privilege of growing up around computers or being an early adopter when they came along. It’s a system in which human resources are limited in favor of technological resources.

Tech is great. I use it every day. I am lucky enough to be unafraid of technology, I am lucky enough to have the background that enables me to use my different tech items. But as we go ever forward into a more and more tech-dependent world, we must be intentional about not leaving people behind.

 

A Day in the Life (Mark 1:29-39)

February 4, 2018

This lectionary year, as you probably know, we are going to be travelling through the book of Mark. Now because Lent and Easter is fairly early on the church calendar the journey won’t necessarily be in order all the way through because during that time we’ll be looking ahead to the end of the story—although as I see it it’s actually the end and the beginning at the same time. But that part of Mark is for another day, and today we’re still in the first chapter, still at the beginning of the story, watching and hearing as Jesus begins his ministry.
I really like the book of Mark, although all of the gospels have their own things to offer; but for me Mark has a real appeal because of its sense of urgency. Mark is the shortest of all of the gospels, and by all accounts was written first; Luke and Matthew drew from Mark for some of their content but Mark was first off the mark (so to speak.)  Mark doesn’t beat around the bush, does it? Not a lot of detail, not a lot of unnecessary fluff to fill it out, Mark basically hits the high points of the story of Jesus, and you’d better pay attention if you want to keep up! One of the most common words used in the book of Mark is “immediately”—Jesus and the disciples are always immediately doing something as if one event in the story leads to another with barely enough time for us to catch our breath. This gives the book a sense of urgency, as if it’s vitally important that the writer get these stories to us as quickly as possible so that we won’t miss anything.
And if the entire book of Mark is a quick retelling of the life of Jesus, the first chapter that we’ve been hearing about over the past few weeks is like a preview of what’s to come, almost like a movie trailer you might see that pulls you in and makes you want to see the whole movie. Just in the first chapter you see Jesus
…being baptized by John
…being tempted in the wilderness
…calling the first disciples
…teaching in the synagogue and healing a man with a demon
…going to Simon’s house and healing Simon’s mother in law from an illness
…healing after sundown on the Sabbath
…going off to pray and then going out to the rest of the villages
…healing a leper
Lots of action in this first chapter of Mark, isn’t it? Beginning with only a short bit about John the Baptist and his ministry, it’s clear that this book is all about Jesus; and through all of this Jesus is established in his ministry and begins to make a name for himself.
As I indicated before I read the scripture, the passage from Mark that we read last week and the one we read today take place on the same day. We see in these two segments a sort of “day in the life” of Jesus. His day begins in the synagogue: he is preaching, with authority, and then he heals a man with a demon. Immediately, the text says—in other words, as soon as they left the synagogue—they went to Simon’s house, possibly looking for something to eat. Only Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever, so Jesus goes and heals her.
It’s important to note something here: since we found Jesus in the synagogue at the beginning of the day, we know it is the Sabbath when this series of events takes place. It is the Sabbath as he teaches, it is the Sabbath as he heals the man with the demon, it is the Sabbath when he heals Simon’s mother-in- law. Later that day, after sundown, many people come to him with their own demons and illness and afflictions and Jesus ends his day healing them. Late into the night he must have worked, because it says the whole city came to see him—even if it was a small village it would have been a lot of people to heal. The passage ends early the next morning when Jesus goes off by himself to pray; the disciples come looking for him wanting him to continue with the healing but Jesus tells them it’s time to move on to other villages; “this is why I came.” he says.
Mark immerses us in the life and ministry of Jesus from the very beginning, highlighting the kinds of things that become his signature activities, laying out for us in no uncertain terms the ways that Jesus’ ministry is a manifestation of the kingdom of God. Mark also wants us to understand the connection to the source of Jesus’ power: when Jesus goes off by himself to pray, it isn’t just that he needs to rest and recharge, but that he needs to reconnect with the One who makes all of his actions, all of his healings and exorcisms and miracles possible. Travis Franklin, on the website Ministry Matters, puts it like this:
While these passages don’t carry the drama of the feeding of the five thousand or Jesus walking on the water, they do share in a subtle way the connection between the works Jesus does and the source that empowers such work. This is an important connection for Mark, because he wants us to realize that the kingdom that Jesus has been sent to express is a direct revelation of God and God’s activity in a hurting and sinful world. In all of these ways Jesus embodies and proclaims the presence of the kingdom of God.
“This is why I came,” he said.
You see, the miracle stories by themselves aren’t important, and the stories of healing by Jesus of many people from their demons and illnesses by themselves aren’t important unless we make the connection to why Jesus does all of these things and how he is able to do all of these things. God wanted to make it plain to all humanity that God is present and active in the world, a world that God created to be good but that sin and evil were and are working hard to destroy.
Interesting are the responses in this first chapter of those who are the first witnesses to Jesus’s ministry. In the synagogue, the people are amazed at his preaching. The demon challenges Jesus—but responds to his authority. Simon’s mother gets up and serves Jesus. The people come out of the woodwork to be healed by him, desperate for what he has, desperate to be freed from whatever burden is breaking them.
There is power in the relationship between Jesus and God the Father; and Jesus is unrestrained in his demonstration of that power. The only place he is cautious at all is when the demons recognize him and he orders them to keep quiet; and this seems to be only to keep his true identity from getting out too quickly, so he can build the ministry God has in mind rather than the people making him into something else. But the power is there, the relationship is there; people eventually hear him talking about God as Father, they see him going off to pray and they begin to make the connection between these things and the power that Jesus so clearly has. The power that is necessary to recreate the kingdom that was so good in the beginning. The power that can make all people whole once again, restored in body, mind and spirit.
The power is there for us to and the agent of this power is the same. Jesus Christ is the one who brings that power among us, Jesus is the one who shows us how to access that power for our own healing and wholeness. Jesus Christ shows us the way, through the stories in Mark and the other gospels, shows us the way to be restored and to help restore the kingdom of God to the goodness God created it to have. There is power in our faith—the power of love, the power of compassion, the power of tenderness. Just ask anyone who has faced a serious crisis in their life, but was able to tap into the power of love that sustained them through it. Just ask anyone who has felt the healing power of a hug when they needed it, who has known that people were praying for them and has felt stronger and more able to cope because of it. A good portion of the power that Jesus accessed was God’s love for the humanity that God had created; and that’s a power that is available to us if we will just receive it. And, it is a power that we can easily share with others, if only we will.