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Christmas, Advent or What?

November 29, 2018

Advent 1 Luke 21:25-36

With Thanksgiving safely behind us we can now turn our attention to Christmas (even though stores and radio stations have been putting Christmas in our faces since, I don’t know, maybe late October?) This year Thanksgiving was early so there is an extra week to shop and carol and eat and do all of those holiday things we like to do.

Unless you’re in a church of the Reformed Tradition, like the Presbyterian Church. In the Presbyterian Church, while the rest of the world is partying and shopping and singing Christmas carols, we are observing the season of Advent.

Advent is the season that encompasses the 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve. This year Advent begins Sunday, December 2 and ends Sunday, December 23. As people of the Reformed Protestant tradition, we understand this to be a time in between; while we know that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected–and we celebrate that–we also wait expectantly for Christ’s return. The word “advent” means coming or arrival and we interpret the season of Advent as a joyous time of waiting for the arrival of Christ– the Christ who was and is and is yet to come.

However, this puts us somewhat at odds with the rest of the culture. At church we sing advent hymns, and we begin the season by reading scripture passages that point to the return of Christ. It’s only when we draw closer to Christmas that we begin to tell the story of the baby Jesus in the manger, only after Advent is over and Christmas–the Nativity– is here that we sing traditional Christmas songs. And so we find ourselves wondering why can’t we just sing Joy to the World now? Would it hurt us to be a little more Christmas-y? 

It is important, though, to take some time to reflect on what we’re celebrating when we celebrate Christmas. We should try to avoid getting so caught up in the revelry that we forget what we’re about. We might ask ourselves,  Why are we so happy that Jesus Christ was born so long ago? What does it mean to us today that Jesus lived, and that as the Messiah he will return at some point and put things right? And how do we live in the already/ not yet– the in-between of time that we find ourselves in?

When we look at the scripture passage for the first Sunday of Advent our first response is whoa Jesus! This is some heavy stuff! The images are of a time or unrest or war, probably reflecting the Jewish uprising against Rome that ended with the temple’s destruction. And yet this was a time of birth for a new church and a new faith; these are the people that this passage and indeed, the whole of the gospels, is intended for. It is intended to give them strength and hope for the future, a reminder that God is with them.

We live in a time nearly 2000 years from when these words were written, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as relevant as they were when they were written. We still face difficult times. We still find ourselves longing for the return of Christ and a righting of the injustices of the world. We still find ourselves afraid– of being hurt, of being found unworthy, of not being able to overcome the fears that the world puts on our plate. How will we ever be able to look God in the face when the time comes?

Jesus tells us to live in hope. Stand up and raise our heads because it is our God who is coming. Don’t get caught up in the worries and fears of the world but be watchful and prepared. The kingdom of God is here– and this is very good news!

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Reading Between the Lectionary Lines: Ephesians

August 4, 2018

We’re taking a short break from Mark and making a detour into the epistle, or letter, to the church in Ephesus– Ephesians, we call it. Last Sunday in worship we read the introduction:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

These verses are essentially the writer’s thesis statement, which can be summed up in this way:

  1. The Ephesians are blessed in Christ and chosen in Christ by God, destined for adoption into the family of God
  2. They are redeemed and forgiven by grace that God has freely chosen to give to them
  3. This was God’s plan from before the beginning of time and includes all things earthly and heavenly
  4. The people who were the first to believe in Christ have received this as an inheritance
  5. Others who hear and believe also receive the inheritance and are marked by the Holy Spirit

Our upcoming passage from Ephesians is a lovely passage about the coming together, in Christ, of Jews and Gentiles. The two groups, who had once been adversaries, who once considered each other to be cut off from God, were now one because of Christ. For more on this passage you can come to worship this week!

Between the passage about the young church’s inheritance in Christ, and the description of Jews and Gentiles being unified under Christ, the lectionary skips over 1:15-23 and 2:1-10. Chapter 1 verses 15-23 are some more introductory words from the writer of the epistle– who may or may not be Paul– but who certainly knew the church in Ephesus. There is praise and thanksgiving for the faith of the Ephesians, as well as a little more edification about the inheritance in Christ that the author wants the Ephesians to ‘see with the eyes of their hearts’. Chapter 1 concludes with glowing praise of God who has made all things possible in Jesus Christ.

But it is in skipping chapter 2:1-10 that we really miss out. These verses are a preface and a lens through which we read verses 11-22 (our passage for Sunday, August 5.) V. 1-10 is as follows:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

This is what God has done for us. God, who always loved us– even when we were “dead through our trespasses” (living in unbelief and disobedience)– has taken us out of that way of life and shown us a new way through Christ Jesus. What God has shown us is that the worldly way is unable to bring us completeness, unable to mend our brokenness, repair our relationships, create clean hearts within us. Only God can do that, and God has done that. For all of us.

But that isn’t the end of it. What we see in vv. 11-22 is that God wants something from us– or wants a change to happen within us. God desires for us to be unified in Christ– all Jews and Gentiles (or Muslims and Christians or gay and straight, or pick your opposing groups) together as one in Christ Jesus.

Not that we are all the same. Think of Christ as an umbrella, and we’re under it. When you’re under an umbrella in the rain with someone, you and that person don’t become the same person, right? You each retain your own individuality. However, you’re both under the same umbrella and must cooperate with each other in order that both stay dry. It’s similar with Christ: once we are in Christ we are new creations, not in the sense that we become just like others but in the sense that we are changed towards each other and the world so that welcoming and hospitality and healing and love are the response to others whether we are like each other or not.

Questions for thought:

When we read things like verse 3 we typically think of “sexual sins.” What other behaviors might be included in passions and desires of the flesh? Is there another way to understand passions and desires of the flesh as something other than things we do?

What does it mean to you that by grace you have been saved?  Do you believe that statement? Do you believe it for other people, maybe even people you don’t get along with or who have wronged you?

What are we saved from? What are we saved for?

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines- July 16-22

July 18, 2018

Today the disciples return from their travels to share with Jesus all they have seen and done. And instead of being able to go off by themselves, as Jesus wants them to do, people are everywhere, crowds of people. And Jesus has compassion for them and begins to teach.

We are coming to the end of Part I of Mark, or what I’ve come to imagine as “Part I” as I’ve worked through Mark this summer. Mark is not a long book but it can be divided into sections, the first 6 chapters introducing John the Baptist and Jesus and establishing their roles. Mark is different than the other synoptic gospels because there is no birth narrative, only John, baptizing, and announcing the coming of another, more powerful person. The rest of the first 6 chapters are the story of the transition of power between John and Jesus and the consequences for them both. John, we know, has been a powerful critic of Rome as well as the religious leaders of the day; Jesus takes on this role and we see the ways he challenges the powers that be. We also see the compassion he has for the people and we see him healing and teaching and working to repair the brokenness of people’s lives.

Last week the periscope involved Jesus sending out the disciples in pairs, having given them the powers that he himself has. Then, of course, we read that Herod was worried about Jesus, that he was John the Baptist come back to life; Herod had reason to be anxious because he had been the one to have John killed. We hear the story of how this happened, which ended with John’s disciples coming to pick up his body for burial.

Now the disciples return from their travels and their work and Jesus invites them to go on retreat; there are so many people there that, once again, they can’t even eat or rest and Jesus invites them to go away. But the people see what they’re doing and they hurry to get there ahead of Jesus and his followers. So when they get where they’re going there is still no rest because Jesus has compassion on the people and begins to teach them. The phrase “they were like sheep without a shepherd” implies that they had no one leading them or caring for them. ‘Compassion’ in this context means ‘shared suffering’; in other words, Jesus felt their suffering and took action to help ease it.

The reading skips over two major passages here: the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water. The feeding happens because as Jesus has been teaching the day has grown late and people need to eat; some fish and bread is found, which Jesus breaks and blesses, and there is enough for everyone and then some. Is this a magical miracle, in which Jesus literally makes bread and fish multiply out of thin air? Or is this a case of the people, who actually had some food with them, broke it out and shared with each other so that there was plenty? Either way it illustrates the breathtaking abundance of God embodied in Jesus’ actions. Whether he magically made bread and fish appear or he was able to encourage the people to share what they already had, the abundant life of God is fully in evidence here.

Once everyone has eaten Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him across the sea of Galilee; and in the night he comes to them in the boat, walking on the water. It is the last of the major miracles in Part I of Mark and is a second example of Jesus’ mastery of the waters, hearkening back to the waters of creation. We end the chapter with Jesus and the disciples coming ashore at Gennesaret where again, everyone recognizes them and they are overwhelmed with people in need. Emphasis is on the power of Jesus to connect with people, to see them as they are and to heal their brokenness and sickness through that connection. A connection so strong that all people need is to touch his robe and they are healed.

Questions:

What has Jesus healed you of in the past? What do you need healing for now?

How did Jesus connect with people? What can we learn from the way he connected with those around him?

If compassion means “suffering with”, what does that mean for ministries in our communities?

 

 

Reading between the Lectionary Lines- July 8-15

July 18, 2018

Ironically for this blog the last several weeks the passages from Mark that we’ve been reading have been consecutive, with very few skipped sections. As we follow the arc of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, we can see a pattern emerge of the growing power and authority of Jesus.

Last week we read the interior story of fourth of our Markan sandwiches. The outer layer begins with Jesus sending out the disciples in pairs into villages and towns in the area. Then the story jumps to Herod, who has heard about Jesus and is wondering who he is. Herod believes him to be John the Baptist, who is dead (as we read way back in Mark 1) but has come back to life. Then there is a flashback to the story of Herod’s betrayal of John and John’s death. We have a cast of characters here who are all culpable in some way: Herod, a minor king or tetrarch without the power he seems to crave; Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife, who has a grudge against John; Salome, who dances for Herod and is used by her mother to secure John’s death; the courtiers and other local gentry who are there for Herod’s birthday party. In the end, Herod must choose between keeping a promise to Salome “up to 1/2 of my kingdom is yours!” and continuing to protect John, who Herod is fascinated with and maybe a little fearful of. After this story we come back to the present, where Jesus’ disciples have returned, full of stories of the miracles and ministry they were a part of. This is the beginning of the pericope for Sunday, July 22.

If we imagine that the purpose of the filling of the Markan Sandwich is to interpret or enhance the meaning of the outer layers,  we want to understand how Herod’s understanding of who Jesus is gives us insight into the sending out of the disciples and their return. And why include the story of John’s murder?

It’s a transitional moment–a transfer of power from John to Jesus. It’s also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death at the hands of the same powers that kill  John. Beyond that, it shows that the powers of the world will not have the last word; because even as Herod is remembering his sin that was the killing of John, Jesus’ power is growing; even as Herod is afraid that Jesus is John reborn, Jesus is the one who John was sent to bear witness to. Even as Jesus anoints his disciples with his own power they are sent out to expand the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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