Posts Tagged ‘community’

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.

 

 

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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?

 

Abraham– Week 4: Call

June 12, 2017

We continue our Abraham study with the chapter entitled “Call”, about the beginnings of Abraham’s call to follow God. Once again, there are notes from co-teacher Bill that can be accessed here. If you’re reading along or following this blog I encourage you to add your own comments, and if you haven’t started reading the book, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler it is well worth the read. It is available on Amazon and possibly through your local library as well!

This chapter addresses the question of what it means to be called by God, particularly as it pertains to Abraham and particularly as understood by Christians, Muslims and Jews. We can also glean form this discussion what it means to be called on a more personal level; for, as Abraham is called, so are we called as his descendants.

The call of Abraham teaches us, according to Mr. Feiler, that God hears the cries of all of God’s people. God heard the cry of Abraham, who at an advanced age had no heir; God responds with a promise of not only more descendants than there are stars in the sky, but also land that will be his and theirs. In order to receive this promise Abraham must leave his homeland and go… somewhere. God isn’t clear in the beginning where Abraham will go, only that he needs to go. And Abraham, trusting God, goes.

This is something new; Abraham is breaking tradition with his father who is a maker of idols. For Abraham, God offers no physical manifestation; neither does Abraham seem to need it. We might wonder how to put ourselves in Abraham’s shoes: is God the still, small voice in Abraham’s head? Is there an actual conversation? We have reported interchanges between God and Abraham, but is this a conversation as we humans understand conversation? And if not, what was it that convinced Abraham to go?

In Mr. Feiler’s book he describes the differences in emphasis between Christianity, Judaism and Islam regarding the understanding of Abraham’s call. For Jews, Abraham’s call began as a call to migration, a call that will lead him (and his descendants) to the promised land. Later the understanding becomes more spiritual in nature as the exile sends Jews on a different journey, a journey away from the land to a place where they are the other. Now the task, says Mr. Feiler, is to “go to yourself…find your roots.” For  Islam Abraham’s response to God, that he picked up and went to another land at God’s instruction, is the ultimate submission and obedience to God. For Christians the Abraham story represents a “hoping against hope” (as Paul puts it)– he didn’t disbelieve God’s promise even though he was of advanced age and “his body was as good as dead” (again, Paul). Feiler’s friend Father John says that “the lesson of Abraham is that you have to be willing to risk it all. You have to give up everything for God.”

As Christians we ask ourselves “what is God calling me to do?” We beleive that all of God’s people have gifts and abilities that we are to use to fulfill God’s work in the world. Frederick Buechner describes the place God God’s us to as that place in which a person’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. It may be that we are called, as Abraham was, to pick up stakes and move to a new land. It may be that we are called to a a new ministry in which we are the other, the outsider who must form relationships before we can accomplish any change in the world.

 

 

 

Library Lessons

January 21, 2015

I started a new job just after Christmas, a second job to supplement my job at Community of Faith, so I am now officially a tentmaker. The wisdom of church thinkers tells us that this is a new direction for churches to go in, to move away from full time clergy, especially in smaller or more rural churches. It can help a church’s bottom line to not be paying a pastor a full time salary; and it can be helpful to the pastor as well, because it forces him or her to keep very good boundaries between the church and the rest of life. And if you’ve ever worked as a part-time pastor you know there really isn’t such a thing, especially if you’re not good at keeping boundaries, and many pastors who are paid a part-time salary end up working around the clock anyway. However, juggling the hours I work at my “other job” with the duties I am entrusted with at the church is already proving to be tricky; but so far the COF leadership has been understanding, and I am hopeful that as time goes along things will settle into place.

My second job is at a local library in the community next door to Covington, a small town called Newport. Working at the library has always been a dream of mine, mainly because I love books and I love to read and I love libraries. I started going to the library as a young child and had my own library card as soon as I was old enough; and I loved the library in my home town because it was one of those big marble buildings with card catalogues running up the middle of it. To get to the juvenile section you had to take an elevator which opened on both sides– something I had never seen before– and it was part of the whole library experience for me. Even today when I imagine a library from a scene in a book, that is the library I imagine.

Libraries of today are something more than they were when I was a child, though. The libraries I’ve been involved with, both here and in Knoxville, are more like community centers than they used to be. The Newport Library (and all of the area libraries, as far as I know) is about more than just books, although we have plenty of those. The Newport Library also has craft classes, story time for children, a children’s area with toys and coloring pages and special reading nook, and a program for teens that includes a book club, after school time, and lock-ins; there are computers that anyone can come in and use, for free, all day long if they want to and we’re not that busy. All types of people come to the library, too, and we don’t turn anyone away (unless they give us a problem.) We welcome all people who come through our doors and do the best we can to treat each person with the same friendly manner. It’s a welcoming place, obviously a place where people want to come, a place where people fee welcome and at home.

I find this striking because of the contrast with most churches today. Most churches aren’t centers of the community anymore and we have to work very hard to find ways to be relevant in people’s lives. 50 or 60 years ago the thinking was “if you build it they will come,” and they did come, for many years. But that isn’t working for us any more, and while the reasons are complex the contrast with the library is telling.

So what can we learn from our library neighbors?

For one thing, the library is open more than one hour per week. The library has regular hours when it is open, when patrons can come and get books or use the computer or whatever they need to do there, and multiple staff people on hand to help patrons when they need help. Churches, on the other hand, are rarely open unless there is an event for the members of the church; occasionally it will be open for “outsiders” but often only to fundraise or “to get people interested in us” or for a scheduled event. Most churches, while they may be staffed during week days, keep their doors locked, afraid of danger to the building and staff if strangers were to wander in.

And what would churches have to offer people who might wander in? Libraries have books to check out, computers to use, craft classes, story time and youth activities. They have basic office equipment such as fax machines and copiers and charge a minimal fee for their services. They have clean, modern meeting spaces that are easily accessible and easy to reserve. Churches have… big open rooms designed for a special purpose (worship.) Maybe a room where children could play– if the building were open. Office equipment that is protected and usually outdated, Wi-Fi that isn’t reliable. Special furnishings that are uncomfortable to sit on and are also protected and revered.

The library feels like a place of abundance.  The library has funding of course, from taxes, but must fight for that funding each year as budgets are cut and funds are diverted to other projects; and yet, the library finds a way to make its programs happen. The church often feels like a place of scarcity, fearful of spending, fearful of trying anything new, fearful of failure. Is this how God wants us to present ourselves to the world?

Libraries are often bustling with activity because they’ve identified their purpose in the community and they are focused on following through on it. Churches can take a lesson from this by finding a purpose that opens them to the community and the abundant life that God intends for God’s people.