Friday, February 16, 2024

Altered on the Edge of Belonging.

 Here are some random thoughts on this Sunday's gospel. I'm using the resource Lent in a Box, which has the overall theme for Lent as Altered by the Spirit. For the first Sunday, we're focusing on Altered on the Edge of Belonging.

 

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.


14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


Our overarching sermon theme will be Altered by the Spirit throughout the Sundays of Lent. For this particular Sunday, it is Altered on the Edge of Belonging. What does this mean? It means that we’re looking at what’s happening with people on the edges, outsiders, outliers. 


Rather than John the Baptist traveling from village to village, people had to come to him at the Jordan River. Among those people was our Lord. It is a trek from Nazareth to the Jordan River, and it is uncertain as to which portion of the Jordan John was situated in. Was it closer or farther from Galilee? 


Let’s see how the Holy Spirit showed its work in this passage. First, it came down from the torn-apart heavens, descending like a dove. Dove is the same word translated as pigeon in Greek. Hmm… not so sweet sounding, is it? Just as the people came from the Edge of Belonging, so did the Holy Spirit, coming down from the distant, wide-open heavens. 


Jesus received quite an “atta boy” from his Father. Oh, how nice and encouraging, until the Spirit “drove him” into the wilderness to be tempted. “Drove” is the same expression used to refer to Jesus driving out demons from people. Basically, the Spirit drop-kicked him out into the wilderness. 


We might wonder if Jesus was truly tempted, but unless he was, he would not be truly human. He certainly was. 


Where is John in the story? “In order for Jesus (or anyone, for that matter) to be baptized by John, he has to leave the boundaries of the city, safety, and comfort behind and enter the wilderness place” (Church Anew, Lent in a Box). It is most definitely not safe there!


The wilderness was Jesus’ proving ground, after which, he was ready to proceed with his preaching and healing. 


We may be the ones on the edge. Maybe it’s others at church. Perhaps those who are in no way related to the church. Could one of them be pointing a finger at the Savior, who is right there with them? Can He be seen by them and not us?


Open our eyes, Lord, to your presence in and around us, in friend and stranger alike. Use us to bring others to you now and always. Amen. 

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Transfigured to Transform

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 2/11/24 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Mark 9:2-9.


You probably thought I misspoke when I said “transformed” instead of “transfigured” in the reading of this morning’s gospel. However, in Greek, they are the same word. It is the same word used in Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…” and in 2 Cor. 3:18, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” In these verses, I hear echoes of Jesus’ transfiguration/transformation. Let’s look more closely at these events.


Moses represents the law, while Elijah represents the prophets. Both ascended to God at their deaths, as will Jesus. Their appearance is beyond what most people think is possible.


In scripture, there are numerous signs of God’s presence. The cloud is one such mysterious sign. Additionally, the mountain, the light and the voice tell us God is there. The dazzling white clothing too signals the presence of God or God’s agent.  There are numerous additional connections to occurrences in the Hebrew Scriptures, which would be well-known to the followers. 


Transfiguration literally means to change figure or form. Jesus’ appearance was changed, but not that of Moses or Elijah. Here, the disciples, Mark’s audience and we are allowed a glimpse of the true glory of Jesus. His transfiguration anticipates his resurrection. 


Peter liked what was happening and wanted the mountain-top experience to continue. His attempt to capture the moment, reduces it to a mere photo opportunity. Peter is rejecting the suffering that lies ahead, but is eager to welcome the glory. 


We are also struggling with wanting the mountain-top experience to continue today. Many of us want glory without the cross, but they are inseparable. I will not name names, but there are those preachers who tell you that you can have everything now. You don’t have to suffer in this life because Jesus has already suffered for you. They claim it is your own fault if you are struggling. That is heresy! If that was true, many faithful followers of Christ throughout the centuries, including the disciples, would not have suffered so horribly for the faith. Do we think we are better and more learned than they? I have heard some preach that we have a greater revelation of God’s truth than even the Apostle Paul, which is why they say he suffered for the faith. 


After this great experience of the Transfiguration, with a conference between Moses, Elijah and Jesus, Jesus will walk the way of the cross to suffer and die. We, too, must follow the way of the cross and not the way of glory.


As Martin Luther wrote, “[one] deserves to be called a theologian…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is” (Heidelberg Disputation). Isn’t this the epitome of truth telling?


The offer of a gospel of success is an invitation into what theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, described as “a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”


This is where the heavenly voice comes in. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father says Jesus is the Son, the Beloved. Then God said, “…with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Jesus was the One being addressed. In today’s gospel, it is the disciples who are being addressed and the heavenly Father’s voice ends with “…listen to him” (v. 7). The Greek word for “listen,” implies continuing action: “Keep on listening to him:” or “Continue to listen to him.”


Peter, James and John were not yet Jesus’ followers when he was baptized. These words of the Father were new for these disciples. This moment of glory accompanied by the voice allows us to remember Jesus’ baptism and anticipate the final triumph of Christ, the glorious king. 


Where do we hear the voice? We hear it in scripture. We hear it in music and preaching and our fellowship together. Likewise, we may have a spiritual dream. We may hear God’s voice as we are lifted out of depression by the words of a brother or sister. And God speaks to us in unexpected ways as well, as long as we are open to listening.


During fellowship, we will have the opportunity to hear God’s voice through Gale and Sarah, as they share about their time in Honduras. Let us hear what the Spirit is saying. 


We listen to Christ when we proclaim the gospel in word and deed by feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners, clothing the naked, healing the sick, forgiving those who have offended us and seeking to be peacemakers in our communities. How can we be silent when we have seen the glory of Christ and are being transformed? (Rhonda Garrison Haynes).


Moses and Elijah have disappeared. Their appearance with Jesus says that he was the messiah and that the end times are fulfilled in him. The fact that they disappear, leaving Jesus alone, says that the old has ended and the new has come. Jesus incarnated the missions of Moses the lawgiver and Elijah, the first of the prophets.


Jesus does not escape with his heavenly visitors to glory, but remains to complete his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. He stays behind, so that he is with his disciples then and now. Jesus does not abandon them, expecting them or us to go it alone.


Throughout Mark, people are told to be quiet about what they’ve experienced. It’s the Markan secret. After the resurrection, the church is let in on the secret and becomes the dwelling that Peter thought to erect. The disciples were to wait until after Jesus was raised from the dead, when they could really understand what had happened. They were then prepared to share the good news.


As we listen to the beloved Son of God, he will direct our ways so that we too may share the good news. Just as Jesus was transfigured, we are transformed so that God may use us to transform the world. But we must know what aspect of the good news one needs to hear. For the hungry, a sandwich is good news. For the drowning, a rope or life-jacket is good news. For the cold and homeless, a place to go is good news.


Listen to God’s beloved Son. Jesus is transfigured and we are transformed because of what God in Christ has done for us. Be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and go out from this place as those who are willing and enabled to transform our world.


Amen.


Resources



Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B


Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B


Rhonda Garrison Haynes, asmweb.org/epiphany-season-year-b#Transfiguration


Barbara Kay Lundblad, huffingtonpost.com/Barbara-Kay-lundblad/mark -9-2-9-visions-on-the-mountain_b_html


Martin Luther, The Heidelberg Disputation


Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com


sundaysandseasons.com


Rob Myallis, lectionarygreek.blogspot.com


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Friday, February 2, 2024

Some Questions

 This is the message on this coming Sunday's gospel that will go out to the people of St Timothy Lutheran Church.

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


What are your questions after reading this gospel text? What stands out to you? What makes you scratch your head?


Here are mine. If I were Simon's mother-in-law and had a fever, I wouldn't want some noisy friends of Simon's in the house. And then Jesus heals her, which is great, but then she serves them. Considering the role of women in those days, could Jesus have healed her to allow her to fulfill her usual duties of serving guests? I told you it was bad. It seems to me that her serving showed how well she felt.


My next wondering is in v. 34: “He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” Wouldn’t it seem that if the demons knew about or knew him, that would be good publicity? Again, it goes to something we talked about last Sunday, the issue of the source of information. If it isn’t from God, we don’t want anything to do with it. 


In v. 35, we’re told that Jesus has gone off by himself to pray. This is something we see throughout the gospels. He needed time alone to refresh. I love the way it’s worded about the disciples looking for Jesus; they “hunted for him." What was their message for Jesus once they had found him? “Everyone is searching for you." Oh my, nothing like adding pressure and maybe even heaping a bit of shame onto Jesus! Hurry up. They’re waiting! Everyone! 


Does Jesus go to the place where “everyone” was from? No. They have all come to him and he heals “most” of them. Jesus is on a different schedule for when and where he should be. He tells his disciples that they are going on to the “neighboring towns." 


It’s ok and even good to come to Scripture with our questions. It makes us think and ask and learn. After all, we’re not on our own as we read scripture. The Holy Spirit is with us, giving us insight into God’s word and ways. 


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Thursday, February 1, 2024

Evil Rears Its Ugly Head

 This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 1/28/24 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text  was Mark 1:21-28.

 

In today’s gospel, we see the kingdom of God on the move. Where King Jesus is, there is the kingdom. Where we are, with Christ in our lives, is the kingdom. 

One thing that stands out to me in this reading is, how can there be a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue where Jesus is teaching? Isn’t that supposed to be a safe place where worshipers would not encounter evil? His shouting out to Jesus was so disruptive. Where are the ushers when you need them?

We don’t have much experience in our daily lives with demons. However, if you talk with missionaries, they likely have knowledge in this area. For us, the best definition of a demon or unclean spirit is, “…anything that has power that is not of God” (Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com). It’s all about the source of power and authority. 


One would think that a sanctuary would be a safe place to be. It wasn’t for the people in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. Bible study in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC, was not a safe place to be as congregants and the pastor were killed. Closer to us is the example of the quiet and peace of the Chautauqua Institution being shattered as speaker Salman Rushdie was attacked. Don’t tell me evil isn’t real today.


We have the people’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching recorded before and after Jesus’ encounter with the demon. Prior to the confrontation, the people were “astounded” (v. 22) and that’s before they saw anything happen. Jesus’ teaching contrasted so powerfully with that of the scribes, who were well-respected, knowledgeable, teachers in that day. 


However, they also were part of Jesus‘ opposition and later the early church’s. The issue between Jesus and the scribes is not how they teach, but who represents the authority of God. Who is speaking for God? Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks as the king of the ages, appointed by God. This authority is a “willingness or right that has everything to do with seeing justice served” (Graves).


After the miracle, the people were amazed, and they added that “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27). “Astounded” and “amazed,” are two different words in English and in New Testament Greek.  The differences may be slight, but they are there. 


Unclean in scripture means ritually impure in comparison to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Holy One in contrast to the unholy spirit possessing the man. The spirit is reacting to Jesus’ teaching. That’s when all hell and all heaven breaks loose. 


The unclean spirit demonstrates how public honor, reputation and status worked in Jesus’ day. It begins by using public information to show that it knows who Jesus is. “I know who you are (socially) Jesus of Nazareth.” But then the spirit reveals information that is not public knowledge, that which is known only in the spiritual realm. “I know who you are (spiritually)—the Holy One of God.” It is this spiritual status that is the source of Jesus’ authority. The demons had a better idea of who Jesus was than many humans. 


“Have you come to destroy us?” (V. 24). Why the change from the singular to the plural? This spirit represents every manifestation of evil: sickness, sin, death and the whole kingdom of evil. Jesus is encountering the entire demonic world. The demons know they are already defeated. Jesus commands them with a simple word, and they are gone. Jesus restores the man to his community. Here we see that the final victory of God over demonic evil is already present in Jesus’ ministry. And yet, there is still evil at work in the world. It is the case of experiencing the now, but not yet of the fullness of God’s kingdom.


What is Jesus’ new teaching? What is new is the authority behind Jesus’ words. Things happen when Jesus speaks and teaches. His word is powerful. In this case, Jesus’ word freed a man who had been enslaved by a demon. 


God stands steadfastly against all forces that are keeping you, as God’s people, down as well. God is opposed to anything and everything that robs you of abundant life. God will do battle with those who seek to rob you of joy, meaning and purpose. God is committed to doing this for you and for all God’s children (Lose). And today, I can’t help but think of those surrounded by war in so many places—without homes, wounded inside and out—without homes and nowhere they can possibly go. Somehow, some way Jesus reaches out to them, loves them and restores them. 


There is a song the praise band has sung that illustrates what God is calling us to. Think about these words this week and see how God speaks to you:


God put a million, million doors in the world

For His love to walk through

One of those doors is you

I said God put a million, million doors in the world

For His love to walk through

One of those doors is you.


We bring the kingdom come…

With every act of love

Jesus, help us carry You

Alive in us, Your light shines through

With every act of love

We bring the kingdom come 

(Jason Gray).


Amen.

 

Resources


David Ewart, holytextures.com


Mike Graves, Ofelia Ortega, in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1


David Lose, Epiphany 4B-Against the Robbers, davidlose.com


Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels

 

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Altered on the Edge of Belonging.

  Here are some random thoughts on this Sunday's gospel. I'm using the resource Lent in a Box, which has the overall theme for Lent ...