Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:14-20: Following Jesus

Bologna - Jesus call the Apostles St. Andrew and John

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s story is at the early part of Jesus’ ministry. He goes into Galilee to tell people about God. He tells them that God’s kingdom is near and they need to change their hearts and believe the Good News.

 

One day as he’s walking by Lake Galilee, he sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew. They are fisherman so of course they are doing their work and throwing a net into the lake for fish.

Jesus tells them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a different kind of fishermen. You will bring in people, not fish.”  They immediately stop fishing and follow him.  I love the idea of this.  Here are these two regular guys out fishing for a living.  Jesus walks up and is like, “OK, quit that and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” And they’re like, “OK, let’s go.”  In the version of this story found in Luke’s gospel, more happens (you can read it here) but it’s amazing to imagine these two guys just dropping their nets and taking off with Jesus.  How amazing Jesus was and is to affect people that way.

Jesus continues walking by the lake and sees James and John, who are called the sons of Zebedee (they are also brothers). They were preparing their nets on their boat. Their father and other men were also in the boat. Jesus also told these brothers to come, so they up and left the boat, leaving their father and the other men to follow Jesus. Again, there’s more to the story in the link above in Luke’s gospel. Again I love the idea that Jesus so wowed them that they abandoned their profession right then and there and went to follow him.

What are you prepared to change in your life to follow Christ? Is there anything you need to abandon to be a true Christ-follower? How can you change your heart and life to really follow him?

 

Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: 1 Samuel 3:1-10: God’s Call

the Book of 1 Samuel Reading The New International Version

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of 1 Samuel.

I particularly like today’s Old Testament story, which is why I’m writing about it instead of my usual interest in the New Testament reading.

Samuel was at the time of the story just a boy serving the priest Eli in the temple. The Jewish historian Josephus says that he was 12, but scholars think he may have been older than that–so not a very young child and perhaps a teen.

The author points out that at that time the Lord did not speak to people often or give them visions.

One night Eli had gone to bed and Samuel lay down in the temple near the Ark of the Covenant. While he lay there, the Lord called him. Samuel responded, “Here I am,” but he thought it was Eli calling him. So he went to Eli to ask what he wanted. Eli told him he didn’t call him and to go back to bed. You can imagine the old, tired priest having his sleep disturbed by the youngster–maybe he was a little crabby about it.

 

Samuel went back to bed, but again the Lord called him by name. And he again ran to see what Eli wanted–and again Eli sent him back to bed.

The Bible says Samuel just didn’t know it was God calling because he hadn’t heard from the Lord like that before.

Samuel did not yet know the Lord because God had not spoken directly to him before.

Again the Lord called Samuel and again Samuel went back to see what Eli wanted. But this time Eli understood what had been happening, so he told Samuel to go to bed again and if he heard the call again to say, Speak, Lord. I am your servant, and I am listening.

 

Samuel went back to bed and again he heard the call. This time he responded, “Speak. I am your servant, and I am listening.”

 

And God spoke to him and from that moment Samuel became a great prophet and the one to anoint two kings over Israel.

This story is simple but beautiful. I can see it in my mind’s eye like a play. The boy waking at the sound of his name and just assuming it’s his master–the priest groggily sending him to bed until he realizes the boy is having a vision–the boy obeying God and responding to the call. It reminds us that we don’t always hear the Lord calling or understand what he wants of us. If we did there wouldn’t be so many disagreements within or among churches and denominations, for one thing. Many people think they hear clearly and that only their church hears clearly. So while we have to be open to God’s call and instruction, we also have to be careful not to mistake it. I think a good start is to consider love. Are you moving toward being more loving and loved, or away from that? Any word from God would move us toward love.

 

The Epiphany, Year B: Matthew 2:1-12: Light in Darkness

Epiphany

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for The Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew. I have also chosen to do the Epiphany readings even though it doesn’t fall on a Sunday. The readings for The First Sunday after the Epiphany can be found here.

The story of the Epiphany is the story of the Wise Men (or Magi) coming to visit baby Jesus–a story you’ve likely heard before. The singular word for Magi is Magus (where we get the word magician), so they were men of learning, some maybe astrologers reading portents in the sky. We have a  tradition of them being kings and that there were three of them, but that’s not found in the text itself–there’s no indication of a number other than that they presented three gifts. These Wise Men believed they could see the news of a king’s birth in the stars, so they came to find the king who had been born. They only knew he was born king of the Jews, so they first went to the leader of the Jews (but a leader who was a puppet king and collaborator with Roman rule–Herod). Herod was not happy to hear a king had been born, but he didn’t tell the Magi that. He told them to let him know when they found him and he had priests and teachers of the Jewish law advise the Magi on where a king might be born.

The Magi went on to Bethlehem, where they found Jesus, honored him, and gave him expensive gifts. Then they went home a different way because God warned them in a dream not to tell Herod where to find the baby Jesus.

In The First Christmas, a great little book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, they talk about the theme of light in the darkness in this story.

The story of the star does not make a statement about an astronomical phenomenon, but a statement about Jesus: his birth is the coming of the light that draws wise men of the Gentiles to its radiance.

The First Christmas (p. 182, Kindle Edition)

 

This makes me think of my last post about Jesus being both the Word of God and the light shining in the darkness. Jesus is that for us from that day to this.

First Sunday After Christmas, Year B: John 1:1-18: The Word and the Light

Stained Glass

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday after Christmas, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

I’ve always thought of John as the intellectual Gospel, with its more complex theology and imagery than the synoptic gospels. This is evident from the very beginning of John, which starts at the very beginning of time (whereas Matthew and Luke start with the birth of Jesus and Mark starts with John the Baptist).

The first verses are beautiful and poetic even in a simple translation:

Before the world began, the Word was there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was there with God in the beginning. Everything was made through him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was a light for the people of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not defeated it.

John 1:1-5 (Easy to Read Version)

I found something about this in Evolution of the Word by Marcus J. Borg:

What John says about Jesus and the Word is sometimes misunderstood. For many Christians, Jesus and the Word of God have become identical and interchangeable terms. Thus they understand John’s opening words to mean, In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.” But that is not what John says. What was in the beginning with God was the Word/Wisdom of God. But Jesus wasn’t there in the beginning; that which became flesh in him was. Jesus is the embodiment and revelation of what can be seen of the Word/Wisdom of God in a human life.

Borg also says that the “‘word of God’” in Judaism is closely associated with the wisdom of God, and that God created the world through wisdom, wisdom spoke through the prophets, and wisdom (like the Spirit of God) permeates everything.

Then the Gospel introduces John the Baptist–reiterating what we know from the other Gospels–that John was not the light but came to tell people about the light (Jesus).

So Jesus is both the light and the Word and the passage goes on to say that “the Word became a man and lived among us.” The imagery is all beautiful and moving. For me it cuts straight to the heart. And the deeper theology is also at the end of the passage: “The only Son is the one who has shown us what God is like. He is himself God and is very close to the Father.

 

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B: Luke 1:26-38: Mary the Willing Servant

Advent wreath with 4 burning candles

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Today’s Advent reading is the very start of the Christmas story–the angel Gabriel comes to young Mary in Nazareth. Gabriel tells Mary she is very special to God. She is surprised and confused. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

The angel tells her not to be afraid, because God is pleased with you. He tells her she will be pregnant and have a baby boy, whom she will name Jesus. I love this part because my middle son has played Gabriel twice in our church’s Christmas pageant, and he does an almost British accent and rolls the R when he says grandly, He will be grrrrreat and will be called the Son of the Most High; and of his kingdom there will be no end!

Mary asks how it will happen since she is still a virgin and the angel tells her the power of God will cover her. The baby will be called the Son of God. He also tells her that her cousin Elizabeth, considered too old to bear a child, is also pregnant, because God can do anything.

 

Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let this thing you have said happen to me!” Then Gabriel leaves her.

I love this story. It’s supernatural but also very human. A young woman having an out-of-this-world experience. She’s shocked but she’s also accepting. I hope that in every encounter with God we can also be so willing to be servants. Cherish the mystery but be willing to say yes to it, too.

 

Third Sunday of Advent, Year B: John 1:6-8,19-28: Pointing to Jesus

Advent wreath with 3 burning candles

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

This week will be a little different, because on this week I did the homily for our church’s family service. I am going to put most of that homily here, but I’m also going to link to the source of the ideas for that homily, which is a really wonderful blog called Worshiping With Children. It is great advice for how to lead a service like the one I was speaking in, which is full of young families. I relied so heavily on it because I found out I needed to preach at 11pm the night before, because our rector was ill.  I figured the blog is meant for such use, so hopefully the cribbing in that instance is ok. These are my notes for the homily (which I then broke down more simply on to a few notecards and ad libbed a bit more from those).

What do we know about John the Baptist?

  • John was Jesus’ cousin
  • John’s clothes and food–wearing clothes of camel’s hair, living on locusts and wild honey
  • John told his followers they were doing wrong and needed to change
  • John baptized people who came to hear him and wanted to change
  • John promised that someone important was coming from God and he was just pointing toward him
  • John baptized Jesus

John the Baptist was the first to point people to Jesus.   

I need two volunteers to help illustrate John and Jesus. (I had two little girls who volunteered.)

  • Pose the baptism of Jesus first. 
  • Then, pose John pointing to Jesus.
  • He was the first to point to Jesus, but many others did, too. The shepherds who saw the baby Jesus in the stable on Christmas, the Samaritan woman at the well, people he healed, the women who saw the empty tomb. (As I was speaking this part I had an awkward moment as it hit me that the shepherds actually pointed to Jesus before John–this is what happens when you have little prep time.)
  • We can point to Jesus, too.

John knew who he was and who he was not.

  • He wasn’t the Messiah or Elijah (people asked him if he was both of those).
  • He was simply to prepare people for Jesus.
  • Part of our job in life is to figure out who we are and who we are not.
  • When one of my sons says, “All the other kids are…” I tell them he isn’t all the other kids. He is his own wonderful self. He is a child of God. As are you.

 

Second Sunday of Advent, Year B: Mark 1:1-8: Baptizing in Water

Advent wreath with 2 burning candles

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s passage is from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. It starts with quotes from both Isaiah and Malachi (though only Isaiah is credited in this passage) about a messenger preparing the way for the Lord. Then he goes on to talk about John the Baptist, who indeed prepares the way for Jesus. John was out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River–calling them to repent of their sins and change.

Baptism was probably not a new thing at the time. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible mentions that Many Jewish people were also familiar with a sort of baptism associated with conversion, a once-for-all kind of turning.” It likely relates to other Jewish purification rituals. For John, baptism preceded repentance and turning your life around to follow God.

John emphasizes also that he was only the precursor to someone greater. He baptizes with water, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

He prepares the people for Jesus who will soon come after, and puts people in the right frame of mind to accept what Jesus will bring them.

First Sunday of Advent, Year B: Mark 13:24-37: Be Ready

Advent wreath with one burning candle

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Mark was written around 70 C.E., which is the year that the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple while crushing the Jewish revolt. Mark therefore, was written during a time of war and trouble, and this is probably why it has an apocalyptic theme to a lot of it. That’s true of this passage. It’s good to keep in mind the setting in which it was written as we read some of its dark portents.

Jesus starts in this passage by quoting an apocalyptic passage from Isaiah:

“During the days following that time of trouble,

‘The sun will become dark,
    and the moon will not give light.
The stars will fall from the sky,
    and everything in the sky will be changed.’[a]

“Then people will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. He will send his angels all around the earth. They will gather his chosen people from every part of the earth.

Mark 13: 24-27 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Then he tells a metaphor about a fig tree–we can tell summer is near by the green and soft branches–and so also will people know when the end of time is near. But on the other hand, he also says no one knows when exactly that time will be. Only God the Father knows, so we must always be ready.

He reiterates with a story of a man leaving his home and giving his servants each special jobs to do. He tells them to be ready at any time for his return. In the same way, the followers of Jesus must also always be ready.

I admit that I find apocalyptic scripture difficult to read and write about. I don’t always know what to make of it. I know what I was taught growing up in various evangelical churches, but not what to make of it now as an adult. So I just focus on the “be ready” part. We can always be ready to meet Jesus, whether that’s in some glorious return or in our day-to-day where we should be ready to meet Jesus in our fellow human beings–doing good and being a light to the world. As this passage is for the First Sunday of Advent, it is appropriate to be ready to meet Christ, who is coming at Christmas.

Christ the King Sunday, Year A: Matthew 25:31-46: What You Do for Others

Vienna- The icon of Jesus among the apostles on the canvas in church Brigitta Kirche by unknown artist of 20. cent.

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Christ the King Sunday, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today’s story is Jesus telling his followers about a judgment to come in the future. He says the Son of Man will be sitting on a throne and all the people will be gathered before him. He will separate people into two groups like a shepherd separating sheep from goats–the sheep to his right and the goats to his left.

“Then the king will say to the godly people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has great blessings for you. The kingdom he promised is now yours. It has been prepared for you since the world was made. It is yours because when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I had no place to stay, you welcomed me into your home. When I was without clothes, you gave me something to wear. When I was sick, you cared for me. When I was in prison, you came to visit me.’  

Matthew 25: 33-36 (Easy-to-Read Version)

They will be surprised that they ever did hose things for him, but he will answer, “The truth is, anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me.”

 

The reverse occurs with the goats to his left–they are the ones who never did any of those things for others and so he rejects them.
The question Jesus is asking in this story is what have you done and what will you do for others? Because how you follow Jesus and how you love him is to love others. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the homeless, share clothes with those who need clothes, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. This is not just the task of the church, but of the individual. Whatever you do for God’s people (that is all the people–we are all God’s children), you do for Jesus Christ.

Proper 28, Year A: Matthew 25:14-30: Invest in Love

Love

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 28, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this parable, Jesus describes God’s kingdom as like a man who leaves on a trip and before he goes he leaves his servants in charge. He gives them each different amounts of money and they each responded differently. Some invest it but one just digs a hole and leaves his master’s money in a hole. When the master comes home he calls in his servants to see what they did with his money. he’s pleased with those who increased it, but he’s really angry at the one who only buried the money he was given. He takes money from that one and gives it to the one who made the most money.  The master says,   Everyone who uses what they have will get more. They will have much more than they need. But people who do not use what they have will have everything taken away from them.” (Easy-to-Read Version)

The master in this parable is really giving very large amounts of money to these servants (not for their own use but to keep safe for him and also to increase for him). It’s a big responsibility for each of them. Those who took the money and invested it were given even larger sums of money–so the reward was actually more responsibility to use it wisely. The one who hid the money was afraid to even attempt to invest it–his fear reminds me of Christians who hide away in their own church communities and don’t step out in faith to invest God’s love in the larger world to grow it more. God will come back and say, “What did you do with what I gave you?” and they can only look around at their own small world that they haven’t expanded. We have to step out in faith and use God’s love to change the world, not only to dig a hole and bury it in fear of his wrath. God’s love is meant to be shared, and then it will only grow.