Second Sunday of Easter, Year B: Acts 4:32-35: Radical Christianity

Acts

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B by clicking here. Last year I discussed the passage from the Gospel of John, so this year I will focus on the brief passage from the book of Acts, quoted in full below.

The whole group of believers was united in their thinking and in what they wanted. None of them said that the things they had were their own. Instead, they shared everything. With great power the apostles were making it known to everyone that the Lord Jesus was raised from death. And God blessed all the believers very much. None of them could say they needed anything. Everyone who owned fields or houses sold them. They brought the money they got and gave it to the apostles. Then everyone was given whatever they needed.

Acts 4:32-35, Easy-to-Read Version

Imagine how radical it would be (radical in the revolutionary sense, not in the 80’s cool sense) if the church still functioned like this. Imagine if the world functioned like this. (I’m now hearing John Lennon’s voice in my head).

I am not going to get too political here (that’s not my strong point), but I have to point out that this is far different from the way the United States works today. I also have to point out that many churches today emphasize individual prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing. Certain preachers emphasize that if you are right with God, you will have more money, that you can then donate to their ministry. However, they aren’t using that money as the early church did–to share everything in common with all the believers or the rest of their community. The ministers who crow the loudest about prosperity are typically keeping a lot of that money for themselves, though they may use some for soup kitchens here and there. American Christians often like to trumpet that we are a Christian nation founded on Christian values, but you don’t see them wanting to put this passage or the Beatitudes up in public places, but only the Ten Commandments.

How can we change this paradigm? How can we become Christians who live radically and share radically like the early Christians? I confess I don’t know, but I know we need to speak out when we see the exact opposite kind of Christianity in the public sphere. I want to speak out when I see Christians who oppress the poor, refugees, and other marginalized people instead of professing the true love of Jesus. I pray to God that we can really be Christ to people and that we can turn around this vision of American Christians as cruel and hateful.

 

 

Easter Day, Year B: Mark 16:1-8: He is Risen

Jesus Tomb in Holy land

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

I love the simplicity of this story in Mark. Three women, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James come to the tomb of Jesus just after sunrise on the first day of the week. As they approach the tomb they realize they will be unable to move the stone covering the entrance to the tomb. Just then they look up and see that the stone was already moved. They walk into the tomb and see a man in a white robe. They are afraid, but he tells them not to fear.

You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, the one who was killed on a cross. He has risen from death! He is not here. Look, here is the place they put him when he was dead. Now go and tell his followers. And be sure to tell Peter. Tell them, Jesus is going into Galilee and will be there before you come. You will see him there, as he told you before.”

Mark 16:6-7 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The women are afraid and baffled. They run away from the tomb and don’t tell what happened out of fear. And there it ends. There are later additions to Mark that tell more of the resurrection story, but this is where the original ends (though some scholars think there was more to the story and that part is missing). It does seem to end very abruptly.

I enjoyed this note from the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible:

16:8 They said nothing to anyone. Ancient audiences appreciated irony. Sometimes in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus warns witnesses of miracles not to tell anyone, yet the witnesses proclaim it widely (1:45; 7:36); here, when finally some people are commanded to tell (v. 7), they remain silent!

I love that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women, at a time when women were not considered reliable witnesses and weren’t allowed to testify in court. But in the story of Jesus, they matter. If Mark were just making up this story, he wouldn’t invent the first witnesses to be women; he would make them fine upstanding men.

In  Marcus Borg’s Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark, he invites readers not to argue about whether the resurrection was a bodily one or not, but to ask the question of meaning:

What does the story of the empty tomb mean?

For early Christians generally, Easter had two primary meanings. Jesus lives–he is a figure of the present, not simply of the past. And Jesus is Lord–one with God, raised to God’s right hand, vindicated by God as both Lord and Christ, and thus vindicated against the powers that put him to death. All of these are present, explicitly or implicitly, in Mark’s story of the empty tomb.

You may notice that I often put the Gospel stories in the present tense as I recount them–it’s because I do like to make the stories of Jesus immediate and present. He is risen and he is with us. He is Lord of now, not just of then. He is risen, he is risen indeed!

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Year B: Mark 14:1-15:47: Expanding the Kingdom

Palm Sunday

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

Today’s lesson is a very long one, so I think I’ll focus just on one part.

Then Jesus cried out loudly and died.

When Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn into two pieces. The tear started at the top and tore all the way to the bottom.

Mark 15:37-38 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So much of Jesus’ ministry was the expansion of the Kingdom of God. He was always reaching out and inviting people in. He despised following strict statutes at the expense of helping people (for instance, he healed on the Sabbath). He associated with sinners and tax collectors (those marginalized and despised by “respectable” people). He talked to women in ways other men of his time did not. He was constantly expanding the invitation of God’s love. And at his death the Temple curtain was torn in half. The temple curtain symbolized the separation between God and humanity and Jesus. In Christ there is no separation; we are all drawn to God. As we learned in last week’s lesson–when Jesus is lifted up he draws all men to him.

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 12:20-33: Seeing Jesus

Resurrection

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

In today’s passage, some Greeks come to Philip (Bible commentaries note that Philip is a Greek name so that might be why they came to him) and asked to see Jesus.

Jesus’s response seems a bit odd. He says, “The time has come for the Son of Man to receive his glory. It is perhaps related–his message is spreading beyond the Jewish people to Greeks and others, so his time has come in that.

He also says that those who are willing to give up their life will keep it and have eternal life. He says that he is troubled and that he come to this time so that he could suffer.  Then suddenly there was a voice from heaven saying, “I have already brought glory to myself. I will do it again.”

Some who are there think the voice is just thunder but others believe it is an angel. Jesus tells them the voice is not for them and not for him.  He says, I will be lifted up from the earth. When that happens, I will draw all people to myself.”

He will be lifted up onto the cross and therefore people will be drawn to him ever after–not because of the cross but because of the resurrection and his message of love and reconciliation.

So again, this story starts with some people wanting to see Jesus. And Jesus basically responds that he will draw people to him in his death. His response is also that they need to be ready to give up their life. To really see Jesus, to know Jesus, is to know his suffering–to give up their life. It’s a radical message. It’s one maybe we still aren’t usually ready to hear. Do you want to see Jesus?

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 3:14-21: Snake on a Pole

The Serpent in the Wilderness

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

I grew up in Evangelical churches where we were quoting John 3:16 all the time. It was everywhere. It was key to the whole gospel, central to everything. Yet how did I never know that this passage started out with a reference to that kind of weird time Moses lifted up a snake in the desert?

Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. It is the same with the Son of Man. He must be lifted up too. Then everyone who believes in him can have eternal life.

John 3:14-15, Easy-to-Read Version

This is referring to a passage in Numbers, which naturally is our Old Testament reading for this Sunday. When the Israelites were dying from snake bites, God told Moses to put a brass snake on a pole for them to look at and be healed. It didn’t prevent the snakes from biting or drive off the snakes (no St. Patrick kind of thing), it just healed the bites they got. (See Numbers 21:4-9).

So Jesus is being compared to the snake life up on a  pole. The snake is lifted up and when people look to it, they are healed. So the comparison says that Jesus will be lifted up (literally lifted up onto the cross and then lifted up in his resurrection) and people will look to him and be healed not from just snake bites but from death.

I want to share a couple passages from a great sermon from the Rev. Ben E. Helmer from Sermons that Work on the Episcopal Digital Network website:

Deep Lent, as some call this time, is when we struggle with the darkness, and may not always find answers to why it is so pervasive. We cannot answer why evil seems so prevalent because we can’t readily see it in our own choices. So, asking to be part of the light will reveal what is hidden in our darkness, and most of us would prefer not to see. That is why self-examination and confession are rare and avoided by most of us. But we have strayed like lost sheep, we have followed too much the desires of our own hearts, to the point where, left on our own, we are truly lost.

And also this:

The only reason Jesus could go to the cross was because he dared to walk into the darkness. We have to do the same if we are going to follow him the rest of the Lenten journey. That means leaving a lot of things behind, including the world’s wisdom for how to live in the darkness by making everything pleasant for ourselves.

So let us look to the example of a loving Jesus on the cross as we await his death and resurrection during Lent. We will come through this darkness as he did and come to joy.

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 2:13-22: Temple of Injustice

Granada - fresco Jesus Cleanses the Temple

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

In this week’s passage, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. He creates a big scene in the temple there, overturning tables of the money traders, driving out people and animals, and cracking a whip (literally). It’s an amazing story about a Jesus usually seen as gentle and compassionate.

I really like what I read about this incident in The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I highly recommend the book to anyone for a deep dive into Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. Christians have often been taught that Jesus is objecting to the sellers and money changers themselves, though what they are doing is legitimate business that helps people purchase animals for sacrifice–it’s part of the rituals of the temple for people to achieve purification. They were probably very busy close to Passover. They point out that the phrase “den of robbers” (usually in the English translation) doesn’t mean a den where people are robbed, but rather where the robbers go to hide out after robbing. Jesus is condemning the temple in a different way–for it’s collaboration with the evil domination system and the injustice of the time rather than for the particular rituals being carried out at that moment. In fact, Jesus declares that if they tear down the temple, he will rebuild it in three days.

But the temple Jesus meant was his own body. After he was raised from death, his followers remembered that he had said this. So they believed the Scriptures, and they believed the words Jesus said.

John 2: 21-22 (Easy to Read Version)

This made me think about Christians today. Some of us collude with those who would oppress the marginalized and with racist and sexist systems. It’s disturbing to see Christians siding with cruel injustice instead of standing up for the oppressed. It’s something I will examine in my own motives and actions.

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B: Mark 8:31-38: The Path of Death

Ash wednesday cross, crucifix made of ash

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

We really see the themes of Lent in today’s passage. Jesus is teaching his followers that he will suffer and will not be accepted by elite leaders and priests. He tells them he will die. But Peter doesn’t like this teaching and basically scolds Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.”  Ouch. Peter is one of his most devoted followers, but even he does not understand–perhaps cannot understand until after Easter.

Then Jesus goes to call his followers to him and tells them:

Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it. It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost. You could never pay enough to buy back your life.

Mark 8: 34b-37 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So we continue to observe Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, discovery, and heart preparation. We must be willing to carry the cross–meaning to give up ourselves and follow Jesus. What is getting in the way of our service to God and to others?

I like this thought from Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark by Marcus J. Borg:

The way of the cross is about life and death; to avoid it in order to save one’s life is to lose one’s life, and to embrace it is to save one’s life. The path of death is the path of life.

I love a good paradox and I love to let it speak for itself. Dwell on this paradox.

 

First Sunday in Lent, Year B: Mark 1:9-15: Forty Days

Stained Glass - The Temptation of Christ

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

In this week’s passage, Jesus leaves his hometown of Nazareth and goes to see John the Baptist, who is already ministering in the wilderness. John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River and as Jesus comes out of the water, he sees the sky open up. Then the Bible says the Spirit comes down like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with you.”

From there, the Spirit sends Jesus alone into the desert, where he spends 40 days and is tempted by Satan. But it also says angels come to help him.

Then after John is put in prison, Jesus goes to Galilee to share the Good News of God. He says, “The right time is now here. God’s kingdom is very near. Change your hearts and lives, and believe the Good News!”

This is a very succinct account that gets longer in other Gospels, but even with so little here, I see why it’s the reading on the first Sunday of Lent. As we begin our journey into the 40 days of Lent, a journey of sacrifice, dedication, preparation, and spiritual discovery, we read about the 40 days Jesus spent alone, tempted, and in prayer and preparation at the beginning of his ministry. I love Lent and I love the symbolism of the church year, traveling with Jesus from the anticipation of Advent to the joy of Christmas to the discovery of Epiphany to the reverence of Lent to the pain of Good Friday to the glory of Easter to the mystery of Pentecost. Let us go forth on our journey to change our hearts and lives, as Jesus asks us to do.

Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 9:2-9: Transfiguration

Bruges - Transfiguration of the Lord  in st. Jacobs church

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

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday—it’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing sort of more than human—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah, ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “Jesus was changed.His clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone on earth could make them. Then two men were there talking with Jesus. They were Elijah and Moses.

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good that we are here. We will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the one I love. Obey him!”

Imagine how surprised they were at all this. When they looked again, they saw that Jesus was alone. As they went down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they saw until “after the Son of Man rises from death.”

There’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t attempt to explain it much.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  The most I can say is imagine if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help) and your friend and teacher was glowing from within in a miraculous way. How would you react? How would you think God was at work?

Continuing the theme of Epiphany, this passage highlights the authority and unique preeminence of Jesus. Mark wants us to know Jesus is not like other teachers. And the same voice that called out at his baptism calls out again to single him out as the Son of God.

 

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:29-39: Jesus Heals and Prays

Bible.

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

Today’s passage follows right after last week’s story. Jesus leaves the synagogue with his followers. They went to the home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law was ill in bed with a bad fever. They told Jesus about her, so he went to her bed, took her hand, and helped her stand up. At that moment she was healed and the fever left her.

Then, that night, people came to the house, bringing many sick people to be healed. They also brought the demon-possessed. Mark says everyone in the town gathered at the door. Jesus healed the sick and forced the demons out. The passage also says, “he would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.”

The next morning he got up very early and left the house in the dark to be alone and pray. Some of his followers came to find him and said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

He tells them it is time to move on to share God’s message with other people in other towns. “That is why I came.” So he traveled all over Galilee, speaking in the synagogues and healing.

The takeaway from this passage is much like last week and other Epiphany readings. Jesus is unique as a teacher and healer. He draws crowds wherever he goes and does wondrous things. Also, he is doing the work that characterizes the rest of his ministry–teaching, healing, casting out demons. He also takes time to go off alone and pray. He makes that time, even though people are constantly seeking him out. His time with God is a priority. Again, I see this also as a lesson for us–our ministry is also to help others, but not to neglect our own spirituality in the process. Love others, love God (like Matthew 22:36-40).