Proper 10, Year B: Mark 6:14-29: Kingdom of God vs. Kingdoms of Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 10, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

King Herod heard rumors about Jesus. One of the rumors was that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. He was disturbed by this one because he had executed John the Baptist.

He had first just put John in prison to please his wife, Herodias (because she had previously been married to Herod’s brother and John condemned their marriage). Herodias wanted him dead but Herod protected him because he knew John was a holy man and he liked listening to John.

Then Herod had a big birthday party for himself with all the bigwigs from the government and army. His wife’s daughter (seems like she was not his daughter but rather his stepdaughter but then also his niece since his wife was previously married to his brother) danced what was probably a sensual dance, because Herod was so pleased with her that he offered her anything she asked for after her dance.

The girl went to her mother to find out what she should ask and her mother said she should ask for the head of John the Baptist.

So she asked for John’s head on a plate. King Herod felt bad, but felt he couldn’t break the promise he’d made in front of his guests. So he sent a soldier to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. So the head was given to the girl on a plate and she brought it to her mother. John’s disciples heard about it and came to take his body and bury him.

I find it interesting that this rather horrific story is nestled among stories of healing and miracles. This kingdom of Herod (not even a real kingdom as he is a tetrarch ruling on behalf of Rome–a collaborator with the oppressive conquerors) is in stark contrast to the kingdom of God presented by Jesus–a kingdom of healing, acceptance, and love. It’s a kingdom that will be hosting a picnic for 5,000 in the very next passage. It’s a dark foreshadowing of what happens when someone proclaiming the kingdom of God comes into conflict with the earthly powers of Rome as well as a contrast of the kingdoms of men with the kingdom of God.

Even today proclaiming the love of god can be in conflict with the domination system of our day. We must stand up to the domination system and proclaim that there is a better kingdom of mercy and love, and stand against hatred and bigotry.

 

 

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.

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

Stained Glass

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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.

 

 

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

Advent wreath with 3 burning candles

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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

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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.

Proper 21, Year A: Matthew 21:23-32: A Question

Jesus portrait on fresco of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, from 4th century in Mtskheta, Georgia. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 21, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus has returned to Jerusalem. While Jesus is walking in the Temple area, some religious leaders come up to him and ask him what authority he has to do these things (these things meaning his main activities of teaching and healing and forgiving).

As he so often does, Jesus responds to a question with a question. There’s a nice teaching tip for teachers out there–challenge your students with a question in response. It’s what my favorite professor often did.

“I will ask you a question too. If you answer me, then I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Tell me: When John baptized people, did his authority come from God, or was it only from other people?” 

Matthew 21:24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The leaders didn’t know how to respond. They knew if they said that John’s authority was from God, he would ask why they didn’t believe John, but if they claimed it wasn’t from God, the people would be angry because they revered John.

Tricky question, so they said they didn’t know.

So Jesus tells them that he won’t tell them who gave him the authority.

 

Jesus follows this up with another vineyard parable. This one has a vineyard owner with two sons. He tells one to go and work in the vineyard. At first he refuses to go work, but later he goes. Then he tells his other son to go and work in the vineyard. That son says he will go work, but he doesn’t go. Jesus asks which of the sons obeyed their father. The religious leaders responded that it was the first son.

Then Jesus slams him with some hard truth. (This is the kind of story that really makes me love Jesus.)

“The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God’s kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him.” 

Matthew 20: 31b-32 (Easy-to-Read Version)

 

Jesus is comparing them to the outcasts of their society. They think they are the most correct and religious, but they are actually worse than the worst. In fact, those they think are the worst are closer to God than they are, because they believed in John and repented, while the leaders would not change.
How is this relevant to us today? Don’t be caught up in your religious trappings and believing your way is the best way. Be open with your heart and open to change from God.