Christ the King Sunday, Year B: John 18:33-37: No Earthly Kingship

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

Today’s passage happens during Jesus’s trial with Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews.

Jesus asks if it’s his own question or did other people tell him about him.

Pilate responds that he is not a Jew and it was his own people and priests who brought him to Pilate. He asks what Jesus has done wrong.

Jesus responds that his kingdom is not of this world. He says if it were, his people would fight to keep him from being handed over. But his kingdom is not earthly.

Pilate says then he is a king.

Jesus says, “You are right to say that I am a king. I was born for this: to tell people about the truth. That is why I came into the world. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.”late said, “So you are a king.”

Of course this is Christ the King Sunday, so we have a passage about Christ’s kingship. Jesus says his kingdom is not earthly, and he has demonstrated that many times in the Gospels. In the kingdom of God love rules instead of power and violence. In the kingdom of God the meek inherit the earth and the last shall be first. It is far different from an earthly kingdom, but it is a kingdom we should all work to emulate. May his kingdom come and his will be done. May love rule on earth as it does in heaven.

Proper 22, Year B: Mark 10:2-16: Love Rules

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 22, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Again Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus with weird questions. They ask him about divorce and he asks them what Moses commanded. They answer that Moses allowed divorce. Jesus says that Moses made that command because they didn’t accept God’s teaching.

Later his disciples ask Jesus about divorce and he tells them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman has sinned against his wife. He is guilty of adultery. And the woman who divorces her husband and marries another man is also guilty of adultery.” What’s really interesting here is that he includes the idea of a woman divorcing her husband. That may not read like much in today’s world and in a more open-minded church, but that was significant for the time–no teacher at that time would bother with a view for women in that way.

People are bringing children to Jesus so that he could bless them, but his disciples are trying to prevent it. Again, they are thinking of their current social beliefs–children were of even less importance than women. Jesus told them to let the children come to him and he said that God’s kingdom belongs tho people who are like little children. He opened his arms to hold the children, laid hands on them, and blessed them.

Time and time again, the people of his time (and ours) fail to see his radical love for what it is. It’s not constrained by the rules of their kingdom but it is open with the rules of God’s kingdom, sometimes hard to understand, but always on the side of love and inclusion.

Proper 12, Year B: John 6:1-21: Abundance

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 12, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

Most people know the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, so I won’t repeat it here. (You can click the link above if you do want to read it.) Instead, I’ll just talk about what it shows us. First, it shows us how large the crowds were following Jesus. People were hungry for what he was offering–healings, teaching, hope, love, grace. Second, it shows that Jesus had concern for people’s physical well-being as well as their spiritual well-being. He wants people to be fed. Third, it shows that he saw the value of one child’s contribution–so little could mean so much. Fourth, the miracle shows his great generosity–not only did everyone get fed, they even had leftovers. As another passage said, he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This is a great story of abundance. Fifth, it shows that when he thought the people wanted to make him king, he left as he wasn’t seeking an earthly kingdom. He spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and about the evils of the domination system of his time, but he did not seek to be a king of that sort. Sixth, it is a precursor to the Last Supper and our Eucharist–breaking bread together in the presence of Christ.

 

 

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.

 

 

Proper 9, Year B: Mark 6:1-13: Ministry of the Twelve Disciples

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 9, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus goes back to his hometown with his followers. He teaches in the Sabbath and people are amazed by him, questioning how he got such wisdom and power to do miracles. They know him as the local carpenter, so they can’t accept him as more than that.

Jesus says that “People everywhere give honor to a prophet, except in his own town, with his own people, or in his home.” He isn’t able to do miracles there other than a few healings, because his local people lack faith.

Then he calls his disciples together and sends them out in groups of two to minister. He tells them to take nothing but a stick for walking–not even spare clothes. They are to rely on others for any needs, but if a town refuses to accept them or to listen, they are to leave and “shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them.”

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says that Proper hospitality included offering water for guests to wash their feet; here the travelers’ feet remain conspicuously unwashed.” Shaking the dust off their feet was significant symbolism and a kind of rebuke.

So they headed out to talk to people and call on them to repent and change. They cast out demons and anointed people with oil and healed them.

Here we see Jesus making a major change in his ministry. Prior to this he has been traveling all over and preaching and healing, with his own entourage in tow. Now he sends his disciples out without him to extend his ministry to more places at once. In previous weeks we’ve read about the kingdom of God and how quickly it grows–this is how Jesus began to encourage its growth.

Proper 6, Year B: Mark 4:26-34: Love is the Seed

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 6, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage we have two parables about the kingdom of God.  God’s kingdom is like a man planting seeds and the seed grows night and day. The man doesn’t understand it but the seed grows and grows into a plant and when it’s ready, he harvests it.

The kingdom of God is also like a mustard seed, which is so tiny but grows into a large plant where birds can be protected from the sun.

So the kingdom of God grows and grows and we don’t always understand it.

 

Interestingly, the passage ends by saying that Jesus often used stories to teach people but explained more to his disciples. I sometimes wish a few more explanations had been included in the scriptures.

 

My own interpretation for today is that we can go plant those seeds with love. Love is the seed of the kingdom of God–what else could grow so beautifully?

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

Palm Sunday

Source: iStockphoto.com

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.

Proper 23, Year A: Matthew 22:1-14: Extending the Invitation

Sermon on the Mount Stained Glass

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 23, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This week’s parable is a difficult one. In this story Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a wedding feast given by a king for his son. He sent out invitations and when it was time for the feast, he sent his servants out to bring the invitees, but the invited people refused to come.  So the king sent more servants, but the people still refused to come. Some even attacked the servants sent to ask them to come–beating them and killing them. So the king was angry and sent his army to kill those who had killed his servants. This is some mess of an invitation at this point.

So the king sends servants out again, this time to bring everyone they see–anyone out on the streets, good, bad, anyone. So they filled the feast with guests of all kinds.

Then the king saw a man not dressed in his wedding clothes (at that time there was a tradition of the host providing special clothes to guests for the wedding, so this guest had refused to comply even when handed the clothing to wear). The king had the man thrown out into the darkness.

Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Many people are invited. But only a few are chosen.”

Wow, that’s some story. Since Jesus specifically says this is like God’s kingdom, the king is obviously God, and it seems those who refuse to attend the feast are like the religious leaders who at that time were rejecting Jesus and plotting against him–or all people who turn against God’s kingdom. So God extends the invitation to all–which is a trend in the Bible–it moves from exclusivity to inclusivity over the arc of history. God’s kingdom expands that invitation to everyone, beyond the original descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus makes clear how far that invitation extends. And the wedding guest who does not wear his proper clothes is like someone who gives lip service to being a follower of Jesus, but does not truly follow the way of Christ.

This parable can seem harsh, but it’s also hopeful in that so many are invited to the feast, no matter who they are.

Proper 22, Year A: Matthew 21:33-46: God’s Vineyard

Vineyards in autumn harvest

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 22, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus again has a parable for his listeners. In this parable, a man owns a vineyard. He prepares it with a wall and a hole for a winepress. He builds a tower on it. Then he leases the land to farmers and leaves town. When it’s time to pick the grapes, he sends servants for his share of the grapes on his own land.

As it turns out, the wicked farmers grab the servants, beating one, and killing two others. So the man sends more servants to the farmers, but the farmers do the same thing. Finally he sends his own son, thinking they will have more respect for his son than his servants.

But the farmers see the son and think that if they kill the son, the vineyard will be theirs, since he is the heir to the vineyard. So they kill the owner’s son as well.

Jesus asks his listeners, “So what will the owner of the vineyard do to these farmers when he comes?”

The leaders and priests say that he will kill the evil men and lease his land to other farmers, who will give him his fair share as promised. 

Then this:

Jesus said to them, “Surely you have read this in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders refused to accept
    became the cornerstone.
The Lord did this,
    and it is wonderful to us.’ 

“So I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you. It will be given to people who do what God wants in his kingdom. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken. And it will crush anyone it falls on.”

Matthew 21: 42-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

When the leaders heard all this, they knew Jesus was talking about them and they wanted to find a way to arrest him. But they were afraid because the people believed that Jesus was a real prophet.

In this parable, I think the landowner is God and the vineyard is the Kingdom of God. The religious leaders are the faithless and murderous farmers. The servants God sends are the prophets and the son is, of course, Jesus. It’s a simple allegory of the history of God sending prophets who are mistreated, until he sends even his own son. Of course, the leaders do not take it to heart when Jesus basically tells them that they will kill him and then be crushed. They go from this to looking for a way to arrest him. They will not learn. Others (the apostles and all of us who follow them) will experience the Kingdom of God, not these religious leaders who refuse to listen to Jesus.

Proper 18, Year A: Matthew 18:15-20: Community and Conflict

Paper cutouts of colorful people holding hands in a circle

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 18, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This is some very practical teaching about community from Jesus. The Kingdom of God is all about being in relationship with God and with others.

Here’s a great breakdown from a lesson found on the Episcopal Digital Network:

Remember the steps to Conflict Resolution:

  • Step One: Go directly to that person.
    • Remember the Greatest Commandment – Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbor as yourself.
    • The Golden Rule – treat others how you would want to be treated.
    • Be Respectful and responsible.
  • Step Two: Bring along another person or two.
  • Step Three: Bring the situation to the church (or this may mean to your school, work, or community depending on the situation.)
  • Step Four: Walk away from the situation and take a breather. Continue tocommunicate with the person and when they are ready to come into the community, welcome them.

We can use this kind of advice in a lot of situations, not only within church. I have been in situations where someone had a problem with me or what I was doing, but instead of coming to me with their concern, they seemed to tell other people and it got back to me. I admittedly can think of situations where I complained about another person’s actions without confronting them about it. It’s good to remember that the best choice is to talk directly to the person first (unless they are physically abusive and you need protection from them–in which case you should seek help and not confront someone alone).

 

The Kingdom of God is the community of God–people working together to love their neighbors as themselves.