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 8, Year B: Mark 5:21-43: Jesus Embraces Impurity to Heal

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 8, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage, Jesus crosses the lake in a boat and when he lands crowds surround him. A leader from the synagogue named Jairus comes (apparently not everyone in leadership was opposed to Jesus, at least not when in great need). He bowed down before Jesus and begged him to heal his dying daughter.

Jesus accompanies Jairus, but as he goes he is still crowded by people. A woman suffering from a debilitating illness that caused constant bleeding was among those following him; she thinks that if she can just touch his clothes, she will be healed. As soon as she touches his coat, her bleeding stops. Somehow Jesus felt the power and looked around to ask who touched his clothes.

His disciples are surprised that he is asking about a specific person touching him when he has so many pushing around him, but he insistently looks around until she comes up to him and bows at his feet, shaking in fear. She tells him her story and he tells her she will not suffer anymore.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains that a woman with such a bleeding condition would be considered unclean and as she pushed through the crowd she would be causing other people she touched to be unclean by the Levitical laws–it may be part of why she was fearful, because she could have also rendered Jesus himself ritually unclean by touching his clothes. Instead she is cleansed and purified. It is significant that he made the act known publicly and did not fear impurity. Jesus meets people in their need with love.

Then some people come from the home of Jairus to report that his daughter has died before they have even arrived. But Jesus told Jairus not to fear, just to believe.

As they entered the house, Jesus asked people why they were crying. He said the girl was only sleeping. Then he had the crying people leave the house and he went to the girl, bringing along her parents and three of his disciples. 

Jesus let only Peter, James, and John the brother of James go with him. They went to the synagogue leader’s house, where Jesus saw many people crying loudly. There was a lot of confusion. He entered the house and said, “Why are you people crying and making so much noise? This child is not dead. She is only sleeping.” But everyone laughed at him.

Jesus told the people to leave the house. Then he went into the room where the child was. He brought the child’s father and mother and his three followers into the room with him.

Then Jesus held the girl’s hand and said to her, “Talitha, koum!” (This means “Little girl, I tell you to stand up!”) The girl immediately stood up and began walking. (She was twelve years old.) The father and mother and the followers were amazed.Jesus gave the father and mother very strict orders not to tell people about this. Then he told them to give the girl some food to eat.

Mark 5:41-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Again, Jesus ignores the rituals–touching a corpse could make one even more impure than touching a bleeding person. But Jesus does not hesitate to take the dead girls hand and again, rather than him being made impure, she is brought to life and purity.

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?

Proper 4, Year B: Mark 2:23-3:6: Rules Made for People

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 4, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

This week will be a little different, because on this week I did the homily for our church’s family service, so I’m going to copy over the written version of my homily.  I write everything out in Word and check how it reads aloud. Then I make note cards with just a few words on them to glance at while I’m speaking. I have not yet found the confidence to talk without the notes, but what I end up saying can vary a lot from this original written version. But here it is, anyway.

Let me tell you about the only two rules we have in my house.  OK, there are more than two, but I tell my kids these are the main rules that all the other rules fall under.  The #1 rule is Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.  That makes sense, right? That’s a good rule for everywhere, not just in my house. And the #2 rule is, Don’t make a mess your mom has to clean up. I do a lot of cleaning of bathrooms or laundry or washing dishes, but this is specifically about them not making a bigger mess and leaving it behind when they’re done playing. I think that’s a good rule because I have a lot to do and I don’t need more work.

What are some good rules you can think of that you have to follow at home?

Is it ever ok to break a rule?

What if we had a rule that no one should get up and come up here in the middle of the service? (we don’t really have that rule but let’s imagine).  Then what if I was up here speaking and I tripped on the stairs (this could totally happen as I’m pretty clumsy—I’ve ended up in the emergency room after just slipping on the sidewalk).  So there I’d be lying on the floor and maybe I need help to get up—but the rule is no one gets out of their pews. Is it o.k. for someone to get up and come help me up off the floor?  Of course it is! It would be silly to follow the rule at that moment if someone needs help.

Today’s gospel story is about Jesus breaking a rule.

What do you know about the Sabbath? It’s often Saturday but in our church our Sabbath is on Sunday. The Sabbath is a day to worship God and to rest. We don’t have very strict rules in our church but in Jesus’ culture and in some religions today it’s very serious and strict. Certain leaders didn’t like that Jesus let his disciples pick some grain on the Sabbath (because it was like a form of work) and they really didn’t like it when he healed a man on the Sabbath. Do you think the Sabbath was made just to give people a hard time and a rule to follow? I don’t think so—I think it was designed to teach people to rest and set aside a time to spend with God.

So let’s talk about the Sabbath (bring out poster).  For us it happens to fall on Sunday, the same day as the Resurrection. I’ve thought of some good things to do on a Sunday that are about spending time with God and resting. Go to church. Pray. Have brunch.  Spend time with your family. What are some good things to do on a weekday—write them. How about on a Saturday? Now, what’s a good day to do a good deed—like Jesus healing? ANY DAY. Does it make sense to say you can’t do a good deed on Sunday because that’s not worshiping God? What would God love more than us helping other people? Showing love to people could happen on any day. (Draw in a cross or a heart in each day of the week.)

Now this part is really for the adults. We have a real problem with this in our country, even though we don’t have the same rules they had in Jesus’ time. People are being mistreated every day and many times the mistreatment is justified by some arbitrary rule. But Jesus said the rules are made for people and the people are not made for the rules. If rules mean that people are often imprisoned for years for minor offenses and if those people are disproportionately people of color, something is wrong with the rules. If our rules mean that parents are separated from their children just for wanting to enter our country, then something is wrong with those rules. If rules are made about how people protest, and nothing is done about what those people are protesting, something is wrong with those rules. The rules are best when they help people and we should rewrite them if they are hurtful or we should elect new rule-makers. I was talking to my husband Brian about this subject and he put it very well: “Don’t miss the principle of ‘loving your neighbor’ by blindly following a rule.” The bottom line is to love your neighbor.  Love the people and not the rules.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B: John 15:9-17: Fruit of Love

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

In today’s passage, Jesus is exhorting his followers to love as the Father has loved and has he has loved. He says to continue in my love” or to abide in my love.” I wrote in the previous post about how I love the word abide.  It connotes both rest and permanence to me. We abide in his love and extend that love to others.

This passage ends with:

You did not choose me. I chose you. And I gave you this work: to go and produce fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15: 16-17 (Easy-to-Read Version)

I like that the fruit we are to produce is strongly linked to love. We cannot produce fruit outside of love. I have had heated discussions with people about various tricky passages in the Bible, and for me it always comes down to love. I say that if I err, I want to err on the side of love, which never seems like an error when it comes to understanding Jesus.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B: John 10:11-18: We Sheep Are Loved

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

In today’s passage, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep. He contrasts the good shepherd with a hired hand who doesn’t really care about the sheep and runs away if a wolf comes to attack.

Jesus says he cares for the sheep and knows them as the Father knows him. The sheep also know him as he knows the Father, and he gives his life for the sheep. He also says he has other flock outside this flock to lead. Finally he says,

No one takes my life away from me. I give my own life freely. I have the right to give my life, and I have the right to get it back again. This is what the Father told me.”

John 10:18 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Did Jesus actually predict his own death? Or is that a later claim by his followers as their theology developed? Bible scholars say perhaps not. But I think the importance for us right now is to see what John is trying to tell us in this passage. How great is this love Jesus has for us? We are beloved and cared for like family. We are precious and important to God, not mere useless animals. We need to see ourselves and our fellow humans as beloved members of the family. What a different world it would be if we could have that understanding and see as God sees.

I see people (especially in political discussions) belittling others who disagree with them as sheeple”. But none of us are sheeple. We are all beloved children of God, and it’s heartbreaking to see some of God’s children belittling and dehumanizing one another (whether calling them sheeple or in other ways). It can be hard to love people. It can be so damn hard. But it’s what we are called to do if we are to be like Jesus.

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.

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

Bible.

Source: iStockphoto.com

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).

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

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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.

 

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

Love

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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.