Thursday, 24 March 2016
Saturday, 6 February 2016
Luke is a Gentile who spent a lot of his life with Paul on his missionary journeys (Colossians 4:14). We can assume that his gospel is written for Gentile readers and that he is probably writing between 70 - 80AD. His gospel is the first of a two-volume work, remembering that he went on to write about the pioneering years of the early church and especially Paul's three adventures to take the message beyond the boundary of Palestine and Israel. Luke is writing another story of the people of God (linking strongly with Old Testament literature) and that this is a continuing story which brings a message of hope. He tells his reader that he has decided to put pen to papyrus, having carefully investigated everything about Jesus, "so that you may know the truth" (Luke 1:4). Luke is acutely aware of the influence of Rome on life in his world and the way in which the law and authority of Rome shapes everyday life for so many people across the world. Given the emphasis of his writing, it is possible that he was writing to Roman slaves and that he has a particular heart for those who are the least in society - those without status, and even the lost.
Sunday 14 February 2016
First Sunday of Lent
Luke 4: 1 - 13
We live in a world full of temptation. Wherever we look, we are surrounded by advertising designed to get us thinking: "I really need one of those". Even the BBC has stooped to unashamedly running regular adverts for shows that we really have to watch. During the main news, they sometimes step aside from reporting on a news item to tell us: "and you can see more on this item if you watch . . . .". With such a strong presence in our own experience, it is not difficult to conceive that in the days of Jesus, there also were constant temptations to be navigated in ordinary life. Yet, Luke today focuses on just one particular set of temptations - and with very good reason.
The audacity of the devil! Temptation comes even to the Son of God! But not in public view. Not in the ordinary temptation that all of us experiences countless times every day. Luke is clear - his writing has the feel of an account of battle taking place. What Mark dispatches in just two short sentences (Mark 1:12-13), Luke and Matthew cover in much greater detail (over ten verses). It is a spiritual battle during which Jesus is required to draw on his knowledge of scripture and his confidence in the Father: "The scriptures say . . ." ( verses 4, 8 & 12). These temptations are both physical and spiritual in nature and they mark the moment in the life of Jesus when he moves on. He shows no sign of contemplating the merit of the suggestion, but relies on a deep-seated confidence within him - he simply knows for sure that such thoughts run counter to God's plan for his life. He chooses what the Father has for him. These verses mark the moment when the Nazarene carpenter has become teacher, the oldest son of the household has become independent, and the mundane gives way to adventure.
Question: Tom Wright reminds us that we must "learn to recognise the voices that whisper attractive lies, to distinguish them from the voice of God, and to use the simple yet direct weapons provided in scripture to rebut the lies with truth". [Luke for Everyone pg44]. In our worship today can we help each life to value a deeper presence of God? Can we cultivate a spiritual discernment in the everyday?
Sunday 21 February 2016
Second Sunday of Lent
Luke 13: 31 - 35
We have seen it and experienced it - the thick black clouds that herald a storm. It is more than a darkening sky, the whole atmosphere is changing, the quality of the light is turning and the normally dry texture of our skin feels clammy. There is no escaping the fact - it is just a matter of time.
So too, Luke is keen to point to the coming storm in the life of Jerusalem. Writing predominantly to a Gentile readership, he explains that many beyond the boundaries of Judaism will "eat in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13: 29). Jesus shows no fear of the fox (a metaphor symbolising Herod) and speaks openly about his forthcoming trial (with clever reference to three days of waiting). If the third day is the triumph of God's work competed in the resurrected Christ, then what of the need for preparation? For now, Jesus is busy with his preparations - he is casting out the demon and healing the sick (Luke 13: 32). But his desire is to gather men and women and cover them with his wing - as a hen cares for her young (Luke 13: 34). The final word of this chapter is a quote from Psalm 118:26 - a chant that is taken up by the crowd on Palm Sunday and signifies the coming of the King to the City of Jerusalem. The Psalmist is pointing to a time when all who are righteous shall enter the gates - and Luke is happy to remind his readers of this as Jesus nears the final chapter of his ministry.
Question: The purpose of Christ - to heal the sick and to cast out the demons. The scheme of man - to punish God's messenger. What "signs of the times" are evident today?
Sunday 28 February 2016
Third Sunday of Lent
Luke 13: 1 - 9
It is a rare thing these days to hear people speak in parables. We like plain straight talking; or we like logical thinking - logic is good! We like facts and figures, spreadsheets and other evidence. Parables are nowhere to be seen in 21st century living.
Jesus, on the other hand, loves a good parable. Having just told the people some hard news about a massacre in the Temple and of others killed as a building is reduced to rubble, Jesus goes on the tell the parable of the fig tree. It's a very simple story and we don't know just how Jesus found stories like this one to illustrate his teaching. But we do know that in every case there is a deep inner truth contained in the parables of Jesus that helps us to fully appreciate a moral or spiritual lesson. But this is not a fable - it is not about a useless fig tree! This parable is about the owner and his gardener: an owner intent on using his fertile land to get the best yield he can, and a gardener who appreciates that horticulture is not a science, more an art. Maybe the owner is a frustrated Father who has all-but given up on Israel. But Jesus, his gardener, has spent time in the garden and learnt a lot about how transformation happens in people's lives - so he asks for one more year that by then, the people would show the fruit of repentance. Jesus is well-established in his ministry, yet his instinct tells him that he must continue his witness for a third year to achieve God's purpose.
We forget that we who follow Christ Jesus have committed ourselves to change. Our discipleship is so often reduced to the "One last chance" to get things right. So, are there things that we feel fit the category of "Give it one more year" in our own pilgrimage?
Question: Is there a hope for something better, a commitment to work for a better outcome in our work as a church and as individual disciples of Jesus? Jesus reminds us that judgment is coming, but there is still time to change.
Sunday 6 March 2016
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Luke 15: 1 - 3, 11b - 32
For the most part, brothers know and celebrate the bond that holds them together within the family unit, but there are inevitably moments of tension from time to time. Two brothers ran for party leader a few years ago, David was disappointed whilst Ed took the crown, but held on to it only for a short while. Did David feel that his brother robbed him of a title that was rightfully his? The public were told that all was well - that there was no ill-feeling, yet many found that difficult to believe. A definition of brother recently appeared on social media: "a person who is there when you need him; someone who picks you up when you fall; a person who sticks up for you when no-one else will; a genuine good guy; most importantly, a brother is always a good friend".
Luke records a parable that is unique to his gospel. We often think of it as a story about a headstrong prodigal son, but it is, in fact, a story about two brothers. Both are selfish in their own way, but the younger brings dishonour to the family, and particularly to his father, by taking an inheritance that was not due until his father's death. He wants his independence and also wants to live a dream - one which can only be fulfilled if his pockets are lined with half of his family's estate. The family were left in disgrace. We cannot begin to imagine how the father managed to finance this adventure - but surely this is what he willingly did despite the cost to his reputation.
The older son does not feature much in this parable until things take an unexpected turn. Having squandered a fortune, his younger brother returns and, to the older brother's astonishment, is welcomed with open arms. Now we see his true colours - envy, resentment and bitterness pour forth as he watches his father lavish his love on the one who had betrayed him and caused such pain.
The parable speaks of an abiding truth of the gospel: The Father's love for you is unconditional. And God's love is for both; for those whose actions have taken them on a reckless downward spiralling path to poverty, hunger and loneliness. But it is also a love that soaks up the inner hurts of the one who stands aside and watches events unfold - whose hatred stirs unhealthy feelings and makes him twisted and envious and full of pain. The Father stands alongside both brothers - but the joy in his heart comes from the witness to repentance.
Question: Who needs to hear the message of God's forgiveness today? Can we help everyone in our congregation to know an assurance that the Father is there for them today - whatever their circumstances?
Sunday 13 March 2016
Fifth Sunday of Lent
John 12: 1 - 8
We love to eat out. It's not that we do it that often, but it is something special to share time and food together. We also love to eat in! Especially when all the family come over and we enjoy food together. It's so relaxed - everyone knows they can chill! The smiles seem to grow as the evening draws on. What a special time together! Of course, Jewish families all over the world know the power of family time like this. They gather together to eat each week on the eve of the Sabbath. Special food, little touches of ritual and story-telling combined with a rich sense of family.
It was evening in Bethany when they gathered together for a meal. A precious time together, especially since it was literally a few days since Lazarus had been buried and later raised to life by Jesus. There were moments of tenderness - a glance, a smile and a strong common bond of love shared in that household. The food was good - well it would be! Martha was in charge of the kitchen and ensuring that things were special to the taste. But the atmosphere suddenly changed. It wasn't Mary's fault. She was moved to break out a heady perfume and pour it over the feet of Jesus. No, it was the reprimand on the lips of Judas that changed things. Why open his mouth? Why?
To honour him, a meal was prepared. To honour him, expensive perfume was lovingly spent over his feet. To honour him, the whole house was filled with the heady fragrance that covered every guest. But the heart of Judas was not in tune with everyone else. His heart was full of indignation - his face like thunder. He missed all the clues and stood and spoke alone.
Question: As we gather to worship, maybe we could share some food together? Maybe we could relax, let our guard drop a little, smile at each other and enjoy everyone's company - and especially the presence of Jesus.
District Local Preachers Secretary
Nottingham and Derby District
Thursday, 31 December 2015
Paul's Letters to the Churches at Corinth
Throughout the weeks leading up to, and the first weeks of Lent, the RCL uses four different Pauline letters, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Philippians, as well as the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. The most frequently used Epistles in the early post Chritmas period of Lent Year C are the two to the church in the Greek seaport of Corinth.
It is well understood that the congregation at Corinth gave Paul more heartache than any of his other daughter churches, and so his letters there produce some of the most moving and noblest sentiments of the New Testament. These pearls produced by the pain of his relationship with the Corinthians, show us the cost of Christian ministry, the dedication required in true Christian leadership, and the flawed character of the leader. We might ask, 'Am I anywhere near as dedicated as Paul? What faults of his are also found in my leadership?'
JANUARY 17th Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11
It would be easy to describe the Church at Corinth as a 'Charismatic' congregation, though to do that might well be an oversimplification, and to look uncritically at the early church through twenty first century western spectacles. However without doubt, at Corinth the Gifts of the Spirit were not only used (good), but abused (bad). Some members used them as trophies in a game of congregational 'One upmanship'. The gifts of tongues was particularly prized. Paul counselled a broader, more inclusive approach to the Gifts of the Spirit. Rather than being given for the use of individuals, as some Corinthians imagined, the Apostle understood that the gifts were meant for the edification of the church as a whole. Chapters 12-14 should be treated as a whole in order to get a balanced picture of the place of spiritual gifts and fruit in the church.
The passage for today lists those spiritual gifts which the Corinthians recognised as special manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit.
A humble and sensitive examination of their place in the Christian Church today might be a useful thing to work at prayerfully.
Ask and examine whether this list is exhaustive, taking account of other lists in the NT.
Ask how sharp the line between 'natural' and 'supernatural' gifts used in Christian service should be drawn.
Ask whether we as a congregation make the most of either a) 'natural' gifts or b) supernatural gifts.
Is service and ministry in our church dominated by a number of strong individuals who refuse to allow others to use their gifts, or are people failing to use their abilities properly in Christian service?
JANUARY 24th Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31
Would it be an exaggeration to claim that the New Testament can be divided into two parts? Part A, the establishment of the Church and its message, (Gospels and Acts). Part B the problems of the early church? Paul and others write to young Christians in new churches to help them live in harmony together, and to turn from their former pagan lifestyle to a Christian one. This was not easy. AND....it is not easy today either! Especially in these days when, as in New Testament times, the Christian faith is a minority religion under pressure from the dominant culture around.
These few weeks when the RCL works it way through Corinthians will allow preachers to look at some of the causes of friction in that ancient church, and find advice for believers in fellowships today.
PREACHING THEMES AROUND HARMONY WITHIN THE FELLOWSHIP ABOUND.
How truly is our Church a true fellowship (Body), of interdependent equals?
Are we a hierarchical pyramid, an inverted pyramid or a flat structure of command?
When I examine my own motivation, In the privacy of my heart during a time of prayer. What would I say was the motivation for my Christian service?
Does my church get the best out of the gifts of all its members?
Which gifts are most evident, and which least in evidence where I work and worship? What can be done to redress the balance? (v27-31)
JANUARY 31st Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 13: 1-3
This, one of the most famous and loved passages in the whole of Scripture is a pearl produced by the irritation in the church described in chapters twelve and fourteen. The abuse of gifts, and a motivation of self promotion cause Paul to remind his readers of the only valid motivation for Christian service - love. However, whilst such a theme for a sermon this week would suit the G.Ro.W. philosophy of searching for the themes running week by week through the lectionary passages, there are other valid themes which are too often neglected in this chapter.
Whilst this chapter may indeed be a 'Hymn to love', Paul mentions two other Christian keystones which are eternal, namely HOPE and FAITH. Commentators have so focused on Love that the other two have been neglected. Only a few weeks ago Christian worship was infused with Advent Hope. Is it time to consider what that Christian Hope means over 2,000 dark years after it was first born? What IS Christian hope, and how can we maintain it after 2,000 years of waiting?
FEBRUARY 7th Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 3: 12 - 4:2
WHAT KIND OF BUILDING HAS OUR MINISTRY PRODUCED?
Many at Corinth were eager to abandon 'their' apostle, Paul, because his public image and skills of oratory were not good enough for them. These church members would have preferred a professional orator to represent them, one who could bring them respect and attention among their pagan neighbours on the Corinthian philosophical circuit. Paul, the founder of the church at Corinth had to watch as his relationship with his Corinthian 'children' deteriorated.
But what kind of building was this Church? Perhaps it was not half as good as some of its members imagined. (3: 10-15)
And what really was the role of an Apostle? (4:1)
In the end Paul claimed not to be interested in his own status or glory. All he wanted was to be able to play a part in helping to build more stones into the eternal Church of Christ.
How do we judge the 'success' of congregations today? Numbers? Money? Size of leadership teams? Leaders whose salary and life style fit into the success culture of their secular contemporaries? Or humble Christian service and character?
How do we judge those who lead us? Faithful service? Costly pastoral care? Or do we judge by the values of 21st Century celebrity culture
Looking back over our time of Christian service what do we feel we have built which is of lasting worth? (3: 13)
Barrie Morley - December 2014
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
NOVEMBER 29th First Sunday in Advent Year B
LUKE 21: 25-36
I don't know about you but when I saw the first Gospel passage for the new lectionary year I winced! No star struck wise men, awe struck shepherds with fluffy lambs here - just promise of trials and tribulation. Strong meat indeed. However this passage does serve to remind us that Advent is much more than preparing for December 25th (Children's Advent Calendars not withstanding). Advent is as much about preparing for the final triumph of Christ as it is about an annual celebration of the Incarnation.
But how do we begin to understand this passage and then preach from it? People of a 'certain age' may remember, in their childhood, their mother appearing with a skein of knotted wool. Sometimes she would unwind it onto the arms of a dining room chair, but sometimes, with a steely glint in her eye she would say, 'Now, hold your arms up' - and then proceed to use us as the two posts to unwind her wool over - even when our arms really began to ache. Like a ball of mixed fibres, this passage needs to be unwound in order to seperate the strands, before we can begin to preach from it.
Can we identify these three themes in this apocalyptic passage?
STRAND ONE Things that happened shortly after Jesus predicted them, in late Bible times. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple happened about forty years after Jesus was crucified. The Jerusalem strand (v20)
STRAND TWO Things that are always happening - (I write this the day after the massacres in Paris). 'Wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, people's hearts failing them for fear' are part of life in every age. The persecution strand
STRAND THREE Looking ahead to a future that, however we interpret it, would not happen for long after Jesus spoke these words. The final triumph strand.
It's that final strand which we might want to focus on because it speaks to every time and place. Verses 27-28
You don't necessarily need to believe that the Son of Man will literally appear on a cloud, but, as a Christian you can hold on to the faith that in the end, God's willwill be done, and then, as v 28 says, 'Hold your head up,' through all the trials and difficulties of life
There is potential for an encouraging sermon on Christian hope here, especially if the congregation includes those who need encouragement because they are among Luke's target audience of the least, the last and the lowest.
DECEMBER 6th Advent two
LUKE 3: 1-6
Luke wishes to write a Gospel grounded in history and focused in a particular time. As a loyal member of the Roman Empire, and writing a Gospel for Gentile readers, he grounds the events he describes in real places, times, and during the lives of real historical figures. (vs 1-2)
Then he introduces John the Baptist. John is sometimes seen as the forerunner or announcer of Jesus, but he should also be understood as the announcer of the Kingdom - the Kingdom of God.
At its best the Church points to the Kingdom. At itsvery best it models and exemplifies it. Jesus and the Kingdom, not the Church, is what we proclaim.
POSSIBLE PREACHING THEMES.
Where today do we see small 'Signs of the Kingdom' Stories of personal sacrifice? Examples of human compassion and love from news bulletins? Food Banks and Night Shelters (in which churches often play a leading part).
Are we calling people to prepare the way for God's will to be done on earth? Are we pointing to the Kingdom?
If (see introduction to Luke's Gospel on this site), Luke's is a gospel of Reversal, Good News for the least, lost, last, and lowest, how far are we and our church living by true Kingdom values?
DECEMBER 13th Advent three
LUKE 3: 7-18
The challenge of these Advent passages continues with Luke's account of John's preaching, and the demands he made on people for a generous, caring life style. Contentment and honesty are among the virtues he expected of people.
SOME IDEAS FOR A PREACHING THEME.
How much contentment and honesty is there in our society, and indeed in us? How much greed? (v10-14)
On what are we relying (v7-9), our church heritage or our own vital up to date walk with the Lord?
Where in the turmoil and pain of life for many today might we see something of judgement - what is our response to it? (v8b-9)
DECEMBER 20th Advent four
LUKE 1: 39-55
Many people believe these words fit better on the lips of Elizabeth than Mary. This poem echoes the prayer of Hannah as she presents her longed for son to the service of God at the sanctuary of Shiloh (1 Samuel 2: 1-10) The Magnificat expresses the longings of a down trodden, occupied nation. Some might see its inclusion here by Luke as an example of an early Theology of Hope or Liberation. Pope Francis is very clear that the church should indeed proclaim and exemplify Good News to the poor. It certainly underlines that the third Gospel is a gospel of 'Reversal' (Richardon).
Challenge opportunities for Preachers.
The Magnificat celebrates Reversal.
What does it say to MY church, is it Good News or is it a warning of judgement?
What does it say to our own land? How far do we live by its values and try to build our society upon them?
Where today may we see the mighty brought low and the lowly raised up?
Have we personally a testimony of being raised up by God, or being spiritually rich even if materially poor?
DECEMBER 27th Christmas One
LUKE 2: 41-52
Years ago we went shopping just a day or two after Christmas Day (Oh dear how sad!) Crowds of people were turning to the Sales as a cure for the Cabin Fever of being indoors for days, and trying to escape the boredom many feel in the later Christmas season. Amongst them, the shop staff were alreadt busy removing the Christmas decorations and advertisements and replacing them with notices of the January Sales. Commercial Christmas seems to start in late October, and end on Christmas Day. But not for Christians! For them, now is the time to linger over the themes of the Incarnation and Salvation.
Jesus is between childhood and adolescence. From the age of 13 Jewish children were required to strictly observe the requirements of their religion (Leaney) But here is Jesus, still a child, showing remarkable understanding and seriouseness in the things of God. Luke alone of the four evangelists offers stories of Christ's childhood. Is there a challenge to us all about how seriously we take our faith?
JANUARY 3rd Christmas Two
JOHN 1 1-18
How much does our 21st western society depend on words? The new course for Worship Leaders and Preachers in the Methodist Church is a computerised course rather a than book based one. Students are asked to submit material which may well include music and video clips. Many Block Buster Movies rely on Special Effects, and Wrap Around sound more than dialogue. In this Digital age, University Libraries may have few books because knowledge may be assessed On Line. 'Text Speak' has its own minimalist language. The Bee Gees song 'Only Words' describes twenty first century western life.
Added to this is the Post Modern suspicion of any Plan in life, and 'Big Picture' or overall meaning or significance. BUT......John presents a very different World View. 'In the beginning was the Word'. This means that before recorded time God's Wisdom and creative energy had a plan for life. Around 1950 years ago that creative energy, that Plan was seen in human form.
Preaching Possibility The idea that there IS a plan and purpose to life is good news. This passage offers material for an evangelistic sermon offering people purpose and meaning in life through Chrost.
JANUARY 10th First in Ordinary Time
LUKE 3: 15-22
Luke returns to the ministry of John the Baptist (see Advent Three). But here Luke moves from John's own distinctive message to his pointing away from himself and to Christ. Then comes the arrest.
A disciple might do many things for his master, but only a slave need take off his master's shoes. John is making it clear how much superior the one who is to come is to him.
John's life is ended with a prison execution.
Remembering the many modern martyrs for the truth.
Are we always as realistic in our evaluation of our status and work for the Kingdom as John was? (v16)
John, the great crowd drawing preacher of his day comes to a sad end hidden away in Herod's dungeon. Thinking of Luke's Gospel theme of Reversal are we prepared to move from centre stage when the time is right?
Thursday, 5 November 2015
REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY YEAR C
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE
'New Proclamation' Ed. David B. Lott Seminar Notes from Dr. Neil Richardon
'Christian character in the Gospel of Luke 'Preaching the Gospel of Luke' D. Macpherson in
'Gospel according to Luke' Leaney 'The Preacher'.
Luke has been well described as the Gospel to the Least, the Lowest and the Lost. In the first century this might include women, and women feature prominently in this Gospel. His target was the often poor and enslaved city dweller of the first century Roman world. This makes Luke a MISSIONARY GOSPEL, as he is very concerned to apply the Good News to the non Jewish world. It has been described as a 'Gospel of Reversal' (Richardson). Luke stands things on their head. God, Luke reminds us, brings down the mighty from their seats (Magnificat) and speaks blessings on the poor and woes to the rich (Sermon on the Mount). Blessings for those who weep and woes for those who are rich. No wonder REPENTANCE is a major theme of his Gospel. To enter the Kingdom requires repentance, and that repentance must include a change in values, priorities and probably life style.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD is a major theme for Luke, but he writes in such a way as to present Jesus the King as no threat to the Empire of his day. King Jesus is a servant, not a mighty military man. Luke believes that one can be a slave, a soldier, a nobleman, loyal to the Emperor, and yet at the same time a follower of Jesus. (This raises questions as to just how revolutionary Luke's Gospel to the least and lowest is or is not).
LIFE IN GOD'S KINGDOM King Jesus enters his glory through suffering The emblem of this gospel writer is a calf, an animal of sacrifice.
Repentance will bring God's forgiveness. In turn Christ's followers must love their enemies. Citizens of the Kingdom of God must be generous and not hord wealth. There are particularly sharp challenges about wealth in this Gospel.
HELP FOR PREACHERS FROM DR. LUKE. In our preaching in Groups/Beneifices/Circuits, continuity of theme can be a problem because of the many different preaching voices who 'visit' to lead worship from week to week. Therefore we need always to ask not just 'What does this Passage say, but, equally importantly 'What does this Gospel or Book say?' Where in each passage can we find one of the Lucan emphases listed above? How does one passage fit into Luke's total understanding of the Gospel?
Luke lends itself to a dynamic, narrative preaching style, because it is crammed with personal interest stories, rather than closely argued theological doctrines. Luke, (like Mark), is a Gospel of action, full of real life stories.
This Gospel invites us to think about the nature of the Kingdom, and the character of our King. Two thousand years after it was written, it still invites us to ask 'Who are trying to be King/Ruler/Dictator today?
How do the values and practices of the world or state echo or deny the values of the Kingdom of God?
Who today are the Least, Last, Lowest and Lost? Look for their stories in Luke and apply them from the pulpit.
Where does this Gospel challenge our world where the richest 1% control 48.2% of Global assets?
Luke can be exciting and comforting, offering Good News to all who repent and so enter the Kingdom. But it remains
challenging, for individuals, for churches for States and economic systems.
Luke's Gospel offers the Good News of God's Kingdom to the Least, Lost, Lowest and Last, in the 21st Century just as much as in the 1st century
Barrie Morley November 2015
Wednesday, 7 October 2015
From October 18 to November 15 the Gospel readings are selected passages from the Gospel of Mark Chapters 10-15; the reading for 22 November (the Sunday being the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, or the last Sunday in the period designated as ‘After Trinity’ in the liturgical calendar) is part of the passion of Christ from the Gospel of John Chapter 18.
The series of readings from Mark begin at Chapter 10 v 35, however Mark 10 v 32-34 (immediately prior to the reading for 18 October) and the John reading for 22 November (18 v33-37) provide the ‘bookends’ for the series of readings.
Mark 10 v 32-34:
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
Here Jesus spells out to his disciples the way he sees things unfolding for him as he describes what are to become the events of his passion. (It is interesting to note that ‘passion’ has the same root in language as ‘passive’, so in his passion we might recognise that Jesus passively ‘allowed things to happen and take their course’, and this exposes his vulnerability.)
John 18 v 33-37 describes the trial of Jesus before Pilate which brings with it the realisation of the Mark reading.
The last Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov 22 in 2015) traditionally carries the title “Christ the King” in which Jesus talks to Pilate about His Kingdom.I have themed this series of reading to reflect characteristics of the Kingdom of God; we might note again that these characteristics are those which expose vulnerability.
I hope it doesn’t feel too contrived!
(The NRSV has been used in this preparation and all passages quoted are from this translation)
18 Oct: Mark 10 v 35-45: The request of James and John
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’36And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39 They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
A KINGDOM OF SERVICE
It is clear that the disciples had not understood the significance of what Jesus had just told them (in Mk 10 v 32-34) because in v 37 James and John open up the subject of status and power; almost the opposite of being vulnerable and passive. They upset the other disciples in the process.
Jesus addresses the matter of position and power.
He reminds them first of the need to identify with the underlying principles of the cause (can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?), then offers some comments on leadership. Look at how these comments develop:
Rulers among the Gentiles lord it
Great ones among the Gentiles are tyrants
Great ones among you must be servants
The first among you must become as slaves
He simply turns the whole hierarchy on its head and the implications are very challenging.
Does it make you review your understanding of leadership within the Church?
What does it mean for a Christian who has a definite leadership role in his or her job?
What does it mean for the Christian’s contribution to community life?
25 Oct: Mark 10 v 46-52: The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
A KINGDOM OF MERCY
Apart from the miracle of healing, there are a number of things in this story and I share just two of them.
First we note that Bartimaeus calls out for mercy; only when he is face to face with Jesus does he ask ‘let me see again’. The origin of this is likely to be the belief that illness and disability were a punishment meted out by God for some sin. Bartimaeus does not rail against this, what he asks for is that the punishment is softened, and that he is given some hope. That is what mercy is about: the punishment appropriate to the crime has been dispensed, but some undeserved remission is made, and hope is restored. Being called across by Jesus is that sign of hope and now he can ask with faith for what he wants.
The second point I pick up is about dignity/independence. Think for a moment how easy it is to take over a person with a disability … to push their wheelchair when they want to propel themselves. My blind friend used to make me a cup of coffee when I visited. It took an age: finding everything, guiding the spoon into the cup, pouring the boiling water until the little gadget that detects the water level bleeped. It would have been far simpler if I’d done it, but he would have lost opportunity to be hospitable. Jesus called Bartimaeus over: no one went to lead him by the hand, nor did Jesus go across to make it easier. He went all by himself and it gave him the confidence to ask for what he really wanted: to see again.
1 Nov: Mark 12 v 28-34: The First Commandment
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29 Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32 Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33 and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
A KINGDOM OF LOVE
The three synoptic gospels treat this story differently. In Matthew, the question “Which commandment is first?” is a test question, in Luke Jesus obliges the questioner to also provide the answer.
Here in Mark, Jesus has spoken well and earned the right to be asked a deep question about ‘which is the most important commandment?’ He answers ‘Love God and love your neighbour’. Love for God is to be absolute, love for neighbour is to be relative, and the point of reference is ‘self’. How much do you love yourself? Love the other person at least that much!
The answer resonates with the scribe and so it should, after all he is an expert in the law! But then he (the scribe) makes an observation: Loving one’s neighbour is far more important than trying to please or to appease God (with sacrifices and burnt offerings). I can just imaging Jesus saying ‘Alleluia, here is somebody who not only knows the law, but understands it as well’.
Living the kingdom of God is about getting on and putting love first; letting our response to God’s love for us to be more than a reverential response to God, and then translating that response into an active love towards others.
Nov 8: Mark 12 v 41 to 44: Jesus Denounces the Scribes and the Widow’s offering
38 As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’ 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
A KINGDOM OF SACRIFICIAL GIVING
The gospel writer cleverly puts these two stories together. The widow’s straitened circumstances are consequent on the exploitive behaviour of the (rich) scribes. Her generosity in giving is far more sacrificial than that of the rich donors.
They complement the ideas that we explored on 18 October when we discussed power and status and sacrificial service. Also our scribe of November 1 who said that loving one’s neighbour was more important than burnt offerings would have understood completely this contrast. Loving one’s neighbour is not always easy and can involve self-denial of time, resources, attention, patience and numerous other things. A person’s response to God is greater than deference it is about giving something of ourselves to the other.
This also might challenge us to think about our engagement with charitable works: ‘throwing money’ at it is often the easy thing and salves the conscience; giving time, commitment and advocacy are much more demanding. It is then that we really engage with this text.
Nov 15: Mark 13 v 1-8: The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
13.1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2 Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
A KINGDOM OF TRUTH
The inclusion of the destruction of the temple in the gospel stories is one reason why scholars place the writings after about 70CE. They imply that the gospel is written not as a contemporaneous diary, but with the crucifixion, the resurrection and the destruction of the temple written into the narrative of the story in ways like: “you must take up your cross” and “in three days I will rise again”.
How you deal with this does not negate Jesus first warning to his disciples: do not put your trust in large and seemingly stable structures whether they are physical edifices or the political/religious/social frameworks that Jesus challenges when he ‘cleanses’ the temple(Mark 11). The disciples were probably referring to the former when they ask the question ‘when will this be?’ Jesus is clearly referring to the latter.
Now follows a series of further warnings:
Beware of false prophets: the story of Jeremiah and Hannaniah in Jeremiah ch 28 is a good scriptural illustration of this
Be aware that conflicts will happen, they will have their roots in ethnic difference, cultural differences, political differences and religious differences.
Be aware that disasters will take place: what might Jesus add to his list of earthquakes and famines? He might include contemporary threats: global warming, rising sea levels, pollution of land, water and air?
This is writing in an apocalyptic style, and we might be tempted to think in terms of a cataclysmic end. But Jesus says ‘this is the beginning of the birth pangs’. He is offering hope, but we have to face up to many of the inconvenient and painful truths of this world if the Kingdom of God is to be safely delivered.
22 Nov John 18 v 33-37 Jesus before Pilate
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’
THE KING AND HIS KINGDOM
This passage brings to completion the journey we started on 18 October when we looked at Jesus predicting his passion and now encounters this for real.
This passage is more about the King than the Kingdom; a king who will shortly be enthroned on a cross.
This brings into focus our first reflection (18 Oct) about a kingdom of service in which Jesus asks John and James: “can you drink the cup that I shall drink” and in which kingship is turned completely upside down.
Jesus knew that his ministry was a challenge and that it would lead to confrontation of this nature.
The Jewish Authorities had taken Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, with the charge that he claimed to be king, a clear threat to law and order.
So Pilate and Jesus engage in a conversation about kingship, but they approach the subject from completely different perspectives. To Pilate the King is lord and tyrant, to Jesus the King is servant and slave; for Pilate kingdoms are about power struggles to keep the king in place, for Jesus the kingdom is about service, mercy, love, sacrificial giving. Is this the ‘truth’ that Jesus spoke about and which prompted Pilate to ask “what is truth?”?
Does truth also embrace some of the issues that were raised on November 15; as we face up to the warnings that Jesus makes (or may make in this contemporary world), we have to face the truth that many of the things he warns against are consequent on human behaviour.
Al Gore, a former USA vice president delivered a programme of lectures on climate change which were gathered together into a documentary film entitled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. To this day, the reliability of that evidence is contested, particularly by those who do not want to be inconvenienced!
In this series of readings, we have the truth about the Kingdom of God (Sacrificial service, love, sacrificial giving, mercy, truth) and may have recognised that they can be inconvenient to those in positions of leadership. The bearer of this truth, the ‘true prophet’ was to be silenced.
As the story of Jesus’ trial develops we can sense that Pilate is increasingly uneasy (John 19:12) but his hand was finally forced: the Jewish leaders get what they want but in the process compromise themselves with the blasphemous confession “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15)
Monday, 31 August 2015
How status conscious is our congregation/denomination?
How much do we as a church honour and value the least, the last, and those whose contribution is done quietly?
MARK 9: 38-50
He adds 'It would not be lost on the Roman church (probably for whom Mark wrote) in the time of persecution.
Now, Black & White, one size fits all approaches seem old fashioned. Many 'Bible believing' Christians are unlikely strictly and literally enforce Jesus words on divorce as outlined in this passage.
The disciples seem to have inherited this idea. So what are WE to make of it 1900 years later in our consumer 'must have' society?