CACINA

The Long and Short of Mark 1

6th Sunday Ordinary time, 2-11-18

Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps: 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

This is the last Sunday before the start of Lent. For the last three weeks, we have had sequential readings from the Gospel of Mark.  In fact, we have read nearly all of Chapter 1.  Mark has given us a great deal of information about Jesus, the purpose and style of his mission, his unique authority to teach and heal, and his intensity and power.  Today, I want to recap these readings, because I believe they are an excellent entry into Lent as well as a very solid base for expanding the ministry of Holy Trinity.

The first 14 verses of Mark tell us about the baptism of Jesus and his time of temptation in the desert. Jesus’ first words recorded by Mark are, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” You will remember that when the ashes are placed on your forehead on Ash Wednesday,  one or both of these things are said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  (Now we know where that came from.) The second one is not as familiar, maybe because it seems a little vague; we may not be sure what is being asked of us.

If someone calls you and says, “I have good news – our baby boy was born this morning,” you understand that not only is the message good news, but the baby himself is good news. The Jews had waited about 1,000 years for the arrival of the Messiah.  Now, Mark tells us, the Messiah, Jesus, is teaching and healing and present with his people.  Not only do we find the announcement good, but Jesus’ message is good news, as is his very self.  “Gos” means good and “Spel” means story, or news.   Jesus, and all he says and does, is the gospel.   We are to repent and shed our sin along with shedding the attitude of waiting.

Jesus acts this out by calling Simon, Andrew, James and John from their fishing nets, and “immediately” they leave their boats and go with him.   For them to do that was very counter-cultural, even disrespectful of their family, and, frankly, just plan weird, even for us.  When is that last time you put down your pen on your desk and walked away from your job?  Can you imagine the power in Jesus’ command to, “Come with me”?  Have you ever felt anything like that?  Has God ever put that kind of message in your heart?  What would you do to enliven and built up Holy Trinity if that happened to you?

And then, Jesus, along with his followers, went to the synagogue. Jesus teaches there, “as one having authority”…and not just as a scribe, or scholar.  He commands an unclean spirit to leave a man, and it does.  Everyone is astonished and amazed.  Interesting, isn’t it – the unclean spirits know and obey Jesus in an instant, and we, well, often not so much.  Is it because we haven’t grasped what he asks us to do?  Or do we not know him well enough?

Jesus is then on his way to Simon/Peter’s house the same day. He restores Peter’s mother in-law to health; not only health, but a position of dignity and even fame.  As a widow in declining health, she is a burden on the family and is fearful for the future.  Jesus (immediately) “helpers her up”, says Mark.  What an understatement!

She is able to be a hostess who exceeds the high bar of Mediterranean hospitality. The house becomes the site of all kinds of healings, and her own healing will be known as long as the Bible is read.  Her life had been changed, forever different.  Do you doubt that Jesus could change Holy Trinity into a thriving place of worship and impact the community?

Next, Jesus touches a leper and says, “Be made clean.” This story is full of implications. First, the story came to us in Greek, and Greek uses verbs in ways that we don’t.  In this case, “Be made clean” means, “Someone else will make you clean.”  In other words, God is doing the healing.  Jesus is not claiming this power as his own, just as he does not offer to heal the widow, but helps her move away from the sick bed.  It is a great portrayal of Jesus as the obedient and humble son acting as the conduit of God’s power.  We can be the conduit of God’s power, which is often found in humble prayer, worship, and obedience.

Second, just as “a cold” can mean many possible illnesses, a “leper” in that day could have many different skin conditions. But they all had one thing in common: the person had ugly sores on their body.  Any type of physical disfiguration was suspect then, and made the person “ritually unclean”.  No animal with any physical imperfections could be used for sacrifice in the temple.  Likewise, no person with sores could worship in the temple.  To add insult to injury, the cause of illness was presumed to be sin. The person was blamed for their own illness, and they were viewed as moral pollution in the community.

Because it was seen as a “sin” issue, the Priest banished lepers and declared them healed. The isolation and blame could be worse than the sores.  This leper somehow knows and believes in Jesus.  Jesus, evidently, was a cafeteria Jew, because he followed the Jewish law in Leviticus and sent the leper to the priest; but he touched the leper in pity, thereby breaking another law as he restored the man to wholeness.  Jesus put himself at risk of being mobbed by suffering people in hopes of healing.  He told the leper to be silent, not wanting a reputation as a miracle man/ wonder worker.  Remember, he came to urge repentance and belief.  He knew his goal.  What is our goal, here in this parish?

So, to be like Jesus, we must be short on presumption and long on pity. We must be dependent on God’s power and know it.  We must use God’s eyes to see past the sores on skin and see the sores of the heart.  We must focus on our goal and honor the directives of God, not culture.  With prayerful discernment we must be prepared to act for the glory of God when we are called.  Old presumptions may require repentance, and belief may need to be strengthened.  Our path forward as a church may bring us change, but we can trust it will be “Good News”.

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No Need to Choose Sides!

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, scripture by Rev. Martha on March 4, 2016

4th Sunday of Lent yr C, 3-6-16 Joshua 5: 9-12, Ps 34, 2 Cor 5: 17-21,  Luke 15: 1-32

 

I was talking with a friend about preaching on “The Prodigal Son.” Her response was, “Ooh, that’s a hard one. Good luck!”  I understood exactly what she was saying.  Then I began to wonder why Jesus even the story.  Every generation and every culture has stories about wayward sons. Every society has rules about inheritances.  But reading this as a wayward son story or inheritance law story just doesn’t give us an adequate interpretation or reveal the purpose of the parable. We need to look closer.

The 15th chapter of Luke consists of three parables, which all lead in the same direction. They are: (1) The Lost Sheep, (2) The Lost Coin, and (3) The Lost (or prodigal) Son.  The Lost Sheep (the guy who leaves the 99 sheep to search for one) ends with this: “I am so happy I found my lost sheep.  Let us celebrate!  I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who do not need to repent.”   Now, how did that happen? How did we go from sheep, to repentance and heaven?

The Lost Coin (you know, the woman who loses her coin, sweeps & searches until she finds it) ends almost exactly the same: “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!  In the same way, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.”  Jesus is definitively not discussing inheritance distribution here.

Both of these first two parables focus instead on searching & the joy of finding. Then they compare that joy of finding with the joy that comes with repentance. The Lost Son focuses on those same themes, but in addition, it contrasts of the attitude of the father with the elder son’s attitude; contrasting compassion toward repentant sinners and refusal to celebrate repentance.

Now, the original audience listening to these parables included both the “sinners” that Jesus associated with – and ate with – as well as religious leaders who objected – strongly – to the presence of those “sinners.  In fact, this may have been the “Hot Button” issue that ignited the plot to crucify Jesus.

But to find the birthplace of this parable, we must return to Luke 4: 18-22, which we read on Jan 31st.   Remember Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue: “(The Lord) has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty…recovery of sight…freedom for the oppressed and announce the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” It’s Jesus’ mission statement.   It’s the announcement of the coming of the Messiah.  It was widely believed then that the Messiah, or Christ, would bring a time of forgiveness, restoration, and insistence on joyous celebration.

To grumble in the face of his coming is to not understand what is happening. Jesus puts these parables in the context of why he is there, his purpose. It is a picture of the impact of his ministry, the coming of God’s kingdom….and the attitudes of those who find the Kingdom – those who repent, forgive, and who are forgiven.

“The Coming of the Kingdom” is a phrase we read in the Gospels, but it’s hard to be really sure what to do with it. The conflict which brought about this parable was the claim from Jesus that the kingdom of God was present and that God was at work.  That’s fine and dandy when you sit in a church and feel safe among those of like mind.  But it was met with great suspicion as long as those around Jesus were tax collectors who worked for and collaborated with the Romans (those oppressive invaders, those multi-god-worshiping heathens); AND those ceremonially unclean shepherds and lepers and disabled people that were so feared and despised; AND others who were absolutely disreputable and debase, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet.

So, here is a contrast between the acceptance of the repentant by God and the suspicion and rejection of them by some religious leaders. But, Surprise!  The parable ends without rejecting either side.  How can it be that the father would desire a household that would offer love to the son who put every cent of  his effort & time into the estate, alongside the son who is an obvious drain on the bank account and the emotions of everyone?  Yet, the father of the sons rejects no one; both sons are chosen.  The father loves and offers everything he has to the grumbling son with a disrespectful attitude as well as the son who has broken every rule in the book and come home at best only hoping not to die of starvation.  Could I be so open and loving and generous on the very best day of my life??  In my own self, it would be impossible.  Only if I was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit of God could that happen.

You see, the kingdom does not divide but unifies; the kingdom is universal. This parable is without an ending, and so becomes an invitation to everyone who hears it to change their attitude and join in the celebration.   The Messiah has come, forgiveness, restoration, liberty- all our inheritance.  Our heavenly Father has given us all he has, and He is always with us.  We are no longer slaves of darkness or ourselves.  If we had a sliver of a clue what was happening, if we saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, it would be enough to make us rejoice until tears of unrestrained happiness streamed down our cheeks.  What is now “ours” could be shared with the hungry, the dirty, the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner, the addict, the derelict.  The hard years, the labor which seemed to be without reward could be remembered with gladness. Perhaps that is why we were given the Holy Spirit and Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”