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Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Mark 1:21–28 In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is revealed as one who speaks and acts with God’s authority. In the focus passage, Jesus teaches and casts out an unclean spirit. There are no details about the content of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue that day in Capernaum. In Jesus’ time, and in Mark’s, the synagogue was a place for Jews to gather to study scripture and pray. Most towns with a Jewish population had a synagogue, sometimes meeting in a private home. Perhaps reporting that Jesus taught in the synagogue was an affirmation of Jesus’ authority for Mark’s first readers. Through the account of Jesus healing the man with the unclean spirit, Mark continues to establish Jesus’ power-filled authority. In Jesus’ day, people believed in the presence of demons, evil powers, and various types of cosmic beings. Jesus, as God’s child, had higher “standing” in this cosmic world order than demons or spirits. Jesus demonstrated God’s power and desire to liberate those possessed by demons. Understanding this historical context may help move us away from interpreting this story too literally within our own worldview. Possession by unclean spirits made persons ritually unclean. They could not go to the temple or participate in religious festivals; they were separated from God, family, and neighbours. The state of being ritually unclean, for the most part, was a temporary matter. People became unclean temporarily so that food could be prepared, the sick could be tended, babies could be born, and the dead could be prepared for burial. After a prescribed length of time or cleansing ritual, a person was rendered clean again. There is a significant distinction, however, between temporary uncleanness and long-lasting dissociation from community, such as the person in today’s reading experienced. In healing this person, a surprising reversal takes place; Jesus’ amazing power reshapes and restores community and relationship with God. God will provide wisdom, courage, and power to those whom God calls to lead. In Deuteronomy 18:15–20, an account from near the end of Moses’ life, Moses assures the people that God will raise up new prophets who will speak with God’s authority just as Moses has. God is powerful. Psalm 111 celebrates God’s authority and desire to feed the hungry ones, keep the covenant, redeem the people, and reward the faithful. The Corinthian Christians ask Paul for authoritative teaching in 1 Corinthians 8:1–13. In Corinth, it was impossible to buy meat that had not been ritually sacrificed to one of the local gods. Paul agrees that rituals to gods that don’t exist do not change the meat and, therefore, do not defile those who eat it. However, Paul also cautions that members of the Christian community are responsible for choosing to live in ways that build community. God’s living word of wisdom has power to do what is needful to enact God’s reign of justice and compassion. As we open ourselves to the authority of God’s word, we are empowered to reach out in word and deed – to teach and heal in ways that restore and build up individuals and communities. What does it mean to you to teach with Christ’s authority? In what ways might we use our God-given powers to do what is important in God’s reign?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
God calls many different people in many different ways. Jesus sees four fisher-persons, and they immediately leave their nets in response to the call to “Follow me.” Jonah, a reluctant prophet, finally heeds God’s call and Nineveh is saved. How can we discern God’s call in our lives? With the psalmist we affirm that God, who calls, is steadfast in love. Mark 1:14–20Mark’s gospel begins abruptly. In the first thirteen verses, we learn that John the Baptizer proclaimed the coming of the Messiah in the wilderness, and that Jesus was baptized and spent time being tested in the wilderness. Now we read that John has been arrested. (John criticized Herod’s marriage to his niece Herodias, former wife of his half-brother Philip.) John’s ministry has come to an end, and the time has come for Jesus to act. Jesus returns to Galilee, the province where he grew up. Galilee was a rural area, thought to be a bit of a “backwater.” It is in this unlikely place that Jesus begins to proclaim the good news of God – that God’s reign of justice and compassion has come near. A new age is about to begin. Jesus calls the people, both as individuals and as a community, to repent, to turn around and reorient their lives towards God. Repentance means both a turning away from sin – those things that separate us from relationship with God – and also a turning towards the good. It demands movement and change. Jesus’ message is clear and challenging. As Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee, he sees people going about their everyday work, bringing in the daily catch of fish. In the midst of the ordinary, Jesus calls four fishers, two sets of brothers, with the words “Follow me.” And immediately – a word that Mark uses often to express the urgent need to proclaim the gospel in troubled times, such as those faced by the first readers – Simon and Andrew, James and John leave their boats and their nets and follow. There is no indication in the text about who these four individuals were, if they knew Jesus, or what Jesus saw in them that prompted him to choose them. There is no insight into what they thought as they dropped everything and left their work and their families. Without question, they went with Jesus. What compelled them to go? Jesus told them that their new work would be to “fish for people.” Their work would be to tend to relationships, to care for others, and to invite them to hear the good news that Jesus was proclaiming. From this time on, everything would be different for these four. There is a sense of urgency about the whole passage. Responding to the call to follow Jesus means leaving behind a past way of life and trusting in the one who calls into an unknown future. Jonah 3:1–5, 10 is also a story of call. The prophet Jonah has already failed once to respond to God’s call. Now God calls Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh to preach a message of repentance. Because of this reluctant prophet, the people repent and acknowledge God. God’s mind is changed and Nineveh is saved. Paul gives five examples of how to live in order to be ready to respond to God’s call. 1 Corinthians 7:29–31 picks up Mark’s sense of urgency. The present situation is coming to an end. Christians are to live detached from the world, yet mindful of it. We can follow God’s call because the one who calls is trustworthy. Psalm 62:5–12 proclaims, with vivid metaphors of God as rock and refuge, that we are called to trust in God’s power and steadfast love. God is our fortress and salvation. Following Jesus means leaving behind past ways of life and embarking on a new adventure. We respond to God’s call, trusting that God supports us with steadfast love. When God calls, what is being asked of us? In what ways do we respond? How can we recognize the one we are to follow?
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Focus Scripture: Mark 1:4–11 Mark’s gospel is characterized by urgency – events happen at a rapid pace. In these opening verses, John the Baptizer bursts on the scene with a shocking message: Israel must repent and return to God’s ways. John is a dramatic figure, dressed like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), whose return was said to herald the coming of God’s Messiah. John preaches by the Jordan River, evoking images of Moses, the exodus from Egypt, and the entry of God’s people into the land of promise. People are intrigued by John’s message, and crowds flock to listen. This is enough to make the civil and religious authorities anxious. They wonder: who is John, and what does this message of repentance mean? John proclaims that a more powerful one is coming; his ministry prepares a receptive audience for Jesus. The gospel writer strives to show followers of John and Jesus that Jesus is the one to follow – the one sent from God to reveal God’s ways. John’s baptism cleanses from sin, but baptism with the Holy Spirit transforms individuals and society. God will be present through the Spirit, bringing new life in God’s reign. Each of the gospels includes the story of Jesus’ baptism, the defining moment that marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus comes to the Jordan to participate in John’s baptism, going down into the water and coming up again. Jesus shares our humanity and participates in the experience of the people. In Mark’s telling, only Jesus sees the heavens open and the Spirit descend like a dove. Only Jesus hears the voice from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Perhaps this is why the disciples, throughout Mark’s gospel, are slow to understand who Jesus is. Today is Baptism of Jesus Sunday, an invitation to enter into the mystery and wonder of Baptism. Baptism is important to our identity as Christians, as it is the defining moment in which we enter into the Christian family. This day invites reflection on the relationship between God and Jesus, defined in Jesus’ baptism as special and different from all other relationships. Consider what it means that God says to each of us, “You are my beloved child.” The other texts paint a picture of God who creates, redeems, and strengthens. Genesis 1:1–5 gives a vivid picture of the work of God the creator. Water is an image of power, both life-giving and destructive. A wind from God (God’s Spirit) brings order out of the watery chaos. God creates by speaking and calls the creation “good.” Creation is beloved and God is pleased with it. Psalm 29 is an enthronement psalm, celebrating the majesty of God as ruler enthroned over the whole world. God’s powerful voice creates, moving over the waters. God’s power is seen in thunder, whirlwind, and flame. God brings salvation to all people and blesses with peace. In Acts 19:1–7, it is reported that Paul visits Christians in Ephesus and finds that some of them have been baptized by John. When Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus, they receive the Holy Spirit, who strengthens and guides. All people are part of God’s good creation and loved by God. The God whose powerful voice moves over the waters is making a new creation, of which we are a part. At his baptism, Jesus heard God’s voice call him “beloved.” What does it mean to pass through baptismal waters into the new life that God bestows in Jesus Christ? What is your response to hearing God call you “beloved”?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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