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Tuesday, October 06, 2009
What Must I Do? At times, the perceived absence of God from our lives evokes our questions. At other times, it is the presence of God that grieves us. Words born of God’s love are not always welcomed or heeded when they seek our transformation. Yet what seems impossible for us to do or conceive grows in possibility when we recognize God's deep love for us. Focus Scripture: Mark 10:17–31 Mark’s gospel deals with what it means to follow Jesus. Sometimes this focus passage is presented as unique in its call to sell all and follow. But this invitation parallels Jesus’ earlier commissioning of the disciples in Mark 6:8–9. Those who follow Jesus are ordered to take along no money for the journey. Money and possessions convey status, then and now. But love, not status, forms the basis for Jesus’ community and discipleship. To follow Jesus is a call to travel light. Mark prefaces this particular call to divest with Jesus “looking” at the man. It is not the typical Greek word for seeing. Emblepo is sight that involves intense interest or concern. “Looking at him” might be better rendered as “looking into him.” Such sight leads to Jesus’ love, albeit love that makes a hard demand. This detail of Jesus’ love is notable. This is one of only two places where “love” occurs in Mark’s gospel. The other unique element in this text is the mention of “eternal life.” Verses 17 and 30 are the only places in Mark where “eternal life” appears. The term Mark normally employs is “kingdom of God.” Both terms reference the transformed life that comes in relationship with Christ. Both terms point not only to a promised future, but also to life lived in the presence of God now. “Power” is another recurring theme in Mark. When the disciples wonder here “who can be saved,” Jesus answers with a statement of power. The words impossible and possible in verse 27 share the same Greek root: dunatos, meaning “power” or “ability.” The “possibility” of salvation is not a matter of philosophical discernment. It is a matter of power, and God has the power. In the closing verses of the passage, the disciples receive reassurance about what they have left in order to follow Jesus – sort of. Jesus lists “persecutions” among the blessings that will come to the disciples in this age. This word seems counter-productive. If that’s what one gets for following Jesus, why follow? A deeper hearing might recognize Mark’s community here. Their following had brought persecution. Such experiences might have led to wondering if their faithfulness was misdirected. But if persecution is part of following, then its experience can be seen as validation that disciples are on the right path. The challenge facing the man with possessions in Mark was not God’s absence. It was the shocking word that came from one he looked to as a teacher of God. The additional readings wrestle with both God’s presence and absence. Job 23:1–9, 16–17 cries out of the experience of one who longs for God’s presence in the face of God’s seeming absence. Like the individual in Mark who went away shocked and grieved, Job also has a sense of God as one who may “terrify.” Psalm 22:1–15 utters words of what the absence of God feels like. Still, verse 8 and the portion of the psalm not included in the reading affirm God as one who delivers. Hebrews 4:12–16 tells of the sharpness of God’s word that can pierce us deeply, yet also witnesses to the sympathy of Christ. Our response to the demanding call to remove stumbling blocks to our following of Jesus is made possible by the loving providence of God. We are invited to live into the reign of God with all its joys and risks. What does such following ask you to do? How might our church ask the hard questions of discipleship even as it celebrates our following of Jesus?
Thursday, October 01, 2009
ENFOLDING LOVE Breakdowns in relationship bring hurt and separation. In response, God enfolds the estranged and left-out ones with love that blesses with wholeness and inclusion. God’s love wisely binds grace to justice. Held in such love, we may cry out to God. Enfolded by such love, we receive Jesus’ welcome and are invited, likewise, to enfold others. Focus Scripture: Mark 10:2–16 “Testing” of Jesus is an ongoing theme in Mark. Such testing occurs in the wilderness (1:13), by religious leaders (8:11), and by those who want to arrest Jesus (12:12–15). In the focus scripture, the Pharisees test by asking “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In responding, Jesus risks antagonizing ruthless political power. The recent execution of John the Baptizer stemmed from John’s teaching that it was not lawful for Herod to marry his brother’s wife (6:17–18). Mark’s community also lived under the weight of testing. They faced the threat of the same Roman imperial rule that executed Jesus. They were a minority party within Judaism, and were viewed with suspicion. Such testing may have raised questions about how to protect the community from outside threats. The words between these Pharisees and Jesus regarding marriage and divorce begin with what is taught in the Law of Moses. Jesus then expands the conversation by quoting from Genesis 1:27, 2:24, and 5:2, which precede the Law. It is as if law alone cannot resolve this issue. The teaching of Jesus “in the house” with the disciples that follows the exchange with the Pharisees hints that Mark brings his own community into the conversation. Differing traditions in Judaism and the Hellenistic culture at this time vary on the rights of women in such cases. Jesus does not institute a new law here. Rather, Jesus appeals to the intention for relationships in “pre-law” times. A key element in this test is the word translated as “lawful.” The Greek word carries the meaning of “what is permitted.” To ask if something is permitted is not the same as asking what is needful or even right. Jesus replies by asking not what Moses permitted, but what Moses “commanded,” thus making this a discussion of what is just. That emphasis on justice flows into Jesus’ welcome of the children in both word and gesture. The little ones are welcomed because they belong. “Took them in his arms” translates a unique compound word that literally means to “bend the arm” as in the act of cradling or enfolding. The Body of Christ is called to welcome the little ones and the vulnerable ones not merely because it is permitted. The welcome arises because it is the just and right thing to do. Jesus respects the worth of all people. Jesus’ mindfulness toward the Pharisees, the disciples, and the children reflects commitments that grow out of the trustworthiness of God’s enfolding love and care. The additional texts likewise invite our recognition of God’s trustworthiness. Psalm 26 trusts in God’s care; such trust arises out of the psalmist’s experience of God’s steadfast love. In contrast, Job 1:1, 2:1–10 begins with God placing Job in another’s hands (the Hebrew phrase translated here as “in your power” literally means “in your hand”). Even so, this passage ends with Job trusting what is received from God. Hebrews 1:1–4; 2:5–12 declares God’s high regard for humankind by quoting Psalm 8. Such regard is further expressed by having the One praised as the “exact imprint of God’s being” name and enfold us as sisters and brothers. Our experience of God’s enfolding love invites us to receive those who are vulnerable with such love. Who have been the ones whose loving welcome restored us to relationship or community? How might we enfold those who are struggling with separation in relationships and from community?

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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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