Notes about upcoming text studies

Friends, I am going to stick with the Gospel of Mark for Reformation Sunday (10/31) and All Saints Sunday (11/7). Our time with Mark (my favorite gospel account) is speeding toward its end for another three years. I want to read and reflect on as much of the Markan composition as possible in the time remaining. So, I’m going to focus on the following texts.

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October 31 (Reformation): Mark 12:28-34 — The greatest commandment. I can’t think of a better text to focus our attention in a “First Commandment” way. And therefore, I can’t think of a better text to help us read texts the way Luther reads texts.

November 7 (All Saints): Mark 12:35-44 — David’s son and the Widow’s Mite. These verses provide some interesting opportunities to reflect on the communion of saints.

November 14: Mark 13:1-8, 32-37. I think that the prologue and epilogue of the Little Apocalypse is a good way to treat the text with integrity.

November 21 (Christ the King): Mark 15:1-20 — I think the Markan composition offers at least as many ways to reflect on Christ the King as does the Johannine text (especially with the Barabbas scene).

I hope this will offer a helpful heads up for ongoing readers.

“What Do You Want?” Mark 10:35-46 — RevMerle

Where can you picture yourself?           In the front seat of a brand new car?   The feel of fine Corinthian leather, the wind racing through your hair, and the autumn leaves flying behind you?           On a beach, a drink in hand, finally getting yourself a little of that “Royal Caribbean” after a long […]

“What Do You Want?” Mark 10:35-46 — RevMerle

Take the time to read this one.

“Looked at in Love” Mark 10:17-31 — RevMerle

I have an important question to ask you.  How many of you are here today because you hoped to be looked at in love by Jesus?   Come on, let’s have a show of hands!    If you’re hand isn’t up, then I’m assuming that maybe you came here to be judged, or to be scowled […]

“Looked at in Love” Mark 10:17-31 — RevMerle

Friends, I’m grateful to share the work of another long-time friend, capable colleague, and speaker of truths, RevMerle. I hope you’ll take the time to read his messages and to follow his WordPress.com postings. Thanks, RevMerle!

Check out this YouTube channel

Friends, I want to recommend the worship videos of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the sermons of their fine pastor, Rev. Tobi White. Tobi has been my friend, pastor, and colleague for a number of years. She also follows this blog and puts to excellent use the small insights contained herein. I make sure to catch Pastor Tobi’s messages every week. So check out the most recent service and message at https://youtu.be/ZDJgnsg-wVg. Be sure to subscribe to the Our Saviour’s channel. Thanks!

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Pray for One Another — Saturday Sermon from the Sidelines

John 17:6-19; 7 Easter B 2021

Friends, I need to recuperate spiritually a bit and spend more time in the garden. So here’s a message from another time and place that might be helpful.

Last week we heard Jesus’ command to love one another as Jesus loves us. Our gospel is part of a prayer Jesus prays for his disciples and all who trust in him. We could say that Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Do you wonder what Jesus is up to right now, sitting at the right hand of the Father? He is praying for you. For example, In Romans eight, verse thirty-four, Paul says, “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” Like the disciples, we are on the front lines in the battle against sin, death and the devil. So we need Jesus’ prayers to sustain us in the fight.

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Jesus prays in this prayer, not only for his disciples but also for “all those who believed in their account.” That’s us. We are included in Jesus’ prayer. What does it feel like to know that all those years ago Jesus was praying for you?

I hope you hear Jesus praying for you today. Jesus was praying for us all those years ago and continues to care for us, support us, and love and value us today. Where do you need to be one, to be more whole, to have more peace in your life? Take a moment and imagine Jesus is praying just for you today.

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

We have some interesting ideas about prayer. A five year old told his daddy he wanted a baby brother. The boy offered to help make this happen. Dad paused for a moment and then replied, “I’ll tell you what. If you pray every day for two months for a baby brother, I guarantee that God will give you one!”

The prospective older brother prayed every night for a whole month. Then he had some doubts. You just don’t pray for two months, he thought to himself, and then—whammo–a new baby brother. So he stopped praying.

After another month, mom went to the hospital. When she came back home, Johnny’s parents called him into the bedroom. There was a little bundle lying right next to his mother. His dad pulled back the blanket and there was — not one baby brother, but two!! His mother had twins!

Dad said, “Now aren’t you glad you prayed?” The boy looked up at his dad and said, “Yes, but aren’t you glad I quit when I did?”

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

We don’t do it for one another. I don’t do it often enough. We say, “I’ll pray for you.” But we hardly ever just sit down and do it. That may be hard for many of us. We may wonder if we know how to pray.

A family was having guests to dinner. At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and says, “Dear, would you like to say the blessing?” “I wouldn’t know what to say,” replies the little girl. “Just say what you hear Mommy say, sweetie.”

Her daughter takes a deep breath, bows her head, and solemnly says, “Dear Lord, why in blazes did I invite all these people to dinner?” That may not have been the best prayer training the little girl could have received.

How can we pray for one another? When in doubt, imitate Jesus. Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Jesus prays for what the disciples need. They are afraid he is abandoning them. So he prays for what they need—protection, confidence and courage. When you pray for someone else, focus on that person. Listen closely for what that person needs. Ask for that need in simple words and sentences. Let God take care of the results.

Even with some tips and tricks tucked away in our brains, this still may be hard to do face to face. There are other ways to let people know you are praying for them. And it’s important that the people you pray for hear the words you say.

There were these two boys who lived with their Grandma. They were about to go to bed but before they slept they prayed. The older son started to pray. He prayed about the day he had and about everything he had done. The younger son then started to pray, he prayed much louder than his elder brother, he prayed for bikes and toys, and when he finished the older brother asked him “Why are you praying so loud? God is not deaf” and the younger son responded and said “Yea but Grandma is”

Just imagine how much reassurance the disciples received when they heard Jesus’ words. It’s important to ask God for the needs of others. It’s also helpful for the others to hear us as we pray.

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Sometimes we are far away from someone who needs our prayers. Perhaps this week you might send someone a note or a card telling them you are praying for them. You might write out the prayer that you are praying for them. You might ask what else you can include in your prayers.

Sometimes our prayers can be more visible than audible. I was so grateful that one of our members made and brought a quilt to send to another member who had broken a bone. That quilt carried the prayers of many here and was a source of healing and strength.

Even though we regard social media sometimes as a tool of Satan, I also find it another way to share prayers with others. Sometimes I do it in a real time chat with someone. Sometimes I message or email my prayers. I’m often surprised by how helpful those prayers can be.

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Text Study for Mark 1:4-11; Baptism of Jesus B, 2020

Ripping Clouds and Hovering Birds

Epiphany is the season of God’s “appearing” among us. We heard this at Christmas in Titus 2:11 – “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…” This verse has the Greek verb from which we get “Epiphany.” Every Sunday in Epiphany we get an additional insight into God’s appearing among us in Jesus, our Lord, Savior, and Messiah. “This text from Mark 1:4-11 and the text from Mark 9:2-9 frame the gospel texts of the season of Epiphany,” writes Paul Berge. “In this season we move from the baptism of Jesus to his transfiguration; it is a season of epiphany in the revelation of the one whose life and ministry foreshadow his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.”

It begins with the coming of the Magi to the manger on January 6. Jesus is treated as a king, and his birth is announced to these wandering Persian mystics – that is, to the whole earth. With this beginning, we understand that God’s appearing is, as Titus notes, “bringing salvation to all…”

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You may remember from a previous text study that the first three verses of Mark’s gospel serve as the “title” of the document and the prophetic superscription. The preaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus really mark the beginning of Mark’s gospel account. “It is interesting that,” Larry Hurtado writes, “although Mark presents the human characters in his story, even the disciples, as largely unable to perceive properly who Jesus really is until his resurrection, the reader is given in the opening line the titles that prove to be Mark’s favorite terms for communicating Jesus’ true dignity – Christ (Messiah), and Son of God” (page 15).

Lois Tverberg offers some helpful thoughts about Jesus as God’s “Son” in her book Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus. To be a “son” in the ancient Near East, she notes, was to resemble the father in personality and potential. Immediately in his gospel account, Mark describes Jesus as carrying the character of God. This fatherly gift and vocation are confirmed at the baptism when God calls Jesus his “beloved Son.” Jesus carries the “family name” and goes into the “family business” – the reign of God present among us.

Tverberg points helpfully to the ways in which being a child of God work themselves out then in the New Testament. We can perhaps expand on that in our thinking and study. For example, last week we read in John’s prologue, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). If we are God’s children by grace through our faith in Jesus, then we carry the character of God as well. We have been brought into the family business and carry the family name.

In the Rite of Holy Baptism, we remind worshippers of this as we name and mark the one baptized. We utter the person’s name immediately followed by “Child of God.” This helps us, perhaps, to understand John’s words a bit more clearly. A better translation of the text above would be something like God “gave the authority to live as children of God.”

Just as Jesus’ status as God’s Beloved Son is both gift and vocation, so it is for us as well. We are gifted with a place in the family by God’s grace in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are called to grow into that gift as we live faithfully as God’s children. This is affirmed, for example in the words from the third chapter of John’s first letter: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (verses 1 and 2).

We as readers of Mark’s Gospel know from the very beginning who this Jesus is and what he is about. “There is a certain secrecy surrounding Jesus in the book,” Hurtado continues, “but the reader is let in on the secret right at the beginning” (page 15). This is true even at the baptism, where we hear the words God speaks directly to Jesus. It seems in Mark’s account that this speech is not a public event (as opposed to reports in the other gospels) but rather somehow “internal” to Jesus’ experience. We, the readers, are the only ones let in on the secret at this point.

Malina and Rohrbaugh amplify this point. “Here the description of the heavens opening makes public what would otherwise be a private and meaningless event. But since no onlookers or witnesses are described as being present,” they suggest, “it is clear that Mark intends his readers to be the confirming public such a grant of honor requires” (page 175).

I am not so sure that Mark is so clear about the public or private nature of the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove. Even if it were public, however, the meaning of that event would have, in Mark’s telling, been lost on those present at the event. It is really only at the crucifixion, when the Temple in the curtain is torn asunder, that a public pronouncement of Jesus’ identity is made. And then, it is the ambiguous report of a Roman centurion.

There is, however, more to this descent of the dove. This is the good news of Jesus, the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God. Tverberg reminds us that in the Hebrew scriptures, “Whenever God appointed a leader over Israel, [God] filled him with his ruach, [God’s] Spirit” (Kindle Location 2601). The Spirit of the Lord was an “anointing” for kings and prophets, sometimes accompanied by actual oil and at other times not.

In particular, Tverberg notes, we can read the Messianic promise in Isaiah 11, that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon the branch from the stump of Jesse. “The same Spirit of God that hovered over creation,” according to at least one rabbi, “would rest upon the Messiah.” And the Hebrew word used in these passages really is “hovered,” like a bird hovering over a nest. “When you’re aware of the avian imagery,” Tverberg writes, “it’s hard not to think of another scene of God’s ruach fluttering over water, when Jesus is baptized in the river Jordan” (Kindle Location 2678).

This is the link to the appointed reading from Genesis 1:1-5 that we will study in a few days. Keep in mind the Spirit hovering over the water as we go forward. In the meantime, we’ll finish up with more comments on this gospel text in the next post.

References and Resources

Berge, Paul — http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/17-1_Communion/17-1_Berge.pdf

Crouch, Frank L. — https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/baptism-of-our-lord-2/commentary-on-acts-191-7

Hermann, Erik H. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (The Annotated Luther Study Edition). Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2016.

Hultgren, Arland — https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/baptism-of-our-lord-2/commentary-on-acts-191-7-2.

Hurtado, Larry. Mark (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series).

Juel, Don, and Kiefer, Patrick — http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/8-1_Spirituality/8-1_Juel-Keifert.pdf.

Lose, David — http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/baptism-of-our-lord-b/

Bruce Malina;Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels  Kindle Edition.

Roberts, Alastair — https://politicaltheology.com/the-politics-of-the-individual-mark-14-11/

Stjerne, Kirsi. No Greater Jewel: Thinking about Baptism with Luther. Minneapolis, MN.: Augsburg Fortress, 2009.

Tappert, Theodore, ed. Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel. Vancouver, BC.: Regent College Publishing, 1960.

Lois Tverberg. Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How a Jewish Perspective can Transform Your Understanding. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 2017.

Ulansey, David — http://www.mysterium.com/veil.html

Volck, Brian — http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2015/01/assumed-and-healed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=assumed-and-healed

Text Study for Isaiah 40 and 2 Peter 3 (2 Advent B)

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11

Even though this reading is well beyond the halfway point of the Book of Isaiah, it is in fact a new beginning. Scholars are nearly unanimous in thinking we have here a different prophet speaking at the end of the Babylonian Exile rather than Isaiah ben Amoz, the speaker in most of the first thirty-nine chapters. We have a divine announcement in the heavenly council of the good news that the Exile is over. This announcement is followed by a listing of the marching orders to accompany this announcement. The announcement and enabling resolution are given as a call to the anonymous prophet who, as is the case with any self-respecting prophet, has some real questions about the whole enterprise.

The word for “comfort” is related to the names “Noah,” and “Nahum.” It has the sense of comfort, consolation, and relief from suffering. It refers both to the gift of rest and the activity of repentance. It is a word of release and restoration. It is the perfect good news word.

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It is a word to be spoken in a particular way. “Speak tenderly,” God says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” Speak the good news with compassion, from the heart. And then announce that God is coming to a people who long thought they had been abandoned. So “prepare the royal highway.” Get ready for the coming of the Divine Sovereign.

A voice from the heavenly council commissions the prophet to preach – to “cry out.” The prophet needs a bit more detail. Will anyone actually listen? Yes, they are all ears right now, when things are difficult, but won’t their attention just fade when things get better? The words that come from God are as likely to wilt these unstable folks in fear as to gird them up with hope. The anonymous prophet clearly is deeply experienced in preaching to religious folks who say “Good sermon, Pastor” on Sunday and get back to real, unhopeful life on Monday.

Yes, God replies, people are as frail as dry grass and fading flowers. But God’s word does not dim in power or promise. So, climb up the highest mountain and have at it! The meaning of the message is not determined by its reception. Besides, the evidence will be clear. God will come. God will set things right. And God will be the Good Shepherd for which the sheep have longed, “for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Certainly, our listeners long for comfort these days. They crave release from the exile of Covid-19, rest from the chaos of the political wars, hope for a measure of racial reconciliation, and perhaps a deep desire for God to set right the multitude of wrongs exposed in this cultural season of our country.

“What does startling comfort look like today?” asks Corinne Carvalho on the workingpreacher.org site. “The poem does not promise that all suffering will cease. It does not deny or change the brokenness of the human condition. It suggests that some of us may be called to be messengers of a declaration, which others may find hard to fathom. But no matter where we locate ourselves in this poem,” she concludes, “it ultimately reminds us that the unexpected can happen: God still sends comfort into our short and frail lives.”

There is no need for comfort unless one is afflicted. For the audience of the prophet, the affliction was obvious. But we preach to mixed crowds. Depending on the issue, some of us may be afflicted. Some of us may be afflicters. Some of us may be unaffected. In the midst of this marvelous gospel proclamation, there is the sting of the law as well. Reward and recompense mean different things for the afflicted and the afflicter. As we hear the words of the prophet, we are called to discern which we truly are. That may determine whether this text functions for us as law or gospel.

“Isaiah 40:1-11, then, represents the very best kind of preaching,” Michael Chan suggests in his workingpreacher.org commentary. “It is the kind of preaching that is grounded in proclamation and promise but shaped fundamentally by careful listening to those things that afflict the hearts of his audience. Great preaching,” according to Chan, “involves two ears and one mouth.” So great preaching requires that we discern for ourselves and our listeners the nature and extent of our affliction.

Chan describes one of the primary functions of preaching, to point (like John the Baptist next week) to Jesus. “Like all of us,” he writes, “Second Isaiah was forced to preach to an audience that had experienced trauma and whose relationship to God had been deeply wounded as a result. For this audience,” Chan concludes, “God’s hiddenness was far more real than God’s presence, and the preacher’s job, at least in part, is to point to those place where God is present (“Here is your God!” v. 9).” That’s a good word for us preachers now.

I’m struck by the prophet’s worries regarding human frailty. I think this is a profound temptation at this moment. People have been deeply and fully engaged in a variety of social justice issues in and beyond the church. The real challenge will be to sustain the energy, for example, in seeking to dismantle white supremacy and build beloved community. Will we be able to sustain such efforts, or will we wilt like grass and fade like summer flowers? That is an important Advent question.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-15a

“God may be slow sometimes,” old church wisdom says, “but God ain’t never late.” Of course, that’s a paraphrase of these verses from 2 Peter. Any delay in the Day of the Lord is not about God’s inability to keep appointments. Rather, it is part of God’s great mercy. God is “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” This should be a cautionary word to any who take perverse pleasure in the eternal destruction of some. That is not a priority that the Lord shares.

The reading assumes the Advent posture that God’s coming will be unexpected and surprising. So, the question is how we are to comport ourselves as we wait – what sort of persons we ought to be? We should “strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

As noted above, our waiting is always purposeful and active waiting. The end will be a beginning because “we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” This means, among other things, that nothing good is lost in this life. Our works of love for the neighbor will be kept for eternity, treasured in the heart of God. We are not building the kingdom by our own efforts, but we are building for the kingdom, as N. T. Wright says.

We can’t know for sure which words of “our beloved brother Paul” are referenced in verse 15, but 1 Corinthians 15:58 is as good a candidate as any. After a long review of the nature of the Resurrection, Paul gives this brief summary of the Christian life: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

That is the best response to the good news we have received.

And there you have it…

Resources and References

Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Wright, N. T. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Ben Witherington III overview of Mark: https://youtu.be/EybjWFnj3nM

Seven-minute seminary overview of Mark: https://youtu.be/8J2LP9_f3SY

Carvalho, Corrine. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-isaiah-401-11-6

Chan, Michael. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/isaiah-of-the-exile/commentary-on-isaiah-401-11