Friday, January 23, 2009

Romans 1

We begin our second book of the year with Paul's letter to the Romans. This letter is, in my opinion, the most important document in the New Testament (outside of the Gospel, of course). All of the rest of the New Testament letters were written to address specific issues or written about specific pastoral matters. Romans is essentially a letter of introduction from St. Paul to the Church at Rome. It is the only Letter Paul wrote to a church of which he was not the founder. Paul writes this letter to introduce himself and to explain what he believes is the essence of the Gospel.
Because of this unique situation, Romans is the only systematic treatment of the Christian Faith in the New Testament. The letter begins by explaining that all of humanity (Jews and Gentiles alike) have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. He goes on to show how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us forgiveness of sins and "peace with God." He proceeds to show how life in this new understanding is completely different from any life we may have had before. After explaining what he understands to be God's plan for his original chosen people, Paul concludes with some pastoral advice and encouragement.
Romans 1 is the beginning of Paul's explanation that even if we have never heard the Gospel we are dying in our separation from God. The presence and nature of God is clearly revealed all around us but we make choices that serve as evidence that we do not know God nor do we know his nature.
Dr. BJ

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mark 15

Today we have Mark's account of the crucifixion of Jesus. He is brought before Pilate, political expedience encourages Pilate to give in to the wishes of the crowd and he releases Barabbas and sends Jesus off to be crucified. Crucifixion was horrible, so painful that the Romans invented a word "excruciating" (Pain as from the cross)to describe it. Jesus is crucified with two others outside the city gate on the main road. Crucifixion was intended to be shameful, public and a deterrent to further insurrection.
Jesus cries out "My God, My God why have you forsaken me!" Many scholars have explained why he says this: One suggests that with the sin of the world piled on him, feels the experience of separation from his heavenly Father. Another sees this as the last cry of his humanity. Personally, I think Jesus is drawing on the Psalms -- in this case Psalm 22 -- for comfort and support in this gruesome moment. "My God . . ." would have been the title in Hebrew of Psalm 22 -- it would be a good idea to take a look at what he is calling to mind by quoting the first line of Psalm 22.
Jesus dies. Joseph of Arimathea arranges to bury the body. Jesus is wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in an unused, new tomb. And everyone goes home to rest on the Sabbath . . . and, unbeknown to them, to wait for Sunday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mark 13 and 14

Mark 13 This chapter contains the "little apocalypse" in Mark. Apocalyptic literature is a unique style of writing that comes out of communities that are suffering deep persecution. We see it in portions of Daniel, Ezekiel and, of course, the book of Revelation is the most complete example in the Bible. Apocalyptic writing was a common style of this era.Apocalyptic writing features imagery and symbols to convey hope to a suffering people. In Mark 13 the waring is two fold. First, Jesus is giving a warning regarding the impending destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (this was done by Titus of Rome in AD 70). He is also writing of the "Day of the Lord" what we would call the Second Coming. The key to the passage is "do not be deceived!". Jesus says "many will come in my name saying 'I am he' . . ." he says "people will say here the messiah or there is the messiah . . . do not believe them." When Jesus returns it will not be a mystery. Our responsibility is to stay alert, to keep watch, to pray and do the work we are called to do.

Mark 14
This is Holy Week. The anointing in Bethany. The Last Supper. Judas betrayal. Arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Trial by the Sanhedrin. Peter's denial. Mark 14 ends late Thursday or early Friday of Holy Week. Mark 15 tells of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Mark 14 is all about the preliminaries

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mark 12

The thinly veiled threat to the religious leadership is couched in the parable of the tenants. The owner (God) has sent prophet after prophet and the people did not listen. They will listen to my Son . . . judgement is coming.
The mark of "kingship" was that you minted your own money with your own face on it. The money actually belonged to the king (he made it and as king everything belongs to him as it bears his image and likeness. Thus, give to Caesar what is Caesar's. Jesus leaves hanging the obvious conclusion -- According to Genesis 1 who or what is made in God's image and likeness . . .
The testing continues -- the goofy Sadducee's question (they don't believe in the resurrection that is why they are "sad you see"). I love the seven brothers for one bride story just for its sheer creativity.The great commandment: old or new testament it is the same. Love God love your neighbor.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mark 11

Jesus triumphant entry in Jerusalem -- did you notice that Jesus set up this journey ahead of time? He has arranged for the appropriate animal to be made available to him when he needs it.
Jesus cleanses the temple. He is angry about a number of things but the merchants carring their goods through the temple court yards is especially upsetting -- rather than walking around to another Gate these merchants are simple taking a short cut through the temple area (apparently commerce is more important to them than the Temple).
The cursing of the fig tree is one of the odder stories in the Gospel.
The questioning by the scribes and religious leaders is beginning to focus on Jesus authority . . .

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mark 10

A couple of thoughts:
1. The teaching on divorce. Remember, we cannot take one passage in isolation of others. The Bible gives legitimate grounds for divorce -- Adultery and Abandonment. The casual divorce of the first century (or any century) is the focus of Jesus teaching here.
2. Let the children come to me . . . I just like the thought of that.
3. What must I do to inherit Eternal Life. I cannot help but find my self singing Gary Weeks' "Mr. Nazareth Man". Remember it was widely believed that God favored the righteous with material prosperity and large families. Therefore, the Disciples are asking if Jesus is saying those who have been clearly blessed by God are not going to make it into the Kingdom of Heaven what hope do the rest of us have? This is where the Disciples are hung up. Remember Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof -- the high point of his "If I were a rich man" song is that he would be able to finally have the time to study the Torah and delve into the mysteries. With people this is impossible -- with God nothing is impossible. GOOD NEWS -- there is hope for all of us.
4. Healing of Bartimeaus in Jericho. Bartimeaus is so marginalized by his society that he doesn't even have a name. He is simply Son of Timeaus (that is what Bartimeaus means). Can you imagine being so devalued and, dare I say it, unloved, that you don't even have a name but are known only as "so and so's kid". Jesus treats him with respect by asking "what do you want me to do for you?" Jesus does NOT assume, but allows Bartimeaus the right and the dignity to say it himself. Pretty cool stuff! That is the level of grace that makes we want to love Jesus even more!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mark 9

I am always caught by the "Disciples inability to heal the boy with the unclean spirit" Jesus says "these come out only through prayer". I think that is a call to always be trying to move deeper in this faith. There are some battles that cannot be won except through disciplined spiritual practice. If we are to survive illness we need physical strength, if we are going to survive spiritual struggles we need to build spiritual strength.I always think of Mohommad Ali "I'm the Greatest!" when I come to the next passage in Mark 9 -- who is the greatest. Jesus teaches the principle of "Servant Leadership" here. As leaders we are to exercise due authority and do what leaders are supposed to do but we do this not for our sake but for the Kingdom and we do this not for our glory but for God's and we do this not for our power and control but to build authentic Christian community. Radical Discipleship does not permit distractions from keeping us from the goal of the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus".


Monday, January 12, 2009

Mark 8

The warning to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees" is a warning from Jesus to not get so caught up in the trappings of religious behavior that we miss out on the relationship with God that Jesus came to restore.
Who do people say the son of man (Jesus) is? I find it interesting that this is still a core question today. In Jesus time they thought he was some old prophet (or even John the Baptist come back to life); or that he was possibly the advance man for the messiah (see Malachi 4). Even today people question who this Jesus person really is. C.S. Lewis (and others) claim that there are only four options: Jesus is either a legend, a liar, a lunatic or LORD. Some, incredibly, claim that Jesus never really existed and that the Gospels are stuff of legend or another ancient myth. The difficulty here is that there is more than enough evidence to prove Jesus existence. Others say Jesus was just a good teacher (another in a line of those come to show us a better way). But this good teacher put himself on par with God (even claiming to be Son of God -- which makes him as much God as God is). I'm pretty sure if I claimed to be God people would no longer consider me a "good teacher". (They would , quite rightly, have me locked away). Jesus is either the Son of God or he is a liar and not worth consideration. Jesus is a lunatic -- see above. Either he is the Son of God or he is nuts! Or, finally, Jesus is Lord. That is, he is who he claimed to be and deserves our allegiance and devotion. Interesting choices.
We conclude this chapter with some teaching on the Way of the Cross. This is the life Christians are called to live. We are called to deny ourselves (the key to self fulfillment is self denial and service for others). If we try to save or preserve this life we will lose it but if we give it away (lose it) for the sake of Jesus we will gain true life, indeed. The message to our generation is needed here: what does it profit any of us to gain the whole world and lose our Soul? There are a lot of soulless wanderers in my world. Let the material junk go and follow Jesus.
Dr. BJ

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mark 7

Overcoming traditional ways of doing things is often the hardest barrier to break. It is easy for us to get settled in the how we do things and easily lose sight of the why we do things. The ceremonial washing has nothing to do with hygene but with ceremonial cleansing -- washing the uncleanness of the world off of myself. Jesus message that it is not what you eat that defiles you has been interpreted by Christians (and the author of Mark) as negating the diatary restrictions of the Old Testament. It is not what you eat that defiles you it is what comes out of your inner most self that defiles you. Who are we in our inner selves? I believe we become what we fill our lives with and, under pressure, who we really are is revealed.Jesus heals the Syro-Phoencian woman's daughter (after she convinces him that she too can have faith) and we find another of our aramaic words and phrases "Ephphatha" at the end of the chapter. "be openened!""He has done all things well" probably is an allusion to the belief that when Messiah comes there were be certain signs and miracles -- the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, blind see, deaf hear, the poor have good news preached to them. For these folks Jesus is fulfilling all of those expecations.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mark 6

Jesus, whose fame has now spread throughout the country, goes home Nazareth and is not well received. Mark tells us that Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. We also get to meet Jesus brothers. Two of them, James and Jude, became significant leaders in the Christian movement in and around Jerusalem.
The wild story of the beheading of John the Baptist doesn't need too much comment. The dancer is usually identified as Salome' -- but we don't get this name from the Bible but from 1st century historian Josephus.
The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels. It seems likely that that various centers of the young Christian faith remember this passage because of its connection to Holy Communion. It would also be a very difficult event to forget . . .
Dr. BJ

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mark 5

The encounter with the man possessed by "legion" is one of the wilder incidents of the gospel. A Legion in the Roman Army was 1000 soldiers. Can a person be possessed with 1000 demons or, as an agent of the father of lies, is the demon exaggerating the truth? We can notice that this event happens in a non Jewish area of the upper Galilee (otherwise there would NOT be a pig farm). I am intrigued by why the demons wanted to "go into the pigs" but Jesus lets them, the pigs go mad and all run down the hill and jump into the Sea of Galilee and drown. This mass porcine suicide, needless to say, creates quite a stir in the local community a crowd gathers and invites Jesus to be elsewhere. The man, who had been possessed, wants to join Jesus entourage. But Jesus tells him to go home and tell everyone what had been done to him. Isn't that always the first command to a new believer? Go home and tell everyone what has been done to you!
I am convinced that many of Jesus most significant miracles are "miracles of interruption" he does a lot of amazing things while he is on his way to doing something else. Jairus, a local synagogue leader, has asked Jesus to come to his home and heal his 12 year old daughter. Jesus agrees and they are on their way. Jesus fame at this point has spread so widely that everywhere he goes he draws a crowd. The crowd is not politely sitting on the sidelines, there is jostling and reaching and trying to touch -- its a mob scene. In the middle of this a woman with a long standing bleeding problem has convinced herself that if she can just touch his cloths she will be healed. The other gospels make note that she "touches the fringe of his robe". It was believed, among some of the religious Jews of Jesus time, that the fringe of the garment of the Messiah would have healing powers. She touches Jesus and is healed.
Here is where it always makes me giggle -- remember the Apostles in Mark are mostly comic relief (they never get it). Jesus stops in the middle of this mob scene and asks "who touched me". The disciples respond with appropriate exasperation: are your kidding? You see the crowd pushing everywhere and ask who touched me? The woman comes forward and is further blessed. At this point Jairus is informed that his daughter is dead, but Jesus goes and restores her to life. The Aramaic phrase "talitha koum" "little girl arise" is one of several Aramaic phrases preserved in the gospel (ephratha, maranatha, eli eli lamma sabathani). Many scholars believe that these phrases where preserved in their original form because the early church believed they carried extra power.

Dr. BJ

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mark 4

Mark 4 is a collection of parables from domestic and farming situations. The parable of the sower is a healthy reminder that as disciples of Jesus all we can do is plant seeds -- to broadcast what we know and have experienced. Not all of those seeds will ever make it to the soil (some fall on the path) not all seeds will survive long (some fall on rocky soil and never put down roots) not all seeds will stay true to the faith (some fall among thorns and get choked off by the cares of this world) but some will fall on good soil and will reproduce. As Disciples of Jesus we have to remember to spread the word in every and all opportunities with the hope that some will take root -- remember others water, others fertilize but God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3). We are not responsible for whether the seed grows or not. The law of averages would suggest that MORE planting in this kind of system will in fact produce more fruit in the long run.

Don't hide your light under a bushel -- if you are follower of Jesus be upfront about it. It is critical that the Christ followers are shining as bright as they can: through what they say (see above about seed planting) through what they do (you life may well be the only Bible some people ever read) and through who they are (integrity cannot be faked!).

Faith like a grain of mustard seed. The mustard seed was the smallest of the plant able seeds in the Middle East and, along the Galilee where it never frosts, mustard continues to grow from season to season. In their situation the mustard plant grows large enough for birds to build nests and make their homes. Point: it does not take a lot of faith to do great things for God it just takes faith.

It all ends with a wild story of Jesus and the 12 (and how many others?) on an overnight cruise across the Galilee only to get caught in a mighty storm. Jesus, as the Son of God, has no fear and is calmly sleeping. The Disciples are in full panic mode. They wake Jesus up and instead of being concerned for them he is angry that they had to wake him up. He calms the sea and stops the wind and there is a sudden calm. The disciples are (and this is typical of Mark) amazed and dumbfounded as to how Jesus could do this. The recurring theme here is that the Apostolic circle does not understand the TRUTH about Jesus until after the Resurrection.

Dr. BJ

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mark 3

Jesus is in worship on the Sabbath and is confronted with a man who needs healing. The man has a withered hand, this is not life threatening nor, it could be argued, was it so critical that it could not wait until the next day. The teachers of the Law were very clear in their understanding of the commandment to not do ANY work on the Sabbath. In order to help the people from breaking the commandment the teachers had developed detailed definitions of what constituted work. Jesus problem with the teachers is that by their definition if you are healer then healing constituted work for you and therefore was forbidden on the sabbath. Jesus response, elsewhere, that "sabbath was made for humans not humans for the sabbath" is his way of saying that the overlay of religious rules over a basic commandment is more destructive than freeing and misses the purpose of the commandment.
Mark 3 contains one of the most difficult passages in the Gospel: "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit". The scribes had been saying that Jesus was doing what he was doing (healing, casting out demons, etc.) because he (Jesus) had an evil spirit -- that he was in league with the devil. Calling good evil (in this case calling the Holy Spirit an Evil Spirit or unclean spirit -- aka demon) is negating the possibility of ever leaving evil and returning to good. This would deny the possibility of redemption because this confusion would keep people from turning to the one source of salvation. This particular act could not be done accidentally or casually but would constitute a complete rejection of the plan and person God sent to redeem the world. In short, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be to refuse the salvation God has provided for us through Jesus -- you cannot be forgiven unless you choose to accept forgiveness.
The end of Mark 3 gives us reference to Jesus Mother and his brothers. Jesus brothers are listed by name in Matthew 13:55-56. James (author of the Epistle of James) is called "the Lord's half brother" as is Jude (the author of Jude). Jesus family plays a significant role in the early days of Christianity in and around Jerusalem.
Dr. BJ

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mark Chapter 2

I love the story of the four men and thier paralyzed friend. This is the subject of this Sunday's message at Christ Community. What profound faith they had to make a hole in someone's roof so that their friend could be brought to Jesus. We know that spiritual ills has a physical impact on us and that physical woes can have a spiritual impact on our lives -- as can emotional or relationship difficulties. Does it surprise us that Jesus says to the man on the pallet your sins are forgiven? The forgivness of sins and the healing of a body must have an impact on one another. What say you?Mark 2:15 gives us the Levi(Matthew) party. When Levi is called to follow Jesus he does so and his next step is to invite all of his tax collecting sinner friends to a gathering at his house to meet Jesus. As an evangelism strategy this is a great idea. When was the last time any of us invited all of our pre Christian friends to a gathering . . .?You don't sew new patches on old cloth nor do you put new wine in old wine skins -- critical teaching. When God is doing something new he will create a new form to do it. This is why each new outpouring of the Holy Spirit has new music, new worship forms and new structures. These "new wine skins" make growth space for the new thing the Spirit is doing.Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath -- that is he is Lord over religious practices -- he frees us from the constraints of religion so that we can live lives of faith!

Dr. BJ

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beginning a New Year in the Bible

About 75 members of the Christ Community congregation and I are going to be reading the New Testament one chapter a day in 2009. We are beginning in Mark. I will be publishing quick observations and questions to ponder from day to day (weekdays only) on this blog and on another discussion center that the participants have been invited to join.

January 1- Mark 1: Notice John the Baptist's clothing -- he is dressed like the prophet Elijah. Mark's first readers would have known this immediately. John is the "Elijah who is to come". The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, tells us that Elijah must first come and then the Messiah. Notice the "Trinitarian affirmation" in Mark 1:11.

Jesus first invitation is his last invitation: come and follow me. Why do we make it more complicated than that? We get hung up on getting people to accept Jesus or to make some other choice when the only invitation Jesus seems to offer is "Come and follow me!" Sometimes there are preconditions (sell all you have) sometimes there is a consequence (and I will make you fish for people) but the bottom line has not changed -- come and follow me.

Jesus teaches with authority. What might that mean? Why do the "evil spirits" know that Jesus is the Son of God before any of the humans figure it out?

Did you notice Jesus taking time alone -- after his baptism to wrestle with the devil; before beginning his public ministry -- and many more times as we move forward.

Jesus healing the leper. Lepers were considered not only medical outcasts -- they were "Unclean" -- but they were also required to leave normal society and live by themselves or in "leper colonies". The Greek word here for leprosy could mean any of a number of skin diseases -- including skin cancer and extreme cases of psoriasis. Jesus touches the man (something that was NOT done because to touch something unclean made you unclean -- unclean does not refer to dirty but to one's status before God. Unclean people were not allowed into the place of worship. Jesus touching the man was an extraordinary act of mercy and grace. In Leviticus are found the ritual laws that explain why Jesus sends the man to the priest. The priest declares whether a person has leprosy or not. Only the priest can declare if the leprosy has left and the man is now clean. If our former leper wants to return to his family and village only the priest can make that happen.

How do we "reincorporate" people who have made themselves unclean and outcast from our community?

Dr. BJ