You Are the Equipment

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

God created the world for good. However, most of the time it seems to take a different course where good is overwhelmed by evil. This text is odd on several counts: First, in a flashback Herod (not the Great) hears of Jesus and  wonders, maybe out of guilt, has John the Baptist been resurrected?

William Plancher makes this observation: “It is in this odd context that the idea of the resurrection first enters Mark’s narrative.”1   Has God’s project intended for good gone horribly awry?  Here we are reminded that Jesus’ Good News does not exempt us from facing evil.  How we are to respond?   Listen closely to what God is doing about it: “The news of John’s death and the manner of it seem to confirm that God’s power is invisible.

Second, evil is a reality that emerges from Herod’s paradoxical relationship to John the Baptist. He views him as a holy  man, even admires him, yet trapped between John and his family, and Kingly reputation John loses his head and Herod his joy. Pressured by the expectations of others, Herod fulfills his promise to his twelve year old stepdaughter.                                                                                                                 A second question makes this gruesome story so uncomfortable.  If we are honest we are more like Herod than disciples. Hemmed in by our pride, power and promises don’t we make decisions that reflect the fear of Herod and deny Jesus’ values? How else does one understand the political decisions that would imprison children and separate them from their parents because of our insecurity and fear. Believing the lie that we are powerless we give in to evil. Afraid of death, we allow this evil to happen in our name.

Jesus reminds us: God is at work, you are the equipment to heal, confront demons and proclaim the power of God. God is your power for good.  So announce the Kingdom of God is here, be the witness to its reality.  God’s love and power are worth dying for, in doing so you will find life to the fullest.  

1 William plancher. Mark: A Belief Theological Commentary,(2010) Pgs 240-242. *This reflection uses Mark 6:7-13 to contrast with Mark 6:14-29.  John’s gruesome death displays the reality of evil, yet God depends upon ordinary people like ourselves to counter it. The inclusive meal offered by Jesus following John’s death is also God at work (6:30-44).

July 15, 2018; Cycle B; 8th Sunday of Pentecost

2nd Sam. 5:1-10; Ps. 24; Eph. 1:3-14; *Mark 6:7-29(30-44)

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“Just a Carpenter”

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

Jesus returns home.  Some scholars think Nazareth was very small, only three hundred residents.  Everyone knew everyone (anonymity was not possible). Have you ever gone back home?  For some it is a warm remembering, not so for others.  

Jesus’ return first elicited awe. “Where did (he) get all this?” What is this wisdom…what deeds of power are being done by his hands? The reaction recorded by Mark cites resistance.  “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Jose, Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?

There is nothing to listen to; look who he comes from.

Where would we cast our vote?  How would we receive Jesus had we grown up with him? Would I welcome him and the message of God breaking in and the kingdom arriving in one who seems so ordinary?  We not only discount Jesus, but we often do not see ourselves as God sees us.  Rejection is not new to Jesus, though it is disappointing. Mark concludes that Jesus is not surprised.  “A prophet has little honor in his hometown.” With this attitude Jesus could do nothing  more there.  

What would you do were you Jesus? Shake the dust off your sandals, one rejection for another? Rather than despair, what Jesus does is instructive for us. He goes on.  Jesus travels to other cities, calls the twelve and gives them “authority to deal with evil opposition, to heal, cast out demons in his name.” Home is no longer geographical. God has a new address and it is in you and me. We are the location where the Good News is to come alive.  Our hearts—yours and mine–is where the Kingdom is revealed. “A carpenter, the son of Mary” is the radical beginning God chooses to use.

Imagine today what would happen if we, as God’s Kingdom movement, were to move out, reach out.  No more waiting in empty buildings for people to come.   Rejection can become opportunity just as a thorn reminded Paul that God uses all means to make of human life a home.

1 Mark’s story of Jesus could be a “thorn”when he deals with rejection. Paul’s thorn is an affliction that humbles him.

July 8, 2018; Cycle B; 7th Sunday of Pentecost

2nd Sam. 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48:1-3; 2nd Cor.12:2-10; *Mark 6:1-13

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Jesus as Faith Healer

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

Healing as an act of proclamation is Jesus’ major activity in Mark’s fifth chapter. Jesus heals Legion, a demoniac afflicted with so many uncontrollable urges, he is chained in a cemetery (he is as good as dead to his community). Returning to Capernaum he encounters two woman in need of healing.  They contrast in every way but one, both are afflicted with illness that cuts them off from life.  One is twelve years of age, the other has been afflicted with a constant menstrual flow for twelve years (and is desperate and destitute). William Placher1 notes that Jarius, the father of the girl approaches Jesus head on, the woman sneaks up in the crowd to touch his robe. Yet both are healed  with no ritual, no prayer, as if they make the point that the power comes from Jesus.

Then he makes a connection for me that I’m still reflecting on.  “Both episodes are stories of faith.  No belief statement is required, both are examples of faith. The daughter is dependent upon her father’s faith.  The woman who suffered isolation for so long “bets everything on a desperate gamble.” That is faith… it is sheer audacity.  Mark’s central purpose… is to tell us who Jesus is—but it does not come first here.  Faith begins with trust, and obeying and following.

A colleague2 writing of faith made the same point as he shared the words of William Sloan Coffin.   He said, “I love the recklessness of faith.  First you jump, then you grow wings.”  That is one of the major lessons of these healing stories and is illustrated powerfully in Jesus’ encounter with the two woman.    

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you bring healing that can give courage for faith. Bless us as those who have experienced the healing power of faith in you. Amen.

1. William Placher. Mark: A Theological Commentary(2010)-from E-Book, pgs 217-218

2. Bob Cook, “Pastoral Paragraphs” from the Union Park Presbyterian Church Newsletter, May 2018.

July 1, 2018; Cycle B; 6th Sunday of Pentecost

2nd Sam. 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2nd Cor. 8:7-15; *Mark 5:1-21

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“Peace! Be Still!”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

What is faith? Is it something you express in words then demonstrate in action?  Use your imagination and draw a picture that expresses your faith. What would you draw?  Mark’s Gospel does begin with a statement found in the First chapter, verse 1 that reads: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This short statement, precise as it is in identifying who Jesus is, does not clarify expectations of what Jesus will do as the good news. Mark’s picture of faith is Jesus sleeping serenely in wave tossed boat filled wit 12 terrified disciples. I believe unexpected portrayal is a picture of confidant faith grounded I trust in God’s power.Chapter 4 where Jesus stills the storm. Mark’s faith in Jesus is not a proposition stated in words. Mark contrasts the chaos on the sea and around the boat to let the earliest Christians know that no proper can separate them from from God. Now that’s good news. The disciples (all twelve of them), experienced fisherman though they may be, recognize the danger.  What a contrast to ponder.  Raging storm, sleeping Jesus. Terrified  fisherman aware of  the power in wind and waves become frantic at being swamped and drowning. We can imagine it in their voices, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we are going to drown?”  Some days it feels that way. It  describes graphically my feelings and fear at the failure of political solutions to bring peace. I am deeply scared as fear is stoked and the chaos of immoral political leadership leads to putting toddlers and infants in prison and separating parents and families so that our democratic values of justice and freedom are eroded. Afraid, angry powerless.   Then I hear Jesus words, “Peace! Be still!” He does not say “Peace be with you”, but brings faith’s perspective alive so that I can ask God to strengthen my resolve to live in contrast to the hatred. and inhumanity.  In Jesus I am called to work for wholeness in a world of violence. The Gospel promise is this: As we listen to Jesus, and become quiet we are given the strength we need to work for change, hope, peace and justice. Thanks be to God.

June 24, 2018; Cycle B; 5th Sunday of Pentecost

1st Sam. 17:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2nd Cor. 6:1-13; *Mark 4: 35-41

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Growing in Faith

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Jesus gives us many images of God’s Kingdom. Mark presents two that are literally down to earth. The Kingdom of God is first described as scattered seed, randomly disbursed,  grows in stages.  It also grows unseen, mysteriously until the harvest.  What is striking about the image is the truth that the planter does not know the outcome of his or her effort until harvest arrives. Implied by Mark’s description is a sower who goes about the daily tasks entrusting the outcome of the sowing to God.   Growing in faith, it is implied, is not in our control and requires trusting that the seed planted will produce.

Also the Kingdom though unseen, is real and is evident in God’s unexpected presence that becomes evident in our lives as we trust God.  All too often we, who claim to be open to the Holy Spirit become discouraged when growth does not happen.  Are we a failure?  Where is God? Has the Holy Spirit let us down?  

How often have young people growing in faith caught a vision  and come back with suggestions for change, or creative ideas for demonstrating the reality of the Kingdom of God? Faith and the presence of God sowed when young has born fruit.  But  how often are they ignored because the Kingdom of God alive in them challenges the status quo. It means disruptive change for us?

Yet the seed developed and God has placed the future  of the Kingdom in the hands of another generation.   How do you deal with change?

This unexpected, even mysterious arrival of the Kingdom of God in the image of the mustard seed is Jesus’s second description of God at work. “… like a mustard seed, the Kingdom of God is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet. when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs. It develops large branches so the birds of the air make nests in its shade.” It become safe refuge for all of God’s creatures where the love of God is available to all. The earliest Christians lived out this image of the Kingdom. Starting as a seed in the soil of Judaism, Jesus’s community became a shelter called into being by God that made God’s love available to all. Will I be thankful; that God continues to grow the Kingdom or will I reject God because I am not in control? Will I adapt or let God pass me by? God’s Kingdom will grow. Do I have the faith to grow with God?

June 17, 2018 Cycle B. Sunday of Pentecost

1st Sam. 15:34-16:13; Psalm 27:1-4;

2nd Cor. 5: 6-17; *Mark 4:26-34

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Possessed by God

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

“Possessed by God” should be the title of Mark’s Gospel.  Starting with Jesus’ baptism in Chapter 1:9 all the way through Chapter 3:35 Mark describes the explosive power at work in the life of Jesus. Chapter three concludes with these words, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”,  

Here we read what happens as “the beginning of the good news (Gospel) of Jesus Christ, the son of God” explodes on the scene in Galilee. It, like the recent volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala completely  upsets the  comfortable status quo and balanced life we all try to preserve at any cost.  

By what are you possessed?  Who or what do you allow to own you? Security, material possessions, status (reputation), religion, family relationships, nationalism do these direct (and therefore possess) you?  Sometimes it is fear, and the desire for security that can possess  and dominate, claiming our being and directing our doing.  

Mark’s good news is that this is not the way it has to be.  Life possessed by God brings change, healing and freedom and exhibit #1 for Mark is what happens in the ministry of Jesus.  Reading this third chapter is like watching a soap opera on steroids: Jesus in the Synagogue healing on the Sabbath. Where else should it happen, if not where God’s community gathers for worship and instruction on how to live life?  

Next Jesus is reaching out to gentiles and immediately we find him on a mountain with his closest followers, one of which, Judas, will betray him.  The third chapter concludes with Mark making us aware that as we follow Jesus a family is formed that goes beyond blood or community of origin.  Jesus is clear that the Holy Spirit, God in action, is what gives the Law (Torah) heart. The Holy Spirit reveals  God’s love as the meaning of  life and relationship with God as our ultimate home.  

Prayer: By your grace may we recognize  and let go of the lesser gods we worship that destroy and devalue human life. Come Lord Jesus, with your Spirit possess and make our a testimony to God’s love. Amen

June 10, 2018; Cycle B; 3rd Sunday of Pentecost

1st Sam. 8:4-15; Psalm 138;

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

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Called to be a Reflector

Don R. Elly, M.Div.

“These verses are…among the most encouraging in the Bible, speaking as they do of the consistency of God’s loving care from the first day of creation and including this present moment. The God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the same God who has shone in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  

I agree with Joanna’s Adams’ observation. (1 Pondering why they are so encouraging the image of a reflector came to mind.   Paul is calling us to reflect the light of Christ in the same way that a reflector is and is the instrument that serves to keep people safe amid the hazards of life. Paul is quite clear that this knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is not a result of our prayers, or religious practices, it is a gift of God.  

The 27th Psalmist put it  in these words, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”  Paul would agree, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for Jesus sake…But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”  I find these words and this image to be a source of direction in a time when our society seems to reflect hate, discord  and the worst impulses of human nature.  

What are you reflecting in your interactions with others in society? Reading Paul’s call as a personal one causes me to stop being overwhelmed by the way public discourse has become so hateful and disrespectful of others and ask, “How am I reflecting the light of Jesus’ face in my interactions with others?  It has not stopped me from being critical, but has made me aware when I fall short of what God expects of me.

Prayer: God, thank you for Paul’s powerful words where we are reminded you have given us the treasure of the light and knowledge of Jesus so that it glows through the cracks of our failures yet life in you is made visible. May your power give us strength to respond to you and reflect Jesus’ way. Amen.

1.Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams. “Treasure in Clay Jars”, Day 1.org (May 10, 1998), pgs, 1-4.

June 3, 2018; Cycle B; 2nd Sunday of Pentecost

1st Sam. 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-6,13-18 *2nd Cor. 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

 

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