Flinders, looking south to Wilpena Pound November 2014

One Man's Web

I've just taken two long days on an unexpected trip to eastern Victoria, which means there is only a short reflection for this week. While driving I kept returning to the question of Jericho. Mark uses geography to make a theological point. Some scholars even suggest he invented the Sea of Galilee for this purpose. (Here for a summary and here for detail.) Why then, is Jesus in Jericho? As someone who frequented gentile territory, it is not likely that he felt the need to take the long route around Samaria to get to Jerusalem, (and that may be a furphy anyway.) Jericho has a theological purpose.

In the last lectionary cycle, I noted Mark D Davis' comment that "The last time someone shouted outside of Jericho, the walls fell down." It's a great line, but what are the walls that fall?

My thinking was interspersed with the constant reporting on the national apology to victims of institutional child sex abuse  in institutional care in Australia. This has indeed been one of the appalling episodes of our history, paralleling and includingthe stealing of aboriginal children from their parents across generations. It has not escaped the notice of many Australians that the politicians who spoke with genuine remorse on the part of the nation during the apology, are the same ones who support the detention of children in Nauru in the most appalling conditions. There, children as young as ten attempt suicide while the government repeatedly forces attempts to gain them proper care into the federal courts... Read on >>>>

From the post:

Two disciples come and ask that they may sit at his right hand and his left, "in his glory."  It is not quite a repeat of the previous event. Jesus does not correct them so much as indicate their naivety: "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

From our point of view their arrogance seems overweening— we wonder if they have listened to anything. But he merely affirms that they will indeed drink his cup and undergo his baptism— which I read as him, tacitly agrees to their request; he is saying they will be with him in his glory. However, he says the places at his left and right are not his to give; they are already given.

The disruption, or wrinkle, in the rhetorical pattern1 becomes a little more obvious when we find there is still a correction, but the  people he corrects are the other ten, who we might think are quite reasonable in their anger! The text makes it clear that their anger is not some righteous reaction to James' and John's lack of understanding, but is the same old rivalry of Chapter Nine. They are the ones who have learned nothing, whereas James and John— well, Jesus seems almost indulgent of them!! I wonder if instead of reading this text in the traditional stern voice, we can read it with the inflection of the good teacher who recognises that these two students have begun to see something?

Could it be that James and John properly long for glory— albeit naively? For it is in the third correction that Jesus most fully outlines his coming glorification, which is to be the cross.... Read on >>>>

You can also read Mark 10:35-45 - What does it cost us to win? (2012) and Mark 10:32-45 - Sandwiched between new and old (2009)

Being a camel. What can one say? asks my UCA colleague Peter Lockhart. He's right. The clear meaning of the text is that neither camels nor ships' hawsers1 can get through the eye of a needle. We cannot make it happen. And as he shows, we are undeniably camels.

The reading this week reflects a perceptual divide which has lasted from well before the time of Jesus until now. The disciples understood riches to be a sign of God's blessing, the view found in "Deuteronomy, which encouraged the idea that those who are godly are blessed with wealth, and those who are not blessed with wealth must not be godly." (Brehm)  For example: "But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today."  (Deut. 8:18) ...

Jesus' understanding of wealth is much closer to that outlined by Malina and Rohrbaugh, and far from Deuteronomy.

Essential to understanding poverty is the notion of "limited good." In modern economies, we make the assumption that goods are, in principle, in unlimited supply. If a shortage exists, we can produce more. If one person gets more of something, it does not automatically mean someone else gets less, it may just mean the factory worked overtime and more became available. But in ancient Palestine, the perception was the opposite: all goods existed in finite, limited supply and were already distributed. This included not only material goods, but honor, friendship, love, power, security, and status as well - literally everything in life. Because the pie could not grow larger, a larger piece for anyone automatically meant a smaller piece for someone else.... [a]n honorable man would thus be interested only in what was rightfully his and would have no desire to gain anything more, that is, to take what was another's. Acquisition was, by its very nature, understood as stealing... Read on >>>>

A certain 6 year old used to worry his parents with his lack of interest in reading. He could read well, but read only for utilitarian purposes such as  assessing the prices on chocolate. Then he discovered the Old Testament, especially the ten plagues of Egypt, garishly Illustrated in an old children's bible, and we began to worry at his incessant re-reading— poring— over those stories. One night I was subjected to an extended grilling about the facticity of these stories which would have done a teenaged atheist proud. I turned out his light wondering what the future held.

We must have talked longer than I realised, because I had to nudge him awake the next morning. He opened his eyes and announced, first breath, that "all that Moses stuff is obviously untrue and just a story. I don't believe it." Which rather undercuts the all too common idea that to accept the kingdom like a little child means to be unquestioning and naive. Children have to be silenced rather than taught to question.

We have been looking at welcoming children, (Mark 9:33-50) and not causing them to stumble. Now, though, the text changes to children doing the welcoming. (The receiving of Mark 10:15) What on earth does that have to do with divorce!? I ask this because the common feature across these pericopes is children. And when it comes to the question of possessions, in Mark 10, Jesus refers to his listeners as... children. So my suspicion is that children, whose vulnerability and lack of power illustrated something about what constitutes greatness, are also meant to illustrate and highlight something to do with divorce.

And why, here, divorce? What has divorce to do with learning to follow the Messiah to Jerusalem? (Mark 8:31ff, 9:30ff, 10:32ff) ... Read on >>>>

In Chapter 8 of Mark, Peter finally gets it: You are the Messiah! 

And from then on, Jesus is teaching the disciples what it means to be Messiah, and what it means to follow the Messiah into the kingdom of God.

In the teaching of last week's reading, he took a child in his arms, as a symbol of God's love for all of us. The child epitomises the weak, the powerless, and the defenceless. And what Jesus said to the disciples, who were all about who was the greatest; who was in charge; who understood God— what he said was that, in God's eyes, to be great, to be a leader, to be like God and to welcome God… is to welcome the child and protect the child—and any person who is in the place of the child— above all others.

If the way we are living our lives as Christians is not doing this, then we are not great. We are not living as Christ called us to live. God forgives all things, but that does not change the fact that when we do not welcome the child, and put the child first, we are not living the life of the kingdom. Instead, we... are separating ourselves from God.

Now this week, Jesus really doubles down on this; he emphasises it all over again. It's the same conversation, and the child is still there in his arms, for he talks about "one of these little ones." 

But look how the little ones are caused to stumble by the disciples!  The disciples saw someone healing just like Jesus did, and they told them to stop because they were not "following us." It's as if I said Elliot and the church up the street should stop being church because they don't belong to us! Or one of you saying that Rod's congregation should stop doing what they are doing because they don't belong to the Uniting Church... Read on >>>>

20180930-fence1 You can listen here.

My friend "John" must have muttered something about how some dynamite would help, for one of the Aboriginal men working with him said, "We have plenty!" And John was led to a steel magazine, long forgotten by European staff, built into the rock of the hill above the old mission house. He told me, "If that lot had ever gone up, nothing of the house would have been left."

The dynamite was old and sweating, which means it was dangerously unstable. John carried the case down the hill and loaded it onto the community truck as far back from the cabin as was possible— knowing, as we all did, that in the event of an explosion that would make no difference at all to his survival. He began a sweat drenched crawl in bottom gear over the rocky track up to the town dump where, in an open space, he set the case off. We marvelled at the echoes which came back from the surrounding hills and ranges for almost a minute! ... Read on >>>>

I travelled from Elizabeth across to Bright, hoping to travel up through the snow and across to Bairnsdale. Not everything went according to plan! I did this trip using a trailer, and have pretty much decided I'm over trailers. Read on >>>

It's still about bread... (You can listen to this here.)

In Mark 7, I imagine the Pharisees are gathered around Jesus in the market place; after all, in the previous few lines it says,

56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56) (I owe this observation to Elizabeth Webb.)

The word for gathered is  (συνάγονται) which has the same root as the word for synagogue, (συναγωγῇ) but these are people from Jerusalem who look askance at the loose practices of the provinces. So, Jesus is healing in the market place, and it is there that they attack him. They seek to correct and purify his synagogues— his gatherings.

This story (or pericope) follows on from the feeding earlier in Mark Chapter 6:30-44,  and follows our weeks long diversion by the Lectionary into the Gospel of John,  where we looked at Communion, at fully eating what Jesus gives us— eating him whole and gnawing on the bones, as it were. What is translated in the NRSV of Mark 7:2 as "eating with defiled hands," is actually not simply the word eating. The text says: eating of the bread,  (ἐσθίουσιν ⸃ τοὺς ἄρτους ) which may simply be an idiomatic way of saying eating, but the word bread is there in the text, nonetheless.

How will we eat the Eucharist— the Bread? Will we eat with properly washed hands? Understand: this is not about the minister using hand-wash before breaking the bread of the Eucharist, which is wise hygiene. This is about proper purity, proper piety:  Will we eat Communion the right way? What is the right way? Who will tell us; who will decide for us? … Read on >>>>

Listen here

It's an Australian sermon, so for folks elsewhere, it will help to know that a tradie is a trades-person. And to know that Bill Shorten is the Leader of the Opposition, often laughed as a bit of a lame duck, who is currently enjoying the spectacle of the Government falling over each other to destroy themselves— a "new" Prime Minister was been elected as I wrote this sermon. I'll let you use the internet to understand Steven Bradbury and that august Australian journal The Betoota Advocate.

Anyway, the sermon for John 6:56-71

As I pushed up the pin to lock the hall doors on Wednesday, I noticed that there is a stain in the ceiling. Let's imagine that we look at it after church this morning, and we decide it's a new stain.

That means only one thing.

We can argue and discuss about where things might be broken, or when it happened— all that— but that stain means there is a hole in the roof, somewhere.

If there is a stain in the ceiling, there is a hole in the roof. There is a leak.

I want to say— and you can talk to me about this over lunch— that when a congregation has enemies, when a congregation has us and them somewhere in its thinking, whether it's about us and them within us, or us and them where the themare outside, then there is a leak. And no matter how we look at it, no matter how we argue it, or try to describe it, that leak always leads back to violence against other people. The great leak in the human roof, what we call original sin, always has to do with violence. (Violence is the sign of that sin.)

So if the stains I saw are new, we'll have to get a tradie up in the ceiling.

After a while he comes down from above us, and says, "Yep there's a hole alright, we'll have to fix it." ... Read on >>>>

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