the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday 10/29/06 - Year B - Ordinary 30

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Collect (BCP)
Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

They Came to Jericho

Jericho can lay claim to being both the lowest and the oldest city on earth. Jericho lies in the Jordan Valley, ten miles from where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea. It is about 850 feet below sea level, compared to Death Valley which is 280 feet below sea level.

Jericho was built at the site of a powerful spring that continues to flow to this day and is the principal source of water in the area.

It is a very ancient world in which we live. And Jericho is the most ancient city known to us today. At Jericho, archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a 30 foot tower and city walls that date to 8,000 years before Chrisit. This is 10,000 years before our time and 7,000 years before the conquest of Joshua. At the time of Jesus, the tower had long been burried in a pile of rubble.

Jericho lays along one of the most commonly used routes for travel between Galilee and Jerusalem. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem goes by a palace that Herod the Great had built to enjoy Jericho’s warm winter wieather. Jerusalem, only fifteen miles away, is 2,500 feet above sea level, or 3,350 feet above Jericho, and is cold and damp in the winter.

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, He knows he is on the road to Perdition, complete and utter destruction. Mark tells us nothing about Jesus’ travel in Jericho – He says “They came to Jericho,” and in the very next sentence he says, “As he was leaving Jericho...”

What was important to Mark, and important in his quest for answering the question “Who is this man, Jesus,” was the encounter he had with Bartemaus, the son of Timaeus, who used to sit at the gate of Jericho that faced Jerusalem and beg for alms because he was blind.

Why do we have a name for the blind man and a father’s name?

Bartimaeus and his father, Timaeus were known to the Community to which Mark was writing.

Bartimaeus Cried out to Jesus for mercy. Others told him to be quiet. Jesus “Opened his eyes.” Jesus gave him Light.

When we come to Jesus He gives us Light, In-Sight for our lives.

To better understand this story, let us put it in the context of the other stories Mark has been telling us along the way. Mark begins this section of his story with the healing of a blind man back in Chapter 8:22.

The rich young man.

He had kept all the laws from his youth. He had many possessions. Under the Law, he was seen as being blessed by God. He could not part with his possessions to follow Jesus.

The blind beggar

He had nothing, not even his sight. Under the Law, he was seen as a sinner and not blessed by God. He threw away his cloak, his only possession, to come to Jesus.

James & John

Seeking places of honor in the Kingdom, to Sit by Jesus’ side as he rules.

The blind beggar

Was sitting by the side of the road, in the gutter. Not a place of honor.

The blindness of the Disciples.

It is likely that the two miracles of healing the blind men highlight the "blindness" of the disciples that is illustrated in the incidents between the healing stories.

Do you have eyes, and fail to see?
Do you have ears, and fail to hear?
And do you not remember?

The disciples in Mark would have to answer, "Yes," to those questions.

One theme that our text picks up from previous discipleship sections is the "way".
At the beginning of the section, we are told that Jesus and his disciples are on the way when Jesus asks, "Who do people say that I am?"

It is on the way that the disciples argue about who was the greatest. Jesus is back on the way when the rich man runs up to him. Because of his riches he goes away. He does not follow Jesus. They are back on the way going up to Jerusalem, when Jesus tells the twelve what will happen to him...

"See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and…
[ I ] will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn [ Me ] to death;
then they will hand[ Me ] over to the Gentiles;
they will mock [ Me ],
and spit upon [ Me ],
and flog [ Me ],
and kill [ Me ];
…and after three days [ I ] will rise again."

When they came to Jericho, Bartimaeus is sitting by the way. He is not yet "on the way," but by the side of the "way". He is an outsider. Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

In this section we have the example of disciples not fully understanding -- or seeing the way of Jesus, but the healed/saved blind man does.

Another theme is "to save," "to heal". This word occurs four times in this section. Those who want to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. The disciples were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" (10:25)

Jesus said to Bartemaeus, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Our text is an example of "who can be saved" and how one is saved.

With humans – whether a rich man entering the kingdom of God or a blind man seeing again – it is impossible. With God, all things are possible.

What is the "faith" that saved/healed the blind man? Previously, this word has always been related to miracles. Jesus sees the faith of the friends and forgives/heals the paralytic (2:5) During the storm at sea, Jesus sees the fear of the disciples and asks: "have you still no faith?" (4:40) To the woman with the flow of blood who touched Jesus, he says: "Daughter, your faith has made you well [or saved you]; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (5:34) The opposite of faith in the second occurrence is fear. A characteristic of faith in the other two verses and in our text is the fearlessness of those having faith; fearlessly tearing open a hole in the roof; fearlessly the unclean woman touches Jesus' clothing; fearlessly (and loudly) the blind man shouts to Jesus: "Have mercy on me!" Related to this fearlessness is the expectation that Jesus could and would do something.

People of faith won't let buildings, social & religious customs, or crowds keep them from pursuing Jesus' mercy.

The verb "to believe, to have faith, to trust" is used three times in the discipleship section -- all in chapter 9. Jesus tells the father of the demon-possessed boy: "All things can be done for the one who believes." The father cries out: "I believe; help my unbelief!"

Finally, Jesus says:
"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea".

Believing is the expectation that God can do the impossible.

And it may be easier for the "little ones" to believe than for us "big ones".

Thanks be to God!

Deliver Us
Lord Jesus,
you give strength and joy and light
to those who want to follow you.
Make the lame jump for joy,
restore the sight of the blind,
set all the captives free
and bring to all who suffer
the hope and peace of your kingdom
where you live for ever and ever.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
both now and forevermore.

Closing Prayer and Blessing
Numbers 6:22-26
And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying,
In this manner you shall bless the children of Israel,
saying unto them...

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
The LORD make his face shine upon thee,
and be gracious unto thee:
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee,
and give thee peace.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sunday 10/22/06 - Year B - Ordinary 29

Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Collect (BCP)
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Year B - Ordinary 28

Old Testament Reading
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Psalm 22:1-15
Psalm 90:12-17

Epistle Reading
Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel Reading
Mark 10:17-31
Collect (BCP)
Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Following Jesus Is Hard
final version

Every time I read this passage, I see something in it that I had not seen before. I think that is one of the advantages of following the Revised Common Lectionary for Bible Reading and Sermon Texts. It forces us to cover the expanse of the scriptures and then every three years it brings us back to those same scriptures to test their application to our lives as they have become since the previous reading.

You see, it is not that the scripture has changed, for it has been the same for thousands of years. But I have changed. I am not the same person I was three years ago, or six years ago. My values have changed. The things that were most important ten or twenty years ago, seem like only a whim, today.

Every day I face new situations, new joys, new heartaches. At my age I am beginning to lose more and more loved ones by death. I find that I and my loved ones are more vulnerable to disease. My body is beginning to wear out and I have to find new ways to do the things I could do with ease only a few short years ago. When I was a young man, I was very vain about my hair. Well, that's another story.

But the point is that we are constantly changing and these scriptures that remain constant apply to our changing lives in different ways as we become better able to understand them.

This week, as I have meditated and prayed over this scripture, what I see here is that following Jesus is not easy. In fact, it is very hard. It is so hard that we cannot do it without God's help.

It has been my experience that every generation says the church is oldfashioned. We must read the scriptures in a way that is more relevant to us than the way the old folks read them.

This sentiment in some ways echoes what I have just said about seeing the scriptures differently based on the needs of my current situation, but, I think, for most people it means a reading of scripture that gives us permission to do the things that our parents said were wrong. So, the moderniztion of the interpretation of scripture can be a way of making the following of Jesus easier and less demanding.

The man in our scripture today, who, in Mark is neither young nor a ruler, just rich, has not lived an easy religion. Being a good Jew, he has followed the ten commandments all of his life. We read the ten commandments a few moments ago. Were you paying attention?

The ten commandments have become a focal point of popular discussion and polemics, both social and political. But do people who are charged up about the ten commandments really read what they say? Do we know what they mean? Can we say with this man, who approaches Jesus asking how to inherit eternal life, that we have kept them all since our youth?

The ten commandments are hard and, being weak and self-centered – human if you will – we just can't do it. So, does the modernization of the interpretation of scripture mean that it's OK in some circumstances to break the commandments? In some circles it does. It's OK to forget the Sabbath and not to keep it Holy, isn't it. Or maybe we think that we must still keep this commandment but we have to broaden our definition of what's allowed on Sunday.

Someone's spouse does not understand them and they are stagnating in this nowhere relationship so it's OK to seek love and companionship outside of the marriage vow.

In our parents’ generation things were different. My parents were married 52 years. I have an uncle who has been married 62 years. They are oddities by today’s standards. Marriages today last, on the average, seven years. After that we get bored with each other and begin to look for greener pastures.

My neighbor has a better house than I do, so I find ways to think of him as mean and evil, because I deserve his house more than he does. He's a snob anyway because he belongs to the club and I can't. I know he thinks he's better than me. But, now, that's not really coveting his things or his lifestyle, is it?

Even though I work 60 to 70 hours a week so we can have more things, and some of you put your spouses to work so you can have even more things, I really don't have any other god, do I?

Jesus told the man in our scripture today to go and sell what he has and give it to the poor. That request was too hard for that man. Is this an indictment against rich people? It probably is. But separate the logic from the actual issues and see if the same does not apply to other things than just riches. It was hard for this man to give up his wealth because, for him, that was what was coming between him and loving God with all his heart, all his soul, and all his might. In your life, and in my life it may be something else. Maybe it's pride, or it's cousin, vanity. Perhaps it's averting our eyes and our notice of the plight of the poor and hungry in our midst.

Is there something in your life that is so important to you that if Jesus asked you to give it up, you would, like this man, go away grieving?

In Matthew's Gospel there is a passage called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, no less than five times, Jesus gives a teaching of the Jews with the words, "You have heard it said," and follows it with the words, "But I say unto you." And by doing so he sets the bar higher than the traditional interpretation of scripture. He also says that he did not come to destroy the law but to fill it full.

Jesus says to us that if all we are doing is keeping the ten commandments then we are missing the boat. Actually, he paraphrases the commandments into two important ones, "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

And the mondernization of scriptural interpretation is about the question of "Who is my neighbor?"

Of course, my neighbor is someone like me. The color of his skin is like mine. He speaks the same language that I speak. He goes to the same church, or bars, that I go to. He is conservative, or liberal just like me. And, O yes, he is certainly clean and wears the right kind of clothes. That is the modern interpretation of "neighbor," isn't it?

It can't mean the homeless. It can't mean the illegal aliens. It can't mean the nerds or the freaks or the junkies? Can it? And what about those who have leprosy, or the modern version of it called AIDS?

Writing these people off as sinners not worthy of our love and compassion is taking the easy way. The hard way, the way of Jesus is to search our own soul until we find in us sins more dispicable than those we see in them. It is searching their souls until we find Jesus hidden deep in side of them. To do that we have be willing to look deep into their eyes instead of averting our eyes in disgust.

The words of the song that Leah plays during our moment of silent prayer go like this:
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

And the disciples said "Well this means that no one can inherit eternal life, doesn't it?" It’s True! None of us are worthy of eternal life! We all have warts and zits in our character. Our souls are black with violations of Jesus' words. We have not been faithful in asking What Would Jesus Do. (WWJD) Or, we have not been truthful with ourselves when we asked the question and selected an easy answer that required no personal sacrifice.

Jesus tells us to enter at the straight and narrow gate, but all we can do is meander from side to side of the broad way so that we must take the wide gate, and that one surely leads to destruction.

The Apostle Paul said it the most simple terms, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." And he goes on to tell us that "the wages of sin is death."
So the following of Jesus is hard, so hard in fact that we cannot do it. We cannot do it by ourselves, can we?

But there is a surprise ending to our story. For Paul tells us, "Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us." He said, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ” – it is the gift of God! "Sinners, saved by grace." That's what we are.

Living a life following Jesus is important. It is the most important thing in the world. But God knows that we cannot go it alone and so he provides us with a safety net. And that safety net is His love and His grace.

Thanks be to God!

Let us pray,

Deliver us, O Lord, from every evil
and grant your peace to a world
that is tired of wars and injustice.
Give us your Holy Spirit of wisdom,
that we may not seek our happiness
in ambition, power and possessions.
Help us to seek you and your kingdom,
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
both now and for evermore.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

NPR : Kathy Lohr

NPR : Kathy Lohr

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 27

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 26 or Psalm 8 or Psalm 128
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Year B - Ordinary 26

Numbers 11:4-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

This sermon is a joining of two of Dylan Brewer's last two lectionary posts here and here. Thanks Dylan for what you mean to me in my ministry and my formation.

It is appointed unto man, once, to die.

Last Sunday we read these words of Jesus:

Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me...’

What was Jesus talking about when he said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me"? I've heard many a sermon linking this to Mark 10:13-16, in which Jesus says,

"it is to such [children] that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it,"

and speculating about what qualities children have that Jesus is saying should appear among his followers:

a child's innocence?

The problem with most of these readings is that they depend on a romantic view of childhood, a view that is key in most movies by Stephen Spielberg but foreign to the cultures that produced the New Testament. Such readings overlook something that would occur immediately in the minds of adults in the first-century Mediterranean world, especially parents:

Fewer than half of the children born would make it to adulthood.

In other words, the most prominent characteristic of children for most first-century readers of this text would be that children are extraordinarily vulnerable — perhaps the most most vulnerable in their society. First-century parents loved their children, as all parents do, and children were also celebrated as the closest thing to social security there was in the ancient world — if you were lucky enough to make it to old age, your children would most likely be your only means of support once you could no longer work. But children were generally the first to fall when disease or famine struck, or if the family for whatever reason became refugees, and a great many did. Children were vulnerable not only physically, but due to their low status in family and society. Even slaves had more rights than children, slaves could inherit property, for example, but children could not; they weren't considered people for the purpose of inheritance.

In other words, Jesus said that God's kingdom belongs to those to whom the world said nothing belonged.

What does this say to us?

How might we live differently if we believed this to be true?

The world contends that the good things are OURS to enjoy, that we can and should take what we can get for ourselves and our families, because we think, "what is weak proves itself to be useless." The world contends that those whose "manner of life is unlike that of others" can and should be tested with insult and torture — especially if that manner of life is a challenge to us who are respectable and deserving people.

The world presents all of this as wisdom. Our scriptures present it as "unsound reason," spiritual blindness, a disaster. And the letter of James comes down even harder on Christians who act out worldly scrambling to grasp at resources, power, and status and to honor most those who have most within the church.

We get caught up in all of those kind of games, forgetting that, to paraphrase Lilly Tomlin, winning the rat race just makes me a prizewinning rat. I want to be more than that. More importantly, God made me for more than that. And so God offers you and me — all of us — a chance to be more than that, to opt out of the rat race, responding to the world's contention that we are what we can say is OURS, by instead looking at the world at every opportunity with the eyes of someone who, in the world's way of doing things, has been disqualified from owning and having.

We stop saying, "MY church," and we recognize that it's God's church, and God has made room for those God has invited.

We ask God to deliver us from the presumption that it is in any way up to us to decide who deserves what we all want for ourselves and our children, and to give us the vision and courage to receive every child — not just those we know or like, and not just those with whom we share a culture, a language, a social class, or a legal or genetic family link — but that we receive every child as a full, beloved member of God's family, as deserving as we are to share the good things that are God's gifts, gifts, not our property.

And we evaluate every system, every power, every choice based on what it will do for the most vulnerable, not those closest to us. In God's economy, that's the key index.

There is no mention of children in this Sunday's gospel, but Jesus said:

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

The word used here for the people whom we are called to serve such that we provide no cause for their stumbling is μικρος, as in our prefix "micro-." It means "small" or "short" with respect to quantities and distances. When it's used of people in Greek literature of the period that produced the New Testament, it's used far more often to name adults of lowly status than it is for children — widows and orphans, those in poverty and those whose status in other ways shuts them out from what they need to get by and from the communities that might otherwise receive them. It is as true now, as it was then, that children are often among the very least of "the least of these"; when food, clean water, and medicine are in short supply, they're usually the first to die, and when abandoned or orphaned, they have little hope of surviving. But the "little ones" in this Sunday's gospel are not so much like the well-scrubbed cherubs in the Sunday School classrooms of middle-class churches as they are like the mentally ill homeless woman we drive past on the way to lunch afterward.

So why, then, do we read the passage as if it were about children?

I wonder whether some of it might have to do with fear. Few adults experience children of any perceived race or status as threatening, while that same adorable child might a few years later be treated with suspicion in the same crowd —

"He dresses like a gang member!"
"Is he from around here?".

Photographs of children in need of food or medicine elicit pity, while photographs of adults in similar circumstances sometimes strike a little too close to home, reminding us adults that, contrary to what our consumerist culture tells us, no amount of money or goods, education or status can shield us entirely from danger and disease, and those who have plenty, most often, suffer most from the creeping anxiety that it won't be enough to protect them from suffering.

Some of us respond by trying to accumulate increasing wealth, power, and status in hopes that it will insulate us from what we fear. Personally, I think that approach doesn't work, and that's part of why so many adults are so uncomfortable around another adult who is very sick or very poor. I think envy and rivalry — the kinds of behaviors against which Jesus speaks in the gospel as he refuses to condemn those who heal and restore people to community without seeking authorization from authorities first; and for which Moses chides Joshua in this week's reading from Numbers — envy and rivalry come from a similar place in our hearts. Too many of us spend too much time and energy in a constant state of anxiety because we imagine "the good life" to be a very narrow band of experiences — the good job, the good house, the good school, the good retirement plan, the good doctors, and the good lifestyle that will guarantee that we'll live a good, long time, free of pain and worry, secure that we've finally accumulated enough — and that we deserve it all.

Anyone who's tried this long enough and who's honest enough will, I think, admit that this approach doesn't work at all. No amount of power over others that we can seize will make as invulnerable as we like to pretend we are. We are creatures, after all, not the Creator, and I suspect that on some level we always know this; otherwise we wouldn't find it so painful to be reminded of the fact by our encounters with "lowly ones" at the margins of society.

I think St. Benedict's prescription, odd as it sounds at first in today's culture, is an effective one for our condition:

"remember that you will die."

In essence, that's a Reader’s Digest version of what our extended reading from James for this Sunday is trying to say. James reminds us of how futile and joyless it is to try to convince ourselves we'll live forever by accumulating possessions and resources that are just as transitory as our lives are. His letter reminds us that no amount of scrambling for status will make us as powerful as part of us wants to be — powerful enough to be invulnerable — and no amount of condemning our neighbors' faults will really convince us of how God loves us, because that isn't how God loves us.

God loves us in our vulnerability. Indeed, God made us vulnerable. After all, we are made in God's image, and if we want to know what God's image of a human being looks like, revealed as fully as we can receive it in this life — if we want to see what full, authentic humanity in God's image looks like — all we have to do is to look at Jesus. We look to Jesus, whose suffering with the "lowly ones" who suffer started long before his being sentenced to a slave's death on a Roman cross. Jesus journeyed with the "lowly ones" throughout his ministry. And by this point in the gospel, his face is set toward Jerusalem, and he knows what he faces there. Having accepted that, he doesn't need to look away from others' pain; indeed, he identifies with all in need of the most basic, immediate necessities —

a cup of water,
a day's bread,
a moment of compassion.

Jesus knows something that our culture finds it extremely hard to understand: God's power — the power that speaks light from darkness and life from dust, the power that sustains the universe — is not shown in shutting out those who are less powerful. The richness of God's blessing — the only riches that can truly bring joy or peace — is not enhanced by hoarding God's gifts. And Jesus' gift of what John calls "eternal life" — the kind of lasting joy, peace, and love for which we were made and the universe aches — eternal life doesn't come from vain and futile chasing after immortality. Instead, Jesus' words and example teach us, God's power is experienced in empowering the "lowly ones"; God's rich blessings are found in seeking justice for the poor. And the life and light of the world comes through Christ crucified; we will see God not by averting our eyes from the suffering "lowly ones" with whom he identified, but by looking with compassion in their eyes until we, like Jesus, can see the world through their eyes — until we, like Jesus, identify with all who share our humanity, the image of God in us. And then we will not be struck with fear when we remember that “It is appointed unto man, once to die.”

Thanks be to God.

Let us Pray

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free
from our self-opinionated ways,
our clannishness and jealousies.
Make us recognize and appreciate
whatever good there is in people
as we wait together in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
both now and for evermore.