Sunday, January 28, 2018

Leaving Zebedee (Mark 1:14-20)

I am sorry, I keep thinking of poor Zebedee, you know the father of James and John the Guy who owned the business Zebedee and sons; fresh fish market Price! So here it is a nice sunny day you have been out fishing with your boys all day and you’re just sitting in your boat mending your nets. Suddenly this man comes along with Simon Peter and Andrew in tow and your kids drop everything and followed along.

I first imagine Zebedee to be a bit dumbfounded as he watched in amazement while his sons walked away from everything they had established. It wasn’t until he got home that the anger started to set in. How could they do this? How could they just leave all we had worked for, to follow some Carpenter’s son; the cousin of the madman in the desert? I mean really “God’s kingdom is at hand,” what kind of message is that anyway and just because Peter and Andrew are following that should be the first clue that there is going to be trouble!

The Rev. Roger Allen Nelson has his own reflection on the boys which I found quite interesting. Of peter he says;

“Peter had hustled the fish down to the market. Early and fresh they would bring a nice price.
But, he was always late. There was something so impulsive about Peter. He would stop to see his wife,stop to help another boat,stop to pick a fight,stop at the bakery for warm bread,stop to listen to a rabbi.
Peter always led with his heart. Strong head, strong back, strong heart. He never ceased to make Andrew smile. And they wouldn’t do as well as they did without Peter’s bull strength, but sometimes Peter just didn’t see the big picture. He lived in the moment.”[1]

Here we see Peter as one who had a love of life and adventure and wherever he was he was right there, bold in that moment. I think the kind of a guy I would probably hang around if he didn’t smell like fish all the time!

As for his brother Andrew he was more of the worrier, always looking towards tomorrow to see what may be coming. He was always focused on the prospective and what the trend of the day may be at the market as to best profit from the shoppers.

Yet, on this day, Peter seemed unusually distracted and Andrew himself felt there was a shift in the air. Something was coming and yet he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He and Peter had recently heard John the Baptist speak. His message of forgiveness and redemption seemed to make sense. It was moving and now this disturbing news of his arrest, maybe that was weighing on Peter’s heart.

Reverend Roger goes on and tells us that:
“Andrew could hear Zebedee and his boys coming ashore. They were a bigger outfit with a few hired hands, and they certainly made a bigger ruckus, but they were good guys and hard workers. They were just loud.
Just then with a big loaf of bread, and a bigger grin, and before Andrew could say a thing, Peter showed up and piped up,
Come on, let’s put in a little way and see what we can pull out before the day gets too hot. Maybe we can get one more good load! And, if we don’t we can eat this bread and relax and talk and we’ll tend to the nets later!
Andrew, shrugged his shoulders, chuckled, and turned toward the water.
It was good work with a brother; he could live in that moment!
An hour later they were pulling up empty nets and empty conversation.”2

So here it was an uneventful day the two families and others had been out fishing. Just working and living their daily lives and yet…Yet there was something, an electricity like an unseen storm just on the horizon.

Then slowly coming from the distance was Jesus. At first one couldn’t tell who he was as the heat of the day had placed a shimmer in the air. But as he stepped closer and they could make him out they knew who it was. They had heard that John had made some comments about him to his followers.

“And then Jesus walked by.
Jesus walked by,
in the middle of a work day,
on the shores of a distant lake,
nowhere near the temple,
in the flow of life,
with an indifferent sun in the sky.
Jesus walked by and called out to
two average guys
two blue collar brothers,
two working stiffs trying to make a wage,
two guys who weren’t the brightest or the bravest,
two guys who weren’t looking for him.
Jesus walked by and called out to follow.
Andrew and Peter followed, and James and John followed.
They left Zebedee in Zebulun and they followed Jesus.
And down the shore journeyed a carpenter’s son and four fishermen.”[3]

An interesting note In rabbinical and Greek literature "to catch men" usually has an evil sense, as in Jer. 16:16: “I’m going to send hordes of fishermen to catch them, declares the LORD. Afterward I will send a party of hunters to hunt them down on every mountain, hill, and cave.” Jesus turns the idea around; his disciples become fishers of men in order to save them.

Zebedee knew there was something different here. Zebedee could feel the shift in the air as Jesus approached. Zebedee’s heart Jumped and stirred as Jesus called out to his boys. How he wishes he could go as well. He even considered dropping everything himself and yet, at that very moment Jesus gave him a look that just melted his heart and he knew he had to stay. He knew he had to support his family and he knew he would be supporting his boys as well.

You see not everyone is called to follow Jesus in the same way. Some people even question what is a vocation? What is a calling? What am I to do to be the best follower of Christ and the best me I can be?
John Neafsey in his book; A sacred voice is Calling, reminds us of our sense of calling;

“Our sense of vocation is intimately linked to the people and things that move us to passion and compassion. We cannot answer the authenticity question, ‘Who am I?’ without also answering the passion question, ‘What do I really want?’ We discover who we are only by becoming conscious of the most authentic desires, loves, and longings of our hearts. ‘Who am I?’ is also closely related to another question, ‘Whose am I?’ We come to know ourselves by recognizing those to who we belong.”[4]

By this statement the Fishermen were men of God. They belonged to God and they were seeking God. Maybe not consciously, yet there was something stirring. So that when approached by Christ their hearts were open and moved. They were able to respond immediately and passionately to Gods call.

In my case, I always had a calling from God to go into ministry and service. I know this. I mean really know. Sometimes I heard it more clearly than others and sometimes I choose to outright ignore it. The answering of my call was not easy. I struggled and prayed. I tried to be practical. I told myself I would go so deep in debt I would never see the light of day. I asked myself did I really need to leave a comfortable, simple life in a community I loved to allow myself to fully answer a call. In the end the answer came back as a simple yes. This is true but only after months of struggle, prayer, and deal making.

Often people think that the call from Christ; “Drop your nets and follow me and I will make you fishers of humankind,” Comes just as clearly and easily as it happened in this gospel reading. The chosen dropped their nets, leaving family behind and went where Jesus went. The Gospel is a bit dramatic in this way there is no back story, we do not have a narrator telling us what is going on inside the head of the apostles. They just up and leave everything behind.

Actually there is no evidence that this is true or false. The area that Jesus covered is small in territory. It would be easy for a disciple to leave for a day or two or even a week take care of business and head back out again. We know that Zebedee stayed behind to tend to the family business. We don’t know if he had hired hands or other family, which is very likely, to help out. We know that Jesus went back to heal Peter’s Mother-in-law so there is evidence that the disciples kept contact with family and friends.

Actually this call and follow business is odd for Jewish tradition. It was considered bad form for a Rabbi to seek out students it was the other way around. If you were a good Rabbi, a good teacher it was the student who sought out the teacher. Yet here this is a story of Jesus seeking out his followers, calling them individually.

God is seeking out Humanity. God is calling and looking for us if we choose to listen. The Bible is proof of this over and over again.

“Over and over in Scripture God seeks after us.
God goes looking for Adam and Eve.
God calls Abraham.
God tracks down Jacob.
God picks Moses.
God interrupts Jeremiah.
God chooses David.
God intrudes on Mary.
God shows up as a baby.
God gathers a band of disciples.
God goes to the cross.
God busts through death.
God calls you and me.

Or think of Jesus.

He told stories of a shepherd who beats the bushes to find one lost sheep, a woman who turns her house upside down to find one lost coin, and a father who runs down the road to welcome his one lost son,

Or think of Jesus.

He picks Zacchaeus out of a tree,

He saddles up to two men walking on a road to Emmaus,

He enters a closed room of a bunch of uneasy and uncertain disciples.

He shows up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and calls fishermen to follow.” [5]

It is that simple. It doesn't matter if we are rich or poor. It makes no difference if you are straight or Gay or transgender. It doesn't matter if you’re a lawyer or a farmer. God is seeking you out. God is calling you to be the best human you can be from where you are now.

Reverend Rodger goes on to say;

“I don’t know how God shows up in our lives. I know that sometimes I am too dense, self-absorbed, busy, or cynical to notice. Maybe there is something that gets in the way for you as well. But, I do know that the record of Scripture, played with a reformed hermeneutic (interpretation), has a boldly struck chord. God comes after us!

In creation,
in covenant,
in Christ,
in cross,
in church,
in sacrament,
God comes after us!

Someday when you’re cleaning nets,
or looking for your brother,
or waiting for your lover,
or doing your best to make ends meet,
or burying the dead,
or buying the bread,
Jesus will show up and call you to follow.”[6]

Isn’t this why we do Sundays? Isn’t this why we pause to pray? This is all so that in those sacred moments, when Jesus calls us, we can see it, recognize it and hear it. Then drop our nets drop our nets that need mending, drop our nets; those daily things in life that annoy us, drop our nets; the things that must get done, Drop our nets and just follow.

May we all have the Ears to hear, Eyes to see and heart to follow.

[1] Rev, Leaving Zebedee in Zebulun,
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] John Neafsey, A Sacred Voice Is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2006), 71.
[5] Rev, Leaving Zebedee in Zebulun.
[6] Ibid.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

welcome to the Good News (Mark 1:4-11)

Ok here is the strange thing about the lectionary, we do not read the whole Bible. “The Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle of weekly lections used to varying degrees by the vast majority of mainline Protestant churches in Canada and the United States. The RCL is built around the seasons of the Church Year, and includes four lections for each Sunday, as well as additional readings for major feast days. During most of the year, the lections are: a reading from the Hebrew Bible, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles, and a Gospel reading. During the season of Easter, the Hebrew Bible lection is usually replaced with one from the Acts of the Apostles. The lections from the Hebrew Bible are sometimes chosen from the Apocrypha…. The gospel readings for each year come from one of the synoptic gospels according to the following pattern:
Year A - Matthew
Year B - Mark
Year C – Luke
So todays readings are for January 7th year B the baptism of the Lord where as yesterdays readings were for Epiphany or the story of the wise men.  The challenge then lies with me do I go with the most recent feast day or with the lectionary for the day?  I personally choose to stay with the lectionary and sometimes that gives us gospel messages which are challenging and sometimes we have to skip over beloved stories such as the epiphany reading.
So today we are delving into the Baptism of Jesus
“The Gospel according to Mark is fast paced, and action oriented. It is the shortest of the Gospels, and believed to be the first written. Both Matthew and Luke include - sometimes word for word - most of Mark. But whereas Luke was written to present Jesus to a non-Jewish gentile; and Matthew was written for Jewish new converts or those considering becoming followers of Jesus, Mark reads like an early family history - the writing down of already familiar and often spoken stories that are told at family gatherings: "Remember when ... and then ...and then ..."
Yet todays reading leaves out the very beginning of this Gospel which I feel is Important. I mean Listen and as they say for those with ears hear the first words of Marks Gospel… “Beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah Son of God.” (John 1:1)
“For one thing, Verse 1 tells us what Mark's ‘message’ is…Note that Mark says this is the ‘beginning.’ Is he simply meaning, ‘this is the opening sentence of my book?’ Or is he is implying, ‘This is the beginning of an as-yet-unfinished proclamation of good news?’ His writing certainly does not finish with ‘This is the end of the good news.’”
The fact that Mark gives us a Proclamation of where we are at and who we are about and there is no this is the end really kind of reflects who we are as the United Church of Christ. I just find it very exciting this says that the Gospel, the Good news, is still happening, thus God is still speaking. If we engage the Gospel today if we pause to embrace it and listen for it is just as relevant today as it was when it was first written perhaps even more so.
“With this characteristically curt announcement we start our reading of the first Gospel to be written. ‘Beginning’ tells the reader where we are of course, but may also serve as an echo of the opening words of the bible. ‘Good-news’ has come through the Anglo-Saxon as ‘gos-spel’, into the English as ‘godspel’. It reflects on one hand an old Testament background , where the word refers to the proclamation of God’s great deeds, and on the other hand a background in the Roman Empire, where it can be used for something like the announcement of a birth tot eh royal house, or a roman victory i9n far-off places. ‘Messiah’ comes into Greek as ‘Christ’, but in this Gospel, as opposed to the Letters of Paul, it is a title rather than a name. ‘Son of God’ Is not in all manuscripts but it is likely what Mark wrote and is almost certainly what he meant.”
The bible
“Bruce Malina - and other scholars - helpfully point out that the underlying Greek word for "good news" was commonly used for a royal proclamation of "good news" such as a victory in war; the marriage of the emperor; the birth of an heir; etc. That the followers of Jesus used this word for their story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a political act of daring. Daring to provide an alternative to the Roman Empire as an authority and source of "Good News."
Malina also point out that the title, "Son of God." was not uniquely used only for Jesus. Notably, the Roman Emperor was called, "Son of God." And occasionally, the phrase is used in Scriptures to refer to folks who are manifesting qualities of God in their behavior or being.
Indeed, "son of" is probably better understood as meaning, "having the qualities of," and certainly NOT as "genetic descendant of." And so, similarly, "son of man" means having the qualities of a human; and so, "sons of thunder," (see Mark 3:17) means "loud, boisterous, energetic."”
Mark does another strange thing he proclaims a verse written by the prophet Isaiah
Look I am sending my messenger before your face,
Who will prepare your way;
A voice of one shouting out in the desert:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight his paths.”
Reverend Nicholas king says this
“Mark’s is a mysterious Gospel, and it is mysterious from the very beginning. The quotation that he attributes to Isaiah is not in fact wholly from that source. The opening lines of it are from Either exodus 23:2 (in the Greek version) or form Malachi 3:1. Only after that does Mark revert to Isaiah (40:30 in the Greek version). Why is this so? The reader must decide – but you can exclude any Idea that Mark didn’t know his Old Testament.
Also Mysterious is the fact that Mark starts his Gospel, not with Jesus (as you might expect), but with John the Baptist. This must mean that in some sense John gives a clue to the mystery – including, apparently, that Jesus may properly be called ‘Lord’ in a passage that clearly referred originally to God.”
The bible
Mark takes us into that world where we just get a glimpse of John the Baptist. A person who comes out of the Desert, dressed very austere with a diet no one will attempt to follow. John is proclaiming a baptism for forgiveness of sins and people were coming form all over wanting to be baptized and they wanted to get baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.
I could see where this could be the end.  This could become about John’s ministry except John proclaims there is someone who I am not worthy to untie his sandal.  Not even worthy of doing the work of the slave to untie his sandal.
“and it happened in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately coming up out of the water he saw the heavens dividing and the Spirit Like a Dove coming down upon him. And a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are my son, the beloved; in oyu I have taken pleasure” Mark 1 (-11)
Here is an interesting note;
“Throughout Mark the only references to Jesus as Son of God come only from the spirit world (i.e. the voices from heaven at his baptism and at the transfiguration (Mark 9); or from evil spirits that Jesus is casting out.) Except, finally, at the conclusion of Mark, a complete outsider to the story and one who participated in executing Jesus, a Roman centurion soldier who was at the cross when Jesus dies - that person is the first to say of Jesus, "Surely this man was the Son of God." (NIV) The Bible
But Jesus is the son of God why does he get baptized? One commentator states;
“And so, we might understand the baptism of Jesus as a selfless aligning/embodying of self with the desires of God. Rather than a "functional" baptism - that is, being baptized so that some function could happen - the forgiveness of sins - this is a "revelatory" baptism - that is, enacting, confirming and making visibly real what is already the case: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
I would venture to continue on this thought that Jesus was also aligning himself with those who were sinners. With us, everyday people and later through his ministry we know the marginalized.  This baptism brings Jesus down to us, as human and yet elevated as God both aspects of Jesus are present here the human and the divine.  It also makes Jesus relatable to this very day as we are all tied together as one body through the Baptism we share the same sacred spirit, the same sacred cleansing, the same sacred waters. And all of us Christian or not share in the same humanity.
It is knowing that we share in that same humanity and are called to treat each other equally that we support Global Ministries. Where as a denomination we acknowledge that we practice
“Presence – manifesting God’s love by living in intentional, committed relationships
Mutuality – walking in hope with others in God’s mission
Community – building interdependence and unity among all God’s children
Justice – living out God’s radical love by confronting powers that deny the fullness of life and the integrity of creation
Peace – embodying reconciling relationships with God, humanity, and creation”
This isn’t about evangelization. This is about being a presence, the presence of Christ to all in the world.
“Global Ministries mission (is) to receive and share the Good News of Jesus Christ by joining with global and local partners to work for justice, reconciliation, and peace. Global Ministries and its predecessor mission bodies have walked globally with God’s Church on behalf of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ for over 200 years. This unique testimony of unity between two denominations connects with more than 290 global partner churches and programs.”
If you have not taken the time I encourage to look up Global ministries of the united Church of Christ and explore its pages through there is where we can connect to the world beyond our community.  There may be something there that inspires so that we may take on a project, plan a mission experience or contribute to those seeking out Justice.
Marks Gospel is the good news of a still speaking God and  I believe we are about to embark on quite a journey together in exploring how we can be that loud and strong still speaking voice here in Petaluma.