Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

Lectionary readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent include Mark 1:1-8 and Isaiah 40:1-11.

The Gospel reading for Sunday is from the prologue of Mark. Rooted in Old Testament prophecy, Jesus is introduced to us through this New Testament prophet, John the Baptist.  He is an interesting character, no doubt, living in the wilderness, wearing strange clothes and eating even stranger things.  This is a man who will not make the cover of GQ magazine; he couldn't care less about such matters. This man of God seems passionate about one thing and one thing only and that is pointing people to the Son of God. 

The Gospel of Mark promises good news and, certainly, the people of 1st Century Palestine could use some good news. They are living under Roman rule. As taxes rise so does the resentment that the Jews feel for those who are in control of their world. Onto the stage walks John the Baptist, who points to the promised Messiah. Yes, the people are desperate for some good news. But will they hear it? In Feasting on the Word, Judy Yates Siker puts it so well: "Clearly, this is not the birth story of Matthew or Luke. No manger scenes derive from this Gospel. Yet, here in the opening lines of Mark we have a "birth story" of sorts. On this second Sunday in Advent, it is good to tell of new beginnings, to tell about a God who breaks into our time with good news. In this Advent season he comes. Perhaps not as might be expected; perhaps not in the time frame desired--but he comes."

Read Isaiah 40:1-11 as well as Mark 1:1-8, then consider the following:
  1. What similarities do you note between the two prophecies?
  2. What differences?
  3. Read the passage from Mark once again, putting yourself in the story as a person standing on the bank of the Jordan River listening in. What is your response to John the Baptist?
  4. Are you drawn to him or do you shy away?
  5. Now slowly read the text, putting yourself in the story as the head of a Jewish family who has been oppressed by the Romans. For whatever reason, by their hands you and your loved ones are suffering. How do John's words strike you now?
  6. How has the Good News of Jesus Christ affected your life?
It is the second Sunday in Advent. As we continue our journey, let us keep watch for the Son of God about whom John the Baptist speaks.

I look forward to seeing you in worship this Sunday and celebrating the Lord's Supper with you. 


Monday, November 21, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

 Lectionary readings for the 1st Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37.

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus speaks of the end times, when the Son of Man will appear in the clouds with great power and might.  As you read this passage consider the following:
  1. What does it mean that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man?
  2. What does this title mean to you?
  3. What are some other names for Jesus used throughout Scripture?
  4. What is in a name, anyway?
The Season of Advent provides us an opportunity to meditate upon the first coming of Jesus as a baby in a manger, as well as his second coming, a day for which we still eagerly await.

As believers, it's with great anticipation that we enter the Season of Advent.  The church will be decorated during the “Hanging of the Greens” service this Sunday, and we will begin lighting the Advent candles.  Perhaps we are beginning to think about decorating our homes as well—with greenery, poinsettias, and Christmas trees filled with lights and memories.  As we wait expectantly and prepare for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus, I offer you a heartwarming Advent prayer I happened across some time ago.

O God, this Advent season is a time when your light radiates through the world.  Inasmuch as we can, let us be bright for you.

Shine your light through us as though we were pieces of stained-glass window.  Flow through us into others as the warm glow of colors seeps into a church.

Fill us with your light as though we were lighthouses on the shore.  Use us to guide others and to keep them from danger.

Set us aflame with your light as though we were candles, even candles in a storm.  Enable us to burn steadily with your fiery spirit and to push aside all forms of darkness.

Turn us on with your light as though we were Christmas bulbs all connected to one another.  Help us as a community of faith to celebrate the sparkling good news of your Son’s coming birth.

Be present with us, God, throughout the Advent season as we live and worship in our wait for the One who is the world’s light.  Amen.[i]

Happy Advent!

[i] The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, Glen E. Raisley, pp. 3-4.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blogging toward Sunday

This Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, marks the end of the church year. The readings for worship are Psalm 100 and Matthew 25:31-46.

The people of Israel have a long history with kings.  I Samuel 8 tells the story of the people demanding a king; the nations surrounding them have had a king so they want one too.  The very thought of it displeases Samuel, so he prays to the LORD and the LORD sayes to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you."  And thus began the ruling of earthly kings over the people.

Fast-forward through time and another King stands before the people, Jesus the Christ. Although the people have been watching for the Messiah's arrival, they fail to recognize him.  He isn't what they expect.  He isn't what they want! What they want is a king to overtake the Roman Empire and return to them the status and power they feel they deserve. This Jesus, he hardly fits the bill. This Jesus, he wants his disciples to be humble, serving others, caring for the needs of the poor and outcast.  What kind of king is that!

One role of a king is to provide direction. Jesus provides direction, but it is as a Shepherd caring for his sheep. To the sheep, he instructs: "Come, you that are blessed by the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you..." To the goats he says, "Go, you that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire..." To the sheep who listen to his voice, he says, "Do...just as you did it to one of the least of these...you did it to me." Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides directions--Come! Go! Do! 

In light of Jesus' instruction, caring is crucial—caring for those who are thirsty, hungry, lonely or in need of hospitality. The simple ministry of presence goes a long way in fulfilling Jesus' desires for those who follow him. And, thankfully, the church does have experience in the central mission of hospitality. "Indeed, by the fourth century it was common for congregations to have 'houses of lodging for strangers.' These were the first rudimentary hospitals in the West. Caring for the stranger's ailments was part of their task, but central was their ministry of presence and hospitality."[1]

Jesus’ earthly ministry is about caring for the sheep. Now, as his disciples, that is our ministry as well. 

Questions to Ponder:
1.      How has Christ been the King of my life this year?
2.      As followers of Christ, how should people with power treat those without it?
3.      In the Matthew text, who is surprised (verses 37-39 and verse 44)?

May the Lord bless you and the people you love this week. I look forward to seeing you in worship.


[1] Body Theology, James B. Nelson (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), p. 136.