Proper 17B (OT 22)

 
 

Featured Musician: Ethan Keller’s

Psalmist:Richard Bruxvoort Colligan


Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Initial Thoughts

  • Get out your Bible, and look up Mark 7:16.

  • v. 9-13 Jesus direct answer to the Pharisees. Here, he points out the hypocrisy of their alleged loyalty to the Law. One can almost hear Jesus saying these words Biblical Literalists today.

  • v. 16-20 Not necessary, but omitting them leaves out some a great chance of some comic relief as Jesus engages in some toilet humor, literally.

Bible Study

  • Testing by the Pharisees about cleanliness

    • Jesus’ followers are not following the “rules handed down by the elders.”

    • They follow some of the rules - washing cups, jugs, sleeping mats.

    • They do not follow other rules - thoroughly washing their hands before eating.

      • Be careful with this one, or the six year olds in the house may stop washing their hands before meals, too.

      •  
    • Not clear if this is a “trap” question or an honest inquiry. At this point, the relationship between Jesus and Pharisees is not adversarial.

    • “What is at stake, then, is not just a specific practice but the larger question of authority. In short, the Pharisees want to know, just who does Jesus think he is to flout the tradition of the elders?” (David Lose, In the Meantime)

  • Jesus responds to Pharisees

    • Points out the hypocrisy of their customs. They have devised a way to get around God’s Law - honor thy mother and father - through their customs.

    • Calls them out on obeying Tradition over God’s Word.

      • This has to be a great passage for the Lutherans.

  • Jesus responds to the crowds

    • “Nothing from outside a person can contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.”

    • This was revolutionary. The crowds would have been taught that what they eat is vitally important to their cleanliness.

    • Jesus chooses cleanliness of heart over cleanliness of custom. He claims our outward actions, the way we treat each other, the money we spend, the time

  • Jesus responds to disciples

    • Expounds on his teaching to the crowd.

    • What enters a person does not make them contaminated (unclean), but what comes out of them.

    • The inside - the heart - is what matters.

    • This is a huge part of Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees. While they maintain the letter of the Law - as opposed to perfect Temple ritual - is the key to a relationship with God, Jesus maintains that your own heart, motivation, and the way you treat others is at the heart of your relationship with God.

Thoughts and Questions

  • What Jesus does not do: Explicitly end dietary restrictions. Clearly, the early Christians were still practicing dietary laws even after Jesus was gone (see Acts and Peter’s dream).

    • From Matthew Skinner: “Yet, it's not patently clear that Jesus' words point exactly to this conclusion. Mark may be asserting that Jesus, in this moment,made all foods clean. (Compare "God has made clean" in Acts 10:15.) But this is hardly the main point of the passage, and the lectionary's scalpel encourages preachers to keep more central matters in view. Despite the radical nature of verse 15a, "there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile," we have no evidence that Jesus himself disregarded the dietary laws. (Notice Peter's practice according to Acts 10:14.) In any case, the parabolic nature of Jesus' comments (see reference to "the parable" in verse 17) supports the conclusion that hand-washing and foods are not the main concern here. Instead, Mark 7:1-23 speaks much more plainly about the source of defilement: it's more internal than external. It's more about who you are than about the foods or filth you avoid."

  • Jesus tells us the source of all evil. It is not the Devil. It is not Satan, or some otherworldly power. “It’s from inside the human heart that evil thoughts come… All these evil things come from inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.”

  • How many of us will preach this text with the assumption that we and our congregations are the rebellious followers of Jesus who upset the uptight fundamentalist Pharisees? Read a great article at The Hardest Question

    • Perhaps this instead can stand as a challenge to our own traditions: “Jesus is challenging them as to how their traditions contribute to them fulfilling their mission. And I think this is just where this week’s sermon might bring this odd passage to bear on our shared life. I mean, maybe we don’t seem at first blush quite as fussy about tradition as Jesus’ opponents did, but what if you were to suggest tinkering with some of our own traditions? Perhaps changing worship in order to make worship more understandable and accessible to a younger generation?” (David Lose, In the Meantime)

  • What are the differences between custom and God’s Law? What is cultural tradition and what is essentially Christian? What are the things that we do because they are the rules the elders passed on? The way bread is served at Communion, the Christmas pageant, who are ushers, is the flag hung in the sanctuary, what do we do on secular holidays, how we dress, when we meet, what a church looks like. Is Christianity that doesn’t look like ‘our’ Christianity still authentic? What happens when the customs of our elders get in the way of following God’s law of love? Civil rights, LGBTQ rights, etc.


James 1:17-27

Initial Thoughts

  • September James - 5 weeks in James

  • James

    • 20th book of the NT and first of the universal or catholic letters (letters not written to a specific community or occasion)

      • Catholic letters are James-Jude

    • Authorship - self attributed to James (1:1)

      • Many James in the New Testament: the son of Zebedee (Mark 1:19), the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18), the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3), James, the younger (Mark 15:40), and James, the father of Jude (Luke 6:16).

      • Only James, son of Zebedee and James the brother of Jesus were well known enough to be the self-affirmed author. James son of Zebedee was killed in 44CE, so most likely the author is James the brother of Jesus

      • Josephus detail the death of James, brother of Jesus. When re refused to deny Jesus he was thrown off the pinnacle of the temple - he survived and began to pray for his enemies who in turn stoned him and then clubbed him to death

      • However - it is unlikely that a Galilean craftsman would have been able to write with the precision and eloquence of Greek shown in the letter.

      • What do we know? He was a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian appealing to the tradition of James, the brother of Jesus (who advocated for the inclusion of Gentiles into the Jesus-community - see Acts 15:13-29)

    • If written by James the brother of Jesus- then the letter may be from around 50 CE

      • the apparent lack of ecclesiastical structure,

      • the prevalence of wisdom traditions

      • the frequent allusions to what seem to be traditions related to Jesus

      • May have led to the Jewish revolt of 70 CE

    • If not written by James the brother of Jesus - then later even up to mid 2nd century

      • the letter's style

      • resonance with features of Hellenistic moral literature of exhortation

      • the nature and presence of much pseudonymous literature in the early church

      • Missing form many early collection of Christian writings,

        • “no definite traces of the book's use in the church until after 200 C.E. Origen of Alexandria, who lived approximately 185-254, quotes the book as Scripture, but when he discusses the canon, he includes it among those books that are ‘disputed.’” (from EntertheBible.com)

    • Martin Luther hated the book of James

      • Called it the “epistle of straw”

      • Believed it directly contradicts the teachings of Paul:

        • James 2:24 - “You see that a person is justified by works and not by the faith alone”

        • Gal. 2:16 - “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

      • Scholars have argued that the two do not contradict but rather ar addressing different points

  • Wisdom literature

    • There are 59 imperatives (out of 108 verses)

    • Interesting blending of Greco-Roman philosophy (controlling passions and speech, refraining from envy and arrogance), Torah as moral code (“law of the kingdom”, Love of neighbor - Lev. 19:18), the prophetic call to covenantal relationship and condemnation of those who oppress others and an appeal to the “wisdom from above” as opposed to the “wisdom from below”

    • Differences between James and other wisdom literature

      • Sole focus on moral attitude and action as opposed to maintaining status or achieving worldly success

      • Focus on the community instead of the family structure

      • Egalitarian instead of hierarchical

      • Community focused instead of individualistic - actions are done for the sake of all and any self-serving action that oppresses another or takes advantage of another is rebuked.

Bible Study

  • vv. 17 & 18 - closes out the preceding section 12-17

    • These verses declare that God does not tempt us, because temptation is evil and God is good

    • Everyone is tempted, but if we give into our own temptations and desires - we sin. Sin leads to death

    • All good gifts (wisdom - v. 5; faith - v. 6, etc.) are from God. God is both good and eternal. God’s generosity and goodness are unchanging - unlike the sun and stars which do change (as is noted by the shadows created by the sun’s path)

    • In short - God does not give bad gifts (temptation, sin, death) these things result from our own, self-centered desires. God is eternally Good. Good gift come from God. Where as sin gives birth to death, God gives birth to truth and the Word. To understand this is to bear good fruit.

  • What does it look like to bear good fruits? What is the evidence that you have received God’s gift of faith and wisdom? vv. 19-27

  • vv. 19-21 Words Matter

    • Be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to anger

    • Excellent words for this time and season when too many are quick to speak and anger. Outrage is the fashion

    • See also Matthew 5:21-22 - Jesus cautions against being angry and calling others names

    • Ralph Martin, who claims that the author of James is the brother of Jesus, “has proposed that the original formulation of this instruction was addressed to the violence of the zealots in and around Jerusalem prior to the outbreak of the revolt against Rome. James, the brother of the Lord, opposed the claim that violence could be used to establish God’s rule.” Interpretation: First and Second Peter, James, and Jude.

      • But there are no specific references to specific social or political events

    • Anger distracts us from the Word that God has “implanted” with us.

      • The Greek emphytos can also mean “inborn” or “innate”

      • The emphytos logos  is a gift from God - Pheme Perkins (Interpretation) argues “Since this word is received from God, the term emphytos cannot refer to something that is a given in human nature.”

        • Perhaps the emphytos logos is also the imageo dei - a gift from God but also part of the divine spark residing in all humanity

      • What can we do to listen to and nurture God’s implanted word with us and others? What does it mean to rid ourselves of the “rank growth of wickedness” - Can we move beyond the “deadly sins” and examine our own self-absorption, self-obsession and self-righteous outrage?

  • vv.22-25 Be Doers!

    • Nurturing the implanted word is not a purely metaphysical or spiritual action, but MUST be embodied and lived-out

    • Again a connection to the imageo dei: to hear the Word and not to do the Word is to forget what you look like - to forget the image of God within you - to forget that the Word is within you waiting to come forth in abundant love, mercy and grace.

    • The “perfect law” refers to the implanted word (or as I would claim, imageo dei). Knowing who you truly are frees one to act out of their essential nature as God’s beloved child and steward. To see oneself as a child of God evokes a spirit of gratitude and abundant love which expands beyond ourselves to our neighbor and to God.

    • From Perkins, Interpretation: Ralph Martin sees James describing this embodied word by appealing to every part of the body:

      • “The tongue speaks rarely and never in anger (vv. 19b-20).

      • The ears hear the word (v. 23).

      • The eyes see and remember true images (vv. 24–25).

      • The hands and other parts of the body will carry out the deeds that are the practical evidence that a person knows the law of freedom (v. 25; R. Martin, 54–55).

      • The next section will mention the heart, which must not be deceived by a religion that is never put into practice (v. 26).”

  • vv. 26-27 What Faithfulness Looks Like

    • Piety - “being religious”

    • Traditionally had to do with cleanliness and standards of purity: not associating with the unclean, not eating or drinking unclean things - in short the pious or “Those who serve God directly as priests must maintain standards of purity not required of ordinary people.” Perkins, Interpretation

    • James takes a different approach (reminiscent of Mark 7:14-23 and Matthew 25 as well as Isaiah)

      • Piety is revealed in how one is a doer of the Word to the least of these

      • Taking care of the least of these may not be rational or advantageous from a self-focused, worldly perspective, but we are called to see, hear and do the Word.

      • To be unstained by the World is not a call to complete asceticism, but rather to look at oneself and others as having the Word implanted inside them. So see the world in those eyes means we can no longer be blind or deaf to the “orphans and widows in their distress”. This may seem simple but gets very complicated when we hear the cried of Amazon employees striking for better pay, or iPhone factory conditions or the environmental and humanitarian costs of mass produced meat. Can we be pious while we eat our Hormel pork and set up our Amazon subscribe and save on our iPhones?

      • Labor Day in the USA was established in 1894 in response to years of strikes and protests of poor working conditions by workers and labor unions (child labor, 12 hour days, 7 day work weeks, oppression of company towns and paternalism). In 1894, these protest culminated in Chicago when the American Railroad Union workers went on strike against the Pullman Palace Car company to protest wage cuts and union busting. In response the US government dispatched troops to end the strike which ultimately led to riots and over a dozen deaths. Labor Day was established by the US Congress later that year to acknowledge the contribution of workers and to mandate a day of rest. Strong ties here to Sabbath - which was ordained by God, not simply as a day of rest, but as a day of justice. No one, not even God will work people to death. In order to “remove the worldly stain” perhaps we need to reclaim Sabbath living and justice work environments for all.

thoughts and questions

  • Excellent words for this time and season when too many are quick to speak and anger. Outrage is the fashion
  • Perhaps the emphytos logos is also the imageo dei - a gift from God but also part of the divine spark residing in all humanity
    • What can we do to listen to and nurture God’s implanted word with us and others? What does it mean to rid ourselves of the “rank growth of wickedness” - Can we move beyond the “deadly sins” and examine our own self-absorption, self-obsession and self-righteous outrage?

  • Again a connection to the imageo dei: to hear the Word and not to do the Word is to forget what you look like - to forget the image of God within you - to forget that the Word is within you waiting to come forth in abundant love, mercy and grace.

  • To be unstained by the World is not a call to complete asceticism, but rather to look at oneself and others as having the Word implanted inside them. So see the world in those eyes means we can no longer be blind or deaf to the “orphans and widows in their distress”. This may seem simple but gets very complicated when we hear the cried of Amazon employees striking for better pay, or iPhone factory conditions or the environmental and humanitarian costs of mass produced meat. Can we be pious while we eat our Hormel pork and set up our Amazon subscribe and save on our iPhones?

    • Labor Day in the USA was established in 1894 in response to years of strikes and protests of poor working conditions by workers and labor unions (child labor, 12 hour days, 7 day work weeks, oppression of company towns and paternalism). In 1894, these protest culminated in Chicago when the American Railroad Union workers went on strike against the Pullman Palace Car company to protest wage cuts and union busting. In response the US government dispatched troops to end the strike which ultimately led to riots and over a dozen deaths. Labor Day was established by the US Congress later that year to acknowledge the contribution of workers and to mandate a day of rest. Strong ties here to Sabbath - which was ordained by God, not simply as a day of rest, but as a day of justice. No one, not even God will work people to death. In order to “remove the worldly stain” perhaps we need to reclaim Sabbath living and justice work environments for all.


Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Initial Thoughts

  • Only place Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is in the lectionary.

  • I know you love Jesus but do you love Jesus?

  • An opportunity to reclaim the beauty of passionate love as a reflection of our intimate love with God

  • This is a sensual passage:

    • Smell- flowers in bloom

    • Taste of figs

    • Sound of the turtle doves

    • When was the last time you preached on sex?

Bible Study

  • Context- Love Poetry:

    • Allegorical

      • Lovers as entwined as the interconnectedness of creation (deer bounding through the hills, winter giving way to spring, the flowers growing in the earth, singing of the birds, fruiting of the trees)

      • Our relationship with God as inseparable, exciting, undefined, hope-filled as lovers

      • God’s special relationship with Israel, the church’s special relationship with Christ

    • Historical

      • Possibly between Solomon and a peasant bride (remember he had over 600 wives)

      • Multiple references to King as well as Solomon by name in 3:9,11

  • Joyful delight- like new love (not necessarily young love)

    • The joy that each lover takes in the other

    • Imagine God’s anticipatory joy like a lover for their counterpart

    • Frolicking, playful joy in the reading- how can we capture that in worship? How do we play as a church?

  • Preparation

    • The lover's prepare for one another as the earth prepares for rebirth in spring

    • We shed the clothes of winter as we prepare for spring

    • The lovers shed their inhibitions as they prepare for one another

    • What spiritual inhibitions are keeping us from loving God and neighbor more fully?

  • This is not about marriage, nor should this be used as a heterosexual text of exclusion

    • This is a story about love (yes in this instance heterosexual love- but that does not matter)

  • Sexuality is not naughty or evil, but it can be complicated

    • Mutuality in the relationship between the two lovers

    • Both speak of affection for the other in the song

    • Balance of power

      • very different from Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey

    • Counter to the objectified sexuality of modern culture

      • neither lover is objectified, but celebrated

Thoughts and Questions

  • Too often we dismiss, ignore or scandalize sexuality leading culture to set the boundaries of what is right sexual relationship and what is not. When was the last time you preached on sex?

  • What spiritual inhibitions are keeping us from loving God and neighbor more fully?

  • Frolicking, playful joy in the reading- how can we capture that in worship? How do we play as a church?

  • About having a deeper, more intimate relationship with God- which can be both exciting, enticing and unnerving

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.