Proper 21B (OT 26)

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Voice in the Widlerness: CASEY FITZGERALD

Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

FEATURED MUSICIAN -CHRISTOPHER GRUNDY

Psalmist: Richard Bruxvoort Colligan


Mark 9:38-50

Initial Thoughts

  • Picking up right where we left off last week.

  • Still in the context of the disciples arguing over who is greatest, and immediately after Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me isn't actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”

Bible Study

  • Recognizing allies

    • “Whoever isn’t against us is for us” is VERY different from “Whoever isn’t with us is against us.”

      • This is an inclusive attitude, opening up to new partnerships and relationships. The other attitude is closed off, protective, and fearful.

    • The Other Exorcist

      • Jesus has just finished talking about welcoming the least of these and the disciples response is to be exclusive

      • The root of the problem “ he wasn’t following us”

        • We are not called to be followed but to follow Jesus

        • The exorcist was acting in the name and spirit of Jesus- not the disciples

        • In what ways do we demand people follow us?

        • Is following Jesus and casting out evil in Jesus’ name enough? According to Jesus it was and is.

      • A word on demons - Demons can be spirits or malevolent beings, but they can also represent the embodiment of that which is not-God. What are the demons that plague us today?

    • “Who are “the exorcists” in you community that are casting out demons in the spirit (if not the name) of Jesus? Are you or is your church working with them or threatened by them? Why?

      • When churches are operating out of fear instead of mission, they tend to see everyone else as competitors instead of partners.

  • Creating stumbling blocks

    • CONTEXT - this comes while Jesus is still embracing a little child the “little one”

      • Better to drown or have a body part cut off than to go to hell - what is hell?

        • “Hell is simply to be oneself apart from God’s grace and in isolation from others. Hell is that self-chosen condition in which, in opposition to God’s agapic love and the call to a life of mutual friendship and service, individuals barricade themselves from others. It is the hellish weariness and boredom of a life focused entirely on itself. Hell is not an arbitrary divine punishment at the end of history. It is not the final retaliation of a vindictive deity. Hell is self-destructive resistance to the eternal love of God. It symbolizes the truth that the meaning and intention of life can be missed. Repentance is urgent. Our choices and actions are important. God ever seeks to lead us out of our hell of self-glorification and lovelessness, but neither in time nor in eternity is God’s love coercive.” (Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, p. 347. Emphasis added)

        • Jesus uses hell as a fear tactic- perhaps hyperbolic - to be inclusive of the least of these and those who wish to follow Jesus

      • “Confronting the dullness of human hearts, Christ in Mark 9 amps up the volume. A cascade of unsettling images (millstones, severed limbs, gouged-out eyes, devouring worms and fire) conspire to wake the listeners from the stupor of sin into the dawning glory of God’s Kingdom” (Abingdon Preaching Annual, 2018, p. 122)

        • “The preacher faces the task of not letting [these disturbing images] be a distraction from the main thrust of the injunctions, namely, a wholehearted commitment to the divine reign.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 530)

        • Remember what set off this tirade from Jesus - the disciples first arguing over who is greatest, then complaining about others taking the credit.

    • Discussion of the origin of sin is an important challenge to “purity culture,” that wants to limit women’s bodies and puts all impetus on protecting against sexual assault on women. Jesus does not say, “If you look on a woman lustily, make sure she is covered up. He places the blame on sin squarely where it belongs - the thoughts and actions of the sinner.

    • Saltiness - ask how we strengthen one another to “maintain salt” and be at peace instead of trying to be better than one another (v. 34) or exclude one another (vv.38-41)

      • Salt is a preservative - how does one preserve the community- by caring for the least of these and strengthening each other- even those outside the community

      • Salt is kept fresh by peace within the community.

      • “Everyone will salted with fire probably intends to warn about the persecution and trials that the followers of Jesus will face. In light of coming conflict, the disciples are urged not to lose their distinctiveness, not to succumb to pressures to adopt the standards and ethos of dominant social culture” (Charles Cousar)

Thoughts and Questions

  • Discussion of the origin of sin is an important challenge to “purity culture,” that wants to limit women’s bodies and puts all impetus on protecting against sexual assault on women. Jesus does not say, “If you look on a woman lustily, make sure she is covered up. He places the blame on sin squarely where it belongs - the thoughts and actions of the sinner.

  • Who are “the exorcists” in you community that are casting out demons in the spirit (if not the name) of Jesus? Are you or is your church working with them or threatened by them? Why?

    • When churches are operating out of fear instead of mission, they tend to see everyone else as competitors instead of partners.


James 5:13-20  

Initial Thoughts

  • Last week in James :(

    • 9/30 - James 5:13-20

  • What did we miss? A lot unfortunately

    • 4:10-12 When you insult or criticize another you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of the law - and there is only 1 judge of the law (Law of wholeness and love - see 1:23-27; 2:8)

    • 4:13 Everyday is a gift from God - do not wait for what you will do tomorrow - do it today

    • 4:14-5:6 Do not boast for what you have gained at the expense of others, all your riches will fade away and be nothing. What you take with you is the love you gave and the pain you caused

      • Beautiful turn of phrase in 5:4: “Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands.” What a cry for just wages

    • 5:7-12 Don’t be a hypocrite - don’t judge others, be patient, say what you mean/believe and do what you say

Bible Study

  • The end of James - concluding. Beware the myopic approach and look to see how James is summing up his primary points:

    • Take care how you speak

    • Care those the least of these

    • Be “perfect”/unfractured/whole in your faith, words and actions

    • Beware what you let into your life (favoritism, hypocrisy, judgement, despair, etc)

  • Directly connected to 5:7-12: While you wait for the Lord/Kingdom of God/eschatological culmination - be patient (v.7-8), don’t complain or judge others (v.9), remember others who were faithfully patient: prophets (v.10) and Job (v. 11), remain faithful and honest (v. 12).

  • v. 13-20: Focus on prayer, praise, anointing the sick, forgiveness

    • In your steadfast waiting and patience - remember your focus

    • How often, caught up in the moment do we forget our focus - prayer, praise, caring for those who are in need

  • Power of Prayer (Mark Douglas, Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2).

    • Prayer unique binds human and divine activity together

    • What we say should be said as if it is before God (the judge) because it is before God. If you are unwilling to say it in God’s presence- then don’t

      • How easy and tempting it is to say things both in and out of the church that we would never say in the presence of God (cf. James 5:9). A worthwhile spiritual practice - be attentive to your words and treat every spoken word as a prayer.

    • Prayer is the activity of the community of faith - not private - pastoral

      • If you have sinned - confess to one another (not in private)

      • If you are sick - call the elders to be anointed

      • If you are suffering pray together

      • If you are happy - sing together

      • A community that prays together stays together

  • Healing Power of prayer

    • A Balm in Gilead - “a therapy for the toxicities of the world” (Douglas)

    • Prayer is healing for the body and the soul

    • DANGER: while there are links between sinful actions and a decline in physical health, be very careful to conflate physical maladies with sinfulness. Despite the cause of the malady - prayer helps

    • Elders - the lay leaders of the church - those who have been called to teach and lead the church.

  • Forgiveness - NOT judgement

    • Instead of focusing on judging others for their sins- focus on how to serve and extend love to others

    • Confession, forgiveness, prayer, anointing - these are the tasks of the patient faithful, not judgment and condemnation

Thoughts and Questions

  • How often, caught up in the moment do we forget our focus - prayer, praise, caring for those who are in need?

  • How easy and tempting it is to say things both in and out of the church that we would never say in the presence of God (cf. James 5:9). A worthwhile spiritual practice - be attentive to your words and treat every spoken word as a prayer.

  • Oh how much we (conservative, liberal, democrat, republican, progressive, fundamentalist) LOVE to judge. We simply need to focus on what the other is doing wrong instead of asking how might we extend love, grace and forgiveness. What brings about true transformation? Prophetic condemnation or pastoral presence?


Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

Initial Thoughts

  • Casey Fitzgerald’s telling of Esther from Story Divine.

  • There’s not much “Bible Study” here, because I think the best study is to read, and get to know the entire story. The preacher this week may best be described as a storyteller. It might be good to allow the story to be, with little commentary. Of course, the way you tell the story can be its own commentary.

  • This is the events that are behind the festival of Purim.

    • The next Purim is March 23, 2016

    • Judaism 101 explains Purim

    • Also known as the Festival of Lots, probably an ironic name since Hamon was going to kill the Jewish people by casting lots.

    • Still celebrated for the salvation of the Jews, and also for the ongoing survival through many trials.

  • This highly edited version of the story is terribly inadequate. Without any context, this reading is little more than a graphic telling of blood-lust and revenge.

  • Effort should be made to lift up the person of Esther, who should be known as one of the great heroes of the Bible.

Bible Study

  • Only instance of Esther in the Lectionary. Wonderful story. Still, proceed with caution:

    • “The book offers some challenges to the preacher. In the Hebrew text of the book, God is never mentioned. Neither is prayer or worship. There is a lot of killing at the end of the book. And there’s the little matter of the way in which Esther becomes queen, a process which, despite the Veggie Tales rendition of the tale, shouldn’t be discussed in the presence of young children.” (Kathryn Schifferkdecker, Working Preacher)

  • The lectionary eliminates parts of the story “that illuminate the rather ruthless side of Esther, in particular, her desire to destroy Haman and his entire family. Eliminating these verses allows the focus to stay on Esther’s courage and willingness to take a risk to save her people… Perhaps it is simply the brutality of the story that has caused the creators of the lectionary to skip these verses. However, I read this story through my own eyes (those of a woman); and I must say, I think that there is a general hostility toward women who are thought to be ruthless. A man who is ruthless can be seen as powerful; but when a woman is ruthless, people are shocked. Ruthless women are not considered powerful. Other words are more likely to be employed to describe women like this. What is remarkable to me is that this book is not only included in the canon, but that the story of a named woman, who was both ruthless and powerful, has survived the test of time.” (Rev Dawn Chesser, UMGBOD)

Thoughts and Questions

  • Consider what Esther risked for the cause of saving the people, it is a wonder why she is not more well known. Esther risked her comfort, her status, and her very life. “How does reading the story of Esther challenge our conceptions of what women should be? Can a woman who is ruthless be seen as strong and powerful today? Can you think of examples of women who have shown extreme courage, but whose actions have been judged negatively by society? Do you think there is a double standard when it comes to how people in our culture view power? How might your congregation address these issues as a community of faith?” (Rev Dawn Chesser, UMGBOD)

  • God is never mentioned. For this reason, some have puzzled over Esther’s place in the canon. Even though God is never named, is there any doubt that God is involved? Though there may not be direct interaction, Mordecai talks of salvation coming from ‘another place.’ And Esther herself draws from great well of courage and determination. How often in life do we fail to attribute things to God because we don’t see the direct quotes or the burning bush? Is it possible for God to be moving in the world in ways that are less explicit, but no less divine?

    • “The preacher might also speak about discerning God’s will and action in the everyday realities of life. We may wish for God’s direct intervention, for a burning bush or an obvious miracle, but most days we (like Esther) don’t get such things. Indeed, most of the time, as a friend of mine says, God is subtle to a fault. And yet, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, we may be able to discern where God is acting in our lives.” (Schifferdecker)

  • Purim is often celebrated with humor. In synagogues, the story of Esther is read, with people booing and hissing the name of Haman and cheering the name of Mordecai. There is a long tradition of spiel songs that retell the story in humorous ways. How does humor play a role in tragedy? This is a story about attempted genocide. What is the power of parody? What is the power in laughing at the enemy?

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.