26 June 2012

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8 - 1 July 2012

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Lamentations 3:21-33
II Corinthians 8:7-15
St. Mark 5:21-43

Background: Anointing of the Sick
Each Sunday at Saint Mark’s Church in Berkeley, and at Trinity Church in San Francisco, people gather at a prayer desk on the side of the congregation to receive prayer for healing, anointing with oil, and the laying on of hands for healing.  Where did the practice come from?  The biblical warrant for this practice comes from James 5:14-15,

Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.

The 1549 Version of the Book of Common Prayer included an order for the anointing of the sick.  In 1552, that order was eliminated from the BCP.  Most 20th century versions of the BCP now include such an order, as does the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (p. 453 – Ministration to the Sick).  At the Chrism Mass on the Tuesday of Holy Week, the bishop blesses oils that are to be used to anoint the sick.  These anointings can take place in the service, or at the bedside as well.  At Saint Mark’s we owe a great deal of thanks to Fr. Scott Sinclair, and Fr. Joe Pummill who are available at the healing station Sunday after Sunday.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

In this book of Wisdom, a common-sense commentary on life, known to most of the cultures of the ancient near east, the author wants to discuss death.  Our question must be, however, what kind of death.  Is the author speaking of the cessation of bodily life, or of something else?  Verse 16 of the same chapter can give us some clues:

“It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it, because they deserve to be allied with it.”

This verse seems to indicate that the author is speaking of spiritual death – a separation from God.  With this in mind, he then goes on to comment on the theme that there can be no such death for the righteous, for it is God’s will that we not experience such.  The communion with God that lasts an eternity is the “envy” of the Evil One who so much wants us to be in thrall with death.  A note:  The “Hades” of the text attempts to describe the Hebrew notion of “Sheol” the place of the dead.  It was neither hell nor purgatory, but simply a place of the shades.  It is clear that the book was originally Greek, probably written in Alexandria, Egypt, in the first half of the first century BCE.  It is the last of the Hebrew Scriptures to be written.  Its purpose was to connect the Alexandrian Jews to the faith of their forebears, hence its commentary on the “wicked”, read pagans.

Breaking open Wisdom:
  1. What do you understand by the term “spiritual death”.
  2. What are your personal beliefs about hell?
  3. Do you fear death?  What aspects of death?
The Response - Lamentations 3:21-33

This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for one to bear
the yoke in youth,
to sit alone in silence
when the Lord has imposed it,
to put one's mouth to the dust
(there may yet be hope),
to give one's cheek to the smiter,
and be filled with insults.
For the Lord will not
reject forever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.

The book of Lamentations is a lament, a dirge, over the fate of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 597.  The loss of kingship, worship in the temple, and in 587 the demolition of the temple itself form the background to the authors tears and thoughts.  The third chapter contains a poem, a psalm that allows for the possibility of hope.  As the author sees it, the present situation is a time for waiting and patience, of searching for God, and of acceptance of defeat and suffering.  The hope that beckons him is in the reality that God has allowed this great suffering for a purpose, and that even with their mouths “to the dust” in total defeat, “there may yet be hope.”  And later, “For the Lord will not reject forever.”  It is an adventide for Israel – a waiting upon the Lord’s good pleasure.

Breaking open Lamentations
  1. Have you ever lost a significant community in your life?  Which community?
  2. Do you still grieve its loss?
  3. How did God figure into this loss?
2 Corinthians 8:7-15

As you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you-- so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something-- now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-- not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

"The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little."

Paul wishes to speak to the Corinthians about Christian charity.  There was a reason for such an address, namely the collection of monies and resources for the Jerusalem Church.  And Paul offers a bit of a challenge, lifting up the example of the Macedonian churches that were meeting the test.  But it is more than a human community that Paul uses as an example.  He points to the Lord Jesus, himself, in the passage, “for your sakes he became poor.”  In his sermon to the people of St. Mark’s Church on The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Bishop Marc Handley Andrus unraveled the themes of increase and decrease, or rather one becoming less so that another might become more.  So it is with the example of Jesus who gave up so that we might be saved.  Now it is Paul who wants the Corinthians to give up of their abundance so that others might have some.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. What kind of abundance do you have?  Of what?
  2. How do you share your abundance?
  3. How does your sharing figure into your life in Christ?

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." He went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

These are the last of the miracles that follow Jesus’ teaching in parables.  Jesus is attempting to get away from the crowds, to be in the wilderness for some kind of spiritual refreshment.  This pericope contains two separate types of healing, one which comes as a supplication from a grieving parent, asking Jesus for help, and the other from a woman of great faith, who does not ask, but touches the limit of Jesus’ presence, the hem of his garment.  There is a level of excitement in the reading.  First we are introduced to Jairus and the urgent situation of his daughter.  Jesus is moved and begins to follow him, but that action is interrupted by the temerity of the woman who has her own difficulties.  She represents the “least of these.”  She is a woman, she is old and ill, and she is suffering a hemorrhage – all ritual purity issues for the Jews.  Her courage is doubled, and she receives the reward from Jesus.

Meanwhile, back at Jairus, we quickly understand that all is lost.  The daughter has died.  Here the healing story poses Jesus in much the same way as the Creator is posed in Genesis.  Death must be overcome – and it will be overcome with a word.  Thus the world came into being, and thus this young girl is given life again.  Youth and old age both must bow at the shadow of death  - but here it is Jesus who banishes it.

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. Are you insistent in prayer?
  2. Have you ever done anything risky in your prayer life?
  3. Do you know how to ask for yourself?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

21 June 2012

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7 - 24 June 2012

Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
II Corinthians 6:1-13
St. Mark 4:35-41

Background:  Creation – Word and Chaos
In the readings from Job and from the Gospel of Mark, we have echoes of one of the creation stories in Genesis.  It is one model that is used in describing the work of creation, but it is not the only one.  The influences on the creation stories flow directly from the Canaanite culture that surrounded Israel, and somewhat more indirectly from the Mesopotamian culture that was the background to the great patriarchal epics.  Both of the models are indebted to these cultural streams.  One is the “Word” model, in which God speaks, and something is accomplished.  The other is a “Crisis” or “Chaos” model in which God as creator overcomes forces of disorder.  Some commentators speak of the Word model, as being “dry” and of the Chaos model as being “wet”.  The chaos is wet in that the forces of disarray that are conquered in creation are seen in the unruly sea, and the monsters (the Leviathan) that live there.  The reading from Job refers to the chaos model when YHWH says to Job, “Or who shut in the sea with doors?”  Likewise, in the Gospel, we have a reflection of the creation story when Jesus controls the chaos of wind and wave.  Such are the rich cultural backgrounds to our sacred texts.

Job 38:1-11
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:

"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 
Gird up your loins like a man, 
I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? 
Tell me, if you have understanding. 
Who determined its measurements-- surely you know! 
Or who stretched the line upon it? 
On what were its bases sunk, 
or who laid its cornerstone 
when the morning stars sang together 
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? 
"Or who shut in the sea with doors 
when it burst out from the womb? -- 
When I made the clouds its garment, 
and thick darkness its swaddling band, 
and prescribed bounds for it, 
and set bars and doors, 
and said, `Thus far shall you come, and no farther, 
and here shall your proud waves be stopped'? 

In the conversations that Job is having with his erstwhile friends about his difficulties and his sorrow, God intervenes to put Job gently back into his place.  This reminder comes in a theophany, a divine appearance from the midst of a whirlwind (again God rules over the chaos), and the divine name, YHWH, is used.  God wants Job to see that it is God that is control of nature, and does so in a series of questions to Job: “Who?” “What?” “How?”.  The common answer is “I”, God the creator.  The purpose of this reading is not to lead the worshipper in the liturgy to the intricate conversations of Job, but rather to see God, in the Book of Job, as the cause of creation.  Thus, Jesus is lifted up in the Gospel in a similar manner.

Breaking open Job:
  1. How does creation help you believe?
  2. How do you see God in creation?
  3. How does this reading apply to a world in which we control so much of creation?

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 Confitemini Domino

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.

Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

He gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some went down to the sea in ships *
and plied their trade in deep waters;

They beheld the works of the LORD *
and his wonders in the deep.

Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose, *
which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; *
their hearts melted because of their peril.

They reeled and staggered like drunkards *
and were at their wits' end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper *
and quieted the waves of the sea.

Then were they glad because of the calm, *
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them exalt him in the congregation of the people *
and praise him in the council of the elders.

This is a collective thanksgiving psalm, which becomes clear to us as we see all the levels of gratefulness that the author unfolds for us in the psalm.  In verse two we need to understand the use of the term “redeemed” there.  This is used here not in its religious sense but rather in its political sense.  The “redeemed ones” are hostages that have been released from some sort of political captivity.  The following verse offers a possible context.  Gathered from “out of the lands” might be a reference to the Babylonian Exile.  It might be, however, that this is an older text, and the reference may have been the return from Egypt.

Into the psalm, which celebrates the return of the exile, we have the inclusion of material that may have originally been from another, unrelated source.  Ancient manuscripts note verses 23-30 with a mark that sets them apart.  This section on the seafarer may serve as a commentary on God’s saving help at the time of death, the sea often serving as an image of death in the Hebrew Scriptures.  For our purposes, this morning, these verses have been chosen to amplify the Gospel reading, with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. 

Breaking open the Psalm 107
  1. Have you ever been exiled in your life?
  2. Have you ever been returned from exile into life?
  3. What thanksgivings do you have about your life?

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
As we work together with Christ, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

"At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you."

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return-- I speak as to children-- open wide your hearts also.

What we have here is an invitation for mutual love and respect – Paul for the Corinthians, and the Corinthians for Paul.  The opening line, with its sub note of cooperation (which is more than cooperation between two entities – Paul and the Corinthians, but rather cooperation with God) also notes through a quotation from Isaiah 49:8, that this work with God is done in a time of God’s good favor – the “acceptable time.”  Paul follows with the usual lists of virtues, and contrasting qualities.  It is as if Paul is opening himself up to the people of Corinth so that they might see his motivation and his intent in ministering to them.  One note, the right hand was used for weapons of offense, while the left hand for weapons of defense.  The type of weapon, righteousness, is called for in both situations, as a response to the enemies of the faith, and as a defense against them as well.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. How does God work with you in your life?
  2. How can righteousness be a weapon?
  3. How does Paul display himself as a father in this reading?

Mark 4:35-41
When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

Following the parables of the seed and the mustard seed, Mark gives us three miracles: the stilling of the storm, the Gerasene demoniac, and Jairus’ daughter.  This morning’s reading is the first in this series.  The pericope, however, stands by itself, originally a remembrance of Peter that is morphed into a creedal statement, and an image of the Church (the boat).  Some scholars see the original story as consisting of four points of belief: a) A great windstorm arose (threat), b) And Jesus was in the stern asleep (further threat), c) Jesus awakens and rebukes the wind (salvation and revelation of true character), and d) The disciples are filled with awe (faith).  What is the purpose of the story?  Perhaps it is to give a lesson about how to follow Jesus in times of stress and difficulty.  The question posed by the disciples, “Who then is this…?” needs no answer, for the reader supplies the answer of faith and trust in the claims about Jesus as the Christ.

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. What are the stresses of your life?
  2. What role does faith play in your dealing with such stress?
  3. How do you pray in these times?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.