On Tuesday morning the pastors of Lutheran Saints in Ministry gather in Fairborn Ohio to discuss the texts for Sunday.

These are the contributions that are brought to the table.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Texts for the Festival of All Saints 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
  a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
  of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7And he will destroy on this mountain
  the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
  the sheet that is spread over all nations;
  8he will swallow up death forever.
 Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
  and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
  for the Lord has spoken.
9It will be said on that day,
  Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
  This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
  let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The Word of the Lord

Psalm: Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD'S and all that is in it, *
    the world and all who dwell therein.

2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
    and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

3 "Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? *
    and who can stand in his holy place?"

4 "Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
    who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
    nor sworn by what is a fraud.

5 They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
    and a just reward from the God of their salvation."

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
    of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
    and the King of glory shall come in.

8 ”Who is this King of glory?" *
    "The LORD, strong and mighty,
    the LORD, mighty in battle."

9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
    and the King of glory shall come in.

10 "Who is he, this King of glory?" *
    "The LORD of hosts,
    he is the King of glory."

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6a

1I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 
 “See, the home of God is among mortals.
 He will dwell with them;
 they will be his peoples,
 and God himself will be with them;
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
 Death will be no more;
 mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
 for the first things have passed away.”
5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6aThen he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The Word of the Lord

Gospel: John 11:32-44

32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The Greek Text of John 11: 32-46

Greek Study John 11:32-46

v32 ουν "-" - therefore. Inferential, or better transitional and so left untranslated, as NIV.
ως "when" - Introducing a temporal clause.
οπου "where" - Locative use of the conjunction.
ιδουσα (οϑραω) aor. part. "and saw" - seeing. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verbηλθεν, "came ... and saw."
λεγουσα (λεγω) pres. part. "and said" - saying [to him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "fell", "fell at his feet and said", or adverbial, modal, "fell at his feet saying."

v33 ενεβριμησατο (εμβριμαομαι) aor. mid. "he was deeply moved" - with indignation. This word is often used to express deep feelings of anger, although translators usually soften it to "groan", "sigh", sometimes joining the word with "troubled" to produce "terribly upset" or "profoundly moved".
τω πνευματι (α ατος) dat. "in spirit" - the seat of our emotions, so for us, "heart" would be the word;" his heart was εταραξεν (ταρασσω) aor. "troubled" - disturbed so literally "he troubled himself"; "he shook/shuddered" as if in rage or apoplexy.
v34 τεθεικατε (τιθημι) perf. "have you laid" – i.e. buried him.

v35 εδακρυσεν (δακρυω) "wept" - a hapax legomenon; i.e. a one off use,  Mary "wails" as a mourner would, but Jesus is “weeps” i.e. sheds a tear.

v36 ιδε "behold/pay attention” begins an imperatival clause. Throughotu this entire sdtory Jesus comes across as a bit bossy.

v37 ο ανοιξας (ανοιγω) aor. part. "he who opened" - participle serves as a substantive, introducing a construction standing in apposition to ουτος, "this/this man" some suggest this is a sincere comment made by those who have interpreted Jesus' tears as a sign of frustration. 
ποιησαι (ποιεω) aor. inf. "have kept" – literally “to do”- infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "was [not] able" do (something).

v38 εμβριμωμενος εν εϑαυτω/ "deeply moved" angry within himself. Note how "in himself" replaces "in the spirit" of v33.
σπηλαιον (ον) "a cave" - den, hideout; the common shape of a grave at this time was a vertical shaft, it is unclear whether John intends this word to describe such a hole or an actual “cave”.  In Bethany the “tomb of Lazarus” is a combination of both, a near vertical shaft with step declined steps leading to a “cave” at the bottom, akin to a well.
λιθος (ος) "stone" - to keep animals away from the corpse, so likely a cave (or a gloss).
v39 αρατε (αιρω) aor. imp. "take away [the stone]" –aorist implies immediacy, do it now.
του τετελευτηκοτος (τελευταω) gen. perf. part. "[the sister] of the dead man" genitive is relational.
τεταρταιος adj. "four days" – underlying the Jewish folk belief that after 3 days the spirit and the body separate (he’s not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead!”.
οζει (οζω) "there is a bad odor" - Jews did not mummify the dead (lucky thing for Lazarus) The usual anointing of a body does not cover the smell of decomposition. This observation underlines the fact that Lazarus was dead indeed.

v40 ουκ"[did I] not" - negation expects an answer in the positive, begins a rhetorical question.
του θεου (ος) gen. "[the glory] of God" - genitive classified as ablative, expressing source, "the glory radiating from God".  John does not repeat the previous promise made to those who believe, v25-26, but restates the gist of it. "You will see how powerful God is". The power to overcomes death, even if for a season, rests solely with God.

v41 ηρεν τους οφθαλμους ανω "[Jesus] looked up" - lifted the eyes up; a common attitude in prayer, 17:1.
ευχαριστω (ευχαριστω) pres. "I thank" - continuous action of thanking, central to prayer- the request itself is not recorded.
ηκουσας (ακουω) aor. "you have heard" - aorist indicates we may be dealing with a particular prayer, past or present, that was unrecorded. The prayer would be for the raising of Lazarus. It is also possible we are dealing with a proleptic aorist where the prayer is future, but the outcome is preset5n and assured. Is the prayer, "Lazarus, come out"? Such language is typical of Jesus healings, so, Jesus gives thanks prior to his act so that "they may believe that you sent me."

v42 ηδειν (οιδα) pluperf. "knew" - Jesus was aware God would act on his call for Lazarus to rise.
δια + acc. "[I said this] for the benefit of [the crowd / people]" - causal.
ινα + subj. "that [they may believe]" - a final (purpose) clause. Jesus gave thanks for the miracle before it is performed "so that " the people might "believe". Again note, the content of belief is defined.
οτι "that [you sent me]" - a dependent statement of perception expressing the content of the belief.

v43 ειπων (λεγω) aor. part. "when he had said [this]" - The participle is adverbial, best taken as temporal, as NIV.
εκραυγασεν (κραυγαζω) "called" - shouted, cried out loudly, serving to express a forceful command by Jesus.
φωνη (η) dat. "in a [loud] voice" - dative of manner. 
δευρο εξω "come out" - a literal translation of this interjection and adverb works quite well, "Here! Outside! Now!"
v44 ο τεθνηκως (θνησκω) perf. part. "the dead man" - the perfect tense serving to underline a past circumstance with ongoing consequences, Lazarus died, is dead but now walks!  (How about “The Walking Dead” for a sermon title? No?  Chicken!)
δεδεμενος (δεω) perf. part. "wrapped" - having been bound. The participle forms a construction that stands in apposition to "the one having died"; “the one having had bound feet…came out." "Bound" reflects the common meaning of the verb, but the so called "with strips of linen" is actually κειριαις, "with sheets". It is obvious we carry the image of Boris Karloff doing his thing in the Mummy but this is not the image John gives, "covered" or "draped over" might work better, as in the “Shroud of Turin”. There is also reference to the typical cloth covering the face; περιεδεδετο, meaning "wrapped around" the head, these details point to Jewish funerary customs unique to Jerusalem and the surrounding area from the 1st century BC through the first century AD, not before and not after! We know of these customs through archeology, Qumran and Rabbinic sources.

v45 οι ελθοντες (ερχομαι) aor. part. "who had come" participle servers to form a substantival participial construction standing in apposition to "Jews", "many of the Jews, those who had come to Mary, when they…” 
θεασαμενοι (θεαομαι) aor. part. "[and] had seen" – beheld, were gobsmacked.
α προ. neut. pl. "the thing which” idiom, “observed what Jesus did" not quite as dramatic.
πιστισ εισ believed in him” – so the content of faith is Jesus, not his miracle
v46 δε "but" - probably adversative, - there is always a “but” in faith. 

εξ (εκ) + gen. "[some] of [them]" meaning, "some of the people". Maybe other Jews, not those were with Martha and Mary, but more likely the "many" who were not there but only heard about it second hand and went to the Pharisees/Jewish authorities to report the incident."  

Everyone a saint

We think we know a lot, but what we know is very little. Even all those who have striven all their life to bring progress to mankind — learned scientists and highly educated people — all realize in the end that all their knowledge is but a grain of sand on the seashore. All our achievements are insufficient. — Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
Our texts for this All Saints celebration are truly texts more suited for an All Souls celebration. That probably does not bother normal protestant sensibilities. One probably ought not be troubled that it not bother many but it is also not out of place to point out the difference between Saint and saint. 
We read from John 11 this week. The raising of Lazarus. In itself, the actual resuscitation of the man is very unremarkable in the details of the telling. “Come out” and out he comes, dressed like a mummy. (All Hollows Eve is close, people. Go as Lazarus this year.) 
Maybe the important sentence in this reading is:  “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” That sentence ought to go straight to all our souls and hearts. “Believe and you will see the glory of God.” Will you believe Martha? Did you believe? Is this the Glory that you seek? 
The air of Mary and Martha’s complaint hangs in the air: “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” (11:21, also 11:32 and 11:37) This is the complaint heard at hospital beds every day in one form or another: “This is not OK! He should not have died.” In modern days, the complaint is pointed less often at God as it is pointed at the medical profession. Malpractice lawyers thrive because of it — and because of all those “come to us we’ll sue them for you” commercials on the television. 
It would seem that a common attitude of the age is that death ought not have a place in our time and place, unless . . . Well, unless suffering is relieved or unless death follows the rules and those rules proscribe the death of children before parents and the death of anyone even of advanced age whom we love who is not suffering greatly. Then we might make an exception. For what it is worth, people whom we do not love or whom we outright hate can die in hole anytime they like; no problem with us.
Missing from the equation is a robust spirituality that includes death as one of its factors. We are mortal beings that love mortal people and a world has been submitted to decay and is crying out for redemption. (Rom 8:20; 22)
Henry Nouwen writes:
We are not made to love immortal things.  Only what is irreplaceable, unique, and mortal can touch our deepest human sensitivities and be a source of hope and consolation.  God only became lovable when he became mortal.  He became our savior because his mortality was not fatal but the way to hope. (Nouwen “Turn My Mourning” into Dancing, 2001, 107)  
I struggle with this as it suggests that we love things precisely because we know we will lose them at some point in the future. We love people because they are irreplaceable, knowing that the time will come when we will be without them. I have come to believe that Nouwen really speaks more about love than death here. I believe what he is touching here is the irresistible nature of love.  Love will win every battle in the end.  
This can be seen in precisely the human capacity to participate in love.  Death is inevitable and at most levels of our conscience we know this, as much as we keep its reality and presence at arms length. Perhaps it is because we know mortality so well that we engage in death’s denial so extensively. Yet, we dare to love anyway. Love is the great: “in-spite-of.” The more we love the more we are at risk to mourn. He who loves all things will mourn the decay of the rock into sand for surely he loved the rock. (Theophane, “Tales of the Magic monastery”)
It is also the great teacher. In the absence of love there is no loss; we do not mourn the loss of a thing we never cared for after all. Yet, it is losses that are the great missionaries to us that teach us to live. Not to love is not to learn and therefore not to live. The deaths of those we love the most and who love us the most are indeed the greatest treasures for those who dare to look. The treasure we find invariably is that in loving the other, we have participated in the very heart of God, for “God is Love.” (I John 4:7-8)
More than that, in the death of generations past we find our own call and vocation to become the “elders.” At some point we all have to come to realize that if there is such a thing as wisdom or a sense of responsibility then it is up to us as those who no longer have others to look to for such to be the repository these things. Death sometimes is the voice that says: “Tag! You are it.” 
All Souls’ Day is a reluctant festival. It is a solemn commemoration  added the day after All Saints Day. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, set November 2 as the day that Cistercian Monasteries would pray for the souls of all the brothers that had died through the year. The date caught on in all monastic orders and eventually in the church in general. The proximity to All Saints Day was probably not an accident. The latter had been celebrated since the 4th century though not on November 1st. That date only came about in about the 8th century and was set down as a uniform day of obligation for the church in western Europe in the 9th century. 
Originally, on All Saints Day relics of martyrs were taken out of their vaults in memory of the martyrs’ self sacrifice and witness to Christ in suffering. In a strange way, All Saints is a celebration of visions of Christ made manifest in the life of otherwise ordinary people who, in their dying and, in later centuries, also in their living — a number of Saints died a natural death — here on earth. To call someone a Saint is somehow to say that in looking at something in their life a window into heaven is opened and we see the Glory of Heaven (Jn 11:40) for just an instant in this life through them, though that glimpse is always brief. 
As children of the Reformation, we still admire the Saints. However, we lack any mechanism that would officially declare anyone a Saint and, even more importantly, we considered those whom the God Lord has claimed in Baptism as cleansed of guilt and sin and therefore holy to the Lord. (Zech 14:20) To be holy is to be a saint (note small “s”).

A “Saint,” says the dictionary, is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, or likeness to God. It is left to the lot of us to recognize those around us who fit that definition. A “saint” is a baptized child of God. The “Saints” leave no holes in our souls where once lived our love for them. The “saints,” however, do leave those holes. But both ought by life, death, mourning and consolation example and warning point us to the true place where life and immortality come to light: The Love of God in Christ Jesus (Rm 8:39) and Saint and saint both strive to live the nature of God: Love, through which is seen the Glory of God. (I Jn 4, Jn 11:40)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Everyone a Sinner

Our mission is to clothe the hungry and feed the naked. — From “Funny Church Signs”

The story of one of my favorite bible characters, Bartimaeus (Mk 10:46-52), is being skipped for Reformation Sunday this year. That is sad indeed. Somehow, for no particular reason, in my minds eye, Bartimaeus sits on some sort of bridge when Jesus and Co. approach. Then the whole situation plays itself out: He calls for Jesus, he is told to shut up, Jesus calls him over, he leaves his coat behind and comes to Jesus, he is asked point blank: “What is it you seek,” he responds: “I want to see, Jesus grants that prayer, saying: “Go; your faith has made you well,” and he follows the throng of disciples and hangers on.
It is reported that people who have their sight restored by modern medicine after a life of being blind have a rough time at first. Their brains have no idea how to deal with the input that is now flooding it via the optic nerve. They have no concept of distance. They have no way of correlating the visual clues of texture on an object with their tactile experience. They have anxiety attacks similar to agoraphobia when taking in the vastness of the open sky. Distance and space are strange to them. I would suspect they might even wonder why the wind that they have felt all their life has no direct visible manifestation but can only be discerned by the effects of its passing. 
It makes us admire infants who have to likewise program their little heads to do the same thing. We are made to do it by our nature and we all got it done fairly well. But, maybe this phenomenon, learning to see, learning to make sense of all the things your eye send into your brain, is why infants often seem to stare at the world with an expression of utter amazement and fascination. 
What might it be like, I ask myself, to have your eyes opened for the first time and the first signal into your head is the face of Jesus? That is Bartimaeus’ story after all. 
Connected to that, the story of all the disciples and all the authorities and bystanders in both, the 8-10th chapters of Mark and many places in John (cf. ch9) is one of blindness to Jesus’ nature and mission. When and how are their eyes opened? Bartimaeus knows as much about Jesus as does St. Peter. He calls him by the proper title: “Son of David,” just as Peter called him Son of the most high. When Peter does it, he is commended by Jesus, when Bartimaeus does it he is rebuked by the crowd. After Peter is commended he tries to instruct Jesus and he is rebuked, after Bartimaeus is rebuked he is shown mercy and is given eyes to see Jesus. 
Blindness as a symbol to being oblivious to the reality of Jesus Christ and the Gospel are all around. Luther, as he commented on John 8:31-36, our texts for Reformation Sunday, noted that the Gospel is always popular. People hear it and immediately imagine themselves as bishops and popes of it. (He wrote this commentary at the tail end of the peasant revolt) They hear it and imagine themselves as lords, as people owed a fortune. They imagine it as the call to battle and glory. They are as yet blind. Having heard the word they have yet to ask: “Please, let me see.”
Without that prayer fascination with the work of Jesus ends the moment that following him is actually asked of us. Everyone is happy to impose the Law of God on their neighbor but having ones eyes opened to the truth of Jesus Christ demands that we first of all bow to the law ourselves for the sake of the neighbor. (Freedom of the Christian part 3) 
Having our spiritual eyes opened reveals a landscape that our brains have to slowly make sense of. Luther, again commenting on John 8, would say: “Christ makes everyone a sinner.” What stark words. To be a Lutheran is to walk around with that truth about ourselves. Not an easy sight and not an easy thing to have our spirit get used to. It is equally true, Luther continues, that, having declared and exposed us all as sinners before a mighty God who in olden times has shown that sin goes not unpunished, Christ also gives us life by bearing that very punishment on our behalf. We have a place in the kingdom of God in spite of ourselves by invitation of the Son of God and that invitation is written in his blood at Calvary. He, the Son, set us free and we are free indeed and part of the household from now on. (Jn 8:35-36)
When Luther said: “We are all beggars,” maybe we need to understand that all things belong to the house we live in but not to us, including ourselves. We are rich because God is rich, not because we are. We are priests and bishops and popes because we can dare ask the head of the house, who has made us his and gave us a place there, to have mercy on the world for the sake of the one who set us free is the great high priest who has made the sacrifice that assures that mercy. (Heb 4 & 8) 

I wonder if blind people get scared crossing bridges. They cannot see the hight or the terror below after all. I see Bartimaeus on a bridge for some reason as I meditate on Mark 10. It seems fitting somehow. He meets Jesus at the very moment that Jesus and his disciples cross from the comforts of seeing healing and demons put to flight to the stark reality of what the Gospel requires of Christ. Past Jericho and Bethany there is testing, tribulation, trial, and cross. Who wants that? Sinners whose eyes are opened, that’s who. For without there is only sin and an angry God. With them in sight we are all babes in a state of amazement and fascination.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Texts for Sunday, October 18th, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-12

4Surely he has borne our infirmities
  and carried our diseases;
 yet we accounted him stricken,
  struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions,
  crushed for our iniquities;
 upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
  and by his bruises we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
  we have all turned to our own way,
 and the Lord has laid on him
  the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
  yet he did not open his mouth;
 like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
  and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
  so he did not open his mouth.
8By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
  Who could have imagined his future?
 For he was cut off from the land of the living,
  stricken for the transgression of my people.
9They made his grave with the wicked
  and his tomb with the rich,
 although he had done no violence,
  and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
 When you make his life an offering for sin,
  he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
 through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
  11Out of his anguish he shall see light;
 he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
  The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
  and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
  and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
 because he poured out himself to death,
  and was numbered with the transgressors;
 yet he bore the sin of many,
  and made intercession for the transgressors.

The Word of the Lord 

Psalm: Psalm 91:9-16

9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, 
    and the Most High your habitation,

10 There shall no evil happen to you, 
    neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

11 For he shall give his angels charge over you, 
    to keep you in all your ways.

12 They shall bear you in their hands, 
    lest you dash your foot against a stone.

13 You shall tread upon the lion and the adder; 
    you shall trample the young lion and the serpent
     under your feet.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; 
    I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
    I am with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

16 With long life will I satisfy him, 
    and show him my salvation.

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

1Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, 
 “You are my Son,
  today I have begotten you”;
6as he says also in another place, 
 “You are a priest forever,
  according to the order of Melchizedek.”
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The Word of the Lord 

Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Who is in charge around here?

In the German house in which I grew up there was a table tradition: Everyone waited to eat until the elder at table, grandfather or father, sat down and said: “Mahlzeit,” which translates roughly into “mealtime.” No one at table drank from their glasses until, again, the elder raised his glass and said: “Prost” which is the German word for “cheers.” When Prost was proclaimed, everyone picked up their glasses and toasted with everyone else reachable — kind of like saying the Peace — and then took a sip. After that, one could drink at will, but one did wait for the elder to toast the meal. 
A strange habit that played itself out in all the houses in northern Germany when I grew up there. I gather that it was a remnant of a time when all drink was poured by the elder at table. That only happened on rare occasions in my house and then only when wine was served. My father would sample and then pour for all and then “Prost” would be said immediately after. 
Cultural anthropology would observe that this habit played itself out in the time of Jesus in similar manner and for the same reason. There was a ritual that went with food and drink and that ritual was to set a place for everyone and everyone to their place. The elder at the table placed you where you belonged and there you would stay, even if that place was at the “Katzentisch,” literally: “Cats’ table.” In practice anyone who did not sit at the main table sat there which in my family meant the kids. 
Jesus observes how sitting at table goes awry when one attempts to pick ones own place. (Lk 14:7-11) It was always up to the elder to commence the meal and give you the cup at the place where you where you belonged.
This “cup” business is not trivial. When James and John ask for special consideration they assume that it is for him to decide who goes where in the Jesus movement, meaning that he answers to no one and is not in submission to anyone. They also assume that there will be places of honor to be gotten and that honor is in the offering in those places. 
We must also remember that “cup” shows up again in the Gospel. In Gethsemane to be exact: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mk 14:36) I know, your heart is saying: “But it also shows up in Last Supper.” Yes, it does (Mk 14:23) and the two uses are probably not disconnected. As at the traditional European dinner table, the cup lifted up to say: Prosit, was a sign who was the head of the table. The cup placed before each at table was an acknowledgement that you belonged and your cup was placed in a particular spot that marked your place at that table. The “Cup” was also figurative language for your place in life. When Jesus prays in Gethsemane he laments the place to which the Father has set him. 
James and John’s response: “We can drink the cup,” makes little sense because they ultimately seem to claim that they fill Jesus’ place in God’s plan and Kingdom. I trust that you understand that that claim has a few problems and that the whole conversation reeks of misunderstanding what and who Jesus is all about. Yet, he promises that they will drink from his cup and they certainly will: James is one of the early martyrs. Yet, their place at table, or in life, or both, is the Father’s business. 
If Jesus’ “powers”  — and perhaps that is what the request to be left and right of him is all about —  exhibited over sickness and demon alike is merely prophetic and can be handed on like Elijah’s mantle (2K2:9), then it makes sense to ask for them. But if Jesus is the Son of God (Mk 1:1) then his three passion predictions are surely true and the healing is the very power of the Almighty and does not fit into a mantle. 
Further, that power is used only to show God’s love for the individual encountered by the Son of God and that Son admonishes all whom he heals to keep their mouth shut about it. He does not wish to be known for his healing and exorcisms. He wishes to be known for proclaiming the kingdom and brining it in by his death and resurrection. (Mk 1:38; Mk 10:32-34) 
His admonition to the disciples bears this out even further. Those who want to be at his left and right do not sit in places of power. If one agrees to “drink from his cup,” then a life of self giving, maybe even self abandoning will follow. Our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 53, the pattern of Jesus’ life, becomes the pattern of the life of those who drink from Jesus’ cup.
I know, this is not the connection between the various uses of “cup” you were hoping for. But the place in this world prepared for the Messiah is sketched out by Isaiah 53. When we lift the cup in the Divine Service we receive it back from the table of the Holy Trinity from the Son and with the Christ within it. We share his cup, we share his life, we will share his suffering. St Francis of Assisi recognized this and in prayer asked: “Lord, two things I ask of you: That in my heart I might know the joy of the resurrection and in my body I might complete the sufferings of my Lord Jesus Christ.” (quoted from memory, real text may vary) A gutsy prayer that I advise you consider carefully before you dare pray it. But, do we not baptize people into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ? If so, have we and do we accept that the Christian life is of two parts: Rejoicing in the resurrection but humbly taking the cup of humility and suffering for Jesus’ and the Kingdom’s sake? 
This is not about being sick or having trouble in life. Those things come to all. To be baptized means to be sat down in life with Christ and from that time on to be marked as a target of the assaults of all that opposes the coming Kingdom of God. To drink of the eucharist is to be recommitted to that place, strengthened to stand the assaults by the strength of the one who comes to us in his Holy Supper. 

What then say we about this text? Maybe simply this: None of us ought to think too much about being in charge. A neighbor is not someone or something to be in charge of. Instead, they are to be met with the attitude that we will serve them. The Father has set down a place for all of us in this world. We do well to find out what that place is for each of us. As we do, Jesus admonition needs to ring in our ears: “To be the servant of all.”  It is far better a question to ask: “How can I be of help here,” than to ask: “Who is in charge here and why don’t they let me run things?” Heaven asks itself the first question when faced with us.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Texts for Mass Sunday October 11th.

First Reading: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

6Seek the Lord and live,
  or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
  and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
7Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
  and bring righteousness to the ground!

10They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
  and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11Therefore because you trample on the poor
  and take from them levies of grain,
 you have built houses of hewn stone,
  but you shall not live in them;
 you have planted pleasant vineyards,
  but you shall not drink their wine.
12For I know how many are your transgressions,
  and how great are your sins—
 you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
  and push aside the needy in the gate.
13Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
  for it is an evil time.

14Seek good and not evil,
  that you may live;
 and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
  just as you have said.
15Hate evil and love good,
  and establish justice in the gate;
 it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
  will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

The Word of the Lord

Psalm: Psalm 90:12-17

12 So teach us to number our days *
    that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

13 Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? *
    be gracious to your servants.

14 Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
    so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

15 Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *
    and the years in which we suffered adversity.

16 Show your servants your works *
    and your splendor to their children.

17 May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; *
    prosper the work of our hands;
    prosper our handiwork.

Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The Word of the Lord

Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

17As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”