Tag Archives: Bible study

Trinity and Holy Spirit and Pentecost

When I was a baby Christian and Pentecost came up for the first time I was completely baffled; the children’s sermon went into how it is the “birthday of the church”. The promised power that Jesus said was coming arrived and in this dramatic fashion the church was born. While that is a viewpoint, I think it misses the point of a lot of things.

It really might be only this year that I truly got that this is about the Holy Spirit descending upon those gathered together. And that the Holy Spirit is in the world, with us, a connection between human and God, living, breathing. Somehow!

Acts 2:1-13 is so mysterious and the Holy Spirit is so mysterious.

I don’t know where I have read this, but it isn’t me inventing this image for the mystery: it is a dance, a relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that they open, with love, the dance up to us is breath-taking and amazing. Why would Godself open Godself’s perfect dance and perfect relationship up to us? Love us that much? That is breath-taking. That is humbling. That is grace.

I don’t think it would be proper or true to say that the dance started with Pentecost — God is God and we humans walked with Godself in the first Garden. But certainly it could be true to say that sin and brokenness have interrupted our part of the dance. Pentecost was the moment when once again humanity was able to dance with God.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is even now — right now — reaching out to each one of us hoping to dance, out of a depth and richness of love that we truly cannot imagine.

But of course this makes it sound completely lovely and even, perhaps, safe. I think the imagery of Acts 2 is pretty clear that the experience was far different for Peter and the gang!

But’s let stop here for now. Close our eyes and breath and know that really we are dancing with God, or could be.


Mark 3:20-35 and the confusing part

The confusing part, of course, are the tiny “parables” — riddles really — that are in Mark 3:20-35, at least for me: Verses 24 through 28.

I’m not sure about this but I think here Jesus is saying: I’m perfectly rational. I make sense and can think. I’m reasonable and responsible for my actions. I’m teaching people and loving them and healing them with my actions; my actions are not destructive.

I’m still standing, says Jesus.

A Kingdom cannot be divided and stand.

A house cannot be divided and stand.

Even Satan cannot divide himself and stand.

Perhaps this is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – believing that the work of the Spirit is that of the demonic – is not forgivable, because that is to not see or not understand good and evil. Maybe? Once we humans understand good and evil, we were out of the Garden and into the world – the Garden could not stand against that knowledge, in a sense. So having that knowledge, that ability to know good and evil, means using it. Not mistaking those categories.

The only reason I have dragged in some of Genesis is because this passage is linked with Genesis in the lectionary. This world is a fallen world for whatever reason; the one thing we have now is understanding what is good and what is bad.

I’m sure there are other possibilities for “the sin against the holy spirit” and why it can never have forgiveness. This is, frankly, a couple very uncomfortable lines. Can’t God forgive anything? This just seems so wrong and harsh. Let’s go back to sheep.

To be fair, both the scribes and Jesus’ family are trying to understand what is good and what is bad – they are worried and maybe afraid. They just happen to not understand the category that Jesus is in as of yet. Their rules are maybe too formal. Maybe their logic is shaped by fear.

Jesus is responding to conflict essentially by saying “hey I’m still standing. I’m okay. This isn’t a demon.” Not with some a fierce superhero-ish display of power and might. Just by using his words.


Interrupted by a brilliant podcast

This podcast by The Distillery discussing how to read the bible with guest Eric Barreto is amazing! How many voices knit together and enrich, what “truth” is, what it is to read the bible in light of those things. We can embrace diversity and bring questions to scripture and grow together. Some of the info is very familiar to me, some of it not so much — and podcasts are hard for me. To hear every word? That is hard for me. But I thought some might enjoy this.

Note at about 16:30 — it is stories. “Stories don’t turn into rules easily,” says Barreto. “They shape us.”

Fist pump!



Mark 3:20-35, and trouble

The first verses of Mark 3:20-35 set up conflict. First off, Jesus and the disciples are hungry and prevented from eating! Then there is the conflict with Jesus and his family of origin. And finally, Jesus and the scribes from Jerusalem. And the possibility of conflict between the demonic and the human is raised.

And this is pretty much life, isn’t it? We’re going to be hungry; the daily toil is going to take its toll. We’re going to have family trouble or misunderstandings now and then. We’re going to have trouble with those in authority if we don’t, for example, pay our income tax or get our proper car tags or all sorts of things. Or we could have trouble with authority in terms of the workplace, if you think things should be done differently at work. Jesus was basically having workplace trouble, yes?

So sometimes the trouble is righteous – Jesus is right about God’s love being the way forward to heal a broken world (or so we trust). It is still trouble.

Sometimes, as I would guess with demons trouble just falls on you (lets just roll with this for now, I don’t really know what to think about “demons”, but I hesitate to say it is all metaphor, that feels wrong to do somehow). And certainly with illness mental or physical, trouble just happens to you.

This just is not a perfect world, then or now.

In the previous blog I noted how the structure of this scripture mentions the conflict between Jesus and his family but immediately goes into the situation with the scribes before circling back to family. Why this “wrapping” structure? Perhaps one truth is that family drama is pretty much horrible; we want our family to be fine and in harmony. So that conflict being most important, for most of our hearts, it wraps around the conflict between Jesus and the scribes from Jerusalem.

As far as I can tell, however, Jesus and the disciples remained hungry during all of this.

Mark 3:20-35, structure

You know how a really good storyteller or comedian will set up a story at point a, circle around to b, c, d, and at the wrap up, hit point a again, but with a twist, usually funny? It is, to me at least, always a delight when a story comes back around.

This passage of Mark is just like that – one of the first things we hear is that Jesus’s family is concerned about him because they have been told that he’s “gone out of his mind.” And that’s then dropped entirely for a story about the scribes from Jerusalem who thought Jesus was being controlled by a demon. (Which might be another way of saying the same thing back then; the point is Jesus called the scribes to him. We do not know what is going on with his family or where they are or what they are doing. There is even — isn’t there? — just a little tension because why isn’t Jesus sorting out his family first?) This goes on for a while and you might even have forgotten about Jesus’ family. But verse 31 – there they are again.

What’s unclear at this very start of learning the text is why these stories wrap together; what the connection or “zinger” is. Is something lost to history, some sort of inside joke or context? Is something perfectly obvious going on and I just don’t see it yet?

There is so much going on in these 15 verses! This is going to be fun to get my teeth into.


Next Storytelling Sunday June 10

So I have about 6 weeks to prepare for this, and there is no knowing which of the lectionary choices will be the reading. The “lectionary” is a shared interdenominational system of readings for Sunday morning — generally an Old Testament, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, and a New Testament, but it can vary. I’m not sure who this created this or when, but the idea is that pastors need a structure or they will preach willy-nilly. And apparently we don’t want that! So thus the lectionary.

So — the Prophet Samuel’s warning about kings….looking very wise eh?

Psalm 138

Genesis 3:8-15 which is the part where God catches them post-apple….

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35 — the story of people thinking Jesus was crazy or had a demon and he had to be like “no Satan doesn’t banish Satan, this is from God”, and his mother, brother and sisters show up.

Since I seem to be building up quite a lot of the Book of Mark, and I have just about finished reading a book about it, I think I should concentrate on the Mark reading. I feel a bit daunted honestly, because it seems long. It seems to me to have two parts, as I noted above, before his family show up and afterward. And there is room in this story to wonder about stuff:

Jesus is at home — apparently Capernaum, maybe his own house or maybe Peter’s house? And the crowd — were they desperate or joyful or something? And the scribes from Jerusalem show up — those “elites” no doubt! It was crowded, yet they heard him speak. You can imagine his mother being worried, and his brothers and sisters.

And perhaps when Jesus opens up his definition of family to include anyone who does the will of God — I can imagine the look of love on his face. I can imagine him spreading his hands open. I can imagine the murmur that went through the crowd, of amazement, of hope, of belonging. Or even in some cases, some arms crossing over chests like, what is this guy, what is he trying to pull, what sort of trick is this?

There’s a lot in this passage. It’s going to be fun! Will I also find some connection between the lectionary choices? Sometimes you do and sometimes it is a mystery to me. No doubt there will be something surprising along the way.



Mark 8:31-38 and the cross

After I have shared a scripture in storytelling form (by heart), afterward there is this beautiful peace in my mind and heart. It can last a week or so. It is just the most quiet calm feeling. My brain, heart, body was working so hard to learn the passage and after, suddenly, a welcome silence.

Last Sunday I shared Mark 8:31-38 and it went well (I think). For the first time I used a lapel mic and that gave me more freedom to turn, although I kept my feet planted. (Some storytellers move all over of course, and maybe some day for some story I might. But I like to feel grounded.) I turned first as Peter taking Jesus aside to rebuke him; then turned the other way to show that Jesus, when rebuking Peter, was not doing it in front of everyone. Their argument was in private. In verse 34, Jesus calls the crowd and the disciples back to him (and Peter) and says, that to follow him, you have to deny yourself, and pick up your cross and follow him.” So I tried with my turning to show the various movements of the story.

Now what is “your cross”? What is my cross? What does that even mean? Does it mean face your fears? Or maybe find your joy? Or speak truth to power? Or change, move, learn, grow, do … something? Something unique to us or something everyone can do (if only we all would), like just … what? The cross was an extremely painful death, and one with shame in it. I read this murder mystery a couple weeks ago and there was a scene of the death of a death row inmate. Painful. Justice? In this particular mystery it wasn’t justice. And the inmate had a family member there, who was deeply shamed and deeply grieving a life lost, “wasted”. Her life too was shamed and wasted. Perhaps Jesus’s death on a cross was intended by the Romans, rather like our death penalty, not just to deter crimes of rebellion against the state, not just to inflict a terrible death, but to shame the “criminal” and the criminal’s family? How did that work out for the Romans?

The cross then for me – should I expect to be facing something equally painful, equally hard?

Which, you know, I don’t want to especially.

And I wonder if too many of us hear “pick up your cross” to mean “pick up your cross like a sword and swing it at people”.

I feel that it is Easter that changes me, you, the world…. Hold on to your cross and feel it, and sorrow. Envision what things would be like without that to bear, without that sorrow. Envision how to create that world, full of love and joy and hope and trust. Easter is coming.

Parable of the Talents

There’s the long sequence in Matthew where Jesus is trying to give the disciples metaphors and information that they will need later, after Jesus has been killed. The parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, is pretty confusing. My pastor preached that one way to look at it, is the master that goes away is Jesus/God and he is good, despite the harsh words to the slave with 1 talent. Or another way is to say that the master that goes away is the world/a bad boss, and the slave with 1 talent is being brave and bold and speaking truth to power — and getting killed for it. Who is who here?

I wrote him my thoughts — I spent a month nearly day working this parable. I think there’s a third way. He was quite liked it. So here goes:

In living with this parable, I came to think that Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for when he would be gone; and one of the big things, one of the things that the disciples could not seem to be learning, was that Jesus wasn’t offering a political, worldly, warrior-type revolution. He was trying to teach a completely new thing, I think, and among other messages “God is not “you” writ large.” No one is evil in their own sight. Every villain in fiction (and real life I suspect) is doing it for a reason, however misguided it clearly is to audience. So we can take what are merely our motivations and turn that into God’s will.

So to “enter into the joy of the master” — to have God’s will truly on Earth as it is in Heaven — is what we should seek: community, fellowship, but even more so. Christ in us. And this is only possible by understanding that God has already given us this gift (represented by the gift of the talents), each in our own way (“according to their abilities”) (through Grace and the cross).

So the slave with 1 talent buried it in the ground — he did nothing because he was afraid of harsh judgment. Yet the master he sees is himself — himself writ large. The master is “harsh”, judgmental (says this slave); yet the slave is being harsh and judgmental himself. The master doesn’t grow his own profit. The slave buried a coin in the ground — a coin does not grow into a tree or a crop.  The slave, too, had nothing to reap or to gather. The slave was blinded to the possibility of “entering into the joy” of the master because he had created a self-fulfilling belief of what the world was like.

(Note the slave  “went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid…” and describes it nearly exactly that way to the master “I went and hid your talent in the ground”. The slave describes the master as both reaping what he did not sow and as gathering what he did not plant. These doubles must be an emphasis, I think, a pointer to look carefully. And both doubles are from the slave with 1 talent, who cannot break free of who he is long enough to see clearly the Master and the possibility of a new story entirely — a world with abundance and joy and communion.)

In fact, a God that is God (not “me”): the awe of that is amazing and terrifying and hope. Jesus lets us get a glimpse of that while giving us the hand of a human person to hold. And the Holy Spirit was there was first of all, giving us gifts to treasure before we even knew we needed them.

In fact, I think the weeping and gnashing of teeth is actually God’s broken heart that someone is “cast into the outer darkness” and there is no way seemingly to break into that darkness and free that person…..? This may be a bit too far (after all the story says “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness…but what point of view are we in at that point? It may still be the master talking but is it the view point of the slave who is listening?).

In terms of my life, it is lovely and a blessing to slowly slowly, maybe, be entering a phase of life where things don’t feel quite so delicately balanced, not yet enough to test the weight, but enough to hope for a future where “fear not” makes sense….and to wonder if perhaps at least some of ones fears have been merely a prison of one’s own making? Since my life has presently given me a glimmer of hope and blessings, am I indeed merely interpreting the parable of the 10 talents from “me-ness” and not from “God”?

Perhaps the parable works in many ways, and that is all good too?

whew! Your thoughts welcome!

Back to Matthew 20:1-16

So back to Matthew 20:1-16 — time to look at what comes before and after. And time to confess that I am a little bored with this passage. What is up with that? I’m also “stuck”. I have it pretty much by heart, which is good because I tell it on the 24th. So I have time to keep polishing and to find some guinea pigs to let me practice. Yet, I’m feeling a little stuck, as if there is some vitality to this parable that I am not getting. May be that’s what the feeling of boredom is about as well. This parable isn’t zinging with me.

So what comes just before it, in 19:27-30 is Peter saying, “hey we’ve given up everything for you, what are we going to get?” And Jesus gets mysterious yet again. “Peter, you and the other 12 are going to get thrones! At the renewal of all things — the end? the beginning? — you will be a judge! And everyone who has left their home and their people to follow me, will receive hundredfold — and eternal life. But maybe not everyone, maybe some of the first will actually be last.”

This sort of seems very concrete, but also very — “do x and you get y” — which almost sounds like a bribe or a payment. I reject any notion that God is a vending machine in the sky or Santa Claus. So this passage makes me feel uncomfortable. I myself do not love Jesus in order to gain something after this life. In fact, loving Jesus and worshiping God and studying the bible enrich my life right now, can bring me feelings of joy and gratefulness. So far, even in the storms of life or when I’m angry at God for the suffering I see around me, so far anyway, I can feel deep down that certainty of being held in his hands. Of being beloved. I don’t need to be promised more in the after; certainly not a throne.

I mean actually — a throne!? Judging? I wonder if this is really a reward for Peter and the others! Maybe it is a warning. “Stick with me, and eventually you will have a lot of work to do.” Yikes!

What has prompted Peter to even ask about what’s in it for him? (And don’t you love the honesty and human-ness of Peter to be recorded saying this!) It is story of the Rich Young Man, and Jesus saying about camels and eyes of needles and the rich. Since back then, being rich was (as I am told), considered a sign that God favored you, the disciples were astonished. If the rich — those favored and blessed by God already — would not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, then who could?

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible,” said Jesus.

I hear an echo of Sarah here, a hint of laughter in the air. I like the idea of the disciples not asking these questions out of greed or whining or fear but maybe out of confusion, out of a need for hope maybe. I like the idea that this conversation is taking place with Jesus with laughter in the air — maybe laughter of like “thrones, ha, he’s going to put us on thrones” or maybe laughter like “I’m so embarrassed to be in this conversation” or maybe laughter like “what crazy thing can we get Jesus to say now.”

And besides laughter, perhaps we and the disciples are also hearing more than a hint of the power and glory and grace of God. Not our will or our doings, but God’s grace and mercy.

Well good news, I’m not bored with this anymore. I am feeling some zing! I love finding something unexpected in the Bible.





The story of Jesus and the blind man

In reading aloud John 9:1-41, which I don’t know if I can learn by heart, I’m struck by the man who was formerly blind. I’m struck with how impatient he gets, how annoyed he is. The response to the miracle of his being able to see isn’t to rejoice — which should be the response, don’t you think? He was blind and now can see. It sort of echoes “the sheep/coin/son was lost and now is found”, doesn’t it? No, instead the response is endless repetitive questions from everyone, and scarily the Pharisees call people to give testimony. (Is this like some sort of trial? I shall have to learn.) The man who was formerly blind has to endure all this, but when he is ultimately tossed out of the community Jesus finds him. And he worships him.

And as a storyteller that is the first of my problems — all the “he/hims”!

Take a look at this snip:

“Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” “

The Pharisees are not saying that the formerly blind man is not from God, but that the man (Jesus) who performed the restorative actions is not from God. But then, on the other hand, how could he not be from God, others say? It is a miracle. But it is a mess of pronouns!

So how do I inflect my voice? Or use my hands? Or turn perhaps — how will listeners not get confused?

And so I start! FTGOG