Tag Archives: Jesus

Interrupted by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans is a wonderful writer and has much to say. If you have not heard of her here’s a piece she wrote in the Washington Post recently that is simply excellent. It is about a million times better than anything I have ever written.

FTGOG

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Mark 3:20-35 in review

Last Sunday was when I performed Mark 3:20-35 as a lay reader. I don’t like the word performed by the way. Some storytellers are very dramatic and use their body as an actor might. There’s a fine line or discussion to be had about when storytelling turns into acting. My inclination is to stay on the storytelling side – use my hands, face, voice, and maybe an occasional minor prop (I used a stone one time), but I don’t move my feet and don’t “mime” things. I’m also limited by the microphone placement at my church. At least once I’ve used the “wired” mic, so I could move around however I wanted to but actually made me nervous. And once we were in the chapel and not the sanctuary so there was “just” my voice – that was great. I can put on quite a performance voice and I love the smaller space and being closer to the audience!

But what I am trying to write about is “how did it go”? What did I learn? I think it went very well but this sort of analysis is not my strength. I was caught off guard by how packed church was last week, my guess is over 200 people, because it was graduating high school senior day (among other things). As much as public speaking doesn’t give me the willies, that was perhaps the largest crowd that I have had, and that was a bit of a stretch to my comfort level!

I tried very hard with my face, with my voice, to display shock when Jesus says “Who are my mother and brothers?” Because (as I wrote) I think that shock is integral to the story. He isn’t being “sweet”. Jesus is going beyond “oh we’re all family here”. He is provoking his audience to feel a moment of fear: maybe this guy is nuts. We don’t like this image of Jesus as being provoking. It’s annoying when someone behaves like this. It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. Isn’t Jesus a nice guy?

But I have no idea if I succeeded in giving the audience that moment. Or if it matters. In the end, each person in the audience hears what message they are meant to hear from God. That trust I have in the Holy Spirit is what gives me the audacity to do this!

The second reading was I Sam 8:4-22, where Samuel outlines to the people all the ways a King will be horrible. I did not blog about it because I couldn’t connect the dots to how it tied into the Mark passage. However that is the passage that my pastor focused on in his sermon, and he referred to a King as a “strong man”. That for me was when scripture shimmered.

“But no one can enter a strong man’s house

and plunder his property

without first tying up the strong man;

then indeed the house can be plundered.”

Once you give power to a King, how can you tie him up? How can anyone from the outside plunder a strong man’s property? Only from the changed and broken heart of a King, could real and lasting change come instead of (to coin a phrase) just a game of thrones. What is power anyway?

Pick a king carefully. And consider this guy who talks in parables and is deliberately provoking. What sort of “king” is he anyway?

FTGOG

 

Midrash for Mark 3:20-35

First family

After explaining to the disciples

And to the crowd

And even the scribes from Jerusalem

That his mother and brother and sisters where those

Who do the will of God

There is no doubt in my mind

that he did go outside the house

And smiled at his family,

Opened his arms wide,

And his littlest brother who was not yet thirteen

Ran into his arms and Jesus

Swung him around

As normal.

 

Which broke the tension, and his sisters

And other brothers scrambled to him.

Jesus had watched over them as a big brother does

Had held the family together after Joseph died

Had shown them love

Every day of their lives.

 

Mary was the last, the children stood aside

and he saw the sorrow in her eyes

He didn’t say anything

There was nothing to say

They both knew where the journey was going

And that it was necessary.

Mary touched his cheek gently and tilted her head

An apology for her fear.

Gently he embraced her

On her head she felt his breath,

Pressed her ear to his chest and heard

The beating of his heart.

Mark 3:20-35 and time for the footnotes and the word “demon”

In doing research on a passage that I am prepping to tell by heart — not this Sunday but next Sunday, yikes! — at some point I turn to the footnotes. It is always, being honest here, a boring thing to do that sometimes yields big returns. So let’s see what happens with Mark 3:20-35.

The first footnote calls this section “a controversy about exorcism and forgiveness is inserted into an episode about Jesus’ family”. Yes, I think I pulled on those threads pretty well already. It is interesting that Matthew 12:46-50 is nearly the same story of Jesus family, but without it being wrapped inside a story about Jesus having a demon. I think Mark’s version is much more effective or at least dramatic. Luke 8:19-21 is another very close version of the family story. All three synoptic gospels seem to make the same point: We followers of Jesus are “in the family”. The footnote in Luke says “Early Christian usage of this “fictive kinship” language was distinctive.”

See footnotes often cause more trouble. There’s a whole thesis or maybe a shelf on a library somewhere unpacking that tidy little statement. ha! For my purposes, it is safe to say that at that time and place — and perhaps still — who your blood relatives are puts you in your place. Jesus is not having that. He is adopting us. He (and by implication God) loves us like beloved family.

Feel free to jump in the comments if you want to pull on that string harder.

Skipping down in the footnotes, this one caught my eye: “The absence of Jesus’ father with “his mother and his brothers” is of disputed significance.”

Another shelf in the library perhaps! I remember a long-ago bible study where the  speaker said that it was at least logical to suppose that Jesus up to the death of Joseph obeyed Joseph and worked with him as a carpenter. The death of Joseph is what “freed” Jesus to begin his ministry — to obey his heavenly father after his obligation to his earthly father was complete. This is midrash as far as I know. But it also makes some sort of emotional sense to me. Joseph is not mentioned in stories of Jesus’ ministry; he must have died.

Now of course there are many footnotes leading to connections and info about demons and exorcisms. Remember when I started this I said to just roll with the word “demon”? Of course there may be demons. We in our spiffy modern world do well to just read the newspaper and realize evil is alive and well. So maybe demons. It sounds like something out of a horror movie and I hate horror movies and I’m not going further in that direction than saying: who am I to say that there are not demons?

But the footnotes do seem to agree that at that time and place this was how mental illness was described, and perhaps diseases such as epilepsy and so on. Does this change the story that much? “The doctors came from the Mayo Clinic with new treatments, saying he is just suffering from an imbalance in serotonin and some how that is causing him to say and do these healings of others. And Jesus called to them and spoke to them in questions saying, Look a serotonin imbalance is real, and what are its symptoms? To first diagnose a disease you must have a clear view of the symptoms. Depression cannot cure depression. Mania cannot cure mania. A misdiagnosis is a serious and harmful thing. ”

So that is why I just roll with the terminology of demons, it doesn’t really change the story, I think.

Jesus was sound in mind, and to think otherwise is at best a harmful misdiagnosis and at worst an eternal sin. That’s a pretty serious take away. Thank goodness he loves us like family! This story would be too scary otherwise!

FTGOG

Mark 3:20-35 practice and a surprise

Working on Mark 3:20-35 — to get it down by heart — has been a challenge because of the structure of the story and the repetition or almost-repetition of some of the words. But it continues to be fun to study and think about. You might be wondering how to get something memorized?

Well, in short, you just do it. You just get the words in your head. You just tell the story to yourself over and over; I do it in chunks. And I finally have all the chunks basically in my head and am working on being “word perfect” (or if I’m going to vary some of the words intentionally versus by mistake). And I’m not smooth yet. I spent about 20 or 30 minutes one morning at church, where it was less disruptive than home, and just practiced out loud, then checked the bible, then practiced, then checked, and etc. I practice out loud when I’m driving to work or driving home. I practice silently in my head when I’m falling asleep or in the shower. Basically to get the words inside, I swim in the words. I write the words down and look for connections.

The best connections seem to happen by surprise, which is what happened the morning I practiced at church. It was the first time I really had the space to let my voice power out. After all, my family doesn’t need to hear my loud performance voice.

In saying it out loud, I heard it. And this story seems to be: Is this guy Jesus, who has a mother and brothers and sisters, just delusional? Seriously, is he the Son of God or a prophet or … just someone who isn’t in his right mind? Someone who has a demon?

And the structure of the story — remember my post about that? That I didn’t know why Jesus’ family is mentioned, then we’re off sorting out the scribes, and then we are back to his family?

Well, I think it popped into my brain, at least one possible reason or feature of it. Because Jesus, in responding to the scribes, has proven pretty well that he is in control of himself, that he is clever, that he is calm, that he is not being controlled by a demon or by random impulses.

But then his family comes back and the crowd says, hey your Mother and brothers are outside. And verse 33 happens:

“And he said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

And for a second — how long a second? — there must have been a sudden pause in the minds of the crowd sitting at his feet. Doesn’t this guy know who his mother and brothers are? Has this guy forgotten his family? Is this guy actually not in control of his mind?

Just a second, just for a second, did we all doubt? Did those sitting there doubt him at that moment, maybe even feel the cold breeze of fear?

And how completely beautiful that Jesus brings it home, to our hearts: we are his brothers, sisters, and mother, we who do the “will of God”, we who sit at his feet.

Jesus loves us that much, that we are in the family.

Imagine sitting at his feet, he’s been talking about the scriptures (I think) and then he sorts out those scribes from Jerusalem. Your guy here is on fire. You’ve got people’s knees in your back, and your knees are hitting people, and the air is maybe a bit ripe, even with the door open. You are thirsty and hungry but at the same time you are learning so much, and feeling so much hope: this guy is making God’s love seem real. And then that moment of doubt, of fear, that you’ve been tricked all along? And then he looks you in the eyes — you know it is you he is looking at — and he calls you his sister.

And you have never felt so safe and beloved.

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.

FTGOG

 

More thoughts about John 10:11-18

So the Good Shepherd cares and the hired man doesn’t. The Good Shepherd can die for the sheep because the sheep belong to him and because he was given the power from God to take his life up again if he dies for the sheep.

I am still struggling with this passage!

Here’s the thing: I think the hired man isn’t being given proper credit. I work for a living and don’t often enjoy my job. But I do it as well as possible out of my own integrity not just for fear of not getting paid. On the other hand, I wouldn’t die for my job. I’m definitely not a first responder or brave like that. On the other other hand – that’s a pretty high bar. I’m not sure it is fair to judge the hired man as bad for not giving his life, to say he is only in it to get paid. I bet he likes the sheep, or some of them. I bet he has sunshine-y beautiful days where it is just plain fun to lead the sheep to still water and green grass.

Let’s not judge the hired man too harshly ok?

But let’s rejoice, absolutely rejoice, in complete amazement that Jesus knows us as completely as God knows Jesus. It is “The Message” version that shimmered this passage to me:

“I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

And this knowing and loving — this being seen and understood — is for everyone! Somehow to me being seen and known and loved (anyway) is the true gift from God.

FTGOG

First thoughts on John 10:11-18

In a few weeks, when it might maybe be actually spring, I’m the layreader for the first service and doing John 10:11-18. It is a beautiful passage, but the very song-like repetition makes it hard to learn by heart.

More sheep/shepherd stuff! So the book of John often poses challenges for the modern biblical storyteller; this passage does not. In fact, this passage seems so bland as to be meaningless. Help me Lord, help me find a way into this passage. At the most surface level, Jesus is saying he is a good shepherd, of us the sheep, because he is willing to die for us. He in fact is not being forced by some angry God to die for us, but is willingly ready to do so, as God commanded. Okay, that is good, of course. But shouldn’t there be more?

I find that I am wondering about the wolf in verse 12. The hired man, in my opinion, would in fact try to protect the sheep from the wolf, don’t you think? Isn’t that his job? Of course I say this but I would be very afraid. A wolf! Is it correct to think that in verse 15, Jesus is saying that he would die from the wolf, to defend the sheep? But how does dying — whether it is the Good Shepherd or the hired man — actually protect the sheep? Aren’t the sheep then utterly defenseless? Completely without hope?

Perhaps it is something to do with the voice, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice, they come when called. I am hearing a bit of an echo of John the Baptist, who was the Voice of one crying out in the wilderness. That is he was the voice of God, a message from God.

Jesus is the “logos”, which is the Word but more than that — push and press on that. God is the Verb that starts the world up — that’s a big Voice.

Maybe we’re sheep but we can hear God speak, we can follow God and perhaps that leads us out of danger, even more than the dying God who says ” I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” If (or when) the wolf gets him, it is only to allow him to be restored to his full Glory of God. Now this is pretty deep into the weeds maybe?

Such a small passage with such a simple first layer to have me completely frustrated in trying to go deeper.

FTGOG

Mark 8:31-38 and gifts of God

In a few weeks or so I’m the layreader at church, and so I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart. Telling the story — feeling the power and witness of the history of storytellers before me — is so much more powerful than reading. Some readers are excellent at putting expression into it and that is a wonderful thing. But going one more and making eye contact makes the story come alive. And learning it by heart enriches the storyteller, and brings the story to life.

As so often I started out pretty bored. This story is so familiar and it doesn’t seem to offer much. Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd who he is and what is going to happen and it doesn’t seem to be good news. There doesn’t seem to be a puzzle to sort out or a misdirection to unveil or anything except truth — I’m going to suffer, they are going to reject me, they are going to kill, says Jesus. Then I’ll rise again.

As anyone would, expecting a savior and getting this bad news, Peter thinks it is time to speak frankly. Unfortunately for Peter, it was Jesus who got to keep talking, seeming to make a bad situation worse. As often as we chuckle about how Peter and the disciples never seem to understand what was going on, in this passage at the beginning I feel that Peter thinks the same of Jesus, something like hey I love you but let’s get the story right. These visionaries. You have to watch them like children or they will just go off script and say anything.

Worse, now it wasn’t just himself Jesus was talking about being killed, but the rest of them. What sort of hope was this? What sort of saving was this?

I’ve spent about five or six weeks with this passage, and reading The Story of Mark  by David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie, which break downs this gospel in a narrative analysis. One little passage talks about Mark’s technique of using questions, often rhetorical questions, and often duplicate or double questions asking the same thing in different angles.

Anvil falls.

Suddenly for me (at least for right here-and-now) I have found my center in the story in verses 36 and 37.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

These are rhetorical, double questions, because if you are dead, it does you no good to have all the world’s riches. Of course. And no matter how rich you are, you can give nothing to live longer, to not die, to be alive in the first place.

Life is a gift.

When I do this as a tell, I’m going to deliberately tweak the words just a tiny bit:

“For what will it profit you to gain the whole world, and forfeit your life?”

“Indeed, what can you give in return for your life?”

I want each of my listeners to feel as if they were there, in the crowd, listening to Jesus and going from crossed arms and “I’m not going to follow you if that means dying or even just suffering” to “following you will be the richest and most joyful life I could have, the most alive I could be.”

And how I pray for that joy to fill us up, all of us, with an abundance of love.

 

My story, part 5

Now I seem compelled to share a story about middle school. Did you just shudder? Yes, for anyone not familiar with American school, middle school is about when you are 13, maybe from age 12 to 14, it differs a little for everyone and depending on where you live. But of course that is a terrifying time (was that just me?) because everything is different! And scientifically, I have since learned as a parent, that is when the brain takes a leap. That is when (I think) more “critical thinking skills” can begin.

That is when kids at the bus stop started telling me that I was going to hell for not believing in Jesus.

Telling someone they are going to hell is really not a way to convert anyone, by the way, can we all agree?

Nor is fear, yes?

But I was made of pretty tough stuff.

“There’s no hell,” I said, eyes rolling.

“Jesus was maybe a good teacher, but seriously — God?”

“A God who would put me in Hell for not believing but put a killer in Heaven for believing at the very last minute of life — that’s not a God worthy of faith.”

The poor bus stop kids started leaving me alone about going to hell.

All of those responses are still a part of me, somehow, even though now I would say that yes, Jesus was/is/will be “very God and very Man” and it’s over my pay grade to explain that. It is, after all, the stories about the walking, talking, healing, human Jesus that fascinate me, and stories/parables he told, and, above all, the amazing mysterious willingness to die for us, all of us, even me, even me back in middle school. And you can take the Unitarian out of the girl, but never the Univeralist. God’s got us, each of us, and she won’t let any of us — be nothing?– because ultimately “love wins”.

May you, all of you, feel God-beloved right at this moment — a moment of stillness perhaps, or a moment of joy, or a moment of rest, or a moment in the midst of a busy day. May you feel beloved.