St. James’ Episcopal Church Jocelyn McWhirter
3 Pentecost, Year B
June 10, 2018
One of the joys of my profession has been learning the perspective of each gospel.
- there are four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- and each gospel story is different
- it’s as if four people saw a play, each from a different part of the theater
- then each viewer went and told one other person about the play
- Would each person hear the same story?
- yes, because it’s the same play
- but not, because each viewer saw it from a different perspective
- and the viewers have different interests = relate to different bits
- the people they’re telling also have different interests
- so the viewers will address those interests
That’s how it is with the four stories about Jesus.
- we don’t usually pick that up, because in church we hear them a little at a time
- Year A = Matthew; Year B = Mark; Year C = Luke
- with the Fourth Gospel John sprinkled in now and then
- but if we read them as stories, from beginning to end, we notice the differences
You might want to try this with Mark.
- 16 chapters
- and you don’t have to be a professional Bible reader like me in order to read it
- it’s just a story, with characters and a plot; a conflict that gets resolved in the end
There’s a lot of conflict in the selection we just read.
- it starts with a conflict about Jesus casting out demons
- so far in the story, Mark has mentioned Jesus casting out demons 4X
- the first act of his public ministry = Capernaum synagogue
- then three more times Mark says Jesus is casting out demons
- in Capernaum; throughout Galilee; at the seaside
- and we’re still only in Chapter 3
- casting out demons is a conflict, because Jesus enters into conflict with demons
- but it’s also a conflict because people can’t figure out what he’s up to
Some are saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”
- his family is trying to restrain him
- they’ve brought out the straight-jacket
- his own family can’t figure out what he’s up to
Neither can the scribes, the Bible scholars of Jesus’ day
- they say, Jesus himself is possessed by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons
- that’s why the demons are obedient to him
The scribes don’t understand; his own family doesn’t understand; so Jesus explains.
- first, he shows that the scribe’s explanation doesn’t make sense <vv. 23-27>
- if he’s possessed by Beelzebub, why would he want to cast out demons?
- he’d be shooting himself in the foot
- you’d think that he’d rather be putting demons in than casting them out
- once he puts this theory to rest, Jesus then explains what he’s up to <v. 28>
This is very short parable, and a tricky one to interpret. <v. 28>
- our instinct is to say that Jesus is comparing himself with the strong man
- because a thief is a bad guy, and Jesus wouldn’t compare himself to a thief
- Jesus is strong, so he must be comparing himself to a strong man
- but the comparison doesn’t really work if you imagine the strong man as Jesus
- Jesus casting out demons is not like a strong man defending his property
- when Jesus casts out demons, he is not defending something
- he is attacking something, which is more like the thief
So if Jesus is comparing himself to the thief, the strong man must be the demons
- when he’s casting out demons, he is tying up Satan and reclaiming his own
- he’s engaged in a cosmic conflict, with human lives at stake
This is Mark’s perspective on Jesus. Nobody can say to Mark, “Your Jesus is too small.”
- Mark’s Jesus is not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”
- he’s not “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly”
- he’s the thief who breaks into our world, disables Satan, and takes over
What does this look like, in Mark’s story? What does it look like in our world?
- it looks like the paralytic in Mark 2, lowered through a roof = corpse into a grave
- when he lands in the crowded house, Jesus is there
- “Your sins are forgiven; stand up, take your mat and go home.” He does.
- it looks like the demoniac in Mark 5 who lives among the tombs
- he strips off his clothes; he harms himself; he can’t be restrained
- “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
- the legion of demons enters a herd of swine; they drown in the sea
- and the man regains his right mind
- it looks like the woman in Mark 5 who’s been losing her life’s blood for 12 years
- “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Her hemorrhage stops.
- it looks like the girl in Mark 5 who has just breathed her last
- Jesus takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” And she does.
- it looks like the boy in Mark 9 with a spirit that causes seizures
- it casts him into fire and water, to destroy him
- “You spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!”
- the boy stiffens like a corpse, but Jesus takes his hand and lifts him up
- it looks like Jesus in Mark 15, the Son of God executed on a Roman cross
- the sky darkens and the curtain of the temple is torn in two
- and then, in Mark 16, his tomb is empty
- it looks like the end of death and the beginning of life
St. James’ Episcopal Church Jocelyn McWhirter
2 Pentecost, Year B
June 3, 2018
Did you know that one of the keys to health and happiness is having a sense of purpose?
That’s right. Just having some idea of what our life is all about, having some goal that we want to accomplish and then working towards it, improves our overall well-being.
Here’s what psychologists are saying:
- if we have a sense of purpose, our brain works better
- we take better care of ourselves
- stressful situations don’t make us as anxious
- we sleep better
- we live longer
This is especially true when we have a self-transcendent purpose – that is, a purpose that shifts our focus from ourselves to the world around us.
- a self-transcendent purpose helps us to persist in accomplishing our goals
- because we know that what we’re doing matters
And, just in case we’re wondering whether we might be too young or too old to benefit from having a sense of purpose, let me say that the benefits of a purposeful life have been confirmed for people of all ages, from youth through mid-life into old age.
I have personally benefited from having a sense of purpose.
- it all started 15 years ago, when I was on the vestry of a large church in the western suburbs of Philadelphia
- I had been working with the youth group leaders, facilitating a process of creating a mission statement and then aligning their activities with their mission
- doing what will accomplish their mission; not doing what won’t
- then I attended the vestry retreat, where the guest leader worked with us in creating our own personal mission statements
- I had never thought that I could have my own personal mission statement
- but I found the idea really attractive, and helpful to me at the time
- my oldest child was about to graduate from high school
- I was approaching a turning point in my career
So I reflected, and prayed, and wrote a mission statement, which was more or less this:
- to develop myself spiritually, emotionally, socially, and professionally,
- and to help other people do the same
- it was pretty much what I’d already been doing, and it is still my mission today
- and it gives me a strong sense of purpose
- it’s also helped me to establish my priorities
- doing what will accomplish my mission; not doing what won’t
- saying “yes” to some projects and “no” to others
I’m not on to something new here. People’s sense of purpose and mission may be a recent subject for psychological research, but it’s an old phenomenon. So old that it’s in our Old Testament reading for today.
In 1 Samuel 3, Samuel finds his purpose. God gives him a mission.
- and that is to be a prophet
- Samuel is going to connect people with God by speaking God’s word to them
- his experience teaches us 5 things about discerning our own mission/purpose
For one thing, in order to discern our mission/purpose, we need to be in the right place.
- the boy Samuel lived in the shrine at Shiloh
- “tent of meeting”; “the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was”
- housed the Ark of the Covenant = God’s portable throne
- Samuel was close to God
Second, we need quiet.
- in Samuel’s story, all the worshippers have gone home and it’s time for sleep
- Samuel’s TV is off and his cell phone is powered down
- nobody is asking him to fetch water or trim the lamps
- and, since it’s quiet, Samuel can hear God’s voice
Third, we need help.
- How can we recognize God’s voice? How do we know it’s not our imagination?
- The priest Eli helps Samuel figure it out.
- Maybe our priest or a spiritual director or companion can help us figure it out.
Fourth, we need to listen.
- Once Samuel realizes that God is calling him, he tunes in. He pays attention.
- “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Fifth, when God gives him a mission, Samuel pursues it even out of his comfort zone.
- it can’t have been easy for Samuel to tell Eli that he and his family were doomed
- Samuel is just a boy, boarding with Eli at the shrine
- he depends on Eli for food, shelter, and protection
- he is understandably reluctant to give Eli the bad news, but he does it anyway
- he has to trust in God for the outcome
I think we can discern our mission, or gain a sense of God’s purpose for us, either as individuals or as St. James’ Church. And I think Samuel shows the way.
- by staying close to God
- by taking some time to be quiet
- by consulting with a spiritual director or a priest or our canon or the bishop
- by listening to God
- by pursuing the mission that God gives us, trusting in God for the outcome
So speak, Lord. Your servants are listening.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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