Archive for November, 2012

Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully (in which the author takes issue, as is his way)

// November 30th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

This year Church in the Cliff is participating in Advent Conspiracy, which seeks to turn Christmas upside down, to remind us of the meaning of God coming into the world.  Advent Conspiracy asks us to reconsider the consumerism of the Christmas season, to avoid the stress of malls, the debt of buying things we can’t afford, and the downright silliness of buying a bunch of stuff that people don’t need and probably don’t even want.  Instead, we should spend our time and attention on the people that we love and direct our money to people who really need it.  Above all, we should take seriously the in-breaking of the Divine into our lives and what that means for how we live with one another.  These are all great things that I support without reservation.  However, because I seem to be constitutionally incapable of playing nicely with others, I have to say that something is bugging me about Advent Conspiracy.

On the Advent Conspiracy website, there’s not a lot of pixels spent on Advent.  It’s all about Christmas.  I know that evangelicals like think they finally cracked the code on Christianity, but Advent has been around a long, long, long time.  And it’s not about Christmas, at least, not entirely.  But the really odd thing to me is that, if we pay attention to what Advent has always been, it gets right at what Advent Conspiracy is trying to do.

Though it passed without remark – my fault – last week was what is traditionally known as “Christ the King Sunday,” the Sunday before Advent.  The patriarchal, hierarchical language gives me the willies, but what it signifies is, well, significant.  Every year, the liturgical calendar rehearses the cycle of life.  There is birth and there is death and there is re-birth.  Beginnings always hurtle us towards ends and ends always lead to new beginnings.  Advent is the fulcrum of that calendar.  To use traditional language, Christ returns as the King to judge the world and to remake it.  It is the end, the apocalypse, where all are held to account.  This sounds scary and weird and I don’t believe a word of it.  However, I do believe we need to take stock, to look at what we have done and who we have become, to see what is real so that we can understand the hope and promise of new life signified by the birth of Jesus in a few short weeks.  Just as we can’t have Easter without Lent, we can’t really have Christmas without Advent.

I know it’s a downer.  We want Christmas stories and carols and lights.  We want wise men and angels and the little baby Jesus.  We want Luke’s fabulous musical numbers.  And we will have all that.  We will.  But we must wait, just a little bit.  Judgment will yield to proclamation, proclamation will turn to anticipation, anticipation will turn to hope, and hope will turn to joy.  Advent Conspiracy asks us to rethink Christmas: to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All.  Advent, in the long, long, long Christian tradition, makes it impossible to do otherwise.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about what it might mean to “Worship Fully.”  Heck, since we’re not really a praise chorus kind of church or a robe and stole kind of church, perhaps we can talk about what it means to worship at all, and inch up to “fully” as best we can.  Remember, we will take up a special offering every Sunday during Advent to give to people who could really use it.

Grace and Peace,

Advent Craft Days

In an effort to help you spend less, we will be doing crafts at Kidd Springs Rec Center for the first three Saturdays in December from 10am to noon.  We will make cards, lip balm, and soap to give as gifts to family and friends.  Hope to see you there!

Chestnut Farms

Chestnut Farms is a non-profit organic farm in Deep Ellum that CitC friend David Cole is involved in.  They are growing on a quarter-acre that used to be a parking lot.  As I understand it, they are still working out the details on how to serve the community and who to sell to, but right now they are harvesting a bunch of bok choy.  David will be out there most Saturdays and would love some company.  Looks like Saturday will be beautiful out.  If you’d like to join David (after crafting, of course) shoot him an email at

Also, Chestnut Farms is having a benefit concert, Dec. 21 at 8pm, featuring Folk Angel, Robbie Seay, and Lauren Chandler.  Proceeds go to Grow Us, a partnership between Chestnut Farms and Champions of Hope.

Mark: The Beginning Again

// November 23rd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

It is a pretty well accepted fact among scholars that Mark’s original gospel ended at verse 16:8.  Verses 9-20 were added quite a bit later, possibly in an attempt to harmonize it with the other gospel stories.  Or perhaps the original ending did not test well with focus groups.  Some find it to be a bit of a downer, full of uncertainty and lacking closure, like the final episode of the Sopranos.  But this unexpected ending should not be unexpected if one has been paying attention through the rest of the book.  Fortunately, we have been paying attention, so we’re going to be looking at the director’s cut this Sunday.

Verse 16:8 says this: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  That’s it.  No meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  No Thomas touching the wounds.  No fish and toast on the beach.  Just an empty tomb and the promise that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee – the place it all began – and the disciples will see him there.

Surely Mark knew stories of Jesus’ resurrection.  Maybe he knew that everyone else knew those stories, too, so why bother writing them down?  But everyone knew the story he’s telling, everything he has written so far; that didn’t stop him from telling it.  He could have included something – something critical to the Christian story – but didn’t.  Instead, he leaves us hanging, wondering what happened next.  I suspect it is that wonder that inspired someone to add to Mark’s gospel, to finish what might appear unfinished.  It’s understandable, but maybe there’s a better way to honor Mark’s vision of the good news.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about beginning again, continuing the story of God’s ongoing presence in the world.

Grace and Peace,

Advent Conspiracy

Just as we did last year, we will be participating in Advent Conspiracy this year.  Advent Conspiracy seeks to recover the meaning of Christmas as the in-breaking of God into the world.  As such, it turns a critical eye toward the rampant consumerism that Christmas has become and asks us to spend less money and more time and attention on the ones we love.  To help with that, Church in the Cliff will be hosting craft days to make handmade cards and gifts on three Saturdays during Advent, Dec. 1, 8, and 15, from 10am to noon at Kidd Springs Rec Center.  Come join in the crafty fun!

Here’s the schedule for Sunday services:

Dec. 2 – Worship Fully
Dec. 9 – Spend Less
Dec. 16 – Give More
Dec. 23 – Love All

Since we’ll all be spending less, we will be taking up a special offering every Sunday during Advent to donate to people who are really in need.  Please give what you can.

Mark: The End (Program and Sermon)

// November 22nd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Transfiguration

a.       Elijah, Moses, Jesus

b.      Making tents

c.       Beloved Son

II.     The Way to Jerusalem

a.       Argument of James and John

b.      Bartimaeus

III.   Jerusalem

a.       Triumphal Entry

b.      Curse of the fig tree

c.       Cleansing the temple

d.      Teaching

e.       Anointing at Bethany

f.        Passover

g.       Betrayal

h.       Arrest

i.         Trial

j.        Crucifixion

IV.  What is the meaning of Jesus death?

a.       Atonement

b.      Tragedy

c.       Ransom

1.      To whom is one ransomed?

2.      From what is one ransomed?

V.     Irony

Irony tells a truth, but suggests that it is not the whole truth and that the whole truth is something entirely unexpected and unsaid.

a.       Humor

1.      Witness
Witnesses are told not to witness, yet the story is being told.

2.      Disciples
The exemplars for following Jesus are bumblers and fools.

b.      Tragedy of crucifixion
Irony takes a dark turn in the Passion narrative of Mark.  Jesus’ kingship, sonship, and Messiahship are correctly named by his opponents, but they use these titles as accusations.  And so the Messiah is crucified.  Mark’s story is being told to people who know the story and his original audience may have contained people who knew Jesus and participated in his ministry while he was alive.  So they know the truth and they know the irony.  They know the grief and disappointment of losing their beloved, their savior.  And yet they continue on.

VI.  Suffering
Because they know the story, because they continue on, they know the crucifixion is not the end.  They face persecution, but they know their suffering is not the end.  The whole truth is something entirely unexpected.  This is not the end.

Mark: The End

// November 17th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We know how this ends, right?  After an auspicious beginning, Jesus travels to Jerusalem, stirs up trouble, gets arrested, and is crucified.  And for those of us who grew up in the church, we probably know the meaning of this as well.  Allowing some variation in the way it is formulated, the bottom line is that Jesus’ death is our fault.  By some mysterious alchemy stretched out across space and time, our sin put Jesus on the cross.  The unkind word, the impure thought, the drink to start the day, the little white lie.  Worst of all, it’s something in our DNA, something hopelessly broken, the very essence of what it means to be human, that put Jesus on that cross.

The crucifixion looms large in the Christian canon.  What makes perfect, obvious sense to us today – that there is a clear reason for Jesus’ death that is in keeping with the long story of God’s action in the world – was once a scandal to those who followed Jesus.  Jesus was not simply in some trouble, not simply arrested or executed, but executed in a way that was reserved for the worst of the worst.  It was humiliating to the victim and anyone connected to him.  It was a threat and a promise to those who might defy the powers that be.  For the first Christians, then, this was the fundamental question that must be answered, the very purpose of this new genre, the gospel: if Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, why did he die?  Why did he fail?  He clearly had power to do great things; he taught with authority; he was a good and just person; he courageously stood up to the powers of this world and steadfastly stood with the poor and rejected.  But, in the end, he died.

Now, bear in mind that when Mark penned this text, his community had been making sense of these events for forty years.  For forty years, people continued to follow this man who died.  He promised salvation, healing, peace, but things just seemed to get worse.  He died, they were scattered and persecuted, and finally the Romans came in and destroyed everything.  And so the Christian question turns out to be a localized version of an enduring human question: why do we suffer?  What mechanisms in the nature of reality make suffering not only possible, but seemingly inevitable?  And why should we suffer?  Is there a purpose to it?  Perhaps most importantly, how do we suffer?  If it is inevitable and its meaning is inscrutable, how do we live through it?  Who do we become in suffering?

Please join us on Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about how Mark frames these issues in his passion story.

Grace and Peace,

Mark: The Ministry of Mystery

// November 13th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

(I somehow forgot to post this last week, so I’m just catching up.  Sorry. – Scott)

Last week, we began at the beginning.  The Gospel of Mark begins with an enigma, proclaiming to readers “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God,” a story that they are presumed to already know.  To us, much of it may seem familiar: healing, feeding, teaching, casting out demons.  But the enigmas of Mark do not end with the beginning.

Mark’s Jesus tells people repeatedly, after flashy public miracles, to keep quiet.  There are probably many reasons for this.  As a practical matter, his work might get him in trouble with the authorities, as it did for John the Baptizer.  Best to keep it on the low.  But there’s more going on here.  Mark puts certain titles in the mouths of certain people, which creates a group of insiders and outsiders, those who know and those who do not.  However, the irony is that those who should know – the disciples, who he pulls aside specifically to reveal his secrets – do not know and those who should not know – the demons, the Jewish and Roman authorities – do know.  And all the while, someone is spreading the word, growing Jesus’ fame.

In the evangelical tradition of my youth, to be a disciple meant to tell the story of Jesus.  But in Mark, the disciples are sworn to secrecy and everyone else is talking about Jesus.  If we are to follow Jesus, what are we to do, according to Mark?

Please join us on Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the mission of Jesus, our role in that mission and why everything is so hush-hush.

Grace and Peace,

Bible Study!

Surprise, surprise, I’m not good with dates.  Turns out Thanksgiving is always the third Thursday in November, not the last one, so we’ll skip that week instead.

Nov. 7 – Chapters 1-8 (Ministry in Galilee)
Nov. 14 – Chapter 9-13 (The Road to Jerusalem)
Nov. 28 – Chapters 14-16 (The Passion)

I should also say that this week’s episode did not go off as planned.  If people want to talk about the Bible on Wednesdays, I will be prepared to do so.  If not, if people just want to just relax and decompress, I’m good with that, too.  Let the Spirit inspire.

Mark: The Ministry of Mystery (Program and Sermon)

// November 13th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Who is Jesus?

a.       Son of God

Used in opening and not again until the crucifixion.

b.      Son of Man

Jesus’ preferred way of referring to himself in Mark.  “Son of man” initially just means “human” in the Hebrew Bible, but becomes the title of an eschatological judge in Daniel.  This develops into the messianic hope in the Intertestamental Period.

c.       Messiah/Christ

The Anointed One, initially used to denote priests and kings in the ancient world, it becomes a figure of Jewish eschatological hope.  Only Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah.

II.     Ministry

a.       Works of power

1.      healing

2.      feeding the hungry

3.      casting out demons

b.      Teaching

1.      public

Speaks in parables to the masses, not to make them understand, but to keep them from repentance.

2.      private

Explains things to disciples (not just the apostles) in private, but chastises them for misunderstanding.

c.       Messianic Secret

1.      Disciples

Correctly identify Jesus as the Messiah, but Jesus tells them to keep quiet.  They also seem to misunderstand everything else, especially parables.

a)      Mark 8:14-21

Fulfilling Isaiah 6:9-10

b)      Mark 8:27-30

2.      Outsiders

Often correctly identify Jesus as the Son of God, though never using that precise wording.

3.      Explanations

a)      when?

One solution to these complex twists and turns is scheduling.  Events need to happen in a certain order and on a certain timetable.  We cannot understand Jesus as Messiah and Son of God until we see him suffer and die.

b)      to whom?

Often, Gentiles are allowed to tell their people about Jesus, but not Jews.  This could also be a practical concern to timing, that having Gentiles among his disciples could hasten the animosity of the Jews.

c)      what?

The apostles are specifically charged with proclaiming the good news (10:7).  However, they are specifically prohibited from telling anyone that he is the Messiah (16:20).  Perhaps Jesus position as the Anointed One is not the good news.  Perhaps the good news is that people are being healed and fed and given peace of mind.

III.   Discipleship

a.       Authority

b.      Power

c.       Planting seeds

William Placher points out that farming is a mysterious business.  A farmer sows the seeds and waits.  Something is happening under the soil, but you don’t know what until something shoots up out of the ground.  The works of power and the teaching in parables might work like that.  People don’t know the right titles, but they know they are fed and healed and given peace of mind.  They are also told that the kingdom of God is near at hand.  Perhaps that is the seed that is planted, the small realization that there is alternative to the oppression and poverty of the current rule.

d.      Suffering

When you preach that alternative and reach for it, when those seeds begin to grow, you will probably suffer.  You may even die.  Some things are worth it.

Mark: The Beginning (Program and Sermon Outline

// November 8th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Background

a.       Author

1.      Traditionally Mark, associated with Peter

2.      Unknown

b.      Occasion

1.      Fall of Temple

2.      Sack of Jerusalem

3.      Resolving relationship to two communities

a)      Jews

(1)   Rejection by priests and scribes
(2)   New temple

b)      Rome

c.       Community

1.      Greek speaking

2.      Gentile

3.      Persecuted

d.      Style

1.      Crude

2.      Clumsy

3.      Sense of immediacy

II.     What is the beginning?

III.   What is the good news?

a.       Challenge to dominant culture

1.      Religious authorities

2.      Government

3.      Social mores

b.      Alternative vision

IV.  Who is Jesus?

a.       Titles

1.      Son of God

2.      Son of Man

3.      Son of David

4.      Messiah

5.      Christ

6.      Anointed One

7.      Son of the Beloved One

b.      One having authority

c.       Messianic Secret

1.      Disciples

2.      Outsiders

Mark: The Beginning

// November 3rd, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

For churches that follow the lectionary, this is the year of Mark.  The lectionary years are designated A, B, and C, which correspond to following the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, respectively.  So this is Year B, the year to read Mark.  The purpose of the lectionary is to give people a complete view of the Bible every three years.  (”Where’s John?!?” I’m sure you are exclaiming in confused frustration.  Good question, I say!)  Since we don’t follow the lectionary, I would at least like to give people a chance to encounter this year’s gospel on its own terms.

That’s the real trick.  It is very hard to read anything in the Bible without interjecting all the things we know from other parts of the Bible.  Even if we have never studied the Bible intensively or if we came from a tradition that was not as focused on Scripture, it is hard not to import all the cultural baggage.  For example, as we hurtle toward the Christmas season, it is hard to imagine the story of Jesus without a birth narrative.  Prepare to be disappointed.

This week, we will look at the beginning of the Gospel According to Mark.  As my professor, Dr. Heller, says, “The first thing is the most important thing.”  Or something like that.  I didn’t take a lot of notes.  I’m not a “note” guy.  Anyway, the important thing is that the way that someone starts a text will tell you a lot about what they are attempting to do.  Think of the great novels you have read.  (Full disclosure: I don’t read a lot of novels, but looking at this list makes me want to read a lot of novels, just to see what happens after those first delicious sentences.)  Anyway, Mark starts boldly, not with a genealogy or birth narrative, but with a statement of purpose: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we unpack that auspicious beginning.

Grace and Peace,

Series Outline

Nov. 4 – The Beginning
Nov. 11 – Jesus’ Ministry
Nov. 18 – Jesus’ Death
Nov. 25 – Ressurection?

Bible Study!

I was hoping to do a four week study of Mark.  Since this last week was filled with gumbo and candy and the last week of November is Thanksgiving, I think it is best to condense to three weeks.  Granted, this is a criminally short time to study anything, but we do what we can.  So here’s the schedule:

Nov. 7 – Chapters 1-8 (Ministry in Galilee)
Nov. 14 – Chapter 9-13 (The Road to Jerusalem)
Nov. 21 – Chapters 14-16 (The Passion)

The format will be to discuss whatever issues people want to discuss.  Take about an hour to read through the whole book and then read each section carefully before the discussion.  The goal is to dig a little deeper than we can on Sundays.

The study will take place during Wednesday night dinners starting at 8pm after everyone has gotten something to eat.  We will be at Sara Kitto’s throughout November.  Hope to see you there!