Posts Tagged ‘bible’

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!

How to Read the Bible (Program and Sermon)

// October 16th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.        Introduction

a.       Review

1.      Literal

2.      Allegorical

3.      Moral

4.      Anagogical

b.      Read out loud

1.      Jonah

2.      God

3.      Captain

4.      Sailors

5.      Narrator

6.      Newsreader for the King of Ninevah

II.     Literal

a.       What does it say?

b.      What doesn’t it say?

c.       What voices are left out?

d.      Who wins and loses?

e.       Is it true?

III.   Allegorical

a.       What does this tell us about Christ?

b.      What patterns do you see?

c.       How does this connect to your own life?

IV.  Moral

a.       What should you do?

b.      What happens if you do or don’t?

c.       Can this guidance be trusted?

d.      Are there alternatives?

V.     Anagogical

a.       What does this say about the End?

b.      How are we to live now in light of that end?

c.       What does this say about destiny and fate?

d.      Ignatian Method and discussion.

Biblical Authority as Subjective Encounter

// October 16th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

For my family and sexuality in the Bible class, I was asked to reflect on how I viewed biblical authority.  In the spirit of laying my cards on the table and to cap the How to Read the Bible series, I thought I might post it.  Sorry it’s so long.  — Scott


Certainly, my current understanding of the authority of Scripture is shaped in reaction to my upbringing in a fundamentalist church.  Scripture was thought to be inerrant and God-breathed.  Further, the Bible was thought be a monolithic text with a clear narrative arc and consistent theological view.  Most importantly, the Bible was the center of our faith.  In spite of the problems I saw, I was assured and comforted that it all really made sense if I could just see how, if I could just read it with the Holy Spirit.  College ended that.  Not only did the factual problems I had noticed gain credibility from real scholars, but I started to see how my worldview centered on Scripture actually excluded and harmed a lot of people.  In trying to find a church to attend during college, I discovered that my questions were unwelcome.  I gave up on the whole thing – not just church, but Christianity as a whole.  The journey back lasted twenty years and travelled through the writing of Elaine Pagels and Marcus Borg.  I discovered that I still loved the Bible after all that time and those authors gave me a glimpse of other possibilities, other ways to read that revealed the God that I never stopped seeking.  They set me on the path back to church and on to seminary where my views on the Bible have coalesced.  Today, I view the Bible as a valuable dialog partner with whom I engage in mutual self-revelation to be transformed toward the presence of God.

In order to get to an understanding of the Bible as a dialog partner, we must first understand the Bible as symbolic.  I do not mean “merely” symbolic, but a very specific and rich definition of symbol drawn from Ricoeur and masterfully articulated by Sandra M. Schneiders.  She defines a symbol as “a sensible reality which renders present to and involves a person subjectively in a transforming experience of transcendent mystery.”[1]  According to this view, a symbol mediates between sensible, embodied reality and the transcendent.  It does so by rendering that mystery present, but only as an instantiation of a relationship between subjects.  Thus, the Bible, when engaged subjectively, can be the very presence of God as a subject.

The Bible as subject opens itself, reveals itself, bares itself.  It is the precise opposite of the Bible as an object of study.  Objects are necessarily bounded.  They can be examined, measured, explained, and quantified, but they never speak.  They provide information, but not revelation.  This information can be useful, but it does not matter in an ultimate sense.  One’s being is not at risk when experiencing an object.  But a subject opens onto the vast mystery of the Other.  One risks destruction in the presence of the Divine, but finds truth.  The possible points of connection between two subjects are almost limitless.  As Schneiders points out, a symbol does not merely point to a single reality in a one-to-one correspondence, but to a multiplicity of interpretive possibilities.[2]  She goes further, saying that this plethora of possibilities necessarily keeps the encounter open-ended.[3]  The Bible does not provide information, a narrow meaning to be grasped and held.  It is an ongoing encounter of revelation.  It can never be closed down.  If it can be entirely accounted for, it bears no relation to the Divine.  The Divine does not simply deliver answers to waiting, receptive minds.

No, an encounter with the Divine is a dialog.  God confronts a person, calls out, and awaits a response.  Similarly, we call out constantly for God and await a response.  Intrinsic to true dialog is openness to the other.  The Bible, as encounter with the Divine, speaks to me and I speak to the Bible.  We may view each other skeptically because there is something at risk.  We must take care of each other in this vulnerable space.  Someone could get hurt. But if we give ourselves to the encounter, we are both revealed.  We both become who we truly are.

Thus, reading the Bible is an ongoing process of mutual self-revelation.  A great deal of the dialog is discovering the difference between the embodied and the transcendent.  This is not to break down the symbol into some hypothetical “essential” reality.  Nor is it to reject that which is temporal and finite.  No, it is to understand it as a whole, to be open to all that it is, in all its truth and beauty and brokenness.  I want to know the collective fears and hopes that produced the text.  I want to live in them because I already do.  The Bible asks me right back: What do you hope for?  What do you fear?  Who do you love?  Who do you turn away from?  Who do you destroy?  As an object, an artifact of centuries of human effort, we can study these things, learn these things, but as a subject we can encounter the Divine, we can know our fears, our sin, and be transformed.  This, for me, is the ethical authority of the Bible.

This authority cannot be regarded so trivially as an object.  It must be interrogated, viewed critically, asked to understand itself.  When the Bible understands God to destroy every living thing in a worldwide flood, what anguish and despair and frustration is revealed?  What is hoped for?  Most importantly, are these things mine?  When the Bible speaks of the gendering of humanity, whose interests are furthered?  Probably mine.  Who is harmed?  Probably someone I care about.  Probably someone who calls out in anguish and despair and frustration.  When I encounter that person, my ethical obligation is to make present the God who rebukes evil to bring forth life.

Because this is not an objective process, it is not easy.  Growing up, I was told that the Bible had all the answers.  Now, I think it has a lot of really great questions.  Maybe it has a few really big, really important answers that help us work on the rest.  But, ultimately, the essence of ethics is making decisions as a real, embodied being.  No one has ever been precisely where I am right now.  No one has ever had the collection of experiences I have.  But if I open myself up to the address of the other, we can render God present.  We can find that space between that is both and neither and so much more.  That is the space in which we can be transformed into people equipped for every good work.  Rather than considering our options, weighing the costs and benefits, appealing to an abstract principle of the good, we can simply spend time with one another in God and act with love, justice, and compassion.  That is the Scripture that is written out in our lives.  That is the authority.  That is God’s presence.

The Bible then, is one of the ways we might render God present, to engage in an encounter of ongoing, mutual self-revelation and transformation toward the Good.  I no longer see it as a guidebook, filled with answers about how to live my life today.  Instead, I understand it as a symbol that I must approach as a subject.  We give ourselves to each other and see who we truly are.  We share our fears and our hopes and meet God.  In so doing, we are transformed.

[1] Sandra M. Schneiders, Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (New York: Crossroad, 2003), 66.

[2] Schneiders, 67.

[3] Schneiders, 67.

How to Read the Bible: The Reading

// October 11th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

And finally we get to try out our new toys.  We’ve spent the past few weeks talking about the classic understanding of the four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.  We have explored the promise and the peril of each and looked at some new reading strategies that might open up the text, find the life that beckons from within.  This week, we will try out those reading strategies.

We’re going to focus on the book of Jonah.  I’m choosing this for a few reasons.  First, it is familiar enough that people know it, but maybe so familiar that we have smoothed over some details.  So there may be some surprises.  Second, it is short.  We will read the whole thing on Sunday.  Third, it was a very important text for early Christians.  I think we now regard it as a children’s story, though we simplify it, similar to the way we treat the story of Noah’s Ark.  It will be good to rediscover it.  And, finally, it is ripe for the reading in all four senses as well as many of the alternative reading strategies we have discussed.  There are questions of literal truth, moral guidance, and allegories abound to tell us about God, about ourselves, and what we might hope for.

I don’t often give you advance notice what we’ll be looking at, so I hope you’ll take this rare opportunity to read ahead.  Also, please bring your Bibles.  Lots of versions would be great.  (Fair warning: we will be reading the NRSV rather than the Inclusive precisely because it does not try to smooth out problems.)  If you have commentaries or Bible dictionaries, consult them.  Bring them.  Whatever you think might help our reading.  But most of all bring yourself – completely.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center as we read an ancient story with post-modern eyes.  Come early for snacks and coffee.

Grace and Peace,