Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

Taking Up the Cross

// March 5th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Sorry about the cold last Sunday.  Still learning about the building’s reaction to crazy Texas weather.  So our conversation was brief, but good.

I shared a little (maybe a lot) about the context of Romans.  Paul is often read through the eyes of previous interpreters and, in our contemporary context, Romans is often the source of our ideas about what it means to be “saved,” the how and the why.  Every time I read Romans, I encounter one of those verses that would seem to tell us that Jesus died because I am awful, because of something I did or said, because I’m just rotten to the core.  I read Romans and see that Jesus was a sacrifice made for my rottenness, that Jesus stood in my place for what I deserved.  Even after all the study I have done, I still fall into that reading.  However, there are other readings.

The Jewish Christians who started the Roman church had been exiled and now returned to find a church filled with Gentile Christians.  As you might imagine, there is tension.  Paul is writing to address that tension, to unify the church so that they might also unite with him in his proposed mission to Spain.  Thus, it is not a treatise on how and why we might be saved.  Rather, Paul cites the faithfulness that both groups have, the trust in God’s promise that is more foundational than law or conversion or ethnicity or history. Specifically, it is trust in God’s promise that life can come out of death, which was revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Most importantly, the Roman Christians have the opportunity to make that promise come true by being new life for one another.  The struggle and suffering of exile and persecution can be redeemed if they choose to live into that promise, to hold fast to one another in a difficult time.

It is the same in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus tells us that following him means to take up one’s cross.  If the cross of Jesus was the one cross, if the death of Jesus was the singular event to set things right, why follow him at all?  What is left to be done?  Why are there still crosses to bear?  While Paul uses the language of sacrificial atonement, he does not develop the idea, but instead returns over and over again to the idea of participation, of unity in Christ.  We live into the suffering and death of Christ so that we and our world might be transformed into a new life of love, peace, and justice.  Jesus did not carry that cross so that we wouldn’t have to; he carried it so that we would know the Way.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue to discuss the meaning of the suffering and death of Jesus in this Lenten season.  This week, we will discuss the foolish ways of the world and the wisdom of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18-25) informed by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as depicted in John 2.13-22.  I figured out how to use the heater.

Grace & Peace,

Progress Report

The workday didn’t happen because it was freezing in the building.  My bad.  However, Mikal Beth got some more painting done this week (thank you!) and I did some odds and ends.  If you’d like to do some work on the building, check out our Google doc task list.  It is fully editable, so feel free to add on if you see something that needs to be done.  No shenanigans!

Fred and Ashley got a lot of stuff for the kitchen (big thanks!), but we still need some stuff from our registry.  We welcome any contributions!

Finally, we have studios to rent.  If you know someone who wants a small studio or office, send them our way.  They are small, about 80sf, but enough room for a desk or wall space for painting.  We’ll try to accommodate people as best we can.  We’re looking for $200/mo in rent.

Suffering and Redemption

// February 28th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Because Lent is a time when we tend to talk a lot about sin, I endeavored on Sunday to explain my framework for thinking about sin.  Some folks asked for a write-up, so here it is if you’re interested.

The reason this alternative view is important is that sin, in the Christian mindset, is thought to be responsible for evil, suffering, and death.  However, it is commonly thought that this is done through a bit of magic, the eating of an apple, and that the remedy is similarly magical, a ritual sacrifice.  My hope this Lenten season is to provide an alternate way of understanding that story that resonates more with our experience of being human, to connect the inner transformations of which we often speak with the transformation of the world in which we endeavor to participate.

One way that we commonly speak of suffering and evil that needs to be confronted emerged in our conversation on Sunday.  People often imagine that God causes suffering in order to impart some lesson, which sounds like something that many battered women and children hear from their attacker.  That is just not a God I want anything to do with.  However, it can’t be denied that we often learn things from suffering.  We find reserves of strength we did not know we had.  We find humility in the loss of control.  We find hope on the other side.  But perhaps it is better to understand those gains as redemption of suffering rather than its reason for being.  That is, rather than understanding God as one who makes us suffer so that we can learn these things, perhaps God is one who is with us in our suffering to help us turn it into something that brings life.  This is what we have always done with the story of Jesus.

The suffering and death of Jesus is the specifically Christian way of examining the problem of evil, suffering, and death.  In the face of tremendous loss and humiliation, the followers of Jesus had to try to explain what happened.  They had to try to make meaning out of this tragedy.  We still do that today.  It is the story that we tell and retell and interpret into our lives.  Through our God-given hope and humility and strength we redeem this tragic event.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about the meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death, theologically, personally, and socially.  We will examine Paul’s writings on the subject in Romans 4.13-25 and the story found in Mark 8.31-38, both important texts for the theology of substitutionary atonement, the theology to which I am hoping to provide an alternative.  One programming note: during Lent we are doing a silent meditation at the beginning of the service, so please try to arrive by 11am and enter quietly so as not to disturb others.

Grace & Peace,

Progress Report

We are still working on the building.  Special thanks to Mike Trozzo for all the painting time he has put in.  There are a few things we could use some help with.

First, labor.  There is still more painting to be done.  We have a board meeting scheduled for this Sunday after church.  However, we realized that we might need more work and less talk, so it will be a Board Meeting/Workday.  We would love to have your help.  We’re going to order pizza for lunch.  (To see what tasks are available for your labors, please see our Google doc task list.)

Second, buy stuff!  We’re slowly filling in furniture needs, but there’s always more.  We started a registry list at  Just pick something out and buy it.  All the shipping is set up.

Finally, we have studios to rent.  If you know someone who wants a small studio or office, send them our way.  They are small, about 80sf, but enough room for a desk or wall space for painting.  We’ll try to accommodate people as best we can.  We’re looking for $200/mo in rent.  Email

My Understanding of Sin

// February 28th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Because Lent is a time when we tend to talk a lot about sin, I endeavored on Sunday to explain my framework for thinking about sin.  It differs from things we might have heard growing up in a modern American Christian context, whether Catholic or Evangelical.  In the spirit of this church’s emphasis on questioning and conversation, I am not stating that this is the only or right or best way to think about sin.  I am only setting it forward as a starting point that frees us up from some of the issues that plague other frameworks and to try to shift the conversation away from personal piety and guilt.

There are traditionally three ways that sin is considered.  First, behavior.  Sin is doing the wrong thing.  Second, as a condition.  When Eve ate the apple, it stained our nature so that we are evil from birth.  Finally, relationally, socially, and cosmically as systems that sustain injustice.  Not only are humans flawed, but the world is fallen, incapable on its own to produce the Good.  Each of these ways of thinking about sin generates a different response to sin and those ways are not always compatible.

We can see examples of this in the early Christian writers wrestling with the question of salvation: By grace?  Through faith?  By works?  Is it our behavior or God’s that matters?  And what are we saved from?  Our own condition or the injustice of the world?  In my opinion and in my experience as a pastor talking through issues of suffering and evil with people, our explanations of sin lead only to confusion and frustration, rather than the experience of freedom promised by the gospel.  So, here is my understanding of sin, which I hope will serve as the backdrop for our conversations throughout Lent.

It is a fact that we live in a finite world.  Existence is marked by scarcity, limits, loss, and ends.  To exist at all requires the possibility of non-existence.  To be, to have a point of view, is to understand that there are things that are not us.

These limits create fear.  We fear scarcity.  We fear death.  We fear the powerlessness of confronting all the not-us that is beyond our control.  Our psyche is structured to deal with this, to defend us against the threat of the world.  Our fears pile up to become delusions, doubts, and desires that help us cope with our finitude.  In themselves, they are not bad.  We hunger, so we know to feed ourselves.  We tell ourselves we are capable even when we are not sure.  We question things to find truth.  However, those good things can swallow us up and become our whole identity, so that each of us is nothing but a monad of fear colliding with other fearful bits of isolation in the world.  We no longer see the world clearly and become convinced that we are not enough and the world is not enough to bring about wholeness, peace, or justice.  The reality of the world and the formation of our psyche in response to its limitations is the condition of sin.

Out of that condition, we make choices.  You can see how a failure to see the world clearly might result in some bad choices.  We often choose to live into that fear rather than overcome it.  We fear scarcity, so we hoard.  We could trust that there is enough if we trusted one another to share.  We fear judgment, so we isolate ourselves or compulsively pursue perfection.  We could accept grace.  We fear loss and failure, so we disengage from the world, keep everything in our bountiful imagination.  We could have some beautiful failures and invest our hope in the next thing.  All of these choices to live into fear rather than hope are sin.  Note that this is not so much something to feel guilty about, but something to endure, overcome, and redeem.

Of course, our choices produce results.  The trick is that these results do not directly correlate to either our intentions or our calculations.  Sometimes, things simply don’t work out as we had hoped or planned.  Sometimes, things work out far better than we had hoped or planned.  But, either way, those results tend to inform our future choices.  If we take that risk and live into hope instead of fear and it ends badly, we’re less likely to try it again.  Fear is reinforced; we are cast further down into the condition of sin, our escape seems even more impossible, and our choices become more distorted.

The terrible reality is that fear has a lot of power in a finite world and we tend to structure our world in response to fear rather than hope.  Politics, economics, even ethics, are designed to cope with scarcity and limits.  We quantify, manipulate, and exploit our world and even one another.  This is what Martin Buber calls the It-world.  It, like the defense mechanisms in our psyche, is necessary.  We must design systems to distribute goods.  We must, at times, regard one another as objects to be used.  But, also like the defense mechanisms in our psyche, we can allow this to become our full understanding of reality.  We live entirely into the It-world and forget that there is a You-world out there, full of people to be related to with compassion and vulnerability.  Worse, the structures of the It-world become entrenched systems of power that exploit and oppress.  They become so pervasive that they seem to be the nature of things.  Gender, class, sexuality, (dis)ability, age – all manner of ways of dividing and labeling one another – are assumed to be embedded in the fabric of reality, each person occupying a predetermined place in a predetermined order.  In such a system, there is no room for the story of the individual, no room for vulnerability or variation, and no room for transformation.  This, too, is sin.

In this framework of sin, the tensions between the different ways of talking about sin are eased.  There is no conflict between the condition of sin, sinful behaviors, and the injustice and evil of the world.  The nature of the world forces us to make choices that have outcomes and those outcomes either support or resist injustice.  It is a self-sustaining loop.

The good news is that the remedy also consists of overlapping, intersecting constructs.  Those walls of fear that we use to keep the finite world from harming us can be taken down.  Instead of focusing on loss and limits, we can turn around – repent – to see promise and possibility.  But that is not enough.  We also must break the systems of power that capitalize on fear to oppress and exploit.  It is not a question of whether faith, grace, or works is operative, or even primary, in the work of salvation.  They work in concert, each bringing its own potential for transformation that feeds the others:  trust and faith in God and God’s children; the vulnerability and humility in accepting grace; and the courage to work against the oppressor.  This is salvation.

It is worth noting that this is not radically different from a lot of traditional Christian theology.  Augustine is more nuanced than contemporary interpreters give credit.  Evagrius Ponticus’s demonology is almost a perfect analogue of modern psychology.  These authors and others were wrestling with the weighty issues of human experience.  Unfortunately, we have whittled them down to frightening caricatures, using fear to drive membership, and we have largely failed in Christian education to teach people to think critically or take their own experience and reason seriously.  We are left with only guilt and fear to transform people’s lives.  I think we can do better.

Sin and Suffering

// March 28th, 2014 // 2 Comments » // Church in The Cliff

We had a rich and wide-ranging discussion on Wednesday night after dinner. We began discussing the long-promised fifth chapter of Marcus Borg’s Heart of Christianity, which concerns the place of Jesus as central to the Christian faith. As discussions of Christianity often do, this one eventually turned to the Bible. Specifically, we talked about how our witness to the life of Jesus was written decades after his death and how our reading of that witness is affected by millennia of other readers. Even the text we now have is translated from original languages through the lens of our entire Christian history and the theologies and imagery that have developed along the way. As if on cue, the lectionary this week presents us with John 9.1-41, the story of the man born blind, a text that is rich in reading possibilities.

Unfortunately, the possibilities that are reflected in our usual translations can be dangerous. The Pharisees ask Jesus whether the man was born blind because his parents sinned or because he did. The question reflects a common view in the ancient world: bad things happen to bad people. If someone is ill, someone must have messed up. Jesus, in his Jesus-y way, is kind, saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of [the one] who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” It’s not anyone’s fault; we shouldn’t blame the victim. But is this response truly any more kind?

The second part of his answer is curious if we take the problem of evil seriously. There are a lot of explanations for the presence of evil in the world if one – as Christians typically do – assume that God is good. We often describe it as a condition, the consequence of sin brought into the world by Adam and Eve and a sneaky serpent. As mentioned, the Pharisees assumed that it was the direct consequence of the blind man’s or his parents’ actions. Another theory developed in the few hundred years before Jesus’ birth is that people suffer, not because they are evil, but because they are good in an evil world. All intriguing and problematic theories, but Jesus does not offer those. Instead, he appears to say that it is God’s fault.

It would seem that this man was born blind because God wants to show off. Perhaps more generously, all of existence is here to testify to God’s greatness, including suffering. So this man was born blind, reduced to begging his entire life, bringing shame on his family in an honor/shame culture, all so that Jesus can come along one day and make him better. Now people can say, “Wow. God really is awesome.” Is God awesome? Is that God awesome? The God that makes people suffer for decades and then shows up at the eleventh hour to provide relief – is that a God worthy of worship? Can that God rightly be said to be good? I have to say, I don’t think so. There must be better ways to deliver a message than in our broken bodies heaped under a mountain of mud, sitting at the bottom of an ocean, or tormented in a fire from which there is no escape. God must have better ways of showing love than inflicting us with leprosy and paralysis and diabetes and cancer and spousal abuse and stray bullets. Count me out.

Fortunately, we have nerds. All nerds are great, but Bible nerds might just save our souls. Bible grammar nerds get an extra star in their crowns.

One thing our translations obscure about the texts they represent is that Greek is all mashed together. There are no divisions, no visual cues for the reader to understand how the words go together. There’s no punctuation to tell us where a sentence ends. There are not even spaces between words to tell us where they start and stop. Look at Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees in verse 3: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” This certainly supports a common view that has emerged in the Christian tradition: that suffering is good because God wills it; that we suffer to learn a lesson or to demonstrate God’s grace. But what if we break up the sentences a little differently: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind. So that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of [the one] who sent me while it is day.” Perhaps God and God’s love are revealed in our response to suffering. Perhaps suffering is, in fact, a bad thing, but we can redeem that suffering with love.

I won’t claim that this is the right reading of the text, or even a better reading. However, it does show that there is a choice that the translators made and that choice reflects a particular theological point of view. It is not neutral. It is not objective. It is not “simply reading the text.” It is a choice and that choice has consequences in the way that we as Christians live our lives. Now, this does not mean that reading the Bible is pointless. May it never be! Rather, it calls us to claim our own voices, to read critically and humbly, and to always know that our reading has consequences. Like our response to suffering, the way that we read a text – or do anything, really – can be revelatory of God’s work and God’s love. Or not. It’s our choice.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk further about the story of the man born blind. I know I said this last week about the woman at the well, but this is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I could probably say that about every story in the Gospel of John and that won’t be the only common thread between these two stories. I hope you will read ahead and I look forward to a rich conversation on Sunday.

Celebration and Mourning (Plus: Holy Week, Easter, and a Vote

// March 23rd, 2013 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Holy Week
Vote on Pastoral Resident

This Sunday, Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week.  The liturgical year began with Advent and the birth of Jesus.  One would think that its culmination would be in the death of Jesus after a full year.  However, our tradition places that event in the middle of the year signifying that death is not the end.  I’m not suggesting that we skip the Passion and jump to Easter.  Rather, as with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, death and heartbreak can come at any time, even in the midst of victory.  Perhaps it must.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a bittersweet affair.  There is adulation and celebration from the huge crowds that gather around.  Jesus feels it.  He understands what is happening as a part of the nature of things, even the stones of the earth cry out.  But he also knows the other part of nature: his must die because of the sin in the world.

This is an act of defiance against the power of his world.  It fulfills Jewish understanding of Scriptures about the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.  It mocks the procession of Roman military might taking place at the same time on the other side of town.  This is the beginning of a series of provocations that can end in no other way than his death.

If there is to be more of a story, we have to deal with this part.  Suffering and death will come.  We can’t avoid it; we can’t run away; we can’t buy it off.  What we can do is celebrate what should be celebrated and mourn what should be mourned.  Suffering and death are redeemed by being present, seeing them for what they are, and by trying, whenever we can, to make them for something.  The Christian story is a long one that stretches beyond the grave because it is a story of redemption.  It is a story that ultimately ends in justice, health, and peace.  Like Jesus, we are anointed by God to a particular destiny: to work toward that end, no matter the cost.  Redemption does not take away this part of the story, but suffering and death is not the whole story.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we celebrate and mourn.

Grace & Peace,

Holy Week

There will be no Wednesday dinner this week.  Instead, we will have a brief Maundy Thursday service and meal and then watch Jesus of Montreal.  We’ll start at 7pm at the Shirleys’, 221 S. Edgefield Ave.  For Good Friday, we are not doing anything formal.  However, there are many, many opportunities in Dallas, including the Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance’s Good Friday Walk.  This year, the walk is dedicated to all the children who have been lost to gun violence.  It will begin at 10am at Young and Harwood in front of First Presbyterian Church.


After our Easter service, we will have a picnic at Kidd Springs as well as an Easter egg hunt.  If you would like to help out, please email Lisa at  It is also a fifth Sunday, which means we will be serving at Oak Lawn UMC in the afternoon.  If you would like to help out there, please let Lisa know.

Vote on Pastoral Resident

We announced this last week in church, but, for those who were unable to attend, there is currently a vote underway to hire Genny Rowley as a pastoral resident through December.  Genny would share responsibilities with Scott, allowing the team to add more activities, such as increased pastoral care and counseling, Bible study, events, and service work.  The proposal is revenue-neutral as the pastoral staff budget ($1500/month through May; $1000/month after May) would be divided equally.  The board approved this change pending a community vote to call Genny to this position.  Please register your vote by emailing or by speaking to a board member in person before March 30th.

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.