Peering Through New Windows – a bible study for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Mark 1:14-20

In place of a sermon, we engaged in a bible-study of our Gospel text Mark 1:14 not from the perspective of The Church, but from the perspectives of history and justice. I’m indebted to the work of Ched Myers whose book – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, provides a perspective that turned my own understanding of this text upside-down! We are all indebted to the excellent teaching of New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, whose visits to Holy Cross have empowered us to be more fervent followers of the Way! Below you will find my notes for the bible-study.

You can listen to the audio version of the study here

  • New windows – New perspectives
  • Very familiar Gospel text
  • My first memory of this text – “fishers of men” listening to a children’s choir
  • Solicit memories of the text – interpretations
  • What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
  • From the perspective of the church
  • For years we have been looking at this morning’s gospel reading from the perspective of the church
  • “I will make you fishers of men.”
  • Go out there and teach people about Jesus ð convert people and grow the church
  • We have seen the call to follow Jesus as call to become fishers of “men” the church has sent us out to spread the word and to call others into the church
  • Photographs of Cherilyn – on the Sea of Galilee
  • Reminding me of all that we learned from John Dominic Crossan about the Sea of Galilee
  • Fishing industry – first century Galilee
  • Pax Romana – Roman Empire
  • Fishing leases sold by the Empire through tax collectors
  • First century fishers were disenfranchised workers
  • What is the Anonymous Gospel Storyteller that we call Mark trying to tell us?
  • Follow me and I will make you fishers of humankind.”
  • This is one place where I happen to believe that it is a mistake to use inclusive language.
  • I have learned that Jesus used this language for a reason and I believe that in this instance Jesus is targeting “men”
  • “I will make you fishers of men.”
  • In order to understand this passage we must change our perspective
  • We need to look through new windows
  • Peering through the windows of history
  • What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
  • When we look at this text from the lenses provided by the church, we interpret this Gospel as an instruction to go out and catch the church some fish
  • But looking back through the lenses of history we see a different story
  • Jesus never meant to create a church
  • Gift from Pastor Jon Fogleman: Ched Myers – “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus”
  • Gospel of Mark written after 70 – the Empire has destroyed the Temple – the disenfranchised are suffering at the hands of the Empire
  • How are the persecuted to respond
  • According to the Gospel – Jesus invites them to become “fishers of men.”
  • If this means what we have learned from the perspective of the church, we are supposed to covert people – to grow the church
  • But what if it means something else?
  • What if fishing for men means more than we know?
  • Ched Myers suggests that we look back into the Hebrew Scriptures and look at how this phrase has been used by the Jewish prophets
  • When we peer through the lenses of history we discover that key to unlocking the revolutionary code of the Gospel account
  • The prophets Jeremiah (16:6), Amos (4:2) and Ezekiel (29:4) used the metaphor of “hooking a fish” as a euphemism for judgement upon the rich
  • Jesus is inviting the disenfranchised fishers to follow him to learn how to “hook fish “ and as good, observant, Jews, these fishers as well as those early hearers of this story would have understood the phrase to mean:
  • As Ched Myers puts it:“Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege.”
  • Looking through this new window on the text how might we hear this text today in our context?
  • “Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God:  “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Change your hearts and minds, and believe this Good News!”
  • “the reign of God is at hand.”
  • The basilea of God ð the “kingdom” the “empire” or as our modern translation puts it “the realm of God”
  • What might this “realm of God” look like?
  • Who are we in this metaphor? – the fishers or the rich?
  • What does the realm of God look like to us?
  • “basilea theou”  Basilea – the Greek feminine noun for “sovereignty” traditionally translated as “kingdom” – dominion, empire
  • “basilea ouranou” – ouranos means sky or heaven but it is also the name of the father god of the Greeks – in Latin Uranus – “Ouranos was one of the primary realities, who, with his wife, Gaia, or Earth, brought forth all creatures. The creative father spirit imagined to exist in the fine ether of the sky, somewhat remote from earthly life yet very much involved in it. The cosmos began with these two realities, earth and sky, mother and father to all beings.” (Moore – Walking on Sand)
  • Realm of God – is at hand – the Empire of Rome cannot stand.
  • Peering through the windows of history we can see: Jesus is about to lead a movement that seeks justice for the disenfranchised.
  • “Follow me to usher in the Realm of God”
  • “follow me to seek justice for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the persecuted, the poor; follow me and turn the world upside down.”
  • To follow Jesus is to join a revolutionary movement to turn the existing structures upside down.
  • What fishes need to be hooked today?
  • Are we prepared to hook a fish or two? Are we prepared to be hooked?
  • The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to be part of a radical quest for justice.
  • Are we prepared to usher in God’s realm of justice and peace.

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Fishing for Young People Will NOT Save the Church! a sermon for Epiphany 3B – Mark1:14-20

Blessing for New Beginnings O'Donohue pastordawn

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday after Epiphany 2015 . Our readings included Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, “A Blessing for New Beginnings” by John Donohue and Mark 1:14-20. Listen to the sermon here

Fishing for Young People Will NOT Save the Church!

Changing National Demographics Tell Us that

Youth are NOT the Future of Christianity!

Good News!  Yesterday, I spent over an hour embracing our newest grandchild. Our granddaughter arrived into our corner of the cosmos on Wednesday morning. As I held this precious little humanoid in my arms, I couldn’t help marveling at the billions and billions of years of development that led to the configuration of cells in which little Evelyn Adele’s conscious self is now poised to be without a doubt one of this planets most dynamic, intelligent, beautiful, talented, compelling, loving, engaging, smart… funny, did I say beautiful?

She’s gorgeous!!! Just like all our grandchildren! Of course. Just like all of your grandchildren. Just like each and every child who has ever been born! Little Evelyn has already won my heart. It is amazing how much love bursts forth when a tiny little humanoid appears in your life. Holding Evelyn is like holding the sun, the moon, and the stars in your arms. It is difficult not to burst with sheer joy at the realization that life is so much more intricate, complex, beautiful, and awesome than you can even begin to imagine and yet, there’s a sadness in the tenderness of that sweet embrace. Because life is more intricate and complex that we can begin to imagine, the knowledge of all the risk, danger, sadness, and tragedy in creation I couldn’t help thinking of all the disappointed parents and grandparents whose hopes and dreams did not come to fruition. Then there’s the tragedy and injustice of all the beautiful children whose lives are at risk because of poverty, injustice, hatred, violence, war, and indifference.  The complexity and the fragility of life seem so acute when you are holding a newborn. The mixture of emotions and the intensity of feeling is something that mere words cannot adequately describe.

All of the parents and the grandparents here know this. But if you had told me any of this a few years ago, I would have understood what you were saying but I would have had precious little idea of what it is that you were feeling. Being a grandparent is something that I never thought possible for me. Usually you have to have children before you can be a grandparent. But thanks to the generosity of my beloved Carol’s children, I have been blessed to be a grandmother. Next to Carol herself, I must say that being “Gran” is the best surprise I could have hoped for, way back when I was discovering who I actually am. But I will confess that the role of grandmother is not a role I ever imagined playing. My image of myself is changing. My ideas about the future are morphing into something I barely recognize. My hopes and dreams are expanding. I can hardly wait to see what lies ahead. The future is calling me to follow wherever these glorious little humans may lead us. Continue reading

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – #4: AWE – Reclaiming the word Religion

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fourth sermon in the series. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #4 – AWE: Reclaiming the word Religion,  preached on Epiphany 4B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Genesis 28:16-22; 

Hildegard of Bingen – Soul Weavings

“The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.

With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.

It is a yearning to take on God’s gentle yoke,

It is a yearning to give one’s self to God’s Way.

The marvels of God are not brought forth from one’s self.

Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.
I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God’s kindness.”

Our Gospel reading was extended to include Mark 1:21-35 “Rising Early the next morning, Jesus went off to a lonely place in the desert and prayed there.”

I was about 16 or 17, when God first overwhelmed me. I’d been attending church for about two years. Looking back on that confused young girl, I can see how I might have been attracted to Christianity by Jesus. Jesus the radical, who changed the world, is a compelling figure for a teenager who’s out to change the world. I remember that I prayed a great deal back when I first got involved in the Church. I can remember believing that prayer could change everything. Prayer could change the world. Prayer could change my life. Prayer could change other peoples’ lives. Prayer could even change the mind of God. If only I could figure out the correct way to pray. And if I prayed often enough and hard enough and at just the right moment, prayer would change everything.

The trouble was, I was praying often, I was using all sorts of types of prayer and nothing seemed to be working. So, I remember deciding, that my ineffective prayers had nothing at all to do with the power of God or the power of prayer, but with the power of me. I kept telling myself that if I could just learn how to pray, God would definitely do the rest. So, I prayed and I prayed, and I prayed and when nothing much seemed to happen, I blamed myself for not being a good enough Christian: if only, I’d spend more time reading the bible, or if only I was a better person, or if only I was a better believer. It was all up to me. So, I promised myself, and sometimes I even went so far as promising God, that someday, I’d learn how. Someday, I’d find the right teacher, I’d study hard and I’d learn exactly what I needed to do to make my prayer life, more effective. But in the meantime, I’d keep trying, even though it felt like no one was listening. I told myself that this kind of persistence is precisely what people meant when they said, “have faith”. Having faith means praying when it seems like there’s no point at all, in praying. So, I had faith and I prayed…and nada. Not a single thing. It was like talking to myself. Not even a warm fuzzy glow. But I had faith that somehow God, that big guy up there in the sky, He, and I do mean He, cause back then God was an old, bearded, guy who lived on a fluffy cloud, and spoke King James English, in a very lofty way. Anyway, He, must have been hearing my prayers, but because he was God and all, and knew everything there was to know, he was keeping stuumm in an effort to teach me something. So, all this empty praying was going to pay off in the end.

Eventually, I began to expect very little from prayer. Prayer became something akin to my car insurance. I knew I had to pay it, even though I couldn’t afford it, because someday it might just come in handy. But I never really expected my car insurance to do anything for me, especially as I couldn’t afford to pay for collision insurance. But if I hit someone else, well it just might keep me out of jail. So, I kept on praying, trusting that if I happened to hurt someone else, God would function kinda like my car insurance, only instead of keeping me out of jail, God would keep me out of hell. It was all about me back then. And then one night it happened.

My little world was blown apart and for the first time in my young life, I knew that life wasn’t all about me. It happened on the beach. Actually, it was on a boardwalk down by the ocean. A bunch of my friends and I had managed to talk our parents into letting us spend the night sleeping out under the stars. It was late August and there was supposed to be a particularly amazing meteor shower. The only problem was that in our part of the globe, the best viewing time was supposed to be between 3 and 6 am. So, we begged and we pleaded, or we miss-lead our parents and told them we were staying over at a friend’s place and about a dozen of us headed down to the boardwalk to sleep out under the stars.

It was a fabulous night. No adults to tell us what to do. Good friends to talk to. Swimming after dark. An illegal campfire to make us feel just a little bit afraid that someone might catch us. And just enough beer to make us feel like we were big shots and not enough beer to give us a buzz, because only a couple of us were brave enough to try to buy beer from the dozy lady at the convenience store who never seemed quite able to do the math when she bothered to card us. Did I mention that we’d slipped down across the boarder, not because the meteor shower would be any better down there, but because we lived close enough to Washington state and the beaches in Pt Roberts were very attractive because, we knew that there was only one sheriff on patrol and we figured that we could out-run him if we had to. Besides old Dusty, weren’t much of a sheriff and he pretty much stayed away from the boardwalk cause he knew better than to go looking for trouble. And we were trouble. We were a gang of kids from church, about a dozen kids, with about a dozen beer, and we were gonna stay up all night and watch the stars and no, no good copper was gonna stop us. Continue reading

Appealing to Young People Will NOT Save the Church! Changing National Demographics Tell Us that Youth are Not the Future of Christianity.

Blessing for New Beginnings O'Donohue pastordawn

A sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany. Our readings included Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, “A Blessing for New Beginnings” by John Donohue and Mark 1:14-20. Listen to the sermon here


Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – #3: Corporate Prayer???

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Third sermon in the series. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #3 – Corporate Prayer,  preached on Epiphany 3B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; excerpts from St Thomas Aquinas’ God’s Nature, Mark 1:14-20 – Our worship began with the singing of the old song, I Come to the Garden Alone.

Before we set forth on the third sermon in this series, let’s take a brief look at where we have been. We began looking at what happens when we give up the image of God as a grand-puppeteer in the sky to whom we pray to. We moved beyond the notion that prayer is about us talking and God listening. We looked at a model of prayer that begins with us shutting up and listening, for the voice of God, which in Hebrew is called the Bat Cole, or daughter of a sound. Listening for the still, small voice of God, begs the question: “If I happen to hear this daughter of a sound, how do I know that it is God that’s doing the talking?” This question led us to look at the two streams of thought concerning the nature of God that flow through the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The first way of looking at God, sees God as a super natural deity; a kind of person writ large, a super hero God capable of interfering and altering the course of human affairs. The second way of understanding God, is just as ancient, and just as biblical, has the fancy theological name “panentheism” which in the words of the Apostle Paul, sees God as “the ONE in whom we, live and move and have our being. Panentheism simply put means, everything is in God and God is in everything; the universe, all of creation is in God, and God permeates all of creation.

When it comes to prayer, we’ve all been trained to see God as a kind of super-hero-santa character who exists to respond to our prayers with either a yea or a nay, and if the answer is yea, then all is well, and if the answer is nay, then this super-hero-santa God is either responding negatively to our request because we haven’t prayed it properly, or this all-knowing supreme being is saying no for our own good, or this super-human-god is simply trying to teach us something. Sadly, for so many people in our day and age, unanswered prayers, especially those unanswered prayers about unmerited suffering, have lead so many of our contemporaries to conclude that this super-hero-stanta God is little more than a creation of our own making and therefore does not exist and so apart from those times when they are so desperate because there’s nothing left to try, they have for the most part given up on prayer.

The popularity of the super-hero God rises and falls upon the responses or lack of a response to our prayers. Panentheism takes us beyond worshipping the image of God that we have created and opens us to the reality of the force that lies at the very heart of creation; a force that lives and breathes in, with, and through us. When we move beyond seeing God as a super-person, to understanding God as that which permeates all that is, we are compelled to open ourselves to a power beyond our ability to name. In the presence of such a deity our prayers can seem hubris at best, ridiculously childlike, or even useless and so we are all too often reduced to a silence born out of frustration rather than intention. But however, we arrive at the silence, it is out of the silence that God comes to us and we hear the Bat Cole, the daughter of a sound, the still small voice of God. So we’ve come full circle and we can’t help but ask, how do we know that the sound we here is God?

As we struggle for an answer to this question, I’m going to try to take us on a journey that I hope will help us learn some of the skills we will need to test the voice of God. It’s a long journey, so we won’t get there with this sermon. After today we will spend four more Sundays on the subject of prayer; four more Sundays in which we will delve deeply into what it means for us as individuals to pray to a God that we understand to be the one in whom we live and breath and have our being. But before we tackle the subject of individual prayer, we’re going to look at corporate prayer.

What are we doing when we pray together? If we are in God and God is in us, what does it mean to get together as a community to pray? How do we pray? What do we expect, if anything to happen? Today we will look at corporate prayer, next Sunday we’ll delve into praying as individuals, then after a couple of Sundays we’ll include an exploration of the Lord’s prayer. Which will take us to the last Sunday of Epiphany, when we’ll arrive at the mountain-top for transfiguration and we’ll wander around the thin places before heading off into the wilderness for Lent, where even Jesus needed all his skill to determine which of the voices he was hearing was actually the voice of God.

Now for some of you beginning by exploring corporate prayer seem counter-intuitive. Most of us are more interested in your own individual prayer life than we are in the prayer-life we share as a community. But I am convinced that if we begin by looking at how our prayer-life together has changed as we’ve opened ourselves to seeing God as the One who permeates all of creation. When you think about it, our prayer-life begins when we are children with a form of corporate prayer, when an adult in our life teaches us to pray. Usually, we are taught to begin by asking God to bless, Mommy and Daddy, grandma and grandpa, our sisters and brothers, our aunts and uncles and whoever else we loved. Sometimes we’d pray for the boys and girls who were less fortunate than we are. Some of us were taught the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Some of us were taught that horror of horrors: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” I don’t think I understood what I was asking in that particular prayer, because if I did, I’d never have let my parents leave the room, because I don’t ever remember wanting God to appear in my room to take me away. Continue reading