Monday, January 4, 2016

Looking Forward to January 10, 2016 -- Entering the Gospel of Mark

The way that the Narrative Lectionary is built is that between Christmas and Easter we explore one of the Gospels, working our way through it in order. This year we work through Mark. And since Easter is on the early side (March 27, almost the earliest it can possibly be) our journey through Mark will hop skip and jump along to get to Chapter 16 by Easter Sunday. This means we will have some relatively long passages. But it also means that most passages will appear to have multiple sermon possibilities. Mark is a Gospel writer in a hurry, everything happens fast, and so when you read longer passages you likely have two or three discrete events recounted.

Technically the cycle began on December 27 but we were doing other things the last 2 weeks. So we jump in on week 3 of Mark and a reading from Chapter 2. More specifically our reading for this week is Mark 2:1-22.

The Sermon title is New Wine New Skins

Early thoughts: I see about 5 distinct, though inter-related sermon starters in these 22 verses.

You could focus on the opening story and the conflict over words of forgiveness.

You could look at the second story and talk about inclusion, bringing in the outsider.

You could take the third section and talk about fasting and feasting.

You could look at the whole and talk about the growing conflict between Jesus and the powers-that-be, a conflict that will eventually lead directly to a cross on a hill.

But I am not following any of those paths. I think the unifying piece to the passage is in the last few verses. Patching cloth and having it tear, using old wine-skins and heaving them burst.

Mark’s Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming that the Kingdom is at hand. The time is now, the day has come. Does this perhaps mean that it is time for new cloth and new wine-skins? Are the healings and the teachings and the conflict signs that there needs to be a new way of looking at things? Even more, is there a hint that it is difficult to live the new way using old patterns?

It seems to me that this is the challenge of Christian faith. Mark has been clear thus far that interacting with Jesus changes life completely and immediately. And yet human nature, particularly within faith communities perhaps, tends to resist major change. We tend to try to slow it down, to make it incremental and reforming rather than sudden and revolutionary. We want to patch the hole, to make use of the old containers. This seems to be common sense. This seems to be prudent. This seems to be making best use of what has been handed down to us. Unfortunately it also seems that it often doesn’t work.

What cloth in our midst has been patched but is about to tear? What wine-skins have been used one or two times too many? Is there a need to punch a hole in our ceiling to allow wholeness to come in? Where is the new trying to break through?

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