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11-14-21 — Heap of Rubble — Daniel 12:1-3, Mark 13:1-8 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Daniel 12:1-3

Mark 13:1-8

Heap of Rubble

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

Church Historian Diana Butler Bass recently wrote the following:

 

I didn’t sleep very well on Tuesday night following elections. It was a grueling, ugly political campaign, and it did not turn out as I had hoped and worked for. After turning off both the television and the lights, I found myself tossing and turning, worried about the future, and feeling sad…

On Wednesday, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. “I’m afraid” were the words I most often heard yesterday from friends and colleagues. Not “I’m so disappointed,” “I’m angry” or “We’ll do better next time,” but “I’m afraid.”

It wasn’t an exaggeration or a metaphor. I talked to people literally afraid — eyes wide with worry, all suffering from sleeplessness…. , full of dread and a vague sense of communal terror…Afraid.

And, while listening to my friends, I knew something else. If the election results had been the opposite, a group of women sitting somewhere else…. that would be saying the exact same things as my friends were saying: they were afraid.

And, when I push past my worries about policies and politics, that’s what really makes me afraid. That we’ve come to fear one another.[1]

 

For some politics has become a zero-sum game with only winners and losers. Some people follow politics the way some people follow fantasy football, hanging on every moment, every word, and at times it can lead to their own personal apocalypse where they feel as though their world is crumbling around them.

I would suspect apocalyptic literature is probably one of the least understood forms of literature in scripture. This lack of understanding is likely why one of the most famous apocalyptic books, the Revelation of John was almost not included in the Biblical canon. This genre of biblical literature uses symbolism, political narrative, and allegory to share a truth. Often this type of literature rises in popularity during periods of unrest, persecution, or political upheaval: the Babylonian Exile or the Roman occupation for example.

These passages from Jesus are no exception. Scholars often refer to this text as the little apocalypse.  It is likely that the gospel of Mark was compiled during or shortly after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in the year 70. So those hearing this words would have likely known of or experienced firsthand the destruction of the temple from the Jewish war.

Jesus’ opening comments about the stones becoming a heap of rubble are again Jesus levying criticism on an unjust system that would take the last coins of a widow. The second scene in our text, Jesus takes a position of rabbinical authority and four of his closest disciples approach him asking when these things will happen. He offers two warnings, that we should watch out for false teachers. Josephus mentions messianic pretenders during this period, people that came as false messiahs. [2] The world continues to be full of false messiahs that want you to place your trust in them, messiahs with empty promises.  Jesus then shares words about wars, earthquakes, and famines, these are not mean to be predictive or revelatory as much as they are a call to sustain hope during difficult moments.

One of the ways I often think about passages like these are as metaphors for the personal apocalypses we all face. A way of thinking about those moments in life when we experience something so difficult it feels as if our world is crumbling around us. The moment when the fragility of life comes into focus, when we realize how precious life truly is and we are left mourning. Maybe the apocalypse is the way a marriage ended or a problem you can’t seem to work through, or an addiction you can’t beat or a child you continue to grieve. Or maybe your personal apocalypse is something different — maybe it is about the way you see things changing around you in your community, in the culture, and in the church. Maybe it is a general worry about the next generation about their values, beliefs, and the way the way they live out faith. Maybe it is concern about what the church will look like in ten years.

This conversation comes shortly before the crucifixion. In just two chapters Jesus will be betrayed, mocked, and executed by the state. The disciple’s entire world will be torn apart, their lives had become a heap of rubble. Yet, when they fixed their eyes on Jesus they become new people. When fix our eyes on Jesus we become new people. Nadia Bolz Weber tells the story of a young parishioner named Rachel. Rachel called Nadia and was crying on the phone. Rachel who had been estranged from her parents had recently gone back home to visit them and trying to rebuild their relationship. Through a tear-filled conversation Nadia learned that Rachel’s parents’ church would not allow her to partake in communion. Rachel had just spent the last year rebuilding her life and attending the church House for all Sinners and Saints. One of the keys to her recovery was this open table that allowed all people to come Jesus. Just about every Sunday for the last year she had seen a woman stand behind the table and invite all people without exception to receive the Lord’s Supper. For Rachel this had changed her and going back home and being told she could not receive Jesus was too much. Rachel gave Nadia permission to share the story with members of the church. After worship Nadia pulled a small group together and told them what Rachel said. One of the members of the church Stuart upon hearing this story and identifying with her pain said, “Well then we’ll just have to take her communion at the airport”. So, a small group of misfits whom the larger church had rejected showed up to Denver airport at 10pm with a cardboard sign that said “Rachel Pater” on one side and “Child of God” on the other. They waited at the bottom of the escalator. Then all together they made their way to the interfaith prayer room.  They spoke about how Jesus was betrayed and how through him we receive new life and freedom and they shared the body and blood of Christ together. [3]

We will all face an apocalypse, but if we fix our eyes on Jesus, Jesus will meet us in that moment; maybe in a conversation with someone we disagree with, maybe through a group of misfits, maybe in a prayer from a faithful friend, but Jesus will meet us.

 

[1] Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage: Sleepless in Virginia, 11.4.21

[2] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 487). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[3] Nadia Bolz Weber, The Corners: On Communion. Who gets the goods? 6.20.21

11-7-21 — The Widow’s Gift — 1 Kings 17: 8-16, Mark 12: 38-44 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

1 Kings 17:8-16

Mark 12:38-44

The Widow’s Gift

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

We rejoin the lectionary this morning. I would imagine if you have been in the pew for any length of time you have probably heard a sermon on this text. I would encourage you as we reflect on this passage to look for new ways to hear it. For most of us when we have heard a sermon about this, I would imagine those sermons probably were looking at this episode as a short morality play — you have the negative examples of scribes and then you have the example of the poor widow. The poor widow becomes a figure, an archetype of woman who sacrifice for the greater good, and while this reading is true I think there is more here and I would invite you to hear this text in new ways.

One of the first things to note is there were scribes and there were other scribes — some were city clerks, some were intellectuals, and some were experts in interpreting the law. Directly before this passage in Mark 12:34 Jesus actually compliments a scribe being impressed by his wisdom and telling him “you are not far from the Kingdom of God”. We need to approach this with nuance. We also need to identify underlying cultural assumptions the text has that we miss. The culture in which Jesus lived was a culture built around honor and shame.  When reading scripture, I think this is one of most difficult things to understand and one of the most often missed things. Most of us grew up in legalistic or law-based culture. We see the world and scripture through this lens. For example, the story of prodigal son is less about rule breaking and more about the shame that he brought upon his family. Asking for an inheritance, in one sense wishing his father was dead, wild living bringing more shame, squandering the inheritance more shame. That is why he thinks he can come back and be a hired hand. So, when we hear Jesus talking we need to be thinking about what people are feeling, what they should be feeling.

The other cultural assumption is about the temple. The temptation is to often think when we hear the word temple we are just talking about a really large church, but that is not what is going on here.  The Temple did not separate secular and sacred life. Goods and services are regularly exchanged here, business is done, and redistribution of wealth also happened where the temple was expected to redistribute to those in need, but that system was rigged.

When understood in this light Jesus is commenting less on her extraordinary gift of piety and more on an institution that was hopelessly corrupt. She is giving beyond her means. Those with resources would have given a calculated portion, she is literally giving all that she has left. We see Jesus and the gospel writer setting up this criticism in Mark 11. Jesus is heading to the temple when sees a fig tree, he reaches for a fig only to find a barren tree, and he curses the tree. The implication for the gospel writer is the tree is barren and so is the temple, a system which had become corrupted, in which its leaders are unfairly redistributing goods and resources. Those who had the least were penalized the most; in this reading this is less an act of piety and more about the horrific consequences of the economics of the temple. The President of Austin Theological Seminary Theodore Wardlaw in his commentary on this passage writes: “We cannot know whether her house is one of the ones devoured by those duplicitous temple officials, but we do know she is down to her last coins. Her husband is dead; she has no voice in that culture, no income, nothing. She is totally vulnerable.”[1]

This is an act that would have put her in danger, she was on the edge, and now she is off the cliff. You have to wonder why is she doing this; is this a case of her being faithful to a larger vision? A case of her choosing this even though it is unreasonable?

If you were to rewrite this episode how would you rewrite it? Would you rewrite it so someone reach back into the box and pulled out her coins and maybe give her a few extra. Would you rewrite it so the system works for everyone so even though she gave so little she would then receive more in return. Would you rewrite it so the institution has an understanding of justice, so that the institution will be more concerned about her welfare. Or maybe we wouldn’t rewrite it, maybe we wouldn’t want to reach deeper into our own pockets and add a few more coins to the box, maybe we wouldn’t be concerned for her welfare.

One of things that we seem to be struggling with right now is an understanding of the “common good”. Back in 2013 ( which seems like an eternity now) Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners Ministry wrote a book called the (Un)common Good How the Gospel Brings Hope to a Divided World, he shares the following:

“ Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion—from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God—a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world.

Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others. Rather, it’s a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships. Jesus told us a new relationship with God also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies.. This call to love our neighbor is the foundation for reestablishing and reclaiming the common good…

The story of the widow is a call to relationship.  A woman who shows her faith in the face of a broken system. This widow would challenge us to consider all the broken systems around us and ask who is this not work for? Jesus could call us to love deeply, widely and extravagantly.

 

[1] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 471). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

 

 

11-14-21 Bulletin

11-14-21 bulletin

11-7-21 Bulletin for Pastor Josh’s Installation Service

11.7.21 Pastor Josh's Installation Service

11-7-21 Bulletin

11-7-21 livestream bulletin

10-31-21 Bulletin

10-31-21 bulletin

10-24-21 Bulletin

10-24-21 bulletin

10-31-21 — A Theology of Childlikeness: Respond — Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:22-25 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Isaiah 44:6-8

Romans 8:22-25

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Respond

 

This week we are wrapping up our series on childlike faith, where we wrestle with the question how it would change us if we took Jesus seriously when he said if we are to receive the Kingdom, we must enter it as children.  When we rest, we set aside our own agendas and our own need to be in control. We set aside our own power, and when we do that we receive from God. We receive from God guidance, insight, new ways of seeing the world. When we receive God’s agenda we become attuned with God and God’s way of living in this world. Then we begin to respond in obedience. We move from rest, receive, then to respond. We respond to God.

In the book Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmond, and Queen Lucy have all gone back to the magical land of Narnia. Even though only a few months have passed in their world, it has been hundreds of years since they first visited Narnia. The children have returned to Narnia in order to save it from a wicked King and restore order to the country. As they journey to aid Prince Caspian, they keep getting lost because the landscape changed over the several hundred years. Queen Lucy, the youngest, sees Aslan, the talking Lion who is the Son of the Emperor over the sea. Just as Peter, the eldest, has decided the best way forward, Lucy spots Aslan and her eyes shine at the sight. Her older sister, Susan, asks, “Where did you think you saw him?” to which Lucy replies, “Don’t talk like a grown-up. I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.” Lucy explains that Aslan was standing in a place quite the opposite of where they’d just decided to go and that he wanted them to follow him that way. The children then pick apart Lucy’s claims because no one else saw him but Lucy. The older children decide to disregard Lucy and to continue on the path they’ve already chosen. Their decision to follow what makes sense (to them) brings the chapter to an end with “And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.” The way becomes more difficult than expected and leads them right into a volley of arrows, so they have to crawl all the way back over the ground they’d already traveled.

In discouragement, the little band finds a safe place and sets up camp for the night. In the middle of the night, Lucy wakes up with the feeling that “the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.” She assumes it’s just a dream, but when she continues to hear the voice she finally gets up to follow it through the trees, which somehow seem to be dancing. As she dances among them, she comes to a circle of grass. “And then—oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight.” Lucy rushes toward her Aslan, burying her face in his mane. As they speak, Aslan isn’t pleased that Lucy tries to blame the others for the delays of the day. She cries, “I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?” When Aslan remains silent, she continues, “You mean that it would have turned out all right? . . . Am I not to know?” Aslan responds with a challenge: “To know what would have happened, child? Nobody is ever told that. But anyone can find out what will happen. If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.” Lucy is understandably afraid. She knows they won’t believe her, that it will cause conflict again, and maybe they will shame her again. Finally, in her anguish, Lucy buries her head in his mane, and as she does, she feels his lion-strength entering her. Aslan breathes these words over her: “Now you are a lioness. And now all Narnia will be renewed.” With that, Lucy returns to the challenge of waking her siblings, to tell them, once again, that she has seen Aslan and they must follow him. The argument about whether to trust her begins again and hurtful things are said, but this time something is different. This time Lucy chooses to follow Aslan herself, even if no one else will come. And although no one else can see Aslan, Lucy’s determination prompts them—eventually—to follow her lead. One by one, as they walk in the darkness, they begin to see Aslan for themselves.[1]

Lucy responds to Aslan, and she responds even though it might cost her. She draws strength from him even in a moment of great difficultly. Difficult moments, moments of pain, isn’t that what faith is about?  Theologian Richard Rohr thinks deeply about these ideas. One of the themes in his writing is that God doesn’t ask us to avoid these realities, but to understand that these realities are sacred. He writes: “The heart is normally opened through a necessary hole in the soul, what I call a sacred wound.”[2] In Romans 8 these sacred wounds are called the birth pangs of a new creation. We respond to God by participating in this new creation. Richard Rohr again; “we dare not shield ourselves from the new creation, or we literally will lose our soul. We can obey commandments, believe doctrines, and attend church services all our lives and still daily lose our souls if we run from the necessary cycle of loss and renewal. Death and resurrection are lived out at every level of the cosmos”, but we are the only “species thinks it can avoid it”[3]… The cost is of not paying attention is our soul, the cost of not paying attention is transmitting our pain onto others. But if we respond, we can catch God’s larger vision. The vision that we are called to as a church.

The Presbyterian Book of Order tells us how to respond as a church. “The church is the body of Christ. Christ gives to the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body. The Church strives to demonstrates these gifts in its life as a community in the world. The Church entrusts itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life. The church is a community of hope, rejoicing in the knowledge that is God is making a new creation. The church is a community of love…where reconciliation is accomplished and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down. The Church is to be a community of witness… to God’s transforming grace in Christ.”[4]

To have a child like faith is to rest from our need for control, it is to receive God’s agenda and God’s goodness, seeing our pain, the worlds pain, and responding as the body of Christ. Rest, Receive, Respond…

 

[1] Selections from C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (New York: Harper Collins, 1979), 101-132. Smith, Mandy. Unfettered (p.128- 130). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Richard Rohr, “Life Is Hard,” Center for Action and Contemplation, May 23, 2016, https://cac.org/life-is-hard-2016-05-23. See also Richard Rohr, Adam‘s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation (New York: Crossroad, 2004).

[3] https://cac.org/lesson-one-life-is-hard-2020-03-30/

[4] Book of Order 2019/2021 F-1.03