Archive for the ‘Forty-first Bundle’ Category

MARK 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

In our day and age, evangelism has become a serious industry, with seminars on how to do it, techniques and methods on sale for doing it successfully, pamphlets and books on why we need it, and a thousand gimmicks for making it attractive and worth the money.

Contrast this with the evangelistic strategy that Jesus laid out for his disciples. He didn’t advise them to set up a booth with flashy giveaways to anyone who would stop and listen. It wasn’t about getting people to come to church. They were simply to go out into the world in pairs, without money, food, or supplies, and rely completely on the occasional hospitality of a host or hostess. Once invited in, they were to proclaim the good news and minister to the sick and possessed.

No large assemblies. No rallies or crusades. Just a quiet infiltration by the back streets of the world, moving steadily from one house to another, from one town to the next, until everyone had been touched or seized by the holy love of God.

Not everyone did respond with acceptance, however. But Jesus told his disciples not to dwell on the naysayers. It would serve no one in the end to browbeat resisters into emotional submission. “If they refuse to hear you, shake off the dust that is on your feet” and move on. It would be worse still to seduce acceptance through the offer of some gimmick or cheap promise.

Tragically, evangelism today is often more about the benefits and door prizes than it is an invitation to die and be reborn. Evangelism is bringing to the world a love, a message, and a hope, the response to which is nothing less than forsaking all and following in the way of the gospel.

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MARK 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Why is it that “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house”? Simply because the immediate family, extended relations, and neighborhood community have accumulated too many memories and together decided the reputation of the prophet on the basis of what they remember about him or her, before the voice of God called them into mission.

Remember when he smoked cigarettes behind the barn with his friends, and then lied about it to his folks? Remember when she flopped among the boys during high school, and then left town in rumors of pregnancy? And now they’re back in celebrity lights? I don’t think so!

This is not to suggest that Jesus necessarily had a checkered past, but the scrapbook memories that curl and yellow in the album of our family archives always make it difficult for those who knew us to praise our turn-around life without so much as a friendly wink of suspicion.

Interestingly the story tells us that Jesus was “unable” to do a deed of power there in Nazareth – unable, not unwilling. Which reminds us of other Gospel stories, of the hemorrhaging woman, for instance, or the paralyzed man, whose faith had been instrumental in their healing. All the power in the universe could have resided in Jesus, but it depended on the belief of these people to be activated and released for their health and benefit.

Grace and faith are thus the two complementary powers in the experience of salvation. Grace is the supply and the offer; faith is the trusting heart.

MARK 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

We might expect that a return to his hometown in Nazareth would excite the neighbors and townspeople to throw a party and organize a parade in honor of what God had been able to accomplish through one of their own. The reputation of Jesus had preceded him, and we can imagine the throng coming out to meet his arrival. No such luck.

When Jesus began to teach in their synagogue, these Nazarenes were immediately impressed by the power and clarity of his wisdom. But instead of attributing that wisdom to the providence of God, and then giving praise for its revelation in their midst, these friends and neighbors of the Carpenter family passed him off as the little scrap they remembered from years ago. “Where did he get this stuff,” they asked. “Isn’t that the kid who used to sand cabinets and sell chairs with his father?” Sadly, what they remembered of Jesus back then was preventing them from perceiving the truth in Jesus now.

Which brings up an important observation regarding the dangers of religion as well. Our religious instruction and churchly upbringing can establish such a strong set of familiar assumptions in our minds, that we become nearly impervious to the Truth.

2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

The authentic mystics of the world have very often exhibited what today might be diagnosed as manic-depressive symptoms and medicated to regulate normal levels in brain chemistry. Saint Teresa of Avila suffered from chronic nausea and long bouts of paralysis. St. John of the Cross experience what sounds a lot like pathological depression, which he named the “dark night of the soul.”

We could easily lengthen the list, but the point is made: What Paul called his “thorn in the flesh” finds parallels throughout the world community and long history of the mystical traditions. It could be explained – as Paul himself appears to explain it – by interpreting the dark experiences of pain, suffering, and depression as a counterbalance to the mystic’s ecstasies and extraordinary gifts. But there is another way to see it.

It could well be that the apostle Paul and the rest were graced with revelations and spiritual breakthroughs of awareness precisely because of and not in spite of their debilitating physical and mental ailments. Paul himself testifies to a realization of the sufficiency of God’s grace that came to him while in the depths of his misery. True, he interpreted his particular pain or illness as “a messenger of Satan” to keep him from becoming too full of himself.

But it is possible that Paul’s mystical visions were in fact the benefit of learning to engage and enter his suffering by the path of utter release to the grace and strength of God, located through and underneath his own mortal weakness.

2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

The apostle Paul was more than merely the first strategist for the mission and expansion of the early church. He was also a “mystic.” We use that term guardedly, since it has become a catchword in our day for so much that is hokey and superficial. Being a mystic has nothing to do with cards or stones or stars, but is instead the name for those whose spirituality is deeply inward and characterized by contemplative prayer, intuitive vision, and union with the Divine.

This is not to say that the visionary experiences of some mystics are altogether rational, for they typically aren’t. Paul’s mystical vision conveyed him into a realm of such mystery that his rational mind and logical vocabulary were effectively paralyzed by its impenetrable glory.

Being “caught up to the third heaven” is a highly poetic and metaphorical way of describing an experience essentially beyond description. In the sacred cosmology (theory of the universe) of Paul’s day, the “third” or (in other views) “seventh” heaven designated the zenith of the firmament, where the throne of God was believed to be.

In other words, Paul is relating an experience of being elevated to the seat of Truth itself. This was a bona fide revelation, a pulling back of the veil of ignorance and belief, which together separate us from the true reality. When the screen is removed or the curtain pushed aside, what we see is unnameable but supremely real.

PSALM 48

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
    in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
    is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
    the city of the great King.
Within its citadels God
    has shown himself a sure defense.

Then the kings assembled,
    they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
    they were in panic, they took to flight;
trembling took hold of them there,
    pains as of a woman in labor,
as when an east wind shatters
    the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
    in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
    which God establishes forever.

We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
    in the midst of your temple.
10 Your name, O God, like your praise,
    reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
11     Let Mount Zion be glad,
let the towns of Judah rejoice
    because of your judgments.

12 Walk about Zion, go all around it,
    count its towers,
13 consider well its ramparts;
    go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
14     that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
    He will be our guide forever.

Ancient capitals and larger towns were built according to a sacred design and architecture, with the temple dwelling of a patron deity situated at the center and everything else coordinated around its holy space. David’s Mount Zion was the hilltop in the Canaanite city of the Jebusites, taken and occupied by David’s armies and later named Jerusalem, where the high god (El) had long been believed to condescend to the worship and sacrifices of his people.

When David made the city his capital and transported the Ark of the Covenant to the holy precincts of this mythologized mountain, Zion became the symbol and actual touchstone whence the grace and power of the biblical God radiated forth.

Solomon, David’s son and successor, is the one who made the fateful decision to build a temple for God on Zion, which set up the cooperative (but eventually competitive) division of “church” and “state” that some argue gave rise to the otherworldly preoccupations of later religion. For David himself, the mountain represented the “high place” where heaven and earth, the divine and the human, could meet and merge. Politics, commerce, and even private life were to be organized beneath and around it.

2 SAMUEL 5:1-5, 9-10

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

If we should try to generalize the significant difference between David and his predecessor on the throne, King Saul, we might see this contrast in the relative depth of each man’s moral and spiritual center. Saul had time and again followed the trajectory of his own impulses and personal ambition, a habit that landed him time and again in troubles of various sorts.

David, on the other hand, although not a perfect man by any means, made it a devotional practice to regularly consult the will of God for the direction of his life. This stereotypical opposition between personal ambition and prayerful discernment in leadership is very evident and relevant to our lives even today. And in addition to looking outward to the social fields of politics, religion, and corporate business for examples of both kinds, we can and should also look within ourselves, for these two poles are present in us as well.

The Israelites saw in David a leader who was deeply grounded in a reality larger than his own ego, and who had an obvious and genuine concern for both their present needs and future destiny as a nation. Saul had been a mere “king” while David was their “shepherd,” with the welfare of his community and obedience to his calling foremost on his mind. David’s popularity was not the outcome of his personal efforts to cultivate the admiration of his people. Rather he was loved because he really and clearly cared.