The Meal of Mission

It’s almost universal that important moments and significant occasions are marked by sharing a meal. We incorporate meals into our three main holidays here in the U.S. – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Superbowl Sunday. There’s just something inherent in us as humans that we commemorate things by sharing a common sustenance.

That’s probably why God incorporated meals into the great festivals prescribed in the Law of Moses. They served as a reminder of Israel’s heritage and calling, but also as a means of binding groups of people together. Meals communicate something.

This Sunday we’ll be reading about the most famous meal of the New Testament, and surely the most significant. We’ll be reading Mark 14:12-26 as we continue our study of Mark’s gospel.

Mark locates this meal at the beginning of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which would make this a Passover Meal. Jesus goes about re-purposing some of the integral elements of this most important Jewish observance.  If liberation is central to the theme of Passover, and Jesus ties his upcoming death to the Passover, what is that communicating to us about his mission and the mission of the Good News? What sort of liberation do you believe he had in mind?

Why do you think Jesus didn’t “out” Judas at the table? Why do you suppose he prompted all of his disciples to inquire if they were the one?

Jesus took the Afikomen bread and the Cup of Redemption and gave them new designations for us, saying they now represent his body and his blood. Clearly he’s pointing to role which the Passover Lamb typified – he would be our sacrifice. In v24 he states what that sacrifice will accomplish. What do you understand a covenant to be? How does that inform you about Christ’s mission, and our mission as Good News people?

It should be an interesting and comforting study – hope to see you there!

A Contrast of Loves

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. This Sunday we’ll be starting chapter 14 as we continue on in our study of the gospel of Mark. We’ll be reading the first 11 verses.

This will be another Markian sandwich – where one event is tucked in between two other, connected events. In this case, it’s the plotting of Jesus’ arrest and execution surrounding an account of a woman performing an extravagant act of devotion and worship of Jesus.

We’ll consider it a contrast of loves.

As we consider the “bread” of this sandwich – the plot to kill Jesus and then initialization of it by Judas – what do you think these characters love, which would motivate them to do such an insidious deed?

The woman does something altogether different. Obviously, we live in a different culture, so some things are hard to understand in this.  Pouring oil on a guy’s head wouldn’t go over quite so well in our culture (at least since the 1950’s).  In that time and culture, taking baths wasn’t something a person had the opportunity to do as often as we do.  People would quickly develop a certain odoriferousness (funk) about them.  So, this sort of thing was a welcome way to put a sheen on the hair and diffuse the pungency of human odor.

The point is, it was a good thing – and not only that – it was costly to her. Clearly, Jesus is the object of her love, which prompts her actions. How would you describe her action? What does it teach us about how our own love for Jesus is demonstrated?

Jesus interprets her act as a forecast of his coming death. How would his death and her sacrificial devotion be connected to each other?

Jesus declared that this woman would always be remembered. Interestingly, Judas would also be forever remembered, but not in such reverential ways. Think of all the contrasts you can of what the woman is remembered for compared to what Judas is remembered for.

The core question if this text is: Who do you want to be?

This Sunday, before the teaching, Dave Pierce and Mel Land will be sharing about their recent trip to South Sudan. Hope to see you then!

Assurances in the Finale

Every time I watch a fireworks show, I’m always gearing up for the finale, aren’t you? I love them – they are more dramatic and powerful than the whole rest of the show.  Jesus will has been talking about a finale of sorts, in the chapter we’re reading in our study of Mark. This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 13:14-37.

Remember our introductory remarks about the first thirteen verses…while end time events and prophecy is cool and all, obsessing over current details and trying to fit them into some prophetic model is pretty ill-advised. Jesus will be continuing to talk about ongoing crisis’ on this earth – but I believe there are assurances we can find in his words – that’s what we’ll be focused on.

Jesus begins this section pointing to a prophecy from Daniel 9 which references “the sacrilegious object that causes desecration”.   From the Jewish perspective today, and back in Jesus’ time, this was a historic event, not something yet to be fulfilled.  What does that tell us about Jesus’ statement here?

In v19, what will the world be like in the time period he’s describing?  What does that tell us about the direction the world is taking…and how does it effect our expectations about the state of the world?

As you read this section over, who or what seems to have the upper hand through it all?  Yet what is the final outcome that Jesus predicts?

Verses 28-31, of Mark 13, tell us that we can expect an intensifying of troubles, leading up to the grand finale…just like we see buds and leaves sprouting and leading into summer and harvest.  In v31, Jesus makes a prediction about his predictions…what is it that he says?  What assurances do you find in that?

The final section, v 32-37 sort of put the final qualifier on the issue.  What does He say about these events?  What do we need to factor in because of this qualifier?

That should give us plenty to mull over and chew on this week. Hope to see you on Sunday!

Birth Pangs of a New World

I remember when Robbie was expecting our first child. We had prepared as much as possible and gone over again and again just what we’d do when she went into labor. I also remember that neither one of us ever referenced all of the stuff we tried to learn ahead of time when the actual labor started. It was way more difficult and took much longer than we could have ever anticipated – and the only thing I remember from it was an intense distress and exhaustion.

We did home-births by the way…and I was there for every one of them…and I still have PTSD from the whole experience.  (I can almost hear all the women reading this rolling their eyes and thinking “yeah, you poor thing”. )

My point is – actual labor is something the uninitiated cannot fully understand until it’s experienced. I like to keep that in mind when it comes to the text we’ll be reading this Sunday in our study of Mark. We’ll be reading Mark 13:1-13.

As you read this passage, what starts the whole conversation? What does the unnamed disciple bring up and what does Jesus forecast? That is the header for this section. Whatever we understand about it, it must primarily be speaking about the end of the temple age.

Jesus describes political, natural and religious distresses, and yet he states that these things aren’t indicators of anything but birth pangs. Labor has started. How does that temper your understanding of dramatic world events when they occur?

These are some of the things we’ll be thinking about this Sunday as we examine this passage together – hope to see you then!

Truth Triumphing Over Traps

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 12:13-34 as we continue our study through that gospel.

We don’t know if this is the next day, or exactly when this fits into the time-line…but after Jesus has had his initial confrontation with the leaders of the temple, we then have this section where the religious elite try to corner Jesus again, seeking to trap him with questions.  We’re going to look at all two of those traps…and we’re going to think about how Jesus evades them…and we’re going to consider some important truths that get revealed as he dodges those snares.

The first section deals with their question about paying taxes, and if God fearing Jewish people are betraying God by paying taxes to a heathen authority.  Jesus’ answer is brilliant, and it makes a very important point about loyalty and commitment.  What does his answer say to you?  What is the most important thing, from Jesus’ perspective (based on his answer)?

In the second section, the religious “scholars” pose an elaborate “theological” question, trying to get him to side with one camp or another, hoping to stir up division based on his answer.  What is the first thing Jesus points out to these guys?  What is it that the so called scholars of his day were mistaken about in their question?  What does v27 reveal to us about God’s mission priority?

The third encounter Jesus has doesn’t appear to be a trap…rather, it’s a moment of agreement. This is a famous passage, where Jesus employs some real reductionism in his response.  Does anything jump out about what Jesus provides as an answer to this possibly complex question?  What do you take away from his response? What does it say to you, if anything, that we have this moment of agreement between Jesus one one whose company have been identified as Jesus’ enemies all through this gospel? Who in your life might be someone who “isn’t far from the Kingdom of Heaven”?

We also have a baby dedication this Sunday – and I get to pray over my newest Grandson! Hope to see you Sunday!

Whose Authority?

Well – the storm is still moving our way, but it looks like we may not be in for too much. That’s something to be grateful for.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 11:27-33.

Jesus’ actions in the temple in the first part of the chapter has attracted all the wrong attention. He gets confronted in the temple area by the highest ruling authorities in Israel at the time. It’s like a congressional hearing…it was that serious.

What do you think they were asking when they asked Jesus their question? How might any answer he gave get him in trouble?

When Jesus turns the tables, he’s not really avoiding their question – he’s actually offering an answer. How would their opinion of John the Baptist have reflected on Jesus’ ministry?

When you think about authority – what do you think of? If the Sanhedrin represented authority in Israel, how did their approach to authority differ from Jesus? How do you understand Jesus’ authority, and how does it impact your life?

These and other questions will be the direction of our study this Sunday – hope to see you there!

The New Temple

Hey everyone – I’m glad to be back from my sabbatical, and thank you all for being so supportive of this time for me. We’ve had some great teachings in my absence – and I’m excited about continuing our exploration of Mark together! Our text for this Sunday will be Mark 11:12-25 – the account of Jesus cursing a fig tree and then throwing out the sellers of sacrificial animals and money changers from the temple in Jerusalem.

All the gospels have an account of Jesus’ activity in the temple – some accounts are conflated with Jesus’ triumphal entry, and John throws the thing at the beginning of his gospel – but all of them see this as an important event.

The question that confronts us is why? Why did Jesus do this? Why pick on a poor fig tree when it wasn’t even the time for figs yet? Why run off animals and knock over tables? What was Jesus trying to tell them, and us by doing these things?

That’s what we’ll be examining in our teaching this Sunday. Why do you think Jesus did these two things? Are they related? What can we learn about our lives and purpose as 21st century Christians from these events?

Hope to see you on Sunday!