It was wonderful last night to be present at one of our parishes' evening service, cafe style with lots of couches (which I eschewed, in late middle age one can never be too careful about falling asleep in public). The focal point of the service was a baptism of a young person. I am pleased to report that cafe style and the full words of the baptismal service in our NZPB (prayer book) were combined with due ceremony, superb music and an excellent sermon. In two weeks' time a confirmation service will take place in the parish, with yet more young people being confirmed by Bishop Victoria. Gospel seeds have been sewn on good soil!
These months are a rich period of gospel study in my own life. I have been deep into Luke's Gospel as I teach a course at Laidlaw College Christchurch. These last two Sundays I have been preaching and that has led me to learn yet more new things from Mark's Gospel. The former study has got me thinking again, and writing about a puzzle I have followed these last twelve years or so, what were the sources of Luke's Gospel? I think I may have cracked the puzzle and worked out why we can have confidence that Luke used Matthew's Gospel (and thus the Q document hypothesized by scholars for centuries can now be buried, never to be exhumed again). Then there is a commission to jointly compose with our Acting Dean, Lynda Patterson, some Lenten studies for use in ministry units in the Diocese next year. We have decided to follow Luke's Gospel (it is Year C) and are working on six passages relating to prayer - thus taking up one aspect of Bishop Victoria's call to the Diocese to make this next twelve months a year of prayer and study.
What have I been learning which is new (to me, at any rate) from Mark's Gospel? For some time now I have been alert to the socio-political dimensions of Mark's Gospel, principally through the commentary on the gospel called Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers . I haven't actually been able to access this commentary for the past few weeks of sermon preparation, so what I am about to write may or may not concur with his insights.
The last three readings in Mark's Gospel have taken us through the stories of conversations about demon deliverance, divorce, and wealth. There are many points to ponder from these passages. Among them are these insights about the radical vision Jesus had for the kingdom of God. It was inclusive, just and egalitarian.
Inclusive: in Mark 9:38-40 Jesus rebukes the disciples for trying to restrict the kingdom to the followers of Jesus they knew about. The kingdom is inclusive of all who call on the name of the Lord.
Just: in Mark 10:1-16 Jesus denies that men have all the rights in a marriage (or at least the dominant right to determine the course of a marriage). In the kingdom men and women have equal rights. But the passage does not end there in respect of just relations, by blessing the children, Jesus teaches that children are people also, entitled to justice as their parents are.
Egalitarian: in Mark 10:17-31 Jesus may not be calling every wealthy follower to sell all they have and to give the proceeds to the poor, but he is calling all followers to sit very light to possessions, to give up their claims to such things and to ensure that the poor are taken care of. An implication of the passage as a whole is that the rule of God over people's lives leads inescapably to the conclusion that disparity between rich and poor is inimical to kingdom life - the application of this was seen in the earliest days of the church according to Acts.
To return to the first passage, and the power of Jesus through the name of Jesus to deliver people from demons, I am reminded of an old story about the church prelate reflecting on the story in Acts 3 about Peter and John healing a disabled beggar with the words 'Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee, Rise up and walk.' The prelate says, 'No longer can the church say "Silver and gold have I none".' To which his companion wryly observes, 'And neither can it say, "Rise up and walk".'