Monday, October 15, 2012

Gospel seeds

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".'


Father Ron Smith said...

A nice assessment, Peter, on the impact of the last 3 weeks experience of Mark's gospel.

Interesting, to me at least, is the fact that Jesus often challenges the 'hard-liners' - keepers of The Law - who challenge Jesus on what further they might be expected to do (beyond their keeping of The Law) to obtain eternal life - i.e. 'Do the Right Thing'.

I'm mindful of the biblical injunction that 'Those who live by 'The Law', will die by The Law". In other words, if we insist on others obeying the requirements of 'The Law', we ourselves have to sink or swim by our own obedience to it.

However, those of us who are wary of enjoining observance of 'The Law (jot, tittle & iota) on others, are in the position of having to properly acknowledge our (common) failure to 'abide by The Law' and are offered forgiveness for our failings. This follows the Lord's Prayer request for God to 'forgive us, as we forgive'; 'Judge not, that you be not judged'.

By this acknowledgement of God's mercy to others, I am blessed by God's mercy to me. Not a bad premise for 'One poor man showing another poor man where to find Bread'.

If the rich (young) man had not challenged Jesus about what (else - besides his current obedience to The Law) he needed to do to obtain 'eternal life', Jesus may just have left him to work it out in his own good time - the work of a lifetime.

It seems to me that 'the Righteous' are always challenged by Jesus - if only to demonstrate that - as He himself told someone who called Him 'Good Master'; that God alone is 'Good'. We humans - without God's grace - 'have no health in us' as the BCP reminds us.

ALL is grace and mercy, with God!

Bryden Black said...

μὴ γένοιτο! may just be one response to that assessment Ron ... For Mk 8-10 // Rom 6 rather well.

Peter Carrell said...

Comment from Glynn Cardy

I tried to post the following under your Oct 15th post referring to Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers

I always find it interesting Peter when you and I read the same commentary. Ched Myers is a very impressive evangelical who has continuously challenged me throughout my ministry in how I live out my faith. He matches his academic interests with living on the edge [once when I met him he was working with the Quakers on the Mexican border photographing police brutality!]. He is also one of those who refused to pay any tax that would be spent on armaments. And his resurrection theology is a lot closer to you than to me! As I said, an impressive guy.