Riddles and Parables

What’s the good word? Today I will be writing a little about riddles and parables in the Gospel According to Mark. Often in a novel or in a short story, a character will ell a brief story or recount a dream. As I have been reading about TED Talks, this is one of the components of these talks that have made them so popular. In TED’s world- tell a good story. Now the interpretation of the character’s story might not be clear at first, but the story told by the character is invariably meant to be important in the larger encompassing story told by the narrator. Mark’s Gospel has many such “stories within the story,” for the protagonist tells stories that illuminate the whole Gospel.

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The stories that Jesus mainly tells are called parables. The word parable has really become overloaded with many meanings and because the Markan parables are often cryptic and obscure, theologian David Rhoads says they really should be called riddles. I know, first thing that comes to my mind is the Riddler from Batman. But perhaps he isn’t too far off.

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If you think about it, riddles are cryptic. The Markan riddles are about the hidden presence about the rule of God in the story world; that is, they are cryptic stories about a hidden reality. Depending on who hears them, the riddles will reveal more about the reign of God or they will obscure matters further. Jesus’ riddles in Mark are allegories-analogies with several points of correlation- that interpret events and people in the framework of the rule of God. This function becomes apparent when we look at the riddles that Jesus explains to the disciples.

An example of this is the story we will be concentrating on this week with the parable of the sower. Jesus tells this “parable” and then explains it allegorically in relation to the proclamation of the rule of God and the responses to it. The sower is the one who proclaims, the seed is the word, and the soils correlate with the response of various characters in the Gospel as a whole.

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Later, Jesus tells a riddle about defilement, then explains what it means: Unclean food will not defile people, but evil plans and actions will. Then he tells another one about a man who went away and told his doorkeeper to keep watch, then draws allegorical parallels with his own impending absence and how the disciples, and others, are to stay alert for his return.

Now there are those that Jesus explains and there are riddles that Jesus does NOT explain in Mark’s Gospel, but all of them have a dual purpose. ON one hand, Jesus tells them as a call to understanding. He usually always prefaces or concludes these riddles with things like, “Hear! Look!” or “Anyone who has ears, let them hear!” “Hear me everyone and understand!” And he also tells them  so that those who reject God’s rule or God’s kingdom will not understand. when Jesus gets to this point in the story and states this reason for telling them, the authorities have already rejected Jesus and committed a “sin to eternity” of claiming that Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit.

Sometime Jesus telling these riddles helps him avoid arrest, as we will see later on in the story. By telling a riddle about binding the strong one rather than by making a direct statement, Jesus avoids a charge of blasphemy. All in all, we are in a better position to understand these riddles than the characters in the story are, and that is important to remember. And that’s the good word for today!

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Mark Week One

What’s the good word? This summer I am challenging our faith community at Messiah Cypress to read through the Gospel According to Mark. We have created a reading plan, which I will post here shortly if you wish to read along. As we read I will be offering some insights into the Gospel that I simply can’t fit into a Sunday message.

We started our journey today, Mark 1:1-13. And I offered a few insights into the Gospel of Mark as a whole. When one enters the story that Mark writes you enter a world of conflict and suspense. David Rhodes states that Mark is a world of surprising reversals, strange ironies, and strange riddle and meanings.” He isn’t wrong. As you read Mark, you will often hear Jesus encouraging his followers “not to tell anyone”.

Mark is not a simple story and it doesn’t offer simple answers either. The narrative offers tough challenges fraught with irony and paradox: to be most important, one must be least; nothing is hidden except to become known; whose who want to save their lives must lose them. And within the story, characters may think they understand their situation only to discover their expectations overturned: the disciples follow Jesus expecting glory and power, only to find a call to serve and the threat of persecution, for example.

There are two theories about when the Gospel was written. We don’t know WHO the author is. One proposal is that the author is John Mark, an interpreter of the apostle Peter, who wrote down the traditions of Jesus but not in the right order. So for the sake of simplicity we will call the author “Mark”.

Most scholars agree Mark was written first out of the Gospels and that it was written sometime between 66 and 70 C.E. During the Roman-Judean War- a revolt by Israel against Roman domination that resulted in the cataclysmic defeat of Israel as wells as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Judean temple. Therefore, Mark’s audience is a people who faced rejection and persecution in their mission to spread the word about Jesus and the rule of God. The narrative suggests that this came from BOTH Judean and Roman authorities. Mark wrote this Gospel, in part, in order to give people courage to live for the rule of God despite opposition and threat.

But what was Mark’s goal? Why write this account? Mark was clearly inviting people to put faith in the good news about the arrival of the rule of God and the way of life that the rule of God entailed. In doing this, Mark was leading the listeners and readers to become followers of Jesus. Not only that, I believe the author was also empowering these people in the face of such persecution.

As we will see in the future weeks, Mark has created a story with settings and events and characters. It is a narrative. At first it may seem sparse with a lot of gaps and breaks, but every narrative has gaps.

The journey has begun. Mark does not have a Christmas story but begins where Jesus’ ministry begins- at His baptism. It begins at the Jordan River in the desert of Judea, the place of entry into Jerusalem. The opening prophecy calls for people to prepare the way of the Lord, and that is what John came to do. Again, the narrative moves quickly as Jesus is baptized and then immediately sent out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But again we have no long discourse between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness, just the mention of it.

This next week the story moves. As we read Mark 1:14-2:5 John is arrested and Jesus and his disciples are on the move. They head to Galilee and even dabble in crossing into Gentile territory. He will move quickly (“immediately”) from place to place, changing setting more than FORTY times. But why? To coincide with Mark’s purpose- the spread of the good news and the rule of God.

And that’s the good news for today!

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Brave Enough To Answer

What’s the good word? This September we are heading back to Ethiopia again. And I want to invite you along on our next trip. Before you say no, please listen to what one of our participants had to say after he and his daughter traveled with us this past January.

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Shaking hands with a smiling child in a rural school yard. Sharing coffee in communion with teachers, administrators and village elders while celebrating how far their school had come and mapping a future for how they would grow. Sitting on a couch, and enjoying a lovingly prepared meal in the home of the local business woman who provides our adopted schools with books. Listening to the stories of perseverance and hope from local widows and orphans who had overcome unimaginable obstacles. Kneeling in the dirt, and handing a shoebox full of goodies our family had put together to one of the young ladies at the school who’d lost her parents. It was humbling – and gave me hope. These kids can go home and show their families and friends a new path that leads to a better future. From 10,000 feet, it feels impossible to alter the course of Ethiopia’s history, to do anything meaningful to help. Altering the course of an entire country- that is too big for me to contemplate. From five feet away, I could see in the eyes of those kids that what we’re doing over there matters, and has the potential to change each one of their lives.

This trip has really brought into focus for me what a call looks like, both in my life and seeing it at work in others. And now that I’m more comfortable with the concept, I believe that God has reached out to me a bunch of times in my life. It’s kind of intimidating to realize that he probably reaches out to me all the time. I’m usually just not paying attention. I also know where the strength to do some of those crazy things comes from. I’m trying to do a better job of listening. And being brave enough to answer.

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So I hope you come with us on our next trip. To find out more and to register go to: www.actsofwisdom.com. Over the next few posts I’m going to share with you my thoughts on taking the leap of faith to start Acts of Wisdom through the notes that I have been gathering that I hope one day would become a book. It’s been sitting on my computer forever, and perhaps this will force me to take that step. And that’s the good word for today.

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End It

February 7, 2019 Leave a comment

What’s the good word? Today I changed my Facebook profile picture to the picture below. It is to bring awareness to slavery in the world today. Even one person enslaved is too many, so today I joined others in helping to bring awareness to this modern day travesty.

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There are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in history- 40 million to be exact, and it is a $150 billion dollar industry. Modern slavery is where one person controls another by exploiting a vulnerability. It is often linked with human trafficking, where a person is forced into a service against their will – usually forced work or prostitution. The control can be physical, financial or psychological. The End It movement is about just that: ending slavery NOW!

You can help bring awareness by wearing a red “X” on your hand and, by heading over to http://www.enditmovement.com to learn more about modern day slavery. And that’s the good news for today.

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Christmas Presence

December 19, 2018 Leave a comment

What’s the good word? At our congregation we are continuing to work our way through the Advent Conspiracy. This past week we talked about giving more- more time that is. If there’s one thing I want to give to my family this Christmas it is presence. See what I did there? I believe God is calling us to give more- intentionally and relationally. The best gifts give presence. Believe me, your kids will remember the time you spent with them years down the road rather than that toy you stick under the tree. Same for your husband, wife, grandparent etc. It sounds obvious and yet we have drifted so far from it.

I remember a while back a news story about a family that received devastating news- their 7 year old drowned in the lake where they were having a family picnic. I remember the mom saying, “I don’t know how this happened. We were right here?” Sure they were present, but they were not PRESENT! Sometimes I have to stop myself when I am engrossed in an email or on my phone and my kids are talking to me. Sure I’m physically present, but I’m not fully present. Your presence matters.

At Christmas we remember that God gave God’s self in the form of Jesus. It was the most priceless and personal gift of all! Relational giving means we think about the other person- who they are and what they care about. I hope you will give more of your presence than presents this Christmas. After all, that’s what God gave us! And that’s the good word for today.

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Being Present In The Story

December 15, 2018 Leave a comment

What’s the good word? Wow! It’s been two years since I have blogged. I am going to start blogging more because…well, it’s just helps me. And I hope that through these posts we can have great conversations about a whole host of topics. So, what’s on my mind today? My recent trip to Michael’s is on my mind.

So I went to Michael’s two days ago and I was going to go in and get some Christmas pillows that we have had our eye on. I saw that Christmas was again 50% off, like right after Thanksgiving, so I thought this would be my last chance to grab them. No! About 1 week to 2 weeks earlier was my last chance. Imagine my surprise, 13 days before Christmas to walk in and see that all the Christmas items where reduced to TWO isles. The shelves where I had remembered the pillows, along with stockings and tree skirts was replaced by BEACH decor. You heard that right, BEACH decor.

This season at Messiah, the faith community I serve as pastor, we are walking our way through the Advent Conspiracy. A conspiracy to take back Christmas from consumerism. It challenges us to Worship God Fully, to Spend less money on ONE Christmas present, and now instead of taking time to buy that gift to Give more of our time to our family and invest that money into a cause so that we can Love All. It’s a simple premise isn’t it? Four steps that help us enter into the story of the birth of Jesus so that we can be participants in the story rather than spectators. But, when I walk into Michael’s and see beach decor it’s really hard to be present in the story of Jesus when the story is being pushed out the door. The poor baby isn’t even born yet and seems a distant memory in isles of a department store.

Friends, let us do what we can to hold on to this moment with everything we have. Let us not be rushed out with the season, but truly be present with our families and with THE Family of the season. And that’s the good word for today.

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Being Present

October 11, 2016 Leave a comment

What’s the good word? Before I came to Ethiopia this September, I had been struggling with something that I think is a bigger problem with us all if I am correct. For a long time I have been a “go” person. I have always been a more is more person, and something began to shift this summer for me. I began to look at my life. I had a brand new home, a wonderful family, and every thing a guy could want. Yet I felt something was missing. I was snippy. I was unhappy. I was there, but I really wasn’t there. I was being pulled left and right both by stuff on the home front, but also being a pastor of a church. My faith was struggling too. I have always believed that God’s Spirit dwells within all of us and also in this world. I’ve know that, but my life spoke differently. Something inside of me was saying “no more!” I looked and my little girl was now 6. What happened? Had I really been there? 

Not only that, but I also was feeling as though I wasn’t really making a difference. When I am hear in Ethiopia, I see the change. I see the difference. It’s hard to see that often in the church. It’s like turning a big ship, only that ship is being pulled the other way by 500 years of tradition. You hear the bad stuff, but you don’t always here the stories of changed lives. After all, isn’t that what we are supposed to be about? Changed lives for the sake of the kingdom? I question whether we are on the right track. Is what we are doing as “church” really what we are supposed to be doing? 

When I am hear I am forced to slow down. I am forced to be present. And that’s what I want when I go back. I want to be, as Shauna Neiquist says, “Present over perfect.” What I ache for these days is space, silence, stillness, and time with my family. I want to do what makes me passionate. I want to continue to see the work here in Ethiopia grow. I want to live our my call that God has for my life. I also want less of everything. It’s just getting in the way. I want less stuff. I want less proving. I want less hustle. I want less meetings that really don’t move the ship. I want simplicity both on the inside and on the outside. 

“God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkept life, but into something holy and beautiful- as beautiful on the inside as on the outside.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7- The Message

That’s the good word for today. Be you. Do good. 

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