The Season after Pentecost: Proper 21, Year B

Celebrating Purim

  • Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22
  • Psalm 124
  • James 5:13-20
  • Mark 9:38-50

This Sunday we’ll take a diversion from the Gospel reading and focus on the Old Testament as it is a rare occasion that we hear the “voice” of Esther in our Sunday readings. It recounts the climax of the story of Esther and the origin of the Jewish Feast of Purim. The story takes place while the Hebrew people are living in exile in Persia.

Esther, although she is a Jew is made a concubine of the king. Falling in love with her,  the Persian King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I, 486-465 BCE) chooses her to be his queen. One of the king’s advisors, Haman, has a plan to kill all the Jews on a day to be decided by the drawing of lots (purim). Haman has also plotted to have Esther’s cousin and confidant, Mordecai, hung as well.

After a period of fasting and prayer, Esther puts her own life at risk by pleading with the king to save her people (7:3-4). Ahasuerus grants her petition, and the treachery of Haman is exposed. Haman is hanged in place of Mordecai who had saved the kings’ life on a previous occasion. Thus, in the future, these events were to be commemorated by “feasting and gladness . . . sending gifts of food . . . and presents to the poor” (9:22). These customs continue to be an integral part of Purim celebrations. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 20, Year B

The Greatest of All

  • Proverbs 31:10-31
  • Psalm 1
  • James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
  • Mark 9:30-37

The disciples are caught up in a typical squabble about greatness and rank. According to Jesus, humility and service are the characteristic marks of success in the kingdom of God (9:35). In contrast, the disciples quarrel about qualifications for the administration of an earthly messianic kingdom. They assume their close relationship with the Messiah will result in privileged positions of power in the new order.

This vision of success obstructs the way of the Lord, a way of humble openness to those the world may overlook. Jesus says that, as they honor a child, true disciples honor Christ. The child symbolizes all who are needy, helpless and vulnerable, all those who cannot return a favor or profit us in any way. Jesus takes the child into his nurturing embrace, demonstrating the manner in which we must receive the weak. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 19, Year B

Doers of the Word

  • Proverbs 1:20-33
  • Psalm 19 or Wisdom 7:36-8:1
  • James 3:1-12
  • Mark 8:27-38

What is required to live a life that is faithful to God?

For the past three weeks (and next week) we have been hearing the words from the Epistle (letter) of James. “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (James 1:22). James reminds us that we are called to a self-discipline that will restrain our speech and our anger, as well as our behavior that will take away from God’s perfect creation. He call us to listen to one another and obey. It is of no value for us to claim that we have heard God’s Word unless we demonstrate it by living it.

Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only true words, with which mean and women transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it . . . Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection. Paulo Freire 

And that’s the challenge. The issue of how to live faithfully is also a question of today’s Gospel passage. Peter’s confession and Jesus’ first Passion prediction at Caesarea Philippi stand at the midpoint of Mark’s Gospel and serve as a climax to the first half. Who is Jesus? Who will stand by him? Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 18, Year B

Showing Compassion

  • Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
  • Psalm 125
  • James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
  • Mark 7:24-37

One of the statements we affirm in the Baptismal Covenant, with God’s help, is “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” Today’s readings focus on how faith is shown by one’s actions, especially in showing compassion.

Psalm 125 calls attention to God’s justice. Written during a period of foreign occupations, it is a prayer of encouragement and comfort to the faithful of Israel. The reading from James speaks of right behavior in the treatment of the less fortunate and in obeying the commandments. First, there is the reminder that God’s acceptance of all worshippers who come in faith must also be reflected in the Christian community. No partiality is to be shown to those who have position and influence in the world. Nor is favor to be given to those who can contribute the most to the support of the Lord’s work. In fact, the poor are “rich in faith” and are often chosen to accomplish God’s purposes. We are reminded that we are to love our neighbors in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 17, Year B

or91Piety and Worship

  • Song of Solomon 2:8-13
  • Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
  • James 1:17-27
  • Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

This Sunday begins a four-week, semi-continuous reading of James. In today’s portion, this letter speaks of God’s person and gifts as being pure, encouraging followers of Christ to keep themselves pure, unstained by the world. We are to be “doers of the word, not only hearers.”

In Jesus’s time, the Pharisees were also focused on purity. They had a problem with Jesus in how he did “not” following the purity laws of cleanliness; in this case Jesus and his disciples ate without washing their hands!

Peter Lockhart, on his blog “A different heresy” writes:

Now to understand this a little better we need to know that this is not about hygiene this is about religious purity. What is at stake is how the law and the Old Testament is interpreted and understood. If I were to make a contemporary comparison I believe it is not too unlike debates concerning how worship is conducted or about who is appropriate to exercise leadership in the church.

The rules of the Scribes and Pharisees were legalism to the nth degree – trying to make sure people stayed holy. Now Mark appears to ridicule the practices of the Jews when he goes onto mention other ritual washing of pots and cups and so on and so forth. In a sense Mark is challenging what could be a kind of Old Testament fundamentalist stance.

We face many areas of “fundamentalism” in our culture today. The world we live in, while remaining the same in the whole scheme of creation over the millennia, seems to be rapidly changing – technologically, socially, and culturally. But what needs to remain the same no matter what is occurring around us is our faith and relationship with God. Our holiness and righteousness are gifts from God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. James writes, ‘every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.’  Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 16, Year B


Holy Space

  • 1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43
  • Psalm 84
  • Ephesians 6:10-20
  • John 6:56-69

Today’s Old Testament readings gives us a sense of the joy and awe of worship in holy space dedicated to the Lord. In the passage from 1 Kings, David’s dream to build a temple becomes a reality. David had brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem when he conquered that city (1 Samuel 6:1-5); but it was to be left to David’s successor, Solomon, to build a temple to house the Ark (1 Kings 8:12-13).

“Against he backdrop of non-Israelite religions whose temples housed images of the gods and were thought to be the residences of those gods, ancient Israel affirms that Yahweh does not live in Solomon’s temple. Rather, Solomon prays that the ancient promise be fulfilled – that the Lord will choose to allow (God’s) name to dwell in the temple. Thus the temple is a place where that name can be called in prayer, and the Lord will hear the prayer.” John H. Hayes in Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year B: A Comprehensive commentary of the Lectionary (Trinity Press International, 1993). Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 15, Year B

The Logos

  • 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
  • Psalm 111
  • Ephesians 5:15-20
  • John 6:51-58

Jesus draws a contrast between the “bread that came down from heaven” and the bread, or manna, of the Exodus. Those who ate that bread died. God had preserved the community by providing manna; but the goal of pilgrimage was finally attained by the generation that followed. In contrast, this true Bread from heaven is life for every individual who partakes of it – a life that endures for eternity.

Jesus describes the central significance of the Eucharist – he is truly the bread of heaven, and whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood shall receive eternal life. The writer of the Gospel of John sees Jesus as the incarnation of God’s Wisdom, who came to humanity in the flesh of Jesus to reveal God’s Word by living it fully among people:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:1, 14a

Continue reading

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