Now that the budget super committee has failed, the Budget Control Act now calls for $1.5 trillion in budget cuts over the next 10 years.
At the same time, 46.2 million Americans are unemployed; 17.1 million are underemployed. 1 in 5 American children live in poverty. The poorest counties in the U.S. are rural. 14.5% of households struggle with food insecurity and 15 percent (45.8 million) receive food stamp assistance. Food stamp rolls have risen 8.1% in the past year alone. 1.6 million people are homeless, including nearly 135,000 veterans. The income gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent, from 1979 to 2007, increased 275 percent.
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will be exempt from budget cuts. WIC, SNAP and other programs that help the poor will not be exempt. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) are a lifeline to millions of struggling & impoverished Americans. Developmental Assistance may be exempt. DA holds up the needs of poor people around the world: agriculture, malaria, etc. and amounts to 6/10 of one percent of the budget.
At the same time, there will be tremendous pressure to keep certain special interests exempt from budget cuts. There will be a significant campaign this next year to keep the military exempt. If this happens, all the other programs will bear the brunt of the budget balancing process. Every group that gets exempt from this point on, will hurt those living in poverty. More children will go hungry.
There are a lot of expensive, well-paid lobbyists that are tirelessly pressuring legislators on behalf of special interest groups. There are no expensive, well-paid lobbyists advocating for the poor. Who will speak for the poor, the widow and orphan? Who, in our society, will do what the Hebrew prophets did with the kings: demand justice for the poor?
If not us, then who?
Article XVI: Of Civil Affairs.
Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.
Dr. Robert Tuttle, Lutheran, lawyer and professor at George Washington School of Law, says this article is revolutionary for three reasons:
1. Gift: Government is viewed as a divine gift. Due to war, famine and black plague the death rate during the Reformation was astronomical. There was incredible social dislocation. Government’s role in addressing these needs is confirmed. We have also known social dislocation in our age. Consider Somalia. Liberia. Civil government Is a blessing, when it does what it should do. As a church we have a responsibility to support and pray for civic leaders, building up they vocation.
Luther: “God gives us food, house and home through civil rulers.” (Paraphrased from the Large Catechism)
Those who serve are called to difficult work. It’s a challenging vocation, wrought with uncertainty. Read Book 19 of Augustine’s “City of God.” We begin by respecting the difficulty of political judgements, and honor the vocation of those who serve in the public sphere.
2. Trust: Civil government is a gift, but it is also a trust. A trust, in legal terms, is a gift given for purposes and for beneficiaries. Limits are imposed.
One crucial limit of civil authority is that it does not have jurisdiction over religion. We have “secular” government. This does not mean religion and government do not speak to one another, just that they don’t have jurisdiction over one another. The church cannot dictate laws. The government cannot determine faith.
So we thank God or civil government, but we recognize that it is limited. Government does the work of God, but it does not reveal God or teach us about God. We must beware of the government tendency to use religion as a tool for its purposes. Nazi Germany is the most poignant example.
The authority of government lies in the consent of the governed, not by divine right. Religious institutions have a vibrant role. The church cannot make laws, but it must not be silent.
We acknowledge the accountability of religious institutions to civil law. Zoning, building regulations and so forth. The two kingdoms does not mean churches are exempt from the laws of the land. Sexual abuse is an excellent example. Tuttle, though, believes that the exemption of clergy housing allowance from federal taxation is unconstitutional. He bets it cannot and will not ever be litigated.
3. Duty of loyalty. Trustees have the duty of care and loyalty. With this comes great discretion. Courts will not intervene. Input from religious institutions on how to care is appropriate. Critique is fair.
The duty of loyalty is different. A crucial part of advocacy is calling those who serve to attend to those for whom they care. The church has a responsibility to speak for those who are least likely to be at the table. The rich and powerful have says to get their interests represented and needs met. The poor and powerless do not. The church has a particular responsibility to do this work.
Given that 1/5 children in the U.S. live in poverty, are we meeting our obligation to speak for the most vulnerable?
Come away with me to a lonely place…
This time of year I’m mindful of our brothers and sisters in Christ at Living Word, Katy, who have just returned from visiting dear friends at Iglesia Luterana Luz Divina, in Lima, Peru. Some of us have been going for twelve years, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, sharing our lives together. It is liminal space, a place apart.
Liminal Space. It’s the place where we get away. It’s the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus in the desert. The disciples on the mountain. Paul in the wilderness. For many liminal space is summer camp, sabbatical, vacation, holiday travel to visit loved ones, retreat, continuing education, cultural immersion. It is a place apart, away from the routines and daily grind.
Liminal space gives us a great gift: perspective. It gives us a place to step away from our lives, and see them from outside. It is a place to dream. We can rethink ourselves, reinvent, recreate. All the great prophets got out of dodge. Some suggest there is no spiritual growth without liminal space.
Getting out of our cultural box changes us. We view our culture through the eyes of another. We see the strengths and the weaknesses of our own place in the universe. We are challenged and inspired. Although the forces of inertia are strong to pull us back into the familiar routines when we return, we cannot possibly return unchanged. The journey alters the course of our lives.
As you go into the place apart, find quiet. Listen for the life-changing voice of God.
Good and gracious God, you called Abraham and Sarah to leave the comforts of home and trust you in a place they did not know. As we journey from home and family, walk with us.
Give us eyes to see your Christ in the eyes of those we meet along the road.
Give us ears to hear the rustling of your Spirit.
Give us hearts to feel the challenge of being a stranger in a new land.
Give us courage to surrender to the experience.
May our hearts might be drawn to love what you love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Giving is an incredible barometer of our spiritual health. Spiritually healthy people are generous people. Giving is an indicator of our priorities, what we worship, our gods. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
We know this. We believe it. Giving is not about budgets. Its about faith. So, if the only time pastors preach on giving and generosity is during budget time, then we send the message that all this talk about generosity isn’t from a pastor who understands and cares about our spiritual lives, it’s really just about balancing an institution’s budget.
So, now that the fall stewardship campaign is over (for most churches), when are you clergy going to preach about giving next? Gonna wait ’til next fall?
Why not enjoy the freedom of preaching your heart out about giving an generosity, at a time when you’re not budgeting, or asking for anything?
For those who schedule their Sunday readings by the three-year Revised Common Lectionary, here are some times you might consider preaching and teaching on the joy of giving.
December – Yuletide is a great time to talk about giving. Christmas is the season of giving. People’s hearts are softened. Ebenezer Scrooge haunts us. Take a Christmas offering for a ministry beyond your walls. Tell the story of Saint Nicholas. It’s also year end. Some will receive bonuses and consider tithing from them. Others will consider year end gifts for tax purposes. Give them a chance to do something that will give them joy and serve the kingdom.
Lent – Almsgiving is one of the disciplines of Lent. Ash Wednesday we read from Matthew 6. Don’t worry about your life. God will take care of you. Seek first the kingdom and then everything else will be added unto you.
The importance of repentance is a strong theme in Lent. Return to the Lord your God. Change your ways, your priorities. Lent 3B is the Cleansing of the Temple. Jesus isn’t upset with money in church. In fact he will prasie the widow who puts two pennies in the offering. Instead he is criticizing the Temple sacrificial system. The money is being used to purchase animals to be sacrificed, rather than supporting the priests, the poor, the widow, orphan and alien. This may be a great time to talk about our spending priorities as a church and as families.
Mother’s Day – On this day most (not all) people reflect on how much their mothers gave them. It’s a great day to talk about giving, using the image of the sacrificial mother. No, its not a religious festival, but it will be on 90% of your congregation’s minds. While some can’t have kids, and some choose not to, everyone had a mother, and a good mom, a loving mother is a great example of caring for those who can’t care for themselves. The text is John 15: This is my commandment, that you love one another, and bear fruit.
June 24 – We have 2 Corinthians 8 as our epistle, where Paul talks about the offering for the saints in Jerusalem. He brags on the Macedonians who are yearning to give even though they are poor. In the kingdom of God, even the poor give to the poor.
July 22 – We read the Feeding of the Five Thousand on this Sunday. This story exemplifies God’s providence. The miracle of one boy’s generosity multiplies the resources. You have four weeks of “bread” texts. Why not use the first to talk about the joy of generosity?
September 9 – Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 says, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.”
November 11 – The widow places two copper coins in the Temple treasury. Jess teaches about proportionate giving. She offers very little, but gives the most, because it’s 100%.
Thanksgiving – This is a great time to talk about giving. We give because we have an attitude of gratitude. When we are filled with an overwhelming sense f gratitude, our natural instinct is to give.
This Sunday the gospel reading consists of the first eight verses of the Gospel of Mark. Here you have it:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Before we dive into Mark’s gospel and pull it apart piece by piece, it might be good to step back and look at the whole. Here are a couple of outlines.
This is an outline of Mark’s gospel that I have used over the years, adapting it to various needs and group Bible studies. I honestly don’t know where it comes from. I probably robbed several New Testament scholars, renaming things along the way to help me get my mind around the gospel.
There are many outlines of Mark out there. Some are very long and detailed, allowing the reader no perspective on the whole. Some draw the lines in different places. For example, some outlines place 1:14-15 in the first section, as a summary of the preface. Others place 1:14-15 in the second section, as an introduction to Jesus’ Galilean ministry. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. The goal is simply to “see” the scope of the gospel: its plot and movement.
The value of an outline is the ability to see the sweep of the entire book. In Mark, that sweep moves us gracefully from Jesus’ ministry up north in Galilee, to his Judean ministry, then crucifixion and resurrection.
A few interesting things
- Mark uses the phrase “and immediately 42 times.”
- Mark never uses the word “law.”
- Only mark gives the healing phrases of Jesus in the original Aramaic: talitha cum and ephphatha.
- In Mark, Jesus is a carpenter (6:3). In Matthew he is the carpenters’ son.
- In Mark (6:3) Jesus names his brothers and mentions his sisters.
- In Mark, the disciples can carry a staff and sandals. In Matthew and Luke they cannot.
- Jewish customs are explained for an apparently Gentile audience.
- Jesus declares all foods clean (7:19)
Outline of Mark
I. Introduction (1:1-13)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
- The beginning of the Good News: Forerunner John the Baptist (1:1-8)
- Jesus’ Baptism (1:9-11)
- Jesus’ Temptation (1:12-13)
II. The Ministry of the Hidden Messiah in Galilee (1:16-8:26)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee…
A. The beginning of the Galilean ministry (1:14-15)
B. The Call of the Four (1:16-20)
C. Exorcisms and Healings in Capernaum
D. More Healing, and Conflict Stories (2:1-3:6)
E. Parables (4)
F. More Healing Miracles (5 and 7)
G. Double Tradition:
- Feeding 5,000 Feeding 4,000
- Crossing the Lake Crossing the Lake (8:10)
- Debate with Pharisees Debate with Pharisees
- Healing Healing
III. Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi…
A. Gradual Revelation of Suffering
(Predictions: 8:31, 9:31, 10:32-34)
B. Pattern 3x
- Complementary Material
IV. Hidden Messiah to Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
When they were approaching Jerusalem…
A. Judgment in Action (11:1-26)
B. Judgment in Words (11:27-12:37)
C. The Little Apocalypse (13:1-37)
V. Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread.
A. Jesus Prepares for His Departure (14:1-42)
B. Jesus’ Arrest and Trial (14:43-15:20)
C. Jesus Crucifixion and Burial (15:21-47)
D. Jesus’ Resurrection, Appearances and Ascension (16:1-8, alternative ending)
Contents of Mark’s Gospel
For some, rather than an outline that attempts to identify the structure of the gospel, for some, a list of the contents may be more helpful. I started with http://bibleencyclopedia.net/index.php/Gospel_Of_Mark but found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark to be more thorough.
- John the Baptist (1:1–8,6:14–29)
- Baptism of Jesus (1:9–11)
- Temptation of Jesus (1:12–13)
- Return to Galilee (1:14)
- Good News (1:15)
- Calling Simon, Andrew, James, John (1:16–20)
- Capernaum (1:21–39)
- Leper and Paralytic (1:40–2:12)
- Calling of Matthew (2:13–17)
- On fasting and wineskins (2:18–22)
- Sabbath observance (2:23–3:6)
- Multitude at the Sea of Galilee (3:7–12)
- Commission of the Twelve (3:13–19,6:7-13)
- Blind mute (3:20-26)
- Strong man (3:27)
- Eternal sin (3:28-30)
- Jesus’ true relatives (3:31-35)
- Parable of the Sower (4:1–9,13-20)
- Purpose of parables (4:10-12,33-34)
- Lamp under a bushel (4:21–23)
- Mote and Beam (4:24-25)
- Growing seed and Mustard seed (4:26–32)
- Calming the storm (4:35–41)
- Demon named Legion (5:1–20)
- Daughter of Jairus (5:21–43)
- Hometown rejection (6:1–6)
- Feeding the 5000 (6:30–44)
- Walking on water (6:45–52)
- Fringe of his cloak heals (6:53–56)
- Clean and Unclean (7:1–23)
- Canaanite woman’s daughter (7:24–30)
- Deaf mute (7:31–37)
- Feeding the 4000 (8:1–9)
- No sign will be given (8:10–12)
- Beware of yeast (8:13-21)
- Healing with spit (8:22-26)
- Peter’s confession (8:27–30)
- Son of Man (8:31-33, 9:30-32, 10:33-34)
- Those who want to follow should pick up a cross (8:34-37)
- Return of the Son of Man (8:38-9:1,14:62)
- Transfiguration (9:2–13)
- Possessed boy (9:14-29)
- Teaching in Capernaum (9:33-50)
Journey to Jerusalem
- Entering Judea (10:1)
- On divorce (10:2–12)
- The Little Children (10:13-16)
- Evangelical counsels (10:17–31)
- On the road to Jerusalem (10:32)
- Son of man came to serve (10:35–45)
- Blind Bartimaeus (10:46–52)
Events in Jerusalem
- Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (11:1–11)
- Cursing the fig tree (11:12–14,20-24)
- Temple incident (11:15–19,27-33)
- Prayer for forgiveness (11:25-26)
- The Wicked Husbandman (12:1–12)
- Render unto Caesar… (12:13–17)
- Resurrection of the Dead (12:18-27)
- Great Commandment (12:28–34)
- Teaching the crowd (12:35-40)
- Lesson of the widow’s mite (12:41-44)
- Olivet discourse (13)
- Plot to kill Jesus (14:1-2,10-11)
- Anointing (14:3–9)
- Last Supper (14:12–26)
- Peter’s denial (14:27-31,66-72)
- Arrest (14:32–52)
- Before the High Priest (14:53–65)
- Before Pilate (15:1–15)
- Crucifixion (15:16–41)
- Joseph of Arimathea (15:42–47)
- Empty tomb (16:1–8)
- The Longer Ending and Resurrection appearances (16:9-20)
- Great Commission (16:14–18)
- Ascension (16:19)
So now let’s go back to the introduction.
Luther Seminary professor emeritus Paul Berge points out that the first sentence of this gospel has no verb. He points out that this is probably Mark’s way of putting a title on his gospel. Keep in mind that Mark was written in Greek, with all capital letters, no punctuation, and no spaces between the words. This complicates things. You might not think it matters that much, but onsider this phrase:
What does it say? Does it say, “God is now here.”? Or does it say, “God is nowhere.”? You could have two completely opposite interpretations, depending on how you divide the words. We know there is interpretation going on in the very act of translation, but keep in mind there is also interpreting going on even before translation begins, in the dividing of the text into words, and then the words into sentences and paragraphs, and inserting punctuation. By the time we are looking at Nestle’s Greek text, it has already been divided into words, put in lower case letters and filled with punctuation.
Someone once asked in a Bible study if their deceased loved one was in heaven right now. A member of the study quoted Jesus’ words from the cross, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.” Ah, but where do you put the comma? Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”? Or “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.”? One indicates they’ll be in paradise today. In the other, Jesus is simply saying it today, that at some undefined time in the future they’ll be in paradise.
Enough of this tangent. The thief doesn’t even appear in Mark’s account. My point is that the gospel writer would not boldface and center his title giving a space in between. The missing verb clues us in that this is the title of his gospel:
The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God
This is just the beginning. Son of God, yes, but throughout most of Mark’s gospel, Jesus will be the Son of Man, a clear statement of the theology of the church from a very early gospel. Jesus is truly human, truly divine. “Son of God” only appears four times in this gospel, I believe (1:1, 3:11, 5:7 and 15:39). The last one I consider to be the climax of the gospel. In 1:1 the author clues us in that Jesus is the Son of God. The second two references are by unclean spirits. No human person in the narrative recognizes Jesus as the Son of God until the very end, and there it is a pagan. The Roman centurion at the cross, after witnessing, no overseeing the crucifixion of gentle, humble, innocent man – after seeing how he died – the Roman centurion is the one to confess who Jesus is: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Not just king of the Jews, as the authorities had posted above his head, as a sign of his insurrection, but Son of God. Sorry to be a spoiler, but I’m banking on the assumption that you’ve all read this short gospel.
I strongly recommend, if you are teaching or preaching on this gospel this year, sit down and read it straight through from beginning to end in one sitting. One feels more clearly the scope and content of the gospel. This is how it was meant to be read anyway.
I better not close without a few words about John the Baptist. John was an ascetic, living a kind of monastic lifestyle. Jesus ate and drank with sinners. John preached a baptism of water, with repentance. He made it clear that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Read a power that goes beyond repentance and purity.
I like John because he points to Jesus. In the famous altarpiece painting by the German artist Matthias Grunewald at Isenheim of the crucifixion, John the Baptist is pseudo-surrealistically painted into the scene. He is, of course, dead, so this is a marvelous work of dialectical art. John points to Jesus with an over-sized finger. “Him.”
The preacher might consider ways in which our lives point to Christ. Do our ministries point to Christ? Or to us? Do they say, “See how wonderful we are?” or “See how wonderful Christ is?” How might we, like the moon, reflect the light of the sun? Luther said we are all “little Christs.” How might we, as a means of preparing for Christ’s coming, more fully reflect the glory of the gospel in the face of Christ, just as the glory of the law was reflected in the face of Moses?