Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,1080.jpgLessons-at-a-GlanceListen to the podcast on iTunesListen to the podcast on LibSyn Pentecost 16B – September 16, 2012Isaiah 50:4-9 – The Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher.

Psalm 116:1-9 – I will walk in the presence of the LORD. (Ps. 116:8)

James 3:1-12 – Not many of you should become teachers. Tame the tongue.

Mark 8:27-38 – Who do people say I am? Messiah. Get behind me Satan. If you would follow me take up your cross.


1127.jpgBefore we get to Mark, a collection of thoughts about speaking, listening, congregational life, and personal relationships.

“The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community. Silence and speech have the same inner correspondence and difference as do solitude and community. One does not exist without the other. Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech.”

Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I think that quote from Bonhoeffer well describes the dialectic between solitude and community; silence and speech. And even when we are in community, there is a tension between speaking and listening. (Most of the time when we are “listening” we are just really thinking about what we will say next!) Anyway, I think the whole business of speaking and listening is critical for congregations, small groups, and personal relationships. It’s something that every community would do well to intentionally consider.

We live in a culture where public and political discourse is becoming increasingly acrimonious and polarizing; in order to win you must belittle or even demonize the other. Or watch any of the so-called “reality shows” – “The Real Housewives of…” – and get a sample of what is being modeled. (I am really starting to sound old.)

“If we can by the spirit of Grace control our tongue we will make a wonderful discovery. We will be able to stop from constantly criticizing the other person, judging him, condemning him and putting him in a place where we can find a position over him and then do violence to him. The discovery we will make if we, by the grace of God, control our tongue is we will allow our brother to exist as a completely free person as God made him to be. Our view of the person is expanded and for the first time we are able to see in this person the richness of God’s creative glory. God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator. God does not will that I should make the person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather God made this person in His image. I can never know beforehand how God’s image should appear in others.”

Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I make quite a few congregational meetings of one type or another. At times I am amazed at the graceful way that people speak with one another; even while discussing emotionally charged issues. At other times I feel like I should have brought a striped shirt and whistle. (Of course, I’m not privy to the parking lot meetings.) What kind of community life are we trying to both create and model? How counter cultural are we?

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1128.jpgIt’s important to note that, in the face of the Third Reich, Bonhoeffer was referring to a systemic evil. I am glad that the concept of “doing justice” is beginning to take root in our congregations. In a recent lecture with Diana Butler Bass, Marcus Borg made the following observations:

“Righteousness in the Bible often refers to justice. One meaning of justice is punitive or retributive (for example, the “Hall of Justice” or “Justice Department”). In the Bible, the more common meaning of justice is distributive, restorative, economic, and social justice, which inquires as to whether societies, cultures, systems, and institutions are just, fair, and equitable. A better translation of some lines from the Sermon on the Mount:

  • 5.6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for social justice for they will be filled.
  • 5.10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of distributive justice.
  • 5.20 – Unless your economic justice exceeds that of the [corrupt religious leaders…]
  • 5.33 – Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s restorative justice.

1132.jpgCompassion and Justice are the central virtues of Christian life. Cornell West says that ‘Justice is what love looks like in public.’ Compare the difference between Christianity shaped by righteousness and mercy; and one shaped by compassion and justice.” (For a more complete exposition, pick up Borg’s new book, Speaking Christian.)

And finally, if we are going to think about congregational and personal speaking and listening, perhaps we need to carefully examine our communities to see exactly who has voice and to whom we really listen.

“The community of believers is a speaking place, where the future of the community is determined through unhindered conversation. To grasp the radical openness of the Christian congregation, it is important to note who was not granted freedom of speech in ancient democracies: women, slaves, foreigners, and children. Paul tore down the barriers to full participation through his conviction that the Spirit grants free speech to all who belong to Christ. For the church to be the church, the voices of all must be heard.”

– David Fredrickson, The Promise of Lutheran Ethics

On to Mark…


1133.jpgA picture of Halstad Public School (June, 1958) where I attended grade school. The main entrance had this archway made of big cut stones. I wondered why it didn’t collapse, then my dad explained the even larger “keystone” at top of the arch that gave the whole arch structural integrity. I was fascinated by it.

I think this text is the “keystone” in Mark’s gospel; holding together everything that leads up to it and away from it. As I posted back in June:

Mark’s Gospel has an interesting structure. Along with some teaching and travel narrative, the first 8 chapters are crammed full of examples of Jesus’ power and authority: demons are cast out, people are healed, storms are calmed, crowds are fed, and a girl is raised from the dead. After all that, Jesus asks, “What’s the word on the street? Who do people say that I am?” Peter gives the right answer, “You are the Messiah.” And then Jesus tells them to tell no one. And the rest of the Gospel is about Jesus telling his disciples what’s going to happen to him in Jerusalem: the same thing that happened to thousands outside the walls of Jerusalem. And Jesus teaches them what it will mean to follow a crucified Messiah: “Take up your cross and follow. Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Artist rendering of Paneas in the time of Herod the Great. Left is the Temple to Augustus; center is the Temple to Pan.

Mark says that this interchange took place in the area of Caesarea Philippi; which would make it about a 25-30 mile hike from Bethsaida. Whether making the trek or not, I think there’s a reason Mark lifted up Caesarea Philippi; it was a city with huge religious/political connotations. The area (Panion) had been annexed to Herod the Great in 20 BCE. It included Paneas, which was a shrine/temple to Pan and also the headwaters of the Jordan. To curry the favor of Augustus, Herod built a temple alongside the temple to Pan and dedicated it to Augustus.

After Herod’s death the area was ruled by his son Phillip (Mark 6:17). He built a city – an administrative capital – at Paneas and named it Caesarea in honor of Augustus. (Caesarea Philippi is just a way of distinguishing it from Caesarea Maritima.) In 61 CE Agrippa II (Acts 26), great-grandson of Herod the Great, renamed the city Neronias in honor of Nero. Agrippa II also had a palace there. In fact, when Vespasian rested his troops there prior to the siege of Jerusalem, Agrippa sent 2000 troops to aid Vespasian in the siege since he had been ousted from Jerusalem in 66 CE.

1130.jpgYou can see that the young Agrippa II had a “Roman look.” Herod the Great had been appointed King of Judea by Augustus; in whose honor he also built Caesarea Maritima. By the time of Agrippa II, the Herodian house and the imperial families of Rome were enmeshed; literally in bed together. Agrippa II was educated at the court of Claudius; his sister was married to Felix, the Roman procurator. (Acts 23:23)

The point of this historical excurses is that all of this is known to Mark’s audience. Agrippa II is on the throne in 70 CE; the time of Mark’s writing. These are the realities that came to mind when Caesarea Philippi was mentioned. And so, in that context, when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” there was a lot at stake. (Christ, Messiah, King, Anointed One – all were titles for Caesar. To proclaim anyone else as “the Christ” was treasonous. Agrippa I, a friend of Caligula, had been imprisoned for merely expressing a wish about Tiberius’ demise so that Caligula could be emperor.) And so, out of that context there will need be a reframing of “the Christ” and following “the Christ” – which, after this “keystone event,” is what the rest of Mark’s Gospel is about.

Jesus said to Peter, “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but human things.” In my mind, I break that out like this.

  • Divine Things = Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), Theology of the Cross, a life of service.
  • Human Things = Kingdom of Caesar, Theology of Glory, a life of being served.

In his book Reading Mark: Engaging the Gospel, David Rhoads lays out the difference between “human things” and “divine things.”



It should noted that, even in Mark, the cross is always something that is “taken up;” it is never “laid upon.”

“Thus the law of Christ is a law of bearing. Bearing means forbearing and sustaining. The brother is a burden to the Christian, precisely because he is a Christian. For the pagan the other person never becomes a burden at all. He simply sidesteps every burden that others may impose upon him. The Christian, however, must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated.”

Life Together, Bonhoeffer

“To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.” – Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

And there is again linkage between James and Mark. Doing justice – seeking justice – often leads to “the cross.” The kingdoms of this world really do not want to change or be changed. In fact, I often do not want to change or be changed. As I said in June – quoting Walter Brueggemann – we are often ambivalent about the Kingdom of God. We seek it; and yet we are fearful of what it might cost us.

And so, this week, and in the weeks ahead, I believe the task is to explore what all of this means in the life of the congregation and in the lives of individuals. And, can we be honest about our ambivalence? We are not so unlike Peter as we suppose.

Yours in Christ,Don Carlson, Assistant to Bishop Rinehart