Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thanks be to God!

Two weeks ago I received some of the best news of my life. My friend Shelley had been enduring chemotherapy for 4 months, then had major surgery to remove any "leftover" cancer. On January 5, she was told there was no cancer in the tissue they had removed, or the lymph nodes. For me, a friend in a different time zone who found out in a Facebook post, this was indeed great news--it ranks in my life with "Will you marry me?" "It's a girl!" and "It's a boy!" in terms of being life-changing, transformational news.

The next morning I sang Matins, Psalm 95: "Let us come before God's presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to the Lord with psalms." The significance of "thanksgiving" rattled my bones as I prayed--indeed, I am thankful in a new way for this new life for Shelley and for our relationship. It's so much more than appreciation or relief, though they are both part of the experience. It is deep, deep gratitude that God knows each cell of our bodies, even the cancerous ones, and that God desires wholeness for us, body, mind, and soul. It's a "come to Jesus" moment in which I realize I never really can return the favor or pay God back in any way, not even close. This is a gift in the truest sense, no occasion or persuasion or expectation of return.

The feelings I have around this are not polite--"Remember to say 'Thank you'". These feelings are intense and hard and sure and deep, and a little scary. This isn't just "something I picked up for you" kind of gift, but a gift that has changed the way I think about the world and my, and Shelley's, place in it.

I am very thankful, to God, for Shelley. And, as the psalmist suggests, I think I may have shouted!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Jan/Feb Bible Study: Mark

Because of various scheduling conflicts, the first Bible study of 2012 will meet on these dates:
Jan. 18 10 am @ Clarie's (WELCA)
6:30 pm @ Bailey's (Buda)
Jan. 25 6:30 pm @ Ruge-Jones's (San Marcos)
Feb. 1 6:30 pm @ Schlortt's (Kyle)
Feb. 8 6:45 pm @ Helen's (Austin)

Welcome Phil Ruge-Jones, our resident Mark scholar, who has written this month's blog intro to the Bible study. Read the Gospel of Mark (all of it!) and we'll see you at one of the gatherings.

Most scholars date the Gospel of Mark around 70 AD, during the time of the Jewish-Roman war that reached its brutal climax with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. In the midst of this massive destruction, the people of faith were perplexed and trying to sort out how in God’s name this could happen. How could God’s dwelling place and the city of God have been destroyed by imperial forces? Where was God in the midst of this national tragedy? How could God allow thousands of the chosen people to be slaughtered without mercy? With the temple destroyed, the people of faith had to figure out one more time what it meant to be the people of God in a new circumstance.
The Gospel of Mark is one response, but its purpose is not merely to explain what had happened. The gospel became a vessel capable of carrying their profound grief and perplexity. By telling of the crucifixion of Jesus, they also heard echoes of the Roman crucifixion of husbands, brothers, neighbors, and children. Their grief at what humanity did to Jesus flowed into their more recent grief. But also the hope that grew out of Jesus’ promised resurrection filled them with hope for a new future.
These people continued to live in the shadow of the Roman Empire. This imperial power was the global reality that dominated and shaped their lives on even the most intimate levels. They remembered the one called Jesus who spoke of another empire, the empire of God. Although we are more familiar with the translation the “kingdom of God” one could also translate the Greek word for kingdom as “empire”. This captures the tension between Rome’s empire and the one announced by Jesus. Jesus’ phrase was intentionally oppositional. For those who knew too well the brutality of the Roman Empire, Jesus proclaimed and enacted a very different kind of empire. This one had God’s initiation as its source and it gave people healing, bread, and life. Jesus’ commitment to proclaiming and living in this alternative empire eventually cost him his life.
One of the immediate contexts for proclaiming Jesus's story as the Gospel of Mark may have been on Easter eve at the vigil. Those who had studied the Christian way for as long as a year would hear the story of the life of Jesus as one last reminder of the way that they were beginning to walk. Hearing the story was part of the ritual that marked the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ in their lives.
As you read ask yourself these questions:
Where would this gospel address the loss its original hearers felt?
Where would it give them hope?
What is the “empire” that Jesus announces like?
How would you characterize it?
What does it mean for you to live in the way that Jesus announced and embodied?