GCI Equipper

Pentecost – Jesus’ First Return

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. John 14:20 ESV

I spent most of my life praying for Jesus to return and ignoring the truth that he already did in a very real way. Now before you think I’m changing doctrine, please understand I’m not addressing his glorious return, I’m referring to the fulfillment of his promise that he would always be with us. (All passages from ESV).

  • Matthew 28:20 – “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
  • John 14:18 – “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
  • Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”
  • Hebrews 13:5 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The disciples must have pondered these words as they watched Jesus ascend into the clouds. As they stared up, two men in white robes told them he was going to return in the same way he departed. We still await this glorious return. Because of his promises, it is safe to bet the disciples believed Jesus was going to return quite soon – and the promise from the Father that he told them to wait for in Jerusalem might just be Jesus returning. It was the promise, and he did return, just not in the manner they expected. And that brings us to Pentecost.

The Pentecost event brought clarity to much of what Jesus had taught the disciples, and especially what he taught them in the Upper Room just before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He told them he was going to send “another helper.”

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:16-20 ESV)

This helper dwells with us and is in us. This helper is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father is God. The Son is God. God is Father, Son, and Spirit in us, among us, with us. Jesus said, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Jesus, the Word who was with God and is God, became flesh and dwelled among us, died, was resurrected, ascended, and now lives in us through the Holy Spirit. You can call this his first return, but in reality, it is not as much a return as it is a continuation of the promise that David and Isaiah understood.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 ESV)

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand. (Isaiah 41:10 ESV)

Pentecost reminds us that God made his promise known in a very real way. The Holy Spirit came like a mighty wind, danced like flames of fire, and revealed himself through spiritual gifts. The disciples came to understood that Jesus had returned to not just walk with them, but to live in them through the Holy Spirit, enabling them to continue the work he started with them. They held onto his promise to be with them always.

Jesus lives in you for the same reason. He has invited you to join him in continuing the work he started with the disciples and established with the church on Pentecost. As we head into Pentecost 2024, followed by Ordinary Time, I recommend reading John 14-17 and reflecting on how Jesus lives in us through the Holy Spirit and what it means that he will be with you always.

So thankful for Christ living in me,

Rick Shallenberger
Editor

P.S. Beginning next month in the June 2024 Equipper, the lead articles will be written by our GCI Superintendents. This has been part of a long-range plan by President Greg Williams and me to give Equipper a stronger international presence, and to give a broader voice to our superintendents. You will also see more support articles written by international leaders. As I head toward retirement, it is a pleasure to decrease and watch others increase. I am excited about the future of Equipper.

The Tale of Two Fig Trees

Jesus uses fig trees to show how change is needed.

Glen A Weber – Regional Support Team, Central Region

As part of the Easter Season, it’s good to reflect on some of the lessons Jesus shared as he spent time with his disciples. We often read passages that are so familiar we can pass right over some aspects of the story. We need to remember that Matthew and the other New Testament writers used specific examples of Jesus’ works and words to make their points. We know John said if everything Jesus said and did was recorded, it would fill many books. I was recently intrigued with two stories of fig trees we see in Matthew. There can be several applications to these stories, but let me share how I feel this fits into the Easter Season as we head into Ordinary Time.

 

We find the first fig tree in Matthew 21, but first a bit of background. In Matthew 20, we see Jesus and the disciples have left Galilee, with Jesus again telling the disciples that he “must go up to Jerusalem” and that he would suffer, die, and be raised on the third day. Then he reminds the mother of James and John (as well as the rest of the disciples) that the Son of Man came to serve, not be served, and to give his life as a ransom. As they pass through Jericho, Jesus heals two blind men. In the first part of Matthew 21, we read Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and then about Jesus cleansing the temple area on the first day of the week. Matthew’s account describes the story of the first fig tree occurring on the next day of the week.

In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. (Matthew 21:18-22 NRSVUE)

Recalling that Jesus said his food was to do the Father’s will and to complete his work (John 4) and noting the background of seeing the fruit of Jesus’ ministry, we can’t help but note that Jesus is making a point about the lack of fruit he sees in Israel – especially by the Jewish leadership. As Jesus is entering Jerusalem, his hunger is to see the fruit that the nation of Israel and their leaders were to be displaying. He knew they looked like a great nation (like a beautiful fig tree), but none of the Father’s fruit was being produced in them. Seeing the fig tree which also looked good but had no fruit, Jesus cursed the tree and caused it to wither away.

While the mountain can easily refer to the Roman empire, it seems Jesus is also referring to the misuse of the temple and the mountain of burdens the people faced under Jewish law. In the next few days, Jesus would explain the ultimate fate of Jerusalem and their leaders – not one stone would be left upon another, and the city would be overrun by Gentiles. The withered fig tree can easily represent what the nation of Israel would be like by 70 A.D.

Over the next few chapters, we see Jesus confronted by one group of Jewish leaders after another as he told parables to the people. The leaders were confronting him with trick questions, disagreements about the law and other ways to find an excuse to kill him and much of what he says are direct criticisms of those same leaders – and they know it!

Now let’s move to Matthew 24. Here the disciples are admiring the beautiful buildings of the temple area and Jesus gives a long description of what was going to happen to the people and nation of Israel between then and 70 A.D. In the midst of his teaching, Jesus addresses another fig tree, which we often read over without much thought.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:32-35 NRSVUE)

This fig tree that has “tender” or new branches and is putting forth leaves. This is either a brand new tree or one that has been dormant and is now springing to life. What could this tree represent?

In the previous verses, Jesus has used symbolic language taken from several dozen Old Testament prophecies (earthquakes, sun going dark, armies surrounding the city, etc.) to describe the coming fall of Israel as a nation. An aspect of that tragedy will be what the national/religious leaders do in the next few days when they arrest, falsely convict, and demand the Romans kill Jesus. The Jewish Messiah (part of and representative of the fallen nation) will die with the withered nation/tree. However, through his death and resurrection, Jesus was announcing the kingdom of God. There was a new fig tree that was already beginning to grow and produce leaves (and eventually fruit). He told them you know that summer is near. You will see new growth; new life is happening.

Easter represents newness – new life. Jesus wasn’t just resuscitated in the same old body; he was resurrected into a new body. As we continue to build healthy churches, we don’t want to be like the fig tree that is no longer producing fruit because we are still doing things the same old way, or because we are putting burdens on others. We want to be the fig tree with tender branches, that is connected to the true vine, growing new leaves, that will produce fruit as we mature.

God has called us and invited us to participate in bringing about new life, new growth. He has invited us to be part of a tree that produces fruit. During this Easter Season and on into Ordinary Time, let’s continually ask Father, Son, and Spirit to produce fruit in us that fills the hunger of others.

Killing Time in Ordinary Time

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42

By Elizabeth Mullins, Publications Coordinator

At my local pharmacy, I am scrolling through my phone while I wait for my prescription. I see my neighbor, Clyde, seated in the waiting area. We catch up; he tells me what is new with his grandchildren. Suddenly Clyde becomes serious, and his eyes fill with tears. He confides how terribly he misses his wife since her death last year. In that unplanned encounter, we shared a meaningful connection.

It was an encounter that happened while I was “killing time.” “Killing time” is an expression we use in the U.S. to describe something we do to spend our time while we are waiting; it is the time between more important activities. But what if the unscheduled time I spent hanging out with Clyde was the important activity of the day?

The Ordinary Time season reminds me to reflect on Jesus’ mission and my participation in it. I believe fellowship is a spiritual discipline, but am I devoted to it? A good formation practice for me is to regularly contemplate whether the way I spend my time prioritizes relationships. One way I am being conformed to Christ is through relationships. Hanging out with others is how I pursue belonging and connection and build meaningful community. Often the connection that the Spirit intercedes between or among people cannot be planned for and cannot be hurried. Have I made room for availability and spontaneity?

Here are some reflections about cultivating the spiritual discipline of fellowship. May they serve as prompts as you discern with the Spirit.

  • How much unscheduled time do I have? Why? How am I spending it?
  • When do I choose comfort, simplicity, solitude? When does that choice contribute to my formation in Christ? Is it ever a hindrance?
  • Am I ordering my life around the convenience of privacy and an uninterrupted schedule? Are there ways it has led to isolation?
  • How am I drawing a “wider circle” — wider than my family, my home, my preferred friend group? (Jesus widened our image of family — creating a new family, God’s household. Ephesians 2)
  • Reflect on the last time you spent time with a toddler or an elder. What do they have to teach me about the way we keep time? Are there ways we can celebrate inefficiency?
  • What story is my time-keeping telling? If a stranger observed my bodily rituals, what might they decide that I worship?
  • How might the Spirit be inviting me to create just a little more space and margin for killing time with other people?

Father, Son, and Spirit,
We repent of those times when we say that we embrace you as triune and relational but spend our time in a way that does not prioritize relationships. Empower us to live openly social and spontaneous lives, seeking proximity to others in shared or public spaces. We believe a fitting response to your love is to generously give our time to others as an offering. Help our unbelief! May fellowship be our worship. May we waste time on others in the prodigal sense — lavishing and expending extravagantly!
Amen.

Churches and the Crisis of Decline

A Book Review

By Anthony Mullins, Church Planter, Durham, NC

A Church Like Ours

I read this book based on the recommendation of a trusted friend while also being compelled to read because of the intriguing title, Churches and the Crisis of Decline. According to a National Congregational Study survey taken in 2020, there are 380,000 churches in the United States, many of which are experiencing some sort of decline. Whether it be decline in attendance, financial resources, the local church’s significance in the community, or coming to grips with an increasingly post-Christian society, churches and people who inhabit the church, are feeling a sense of loss. It’s something we can all relate to.

Dr. Andrew Root wrote this book to provide a hopeful ecclesiology (understanding of the nature of the church) while facing the crisis of decline. In typical Root fashion, he elucidates the book’s thesis by writing in narrative prose using creative metaphors, insightful anecdotes, and cultural references (plenty of TV show and movie mentions) to connect with all types of readers including pastors, lay members and academics. What I found particularly helpful was his creation of a fictional church, St. John the Baptist. The fictional characters Root fashions sound like the average members and leaders of any local church. St. John the Baptist church is facing decline. The church has tried different ministry methods, hired new pastors, and rewritten the vision statement multiple times in an effort to be relevant as a means to the end game: growth. Despite those sincere efforts over a span of many years, nothing worked.

The Problem

Although the author never states it in these exact words, I conclude the book’s thesis is this: the crisis of decline is in actuality a crisis of theological mission. Root contends the church has sought innovation and relevance through its methods and in doing so, the church has unwittingly placed itself as the center of its own story. Said another way, the church has made its own survival its primary mission and thereby has missed the true mission and the center of the narrative: God revealed in Jesus Christ and his ongoing mission of love to the world. Each chapter in the book addresses a particular challenge St. John the Baptist church is facing. Root then calls upon the pastoral theology of Karl Barth, the sociology of Hartmut Rosa, and the language of philosopher Charles Taylor as conversation partners to offer reflections and insights to those challenges.

The Solution

If you read this book in search of a magic bullet solution or a five-step system to resolve what ails the church, you will be sorely disappointed. The author avoids being overtly prescriptive, by design, because he understands every local church has a unique context with distinctive characteristics. However, Root makes it abundantly clear the church must stop thinking that its methods of ministry, relevance or having enough resources will save it. The mission of the church is not to save itself but rather, to have relational fidelity with God, which gets expressed as love to one another and the world.

Root repeatedly points his readers and the church to pursue the transcendent God (outside of the human experience), which enables God’s people by the Holy Spirit to apprehend the immanence of God (the perceivable presence of God) at work in the particularity of churches, neighborhoods, and the world. According to the author, that looks like actively waiting on God who is on the move.

I highly recommend Churches and the Crisis of Decline to anyone who cares deeply about this present moment in the church’s history. Take note; the book is steeped in theology, and it can feel dense at times. If you are seeking an easier read dealing with similar content, I would suggest Root’s follow-up book When Church Stops Working.

Gospel Reverb podcast

I am pleased to offer this review in partnership with a “bonus” episode of the Gospel Reverb podcast. Dr. Andrew Root and I discuss his book, Churches and the Crisis of Decline. Our podcast team hopes you will listen and be encouraged by Andy’s thoughts for pastors and members who are experiencing church decline or closure and what it means to actively wait on God in an impatient world. Listen here.

Church Hack: Rule of Life

“A rule for life is a simple statement of the regular rhythms we choose in order to present our bodies to God as our ‘spiritual act of worship’ (Romans 12:1). Each rule, or rhythm, is a way we partner with God for the transformation only he can bring. Rules keep our lives from devolving into unintended chaos. They aren’t a burdensome list of do’s and don’ts, enumerating everything you might do in a day. Life-giving rules are a brief and realistic scaffold of disciplines that support your heart’s desire to grow in loving God and others.” – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

This month’s church Hack emphasizes the importance of developing a rule of life. For more information, view and download the Church Hack here: 2024-CH5-Rhttps://buff.ly/3TgkBRjuleofLife.pdf (gci.org)

#GCIchurchhacks

Art of Mentoring: Mentoring as Ministry

“The Art of Mentoring” series dives into the deep impact of mentoring as a powerful connection that can bring about significant changes. In this special bond, people gain valuable things like time, wisdom, experiences, and insights in a way that’s right for them.

Going beyond just an idea, Aron Tolentino and Audie Santibanez explore how mentoring was crucial in Jesus’ ministry. They invite us to join in Jesus’ ongoing mentoring and discipleship and to discover how mentoring molds our lives in line with Jesus’ purpose.

Click here to view the videos in the series.

Where is Jesus?

The question by one of our younger members made me realize my answer wasn’t quite adequate.

By Dishon Mills, Pastor Charlotte, NC

There is a brilliant 8-year-old boy in my congregation who is a prolific question-asker.  Let us call him Danny. Danny wants to know about EVERYTHING! He is not my child, so I find his questions charming, and he and I get along very well. Danny’s parents, on the other hand, may not be as fond of his questions, yet they shower Danny and their other children with love and support. He is conscious of his affinity for interrogatives, and sometimes asks questions just to get under the skin of taller people. During Holy Week, my congregation conducted a Christian Seder, and I was blessed to sit close to Danny. One feature of our Christian Seder is an empty place setting for Jesus, which has great symbolic meaning. At one point, he turned to me and asked, “Where is Jesus?” Danny and I were having fun with each other throughout the evening, so I was not sure if he was joking or not. He seemed serious so I did my best to answer his question. I talked about Jesus always being with us and at work in the world around us.

 

As I spoke, I realized the inadequacy of my answer. Danny understood my words; however, I may as well have been talking about my imaginary friend. By the way, I don’t have an imaginary friend … anymore. My answer did not make Jesus any more real to Danny. The question he asked was really deep, and the answer cannot be explained. It must be experienced. In order to help Danny understand where Jesus is, we must find where Jesus is at work in our community and try to participate.

While speaking a parable to his disciples, Jesus said:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

Perhaps Jesus can be found among the hungry, thirsty, strangers, and imprisoned. By equipping our young people to care for people in need, we make the words we say about Jesus actually come alive. We must guard against saviorism — the condescending belief that those in a more privileged position can “save” those less fortunate. This can be accomplished by adopting the posture of doing good works with people not for them. When serving others, we should want to seek God for solutions with them instead of trying to do things to them.

The best way to show our young people where Jesus is at work is to guide them in serving others. This service should start with a process of relationship-building with those to be served that leads into a joint discernment process to see what God would have them do. Without opportunities to actually put their faith into practice, much of what we teach our young people will just be words. Young people are usually capable of more than adults give them credit. Perhaps the start of a robust Love Avenue could be efforts by your youngest members. Let us do our best to let our young people know where Jesus can be found for their sake and the sake of our faith community.

Gospel Reverb – Bonus Episode w/ Andrew Root

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Welcome to a BONUS episode of Gospel Reverb! We are joined by our guest, Dr. Andrew Root. Andy is a Professor of Theology, Youth Ministry, and Culture at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s written a number of books and given lectures and presentations across the country and around the globe to church groups, universities and academic communities.

In this bonus episode, Dr. Andrew Root and host Anthony Mullins discuss Root’s book, Churches and the Crisis of Decline. Churches are facing decline in attendance, resources, and influence in the community, but what is the real crisis? This book is an installment in Root’s critically acclaimed Ministry in the Secular Age project.


If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on SpotifyGoogle Podcast, and Apple Podcast.

Program Transcript


Bonus Episode w/ Andrew Root

Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of Scripture in that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello friends, and welcome to a bonus episode of Gospel Reverb. We like a bonus, right? Extra fries at the bottom of the Five Guys’ fast food cheeseburger bag or overtime of a great sporting event, bonus episode of the favorite TV show or a BOGO special at the grocery — we like bonus! And so here we have a completely free and bonus episode.

Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view. I’m your host, Anthony Mullins, and it’s my joy to welcome our guest Dr. Andrew Root.

Andy is a Professor of Theology, Youth Ministry and Culture at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s written a number of books and given lectures and presentations across the country and around the globe to church groups, universities and academic communities. In this episode, we will discuss Andy’s book Churches and the Crisis of Decline. I’ve read the book, listened to the audio book, and it’s insightful. And it’s challenging. Do yourself a solid and pick up a copy.

Andy, thanks for being with us and welcome to the podcast. And since this is your first time on Gospel Reverb, we’re glad you’re here. We’ve been trying to do this for a while. We’d love to know a bit of your personal story and how you are participating with the Lord these days.

Andrew: Yeah. First, thanks for having me. And yeah, I guess probably the most direct way is talking to folks like you and just doing a lot of podcasts and a lot of teaching. But I would say right now my vocation around this series, which this book Churches and the Crisis of Decline fits within, has really pushed, I think, my ministry.

And I guess I believe, in fear and trembling, where God is moving is just helping people who have been in ministry stay in ministry by seeing some of the larger forces that are making ministry really hard right now. I hope that I’ve been a fellow companion as people have wrestled with the frustrations and the joys, but a lot of the sufferings of ministry right now.

Anthony: Do you have a favorite book in the series that you’ve written?

Andrew: Yeah. A bit, I think that’s like asking, what’s your favorite, which child do you like best?

Anthony: You have a favorite.

Andrew: I’m definitely not going to say that on the air.

Anthony: Okay. All right. We tried.

Andrew: The story always goes, no one has a favorite child, and then you name the one that is your favorite. And I’m not going to do that.

But yeah, this one I do like a lot because, I think, it’s trying to put together some pretty divergent things like the story of Karl Barth with a fictional story of a church that I’ve written. So, I like this one quite a bit, but I don’t know. The one that I always like the most is the one I’m working on right now.

Or the one that hasn’t seen the light of day yet or something. There is something like parenting where you try to do everything you can to kind of birth this child and give it the best chance to exist in the world. But once they leave your house to go to college You got to realize they’re out of your control in some sense.

And yeah, so I look at them all fondly. They all took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. But yeah, probably the one I’m working on right now, which in some sense, I can’t even talk about which one I’m working on right now. Not because it’s a secret, but because when you’re in the middle of it, it takes a while to figure out how do I even talk about what I’m thinking and what I’m trying to get out on the page now.

That’s, for me, the way it is. I heard one very famous French philosopher say once they write a book, it’s dead to them. Like they never think about it again. And that’s not quite me, but I do understand this, just moving forward, working on the next thing. And now let the books that are out do their work out there.

[00:04:30] Anthony: I’m curious — I’ve never written a book; writing’s intimidating to me. And I’m just curious if you’ve faced this. I think it might’ve been Rob Bell I heard say this once: when you pull up your Word document (or whatever you work in) and that blinking cursor, it’s so intimidating. Like where do I start?

Do you have that issue ever where you have writer’s block or just getting started is really hard?

[00:04:55] Andrew: Yeah, for sure. For sure I have that. And I also have just the constant — really, to be honest, I see writing as a spiritual discipline. That makes me seem very pious and holy, but it’s a form of suffering really.

I think it is. Writing is something you have to suffer. And I do think it’s a calling in that way that there are those days where just nothing comes out. Or even you’ve written a chapter or two and you’re like: I thought this was really good yesterday, and today I think it’s really awful. And you’re battling this.

Or you have someone in the back of your mind, you think is going to read this that you’re writing to, and you’re not sure that you can meet their critiques or something like that.

In some ways for me, I would never write if I did it only when I felt like it. It has to be a kind of discipline that I just return to and put myself in jail and work my three and a half hours and then go away from it and work it again. And it is a bit like a craft for me.

Like you’re just working a piece of wood or working a stone, and it definitely bloodies my hands. And there are some days where you wrestle to get 200 words out. And then there’s days where all of a sudden 2, 500 words come or 4, 000 words come.

And those are great. But the majority of it is just trying to scrape something coherent out of your brain.

[00:06:20] Anthony: Gotcha. Before we get into the content of the book, let’s tackle an immensely important subject. You wrote it during the height of the COVID pandemic. And like all of us, we’re watching a lot of streaming TV shows. Now I don’t need a pandemic to watch a lot of TV. I don’t know if you have that same issue.

But anyway, let’s fast forward to 2024. Do you have a TV show or two that you would recommend to us that you really like right now?

[00:06:48] Andrew: Yeah, probably the best show I’ve watched, say, in the last two or three months is the new season of Fargo. It is amazing.

And the way it ends in the final episode, which I won’t give away because you need to just experience it, but you do need to know if you start into the newest season that it ends in an utterly beautiful way. So, every episode was great, but the ending just is something really, just something magnificent.

So that would be one. The other series I just finished recently was the newest True Detective on HBO. And the final episode is worth exploring, but for the opposite reasons, it doesn’t open up anything transcendent to mystical. It closes it down in a certain way.

And I won’t ruin the ending of that, but I found myself more screaming at the TV in disappointment after that one. But both I think give anyone who’s watching with a kind of theological lens or trying to think about our cultural moment, both will leave you a lot to think about.

[00:07:58] Anthony: Yeah, of course, Fargo may be some geographical bias up your way in Minnesota, right?

[00:08:05] Andrew: According to the show, there’s a murder every few hours here in the Twin Cities.

[00:08:13] Anthony: Get out of Dodge, man. Get out of Dodge, man.

All right. So, let’s talk about the book. What prompted you to write Churches and the Crisis of Decline?

[00:08:22] Andrew: Yeah, probably the prompt was — first of all, it’s a failure in some ways because the series that I was writing, Ministry in a Secular Age, which was really a kind of wrestling with the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s epic work called A Secular Age and trying to apply it to ministry, but really be more inspired to do theological construction from it.

It was supposed to only be a three-volume series, and this was the volume that made it four. And made me a liar to everyone that I was going to make you read a lot more. And it became actually six volumes, and we finally decided to shut it down. But this book really did come out of this sense that there was obviously more to say.

And I wanted to do a kind of full ecclesiology in the final volume of this series. That was a book called The Congregation in the Secular Age, but as the title says, it kind of points to it, it became more just focused on the congregation and not a full ecclesiology and then I thought I’d do a full ecclesiology in this book.

And it kind of became that, but kind of not. And there’s just more to say. And I was particularly really fascinated with thinking about a kind of theology, a modern theology that could break into what Charles Taylor calls the “immanent frame.” And what he means is this kind of predisposition we have as modern people to presume the world is made up of natural material things as opposed to transcendent or supernatural things, and that we live an innate kind of bias that tends to see the world as more immanent natural material.

And yet, I think there’s been some really interesting ways of trying to imagine a way God breaks in and trying to think of the church as a community that can find life through an inbreaking God as opposed to — which really becomes the kind of enemy and opposition in this boo — narratives of decline. The book has an incredible clickbait title: Churches in the Crisis of Decline. But really, it’s a little bit of a red herring in the title. I’m a little bit too worried that we have narratives of decline that we’re trying to solve in the life of the church instead of being communities that really seek for the living act of God.

And that if we attend more to narratives of God’s action or more take on practices that conform our imagination that way, that those will serve us much better than thinking, “Why do we have such few resources, such limited relevance, and how could we win both those two R’s back? How could we win resources and relevance back?”

I’m trying to recast what we think about the future of the church in a different way than thinking that we’re in a kind of narrative of declension, in a narrative of loss.

[00:11:19] Anthony: You framed the book by turning back to Karl Barth, which you’ve already alluded to, but especially his early years as a pastor and theologian-in-the-making to shape the hopeful ecclesiology to some degree of the book.

And so, my question is right now, many denominations of pastors are seeking the latest and greatest strategy of church survival and growth because they’re experiencing decline. So, my question is why hearken back to the dusty pages of Barth’s theology and ecclesiology?

[00:11:52] Andrew: Yeah, it’s a good question.

And in the worlds that I live in, interpretations of Barth, either even mentioning the name Barth makes people roll their eyes, or you enter into wars on the right way to interpret him. So, it was probably not the smartest thing in the world that I did, for my own self-preservation, to enter into a dialogue with Barth.

But one of the things that I found really interesting, particularly about the early Barth that I think can be informative to us is that Barth, most definitely, and the whole theological movement around him at the time, particularly as they responded to the crisis of World War I, that they even named themselves (or it was shade throw on them that they then took as a kind of badge of honor) is they were called “crisis theology.” They always had this deep sense that there was a crisis.

And I think overall in American Protestantism, we feel like we’re in a crisis, but I think what’s happened and I’m trying to get at in the book is that we’ve got the crisis wrong. The crisis isn’t one of decline; the crisis really is how do we speak again of a living, acting God?

How do we help people in our congregations have an imagination for a God who moves in history and speaks and is bringing salvation to the world? That becomes our crisis. And I do think we’re at moments, like you’re saying, where pastors have to be — we’ll lose some sleep. People who are leading congregations, maybe even leading denominations, probably need to have some sleepless nights tossing and turning.

But I think too often those sleepless nights really are around, how can we be more relevant? How can we get more of what we don’t have? And some of that is legitimate. Most churches in America are one roof leak away from being done, not being able to survive financially because of that.

So, I don’t want to be naive about that. But I think the real crisis before us and the real crisis of what it means to live in a secular age and to inhabit this immanent frame is not the crisis of having less, not the crisis of decline, all of the title. It really is the crisis of: how do we form people to have an imagination to hear again a living speaking God?

So, I wanted to go back to Barth because Barth is this very interesting theologian who wants to be modern. He’s not interested in throwing off modernity and going back to some pre-modern time or recover some pre-modern conception. He wants to be a modern person, but he really wants to explore how even in a modern world God can speak and move, that even inside the immanent frame, which we don’t get to opt out of.

It’s just thrust upon us. It’s the lens that we get from our larger cultural reality. Nevertheless, God can still act and move and speak. And I think that’s a word that American Protestantism needs to hear again. Really, what the church is about is the crisis of wrestling with a God who’s an agent and who speaks and moves in the world.

And that can give us life. It’s its own kind of suffering and struggle in bearing that crisis. But also, there’s something really generative in it that I think can renew us.

[00:15:02] Anthony: As I’ve read Barth, especially Pastor Barth, I’m grateful for somebody who — we often think of Barth as a “dogmatician” and full of dogma, but yet as a pastor, you’re wrestling through these things with a community of people. I think it was George Hunsinger I heard say that I prefer to read theologians who preach sermons at a local church, they have to work this stuff out.

And that’s where Barth is so helpful. It helped frame his theology. In the book, you talk about churches tend to center themselves by centering their survival as the main focus of their speech and energies. But you want us to redirect those efforts, as you’ve already talked about, to the living God.

And the phrase (though it seems simple, is very profound) “God is God” appeared many times in the pages of the book to acknowledge this transcendent and immanent God. Why should “God is God” be so important to a declining church?

[00:16:11] Andrew: Yeah, I think it is kind of a nonsensical statement. Eberhard Busch (who is Karl Barth’s last secretary, administrator, teaching assistant and then his first real significant biographer) talks about this phrase that kind of started Barth’s revolution. “God is God.” It’s almost a nonsensical phrase; it’s only two words, three words total, two distinct words: God is God. And what are we actually getting at here?

But it is this really profound assertion that God is uncontrollable, that God cannot be controlled. And I think one of the issues we have in just the context of modern life, but particularly American Protestantism’s response, is we feel so much like we’re in decline that we want to turn God into a product that we can sell.

We want God to somehow serve our needs or the church’s continuation, not that the church needs to be drawn deeper and deeper into God’s life. So, the assertion that God is reminding us that God is uncontrollable, that God acts, and God moves, that God is not at our beck and call. But what we’re called to stop and try to discern how God is moving with within our lives.

And I think that’s really important. Like I said at the beginning, I was trying to at least move towards a kind of full ecclesiology here, and I don’t think I got there, but I was starting to take the steps there. And I think one of the first things we have to say in ecclesiology, about trying to ask, what is the church, was that one of the important theological points is that the church cannot be the star of its own story.

And I think almost every consultant who comes to a church that feels like it is in decline or that it is losing out market share in its community, almost the first question is, so what’s your church’s story? What’s your story? What differentiates you within this market? What is your story that we need to tell as a kind of marketing move?

And there some of that, of course, is necessary just as we deal with institutional structures and things like that. But theologically, the church has no story. The story that the church attends to is the story of God. The church has no story of its own. Its own story isn’t what matters. What matters is God’s story.

And the church doesn’t even get to be best supporting actor in this drama of God’s work in the world. Really, the world is. God is ministering to the world. And the church plays a significant role to narrate that story, to participate in it, witness to it, and point to it. The story that matters, that will fuel the church, is this story of how God is acting in the world.

I just hear so many churches that are always looking for their unique story. What do they innovatively do within their community? Maybe there’s some of that’s necessary, but I worry it decenters the very act of God in moving people to be interested in attending to how God is acting and telling those kinds of stories, as opposed to telling stories about what sets us apart in the market.

So, I really want to push that “God is God,” and therefore it’s God’s story that really matters here. And that our job is to try to attend to that story, to try to discern what God is doing in the world.

[00:19:44] Anthony: I appreciated the emphasis that you put on God “is”. There is a here and now, “I am” dynamic.

So, when we proclaim the name, Emmanuel, God is with us — not God was with us and now he’s disappeared and no longer on the scene, but he’s actively at work. And what is he doing? Like you said, discerning what he’s up to in the neighborhood where you’re at in your context. And so, it seems to me, what you might be saying is: we’re talking about anthropology when we should be talking theology. Who is God and what’s he doing?

You wrote, and I quote, “Fifteen is no shame. A community of fifteen people seeking the living Christ is beautiful.” You wrote it. So, I assume you believe it. Though I’ve come back and listened to some old sermons and I’m not sure I believe everything I say, but I’m going to trust that you believe it.

So, if you do, help us to understand how that’s a truthful statement.

[00:20:45] Andrew: Yeah. I think there is this certain late modern, kind of scrim we see the world through, that we haven’t been attentive enough to, which is that we live with a certain logic of escalation and that all things that are good continue to escalate and get more and grow.

And you’ll hear people say that only healthy things grow, which I suppose is true. Like the doctor says, your eight-year-old is not where they should be for their age. That’s a huge issue. But however, on the other side, like if you had an eight year old and your eight-year-old was 6’ 9”, you’d also be really worried. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s health there too.

So, my point is, just things escalating and just things growing at the level of resource and say, relevance (to use those words again), I don’t think that’s the measure of a good church. I just don’t think that that can hold weight to really what the measure of a good church is. A church theologically that is good is one that is proclaiming Christ and him crucified, is living deeply in each other’s lives, is witnessing out in the world, as well as within their own life. This God who takes what is dead and makes it alive, they are living that story out. They are being sent into the world to minister to it.

So, I think there is absolutely no shame in being a small community. I think that is absolutely beautiful. And I think so much of our perspectives in Protestantism is to think what is big is better.

And I don’t know if that’s always necessarily the truth. And I guess that becomes part of the problem with this whole narrative of decline and thinking that’s our biggest issue is that the only way out of that, you imagine, is what the sociologist Hartman Rosa, the German sociologist, talks about as dynamic stabilization.

That we think the only thing that can stabilize our institution is further and further growth. And then this logic of escalation just then never stops. You just have to keep growing and growing and growing. You have to keep going faster and faster. You need to keep innovating and finding new and go and go.

And yet I’m not exactly sure that’s reflective of what God calls us to or of the biblical narrative. I don’t know that there’s this deep sense of continuing to escalate things as much as what it means to participate in. So, growth isn’t about just getting more and more. I think biblically it’s about growing into something, growing into being in Christ, of a deeper sense of participation in the Trinitarian life.

And you can do that with 15 people really sharing each other’s humanity isn’t dependent on thousands of people or thousands of dollars in a budget. So, I just want us to have a bit of a different kind of moral framework about what makes a church good. And I think it really is goodness is embedded in what it means to proclaim the gospel and participate in each other’s lives as a way of participating in God’s life and growing into being reflective of Christ’s ministry in the world more than it is to substantiate our institutions by having excess resources, more capital than we need, enough capital to always be able to exist beyond the day or the year or the decade.

[00:24:29] Anthony: I appreciate what you said about what are we growing into? It really is: how do we see growth? And I want to ask you a question. If you were sitting with a pastor of a church, a small church, and in my context, most of our churches are small and sometimes pastors feel defeated, like somehow, they’re doing something wrong.

If you had the privilege to sit with one of these pastors and you’d want to speak truth into their life, in their feelings of frustration and shame that they’re not accomplishing whatever someone else says they need to accomplish. What would you say to them?

[00:25:07] Andrew: Yeah, my answer would be, and maybe this dates me a bit, but it would be a little bit of a Goodwill Hunting response. At the very end of that Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck movie, where Robin Williams’ character tells Matt Damon’s character: it’s not your fault. In some sense, what I want to communicate to pastors right now — because inside this kind of logic of escalation, inside these kinds of senses of dynamically stabilizing things only through a growth, not a growth into, but a growth of more and more — it’s very easy, what happens in that as you enter into hyper competitive spaces.

So, you’re always competing for these resources. There’s a limited amount of them. How do we get more and more? And therefore, when you start to look at your church, and it’s small, or you haven’t done what you think when you came out of seminary or you took your first call and you thought this is what I was going to do, and there’s just been frustration. It’s very easy to either blame yourself or blame your people. It’s my fault. Gosh, if I only was talented enough. If I only was a better preacher, if only this community’s demographics were different.

Or you start to blame your congregation. If these people weren’t so hardheaded, if these people would just give more money. You start to either blame yourself or blame others.

And that will just suck the life right out of you. And there’s really no renewal in the midst of that because it will create forms of resentment where you either resent your congregation or you start resenting yourself. And I think, so my words would be — and this is really why this whole series was written is to say these forces are making ministry hard.

First of all, as I say, ministry is really hard right now. Yes, it is. And it is hard for really large cultural realities. And this is not the golden age of church leadership. And that’s okay because God will see us through. So, I think that’s ultimately what I want to say is it’s not your fault.

And that is also not your job to save the church. It is a certain kind of odd chauvinism to think it’s our job to save the church, as if God needs us to somehow save the confession of Jesus Christ in America. Now the church is God’s responsibility, and we will be called to deep forms of responsibility in obedience to God.

But really what we’re to do is to embrace the beauty of the gospel itself, to remember the absolute pleasure, the absolute wonder and a hardship, but wonder of walking with people in life and death, of pointing to this very narrative bound in the actuality of our lives of a God again, who takes what is dead and makes it alive.

The gospel itself is so beautiful and the ministerial task, the pastoral task is so profoundly important to just walk with people and prepare them to die well and live well, to celebrate before God and to find forgiveness and healing with one another. That is such an amazing task to remember that, to remember the beauty of that.

And yet I’m so concerned that all gets wiped away because we say to pastors: you got to grow this thing by 30%, 40%. You got to win market share. You got to go, you got to go, you got to go. And all of a sudden just being with a couple when the husband gets diagnosed with dementia or a young woman gets diagnosed with breast cancer and just praying with her and seeing her through this long battle and then helping her die well, and then preaching the gospel at her funeral is unbelievably beautiful. It is hard. It is heart wrenching, but it also is beautiful.

So, I’d ultimately just want to remind us of the incredible gift that we’ve been given, called to, which is to proclaim the gospel in the real, lived concrete lives of walking with people.

[00:29:33] Anthony: Well said. Plus, you got a Goodwill Hunting reference in there. Well, done, sir. That scene where Robin Williams and Matt Damon are sitting on a bench, and Williams is challenging him about the experiences of life was just so beautiful! But that was really well said.

The book articulates how if a church is going to take seriously engaging the living God it has to be a church that waits on God. Andy, this waiting ain’t popular, man. It feels passive and therefore unproductive. Can waiting on God really be the way? And if so, what does it really mean to wait on God?

[00:30:19] Andrew: Yeah, I say this to groups of people all the time, like right before I drop, it’s about waiting.

I say, you’re going to hate this. You’re just going to absolutely hate this. And for the most part, I’ve been proven right. People hate it. Especially as middle class, upwardly mobile people, we hate waiting. And in many ways, waiting is the enemy of a kind of late consumerist society.

We’re trying to, as one social theorist says, we’re trying to take all the waiting out of wanting so, part of the consumer society is to get you whatever you want without waiting. So, your Amazon droid is going to be dropping off your package as soon as you click it at some point. So, we want that to occur.

So, I understand that. And there are forms of waiting, don’t get me wrong, where — I’d actually say I’m not the most patient person in the world. So waiting is not easy for me. And I did have an experience just a few weeks ago of being at the Apple store and getting my watch upgraded and them asking me if I wanted to pair the watch while I was in the store.

And I figured that takes something off my to-do list. Let’s do that. But then it had to do a software update. So, I had to sit there and watch the percentage of the software update download happen. And it was a busy Sunday, and the bandwidth was being eaten up and it was excruciating. It was the most awful form of waiting ever. It felt just like a certain kind of hell. I get it — there are a lot worse things in life than that, but it was not a fun form of waiting.

So, this is usually how we think about waiting is that waiting is some kind of blockage to action. But there is a different, I think, sense of waiting that is really much more profound that I’m trying to get us to. And it all does go back to this idea of God is the one who acts. If God “is, and that “is” means that this God is an actor, that this God acts and reveals God’s being and God’s action, then the disposition we need — to be able to discern and interpret God’s action and to participate in it because we’ve encountered it — is to stop and wait, is to wait on this God.

And we have these biblical themes everywhere. The great Psalm, “Be still and know I am God.” I’ve been told by some Old Testament experts that one way you can interpret that or translate that in the Hebrew is put down your hands and know I am God. In other words, stop fighting me and stop trying to do all this stuff. Stop trying to do more and more. Just put down your hands and receive something that I have a gift to give you.

And Martin Luther, too, thought that the Christian life becomes a fundamentally passive life. Not that we don’t act. He thought we acted. We have to act for our neighbor. We have to minister to our neighbor. We have to proclaim the gospel to the world, but it becomes a passive act of a response to receiving a gift that God is the one who acts to justify, to save, and that our waiting is to receive the gift of salvation.

And really, we forget this, but in Luke Acts, and in the movements from Luke to Acts, the first command that starts the church — we love thinking of the church being birthed in Acts 2 with Pentecost, and we particularly love the text, “And then thousands were added to their number.”

For dynamic stabilization and for where we are at in our modern context, that’s just a luscious text. “Thousands were added to their number.” But we forget that the first command that forms the church, that really gathers the community is to the men on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus tells them to return to Jerusalem and to wait. So that’s a waiting together in community. That’s a waiting by telling our stories of loss and suffering of confusion. It’s waiting as a process of discernment.

And so, I think waiting becomes an essential way that we turn our bodies, that we turn our lives towards one another and towards the anticipation of God’s action. The distinct difference about me waiting for my software to download, and the kind of waiting I think is really quite a holy act, is that the kind of waiting that I’m calling for is a certain kind of attentiveness. It’s being attentive to something. It’s waiting with a story, what I call in the book a watchword: a word that we’re on watch, a way we [inaudible] know God moves. Like when there’s no way this God makes a way, out of death comes life. We hold those stories as we wait.

And then as we start to testify to our experiences, to our experiences of loss and of hope and of need and of want, we start to even just look at those stories through our watchword. And I’m trying to discern what God is doing and how God is acting, and I think we become very attentive to the movement of the Spirit in that way.

So, it’s a kind of waiting that reminds us again that God is God and to discern, to be a community, that the job of the church is fundamentally discern how the Spirit is moving

[00:35:27] Anthony: There have been friends in my circle, pastors, lay folks who have experienced their church closing, and they have actively waited on God, Andy. And they just feel broken when their congregation has to close.

You wrote in your book, “It’s no shame for a congregation to close—no failure necessarily, for a pastor to journey with a congregation into death.” Whew. That can feel icky for people experiencing a church closure.

So, can you help us unpack that? I think you’ve touched on it, but can you develop the thought further?

[00:36:06] Andrew: Yeah. I think it’s not surprising to me that around our discourses around the church, that one of the things we feel the most shame around is having to close the church. And I do think that there are leaders whose responsibility it is to continue to plant churches, to continue to think about how churches can have a sustained life.

But there also is a kind of denial of death that we can enter into here if we don’t recognize that sometimes the tragic occurs and that a church has to close and that isn’t always a church’s fault, that someone needs to be blamed for it. Sometimes it’s just life.

And this is a weird age we live in. One of the main things I’m trying to get at in these six books is that this is a kind of weird age. And what it really means to live in a secular age is to live in a time where you can go a long ways without thinking about God. Like you can go a long ways.

People will even say things like, I was going to church for a while, but I’m just going to take a break from God for a while. I just decided I need a break from God. You could never imagine a medieval person being able to say that. They couldn’t even imagine that was a possible thing that you could say.

But we live in a cultural context where people can go a long way, not thinking about God. That’s quite weird in the whole landscape of human history. It’s just as weird and pretty interconnected, I think, that people can go a long way in our cultural context not remembering, forgetting, not thinking about the fact they’re going to die, that they are finite creatures.

And the churches, congregations, the church universal, I think exists in a different way in a different place in God’s economy. But congregations, gathered expressions of the church, are made up of bodies, of human bodies. And Bonhoeffer reminded us in Life Together that to love the church is not to love the idea of the church, but to love the real church, and that always means real human bodies. And communities that are made up of real human bodies will have a lifespan.

So and so First Baptist, First Presbyterian, First United Methodist, First whatever, these are not eternal forms. They are gathered communities that gather and through our bodies proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But I don’t think any of them will exist in a thousand years, you know probably not. The church will. The church will continue to gather in some way.

But these are historically bound realities, and the very confession of the incarnation reminds us of that. The very confession of the Ascension, that Jesus bodily ascends, reminds us that we are always bodies in a place, and that pastoral ministry is always done as a body to bodies. And that does mean that some of us will have the ministry, and have the heavy burden of closing churches, because the bodies have died off the that they can no longer. The community itself can no longer sustain the life of these people.

And there isn’t shame in that. There would be as much shame in that as the shame of doing a funeral for a person, which is not any shame. It is an incredible, like I said, honor and privilege.

And maybe in the same way, it’s heavy, but that’s the same kind of way of closing a church. It is painful. Just like it’s painful for someone to die, but it also is part of what it means to be a finite creature.

[00:39:44] Anthony: Death is the dynamic, in a sense. As a friend often says to me, the Father did not save the Son from death but saved him through death. And death is a part of the experience, and it is not shameful.  And I really appreciate your words. Because again, I know we have people in our listening audience who are hurting from this and that’s okay. God is still on the move.

And speaking of the books that you’ve written, Andy, (and you’ve written over 20) you’ve mentioned this is part of a six book series beyond the book that we’re talking about right now.

And I know you’ve already said, hey, my favorite book is the one I’m writing.  But would you recommend a particular book or books to us that help further this framing of ecclesiology and what God is doing in the church.

[00:40:41] Andrew: Yeah, I actually think probably the place to start, the maybe entry way in, probably the best way, is a little book that just came out last year called, When the Church Stops Working, (which also is a very clickbait title). When the Church Stops Working.

But I really do mean it in a double kind of meaning. Obviously, you know there’s a sense we have that the church isn’t working well. But there also is a sense that what might heal us, what might renew us is not doing more, but actually working less, in receiving God’s gift.

But it’s a book that is in some ways a synthesis of the six volumes that really is written more for lay people. I think it’s a book that pastors can read with folks in their church. It’s what it’s written for. And so, I think it’s a good way in. Even if you feel like you want to get into the six volumes, this would be a good gateway drug, for use of a bad analogy.

[00:41:51] Anthony: Drug usage, as well. This podcast is off the rails.

[00:41:50] Andy: I mean like NyQuil or Tylenol or something like that.

[00:41:53] Anthony: Sure. Sure.

Finally, let me ask you this. What is your hopeful vision of the church in this era of history in a secular world?

[00:42:04] Andrew: Yeah, my hopeful message is that God still acts, and that God will be faithful, and that Jesus Christ is on the move, that the Spirit is being poured out and that God is at work. And yeah, these are hard times. But God is moving. And I think that, like I said, there’s just utter beauty and significance in gathered communities that pray, of pastoral leadership that leads us to celebrate our joys and suffer our great losses. And that this is a valuable thing. And God is moving within it. And I think remembering that the church is God’s responsibility.

And that also this seems like a kind of counterintuitive positive word, but there have been worse times. There have been more difficult times, and the church has made it through. And so, I think we can hang on to that, that God is faithful.

[00:43:16] Anthony: Yeah! Friends, the book is Churches and the Crisis of Decline. I certainly recommend it too, and I’ve read several of Andy’s books. There’s not a bad one out there that I know of; maybe he knows of something I don’t. But thank you so much for being a part of this podcast.

And I want to say on a personal level. I’m so grateful for your labor of love in Christ’s service. In our denominational context, Grace Communion International, we talk frequently about place-sharing, which is a wink to you and your work and engagement with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Relationship is an end to itself. The beauty of, as you said earlier, of sitting with a person who has a diagnosis that breaks their heart and not trying to move them from A to B, but just sitting with them, being with them, and their joys and sorrows, their pains, their doubts, their confusion, as they sit with us. That’s the beauty because God is there.

So, thank you, Andy.

[00:44:12] Andrew: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

[00:44:13] Anthony: Absolutely. And it’s our tradition here at Gospel Reverb to end with a prayer. So, would you pray over the church?

[00:44:19] Andrew: I would.

God, thank you for this time together, and thank you for these people who are listening. And may you encourage them, even right now, as they’re listening, that you are pleased that their ministry is witnessing to your movement in the world. So, God, would you renew us again and again? And give us visions of your continued action in the world. Amen.


Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating, and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL. Until then, peace be with you!

Team Building w/ Cara Garrity

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For this series of episodes of the GCPodcast, we’re shifting our focus from interviews to immersive spiritual practices. In this session, our host Cara Garrity leads us through a team formation discernment process. Join us as we foster personal and communal spiritual disciplines. May our journey in Christ’s ministry be deepened as we yield to his guiding presence.

“I want to encourage us to remember that our teams are more than just production lines, groups of people that we complete checklists alongside … We serve on teams because, in Christ, we are many who are made one — each uniquely, fearfully, and wonderfully made, brought together to form the one body of Christ and in him. We belong not only to him, but to one another. We come together in cooperation to be his hands and feet, to participate in his present ministry, in our midst.” — Cara Garrity

 

 

Practice Reflections:

  • What is so great about team-based ministry? 00:43
  • If our ministry teams are a reflection of the body of Christ, how might this shape the way we approach team-based ministry? 04:45
  • What is the purpose of our team, as a unique expression of the body of Christ? 05:36
  • How does each team member uniquely contribute to the purpose of this team? 06:19
  • What would it look like to commit to belonging to one another as team members? 07:35

 

Further Reflection Questions:

  1. What difference does it make when we view our teams as reflections of the body of Christ? How does this challenge us? How does it inspire us?
  2. What practices or actions does your team want to commit to in order to continue growing in maturity as an expression of the body of Christ together?
  3. What would it look like to continue creating space for people to use their giftings – be active participants in the body?

 

Resources:

  • When practicing as a team, have posterboard paper and post-its available for group processing.
  • Discernment and the Examen – a Church Hack that defines discernment and offers the Examen spiritual formation practice as a path to team discernment.
  • GCI Buzz – this Buzz explores the connection between discernment and wisdom. Discover how Biblical discernment empowers clear judgment to discern the Spirit’s guiding presence and receive practical on putting on the mind of Christ so that we join him in his ongoing ministry to humanity.
  • Leadership Discernment – Leadership discernment is vital for recognizing and responding to God’s guidance in both everyday and significant moments of our lives. This Church Hack offers practices for developing a posture of discernment.

 

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Program Transcript


Team Building w/ Cara Garrity

Welcome to GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience.


Cara Garrity: In this episode, I (your host, Cara Garrity) will lead us through some team building experiences and exercises.

Now today’s exercises are best experienced with your ministry team. So, consider dedicating an upcoming team meeting, or at least scheduling 20 minutes or so to team building in your next meeting agenda.

[00:40] We know that an important piece of GCI’s healthy church vision is Team Based —Pastor Led ministry. But there are a lot of diverse ways to lead a ministry. What is so great about team-based ministry?

When we minister alongside one another on teams, we reflect the unity and diversity of the body of Christ. Let us consider 1 Corinthians 12: 12-26 together. And it says:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Amen.

[03:18] I want to encourage us to see our ministry teams as a reflection of the body of Christ — many parts, but one body.

And if we do this, how might this shape the way that we approach team-based ministry? And I want you to pause and, for a couple minutes, discuss this question with your team. How might this shape the way that we approach team-based ministry if we were to see our teams as a reflection of the body of Christ — many parts, but one body?

Now think about, practically speaking, how this might shape the way that we approach the practical aspects of

  • how we run our teams?
  • how we recruit people into our teams?
  • how we run our meetings and communicate?
  • how we assign different responsibilities?

How might this image of the body of Christ inform how we conduct our teams in that sense?

Take a couple minutes with your team to brainstorm and discuss this.

[04:45] Now your team, I want to suggest to you, is a unique expression of the body of Christ. I want us to take some time now to discern and celebrate who God has brought together on your team to serve for this season.

So let’s start with this — and I would encourage you, especially for those visual folks on your team, if you haven’t gotten these supplies already, get a big piece of poster board paper, one of those post-it papers, some markers, some pens, or even if you just have a blank piece of paper on the table that everyone can see and something to write with. Grab some of those, and we’re going to use that for this exercise.

And then the first thing that I want us to start with is a reminder of the purpose of your team. What brings your team together? What is your purpose? For what do you exist?

Now, this may come, for the purpose of this exercise, for your team in the form of your local congregation’s mission and vision statement. This will come in the form of GCI’s vision of Healthy Church or mission statement of “Living and sharing the gospel.”

Whatever that looks like for you, what brings your team together? What is your purpose?

And now what I want you to do is take some time and go around your team. Each member, I want you to answer the question: how do you uniquely contribute to the purpose of this team? And take two minutes to quietly reflect on this before you start answering this question.

[06:44] You are going to go ahead and pause this podcast while you go through and take those two minutes of silent reflection and then share as a team.

The question is: how do you uniquely contribute to the purpose of this team?

And now as you are sharing, I want you on that poster board, paper, whatever it is, draw an outline of a body. And as each member shares, label the various parts of the body with the keywords, the unique gifts or skills or passions that they contribute to the purpose of the team. And just label the various parts of the body with those keywords or gifts, whatever that is, that comes up in your discussion.

How does each member of the team uniquely contribute to the purpose of the team? What gifts, talents, skills, passions?

Now look at this image that you have created. It is a visual representation of your team as the body of Christ. And I want you to look at it and to praise God for who he has brought together to your team. And to see that he has brought together different giftings, different talents, different passions, different skill sets.

And I want you all to look at that and talk about the specific ways or the specific, I guess combinations or expressions of that, that you see on your team. What sticks out with you?

What do you appreciate and celebrate the expression of the body of Christ that God has brought together? What do you notice? And then I want you to take a few minutes and just praise God for bringing you all together. And I want you to affirm one another that you all need one another, that you all belong as members of the body of Christ and an expression of the body of Christ on this team.

[09:06] So go ahead and pause this podcast and take a few minutes to do that and celebrate your unique expression that is represented visually by this drawing.

Now, the next exercise that I want us to do, to consider is if we are considering or engaging with our ministry teams as a reflection and expression of the body of Christ, then we are going to embody this belief that we belong one to another, that we are connected, that we are made one in Christ. What would it look like to commit to belonging to one another as team members?

[09:59] Go ahead and pause the podcast and discuss that as a team for a few minutes. What would it look like to commit to belonging to one another as team members, to be united in Christ?

Here are some simple suggestions that you can start out with. You could rotate prayer partners after each meeting. Whether you have weekly meetings or monthly meetings, whatever that looks like, you just get a prayer partner on that team. And you share your prayer requests, and you follow up and you pray with that person once a week or during that month.

You add prayer for one another to each meeting agenda, every single time you meet. You take turns starting each meeting with a liturgical prayer or spiritual formation exercise that is meaningful to each one of you. You are bringing that expression of who God has made you to be, that gifting, that uniqueness to one another.

And you are growing together and forming in Christlikeness together, with one another. Maybe consider some practices and committing to some practices like this together as a team.

[00:11:25] And for right now, what I want to ask you to do is to take about maybe five to 10 minutes — depending on the size of your team or however this flows for you all —and I want for each person to pray for the person on your right. I want you to thank God for what they bring to this team. And you can use the visual representation from the previous exercise, as a reminder, as something to come back to. I want you to thank God for what they bring to this team, affirm their belonging to the body, their belonging on this team, that their participation on the team is important, and that we celebrate with one another.

Take five to ten minutes for each member on the team to pray for one another, the person on your right. Go ahead and pause this podcast and do that with one another now.

So, I want to encourage us to remember that the teams we serve are more than just production lines, groups of people that we complete checklists alongside to get things done in the church or gears in the machine to make sure things happen and get done. We serve on teens because in Christ, we are many who are made one, each uniquely, fearfully, and wonderfully made, brought together to form the one body of Christ and in him. We belong not only to him, but to one another. We come together in cooperation to be his hands and feet, to participate in his present ministry, in our midst.

And what a beautiful thing that these teams that we get to serve on, that we get to build out in our local congregations, to be a local expression of this body. So let me pray for us.

Lord God, I thank you so much. Father, Son, and Spirit, you yourself are, in your very being, unity. In diversity and unity, Father, Son, and Spirit, three in one.

I thank you that you, Jesus, have brought us, your people, many into one in your body. We thank you for being so good to us. We thank you for giving us according to your will for your good, good purposes. And we thank you for the immense privilege it is to participate in your ministry. And that we do not do it alone, but that we do it primarily with you, that we participate in what you’re doing, but that we get to do it alongside one another too.

We thank you for your relationship and community. And we thank you that it reflects who you are. I pray for a blessing for all our teams. That you would continue to grow them with one another, that they would continue to mature and expand as expressions of your body. That people would be able to operate in the gifts and the skills and the talents that you’ve given them to serve those in their neighborhoods, to join in what you are doing in their midst.

I thank you for being so faithful to guide us, and I praise you in your holy name. Amen.

[15:19] So together as a team, I want to offer a few reflection questions as we have completed these two exercises together as a team.

  1. The first is, what difference does it make when we view our teams as reflections of the body of Christ? And how does this challenge us? How does it inspire us? So, take a few minutes to discuss this.
  2. Next, what practices or actions does your team want to commit to continue growing in maturity and unity as an expression of the body of Christ together?
  3. And finally, what would it look like to continue creating space for people to use their giftings to be active participants in the body of Christ and the life of your local congregation?

So, I want to leave you all with the encouragement of Ephesians 4: 1-16. And it draws us back to the purpose of coming together, diverse, and united, as ministry servants alongside one another in his church. So, Ephesians 4 says:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

May it be so in our teams, in our congregations, throughout our denomination. Until next time, friends, keep on living and sharing the gospel.


Thank you for listening to this episode of GC Podcast. We hope you found this time valuable. We would love to hear from you. Email us at info@gci.org with your suggestions or feedback. And remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders, so invest in yourself and in your leaders.

 

Gospel Reverb – Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling

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This month, our host, Anthony Mullins, welcomes Dr. Chris Tilling. Chris is the Head of Research, Graduate Tutor, Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at St Mellitus College in London, England. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Paul’s Divine Christology and co-author of How God Became Jesus along with Michael Bird.

Chris has published numerous articles on topics related to Christology, the apostle Paul, justification, the historical Jesus, Karl Barth and more. He’s also on the Advisory Board for the TF Torrance Theological Society. And he is one of the hosts of the podcast OnScript.


June 2— Proper 4 in Ordinary Time
Mark 2:23-3:6, “Lord of the Sabbath”

June 9— Proper 5 in Ordinary Time
Mark 3:20-35, “Family Feud”

June 16— Proper 6 in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:26-34, “My, How You’ve Grown!”

June 23— Proper 7 in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:35-41, “Don’t You Care?”

June 30— Proper 8 in Ordinary Time
Mark 5:21-43, “Rise Up”


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Program Transcript


Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling

Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of Scripture in that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I’m your host, Anthony Mullins, and it’s my joy to welcome our guest, Dr. Chris Tilling.

Chris is the Head of Research, Graduate Tutor, Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at St Mellitus College in London, England. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Paul’s Divine Christology and co-author of How God Became Jesus along with Michael Bird. And he wrote a brilliant forward to Jeff McSwain’s latest book, Hidden in Contradiction. Chris has published numerous articles on topics related to Christology, the apostle Paul, justification, the historical Jesus, Karl Barth and more. He’s also on the Advisory Board for the TF Torrance Theological Society.

Chris is married to Anya, and they have two children. In his free time — and I do want to talk to him about this offline sometime — he loves to play golf. Chris, there’s nothing in my life that brings more frustration than trying to hit that little white ball. So again, we’ll talk about that offline.

Welcome to the podcast. And since this is your first time on Gospel Reverb, we’d love to know a bit of your personal story and how you are participating with the Lord these days.

[00:01:54] Chris: Oh, thank you. It’s a real honor to be involved with you guys. I’ve looked at your previous podcasts, and you’ve had quite a few big names on, so it’s obviously an honor to be involved to chat with you guys.

But me, my personal story, goodness — I became a Christian in my late teens and in quite a conservative background, even for American standards, quite conservative. And it was choppy, choppy waters for me, especially the deeper I got into theology, moving from very defensive, through to just engaging every possible question and doubt, through to finally orientating myself on God’s movement to us in Jesus Christ.

So, understanding Christian faith on God’s terms, as it were. So, it wasn’t something I possessed, something I could control, but rather was the joyful movement of God to us in Jesus. And that’s really where I am now. I am so grateful for that more conservative background that has given me a rooting in Scripture, a love of God’s word.

But now I’m orientated more forthrightly to evangelizing everything about my thinking in light of Jesus Christ. And that’s where I am now.

[00:03:09] Anthony: I love how you put it, the joyful movement of God in Jesus. And it is a joyful double movement of grace. Each pericope we’re going to look at this month, Chris, is found in Mark’s Gospel.

You’re a New Testament scholar, so you know way more about this than I do. What insights would you want to share with our listeners about the book of Mark that could enrich their preaching and teaching, especially as it relates to how Mark views the historical Jesus?

[00:03:39] Chris: Okay, I’m going to say something general about the Gospels.

Obviously, it’s applicable to Mark’s Gospel as well, but it’s crucial to get genre right. And I think this is the most important aspect that we need to take home when it comes to preaching and teaching as well. Genre matters, right? We wouldn’t read the comments section on Fox News the same way we might read a cooking book or a tweet. Genre matters.

And Mark, together with the other Synoptic Gospels, approximates to ancient biography. And the crucial thing about ancient biography is that they offer an account of a person. (I’m quoting Richard Burridge.) And that means that to read the Gospels aright, according to their genre, means to be obsessed with the person of Jesus Christ first and foremost, not with a moral code, not with lessons on how to pray better, or how to deal with finances, or whatever else it is, not with a philosophy of life, but with Jesus himself.

That’s the hermeneutical key for reading these texts. We are drawn to the Son of God, to behold the beauty of the Son of God. And this is obviously the case of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, because they all look at Jesus in different ways, but that would be my top tip for reading Mark’s Gospels.

[00:05:03] Anthony:  That’s a good word. It’s Jesus the Christ, the living Word, who is the infallible word of God, right? So, we look at him. And theology should always lead us to doxology, this praise, this joyful praise of the Lord.

All right, let’s do this. Go ahead, Chris, please.

[00:05:24] Chris: I was just going to say, because I say it’s crucial for preaching. The number of sermons I’ve had to sit through on the Gospels that tend to be moralizing that tend to be guilt inducing, or you need to do this, that, and the other. There’s a place for that.

But if they’re not also, and first and last, pointing us to Jesus and his reality, then it’s like reading a cookery book, as though we’re reading poetry. There’s a genre mix up there.

[00:05:55] Anthony: Yes. I just said to my wife this past week that so many sermons I listen to, first and foremost, ask questions of anthropology instead of Christology. And so, we’re trying to find ourselves in the scripture, but let’s go looking for God and what he’s done in Jesus Christ on our behalf. So amen, brother.

All right. We have five lectionary passages we’re going to be discussing this month. So, let’s get to it.

Mark 2:23-3:6, “Lord of the Sabbath”

Mark 3:20-35, “Family Feud”

Mark 4:26-34, “My, How You’ve Grown!”

Mark 4:35-41, “Don’t You Care?”

Mark 5:21-43, “Rise Up”

Our first pericope of the month is Mark 2:23 through 3:6.

I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version, the Updated Edition. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 4 in Ordinary Time on June 2. And it reads,

One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food, 26 how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions?” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath, 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Again, he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They were watching him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Chris, what are the implications of Jesus’ statement, the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath, because he is the Lord of the Sabbath?

[00:08:33] Chris: Yeah, great question. That really does sum up the entire pericope. There’s a hermeneutic here: how to read and understand the law. What is it to live under Torah? What is it to be faithful to God’s commandments?

And ultimately, there’s a battle about what that entails, what that means. And Jesus is making it clear that the law was always there. The Torah was always there for human flourishing. It was there in order to facilitate healthy lives and balance and good relationships.

And the danger is that the law becomes something that bludgeons, that becomes a blunt tool that sees everything as a nail and so you need a hammer. So that the only thing that is required is unconditional, unthinking obedience to the letter. And Jesus responds to this by saying, actually, that’s not quite how this works.

Is it better to give life or to kill? Depending on the circumstances. There’s a hermeneutical battle here, in other words, about what it is to be obedient, which is why he goes to David. Have you never read what David did? Because according to the letter of the law, David and what his companions did, was disobedient. It was unfaithful to Torah. But actually, in the grand scheme of things, in light of the particularities, it was just the right thing to do. So, it’s clearly a hermeneutic going on here.

But the key, as always with these things and as we’ve already discussed about the Son of Man being Lord of the Sabbath, okay, there’s debate. Does this mean all humans, or does it mean Jesus? That’s probably a false “either or,” because the key to the hermeneutical understanding going on here, I think is, again, the reality of Jesus Christ. And then we can negotiate these choppy waters.

So, in other words this, the implications of this are huge. The implications are all about how do we read the Bible, as a whole, in light of Jesus Christ and in view of human flourishing?

[00:11:00] Anthony: Speaking of human flourishing, I was struck again as I was just reading this passage aloud, how frequently there’s a pattern in Scripture where God, of course, could do a work, a miracle without our participation, but he often invites us into it.

He said to the man with the withered hand, come forward, stretch out your hand. We see in other parts of Scripture, pick up your mats or the battle will be won. You’ll see the victory of the Lord, but go down and face it, even though you’re not going to lift the sword, kind of thing. Anything you’d want to say about our participation and what the Lord is up to?

[00:11:39] Chris: Anything I’d want to say about our participation? There seems to be a very real participation here, right? In other words, our agency, which is very real and honored, is given that Christological frame in this particular text. You stretch out, to the withered hand. Come forward. In other words, that responsiveness — in any theology, any dogmatic theology, that claims to be Barthian and doesn’t have a rich account of human responsivity is mistaken.

And Bart was very clear on this as well. We need to have a good account of human agency and what we do. But the ultimate bracketing of that human agency — no, it’s not its bracketing. Its constitution is Jesus Christ. Our real human agency is incorporated into the liveliness of Jesus Christ himself in a way that doesn’t obliterate that agency, but actually gives it its texture.

It’s slightly theoretical perhaps, but that’s where I’m going with your question.

[00:12:52] Anthony: Anything else you would like to bring forth out of this passage?

[00:12:56] Chris: There’s always a danger in reading this passage when the “not lawful,” thinking that Jesus is opposed to Jews and Jewish legalism and that kind of rhetoric, which is a huge mistake.

Jesus is picking up on very biblical principles for understanding the Torah. The Pharisees and their particular legalistic take, if that’s the right way of describing it, isn’t representative of all Judaism. As though Christians, we’ve left legalism behind, but the Jews haven’t. That would be a misreading of this passage, profoundly misleading.

But perhaps it’s also just worthwhile meditating on the fact that Jesus has caused so much consternation that he causes the Pharisees and the Herodians to conspire against him. This is the last verse. They are chalk and cheese. [“Chalk and cheese” is a British idiom meaning two people or things that are completely different from each other.] The Herodians (they’re not party as such, but they’re a bunch of people who are loyal to the Herodian dynasty) and the Pharisees are not natural friends.

So, when we get legalistic, when we put principles above people and above Jesus Christ, it can cause us to really put things out of kilter. And do the craziest things and that’s why the Pharisees here are even conspiring with the Herodians.

[00:14:20] Anthony: That’s a good word.

All right, let’s pivot to the next passage of the month.

It’s Mark 3:20-35. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 5 in Ordinary Time, which is June 9. Chris, we’d be delighted if you’d read it for us, please.

[00:14:34] Chris: Great.

Mark 3:20-35. This is for an Ordinary Time, June 9.

Then he went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

[00:16:13] Anthony: My wife and I occasionally watch British TV, and we always comment about how anything a Brit says, sounds fantastic. Well, done, sir. Well, done.

[00:16:27] Chris: That’s the one card I’ve got going for me, I think, that one.

[00:16:30] Anthony: Tell us about the God revealed in Jesus in this pericope.

[00:16:34] Chris: Oh, wow. That is a big question. I suppose one of the things I’d want to talk about is how Jesus casts relationship with him, and therefore relationship with God, in familial terms, with familial metaphors.

It actually came as some shock to me to realize that the New Testament doesn’t tend to speak of Christ followers (it does, but not as often as you’d expect) as believers. Rather more often, with familial terms as brothers and sisters. And this is key in the teaching of Jesus. Richard Bauckham, who’s a New Testament scholar, he says of the Gospels, with every major area, there comes a new revelation of the name of God.

So, you had Adonai; you had the divine name, the Tetragrammaton; and with Jesus, you have “Father” as the divine name being revealed, which was a fascinating way of putting it. But one way or another, this is key to the understanding of Jesus with those who are around him. You are my brothers.

We’re called into a family; we’re called into a relationship with a Father who loves us even more than the best human fathers can love us. So that would be the first place I would go for understanding, but much more could be said, of course.

[00:18:04] Anthony: Wow. I’m just thinking about what you just said there. We so often want to make it our relationship with God. We talk in terms of judgment and not always as family. So that was brilliant. Whoever does the will of God is my, here we go, familial brother, sister and mother.

So sometimes we’re reductionist when we talk about the will of God. What’s the will of God for this or that? But just big picture: what is the will of the father in the context of this text?

[00:18:43] Chris: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this question and realized it’s quite difficult to answer. Mark is famous for not giving us much content in terms of the actual teaching. There’s a lot of talk about what Jesus taught without going into the content of that teaching.

Matthew and Luke do that much more. Mark’s Gospel, which is often depicted as a lion with images, is fast-paced. It runs through texts with a lot of stories with lots of “immediately’s.” “This now happened.” “Immediately that” and “immediately this,” without stopping to pause and give us some more content.

So, there’s a sense in which — there isn’t too much to go on here, but what can we say? That the immediate pericope seems to link doing the will of God with works of power. And this isn’t something that is necessarily comfortable to hear but there Jesus is casting out demons. And it’s very much caught up in the debate about that.

And Jesus is not casting out demons by Beelzebub, but by the Spirit of God. And of course, linked to this as well, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And therefore, the will of God must be something about honoring the Holy Spirit. But can I just say something about that, actually? Because this is a what has been known as a text of terror for some.

[00:20:18] Anthony: Yes.

[00:20:19] Chris: And for those, especially those who struggle with religious scrupulosity and obsessive compulsive disorders, this is a verse that many have given up faith because of this. Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin. Oh, have I committed that eternal sin?

And lots of introspection and pain and psychological trauma is based on this. Let me just say something about the word here. Aiónios is the Greek word behind eternal there. And I think it’s better to translate that not as eternal. Ethos would have been a better word to have in that particular passage. Maybe it’s until the age or for an age, is guilty of sin until or for the age, by the way.

So, I think that’s a better way of understanding that particular passage. And for those who worry that they’ve committed the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you almost certainly haven’t, because then you wouldn’t be worried about it.

It’s about the continued resistance that we put up against the Holy Spirit, which ultimately, I think God overcomes as well because God will be all in all. But there’s much more to talk about there. I just wanted to flag that particular passage.

[00:21:37] Anthony: I’m glad you did. I thought about asking a question about it, but it seems to me when people come to this pericope, they get hung up there and they don’t see anything else within the text.

But even though it’s not in our passage here, in our focus, I think of our Lord on the cross. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The Spirit was there. And certainly, we were all blaspheming in some form or fashion against God. And Jesus’ words were, “Father, forgive them,” revealing the heart of God, not shielding us from an angry God, but revealing God’s heart as it’s always been.

Thank God for it. I appreciate your words.

Let’s transition to our next passage. It’s Mark 4:26-34. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 6 in Ordinary Time, which is June 16.

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

So, Jesus here describes the kingdom of God as growing, yet the workers don’t know how it happens in verse 27. And yet, Chris, I sometimes, or frequently, hear Bible teachers giving a five step plan on how we make the kingdom of God grow.

So, am I missing something here? Help us understand.

[00:23:50] Chris: No, you’re not missing a thing. I think there’s a temptation to turn the kingdom of God into a human project. And this is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of discipleship, which belongs to God. It’s not ours to control, as I said at the very start.

That was one of the key insights I remember battling my way through back then — what we’d now called deconstruction. It wasn’t trendy back then. But it was certainly a key moment for me.

There’s some wisdom to be gained from having, let’s say, five steps from not being a sluggard. We could get that from Proverbs. Understood.

But when it comes to the activity of God and God’s own reign, which effectively is what God’s kingdom means, this is all about the gracious activity of God, rather than something we master and control. We remain disciples in this whole process, not masters.

So, I don’t think you’re missing a thing. I think you’ve hit on something crucial to the life of faith, which frees us from taking ourselves so seriously. We don’t need to, you and me, Anthony — we’re not the middle of any of this. We’re not the center. Jesus Christ is the center. That frees us to enjoy the life of faith in discipleship without doubts, without stupidity, without whole swathe of misunderstandings and so on, intact, because it’s not about us.

It’s about Jesus.

[00:25:36] Anthony: And it’s so good! And some people receive that as not good news because they misunderstand agency, and they want to be able to control. But it is good news that we’re not in the center. As Barth would say, genuine freedom is realizing Jesus Christ is not a freedom from God, but a freedom for God, that we get to actively participate, even if we don’t know how it’s happening.

And I think it was Eugene Peterson that said this in terms of discipleship, that it’s focusing more and more on Christ’s righteousness and less on our own. And boy, we get that backwards, don’t we, Chris, so often?

[00:26:19] Chris: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. A good understanding of human agency, I think, is one of the crying needs for many in the church.

[00:26:28] Anthony: While we’re on the topic of things that puzzle me — and that’s not difficult. I’m not the sharpest chisel in the shed. So, let’s talk about the parables of Jesus. My life left eye begins to twitch when I hear people say the parables are simple stories or this parable clearly means whatever, fill in the blank.

So, I ask you, New Testament scholar, am I just a contrarian or is there more profundity there? Is it something in between?

[00:26:59] Chris: Oh, goodness. You’re not the only one that the parables puzzle. New Testament scholars debate endlessly questions relating to how they’re best understood, how they’re best classified, what genre they better approximate, whether there’s one meaning or whether there’s multiple meanings, what the purpose of these parables are.

Is it to disclose? Is it actually to cover and to hide? In other words, the confusion is one shared by New Testament scholars. Yeah, I mean, the only thing I could think that we could learn from New Testament scholarship in that regard is to realize that we have now recognized that we can’t speak in simplistic terms about the parables.

We can’t speak in simplistic terms about their genre, their historical precedence. Certainly, we can’t say that a parable has a single point. Rather, scholars these days tend to say that the parables are polyvalent. They have lots of ways of being understood. And it’s almost as if, to come back to the human agency thing here, Jesus is, in using parables, calling for our active participation in pondering, in thinking, in puzzling.

So, you said that these topics puzzle me. I think that’s the point of the parables. They’re made to evoke our wonder and response. Isn’t that interesting? Jesus isn’t there simply giving us a list of things to believe, right? Now that’s it. Now you’ve job done, like a good lecturer.

He’s causing, he’s evoking our participation in the process, in wondering, and in pondering.

[00:28:55] Anthony: Eugene Peterson has a brilliant book called Tell It Slant, and he’s quoting a poem from Emily Dickinson when he says this. But that’s what fiction can do. This is what the parables can do. It comes at you slant, not blunt force.

Like you said earlier, it evokes our imagination. And this is why I think there’s always more profundity than we can apprehend. We don’t ever comprehend. We just get glimpses.

Let me ask you this, Chris, as a follow up. If you were preaching this particular text, what would be your focus beyond anything you’ve already said?

[00:29:40] Chris: I don’t know if this is something I would preach on, but it’s certainly something I’d want to talk about now. I’m certainly — if I’m going to preach on this, it’s going to be, it’s got to be focused on God as I’ve said so many times, and I’m going to say till I’m blue in the face. It’s about God revealing himself in Jesus Christ and in his movement to us.

And God is creating this growth. God wants to do this. He’s for us. He’s with us in Jesus Christ. That’s certainly where I want to go for preaching. But for this particular discussion, I’d want to just meditate a little bit longer on the issue of parables. Because, if you were to flip open a dictionary of the New Testament or turn to a New Testament scholar who’s written on the parables, then very often you get questions of historicity — that is to what extent do the parables in Mark give us a window onto the historical Jesus or some such.

Can I just say something about this? Just because here, it seems to me, is where we need some of our metaphysics evangelized. There is no historical Jesus just existing in the past; we’re now in the present, separated from that past. If that’s the case, then Jesus isn’t who we think he is and confess him to be and worship him to be.

Rather, we exist in the time of Jesus Christ. We are crucified with Christ. We will be raised with Christ (to pick up on language of the apostle Paul and other New Testament passages use.) There is no neat history apart from us. We are incorporated into Jesus’ story and history.

So, the whole idea that we can get to a historical Jesus is to look with (I think it was John Webster put it) with methodological infidelity. I think was his turn of phrase. But more importantly as well, the historical Jesus can never be the real Jesus.

And I’m drawing distinctions here that a German scholar, Michael Wolter, has used. Historical studies can only give us an approximation based on probabilities and such, and that’s never going to be the same as the fullness of a person, a historical person. If someone, in 200 years, looks back at your life, Anthony, and tries to look at the trace you, of your presence online, interviews, descendants, looks at things that you’ve written online and things that your family said about you, they’ll come up with an approximation, but it’s not going to be the real Anthony.

And the thing about Mark’s Gospel is that it points us, not to a historical Jesus, but to the real Jesus. And I think these are really important distinctions to bear in mind in light of New Testament scholars. Because many will go, what are parables then? They’ll pick up a New Testament scholarly text, and they’ll get profoundly disappointed.

Don’t be. For the reasons I’ve mentioned, ultimately, it’s about pointing us to the real Jesus.

[00:32:59] Anthony: Yeah. I appreciate what you said there because I think that can be another lie about separation from God. Separation from the historical Jesus. Thank God that when one died, all died.

All right, Chris, our next passage is Mark 4:35-41. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 7 in Ordinary Time, June 23. Would you read it for us, please?

[00:33:30] Chris: Certainly.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And waking up, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

[00:34:22] Anthony: That’s the question, isn’t it? Who is this? So, from your perspective, was Jesus knowingly sending his friends, with himself, into a raging storm?

And if that’s the case, what are the implications not only for them, but for us, if anything?

[00:34:39] Chris: Yeah. The text doesn’t specify, does it, whether Jesus was sending them there knowingly. Of course, that evokes lots of questions about the omniscience of Jesus in his being human, but also God, fully God.

These are questions that have occupied theologians for many years. In fact, I’m just reading a book by Austin Stevenson for an OnScript podcast next week. The book is called The Consciousness of the Historical Jesus, and he’s got a few chapters thinking about: how do we speak of the omniscience of Jesus in light of particularly passages in Mark where Jesus seems to admit that he doesn’t know everything?

That’s a bit of an aside. But here’s something we can say: that God does send us into difficult times. I think of the baptism of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, upon descending on Jesus, immediately sends him not into a nice place, but into the desert. So sometimes the Holy Spirit isn’t being friendly, in whatever way we might understand the word friendly. So, it wouldn’t be beyond the pale to understand Jesus putting them through this knowingly, with all of those theological footnotes in place.

But I do think that we are now encountering something which is essential to the fabric of faith. That question: don’t you care? Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t being a Buddhist and just having perfect peace about everything.

It’s about wrestling with psychological strain and questioning: how can this thing happen? Most of the Psalms or many of the psalms, they’re psalms of lament. The psalmist might turn around and say, look, we’ve done everything right, God, but you have fallen asleep. Wake up.

It’s evoking precisely these kinds of psalms where the faithful in Israel are perplexed that their enemies are taking over. So, this is the question of faith, not the question of atheism.

And just yesterday or the day before, I came across this Facebook post where someone was saying, the most devastating critique of Christianity is the presence of evil. And someone clever responded and said in the comments — I don’t know why I look at Facebook comments; it’s not very good for me — but someone clever responded in the comments, “How can an atheist say anything about evil because you don’t have a standard of which to talk about evil because you’ve given up faith in God?” And they turned around and they said, “Ah, this is an internal critique of Christianity.”

And I thought, okay, I follow the reasoning, but it’s actually a critique of faith, right? The question: don’t you care? That’s what believers, it’s what disciples ask, not an atheist.

And so, Jesus responds to us then in that light, as those who are his brothers and sisters and mothers. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? In other words, there isn’t this you’re on the verge of being an outsider now kind of condemnation. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? This is the kind of questioning that Jesus puts to his brothers and sisters and mothers, which then causes us to be filled with great fear and ask, who is this Jesus?

The questions, in other words, continue right off the back of that.

[00:38:18] Anthony: You mentioned the Psalms and I recently read Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Spirituality of the Psalms, and he helped me see a rhythm in scripture, specifically the Psalms. But you see it in the Sermon of the Mount and the passages where he talks about orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.

We come to Jesus with a certain orientation, what we think we believe about him. And then we’ve got to wrestle with that. Like you said, like there’s a windstorm and he’s asleep. What do we do with this? And then he says, be silent, be still. He orients us to the fact that he is God, and he is Lord of the weather and all that is. And that’s why we have to wrestle through this to get to the space where we actually see him and who he is.

And so, I’m going to invite you, Chris, before we depart from this pericope to get personal with people who may be shaking their fists at the sky saying, don’t you care? Because of whatever they’re facing in this life, the evil that they’ve encountered.

What would you say to them? So instead of giving a lecture, maybe what I’m asking you to do is preach and share a word of consolation to those who are wrestling right now.

[00:39:42] Chris: Oh, yeah. I’ve been there, Anthony. I’ve been shaking my fist at God and utterly perplexed with what is going on.

And all I would say is, this is the life of faith. This is what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We’re not inoculated from these kinds of questions, from these complaints. But what we can do is when the storm starts to subside, we can remember that we stand on a rock and that rock is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. And the God revealed in Jesus Christ is our eternal Father. Jesus says, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

Think comparing that with the love of the perfect earthly father. This is what Jesus is pointing us to. God loves us so dearly, much more, but analogous to the way in which the best human father loves their children.

I’m a father and I’ve got to say, I don’t know a love like that. I’ve often thought, would I give up my life for my wife? And I’d like to think I would. If I had to step in front of a bus to save my wife, I’d like to think I would. But here’s the thing. If either of my two children were in danger and I needed to give up my life for them, I would do it in a heartbeat, a thousand times out of a thousand instinctively.

That’s the kind of love that a father has, a good father has for their children. And Jesus is saying, this is the way in which God loves us. So, let’s question, let’s rage against the silence. Let’s question, because this is the kind of story that gives us permission to do just that. Evoking those psalms of lament of God’s silence, of God falling asleep.

But remember, that when the waves subside, we can ask in astonishment, who then is this Father, this incredible love, an eternal love from before all eternity?

[00:41:52] Anthony: Preach, preacher. That was a good sermon. Thank you.

Our final pericope of the month is Mark 5, 21:43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 7 in Ordinary Time, June 30.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him, and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue, named Jairus, came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and pleaded with him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and she was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her flow of blood stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my cloak?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the synagogue leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the synagogue leader, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the synagogue leader’s house, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl stood up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.

Jesus proclaimed, “Talitha koum.” Girl, rise up.

This pericope tells us of a dead girl coming back to life. And a living woman who was dead to her community before a life-giving encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. As best you can, Chris, proclaim the astounding gospel declaration contained in these stories.

[00:44:56] Chris: Yeah, the gospel isn’t about sin management. You notice how as you put it, it’s about death to life. Where there’s death, where there’s separation Jesus comes along and brings life and incorporation.

And where the Gospels go, some have described them as extended prefaces to the crucifixion and resurrection narratives, which is slightly exaggerating, but there’s truth to that. Ultimately, Jesus is going to enter death and from within death, defeat death because he is life. He is the opposite of death.

And this is ultimately the gospel. It isn’t just about pulling up our moral bootstraps and making sure we’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer. It’s participation in the death and, therefore, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as you put it. We believe that one died, therefore all died. This is the gospel as best as I know how to describe it. God in love sent Jesus Christ to assume our enslaved Adamic nature. It’s terminated on the cross, and then God raises Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the gospel is this: that story, that Trinitarian story, is our story. It’s your story, Anthony. It’s my story. It’s the story of every human.

We die in Christ. We believe that one died, therefore all died, and therefore we believe that we will be incorporated also into his resurrection. Because what these stories tell us is that Jesus is in the business of bringing life where there is death. And that’s the hope of the world.

[00:46:45] Anthony: Yes and amen. And we see these stories of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, the little girl, and these were resuscitations, right? Eventually that little girl died. Eventually the woman who had been bleeding died. Jesus died. I think of our mutual friend, Jeff McSwain, who I heard say once that we have to be reminded that God, the Father, did not save Jesus from death; he saved him through death.

And that is our story, but on the other side is resurrection.

Hallelujah. Praise God. As we just celebrated Resurrection Sunday. And he has, not only the first word, but the final word. And that, my friends, is good news. And I want to remind you to take heart: you do not know what is coming, but we know who is coming. And that makes all the difference.

Chris, I want to thank you for being with me today. It’s such a pleasure to hear you herald the gospel. It’s made my heart leap with joy and I’m so, so grateful for the way that God has you participating in his ministry. Keep it up, my brother.

And I think I heard you mention a podcast that you host if people want to listen further to your great British accent and your takes on theology.

How do they find your podcast? Where do they go?

[00:48:06] Chris: Yeah, it’s OnScript. Just type in “on script” and you will find it. I’m one of the cohosts, and we simply interview authors about their recently published works, among other things. We’ve done a few other things as well, but that’s largely what we do.

[00:48:25] Anthony: Fantastic. I want to thank our podcast team, Reuel Enerio, Elizabeth Mullins, and David McKinnon for their excellent work. It’s behind the scenes. You don’t actually often see it. But it’s what makes this podcast go, and I’m so grateful.

Chris, it is our tradition here on Gospel Reverb to end with prayer. And I’d be thankful if you would give thanks and praise and offer a prayer on behalf of all of our listeners.

[00:48:52] Chris: I certainly will. Yeah. And just remember, folks, Mark’s Gospel is there to point us to Jesus. And this is who he is this incredible, glorious Son of God who brings life where there is death.

And Father, we thank you for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Thank you for the word of love, of life, of power that you have spoken in him. And Father, we pray that we would be faithful children, brothers and sisters and mothers of the Lord Jesus Christ, remembering that you love us as the greatest and the most glorious Father.

May we bring life in Christ where there is death. May we be agents of incorporation, of goodness, of wisdom. May we not be like the Pharisees at the beginning and conspiring with Herodians. May we be wise, skillful readers of Scripture, always pointing to you, risen Lord. And in your triune name, we give thanks and praise. Amen.


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Sermon for June 2, 2024 — Proper 4, Ordinary Time

Program Transcript


Ordinary Time: Mark

Throughout our lives, there are seasons that unfold with unexpected grace, where the Father, Son, and Spirit gently surprise us amid the ordinary rhythms of life. After the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we enter the season of Ordinary Time, where in our everyday lives, we become more aware of how the Spirit is moving and building the church.

Ordinary Time is not merely a period marked by routine, but a time to be attentive to the call of discipleship and disciple-making. We are joining Jesus in building the church, participating in the ongoing work of redemption and restoration.

As we journey Ordinary Time, we are invited to embrace the wonder of being surprised by the grace extended to us each day as we join Jesus in ministry. It is a time of heightened awareness, where the mundane becomes infused with divine purpose and meaning.

In the simplicity of our routines, we discover opportunities for discipleship and growth. Whether it’s worshiping together, serving our neighbors, or being present in our church communities, each moment becomes an invitation to participate in the ongoing work of the triune God.

Ordinary Time is not a period of stagnation but a season of dynamic movement, as the Spirit empowers us to join in the mission of building God’s kingdom here on earth. It is a time to listen attentively to the whispers of the Spirit, guiding us in our journey of faith and discipleship.

Like seeds planted in fertile soil, we are called to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As we nurture these virtues, we participate in the ongoing renewal and transformation of the world around us.

And so, as we embrace the sacredness of Ordinary Time, let us remain open to the surprises of the Divine. For in the midst of the everyday, the Father, Son, and Spirit beckon us to join in the eternal dance of love and redemption.

In the stillness of this moment, we wait. And as we wait, we hold fast to the promise of new beginnings, ready to unfold in the fullness of time.

So, let us take heart, dear friends, for in the sacredness of Ordinary Time, we find moments of divine encounter. May our hearts be open to the surprising movements of the Spirit as we journey onward, for it is in the midst of the everyday that we are called to discipleship.

“And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
Mark 1:16-18

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 · 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20) · 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 · Mark 2:23-3:6

In this season of Ordinary Time, we turn our attention to the work of the church of Jesus Christ, focusing especially on discipleship and mission. It is a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of following the leading of the Holy Spirit, because God often moves in surprising ways. The theme for this week is the God who breaks conventions. In the call to worship Psalm, David praises a God who is beyond his ability to fully comprehend. In the passage in Samuel, God chooses to speak to a young child instead of the high priest. In 2 Corinthians, we hear about a God who spreads life using broken vessels who carry “the death of Jesus.” Finally, in Mark, we see Jesus challenging popular ideas about what was permissible on the Sabbath.

Traditions and Rituals

Mark 2:23-3:6 NIV

A woman was diligently preparing a ham for Christmas dinner and her son was helping her cook. The son, who recently graduated from college, was trying to learn all he could about cooking, a budding passion he discovered while having to feed himself for the first time. He watched closely as she neatly sliced off the shank (end), placed the ham in a large roasting pan, and meticulously inserted cloves all around it. The son asked, “Mom, why do you cut off the end of the ham? Is there something wrong with the meat?” The woman paused and considered her son’s question. Finally, she said, “I don’t know. It is just how my mother taught me. I have been doing it this way all my life.”

Intrigued, the woman called her mother, who was busily preparing Christmas dinner in another part of the country. After the obligatory Christmas wishes, the woman asked, “Mom, why do we cut off the end of the ham? My son asked me, and I did not know why, but I have been doing it for years.” The grandmother laughed and said, “Sweetheart, we did not have a lot of money when you were younger. We only had one roasting pan and it was not big enough to fit the entire ham. So, I had to cut off the end to make it fit!”

The woman in the story had been unnecessarily discarding perfectly good ham year after year because of a tradition that was no longer helpful. While this story is amusing, it illustrates the danger of continuing practices without having a good understanding of why those practices are needed. This can be especially true for old institutions like the church. We have many rituals and traditions that Christ followers have been doing for centuries. Yet, many of us do not know how and why those practices started. It is easy to get attached to rituals and traditions because we feel like “it has always been this way.”

A new pastor was installed in a very traditional, aging Protestant church. The fresh, dynamic leader wanted to modernize the congregation’s worship to appeal more to a younger audience. As a first step, he proposed reading from the New International Version during the worship service instead of the King James Version. He felt that this would be a fairly easy shift to make, and he could use the momentum to implement other changes. Unfortunately, the pastor was wrong, and several members pushed back hard. During a church meeting, one deacon stood up and said, “I don’t care what you say! I’m sticking with the King James. If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me!” As you may know, there are several things wrong with the deacon’s statement. The New Testament was written after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus spoke Aramaic (not English) and read from the Old Testament scriptures, which were primarily written in Hebrew. Plus, the King James Version was released more than one and a half millennia after Christ was born! However, the most troubling part of the deacon’s statement was his unwillingness to reconsider the underlying reasons behind something he had been doing for years.

In this season of Ordinary Time, we give our attention to the work of the church in the world. We think about the extent to which we bear witness to Christ and the nearness of his kingdom. As we go and share the gospel with our neighbors, it is a good time to consider why we do some of the things we do. Are we inadvertently presenting our traditions (i.e. the day or time that we meet, how often we take Communion, the way we structure personal devotional time, etc.) as if they were part of the gospel message? This is not solely a modern challenge. In his ministry, Jesus had to address the legalistic observance of traditions and practices by those in his community, especially as they related to the Sabbath (the weekly day of rest). We read in Mark 2:23-3:6:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 2:23-3:6 NIV)

Many in Jesus’ day had strong opinions about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. (The religious leaders had instituted 39 specific prohibitions for the Sabbath, including carrying anything outside the home, any form of cooking, and any work related to growing or gathering crops.) They took exception to Jesus’ disciples grabbing a handful of grain as they walked. Even healing someone supernaturally was considered work. Their stubborn beliefs about the importance of the Sabbath were so strong that even the performance of a miracle was less important. Jesus’ critics would not even spare a moment to appreciate the awesome power of God to heal a man. Christ tried to use these situations to reeducate his audience on the true purpose of the Sabbath. It was never meant to be oppressive and restrictive. Rather, the Sabbath was meant to be a gift — a time to slow down and enjoy the most important things. The Israelites didn’t have to hunt and gather on the Sabbath, God provided for them. It was not supposed to be about following a set of rules. Instead, the Sabbath was designed to indulge in good things that are life-giving — things that draw us into deeper relationship with God and each other. To Jesus, the Sabbath was the perfect time to heal a man of his disability. That miraculous act brought the man a deeper experience of peace and rest, which is what the Sabbath should be all about.

Before we judge Jesus’ critics, we should consider if we are any less stubborn when it comes to our traditions. Of course, there are things we should stubbornly hold onto. We should hold fast to the gospel and the God revealed by Jesus Christ. We should stubbornly proclaim that Jesus is the solid rock on which we stand. We should be unapologetically firm in the core beliefs of the Christian faith. However, we should embrace diversity in the way in which those beliefs are expressed. How open are we to change? How open are we to making room for different ways to express our faith?

For two weeks in February 2023, a revival broke out among students at the Asbury Theological Seminary (ATS) in Wilmore, Kentucky. A small group of students were praying together in the chapel after a typical worship service when something shifted. The prayer and worship just kept going. More and more students joined. It grew to where almost 15,000 people from around the world attended the revival each day. There were no well-known Christian personalities directly involved. There was not really a program or format — just young people following the lead of the Spirit. The people on the stage were students, not seasoned theologians. The singing was not led by recording artists. In fact, what the students actually did could be considered quite ordinary. Yet, God’s presence made what was happening in that chapel extraordinary. Altogether, more than 50,000 (some say closer to 70,000) people participated in this outpouring of God’s Spirit.

Many people praised God for what he did at the ATS revival. At the same time, many expressed doubts or criticized the revival. One common criticism was that the revival “did not look like church.” Those with this view wanted there to be more structure. They wanted to see formal Bible studies led by experts, and sermons delivered by skilled speakers. Many with this view were motivated by concerns that the students might slip into theological error without proper guidance, which might have some merit. However, we also must be willing to consider that some of the criticism of the ATS revival may have resulted from holding on too tightly to traditions. Some of the critics of the revival were so used to encountering God in a certain way that there was no room for God to do a new thing.

As Christ followers, we must embrace the fact that Jesus will move us outside of our comfort zones. He will come at angles we do not expect. He will challenge our beliefs and reorganize our priorities. He will disrupt our traditions and teach us new ways. For many of us, this is unsettling news. Change can be hard, even under the best circumstances. However, we belong to a God who puts new wine in new wine skins. We belong to a God who walks on water and calms the wind with a word. We belong to a God who called women as disciples and touched lepers. We belong to a God who completely upset common understanding of the Sabbath. To follow Christ is to be transformed. And the comfort is that Christ only introduces changes that are ultimately good for us.

Let us be willing to bring the ways in which we worship — our traditions and rituals — and place them at the feet of Christ because he is Lord. Let us say, “Lord, mold us and shape us as you will.” Let us be willing to change for the sake of the kingdom. Let us be willing to change to be what our neighbors need. Instead of saying “no” immediately to the things that make us uncomfortable, let us take time to pray with an open heart. Let us be willing to let God change us. Perhaps we will find ourselves becoming more like Christ as we re-examine some of our traditions and rituals to determine if they truly advance the kingdom of God. Perhaps, in a spiritual way, we will learn to stop throwing away perfectly good pieces of ham!

Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W1

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June 2— Proper 4 in Ordinary Time
Mark 2:23-3:6, “Lord of the Sabbath”

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Program Transcript


Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W1

Anthony: Our first pericope of the month is Mark 2:23 through 3:6.

I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version, the Updated Edition. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 4 in Ordinary Time on June 2. And it reads,

One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food, 26 how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions?” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath, 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Again, he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They were watching him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Chris, what are the implications of Jesus’ statement, the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath, because he is the Lord of the Sabbath?

Chris: Yeah, great question. That really does sum up the entire pericope. There’s a hermeneutic here: how to read and understand the law. What is it to live under Torah? What is it to be faithful to God’s commandments?

And ultimately, there’s a battle about what that entails, what that means. And Jesus is making it clear that the law was always there. The Torah was always there for human flourishing. It was there in order to facilitate healthy lives and balance and good relationships.

And the danger is that the law becomes something that bludgeons, that becomes a blunt tool that sees everything as a nail and so you need a hammer. So that the only thing that is required is unconditional, unthinking obedience to the letter. And Jesus responds to this by saying, actually, that’s not quite how this works.

Is it better to give life or to kill? Depending on the circumstances. There’s a hermeneutical battle here, in other words, about what it is to be obedient, which is why he goes to David. Have you never read what David did? Because according to the letter of the law, David and what his companions did, was disobedient. It was unfaithful to Torah. But actually, in the grand scheme of things, in light of the particularities, it was just the right thing to do. So, it’s clearly a hermeneutic going on here.

But the key, as always with these things and as we’ve already discussed about the Son of Man being Lord of the Sabbath, okay, there’s debate. Does this mean all humans, or does it mean Jesus? That’s probably a false “either or,” because the key to the hermeneutical understanding going on here, I think is, again, the reality of Jesus Christ. And then we can negotiate these choppy waters.

So, in other words this, the implications of this are huge. The implications are all about how do we read the Bible, as a whole, in light of Jesus Christ and in view of human flourishing?

Anthony: Speaking of human flourishing, I was struck again as I was just reading this passage aloud, how frequently there’s a pattern in Scripture where God, of course, could do a work, a miracle without our participation, but he often invites us into it.

He said to the man with the withered hand, come forward, stretch out your hand. We see in other parts of Scripture, pick up your mats or the battle will be won. You’ll see the victory of the Lord, but go down and face it, even though you’re not going to lift the sword, kind of thing. Anything you’d want to say about our participation and what the Lord is up to?

Chris: Anything I’d want to say about our participation? There seems to be a very real participation here, right? In other words, our agency, which is very real and honored, is given that Christological frame in this particular text. You stretch out, to the withered hand. Come forward. In other words, that responsiveness — in any theology, any dogmatic theology, that claims to be Barthian and doesn’t have a rich account of human responsivity is mistaken.

And Bart was very clear on this as well. We need to have a good account of human agency and what we do. But the ultimate bracketing of that human agency — no, it’s not its bracketing. Its constitution is Jesus Christ. Our real human agency is incorporated into the liveliness of Jesus Christ himself in a way that doesn’t obliterate that agency, but actually gives it its texture.

It’s slightly theoretical perhaps, but that’s where I’m going with your question.

Anthony: Anything else you would like to bring forth out of this passage?

Chris: There’s always a danger in reading this passage when the “not lawful,” thinking that Jesus is opposed to Jews and Jewish legalism and that kind of rhetoric, which is a huge mistake.

Jesus is picking up on very biblical principles for understanding the Torah. The Pharisees and their particular legalistic take, if that’s the right way of describing it, isn’t representative of all Judaism. As though Christians, we’ve left legalism behind, but the Jews haven’t. That would be a misreading of this passage, profoundly misleading.

But perhaps it’s also just worthwhile meditating on the fact that Jesus has caused so much consternation that he causes the Pharisees and the Herodians to conspire against him. This is the last verse. They are chalk and cheese. [“Chalk and cheese” is a British idiom meaning two people or things that are completely different from each other.] The Herodians (they’re not party as such, but they’re a bunch of people who are loyal to the Herodian dynasty) and the Pharisees are not natural friends.

So, when we get legalistic, when we put principles above people and above Jesus Christ, it can cause us to really put things out of kilter. And do the craziest things and that’s why the Pharisees here are even conspiring with the Herodians.

Anthony: That’s a good word.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever done something repeatedly only to find out there was a better way to do it? How did you feel?
  • Why are traditions and rituals good? How can traditions and rituals be challenging?
  • What is one way God is challenging you to come out of your comfort zone? How can you better respond to the leading of the Spirit?

Sermon for June 9, 2024 — Proper 5, Ordinary Time

Welcome to this week's episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3028 | Deep Weeping
Heber Ticas

Have you ever felt like you are at the bottom of the ocean crying for help?

In my many years of pastoral ministry, I have encountered many people that find themselves in this circumstance. Expressing their deepest pain through a fountain of tears.

Maybe you are in over your head but no one even knows you’re struggling. Or maybe you have sunk so deep in despair that you think no one could possibly hear or understand you. Sometimes it’s a deep wound in our soul that, even we, can’t wrap our mind around or see any possible healing from. Or maybe we have fallen into some deep-seated sin that seems impossible to overcome. For many of us, we may be looking around, reading the headlines, and feeling that the entire world is too broken, torn, and distorted to be pulled out of the mire. We all have a cry from the deep. The question is, “will we be heard?”

The Psalmist encourages his soul and ours with the reminder that the Lord does not keep a record of sins but rather he forgives and therefore can be trusted with all our deep brokenness. Listen to his cry from the deep:

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning…” 
Psalm 130:1-6 (NRSV)

When God forgives, he doesn’t just overlook our situation with a flippant dismissal. Neither does he observe us in our deep pit and ask us what we did to fall in. No, he climbs down into the pit with us in order to lift us out. How far will he climb? All the way to the very bottom! Further in fact than we think we have fallen. He gets below our brokenness, underneath our wounds, as far down as necessary in order to completely redeem us. He descends below our depths to raise us up into new life without any hidden deep-seated scars to leave behind.

This process sometimes requires waiting on our part, but we can wait in hope knowing that the Lord does hear us and answers us according to his deep, redeeming love. Redemption is the Lord’s work and he has already heard our cries from the deep. Jesus voiced those cries for us on the cross and our Father answered him with resurrected life. The Father’s redeeming touch can’t get any deeper than the death of his own son.

The answer of the resurrection assures us that not only does he hear our cries from the deep, he will also answer.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 138:1-8 · 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) · 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 · Mark 3:20-35

As we engage our neighbors, we will be exposed to the brokenness of the world. We will encounter those in pain, the marginalized, and the oppressed. It is important for us to know where God is in our struggles. The theme for this week is God in our afflictions. In the call to worship passage, the psalmist sings about a God who preserves him in the midst of trouble. In Samuel, we read about how Israel, in an effort to solve a temporary issue (the need for someone to succeed Samuel), chose to solve their problem apart from God. The consequences were devastating. In 2 Corinthians, Paul explained that our momentary afflictions cannot compare with the blessings Christ followers will receive in eternity. In the passage in Mark, we see Jesus model how to respond to rejection and condemnation, even by one’s own family.

When Words Hurt

Mark 3:20-35 NIV

Whoever said, “Sticks and stone will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was dead wrong. Words can hurt. Words can devastate. Words can destroy. We have all been harmed by words at one time or another. Yet, some of us have been taught not to acknowledge that harm, and stuff down our emotions. For some, it’s an effort to avoid conflict. So, they plaster on a smile while getting revenge through passive aggressive ways. Some believe it is permissible to explode with anger and rage when hurt by another’s words. They might see the admission of hurt as a weakness — a weakness that opens one up to potentially more hurt. They return the harm in an effort to keep themselves safe. Still others absorb the hurtful words spoken over them by others and turn the anger internally, sometimes engaging in self-destructive behavior because they feel like, in some way, they deserve the harmful words. Words can hurt. Words can devastate. Words can destroy.

This would be a good point to tell a story about when you were hurt by the words of another.

In our society, we do not do a very good job talking about our social and emotional health. Perhaps we do a decent job for children. Shows like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street taught generations of young people to navigate the social and emotional waters of elementary school. However, for most of us, our social and emotional education stopped after that. A survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published in February 2023 reported that in 2021, 57% of high school girls acknowledged experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year, up from 36% in 2011.  Additionally, nearly one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide—up almost 60% from a decade earlier. Many of us do not know what healthy steps to take to deal with hurt inflicted upon us by the words of others. Unfortunately, as imperfect human beings, we will hurt others with our words, despite our best intentions. Therefore, knowing how to deal with hurtful words is an essential skill for human beings to learn.

Thankfully, Christ followers can turn to Jesus for guidance in how to be human. He endured every kind of pain so that he could be Lord of every situation, including times when people say hurtful things. In Mark 3:20-35, we read about some of the kinds of things Jesus suffered for our sake:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-35 NIV)

In this one passage, Jesus is said to be “out of his mind” by his own family; accused of being possessed by the prince of demons by the teachers of the law; and, said to have an impure spirit, a slur against Jesus’ beloved Holy Spirit. Let’s pause for a moment and consider how hurtful these words must have been. Jesus, God-the-Son, came to earth to save and redeem humanity. He had done nothing but good and was (is) perfect in all his ways. Yet, those closest to him, his very family, did not believe in him. Those who studied the scriptures that testify of him, the theological experts of his day, rejected him. In that culture a person’s position in society was determined by his heritage. Jesus countered that norm by redefining his affiliation as belonging to all who did his will.

Those whom he created in his image with the Father and Holy Spirit, called the Spirit at work in him “impure” instead of holy. Since Jesus always responded perfectly to those with whom he interacted, it is easy to overlook the hurt he had to endure. We do not see Jesus acting passive aggressively, with uncontrolled anger, or in a self-destructive way. However, Christ had (has) all of our emotions, so it would be unlikely these awful words would not leave emotional wounds. Words can hurt. Words can devastate. Words can destroy.

In an unexpected way, this story should bring us some comfort. When we bring the hurts caused by others’ words to God, we encounter someone who understands. Jesus understands our pain. We do not belong to a God far removed from us. We do not belong to a God who cannot understand the things we go through. We belong to a God who himself is one of us. He will not turn a blind eye to our suffering because he himself suffered. He will not ignore our cries because he himself cried. Praise the God who knows us and understands!

In the passage, we can learn from Jesus some things to keep in mind the next time hurtful words are said to us. While the passage does not provide step-by-step instructions on what to do when we are harmed by words, it does contain some useful wisdom. It should be said that God can heal us from the hurt words inflict on us; in some cases, we may need to seek professional help. We all need assistance at one time or another, and speaking with a skilled counselor can be beneficial.

We read in Mark that Jesus did not allow the words of others to change his identity and purpose. How did Jesus respond to his defamers? He invited them to draw near to him. He then took the time to teach his critics and warn them to avoid slandering the Holy Spirit. He opened himself up to them as he strove to redeem them. This is who Jesus is. He did not allow the hurtful words of others tempt him to dehumanize his detractors. He did not allow his hurt feelings to keep him from his Father’s work. Too often, we allow the words of others to change us. Too often, we give in to the temptation to respond in un-Christlike ways. Jesus neither exploded in anger nor shrank away from conflict. He spoke the truth in love, with the aim of seeing his defamers redeemed. Christ left a good example for us to follow.

We also see in the passage that Jesus focused on his provision in God. Harmful words almost always bring to mind our lack, or things we would like to be different. It is easy to focus on what we do not have instead of what we do have. Jesus could have bemoaned the lack of respect he received from the teachers of the law. He could have complained about the lack of support for his family. He could have been consumed by self-pity. Yet, none of these things happened. Instead of focusing on his lack he shifted his gaze to God’s provision. His mother and brothers, for the moment, did not understand him. He looked around and saw that God had provided him with those who were like mothers and brothers to him. Jesus chose to celebrate his blessings instead of sitting in his hurt. Relationships are important to God, and he always provides for his children. When an important relationship is harmful to us, God provides another connection to satisfy that relational need. Rather than try to force a hurtful relationship to be less so, we should give our attention to the relationships God provides and lean into them with gratitude.

What a blessing it is that Jesus bore all our suffering and showed us a better way to live. Thank God we are not in this life alone. The Lord is with us, guiding us to himself. Praise God for the life of Jesus Christ! He is a light unto our path. We do not have to figure things out on our own. Christ has gone before and has shown us the way.

Words can hurt. Words can devastate. Words can destroy. These are true statements. It is also true that Jesus heals. Jesus comforts. Jesus restores. Because he was hurt by words and prevailed, he can help us prevail. Let us turn to him and recognize him as the source of all forms of healing — even the wounds of the heart.

Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W2

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June 9— Proper 5 in Ordinary Time
Mark 3:20-35, “Family Feud”

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Program Transcript


Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W2

Anthony: All right, let’s pivot to the next passage of the month.

It’s Mark 3:20-35. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 5 in Ordinary Time, which is June 9. Chris, we’d be delighted if you’d read it for us, please.

Chris: Great.

Mark 3:20-35. This is for an Ordinary Time, June 9.

Then he went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Anthony: My wife and I occasionally watch British TV, and we always comment about how anything a Brit says, sounds fantastic. Well, done, sir. Well, done.

Chris: That’s the one card I’ve got going for me, I think, that one.

Anthony: Tell us about the God revealed in Jesus in this pericope.

Chris: Oh, wow. That is a big question. I suppose one of the things I’d want to talk about is how Jesus casts relationship with him, and therefore relationship with God, in familial terms, with familial metaphors.

It actually came as some shock to me to realize that the New Testament doesn’t tend to speak of Christ followers (it does, but not as often as you’d expect) as believers. Rather more often, with familial terms as brothers and sisters. And this is key in the teaching of Jesus. Richard Bauckham, who’s a New Testament scholar, he says of the Gospels, with every major area, there comes a new revelation of the name of God.

So, you had Adonai; you had the divine name, the Tetragrammaton; and with Jesus, you have “Father” as the divine name being revealed, which was a fascinating way of putting it. But one way or another, this is key to the understanding of Jesus with those who are around him. You are my brothers.

We’re called into a family; we’re called into a relationship with a Father who loves us even more than the best human fathers can love us. So that would be the first place I would go for understanding, but much more could be said, of course.

[00:18:04] Anthony: Wow. I’m just thinking about what you just said there. We so often want to make it our relationship with God. We talk in terms of judgment and not always as family. So that was brilliant. Whoever does the will of God is my, here we go, familial brother, sister and mother.

So sometimes we’re reductionist when we talk about the will of God. What’s the will of God for this or that? But just big picture: what is the will of the father in the context of this text?

Chris: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this question and realized it’s quite difficult to answer. Mark is famous for not giving us much content in terms of the actual teaching. There’s a lot of talk about what Jesus taught without going into the content of that teaching.

Matthew and Luke do that much more. Mark’s Gospel, which is often depicted as a lion with images, is fast-paced. It runs through texts with a lot of stories with lots of “immediately’s.” “This now happened.” “Immediately that” and “immediately this,” without stopping to pause and give us some more content.

So, there’s a sense in which — there isn’t too much to go on here, but what can we say? That the immediate pericope seems to link doing the will of God with works of power. And this isn’t something that is necessarily comfortable to hear but there Jesus is casting out demons. And it’s very much caught up in the debate about that.

And Jesus is not casting out demons by Beelzebub, but by the Spirit of God. And of course, linked to this as well, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And therefore, the will of God must be something about honoring the Holy Spirit. But can I just say something about that, actually? Because this is a what has been known as a text of terror for some.

Anthony: Yes.

Chris: And for those, especially those who struggle with religious scrupulosity and obsessive compulsive disorders, this is a verse that many have given up faith because of this. Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin. Oh, have I committed that eternal sin?

And lots of introspection and pain and psychological trauma is based on this. Let me just say something about the word here. Aiónios is the Greek word behind eternal there. And I think it’s better to translate that not as eternal. Ethos would have been a better word to have in that particular passage. Maybe it’s until the age or for an age, is guilty of sin until or for the age, by the way.

So, I think that’s a better way of understanding that particular passage. And for those who worry that they’ve committed the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you almost certainly haven’t, because then you wouldn’t be worried about it.

It’s about the continued resistance that we put up against the Holy Spirit, which ultimately, I think God overcomes as well because God will be all in all. But there’s much more to talk about there. I just wanted to flag that particular passage.

Anthony: I’m glad you did. I thought about asking a question about it, but it seems to me when people come to this pericope, they get hung up there and they don’t see anything else within the text.

But even though it’s not in our passage here, in our focus, I think of our Lord on the cross. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The Spirit was there. And certainly, we were all blaspheming in some form or fashion against God. And Jesus’ words were, “Father, forgive them,” revealing the heart of God, not shielding us from an angry God, but revealing God’s heart as it’s always been.

Thank God for it. I appreciate your words.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of a time when you were hurt by someone’s words? How did you respond?
  • Is it comforting to know that Jesus knows what it feels like to be hurt by words? Why or why not?
  • What are some ways we can follow Jesus’ example and deal with hurtful words in a spiritually healthy way?

Sermon for June 16, 2024 – Proper 6

Welcome to this week's episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3029 | The Cutting Takes Root
Greg Williams

If you’ve ever done any gardening, you know it can be frustrating. You have to strike the right balance between caring for something and leaving it alone so it will grow and not be smothered.

One technique for growing that takes quite a bit of care and attention at first, but can really be successful, is growing from a cutting. With a tree, you cut off a green branch and carefully plant it in rich, fertile soil so that it forms roots and grows into a new tree.

The prophet Ezekiel talks about this as a metaphor for God replanting Israel after exile:

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.
Ezekiel 17:22-24

This parable follows a discussion of Israel’s efforts to ally with its pagan neighbors. Their disobedience brought them into exile and despair. But God gives them this very tender image of himself as the gardener who gently takes a cutting from what’s there and grows in the familiar soil of back home. The image would have been comforting to an exiled Israel.

God’s plan for Israel was not to destroy or start over, but to build from what was already growing. He took Israel in his hands, even after all their efforts to make their own way failed. They were frail and completely dependent, but he saw the mighty strength in their future that would bless all nations – “birds of every kind will nest in it.”

Jesus no doubt drew on this image in Mark 4, when he told the story of the tiny mustard seed that grows larger than all the garden plants.

God, the divine gardener, took a cutting every time the great tree of humanity fell and he replanted it. From Adam and Eve to Abraham, from Abraham to Isaac, then Jacob, then Moses, then the people of Israel. Finally, from all this imagery, all of this promise of growth in the future, God’s plan comes together in one person, born of the lineage of the kings and priests. From Jesus grew the mighty family of faith that keeps growing through the centuries despite its own mistakes and the devastating winds of time.

God’s plan is connected throughout. Nowhere in it did God change his mind or start over again or make up for some mistake. Redemption and restoration, yes, but the same consistent story always moving forward. The story, like the tree, grows and keeps on growing just from the tiny beginning until it crescendos into the all-encompassing Kingdom of God. You and I are part of that replanting, part of that story.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 20:1-9 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13) 14-17 Mark 4:26-34

This week’s theme is kingdom growth. In our call to worship psalm, there is assurance that the Lord will help and support his anointed to be victorious. The Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel provides the suspenseful account of David being anointed as king of Israel by Samuel. Our reading from 2 Corinthians reads with a note of confidence on account of faith in Christ, who makes all things new. The Gospel text in Mark provides two parables from Jesus that explore the growth of the kingdom of God using the sowing of two different seeds.

The Growing of the Kingdom

Mark 4:26-34 – ESV

Today we have a couple of parables to ponder. And both parables use the image of seeds. Before we visit these two parables, we should have a word about parables themselves. And especially, how Jesus used parables.

First, parables in the hand of Jesus were not simplistic little illustrations to drive home a teaching point. In fact, we see that many did not understand what Jesus was saying and even his disciples often needed further explanation.

Second, Jesus’ parables required a lot from his hearers. Jesus’ parables were enigmatic stories and pictures which demanded to be sorted out. Jesus wasn’t reinforcing what everyone already understood, he was challenging the way his hearers typically thought about the topic he was discussing. In the case of our two parables at hand, the topic is the kingdom of God. Jesus is going to use two parables involving seeds to reorient how people understand not only God’s kingdom, but God himself.

 

Third, those who did hear and grow to understand Jesus’ parables did so because they were following Jesus. Crowds may appear to hear the parables, but only those who hung around Jesus and inquired further would get an interpretation. His disciples would understand the parables because Jesus himself would give them further understanding. That will be the case today as we hear the two parables in our lectionary. If we listen to the parables assuming we already know what they mean, we too, like the crowds, may walk away with little more understanding than we came with. However, if we are primarily coming to hear Jesus speak to us, coming with open hands and humble hearts, we can trust that Jesus will reveal more to us since we have “ears to hear.”

Followers of Jesus are not afraid of repentance. They know the one who speaks to them is for them, full of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. And they know that Jesus wants us to come to know him and his Father better. So we listen with attentive ears, knowing the one who is speaking to us wants us to be willing to let go of old, preconceived, and wrong-headed thoughts and ways of thinking.

Fourth, we should also remember that parables are in one way or another about Jesus. Even if the subject matter is about the kingdom of God, as our parables are today, it cannot be separated from who Jesus is. That is how we will approach the parables today, seeking to answer the question, who is Jesus and who are we in him.

Perhaps we should also add one final thought about parables. Considering the subject matter, and that they help us to see more fully who Jesus is and who we are in him, we should temper our expectations of understanding. We do not expect to hear a parable and then immediately be granted mastery of what Jesus was saying. Parables can continue to help us see a little more each time around. This is why we may have many different interpretations of parables. Some may be better than others, but we shouldn’t expect to ever fully understand Jesus’ parables. They call us into a deeper relationship with Jesus, listening to him again and again, trusting that by his Spirit, he is opening our ears, little by little, or a lot at times, to know him and grow in our trust in him and his Father. So, don’t expect this sermon to be the final word on these two parables. We will do our best to be faithful to how Mark uses the parables. But we will also hold loosely to any interpretation that may need further filling out later. Parables are a journey. So, let’s take a couple of steps into that journey with the two parables we have before us.

The first parable we encounter is Mark’s first parable about the kingdom of God and it is a parable only found in Mark. That sets it apart in many ways. But, as we should come to expect, the point of this parable is quite elusive. We do not know if we should focus on the sower, the process of the seed’s growth, or on the harvest. The focus we choose can take us in many different directions. For our discussion we will focus on the sower as a way forward in the parable, without leaving the process or the harvest out. This will at least keep our focus on a “who” rather than a process or event. That seems to be a safe approach considering we want the parable to help us discover a little more of who Jesus is. Approaching any scripture with the “who” question in mind is always the surest and most fruitful way forward.

Here is how Mark introduces the first parable:

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. (Mark 4:26 ESV)

The most important thing to note about the parable is the one who is telling it. It’s no small thing that it is Jesus who is telling us this parable and not some random person. We can trust that Jesus is giving this parable for our good. Just because it is difficult to understand, or because it contains some ambiguous images, doesn’t mean that Jesus is trying to trick us or conceal something that he’d rather not share. Jesus can be trusted, and on that ground, we can engage in the hard work of hearing and thinking through his words.

For starters, Jesus is clear on the subject of the parable, namely, “the kingdom of God.” So, that at least gives us some parameters, although the kingdom of God can mean many different things to different people. And that is why Jesus must give us a parable. We all come to it with some idea of what the kingdom of God is. And it seems Jesus needs to invite us into rethinking our concepts of his kingdom. What’s at stake is not just how we think of the kingdom, but how we think of God, whose kingdom it is. We cannot separate the two. If we are going to belong to this kingdom, we will need to know the one whose kingdom it is, as he is the one we will belong to.

Since we will put our focus on the sower, we will want to ask the question, “Who is this ‘man’ who scatter’s seed on the ground?” And in case we need the reminder, this parable is set up with an “as if” statement. So, we are not to read it too literally. We know that we are using creaturely terms and images, in this case agricultural ones, to convey something deeper. However, that doesn’t rule out that the “man” is an actual man. In fact, one way forward in understanding the parable is to see this “man” as none other than Jesus himself. But Jesus is more than just a man. He is the God-man. He is the Son of God who has assumed our human nature in the person of Jesus.

We must also take note that this man is doing something. He is sowing “seed on the ground.” The image of “seed” is a rich one conjuring up the messianic “seed” promised in Genesis to Adam and Eve. The “seed” is the offspring that will come through childbirth from the line of Adam. The promised “seed” of course is none other than Jesus Christ who was born of Mary. The picture of seed in the ground is a pretty good picture of the Incarnation. The Son of God has come to our world as Jesus, the God-man. Of course, if we take this route, we are then seeing the “man” as Jesus as well as the “seed” as Jesus. So, we could say the man is planting himself in the world. Another way to look at it is to equate the “seed” with the gospel, or God’s word. Jesus sows his word, or the gospel into our world. And this word picture still allows for the “man” and the “seed” both being Jesus since Jesus is God’s Word as well as the Gospel. That does fill out the kingdom of God to be all about the person and work of Jesus.

However, the parable can speak on two levels from this point. For those who are in union with Christ, his followers, they too can be seen as the “man” in the parable as they live in participation of Jesus’ spreading the gospel in the world. We too are called to “scatter seed on the ground” by sharing Jesus on whatever ground we find ourselves walking. Going forward, we will try to keep both pictures in mind. Jesus as the “man” and the “seed” being sown, and believers as the “man” who participate in the sowing of the gospel. By doing so this will help us draw some implications for our personal walk with Jesus.

Let’s take a look at one such implication in the next verse:

He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. (Mark 4:27 ESV)

If we are thinking of Jesus as the “man” then the image of sleeping and rising certainly can remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Perhaps we will raise an eyebrow at the point in the parable where the “man” does not know how the “seed sprouts and grows.” But this can be a way of showing Jesus’ faith in his Father. Jesus went to the cross fully trusting that God knew what he was doing. He didn’t need explanations of “how” this plan for salvation was going to work. He simply does his Father’s will. And that is a word of comfort for us as well as we follow the Father’s call to share the gospel in our daily lives. We are not tasked to make the seed sprout and grow. We are simply called to be faithful to what the Lord has given us. We leave the results up to him.

This was the pattern for the early church, and it has not changed in our modern times. As Paul saw in his ministry, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). What a relief that we do not have to carry the burden of growing the kingdom. That is not our responsibility. If there is anything we are to grow, it is to grow in our faith in the Lord Jesus. How God chooses to grow the kingdom, on his own timing, is not our concern. That should give us a spring in our step as we scatter seed on the ground on which we walk.

We remain faithful, trusting the one who has called us to participate in his own sowing of the gospel, the good news of his soon coming kingdom in which he is King. It is exciting when we see evidence of the seed sprouting and growing, but that is not why we share the good news of Jesus with others. We share him because we trust him and we have found him to be a joy to share, whether this joy takes root in others or not. And, when we do see some evidence of growth, that should only grow our faith in him even further. We do not have to analyze “how” the growth occurred for the purpose of replicating some process or event. We do not put our trust in “how” we share the gospel, we put our trust in “who” the gospel is, Jesus Christ. We can trust that in the sharing, God will do a work, often underground and undetected by us, at least at first. We may never see the results in every effort of sharing the gospel. But we don’t have to, our eyes are focused on Jesus, and that is more than enough.

Let’s go further into the parable:

The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. (Mark 4:28 ESV)

This description goes further in making the point that it is not up to us to make the seed grow. When the gospel seed is planted, it does its own work. Or another way to say it, Jesus gets his own response. He is God’s Word that every creature is made to hear and respond to. Our words and efforts do nothing towards growing the kingdom if they are not a sharing of God’s word. We do our best in the sharing, meaning, we work hard to present the word as faithfully as possible. We will want to be as accurate and faithful to the word given to us in scripture in our sharing of Jesus, who is the Word of God that the scriptures point to. But this does not mean that God’s word needs our help in gaining a hearing. Slick presentations, clever campaigns, or exciting events are a complete waste of time if the word of God is not present. Otherwise, we may get a response from people, but they will be responding to our own cleverly packaged words, and not the Word of God. Whatever growth comes from that will not be kingdom growth but something else. God is not trying to sell something for people to buy, he is trying to give something for people to receive.

One other thing to note in this verse is the aspect of growth being a process. Receiving the gospel is not a onetime thing. This makes sense when we realize the gospel is a relationship with Jesus and his Father in the Spirit. Relationships take time to grow. They are not automatic. It may start as just a small “blade” but in time our relationship with the Lord grows more mature and fruitful.

Let’s wrap up the first parable with the next verse:

But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:29 ESV)

The agricultural picture of harvest helps us see that God’s kingdom does have an end in mind. God has a goal that he is working towards, and he intends on completing it. And whatever you want to make of the “sickle” as the tool employed at harvest time, we are given some assurance in this image that it will not be used until the “grain is ripe.” We can trust God’s timing, in our lives and in the lives of others. His intentions are to bring a ripe harvest into his kingdom.

Now Jesus is going to move into a second parable on the same topic, using the same agricultural image, but with a different seed.

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? (Mark 4:30 ESV)

By introducing another parable with these questions, Jesus lets us know that there is no perfect analogy or illustration that will open our eyes to see the fullness of the kingdom. But we can trust that Jesus will help us see as much as possible, even if only partially. Much of what Jesus is sharing is beyond our comprehension in this life. We are to walk in faith until our eyes are made new, capable of seeing the Lord face-to-face.

Let’s look at the second parable. It is short, but well known as the Parable of the Mustard Seed:

It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:31-32 ESV)

Jesus gives us a couple of contrasts by using this parable. First, there is the contrast between small and large within the parable. Jesus uses some hyperbole to emphasize the contrast. The mustard seed is not literally the smallest seed on earth, but it was the smallest seed the listeners were familiar with. The point is that it is incomparably small to how large it ends up. Jesus is allowed to exaggerate to make his point. There is no need to reject his teaching on the grounds of botanical accuracy. And his point tells us something about who God is.

The God we see in Jesus Christ does not mind starting small. If you ever planted a tiny seed in dirt, you would notice how the seed virtually disappears to one’s sight. That’s how it would appear when Jesus was crucified and buried. It would have seemed that the hope of Jesus establishing God’s kingdom had come to nothing. It had vanished in a tomb like a seed buried in the dirt. But we know the rest of the story. Jesus becomes the tree of life, giving us all a home and shade to rest under.

We can also see in this contrast of the small mustard seed and the large plant it produces that we can trust God will bring our faithful efforts to him—no matter how small—into a fruitful blessing for many in due time. We may never know how a little word of encouragement from the gospel, a helping hand in Jesus’ name, or any number of things done in faith to the Lord, will grow into something much larger. One day Jesus may pull us aside and show us the large plant that he grew from our faithfulness to him that we had no idea about. We may be astonished how Jesus used our little efforts to branch out into provisions of rest and comfort for many wearied travelers whose lives were up in the air.

There is a second contrast that comes from this parable, and that is the contrast it has with the first parable. The first parable used the image of a stalk of grain which is certainly a very positive image of life. But a mustard plant was not so readily seen as a welcomed plant. A mustard tree’s shadow would prevent the growth of other crops like wheat. Also, they would attract birds, which would eat the produce of the crops that did grow. In our vernacular, we would liken it to a weed in our beautifully manicured garden. That’s an interesting twist Jesus provides. Perhaps he wants us to be on guard from judging too quickly where God is working his blessings. Perhaps, he wants to press further that even the “birds” we so often see as pests or enemies of our particular plans, are also creatures the Lord loves and wants to refresh. Altogether, there is much mystery that comes with the kingdom of God. We are called to trust the one who is at work in growing the kingdom. It may not look the way we think it should at times, but we must remember, it’s not our kingdom, it’s his.

That gives us two parables of seed for thought. Let’s see how Mark concludes the section:

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34 ESV)

The passage is concluded with Jesus spending some alone time with his disciples to explain the parables. Jesus will always walk alongside us to reveal more and more of the mysteries of the kingdom. Or in other words, he remains with us, helping us see more and more who he is and who his Father is by the Spirit. Sometimes we are left confused. But we can trust we are never left alone.

Jesus wants you to know him more. He wants you to see his gracious and loving Father. He wants you to see that he is trustworthy so you can put your trust in him and grow in that trust day in and day out. And in doing so, you will be prepared to enter into God’s kingdom. Ultimately that is what his kingdom will be all about: Living in the presence of the one who is trustworthy, who is for us completely, and who is growing us up into the abundant life he has for us. Whether you are just beginning your journey of faith or have been on that journey for decades, you can put our trust in him and grow in that trust. If that some of the mysteries of the kingdom seems confusing to you, don’t worry, the Lord will explain everything.

Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W3

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June 16— Proper 6 in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:26-34, “My, How You’ve Grown!”

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Program Transcript


Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W3

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next passage. It’s Mark 4:26-34. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 6 in Ordinary Time, which is June 16.

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

So, Jesus here describes the kingdom of God as growing, yet the workers don’t know how it happens in verse 27. And yet, Chris, I sometimes, or frequently, hear Bible teachers giving a five step plan on how we make the kingdom of God grow.

So, am I missing something here? Help us understand.

Chris: No, you’re not missing a thing. I think there’s a temptation to turn the kingdom of God into a human project. And this is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of discipleship, which belongs to God. It’s not ours to control, as I said at the very start.

That was one of the key insights I remember battling my way through back then — what we’d now called deconstruction. It wasn’t trendy back then. But it was certainly a key moment for me.

There’s some wisdom to be gained from having, let’s say, five steps from not being a sluggard. We could get that from Proverbs. Understood.

But when it comes to the activity of God and God’s own reign, which effectively is what God’s kingdom means, this is all about the gracious activity of God, rather than something we master and control. We remain disciples in this whole process, not masters.

So, I don’t think you’re missing a thing. I think you’ve hit on something crucial to the life of faith, which frees us from taking ourselves so seriously. We don’t need to, you and me, Anthony — we’re not the middle of any of this. We’re not the center. Jesus Christ is the center. That frees us to enjoy the life of faith in discipleship without doubts, without stupidity, without whole swathe of misunderstandings and so on, intact, because it’s not about us.

It’s about Jesus.

Anthony: And it’s so good! And some people receive that as not good news because they misunderstand agency, and they want to be able to control. But it is good news that we’re not in the center. As Barth would say, genuine freedom is realizing Jesus Christ is not a freedom from God, but a freedom for God, that we get to actively participate, even if we don’t know how it’s happening.

And I think it was Eugene Peterson that said this in terms of discipleship, that it’s focusing more and more on Christ’s righteousness and less on our own. And boy, we get that backwards, don’t we, Chris, so often?

Chris: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. A good understanding of human agency, I think, is one of the crying needs for many in the church.

Anthony: While we’re on the topic of things that puzzle me — and that’s not difficult. I’m not the sharpest chisel in the shed. So, let’s talk about the parables of Jesus. My life left eye begins to twitch when I hear people say the parables are simple stories or this parable clearly means whatever, fill in the blank.

So, I ask you, New Testament scholar, am I just a contrarian or is there more profundity there? Is it something in between?

Chris: Oh, goodness. You’re not the only one that the parables puzzle. New Testament scholars debate endlessly questions relating to how they’re best understood, how they’re best classified, what genre they better approximate, whether there’s one meaning or whether there’s multiple meanings, what the purpose of these parables are.

Is it to disclose? Is it actually to cover and to hide? In other words, the confusion is one shared by New Testament scholars. Yeah, I mean, the only thing I could think that we could learn from New Testament scholarship in that regard is to realize that we have now recognized that we can’t speak in simplistic terms about the parables.

We can’t speak in simplistic terms about their genre, their historical precedence. Certainly, we can’t say that a parable has a single point. Rather, scholars these days tend to say that the parables are polyvalent. They have lots of ways of being understood. And it’s almost as if, to come back to the human agency thing here, Jesus is, in using parables, calling for our active participation in pondering, in thinking, in puzzling.

So, you said that these topics puzzle me. I think that’s the point of the parables. They’re made to evoke our wonder and response. Isn’t that interesting? Jesus isn’t there simply giving us a list of things to believe, right? Now that’s it. Now you’ve job done, like a good lecturer.

He’s causing, he’s evoking our participation in the process, in wondering, and in pondering.

Anthony: Eugene Peterson has a brilliant book called Tell It Slant, and he’s quoting a poem from Emily Dickinson when he says this. But that’s what fiction can do. This is what the parables can do. It comes at you slant, not blunt force.

Like you said earlier, it evokes our imagination. And this is why I think there’s always more profundity than we can apprehend. We don’t ever comprehend. We just get glimpses.

Let me ask you this, Chris, as a follow up. If you were preaching this particular text, what would be your focus beyond anything you’ve already said?

Chris: I don’t know if this is something I would preach on, but it’s certainly something I’d want to talk about now. I’m certainly — if I’m going to preach on this, it’s going to be, it’s got to be focused on God as I’ve said so many times, and I’m going to say till I’m blue in the face. It’s about God revealing himself in Jesus Christ and in his movement to us.

And God is creating this growth. God wants to do this. He’s for us. He’s with us in Jesus Christ. That’s certainly where I want to go for preaching. But for this particular discussion, I’d want to just meditate a little bit longer on the issue of parables. Because, if you were to flip open a dictionary of the New Testament or turn to a New Testament scholar who’s written on the parables, then very often you get questions of historicity — that is to what extent do the parables in Mark give us a window onto the historical Jesus or some such.

Can I just say something about this? Just because here, it seems to me, is where we need some of our metaphysics evangelized. There is no historical Jesus just existing in the past; we’re now in the present, separated from that past. If that’s the case, then Jesus isn’t who we think he is and confess him to be and worship him to be.

Rather, we exist in the time of Jesus Christ. We are crucified with Christ. We will be raised with Christ (to pick up on language of the apostle Paul and other New Testament passages use.) There is no neat history apart from us. We are incorporated into Jesus’ story and history.

So, the whole idea that we can get to a historical Jesus is to look with (I think it was John Webster put it) with methodological infidelity. I think was his turn of phrase. But more importantly as well, the historical Jesus can never be the real Jesus.

And I’m drawing distinctions here that a German scholar, Michael Wolter, has used. Historical studies can only give us an approximation based on probabilities and such, and that’s never going to be the same as the fullness of a person, a historical person. If someone, in 200 years, looks back at your life, Anthony, and tries to look at the trace you, of your presence online, interviews, descendants, looks at things that you’ve written online and things that your family said about you, they’ll come up with an approximation, but it’s not going to be the real Anthony.

And the thing about Mark’s Gospel is that it points us, not to a historical Jesus, but to the real Jesus. And I think these are really important distinctions to bear in mind in light of New Testament scholars. Because many will go, what are parables then? They’ll pick up a New Testament scholarly text, and they’ll get profoundly disappointed.

Don’t be. For the reasons I’ve mentioned, ultimately, it’s about pointing us to the real Jesus.

Anthony: Yeah. I appreciate what you said there because I think that can be another lie about separation from God. Separation from the historical Jesus. Thank God that when one died, all died.

Chris: Amen. Alright, that’s it.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How does Jesus use parables? What is he aiming to do?
  • What stood out the most to you in how the first parable was explained?
  • Did you see other aspects of the parable that were not covered in the sermon? Can you share?
  • What did you make of the contrast between the first and second parable?
  • What did you find most encouraging from the Parable of the Mustard Seed?
  • Do you have other thoughts about the Parable of the Mustard Seed?
  • Are there further questions you have about either of the parables you would like to discuss?

Sermon for June 23, 2024 – Proper 7

Welcome to this week's episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3030 | The Power of His Presence
Michelle Fleming

Do you believe that God is with you? Do you believe that the Creator of the universe hears you when you call and is present for every moment of your life? As unbelievable as it sounds, most Christians would say “yes.” We believe in a God who cares for us as his children. Yet sometimes, still, we find ourselves doubting that God is with us when we find ourselves in precarious situations.

A few summers ago, I decided to train for a Sprint Triathlon. At the time, I was an avid runner and enjoyed biking, but wanted to challenge myself through the swimming portion of the race. I followed a training program for a few months and swam laps at my parents’ community pool on swimming days. They joined in the process, counting laps for me, and cheering me on. My mom even watched YouTube videos to help coach me through my stroke. I felt the love of God through the support and encouragement of my parents.

On race day, we arrived at the beach and the waves were pounding.  I had trained but not in open water. I tried my best to play it cool until race participants in the more experienced groups were rescued by boats to get out of the water. When my group’s turn came up, I entered the water and was immediately forced to swim harder than I had in any of my practice sessions. Determined not to quit, I began praying and swimming, “God, why do the waters have to be this rough. Please, please, please get me to shore safely!” It was easy to trust the power of God’s presence in the smooth, clear swimming pool with my family around me, much more difficult alone in the choppy, rough open water.

Because of this experience, I can relate to this lesson, Jesus’ disciples had to learn about trusting the power of God’s presence. In Mark 4:35-41 we read:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Mark 4:35-41

Jesus was with the disciples in the storm, but because he did not react in the way they expected, they doubted if Jesus cared about their situation. After performing a powerful miracle, Jesus asked the disciples why they doubted. Since Jesus was the one who told them to sail to the other side of the sea and he was with them, they should have trusted in him. They should have rested in the power of his presence.

We can often act like the disciples. If we are in a trial and God does not react the way we expect, it is easy to doubt his care for us. At times like this, we should remember that God is with us and there is power in his presence. In a moment, God can speak a word and change everything. His power is supreme and even the forces of nature must obey him. This does not mean that we will never suffer. Rather, it means that God will be with us even when we suffer, and he has the power to bring us through any storm.

In case you were wondering, God did not calm the waves during my race, but he calmed me with the peace of his presence and he brought me back to shore.

I am Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 9:9-20 • 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41

This week’s theme is Christ conquers the chaos. In our call to worship Psalm, God is heralded as the one who exercises his strength for the oppressed and troubled. The Old Testament text in 1 Samuel recounts portions of the story leading up to and including David’s defeat of Goliath. Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are a proclamation of the acceptable day of salvation that will not be hindered by the human chaos and trials Paul and his fellow servants experienced. The Gospel text in Mark tells the dramatic story of Jesus calming a storm while in a boat with his disciples.

Christ in the Storm

Mark 4:35-41 ESV

Today we have the opportunity to revisit one of the most well-known and dramatic stories of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, the story of Jesus and his disciples in a boat caught in a storm. The story is a favorite as it speaks to us on so many levels of the “storms” we encounter in our life and journey with Jesus. You may be going through a personal storm of your own today. Or maybe you are thinking of a wider storm that seems to be engulfing your church, community, country, or even world. Let’s face it, we are no strangers to storms. As we look at this story, I do hope it will bring you some encouragement and comfort as your face whatever particular storm or boat you find yourself in. This story can certainly do that.

However, I also hope we can pull back from our immediate storm and look at this story from a wider perspective, a perspective that Mark seems to be alluding to. May we come to see that our current storm is swept up into a cosmic storm of epic proportions. But more importantly, may we come to see a little more that there is someone in our boat who rides out the storm with us in a most radical and unexpected way, with a result that will leave us asking, “Who then is this?” That’s the question we will pursue as we get in the boat with Jesus. So, buckle up! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Before we go through the story, let’s learn a little about the storyteller, Mark. If you’ve ever noticed, Mark’s Gospel is much shorter than the other three. Mark does not spend much time telling the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. He seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere. And it becomes apparent that he is rushing off to linger on the story of Jesus’ death and crucifixion. When he gets to that story, he slows down considerably. This is what Mark is concerned with and what he wants to press upon his readers. Everything seems to be leading to this climatic point. As a result, Mark does not linger on many details. He is content to tell the stories, get to the point, and move on. Because of this we can read these stories with Mark’s overall focus in mind. Here are two things we notice about his focus.

First, Mark doesn’t include as many details as the other Gospel writers. That means, the details he does include are weighted. Mark is very intentional to include the details he does, so we must take care not to overlook them. Mark has a reason he makes mention of them. So, we will linger on a few details in this story that might otherwise be dismissed as just the setting and props of a good story.

Second, we can be on the lookout for elements in the story that may be serving Mark’s bigger picture. He may be telling the story in such a way as to lead up to what is going on with Jesus dying on a cross. So, be on the lookout for any shadows from the cross that may be cast over the story. Mark is a good storyteller, and he has no problem employing some foreshadowing.

Now with that introduction, let’s see how Mark chooses to introduce the story:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” (Mark 4:35 ESV)

Mark begins the story with “On that day” which lets us know that this is the same day that Jesus had got into a boat for the purpose of teaching the crowds. Part of that teaching included the two parables we looked at last week. So, this story is part of a long day of teaching, using many parables, which will conclude with the disciples being thrown into a living parable on the sea. Mark transitions the story with “when evening had come.” We are already prepped for ominous events. The day is about to turn decisively dark. However, Jesus still initiates a trip across the Sea of Galilee “to the other side.”

Jesus taking the disciples “to the other side” may have more meaning than merely getting across a lake. If we see this story as another “parable” of sorts, although a live one that Mark is including along with Jesus’ spoken parables, we can be invited to think of the setting of the story as carrying additional meaning. Is it too much of a stretch to see Jesus taking his disciples “to the other side” as a microcosm of his mission to bring his creation into the kingdom of God, the very kingdom he was teaching about in the previous parables?

Notice that Jesus invites, “Let us go.” Jesus is not going to the other side alone, and he is not telling the disciples to get there on their own. Jesus is going to the other side, and he is taking his followers with him. If there is a deeper meaning of Jesus inviting his disciples to, “Let us go across to the other side,” one thing is certain, whatever it is, Jesus initiates it, he is involved in the entire journey, and he is the one who will ultimately get them to the “other side.” It’s hard not to see overtures of the mission of salvation Jesus was sent to accomplish for us.

Let’s see if the story has any other threads to pull on:

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. (Mark 4:36 ESV)

For the disciples to embark on this trip requires them “leaving the crowd” as well as taking “him [Jesus] with them in the boat.” When Jesus takes us on a journey with him, we will often have to let go of the things we have surrounded ourselves with. There will be many things that we will have to leave behind, things that are not fitting for a journey with Jesus to the other side. But we must also remember that it is Jesus who is taking us and who will ultimately bring us to our final destination. We don’t go on our own strength or power. We remain aware that Jesus is in the boat with us. Also, we noted that Jesus has provided the boat.

The passage says that the disciples took Jesus “just as he was.” The meaning of this is simply that they took him in the boat he’d been in. It can also mean he did not take extra provisions of food or clothing. Remember, Jesus had already been in a boat teaching parables to the crowd. The disciples do not try to provide a bigger, quicker, or stronger boat. This story can remind us that we can trust Jesus with whatever boat he has chosen to work in. We do not put our trust in our “boats” but in the one who is in the boat with us.

Mark also includes a brief detail in the story that “other boats were with him.” This may be one of those details that seem unnecessary to the story. In fact, it never comes up again. So, why does Mark include it here? We are not told, but its inclusion does invite us into exploring some possible deeper meaning than Mark just filling out the scene. Remember, Mark doesn’t include details for nothing. He is very sparing of the ink he uses so we may do well to think a little more about these “other boats.” At this point, all we know is Jesus has chosen to be in one particular boat. However, with Mark telling us about the other boats, we can entertain how Jesus’ actions in this one boat will affect those in the other boats. So, as we continue through the story, remember that there are other boats involved, even if they are not mentioned again.

We have the setting and scene of the story. Now for the conflict:

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. (Mark 4:37 ESV)

This description of the storm describes quite well the storms we all encounter in life. Conflict can arise out of nowhere without warning. Like the wind, we often don’t know where it comes from, don’t see it coming, don’t know how long it will last, how bad it will be, or when it will end. But we can see the waves it produces and the damage it does. Can you relate to this description of a “great windstorm” in your own life? I’m sure many of us have had experiences where we felt the boat we were in was going to sink. Maybe you are going through such a storm even now. But even if your days are all sunshine and smooth sailing at the moment, there is another storm raging that none of us can ignore. The storm of evil.

The “great windstorm” is a pretty good description of the problem of evil. And evil would be firmly in the minds of the disciples, some of whom are seasoned sailors, as they get caught in a mighty storm at sea in the middle of the night. For the Jewish mind during the time of this story the sea was understood to be the place where the demons would reside. The sea was the realm of the satanic and the place of chaos. So, the disciples are not just afraid for their physical safety, they are in fear of encountering the demonic world that appears to be throwing a fit. To put it mildly they are scared out of their wits. It does seem that Mark wants us to relate to the disciples’ experience here. There seems to be far more going on here than just a random act of nature. The “storm” seems to be reacting to something and targeting the boat and everything near it. And I think it is fair to say that is what is actually taking place. The evil one does not like Jesus in his territory, and fear is one of his greatest weapons. The disciples are powerless against this raging storm. They are terrified, and destined for fish food if something drastic doesn’t change.

And that sets the story up for a transition, and in this case, a twist. Every good story should have one.

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38 ESV)

Jesus is found asleep in the storm. Seriously! Asleep? But wait, that’s not the best part. Jesus is “in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” We may miss the significance of this description with our modern boats and their captains at the wheel. For this boat, the stern and cushion would signify that Jesus is asleep in the pilot chair, where the rudder controlled the boat. That’s the significance of that detail Mark includes. That’s right, Jesus has fallen asleep on the job. Maybe if he had stayed awake, he could have steered the boat out of harm’s way. Or at least he should have been awake enough to try to get out of the storm. But Jesus seems content to just sleep right through it. With this picture, I think we can easily identify with the disciple’s question: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And it’s not really a question, is it? It’s an expression of the deeper fear we all have. God doesn’t care. Is that not the real threat of every storm in our lives? The evil one can use the storms in our lives to deafen us with the lie that the Lord does not care. We may be tempted to believe that the Lord is oblivious to what is going on in our life and disinterested in saving us. The lie that aims to capsize our journey with the Lord is that God just doesn’t care.

Now for the resolution of the conflict:

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39 ESV)

Notice, Jesus doesn’t answer their question. However, he does answer their fear. He wakes up and “rebukes” the storm. This huge conflict of sea and demonic forces, this “great windstorm” comes to an abrupt “great calm” without Jesus lifting a finger. So much for the epic battle scene every good story should have. But maybe we shouldn’t be too fast to dismiss the epic battle! Mark is telling a story within a story. His larger story has a fine focus on an epic battle that gets played out on a wooden cross. With that end in mind maybe we missed the foreshadowing battle that took place at sea. How did Jesus defeat death, darkness, and the Devil on the cross? He fell asleep, so to speak. He took the fight to the storm by steering right to the center of it and then dragging it down into his own death, drowning it forever. When he was raised up in his resurrection, he only needed to say the word that his actions had secured, “Peace!”

So, what was the action Jesus used in the boat? The same action as he did on the cross. He trusted the Father in the middle of the storm. Jesus was asleep on the boat because he knew the Father cared. He trusted the Father to bring them to the other side safe and sound. It may have been a rocky ride but for Jesus it was just another night to rest in the Father’s love.

With that perspective, this story does seem to be included by Mark as another parable Jesus uses to teach us about the kingdom of God, who his Father is, and who we are in Jesus. There is a connection with last week’s parable of the growing seed that made mention of the “man” who “sleeps and rises.” For my money, this story is just another story to help us see who this “man” is. He is Jesus, our Lord and Savior who fought the epic battle of faith for us, not in a wooden boat, but on a wooden cross. He has defeated the evil one and proclaimed “Peace!” He has truly brought us to the other side.

But we are not done. Jesus has a few words for us to ponder.

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:40-41 ESV)

This story ends with Jesus asking a question in return. “Why are you afraid! Have you still no faith?” As we come to know the Father’s love for us as revealed in Jesus Christ, we can put our trust in him in the middle of all our storms. His love will chase away our fears and we too can rest in peace as the Father brings us home to him. So, if you find yourself still in a storm today. Mark tells this story to encourage you. The Lord does care, and he will see you through. The way he calms our storm may not always be how or when we would prefer, but we can trust that Jesus will get us to the other side. In the meantime, we can rest on the cushion with him, finding comfort knowing that he is in the boat with us.

One final thought in case you think I forgot. Remember those other boats that “were with him?” They too were caught in the same storm. The storm was also calmed for them. But they did not know who calmed the storm – at least initially. In fact, they may have had even more fear of the sea after they witnessed a supernatural event on a demonic-infused night. But the disciples who went with Jesus knew what took place. They are no longer talking about the storm. They are talking about “Who then is this…”

The disciples got wrapped up in this story Mark recorded for us. But now they too have a story to tell. And I suspect there are plenty of frightened folks who need to hear it. If the Lord has called you into his boat and revealed to you that his Father does care and loves you deeply, this does not mean he does not care or not love those in the other boats. Rather, he is giving you the opportunity to share with them who this man is. They do not have to live in fear any longer. Jesus has saved us from sinking. He has pronounced peace and silenced the storm. May we not be silent in sharing this dramatic good news with others. What a story you have to share!

Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W4

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June 23— Proper 7 in Ordinary Time
Mark 4:35-41, “Don’t You Care?”

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Program Transcript


Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W4

Anthony: All right, Chris, our next passage is Mark 4:35-41. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 7 in Ordinary Time, June 23. Would you read it for us, please?

Chris: Certainly.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And waking up, he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Anthony: That’s the question, isn’t it? Who is this? So, from your perspective, was Jesus knowingly sending his friends, with himself, into a raging storm?

And if that’s the case, what are the implications not only for them, but for us, if anything?

Chris: Yeah. The text doesn’t specify, does it, whether Jesus was sending them there knowingly. Of course, that evokes lots of questions about the omniscience of Jesus in his being human, but also God, fully God.

These are questions that have occupied theologians for many years. In fact, I’m just reading a book by Austin Stevenson for an OnScript podcast next week. The book is called The Consciousness of the Historical Jesus, and he’s got a few chapters thinking about: how do we speak of the omniscience of Jesus in light of particularly passages in Mark where Jesus seems to admit that he doesn’t know everything?

That’s a bit of an aside. But here’s something we can say: that God does send us into difficult times. I think of the baptism of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, upon descending on Jesus, immediately sends him not into a nice place, but into the desert. So sometimes the Holy Spirit isn’t being friendly, in whatever way we might understand the word friendly. So, it wouldn’t be beyond the pale to understand Jesus putting them through this knowingly, with all of those theological footnotes in place.

But I do think that we are now encountering something which is essential to the fabric of faith. That question: don’t you care? Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t being a Buddhist and just having perfect peace about everything.

It’s about wrestling with psychological strain and questioning: how can this thing happen? Most of the Psalms or many of the psalms, they’re psalms of lament. The psalmist might turn around and say, look, we’ve done everything right, God, but you have fallen asleep. Wake up.

It’s evoking precisely these kinds of psalms where the faithful in Israel are perplexed that their enemies are taking over. So, this is the question of faith, not the question of atheism.

And just yesterday or the day before, I came across this Facebook post where someone was saying, the most devastating critique of Christianity is the presence of evil. And someone clever responded and said in the comments — I don’t know why I look at Facebook comments; it’s not very good for me — but someone clever responded in the comments, “How can an atheist say anything about evil because you don’t have a standard of which to talk about evil because you’ve given up faith in God?” And they turned around and they said, “Ah, this is an internal critique of Christianity.”

And I thought, okay, I follow the reasoning, but it’s actually a critique of faith, right? The question: don’t you care? That’s what believers, it’s what disciples ask, not an atheist.

And so, Jesus responds to us then in that light, as those who are his brothers and sisters and mothers. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? In other words, there isn’t this you’re on the verge of being an outsider now kind of condemnation. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? This is the kind of questioning that Jesus puts to his brothers and sisters and mothers, which then causes us to be filled with great fear and ask, who is this Jesus?

The questions, in other words, continue right off the back of that.

Anthony: You mentioned the Psalms and I recently read Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Spirituality of the Psalms, and he helped me see a rhythm in scripture, specifically the Psalms. But you see it in the Sermon of the Mount and the passages where he talks about orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.

We come to Jesus with a certain orientation, what we think we believe about him. And then we’ve got to wrestle with that. Like you said, like there’s a windstorm and he’s asleep. What do we do with this? And then he says, be silent, be still. He orients us to the fact that he is God, and he is Lord of the weather and all that is. And that’s why we have to wrestle through this to get to the space where we actually see him and who he is.

And so, I’m going to invite you, Chris, before we depart from this pericope to get personal with people who may be shaking their fists at the sky saying, don’t you care? Because of whatever they’re facing in this life, the evil that they’ve encountered.

What would you say to them? So instead of giving a lecture, maybe what I’m asking you to do is preach and share a word of consolation to those who are wrestling right now.

Chris: Oh, yeah. I’ve been there, Anthony. I’ve been shaking my fist at God and utterly perplexed with what is going on.

And all I would say is, this is the life of faith. This is what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We’re not inoculated from these kinds of questions, from these complaints. But what we can do is when the storm starts to subside, we can remember that we stand on a rock and that rock is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. And the God revealed in Jesus Christ is our eternal Father. Jesus says, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

Think comparing that with the love of the perfect earthly father. This is what Jesus is pointing us to. God loves us so dearly, much more, but analogous to the way in which the best human father loves their children.

I’m a father and I’ve got to say, I don’t know a love like that. I’ve often thought, would I give up my life for my wife? And I’d like to think I would. If I had to step in front of a bus to save my wife, I’d like to think I would. But here’s the thing. If either of my two children were in danger and I needed to give up my life for them, I would do it in a heartbeat, a thousand times out of a thousand instinctively.

That’s the kind of love that a father has, a good father has for their children. And Jesus is saying, this is the way in which God loves us. So, let’s question, let’s rage against the silence. Let’s question, because this is the kind of story that gives us permission to do just that. Evoking those psalms of lament of God’s silence, of God falling asleep.

But remember, that when the waves subside, we can ask in astonishment, who then is this Father, this incredible love, an eternal love from before all eternity?

Anthony: Preach, preacher. That was a good sermon. Thank you.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Are you currently going through any storms that this story spoke into? How did Mark’s telling of the story speak to you personally?
  • What are some examples of “leaving the crowd” that may come with getting into Jesus’ boat? What are some things that are not fitting for a journey with Jesus?
  • What did you think of Mark’s description of the storm? Are there any additional insights that stood out for you?
  • What difference did it make for you in the story knowing that Jesus was sleeping in the pilot chair of the boat?
  • Are there other insights you had from reading this story as if it were another parable?
  • Do you know of some “other boats” that may need to hear about Jesus calming the storm?

Sermon for June 30, 2024 – Proper 8

Welcome to this week's episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3031 | Stopping Where Jesus Stops
Greg Williams

In the 1970s, experts posited that we were exposed to 500 to 1,600 advertisements a day. Now the numbers are more like 6,000 to 10,000. And that’s just ads—it doesn’t count the texts, emails, phone calls, and shows we watch.

We are flooded with information in the modern world, and all this at the click of a mouse or touch of a screen. We can experience more entertainment in a few hours than most ancient people encountered over a lifetime.

All of this comes at us so quickly that we ignore much more than we take in and we’ve forgotten how to slow down. And sometimes we need to slow down; sometimes we need to stop and pay attention to a moment.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus showed an amazing ability to stop everything when the moment was right.

A prime example is found in Mark 5.

For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”
Mark 5:28-30 (ESV)

In the heat of a desperate crowd, Jesus stops everything to notice someone that no one else saw. This woman was not only chronically ill, but she was also socially and culturally outcast, and yet Jesus stops everything to address her, to call her “daughter”, and to graciously restore her to health.

In other stories, during a hot day In Samaria, he sits by a well to talk with a lonely, rejected woman and has one of the most amazing discussions of revelation in all of scripture. In the bustle and scurry of the temple he pauses to watch a widow give pennies. He took a time out from the crowd of seekers to acknowledge and play with children.

Jesus knew when and how to stop: especially for those who were in the margins and easily ignored—those who no one else stopped for. He shut down everything to share these concentrated, one-on-one conversations.

Do we know how to stop everything like this? Are we in touch enough with Jesus to know when he is calling us to stop?

Think of the elderly person who hasn’t had a complete conversation in weeks. Or the difficult teenager who needs you to explain things yet again. Or your spouse who needs you to share a conversation at the end of a busy day.

This is often where Jesus calls us. Not to just do more stuff, but to stop everything and spend time with someone who needs our time. Are we paying attention? Are we willing to stop? May God help us be aware of those times when we need to stop so we can participate in what he is doing.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 130:1-8 • 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 • Mark 5:21-43

This week’s theme is Jesus heals our chronic and critical condition. In our call to worship Psalm, we have a cry for deep deliverance that concludes with an acknowledgment of God’s steadfast and redeeming love. The Old Testament story in 2 Samuel includes David’s poetic tribute to Saul and Jonathan, who were killed in battle. In 2 Corinthians, based on the generosity of the Lord, Paul makes an appeal to provide relief for the Jerusalem church. The gospel reading in Mark recounts Jesus healing both a woman who lived with a twelve-year chronic condition, and a young girl who had died at the age of twelve.

A Double Healing

Mark 5:21-43 – ESV

Today we will continue to journey with Mark as he recounts story after story of Jesus. Last week we found ourselves in a boat with Jesus in the middle of a storm in the middle of the sea. In this story we see Jesus performing what amounts to an exorcism of the demonic in a storm. Jesus is shown to be, not only Lord over nature, but conqueror of the realm of evil and the demonic. His mastery gets echoed in the story directly following the storm episode when Jesus arrives on the other side of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. In that story, which is not included in our lectionary passages for the season, we have Jesus performing an extraordinary exorcism of a legion of demons from a Gentile man, among swine keepers at that. Mark is definitely establishing that Jesus has authority over the satanic realm. And that is very good news.

Additionally, Mark is establishing another nugget of good news with the setting of the stories. Let’s begin the story to see how Mark describes the scene and see what more we can see about who Jesus is and what he has done.

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” (Mark 5:21-23 ESV)

Notice that Jesus has “crossed again in the boat to the other side.” Remember, Jesus was teaching his disciples during the raging storm that he is the one to put their trust in. He is the one who will get them to “the other side.” It just so turns out that the “other side” happens to be Gentile territory. Mark makes this unmistakable with the story of demons entering swine. Today’s story will take place after Jesus crosses back over the sea again, which will land them back in Jewish territory. Here, we will see Jesus’ ministry of healing on full display. The way Mark weaves the stories together leaves the impression that what Jesus does in the middle of the sea between the two shores of Gentle and Jewish territories, will be carried out on both shores. God does not choose one shore over the other. The peace he pronounces that calms the storm in the middle of the sea, will ripple out to both shores.

Now we are about to see another aspect of Jesus’ saving work as he performs two miracles of healing to two different Jewish daughters. The disciples are about to witness the ripples of peace reaching their own shore. May this story make us more receptive to the healing and peace that comes by placing our trust in Jesus.

We are introduced to a synagogue ruler by name—Jairus. Notice the Jewish emphasis Mark has made by starting the story this way. Jairus comes to Jesus for healing of his daughter after “seeing” Jesus. This is Mark’s way of introducing the topic of faith. That was the topic Jesus zeroed in on for the disciples who were fearful of the storm. He challenged them with the question, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Mark is not moving on from this challenge for us today. He wants us to see who Jesus is so we too can grow in our faith in him, or grow to trust him for the first time, whatever shore you find yourself on.

Jairus is presented as having faith in Jesus by coming to Jesus after “seeing him” and then falling “at his feet.” However, Jesus wants to grow his faith even more, as well as his disciples who are caught up in these stories. Jairus’ concern is a critical one. He does not come to Jesus with a petty plea. His daughter is on the verge of death. Jairus is also living in a lot of fear. His fear is that time will run out. He is in a hurry to get Jesus to “Come and lay [his] hands on her.” Is this not a fear we constantly battle? Perhaps we do indeed know that Jesus can heal but will he do it now? Can we trust Jesus’ timing? Is Jesus Lord of time as well? That’s a point of faith Jairus will have to wrestle with through this agonizing story. His patience will be challenged in the very next moment.

And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:24-34 ESV)

The first thing that Mark establishes is the same thing we saw with Jesus in the boat with the disciples. Jesus does not leave Jairus alone in his critical situation. Jesus “went with him” just as Jesus went with the disciples into the storm. That’s the most central importance in this story and in our stories. Jesus is with us. He doesn’t leave us to our own devices to “get to the other side” or to save ourselves or others we love who are in a critical state. We can trust that Jesus is with us and that is enough. As we will see in the story, this does not automatically mean all our problems go away. But we are assured that Jesus doesn’t go away.

Jairus’ attempt to get Jesus to his daughter before time runs out is interrupted by the woman who touches Jesus’ robe and is healed. This woman who Jesus says was healed because of her faith came after “hearing” about Jesus. Seeing and hearing are often ways for talking about faith. Jesus is using this situation with the woman not only to heal her, but also to help Jairus grow in his faith. And again, that is the focus Mark has had for us these last few weeks. Whether by way of parable or stories of Jesus’ word and actions, we are being put in a position to respond to the question the disciples had asked after the calming of the storm, “Who then is this?” That’s the question we are called to ponder today. If we arrive at the answer Mark assumes, that is, Jesus is Lord and Savior as God’s very own Son, then we are freed to respond with the only fitting response left to us. Trust in Jesus completely.

There is more in the interchange between Jesus and woman than we could possibly cover in one sermon. However, we should make mention of some important revelations about Jesus and what he does that will help us answer the question, “Who then is this?”

First, this suffering woman has reached rock bottom. For twelve years she has been struggling with a physical infirmary that no one seems able to solve. She was betrayed by the medical system, that not only took all her money, but left her in a worse condition than she was found. Not only does she retain her physical ailment, but this particular ailment carries a stigma. She is considered unclean because of her condition of having a “discharge of blood” and therefore has been excluded from the community. The twelve years of dealing with her suffering has been faced alone. No one is with her. In fact, she is in a nothing-to-lose situation. By entering the “crowd” and especially by sneaking up and touching Jesus, she is risking everything. If she is found out, she could be seriously punished for breaking the cultural expectations.

But no one sneaks up on Jesus. He is the only one in the crowd who knows what is going on. Everyone else seems clueless, including the disciples. How often do our crowded lives prevent us from truly seeing another, their situation, their need, and who they really are? For the crowd, this woman is hidden. For the disciples, she is indistinguishable from everyone else. And for Jairus, she is surely an unwelcome interruption. To make matters worse for Jairus, Jesus lets this woman tell her story. Jesus gives this woman all the time in the world when Jairus’ time is about to run out. Surely if we were in Jairus’ sandals we would be asking questions like: Doesn’t Jesus know what’s at stake? Does he not care that my daughter is about to die? How can he be so unaware, so careless? In a word, how can Jesus be so out of touch with what’s going on? Jairus may be thinking, “If only Jesus had a daughter, then he would understand.”

But it is only Jesus’ question that needs to be answered. He asks, “Who touched my garments?” That’s the real issue that needed to be addressed in that moment in time. What Jairus doesn’t understand is that Jesus’ Father has a daughter. And it is this unnamed, unknown, and unwanted woman. She came to touch Jesus’ cloak to have her physical condition healed. However, it is Jesus who puts his finger on her deeper issue, and Jairus’. And with a word he addresses it. Daughter! The Father’s love for this daughter, seen in Jesus, mirrors Jairus’ love for his own. Jesus will not walk away from either without bringing what every father would want for any of their children—wholeness. Jesus not only heals her of her physical brokenness, but by calling her out and calling her “daughter” he restores her back to community. Jairus at this point may be running out of patience, but he is learning that Jesus will never run out on him…or his daughter.

And now the story gets very intense:

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (Mark 5:35 ESV)

Just when Jairus is coming to see Jesus’ love for a daughter, he gets the most devastating news about his own daughter. She is dead. The question put to him is the same question that is often put to us when we face great loss, “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Do you ever feel that way? Jesus was too late. The story is over. Why trouble the Teacher any further? I should just go on with my life without him at this point. There is nothing further to gain. If you feel that way, as we all may be tempted to do at times, listen to the conclusion of the story. Jesus has something to say.

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:36-43 ESV)

“Do not fear, only believe.” Those are the words our Lord and Savior says to us in the face of great loss, even when all looks hopeless and beyond saving. But he doesn’t just leave Jairus with these words, he backs them up with his actions. Jairus is about to learn that Jesus loves all the Father’s “daughters” and time is not an obstacle for his purposes. He raises Jairus’ daughter to life. And Mark includes the important detail that this little girl was only twelve years old. That’s an important Jewish number that bookends the story of the woman who had a condition for twelve years and a little girl who has lived for twelve years. The number twelve is a communal number. It is a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, a number that signifies the people both these daughters belong to. Jesus is restoring them both to community. He restores the little girl to her father and mother, and he will restore all our losses in his perfect timing.

In the meantime, we do not live in fear that the Father doesn’t care about or see our chronic and critical condition. We are told in Jesus’ words and actions that we can “believe,” or in other words, “trust” in our Father’s love for us and his timing. In this story, Jesus ignored the jeering and laughing crowds and the questioning of the disciples and stays on mission to heal and make whole. And in Mark’s account, he will do the same all the way to the cross. It is there that he will restore all things to wholeness and make all things new.

Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W5

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June 30— Proper 8 in Ordinary Time
Mark 5:21-43, “Rise Up”

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Program Transcript


Rise Up w/ Chris Tilling W5

Anthony: Our final pericope of the month is Mark 5, 21:43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 7 in Ordinary Time, June 30.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him, and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue, named Jairus, came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and pleaded with him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and she was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her flow of blood stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my cloak?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the synagogue leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the synagogue leader, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the synagogue leader’s house, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl stood up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.

Jesus proclaimed, “Talitha koum.” Girl, rise up.

This pericope tells us of a dead girl coming back to life. And a living woman who was dead to her community before a life-giving encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. As best you can, Chris, proclaim the astounding gospel declaration contained in these stories.

Chris: Yeah, the gospel isn’t about sin management. You notice how as you put it, it’s about death to life. Where there’s death, where there’s separation Jesus comes along and brings life and incorporation.

And where the Gospels go, some have described them as extended prefaces to the crucifixion and resurrection narratives, which is slightly exaggerating, but there’s truth to that. Ultimately, Jesus is going to enter death and from within death, defeat death because he is life. He is the opposite of death.

And this is ultimately the gospel. It isn’t just about pulling up our moral bootstraps and making sure we’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer. It’s participation in the death and, therefore, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as you put it. We believe that one died, therefore all died. This is the gospel as best as I know how to describe it. God in love sent Jesus Christ to assume our enslaved Adamic nature. It’s terminated on the cross, and then God raises Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the gospel is this: that story, that Trinitarian story, is our story. It’s your story, Anthony. It’s my story. It’s the story of every human.

We die in Christ. We believe that one died, therefore all died, and therefore we believe that we will be incorporated also into his resurrection. Because what these stories tell us is that Jesus is in the business of bringing life where there is death. And that’s the hope of the world.

Anthony: Yes and amen. And we see these stories of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, the little girl, and these were resuscitations, right? Eventually that little girl died. Eventually the woman who had been bleeding died. Jesus died. I think of our mutual friend, Jeff McSwain, who I heard say once that we have to be reminded that God, the Father, did not save Jesus from death; he saved him through death.

And that is our story, but on the other side is resurrection.

Hallelujah. Praise God. As we just celebrated Resurrection Sunday. And he has, not only the first word, but the final word. And that, my friends, is good news. And I want to remind you to take heart: you do not know what is coming, but we know who is coming. And that makes all the difference.

Chris, I want to thank you for being with me today. It’s such a pleasure to hear you herald the gospel. It’s made my heart leap with joy and I’m so, so grateful for the way that God has you participating in his ministry. Keep it up, my brother.

And I think I heard you mention a podcast that you host if people want to listen further to your great British accent and your takes on theology.

How do they find your podcast? Where do they go?

Chris: Yeah, it’s OnScript. Just type in “on script” and you will find it. I’m one of the cohosts, and we simply interview authors about their recently published works, among other things. We’ve done a few other things as well, but that’s largely what we do.

Anthony: Fantastic. I want to thank our podcast team, Reuel Enerio, Elizabeth Mullins, and David McKinnon for their excellent work. It’s behind the scenes. You don’t actually often see it. But it’s what makes this podcast go, and I’m so grateful.

Chris, it is our tradition here on Gospel Reverb to end with prayer. And I’d be thankful if you would give thanks and praise and offer a prayer on behalf of all of our listeners.

Chris: I certainly will. Yeah. And just remember, folks, Mark’s Gospel is there to point us to Jesus. And this is who he is this incredible, glorious Son of God who brings life where there is death.

And Father, we thank you for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Thank you for the word of love, of life, of power that you have spoken in him. And Father, we pray that we would be faithful children, brothers and sisters and mothers of the Lord Jesus Christ, remembering that you love us as the greatest and the most glorious Father.

May we bring life in Christ where there is death. May we be agents of incorporation, of goodness, of wisdom. May we not be like the Pharisees at the beginning and conspiring with Herodians. May we be wise, skillful readers of Scripture, always pointing to you, risen Lord. And in your triune name, we give thanks and praise. Amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Discuss some implications of Mark having stories of exorcisms and healings taking place on both Gentile territory and then Jewish territory. What significance do you think Mark wants to convey?
  • What stood out the most to you in the story of Jesus healing the woman with the twelve-year discharge of blood?
  • How do you think Jairus was feeling while Jesus was spending time with the woman in the crowd? Can you relate?
  • What stood out the most to you in the story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter?
  • How do these stories build our faith?
  • Are there chronic or critical issues in your life currently that we can take to the Lord in prayer? Pray for Jesus’ healing and comfort.