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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?

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