Submit Your Own!

Two Free Samples This Week!
By David Howell

At GoodPreacher.com we typically offer over 60 unique articles each week on the texts (exegsis, theological, pastoral, arts and the text, homiletical, sermons, etc.). For samples this week, we offer you "Theological Themes" and the very helpful/practical "Preaching the Lesson" from Alyce M. McKenzie.

THEOLOGICAL THEMES: Mark 9:38-50

Originally these were probably separate texts as we look at one set of verses that addresses competition against those who cast out demons in Jesus’ name but who do not visibly follow Jesus like the disciples in contrast to the second set of verses that focus on not harming children and the problem of sin. What each both sets of verses have in common, however, are their emphases on spiritual discipline. In each set of verses Jesus warns the disciples against thinking in ways that are adversarial to God’s ministry and goal. The disciples are competitive and easily distracted. They vie for Jesus’ attention and God’s favor, failing to focus on ministry and service. Instead of focusing on being servants of one another and others, they try to set themselves apart from others. Sometimes they compete to be teachers pet with Jesus, but Jesus has no interest in that. The purpose of his ministry is not to favor one disciple over another, greatest over the least, or any one human being over and against the other.

 In the first set of verses the disciples rather like thinking of themselves as the “in-crowd”, as those closest to Jesus, greater than those they consider outsiders and as better than others (9:8). Jesus patiently corrects such attitudes and misconceptions, instructing them to stop what they have been doing and leave perceived outsiders alone. He also explains why they should stop telling so-called outsiders not to pray in Jesus’ name, informing them that “no one” who casts out demons in Jesus’ name “will be able to speak evil of Jesus’ name soon after” doing so (9:39). In other words, Jesus name is powerful and influences those who speak it. It is transformative. Even speaking the name of Jesus, one might say, is a means of grace. Even magicians might be saved as they speak this powerful name and witness its real power to heal and deliver others. Jesus’ name is effective and carries virtue. Therefore, Jesus explains to his disciples that “Whoever is not against us is for us” (40). Jesus has followers and potential followers whom the disciples have not considered in their self-centeredness and pride in being part of Jesus’ inner circle in their view. Anyone who offers a cup of water in Jesus’ name will receive a reward and not only those who are Jesus’ closest, most visible disciples. In other words, the disciples need to humble themselves in service to others as even so-called outsiders do if they hope for a reward and place in God’s realm.

The second set of verses begins with picking up on the earlier teaching to welcome all who are a like a little child in Mark 9:36. Jesus warns his disciples that no one should place a stumbling block, that is an obstacle, before “these little ones who believe” in Jesus (9:42). Its placement at this point in Mark’s text indicates intention to emphasize the importance of welcoming outsiders and the least powerful among humankind to follow Jesus Christ. It would be better to have a millstone flung around one’s neck and thrown in the sea to drown than to cause one of God’s children to stumble and fall in their search for salvation through Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus’ disciples ought not think so highly of themselves that they get in the way of God’s ministry in Jesus Christ. This is a strong, stern warning. Clearly Jesus is telling his disciples that their ambition, rivalry and adversarial attitudes must cease.


Subsequent verses reinforce Jesus’ teaching that adversarial behavior among the disciples must come to an end if they hope for a reward from God. They must do whatever it takes to become more spiritually disciplined. Therefore Jesus counsels them to get rid of their bad habits. The counsel he gives is pertinent to all of us. We today, like the earliest followers of Jesus, live in an us-and-them world. We are tempted to think that we are holier than others. Sometimes our attention span is short, and we forget the purpose of God’s ministry—grace toward all and welcoming others to live in God through Christ. We sometimes think of God’s ministry as our possession and resist sharing it with others. God in Christ, however, calls us to listen to Jesus’ teachings to stop being self-serving and start serving others. God in Christ calls us to enter God’s ministry by welcoming the least powerful of the powerless—children—and outsiders. If we still don’t understand, then Jesus puts it this way: If our primary distraction is grasping after material wealth, then we need to exercise spiritual discipline over our hands. If our primary distraction is wanting to walk only with the “in-crowd”, then we must exercise spiritual discipline over our feet, going wherever God sends us.  If our primary distraction is coveting every desirable thing we see then we need spiritual discipline over our eyes so we can focus on the things of God. Jesus is not asking his followers to literally cut off and pluck out a hand, foot, or eye. The disciples knew. They did not follow up on his hyperbole in a literal way. They did, however, get Jesus’ point: Followers of Jesus must exercise the self-discipline required for ministry so that they do not interfere with God’s grace and purpose for anyone who loves God in Jesus Christ. May we focus on God’s ministry, serving and welcoming others.

Karen Baker-Fletcher

Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University


PREACHING THE LESSON: Mark 9:38-50

I have noticed, in studying Scripture, that I can learn a lot when I’m paying attention. For example, if I am paying attention, I would remember, when I read Mark 9:28ff, which has to do with the disciples’ objections to someone beyond their circle casting out demons, that they themselves were not successful in this same effort back in Mark 9:14-29. There they try to cast out a demon from a boy, but are unable to do so because they forget one little detail: they forget to pray first (9:29). How could they forget such an important activity, one that acknowledges the source of the healing’s power? It may be that they were each trying to outdo one another in demonstrating their skills as exorcists and praying just slipped their minds. We can’t be sure.

We do know that after this incident they quickly become embroiled in an argument over who is the greatest among them (9:33-37). This makes me wonder if they were unable to do a good thing for someone else (cast out the demon from the boy in 9:14ff) because they were preoccupied with their own power and forgot to call upon the power of God. This begs the question; did their self-centered desire for position and prestige impede the accomplishment of God’s desire that evil be overcome and that healing take place?

It has never occurred to me in previous readings of this text just how bad John’s comment to Jesus is in 9:38 makes the disciples sound. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not with us.” It’s as if he is saying, “Well, if we couldn’t do it, we’re hardly going to stand by and let somebody else who isn’t even a disciple do it! That can only make us look bad. Never mind the peace and new lease on life the formerly tormented person may now enjoy. That’s not the point.”

It certainly seems as if, in 9:38ff, the disciples have taken a step beyond allowing their self-centeredness to impede their own ministry. They have progressed to impeding the ministry of someone else.

All because they desire the wrong thing: recognition and advancement. A great deal of harm can be done by people who desire the wrong thing. People who desire the wrong thing can place stumbling blocks in the path of others (9:42).

It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t you be worrying about the other person’s motivation (“we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”), but you worry about your own. The power of God’s Son will work as it needs to work in each person. Someone may do a deed of power, saying that it is “in the name of Jesus,” without really knowing what that means. But at some time in the future she may find out. (9:39) Someone may give a disciple a cup of water to drink out of respect for the name of Jesus, without understanding how rewarding such an act may turn out to be. But at some time in the future, he may find out. (9:41) When he does, when she does, be standing by to encourage and not to impede the work of Christ in the life of someone else.

A great deal of good can be done by people who realize they are not perfect, that their motives may not be completely pure, that their faith is not yet fully formed, but who submit their desires to Jesus Christ and put him in charge of their inward lives. “I believe, help my unbelief!” cries out the father of the child healed of the demon in response to Jesus’ assurance that “All things can be done for the one who believes.” (9:23)

Let’s remove any impediment to making Jesus a priority in our lives. Let’s remove any impediment to encouraging the work of Christ in the lives of others. Jesus. Why didn’t Jesus just say that instead of resorting to grisly metaphors of amputation of hands and feet and blinding of eyes? If it weren’t for the fact that this text is so helpful in debating with biblical literalists, I would have little use for it. It seems so melodramatic, so exaggerated. None of the choices it offers is good.

There are lots of “better than” sayings in the traditional wisdom of  Proverbs where it boils down to a clear-cut choice between something good and something bad: “better is wisdom than folly.” That I can buy. But “better to be lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell?” is a tough sell. I don’t want either alternative.

I want my self-promoting cake and I want to eat it too.

I know that the purpose of hyperbole is to point out the importance of something by the very use of exaggeration. So does Jesus want to emphasize just how much damage our wrong desires can do? Is he trying to drive home just how harmful our wrangling for advancement and forgetting to pray can be to others, as well as to ourselves?

Now the search for illustrations can begin. Here is where the preacher can read the headlines on her iPhone. Looking under “Top News Stories” she finds lots of good sermon illustrations, clear examples of how someone’s off base, self directed desires destroyed her life and those of others. The ambitious preacher can search the annals of history for like examples on a national scale. Both of those searches would be less uncomfortable than the action of searching one’s own inward lives, rewinding and pausing at scenes in which we forgot to pray and wondered why we felt no sense of power and purpose, scenes in which we stood by with a sour look on our faces as someone else succeeded where we failed, scenes where we congratulated ourselves on our superiority to those around us.

I’m on a roll now with this fourth in a row of texts from Mark, the jist of which I’ve boiled down to words that start with “c.” It’s a preacherly impulse, alliteration. So where is the word that starts with “c” in this strange crowded passage that features, in addition to cups of water, jealous faces, stumbling blocks, millstones, amputated hands, cut off feet, put-out eyes, worms and fire?

A case could be made that the image of the cup of water unifies them all. You don’t think to offer a cup of water if you’re arguing about your superiority to those around you; it’s tough to offer a cup of water if you have no hands, feet and eyes. Offering the cup of water is the point. Being avenues for the healing presence and power of Christ is the point. Anything that impedes that gift needs to go.

Alyce M. McKenzie
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University
 

Subscribers have access to approximately 60 articles on the texts each week. These articles are not just exegetical articles but essays (and sermons) on the texts from theological, pastoral, arts, and homiletical perpectives. 19 years of groundbreaking articles!

Also see Pastor Talk To Me (lay people with questions for preachers to answer in sermons) at GoodPreacher.com

If you decide to subscribe, you may subscribe at the student rate of $49.99 (limited time), even if you are not currently a student. 

"I am not really a lectionary preacher most of the time, but I have found the archives at GoodPreacher.com helpful over and over again as a resource for exegesis, interpretation, and just the pleasure and inspiration of reading good sermons on a text I am studying. It is a rich community to share in."
 
Dean J. Snyder, Senior Minister
Foundry United Methodist Church
Washington DC

 

“I am a lectionary preacher but I have difficulty scheduling a regular time to meet with a lectionary study group.  This reality is why GoodPreacher is so important to me.  I am immediately placed into a conversation with preachers both past and present.  GoodPreacher is helping to form an interpretive community for all of us who are out in the ministry trenches.  This interpretive community helps us stay fresh and alive in our personal faith and in our communal preaching.”

 
Shannon Johnson Kershner
Woodhaven Presbyterian Church
Irving, Texas

"With all the lectionary resources on the market today I did a great deal of shopping and testing before I settled on www.GoodPreacher.com. The quality of the resource is excellent, drawing on some wonderful minds. But even more than that is the variety. One week I am inspired by the artistic approach and another week it might be the biblical background and the next week the pastoral perspective. Thought provoking, inspiring, creative and helpful, what more could a preacher need?"

Teri Thomas
Northminster Presbyterian Church
Indianapolis, IN

"A treasure chest of scholarship and story that feeds both heart and head."
Susan R. Andrews

"The best lectionary preaching resource."
Zan Holmes

 
See Homiletical Hot Tub on Homepage for more discussion on texts. Go to Homepage and then to Share It! and see Stories, Movie Reviews, etc. At Share It! you may also submit stories, book reviews, etc. And even submit a sermon for feedback at the Sermon Feedback Cafe. Click on Submit Your Own!


 

 

 




Two Free Samples This Week!
By David Howell

Typically at GoodPreacher.com we offer over 60 unique articles each week on the texts (exegsis, theological, pastoral, homiletical, sermons, etc.). For samples this week, we offer you "Lesson and the Arts" (our unique resource) and the very helpful/practical "Preaching the Lesson" from Alyce M. McKenzie.

LESSON AND THE ARTS

Mark 9:30-37

The world of art is interesting at the level of methodology. Why is it that art is done one way and not another? How do accepted norms of artistic practice arise and fade away? What determines this as art and this as not-art? Whilst in many cases, art simply “follows after” the though-forms and philosophies of the time, there is still some place within various schools of art for a creative “stretching” of the boundaries. Take for example the work of J. M. W. Turner: whilst arising to prominence during the heights of a Romanticism which dominated European art, Turner developed his own unique style of painting which was nevertheless located within the parameters set down by Romanticism. A simple comparison between Turner’s The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up painted in 1938, and John Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows of 1931 illustrates both the continuity and disparity which defined Turner’s relationship to English Romanticism. All the more, by viewing The Fighting Téméraire as a mediatory point between Constable and an artist of the Impressionist school (try Impression, soleil levant by Claude Monet which was finished in 1872), it actually appears that Turner’s creativity within Romanticism allowed new artistic schools to develop out from the limits of Romanticism.


Bringing this into line with the passage at hand allows us to develop a useful biblical hermeneutic to appear: often, from his place within the Judaism of the first century, Jesus can be seen to offer counter-intuitive injunctions to his disciples and the crowds who come to listen to him. However, these radical statements arise not from a transgression of the boundaries of the Jewish religion, but rather out of a true appreciation of those very boundaries. Thus, in this passage, a statement such as, “If any one would be first, he must be last and a servant of all” (v. 35) seems counter-intuitive to the disciples (who were themselves discussing the hierarchy which would be adopted between them in the kingdom) and yet, such a statement reveals the real limits of the Jewish religion itself. That is to say, there is a place in the understanding of the Judaism (as indeed for all religion) for the boundaries to be forgotten and the room for creativity to diminish to the point where a vital ingredient within the Jewish religion (the superabundant love of God outwards to his people, which is then to be mirrored amongst these people) is simply overlooked. Whilst religion must be carefully distinguished from art (there is never any attempt to move beyond our Christian faith to something “more creative” as will always happen in art), there is still this careful distinction to be made between an interiority which is scared to fully understand the full bounds of the Christian faith, and a creative appreciation of the richness of the Christian faith within the bounds of “true religion.” This becomes apparent in the parable of the tenants: whilst our allegiances lie with the servant who hides his tenant in the ground (what greater injunction in this time of economic depression!), the master in fact praises those servants who go out into the world and appreciate the breadth and depth of the financial environment.

A radical approach to literature can also express this power: take for example the rise of the dystopian novel. The earliest example of a novel which prophesies a future dystopia is generally agreed to be We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. The influence of this work upon both George Orwell and Aldous Huxley simply emphasises the far-reaching influence this work would and continues to have. The realisation within the twentieth Century literary milieu that the dystopian novel could signal political upheaval lead to the development of literature in other genres which sought to make changes to society and history. The influence of novels such as Cry, The Beloved Country (1948), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) and The Satanic Verses (1989) is a simple testament to the power of the literary within the world. In the same way that Jesus fully appreciated the full extent of the religion, which he was espousing, and embodying, these twentieth-century authors realised the fully extent and room for movement within the literary sphere. They did not simple seek to adopt the most interior attitude to their writing, but came as close to the boundaries as they could, allowing them far more appreciation of their vocational domain. In this way, our place within the realm of the Christian faith should mirror their attitude: we should seek to enjoy the full extent of life in Christ, in relationship with God, because, with this approach, we shall make full use of the power God has bestowed upon us to act for him in this world and to genuinely achieve, through Christ, his purposes.

Jon Mackenzie

PREACHING THE LESSON - Mark 9:30-37

For the past two weeks the lessons have focused on encounters between people with burning desires and Jesus. The Syro-Phoenician woman yearns for her daughter to be healed (7:24-37). Peter yearns to be Jesus’ handler (8:27-38). In today’s lesson, the disciples (9:30-37) each want to be the greatest. They want the disciple of the month plaque and the parking spot.

Since we last encountered Jesus in Peter’s confession and Jesus’ corrective teaching (8:27-38), a lot has happened. Jesus has been transfigured on a mountain before Peter, James and John, and seen in the company of Elijah and Moses. He has healed a boy with a spirit, when his disciples were unable to (9:14-29).

In this passage (9:30-37), he foretells his resurrection and chastises his disciples for arguing about who was the greatest among them, then points to a child as a model for discipleship.

Right after this he speaks favorably of someone exorcising in his name.
So this text comes between two exorcisms. In the text before this, the disciples tried to exorcise a demon from a boy but failed, apparently because they didn’t pray (9:28-29). Jesus chastises them in harsh terms “How much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (9:19)

In the text that follows this, the disciples come to Jesus complaining that they had seen a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They whine to Jesus “We tried to stop him because he was not following us.” (9:38). We didn’t give him permission; he didn’t have the right credentials, so how could he be a channel of healing?

It is clear, when we look at what comes before and after this text that the disciples are motivated by the wrong desire. Their preoccupation with the desire to be regarded as the greatest keeps them from being able to be channels of God’s healing, exorcising power. They put their energy, instead, into opposing others who are seeking to be such channels. Their focus is on credentials and getting credit. Not on loving God and loving their neighbor as they follow Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. They have become obstacles to Jesus’ ministry.

While Jesus is, for the second time, teaching them that the Son of Man will be betrayed into human hands, killed, and, in three days, rise again, they have bigger fish to fry. They are arguing over who is the greatest among them. It’s amazing the kinds of juxtapositions of serious and frivolous you can notice if you just look around you. I remember sitting in church years ago while the preacher was preaching a sermon entitled “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Suddenly, the novelty tie worn by a man in the pew behind me, started playing. Very loudly, I might add. The tune was “Santa Claus is coming to town.” And the switch, for some reason, resisted his best efforts to turn it off.

I remember sitting in the pew on Good Friday, surrounded by multi-taskers. A woman with her compact out, was touching up her lipstick. Another woman was checking her email on her iphone. A man was sending a text. A couple teenagers were flirting. Several people were snoozing. Self-righteous little me was busy watching them and feeling superior.

We focus on a lot of things in church while Jesus, as a sort of background noise, is talking about who he is and what he is going to do. It’s a lot easier to admire him and even to wish him well with his mission than it is to lay our self-absorbed desire on the altar and exchange it for his.

Old Testament scholar Roy Heller gives this analogy to illustrate the way our lives are affected by the Bible. Suppose you get on a train and, for a while, you travel along, looking through the window at the fields and towns passing by. Then, the train goes underground, hurtling through a dark tunnel. As you stare out the same window it has now become a mirror. No longer just a window on the world around us, a text can hold up a mirror for us to see our own souls. I’m starting to get uncomfortable now.

Are we so concerned with status, personal advancement, and public opinion that we have become obstacles, stumbling blocks in Jesus’ path? Now Jesus starts in on the paradoxical thing again like we heard him do back in chapter 8 when he talked about finding and losing. He says, “Whoever wants to be first among you must be last of all and servant of all.”

Commentators often say that Jesus is lifting up a child as a model of discipleship. But he is actually lifting up the person who welcomes the child, who honors the child, who values the child, who serves the child, as a model of discipleship. The child represents those of any age who are not valued, who are least valued by the world, by society. Why?  Because they are viewed as contributing nothing, as weak, in a word, as expendable.

Apparently, then, we are to exchange our desire for prestige and advancement and security for Jesus’ desire: to welcome and serve the children and, in so doing, to welcome God into our lives.

In 9:42 Jesus tells us “If any of us put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” Apparently, our self-centered desire(s) is not the ticket to upward mobility we thought it was. On the contrary, it is a millstone around our neck. We are going down. Just like the disciples in the rest of the Gospel. Dramatic protestations of loyalty followed by denial and desertion. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (14:31)

Unless we take as our example those characters we mentioned earlier in the Gospel of Mark, whose desire is aligned with Jesus’ desire. Whose desire is for the good of someone beyond themselves. Then, we’ll be doing all you can to help a suffering friend (paralytic’s friends 2:1-5). We’ll be telling everyone you know about what Jesus has done for you (Gerasene demoniac 5:18-20). We’ll be following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem (Bartimaeus 10:51ff). We’ll be checking out our priorities with Jesus’ to make sure we’re on the right track (scribe 12:32-34). We’ll be surrounding Jesus with all the love and loyalty we can muster to comfort him when others betray him (woman with ointment 14:3-9). We’ll be keeping a vigil by his cross (women disciples at crucifixion 15:40-41). We’ll be honoring his body (Joseph of Arimathea 15:43-46).

Or we can argue with one another about who is the greatest.

Alyce M. McKenzie


Subscribers have access to approximately 60 articles on the texts each week. These articles are not just exegetical articles but essays (and sermons) on the texts from theological, pastoral, arts, and homiletical perpectives. 19 years of groundbreaking articles!

Also see Pastor Talk To Me (lay people with questions for preachers to answer in sermons) at GoodPreacher.com

If you decide to subscribe, you may subscribe at the student rate of $49.99 (limited time), even if you are not currently a student. 

"I am not really a lectionary preacher most of the time, but I have found the archives at GoodPreacher.com helpful over and over again as a resource for exegesis, interpretation, and just the pleasure and inspiration of reading good sermons on a text I am studying. It is a rich community to share in."
 
Dean J. Snyder, Senior Minister
Foundry United Methodist Church
Washington DC

 

“I am a lectionary preacher but I have difficulty scheduling a regular time to meet with a lectionary study group.  This reality is why GoodPreacher is so important to me.  I am immediately placed into a conversation with preachers both past and present.  GoodPreacher is helping to form an interpretive community for all of us who are out in the ministry trenches.  This interpretive community helps us stay fresh and alive in our personal faith and in our communal preaching.”

 
Shannon Johnson Kershner
Woodhaven Presbyterian Church
Irving, Texas

"With all the lectionary resources on the market today I did a great deal of shopping and testing before I settled on www.GoodPreacher.com. The quality of the resource is excellent, drawing on some wonderful minds. But even more than that is the variety. One week I am inspired by the artistic approach and another week it might be the biblical background and the next week the pastoral perspective. Thought provoking, inspiring, creative and helpful, what more could a preacher need?"

Teri Thomas
Northminster Presbyterian Church
Indianapolis, IN

"A treasure chest of scholarship and story that feeds both heart and head."
Susan R. Andrews

"The best lectionary preaching resource."
Zan Holmes

 
See Homiletical Hot Tub on Homepage for more discussion on texts. Go to Homepage and then to Share It! and see Stories, Movie Reviews, etc. At Share It! you may also submit stories, book reviews, etc. And even submit a sermon for feedback at the Sermon Feedback Cafe. Click on Submit Your Own!






"Rewriting Jesus' Job Description"
By Alyce M. McKenzie

PREACHING THE LESSON

Mark 8:27-38

In last week’s “preaching the lesson,” I pointed out that in a story the main character has to have a burning desire, and it is out of that desire that plot grows. We noted that the Syro-Phoenician woman’s desire was for her daughter to be healed (7:24-37). This week we focus on Peter’s confession and Jesus’ corrective teaching (8: 27-38). Peter’s desire is to have control of Jesus’ identity. He wants to be Jesus’ handler.


Every good story needs conflict. Conflict is generated when the desires of the characters do not coincide, but rather, collide. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has a burning desire to draw people toward repentance and participation in the kingdom of God (1:15). The disciples desire to hitch their star to Jesus’ wagon, only they don’t understand the wagon. The Pharisees’ chief desire is to get rid of Jesus.

It promises to be quite a plot. What about you? You’re quite a character! What is your desire as you enter this story? Let’s keep that question in mind as we walk through this scene of Peter’s confession and Jesus’ corrective teaching, because when we place our deepest desires in the path of Jesus’ deepest desires, sparks fly. Out of those sparks a sermon comes.

Every text is a sandwich, placed between what went before and what comes after. Before this story of Peter’s confession and teaching by Jesus about discipleship, Jesus has been quite busy. He has cured a deaf man (7:31-37), fed 4,000 people (8:1-10), rebuked his disciples for their lack of spiritual sight (8:14-21) and given sight to a blind man (8:22-26). Right after this text comes the Transfiguration  (9:2-8).

This makes me think that this text, sandwiched between a blind man receiving sight and the Transfiguration, the sign of spiritual sight for all, is an opportunity for us to make a choice to see or not to see in a spiritual sense. It offers us the choice to cling to our familiar, self-centered desire or to exchange our desire for Jesus’ desire,
Mark intends for readers to see in the disciples a cautionary tale, to see, in their thick headedness, where we are headed if we don’t get our desires right. Not only do they repeatedly contest Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection, but they also display lack of faith in the two miracle-at-sea stories (4:35-41 and 6:45-52). “But wait,” as the infomercial says, “There’s more!”  They also desert Jesus after dramatically promising that they will risk death rather than deny him (14:29-31).

If I had been a disciple, standing around in this scene, when Peter blurts out the right answer (“You are the Messiah”) before any of the rest of us had the chance, I would have thought, “Well, yeah! We’ve been watching Jesus healing, feeding and teaching for how long now? Who else could he be?” My jealousy would have been short lived though. Because Peter’s about to get put in his place, and with all of us looking on. It’s hard not to feel a little gleeful when the teacher’s pet gets corrected.

Peter was corrected (8:32) because, in answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” he got the job title right. Messiah!  But not the job description. Suffering and service. He takes Jesus by the elbow and pulls him off to the side. Sometimes handlers, agents, publicists, and personal assistants have to take their “Talent” aside and get his or her mind right. It’s interesting that the text specifies that Jesus turned and looked at his disciples before he rebuked his would-be handler (8:33).

He wants us to listen in. This is just one example of Jesus correcting one of his disciples or a group of them. He has to do that a lot in Mark, because in this gospel they don’t learn much of anything. In Mark 8:31-10:34 Jesus predicts his death and resurrection three times. After each prediction, one or more of the disciples objects (8:31; 9:31-32; 10:33-34). In each case, Jesus offers a correction that warns them that their desire needs to be replaced by his. Their desire to gain prestige and luxury must be replaced by willingness to suffer and to embrace loss (Mark 8:34-38). Their desire to lord it over others must give way to a desire to serve those society views as insignificant (9:35-37).

In this correction Jesus identifies Peter’s motives with those of Satan who, in Mark’s terse account, is said to have tempted Jesus in the wilderness (1:13). But let’s not be too rough on Peter. Our desires need correcting too. We want to be Jesus’ handlers, too. We are quite happy to give him the title Messiah, but we want to be the ones to write his job description.

Let’s not be too tough on Peter. Because he was operating out of his religious upbringing, and it had two job descriptions for Messiah, the Hebrew term meaning “anointed,” the Greek for which is Christos. They competed with each other and sometimes overlapped. One was that Messiah would be a descendant of David and would come to restore and vindicate God’s people and then rule over a blessed era of earthly peace. The other was that he would be an otherworldly being who would return at the end of this age to pass judgment on enemies and vindicate the righteous (Son of Man). There was no notion of connecting the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with the Messiah they expected. But this is what Jesus did.

Let’s not be too tough on Peter, just because he was setting his mind on human desires, not on divine desires. Just because he was thinking about himself and how who Jesus was affected him, what he had to lose, what he would be called on to risk. Because we are too.

I have often thought that, if Jesus had preached three point sermons with a poem at the end, he would have lived a lot longer. Whoever finds will lose and vice versa?”  What will it profit you to gain the world and forfeit your life? These paradoxical sayings and impossible questions of his kill me—and are part of what killed him. Because they’re challenging and offensive. What feels like gain to us is actually loss? What initially feels like loss (of ambition, control, and comfort) leads to gain? Our desires for wealth, prestige, control of others and a risk-free life will lead to loss and death? Jesus’ path of self-giving, radical love for God and others leads to life? This is a hard sell and a bitter pill.


But look who’s offering it. Right after this text is the Transfiguration, when we get a clear, though momentary, glimpse of who it is who is asking us to replace our natural desires with God’s. Better get going up that mountain.

Alyce M. McKenzie
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX 

Subscribers have access to approximately 60 articles on the texts each week. These articles are not just exegetical articles but essays (and sermons) on the texts from theological, pastoral, arts, and homiletical perpectives. 19 years of groundbreaking articles!

Also see Pastor Talk To Me (lay people with questions for preachers to answer in sermons) at GoodPreacher.com

If you decide to subscribe, you may subscribe at the student rate of $49.99 (limited time), even if you are not currently a student. 

"I am not really a lectionary preacher most of the time, but I have found the archives at GoodPreacher.com helpful over and over again as a resource for exegesis, interpretation, and just the pleasure and inspiration of reading good sermons on a text I am studying. It is a rich community to share in."
 
Dean J. Snyder, Senior Minister
Foundry United Methodist Church
Washington DC

 

“I am a lectionary preacher but I have difficulty scheduling a regular time to meet with a lectionary study group.  This reality is why GoodPreacher is so important to me.  I am immediately placed into a conversation with preachers both past and present.  GoodPreacher is helping to form an interpretive community for all of us who are out in the ministry trenches.  This interpretive community helps us stay fresh and alive in our personal faith and in our communal preaching.”

 
Shannon Johnson Kershner
Woodhaven Presbyterian Church
Irving, Texas

"With all the lectionary resources on the market today I did a great deal of shopping and testing before I settled on www.GoodPreacher.com. The quality of the resource is excellent, drawing on some wonderful minds. But even more than that is the variety. One week I am inspired by the artistic approach and another week it might be the biblical background and the next week the pastoral perspective. Thought provoking, inspiring, creative and helpful, what more could a preacher need?"

Teri Thomas
Northminster Presbyterian Church
Indianapolis, IN

"A treasure chest of scholarship and story that feeds both heart and head."
Susan R. Andrews

"The best lectionary preaching resource."
Zan Holmes

 
See Homiletical Hot Tub on Homepage for more discussion on texts. Go to Homepage and then to Share It! and see Stories, Movie Reviews, etc. At Share It! you may also submit stories, book reviews, etc. And even submit a sermon for feedback at the Sermon Feedback Cafe. Click on Submit Your Own!

 

 




"A Desire that Overcomes Obstacles"
By Alyce M. McKenzie

PREACHING THE LESSON

Mark 7:24-37

Lately, I’ve been reading some books by novelists on writing novels. I’ve been looking for advice for us preachers on how to preach more exciting sermons. One thing they point out is that the desire of the main character is the key to successful (interesting; suspenseful) storytelling. Janet Burroway tells us that “to engage our attention and sympathy, the protagonist in a novel must want something and want it intensely. A common fault in novice writers is that they create a main character who is essentially passive.1 Robert Olen Butler insists that “fiction is the art of human yearning…absolutely essential to any work of fictional narrative art (is) a character who yearns.  That is not the same as a character who simply has problems…The yearning is also the thing that generates what we call plot, because the elements of the plot come from thwarted or blocked or challenged attempts to fulfill that yearning.”2


I know that we normally think of God as the main character of the Bible and ourselves as the main characters of our lives. But I’m asking you to flip that around and consider yourself as a character in the Bible and God as the main character of your life. Enter into three stories from Mark with me over the next three weeks asking yourself, “What is the burning desire of my life?” How is it like and unlike that of the other characters in the text? How can I align it more with God’s desire for my life as I encounter the character of Jesus in the text?  Because desire is the core of character.  Plot grows out of character. Any exciting story needs, not a passive character who possesses personal problems, but a proactive character with a burning desire for something.
 
The Gospel of Mark is all about burning desire. Jesus has a burning desire to call people to repent and participate in the kingdom of God. The disciples have a burning desire for Jesus to be the Messiah of their dreams. The whole gospel of Mark is the story of conflicting desires. As if things aren’t not complicated enough already, now you and I blunder in searching for a sermon. What do you want out of this anyway? What do I want? What is our burning desire? Because it is out of our burning desire that the plot of our life grows.

The three texts from Mark for the next few weeks feature encounters between Jesus and somebody who, driven by their burning desire, asks him for something. The Syro-Phonecian woman (7:24-37) wants her daughter to be healed. Peter (8: 27-38) wants control of Jesus’ identity. He wants to be Jesus’ handler.  The disciples (9:30-37) each want to be the greatest. They want the disciple of the month plaque and the parking spot. What each of these people get may turn out to be an entirely different thing, but they all want something from Jesus.

Because of my deep love of alliteration, I’m going to call them the three “c’s”. Mark 7:24-37 (crumbs), Mark 8:27-38 (crosses), and Mark 9:30-37 (crowns). This would make a great sermon series focused on discipleship as desire in the Gospel of Mark. You could call it “Burning Yearnings” or “Desperate Desires.”

Let’s look at the crumbs first. Walk into the scene with me. Remember, we’re on the lookout for desires, those of the characters in the story and our own. Our sermon theme will emerge when we place our desire in the path of Jesus’ desire and allow ours to be transformed by his.

The text begins by telling us that Jesus crosses the boundary into territory to the west and north of Galilee whose residents included Jews and Gentiles. The text says “he didn’t want anyone to know he was there.” (Mk 7:24b) Why didn’t Jesus want anyone else to know he was there? Maybe it’s because his cousin John was recently murdered (6:27) and he has spent the last several days healing and feeding the masses and arguing with the Pharisees and scribes about the need to reject legalism in favor of mercy. Maybe, as a fully human being, he is tired and wants to be alone.

“Yet he could not escape notice.” Well, that’s true enough. He never could escape notice wherever he went. People always wanted something from him. Today, in my life, now that’s a different story. I’m pretty good at not noticing Jesus, until I want something, that is.  But he is in my house. What about you? Have you noticed that Jesus is in your house? What do you want? Come on, let’s bow at his feet.

I have a long commute to work, so sometimes I spend it rewriting troubling biblical passages in my head. In my rewrite of this passage, Jesus says to himself, “Though I’m tired and grieving and hungry, I think I’ll go through Tyre. There are bound to be some Gentiles there, and this is a good time to show that my mission extends to them as well as to the Jews. Then when the Syro-Phoenician woman bows before him and asks for healing, he says “Funny you, as a Gentile and a woman should pick this time to ask me, a Jewish male, for a healing. Because I’ve just come from arguing with the Pharisees over precisely this kind of exclusive attitude that focuses on outward rules and ignores inner compassion. You want me to heal your daughter? But of course! May I add that, though you are not a disciple, that, even worse, you are a woman and a Gentile, that none of that matters. My mission is to the whole world.”

But that’s not the way the real conversation goes. Commentators can’t make up their minds between 2 alternatives: 1. Jesus is speaking with his rabbinic tongue in cheek.  The rabbis loved verbal fencing matches. He is satirizing a Pharisaical answer, not to embarrass her, but to provide a teaching moment for those standing around them.

2. Jesus is a human being. He is tired, hungry, grieving and he has, up to now, been under the impression that his mission is to the Jews. Her persistence brings him to a new insight into the scope of his ministry. So we have two options: “tongue in cheek Jesus” or “grumpy Jesus.”

I’d add a third option 3. Mainly #1, but maybe a little of #2.

Why does it have to be all one or the other? Why not a message that the fully human as well as fully divine Jesus offers mercy to everyone, but persistence is required to overcome obstacles? I told you I like alliteration. How about, “dogged determination results in a disappeared demon?” That’s what she wanted, and she got it. Now would be the time to lean forward slightly and ask the congregation: “What do you want? What do you desire so deeply and desperately that you would throw yourself at Jesus’ feet and beg him for?

Is it something, as in the woman’s case, that benefits others? Or just you?”

As so often happens in Mark’s gospel, non-disciples “get it” while the disciples stand on the sidelines. His gospel features several people who are not disciples who are praised for their faith: the paralytic’s friends (2:1-5), the Gerasene demoniac (5:18-20), Bartimaeus (10:51-52), the scribe (12:32-34), and the woman with the ointment (14:3-9), women disciples at the crucifixion (15:40-41), and Joseph of Arimathea (15:43-46).

All these people are driven by a desire that benefits others, that is not limited to their own advancement or comfort. This woman deserves a place in their esteemed company. Though a “dog”, a title of derision used by Jews to describe Gentiles, she demonstrates a faith that acknowledges that even crumbs from the Son of God are food enough. But she does not believe that God’s mercy and healing are limited to the guest list posted by the religious professionals. In contrast to the disciples’ inability to understand that God’s Word in Jesus has overcome Jewish legalism, she is a Gentile woman who believes that Jesus can immediately meet her need. She is a living embodiment of the faith that waits on God, a faith that pushes past legalism.

Her faith can inspire ours. Her persistence in overcoming obstacles can energize us to identify and ask God to help us overcome ours. Her burning desire can challenge us to evaluate at our own and ask ourselves whether it goes beyond ourselves to benefit others.

Alyce M. McKenzie
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX


Notes
1. Janet Burroway with Susan Weinberg, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, Sixth Edition (New York: Longman, 2003), 33.
2. Ibid, 34.
 

Subscribers have access to approximately 60 articles on the texts each week. These articles are not just exegetical articles but essays (and sermons) on the texts from theological, pastoral, arts, and homiletical perpectives. 19 years of groundbreaking articles!

If you decide to subscribe, you may subscribe at the student rate of $49.99 (limited time), even if you are not currently a student. 

"I am not really a lectionary preacher most of the time, but I have found the archives at GoodPreacher.com helpful over and over again as a resource for exegesis, interpretation, and just the pleasure and inspiration of reading good sermons on a text I am studying. It is a rich community to share in."
 
Dean J. Snyder, Senior Minister
Foundry United Methodist Church
Washington DC

 

“I am a lectionary preacher but I have difficulty scheduling a regular time to meet with a lectionary study group.  This reality is why GoodPreacher is so important to me.  I am immediately placed into a conversation with preachers both past and present.  GoodPreacher is helping to form an interpretive community for all of us who are out in the ministry trenches.  This interpretive community helps us stay fresh and alive in our personal faith and in our communal preaching.”

 
Shannon Johnson Kershner
Woodhaven Presbyterian Church
Irving, Texas

"With all the lectionary resources on the market today I did a great deal of shopping and testing before I settled on www.GoodPreacher.com. The quality of the resource is excellent, drawing on some wonderful minds. But even more than that is the variety. One week I am inspired by the artistic approach and another week it might be the biblical background and the next week the pastoral perspective. Thought provoking, inspiring, creative and helpful, what more could a preacher need?"

Teri Thomas
Northminster Presbyterian Church
Indianapolis, IN

"A treasure chest of scholarship and story that feeds both heart and head."
Susan R. Andrews

"The best lectionary preaching resource."
Zan Holmes

 
See Homiletical Hot Tub on Homepage for more discussion on texts. Go to Homepage and then to Share It! and see Stories, Movie Reviews, etc. At Share It! you may also submit stories, book reviews, etc. And even submit a sermon for feedback at the Sermon Feedback Cafe. Click on Submit Your Own!

 
 
 



John 12:20-33
By David A. Davis

PREACHING John 12:20-33

"Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (12:21). Generations of preachers have stood in countless numbers of pulpits and looked down at some plaque or engraving with this quote from John. In setting after setting the quote takes on a life of its own. The question comes from the congregation, the hearers of the Word. The collective wish expressed to the preacher has to do with the yearning to experience the Word of God in all three of its forms: read, proclaimed, and in Jesus himself. The quote lifted from the gospel’s context relates to the preaching event and the weekly sabbath rhythm of proclamation and the relationship of pastor and congregation. Today’s Lenten lectionary assignment allows the chance for the preacher to reclaim the Johannine context of a now infamous biblical quote.

Here in John, it wasn’t the congregation asking a preacher. It was some Greeks asking Philip. The Gentiles desire to see Jesus marks both theology and time.? The question establishes the reach of the gospel beyond Israel. Jesus’ response to the question sets up the shift toward the Lord’s passion in the gospel narrative. For the hour has now come. The unfolding narrative provides little other information beyond theology and time. The reader discovers nothing else about those who wished to see Jesus. John doesn’t say whether they even met Jesus, or if they had some kind of transformative encounter.

The means by which Jesus found about their request brings to mind the call of the disciples early in the gospel (1:43-51). The Gentiles tell Philip. Philip goes and tells Andrew. Andrew is the one to tell Jesus. Back when Jesus called Phillip, Philip went on to find Nathanael. Before that it was Andrew who went to see Jesus, and he then went to find Simon. John’s gospel has this unique combination of "word of mouth" and "eyes to see." News about Jesus travels in such ordinary ways, but it is the Spirit that primes the heart to actually see and experience the truth of who Jesus is.

The Greeks might fade away in John’s gospel narrative, but John’s point as to where and how to see Jesus comes right to the fore. The answer Jesus gives includes the metaphor of the grain of wheat that must die in order to bear fruit. Jesus goes on to teach yet again about giving up life in the world in order to gain eternal life and following Jesus by being a servant. Jesus is found in the life of discipleship and self-emptying sacrifice. That kind of encounter with the Savior is a gift of grace and the Holy Spirit working with each one of us. Preachers can use all the words they want, but for John, seeing Jesus ultimately comes in the cross-shaped life to which we are called; a life of servant hood.

Right after the rather easily understandable experience of some strangers asking to see Jesus, John records the mysterious event of a voice thundering from heaven "I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again" (12:28). The word doesn’t come in that nitty gritty fashion of one to the other. This time it comes from above and the whole crowd hears it. The voice is described as thunder and like an angel speaking. John’s intent is not to be missed. The voice is a divine happening. Here in John, where there is no voice from above at the Lord’s baptism. Nor is there an account of the Transfiguration complete with heavenly voice proclaiming an affirmation. The voice from heaven in John comes right as Jesus acknowledges that his soul is troubled, and as he wrestles with what the appointed hour means in terms of his own suffering and death. The anointing voice from heaven for John does not proclaim the Beloved Son as much as it affirms the Son’s Passion as the means by which God’s name shall be glorified.

On this last Sunday of Lent prior to Palm Sunday, the way to see Jesus is to look toward the cross. As Jesus reminds the crowds who heard the voice, the voice was meant for them, not for him. The event of the cross and the resurrection is intended not simply for his followers to see, nor even just for the Gentiles to see. Christ will be lifted up from the earth (both in this crucifixion and in his resurrection) in order that the whole world will see.

Every preacher wilts under the task of proclaiming the gospel at one time or another. It is an awesome and humbling burden, that expectation of the listener wanting to see Jesus. Standing on the threshold of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, perhaps the preacher and the church will appreciate John’s theological corrective. Yes, we can see and experience Jesus in the proclaimed Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we can see and experience Jesus as we travel this life of discipleship as a gift of grace. But most of all, our call, our responsibility, is to point to his cross and resurrection, where we shall see Jesus again and again. And we will see him in a way unlike any other. God’s Son. Our Savior. God’s name glorified.

Festival of Homiletics

GoodPreacher Award 

For a limited time, all pastors may subscribe for the GP Web only for one year at the Student rate of $49.99!

Subscribers have access to approximately 60 articles on the texts for this week. These articles are not just Exegetical articles but essays (and sermons) on the texts from Theological, Pastoral, Arts, and Homiletical perpectives. 20 years of groundbreaking articles!

If you have any questions please email us at lh.office@earthlink.net.

"I am not really a lectionary preacher most of the time, but I have found the archives at GoodPreacher.com helpful over and over again as a resource for exegesis, interpretation, and just the pleasure and inspiration of reading good sermons on a text I am studying. It is a rich community to share in."
 
Dean J. Snyder, Senior Minister
Foundry United Methodist Church
Washington, DC

I am a lectionary preacher, but I have difficulty scheduling a regular time to meet with a lectionary study group. This reality is why GoodPreacher is so important to me. I am immediately placed into a conversation with preachers both past and present. GoodPreacher is helping to form an interpretive community for all of us who are out in the ministry trenches. This interpretive community helps us stay fresh and alive in our personal faith and in our communal preaching.”

Shannon Johnson Kershner
Woodhaven Presbyterian Church
Irving, Tx

"With all the lectionary resources on the market today I did a great deal of shopping and testing before I settled on www.GoodPreacher.com. The quality of the resource is excellent, drawing on some wonderful minds. But even more than that is the variety. One week I am inspired by the artistic approach and another week it might be the biblical background and the next week the pastoral perspective. Thought provoking, inspiring, creative and helpful, what more could a preacher need?"

Teri Thomas
Northminster Presbyterian Church
Indianapolis, IN

"A treasure chest of scholarship and story that feeds both heart and head."
Susan R. Andrews

"The best lectionary preaching resource."
Zan Holmes

 





   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 [Next] [Last Page]

Return