Epiphany 4 Who is that Masked Man?

January 30, 2021

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

 [Moses said:] 15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

Psalm: Psalm 111

1Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
  in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2Great are your works, O Lord,
  pondered by all who delight in them.
3Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
  and your righteousness endures forever.
4You cause your wonders to be remembered;
  you are gracious and full of compassion. 
5You give food to those who fear you,
  remembering forever your covenant.
6You have shown your people the power of your works
  in giving them the lands of the nations.
7The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice;
  all of your precepts are sure.
8They stand fast forever and ever,
  because they are done in truth and equity. 
9You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever;
  holy and awesome is your name.
10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
  all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s    praise endures forever. 

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
  4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
  7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

21[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.


Double identities is a favorite literary theme that is always fascinating.  Let’s see how many you recognize”

  1. Dr. Jekyl and ——————————– (My Hyde)
  2. Clark Kent was __________________(Superman)
  3. Prisoner 24601 was ____________ (Jean Val Jean of Les Miserables, the birthdate of Victor Hugo, the author)
  4. Prisoner imprisoned on an island, befriending a monk returned to find girlfriend married and he disguised himself as __________________(Count of Monte Cristo)
  5. Texas ranger was the only one to survive an ambush, became known as ______ (the Lone Ranger – and he wore a mask too!)
  6. My favorites are the Scarlet Pimpernel who snuck people out of France and the guiotine by wearing costumes or there is the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican who helped soldiers hide in Rome from the Nazis by wearing costumes to sneak past the guards.

All these are fun stories as we cheer for the disguised person setting life straight.  It is no wonder ID verification is important today. 

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart praise you and not deceive.


This week, we are still in Mark 1.  Mark’s introduction of Jesus is progressing.  Baptized, tempted, followed by disciples, Jesus enters the synagogue in Capernaum. Capernaum is a town on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, not that far from Nazareth, and is thought to be the hometown of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the disciples called last week.  It seems to be the center of Jesus’ public ministry.   So it is not surprising to find Jesus in the synagogue and welcomed to read.  In our text today, Jesus speaks with “authority” three times. We see the authority that comes from knowing about something, the authority that comes from being the author, and the authority that must be talked about.

1.  Authority of education.  Today’s event happened before IUPUI, before Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, before the printing press and public education for all.  Scriptures were copied by hand and for most, education was oral.  The Scribes (Think of scribble.  Think of Scripture.) were distinguished Jewish professionals who copied manuscripts but who also had secretarial and administrative responsibilities, similar to possibly judges and teachers.  There were strict rules governing their profession.  These men had the authority of knowing Scripture.  The text tells us people  “ were astounded at his teaching, for he, Jesus, taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  Jesus had a different authority than the educated Scribes. Jesus did not just copy the words and study them, he wrote the words.  Jesus was “the Word,” not an authority but the author of the scriptures.

         I would understand this to imply that there is authority that comes from “knowing about” a subject but there is also knowledge that comes from being the inventor, the author.  We are trusting Dr. Fauci for this pandemic – and we trust the nurse that gives the shot.  We trust professors and scientist.  Astronauts trust NASA.  The claim to have worked 45 years in government carries weight of relationship and knowledge.  Jesus did not speak with that kind of authority.  He spoke with the authority of the author.  His teachings carried the listeners to a whole new level of awareness and insight. 

         When we read the Bible, we believe it is “inspired,” we are reading a message from THE Author of that message.  The Bible does tell a historical story but it also carries the weight of the presence of God in the story and through the story, of someone at creation, of truth that applies to us today.  Mark is telling us that Jesus appears, not just as another authority in competition for the election of our affection, but Jesus enters history and the synagogue as the author of Scripture, teaching with authority.  How we respond is up to us.

2.  Authority opposed.  Jesus is teaching with authority when a “man with an unclean spirit,” cried out.  Some feel that this man may have been a Scribe implying the imperfection of the Scribes’ understanding.  I would understand that going to the synagogue was similar to us going to church now.  The men met in one area where Scripture was read and women were behind a wall and expected to ask questions of their husband at home.  Hence a man with an unclean spirit could well have been present.  The politically correct way of talking today would probably be to say a person with mental illness was present and interrupting the speaker.  Perhaps it would be like a heckler.  Today we would be slow to ascribe Satanic authority to someone who disagrees with the preacher.  This interruption, though, is the central part of the scenario.  Authority does not mean others agree and believe.  It is possible to know scripture like the Scribes but it is also possible to know scripture and resist the author, the authority of scripture.

         I notice the man approaches with questions.  “’What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’”   This sounds very similar to the serpent dealing with Eve by asking questions.  Did God say?  Did God mean?  Is God honest? Doubts about the authority and validity of God are raised.

         -The unclean spirit asks if Jesus has “authority” as he is “Jesus of Nazareth”, using a human title.  He approaches Jesus as human.  By what authority is he reading Scripture that day? This question still reverberates through our world today.  Many know about Jesus, the man of Nazareth, but they do not acknowledge that he can speak into their lives with authority.  It makes me ponder, what does Jesus have to do with us at Bethany today?  Was he a fantastic man who taught good principles for people to follow today?  Am I just following family tradition?  What brought you to church today?  How do you answer the question – Jesus, what do you have to do with me?

         -Next the man asks, “Have you come to destroy us?”  This question raises doubts about the legitimacy of God’s rules in our life and God’s intent.  Surely we won’t die if we eat the fruit?  God could not have meant that we forgive in the face of abuse and war.  This week we remember Auswitz.  Corrie Ten Boom tells of meeting her prison guard after the war and realizing her need to forgive him.  Today we struggle with advocacy, justice, demonstrations.   We have rights we need to fight for – right?  Authority opposed tries to keep the control of our lives in our hands.  Jesus of Nazareth said many interesting things and wise things but does it mean I must obey?

         -Then the man addresses Jesus by his title, “Holy One of God,” and attempts to name Jesus.  At that point Jesus says “Silence!”  The spirit shrieks and leaves the man.  The spirit has tried to claim authority over Jesus.  When my full name is invoked, it is usually a power scenario.  The principal does not use my shortened name when calling me to the office.  My husband does not use my full name usually except in legal transactions.  My friends do not call my full name.  When the man uses a spiritual name for Jesus, Jesus responds, “Silence.  Come out of him!”  The spirit shrieks and must leave the man.  Jesus has authority with power.  End of discussion.  Jesus does not debate about his authority, he declares and expels any competition.

         This is the climax in Mark’s story today.  Mark begins his gospel, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Jesus is introduced by John the Baptist, an accepted prophet of God at the beginning of chapter 1.   He is baptized with a full appearance of the Trinity.  He is being followed by disciples.  Today he is confronted by the demonic, by evil, and he speaks with authority.  Mark has made his point.  Jesus speaks with authority more than Scribes who know the Scriptures.  Jesus speaks with authority over evil that opposes Scripture.  And we stand with the audience, marveling.

3.  Authority that must be told.  Again the people are amazed.  “28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”  “At once,” there is another of those action words that moves Mark’s report forward.  Authority of Jesus is not something we catalogue in the back of our mind for a day when we are in need, it is authority that must be acted upon.  We can question and doubt and resist like the man with the unclean spirit, we can follow like the disciples, and we can all share the good news to people we meet.

         We may not have seen “unclean” spirits cast out and we may prefer to talk about the evil of social systems that rob people of their humanity, but we have encountered the Holy One of God who helped sort out our lives.  We do have the Scriptures available in our language that we can read – or we can turn on the radio or TV.  We do see God speak through nature as each day the sun rises and the moon shines.  We may worry about the pandemic but we know the love of friends and Lord who will be with us through this time.  Jesus speaks through the Scriptures with the authority of the one who is the living word.  Jesus has the authoritative power to deal with the evil that seeks to sow doubt and distrust in our hearts.   And this is good news we can share with those we meet.  May the Holy Spirit be with you as you grapple with the authority of Christ in your life.  Who is that masked man, you ask.  He is true God and true man, speaking with authority.  Amen  

“Lord, Speak to Me”

January 30, 2021

Saturdays are good days for sitting back, getting the wash done and all those jobs you don’t have time to do all week.  For many this is their Sabbath and others will celebrate tomorrow.  On weekends we take time to focus on our spiritual self, our better self, for at least an hour in many cases.  I tend to think that my spiritual self is not a separate entity as the Enlightenment thought, body-mind-spirit but rather an integral part of my whole being.  Narrative theory that enlightened my chaplaincy studies taught that the body needs the spirit to live and the spirit needs the body to express itself.  Made sense to me.  Only feeding my soul on Sundays seem to me to be like watering my plants when I see that they begin to droop.  May I suggest we take a minute today, sit in our favorite chair, take a deep breath, place hands palm up on our legs in an open receptive stance and listen to the link to the hymn “Lord, Speak to Me.”

         Frances Ridley Havergal, the author of the hymn, was an English poetess and hymn writer.  This text appeared in 1872 under the title, “A Worker’s Prayer.”  She has been called the “consecration poet” because of her deep love for the Lord.  As you listen to the verses, you will note the call to repentance and renewal that has been the theme of our prophets and prophetess this week.  Sit back and enjoy.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxeUE-9dQLI.

Prophet Malachi

January 29, 2021

Jesus appears on the scene four to five hundred years after the last acknowledged prophet, Malachi.  Malachi is the last book in the Christian Old Testament.  Four hundred years is like us looking back to Martin Luther or Charles Wesley for a word from God without the benefit of a stable Bible to help us evaluate truth.  Malachi means “messenger” and may not have been his proper name but we know that at this time the Jews had returned from captivity, the temple had been rebuilt and lethargy had set in.  The people were not experiencing the blessings they expected from “God.”  I think we can identify with that kind of discouragement.  Life is not fair.  The benefits of being American are not available to all.  We demonstrate and demand justice and equality.  We can imagine the scene Malachi is called to speak into.

         Malachi has six sections.  The first three start with a question presenting the problem:  blindness to how has God loved ,them blindness to how have the priests failed to honor God, and blindness to how they as God’s people have failed him.  The last three sections focuses on how God is going to intervene and restore the covenant – the call to repentance.  Justice is explained, repentance is called for and the results of serving God explained.  It is a short book that might be worth reading.  Malachi ends, chapter 4: 5-6, “See I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”  So ends the Old Testament.  Ouch. No happy ever after here. 

         Elijah is prophesied to return and so at the time of Jesus, the people were looking for Elijah.  Today we ponder if Elijah will come as one of the predicted prophets in Revelation before “end times.”  We started the week with Moses telling the Jews as Moses was about to die that God would raise up prophets. We end the Old Testament and this week with Malachi saying God will send a prophet.  Sunday we will read Mark’s account of Jesus stepping into a social scene not that different from today – political struggles, oppressed people, economic challenges, and injustice. Are we like the people in Malachi’s time, whining about what God is not doing to make life work the way we want it to or are we able to stop and evaluate that perhaps we are not being the people he would have us to be?  Prophets call us to repent, to return to God as our source of life.  Let’s take a few minutes today to reflect on how we might open our ears to hear this message and how we might draw our hearts closer to each other.  Blessings as you prepare for Sunday.

Prophetess Deborah

January 28, 2021

Prophets can be females and are known as prophetesses.  The jewishvirtuallibrary.org lists seven with Deborah being outstanding.  Deborah is not the wife of a famous man, not the sister, and not the mother of someone famous.  She stands on her own merits as a judge and prophetess.  Judges 4 tells her story and Judges 5 sings her praise.  She brought a message from God, rescuing the Jewish people from the hand of the Canaanite King Jabin about a century after they entered the Promised Land.  Deborah sends reluctant General Barak (not of our Presidents) into battle against Jabin’s commander Sisera who had 900 iron chariots.  Technology was against Barak.  He insisted Deborah go with him.  A woman went into battle!  That is unique also.  The bad guys are defeated, the Jews return to God and Sisera flees on foot.  He finds a nomad, enters the tent, and the wife, Jael, and puts a tent peg through his head while he sleeps.  Whew.  Two female heroines and a new song of praise!  A fun story but does it throw light on the question of Jesus speaking in the tradition of prophets?

         God seems to be acting “out of the box” when he chooses a woman.  The appearance of Jesus and his story was also “out of the box” and demanding investigation.  Just because someone claims to speak for God, does not mean they do.  Today, with technology, people in the United States can tune into sermons any time of the day on radio or TV, even with Covid.  On Sunday because of Zoom and Live Streaming, I can go to church almost anywhere in the world.  Who do I listen to for wisdom?  Sometimes God uses the unlikely to touch our hearts, a female judge or the son of a carpenter.  As we listen to their message we must see if it is congruent with revealed knowledge or truth and leads us to God.  Sunday we will ponder how Jesus spoke with “authority.”  Who are the authorities, the prophets that you listen to for direction and why?

         A ninety year old lady was scammed where I live as a “Christian lawyer” called to ask her for money for her granddaughter – but don’t tell!  Telemarkers ring our phones daily saying we have won a prize or need to sign something.  Scams have made us into doubters and it is hard to trust.  It is comforting to know God’s prophets do not lead us astray.  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psm 119:105)”  Blessings as you seek to obey today.

Elijah – the gentle, quiet voice

January 27, 2021

Was Jesus a prophet, one in the line of prophets or was he something else?  Sunday we will read that Jesus spoke with “authority.”  When the prophets of the Old Testament spoke, things began to happen.  They spoke God’s word, an important message.  Yesterday we looked at Abraham from whom nations emerged even in his old age and by whom nations were blessed.  Today we will ponder Elijah.  At the time of Jesus people wondered if he, Jesus, was Elijah returned.

         Elijah lived in the northern kingdom of Israel, at the same time as King Ahab and his famous wife Queen Jezebel.  Jezebel came from the coastal people, the Sidonians, and worshipped a different god, Baal.  Two major religions were embraced by political leadership and it is not surprising that tensions impacted the common person.  Does that sound a bit like today?  It seems it is hard for different philosophies of government or religion or medicine or… to coexist peacefully.  The people often are hurt in the debate.

         Elijah’s disciple was Elisha and it is easy to get the two men mixed up.  Elijah performed big miracles and Elisha was more on the people’s level.  Elijah raised the dead woman’s son, brought fire down from heaven on Mt. Carmel in the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, and ascended to heaven in a whirlwind of fire, not dying and predicted to return.  Whew.  This Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for three years, confronted Ahab, and called the people of Israel back to worship Jehovah.

         My favorite story, though, is after Elijah called down fire on Mt. Carmel, proving his god was God. Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah and he ran.  After the high, came the low.  Elijah ran for 40 days to Mt. Sinai.  In his discouragement and flight, God sent an angel to give Elijah food.  Elijah arrived and went into a cave.  The next morning God spoke with Elijah not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire but in a “gentle whisper (1 King 19:10-18)” In his exhaustion, God comes to Elijah with food and council.  Things begin to happen.

         Often we think that the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, the spectacular mean God is speaking and blessing.  Sometimes but often, I find that God speaks in that quiet, gentle voice.  It is in those spiritual moments that often things begin to happen and give direction to our ponderings. Always, though, that voice from God and from the prophet, calls us back to God and his “authority” in our lives.  Are we listening today?

Father Abraham

January 26, 2021

God promised Moses that there would be a prophets speaking for him, carrying his words, straight from him to us without intermediaries.  Interestingly, looking on the internet about prophets, the list of prophets starts with Abraham – and Sarah, before Moses.  God spoke to Abraham and told him to leave his home, his people, his father’s house and go, for God would make him a blessing to all nations.  Christianity and Islam trace their roots back to Abraham and that direct encounter.  This Sunday text will tell of Jesus encountering a demon possessed man who demands to know Jesus’ credentials to enter the synagogue.  Was Jesus speaking for God?

         Very few of us would claim a direct encounter with God in the same sense as Abraham, or Jesus.  We do not call ourselves prophets and yet we do believe we have the privilege and ability to talk with God through prayer.  We believe in spiritual encounters, “thin places” where the unseen does interact with us.  For some this comes with time spent in Scripture.  Others enjoy nature, or music, or pod casts, or church, or friends.  So perhaps the question confronting us is how we know some thought or word is coming from God and not from self, from evil spirits, or from the world’s wisdom?  From the Abraham encounter, I read a promise of blessing, a sense of relationship, and direction for action.  God’s prophets bargained with him, argued with him, and pleaded with him about messages.  We can too. The sense of relationship often permeates the encounter. 

         Today, we may not see ourselves as prophets and we may not recognize someone else as a prophet either but we do know God communicates and desires to communicate with us.  As a child I loved the song, “Have you talked to the man upstairs?”  Why?  “Because he wants to hear from you!”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYt4wuKcPjE.

News vs Views

January 25, 2021

Next Sunday we will look at Mark’s first actions of Jesus after calling disciples.  Jesus goes to Capernaum, a small town on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, and teaches in the synagogue, the local church.  A man with a demon confronts him. Tune in Sunday to hear about it. This passage of scripture, though, will be preceded by the Old Testament reading of Deuteronomy 18:15-20:  “15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”  Moses, before turning over leadership to Joshua, promises the people that God will send prophets to lead them. A prophet was considered someone who spoke for God.  We often think it has to do with predicting the future but not necessarily. Prophets were considered to be in communication with God and speaking for him.  If what was said did not come true then the person could be killed.  Serious stuff!

         News broadcasts today take on a similar tone.  If we don’t change our lifestyle we are going to use up the world resources – global warming.  While not claiming divine inspiration, they do claim scientific authority and weave possibilities about what is to come.  We have also seen this in the reports about the pandemic, when it will peak, what is needed “to achieve herd immunity” and just how this disease is going to unfold in the near future.  Some keep close track of the stock market for financial predictions and those trends are broadcast daily.  Perhaps the horoscope is your thing, daily checking its predictions.  Fortune cookies are fun.  All these avenues seem to imply our desire to peek into the future and be assured we are on the right track, or at least prepared.

         Moses assures us that God will and does raise up people to speak for him.  God speaking today is foundational to many religions and key to Christianity.  Perhaps it is time to open our Bible and listen.  The text for Sunday is Mark 1:21-28.  Perhaps it is time to pray thanksgiving that we have God’s word in our language and readily accessible.  Perhaps you are feeling the challenge to memorize a piece of scripture to focus your thinking during these days of challenge.

         As we listen to all the voices speaking into our lives today about our future, may we never forget that the future lies in God’s hands and God walks with us.  May we agreed with King David in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Blessings as you listen.

Sunday – Epiphany

January 23, 2021

First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
  10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm: Psalm 62:5-12

5For God alone I wait in silence;
  truly, my hope is in God.
6God alone is my rock and my salvation,
  my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken.
7In God is my deliverance and my honor;
  God is my strong rock and my refuge.
8Put your trust in God always, O people,
  pour out your hearts before the one who is our refuge. 
9Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath; those of low estate cannot be trusted.
  Placed on the scales together they weigh even less than a breath.
10Put no trust in extortion; in robbery take no empty pride;
  though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
11God has spoken once, twice have I heard it,
  that power belongs to God.
12Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord,
  for you repay all according to their deeds. 

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

29Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.  The present form of this world is passing away.

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

  16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Children’s SERMON

Our Old Testament lesson for today comes from the book of Jonah.

  1. Who was Jonah, a king or a prophet?    Jonah was prophet in the Northern Kingdom that is around the Sea of Galilee, the area where Jesus grew up. 
  2. What was Jonah’s message?    God sent Jonah to Nineveh, modern day Iraq, outside Mosul, with a call to repentance or else.
  3. Did Jonah obey?  No.  Jonah did not go north but went to the ocean and climbed on a boat to Tarsus, Paul’s hometown.  Does God give second chances today?
  4. God sent a storm and Jonah confessed it was his fault.  “Throw me overboard.”  God sent a fish that swallowed Jonah.  Jonah prayed and the fish spit Jonah up on the shore and then Jonah went to Nineveh and preached. 
  5. The people repented. God relented.  Jonah pouted.  Was Jonah happy?  NO.  God grew a vine that shaded Jonah as he pouted and Jonah was comforted.  God sent a worm that ate through the vine.  Jonah is now truly upset with God. 
  6. God shares his concern for the lost – people and animals whom he created.

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you as we gather today.


         Jonah is quite a story.  Usually we eat fish, fish don’t eat us. God gives Jonah a second chance.  Does God give second chances today? Seldom do we see revivals and people repenting and fearful of God’s wrath today.  Would God truly punish ignorant people and animals?  We preach the love of God, not judgment.  Worms that eat plants in a night are rare.  God changing his mind, relenting of his intention to punish, is contrary to our faith in a God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Jonah challenges our concept of God.  Our reading today challenges us also.

         The Gospel of Mark is known as an action gospel.  He keeps the story rolling.  I was struck by the connecting time words.  “Now,” “immediately,” and “immediately” again.  Mark seems to be connecting “call” with stories that are uncomfortable to hear today and challenge our Santa Clause idea of God, ready to make our life work – “Try him, you’ll like it.”  As we see Jonah wrestle with God in the Old Testament reading, we will wrestle with God this morning.

         NOW.  John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, has a popular ministry leading masses of people to repentance and baptism.  Surely he is doing God’s will and deserving of God’s protection and blessing.  But what we hear today and is confirmed in other gospels is that John was arrested.  He was beheaded because of a drunken party to please a sexy young dancing stepdaughter.  UNFAIR!  The call to ministry is not a call to success and happiness and often is in the context of unjust social systems.  Half of the United States is excited about our new President and half is outraged.  Many want the vaccine but are going to have to wait and poor countries may not even be able to buy.  The West again has the money and resources.  For many this is a source of irritation.  Some people pray and receive a miracle and others pray and die.  Like Jonah, it is easy to affirm that we know God is compassionate and loving but we are also very angry when what we perceive is evil seems to be prospering.

         In the midst of the “now”, in the midst of political whims, Jesus returns to Galilee, his home area, and starts his public ministry.  Jesus picks up where John must let go.  Call is for faithfulness in the now and we do not need to hold ourselves responsible for the whole story.  Many of us know the grief of raising a child as best we know but then that child so beloved to us makes choices that hurt.  John the Baptist, from prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus if Jesus is truly the promised Messiah.  Like John, we question ourselves.  Many of us enter jobs or marriages and as much as we want them to last forever, life changes and we must let go.  We must allow Jesus to step in and carry on.  We are called for now and here where we are.  Our candidate may not have won; our loved one may have succumbed to Covid but that does not mean God is inactive.

         Interestingly Jesus preaches that “”the time has come, the kingdom is near, repent and believe.  Ouch.  That is hard for our ears to hear today.  The word, “repent” brings visions of those other emotional ones, the leapers and jumpers, the old-time revivalist.  Amazingly, the Ninevites fasted, prayed and repented.  Call clarifies for us who we want to please and serve, self and world or God.  When I was a child I thought like a child but when God calls and I understand his will, am I willing to believe his way is best? Am I willing to call for repentance or offer forgiveness?  Am I willing to turn the other cheek?  Am I willing to share of my resources?  Call is not always easy and may end in prison and Call leads to a confrontation with our lifestyle and beliefs.  Lord, HELP!

IMMEDIATELY.  Jonah runs to the Mediterranean Sea to get away from God’s Call but Jesus goes to the sea, to the Sea of Galilee, his home territory, to start calling disciples.  Mark tells us about the call of Simon, who later becomes known as Peter, and his brother Andrew.  They were fishermen who Jesus calls to be “fishers of men.”  I do not think this necessarily means we are all called to be evangelists but Jesus calls us where we are and invites us to a broader understanding of our vocation – now.  Fishermen become fishers of men.  Nurses become healers of people, not just disease.  Teachers become mentors of students and not just imparters of knowledge.  Our vocation becomes an avenue to share the good news of the nearness of the kingdom.

         Perhaps it goes without needing to be said that immediately places a “now” on ministry.  If I wait until I think I am ready, I may never do anything.  If I wait until I think I am competent, I will be tempted to focus on my limitations.  Simon and Andrew were not theologically trained, but ordinary people like you and me.  Perhaps we are “retired” but that does not mean we cannot share good news.  Perhaps we are young but that does not mean we are incompetent.  Jesus called people where they were and broadened the intention of vocation.  “Immediately” calls us back to now and calls me to reflect if I am just doing tasks or am I allowing the Holy Spirit to call me to a broader perspective.  This “immediately” does not allow me to whine about being old, being poor, being uneducated, being isolated, or not being responsible.  I cannot look to the government or social security or the doctor to be responsible for my vision for life.  Jesus calls us now to “follow” him.

         Call is not to success but to faithfulness – now.  Call is not to task but to service – now.  The next “IMMEDIATELY” tells me I am called to awareness of a broader family, the family of the kingdom of God.  James and John left their nets with their father and followed Jesus “immediately.”  Ouch.  As a young –ger person headed to the mission field with my husband and the first grandchild, I remember hearing my parents share, “I know my daughter is called to be a missionary but I am not sure I am called to be a missionary parent!”  I now understand better the tension in this call.  Perhaps there were other brothers to help the father of James and John.  Perhaps the fishing business was prosperous and the father could hire other helpers.  We don’t know.  James and John did not wait for all the details to be worked out but trusted and followed. James and John moved from their nuclear family, biologically connected, to a broader definition of family, spiritually connected.  That is not an easy transition.

         Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh.  The stereotype of these people was horrible. In Kenya, one tribe would never give a daughter to another tribe because they… fill in the blank – eat fish, don’t circumcise their men, or whatever.  In Minneapolis there could be a Norwegian Lutheran church on one corner, a Swedish Lutheran on another and an English Lutheran on the third.  We know the challenge of crossing imaginary lines in the sand.  We have a new President since last Sunday and it will be a challenge for half the country to follow his call to unity.  Trust has been broken.  Because of our faith in Christ, we find ourselves in a similar challenge with people that we are uncomfortable with.  Oh my. God help us!

         In the New Testament reading for today, Paul reminds the Corinthians, “The present form of this world is passing away,” and so they are to hold onto relationships loosely.  Friends, spouses, children are gifts for a time but our trust must be with God, not with them.  I read once that “leave father and mother” is not a call to leave in the lurch, to leave unloved and uncared for but is a call to value God and to realize his love calls us to a bigger family.  The Jesus, who called, healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever when he visited.  The Jesus, who called, had time for the woman bleeding as he went to heal Jairus’ daughter.  The Jesus, who called, welcomed the little children, the blind, and the lepers.  He cared about people, families and our relationships.  He can care for our loved ones.  Call is a call to trust him with that which we hold close to our hearts – now.      Trust is not something that happens tomorrow, that is earned.  Trust is what we do when we cannot see how things will work out.  God relented of his anger with the Ninivites but that did not change Jonah’s need to preach.  James and John’s father may struggle with the family business but that did not stop their response.  The new President may not be the one we would have liked but that does not remove from us the responsibility to be Christians now nor does it erase God’s hand in the events.

         Call is not to success but to faithfulness – now.  Call is to a vision of service to others and not just to a list of tasks for the day.  Call is a step into an unknown future trusting God to work it out and trusting God to care for those we care for.  We do not know what tomorrow will bring but we know who is with us now and tomorrow.  The book of Jonah ends with God asking Jonah a question, “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”  God is concerned about all parties in the election, all struggling with covid, and all the economic challenges…and the animals in the environment.  “He’s got the whole world is in His hands, you and me brother, you and me sister, and the itty, bitty babies.”  Amen!

Let Us Build a House

January 23, 2021

We started this week of prayer for unity based on John 15:1-17. First we looked at the first half of verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”  We are chosen and loved, part of a worldwide community that is diverse and multi-talented.  Yup, tensions and disagreements come and we are called on to forgive and to advocate.  Abiding in “the vine” and dwelling in His word transforms our world and us.  Hospitality is a key characteristic of a community.  Are we the “frozen chosen” or is there life that oozes from our gathers to nurture those who come?

         Saturdays I like to offer a hymn to end the week.  My heart went back to not so long ago, Let Us Build a House Where Love Can Dwell by Marty Haugen, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3Pb77ylz_Q.  It has been a full week with politics forefront and policies for the pandemic and global relations, the “house” the government desires to build in the United States.    They are rolling out their plan and getting their people in position.  As we come to the end of the week, let’s listen to this song and pray about the “house” we are building in our church, in our family, and with our friends.   We have been chosen to bear fruit, fruit of the Spirit but also the fruit that builds others.  That fruit does not save us but certainly it demonstrates what type of branch we are and how we cling to the vine.  Blessings as you grow where you are plante


January 22, 2021

Today is Day 5 of The Week for Christian Unity started in 1908.  We look at John 15:1-15 this year to focus our ponderings.  So far we have pondered being chosen – God comes to us we do not work our way to God.  As we abide in that reality we see the chosen-ness in “the other” also.  We grow and hopefully grow with others.  Being with others always involves differences and so the need for forgiveness, foot washing.  Corporate prayer draws us together before our maker.  “The other” is a mirror for me of my strengths and my weaknesses.  When I hurt my friend, I reflect on who I am.  Prayer is for requests but it also opens the door for transparency about our need to reform – pruning. 

         “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.  He cut off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Growth in unity is also growth and transformation within as well as without.  I am not much of a gardener but I do love to plant a couple tomatoes in my hedge each year.  I put the cage around them to protect them and then I have been taught to pinch off the little suckers that sprout in the joints.  Those are like rabbit trails the plant goes down but they sap the plants energy, bear little, and the plant lives in a tangled mess.  Staying balanced and not chasing rabbit trails is a big challenge.  As Moses comes to the end of his life he challenges the people to submit to God’s will as revealed in Scripture, in prayer, in fellowship.  Truth is not something we must climb to heaven to find or descend to the depths.  It lays before us life and death.  Transformation of ourselves to be “our better selves” is possible.

         Each year I ponder a spiritual discipline goal that will guide me in growth.  Last year I thought I would try to read the book of Proverbs every month – 31 chapters meant a chapter a day – and there would be some point of wisdom to chew on.  I did not meet my goal but it gave me direction.  Others start the day by grounding themselves in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12.  The blessings at the end of the struggles encourage.  We are at the beginning of a new year, a new presidency, and a new decade.  Let us be open to being pruned so that we might bear more fruit and be a blessing to others.