Pause for Thought

June 2nd: Trinity 1:  Mark 2  23 – 3  6

One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’  Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Jesus found himself in a position of conflict with the religious leaders of his day, a position we find him in repeatedly. This time it is over the observance of the sabbath. Jesus of Nazareth made clear to the religious leaders in this passage, the sabbath was made for humanity, not the other way around; the law of God serves us. Ultimately, the law is given to protect us, to guide us, to keep us from harm's way and to benefit us. Here we catch a glimpse into God's Grace even in the Law and in this way we can see the God of Love and Grace.

This is a story we need to hear, not only to understand the life of Jesus, but to apply it to ourselves. I wonder how often we keep to the law or break the law when it suits us?


June 9th:  Trinity 2:   Mark 3 v 20 to end

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

We have a story within a story: the controversy with the scribes about exorcism and the parable of defeating Satan inserted into an episode about Jesus’ family. The conflict with Satan, the cosmic battle of good and evil. First, the crowd gathers, followers of Jesus and witnesses to his deeds and teaching. Then family and scribes put forth the misguided, mistaken accusation that his power to exorcise demons comes from Beelzebul. Jesus seems upset at the religious rulers who suggest he is possessed. We can almost hear Jesus’ frustration in his words ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’.  From which comes the often quoted saying, "a house divided in itself cannot stand". Jesus then utters a warning about the only unforgivable sin--the sin against the Holy Spirit. Jesus defeats Satan bit by bit, undermining his power.

The challenge for us is to acknowledge our own deviations or motivation for doing what we do and whether it is truly the work of the Holy Spirit directing our thoughts and actions.


June 16th:  Trinity 3:   Mark 4 26-34

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The kingdom of God is described in many different ways in the Bible. In this passage the kingdom of God is described in terms of small seeds quietly planted by a farmer, or as one writer suggests, God's Kingdom grows organically among us, whether we perceive of it or not. The seeds can grow to great size, like a mustard plant, which in ancient Israel became one of the largest of bushes. The mustard seed adds to this message that God's work may not look like much now, but it is bound to become bigger than anyone would expect. Small beginnings can have great endings.

If such a seed fell on you would you nurture and tend it?


June 23rd:  Trinity 4: Mark 4 v 35-end

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

The story of Jesus calming the storm has always been a favourite story of the church. It has prompted the writing of many hymns, such as ‘Eternal Father strong to save’. The early Church saw themselves as a Boat and Christ was with them as he promised. But sometimes he seemed to be sleeping. Wake up, Lord! Why are you asleep? Jesus does awake and rebukes the sea, but a question is also heard. Mark asks us, "Who can this be?" Who is the Jesus who lives on in the Church, which at times is buffeted by the storm and waves of persecution and setback? Those who have faith accept that he is Lord of the Storm. 

Can you take strength from this story which has provided the church with a graphic symbol of, not only who we are, but that he is present for our guidance and protection?


June 30th  Mark 5 v 21-end

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’ While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

In this lesson we hear about the powerful works of Jesus as God’s Messiah. This passage in Mark’s Gospel tells of two miracle stories to produce a single truth about the Kingdom of God - that wherever Jesus goes, he throws back the forces of evil. The twelve year old girl who is dying and the woman suffering from haemorrhages. The two suffer and are seemingly beyond help. The woman "had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse", and a young girl who slips even further beyond hope and dies before Jesus can get to her. The lesson ends with healing and resurrection - the woman is restored to health and the girl raised up.

We are left, though, with a question: To what extent can we allow God to be our wonder- worker ? Do you recognise Jesus at work in your life?

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