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Service Planning for the Season After Pentecost

In issue 7 of RW our Service Planning encompassed the beginning of the Season after Pentecost, and the Scripture commentary dealt with the three Common Lectionary passages for each Sunday. For this issue we have chosen the close of the Season after Pentecost (October 9-November 13), and rather than providing comment on all three passages, we have focused on the gospel reading. This focus will encourage preaching a brief series on one book—an aim of the lectionary for this season.

The suggested psalms and hymns are taken from the following hymnals: The Hymnbook (HB), Psalter Hymnal— 1987 edition (PH), Rejoice in the Lord (RIL), Trinity Hymnal (TH).

Mark 10:1-30

Much of the first part of Mark {up to Peter's confession in chapter 8) focuses on Jesus' authority (over nature, illness, demons) and his beginning work in creating a new order. Many of the vignettes in the second half of the gospel deal with thecostofdiscipleship. In this passage discipleship is measured in terms of dollars and cents.

Jesus loves the very rich man—and no wonder. He certainly seems to have his priorities straight. He runs up to Jesus with a searching question about eternal life, and Jesus takes him seriously.

The answer of traditional Judaism was clear: eternal life is obtainable by obedience. God's good law lights up the route which the believer ought to travel. Jesus recognizes the rich man as a faithful Israelite believer and therefore points out the old way to him.

But the man is also an Israelite who overestimates the value of "keeping the law." Jesus makes clear that obedience is more than external observance of precepts; obedience involves radical commitment, painful letting go, and sacrificial following.

The man of great wealth is not (yet?) ready to let go of his barns and bonds, and his life shows again that money is an ambiguous blessing. In preaching on this passage, it is just as well to keep the sermon centered on wealth. Although a preacher may want to note that any other treasure (prestige, sex, career, family) can also keep us from obedience, Jesus is quite content to keep this a one-point sermon: money is a dangerous gift, and those who have great wealth (most Europeans and North Americans) should realize that money can be hazardous to their spiritual health.

More positively, this passage also teaches that money creates opportunity for obedience. "The poor" are indeed very much with us, and as Jesus says (v. 27), with God all things are possible—even parting with our possessions and giving up that which has become a part of us. Finally, as so often in God's kingdom grace, one of our attitudes— this time toward money—will be overturned in topsyturvy irony: the rich man leaves sadly, clutching his prop-erty deeds and checkbook, while Jesus' disciples go trooping behind him as carefree, cheerful givers.

Hymns
If You But Trust in God to Guide You
(HB 344, PH 446, RIL 151, TH 567)
Lord of All Good
(PH 295, RIL 430)
Make Me a Captive, Lord
(HB 308, PH 546, RIL 442)
Take My Life
(HB 310, PH 288-89, RIL 475, TH 492)
We Give Thee But Thine Own
(HB 312, RIL 427, TH 367)
What Does the Lord Require
(PH 293, RIL 176)
When We Walk with the Lord
(PH 548, TH 700)













Mark 10:35 45

Jesus continues turning things upside down. James and John's request for a place of honor is not unusual. The desire to receive recognition and honor comes naturally to most of us. The office boy or girl hopes one day to be running the company, the lathe operator plans to become shop foreman, and the new pastor of youth and evangelism dreams of being a senior pastor by the age of forty-one. Authority and honor are near-universal goals that most of us crave. And although the other disciples are appropriately indignant, some soul-searching might have revealed that they had similar aspirations.

Modern management theory has discovered "servant-leadership," and books and conferences demonstrate that such an apparent contradiction is desirable and possible. If servant-leadership is possible in the marketplace, how much more it should be practiced in our Christian homes and churches. Such genuine ser-vanthood, which seeks to build up others and promote their interests, is akin to Jesus' notion of being slaves.

Again, Jesus does not ask us to go where he has not first walked. The Son of Man (the great King-Deliverer who came as a suffering servant) has explored this demanding and treacherous route for us. The cup of suffering and the baptism of death (to self) were his, and John and James will share in that suffering. So will Mark's reading audience in Rome. So will we.

But the Son of Man is also unique. His servanthood represents the purchase price of our freedom. Our liberating servant-leadership is possible because Christ has purchased us; his ransom has taken us out of our constricting self-serving and has set us free to become slaves.

And, yes, the places at the left and at the right and all around Jesus will be ours. But even more important than the places of honor will be our seats at the great supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9)—right across the table from Jesus!

Hymns
Christ, Who Is in the Form of God
(PH 227)
Forth in the Peace of Christ We Go
(PH 323, RIL 413)
In Christ There Is No East or West
(HB 479, PH 540, RIL 410)
Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak
(HB 298, PH 528)
Lord, Who Shall Sit Beside Thee
(RIL 264)
Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
(HB 141, PH 501, RIL 363, TH 133)











Mark 10:46 52

On Jesus' first busy day of ministry recorded by Mark, Jesus concluded his (Sabbath) working day by healing (Mark 1:32-34). Now, near the conclusion of his ministry, we read in vivid detail of his last healing miracle.

Much of the sermon (or the children's lesson) can be an imaginative retelling of the Bartimaeus story. He certainly is an appealing figure. Although reduced to a life of degrading begging (a common sight, which numbs the crowd from seeing his need), Bartimaeus here sees his chance to take charge of his situation. The traveling preacher is to be his ticket to a life of sight and of earning his own livelihood. If this shalom-bringing Son of David would only hear him and extend his touch of mercy.

Bartimaeus yells again. Finally Jesus does hear, and he responds to Bartimaeus's determination and faith with a simple, power-filled word, "Go!" Imagine Bartimaeus's delight and wonder a short time later as he sees the Son of David's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Maybe he was the first to throw his cloak on the road in front of Jesus' colt (11:8).

The physical healing and Jesus' concern for people's bodies should get their full due in this story; we should not fall into a spiritualizing trap of saying that Jesus was really interested only in the spiritual poor and blind. At the same time, we must also note that Jesus is not averse to using his physical activities to illustrate spiritual truths. In these final weeks of Jesus' ministry his passion intensifies, and so does the opposition—opposition often caused by persistent and willful blindness. Such blindness fails to see Jesus for who he is—the messianic Son of David.

Bartimaeus's request ("I want to see") and response ("he followed Jesus") can be a pattern for our lives. As our spiritual cataracts are removed, we also see Jesus, and then "through" Jesus—prism-like—we see this world and ourselves with new eyes. Bartimaeus's grateful following is reflected in our wide-eyed, grateful following-—a route of passion, of cross-bearing, of death, of resurrection.

Hymns
At Even, When the Sun Was Set
(HB 55, RIL 252)
Hope of the World
(HB 291, PH 524, RIL 414)
We Would See Jesus
(HB 183, RIL 250)
You Servants of God
(HB 27, PH 477, RIL 598, TH 136)
Your Hands, O Lord, in Days of Old
(HB 179, PH 363)









Mark 12:28-37

The pious Jew repeated daily, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." This confession (the shema—Hebrew for "hear") is here confirmed byjesus as a fitting confession for his followers. Moreover, his capsule of the commandments ("Love the Lord…" and "Love your neighbor…") are quotes from the old writings as well. So there's no need to try to find a new teachings in Jesus' words.

But the juxtaposition of various teachings from the old law presents a powerful message. First, our obeying God's rule should not be a legalistic sifting and weighing of don'ts and do's, but a loving response of our total beings and lives to the service of God. Not a tepid tallying of rules, but a warm-blooded affection for the Lord.

Second, love of God and love of people are inseparable. If we try to love God without loving others, our love will appear hollow and tinny; it will lack the substance of involvement with the people in the next pew and at the next drill press. If we try to love others without loving God, we will run dry, since our love for and communion with God replenish our capacity to love.

Third, our neighborly love ought to be universal. The old law was often discriminating and restrictive (e.g., Lev. 19:18), but Christ commands us to be undiscriminat-ing and to show love to all who happen to be in the neighborhood—even those we'd rather not have around.

Psalms and Hymns<> How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
(HB 130, PH 487, RIL 364, TH 544) br /> Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You
(HB 21, RIL 521)
Love God with All Your Soul and Strength
(PH 155)
O God of Space and Time
(RIL 32)
Spirit of God, Who Dwells within My Heart
(HB 236, PH 419, RIL 445)
Psalm 18 (PH 18)
Psalm 116 (PH 116)









Mark 12:38-44

This passage, which compares both the scribes and the rich to the poor widow, is a study in contrasts. The scribes, Jesus' principal opponents, don't fare well in the gospel of Mark, and here they appear at their ostentatious worst. (It's well to remember, however, that not all scribes were of the same stripe—note Jesus' commendation in verse 34). Jesus' censure of the scribes concerns both their attitude and their actions. Their piety seems to be window dressing. Their long, white robes set them off from common folk as a special class of holy people who are to be shown deference; but Jesus intimates that their piety may be no more than robe-deep. Moreover, their dress and their position are used for selfish ends. They are the original power dressers who know that they can manipulate people by appearance and position, and they don't hesitate to (mis)use their power. They even misuse it by taking advantage of vulnerable widows, manipulating them into supporting the scribes and their temple service. (Probably enough has been said by preachers and pundits about the Bakkers and Swaggarts of Christian ministry, but they do seem to be the twentieth-century reincarnation of these scribes.)

The rich are not chided, but neither are they lauded for their abundant giving—which they themselves may have been rather impressed by. Jesus seems to evaluate the giving by the old adage "It's not how much you give, but how much you have left over." The latter seems to determine how "impressed" God is with our generosity.

The widow presumably gives her two coins quietly and unostentatiously; her demeanor does not flaunt her obedience and her piety. But she gives generously, because she gives her all.

The application is obvious: we have to give till it hurts, always in the confidence that the Lord will supply what we need. There may also be a second application: we must not create or tolerate social or economic or religious conditions that reduce people to squalid poverty and humiliating dependence.

Psalms and Hymns
As Saints of Old Their Firstfruits Brought
(PH 294)
Lord of All Good
(PH 295, RIL 430)
Lord of Creation, to You Be All Praise
(PH 286, RIL 68)
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
(HB 399, PH 568, RIL 464, TH 460)
We Give You But Your Own
(HB 312, PH 296, RIL 427, TH 367)
Psalm 82 (PH 82)










Mark 13:24-32

The lectionary drops us into the middle of chapter 13, Jesus' apocalyptic discourse. We must sort through a welter of different views about the end times and the fulfillment of prophecy—views that will often determine the interpretation of this passage and the direction of a sermon.

My reading is that verses 24—27 are a vision of Jesus' return and that verse 32 {"No one knows about that day or hour") refers to the same event. Verses 28—31 highlight the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in a.d. 70, and "this generation" of verse 30 refers to the contemporaries to whom Jesus is speaking. (A given sermon could encompass both scenes, but I prefer to preach on the two themes separately.)

Verses 5-23 of this chapter provide us with intimations of distress, tribulation, and persecution, but in verses 24—27 we have a burst of promise and glory. Certainly, the lights of the universe will go out in history's greatest blown-fuse incident ("the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky"), but then comes the light of the Son of Man himself. Earlier in the gospel the Son of Man is always portrayed in a blend of humiliation and (potential) glory, but here he is shown in full, resplendent majesty. Another change in emphasis is the "gathering in" of the elect. Old Testament prophecy had already hinted at this angel harvest, but then the ingathering was often limited to Israel; now comes the promise of an immense, universal harvest "from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens."

If verses 28-31 primarily refer to the destruction of the temple, then Jesus is in effect answering the question the disciples asked in verse 4: "Tell us, when will these things happen?" The sermon topic can focus on this event, broaden out to the theme of watchfulness, and then draw attention to Jesus' wonderful assurance that his words will never pass away. The assurance that God's word will not pass away is often given in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa. 40:6-8); here Jesus identifies his words with those of "our God." This confident promise can be a wonderful note of promise on which to end this series and can set the stage for the coming of Advent. The series can end with the realization that the Christian year and the Christian life often put us on multiple thresholds. In this passage we're only days away from Jesus' death, but we also anticipate his second coming, and the approach of Advent will again remind us of his first coming. All of these events are affirmations that God's word and promise will not pass away.

Hymns
At the Name of Jesus
(HB 143, PH 467, RIL 336, TH 124)
Day of Judgment! Day of Wonders!
(PH 614, TH 241)
Lo! He Comes, with Clouds Descending
(HB 234, PH 612, RIL 605, TH 237)
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
(HB 399, PH 568, RIL 464, TH 460)