Speaking with Authority

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study

Epiphany 4, Year B

Bible Study Contributors:  Tom and Elaine
Reflection by Sarah

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They 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.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Immersing in something like Faith from the Margins to the Web requires a lot of thought, and a lot of reflection.  One of the reflections I’ve had during this process is just how much courage it takes to live into Jesus’ teachings, especially the ones that stand counter to what we socially think of as the way things are “supposed to be.”

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus speaks with authority and it astounds those in the Temple.  Sometimes, in engaging this project, I am likewise astounded by the way God speaks through people in ways that allow glimpses of good news to emerge, even from lessons that can seem dark and despairing.

This week’s bible study circled back around many stories of darkness and despair.  As I listened to the interview, I realized that passing them along as a whole wasn’t where the good news was to be found.  Instead, like a glimmer of hope in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation, I heard this exchange:

“Imagine that if you lived your whole life with a condition, and socially people talked about you and said that you were crazy, or that you had a devil. After a while, you’d start to believe it.”

“Do you think that’s still true today?” asked Elaine, “that when people are told what others think from the outside, they tend to believe that’s who they are?”

“Sure” said Tom. “Every day I meet people who believe about themselves only what others think about them.”

It reminded me of the social psychology lessons that I teach my students.  Back in the early 20th Century, Charles Horton Cooley began to write about the concept of the “Looking Glass Self,” an idea further expanded upon by Erving Goffman in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  It is a book that I remember vividly, even from my own first reading of it when I myself was in college.  These twentieth-century symbolic interactionists helped shape our understanding about how social constructions of who we are can shape our identity and self-image.  In other words, our self-image isn’t a creation of our own minds.  If we are told repeatedly that we are a reflection of the strengths others see in us, we will begin to believe it.  If we are told repeatedly that we are all of our flaws and weaknesses, we will come to believe that instead.  We begin to live into the social roles that others cast for us.  To the symbolic interactionists, we see ourselves by what is reflected back to us from the society in which we live.

Think about that.  Really think about it.

What does the society in which we live say about people who live on the social margins of this world?  What does society reflect back about people who experience poverty, who are hungry, who rely on the compassion of strangers?  What are the language, words and labels that society places what our Gospel lessons might call, “the least of these?”  How is that reflected in our language, or in the presumptions of our own communities, neighborhoods and congregations?

In contrast, how does God see people?

We get some insight about that in this Gospel, as Jesus clearly sees the person and is not blinded by the evil that clouds the vision of others and even screams out in his own face.  Jesus enacts healing toward a person, a man who is being held hostage by the forces of evil defining how others see him.  In this story, the man gets to be free, to be healed, to be wholly human again through Jesus’ authority.

Now THAT is a Gospel lesson that truly is an act of radical grace.

Every week here on Faith from the Margins to the Web, we get to experience some of that radical good news from the people and places that we might least expect, too.  The voices through which God speaks are not always the faces we might expect, and sometimes the stories meander to places we’d rather not tread.  But always, God is present with us and in each person.  Always, there is Good News revealed in each encounter, whether through the depth and breadth of conversation or, as happened today, in a quiet epiphany.

May the light of Christ shine brightly today, as we come to see each other through the light and love in which God sees us.

epiphany window

Gifts We Have Been Given

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study interview for Epiphany, Year B:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

 

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Contributing Authors: Lynnette and Davis

After opening with a prayer, Davis and Lynnette took turns reading the Gospel lesson for Epiphany

Davis: “We’ve heard the Christmas message many times, haven’t we?” He went on to paraphrase the Gospel, emphasizing that for him there is such wide-spread recognition of the importance of this child. On the world’s terms, is he a threat or a great ruler? To Herod, he’s a threat. But to the Magi, there were something more that they were following: “The whole idea is they came from halfway around the world and left him treasures…what do you think all that means, for us?”

Lynnette was quiet, then laughed a bit and said: “I think maybe I need to start going to church more!”

“Don’t we all!” Davis chuckled in response.

Sometimes it can seem, from the corners of our world and the social margins that we are on that we don’t know enough, or aren’t spiritual enough, or aren’t something enough to be entrusted with how the Holy Scriptures open up to us.  But that isn’t how it is with God, present with us throughout time and in every corner of our lives, revealing truth that is in our midst.  It was Lynnette who seemed to experience that Epiphany unfolding in the thoughtful, deliberate response that she offered up next:

Lynnette thoughtfully reflected; “Well, if Jesus and God…the Lord…are the same person and Jesus was formed through his mother…well it seems to me that none of us would be here if it weren’t for God, as well as our mothers and fathers.”

Lynette continued, “So, that makes me think that I have to give thanks to God; I pray every night to God and then I’m thankful in the morning when I wake up. I didn’t have to wake up…but I did wake up, so that gives the day a whole new possibility.”

Davis nodded, “That’s a really good way to live; a great way to look at it, really. Every day we wake up and we realize that if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be here.”

Lynette spoke again, “God is good, all the time.  I pray to God, and I realize God shows me the way, too. Like today, I woke up and saw that it was a beautiful day. I knew I had to get up, to put me on a smile, to get here to this place. I mean, I know that it isn’t something I can take for granted, you know.  There was a time and place when I thought I was going to die, when they said I needed a transplant. But I knew, I knew that I didn’t have to live that way, that if I kept taking medicine and started taking care of myself it would work. I believed that, and I believed that was God telling me that.  And it has worked out, and that is why I thank God and why I come here.”

Lynnette also reflected about the gift of her family.  “I have three boys; I worry about my kids sometimes but they have their own lives and they are on the right track!”

Davis asked their ages, and was surprised when he heard her children were in their 40’s, “You look like you’re younger than that!”

Lynnette laughed, “I do hear that a lot.  But it’s true.  They are good boys; they grew up with me and I tried to be a good Mama. I taught them good manners, and to have a spirit of love. My own parents raised me right and taught me how to walk the right ways of this life, too, and so I pass that on.”

Davis smiled at her and said, “It seems like Spirit has been in your life for a long time.”

Lynnette said, “Well, maybe I don’t know a lot, but I do know that God is with me.”

“Does God ever speak to you?” wondered Davis.

“You know one day, I heard someone say my name, plain as day. I thought ‘is that God?’” But I didn’t have to wonder. I remembered my Momma telling me, when you talk to God, He listens. So I take the time, take that time now to just talk to Him. I tell God my heart.”

Davis asked, “So, is there anything in here that we learned and we want to tell God?   The take home of this Gospel for me is that this ends up being the way that we celebrate Christmas: we give Christmas gifts…”

Lynnette added, “…and we give love…”

“Right!” said Davis. “We end up re-enacting the scene of Jesus being born, and the Three Kings are always there, giving gifts. It’s like we keep it going.  I want to be thankful for that gift of Jesus’ birth and the ways that we keep celebrating it.”

David and Lynnette shared about how each of their churches have celebrated Christmas over the years. A sense of welcome and giving emerged in their sharing, the commonality of love as the expression of Christian faith surrounded them.

Davis began to wrap up their conversation: “So, since we know that God is here right now, what would you tell God…what would you say…can we just talk right here, to God?”

Lynette chimed in immediately. “Of course we can!  I would.  I’d tell Him I love Him!”

Lynnette started their prayer with that: “I love you, God! Thank you for waking me up in the morning. Thank you for letting me be here. I love you God, and I learned more about You today, Lord and mighty God, through my friend Davis here.  Thank you for being with us.”

Then Davis prayed:

“God I thank you for Lynnette. She reminds me that you are always here. Sometimes I don’t pause enough to give you thanks. But, thank you for being here with us today. Thank you for allowing us to share together today. Thank you for reminding me of your loving presence, here with us today.”

Thank you, Lynnette and Davis, for the gift of your sharing and the light it brings to open this season of Epiphany. And than you, most of all, to God for the gift of your presence of love with us today and always.