Its Tuesday – and time for our in-house Bible study. This time around, there´s quite an exciting mix of topics in the lectionary for our contextual setting. See, coming Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent (Estomihi) – and usually its bells rings in the final stretch of exorbitant reveling of the carnival season. To add to this is the current celebration of St. Valentines Holiday as a secular love feast.
Well, this time around, we´re in quarantine and not just voluntarily due to ascetic and even celibate desires. Rather, the epidemic shut-down is taking its toll across the board. It affects the religious and profane quite differently, but both dramatically, I´m convinced. Just think about how they both respond to times of abundance and celebration, but then also to those, when we have to let go, bid farewell, fast, give up this or that, suffer loss respectively.
The bible text allocated for preaching:
“Shout loudly! Don’t be quiet!Isaiah 58,1-9a
Yell as loudly as a trumpet!
Confront my people with their rebellious deeds;
confront Jacob’s family with their sin.
They seek me day after day; they want to know my requirements,
like a nation that does what is right and does not reject the law of their God.
They ask me for just decrees; they want to be near God.
They lament,‘Why don’t you notice when we fast?
Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’
Look, at the same time you fast, you satisfy your selfish desires, you oppress your workers.
Look, your fasting is accompanied by arguments, brawls, and fistfights.
Do not fast as you do today, trying to make your voice heard in heaven.
Is this really the kind of fasting I want?
Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves,
bowing their heads like a reed
and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes?
Is this really what you call a fast,
a day that is pleasing to the Lord?
No, this is the kind of fast I want:
I want you to remove the sinful chains,
to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke,
to set free the oppressed,
and to break every burdensome yoke.
I want you to share your food with the hungry
and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people.
When you see someone naked, clothe them!
Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood.
Then your light will shine like the sunrise;
your restoration will quickly arrive;
your godly behavior will go before you,
and the Lord’s splendor will be your rear guard.
Then you will call out, and the Lord will respond;
you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’
Much in line with the traditional lesson from Amos 5,21-24 it puts us on track to consider true and false fasting, good and bad sacrifice, holy and sinful loves, desires, hopes all in the framework of true faith or corrupt ideology, which runs roughshod over our fellow men, our neighbors even and those in direst need for our personal attention and help. It´s our Lord, who points us ahead and shows us the way forward as His faithful followers in Sunday´s gospel lesson according to St. Mark – bearing our cross and following Him on the narrow path, He leads us along the lines of fasting, sacrifice and giving up good and beloved things of love and life:
Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke openly about this. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But after turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and because of the gospel will save it. For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? What can a person give in exchange for his life? For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”Mark 8:31-38
And His apostle St. Paul summarizes the true essence of love in that celebrated section of his first letter to the Corinthians:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.
Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.1. Corinthians 13
Following Him and His calling, we will sing and pray:
1 Let us ever walk with Jesus, Follow His example pure,
Flee the world, which would deceive us And to sin our souls allure.
Ever in His footsteps treading, Body here, yet soul above,
Full of faith and hope and love, Let us do the Father’s bidding.
Faithful Lord, abide with me; Savior, lead, I follow Thee.
2 Let us suffer here with Jesus, To His image e’er conform;
Heaven’s glory soon will please us, Sunshine follow on the storm.
Though we sow in tears of sorrow, We shall reap with heav’nly joy;
And the fears that now annoy Shall be laughter on the morrow.
Christ, I suffer here with Thee; There, oh, share Thy joy with me!
3 Let us also die with Jesus. His death from the second death,
From our soul’s destruction, frees us, Quickens us with life’s glad breath.
Let us mortify, while living, Flesh and blood and die to sin;
And the grave that shuts us in Shall but prove the gate to heaven.
Jesus, here I die to Thee There to live eternally.
4 Let us gladly live with Jesus; Since He’s risen from the dead,Sigismund von Birken (1626-1681)
Death and grave must soon release us. Jesus, Thou art now our Head,
We are truly Thine own members; Where Thou livest, there live we.
Take and own us constantly, Faithful Friend, as Thy dear brethren.
Jesus, here I live to Thee, Also there eternally.