Exodus 40, Psalm 30, Mark 3
This section of Exodus ends with details for setting up the tent of meeting with its vessels, vestments, and sacred objects of worship. For these writers, God’s divine presence was thought to physically dwell in the “Holy of Holies,” in the temple. In our worship, God is not more present in church but we are more present to God. The Hebrew people trusted that God would be a constant presence in their lives, guiding and directing them (we would say “24/7”) as a “pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day” (Exodus 13:21).
Psalm 30 is a joyful outburst of gratitude for rescue from danger. How wonderful we feel when we are on the mend from an illness or when a crisis is past! Then it is easy for us to say, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” This is not just a cliché that clouds often have a silver lining, but rather that deliverance belongs to those who actively call upon God.
Each of the sections of this chapter of Mark begins with a geographic location: synagogue, seashore, mountain, home. In the synagogue Jesus heals on the sabbath. Some of us are old enough to remember when most stores and entertainments were closed on Sundays. Jesus’ actions remind us that doing the work of God is more important than following rules and regulations, no matter how well-meaning. The narrative then turns to the Sea of Galilee where crowds seeking healing are so great that Jesus is forced to preach to them from a boat offshore. Interestingly, it is the demons who know who he is—the Son of God—and they are the first to confess him! This will not be the first time.
From the seashore, Jesus goes up on a mountain (mountains for Mark being the scene for important teachings and revelations). There Jesus calls his apostles—twelve of them (the same number as the tribes of Israel)—and sends them out. It is an interesting list of names; many we don’t hear much more about, but they clearly had a supportive role, just like those unsung members of the church who humbly serve.
By the end of the chapter Jesus is again home, there to encounter the charge that he is crazy, charges made both by the religious leaders and by his own family. Jesus’ answer to the scribes contains a mysterious allusion to “the (unforgivable) sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3:29). This probably means the sin of attributing evil motives to good actions, just as the scribes felt compelled to attribute the healing Jesus performs to satanic motives.
In any event, Jesus’ real family are not those who are related to him by blood but “those who do the will of God” (Mark 3:35).
Do we spend too much time in our churches focusing on the externals of architecture, liturgy, and vestments? How can the materials we use in worship be a means to an end and not a distraction?
Who are the people in our congregations who “do the will of God” and not just profess their beliefs? Are you one of them? Do you practice what you preach? If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Oh God, you have promised to deliver us from all our infirmities and to guide us into the paths you would have us walk. Give us strength and courage to do your will and not ours in every aspect of our lives, trusting in your ever-present care and goodness. Amen.
-The Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith
Bishop of Arizona