Stories and Context: People, Places, and Things

Peace of Peace, indeed, peace be with you. Thank you.

This has been a wonderful but somewhat unusual season in the church calendar. The past two Sundays have been special celebrations, and we have another coming next week. These high holy days focus on Bible passages and lessons that aren’t from the stream of lectionary that we had previously been flowing with.

Two Sundays ago we celebrated Reformation Sunday! A Mighty Fortress on the organ, thanks Joan. Bishop Jaech was here to preach; what a gift!

For that celebratory Sunday we used the lessons focused on the Reformation, rather than the lectionary text for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.

Last Sunday we celebrated All Saints Day. What a sacred time to remember, celebrate, and mourn the passing of the saints in our lives who have gone before.

Again, we used lessons more appropriate and focused for that day than the lectionary text for the 24rd Sunday after Pentecost.

Next Sunday we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, followed by the joyful celebration that is a Congregational Meeting!

Now today, on this 25th Sunday after Pentecost, we jump back into the stream of the lectionary for one last “normal” Sunday of the church year.

I love stories, I love context, I love the background information and relationships that inform the stories I’m invested in.

For this reason I love prequel movies, yes even Star Wars episodes 1-3. And the Hobbit trilogy. And I’m excited about the new Pixar film about Buzz Lightyear’s origin story. I can’t watch Avengers Endgame without wanting to rewatch Iron Man. I love how stories, new and old, inform each other.

So today I wanted to explore the Gospel stories that precede and inform the Gospel lesson for today. You ready? Journey with me now.

You may remember three weeks ago we heard Pastor Nate read the story of the Healing of Blind Bartimaeus, who called out to Jesus to “have mercy” while Jesus was walking by; and Jesus replied, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

From there, Mark’s Gospel sees Jesus entering Jerusalem (we heard this last March with Palm Sunday).

Jesus’ “triumphal entry into Jerusalem” is followed by all sorts of schemes against Jesus, attempts to challenge Jesus’ teachings; as well as a few theological throwdowns between Jesus and the Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, scribes and chief priests of the Temple.

If we had stayed in the lectionary stream, two weeks ago we would have heard from Mark 12:28-34, the final of these challenges in the Temple.

This is such a powerful Jesus encounter, I want you to hear the exchange as Mark has written:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?”

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;

you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Then the scribe said to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘the Lord is one, and besides the Lord there is no other’; and ‘to love the Lord with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

And here you all thought the mic drop was a recent invention!

Throughout these challenges, there is one scribe who “answered wisely”, noting the importance of relationship between a person and God, alongside the relationship between a person and their neighbor, above and against the perceived “right” behavior of burnt offerings and sacrifices.

The following story denounces the scribes who were not wise — the scribes who were full of themselves and liked to parade around with their noses pointed high, focused on doing things the “right” way.

In the midst of the Temple, the cultural and political and religious center for Jewish people across the region, Jesus continues to turn the “right” ways to live upside down. Jesus once again challenges those in power and uplifts the voices and experiences of the lowly. This is where we see the Kingdom of God come near.

And yet again, the disciples don’t really understand what Jesus is up to.

We hear in today’s Gospel lesson, that as they are leaving the Temple, one of the disciples turns to Jesus and seems to say, “Wow, Jesus! Look at all these big buildings! Did you SEE how big the Temple is??”

To be honest, I’ve had disciple-like moments similar to this one. While a student at PLU I had the opportunity to take a study away course in Rome. We went to Vatican City, saw the Sistine Chapel, sat in St. Peter square, walked along the Roman Forum and around the Colosseum.

What big buildings, what power in these structures! And yet what does this building, this structure, this thing mean for the people who live there?

What does it mean to do life in the midst of these historic things?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus brings the disciple back to the focus of what matters: “oh these great buildings? Yeah, they’re not going to last. All will be thrown down.”

It’s not solely the structure, not only the things that matter. From the previous stories in the lectionary stream, we know that it is relationship with God, community with each other, care and compassion for neighbors and siblings alike, that allows us to glimpse the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

Still, the disciples don’t let up: “Tell us, when will this be. And what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Clue us in, Jesus! Share the secret about these things

Jesus tries, once again, to ground the disciples in what really matters to the heart of God. Jesus offers the disciples, and us, a reminder and a warning:

There are people and powers that do not share in priorities of care and compassion, neighborliness and mutual love.

There are those who are more concerned about their own selves and are turned inward, using their own platforms and positions to alienate, separate, and dissociate from other human beings for their own advancement

Those are the voices that will try to sidetrack, manipulate, and steer God’s people astray.

Have you heard these voices? Do you recognize this behavior?

Later in this chapter of Mark’s Gospel, still in view of the Temple, Jesus advises the disciples to be alert, and to stay awake. In order words, pay attention to the meaning behind the words, the motivation behind the message.

When faced with these voices, Martin Luther might invite us in these moments to ask, “What does this mean?”

“What does this mean for my relationship with God?” “What does this mean for how I love my neighbor?”

“What does this mean for the Kingdom of God in this time and place?”

Buildings are great things — they can be places of sacred connection and meaningful ministry. This sanctuary, this church building, this steeple helps make God’s presence known and present in downtown Puyallup.

And yet God’s presence, the very Kingdom of God, is more than the building … it’s also you!

It’s you, God’s faithful people, called through the waters of Baptism to a new life in Christ.

It’s you, God’s faithful people, here at the Table, gathered and sent to be the Body of Christ.

It’s you who embody the love of God in this congregation, and in this local community. This is one of the vocations to which we, as a faith community, together are called.

And now as the stream of this lectionary year draws towards its end, and holiday stories fill our eyes and ears and hearts:

May we, together as a community of faith, show care and compassion for our community and our neighbors.

May you, persons of faith, show care and compassion in your life today.

May this church building, here in downtown Puyallup, continue to be a place and space for the Kingdom of God to come near.


Liturgy © 2021 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

Liturgy © True Vine Music ( All rights reserved. Used by permission under CCLI license #11177466.

“Here I Am to Worship”; Tim Hughes, © 2000 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing). All rights reserved. Used by permission under CCLI license #11177466.

“King of My Heart”; text and music: John Mark McMillan and Sarah McMillan. © Meaux Jeaux Music / Raucous Ruckus Publishing / Sarah McMillan Publishing. All rights reserved. Used by permission through CCLI License #11177466.

“Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying”; text and music: Ken Medema, b. 1943; © 1973 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“We All Bow Down”; Lenny LeBlanc; © 2002 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music, David C Cook)), LenSongs Publishing (Admin. by LenSongs Publishing, Inc.). All rights reserved. Used by permission through CCLI License # 11177466.

“Open the Eyes of My Heart”; Paul Baloche; © 1997 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (IMI)). All rights reserved. Used by permission through CCLI License # 11177466.

“Trading My Sorrows”; Darrell Evans; © 1998 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Integrity Music). All rights reserved. Used by permission under CCLI license #11177466.