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  • Michael Minch

As we explore the remainder of Mark chapter 6, we encounter four passages (technically, called pericopes). The first is an account of the beheading of John the Baptist (6.14-29). A couple things jump out at to the reader. First, why does Mark place this report here, and not place it earlier in his Gospel where he introduced us to John and tells us about his ministry (where Luke places his account of John’s execution)? Mark interrupts his narrative about the disciples’ and Jesus’ ministry to tell us about John’s murder. As I implied in the last blog post, there’s a reason! Mark wants his readers (and the hearers of his Gospel as it would be read aloud from one congregation to another) to understand the cost of discipleship. There is a clear pattern being established by Mark:


John ministers and is delivered up to death,

Jesus ministers and is delivered up to death, and

The disciples minister and are delivered up to death (explicitly stated in 8.34; 13.9-13).

[For a powerful look into the meaning of Jesus’ death and its relationship to his disciples, see:

Fleming Routledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2015)].


Second, a reading of the event where John’s fate is sealed shows a collection of vain power present in the people who connive his death. There is an incestuous circle of governmental, military, and commercial interests at work. In Mark’s Gospel, the court of Herod, like the Sanhedrin, is viewed with stark realism, seen as deeply corrupt and cynical, where even good intentions are engulfed by ambition, envy, fear, and compromise. In this ecology of pathology, God’s servant becomes a victim, an instrument to be used by others for petty and vile ends. A story like this rings true, of course… to our reading of our times and our analysis of so many institutions that penetrate our lives. By the way, when I mention the “incestuous circle of governmental, military, and commercial interests,” I have named the core elements of a system political theorists call fascism. [But note that fascist regimes are usually aided by majoritarian religious institutions as well, e.g., at present: Hinduism in Modi’s India, Russian Orthodoxy in Russia, and conservative “evangelicalism” (in a nominal sense) in the United States].


In verses 30-44 we come to the story of the feeding of the 5000 men (who knows how many women and children?). This is the only miracle found in all four Gospels. The separate story of the feeding of the 4000 is found in Mark and Matthew. It is easy to see why masses of poor people who lived day by day, hoping for their “daily bread” with little pretention to financial security and access to three square meals a day, would cherish the memories and stories of Jesus feeding the hungry. After all, how many of our own cherished memories include meals shared with friends and family? We’re told that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (.34). And out of this compassion, Jesus provides something to meet the material needs of these shepherd-less people. The Greek word for “compassion” means, literally, to have one’s “guts torn apart” (spagchnizomia). We think, in our present moment, of Sudan, Libya, Morocco, Ethiopia, and elsewhere… are our guts “torn apart” with compassion? And what are we doing as a compassionate response to such

profound need?


Above I referred to this event as a miracle. But was it? Mark does not tell us that the people experienced it as a miracle (unlike his habit of doing so, usually noting that crowds were “astonished” by Jesus after his miracles). Perhaps the “miracle” of the event is the triumph of a radically different economic and social model—one of sharing within a community, over against a model of individualist consumption in the anonymous marketplace. Rejecting the idea of sending people off to buy food for themselves, Jesus tells the disciples, “Let’s see what we have here,” in effect, “Let’s see what we can come up with.” It turns out, plenty! Everyone ate until they were full, and there was food left over! When Jesus referred to the people as sheep without a shepherd, he was not using a slander against the people. This was a common trope to describe the lack of decent political/religious leadership in ancient Israel. Jesus’ observation is about the lack of leadership that might have provided the infrastructure for a caring, sharing community materialized in economic and political forms (cf. Acts 2). Jesus’ language here is sacramental. Mark tells us that he took the bread and “looked up… and blessed… and broke... and gave it” (.41). The same words are used, of course, at the Last Supper with his disciples (14.22), words we repeat when we share the Lord’s Supper with one another. Jesus feeds us. He nourishes us. He sustains us. As Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel, he is the very Bread of Life (John 6).


The disciples have just returned from their adventure in ministry in nearby villages. Jesus sees that they need respite, rest, and prayer. He insists that they take a boat to the other side of the “sea” (actually, a lake) so as to escape the crowds. He goes to a “mountain” to pray. While on the water, during the fourth watch (3:00-6:00 am) Jesus can see that they have encountered a storm (again!) that imperils them. So, he walks out to the boat. Unlike the feeding of the 5000 where we cannot be sure that a supernatural event took place, here, we can only understand the event as supernatural. Everyone knows the story of Jesus walking on water. Whereas Hellenistic miracle stories depicted gods and heroes walking on the sea, this text is tied to Old Testament pictures of a God who “trampled the waves of the sea… who passes by… and I see him not” (Job 9.8, 11; cf. Ps. 77.19; Isa. 43.16). What is this image of God “trampling” the waves? The ancient Jews feared large bodies of water—the location of Leviathan and other sea monsters, and the cold dark depths. Thus a modest lake is for them, a “sea.” Recall the first creation account, the swirling, boiling, dark and wild waters upon the earth, before God creates the safety of land. When Jesus walks on the water to his disciples, he too walks as a force above, a conqueror of the dark and evil forces below. In the earlier storm, Jesus shouted the storm down and told it to stop. Here, he tramples upon it. In both stories, the faith (trust) of the disciples is put to the test. In both cases, the question was whether their fear would get the best of them, or if Jesus would get the best of them. “Take heart,” he says, “it is I; do not be afraid” (.50). The Greek form of “it is I” (ego eimi) is used in the Gospels, especially John, to echo God speaking to Moses at the burning bush, who declares “his” name as “I Am” (“Who I Am”). We are reminded of Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: “I have spoken these things to you so that you might have peace in me. In the world (cosmos) you have suffering; but take heart—I have overcome the world (cosmos) (16.33). After the encouragement to trust and courage, Mark notes their astonishment at the storm’s ending and Jesus’ presence, and he notes that they had not “understood about the loaves, while their hearts remained hard” (52). Jesus’ powerful (let alone miraculous!) works in our midst ought to have the effect of building up our trust and the deterioration of the surprise that comes to us when he provides!


When they get out of the boat, they are near the village of Gennesaret. In this region, they find people all around bringing their sick into the spaces where Jesus and the disciples might be encountered, even carrying them upon their beds. In villages, towns, marketplaces, and open fields, they set the ill and afflicted down, so that they might simply touch the fringe of his cloak. And “all who touched it were healed” (.56). In contrast to the disciples (the ones “sent out” to minister to others!)— the crowds demonstrated immediate and powerful faith! Immediate and transparent faith, or struggling to understand, or the hostility to Jesus evident among some of the Pharisees and Scribes— these are ways that people continue to respond to Jesus. Perhaps they are also ways that we all respond to Jesus at one time or another. Each kind of response has certainly been a part of my journey with Jesus. It is so very good to know that he keeps showing up and offering healing regardless. Our faithfulness to Jesus has little to do with his faithfulness to us.


Thanks for reading,

Michael





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In the heart of Hartford, a growing crisis has been silently plaguing our community, particularly in the North End. Families, individuals, and children are struggling to find affordable and stable housing, and one street that embodies this crisis is Edgewood Street. As Riverfront Family Church, we believe it is our moral duty to address this issue and advocate for justice, guided by biblical principles that call us to care for those without a voice.


In the Bible, the call to seek justice for the marginalized is resounding. Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Similarly, Isaiah 1:17 encourages us to "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."


Edgewood Street in the North End of Hartford has become a microcosm of the housing crisis that plagues our city. Families here are faced with skyrocketing rent prices, substandard living conditions, and the constant threat of eviction. The lack of affordable housing options leaves many trapped in a cycle of poverty, unable to escape their circumstances


The Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA) has been at the forefront of addressing this crisis. They have been working tirelessly to bring attention to the housing issues faced by our community, advocating for policy changes, and pushing for affordable housing initiatives. GHIAA's commitment to justice aligns perfectly with our mission to make a positive impact on our city.


Action Steps for the City of Hartford:

  1. Affordable Housing Initiatives: The city must prioritize and invest in affordable housing projects that cater to the needs of the North End community.

  2. Tenant Protections: Implement stronger tenant protection laws to prevent unjust evictions and ensure safe living conditions.

  3. Community Engagement: Foster meaningful community engagement to gather input from residents when developing housing policies.

  4. Create Opportunities for Home Ownership: Home ownership creates economic stability, healthier neighborhoods, and the opportunity to create generational wealth. Creating opportunities that encourages and resources home ownership in our neighborhoods is critical to the future of our city.

Action Steps for Individuals:

  1. Education: Educate yourself and others about the housing crisis in Hartford. Understand its root causes and implications.

  2. Advocacy: Join organizations like GHIAA in advocating for housing justice. Attend community meetings, rallies, and town halls to voice your concerns.

  3. Support: Donate to or volunteer with local organizations working towards affordable housing solutions.

  4. Allyship: Be an ally to those affected by the crisis. Listen to their stories, offer support, and amplify their voices.

As followers of Christ, we are called to seek justice for the oppressed, including those struggling with housing instability. The crisis on Edgewood Street is a stark reminder that our work is far from over. By following the guidance of scripture and working hand in hand with organizations like GHIAA, we can make a difference in the lives of our neighbors in the North End and bring about much-needed change in our city. Let us unite in prayer, advocacy, and action to address the housing crisis in Hartford and work towards a more just and equitable future for all.

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Crafting Inspiring Worship Experiences for Our Community

Dear Creative Worship Planning Team,

Welcome to a dynamic and creative ministry role within Riverfront Family Church. Your role as part of the Large Group Creative Worship Planning Team is instrumental in shaping our monthly corporate worship experiences. Together with the pastors, you'll design and execute engaging, spiritually enriching services that encompass music and the arts, teaching and preaching, sharing and testimonials, silence and reflection, prayer, communion (monthly), and baptisms (as needed). Here are the expectations and responsibilities for your team:

1. Collaborative Creativity:

  • Collaborate with your team members and pastors to brainstorm and design worship experiences that inspire and engage our congregation.

  • Encourage the exploration of creative elements such as music, visual arts, drama, and multimedia to enhance the worship atmosphere.

2. Monthly Meeting Commitment:

  • Commit to regular meetings, at least monthly, and additional meetings as needed, to plan and coordinate upcoming worship services.

  • Come prepared to share ideas, feedback, and insights to ensure the services align with our church's vision and mission.

3. Worship Element Coordination:

  • Be responsible for coordinating specific elements of the worship service, such as music selection, art displays, or testimonial opportunities, ensuring a cohesive and impactful service flow.

  • Work closely with relevant individuals (musicians, artists, speakers, etc.) to ensure smooth execution.

4. Spiritual Depth and Diversity:

  • Strive to infuse each service with spiritual depth and diversity, catering to the varied needs and preferences of our congregation.

  • Encourage a balance between tradition and innovation to reach a wide audience.

5. Communion and Baptism Preparation:

  • Assist in the preparation and execution of monthly communion services and coordinate baptisms as needed throughout the year.

  • Ensure that these sacramental moments are conducted with reverence and meaning.

6. Fellowship and Community Building:

  • Consider ways to incorporate fellowship and community-building opportunities into our worship services to strengthen the bonds among our church members.

  • Plan for post-service gatherings or activities when appropriate.

7. Attention to Detail:

  • Pay close attention to the details that enhance the worship experience, such as lighting, sound, visuals, and timing, to create a seamless and engaging service.

8. Adaptability and Innovation:

  • Be open to adapting plans as needed and embracing innovative ideas to keep our worship experiences fresh and relevant.

9. Feedback and Evaluation:

  • Regularly seek feedback from the congregation and team members to assess the impact and effectiveness of worship services.

  • Be willing to make adjustments and improvements based on feedback.

Conclusion: Your role as part of the Large Group Creative Worship Planning Team is essential to nurturing the spiritual growth and connection of our congregation. By collaborating, creating, and executing inspiring worship experiences, you contribute significantly to the vitality of our church community.

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