Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Heaven Come Near

ID: a 19th century engraving of Icarus, draped in a robe with wings attached as he is falling from the sky. Feathers are falling from the wings. In a text box on the right of the image, the following text is displayed: "Heaven Come Near / 21 January 2024 / Year B - Third Sunday / after Epiphany / a sermon on / Mark 1:14-20 / by Pace Warfield" with the logo in the bottom of the text box.

A Sermon on Mark 1:14-20 by Pace C. Warfield

The video of the sermon and full service can be found here.

On a balmy night in August 2018, two hours after midnight, a group of scientists, engineers, and technicians gathered in the control room of Cape Canaveral, Florida. Water hung in the air, making it feel heavy and damp. Everything seemed still. The night was so dark, clouds in the air blocking the stars and moon, very little could be seen of the world through the thick, inky night, which made the towering rocket on the launch pad that much more stark and apparent, a beaming visage against the darkness. Bright lights were cast upon the rocket, a Delta IV heavy launch vehicle, as the countdown began. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five… a giant ball of flame roars out from under the rocket, four, three, two, one, and liftoff. The heavy rocket seemed to crawl upward at first, barely moving and then faster and faster until it soared into the night sky, fiery trail behind it as it arced toward the stars.

NASA has had many successful launches in its sixty years, this one might seem no different except it carried a special payload: the Parker Solar Probe. Designed to study the outer corona of the sun, and flying at speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour, the probe makes a highly elliptic orbit around the sun every five months or so, each time bringing it slightly closer to the sun. In its first year of operation, the solar probe became the closest human-made object to the sun in its very first heliocentric orbit. Each subsequent orbit brings it even closer to the sun. In 2021, the probe was the first ever human-made object to enter the solar corona–the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere. By the end of this year, the probe will dive even deeper into the solar atmosphere, just four and a half million miles from the sun's surface, so close that a large coronal loop–the fiery plasma that arcs out in beautiful ovals from the surface of the sun, would be just a few hundred thousand miles below.

The Parker Solar Probe is designed to examine the atmosphere of the sun, learning about solar wind and magnetic fields. Learning about these will help scientists understand the sun's turbulent weather, making it able to be better predicted. In our increasingly technological world, where we rely on satellite technology for radio, communication, and GPS, this knowledge is vital. A large coronal ejection of plasma energy, a solar flare, can act as an electromagnetic pulse and interfere with our technology. In particularly bad solar storms, communication and navigation here on earth can be almost entirely shut down. In fact, in March of 1989, over six million people lost power for nine hours in Quebec due to a massive solar flare from the sun.

To survive this turbulent coronal weather, the Parker Solar Probe makes use of cutting edge technology to shield its delicate instruments from the sun's powerful heat, which can reach 2 million degrees Fahrenheit in the corona. Two million degrees. It's almost unimaginably hot. Flying so close to the sun is an awesome achievement, presenting humanity with a watershed moment in our understanding of the solar system and our sun which powers the life on this planet. It is also incredibly, incredibly dangerous.

You may have heard of the legend of Icarus, a figure from Greek mythology. Daedalus, Icarus' father, was an inventor. Daedalus and Icarus were imprisoned in the labyrinth, a design of Daedalus' own making, by a jealous king. They could not escape by sea or land as both were heavily guarded. So Daedalus, the ingenious inventor he was, crafted wings for him and his son out of leather and lightweight metal. He bound them together with beeswax, then warned his son to follow his flight path closely as flying too close to the sea would soak the wings and make them too heavy to fly, too close to the sun and the beeswax would melt. Icarus at first heeded his father's warning, but then overcome with the joy of soaring high in the sky, he flew too close to the sun. The beeswax binding the contraption began to melt then eventually break. Icarus fell through the sky to the sea and perished. Fly too close to the sun and you will get burned.

Now to today's Gospel reading. The story picks up immediately after Jesus' baptism by John and the subsequent forty days in the wilderness. While Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, John the Baptist was arrested. John's message was one of getting ready: repent, for the kingdom of God has come near. We later find out why he was arrested: John had criticized King Herod Antipas for marrying Herodias, his brother's ex-wife. It appears that John flew too close to the sun on this one, sure, repentance is great for the common person, but start telling the ruling class that they are in need of repentance and not above the kingdom of God and you are bound to anger people. John would later be killed at the insistence of Herodias.

Jesus came out of his forty-day temptation in the wilderness to a world even more on verge of ignition than the world he left just over a month earlier. Tensions are high, the baptizer is arrested for upsetting the power structure, it is not a safe world to which Jesus is returning. And yet, fresh out of the wilderness, Jesus picks up the message where John left off: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news."

This is essentially the thesis statement of Mark's gospel. The time has been fulfilled, the hopes and dreams, the longings of a nation under foreign occupation, a people oppressed and crying out for deliverance: the time has been fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near: God is acting here and now, not in some universe lightyears away, but near to us, among us, with us. So repent, abandon the harm we do to one another, to the earth, abandon the unjust ways of the world. Believe that a new world is possible, that the time has come for deliverance, for justice, for hope, for fulfillment.

Jesus begins preaching this message around Galilee and soon approaches the brothers Simon and Andrew fishing on the sea. He asks them to follow him and they do. He continues his preaching around Galilee and comes across another pair of brothers, James and John, who are in their boat with their father Zebedee. Jesus calls to them and they drop their nets and follow him, leaving their father in the boat with his hired workforce. And though it's a little beyond today's story, this motley crew next goes to Capernaum, one of the larger villages on the sea of galilee. Jesus enters the synagogue and preaches his message: The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news. A man possessed by demons begins crying out to Jesus, and Jesus responds by casting the demons out, freeing the man from the torment. The crowd was amazed. He goes to Simon and Andrew's house and heals Simon's mother in law who was sick with a harsh fever. Instantly, like wildfire, news of this new preacher who can cast out demons and heal the sick spread throughout Galilee. It won't be long, as we know, before Jesus' message, like John who came before him, would make it back to the powers that be. Soon, the political and religious leaders would start to come after Jesus for his disruption of the status quo, the way that Jesus spoke with authority and refused to submit to the authority of the religious and political hierarchy, the way that Jesus spoke about a Son of Humanity who would end oppression and bring about this new kingdom of God. The way that message is a threat to power and a promise of hope to the disenfranchised and those at the margins of society. Jesus would fly too close to the sun, too, it would seem, and be crucified for it.

When I read this story, I keep getting stuck on the phrase: "the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near." I can't get it out of my head. What does it mean that the kingdom of God has come near?

I feel like we so often imagine that the kingdom of God is far away. Out there somewhere, hidden beyond the veil of clouds or in our present understanding of the universe behind the cosmic dust and dark matter. Something we can't see or understand, or at very least, maybe catch a glimpse of now and again. We feel it is intangible, hidden. It showed up 2000 years ago, sure, with Jesus. And it will come again in the far off future with the end of the world, whether through the heat death of the universe or the explosion of the sun or seven seals being opened and trumpets sounding. But that's millennia ago and millennia away. Far from here.

But no, that's not what Jesus is telling us in this story. The kingdom of God has come near. In fact, some versions of the Greek say that the kingdom of God is at hand. This potential energy, a new order for the entire world. A world where oppression shall cease, where lives are forever transformed just by passing through the corona of this kingdom, radically altered.

The Kingdom of God is filled to the brim with promise. Filled to overflowing even. It breaks through the mundane, through the hurt, the sorrow, the heartache we feel. It breaks through the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas and attempted genocide in Palestine, the Russian war in Ukraine, the Armenian genocide and the genocide in the Congo. It's like that burst of sun through the clouds, thawing up the bitter cold. The grief of heartbreak, of loss of ability, the ravages still being felt today by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The tears we have shed, hot against our face. The hurt in our hearts, in our bodies. Pain, heartbreak, illness, sorrow. Grief too profound, too deep for words. It feels like the promise of God is lightyears away. And yet, and yet… even here, even now… the kingdom of God has come near.

The Parker Solar Probe zooms through the cosmos getting nearer and nearer to the sun. Passing through the corona, the atmosphere of the sun, helping us learn about our planet, about ourselves, and about the mysteries of the universe. We, too, are like that probe, flying through the corona of God's kingdom, close enough to reach out and touch the surface. It's dangerous, it's scary at times, it burns. And yet, it teaches, it brings life, it empowers.

Whenever we speak out on behalf of the oppressed, whenever we work for justice. When we comfort each other in our grief. When laughter breaks out, or a face melts into a genuine smile, when the poor are given food and clothes and shelter. When social justice is won on behalf of marginalized communities. When power and tyrants are challenged. When these things happen, when we live out these promises in the here and now, we can experience the nearness of the kingdom of God. It is always there, always just a hair's breadth away. Always unfolding, always present, always near.

God, come near. Heaven, come near. Let's go ahead and fly close to the sun. Let it catch us on fire, fire for justice, for peace, for love. Let it melt away the coldness in our hearts so that we can truly, truly inflame the world, transforming it and us along with it into a new creation. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news." Amen.

Works Consulted
Amos, Jonathan "Nasa Mission Lines Up to 'Touch the Sun" on (29 December 2023; Accessed 20 January 2024).

NASA, " Health, Safety, and Commercial Needs" in Space Technology 5: Tomorrow's Technology Today (January 2004; Accessed 20 January 2024).

Ibid., " NASA's Parker Solar Probe Mission Launches to Touch the Sun" on, Video (12 August 2018; Accessed 20 January 2024).

Ibid., "Parker Solar Probe," Website (Accessed 20 January 2024).

Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers, "Gospel of Mark" in Women's Bible Commentary, Twentieth-Anniversary Edition, ed. Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 478-492.

Williamson, Lamar, Jr. Mark, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Queerying Narrative Lectionary 133

ID: the depiction of the eschatological feast in Priscilla's Catacombs. A grey box is on the right with the following text: "Narrative Lectionary / Year 1 - March 12, 2023 / Wedding Banquet / Matthew 22:1-14" with the logo at the bottom.
Pace Warfield-May queeries the Narrative Lectionary.

Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus spoke to his chosen family in parables, once more. He said, 2"The kin-dom of heaven could be described as a ruler who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent all of his slaves to call the guests who had been invited to attend. The guests would not come. 4Again, the ruler sent other slaves out, saying to them, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, everything is prepared: for dinner, the oxen and best quality of my cows have been prepared. Everything is ready! Come to the wedding banquet.' 5But the invited guests couldn't be bothered. One went back to his farm, another to his business, 6while another guest decided to be extra and seized up the ruler's slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The ruler was enraged. He sent his troops, killed the guests who had murdered his slaves and burned their city. 8The ruler said to his remaining slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those I originally invited were not worthy. 9Go then into the streets and invite everyone you can find to the wedding banquet.' 10The slaves went out into the streets and gathered everyone they could find, regardless of their character or worthiness, so that the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11"But when the ruler came in to see all the guests, he noticed that there was a man who was not wearing a wedding robe. 12The ruler said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And the man was silent. 13Then the king said to the guests, 'Bind this man's hands and feet so he cannot get free. Then throw him into the outer unknown, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 14For many are called, but few are chosen."

Queeries for the text:
What is this text building on?
What is the accompanying text?
Where is this going?
Why is the ruler such an asshole in this?
How has this text been used in antisemitic and supersessionist ways?
What does the heavenly banquet look like here and now?

What are your queeries?

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Queerying Narrative Lectionary 132

ID: a close up of a grape vine in a vineyard. To the right there is a dark blue box that reads "Narrative Lectionary / Year 1 - March 5, 2023 / Laborers in the Vineyard / Matthew 20:1-16" with the logo at the bottom.
Rev. Emily E. Ewing and Pace Warfield-May queery the Narrative Lectionary.

Matthew 20:1-16
“For the reign of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for their vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, they sent them into the vineyard.

3When they went out about nine o’clock, they saw others standing idle in the marketplace 4and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

5When the landowner went out again about noon and about three o’clock, they did the same. 6And about five o’clock they went out and found others standing around and said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’

7They said to the landowner, ‘Because no one has hired us.’

The landowner said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to their manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.

10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But the landowner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Queeries for the text:
What is this text building on?
What is the accompanying text?
Where is this going?
How would the world be different if no one were forced to work in order to survive?
Why didn't anyone hire the 5pm laborers? What impact did finally getting hired have on them?
What happens if God is the person at 5pm with no work?
Who is the real enemy?
What does friend mean? Why did the landowner only respond to one of the workers?
What if no one was last or first?

What are your queeries?


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Queerying Narrative Lectionary 131

ID: a black and white illustrated depiction of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. A gray box is on the right with the following text: "Narrative Lectionary / Year 1 - February 26, 2023 / Forgiveness / Matthew 18:15-35".
Pace Warfield-May queeries the Narrative Lectionary.

Matthew 18:15-35
Jesus said: "If your sibling causes you harm, speak to them alone about it. If you are listened to, you have rebuilt that relationship. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two along with you so that every word you say can be supported by your witnesses. 17If that person refuses to listen to you and your witnesses, tell it to the church. If that person refuses to listen even to that church, that relationship is broken and you should sever ties. 18I tell you the truth: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you let go on earth will be let go in heaven. 19Again, I tell you this truth: if two of you agree about everything you ask, it will be done for you by my Parent in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am truly present among you."

Then Peter came and asked Jesus, "Teacher, if my sibling causes me harm, how often should I forgive them? Seven times?" 22Jesus responded, "Not seven times, but I'm telling you seventy-seven times. 23For this reason the kin-gdom of heaven may be compared to a slave master who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the settling of accounts, the slave who owed him the equivalent of two hundred thousand days of labor was brought to him, 25and, as he could not pay his master, the slave master ordered that slave to be sold together with his wife and children and all his possessions in order for the payment to be met. 26So the slave prostrated himself before the master and said, 'Please, I beg of you, have patience with me. I will pay you everything I owe.' 27And out of pity for him, the slave master released the debt that was owed. 28But that same slave ran into one of his fellow slaves who owed him the equivalent of 100 days of work. He seized his fellow slave by the throat and said, 'Pay me all that you owe me.' 29Then his fellow slave fell down and begged him, 'Please, have patience with me. I will pay you!' 30But the first slave refused. Indeed, he threw the other slave in a prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the rest of the slaves heard about what happened they were very upset. They reported it to the slave master. 32The slave master summoned the first slave back to him and said, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you that huge debt you owed me because I took pity on you when you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have shown your fellow slave mercy, the way I showed you mercy?' 34The slave master in anger handed him to be tortured until he could pay back the entire debt he owed. 35So it will be with my Parent in heaven if you do not truly forgive your siblings from your heart."

Queeries for the text
What is this text building on?
What was skipped? What is the accompanying reading?
Where is this headed?
How have passages like this been used to justify slavery?
When is it okay to not forgive?
What does true forgiveness look like?

What are your queeries?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Queerying Narrative Lectionary 130

ID: a cross made in the negative space around ashes against a wooden background. A brown box is on the right with the following text: "Narrative Lectionary / Year 1 - February 22, 2023 / Who is the Greatest? / Matthew 18:1-9" with the logo at the bottom.
Pace Warfield-May queeries the Narrative Lectionary.

Matthew 18:1-9
Shortly after the transfiguration on the mountain top, the twelve chosen family members came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the G.O.A.T.–greatest of all time–in the kin-dom of heaven?" 2Jesus called out to a nearby child and brought the child among the chosen family 3 and said, "I tell you the truth: unless you transform and become like children, you will never enter the kin-dom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles themselves to be like this child is the G.O.A.T. in the kin-dom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes a child such as this in my name welcomes me.

6If any among you cause one of these little ones who believe in me to miss the mark, it would be better if you had a great stone chained to your neck and you were thrown into the depths of the sea to drown! 7Woe to the world for all the systems that create and cause sin! These things are always going to come, but woe to the one and the systems through whom they come! 8If your hand or your foot or any other appendage causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter enter life without that appendage than for you to have all your appendages and be thrown into the never ending fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, rip it out and throw it away; it is better for you to be missing that eye than for you to have both eyes and be thrown into the hell of never ending fire."

Queeries for the text:
What is this text building on?
What is the accompanying text?
Where is this going?
What is disability theology?
How can we help protect children?

What are your queeries?

Friday, January 6, 2023

Queerying Productivity and Pausing

Life is busy and chaotic right now. In order to live into anti-capitalist values, we are pausing queerying for a time.  It is a labor of love and in this moment, personal life needs more time and attention, so that is what we are doing in this moment.  We will be back to queeries when things calm down or have shifted to provide more spoons and capabilities for queerying.  Blessings on you as you seek out the ways God's glory is manifest among the ordinary and extraordinary of your life.

For sermon prep, feel free to check out the Nerds At Church Podcast, which also follows the Revised Common Lectionary.

For more queer thinking and theologizing, feel free to check out the Horror Nerds At Church Podcast.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Queerying Narrative Lectionary 119

ID: a medieval illuminated manuscript of Matthew 1, showing the "Tree of Jesse"--Jesus' family tree. A blue box on the right has the following text: "Narrative Lectionary / Year 1 - January 1, 2023 / The Genealogy of Jesus / Matthew 1:1-17" with the logo in the bottom right corner.
Pace Warfield-May queeries the Narrative Lectionary reading.

Matthew 1:1-17
1The family tree of Jesus the Anointed One, the descendent of David and Bathsheeba, and of Abraham and Sarah.

2Abraham and Sarah were the parents of Isaac, and Isaac and Rebecca the parents of Jacob, and Jacob and his wives the parents of Judah and his siblings, 3and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6and Jesse the father of King David.

And David and Bathsheba were the parents Solomon, 7and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his siblings, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus is called the Anointed One.

17So all the generations from Abraham and Sarah to David and Bathsheeba are fourteen generations; and from David and Bathsheeba to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the birth of the Anointed One, fourteen generations.

Queeries for the text:
What is this text building on?
What is the accompanying text?
Where is this going?
What is skipped over?
Who are the women named in the genealogy? Why are so few named?
What is the importance of genealogy and ancestry?

What are your queeries?