Lodge of Blessing

For Sunday, 31 January 2021: Mark 1:21-28

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.


The traditional religion of my ancestors is known as Midewiwinor Grand Medicine. It is a secret society and so not much is known by those not initiated into its various levels, but I have been told that there is a “lodge of blessing” and a “lodge of cursing,” a use of spiritual power for good as well as for evil. When I first learned about this, my thoughts went immediately to the words of Moses addressed to God’s people as they were preparing to enter the land promised to their ancestors: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,  loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus enters the local synagogue on the sabbath. Synagogues were places of worship for Jews located in their home villages since obviously not everyone could be present at the main place of worship, the Temple in Jerusalem. At the Temple were offered prayers and sacrifices; in the synagogues were primarily offered teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures. It is said that it was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for guest preachers to be invited to teach. Such is the role Jesus fulfills on this sabbath day.

Not only does he amaze the gathered congregation with his authority and command of the Bible, but Jesus also demonstrates his spiritual power by casting out a minion of the evil one, an unclean spirit who recognizes him as the “Holy One of God.” The realm of light is pitted against the dominion of darkness, the lodge of blessing does battle with the lodge of cursing, and the outcome is never in doubt.  In the words of the eleventh century Easter hymn: “Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous: the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal” (Hymnal 1982, No. 183).

Our lives involve the making of many decisions. There are set before us important choices about life or death, and whether to enter the lodge of blessing or the lodge of cursing. Like God’s people of old, then, when we choose life, we enable ourselves and our descendants to truly live. Yes, Jesus is the Holy One of God teaching us with authority to love, obey, and hold fast to the LORD our God. It just makes good sense to choose life since the light, goodness, and blessing of God have won in the past and will ultimately prevail in the end.

Gvnige Seti

For Sunday, 24 January 2021: Mark 1:14-20

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

A Cherokee friend once told me that a method by which her ancestors harvested fish for food was by placing the bark of the gvnige setior black walnut tree in a pool of water. The bark released a biochemical of some sort that temporarily stunned the fish causing them to float to the surface where they became easy picking for the hungry community. I had never heard of such a thing and thought she was kidding me until I accompanied her to the local tribal museum where just such a scenario was displayed. I guess Plato was right after all in his contention that “necessity is the mother of invention.” The Cherokees understood the mysteries of the environment in which they lived and were able to creatively make use of such knowledge to provide for the needs of their people.

Fishing during Jesus’ time in another environment called for different techniques. The most common method of fishing for his contemporaries was using a seine net dropped from a boat and then pulled to shore capturing lake creatures of all kinds which were then sorted. Another method was a circular net cast from a boat or the shore. The life of those who earned their living by fishing was a difficult one, working year-round in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. A great deal of their time was spent maintaining the nets they used by cleaning and repairing them. It was to such as these that Jesus first issued his invitation to follow him.

Jesus’ summons also included the declaration that he would make them “fish for people.” The thought of fishing for human beings after the experience of fishing for fish must have made their minds spin. At any rate, one set of brothers left their nets while they were fishing, and the other pair stopped mid-task mending their nets and even left their father with the hired men to accept Jesus’ invitation. I cannot help but wonder if they knew what they were getting into. Were they just looking for an excuse to take the day off? The word “immediately” indicates some sense of urgency. Did they want to ask more questions about what Jesus was saying? Did they return to their jobs the next day? We do not know as the text does not tell us.

We do know that Jesus came with good news, with the gospel that the Kingdom of God has come near. We recognize that Jesus is inviting us to continue his quest of drawing people near to the very heart of God, captured by the irresistible net of divine love, mercy, and compassion. Some will try to get away but that would be tragic. Since we are called to use all creative means at our disposal to further the Kingdom of God in our time, I wonder what the spiritual equivalent of black walnut bark is.

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The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith is an Assistant Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, an Assisting Bishop in Navajoland and a former bishop of North Dakota. He is in an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.