THE STORY – CHAPTER 24
Readings: Luke 10:25-37, Matthew 5:1-14, Luke 6:37-42, Mark 4:35-41
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, October 2, 2016
As we encounter the life of Jesus in the Gospels, one thing is crystal clear. Chapter 24 of “The Story” states it plainly. Jesus was no ordinary man. The stories He told, the teaching He gave, the actions He performed and even the way He invited us to remember Him were, in the truest sense – extra-ordinary. He told...
We have a special word to describe the stories that Jesus shared with people. We call them parables. They are stories that go beyond entertainment, beyond even being morality tales, but stories that lift up great spiritual truths about the Kingdom of God. Though often they are incredibly simple, they contain layers of meaning that take a lifetime to discern. Once heard they are not easily forgotten, but have a way of lodging themselves in our deepest levels of consciousness.
A story like the 'parable of the sower' functions on so many levels. We hear it and think, yes, growing things is just like that! We allow it to sink deeper and discern how we can be like that seed that is easily distracted from it's purpose by the troubles and cares of daily life. We see in it a historic pattern of how the church would grow. Maybe we even consider how to be that kind of good seed which will bring forth loving fruit that changes the world.
In a society like ours, so filled with division and mistrust, we do well to consider the implications of a story like the Good Samaritan. It is told in response to a question; “Who is my neighbor?” And it blows all our preconceptions out of the water. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Good people, like priests and lawyers, were trusted to do the right thing. The story tramples all our assumptions and prejudices into the dust and then has a sting in the tale. “Go and do the same!”
A story like that of the prodigal son gives us an insight into the loving heart of our Father God. We are astonished at the welcome the errant son receives when he returns home. We identify with the younger sons foolishness, for we have all had times in our lives when we know we have walked away from God. It ends with a cliffhanger. An elder son, who can't accept his father's actions. We wonder if he will ever join the party... and if we dig deep enough, we will ask which character in the story our own lives truly resemble.
Whenever He wanted to tell us something really important, Jesus told extraordinary stories that are so simple a child can remember them and so deep that we never truly fathom their depth. Stories were only one of the ways He communicated.
He also offered...
The sermon on the Mount contains some of the most radical teaching of any religious tradition. So much so, that many people, even Christian people, have a huge problem coming to terms with what it suggests. Many prefer to argue over matters of church order they see in Paul, or create rules and regulations on their particular interpretation of what they consider key biblical passages, rather than accept the implications of the words Jesus spoke in His groundbreaking sermon.
How do we deal with statements such as “Love your enemy” “Pray for those who persecute you” and “Judge not, lest you are judged”? Some relegate such thoughts as being principles rather than rules. Jesus suggests pacifism in the face of violence, non-resistance – walking the extra mile – in the face of injustice, that the poor are blessed, that you should rejoice when others insult you for the Kingdom's sake, that unless you forgive others you will not find forgiveness for your self, that hate should be confronted with unconditional love. Everything is turned inside out and upside down.
One of the most radical insights is the idea that everything begins in the heart. Murder. Disloyalty. Lies. Unfaithfulness. It all begins with a thought or a glance or a whisper. So get it sorted. Go to your room and close the door and pray. Be the house built on the rock, the light on the hill, the salt of the earth. Stop looking for people to blame and take responsibility for changing the world in Jesus name.
He even offers us a way of praying in a statement, that is used on occasions of national tragedy and celebration, that has been said and sung at religious and secular events where no other words can be found, and which we pray every Sunday, in that petition we call “The Lord's Prayer.”
In the light of a world where many try just to get by, whilst others are addicted to the accumulation of stuff, in which every new day appears to bring some new problem or bad news, what is His solution? “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear... Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” “Do not worry about tomorrow... Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Extraordinary stories. Extraordinary teaching. And it's all backed up by His...
When it became stormy He told the weather to behave itself and calm down. When He was confronted by evil, He cast it out. When confronted by sickness, He offered healing. When faced with those, like lepers and the woman with an issue... people regarded as unclean... He offered acceptance them and made them whole again. When faced with 5000+ hungry folk He broke bread and everybody went home satisfied. When it looked like everything was going to be lost under the waves, He went surfing without a board and walked across the water.
He had this other worldly understanding of what was going on in peoples lives and thoughts and hearts. He predicted His own betrayal and who would be part of it. He knew people better than they knew themselves. He called many to follow Him... and didn't panic when most walked away, but went ahead and commissioned twelve to work with Him, and one of those turned out to be a traitor.
Extraordinary stories. Extraordinary teaching. Extraordinary actions. He didn't write a book or teach us a liturgy or a song. To recall all that He was and all that He did He offered us something we call communion.
One of the images He used of Himself was that He was “The Bread of Life” and that if we truly want to live in a way that honored God, then we should nourish ourselves through being in community and sharing a simple meal of bread and wine. “Do this” He said “In remembrance of me.”
To remember Him, not as some forgotten hero, but in such a way that His living presence is realized as we eat the bread and drink the wine, in such a way that we know He died for a purpose and was raised to life in order that our everyday existence can be lived in the eternal light of God's glory, in order that God's Holy Spirit, the Comforter and the Empower-er, may equip us for service of God's Kingdom.
Maybe you know this anonymous testimony “One Solitary Life.”
“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”
Make no mistake about Jesus Christ. He was no ordinary man.
Allow His extraordinary stories to expand your understanding of what His kingdom is all about.
Allow your vision to be enlarged and your prejudices and preconceptions to be challenged by His extraordinary teaching that turns everything upside down and inside out.
Contemplate the extraordinary actions that validated His every word.
And accept His invitation this morning to remember Him through the extraordinary remembrance of sharing bread and wine. May His living Spirit continue to inspire us and guide us in the story of our own lives. And to God be the glory. Amen.
Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D