Living Stones

Luke 19:29-44

The road from Jericho to Jerusalem winds for about 15 miles up through the hot and dusty Judean desert. Today we travel it by bus or car, but in the first century the road was treacherous and an arduous journey by foot, given that it’s about a 4,000 foot elevation change over those 15 miles. But this was also the route that most Galilean Jews would have taken to come to the Holy City during the great festival of Passover and they had been doing it for generations—for so long that the Psalms reveal to us several “Songs of Ascent” that the pilgrims would sing on their way up the road.

Arriving in Bethany, the pilgrims would then crest the Mount of Olives and get their first view of the city laid out before them. After a long journey, the destination was finally in sight and it was impressive. The Temple, built by Herod the Great with white limestone quarried nearby, literally gleamed in the sun. Josephus, the Jewish historian, described the Temple “like a snowy mountain glistening in the sun.” It was one of the wonders of the first century world.

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Up a Tree

Luke 19:1-10

When you’re a kid, the presence of a great tree with lots of low branches was a certain invitation to climb up and see the world from a greater height. Of course, falling from that great height often leads to one of the first childhood trips to the emergency room and a cast on a busted arm or leg for the elementary school class to sign. Such a diversion, however, rarely becomes a deterrent for the determined child adventurer as there will always be another tree beckoning to be scaled.

Adults, on the other hand, usually have a more strained approach to being “up a tree.” Usually, being “up a tree” means that one is stressed and at wit’s end (As in, “Timmy fell out of the tree and needed a $250 trip to the ER. Now I’m up a tree!”).

Trees are often unpredictable. As living things they are constantly changing. That branch that looks strong may have rotted underneath the bark. The trunk may be waiting for that next strong gust of wind to finally give up holding on. Climbing a tree can be dangerous as well as fun, which makes it all the more enticing!

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The Lazarus Effect

Luke 16

If you’ve been following closely as we’ve made our journey through the Gospel of Luke, one of the things you’ve likely noticed is that the use of money is a major theme throughout. In fact, Luke gives us the impression that God’s preference is toward the poor over and against the rich. Think about where we’ve been so far:

  • In Mary’s song in Luke 1, known as the Magnificat, she praises God for “pulling the powerful down from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed” (1:52-53)
  • In chapter 3, John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah and the people respond, “What should we do?” John’s answers are all about the use of money—share your possessions, don’t extort people, be satisfied with your pay (3:10-14)
  • In chapter 4, Jesus announces his mission in the synagogue at Nazareth, quoting Isaiah 61—“He has sent me to preach good news to the poor.”
  • Moving to chapter 6, in Luke’s version of the beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, because God’s kingdom is yours” (note: not “poor in spirit” as in Matthew)
  • In chapters 9 and 10, Jesus sends out his 12 disciples and then 70 others to preach the news of the kingdom, but they are to travel with nothing—relying completely on the kindness of strangers
  • Many of his parables have an economic bent to them, as in chapter 12—the story of the rich fool who hoarded his resources instead of sharing them.

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The Kindness of Strangers

Luke 10:25-42

One of the things that 21st century parents are most concerned about teaching their children is to watch out for strangers. That’s a legitimate concern, of course, given that the world seems to be a much more dangerous place than it used to be.

The truth is, however, that the world has always been a dangerous place—we just know more about that danger more quickly because of the 24 hour news cycle. It’s kind of amazing, really, that my mother let me roam the neighborhood with absolute freedom from sunup to sundown in a age when there were no cell phones. The only way she could contact me was by ringing a cowbell out the back door (which you could hear for at least a mile). It might never have occurred to her that some stranger in a van would scoop me up and take me away (or maybe she was counting on it…who knows?).

In the name of an abundance of caution in our own day, however, we may be inadvertently be reaping what we’re sowing. What is known as “stranger danger” in little children can quickly morph into middle school cliques, high school bullying, and even a national policy on immigration. We become so afraid of strangers that we will do anything to keep them at bay, sticking with those we know.

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Listen to Him!

Luke 9:28-45

One of the disadvantages to using a lectionary for preaching is that it tends to skip over significant portions of Scripture in order to highlight certain texts for preaching. The problem is that no text exists in isolation from that which comes before and after it. As I have often said, context is everything!

Today’s reading is a classic example of that principle. We have just read the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (and it is Transfiguration Sunday on the Church Calendar), and it’s tempting to read that story in isolation. I have heard sermons (and even preached them early in my career) about this being a “mountaintop experience” for the disciples of Jesus followed by the “reality of service in the valley.” We would like to remain on the mountain top (always a temptation here in Colorado) but, darn it, we have to follow Jesus back down to the real world where wrestling with demons is a dirty business.

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