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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What Were You Thinking?

Luke 7:36-50

A little survey to begin: When it comes to engaging an interesting story, would you rather read the book or watch the movie? There’s often a clear line of demarcation between the two. Book lovers tend to approach this in a condescending way: “Oh, the book is always better than the movie” (I know, because I am one of these people). Comedian Jim Gaffigan, on the other hand, responds, “O really? You know what I liked about the movie? No reading!”

But seriously, why is the book always better than the movie? (It is, of course). There are a lot of reasons, from using the imagination to the fact that the book isn’t limited by screen time. But one of the main reasons, I think, has to do with the window it gives us into the characters’ thought process. When we read a book we get to hear some of their internal monologue, which is rare in a movie where, most of the time, thoughts are displayed via facial expressions, leaving you guessing a little bit: Is he working the problem, confused, annoyed, or just constipated? We don’t know!

We know we all have our own inner monologue going at any given time, so it makes sense that we like to be let inside someone else’s head for a bit. We always talking about “picking someone’s brain” or “getting their thoughts” but until they’re verbalized we really have no idea—and even then we’re not exactly sure we understand the whole story. Take marriage, for example. I actually think that 90% of marriage is trying to figure out what your spouse is thinking. After several decades sitting across the table from one another we might be able to tell something from their facial expression, but wouldn’t it be great to have a print out of their thoughts like a novel might give us? Then again, maybe not!

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Are You the One?

Luke 7:18-35

Take a coin out of your pocket.  What does it tell you (other than it’s not worth that much in today’s economy!). Take a look at the pictures and symbols. Of course there are pictures of Presidents on them—Washington on the quarter, Lincoln on the penny—the are some of our iconic American leaders. On the back you’ll find symbols of our greatest places—the Lincoln Memorial, Monticello—and our national symbol, the eagle. You’ll find some Latin words and symbols, little markings that tell you where it was minted.

Generally speaking, we don’t think of coins that much unless we’re collecting them. In the ancient world, however, coins were more than just economic currency. Imagine a world where there are no newspapers, books, or photographs—no internet, no telephones. How do you get a message out to masses, particularly if you are a ruler who wants to control the news cycle?

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The Sabbath Situation

Luke 6:1-16

This is one of those passages that’s difficult for modern people to understand. In fact, it probably wouldn’t make anyone’s list of favorite Bible stories, given that it’s a squabble between the Pharisees and Jesus and especially because it’s about Sabbath. Of all the commandments God gave to the Israelites, this one about “remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy” is the one that is the most routinely ignored in our busy culture. Sure, we know we need to take a day off once in a while and we know that going to church to worship is important if you’re a Christian, but for the most part we don’t give the idea of Sabbath much thought. And yet we see here in Luke 6 an argument about Sabbath that is so intense that, at the end of it, the Pharisees are looking for a way to get rid of Jesus. What’s going on here and why does it matter?

Well, I want to argue today that this passage is actually very important for us to consider if we want to understand the message of Jesus on the one hand and, on the other, to understand the reasons that people will want to kill him. We’ve already seen how Jesus’ teaching got him in trouble in his hometown of Nazareth, proclaiming that the Messiah had come not just for his fellow Jews but for the Gentiles as well—a fulfillment of the promise of Abraham. Nobody likes to have their current views challenged by the lens of history (still a major problem today) so the people there seek to throw Jesus off a cliff.

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Working the Nets

Luke 5:1-11

One of the things I love to do when I am with a confirmation class or a youth group is to offer them the chance to ask me any question they’ve always wanted to ask a pastor. It’s a fun thing for them and fun for me as well. I often get questions like, “What do you do all week?” I always answer the same way: “I pray..all day…and if you’d stop sinning, I’d get some other work done!” Some ask about sermon preparation, others ask about seminary and a host of other things.

The number one question that young people ask, however, is, “When did you know you were called to be a pastor?” That’s a great question, one that is asked often of ministers. I like telling the story, but over the years I’ve come to realize that often when this question is asked, by either youth or adults, the implication is always that a “calling” is something that a professional Christian like a preacher gets. That ministry is a “calling” but normal work is more like a job.

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