Monday, February 24, 2014

Good News: According to Luke

Trying to craft a sermon while the world is spinning is not easy.  Trying to deliver one when the world is spinning is even harder!  I am not sure how well I followed this on Sunday, I know that at each service I kind of wandered in different directions.  Couldn't think clear enough to keep it all organized in my mind!  At least that's my story and I am sticking to it.  A copy of the audio version is available at the church.  I keep hoping (maybe I should start praying) that we switch to our new website so that I can post the audio as well.

Thanks for reading --- I hope God helps you figure out what melts your butter!

Luke 4:16-26     (NRSV)
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.

Last week we saw that it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness, this week we see the same thing; our passage actually begins with these words:

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

Luke --- from the very beginning --- wants to make sure that we understand that Jesus ministry is under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

But then we get this rather difficult and perplexing passage.

Most of you probably read the passage (or at least heard it this morning) and are saying ---- what's the big deal?

What is so difficult about this passage?

In the liturgical cycle of the church year, this passage falls on third Sunday of Epiphany of the "C" cycle.
          I know that doesn't mean that much to you

The church "year" is broken up into cycles and spread out over a three year period --- the thought process is --- that over a three year period a congregant would "hear" all the major stories of the Bible as the church has designated them.

This passage would have fallen in January of 2013

But included with the lectionary are also a passage from the Old Testament (what I prefer to call the Hebrew Scriptures) a Psalm, and an epistle lesson. 
So our weekly lection includes 4 passages of scriptures that in theory have some common theme --- although I have to admit I am not smart enough to often figure out what that common theme is supposed to be.

This passage from Luke is included with some other important passages on its designated Sunday
·         Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 --- the finding and reading of the law by Ezra
·         Psalm 19 --- The perfect nature of God's law

          OK, maybe we have a common theme going here

·         1 Corinthians 12:12-31a --- the nature of the body of Christ

OK, so maybe that one goes in a different direction.

Then there is our passage from Luke in which Jesus is reading from the prophets at the synagogue in Nazareth and he reads a particular passage from Isaiah. 

A tough passage from Isaiah.

I guarantee you --- that for those pastors who follow the lectionary a large majority of them will focus on the 1 Corinthians passage and skip the others.  They might NEVER preach from this passage from Luke because it has so many difficulties.

So what are some of the problems?

1.   There is no archaeological evidence that there was a synagogue in Nazareth at the time of Jesus.

Most scholars would suggest that Nazareth was a dirt poor town of maybe 200-400 people at the time of Jesus.

What is interesting is that Nazareth isn't mentioned in ancient literature outside the bible until the 2nd century CE.  This was a small and unimportant town.

The odds of a community this small having a synagogue are pretty remote.

2.   The odds of Jesus being literate are slim

3.    The message that Jesus gives is DAUNTING

As Jesus reads from the scroll we are told that he found this provocative passage from Isaiah 61:1-2

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;

Just what is it that Jesus is saying?

Are you sure you want to walk through this?

Maybe it would be better if I just said AMEN right now and sat down!

It's not so much that Jesus re-read ---- re-interpreted this passage from Isaiah --- the problem really lies in what he said after he finished reading it.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

But then he has the audacity to say:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Let's stop just for a second and think about this . . .

What exactly is Jesus says has happened in their hearing 2,000 years ago?

First, he claims that he has been anointed by God --- if you were a Jew living in Nazareth in the year 30ce or so, and you heard somebody say that God anointed them you would think one of two things.
          Kings were anointed
          Messiah's were anointed
So is Jesus King or Messiah or both?

Then what does Jesus say has happened?

          Good news to the poor

          release to the captives

          oppressed go free


Jesus is saying that God's kingdom has begun --- not in some future BUT NOW!

One of the things we have had to struggle with since then is why not? 

Why didn't these things happen?

No easy answers . . .

But maybe the challenge for us is to see the world like Jesus did.

Jesus recognized that the world was a mess and it needed direction.

You read the newspapers --- you watch the news --- What would you do to fix the world?

Jesus proclaims God's kingdom --- what are you proclaiming?

What would you do, if you could, to patch up this old world?

It's hard to go beyond what Jesus and Isaiah offer.

Isn't this what being a Christian is all about:
          healing what is broken,
          freeing those in bondage,
          comforting those who mourn?

The world's a broken place --- and it is our mission as Jesus’ people to lend a hand.

What would you, could you, might you, do to help?

Perhaps you are already involved and don't realize it.

Do you support the food pantry to help feed your neighbors?
Do you give money to your local domestic violence shelter?
Do you volunteer at your local public school, library hospice or hospital?
Do you held send medical supplies to those in need throughout the world?

This world is still a broken place, full of broken people who could do with a little Good News, and a little help, now and then.

Don't worry about a quick fix.
          But do your part --- do your best.

Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, tells about his old friend Luther in Tupelo, Mississippi, who puts it another way:
"Get involved in something that melts your butter!" Fuller says, "What is it that melts your butter? Maybe it's foreign missions, or China, or wildlife, or the environment, the elderly, people with AIDS, people who are sick and dying. I have a friend who sits with the dying. He just holds their hands and wipes their brow, and talks to them about life and their impending death. Ask yourself what it is that gives your life meaning and purpose. Educate yourself. We live in the age of the Internet - we can look up anything. Someone close by, probably your grandchild, can help you find out what's going on and where the gaps are."
 Jesus came proclaiming Good News --- are you living it?

Find your place that melts your butter.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A week in hell!

To say it has been an interesting week would be putting it mildly.  For the past month or so I have been suffering from vertigo.  One Sunday a few weeks ago, during the sermon at the 9:45 service, I turned --- I caught the eye of someone in the congregation who had a look of fear on their face --- because I think they felt like I was going to fall.   I asked someone about it later and they said they thought I tripped (I wish).  The truth was --- I was hit with a dizzy spell.

On Monday, February 10th I got blood work done, because I was convinced my dizziness and lack of focus was due to my thyroid medication being too high.  I take 175 mg of synthroid every morning to combat hashimoto's disease and two goiters on my thyroid.  About noon that day I became overwhelmingly dizzy.  It was almost like a migraine headache without a major headache.  I went to bed and managed to sleep for about three hours.  Later that evening, while still dizzy, I managed to carry on with my life. 

For the rest of the week, the dizziness persisted.  If I were to use a scale I would say that I was always at a three and would have waves occasionally overtake me which were 7 to 9 but usually not too long lasting.  On Thursday I had a previously scheduled appointment with Dr Sheillah Gentile to discuss my synthroid being too high.  She informed me that my thyroid levels were excellent and became very concerned about what was going on.  She performed a number of tests, ordered more blood work, an MRI and prescribed meclaizine to help deal with the dizziness.  She also suggested I go to the ER if the condition got worse.

Sunday was VERY difficult --- not only was the sermon very personal to me (I preached on temptation --- sermon is posted below) but I was also in the throngs of some major dizziness.  Somehow --- with God's help, I got through the service.  Following church I went and made some calls at the hospital and at some homes before coming back for a children's ministry party.  By the time I got home, I was toast!

Monday was just like the previous one.  But once I got up, I went to the hospital to see somebody before their surgery and then stopped and saw Bill Carter.  After I got home about 4, I went to bed after making the decision not to attempt to play dartball that evening.  It was just as well.  At 8 pm I got a phone call from Ann that Bill had passed away and I quickly through on some clothes and went to their house until 10:30 pm.

Tuesday awoke with more of the same, but I knew I had staff meeting in the morning and a meeting with Carter's at 2 pm.  Staff meeting went, met with David Z for our weekly meeting, followed by Rotary.  After Rotary I came home, gathered myself and went to Carter's.  Tuesday was Haley's last night at home and Nancy and I took her out to dinner at El Taco Real in Hammond (One of our favorites) and I came home and went to bed.

Wednesday, instead of meeting with Ben I decided I just needed to try and gather myself, so I canceled.  Spent the morning finishing up my presentation for WWE and at noon Nancy and I took Haley to O'Hare so that she could begin her adventure in Chile.  She will be spending the next 5 months there and you can join me in following her adventure on her blog: Chilling in Chili

Once we got home from the airport, we caught our breath and then I asked Nancy to take me to the ER.  I spent 6 hours in the ER before the finally put me in a room.  They kelp me overnight so that they could do an MRI in the morning and start me on some PT.  I spent the entire day Thursday sitting on my arse doing NOTHING!  Fortunately I had a good book to read --- I read almost all of Zealot.  I will write about it later, but by 5 pm I still had not had any PT nor an MRI.  I was able to convince the Dr that I could do nothing at home and still get an MRI so they released me to rush to the diagnostic center and get the MRI done.

Getting the MRI is another long story!!!!  First at the Community Diagnostic Center, Nancy and I went directly there from the hospital, did not pass go, did not collect my original order from home --- because that is what we were told to do.  Arrived at CDC, waited about an hour only to be told that since I did not have the original order --- the one in the computer was not good enough that they would not do the test.  I told them I could have the order there in 5 minutes but they said NO.  Went home and watch my Duke Blue Devils lose to North Carolina --- not a good way to end the night.  They played as listless in the second half as I felt!

Friday morning, I made an appointment at the Community Outpatient Center in Schererville (Don't use GPS to get you there --- it is wrong).  Again, after about an hour wait (in which I was getting more and more whacked out) --- I got called.  The technician tried to calm me down, but only made me worse.  He suggested I get a prescription and go back to CDC and the open unit --- he did manage to get me an appointment at 3:15.  I called Dr Gentile and she ordered a sedative for me, (She is a great doctor!) and I picked it up at 2 from Walgreens.

Nancy got home a little after 2, I took the pill and everything after that is kind of hazy!  The tech at the CDC was wonderful (James!!! Thank you!)  He made me relaxed and the test was a breeze).  After the test Nancy and I went out to eat and to Costco (I have no idea what we bought, lol) and then home.

The week has been a total blur.  This morning I am trying to recapture as much of it as I can, and begin to prepare for the weekend.  Tomorrow I am preaching what may be one of the most difficult passages in the Gospels Luke 4:16-26 --- with how I am feeling; it is going to be interesting.  I imagine I will be preaching --- literally from a stool.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Temptation of Jesus: According to Luke

Luke 4:1-13     (NRSV)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’


‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Matthew, Mark and Luke --- the synoptic gospels (because they are very similar) --- all open the ministry of Jesus in the same way.

After Matthew and Luke present the birth stories, then all three share the story of John the Baptist --- after that we have our story for today.

The story of Jesus' temptation, by the devil, in the wilderness

Have you ever wondered why?
          Or is that just something I do?

Why did Matthew, Mark and Luke all begin the ministry of Jesus in this way?

·         Mark --- story is only 2 verses long
·         Matthew and Luke switch the order of the second and third temptations.

Luke seems to have two purposes in telling the story the way that he does:

1.       Luke wants us to understand what kind of Messiah Jesus is.

The devil challenged Jesus to prove his messiah-ship in conformity with the Jewish expectations for the messiah --- and thus pervert what his messiah-ship was really meant to be.

Each temptation assaulted Jesus not at a place of his weakness and vulnerability, --- but really at the point of his greatest strength --- his compassion, him commitment to God, his trust.

And I don't think we should see these as momentary temptations either.

They represent the lure of the popular but shallow enthusiasm as well as the hostility --- isolation --- and rejection that would hound Jesus all the way to the cross.

2.       Luke wants us to have the necessary tools as we confront temptation.

Do you remember the story Flowers for Algernon.  It was a book that most people read in middle school or in freshman high school English classes.

Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse.

In poignant diary entries or progress reports as he calls them, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life.

If a certain pill could make you suddenly and permanently smarter, would you take it?

You'll probably never have to decide that, because no such Flowers-for-Algernon pill exists, and, as far as I know, none is in the works.

But what's definitely under study is how we might increase the IQ of our yet unborn children.

Scientists haven't "cracked the code" yet --- but through research on the human genome some believe we are getting close.

While we're not there yet ---  at the place where we can customize our offspring in terms of how high their IQs will be,
but the truth is there is significant research underway toward that goal.

At BGI Shenzhen, which is China's top biotech institute and home to some of the best DNA - sequencing machines in the world, Zhau Bowen --- a high-IQ prodigy himself --- is using those machines to crack the code for intelligence.

He and his team expect that, within a decade, they'll be able to boost the IQs of children by as much as 20 points.

John Bohannon, writing about this for Wired magazine says:
"In theory, that's the difference between a kid who struggles through high school and one who sails into college."

So maybe soon we'll be able to have smarter kids.

But here's a question:
If they're more intelligent than we are, will they be able to make wise choices instead of stupid ones?
·         Will they still buy tickets to an Adam Sandler movie?
·         Will they still watch The Bachelor, Big Brother or The Jerry Springer Show?
·         Or --- and this is the ten million dollar question --- will they be able to resist temptation better than we do?

I suspect the answer is no.

It seems that sometimes super-smart people use their intelligence only to come up with cleverer rationalizations for yielding to temptation.
I think I could have written this --- but Keith Miller writes in "Temptation: A Strong Wind for a Flickering Flame."
"Temptation is a strange experience for me. I want to be God's person. But I also have some deep human needs for approval, affection and the satisfaction of strong physical and emotional drives. When wrestling with a specific temptation, I seem to change into a different person inside. I have a kind of tunnel vision and only see the object of my resentment, greed or lust. All else is blotted out. I am no longer the smiling, friendly Christian, but instead am an intense and sweating stranger -- yet not a stranger, for I know this one so well. Reason waits outside the door of temptation for me. I argue against my conscience and dazzle myself with agile rationalizations. By that time the battle is usually lost."

I understand completely what he is saying --- because I have fallen into that rabbit hole.

Or Paul --- for most of us --- the paragon of what a Christian is to be:     
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15)

And what about Jesus? --- Orthodoxy proclaims him as fully human --- but at the exact same time --- FULLY DIVINE --- yet our text this morning reminds us that he too had to face temptation.

The author of Hebrews reminds us:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)

I have become aware that temptation is part and parcel of being a human.  It is as real as the snow that is outside right now, or the heat that will come this summer.

It's not that we can AVOID it --- Jesus couldn't avoid it. 

Nikos Kazantzakis may have best illustrated this in his powerful book: The Last Temptation of Christ.

The central thesis of the book is that Jesus, while free from sin, was still subject to fear, doubt, depression, reluctance, and lust.

Kazantzakis argues in the novel's preface that by facing and conquering all of our weaknesses, Jesus struggled to do God's will, without ever giving in to the temptations of the flesh.

The novel advances the argument that, had Jesus succumbed to any such temptation, especially the opportunity to save himself from the cross, his life would have held no more significance than that of any other philosopher.

And that's where the difficulty lies.

We have to distinguish between temptation and the giving into temptation.

"Lead us not into temptation" is a legitimate request, but, given that temptation continues to come at us, the petition is maybe shorthand for:
          "When we are tempted, help us not to fail the test."

I don't know if you noticed --- but one of the things that fascinates me about the text is how the story begins.  The text begins by saying:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness

The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness --- fully aware of what was about to take place.

It seems, to me, to be saing that temptation might even have a positive role in our lives.

IF, and it is a big IF.

If we are willing to learn from it and allow ourselves to grow and become better people.

Again, the author of Hebrews seems to be suggesting this very notion when he writes:
Hebrews 2:18   (NRSV)
Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

The analogy that is often used about temptation is the image of standing at a fork in the road.

If that analogy has any validity --- then it seems to me that the nature of temptation is that these forks force us to make decisions:
          Will we follow the leading of the Spirit or the opportunity of the devil?

Sometimes the pull of temptation is so demanding --- so obvious --- that the choice of turning at a major intersection is all we can see.  And the answer is fairly easy.

At other times, it's in small choices, slight detours that, when followed one after another, lead us to destinations that God does not want us to go.

It's those little choices along the way that get me in trouble.
By themselves they aren't that significant --- but they lead us further and further down the wrong road.

Thomas à Kempis wrote about these detours, in his devotional book The Imitation of Christ --- he said,
"For first there cometh to the mind a bare thought of evil, then a strong imagination thereof, afterwards delight, an evil motion and then consent. And so little by little our wicked enemy getteth complete entrance because he is not resisted in the beginning."

I get it!  Because that is me!

Look at the story of David and Bathsheba --- note the pattern of small steps that are created:  (2 Samuel 11:1-5).
First, David, from the vantage point of his palace roof, "saw" Bathsheba.

Then he "inquired" about her.

Next, he sent messengers to "get" her,

and finally, he "lay" with her.

There was no sin in the seeing of Bathsheba, but that was the fork in the road, and, by inquiring about her, David was making the first of a string of decisions that would lead to moral collapse.

What I hate about trying to overcome temptation is that when we read the Christian literature it seems to imply that if we avoid making that one big mistake --- or if we make just one correct choice --- then the battle is won.

It's not that easy.

And maybe a quick read of this story in Luke will give us that notion.
          Jesus refused to yield and that settled it --- but did it?

But we know later in the story --- when Peter tried to get Jesus to stop saying he was headed for suffering and death, Jesus replied,
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

That passage reminds us that the temptation for Jesus to turn off the road God wanted him to walk was still going on.

Even our passage today reminds us that the devil "departed from him until an opportune time."

So we, like Jesus, have to keep deciding daily (hourly --- maybe even every minute), whether we will be who God calls us to be or something less.

And it can be hard to see it when we're standing at a fork in the road --- both ways may seem good, but we're actually more fulfilled when we make the choices that demand our best.

So how do we do that?

How do we resist evil and avoid going down the wrong paths.

Maybe the first thing we should do is do what Jesus did?

And what was that?

Turn to the scriptures --- Jesus knew God's word --- and so as he is being tempted --- he responded with passages from the Torah --- from Deuteronomy and Exodus. 

The scriptures gave Jesus the tools to fight off evil and go down the wrong path.

But most of us don't know scripture like that --- when we are confronted with those incremental choices we can't think of what to turn too.

So what do we do then?

Well, if it is infidelity, or taking a shortcut, or really anything at all, don't go to that person who is your tempter and ask them to help, because they will most likely help you rationalize those first few choices.  And before you know it
          your marriage is compromised
          your integrity is lost
          you have gone so far it is hard to stop

Go get help!

Go find somebody you trust --- somebody who will hold you accountable --- and talk to them.

Could be a pastor
          another friend
          a professional

BUT DO IT --- before it is too late

Temptation is real --- very real --- none of us can avoid it

The question is --- how do we choose --- which road we are going to go down

Because once we start down that road --- the damage is real.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

According to Luke: Who is Jesus?

Luke 3:15-22   (NRSV)
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

As we begin in earnest out journey through Luke's Gospel we need to ask ourselves the question that Luke really begins his Gospel with:
          WHO IS JESUS?

When I began in the ministry 30 years ago, the answer to that question was simple to. 

Jesus --- was --- is the Messiah.

What did that really mean? --- to be honest, I am not sure I really knew --- but I didn't care.

That's what I was taught --- and I had no idea that I could question that.

As I began to read the Bible and to actually study it, the answer to the question became very different.
·         There was the Jesus that I learned about through the church --- the Jesus of Sunday School and popular Christian culture

·         But I began to notice that the Jesus I was taught in "the church" was not always the same as the Jesus that I encountered in the Bible.

If you do a goodsearch on WHO IS JESUS, you can find many interesting and intriguing websites.

One of the most interesting, and one that came out near the top comes from a website called allaboutjesuschrist.

It begins with this admonition
Who is Jesus, and why is it important for us to know? We live in an age of religious pluralism and moral relativism. The popular spiritual philosophy, especially after the events of September 11th, is that all religious belief systems, as long as heart-felt, are equal. Pick one and follow it sincerely, and you’ll get to Heaven. That’s what the world believes, but Jesus teaches otherwise. Therefore, we need to examine who Jesus is by looking at some of the questions people frequently ask about Him. The answers are found in the Bible, the historical evidence people have trusted for over 2000 years.

It offers three things about Jesus
          1.       Jesus is 100% man
          2.       Jesus is 100% God
          3.       Jesus is the ONLY WAY to heaven

And it argues that those statements are all found in the Bible.

I hope that in the last few weeks you have taken the time to read the Gospel of Luke --- Is that what you found?

Unfortunately, those statements are doctrines created by "the Church: and are not statements found in the Gospels and certainly not in Luke's.

In 1906, a man by the name of Albert Schweitzer published a book in German that was revolutionary at the time. 

My hunch is that most of you know of Albert Schweitzer for being the "mother Teresa" of his day for his missionary medical work in the wilds of Africa.

What you might not know is that Schweitzer was an accomplished musician as well as excellent biblical scholar.

The book he wrote was called (in English when translated in 1910) was The Quest of the Historical Jesus

The purpose of this work was to discover what we could really know about the "historical Jesus."

James Robinson, in the Introduction to the English translation of the book writes:
“The search for the Jesus of History — as an activity distinct from faith in Jesus Christ — is a phenomenon of modern times.  It began with the Enlightenment, toward the end of the eighteenth century and dominated critical thought throughout the nineteenth century.”

Schweitzer concludes that one cannot really know the Jesus of History — the only Jesus we can know is the “spiritual Jesus”. ----- The Jesus that faith has passed on to us.

Reza Aslan in his bestselling book: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth writes:
It's a miracle that we know anything at all about the man called Jesus of Nazareth. . . .  the gospels are not, nor were they ever meant to be, a historical documentation of Jesus's life.  These are not eyewitness accounts of Jesus's words and deeds.  They are testimonies of faith composed by communities of faith written many years after the events they describe.  Simply put, the gospels tell us about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man. . . . In the end, there are only two hard facts about Jesus of Nazareth upon which we can confidently rely: the first is that Jesus was a Jew who led a popular Jewish movement in Palestine at the beginning of the first century CE; the second is that Rome crucified him for doing so.

E.P. Sanders, writing in The Historical Figure of Jesus tells us:
Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obligated to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom attained.  A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such warning.  We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime.  They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved.  We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him.” (Preface p. xiii)

“Nothing survives that was written by Jesus himself.  The more or less contemporary documents, apart from those in the New Testament, shed virtually no light on Jesus’ life or death, though they reveal a lot about the social and political climate.  The main sources for our knowledge of Jesus himself, the gospels in the New Testament, are, from the point of view of the historian, tainted by the fact that they were written by people who intended to glorify their hero.”  (p. 3)

“The gospels report Jesus’ sayings and actions in a language that was not his own (he taught in Aramaic, the gospels are in Greek), and they place each piece of information into a setting devised by his followers, usually by followers at one remove.  Even if we know that we have his own words, we would still have to fear that he was quoted out of context.” (p. 4)

For many of us, trying to figure out just who Jesus IS, is almost like trying to put together a puzzle.  A very difficult and multi-pieced puzzle.

In McLaren's book Everything Must Change he shares the story of a friend of his. 

His friend describes trying to put together a puzzle by looking at the box, but unfortunately somebody has put the puzzle in the wrong box.

We keep trying to put the pieces together using the wrong picture from the wrong lid
          some colors on the pieces don't seem to belong
          some shapes don't seem to fit

We might assume they were included by mistake and set the off to the side

We might try forcing some of the pieces to fit

Maybe we even take out some markers and scissors and "adjust" some of the pieces so that they will "fit"

We might even begin to think that the picture on the lid of the box is correct and the pieces are wrong!

That's the problem with our study of the Bible, I think, we try to put the pieces together using the wrong cover as a guide.  We let our Sunday School lessons and contemporary Christian portraits of Jesus guide us.

Today --- I want us to use Luke as our guide and see what he has to tell us about Jesus.

In the first three chapters, Luke tells us a great deal about Jesus.

In the annunciation --- Luke tells us right off the bat two things about Jesus:
          1.       He is not of mortal parentage
          2.       Quoting Luke (1:32) "
                   He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High "

Luke goes to great length to demonstrate that Jesus is greater that the "one" who believed, or at least claimed he was divine.

Caesar Augustus was ruler of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus birth.  Claims were made that he was the son of god and divine

There is a tradition that Caesar Augustus' mother was worshipping at the Temple of Apollo when she fell asleep and was impregnated by the gods.

Luke wants to remind his readers that while many believe Caesar is the Son of God --- the real son is Jesus.

Then at his birth Luke tells us the story of the angels coming to the shepherds who are told:
Luke 2:9-12  (NRSV)
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

So Luke wants us to know --- right from the start --- that Jesus is to be the Messiah (we will talk more about what that means on another Sunday).

Then we are told that Jesus is God's salvation (again, whatever that means).
Luke 2:30-32 (NRSV)
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

But he also tells us something important --- Jesus is not just for the Jews. 
This is going to play out repeatedly in Luke's gospel.

Chapter 2 ends with Jesus going to the temple as a boy.  He goes two different times and these stories are found only in Luke

The first is when Luke has Jesus presented in the Temple and two people encounter him
who was promised by God that he would see the Messiah before he died

Recognized Jesus as the redemption of Jerusalem

Finally, Luke has the story of Jesus coming to the temple as a 12 year old child who immerses himself in the temple sitting with the Rabbi's asking them all kinds of questions.

We are told that they were amazed at his understanding and answers.

It is here that Luke quotes Jesus explaining to his parents where he had been:
Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know I must be in my Father's house?" (3:49)

Again Luke tells us these stories so that there is no doubt in our minds as to who Jesus is.

Chapter 3 is all about John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus.

Remember in chpt. 1 we were told that Jesus and John were cousins --- and many people seemed to be of the mind that John just might be the messiah.

But Luke goes to great lengths to demonstrate that John understood that he was not the messiah --- just one who would "prepare the way".

“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

What is interesting is Luke does not say that John baptized Jesus.  We just assume it because it is in the other gospels.

Luke has John arrested before Jesus is baptized almost as a way to say emphatically --- John's ministry is over and Jesus' ministry has begun.

Chapter 3 concludes with a contrived genealogy through Joseph --- who we have already been told is not the father of Jesus.

But one interesting note about Luke's genealogy is that it goes back not to David ---- although it shows that Jesus is from David's lineage.  But it goes back to Adam.

That is because Jesus is the Messiah --- not just of the Jews --- but of all people.

Luke prepares us for the introduction to the ministry of Jesus by making sure we understand that Jesus is
·         Greater than Caesar Augustus
·         Jesus is Messiah
·         Jesus is salvation

The rest of the gospel --- Luke is going to show us what that means

Monday, February 03, 2014

Louisiana Through My Lens --- Review

I received Louisiana Through My Lens through Net Galley.  It is a coffee table book with photography by Chad Guidry and the design by Yvette Naquin.  I chose the book because I will be taking a trip to New Orleans later this year.  While the book did not feature photographs from New Orleans it did exhibit some beautiful work taken in the bayous of Louisiana.

The only thing lacking from the book was more information about where and when the photos were taken.  I would have liked to know more about the pictures.   The other thing was Net Galley offered a disclaimer that the quality of the photos was not as good in my electronic copy as in the actual book.  For the most part I did not think that it dismissed the quality of the photos to any serious degree.  There were a couple pictures that seemed a bit fuzzy, and I don't think it fair to judge based on the digital copy.

Overall, I found it a very attractive book of photography.  I am not sure it is worth the list price of $35 for only 44 pages, however.

Coke --- Celebrating America

Inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is a poem written by Emma Lazarus.  The poem was written to help raise funds for the construction of the pedestal.  The poem is titled: The New Colossus was read at the fundraiser for the pedestal but seems to have been quickly forgotten.  In 1901 an effort began to recognize the poem and in 1903 it was attached to the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

In case you are not familiar with the poem here it is (although you probably are familiar with the ending):

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall standA mighty woman with a torch, whose flameIs the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMother of Exiles. From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandThe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame."Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries sheWith silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The last few lines have become well known in the USA.  "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Last night during the "Super Bowl" Coke ran a commercial called "America the Beautiful" in which the song was sung by Americans of all different races and tongues.  (Coca Cola Super Bowl Ad)  The internet and twitter worlds exploded with reaction against the commercial.  Why?  How dare an American sing "America the Beautiful" in any other language than English!  The ignorance and racism was appalling.

To say I was surprised would be a lie, I am sad however that in 2014 we still stick to our crazy notion that the good ole USA should only be filled with good ole white rednecks. 

I don't want to sound like some kind of self-righteous person.  I have to battle my racism almost every day.  But battle it I do!  And I celebrate when a corporation has the chutzpa to help me overcome it.  It was a beautiful commercial, and my favorite along with the Bud commercial with the horse and the dog.  I think I will go have a Diet Coke (instead of my normal Diet Rite).

Sunday, February 02, 2014

According To Luke

Luke 1:1-4    (NRSV)
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

For the last couple of years I have had the desire to preach through an entire Gospel.

Over the years I have preached through some of the shorter prophets and some of Paul's work. 
          But I have never had the courage to preach through an entire Gospel.

It is a daunting challenge.

One of the problems is just the time that it will take --- and I have no idea yet how long that will be. (Part of it will depend on you --- you need to let me know if this series works or if it is a train wreck)

Secondly, it will pass through several "seasons of the year". 
  • I actually started the series during Advent by using Luke's account of the birth of Jesus
  • But then --- as you know --- I took a break so that I could preach my annual VISION sermon series
  • When we get to Lent (which begins on Wednesday March 5th) we will continue the series, but we will jump from where we are in the story to the stories of Jesus and his final journey to Jerusalem.

Sometime this summer I hope to conclude this look at Luke's Gospel.  But I think that is probably a little unrealistic and it will take most of a whole year to really tackle this challenging and important Gospel

My plan is to follow Luke's chronology as best we can

Some things that might help you along the way
          1.       Read the entire Gospel
                             Make notes on the verses that:
                                      Inspire you
                                      Challenge you
                                      Confuse you
Share with me what you learn ---
          You can do that via Facebook, email, phone call, or visit
That way I can address those issues when we come across that passage

          2.       Find a daily devotional based on Luke's Gospel
One that I found that is ok is available both in a daily online format or in a paperback book format --- online is free

Information on how to get it is printed in your bulletin

          or for $10.99 at

Maybe the first question that we need to address is:
          WHY LUKE?

Why did I decide that we needed to journey together through this particular book of the Bible?

Let me try to answer that question this way:

First, I really wanted to journey together through one of the Gospels --- we are Christians after all --- and the Gospels are the good news about Jesus.

Second, Luke, to me, is one of the most interesting Gospels.

Let me back up for a second ---
I believe that each of the Gospel writers has an agenda --- they have a particular message or understanding of Jesus that they want to share.

That is why we have four different --- yet similar Gospels.

You cannot attempt to line up the chronology and treat the four Gospels like a single history book.  They tell the stories in four different ways.

It is not important right now that we look at the different emphasis that each of the Gospels has --- for us --- it is important to understand the unique emphasis that Luke has.

I choose Luke because --- of the four Gospels --- Luke wants to show that Jesus came for the Least --- the Last --- and the Lost.

That's not saying that this emphasis is not found in Matthew, Mark or John. 

But clearly --- for the Gospel writer of Luke --- understanding that Jesus came to deal with some of the social justice issues of his day --- is paramount in Luke's Gospel.

I also chose Luke, because it is the understand of Jesus that many of those who now categorize themselves as "Nones" have.

Elizabeth Drescher has a new book called: Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s None.  She writes:
the majority of the Nones I interviewed across the country. Regardless of where they stood with regard to religious belief or unbelief, or attendant practices, the people I interviewed told me repeatedly how much they admired the Jesus of the Christian Gospel, radical defender of the poor and outcast. 

She shares a number of stories from Nones.
“Being an atheist doesn’t mean I hate Jesus,” a None from North Carolina who had been raised in a nondenominational Evangelical family told me. “You have to love the whole Good Samaritan story, or the way he stood up for the adultery woman. You don’t want to throw that away, because we need those stories.” He paused, “It’s just that my church experience didn’t really focus on that. It was about no sinning, avoiding temptation. It was about helping yourself to get saved, not helping others so much.”

For me --- Luke is important because he helps us to understand the Jesus that many in our society embrace --- Yet they won't darken the doorway of a church. 

Maybe if we can understand this same Jesus --- we can team up to change the world --- because isn't that our mission?

So that is why I chose Luke.
If this is successful, and you want me to tackle another book in the future, we can look at one of your choosing.

So let's begin our journey through Luke by asking: who Luke is, when it was written, and why?

Who was Luke ---- The easy answer is WE HAVE NO IDEA.

Tradition has ascribed him as the physician who accompanied Paul on his journeys, but that theory is not accepted by the majority of Biblical scholars.

We don't know who he was --- what his name was --- or what his profession was.

Eduard Schweizer in his commentary: The Good News According To Luke writes:
Who is Luke? His name does not appear in the text; it is first mentioned toward the end of the second century by Irenaeus, . . . and in a list of canonical books.  Both identify him with the Gentile Christian physician mentioned in Philemon 24 and Colossians 4:14 as a companion of Paul.  This identification, however, is unlikely since Acts disagrees at many points with the information provided by Paul's letters and has little to say about the long stay in Ephesus when Luke was with Paul.
There is no definitive answer to where it was written.  Some argue for Antioch, but that was not mentioned until the 4th century

What we do know --- is that the book was probably written sometime between 70CE and 90CE with most scholars settling in the mid 80's.

Just a quick aside: ---- Most scholars would suggest that:
          Mark (68-73)
          Matthew (70 - 85)
          Luke (85)
          John (90-110)

Matthew and Luke probably had Mark and another source lost to history known as "Q" for quelle the German word for source.

John is very different from the other three Gospels

Scholars call Matthew, Mark and Luke the synoptic Gospels from the Greek words syn, meaning "together", and optic, meaning "seen" because they include many of the same stories.

Back to Luke

So we don't know who wrote Luke

Our best guess is Luke used Mark as a source and another Gospel lost to history which has been designated "Q".

Probably written around the year 85

But why?

Why was the Gospel According to Luke written?

Our text this morning gives us a clue.

Luke 1:1-4   (The Message)
So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.

The author understands Jesus as the center point of God's movement in history and as the clearest revelation of God's desire for humankind on earth.

Jesus, in Luke, is the embodiment of the grace, mercy and salvation of God.

But, as we will come to see --- for Luke, Jesus embodies salvation not as a set of things to believe, but rather as a way of life. 

A new vision of the world.
a vision that often turns the world upside down as the poor become rich,
a vision that challenges our understands of who is our neighbor
a vision that helps us to understand God's amazing grace

So why Luke?

If we want to impact the world for Jesus --- we need to really understand him. 
Not the homogenized --- sanitized version that we have been taught over the years --- but the raw and radical Jesus that Luke wants to show us.

Let's wrap this up with two stories.

First from Lloyd Douglas who tells about a man who on a visit to his old violin teacher asked:
"What's new?"
 "I'll tell you what's new," said the teacher.
 He grabbed a tuning fork and banged it --- an A came out loud and clear.
 "Do you hear that?  That's an A.  Upstairs a soprano rehearses endlessly and she is always off key.  Next door I have a cello player who plays his instrument very poorly.  There is an out-of-tune piano on the other side of me.  I'm surrounded by terrible noise, night and day."
 Again --- he plunked the A
 "Do you hear that?  That's an A --- yesterday, that's and A today, and it will be an A tomorrow.  It will never change."

I think Luke is saying the same thing --- Jesus doesn't change. 

The challenge for us it to meet Jesus again --- maybe for the first time.

Back to Elizabeth Drescher:
The appeal of Jesus to Nones may also have to do with the practical, material enactment of his ministry—his willingness to walk across religious and other social boundaries, through the lives of ordinary people, attending to their suffering, healing their afflictions, welcoming them into relationship—over against the credal or doctrinal expressions of Christianity that have largely characterized the tradition since the Reformation.
 “I honestly couldn’t tell you what it means to be ‘saved in Jesus,’ or ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit,’” a former Evangelical None from Missouri told me.
But I get what it is to help someone out, to really put yourself out there for someone going through something bad. I think that was what Jesus was all about. Was that Jesus truly God? At this point in my life, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter. But I do believe it probably felt like that to the people he helped.