Sunday, February 15, 2009

I guess we’ll have to leave that on the table before us…

Perhaps you remember that at the beginning of our 2009 Congregational Theme, we also changed Adult Sunday School trajectory. The ‘title’ of this new Sunday School experiment is “The Basic Christian Adventure: The Life of Jesus.” Our mission for this Bible Study is simple- Learn whatever we can about the rare stories that all four Gospels share. I’ve known for awhile that each Gospel is its own adventure, and as such has stuff in it that other Gospels don’t. But I’d never studied them as a unit, focusing on those few vignettes of Jesus’ life they tell in common. So we’ve been doing that for a few weeks now, and I thought it’s time for an update.

We began at the beginning, and focused weeks one and two on Jesus’ Baptism (only Matthew and Luke have infancy narratives). Or at least that was the plan. Quickly, we discovered these stories have as much, if not more to say about John the Baptizer than about Jesus (especially Luke and John). How strange! Why spend so much time on a figure in Jesus’ story that seems secondary? Perhaps Tom Jarvi put it best, “Well, he’s part of the story.” And that’s right, so much so that early Christian communities couldn’t keep him off their mind. After careful consideration, it seems clear that just before Jesus branched out on his own in the northern province of Galilee, gathering Disciples and preaching about “The Reign (or Kingdom) of God,” he was down south among the disciples of John (was he one of them?). Something remarkable happened, either John was arrested or the religious authorities became agitated or Jesus had a “come to Jesus moment,” and Jesus got baptized and went north, some of John’s disciples in tow. ‘Going north,’ therefore, marked a transition in Jesus’ life, when he changed somehow from Joseph the Carpenter’s son to an outspoken teacher, healer and general thorn in Rome’s side. Have you ever ‘gone north’? Have you experienced a transition in your life in pursuit of God when the game suddenly changed?

Next we tackled that awesome story about Jesus in temple, overturning tables and getting angry. For anyone who thinks Jesus was all soft velvet and sunshine, this story is a wake-up call. In fact, coupled as it is in three of the four Gospels (except John) with the Triumphal Entry (aka Palm Sunday), we get a picture of ‘Jesus the rascal,’ who staged dramatic acts of prophetic witness designed to confront his society with what, in his view, was their indifference to the poor and marginalized, their using God’s Temple as refuge of hypocrisy (‘den of thieves’), and a general lack of concern for a just society and heartfelt worship of the God of all who loves all. Even in John (where this story occurs at the beginning, not the end of Jesus’ ministry), we experience a Savior who won’t permit comfort to triumph over right living, wealth to exhume benevolence, order to supplant the dynamic pursuit of a mysterious, all-loving God. Have you ever looked around and wanted to overthrow some tables? Have you ever done drastic to restore God’s mercy and justice to a situation that’s left you heartbroken?

Last week, we began studying the “Feeding of the Multitude (or 5000),” as it appears in Mark and John, and we continued this morning with Matthew and Luke. The conversation was, again, quite good, and we struggled mightily with what really happened, how it happened, how to understand miracles in general, and what that calls for in our lives. We noticed that each of these stories describe the event in language we use during Communion every Sunday (Jesus took bread, broke it, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples). This made us wonder how such a dramatic story reinvigorates our worship at ‘the table before us,’ where God can fill us to satisfaction with what seems like but a crumb. We left things in the heat of a controversy over the power of God. Can or does God break God’s own rules, and circumvent natural law to intervene in particular cases of need? What might that say about God’s priorities, God’s justice, God’s love?

In coming weeks, we’ll study, among other things, the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as that wonderful tale about a woman anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. There’s still room at the table, you should know, so come at 8:45(ish), and join the discussion. Or perhaps I should say, “Are you ready for this most basic, and ever-enlightening Adventure?!?” In all things, I wish you,

Grace and Peace,


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