Saturday, September 28, 2013

Seeing the Connections

Our parable for this final week in our journey through the stories Jesus tells in Luke 14-16 is one that has traditionally been called The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (though I appreciated this week one commentator who suggested it should more accurately be called The Indifferent-Man-Who-Could-Have-Listened-to-Moses-and-the-Prophets-and-Followed-God's-Way-of-Life-and-Been-Welcomed-Into-Paradise-by-Father-Abraham-But-Chose-Not-To and Lazarus), found in Luke 16:19-31. Read it here:

I have learned so much this past month on our journey through Jesus' parables together in worship and in our Tuesday night Tea and Parables conversations. I think one of my biggest takeaways, though, has been learning to read Jesus' parables in light of each other. I have always thought of the parables as largely separate anecdotes, certainly all connecting to Jesus' teachings; but I have never really thought about the extensive ways the parables connect to and echo one another.

Take this week's parable, for example. As I read it, thinking about the rich man and his brothers seeing Lazarus in need every day yet refusing to really see and help, I heard incredible echoes of the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the priest and the levite refuse to help the wounded man even when they saw him. I heard echoes back to last week's parable--this as a further illustration of what it looks like to not be faithful with wealth, and certainly to fail to use your wealth to make friends, and to live as if the present world is run by consumer standards rather than kingdom standards. And I heard even echoes of the parables of lost things in Luke 15--perhaps this story is another illustration of what it looks like to be lost? And are more than one character lost in this story, just as in the story of the prodigal where both brothers were lost in different ways? And beyond parables, I hear incredible resonance between this parable and the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus.

I think there are lots of connections to be made, and I would encourage you to hear parables with not just Jesus' other teachings but also Jesus' other stories he told and lived. What bigger tapestry is Jesus trying to weave here? How are these stories not just to be heard as self-contained units but as clues to something bigger than themselves? What have you learned or noticed and what connections have you made on our journey through the parables?

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Systems We Find Ourselves In

Our parable for this week is perhaps the most perplexing and challenging one Jesus ever told--Luke 16:1-13, which can be read here.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been thinking about systems a lot. Namely, I have been thinking about the deep brokenness of the systems we live in. As I have talked with people who are caught up in government bureaucracy, who are trying to navigate the criminal justice system, who are fighting to receive what they need in the healthcare system, who are struggling under massive debt, who find themselves on the cusp of homelessness, I have grown more and more discouraged and found myself crying out for justice. No matter where you are politically, you have to admit there is deep brokenness in the systems of our nation and our world.

I feel like Jesus, in his mystifying parable this week, is offering some commentary about the systems of the world, the way the world works, and how we as Christians are to live in light of these systems. I have been reacquainting myself this week with the writings and work of one of my seminary classmates, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who has made it his ministry to challenge systems that oppress in a variety of ways, and read this quote from his book God's Economy that, for me, resonated with this passage of scripture:

Whatever steps we take to live the abundant life that Jesus has made possible, we can’t ignore the fact that we live in the midst of political systems that affect us and our neighbors. Beloved community happens here and now, but it never happens in a vacuum. God’s economy intersects with the economies of this world. We pay (or don’t pay) our taxes and our tithes with bills that bear the images of dead leaders and the inscriptions of nation-states. Wherever we find ourselves, God’s people live under occupation in this world, negotiating the power of rulers who have not yet submitted all things to our Creator. Jesus doesn’t ask us to flee from the world or take it over. Instead, he invites us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. He gives us a tactic for how to live as a people under occupation until the whole universe submits to our King.

What might a universe looks like that submits to our king? And how might we participate in that present-and-coming kingdom even now, in the midst of the broken systems that try to ensnare us? I think these are the challenges, among other things, with which this parable presents us. Read it and consider: what is Jesus really challenging and inviting us to here?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Give me an object...any object...

Our text for this week as we continue in our series on the parables is Luke 15:1-10, which can be read here:

One of my all-time favorite movies is "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Among the many humorous story lines in the movie, the father, Gus, has a fixation with helping his three children stay connected with their Greek heritage even as they grow up in America. He paints the Greek flag on their garage door. He quizzes them on Greek history at the dinner table. And he has a game that he loves to play with them: "Give me a word," he says, "any word, and I will show you how the root of that word is Greek." Even when some of his daughter's snarky middle school peers challenge him to find a Greek root in the word "kimono," Gus finds a way to make the connection. Every moment was a teachable moment; every word, a teachable word.

It's a very rough analogy, but I think Jesus used a very similar teaching strategy. When he wanted to help people understand what it meant to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, he would take very ordinary, earthly objects, occupations, and practices that they saw every day in the world around them and show them how, at the root of that ordinary thing, one could see an extraordinary connection to who God is or what God's kingdom is about. Whether it was a tiny seed, a coin, some yeast, a field, fruit, sheep, salt--all these things became symbols of life in God's kingdom, a way to connect earth-bound people with the things God was doing. 

"When casting the meaning of God’s sovereign realm in parables," John Indermark writes in his book Parables and Passion, "Jesus does not turn to lofty symbolism accessible to a limited few. To a culture closely connected to the earth, Jesus speaks through the ordinary of seeds and fruit trees. To individuals who kneaded bread and swept floors, Jesus offers images of God’s purposes in yeast and misplaced coins." It was almost as if Jesus was saying, "Give me an object, any object, and I will show you the deep roots of God's kingdom right here, right now, among you."

In our Tea and Parables gathering Tuesday night, we each chose a random object from my living room and used it to share some insight with one another about the nature of God or God's kingdom as can be seen or taught through that thing. We talked about God in river rocks, in pencils, in pinecones, in the ability to Skype face-to-face with someone miles away. Try it this week--choose an object, any object. Choose a word, any word. Choose a moment, any moment--a relationship, any relationship. How does this teach you something about the nature of God's kingdom? How are the workings of our mysterious God closer to home than we might initially think?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Counting the Cost

Our main scripture for this week is Luke 14:25-33, which can be read here:

In the parables Jesus tells in this passage, he encourages any who would follow him to count the cost of discipleship and consider whether they are willing and able to pay it. This got me thinking about cost this week, as Broadneck prepares to celebrate its 31st anniversary as a worshipping body. What sort of costs were part of our lives in 1982, when our church was begun? According to my internet research, in 1982...

Average Cost of new house $82,200 
Average Monthly Rent $320.00 
Cost of a gallon of Gas $0.91
New Car Average price $7,983.00 
US Postage Stamp $0.20
Cost of a dozen eggs:  $0.84 
Cost of a gallon of Milk:  $2.24
Cost of year's in-state tuition to a 4-year university: $2,344


How does this compare to the costs of the same things today? Well, roughly, in 2013 (and some of these truly blew my mind)...

Average Cost of new house $322,700
Average Monthly Rent $1,109.73
Cost of a gallon of Gas $3.52
New Car Average price $31,252 
US Postage Stamp  $0.46
Cost of a dozen eggs:  $1.83
Cost of a gallon of Milk:  $3.45
Cost of year's in-state tuition to a 4-year university: $8,655

This is all interesting...but what does it have to do with Jesus' parables, and our life as a church? Well, it got me to thinking about how we react when costs increase. What costs are worth continuing to pay? What do we do when things that used to not be costly suddenly involve sacrifice? And how do we answer these questions when it comes to discipleship? Now, I am not talking about the literal cost of things like Bibles or church budgets or utilities on our building. I am talking about, what do we do when following Jesus asks more of us than it ever has in the past...when being church requires us to sacrifice in new ways...when we have to reconsider our commitment to things in which it used to not cost much to invest, but that now could prove costly in terms of time, letting go of personal preferences, opening our minds and hearts, sacrificing for others, etc. Do we see following Jesus and being Christian community as worth the price even when it becomes more personally costly to us?

Think on these things, and let's talk about them together on Sunday.