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Weekly summaries for our Lenten series
+ Week One: March 6-12
I Must Be About My Father's Business
“When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51 marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry as he leaves Galilee and embarks with his disciples and thousands of Israelites on his last long road trip to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. He resolved to go to the place where he will challenge religious leaders and will make the ultimate sacrifice and rise again. Author and priest Robert Farrar Capon calls this buildup in Luke 9 the "mystery-finally-in-gear," writing that Jesus is about to "push his insistence on losing-as-winning, on weakness-as-strength, all the way to its logical, acted-out conclusion in his own death and resurrection." As a boy, Jesus had made this Passover journey often with his family and had once resolved to stay in Jerusalem, sitting at the feet of religious leaders. “Why were you looking for me?” he had asked his parents when they came to find him, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house (or about my Father’s business)?” Now, he shows similar focus as he returns to the Temple where he was dedicated as a child. Meanwhile, his disciples do not grasp the lowly implications of Jesus’ obedience to the Father as they are preoccupied with thoughts of greatness. On Ash Wednesday, as we remember that we are dust, and to dust we will return, let’s reflect on the full circle of Jesus’ life. In the words of the 20th century preacher F.W. Boreham, "Salvation always lies in returning ... Back! We must go back! Back to the simplicities! Back to the Cross!" At the beginning of our Lenten journey together, we look at the context for Jesus’ trajectory toward Jerusalem and we must ask, “What needs to change about my own understanding of my Father’s business, my Father’s house, in the weeks ahead? What simple truths do I need to be reminded of?”
+ Week Two: March 13-19
Parables of Grace (Part I)
It has been said that a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” They can be long or tweetably short, but they are always a comparison used to make a point, specifically a point that may be mind-boggling rather than easy to swallow (mystifying rather than informative). Jesus was a storyteller who followed his own trail, not intimidated by how his audience would react to his stories’ odd twists and turns. His plots were nuanced and unsettling, and he often didn’t hesitate to include questionable characters with shabby resumes - characters who would never be selected as vestry candidates. Of the 46 parables or word pictures found in the synoptic gospels, Luke contains the largest portion (24). Of those 24, the bulk of the parables about grace occur on Jesus’ way to Jerusalem between his “setting his face to go to Jerusalem” in Luke 9 and his triumphal entry in Luke 19. Luke masterfully weaves together the accounts of Jesus’ life and his parables to portray what some refer to as “the upside-down kingdom.” G.K. Chesterton wrote, “I think, in short, that [Jesus] would give us a sensation that he was turning all our standards upside down, and yet also a sensation that he had undeniably put them the right way up.” As we reflect on Jesus’ road-trip-to-Jerusalem parables for the next two weeks and approach his storytelling with openness, how can our hearts and minds be stretched? Let’s ask God to give us a fresh vision of who He really is, to be comfortable with our discomfort over these word pictures rather than be satisfied with pat answers, and to see “Him who is invisible.” (Heb. 11:27)
+ Week Three: March 20-26
The Scandal of the Gospel (Parables Part II)
In Phillip Yancey’s book The Jesus I Never Knew, he writes about the Sermon on the Mount and how Jesus repurposed a form of proverbs that were familiar in his day to make the opposite point. Yancey explains, “According to Walter Kasper, Greek and Jewish wisdom literature describes as blessed the man who has obedient children, a good wife, faithful friends, is successful, and so forth. Jesus added a contrarian twist to what the audience expected." Yancey goes on to explain how the ones Jesus considered blessed are the "desperate" ones who have a particular advantage because recognizing dependence is the gateway to God's kingdom. True to form, Jesus adds a contrarian twist in his parables as well by emphasizing the string of concepts that some title “lastness, lostness, leastness, and littleness.” As Jesus nears Jerusalem and keeps company with the marginalized, we are prepared to see how these are concepts that Jesus lived out – to the death - when he was numbered with the transgressors and cried out in desperation to his Father.
+ Week Four: March 27-April 2
Actualizing the Kingdom of God (Miracles of Healing)
Earlier in Luke 5:31, prior to his final road trip to Jerusalem, Jesus had told the Pharisees and scribes, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The writer Luke, who was called “the beloved physician” by Paul in his letter to the church at Colosse, took a keen interest in how people sought out Jesus for miracles of healing – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Luke is the only gospel writer to mention Jesus’ words about physicians (Luke 4, 5, and 8). In the accounts recorded between Jesus “setting his face” toward Jerusalem and shortly after the triumphal entry (Luke 9-18), Luke shows how the Master Physician defeated not just the infirmities of flesh and blood but also the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, and he sent out and empowered his disciples to do the same. Philosopher Dallas Willard says, “Salvation is an interactive relationship with God. If you trust Jesus with all of your life, with everything, that will allow you to live in the Kingdom of God now.” The wonders recorded in Luke 9-18 are evidence that the Messiah has come and that he is defying the status quo and putting the world back to right – or “the right way up,” as G.K. Chesterton put it (see Week Two). In this fourth week of Lent, do we catch the majesty of Christ’s abundance? Do we grasp his love for the wounded, anxious, and oppressed? He came to bring life, but not just life – life more abundant (John 10:10).
+ Week Five: April 3-9
The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 30-something Lutheran pastor who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp, described discipleship as “not hero worship, but intimacy with Christ” (The Cost of Discipleship) He also wrote that discipleship is not about what you understand because it surpasses understanding: “[God says] Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours.” Jesus’ mother, Mary, demonstrated this surrender in the very first chapter of Luke when she told the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” and then said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Throughout the accounts found in the great travel section of Luke 9-19, which makes up 40 percent of this Gospel, Jesus speaks to a life of surrender: losing to gain, dying to live, weakness as strength. Ron Block, the Christian songwriter who wrote the 2006 Bluegrass Song of the Year, “A Living Prayer,” beautifully captures this idea in his lyrics: "In your love I find release, a haven from my unbelief. Take my life and let me be a living prayer, my God to Thee. Take my life and let me be a living prayer, my God to Thee." Ron Block explained that his song was not about “[trying] to do good and [avoiding] doing bad,” nor about “[trying] to be Christ-like, but about being “a vehicle or vessel of His Spirit” through surrender and intimacy. May this be our prayer too.
+ Week Six: April 10-16
Home to the Father's House
Everything after Jesus’ decisive kickoff to his journey in Luke 9, “the great travel section,” points to Jerusalem. During Week One, we reflected on the Temple motif in Luke 1-2: Simeon’s prophetic words about the infant Jesus in the Temple, Zechariah’s Temple encounter with the angel, and the boy Jesus lagging behind after Passover to discuss the Torah with religious leaders. We got the feeling that these episodes foreshadow something significant about the unfolding story, and now we gradually loop back to this original motif. The next several days are packed with controversy, including one of the most succinct summaries of the Old and New Testaments ("The Parable of the Wicked Tenants," one of two "Judgment Parables" in this section) and Jesus calling out the religious leaders in the Temple. How passionate he is - imploring elitists to see the marginalized the way his Father sees them! Literary echoes of the Old Testament suggest that Jesus' long journey and unique arrival in Jerusalem (weeping on a donkey!) reveal that Jesus is a new Moses or new David, inviting people to his “upside-down” kingdom community. This week as we trace Jesus' return to the Temple, we can consider these words from Old Testament scholar John Walton: "Salvation is more importantly about what we are saved to (renewed access to the presence of God and relationship with him) than what we are saved from." May we be reminded to take hold of this "renewed access" and draw close to our Savior as we see Jesus reclaim the Temple as a meeting place with God’s presence.
+ Week Seven: April 17-21
In this last week of our Lenten series, Jesus finishes his travels by accomplishing his Father's business, overcoming sin, death, and Satan. His final walk to Golgotha ends with the sound of the Temple curtain being torn in two, leading the way into the Holy of Holies and symbolizing that God's presence is open to all because of Christ's atonement. Let the words of 4th-century theologian Gregory of Nazianzen wash over you this week:
"He was tempted as Man, but He conquered as God; yea, He bids us be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world. He hungered—but He fed thousands; yea, He is the Bread that giveth life, and That is of heaven. He thirsted—but He cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. Yea, He promised that fountains should flow from them that believe. He was wearied, but He is the Rest of them that are weary and heavy laden. He was heavy with sleep, but He walked lightly over the sea. He rebuked the winds, He made Peter light as he began to sink. He pays tribute, but it is out of a fish; yea, He is the King of those who demanded it. He is called a Samaritan and a demoniac;—but He saves him that came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves; the demons acknowledge Him, and He drives out demons and sinks in the sea legions of foul spirits, and sees the Prince of the demons falling like lightning. He is stoned, but is not taken. He prays, but He hears prayer. He weeps, but He causes tears to cease. He asks where Lazarus was laid, for He was Man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God. He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood. As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a Lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word, and is proclaimed by the Voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but He heals every disease and every infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the Tree, but by the Tree of Life He restores us; yea, He saves even the Robber crucified with Him; yea, He wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is Sweetness and altogether desire. He lays down His life, but He has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but He gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again; He goes down into Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to put to the test such words as yours."