A Tale of Two Sermons
Jan 27, 2013
One of my favorite all time songs is “Church” by Lyle Lovett. Do you remember it? I think I’ve shared it with you. It’s about everyone’s worst fear about a church service.
play video from 17 sec. to 127
What if the preacher decided to preach all day?
Well, our scripture lessons today, the old testament from Nehemiah and the New testament from Luke, are about a long sermon. And a very very short one. And I invite you to consider which congregation you feel called to join.
Would you like to be part of the crowd, gathered across from the Water Gate, when Ezra read the scriptures from early in the morning until mid day? Before you say “no” consider this:
The people gathered that day had never heard these stories. They had been exiled. Generations had been born, lived and died in a foreign land. Their sacred writings had been lost, left behind, and largely forgotten. They were a people without the collective memory of who God was to them. Who they were to God. What God had done for them and what their relationship with God was supposed to look like. Now they were back in Jerusalem, trying to put their lives together again. But without the stories from their past . . . it was sort of hard. They had no agreement on what was most important, most urgent. They weren’t sure what they were making together would be meaningful and good.
Then, in the ruins of the old king’s palace, they found the scrolls that contained the Books of Moses - the Torah. And in it the collective memory that would serve as the basis for a renewed relationship with their God.
So they were all there, assembled before Ezra, who had a wooden pulpit and six liturgists on either side. When Ezra opened the first scroll, they stood up. When he said a little blessing, they answered “Amen. Amen” And they listened. They were attentive. They heard, many of them for the first time, the beautiful poetry of the Creation Story. They heard how humans did evil and violence and how God’s attempt to wash evil out of the world with the Great Flood. They heard about God’s promise to their ancestor Abraham, and how his wife Sarah laughed to think she’d be part of God’s history. They heard about Jacob, the trickster, and Joseph and his dreams. The stories of Egyptian captivity and then Moses and the Ten Commandments, wandering in the wilderness and then entering the Land. And these stories were their stories. That’s what the interpreters helped them understand.
That’s what it’s my job to help us understand when I stand up here and preach each Sunday. That the stories in this book are our collective memories - our ways of making sense of the deepest questions human beings can ask: Who am I? Why are we here? What makes life worth living?
The Bible is not a rule book. It has rules in it. But its not the rules that make the people weep.
The Bible is not a history book. Some things in it “really happened”. But there’s not a single book that was written so that we could have an accurate account of the PAST.
And the Bible is not a science book OR an anti-science book. The authors lived long before “science” had been invented. It’s up to something quite different.
It is up to incorporating us into God’s story,
in forming us, (forming our inward parts?)
inspiring us to put our hope and trust in the one that won’t let us down.
It is the Bible that points us to the ONE whom we believe lived the hand’s down best story that has ever been told. The one that wraps up all the stories of the past and opens up the possibility of a beautiful future.
And when he comes - he gives a very short sermon.
According to Luke, Jesus public ministry was inaugurated with a sermon in the synagogue where he grew up, in Nazareth. And he chose his text carefully. They handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, who had written as the people underwent dislocation and loss, grief and exile. Living as refugees in a foreign land, they wondered if God was through with them. But Isaiah assured them that God had plans for their future.
Jesus seized on that good news of God’s amazing future and read it out loud:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me and the Lord has chosen me -
To bring glad news to the poor
To announce freedom for those held captive
To make the blind see and the prisoner free
and to usher in the Jubilee.
It’s a great passage. Isaiah 62: 1-2, though Jesus had a different translation.
Then. He sat down. That was the sermonizing posture. The preacher sat. If I stay here long enough, we may revive that old custom.
Everybody in the congregation fixed their attention on the young man. And he gave the shortest, sweetest sermon ever:
Today. I just love that the first word of Jesus’ first recorded sermon is “today”. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Now then. Not soon. Not back in the day, or someday in the future. Now. Jesus claims today. Today is Jesus’ day. Now is Jesus’ time. Put him on your calendar, not tomorrow, not next week, not after the next Presidential election. Now is Jesus’ time, cause now is OUR time. I love that. Today.
Today this scripture promise has been fulfilled in your hearing.
I’m the one who will do these things. God’s got a hold of me, and He won’t let go until joy and freedom and clear vision are the marks of the people of God. Audacious of him, really! To say, “I’m the one who keeps the promise God makes to the world. I’m the way he keeps it. I’m the one.”
That is the central tenet of the Christian way: That Jesus is the one who shows us the way to live and die and live eternally. God’s way.
Eugene Peterson says, “Jesus is the way means he doesn’t just point out the way and then step aside and let us get there on our own as best we can. Jesus points out the say, then then takes the initiative, inviting us to go with him, taking us with him across land and sea, through all kinds of weather, avoiding dead ends and seductive byways, watching out for danger and alerting us to enemies.” (The Jesus Way, p. 36)
Jesus is the way God comes to us. And Jesus is the way we come to God.
That’s the essence of Jesus’ first and shortest sermon. No need for the preacher to keep on preaching.
To the Lord, let praises be! It’s time for dinner now let’s go eat.