September 2008

This past Sunday we studied and discussed the beginning of Luke 3.  Luke writes about John the Baptist who teaches a “baptism of repentance” and baptized in the Jordan River.  John, we read in Mark’s gospel, wore clothing of camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey.  He was not a run-of-the-mill teacher.

Luke compares John to “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”  This is a prophecy, written hundreds of years earlier, by the prophet Isaiah.  Not only does John the Baptist fulfill this prophecy, he also is a prophet himself.  Prophets, in the Old Testament, were always spouting off at those in power.  They told people to turn from their evil ways.  They ran afoul of kings.  Often, they acted strangely.  Ezekiel laid on his side for 390 days to show Israel’s punishment in captivity.  Prophets saw strange visions and talked about them.  John wore camel hair and lived in the wilderness.  He ate locusts.

John told the people who saw him to repent.  He told the Pharisees, the religious insiders, to repent.  The Pharisees were the best of the best.  He told the crowds to repent.  Regular, everyday Jewish people who didn’t like the Romans.  He told the tax collectors to repent.  These people were Jewish, too, but cheated their countrymen.  They were disliked and looked down upon.  And he told the soldiers to repent.  Soldiers were Romans, not even Jewish. 

He told the best Jews to repent, the crowds, the worst Jews, and the non-Jews.  John told everyone to change his or her ways.

We talked about this at The Gathering.  So often, in my mind, it’s the people around me that need to repent.  The Pharisees — church leaders who abuse their authority.  The crowds — people who don’t care as much as I do, who don’t sacrifice as much or work as hard.  The tax collectors — people who cheat.  The soldiers — people who kill and aren’t in my circle.

But it’s I who needs to repent.  It’s us.  Our community. 

We talked about this.  We talked about how we don’t care enough when we see people hurting.  How we don’t pray enough for people in our community.  For people out of our community.  For our country, at a time when politics is on everyone’s tongue.  We don’t fellowship enough, sharing not only Sunday mornings but our eating and drinking and working lives together.  We fall short.

John the Baptist showed us this.  And this week, as we go about our lives, we try to remember.  We fall — we turn away from how God wants us to be.  But, as both individuals and as a community, we repent.  We reorient ourselves toward God.  We thank Him.  And we remember the prophets, who tell us hard words that aren’t easy to hear, and we listen.

An inaccurate rendering of a surely dark-haired and dark-skinned Jewish Jesus at the temple.  But a rendering nonetheless.

An inaccurate rendering of a surely dark-haired and dark-skinned Jewish Jesus at the temple. But a rendering nonetheless.

The Gospel, that is.

We’ve been studying Luke’s gospel for the past couple of months, as we will be continuing to study it for roughly 17 and a half years.  I’ve heard the secret to teaching a book is doing it fast enough so you can remember the beginning at the end.  Well, hopefully we have some good memories.

Debbie taught us yesterday, and highlighted a few ideas.  First, we saw Jesus presented at the temple as an infant.  They were at the temple both to present Jesus and for Mary’s purification.  Thus, for Mary’s purification, they offered two birds (either turtledoves or pigeons) as the law required after childbirth.  This was the offering a family could give if they didn’t have enough money for a lamb.  This is significant, because we see that Jesus comes as a poor person, with a ministry to the poor, outcast, and religious nobodies.

We looked at Simeon’s blessing and prophecy (Luke 2.29-35) and learned that his prophecy that a ‘sword’ will pierce Mary’s soul falls in line with Hebrews 4.12 — the word of God piercing to the division of soul and spirit, revealing the thoughts of the heart — as Simeon prophesied would happen to Mary.  Traditionally, this verse is interpreted as referring to the pain Mary would feel at the cross, but it also refers to the Word (i.e. Jesus) and that his life and work would reveal the thoughts and attitudes specifically of Mary (and all of us, as seen in Hebrews 4).  A new understanding of the text, one that works in the biblical narrative, especially with the theme of the sword piercing the soul, something that technically is impossible.

Further on we saw the boy Jesus at the temple.  We talked about the fact that at some point he would have realized he was the Son of God and realized his mission, and likely this could have happened in his twelfth year.  What a realization!  For some reason, I think of it as realizing I had a test that I hadn’t studied for in college that morning: and I would feel incredibly intimidated.  Yet, for Jesus, the responsibility was probably outweighed by the care and connection that he had with God.  He was, after all, the Son of God.

We also talked about how this passage is tied together with the Word: we see Simeon’s prophecy to Mary of Jesus revealing thoughts and attitudes, and we see Jesus anxious to learn more and debate at the temple.  It underlines a thirst for God-as-Trinity: the God the Father, the Word and Son, and the indwelling Spirit.  Beyond this, it points out the need for community and learning: if Jesus needed to discuss, how much more do we?

And, this week, it brings questions to us.  As we go through our regular week, are we people who are thirsty for God?  Do we let the Word, especially through Scripture, reveal our thoughts and attitudes?  Are we living in step with the Spirit so that we can see when Jesus shows up, like Simeon and Anna?  And finally, are we thirsty to talk and discuss and learn more, so that we can be people who “increase in wisdom…and in favor with God and man”?