Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sermon- Gospel Writers in the Windows Luke

Last Sunday, August 5th, I preached my last sermon at Princeton UMC and it was the last day of my internship there. I had preach two other sermons there this summer: Have We Crossed the Line? and Neighborly Love.

My sermon began a new sermon series for the church "Gospel Writers in the Windows", which will explore the four Gospel Writers in the stained glass windows in the sanctuary in order of they appear. Luke, Matthew, Mark, & John (Luke is first because the Tiffany Studio artists a century ago thought the color sequence of the robes was preferable this way.)

I based the sermon on Luke 12:22-34.

Today we begin a new sermon series as Russ said, exploring the four Gospel writers. Each writer brings different elements into their telling of Jesus' life and ministry. The first three gospels, known as the Synoptic Gospels, share a lot in common in terms of stories. Biblical scholars tend to agree that the three gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, & Luke had similar sources. Mark is considered to be the oldest and the two writers used Mark and other sources for their own Gospels. For example, 76% of Mark can be found in the other two Gospels. But yet they each use different literary styles and have highlighted different themes in the story of Jesus. 

Stained Glass Windows at the Church

Then lastly we have the Gospel of John. In that gospel we encounter a Jesus, who is acutely aware of his divinity. There are numerous differences between the Synoptics and John. For instance, in John, John the Baptist does not baptize Jesus. Then, at the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples' feet and does not offer them bread and wine as sacraments. Because of these differences, Biblical scholars think John used different sources than the three Synoptic Gospels.

Today I will focus on Luke. Like the other Gospel writers, we know very little about him personally. In Colossians the Apostle Paul refers to Luke as a physician. Also Luke has the distinction of writing two books in the New Testament, this Gospel and the Book of Acts. These two books parallel each other in their structures. The Gospel tells the journey of Jesus and His ministry and then in Acts, he tells the journey of the early church beginning after the death and resurrection of Christ. Luke has a social justice bent, which is apparent by the numerous parables in the Gospel on this topic, like the story of the Good Samaritan. Lastly he dedicated them both to Theophilus, which means "friend of God" in Greek. There are theories about whether this person was Luke's benefactor or even an actual person.

When I began my internship, Pastor Jana gave me a choice on which Gospel to preach on. Immediately I chose Luke, unaware about the history of the beautiful windows on my left. I wanted to preach on Luke because I love all of the parables about social justice, something that I have been passionate about all my life.

A couple weeks ago I happened to read Luke 12 and I knew I had to preach on it. This one chapter has a lot of challenges for us as Christians living out our daily lives out in the wider world and for the church body as a whole. I think I could preach for hours just on these twelve verses.

But in the interest of everyone's time and patience, I will limit my preaching and I will just focus on two messages I hear in this passage: one for individual Christians and another for the church body.

The message I hear for individual Christians is: Can we give up? Can we just give up everything to act like lilies in the field to follow Christ?

A picture of me in 2004 talking on a cell phone
My ego tells me that I tread lightly on this earth and that I have few attachments to my material possessions. But my ego is wrong. Yes I might have fewer possessions than I once had due to moving frequently. But my material possessions still own me. You will rarely see me without two devices: my laptop and my cell phone. These two possessions have a tight grip on my life. I can't even begin to count the numbers of hours I have spent on these two electronic gadgets alone and not even for worthy endeavors. (A side note: Never buy a cell phone with Solitaire on it. I tried to give it up for Lent this year and I failed miserably!) 

Frequently these two devices take me away from the present moment and from the people around me. I can spend hours at a time with these two devices and ignore the loved ones in my life. These possessions allow me to be distracted from my relationship with God and focusing on living out Jesus' teachings. 

What are the material possessions that distract you from deepening your spiritual life? What can't you give up in order to act like lilies in the field?

This line of thinking is counter-intuitive within our current culture, which values consumerism. When we leave the front doors of this church, Nassau Street and beyond are full of messages that tell us that if we buy this one thing, or take that one pill, or amass a lot of possessions, our life will be more valuable and we will be happier with ourselves. But when we overindulge ourselves, we just end up feeling emptier and then we get more material possessions to fill our lives and our homes, ultimately just to feel Loved. Let me remind you all: You are already great and beautiful as you are. In Christ, all are one, no matter if some humans might try to tell you otherwise. Most of all, You are Loved. Jesus is reminding us in Luke that material possessions aren't the way to build the Kingdom here.

The second message I have today is: Are we ready? Are we ready as a church to support each other in responding to a call to ministry? 

If a person stood up right now and offered herself or himself to ministry, how would we respond? Let me guess: some might say "Hey, I think she is nuts." Or "Won't he just sit down? We can't even see the choir." Wouldn't we? Are we prepared for that?

My friend Maurine is a traveling Quaker minister. Several years ago she felt a leading from God towards this ministry. But her Quaker church was not ready to hear this and soon she felt uncomfortable attending that church, knowing that they weren't ready to support her calling. Let me tell you this church was large and wealthy, so it had more than enough resources to support her, but they weren't mentally and spiritually ready to.

Eventually, another Quaker church welcomed her with open arms and she moved there to be under their care. This church was much smaller with a lot less resources and was hours away from the wealthy suburb. Now several years later, she feels supported in her traveling ministry there. And guess what? Since her arrival at the church, two other ministries have been started by other church members and they are fully supported too. The meeting is alive with the Spirit of God in their mist.

That is the remarkable part of ministry. Once someone follows a leading, others can get inspired too and follow their own leadings. Last week Cindy spoke about lay ministry and one integral part of lay ministry is the support of the congregation because it can be scary to take that first step alone. In Quakerism, we have support committees for people following a leading, no matter what it is.

In this church we already have a lot of great ministries here. But I want to ask you: are we ready for more ministries? Are we ready to support other lay members in following their leadings? If not, what is holding us back from being ready to respond?

The great theologian Howard Thurman once said: "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." What makes you come alive? What makes us as a congregation come alive? We need more Christians to live out their faith daily, not just by coming here on Sundays. The world is waiting for us and the world needs us to come alive today!

1 comment:

  1. I have always liked Luke and especially Acts. I find Acts to be like we are, human and striving toward perfection that we will never attain in this life.

    I don't know about what possessions we should have, but our Lord said that if we have two coats and our neighbor needs one, we have one too many. This has been a delightful journey. I make as many missteps as I make steps, but without Christ, I cannot move at all.