Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thank God for Difficult Words

The title to this post pretty much sums up how I'm feeling this morning as I sit and work on yet another sermon on a difficult text from the Gospel of Luke. Since the beginning of the summer, the Revised Common Lectionary, which sets the readings for most Protestant and Catholic churches each week, has been working through the middle of the Gospel of Luke and has been coughing up some doozies.

In the past few months, we've heard Jesus say, "Do you think I've come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" and "Anyone who sets a hand to the plow and turns back is not fit for service in the Kingdom of God." He also had the stern and strange "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." On August 4, we had the parable of the foolish landowner, who is chastised for saving his wealth, which is bookended by this past Sunday's parable about the wicked manager who is condoned for shrewdly cheating wealth out of his employer.

Now this week we have the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, where the rich man is sent to a place of torment after death and when he pleads to Father Abraham for comfort or aid to his brothers, Abraham's response is essentially, "Too bad." God is abounding in compassion, eh?

So why do I give thanks for these passages? It's not because they are easy to understand. They're not. And they're even harder to preach on. If I'm going to help other people understand this passage, then I have to find an understanding for myself, which usually means hours of study and beating my head against the wall (which may or may not be a literal thing). These passages make me uncomfortable and challenge my way of thinking about Jesus and what it means to follow him.

And that's why I end up feeling grateful for them.

By struggling with them, I'm forced to think clearly and deeply about God and my relationship to him. The more I struggle, the more I recognize there is a lot I still am learning about life, about God, and about me, which makes me want to know more and go deeper. These stories paint a picture of a God that is much more complicated than any simple characterization like "God is love" or "God is the ultimate judge." Isn't any good relationship about growing toward a better understanding of the person you love? By wrestling with these texts like Jacob at the Jabbok (Genesis 32), I, too, end up humbled and blessed.

“I found God and He was absolutely nothing like me.” -Live, "Where Fishes Go"

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