Monday, September 26, 2016

Some Sayings of Jesus

The section headings in the bible aren't original to the text, but they sure are helpful. When I'm trying to figure out how to separate passages for a bible study, I often use the headings to help me group them from week to week. As I skim over an entire gospel, searching for a particular theme or passage, the headings often point me to the right place. Occasionally, when I'm preaching a sermon, the heading will help focus my attention, reminding me what a passage is supposed to be about. But then there's the heading above this Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 17:5-10): "Some Sayings of Jesus."

That's the editor's way of letting us know that the verses that follow are tenuously connected and have little to do with the surrounding narrative. It's as if Luke himself didn't really know what to do with these sayings. Jesus said them, and Luke felt the need to include them, but he didn't know where. And this preacher isn't sure what to do with them either.

Sunday's gospel actually omits my favorite of three disjointed sayings--the one about forgiving the same person seven times a day (vv. 1-4). I thought about expanding the text and preaching on that part, but, since they aren't really connected and I'd be essentially ignoring the assigned gospel text, that doesn't do justice to the rubric that allows for its expansion. Instead, I'm left with two strange, frustrating, isolated sayings that I'd rather not hear.

And maybe that's the point. Jesus' disciples ask him to increase their faith, and his response is to declare, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you." Spurred on by this rebuke, Jesus goes on to question their dedication. Using the image of a slave who, after a hard day's work, is still commanded to fix the master's dinner, Jesus says to his disciples, "So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.'" Luke didn't have to include them. Unpopular, harsh words are always easier to leave out, but sometimes we need to hear them anyway.

These are things we don't want to hear. Usually, I don't shy away from passages like this. I enjoy a good kick in the pants, and I think it's part of my calling to give a good, mostly gentle kick in the pants to the congregation. But yesterday I preached a hard sermon on a hard text to a congregation that didn't seem to be in the mood to hear it. I'm preaching again this Sunday, and I'm looking for a gentle, comforting, hopeful text, but this is Year C and Luke and Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. The truth is that there isn't much easy about this season of the lectionary, and there isn't much easy about discipleship, either. Maybe I'll warm up to another rear-kicking by Sunday--one for me and one for the congregation and both from Jesus.

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