GCI Equipper

For the Sake of Other People

Continuing our focus on Healthy Church, the 2022 theme for Equipper and our GCI media team is “Compelled by Love.” The church of Jesus Christ exists for the sake of other people.

I spent most of my life with an “us and them” point of view. The main “us and them” concerned those who believed in Jesus and those who didn’t believe in Jesus – for simplicity I referred to these two groups as believer and unbeliever. Believers were included; unbelievers were excluded. But my erroneous point of view went beyond that. I also believed in an “us and them” among those who professed belief in Jesus. If you believed what I believed and followed certain commandments, I believed were more important than others, you were among the “us.” If you strayed from what I believed was truth – at least my understanding of truth – you were among the “them.” And we can go further. If you have a different point of view than me – politically, socially, genetically, environmentally – you could still be among the “them,” and not part of “us.” This distorted way of thinking can permeate every area of life. What “us and them” comes to your mind?

Jesus entered an “us and them” world. He was born into a Jewish family who considered all of humanity as Jew or Gentile. You were either one of God’s called (Israelite), or you were “of the world” (Gentile). But it didn’t stop there. The Levitical priesthood believed they were “better than” because they had a special relationship with God. Sadducees and Pharisees thought of themselves as “better than.” Men thought of themselves as better than women. The poor, the diseased, the mentally ill, and slaves were all considered “less than.” This “better than” and “less than” way of thinking still permeates Christianity. Jesus came to turn all of this nonsense on its head. In him there is no “better than” or “less than.” Further, Jesus tore down many of the separations of “us and them.” In many ways in Christ there is only us. When we think missionally, however, we need to think of those who are not yet in Christ – the appropriate use of the term “them.”

The “Us” in Christ

The Incarnation is for all. “For God so loved the world…” When John wrote this, he was making it clear God’s plan was for all. All are included in his love, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Most of us can quote Paul’s words to believers in Galatia that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Eugene Peterson translated this in The Message:

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises. (Galatians 3:28 MSG)

Oh, if we only believed this. Oh, if we only practiced this in our lives and treated all in Christ’s family as equals – without judging them by anything outside of who Christ is. Imagine what we could do as the body of Christ if we believed we were all part of the one body, all forgiven the same, all loved the same, all redeemed and reconciled, all unified in our purpose to share his love and life to others. What if we truly believed the truth of who we are? And what if we believed this truth is also for all outside the body?

What if it were true that Christ did break down all man-made divisions and made us one in his plan of salvation? The “one” refers to Jesus’ inclusive love for all, his forgiveness for all, his baptism for all, his death and resurrection for all. When we understand Jesus is for all, would this truth change the way we look at those who don’t yet know him? Absolutely. Let’s ask another question: What if we truly believed that we are invited to be in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

What if you really believed you are totally forgiven, wholly reconciled, unconditionally loved? In other words, what if you really believed you are who Christ says you are – his beloved – and that he lives in you? Would this truth change you? What if you believed others are totally forgiven, wholly reconciled, unconditionally loved? Would it change how you look at them? Again, absolutely. Knowing who Christ is and who we are in him changes everything. Not only does it make us confident in who we are – our true identity – but it motivates us to help others understand who they are – their true identity.

The “Them” in Christ

Understanding who Christ is, who we are in Christ, and who others are in Christ, compels us to reach out in love and help others in their journey from not yet believer to believer. (Keeping in mind always that we are called to participate with Jesus in what he is doing. We don’t save people—only Jesus saves. He is the one who calls and changes others. Our job is to love, and in that love to share his love and life with others.)

Here’s what Paul says about Christ’s love in us:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)

Notice the truth here. We are convinced that Christ died for all – no exceptions – and therefore all have already joined Jesus in his death – again, no exceptions. He died for all; therefore, we no longer view others as outside the plan of salvation and the unconditional love of Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul is reminding us to view others as those whom Christ loves. Just because they don’t know Christ does not mean Christ does not know them. This is where mission comes into play. Christ’s love compels us to join him in what he is doing – to participate in his work of salvation. We do this by telling those God brings into our lives that Jesus loves all of us just as we are. Everything he did, he did for all of us. He came for us, he died for us, he rose from the grave and ascended for us, and he will return for us. This “us” includes all who are not yet believers – those who don’t yet know him. Hallelujah, praise God!

One of the main purposes of the church is to help all come to understand the truth of who we really are – those whom Jesus loves, forgave and died for. It is to help all understand Jesus redeemed us, was resurrected for us, and is reconciling us to our Father. Once we grasp the truth, we are compelled to share that truth so that others can grasp the truth, so they can share the truth… you get the picture. The church exists for the sake of other people – to help all understand who Jesus is and who we are in him. It is to help not yet believers become believers. Mission is about helping “them” become “us.”

Before we believed, we lived in the lie that we were not loved, not forgiven, not included. We may have believed that Jesus died for others and not for us. The truth (Jesus) sets us free to live in the reality of who we are in him. This is good news we want to share with all. That’s why we have set the theme, “Compelled by love.” This is why the church exists – for the sake of all others.

 

Always amazed by the truth,
Rick Shallenberger

On Mission with God

 The Love Avenue of a Healthy Church is going and participating with God.

By Heber Ticas, Superintendent of Latin America

The Love Avenue of a healthy church is perhaps the most challenging of the three ministry avenues. In the Love Avenue, a healthy congregation will create spaces for missional participation as a corporate body. Significant holistic health as a body cannot be attained without the proper understanding and calling of the church to participate in the mission of God in the world. It is often said, and rightly so, that missional participation apart from Jesus is not possible. It is by the Spirit that the church joins Jesus in his missional activity in our neighborhoods and communities. The participation part of the equation is what the Love Avenue is seeking to address. As we undertake the task of pursuing greater health and build out our Love Avenue expressions, I urge you to consider the following.

The Mission of God Informs the Mission of The Church

God has always been on mission in the world, expressed through the calling and sending of men and women. His activity is evidenced through the sending of the patriarchs, prophets, kings, and eventually his Son, Jesus. The incarnation of Christ is key to understanding the nature of mission in the Christian church. Jesus not only commanded the church to partake in his mission, but also modeled what missional participation can look like. The sending nature of the church cannot be denied. Through the Great Commission, Jesus himself commands and empowers the church to go and informs us on how we are to go. The Johannine account of the commission sheds greater light for the church. We see it when he first appears to his disciples after his resurrection.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)

I see three important elements in this account.

  • Missional Sentness: The church is a sent body. This is evidenced by the ministry of the apostles and by the ministry of the early church. The incarnate Jesus intimates the sending nature of the mission of God by pointing out his mission from the Father. In Matthew’s account he says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The focus is on “make disciples,” but in my estimation, the challenge for us in the Love Avenue is on “go.”
  • Missional Embodiment: The second element that I see present in John’s account of the commission is this incarnational element of the mission. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me.” He not only proclaimed the good news from the Father, but he also embodied this good news in his everyday rhythms of life. If missional sentness is focused on going, then missional embodiment speaks to how we go and what we do as we go.
  • By the Holy Spirit: The third element of the commission is that neither the apostles nor the church were to go apart from the Spirit. In Matthew’s account, Jesus says, “I will be with you until the end of time.” Both our sentness and the embodiment of the message can be effective only as we are empowered by the Spirit.

I strongly believe that in these passages we have a clear revelation of the identity of the church. Unfortunately, the church does not always recognize her calling as the sent people of God that she is. Engaging in the Love Avenue as a church body is going and participating with Jesus and allowing the mission of God to inform us on how and where we are to go.

Missional Participation in the Church

With a clear understanding of our missional identity and our missional dispositions, a healthy church body strategizes their approach and engagement in their neighborhoods and communities. Because mission flows from the heart of the Father, Son and Spirit, and the Son was sent because the Father loves, a healthy congregation steps into the Love Avenue with the same approach. I believe that it is key for us as a church to reflect on our approach to mission. The Love Avenue affords us the opportunity to discern the call of God for our local body, and to activate the body to participate missionally with Jesus. As we engage in establishing a more robust Love Avenue in our churches, I encourage you to consider the following:

  • We are compelled by love, so all that we do in the Love Avenue is birthed out of a loving heart.
  • The Great Commission cannot be separated from the Great Commandment. We participate in the Great Commission as we are driven by a Great Commandment heart.
  • Pastors, Love Avenue champions and ministry leaders at large have the responsibility to activate the mind, heart, and hands of the body for missional participation in our neighborhoods and communities.
  • Let us make sure that we value the mission of God as a corporate body and that we value the people in our communities.
  • Let’s brainstorm for ways that we can create missional spaces for corporate missional participation.
  • As we build a Love Avenue team, let’s move out into the neighborhood and discern Jesus movements to join in.
  • Let us open our eyes and hearts and ask the Lord to give us a heartache for those who don’t yet know Christ and his love for them.

It is my prayer that as we focus on the Love Avenue this year, the Lord would show us what he is already doing in our communities. I pray that our people have the sensitivity to hear the voice of the Spirit leading us into missional participation with Jesus.

Epiphany: The season of Manifestation

By Bill Hall, National Director of Canada

Coming just after the Christmas season, Epiphany is the next major observance in the Christian calendar. It comes from the Latin word meaning manifestation or shining forth. It is interesting to me that the very term “epiphany” has become a part of our day-to-day language. The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that it means: “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.”

In his volume of the Pilgrim Year: Epiphany, Canadian Christian artist Steve Bell makes this observation speaking of his series of books based on the liturgical year:

As we continue to chart our course by way of this pilgrim map of the liturgical year, we have seen how Advent reveals the deepest truth of our humanity: how we were created to receive the seed of God and bear it forth for the sake of the world. Likewise, Christmas reveals the humble vulnerability of God condescended in matter and flesh to assume and redeem all that is broken and distant. The season of Epiphany now reveals Christ’s divinity shining forth from his humanity, freeing us from parochial theologies and revealing the scope of salvation too bright for human eyes. Epiphany lifts our eyes from the immediate personal, familial and tribal spheres to demand that we include in our vision “all the ends of the earth’ (Psalm 98:3). (pp. 15-16, Steve Bell, Volume 3, Pilgrim Year: Epiphany, Novalis Press 2018).

In Western churches, the feast of Epiphany falls on the 12th day after Christmas, which is January 6. On this day, the church remembers the story about the Magi who seek out and come to worship the Christ child. This event reveals that God is not just concerned with the people of Israel but involves Gentiles – pagan outsiders – in this earth-shattering event. Including these Eastern visitors in the Christ story teaches us that this newly born Messiah has come for the entire world.

Reflecting on the fact that Epiphany is not just a single festival but rather a season, the second commemoration of Epiphany falls on the first Sunday after January 6. On that day, the baptism of Jesus is recalled. In his baptism we focus on one of the many “for us” events in the Incarnation. That day at the Jordan river, Jesus is baptized “for us” – for the sins of all humanity (past, present and future) – and he connects his humanity with our humanity. The revealing of this Jesus as God’s own son and the descent of the Spirit connects him and us with the Triune God. It is a redemption of the fall, a reconciliation between humanity and God.

The third major day of the season of Epiphany falls on the second Sunday after January 6. It celebrates the wedding feast of Cana. It was at this wedding that Jesus performed his first public miracle. While we may view this event as a sign of God’s generosity, the ancient church saw a connection with the wedding at Cana with the great wedding feast when the church would wed with her heavenly spouse.

Other notable events that reveal the Son of God to us are remembered on the following Sundays leading up to the pre-Easter season.

The last Sunday of Epiphany features the reading of an account of the Transfiguration. This is when we read: “… a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17:5 ESV).

The season begins with the Magi following a star that points them to the one to worship, and it ends with the revelation to three disciples that Jesus is the one true light, and we are to listen to him. What an appropriate ending to this season. What else can we say about this Jesus but that we are to follow and worship him!

The Trinitarian Blessing

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:13)

By Bob Regazzoli, Pastor, Australia

This scripture listed above is found in Paul’s last letter to the believers in Corinth and is often used as a benediction – the invocation of a blessing upon the congregation at the end of a worship service. Within this one verse we see the life of the Triune God and how our participation in this life is a key to being a healthy church. Gordon Fee, biblical scholar, theologian and Professor Emeritus at Regent College, said:

In many ways this benediction is the most profound theological moment in the Pauline corpus…. As Barth put it with extraordinary insight, “Trinity is the Christian name for God.” Here we begin to glimpse Paul’s understanding of that reality, namely, that to be Christian one must finally understand God in a Trinitarian way.[1]

I see three key take-aways from this verse and I add three correlated questions:

  • The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is always with us, but are we conscious of it?
  • The love of God is who God is, and his unconditional love is always there, never diminishing, but are we mindful of our continually living in his love?
  • The Holy Spirit is in us at all times, enabling us to fellowship with Jesus and the Father in love and unity, but are we aware of his indwelling presence and his guidance and prompting?

The great blessing this verse describes is that we live in the awareness and the ongoing experience of the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This inspires and encourages us in our life of worship, community and mission. We become like what we worship! “At the center of the universe is a relationship…. The center of reality is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”[2] We are included in this most awe-inspiring relationship.

Let’s look at this verse in more detail:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

Our Christian life begins with grace, and we never stop living in his grace. We, as sinners, are saved by the grace of God. His grace was personified in the incarnation of Jesus. The Word became flesh and was full of grace and truth. We come to the Father through Jesus. Tom Wright describes grace this way: “Paul can also use the word ‘grace’ to describe not only what God freely and lovingly does for us, but also what he does in us and also through us; …in Jesus grace became human.”[3] We exist by the grace of God. We live by his grace, and we are motivated to good deeds by the grace of God. This glorified body of grace, Jesus, is always with us. As Paul often wrote, our life is “in him.”

The love of God

We are blessed as we live in the love of God. Why do we sometimes think that God doesn’t love us, or doesn’t love us as much as we would like? We grow up living in a world where much of our experience is conditional love, and it is difficult for us to believe at times that God loves us unconditionally – no matter what our lives are like at any given moment. We continue to be reminded of the unconditional love of God, demonstrated through his beloved Son, in coming to this world to die for us. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). Jesus died for us while we were dead in sins, so how can God’s love ever waver because of our failings and sins? God’s love for us is perfect love at all times. God is truly for us.

Fellowship of the Holy Spirit

The Greek word translated “‘fellowship” is koinonia, which is also translated “partnership,” “participation,” “sharing,” and “communion.” We see this emphasis through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Koinonia is describing intimate fellowship. The Corinthians were having difficulties in a number of areas of Christian living and in their relationships with one another. There were factions, social divisions, immoral living, doctrinal confusion, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, criticism of the apostle Paul and a lack of generosity. As Gordon Fee explains: “This remarkable grace-benediction is the only one of its kind in the extant Pauline corpus…. It seems more likely than not to have directly resulted from matters in this letter.”[4]

The answer to all the issues the Corinthians were dealing with is contained in this one verse. They needed to continually be aware of the blessing of participating and living in the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the same “need” we have today – to be continually aware of what it means to participate and live in the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul gives us great insights into the work of the Holy Spirit and experiencing life in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit renews us each day, drawing us closer to God.

Be with you all

This letter was written to the church community, so that the whole community may know they are invited to be drawn into closer fellowship with God. God wants everyone to experience the love and joy of living in communion with him. “The very nature of God, therefore, is to seek out the deepest possible communion and friendship with every last creature on this earth.”[5]

So let’s summarize this benediction. Through the grace of Jesus, we come to know and experience the God who is love, and we enjoy the fellowship of the Triune God through the Holy Spirit. “It is by the Spirit that the Father has eternally loved his Son. And so, by sharing their Spirit with us, the Father and the Son share with us their own life, love and fellowship.”[6] The Trinity is the most intimate loving relationship that can possibly be experienced.

What a magnificent prayer of blessing Paul gave the Corinthian church and for all Christians with this beautiful conclusion. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen!

[1] Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 363.
[2] Darrell W. Johnson, Experiencing The Trinity. (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2002), 37.
[3] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians (London: SPCK, 146.
[4] Fee, 362.
[5] Catherine LaCugna, God for Us: the Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 411.
[6] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 96.

 

Church Hack: Digital Connect Cards

The ability to worship together through online services is a blessing that allows us to share the good news of Jesus beyond the walls of our building. We know that the Sunday service is just one aspect of church life and discipleship. Download this month’s GCI Church Hack, which shares the why and how of developing digital connection cards. These provide a way for online guests to connect with your congregation beyond the service. #GCIchurchhacks

https://resources.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/2021-CH12-Digital_Connect_Cards.pdf

Imitating Incarnation

When Jesus “moved into the neighborhood,” he set an example for us in how to effectively work with others.

We recently celebrated the Advent season and gave special attention to Christ’s first coming, second coming, and continual presence with us. Following Advent, we celebrated Christmas – the incarnation – when the Son of God entered our world and became the Son of man. He became one of us. For those striving to disciple young people, it is good to take a new look at John 1:14 and note how Eugene Peterson interpreted the verse. It gives us a good point to focus on as we strive to follow Jesus’ example.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14 MSG)

God could have redeemed us from afar. We might think that he could have spoken another “let there be” and changed our nature, but he respects our ability to choose too much for that. Instead, to bring about our restoration, he moved into the neighborhood. Advent and Christmas celebrates this part of God’s nature that gets up close and personal. We celebrate the humble God who becomes one of the most pitiable of creatures in order to make them his children. He was not too proud to align himself with the corrupted, and due to his close proximity, we became infected by his health.

As we seek to cultivate Jesus in children and youth, do we follow Christ’s model? Do we strive to move into their neighborhood? There are times when an attraction approach (getting the young people to come to us) works well. For example, doing a community-wide event, like a neighborhood camp, is a great way to help children and youth experience the kingdom. However, congregations that only employ attractional strategies when reaching out to the young people in their community are missing out on some wonderful opportunities.

I encourage congregations to imitate Jesus’ approach and consider incarnational strategies — actions that move you into the neighborhood. Make an effort to go where the young people already gather and humbly try to become a part of their lives. Some incarnational strategies might include one or more of the following:

  • Volunteering at a school or youth program
  • Attending sporting events
  • Becoming a Big Brother/Big Sister
  • Coaching a sports team
  • Becoming a band booster
  • Volunteering at school plays or concerts
  • Being a chaperone at a school event

Jesus showed how much God loves us by moving into our neighborhood. When we follow him into the midst of our children and youth, we reflect his love and show them how important they are. There is a saying, “Children do not care what you know until they know that you care.” Initiating relationship by meeting young people where they are is an important way of communicating that you care.

For some of us, living incarnationally among children can feel intimidating. The good news is that Jesus has already gone before us. When we meet children where they are, we do not do so with our own power. We go in faith believing that God will reveal himself through us. By moving into our neighborhood, Jesus changed the entire world. Imagine what God is willing to do if we imitate him?

By Dishon Mills, Generations Ministry Coordinator, US

Why the Church? w/ Dishon & Afrika Mills

Why the Church? w/ Dishon & Afrika Mills

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, Cara Garrity interviews Dishon and Afrika Afeni Mills. Dishon is the lead church planter of a GCI church plant in Charlotte, NC, and the National Coordinator for Gen Min in GCI-USA. Afrika is the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion at Better Lesson. Together they discuss the foundational question of the purpose of the Church.

“I think the purpose of the church is to be aware and to become aware and to embrace the gift of God. That he invites us into a relationship with him. The other image that comes to mind for me, is that we recognize the invitation of God, is that we are sitting at this vast table that God has prepared for all of us, and we are the ones who invite those who are not yet at the table. To come and sit, to come and see, to come and taste that the Lord is good… We are imperfect beings, so we don’t do it perfectly, but when we are at our best we are those who recognize who God is and who we are in God.”
– Afrika Afeni Mills

“The goal is not to transform the world into the Kingdom, only Jesus can usher in the kingdom. We’re not going to see the world completely changed because of the efforts of the church. But what we will see is that the name of Jesus is lifted on high, that we bear witness that he is real, and that there are better ways of being. It starts with us engaging in authentic relationships.”
– Dishon Mills, church planter

Main Points:

  • What is the church? Its purpose? (2:48)
  • The ministry of the Love Avenue is that of witness, there is a sense of outward movement in this avenue. How does the church engage with the world around us? (7:38)
  • What does it look like for the church to live out its calling, not in a vacuum, but in the very context of our time and place? (13:21)
  • What do you believe are some signs that a church is living out its calling? (28:12)
  • What advice do you have for those of us who are hesitant to engage particular matters of the world and human experience with the gospel because they may be too messy or hot topics? (43:25)

 

Resources:

Healthy Church – President Greg Williams shares an update on GCI and our vision of Healthy Church.

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Gospel Reverb – Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner

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Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins, and Kenneth Tanner, Pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Rochester, Michigan, unpack these lectionary passages:

February 6 – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 5:1-11   “Gone Fishing!”
(14:38)

February 13 – 6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 6:17-26 “Blessed Are You”
(28:03)

February 20 – 7th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 6:27-38 “Love Your Enemies”
(39:15)

February 27 – Transfiguration Sunday
Luke 9:28-36 “Listen to Him!”
(54:23)

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

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Sermon for February 6, 2022 — 5th Sunday after Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4011 | The Story Since Day One

There is power in storytelling. From the stories, we will tell our friends after work to the bedtime stories we tell our kids before they sleep. From the beginning of time, humans have passed on our histories through the stories told by family and friends. To this day, Jesus’ story continues to be shared with everyone. He inspires us with the love and peace that will continue to grow in our hearts as we move along the world.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4011 | The Story Since Day One
Greg Williams

Do you ever have a commercial jingle or a theme song from a tv show that you can remember perfectly years later? Decades might pass, you will have forgotten libraries of information, but you can still flawlessly recite the opening song. For example, the jingle from the old TV show, The Brady Bunch… “Here’s a story, of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls…”

Stories draw us in, they make us pay attention, they help us remember.

We see Paul using a story for the same reasons. Though, his story is much more meaningful. In his first letter to believers in Corinth Paul wrote:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:3-6 (ESV)
       
                                                

At first glance, this may look like more of Paul’s theological writing—abstract concepts in the early formulation of faith. But scholars have looked more closely at the language in the last hundred years or so and they saw an intrinsic rhythm and meter of the words: “that Christ died…he was buried…he was raised.” What they found was an ancient credal formula—a compact, memorizable statement of faith that was probably around long before 1 Corinthians was written.

Notice how Paul set this up: I delivered to you what I received. He was sharing something he had received—this creed, this jingle, this poem—something that was already in place and most likely part of his discipleship process.

We are seeing here some of the first “hymns” the church ever sang. Remember there was no internet and a significant part of the first audience was illiterate. This would be the way new believers learned faith, similar to a memory verse or a simple song, or a creed in today’s churches.

Just like we can sing some of the words to The Brady Bunch jingle, so the early believers could tell the story of Christ in song, or poem form. The story was circulated in such a way that people could remember it and share it. We still tell the story today—Jesus is of first importance. His life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the story we share each year as we worship our way through the Christian Calendar. Each year the calendar reminds us of the story of Jesus—the same story that has been shared since day one.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 138:1-22 ∙ Isaiah 6:1-8, 9-13 ∙ 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ∙ Luke 5:1-11

The theme for this 5th Sunday after Epiphany is speak the word. In the call to worship Psalm, the poet speaks the echoing praises of God the creator and Lord. Isaiah 6 tells us about Isaiah’s encounter with God and his command to go and speak. 1 Corinthians 15 holds some of the earliest words spoken by the Christian community—possibly the first creed. Our sermon comes from Luke 5 in which Jesus calls his inner circle of disciples to speak the word alongside him.

Put Out into the Deep Water

Luke 5:1-11 ESV

Read Luke 5:1-11 ESV.

You may have grown up with them in your town: The factory workers and trades people after a long shift, headed home with their lunch pails and hard hats. They were blowing off steam, cracking their knuckles, stopping for a smoke. As kids we watched them with fascination and maybe a little bit of fear—someday maybe I’ll be big and tough like that.

We were hypnotized by their worn hands and strong language, wondering what our own future would be like. They had a look of fatigue and focus, utterly at home in what they were doing and exhausted by a hard shift put in.

This is likely how Peter, James and John looked the day Jesus encountered them at the beach. They’d been up all night dropping their nets, over and over and coming back with nothing. So not only were they exhausted, but they were also frustrated, calculating how they would make up for this lost time in the subsistence living they made. “We can’t lose a whole night this month!”

Jesus does exactly what you don’t want to do in that situation. Here he is approaching highly skilled laborers who are likely frustrated and in a bad mood, and he tells them what to do! It is like you going up to the factory workers at the end of their shift saying, “Hey all, hard shift? You know what you should do…” You can only imagine the reception.

Add to this the fact that some of these guys already knew Jesus, and they knew he wasn’t a fisherman. And here he is telling them how to do their jobs. Tradespersons are very careful not to cross such lines – car mechanics don’t tell journeyman plumbers how to fit pipe; truck drivers don’t tell farmers how to plow straight rows.

So, Jesus throws them off. He walks up to them out of nowhere, jumps into their boat and then tells them how to do their jobs. Let’s cast our nets into this story today and see what we bring up. We’ll look at how:

  • Jesus disrupts
  • Jesus arrives with abundance
  • Jesus calls alongside

Jesus disrupts

Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. (Luke 5:3 ESV)

The scene is set with a crowd so large that Jesus had to retreat to the water just to address the crowd. It’s amazing how quickly this becomes not a story of the crowds, not even a story of Jesus’ teaching, but a story of Jesus and Peter.

Many of the shores of Lake Gennesaret, which is actually the Sea of Galilee, are steep and cliff-like. A boat on the water makes a natural amphitheater, even to this day. This enabled Jesus to address the crowd. But here’s an interesting anecdote: we have no clue what Jesus said in his teaching here; we know only what happened between he and Peter. Have you ever felt that way? As if God was suddenly talking to you one-on-one, almost out of nowhere. You’re in a conversation, you’re in fellowship, you’re going about your day and suddenly you realize the moment is different. Maybe a friend admits a need to you, and you are right there to address it. Maybe you receive direction on something you’ve been praying about through circumstances or through what someone says. Sometimes Jesus meets us in a one-on-one conversation that may even be disruptive and alarming.

And so it is with Peter here. Jesus disrupts his day. Jesus disrupts him after a night with no luck – not an uncommon occurrence for a career fisherman, but definitely not one you want followed by conversation. You want to go home and sleep the morning away. And here’s Jesus wanting to chat!

Then Jesus gets in his boat. The truck driver’s seat, the rancher’s saddle, the executive’s desk – these are not the places you sit! Jesus has already disturbed his work and thrown off his day, and now he’s sitting in his chair! Peter is the boss, the head guy when he’s out there on the water, and Jesus walks right into that situation to meet him.

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:4-5 ESV)

How many times has Jesus done that to us? We’re there entirely in our comfort zone, maybe right in that place where we draw our identity from, and he comes in there and throws things off.

One April day in Boston in the year 1855, a Sunday school teacher came to visit one of his students at the shoe store where the young man worked. He described the young man’s mind as “spiritually dark.”

The Sunday school teacher told the young man about Christ, and the young man became a Christian. He became a pillar in the church community there. A few years later, the young man went to Chicago trying to make his fortune in shoe retail. But he finally ended up starting a church there and devoted himself to lifelong ministry.

The young man was Dwight Moody, one of the most influential evangelists in American history. Millions of people can trace their spiritual lineage back to him. All because Jesus disrupted him in the world he was comfortable in, right when Jesus was the last thing the young Moody was expecting.

Jesus arrives with abundance  

And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. (Luke 5:6-7 ESV)

Their nets were breaking. Around the time Jesus lived, a lot was being written by the Jewish community about God’s deliverance of Israel. Although they had no prophets speaking at the time, they did their best to draw on their traditions and predict when God’s deliverance would come.

Think about the miracles of Jesus. His first miracle—the wedding at Cana where he made many more gallons of wine than they needed. The feeding of the five thousand—with 12 baskets of leftovers. And here we have the fish so abundant that they were breaking the nets of expert fishermen.

Jesus arrives with a feast—not always, but often. He does more than they could ask or imagine. Look at how Peter addresses him:

Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! (v. 5)

And then after his muscles are aching and his boat creaks beneath the weight:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  (v. 8)

Master in verse 5…Lord in verse 8. These two titles are different in Greek. The first is more like boss, the second is more a position of real power, and eventually became the title often used for Jesus.

Peter changes the title he gives Jesus right away. He pivots and changes the conversation because he sees that Jesus is different—that Jesus changed the very laws of nature and physics and arrived with abundance.

We’ve seen this in our own lives as well, when we take that small step forward in faith and Jesus gives an amazing, abundant increase. Think about when you finally turn toward that person you need to forgive, and a real friendship develops. Think about the addict who finally gives God control and finds healing from unthinkable temptation. Think about remaining faithful with tithing to find that the Lord gives you what you need and more.

Jesus calls alongside

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10-11 ESV)

Peter often takes a bad rap for being impulsive and unreflective in his actions. Here’s a consummate Peter moment—him jumping out of the boat and making an immediate decision to leave his career and follow Jesus.

But let’s look at this for a moment. Jesus knew how impulsive Peter was and he used that. Jesus knew that Peter would cut ears off, speak denials before the cock crowed, and presume to rebuke him at one point. He also knew that Peter would be the first to walk on water, the first to start to understand who Jesus was, and a vertebra in the backbone of the early church.

He knew that Peter’s impulsiveness would become boldness, that his hot temper would become fearlessness. Jesus called him from right where he was into the work of the kingdom.

Jesus doesn’t want cost-efficient strategy or mobilized five-part plans; he wants you! He’s not looking for perfect people, he’s looking for you, people!

This conversation looks very public—who knows how many people were watching? But in the end it was more private. Jesus and Peter seemed like the only two people in the world for a moment, and Jesus greeted him with words that will sound familiar to Bible readers. Anytime in the Old Testament that God or angels interacted with someone, which usually put that person into fits of terror, they said the same phrase: “Do not be afraid.”

Then he called these imperfect men into work with him. He knew all the failures that were yet to come, but he called them to walk with him. He didn’t just fix them and move on—he called them to walk with him and join him in this adventure. They left everything behind that they had known – the nets, the sea, and for all we know, that huge, wriggling pile of fish they had just caught, and they followed him.

Do not be afraid…

Jesus disrupts: Is he disrupting you today somewhere that you’re comfortable? Like he did with these professional fishermen who had just had a hard night? Maybe there’s a habit or a mindset he’s working on in your life. Maybe you’re in some place where you think, although you probably never put it into words, “I got this, Lord, you can move on to the next thing.” Maybe he’s coming right there, showing you that you can be more present to your spouse, more patient with your kids, more loving toward the world and yourself in some way.

Do not be afraid…

Jesus comes with abundance: And when he comes to you in that part of your life, calling you to the stronger, better life, will you “put out into the deep water”? Will you listen to where he tells you to cast? He may ask you to step out in faith, like he did with them. Putting out into deep water was not usually a good move for fishermen, especially professionals, and yet they did. And that’s where the miracle was, that’s where the abundance was.

He often calls us to stretch goals, trusting that he will guide us and take care of us. We didn’t just “get saved,” and that’s it. He calls us over and over to “put out into the deep water,” trusting him with our decisions and our way of being in the world, transforming our relationships, our decisions, our state of mind.

Do not be afraid…

Jesus calls alongside: Where is he calling you today? Make no mistake, he is calling you. This isn’t the practiced handshake of the executive who wants to interact with you as little as possible. This is Jesus picking you out of a crowd, calling specifically on you, with your gifts and abilities, even your shortcomings. Let him redeem those things for his kingdom – turn your impulsiveness into innovation, your hotheadedness into passion, your passivity into patience.

Do not be afraid…

The deep water looks dark and empty and mysterious. He’s the only one who knows what’s there. Cast your net.

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner W1

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Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner
February 6 – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 5:1-11   “Gone Fishing!”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: “Cast Out into the Deep Water”

  • Jesus was a carpenter; these disciples were fishermen. Have you ever had someone from another job come and tell you how to do yours? How did it go? How do you think it might go?
  • Do you ever feel like Jesus has “disrupted” you the way he disrupted these fishermen disciples that morning? Has he ever come into a place where you were comfortable and thrown things off, drawing your attention to something new?
  • Have you ever seen God “bring abundance” when you’ve taken a step out in faith? Maybe turned a distant relationship into a true friendship or a ruined day into a beautiful memory?
  • What does it mean in your life to “cast out into the deep water”? Where is Jesus calling you to cast out in trust?

Questions for Speaking of Life: “The Story Since Day One”

  • Do you remember any commercial jingles or TV theme songs decades later? Isn’t it amazing what sticks in our memory?
  • The credal formula in 1 Corinthians 15 indicates that these beliefs were the earliest in the Christian community, well established right away and not—as some have criticized—developed over time. Why is that important?
  • The gospel never separates the historical Jesus of Nazareth from the miracle-working Christ the Lord. Yet some people do. Why do you think that is tempting?

Quote to Ponder:

“A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder.” ~Rich Mullins

Sermon for February 13, 2022 — 6th Sunday after the Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4012 | If No Resurrection…

From changing water into wine to raising Lazarus from the dead, these events from the Bible might sound impossible to believe. But are we forgetting that we have a God who is beyond logic and understanding? Paul reminds us that we cannot place our great God inside a small box. He is beyond that! Even when we can’t comprehend the greatness of our God, he continues to pursue us with no bounds.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4012 | If No Resurrection…
Cara Garrity

Have you ever had a hard time believing something the Bible says about Jesus Christ? The virgin birth. Healing the blind. Walking on water. Raising the dead. There are many things about Jesus’ story that challenge our reason. As a result, sometimes we try to force-fit our big God into a box of our own understanding or suspend our logic and reason to be a Christian?

The apostle Paul had to address the resurrection of Jesus. A good number of the members of the Corinthian church did not believe in the possibility of the dead coming back to life. Ironically, Paul used the style of writing popular with philosophers to make a logical argument proving the reality of the resurrection. He began by quoting evidence—including eyewitness testimony—of Christ being seen after his death. In his conclusion, Paul stated:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:12-14

Paul saw the resurrection as foundational to our faith and a reason for our hope. Yet, he also understood it was a hard thing to believe. This was why he was so meticulous in putting together a logical argument for the more skeptical Christians in Corinth. Apart from God, resurrection is illogical. But with God, it is possible, because God can do all things. Resurrection still stretches the imagination, however, we serve a supernatural God who is powerful beyond description.

Paul did not want his audience to disregard their logical minds or try to fit God into their pre-conceived notions of logic, rather he wanted them to use their minds to explore a greater reality. In this season of Epiphany, we are challenged to see and encounter the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The truth is Jesus disrupts our belief because he is greater than we can possibly imagine. We cannot wrap our minds around his love, his power, and the lengths he is willing to go in order to redeem humanity.

I pray that you would allow God to renew your mind and awaken you to the ways of his reality. I am Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 1:1-6 · Jeremiah 17:5-10 · 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 · Luke 6:17-26

In this sixth week after Epiphany, our theme is God’s disruptive ways — how God will challenge how we think about things. The call to worship Psalm advises us to avoid following in the seemingly natural path of the wicked. Jeremiah warns his reader not to trust in the strength of other people. Rather, we should trust in the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is challenging the conventional wisdom of the ruling class who do not believe in the resurrection. In Luke, we read an account of Jesus sketching the outlines of his upside-down kingdom.

The Blessed Poor

Luke 6:17-26

When you think of the poor, who comes to mind? Perhaps you think of someone who is homeless. Or, maybe someone on a street corner asking for change? Maybe you thought of one of those commercials featuring starving children in some distant land? Does anyone you know come to mind? Is poverty something you have encountered? In America, most people do not see themselves as living in poverty. Oftentimes, people live their entire lives without having a relationship with a person they consider poor. Is this a good thing? Do we lose something for not being in close proximity to the poor?

Mother Teresa knew at an early age that she wanted to commit her life to religious service. At 18, she left home to be equipped to be a missionary, and she never turned back. She became a nun and soon after began to minister to the people of Calcutta, India. In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor. Given her decades of work with the poorest of humans, Mother Teresa had uncommon insight into poverty and our spiritual needs. She said:

The greatest disease in the West today is not [tuberculosis] or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

Mother Teresa saw poverty as a universal problem. To her, we are all poor in one way or another. This does not mean that we turn our back on the economically disadvantaged to attend to our own poverty. Rather, we should identify with the poor and act accordingly.

Jesus taught about poverty in his “Sermon on the Plateau” in Luke 6:

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:17-26)

In order to appreciate the depth of Jesus’ message, we have to put ourselves in the place of the disciples. Imagine what it was like. You are standing there with Jesus and many other disciples when an even larger crowd comes to hear Jesus. You feel excited at first that people from far and wide were coming to hear your teacher. Then as the people get closer you see that they are the outcasts of society: the sick, the demon-possessed, the infirmed. You were taught that people in those conditions were sinners — people to be avoided. Some of them are carrying diseases that made them ritually unclean and they are drawing nearer. Your excitement turns to trepidation because this is not the audience you wanted for Jesus. These are not the people around whom you feel comfortable.

You watch as Jesus tries to touch each person in an orderly way, but the crowd keeps growing. They are now pressing all around you as they try to touch Jesus. If you were in this situation, what would be your attitude towards the crowd? Many of us would negatively judge the people. We may be tempted to make generalizations and judgments about the less fortunate. We may be tempted to see ourselves as better in some ways compared to the pitiful crowd.

It is at this moment that Jesus turned to his disciples, not the crowd, and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” What an astonishing teaching! Not only was Christ’s message at odds with conventional wisdom, but it also may have been an admonishment to his disciples. It is likely that after being pushed and shoved by people who were to be avoided in their culture, some of the disciples may have grown tired of the pleading and the tears. In the same moment, Jesus brought comfort to the crowd and conviction to his disciples.

In verses 24-26, Jesus delivered warnings to the comfortable. Jesus was not saying there is something inherently evil about being wealthy, happy, or having a good reputation. However, it is a problem if we see ourselves as wealthy, happy, or having a good reputation by our own strength. We are in trouble if we allow our comfort to make us think we are better than those we perceive as struggling. If we see ourselves as healthy and whole apart from God, there is no room for God to address our spiritual needs. Our physical wealth can mask our spiritual poverty. Mother Teresa is also quoted as saying, “One day there springs up the desire for money and for all that money can provide — the superfluous, luxury in eating, luxury in dressing, trifles. Needs increase because one thing calls for another. The result is uncontrollable dissatisfaction. Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”

In America, most people aspire to wealth, not poverty. We have something called “The American Dream” — the idea that if a person works hard, they can achieve status and wealth. We strive for the house with the bigger garage and pretty fence. We love “rags to riches” stories and view “riches to rags” stories as tragic. We have been socialized to see poverty as shameful and to be avoided. As a result, Christ’s upside-down teaching in Luke 6 can strike us as radical.

Jesus often has to disrupt our flawed thinking in order to better reflect his image. The Lord exhorts us to reconsider our attitude towards poverty and the poor. In contrast to our natural inclination, there is some kind of blessedness to poverty.

As believers, we should follow our Lord’s example and be concerned about the economically disadvantaged. We should be appalled at the deplorable conditions in which some people live simply because human beings are not very good at sharing. In God’s economy, “those who have” are to give, so “those who do not have” can have. That way, everybody has what they need (Acts 4:32-35). Because of God’s lavish love, there is a blessing in both the giving and receiving (Acts 20:35). Yet, the norm in our society is for people to be concerned about themselves and what they can accumulate to fulfill their own desires. Our perceived individualism causes us to lose sight of humanity’s interconnectedness.

To Jesus, the poor are blessed because the kingdom of God belongs to them. The hungry are blessed because they will be fed. The mourners are blessed because they will be made to laugh. The marginalized are blessed because they will receive rewards in heaven. These people are blessed not because of the lowly state in which they find themselves. They are blessed not because they are learning humility, although learning humility is a good thing. Jesus says they are blessed because of the response of their loving God. In his compassion, mercy, justice, and love, God responds to our suffering with restoration and renewal.

This is the mystery that the poor Christian has an easier time understanding: the greater our poverty, the greater access to God’s power we have when we humbly seek our Father. It is true that poverty can bring humility and less distractions, both of which are blessings. However, the greater blessing is the emptiness that Mother Teresa spoke about — the room in our lives and in our hearts that God can fill.

Whatever our state, we should embrace our own spiritual poverty. We are all in desperate need of God every moment of every day. Jesus is life itself and there is no existence apart from him. We are blessed if every day we thank God for our lives and seek him to supply our needs. We are blessed if we realize we have no strength in ourselves and wait on the Lord to order our steps. This means that sacred practices like prayer, study, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines that cultivate a dependence on God are profitable ways to spend our time.

At the same time, Luke’s Gospel speaks about poverty in a literal sense. The author has both spiritual and economic poverty in mind. Finances are an uncomfortable topic for many; however, the Bible has a lot to say on the issue. In this passage, Jesus is warning those who accumulate earthly riches to not see their value in their possessions. Rather, they should submit all that they have to God and see their wealth as a tool to be used by the Lord. The prayer of the wealthy should be, “Thank you Lord for the gifts you have given and please show me how to use them for your glory.” In that way, the wealthy do not see themselves as such. Rather, God is wealthy and in his grace he has chosen to share his riches. Those who are wealthy are stewards of God’s wealth; they should seek opportunities to build authentic relationships with the poor. Not only will proximity to the poor create openings to be a blessing to those in need, but it will allow the financially secure to learn emptiness from poor people.

Jesus tells us that those who struggle with economic insecurity should see the blessings we have in Christ. We are defined by God’s love for us, not by how much is in our bank account. Jesus represents the end of poverty, and our financial insecurity is temporary. Even if we do not have a lot of cash, we should follow Jesus’ example and seek to bless others with our time and talent. Those who are poor have much to teach the wealthy, so the economically insecure should seek authentic relationships with those who have riches. If God moves upon the heart of the wealthy to give to those who are poor, those gifts should be received as a blessing from the Lord.

In this Epiphany season, it is important that we remember who Jesus revealed himself to be. When it comes to poverty, the good news is that we have all been made rich in Christ. Because of Jesus, every spiritual blessing is available to us in this life and the life to come. In Jesus we have love, joy, peace and every other good thing. In Jesus, we can be generous in giving. In Jesus, we can be gracious in receiving. In Jesus, the rich can be humbled and the poor can be filled. In Jesus, we can hope for the day when no one will ever hunger or thirst again. Jesus is the end of poverty because there is only abundance in him.

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner W2

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Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner
February 13 – 6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 6:17-26 “Blessed Are You”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What are some examples of God disrupting ways in which we think?
  • How do you think Christians should balance reason and faith?
  • If you were with Jesus (Luke 6:17-26), how would you be feeling about the crowd?
  • Is it hard to think of yourself as being in spiritual poverty? Why or why not?
  • What is something you can do to cultivate emptiness, a feeling of dependence on God?

Sermon for February 20, 2022 — 7th Sunday after Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4013 | The Boy from the Well

It is often said that there’s nothing sweeter than revenge. But, in Joseph’s story, we see the power of grace when reconciliation is chosen over revenge.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4013 | The Boy from the Well
Greg Williams

Have you ever felt completely powerless? Have you been in the unenviable place of having no recourse—no action you can take that will change your situation? Imagine being stuck in the bottom of a well.

You likely recall the story. Joseph was the favorite of 12 sons, whose father had given him a coat of many colors. Joseph’s brothers—jealous of his gifts and favor with their father—threw him down a well in a fit of rage. At the bottom of the well—perhaps this one or one like it, he lay helpless, unable to scale the walls, completely dependent upon others to release him. Of course, we know this was just the beginning of his journey of helplessness, which included slavery, imprisonment, and mistreatment.

But we also know that years later, after being released from prison, Joseph became the 2nd highest authority in the land of Egypt. And during this time, he and his brothers met.

The land was in the midst of famine and Joseph’s brothers had traveled to Egypt to ask to buy food for their family. They were now totally dependent upon others. They had no idea the Egyptian official in front of them was their brother Joseph the boy they had thrown into a well so many years before.

At first, Joseph wasn’t sure about revealing himself to them and seemed to toy with the idea of revenge—even seeming to threaten their youngest brother. But mercy wins out. He can’t keep up the ruse anymore, he blurts out his name. But they don’t get it at first.

[Look Down]

And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
Genesis 45:3-4 (ESV)

They are so shocked to see him he had to repeat himself. You can only imagine what is going on in their minds. The power dynamic has completely reversed. Now it is them at the bottom of the well as he stands over them. They are trapped in famine and under the mercy of Egypt. He has the upper hand by any measure.  But rather than take the upper hand, he informs them of his plan to take care of the most vulnerable member of their family, their aging father.

This is grace. Grace can mean walking away from our rightful revenge, holding back when we want to restore our human version of “balance” to the world.

Grace tells us that God doesn’t work by our weights and measures. In Joseph’s world, the abusing brothers are forgiven and taken in. In God’s world, the weak become the strong; in God’s world, the sinner is given the place of honor. In God’s world, the boy from the well becomes the man on the throne; the boy stripped off his robe provides for his family.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 ∙ Genesis 45:3-11, 15 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 Luke 6:27-38

The theme this seventh Sunday after Epiphany is living by God’s generosity. Our call to worship Psalm recites God’s generosity for those who wait on his timing and provision. Genesis 45 is the story of Joseph’s God-fueled generosity to his abusive brothers. 1 Corinthians 15 talks about the quantum generosity at the resurrection—replacing a perishable body with the imperishable. Our sermon is about Jesus’ manifesto of the generous life his people are to live, trusting in his provision.

Pressed Down and Shaken Together

Luke 6:27-38 ESV

Read, or have someone read Luke 6:27-38 ESV.

Malcom Muggeridge, a British journalist who came to Christ at the peak of his secular career, was forever changed by his time with Mother Theresa. He talked about her order coming to start a ministry in London, which happened to be during a labor strike in which the power companies had turned off the lights in the city in a protest for higher wages. As they dedicated the building, they took a moment for a quiet service in their darkened building:

It was the most beautiful service I have ever attended. As it happened, the electricity workers’ go-slow was on, so we had only candlelight, which somehow added to the mystery and majesty of the proceedings. I thought of the vain battle of greed which had plunged London in darkness that day, and of how such battles and such darkness are the stuff of history and the fruit of our unredeemed moral natures. Here in this front parlor of a small suburban house, where an altar and a cross had been set up, a little clearing was made in the dark jungle of the human will. I was enchanted to be there. (Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, pg 109).

The dark jungle of the human will. The airless chambers of greed where nothing and no one is ever truly free. We’ve all been there – we’ve suffered from it and been part of creating it. As Muggeridge writes, “such battles and such darkness are the stuff of history.” Humanity runs by “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” – we give only to the point that we’ve gotten ours first. Tit for tat, quid pro quo, eye for an eye.

 

Jesus’ sermon here frees us from this dark jungle of greed and power-playing. In just a few paragraphs that probably took twenty minutes to speak, Jesus turns the whole tired human story on its head. Let’s look back at this well-known moment in Jesus’ ministry to see how he undoes our human instincts and shows us what it means to be truly human.

We’ll draw out three details from this story today, which might seem a little disconnected from one another, but we’ll show how they tie together:

  • The level place
  • The golden rule
  • The generous measure

The level place

And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people (Luke 6:17 ESV)

This verse appears a little bit before the focus passage for today and gives this passage its name, “The Sermon on the Plain.” Matthew’s account of this sermon is the “Sermon on the Mount,” which is probably better known. Whether the writers were telling this from two different angles or Jesus gave the sermon twice we don’t really know, but it wouldn’t be a surprise that an itinerant preacher like him would recycle and reuse material. Harmonizing these two details is not nearly as important as what the details tell us.

Matthew sets this on the Mount, casting Jesus as a parallel to Moses, who received the law on Mount Sinai. Matthew’s Gospel is written with Israelite history as a theme. Luke’s theme is economics and inclusion, and he regularly writes about the poor and the outsider as central to Jesus’ mission.

The setting of Luke’s version is on a plain – a “level place,” which works as a visual metaphor for collapsing the hierarchy of human society. In Christ, there is no rich or poor or slave or free, but all are one (see Galatians 3:28), and Luke sets Jesus’ speech in a place where everyone stood on equal footing.

Jesus had proclaimed what his kingdom would be like in Luke chapter 4, where he described his ministry as the Israelite year of Jubilee, in which slaves were freed and debts were forgiven. Luke follows this declaration with several stories in the next chapters of people who aren’t usually welcome – disabled people, tax collectors, prostitutes – that Jesus heals and welcomes into his community. The Sermon on the Plain follows. It is a manifesto of what Jesus’ kingdom looks like, where the poor are blessed, generosity trumps greed and enemies are loved.

And he does so in a level place, where all the odd balls, sophisticates, outsiders, insiders, elite and outcasts look each other in the eye.

What does it mean for us, in our society today, to meet on a level place? For those of us in the West, equality and egalitarianism is something we talk about a lot, but it’s not always something we act on, even in the church. Those who look or dress different than us are often left out of the conversation while we wait for our homogenous group to come back around so we can truly be ourselves.

But Jesus invites us into a different dance. He says that the old hierarchy, which was brutal in the ancient world, won’t work anymore. He calls to unity without uniformity, celebrating the unique voice that each person brings to the choir.

The Golden Rule

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:30-32 ESV)

You probably recognize the “golden rule” in the midst of Jesus’ words here. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is one of the most famous pieces of Jesus’ teaching, but was actually not original with him. Similar phrases were spoken by other ancient teachers. Typical of Jesus, he spins a phrase in his own direction.

What Jesus takes aim at here is the ethical code that Rome and much of the ancient world lived by. Quid pro quo. Society at this time ran on this exchange. You gave a gift to someone because they gave you one. You hosted someone at your house, and they had to host you, or they would be shamed.

And that shame meant more than embarrassment. It meant loss of reputation. Possibly loss of livelihood. Society became this maddening web of who owed who, of who thanked who, who offended and avenged who.

This is not exclusive to the ancient world. Not by a long shot. We see this in our own world all the time—kindness given only when we’ve received it, love given only to those who think we’re lovable, compliments given only if some are received.

Jesus breaks the back of such thinking here: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (verses 32-33)

Jesus takes aim at this back-and-forth culture and takes aim at ours as well.

We don’t give kindness because of the kindness we think we’ll get back. We don’t give gifts because we’ll get one back. We do these things because God tells us to love others in action, and he knows how humanity works. We answer to him because he is the only reason generosity exists. He’s where it comes from.

If we are left only to ourselves, we degenerate into a who-owes-who society. Our relationships degrade into exchanges and our interactions become transactions.

So, Jesus puts his own spin on that golden rule. Instead of treating others in kind to how they treat you, he calls us to make that first investment. To give first, to love first, not believing that we’ll get something back, but believing that God is in charge. And he tells us that the giving world is the best place to live.

The generous measure

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38 ESV)

This is the key to the Jesus kingdom; this is the exit out of the dark jungle of the human will—generosity. In the calculating, self-addicted world we live in, generosity is the only relief, the only rest.

This image in verse 38 comes to us from entrepreneurship in Jesus’ day. At the time, most of what we might call shopping was done in open-air markets. You bought from the merchant, and he would measure out your purchase.

But Jesus puts generosity into this everyday exchange. Pressed down, shaken together, pouring over. This isn’t just about your mom giving you an extra helping at dinner. This is an exchange with a merchant who is measuring very carefully. But Jesus turns us toward God’s generosity, which gives plenty in even the most measured exchange.

He is pouring out something, like seed or grain, then pressing and shaking the measure until it’s packed full and overflowing.

We don’t give because we’re waiting for the same in return. We aren’t kind only if we get some kindness back. We don’t love only those who love us. We give, show kindness and love because God is in charge and he will take care of us.

And so we come back to that moment with Malcom Muggeridge and the nuns in a cramped room by candlelight. Where “…a little clearing was made in the dark jungle of the human will.” Jesus gives us the methodology of his upside-down kingdom where the last shall be first and the generous are the truly rich.

Let’s look at what we can take with us.

Reorientation of giving

We’re talking about a reorientation of what it means to give. To give as Jesus gave means that we give first, love first, show kindness first because his love compels us and because we know God will take care of us.

We don’t have to get entangled in the quid pro quo of the world, but we can put that all to rest in his capable hands.

The level place, the golden rule, the generous measure. This is the world we live in, created and sustained by the God who gives to pouring over. Let’s join him in that giving today.

 

 

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner W3

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Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner
February 20 – 7th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 6:27-38 “Love Your Enemies”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Sermon—Pressed Down and Shaken Together

  • Have you ever seen generosity bring rest and joy in an environment where people were being selfish? Essentially, have you ever seen giving work wonders or been involved in that giving yourself?
  • How is our modern world like the ancient world in which giving and receiving was really just an exchange instead of an act of true generosity? How does giving with conditions, such as what we want back, take away from the authenticity and joy of that giving?
  • How has God been generous with you in your life? Can you point to blessings in your life that you never could have “earned,” or don’t even deserve?

Questions for Speaking of Life: The Boy from The Well

  • Have you ever been in a helpless place like Joseph in the well? Have you ever been in a helpless place like Joseph’s brothers later in the story?
  • Joseph forgiving his brothers was essentially impossible. Have you ever seen this impossible forgiveness at work? What was the result?
  • God doesn’t work by our weights and measures, our understanding of revenge and forgiveness. Do you believe that? How does that change your daily life?

Quote to Ponder:

 “No one is useless in the world who lightens the burdens of another.”~~Charles Dickens

Sermon for February 27, 2022 — Transfiguration Sunday

Speaking Of Life 4014 | Having an Epiphany

We can easily get lost through the road of life that’s crammed with bumps, traffic, accidents, or GPS issues. If you ever get lost, keep in mind that Jesus allows for u-turns, and is the one true sign that will always point us in the perfect and right direction.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4014 | Having an Epiphany
Heber Ticas

The phrase “having an epiphany” is meant to convey that some reality that was once hidden is now seen. When you have an “epiphany” it is often accompanied by some significant change in how you go about life. Have you ever had an epiphany?

My friend tells a story when he had an epiphany as a young man. He was traveling south from Los Angeles to attend a weekend basketball tournament held in San Diego.  After the tournament, my friend got on the interstate, set his cruise control, and headed home. There was little traffic so he knew he should be home in a few short hours. Then he had an epiphany. It came to him in the form of a big green sign on the middle of the freeway that read, “International Border”. Suddenly, he realized he was headed for Mexico. Before that, he was completely in the dark to the reality that he had been driving in the wrong direction.

Well, that may not be a life-changing epiphany, but for that short journey, it meant a complete turnaround.

The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, does speak of a life-changing epiphany that also results in a complete turnaround. It comes to us when we see God face-to-face in Jesus Christ. Listen to the change that comes about for those who see the epiphany we have in Jesus.

“They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (MESSAGE)

Like that green sign that became an epiphany for my traveling friend, Jesus is a living sign who shows us our way home. More than that, he is our Way and our Home. Seeing Jesus will result in changes that will be needed in our life. But they are changes towards living out the freedom that comes with being home with the Father.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 99:1-9 · Exodus 34:29-35 · 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 · Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

This week’s theme is transformed by God’s presence. The call to worship Psalm introduces the central focus of the transfiguration by alluding to Moses, Aaron, the pillar of cloud and the holy mountain, while calling for the people’s response of worship to the kingship of Yahweh. The reading in Exodus recounts Moses’ change in appearance after being in God’s presence on Mt. Sinai. The Gospel reading in Luke centers on Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, which leads to transformation for others after he comes down the mountain. Paul makes use of Moses’ veiled face to contrast the unveiling of God in Jesus where we see God face-to-face, transforming us into his image.

Eye-Opening Worship & Prayer

Luke 9:28-43a (NRSV)

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which concludes the season of Epiphany. GCI typically follows the lectionary, which means this year, which is Year C in a three-year cycle, we have the option of revisiting the story of the Transfiguration as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. The story is found in Luke 9:28-36, and for those who want to extend the sermon, there is the option to include the follow-up story in verses 37-43. We will venture to do that as well.

You may be familiar with the story since it is presented in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and has its own special day on the calendar. Since we are going to include the follow-up story, it may be helpful to see the Transfiguration as a hinge story in the liturgical calendar. Let me explain.

The Season of Epiphany is all about seeing God’s glory. It is a season of seeing the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We look at the stories and passages in Scripture during the Epiphany Season, when we come to see more fully who God is in his character and being. We call this having an “epiphany” because what was once hidden is now plainly visible. Then we have the season culminate with Transfiguration Sunday.

As a magnified story, we see God’s glory revealed in Jesus in a way that can only be described by imagery and metaphor. It is a true story, but fantastic, nonetheless.

After Transfiguration Sunday, the Epiphany season gives way to the season of Lent (in GCI we call this Easter Preparation). Typically, this is a season of repentance (changing the way we think). This makes sense when you follow the logic of Epiphany. When something that has been hidden is suddenly revealed, then one must change how they relate to that new reality. For example, if you discovered a document that showed that your house was a historical landmark worth millions of dollars, that would hopefully change how you live in that house. Making those nagging repairs you have been putting off will probably find a higher priority. Perhaps calling the exterminator is not such a bad idea after all. Your “epiphany” puts you in a different place that requires changes. And that is why Lent, a season to repent, naturally follows Epiphany, a season of revelation. In that way, Transfiguration Sunday serves as a hinge story, turning the pages of Epiphany naturally onto the pages of repentance in the story of our journey with the Lord. Also, for us today, seeing the Transfiguration story as a hinge story will also give us some insight to the follow-up story, Luke, as well as Matthew and Mark, chose to include.

But first, let us reacquaint ourselves with the story of the Transfiguration.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. (Luke 9:28-29 NRSV)

Similar to Matthew and Mark’s account of the story, Luke begins with language and imagery that is reminiscent of Old Testament history. He notes that Jesus takes three companions (Peter, James and John) up on a mountain. This trio with Jesus going up on a mountain sets up a connection to the details of the story of Moses and his three companions (Aaron, Nadab and Abihu) being led up a mountain where God speaks to Moses. That story ends with Moses coming down the mountain with his face shining. When Luke describes the appearance of Jesus’ face changing and his clothes becoming “dazzling white,” the parallel to Moses on Mt. Sinai is reinforced.

All three synoptic Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration have the event taking place immediately after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ teaching about his death.

(Note: Luke has two variations on how he introduces the story that differ from Matthew and Mark. Luke says this takes place “about eight days after these sayings.” The other two Gospels state that it was “after six days.” Those who may want to discredit the Bible may use this as an opportunity to claim that the Bible is unreliable and full of contradictions. But that would deny the fact that the authors of the different books in the Bible had a specific purpose in writing and availed themselves to literary devices to get their message across.

Each author is trying to share the story of Jesus from a certain angle. Luke, for some reason, wants to use eight days in setting up the story instead of six. And to be fair, Luke is not misrepresenting the facts of the story. He doesn’t say this took place in exactly eight twenty-four-hour days after these sayings, but rather he says it took place “about” eight days after these sayings. He is apparently counting some partial days to get to his total, which was commonly done in Judaism. Whatever method he uses, by using the word “about,” Luke is letting us know that he is counting the days loosely to get to eight. That is not being deceptive— that is being a good author. Why does Luke want to insert an eight-day motif here? We do not know for certain, but we have some plausible explanations. Perhaps Luke wants to tie the Transfiguration to the resurrection, which occurred after the sabbath and therefore could be counted as the eighth day. It is because the resurrection occurred on Sunday, or the “eighth day,” that the early church chose the practice of gathering for worship on that day instead of the sabbath. Whatever his reasons, the eighth day can tease us to see this story in light of the Resurrection of Jesus and the worship due him.)

One variation Luke offers in his telling of the Transfiguration is he places the event in the context of prayer. Luke records that the event took place “while he [Jesus] was praying.” This variation is consistent with Luke’s emphasis in other parts of his Gospel account. For example, earlier in verse 18 Luke records that Jesus was praying just before Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus’ teaching about his soon-coming death. Going back further, we see Luke recounting Jesus being in prayer when he received the Holy Spirit and heard the voice of the Father’s approval after his baptism. Luke throughout records the major movements of Jesus’ life as being marked by prayer.

Luke includes this to encourage us to consider the importance of worship and prayer as the context of seeing more fully the glory of God. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus does not consider worship and prayer as optional or add-ons to his life and ministry. For Jesus, worship and prayer was a way of life. It marked and permeated everything he did. In Jesus’ continual practice of worship and prayer, we see a glimpse into the inner life of the Trinity. It is a glorious epiphany. The Son is continually worshiping the Father, and is in constant communion with him. And this is the life held out to us in Jesus Christ.

Worship and prayer are not to be seen as laborious acts to appease some deity, but rather, it is indicative of the nature and flow of the relationship between the Father and Son in the Spirit that has been going on for all eternity. When Christians gather for worship and prayer on Sunday, they are doing far more than just exercising some arbitrary religious duty. They are participating in the very worship and prayer, of enjoyment and intimate communion, that is going on in the divine Triune life. In doing so, the church is also serving as a witness to the world that Jesus is Lord and worthy of worship.

Glory is a good word to use for the Transfiguration story. As we see Jesus transfigured, we see God’s glory, a revelation of who he is. Glory in the Old Testament was presented in terms of both a person and a light (Ezekiel 1). These two images come together here in the person of Jesus. Jesus radiating light reveals to us that the Father is not like the pagan gods who need worshipers to bring him glory, as if they are lacking in some way. The Father is self-sufficient and sustaining like the sun. His life is a life of giving, going out and bringing warmth and life. The Father we see in Jesus is not a God turned inward, needing the praise from humans but rather a God of love, radiating life outward to his creation. Jesus’ transfiguration gives us yet another glorious epiphany.

Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. (Luke 9:30-32 NRSV)

As the Transfiguration takes place, we see Moses and Elijah appear on the scene talking to Jesus. Here, Luke offers an additional insight into the conversation that Matthew and Mark do not include. They are “speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Notice how Luke encapsulates this conversation in terms of glory, also a unique contribution from Luke. Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory” while speaking with Jesus and afterward “Peter and his companions…saw his [Jesus] glory and the two men who stood with him.” In addition to the glory of God being presented in terms of a person and light, Luke connects Jesus’ passion as part of that glory. This means that the love displayed by Jesus on the cross for sinners like you and me is not just an exception to how God relates to us. It is a revelation, another epiphany, of who God is in his very being.

The Father’s outgoing light and love in the person of Jesus is not repelled by our sin and darkness, but rather he goes out, even at great cost to himself, to bring revelation and reconciliation. The Father’s love for us does not settle by leaving us in our darkness and alienation. He wants us to know him and to receive the life of love he has for us. Seeing God’s glory in terms of suffering will certainly call us to rethink how we understand God and his relationship to us. This is another epiphany that calls forth a response of repentance, changing our minds about how we think of God and his relationship to us.

Peter’s response to seeing Jesus’ glory is to speak: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” to which Luke adds that Peter did not know what he was saying. Peter’s response begins well by calling Jesus “Master,” and he is grateful to be able to witness the Transfiguration. But his response indicates he does not fully see the implications of God’s glory revealed in Jesus. Notice how Peter’s words contrast to the revelation of God as light and love.

Peter here is turned inward. He has determined for himself what is good, and that goodness is to be kept on the mountain for those who are present. It doesn’t occur to him that the nature of light and love is to go out and be shared with others. Also, Peter’s suggestion to build three shelters falls short of God’s purposes in Jesus. First, Peter wants to control the experience. He wants to remain on the mountain with Moses, Elijah and Jesus. By building shelters, he feels he can extend their time on the mountain and capture this “mountaintop” experience. His thinking seems limited only to how this benefits him and his companions. His second shortcoming in his suggestion implies that Moses and Elijah are equals to Jesus, each deserving of their own shelter. Jesus has no equal. He alone is worthy of worship.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:34-35 NRSV)

Peter’s selfish suggestions are interrupted when “a cloud came and overshadowed them.” The Father does not scold or reprimand Peter. But he also does not negotiate or entertain Peter’s suggestions. He just goes right on with his purposes. While Peter wanted to provide cover for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, God ends up providing cover for the three disciples.

The word “overshadowed” here is picking up the language in the old covenant of God’s “Shekinah” or presence. Despite Peter’s self-focused intentions, God’s outward movement of love is not thwarted. He covers them with his grace. Then the Father’s voice is heard saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Peter’s response to seeing God’s glory was to speak, but the Father instructs him that his response should be to listen. This too, is God’s grace to them. He does not leave them in their inappropriate response. He leads them to respond in a fitting manner to what they just witnessed.

This can be encouraging for us as we recount our many failures of responding to the Lord. How often have we responded in ways that do not fit the epiphanies we are given? God’s grace, his light and love, does not leave us trapped in our poor responses, but he instructs and guides us by his Spirit to align our responses to his revelations to us. God is not looking to zap us for our missteps, but rather he is continually calling us to a deeper walk with him.

Also notice that the disciples were “terrified as they entered the cloud.” This captures the story of the Israelites with Moses, who were afraid to hear from God directly. But the voice heard here directs their ears to listen to the Chosen Son. Jesus is God’s Word spoken to us. With the epiphanies we see in Jesus, we are not left to fear God’s Word spoken to us. His words to us are words of life. And as Luke records, “Jesus was found alone” after God’s instruction to “listen to him.” There was no Moses, no Elijah, just Jesus alone. There is no other voice to listen to if we are to hear God’s words of life. Jesus alone is God’s Word to us. Jesus alone is the Father’s self-revelation. Jesus alone is our true Epiphany that our response swings on.

Now we have concluded the epiphany story of the Transfiguration and Luke concludes this story by linking it back to Jesus’ baptism with the Father speaking the words, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” If you have been following the stories of the Epiphany season, you may recall that the season began with the story of Jesus’ baptism, where we also hear the Father’s voice saying similarly, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). In this way, Luke has created a section of his Gospel between these two stories. Much of what falls within this section finds its way on the liturgical calendar for the season of Epiphany. But Luke includes a follow-up story that helps us see what these epiphanies add up to.

Luke has been intentional to include Jesus’ upcoming crucifixion and death as having something to do with his “glory.” The disciples struggled to see suffering as fitting for a Messiah’s glory. We too may have problems seeing how suffering fits in with understanding God’s glory and our response to seeing his glory. But Jesus is not done in displaying God’s glory on a mountain. He will once again find himself on a mountain in prayer and accompanied by two men speaking with him. Only this time it will be on Mount Calvary and his companions will not be Moses and Elijah, but two criminals.

Luke’s follow-up story connected with the Transfiguration foreshadows what will take place on this other mountaintop experience where God’s glory will once again be revealed.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God. (Luke 9:37-43 NRSV)

After Jesus and his disciples come down the mountain, Jesus alone is able to answer the distraught request of the man from the crowd. Before Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain, he was praying to the Father. After Jesus comes down the mountain, a desperate father is praying to him. The disciples are not able to answer this man’s request. Jesus alone is the one who will bring healing and deliverance to the man’s tortured son. The description Luke gives mirrors what Jesus will accomplish on Mount Calvary.

First, “Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit…” Just as the son’s condition is attributed to demonic forces, so has humanity been seized by sin and evil. But on the cross, we see the Son, once and for all, claiming victory over evil. Satan and his demonic realm will finally have to leave at Jesus’ coming.

Second, Jesus “healed the boy…” Jesus goes to the cross, not only to abolish everything that stands against us, but he also provides healing from all the damage sin and evil have caused.

And lastly, Jesus “gave him back to his father.” It is here we see the Father’s glory displayed in accomplishing his purpose of “bringing many sons to glory” through the suffering of Christ (Hebrews 2:10). Jesus on Mount Calvary brings reconciliation, giving us back to his Father in heaven.

In Jesus, we are set free, made whole, and brought back into restored relationship with the Father. Both mountains Jesus climbed give us a view of God’s glory. We see in these stories that God is for us and nothing, not even death itself, will stand between him and his children. As we come to see Jesus and the revelation of the Father he brings, we will agree with Luke’s final sentence recorded in this passage: “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner W4

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Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner
February 27 – Transfiguration Sunday
Luke 9:28-36 “Listen to Him!”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • What did you think of the illustration of the friend’s “epiphany” of seeing the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign? Does this help link the epiphanies we have in seeing Christ and the changes they bring in our lives?
  • Can you think of any epiphanies you have had from Jesus that amounted to a change or even a “complete turnaround” in your life?

From the sermon

  • The sermon began by explaining the link between the season of Epiphany and the season of Lent. It was said that epiphanies are revelations that lead to repentance, changes in our life that come about after seeing a reality we had once been in the dark about. Was this helpful in understanding the season of Epiphany a little better?
  • What were some insights you had from Luke’s variations to the Transfiguration story? What did you think of Luke putting the story in the context of prayer?
  • What insights stood out to you about God’s glory being displayed in the person of Jesus radiating light? What are some things we can come to know about God’s nature from the image of radiating light?
  • The sermon stated that Luke is the only author to include the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah concerning his departure or death. How does this addition fill out our understanding of God’s glory? What does it tell us about who God is?
  • Discuss some of the ways Peter’s response to seeing the Transfiguration of Jesus was inappropriate. Can you think of similar ways we may try to control an experience of Jesus for self-serving means?
  • Can you see God’s grace in the Father “overshadowing” Peter when he was speaking without thinking? Can you think of times when the Father was graceful to you by ignoring your request and moving forward with his purposes?
  • With Moses and Elijah removed from the scene, Luke presents Jesus as the only one to listen to. Also, the story Luke includes as a follow-up to the Transfiguration shows Jesus as the only one who is able to answer the father’s request to heal his son. What epiphanies can we glean by seeing Jesus alone as God’s Word spoken to us, as well as the only one to whom we can turn to have our words heard and answered?
  • The sermon presented Jesus’ healing of the boy as a picture of the gospel. Discuss how the three things Jesus did picture what he has done for all people who come to him. 1. “Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit…” 2. Jesus “healed the boy…” and 3. Jesus “gave him back to his father.”
  • Are there any other epiphanies you had from this passage and the sermon you would like to share?