“Give up your good Christian life and Follow Christ”
Is one of my favourite quotes… I haven’t read Garrison Keillor’s books I came across it as a pull quote in the book ‘Soul Tsunami’ by Leonard Sweet. It is a quote that I have a love hate relationship with. I love it because it cuts right through my religiousness and calls me back to the centrality of following Jesus in our faith. I need that reminder quite often…I hate it because well it cut right through all my religiousness and calls me back to the centrality of following Jesus in our faith…sadly I need that reminder quite often.
Today we are going to start a journey following Jesus through Luke’s gospel, looking again at the ministry and the person of Jesus. I’ve called the series following his footsteps. Now that may sound like an advertising blurb for a tour of the Holy Land. Yes folks “ For only $3000 you can join me pastor Harvey to visit all the wonderful places where Jesus trod in the gospels.”, And a journey like that would be wonderful right? But my hope is that this journey through the gospel will help us to follow Jesus footsteps in our lives today, not simply map it out on the far off dusty roads, villages and cities of first century Palestine, but live it out on our pavements, suburbs and city in 21st century Aotearoa New Zealand.
AS we are not starting with the nativity, as I’m saving that for Christmas, I really wondered where to start our journey though the gospel ? When I was young and single I loved just being able to throw a few things in the back, jump in my car and head off on a road trip and find a place to sleep when you got there. . But I’ve learned that you can’t simply do that when you’ve got a family. You have to prepare. Even the amount of stuff you’ve got to put in the back grows to the point where packing the car becomes a major planning exercise. Also having moved around the country a fair bit I’ve learned that you definitely can’t move a whole household and whole house lot of gear, without preparing for the journey.
So we are going to start our journey following his footsteps with two passages that prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. The two passages we had read out to us today. (click) Firstly, what NT Wright calls a grand door into the gospel … Luke’s very formal prologue right at the beginning and then by looking at the ministry of John the Baptist, whom Luke tells us is the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah about a voice crying in the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord.
In the world of documentary film making there has been an evolution through different ways of telling truth on film. Documentaries used to present their truth with images and the voice of God, voice over, the expert telling us what it is we are seeing, usually in the best educated BBC English. Then for a while the cinema veritie or fly on the wall style was popular, where you just have raw footage and authentic dialogue telling the story. The film maker becomes invisible, all though what you see is just as much a construct of the film maker through editing and positioning of camera and sequencing of scenes as any scripted film. Then you have the variety of documentary which is based round interviews, it allows the people involved to tell their story. Finally you have what is called self-reflective documentaries where the documentary maker steps in front of the camera and tells you why they are making the documentary, how they went about it. Mike Moore with movies like roger and me, bowling for columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 is the best known example of this last style. Now each style has its difficulties and its strengths. Luke’s prologue puts the gospel close to this last style.
Luke in one of only two instances of the use of classical Greek in the New Testament, the other being his introduction to the sequel to his gospel, Acts… steps into the picture and tells us who his audience is, a roman official called Theophilius, and probably through him to a wider audience. He tells us how he has gone about writing his book. He has accounts of the ministry of Jesus that others have written down: We know that Mark was written before Luke, and scholars talk to different sources that Matthew and Luke seem to have in common. But also he has taken the time to go and investigate things for himself. He has spoken to eyewitnesses and people who have passed on the gospel narratives. For example, in his nativity narrative he says and Mary treasured these things in her heart, it has the feel of things that Mary has told him. He tells us that it was important that he write an orderly account. Now in our minds we are used to thinking that means simply set out in a chronological order, but that is very much a modern way of thinking, writers in antiquity were told to order their work to bring out the truth they were conveying. Just like with the different forms of documentary making it does not stop it being any less true. When we go through Luke’s gospel we need to be aware of the order and what that tells us. Luke gives us the reason he has written that orderly account as well, so we may know the certainty of the thing we have been taught: the things Luke tells us have been fulfilled amongst us.
When we come to the gospel we need to be aware that Luke and Theophilius are not coming with the same mind-set that we often do. The question for them was not did it happen? But what happened and what does it mean? Fulfilled amongst us, points us to the unseen character in the gospel, that what is happening is God at work. We can come to the gospel as many have with our own set of suppositions, ideas and concerns and maybe go away unsatisfied. Many critics come to the gospel with our modernist materialistic understanding of the world and are not willing to accept anything that sits outside that understanding, like miracles… they write a lot of the gospel off as myth or allegory, that needs to be stripped away to find a hidden historical Jesus. When I read the gospel I find it hard as a product of my age and time to believe some of the stories. We can come to the scripture without having confidence in Luke’s integrity as a writer, and it would be great if we have peer reviews of his work and all the things that we rely on in our time to guarantee authenticity and accuracy, but we don’t have that. But I would encourage you to come on our journey through Luke’s gospel with an open mind, with an awareness of the reality of God and that in the story of Jesus we see God working out his purposes. That is the way we should always come to scripture.
That is a good place to come to our second reading today about the ministry of John the Baptist, because Luke tells us John was preparing the way for the coming of God’s messiah. Preparing people for the ministry of Jesus, it helps us as well to prepare to receive the ministry of Jesus.
Luke starts by placing John in his historical context. We start with a list of the various political and religious rulers of the time. More than just setting the ministry of John the Baptist in around 28-29 C.E Joel green says Luke paints for us the socio-political landscape of the time. It is a dark time for the Jewish people. Tiberius is the emperor who expelled the Jews from Rome and towards the end of reign started to demand to be worshipped as a God. Herod who is the son of Herod the great mentioned in the nativity is also not well liked by the Jews. His brother Phillip is a proponent of Hellenization championing Greek thought and Greek culture. Annas had been high priest in about 6-15 C.E. but he was followed into the role by his five sons and son in law Caiaphas and so you have an almost dynastic hold on the religious rule. You have a continuation of a policy of appeasement with the roman authorities. Into this comes John calling people out of their ordinary lives to align themselves with the purposes of God.
Again the unseen actor in this story is God, whose word comes to John. We are starting to see God’s response to the situation. John calls them to repentance, to stop going the way of the world and to once again focus on going God’s way. As a sign of that change they are baptised. Being in the wilderness brings up images of Israel’s past and where Israel was forged as a nation, the Jordon River is symbolic of coming into the Promised Land. John tells those who come to him that this repentance should bring change. We see the powers of the world being oppressive and uncaring, but to be about God’s purposes calls his people to be about justice and caring for others. It wasn’t about being God’s people because of birth but in how one lived. He tells the people to share what they have with others, giving half your money to the poor was considered the height of being a righteous person. In Luke’s gospel Zacchaeus is the last person Jesus interacts with before Jerusalem and his passion, his response to Jesus is to willingly give half his money to the poor. Even the people who were caught up in the oppressive regime as tax collectors and soldiers are told that there is an ethical element to their new found desire for God’s ways. Tax collectors were often appointed and told how much the roman authorities wanted and as we’ve seen with FIFA this week with such power comes the possibility of corruption and greed, Herod’s soldiers were underpaid and John isn’t telling them not to form a union and strike for more pay, he is telling them not to strike out and use their position and power to grab what they can get from the poor and powerless.
He tells people that there is one coming who will not baptise with water but with fire, looking forward to the coming of Jesus who as we saw over the Pentecost season sent the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the believers.
John’s ministry invites us to prepare ourselves for the ministry of Jesus, through repentance, coming out of our ordinary lives and committing ourselves to the purposes of God. We need to come to encounter Jesus with that desire in our hearts and a willingness to let Jesus bring transformation. Again this is the posture we should come to scripture with wanting to encounter Jesus and being open to the transformation that brings.
Our Parish Vision is that “we are called to be a vibrant, authentic, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on that journey.” At the heart of our vision is Jesus Christ and growing as a follower of his… being a vibrant, authentic, sustainable community grows out of Jesus call for us to love one another as he has loved us and his teaching on how we should do that… Inspiring others to join us on the journey of following Jesus comes out of caring for and loving and ministering to people as Jesus did. As we journey through Luke’s gospel my prayer is we may grow closer to Jesus and learn more of how to live and to love as Jesus Calls us to and because of that grow in the depth of our love for each other and our ability to minister to the world around us that Jesus loves, and came to redeem.
Our Journey ‘Following his footsteps’ starts with a desire to know the truth about Jesus and the reality of Jesus in our lives and a heart turned towards God open to meeting with Jesus and allowing for Jesus to change us… So prepare the way of Lord…