This morning we begin a series on the parables of Jesus. Not all of them, because there are a lot. But a few of them. A few parables of grace and a few parables of judgment. Grace first, so we are grounded in the right thing. This is how we are going to spend Lent and wrap up our study of Matthew. Parables are fascinating. Jesus told lots of them; all the gospels record at least some of them. The Greek word for parable simply means comparing one thing with another. But parables are NOT simple. We often assume they are simple because they are stories and they are short.
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This morning we continue in a similar theme from last week. Since last time, Jesus has been traveling, healing both Jews and Gentiles, teaching, and generally ticking off the religious establishment. So you know, standard Jesus stuff. This morning we come back around to interactions specifically involving Jesus and Peter. Peter is an important guy in the stories of Jesus' life and ministry, not because he's better than anyone else, but because he's just like everyone else. He's just like us. We are supposed to see ourselves in Peter. He's enthusiastic in his desire to follow Jesus.
For several weeks we have been focusing on the teachings of Jesus. And in a few weeks we're going to work through some of the parables of Jesus. But here for a couple weeks we're going to do some actual stories about Jesus himself and the things he did, not just what he said. By the time we get to chapter 14 this morning, we are halfway through the gospel of Matthew, and at this point, something really terrible happens. John the Baptist is killed by Herod. Jesus cousin and his friend, the one who baptized him, the one after whom Jesus originally modeled his message.
This week we are going to read the most radical thing that Jesus ever said. Jesus says a lot of great things. But this is world-changing, mess-with-your-head, everybody's-going-to-hate-this, radical. It's so good. And it's part of the pattern that we saw established last week. Jesus is revealing to his followers the principles behind the Old Testament laws. This Law was given to the ancient Hebrew people as they came out of slavery in Egypt, for their own well-being and as a testimony to the other people groups who lived around them.
We are going to spend two more weeks on the Sermon on the Mount before we keep moving through Matthew but then this summer we're going to come back to it. In Matthew's spiritual biography of Jesus, the sermon on the mount is Jesus' core ethical teaching, his manifesto on how his followers are to live in the world. If you've ever read it you know it's not easy. And so I begin by reminding us that the things that are really worth it are rarely easy. But they are possible. This sermon was not given to high-minded religious scholars anxious to debate the finer points of theology.
A few weeks ago we read the origin story of Jesus from Joseph's perspective and realized that Immanuel means "love with us." On Christmas Eve we mixed all our gospel stories together in one bowl, which is what we usually do. But really they are very different. From now until Easter, we are going to focus our discussions on the gospel according to Matthew. The genre of gospel is something unique in literature. It's not a novel, but it's also not a strict biography. The gospels are not concerned with the hard facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
This morning, I am starting a new tradition of foregoing a sermon on the Sunday after Christmas in favor of a story. Although, really, we read a story every week when we read our Scripture. The genre of our sacred texts include poetry, origin story, philosophy, personal letters, spiritual biography, and others. It includes a little persuasive rhetoric, but much more narrative. And all together, the Bible is one big story. Stories reminds us that truth is more than hard facts. Many stories are true, even if they aren't factual.
This morning we turn a page in our reading from the Old Testament to the New Testament so I want to set the stage for you. (Much of this little intro comes verbatim from this book, which I love and would heartily recommend if you want an interesting and helpful way to frame the Scriptures.) We have spent the fall in the Old Testament, journeying with the ancient people of God through creation and crisis, their calling of "blessed to be a blessing," their cycles of following that calling then drifting and rebelling.
Before we hear our text this morning, I'd like to drop back for a minute and think again about what the Bible is and why we bother reading it together. This is the holy record of one particular people's experience of God in their individual and corporate lives, as they interpret and reinterpret God's presence and actions in their situations. Over the course of thousands of years, Christians have accepted it as an authority for our individual and corporate life.
This morning we begin a series on the parables of Jesus. Not all of them, because there are a lot. But a few of them. A few parables of grace and a few parables of judgment. Grace first, so we are grounded in the right thing. This is how we are going to spend Lent and wrap up our study of Matthew. Parables are fascinating. Jesus told lots of them; all the gospels record at least some of them. The Greek word for parable simply means comparing one thing with another. But parables are NOT simple. We often assume they are simple because they are stories and they are short. But in truth they are often complicated and confusing once you scratch the surface. They say things we agree with and things we disagree with often in the same parable, which is probably how some of you will feel this morning. So why do we tell them. Well an Episcopal priest named Robert Capon* has written three totally awesome books on parables and he compares them to the art we display in our houses.