Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Community Exercise

So this dude named Doug wrote a book about preaching that caught my eye. In it he says that preaching has been the authoritative act steeped in individualism and modernity which he calls "speaching". He wants to "re-imagine" preaching as something that is rooted in the life of the community and is conversational at its heart.

So what he does is to work through his sermon text and come up with some discussion questions. Then he has a discussion with a small group. Out of that discussion he crafts his sermon. And even though he is the only one speaking in the sermon time, it is the fruit of a conversation in community.

I like the idea, and I'm wanting to put it into practice. I'm preaching in just under two weeks and I would like for you to help me. Will you have a conversation with me through comments to help me create a sermon that flows out of conversation and community?

If so, read on.

Text: Luke 21:1-4 (TNIV)

The Widow's Offering

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich
putting their gifts into the
temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put
in two very small copper coins.
3 "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor
widow has put in more than all the
others. 4 All these people gave their
gifts out of their wealth; but she out of
her poverty put in all she had to
live on."
To me, this is a very difficult text. I'm preaching as a part of a sermon series through the book of Luke that is leading up to Easter Sunday. The main emphasis of this series has been that kingdom people will give to the poor. On Easter we will take up a collection for the poor. So this text was chosen for me as a part of this series.


Jesus has entered Jerusalem as a king and is now in the temple courts. The Law-teachers approach him in order to trap him in some theological or political point so that they can carry out their plans to arrest him. They ask him about his authority and he responds with a question about the authority of John. Score one for Jesus. Jesus then tells a parable about wicked tenants that the Law-teachers knew was directed against them. Score two for Jesus. Now the Law-teachers are really steaming.

They try the political tact and ask Jesus about paying taxes to Rome. Jesus game of show-and-tell foils that scheme. Hat trick. Now the Sadducees ask Jesus an old question about marriage in the Resurrection. This is one of their favorite baits into one of their favorite arguments. They know all the possible responses and all the ways to win. Well, almost all the responses. Jesus points out that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not a God of dead men. Oops. Four for four.

Now Jesus pushes back again - this time he turns to Scripture and asks them about interpreting the Psalms. If the Messiah is supposed to be David's son, then how does David prophecy about the Messiah and call him his Lord? How can the Messiah be both son and Lord to David?

Not even a peep out of the smarty-pants.

Then Jesus really puts the pressure on by telling his disciples to watch out for the Law-teachers. They dress in the finest of clothes and go to the best banquets, but they "devour widows houses" and they will be punished for it.

Then we get the four verses about the widow's gift and then Jesus' disciples ask him about the temple and he spends the next chapter talking about how the temple will be destroyed. So where does the widow's story fit in all this? It's not a question by Jesus or the Law-teachers. It doesn't seem to connect to the following teaching about the temple. The one verbal queue that we have is Jesus calling the Law-teacher people who "devour widows houses".

How is this widow an example to us?

She stands in contrast to the Law-teachers as an example of right action and right priorities.

She is an example of sacrifice - just as she gives all that she has to live on, so will the Christ give all he has, so should Christ-followers.

The funny thing is that Jesus never uses her as an example of giving. He's not shy about telling people to give (all through Luke he's telling people to give and to sell their possession and give to the poor). But Jesus instead focuses on her sacrifice. We never find out what happens to her. Though elsewhere Jesus says that if we seek God's kingdom first then he will provide for our needs, here we see a widow giving all her money away - we don't know if God provided for her (though we hope and trust that he did).

Why is this story here?

Jesus has been firing back at those trying to trap him. With his question about Psalms he gets them to be silent, but now he tells them that they will be punished for their excess. The exclamation point is the widow who out gives them all. They can say nothing else against Jesus in the face of such an act.

Or perhaps Jesus is tired of this endless debate about the minutiae of the Law and he want to re-focus the discussion. Here sit a bunch of rich people arguing their intellectual positions while there is an anonymous woman who is on the brink of starvation. How can they think anything else is as important as a widow who needs food? How can they think the temple is so important when a woman is about to die? She is about as low as one can be on the social ladder and still enter the temple, but she is the one that Jesus notices when he look up.

What does this look like today?

How much money goes to fighting political battles over prayer in the schools or evolution vs. intelligent design? How many people die for want of that money?

How many books are published about the wrong position of other religious groups? How many books are published about working to help the outcast?

I am so guilty.

How would you visualize this?

What pictures, videos, songs would capture this message?


tabitha jane said...

this is part of the reason i am so angry right now . . . mostly i just wish the church would stop backing the political right and love the poor and serve human beings and quite sending out emails like the one my mom sent to me (i will forward it to you if you like) and would just LIVE Acts 2 and Isaiah 58.

James T Wood said...

I wouldn't mind looking at it - it might offer a good example. It will probably make me mad too, though that's probably not a bad thing given the subject. More of us need to get Jesus-mad at the crap that is being done in his name.

Adam Wolfgang said...

My wife and I talked deeply about this around Christmas time. It actully made me sick to my stomach to realize how wasteful I am.

I also came to the realization that as christians we tend to think that helping the poor means giving stuff to less fourtunate so they can be part of the middle class.

I'm speaking at a youth rally this weekend, think I may try a variation of the text message thing.

tabitha jane said...

helping the poor. loving the poor. these are things we are told to do and that jesus exampled for us. a friend of mine suggested the other day that perhaps as a church who says we love and follow jesus (which in turn would suggest that we love and care for the poor) that we should show it with the way we spend our money and stop supporting coorporations or organizations that exploit and steal from the poor. and this is vvveeerrrrryyy hard to do. you really have to do your research and be an informed consumer. but money talks and has a lot of power. just imagine what would happen if AAAALLL THE CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA stopped shopping at walmart because of the way they treated their employees/where they got their goods/etc? that would be monumental.

is this totally off topic?

James T Wood said...

It's not completely off topic, no.

There are a lot of ways that Christians ought to help the poor. The "good news" is supposed to make people happy - specifically the poor. Does it make the poor happy when they are mistreated and outcast and abused? My guess is, no.

One thing that I have had to struggle with is the size of the problem. There are just so many poor people with so many issues. Memphis is one of the top cities in the nation for poverty and government corruption. I feel powerless in the face of all the problems that we face here. How can I make a difference to the poor? In order to protect myself I just want to shut it all out and ignore the problem - facing it just hurts too much sometimes.

Then it was as if God told me, "I'm more concerned with you bringing good news to the poor person that you meet than some faceless mob of poverty." How good is a hand out? How much better is a friend? Jesus didn't throw money at the problem, he got into relationships with people, individuals. He knew that poverty will never be eradicated, but brought good news to those he met.

So, I'm in favor of being a conscious consumer - but I would rather learn how to be a friend to the person who works at Wal-mart to try and make ends meet.

Good thoughts!

More please.

Tim said...

Perhaps if we spent more time trying to be like Jesus we would spend way less time worrying about politics at all. I believe we can be much more effective by loving and helping our neighbor than by voting. I've stopped voting all together. I don't think protesting does any good either. Instead of screaming at what not to do, we need to show the world who to look to.

I agree with Tabitha that we waste so much money in our churches on things that don't matter (sound systems, new carpet, etc.) than on things that do (missions, equipping people, discipleship, benevolence), however I don't think that buying a DVD at Target instead of Walmart will help anyone. What if we didn't buy those things at all? What if, as James said, we took every opportunity we had to be a neighbor, an example of love, of Jesus, to everyone we came in contact with, whether it was at Walmart, the gas station, next door?

James T Wood said...

So the mission statement for our church is: helping people see Jesus. I've decided to title this sermon: "helping people see like Jesus". In this text he's the one who sees people, things and arguments in a much different light.

As I've been thinking through this more I want to ask the congregation (and you) - where do you find yourself in this story? Do you see yourself in ths shoes of the Pharisees? Are you too wrapped up in arguments about being right and the perpetuation of a system? Or do you see yourself in the disciples? Are you interested in Jesus for how he can empower you and how he can elevate you above others? Or do you see yourself in the place of the widow? Ignored by everyone, giving everything you have with the hope that God will provide, but the fear that this is it and no one cares. Maybe you can have the eyes of Jesus here. Maybe you can see the one person that everyone else ignored. Maybe you can see that religous arguments and religous buildings are less important than the ministry of a widow. Maybe we can learn to see like Jesus.

tabitha jane said...

i think we can do both. i think it is totally possible to stop supporting coorporations that are basically supporting slavery in other countries (believe me i have heard first hand accounts of women who work 12 hours a day for pennies and this is not ok) AND be friends to the poor in our communities.
relationships AND boycotting places like walmart. both make a difference on different levels.

i am not sure who i am in this story . . . maybe a little bit of both . . . but maybe i am the listener to the story. the one currently learning to see like jesus. the one who's eyes are slowly being opened. who passion is slowly being ignited. who needs a focus and a goal. who needs some practical guidlines for living like this "new kind of christian" that i want to become . . . maybe that is who i am.