Do Not Our Hearts Burn Within Us?

Supper at Emmaus, by Dr. He Qi, 2001
Supper at Emmaus, by Dr. He Qi, 2001

N.T. Wright compares the two disciples on the road to Emmaus to people who have gotten up early to watch the sunrise, but were looking westward, rather than eastward.

They were like people on a hillside, watching eagerly for the sunrise. …Disoriented, they are facing the wrong way. The expected moment comes and goes, and nothing happens. Then they become aware that, though the sky they are scanning remains dark, light seems to be shining anyway. With a strange excitement they turn around, to see the sun shining in full strength in the very place they least expected it.

The day Luke describes in Luke 24:13 is the day of Jesus’ resurrection, although it was decidedly not Easter to these two travelers. This is why Wright says “they least expected it.”

The women had seen the empty tomb, and these two disciples knew that, but they hadn’t pieced it all together yet. To them, Jesus was still dead. So they have this road trip now to talk about the death of Jesus, the denial of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, the crowds shouting, “Crucify!”, the weeping of the disciples at the cross, and the shock and shattered dreams of the community of Jesus’ followers.

One of the questions Luke is posing to his listeners and readers is: will we, when Jesus shows up, have eyes to see him?

The Road to Emmaus Was Covered With Tears

Jesus chastises the two, as only a loving and trusted teacher can do, for not understanding, for not knowing who he was.

But, in one sense, we don’t really want to blame these two disciples. To be fair, they were utterly devastated. “[T]hey crucified him,” they said, “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

When our eyes are cloudy with tears, when we’re sinking beneath the weight of death and tragedy and incomprehensible outcomes… do we recognize Jesus?

They must have felt like that speech from Macbeth that I had to memorize in high school:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Good Friday and the days following were just an idiot’s tale, not a compelling narrative of an entire nation’s redemption. It all meant nothing.

Jesus and the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883)
Jesus and the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus, Gustave Doré (1832–1883)

We don’t know for sure where Emmaus is–people who like to study these things have made two or three suggestions. It was within walking distance from Jerusalem, at least.

But I think we do know what Emmaus was. It was an escape. It was another town, it was not-Jerusalem, which was just too painful a place for these two disciples to be. It was a pre-emptive break from the regular weekday schedule that surely awaited the disciples on Monday morning. Those routines would have been unbearable with Jesus gone. So at least if they could go somewhere where the buildings and mountains and water wouldn’t remind them of him, maybe their sorrows could be numbed a little bit.

They were done. It was over. The road to Emmaus was a road of confusion, frustration, and tears.

Jesus Shows Up

Then Jesus shows up. They don’t know it’s Jesus. It’s another fellow traveler, and it would not have been weird at all for them to walk together, even if they hadn’t met.

“They were kept from recognizing him,” Luke says, a curious phrase. Was it their own sadness that kept them from seeing? Was it lack of faith? Did they think, “Hey this guy does look a little like Jesus, but no way it’s him”? Did God somehow keep them from seeing, so this scene could play out?

When he asks what they’re talking about, they can hardly bring themselves to re-live the tragedy. Cleopas does his best and, surprised that anyone wouldn’t have heard the front-page news, he goes on and tells about the criminal’s death his supposed Savior died.

[W]hat is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.

They knew this was the “third day,” when something was supposed to happen. And they knew the tomb was empty. And they knew the women were excited and had seen angels at Jesus’ tomb. But they hadn’t yet seen Jesus alive, outside of the tomb.

Jesus rebukes them for not knowing how it was supposed to all go down, a gentle (or maybe not-so-gentle) reminder to us to pay attention to what God is doing in the world… to pay attention to who Jesus is. No matter what led these two followers to go to Emmaus, there were some mysterious things afoot in Jerusalem, and they didn’t bother to stick around to see how it would play out. Maybe this is why Jesus calls them “foolish” and “slow of heart.”

Jesus then goes through the Scriptures (“Moses and all the Prophets,” or the whole Old Testament) and shows how it all points to him.

They Recognized Him

They get to Emmaus, so they get ready to stay the night there. Middle Eastern hospitality requires that they ask Jesus to join them, so he’s not out walking by himself. They sit down to eat. If the guided tour of the Hebrew Bible by one of its co-authors wasn’t enough, the two disciples now at last recognize Jesus, as he breaks the bread. Jesus goes quickly from table guest to host at a meal that would forever transform these two:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The Disciples Recognize Jesus at Emmaus,  Rembrandt (1606–1669)
The Disciples Recognize Jesus at Emmaus,
Rembrandt (1606–1669)

Now they know Jesus, in the breaking of the bread. Perhaps they recall the feeding of the 5,000, or the Last Supper that they had probably heard about from the other disciples who were there. On both of those occasions, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and distributed it.

So they go back to Jerusalem, where all the commotion is, and make their contribution to the unfolding events of the first Easter:

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus appears to them through the reading of Scripture and through fellowship at a table.

Time and time again the early church and the church throughout the ages would gather to hear the Word of God proclaimed and the sacrament of communion celebrated, and in so doing the church would continue to recognize its risen Lord.

Hearts Burning Within Us

During an Easter hymn two weeks ago, I was filled with awe at just how transforming the resurrection is for those who believe in it.

I began to think, “What if we remembered more often, both when we’re together and when we’re apart–what if we remembered more often that we worship a risen Jesus, and Christ’s resurrection completely transforms how we see the world? The victorious life over death of the resurrected Jesus is foundational to our identity.” We worship a Lord who could not be shut up in a tomb. Therefore, we, too, are resurrection people, disciples who have been forever changed by Christ’s victory over death.

Do not our hearts burn within us when we gather to hear God’s word, and when we break bread at Christ’s table? And do not our hearts burn within us, as we see Jesus in each other, at brunch or meals in each other’s homes, at coffee, through small group prayer, and notes of encouragement? Do not our hearts burn within us when we realize we’re not alone on the road, but have each other for traveling companions?

Do not our hearts burn within us when we truly recognize Jesus through an encounter with him?

And this encounter with Jesus is just as likely to take place on our defeated path to Emmaus… in those moments where we walk away from our hopes and dreams and visions of the future that are now traded in for just the hope of making it to lunchtime….

We see Jesus on our roads and sidewalks, because he comes and finds us there. We weren’t even looking for him. We didn’t even recognize him, and he came–the resurrected Lord, giving us his broken body and blood for our new life–he came and enlivened our hearts, rekindled our passion, made us excited about something again. Jesus gave us renewed purpose and vision. Jesus offered us hope when we were grasping at straws.

Do not our hearts burn within us?

And so we, who have seen this risen Lord, say with the two Emmaus-bound disciples and the others:

“It is true! The Lord has risen!”

This becomes a foundational truth about our identity, our make-up as believers in Jesus.

We are a people who have seen the risen Lord.

“It is true! The Lord has risen!”

We may invite him in as a guest to our gatherings, as those two road-walkers in our passage did. But we quickly find Jesus himself to be host, the one who invited us into fellowship with him in the first place. And do not our hearts burn within us as we hear his invitation to come to his table?

“It is true! The Lord has risen!”

Come, see Jesus now. The table of fellowship is set. Recognize him as he opens his table to us who journey along the road. And let your heart beat a little bit faster as you encounter the risen Jesus there.

The above is adapted from the sermon I preached on Luke 24:13-35 today. All Scripture quotations come from the NIV (1984) or TNIV. See my other sermons, if you desire, here. The image at the beginning of the post is used and covered under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Death Has Been Swallowed Up in Victory

The resurrection

You don’t go to a tomb to rejoice. You don’t go to a graveyard, shortly after someone has been buried there, to celebrate.

And so, Matthew writes, “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”

They have come to pay their respects and to remember their now deceased teacher. They have come to mourn–expecting to find comfort, perhaps, in being together, but not expecting much more than that.

Then an angel pushes away the stone covering the tomb–we can think of the tomb as a sort of underground walk-in closet. And the guards are so scared, they shake and are petrified.

“Do not be afraid!” the angel has to say to the unsuspecting women. “Jesus is not here–he is risen!” Come, look, the angel says, “see the place where he lay.” “Go quickly and tell his disciples–He has risen from the dead!”

As they hurry off, their fast-beating hearts a jumble of joy and fear, they see Jesus. “Greetings,” he says, nonchalantly. (“Hey, what’s up?”)

They kneel down, grasp his feet, and worship him.

They had gone to his tomb to weep.
Instead, they went away laughing and rejoicing.

They had come early that morning to encounter the stark reality of death.
Instead, they found the glorious miracle of new life.

They had come to process an immense and unthinkable loss.
Instead, they met a living Jesus, the triumphant victor over death.

These women, and then, in turn, all of Jesus’ disciples from that day forward, would never see death the same way again.

Death Swallowed Up in Victory: Paul’s Reminder

Some years later Paul would remind his church of the “gospel,” the good news of Jesus.

The good news, he says, is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures….”

By this “gospel,” the good news of Jesus’ death and coming back from life to show himself again to his followers–by this “gospel,” Paul says, you are saved. You are delivered.

Where your life had been a prison,
you are freed.

Where you had once seen darkness,
now you see light.

Though you had come to a tomb, ready to mourn because of the end of things,
now you rejoice at a new beginning and fresh possibilities.

Where it had once been a long, hard, cold, relentless winter,
the spring of new life is finally here.

Because Jesus was raised on the third day, we will never see death the same way again.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Paul speaks of a day when that will come true, when death itself is finally and forever dead.

But the way Paul is talking–it’s so certain a fate for death, for it to be completely vanquished and drowned in new life… it’s so certain that he’s saying it’s true, in a sense, right now.

Through the resurrection of Jesus, death and evil have already been defeated.

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

Christ’s resurrection proved that, when God is at work, “dead” isn’t really “dead.”

Feeling Defeated by Death

And yet, such an idea was the farthest thing from the minds of the disciples that weekend.

How long Good Friday to Easter Sunday must have felt that year!

When you lose a friend, a brother, a spouse, a parent, a child, someone you love… the day of your dear one’s death is painful. Agonizing. Unthinkable. Whether unexpected or expected, there’s always a quality of “this is not how it should be” when a loved one dies. So much still could have been… should have been.

Then there’s something about the second day that hurts even more. Maybe the initial shock is gone (though probably not really), and reality sets in a bit more. This death wasn’t a bad dream you woke up from. You’re still here, and your good friend, your valued family member is really gone.

I bet that second day–Saturday–was even more difficult for the disciples than the Friday when they watched Jesus die a criminal’s death.

Jesus was not just any loved one…he was, to his followers, a teacher and friend and humble servant, but he was also supposed to be their deliverer, their shepherd, their light, their life… NOT someone who just goes dying on them.

Was he not who they thought he was?

Was their promised deliverance, their offer of hope and a new life, just a farce?

Was Jesus just one among many other teachers claiming to be divine, but in reality, mortal like everyone else?

Jimmy Chitwood HoosiersOne of my favorite movies, and arguably the greatest sports movie of all time, is the movie Hoosiers. It’s based on the true story of a high school basketball team in rural Indiana who in 1954 won the state championship, beating much bigger and more established schools along the way.

And even though I know how it ends, I still watch it, probably at least once a year. “Did they win again?” I’ve often been asked after watching it for the umpteenth time.

It’s a little easier to watch through the suspense and nail-biting overtime games when I know the outcome. But for the characters in the movie, of course, the players and fans that the actors played, there was no guarantee of a good ending.

It’s hard for us to get at just what those women, characters in the story, must have been feeling as they went to the tomb. We know how this story ends. We know what (or, rather, who) is waiting for them at the tomb.

But they felt firmly wrapped in the grip of death, of disappointment, of shattered dreams, of hopes delayed or even demolished. Perhaps their trust had been severely misplaced, after all.

They’re blindsided when they see the angel, the empty tomb, and then… Jesus. That’s why Matthew says they are both filled with joy and scared out of their minds.

It’s not that they had weak faith, but Jesus was dead! Not just mostly dead, but dead dead.

Jesus had cheated death before by slipping through hostile crowds and, for all we know, dodging stones thrown his way, but this was not supposed to happen, or so his mourning disciples thought.

The Last Scene Was a Victory

Resurrection 2But a tomb was not the last scene in this story.

The apostle Peter would later preach to a crowd in Acts, “But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.”

Death did not have dominion, mastery, or the power of intimidation over Jesus. Once Jesus got a hold of death, it would never be the same.

Through his miraculous coming-back-to-life, Jesus showed that even death cannot stop him. Through Jesus’ resurrection, Paul says, “Death [was] swallowed up in victory.” As one preacher wryly (but accurately) said, “Jesus beat the hell out of sin and death.”

And so “dead” for Jesus didn’t really mean “dead.” It wasn’t the end. There was life on the other side of it.

We who follow the risen Jesus, then, do not need to be afraid. Though death is maybe one of the scariest, or most painful things that many of us can think of, the Christian’s death does not actually end in death. We, too, have been raised with Christ.

As one Christian martyr put it:

The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment. Our salvation is ‘from outside ourselves.’ I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ. Only those who allow themselves to be found in Jesus Christ — in the incarnation, cross, and resurrection — are with God and God with them.

“Death has been swallowed up in” the victory of the life of Christ, a life in which we are invited to participate, a life which we can receive by believing in the risen Lord. As we see the living Jesus and hear his invitation to life, how else can we respond but to do what the two Marys did, and throw ourselves at him and praise him?

Death is cause for lament and mourning–you don’t go to a tomb to rejoice–yet just as death no longer has dominion over Jesus, it no longer shall have dominion over us.

Jesus’ resurrection means that death is no longer our intimidator, master, or schoolyard bully.

Evil loses, and death is dead.

Paul taunts death in the Corinthians passage, “Whatcha got, death? I’m alive with the resurrected Christ–how you like me now?”

Paul had to remind his church of the powerlessness of death, just like we need to remind ourselves, because it so often looks like death and sin and evil and inhumanity reign supreme in the world around us. Death and evil are still talking a big game.

But that’s all it is–it’s just talk.

Sin is no longer the undefeatable foe it might have once seemed to be. Evil is not inevitable. Death is not really the end.

We do not have to be afraid.

Through the victory of the resurrected Christ, the lifeless are made alive. Darkness becomes light.

Mourning turns to rejoicing.

Winter turns to spring.

The impossible becomes possible.

Dormant dreams can spring back to life again.

Good outcomes can result from bad things happening.

Because of Jesus’ decisive victory over the powers of evil and death,
even what looks like a cold and empty tomb
contains within it a glimmer of hope,
and the promise of new life.

The above is the sermon I preached on Easter Day 2014.

Ukraine: Love Your Russian Occupiers? What Would Bonhoeffer Do?

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

I find myself thoroughly challenged by Jesus’ words (Matthew 5:38-48). I hear in “love your enemies” a call to individuals. I am sure that at least that much is there. I know that “pray for those who persecute you” needs to shape our lives. When we pray for and seek the good of our adversaries–any with whom we have conflict–we inhabit a new and better Kingdom reality.

But is this portion of the Sermon on the Mount merely a private text, as Martin Luther and other interpreters have said? Is this call of Jesus just for the interpersonal domain?

Or–as a long line of Anabaptist thinkers and others are convinced–is it true that there really is no private vs. public distinction with Jesus? Jesus certainly doesn’t say in the Sermon on the Mount that loving enemies works differently at a corporate or national level. Many faithful Christians have inferred a difference, on various grounds, but it’s not explicitly stated, at least not in this text.

So Russia moves into Ukraine and today we hear Jesus say, “Don’t retaliate. Love your enemies.”

Turn the other cheek. Do not resist an evildoer. Pray for those who persecute you.

CREDIT:  REUTERS / Baz Ratner
CREDIT: REUTERS / Baz Ratner

How does a Ukrainian read this text today? There were presumably churches in Ukraine who heard Matthew 5:38-48 last week, when it was the Revised Common Lectionary reading. These words from the Sermon on the Mount are still ringing in their ears, even as the sound of Putin’s tanks and soldiers try to drown it out.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Cost of Discipleship, adamantly defended this Gospel text in its fullness: he said it did not apply on a merely private level, but that it also applied at the level of those who hold office (i.e., corporately), because people are people, in whatever capacity they are acting…. If it’s wrong to retaliate with force in an interpersonal reaction, it’s wrong at a state level, too, Bonhoeffer argued. In an era in which Hitler had already come to power, Bonhoeffer would write in 1937:

The overcoming of others now occurs by allowing their evil to run its course. The evil does not find what it is seeking, namely, resistance and, therewith, new evil which will inflame it even more. Evil will become powerless when it finds no opposing object, no resistance, but, instead, is willingly borne and suffered….

And that sounds so good. I cling to that hope.

But Hitler, finding no opposing object, and no resistance, not even from much of the church in Germany, continued his rise to power. Evil became not “powerless,” but more powerful.

Bonhoeffer goes on:

There is no thinkable deed in which evil is so large and strong that it would require a different response from a Christian. The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. Evil persons must be delivered to the hands of Jesus. Not I but Jesus must deal with them.

Bonhoeffer
Which Bonhoeffer?

Critics were quick to call Bonhoeffer overly idealistic and impractical for this understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. But he was firm in his read of Jesus.

And then, something happened. Something happened in Bonhoeffer that led him to align himself with a group of folks who tried to overthrow Hitler, planning to use force if necessary. Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned and implicated in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was hanged in 1945.

If we grant that “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” have to do with both individual and corporate domains, which Bonhoeffer was right? The one who wrote, “The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. …. Not I but Jesus must deal with them”?

Or was it the Bonhoeffer who tried to make a plan to “deal with” Hitler in perhaps more physical ways?

Perhaps Bonhoeffer saw a distinction between evil done to him and evil done to another. You can turn your own cheek, but when it’s the cheek of another, and you see them being struck, it’s all you can do to run over and move (maybe even push?) the oppressor out of the way.

So I leave this text with questions and tensions. What seems a fairly straightforward statement, “Love your enemy,” is difficult. What does it mean to love enemies? In what spheres must that take place, and how should it happen, especially in the presence of an inordinately powerful evil? How categorical is Jesus in his forbidding of force? Was he speaking to disciples, or to disciples and states?

But even with the questions, there are two places I find myself landing. First, the one purpose statement in this passage is this: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

That you may win them over? Hopefully, but not necessarily. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” so that they might be converted and join the Kingdom of Heaven, turning from their ways of oppression? Yeah, that would be awesome, but it’s not always going to happen. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” for by so doing, you are called children of your Father in heaven. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” They are children who do the things they see their God doing.

Which brings me to my second landing point, amid the questions I still have of this passage. Jesus, Philippians says,

made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

In the end, Jesus submitted himself to death. He humbled himself in the ultimate manifestation of turning the other cheek: “by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!”

And yet in that defeat was the very stuff of victory.

In that death was the very stuff of life.

In that humbling was the very stuff of exaltation.

Philippians goes on:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

He knew full well what he was doing–he was going to that cross to die. He was accepting the unjust death penalty–even the torture–that had been set upon him. But he was also going to that cross to win. He was going to the cross to defeat death and evil. In the end he would rise again.

The Son of God endured suffering, and yet scorned its shame, unmasking the evil powers that put him on the cross, and razing them to the ground. Through death, through the cross, he made an offer of peace to even his enemies (including us!) so that we could love our enemies, too.

Jesus’ resistance to death was not violent, but neither was it passive. It was sure, deliberate, subversive, generous to all, and full of love, even to enemies.

There is power in Jesus’ going to the cross. It is the ultimate act of cheek-turning, self-giving love. The cross of Christ is an act of defiance that says:

No, suffering!
You cannot warp me into a person I don’t want to be.

No, violence!
You cannot seduce me to kill.

No, evil!
You do not have the last word.

The above is adapted from the sermon I preached on Matthew 5:38-48 yesterday. Scripture quotations come from the NIV (1984 or 2011) or TNIV.

Matthew and Jesus: Fulfill, fulfill, fulfill, fulfill

Baptism of Christ, Francesco Albani
Baptism of Christ, Francesco Albani

One of the most important things anyone has ever said about Scripture is:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

–Jesus in Matthew 5:17

The careful reader of Matthew will hear “fulfill” in 5:17 and recall at least some of its previous uses already in the book.

Fulfillment is one of Matthew’s major themes. Calling the other uses of “fulfill” to mind gives Jesus’ claim even more impact.

Having established that Jesus’ birth was “to fulfill what was written…,” Matthew shows John baptizing an adult Jesus “to fulfill all righteousness.” Early in Jesus’ ministry, Matthew shows Jesus as the fulfilling light that the people walking in darkness have been waiting for.

Here is a one-page pdf listing the instances of fulfillment in the birth and early ministry of Jesus in Matthew 1-4.

With so much of his life a fulfillment of the Scriptures already, Matthew’s reader is now prepared to see how Jesus fulfills all of Scripture–down to the last letter–through his read and interpretation of it. In the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus will unpack just what he means by “fulfill [the Scriptures],” using six specific biblical examples, culminating at last in a call to the disciples to “be perfect.”

What is the Good Life? Jesus’ Take

Shane Claiborne is an author and activist who helped found The Simple Way, an intentional Christian community in Philadelphia. He loves Jesus and loves the poor, and has given his life on their behalf.

Shane Claiborne
Shane Claiborne

Shane was lined up to speak at a youth worker’s national conference once, and to the surprise of the crowd and the organizers, when his keynote came, he stood up, read the Sermon on the Mount, and then sat down. His “talk” was done–a reading of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5-7.

When interviewed about it later, Claiborne said that as much as he loves that particular conference, the amount of noise and clutter and “Christian stuff” of that conference led him to the simplicity of the words of Jesus. He wanted to read them and let them stand on their own.  Continue reading “What is the Good Life? Jesus’ Take”

A Paradox I Encountered During my Sunday School and Sermon Prep

The Sermon on the Mount, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883.
The Sermon on the Mount, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883)

Annie Dillard (whom we are reading for this Sunday’s Sunday School class) writes:

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.

And yet Jesus confidently tells his disciples (before they’ve even done much of anything): 

You are the light of the world. …Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Those lines of Jesus are from the Sermon on the Mount, on which I’m preaching. Holding those two ideas about light in juxtaposition has made for interesting preparation for this Sunday! On the face of it, they seem to contradict, but I don’t think they really do…. I’ll try to post more here next week, as I continue to work it out.

Before you preach a book of the Bible…

Preaching the NT

Some good advice here: before you preach a book of the Bible, try to live “inside” it first.

In line with the way one ought to prepare to preach any book of the Bible, the preacher needs to live inside a Gospel for a while before trying to preach any part of it. Reading it through at a single setting, several times, is a great way to begin; for those who have the training, working carefully through the text in Greek during preceding months will prove personally rewarding and homiletically enriching.

–D.A. Carson, “Preaching the Gospels,” in Preaching the New Testament (IVP Academic, 2013)

So far the above collection of essays is well-written and helpful. I’ll post more about it in the coming weeks and months.