United Church of Jaffrey
I recall an occasion, from my distant youth, (not quite so distant mind you, as for many of you…) but distant enough…
Anyway, on this distant occasion, I was loitering about the house, as young people are wont to do, when I overheard my mother and father talking…
My father, who you may remember was a Professor of Religion, was discussing with my mother this and that about about someone named “Martin Luther…”
“Martin Luther said this…”
“Martin Luther said that…”
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop…. And it never did…
So finally, in frustration I shouted… “King!”
They both looked over at me in surprise…
“I beg your pardon?” my mother said.
“King!” I said again, “The man’s name was Martin Luther King!” Why do you keep saying Martin Luther?”
My father commenced to laugh.
My mother, the light dawning in her eyes, said with amused patience…
“No Dear, there was a someone named Martin Luther too. In fact, Martin Luther King was named after him.”
“Oh,” I said sheepishly. I didn’t know that! Martin Luther may have been a big deal at one time, but I’d never heard of him…
Not long ago a similar thing happened at my school.
I was talking to a colleague about the Gospel of Luke, but the kid who overheard us, just heard the name “Luke.”
“Skywalker?” the kid asked.
“No, the Apostle” I said, laughing.
The kid gave me a blank stare: “What’s an Apostle,” he asked.
At this, my colleague and I exchanged an ironic glance.
Creatures of our Time
Our tendency, when we hear stories like this, is to bemoan the ill-informed youth.
That, of course, was behind of the knowing glance that my colleague and I shared when our student revealed his stunning naivete regarding the Bible.
But it is, of course, not the least bit surprising that for kids – or for that matter pretty much everybody these days – the name “Luke” conjures images of Star Wars movies long before it has anything to do with the Bible.
We are creatures of our time.
We frame our understanding around the things we know – things, and people, who are acting in our lives now.
Maybe there’s a sale down at the Tractor Supply…
Or maybe Kate is unhappy with Meghan
Maybe the Patriots lost the last two
Or maybe, in a fit of pique, the President shut down the Government for Christmas…
These are stuff of headlines
These are the faces on the celebrity rags at the checkout counter…
Whether or not we are paying attention, we cannot help but be influenced by the fascinations and fads of our time
We are bombarded.
This is what we are paying attention to…
not some guy who lived on the other side of the planet, more than 2000 years ago.
A Big Deal
One of the things that gets a lot of attention in our culture
Christmas is a big deal.
I googled “Christmas spending statistics” and in less than 1 minute found this blurb from a site called Statista:
Christmas is typically the largest economic stimulus for many nations around the world as sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas. The United States’ retail industry generated over three trillion U.S. dollars during the holidays in 2013. These holiday sales reflected about 19.2 percent of the retail industries total sales that year. As a result, just over 768 thousand employees were hired throughout the United States to compensate for the holiday rush.
The same source says that in 2014, the Christmas season saw more than 3 trillion dollars in retail sales.
It doesn’t matter if you are a
Man or a woman
Religious or atheist…
or white or black,
You could be from the bayous of New Orleans or prodigious mountaintops of New Hampshire,
everyone agrees that Christmas is a big deal!
Christmas is not passé.
It’s not “old news”
It is now.
But Christmas would not be Christmas without Luke.
Not Luke Skywalker, but Luke the Apostle.
Luke was the one of the gospel writers who told all the birth narratives.
And Luke, too, was a product of his times.
Just in the same way as our politicians and celebrities use the technology of our time to tweet out messages, Luke used the technology of his time – ink on papyrus – to make his record.
And while the President of the United States can reach 55 million followers in an instant by sending out his tweets…
It is worth wondering if Trump’s technology – our technology — is better than Luke’s.
It’s faster that’s for sure.
But does it reach more people?
Is it as permanent?
Is it as influential?
In spite of Trumps extraordinary power to make or break a company’s stock value with a single tweet…
Despite his ability to fire people, or make huge geopolitical decisions like pulling out of Syria, with a single tweet…
I would argue that his power pales in comparison to the ink scratchings that some bygone fellow named Luke made on some flattened pieces of reed back in the 2nd century AD.
Luke may not have had a WIFI connection…
He may not have had access to an email distribution list
Or a cloud back up
But he had something greater than all of that.
He had the truth.
When I looked over the reading for today – the reading from the gospel according to… you guessed it … Luke…
I remembered that this passage – which is a kind of blessing coming from the mouth of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist – this passage is another one of the biblical passages that, like the Magnificat, the Transfiguration, and the Beatitudes – that has its own name.
It is called the Benedictus – so named because the first words of the passage, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” is written in Latin: Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel…
And it is here, in the words of old Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, that we hear, for the first time, in the gospel of Luke, the reason why Christ comes into the world:
And you, child, (Zechariah say to his son John) will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
The reason why, I believe, Luke’s 2000-year-old ink scratchings on papyrus have such remarkable power, is because they are old, because they are slow, and because they demand something of us.
Our religious tradition is involved in the practice of preserving old words.
We are in the practice of transforming their meaning to our circumstances,
And transforming our circumstances to their meaning.
Through the mouth of old Zechariah, Luke was telling us something… something that continues to challenge us to this day.
He was telling us that we are blessed.
But that the blessing that God gives us, is not power over our enemies.
Luke tells us that John the Baptist will introduce us to a knowledge of salvation
And what is this knowledge of salvation?
Is it the ability to wield power?
Is it the wealth to buy anything you want?
Is it a diversified 401K?
Is it a new car with heated seats and a sun roof?
The knowledge of salvation is as true today as it was 2000 years ago.
That’s why we are in the practice, here in this church, of preserving it against all odds.
The knowledge of Salvation is the forgiveness of sins.
God forgives us, and we, in turn forgive, that we might imitate the ways of truth.
By the tender mercy of our God, (Zechariah concludes)
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”