Aug 24 2017
This week on the blog, the sermon you’re not going to hear on Sunday…
Let me start by laying some groundwork.
One of the things I love about the Bible is how it can speak to so many different situations we face in our lives. Two people in completely different circumstances can read the same passage of Scripture and apply it in their lives.
And that’s pretty remarkable, especially when you consider that the most recent parts of it were written almost 2000 years ago. The fact that an ancient document remains relevant in our lives today is an impressive testimony to the nature of God.
Of course, you can take that idea way too far if you’re not careful. For example, you can read the prayer of Jabez and develop an unbiblical idea that God will always make you rich and healthy, and if you lack either of those it’s because you lack faith.
That’s why it’s important to differentiate between what the Bible means and how that meaning applies to us. Each passage of Scripture has one meaning, but many possible applications.
That’s something I grapple with every week when I prep my sermon. I start by figuring out what the text means, and then I wrestle with how the meaning applies to us. I sometimes go through three or four different approaches before settling on one, and I’ve even gotten as far as writing my entire sermon only to realize that the other one would have been better and doing that one instead.
I didn’t get that far this week, but I did consider different approaches to the one I’m going to take on Sunday, and I wanted to share one of those with you today. This is the sermon you’re not going to hear on Sunday (or, at least, an abridged version of a full sermon) from Luke 8:40-56.
If you’re like me, there are times in your life when you feel the stress piling up. You look at what you want to accomplish—at work, at home, and across every other domain—and you compare it to your available time, and the math doesn’t work.
On top of that, your task list feels like it isn’t getting any smaller, because for each task you check off it feels like two more appear, both of which are urgent and both of which need to be factored into your already-busy time.
I’m feeling my anxiety level rise just writing about it.
In the midst of all that, it feels impossible to keep your head screwed on straight. In the middle of a crunch of stress, it’s easy to feel like you’re no longer in control of your life, and you’re not quite sure how to get it back.
When I look at Luke 8:40-56, I see Jesus in the same kind of situation. He just got back from his trip to the other side of the lake, and as soon as he lands on the shore of Galilee, he gets mobbed. Jarius asks for his help because his daughter is dying, so Jesus goes with him, but the crowds are so thick that he can barely make it through. Meanwhile, a woman touches the tassel of his garment, and he stops and asks who touched him.
Then, as he’s talking, someone from Jairus’ house comes up and says, “Your daughter is dead. Leave Jesus alone now.” But Jesus doesn’t walk away—he keeps going.
When he gets to Jairus’ house, it’s full of mourners (and mourning the dead was a big deal in first century Jewish culture, so this would have been quite the racket). But Jesus tells them she’s just sleeping, kicks everyone out except a few people, brings the girl back to life again, and then has the presence of mind to say, “Hey, could someone get her something to eat?”
Talk about a guy in the middle of a stressful situation. And yet, through it all, Jesus never loses sight of his identity or his mission. He doesn’t let the urgency of others push aside the important things he needs to take care of. He’s always in control.
There’s a lesson here for me, and maybe there is for you as well. I tend to feel the urgency of others a lot more than I should, and I take on their anxieties and emotions in a serious way. That can be good because it helps me empathize. But it can also be bad, because I can quickly lose sight of myself.
I could stand to a bit more like Jesus in a lot of ways, and this is one. When the pressures of life bear down, when there are a number of urgent requests on my time, and when I feel like I’m not making any progress on what I need to do, the first thing I need to ask myself is why that’s happening.
It could be that it’s just one of those times when it happens, and I need to rely on God’s grace and strength to pull through. But often with me, it’s because I’m letting it happen. I’m losing sight of what’s important. I’m allowing my circumstances dictate my obedience. And I’m not in control of myself.
I’m not saying that each of us needs to do the things that matter to us and not worry what anyone else thinks. I’m not suggesting that we should see ourselves as masters of our own destiny. I’m not telling you to unleash the hidden power you have within. None of those ideas are biblical.
What I am saying, though, is that I’m the only person responsible for the choices I make in my discipleship. I’m the only one responsible for my own obedience. And while I live in community and my life is joyfully bound up with others, Jesus still asks me to follow him.
In order to be an authentic disciple of Jesus, I need to know how to balance my own responsibilities as a disciple and my responsibilities to others, first at home, then at church. It’s hard to do, and I’m not always good at it, but I can’t ever throw up my hands and say, “I couldn’t do that thing you asked me to, Jesus, because someone else needed my help.”
That’s the sermon you won’t hear this Sunday. But there’s more that this passage has to teach us, and I hope to see you on Sunday so that I can share it with you.