Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Narrative Lectionary, Year 3
Lessons: Luke 7:18-35, Psalm 146:5-10
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people watch for signs of Jesus at work in the midst of a confusing and troubled world, even when it seems counter-intuitive or impossible. We trust that God is still speaking and acting in, among, and through us.
Key Scripture: And he [Jesus] answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” Luke 7:22
News had a way of traveling fast in the first century world—even without the benefit of the worldwide web. News of a miracle worker and healer was the kind of heady stuff that spread quickly; after all, people living under the oppressive regime of Rome needed to see, hear, and experience hope. Not too much has changed in 2,000 years. We find ourselves again living in confusing and anxious times. Folks are looking for hope—often in all the wrong places and in all the wrong people. Who will save us? Who is the “one”?
Despite his entire ministry of baptizing and pointing the way to the Messiah, even John needed some reassurance, and this week’s reading he sends a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus point blank if he is “the one.” We know John has been imprisoned by Herod, and surely he expects that the Messiah will not only release him but also topple this unjust system and restore order and glory to Israel. Who are you, Jesus? How can we be sure you are “the one”?
Jesus sends John’s disciples back with a message that echoes Psalm 146: “…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them…” It may not be exactly the news John is hoping for, but it is good news nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Jesus turns the tables on the crowd by asking them what they went out to the wilderness looking for. He hits the religious leaders for their refusal to accept John’s baptism and for their pettiness. Who are you looking for? What are you looking for? What do you expect the reign of God to look like? These are the sorts of questions that Jesus seems to be lifting up.
Jesus is still defying expectations today. He will not be shackled by a theology of glory or a gospel of prosperity. Jesus is found today on the margins and with the least of God’s children—just like when he walked the first century roads and paths of Galilee. We may easily become blinded to Jesus by our own preconceived notions of how the Son of Man is supposed to operate, by what we assume justice looks like, and what we expect the reign of God to look like. In doing so, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Who do you think the people in your faith community are looking for, hoping for, and longing for? Are they staking their claim on a false vision of the Messiah? Are blinders preventing a clear vision for mission and ministry? And whatever in the world does this lesson have to do with stewardship?
These are all good questions to ask, to ponder, and to discuss. I can answer only the last one. If we operate under the basic assumption that stewardship is everything we do once God says yes to us (a paraphrase of Clarence Stoughton’s definition), then how we respond to Jesus, how we look for Jesus at work in the world, and how we understand Jesus to be working in, with, and through us are all issues of stewardship. Who we are looking for is a question of stewardship at the most fundamental level, and the answer can be found only in letting go and listening.
Consider using the Psalm selection (Psalm 146:5-10) as a call to worship today. Allow for plenty of space in worship—for quiet, for reflection, or for conversation about where and how people see the Lord at work. Consider the relational nature of God.
Why is it OK for one person to be able to do something but not another? Consider Jesus’ comments in verses 33-34 of the lesson. Folks complained about John because of his desert living and asceticism, and they complained because Jesus enjoyed life. Invite youth to share how they see this kind of “double-standard” played out in their lives. How does it happen with Christians in general?
What is God Like?
Invite children to think about a “picture” of God. We don’t have any photographs, and paintings are simply artist’s ideas about how God might look. Tell the children that we can get an idea of what God is like, a “picture” of God, from the psalm. Using the Easy-to-Read version come up with a Word cloud for God based on these few verses. Give every child one and remind them that even though we can’t “see” God as we see each other or see photographs of friends and families, we can “picture” God in descriptions like the one in this week’s Psalm. Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s lesson from Luke invites us to challenge our notions about what God is like and what we look for when we look for God. It is an act of faithful stewardship to put aside our assumptions and our comfortable ideas of God and listen for the Holy Spirit to help us experience and see God at work in the world. We just might be surprised and amazed at what we do see when we let go of our preconceived notions.
Stewardship at Home
This week look for examples of how Jesus describes himself to John: 1) the blind receive sight, 2) the lame walk, 3) the lepers are cleansed, 4) the deaf hear, 5) the dead are raised, and 6) the poor have good news brought to them. How do you see Jesus at work in the world doing this today in our time? How are Christians walking side-by-side with Jesus to do the work of the kingdom? How are you seeing Jesus each day?
Photos:Edith Soto and Ken Teegardin, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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