This Sunday, Linda and I are beginning a sermon series that will take us through the end of the summer. It’s called “STORIES JESUS TOLD.”
We’ll be focusing on the parables: those pithy tales Jesus told to his disciples.
As any preacher knows, the details of a sermon listeners are most likely to retained are the stories. Stories speak to the human imagination in rare – and sometimes unexpected – ways. This was just as true in Jesus’ time as it is today.
Jesus’ parables quickly became a part of the oral tradition passed on by his earliest disciples. A generation or so later, when the Gospel-writers started to write things down, these stories figured prominently in the church’s memory.
The Gospel-writers exercised some literary license, both in where they located the parables in their narrative, and in their understanding of the parables’ meaning. That means we’re never entirely sure, when the Gospel-writer announces the “moral of the story,” whether that’s an explanation given by Jesus, or whether it represents the thinking of the early church. Studying the parables seems a bit like archaeology: we’ve got to dig down through levels of accumulated tradition before we come to the treasure.
The treasure is this: of all the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Bible, the parables are most likely to have come down to us exactly has he told them. Because parables are often intended to surprise or challenge readers with new perspectives, they sometimes make readers uncomfortable. This was just as true in Jesus’ time as it is for us today. In this series, Linda and I intend to simply let these ancient stories speak, as best we can.
We’ll be using, as a guide to our thinking and preparation, a book called Short Stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, by Amy-Jill Levine. Amy-Jill, who teaches at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, is a rarity among New Testament scholars: she’s Jewish. That makes her unusually well-equipped to understand Rabbi Jesus from a Jewish perspective. She’s also alert to anti-Semitic interpretations that have arisen over the years, quarantining them so they don’t get in the way of the story.
This Sunday, it’s the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10): “WHAT’S LOST IS FOUND AGAIN.” Next Sunday, as I’ll be away on vacation, Linda will preach on the parable of the Prodigal Son – which is actually part 3 of a three-part series of stories on things that have been lost and found again.
Come, join the worshiping congregation this Sunday as we begin our study of Stories Jesus Told, and as we celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.