This past Sunday we reflected on Luke 1:1-4, Luke’s introduction to his wonderful Gospel.
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4 NRSV).
This summer we are going to hit some of the highlights in the Gospel of Luke. The reason why I didn’t want to call it “Luke: The greatest hits,” or “Peter, Paul, and Luke: Three Years to Remember,” wasn’t just because those seemed a little cheesy, but because I wanted to dig deeper into the actual encounter we have with the text.
Our reflections this summer, the Interventions in the Gospel of Luke, not only draw on the text itself, what it says, what it teaches, but it suggests that by hearing, and re-telling these stories we encounter the text in a way that transforms us.
Good stories always connect with the real “stuff of life,” great stories change lives.
For the rest of the summer we are invited in by Luke, the ancient storyteller, “to embrace an alternative worldview and to live as if the reign of God has already revolutionized this age” (Green 11).
We will witness how Jesus intervened in the world in such a way that disrupted the status quo of his time. We will learn how his counter-movements of peace, love and hope embody the logic of God’s kingdom, over against the logic of the world.
And when we open these words in our world new interventions can take place. With every re-telling the possibility for God’s kingdom is reborn.
So I am calling our discussions around the Third Gospel an intervention because we are doing more than simply discussing “the facts” of a 2,000 year old document, rather we’re holding this document in a way that we become subject to it, we allow it to mold us, challenge us, shape us, and intervene in our lives in a way that problematizes our old assumptions, our old languages.
The end goal is that God works through these words in a way gives us insight into how to live and interpret the “signs of the times” in a way that helps us navigate our changing world.
So there are at least two ways we’ll approach the Gospel of Luke: ecclesiology and hermeneutics. First, ecclesiology is the study of the church. What does Luke have to say about Jesus, what he did, what he asked his followers to do and how does that relate to the church today? And secondly, hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. In other words, what do we learn about the way Jesus and his followers, including Luke, interpret their world, their culture. How do they diagnose the problems, and how do they respond to those interpretations? What if we embraced their way of interpreting and responding our world, the way they did theirs?
How to live (ecclesiology) and how to understand the world (interpretation/hermeneutics), these go together, they are interwoven, and they make up the two main methods we will use when we read the Gospel of Luke.
Luke introduces his own work: Lk 1:1-4
This is Luke’s preface. In the Ancient historical writings, especially those within the Greek school, every author would begin with a precis. This was written on a scroll, so you couldn’t browse a scroll, so the first sentence had to say it all.
Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of The Apostles, known as the book of Acts. They operate as two volumes. The one deals with the life and works of Jesus, his mission, and his first disciples. While the second deals with how his disciples followed carried out his mission after he was raised to heaven.
In antiquity, writers would have to break up longer books so that they could fit their writings onto scrolls. The scrolls were 35 feet in length! Each of Luke’s books would have taken up one scroll, and interestingly they are similar in length one being 19,400 words and the other 18,400.
Luke says, “because others have set down an orderly account,” [the word there literally means “narrative,”] I too decided to do some investigating and write an account as well.”
An orderly story. A historical narrative. It is a history being put in the service of persusive theology (Joel Green).
One NT Scholar says: “Luke has in mind the use of history to preach, to set forth a persuasive interpretation of God’s work in Jesus and the early church, and the medium of that proclamation is that narrative account whose “order” is crucial for our undersatning of that interpretation” (Joel Green 38).
An example: Luke uses the term “narrate” in Acts 9:27 as well, to discribe what Barnabas’ presentation to the Jerusalm disciples about Saul.
The biblical scholar Joel Green says that for Luke: “Narration is proclamation,” or in our own parlance, “narration is intervention.”
What’s interesting is How Luke proclaims his narrative.
At first glance it appears as though Luke says b/c it seemed like a good idea, I thought I’d give it my best shot as well. But as some commentators have suggested, Luke has a unique bent to the story. If we compare Luke’s gospel to the others we have, and we’re not sure if there were others he had in mind, he gives a much needed perspective.
He gives an intervention in the re-telling. Behind the text, he’s offering “a guarded or discreet critique of earlier accounts” by writing his own, which he thinks is not simply more accurate but more compelling.
There is a great cast of characters: good Samaritan, prodigal son, Jesus’ mother Mary, Anna the prophet, the bleeding woman who chases Jesus down just to touch his clothes.
Luke’s perspective, the reasons it is compelling are vast: The Gospel of Luke has been called a number of things (Kroeger and Evans 2002: 561-63):
A Gospel of Women – Women play a very prominent role throughout the entire gospel. Jesus’ mother Mary, was clearly one of Luke’s key eyewitnesses he speaks of in verse 2, because of all the details about Jesus’ birth and childhood that are lacking in the other accounts. There are many women who are key characters in the various dramas throughout and it was a group of women who gave the initial testimony to Jesus’ resurrection (Lk 24:10). [This was one of the things that women were in fact allowed to give testimony to in that time].
A Gospel of Touch – Jesus touches and is touched by people we would not expect, or who should not be touched. He touches a lepar (Lk. 5:13) and two dead people (7:14; 8:54) all of which are transgression in Hebrew law. Parents try and touch him for the healing of their infants (Lk 18:15), a sinful woman touches him, and another with excessive bleeding grabs his clothes (7:39; 8:44-47). After he raises from the dead he bids his followers to touch his wounds so that they will experience the reality of the resurrection.
“In each of these cases, there is an affirmation of solidarity and sympathy for those with desperate needs of body and soul.” (Kroeger and Evans).
It shows just how inclusive Christ’s community is: not only are sinners and the socially outcast welcomed, but so are those people who are physically disabled and disfigured. Four texts specifically deal with physical assumptions that get overturned in the Gospel of Luke. (e.g. Lk 13 (bent women); 18 (Zacchaeus); Acts 3-4 (lame man) and Acts 8 (eunuch)).
A Gospel of Division and Peace – Peace on earth is announced at Jesus’ birth. “Jesus as a model for his followers teaches peace through the practice of “nonviolence, love, compassionate justice, true repentance and forgiveness” (Joseph Grassi).
As I said above Luke’s narrative invites those who encounter it to enter into an entirely different worldview. Luke shows how Jesus quite literally “turns the world upside down” through the way he interacted with people. And as we see this turning the world upside down, this gospel of peace comes at a price.
Stanley Hauerwas, this past week at FAHE in Greensboro, said: We are not non-violent b/c we think it will make the world more just, but b/c in a world of war Christians cant imagine living any other way. And this will make the world more violent. If war is one of the counter-churches in our society, along with consumerism, nationalism, etc., then the Gospel of peace will also create division. And as we see in this Gospel it does.
Luke shows this tension by referring to Jesus as LORD more than any other Gospel and more than 100 times in Acts. It shows the clash between the Lords of the world and the Lord of the Kingdom of God.
Finally it is A Gospel of Intervention: From Eyewitnesses to witnesses.
As Luke says in v.2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, (Luke 1:2 NRSV). These Eyewitness and servants of the word (many of whom are those unexpected voices we’ve already mentioned above) are people who had encountered Jesus and were forever changed. Their eyewitnessing of Jesus lead to their conversion into people who were servants of that word.
In the NT “the word” stands for the “Christian message, or the good news.” You might render this sentence:
Those who from the beginning were witnesses to the event of Christ became servants of proclaiming through their life and words that event.
They went from eyewitnesses to witnesses. They were drawn into the story Jesus was creating, the world he was telling into existence. They entered that narrative and were changed.
And Luke writes his narrative with the hopes that, far beyond being a historical account, will actually act as an intervention in the lives of those who encounter its underlying message of salvation.
These are the tales that were handed down to Luke, they our stories. This is our story, when so many stories try to shape up, this is the one that must claim us.
And there are many stories that try to shape us, some are positive, some are negative, but all have persuasive power over our lives.
We are all aware of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?
A show that sets out to help families who have come upon hard times by giving them a new start. If narration is proclamation, what does the narrative proclaim in this show?
That whatever ills have come upon a family, they can be healed with massive amounts of new, very expensive stuff. Think about the religious language that gets tied into these stories. One woman responded at the end of an episode: “It was like angels surrounded us, they had come to rescue us.”
The church should be happy people are helping others, but the problem isn’t in the helping but in what is being proclaimed. If you have problems, if you need help, accumulate more, money and consumption will help you. It is a gospel of prosperity funded by corporate america.
What are other narratives that get told in America?
How about our Day of Independence? What is that narrative proclaiming? We celebrate “Independence Day” every year, my guess is that it as an American Holiday has a hold on the American psyche. In it we proclaim, and re-tell a particular narrative, a version of the story that holds things together for us as Americans. Among the many things stated there, we proclaim that we are independent. I wonder if we have become too independent, too individualized, to much a character of a story that is all about me, and my own decisions.
If so, maybe we should declare independence from independence and retrieve as sense of dependence!
But more than all that, whatever the perspective is on these other narratives, they are for Christians counter-narratives. They are not our story. They are not what has been handed down. They are not what is to be proclaimed.
We are all shaped by stories. Some of them are from real life, some come from our families, our culture, our churches, our schools, our work, and some stories come from movies, books, TV, etc. We pick up bits and pieces of all of this, none of us are exempt.
The question is which story do we claim as our own? Which story, or stories, do we sit under, and allow shape us?
What Narratives have acted as an Intervention for you?
In that narrative do you see God guiding the progress of that story?
During our time of open worship I invited people to answer the query: “What narratives, what stories, which characters or people, have you witnessed in real life or fiction, that have intervened in your life in a way that you were changed after that encounter?”
Folks were invited to write a word, draw a picture, use a color, or anything else they wanted to do in order to answer this question on a small piece of paper and then post it a storyboard we had up front. The idea was to that we are all made up of many stories, and we come together as a community caring these many positive (and negative) stories with us.
I personally really enjoyed this service.
Here’s the slides from Sunday.