Being Attentive To the Paths of Intervention (Luke 1-6)

We began the study of the Gospel of Luke back at the beginning of July with an eye towards moments when the narrative turns ever so lightly, or sometimes rather abruptly, in a way that leaves a crack or an opening for us, the interpretative and discerning community of Christ, to enter new ways to look at and live as the church in the world.

We have been calling these turns in the text “interventions.”

Sometimes interventions are disruptive in an apparent negative form: a traffic jam, a job loss, an unexpected conflict, a crying baby in the middle of the night, yet all these disruptions offer us the chance to die to ourselves, die to our own plans, die to our own allegiances and commitments, and be attentive to what might just be an intervention.

As Mary prays shortly after an encounter with the impossible,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

One thing we must continue to reflect on is how we as a community can follow Mary in this prayer. It’s not that for us everything remains stable, fixed and static for us as the church, rather we are continuing to learn what it means to listen to God’s tender voice in every moment.

Simone Weil, a mystic from this past century wrote,

“We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is supernatural intervention.”

The interventions we’ve encountered so far in Luke’s narrative are just this, a supernatural God at work within the natural, disrupting gravity, breaking conformity, all at work in the name of grace, justice, love and peace.

One lesson I take from this particular way of reading the Gospel of Luke is that as the church the best we can is be attentive to these paths of intervention. In other words, Luke tells stories about particular ways in which God acts unexpectedly. We are getting a picture of things to look and listen for, and things to be acting upon.

We never know when one of these twists and turns in life will take place, so we must continue to learn ways to be attentive and respond in ways that are in line with our Gospel narrative.

At the beginning of our series I said the practice and the interpretation of the church, the ecclesiology and the hermeneutics of our faith community go together. Both the reading and the writing, the learning and producing if you will cannot be separated from the life of the church.

This is because:
The Church is itself an intervention.
We can look for those interventions.
We can (often) be those interventions.
This is why we must be attentive.

In our response to the unexpected:
We must be more like Mary than we are like Zechariah.
We must be be ready to ask along with John the Baptist’s hearers’ “If this really is true, What then shall we produce with our lives?” (How then shall we live?)
We are open the Kingdom of God short-circuiting our own theological understandings.

Are we ready to live an ethics that is more like poetry than mathematics?
Are we ready to stop simply painting pictures of a new world, set down the paint brush, and go live as if that new world were already here?
Are we ready to feast with the Tyrants and Tax Collectors?
Are we ready to put our reputations on the line, even if means our public image gets tainted in order to dine with our enemies?

This mode of existence for us as a community will require both attentiveness and imagination. And so it is my hope that this approach to interacting with Scripture gives us a language and an imagination for God’s kingdom. I hope that it pushes us out of the normal, opens us up to the unpredictable, the paranormal if you will.

the Everyday.
Another thing I think we can be sure of is this: each of these interventions is another of God’s attempts to make us aware of the sacred within the everyday. It is another of God’s many moves to infuse the everyday with holiness. These interventions as we’ve seen so far, do not divide people up, they do not draw a line between the sacred and the secular, the faithful and the unfaithful, the religious and the heathen, those who are right and those who are wrong, those who are in and those who are kept out. No, none of this is the Gospel.

Luke’s is a Gospel story that works contrast to this, it is of God’s work in the common and everyday. It begins with an elderly couple, a barren woman named Elizabeth who responds in faith to the impossible in her own life.

It is carried forward by the divine gift of the incarnation, birthed through a virgin teenager. Mary responds in open embrace of God’s seemingly absurd plan for her life.

We also learned that Mary’s prayer was echoed hundreds of years later in the life of a Quaker who sought to make better the lives of women in prison. Elizabeth Gurney’s own prayer of openness to God was,

“Alas, what can I do but follow the openings?”

In Luke chapter 3, God was also found at work in the margins of society, in the wilderness, outside the established political powers of the day in the life and firery preaching of John the Baptist. In response to his preaching and baptist the crowds pleaded, “what then shall we produce with our lives?”

Jesus’ inaugural address borrowed from the prophet Isaiah, a text his hearer’s knew well. But then he did something very unexpected, he short-circuited the common interpretation of that text and declared that his work would not be accepted by his own people. Instead, his message, this message about “bring[ing] good news to the poor, proclaim[ing] release to the captives, giving sigh to the blind, freeing the oppressed, and declaring that Jubilee is here now (Luke 4:18-19) was being actually happening in his ministry and it was for the nations.

Then in Luke 5 Jesus got hungry and did the unthinkable. He called a tax collector, someone akin to an AIG exec., to be one of his disciples, and then went and had dinner with all his tax collecting buddies. This was bound the upset people on both the left and the right. But he reiterated that his followers were to be working with the sick, in fact, feasting with the sick, even if it looks bad. This is after all God’s work and somebody’s got to do it.

All those lines we like to draw about who is in and who is out, who is acceptable to be associated with, and who we should not allow in our communities got scrambled by Jesus’ little stunt here. (And it didn’t make him a lot of friends).

Finally, we were faced with Jesus’ sermon on the plain. A sermon not spoken from a mountain side, but at eye level with the people. Here he laid out in poetic form the practices that are to form those communities who bear his name. What Jesus gave us was not doctrine, but living truth. An embodied way of living together that would transform the world. This is seen by some of the particular phrases the sermon turns on:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
“The measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
“I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”

These are phrases that give motion, action, and repetition to what Jesus says. These are the words the kingdom imagination turns on. These are our words, may they form and shape the way we live, breath and believe.

Empathy With The Story.
And so the call for us is to enter into this story, because it is our story. The story of Jesus in Luke is the story meant to reshape our entire lives. We as the church are called to become communities waiting, praying, pleading for God’s intervention, on the one hand, and recognizing that we are all to0 often the very answer, the very intervention God is waiting to use in the world.

The double edged sword we follow as the church is that we are to be praying looking for God’s work in the world, and we are to be intervening as God’s family. We are to be carrying this story forward.

Luke gives us “paths” or clues into what we are listening and looking for, how we’re to respond when beckoned.

We are to be attentive as an interpretive community to these paths of intervention, so that when the Angel Gabriel appears, or the fiery Baptist prophet peals around the corner, or when Jesus calls us to an ethical life that chafes against everything we know, we respond, not as the the religious and political insiders who missed the boat, who opposed Jesus’ work, but respond as those on the margins, those who were attuned into the purposes and work of God.

These paths can be embodied by our community. So let me finally repeat at least some of the paths or practices these interventions take:

1. They tell hopeful stories, about a new world already here. We called this narration as proclamation. (Luke 1:1-14)
2. Interventions in Luke remind us that God is a God of the impossible, explanations will never fully get a handle on God, God cannot be domesticated and control by our doctrines, our theologies, or rituals, by what we deem is realistic or even possible.
3. Through these events fruit will be produced, lives will be changed and it will lead to lives of peace, charity and generosity.
4. They point to God’s universal love and good news for all the nations, for every tribe, and ever tongue, it is for all of creation.
5. Feasting with the unexpectedgat, the strangers, the sick, the Tyrants and Tax Collectors is part of what it means to embody God’s mission in the world.
6. Show us that God’s ethics point the world right-side up. While they make little sense to the logic of the world, they are the poetry of the Kingdom of God.

Open Worship:

  • How have these texts, these stories, effected you over the past two months?
  • What stands out to you as something essential in your own life of following Christ?

(The podcast of the sermon is available through iTunes just search for Camas Friends Church)

Download the slides.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.