Map Quest II

Fifth in a 6-week series titled “Prime Time.”
Delivered March 16, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
Luke 20

The New Testament lesson is going to be parts of Luke 20, actually Luke 20 is my whole text, but it takes so long to read that I am just going to read parts and refer to other parts and so let’s look at this together. It’s found on page 744 of the red pew Bibles. You will need to be looking at that in order to probably follow this.

“One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism- was it from heaven, or from men?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say,”From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was prophet. So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

And Jesus goes on to teach a parable about a rejected tenant son. A son of a farmer who rented his farm out to others, and in Verse 17 he quotes an Old Testament scripture, “The stone the builder has rejected has become the capstone.” He was speaking this to the hardness of the heart of those who were his opponents. In Verse 19, it says:

“The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But theywere afraid of the people.”

Then it goes into the story of paying taxes to Caesar, but listen to how they approach him in Verse 20.

“Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and the authority of the governor.”

Verse 26: “He saw through their duplicity.” Verse 26: “They were unable to trap him and they became silent.”

And then the Sadducees take a turn at Jesus and posed to him a ridiculous situation of one woman marrying seven different men and whose wife will she be in heaven and Jesus replied and gave an account of the fact that life in the resurrection is very different from life here, but notice in Verse 37 that he again refers to scripture. He says in the account of the bush,

“Even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living,for to him, all are alive.” Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” And no one dared to ask him anymore questions.

And even to the end of the chapter, Jesus again poses another question yet to them and refers again to scripture about the son-ship of David and the identity of the Messiah.

You know last week I shared out of Ezra. Ezra was a man who set his heart to study the Law of the Lord and to practice it and to teach it. And I shared if you will remember about the importance of wisdom, and how we can gain wisdom from the fountain of the scriptures of the Word of God. And then I went on to share again the discipline that’s needed in our devotions and handed to you in a way a tool of life journaling. I am so happy to report that this past Wednesday, we had over 150 people come and join us in the life journaling experiment. Now I am sure that everybody’s experience was a little different. If it was less than expected, I would encourage you to remember what it was like to ride a bike and not give up after one try and come back and try it again this Wednesday and if you haven’t joined us yet, come on and join us for the journaling. Put it on the back of your pew card and do it. But you know last Wednesday also, we gathered as a mourning and a grieving community because of the disturbing death of our brother in the Lord Kevin Bertaux. He was the drummer for our Epic Worship Band. And the events of this past week caused me to think even more deeply on the importance of the scriptures in our lives. And so today in Map Quest II, I would like to speak with you about two additional benefits of immersing ourselves in the Word of God.

Throughout this entire chapter we can see that Jesus dealt with conflict by again quoting the Word of God and sharing it with his hearers, what they should have known about the Word of God. I want you to look at the pre-context of Chapter 20 and the end of Chapter 19. Everyday he was teaching at the temple, but the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him, yet they could not find anyway to do it because all the people hung on his words. Look at the mixture there, of hostility and envy and the word of God being proclaimed. And each time that his opponents come at him in Chapter 20, he deals with them calmly; he deals with them assertively and again tries to speak to them through the appealed scripture. You see, if we will hang on his words as the people of his day did, if we will meditate on them day and nights, as we heard from the readings in Joshua, if we will memorize them and will journal them and write them down, we too will find ourselves growing calmer in our spirits and more confident in ourselves and in our relationships with other people. Even those relationships that tend to chafe against us a bit.

I want you to imagine yourself walking along a stretch of rocky beach and coastline and you see a boat anchored to the shore and there next to the boat you see the owner on a blanket. The tide is low, but you don’t really realize it and so you go to the owner and you look out at the rocks and the reefs that could damage his boat and you say, how on earth are you going to get your boat through all of that? You’re not going to try to remove all those rocks and boulders are you? He looks and smiles at you and says, of course not. I am just waiting for the tide to rise and then I will sail right over them. You know in our lives there will always be the boulders and jutting rocks of conflicts, both within ourselves and in the form of difficulties in life, and in the forms of conflictional relationships at times. Being in God’s Word raises the tide of our spirit so that we can sail over those things. Not that we can ignore them or be conflict avoidant, but that we can sail over them with a special sense of grace that the Lord brings to us as we feed on his Word.

You know in fact, you will notice in Luke, Chapter 20, Verse 2. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things.” “Who gave you this authority?” Does anything jerk your chain more than that? Who do you think you are? I don’t think anything will hook us more than that question. Kids say that all the time. You’re not the boss of me. Who died and made you boss? You know, understanding your teens and parents, there is nothing more stressful I think than teens who are trying to break away, and the conflict and the tension that sometimes can be part of all of that. Nothing disturbs a parent more than the rebellion toward authority that can sometimes be witnessed. But in this instance when they challenge his authority and in every other instance in Luke 20, Jesus answers difficult people with questions and again with references to the scriptures, assertively and calmly. And notice in Verse 8 he says, “Well, neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” You don’t always have to answer people. You don’t always have to respond. Especially when people seem to be just wantingto remain in control. It is almost like Jesus is saying, if you can’t recognize the movement of the Spirit through John’s baptism and see the way these people are being affected all around us, then why should I argue, and why should I try to convince you? You know the principle I get from that? Don’t argue. Don’t argue. It makes no sense. You have all heard the little aphorism that when your voice goes up, your communication goes down. As soon as you start to argue, you have started to block all kinds of needed communication. Husbands and wives, when you are ready to go toe to toe, don’t argue. You can have heated conversations, but don’t argue. Go to neutral corners. It is not constructive. Remember the Proverb where there are many words and strife breaks out. Jesus was facing people who thought that they could be in control and stay in control, and didn’t want to yield control of their lives to him. But he still tries to get through to them with a story, a parable to emphasize that he truly is the authority. Why does he tell them the parable about the tenant farmers? Because he is trying as in all his parables to get them to step back from themselves and look at their attitudes and behaviors.

The benefit of delving into God’s Word is that it helps us to see ourselves and others more objectively. That’s why we need to dig into it. You know, when we get back from a trip, as I am sure you do, you get your pictures back from the developer, and you start to go through them. When we went away this past fall, we couldn’t wait to see the pictures after being away for a few weeks of all the places that we had been. And I noticed that if my wife gets to the pictures first, it kind of goes like this. She will take them out and she will start to thumb through them and she will go, “Oh that’s a nice one.” She will set it over here to put into the photo album. And then she will look at another one and she goes, “Oh my goodness, look at me in that one.” That’s out. Right in the trash. “Oh this is a nice one. Look at that one honey, you look really good there.” “Let’s put that one in there. That’s good.” A few more. “I look so bad in that picture.” Right in the trash. It doesn’t even get a chance. Could you imagine if we would do it the opposite way? You know we would take all the ugly pictures and all the distorted ones and say, “Oh, I am going to paste those right in the first page of my photo album.” You see that’s crazy. We do it all the time. We do it all the time. We take self-distorted thoughts. We take unrealistic self-perceptions, and we paste them right in the photo album of our minds, and they control us, and we rehearse them everyday. That’s why we need the Word of God. Because it can wash that all away.

Let me share with you again a selection from my journal. I know you guys are going to think that I have stock in journaling. I do not. I am just telling you that it has touched my life and it has helped me to read the word offensively, and this entry from my journal came from October 7th and I had just heard only a day or say before, the very illustration that I just shared with you and I am just going to read you my application for that day.

For days I have been struggling with the memory of adversaries. Isn’t that amazing, I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world and the photo album pages were turning. Memory of adversaries – I have had to battle feelings of both anger and grief when I think of the disrespectful encounters from others in the past. I am trying not to paste ugly pictures in my photo album, but it’s a battle. Then today I am reminded by God’s Spirit and today is Luke 20, that was what I was reading from that day. Today I am reminded by God’s Spirit that the battle is the Lords, that I must wield the sword of the Spirit and all the other armor of God to quench the enemies flaming darts. Jesus shows how to not get hooked, to not let myself get hooked. To answer entrapment questions with questions, to respond to statements that might put me squarely on the defensive by gentle questioning. I can’t go back and undo past mistakes, but as I do what Jesus did and esteem the Word of God offensively, I will be ready and prepared to avoid future mistakes.

Please note that that application was made during a mental battle that I was having for days and after this time, after this entry, do you know what happened to that battle? It went away. It was gone. After sitting and hearing from the Scriptures in journaling. In nurturing ourselves in the Word, not only can give us a better objective look at ourselves and a kinder look at ourselves, but notice again it can help us look more objectively towards others whom we are struggling with. It can keep us from being reactive. It can pour peace into our minds and keep us from getting hooked. Do you know when you are hooked? I will tell you when you are hooked every time. You can tell by your pronouns. If you use the word you a lot, then you are hooked. You are hooked. It’s like from “Generation to Generation” is a book by Edwin Friedman. He is a rabbi who wrote about family systems. He learned to gently question those who were reactive toward him so as not to become reactive in turn. And someone would come up to him and say; I can’t believe that you are even a rabbi. Are you Jewish? The things that you said today in that synagogue, you are unbelievable. Do you see here all the “you’s”? Now a self differentiated person, a person who is in control and not hooked will say, you know I disagree with what you had to say today, but I will defend your right to say it. Very big difference. You know are hooked when you are in the “you’s”. You know what he would say to them? He wouldn’t sit there and argue because he knew it was absurd. How do you argue with somebody, who says, are you Jewish, and you know he is Jewish? Are you a Christian? What’s wrong with you? You know what he said. He said, do you think the devil has my soul? Do you think the devil might have my soul? See he answered with an absurd question. Because he needed to keep himself unhooked. He wasn’t trying to be smart. He was just trying to stay detached. And we can tell that we are growing in our character when we are able to see things more objectively, when we are able to step back and not express our anger in an unkind fashion. Our character is growing and God’s word does this for us. Right in the middle of all the conflict, Jesus kept coming at them with the scriptures, with questions. Getting them to think. Getting them to step back. Asking that they would think from a different point of view.

Sam Hershey is a leader with the Navigators Nationally, and he was here in Timonium yesterday and about 20 of us were over at the Timonium Presbyterian Church, and we were spending a day looking at what it means to be intentional disciple making churches. Sam travels all over and helps congregations consult with them. And yesterday he mentioned a story or an account that he had dealing with a conflicted church board, and he had gone into a congregation and into a church board and he started to help them think through the vision and the values and the needs and the mission that they were uniquely suited to fulfill. He could tell that there were two guys on the boards that were tooth and nail. They did not get along at all. And he could see that, and he could experience it and you just feel it. Yet, one of the things that he starts to work with boards in this whole process starts to do and believe it or not, I am not making this up, one of the first things, and I will show you the notebook, that they do with the leaders of the church is journaling, is prayer and journaling. And here’s what happened. As they started to study a passage of scripture and they took a few minutes to write it out and all, they started to go around the room and share what they had written, just basically very simple. And he could tell as he noticed these two particular guys reading that as one read, the other was starting to calm down. The other was starting to back off. And it dawned on him that something like this must have been going through one of the guy’s head. You know, if old Charlie is hearing that from God, through his Word, then maybe I better listen to him more closely. How much better is that, than conflict resolution skills? Not that that’s bad, but now okay let’s hear your side of the story. Okay. Good. Fine. Now let’s hear your side of the story. Okay. You disagree. And on you go. What do you want? What would you like? I am not knocking that, but how much better is it to get into the Word of God, to read together, and say this is what God is speaking to me, and let the Spirit pour ointment over all of that. That is what the Word of God can do for us as believers. It can give us a deep peace that only Jesus can provide.

You know this will be the outcome of our 40 Days of Purpose, I believe. When we are all looking at the purpose driven life, when we are in small groups talking about it, when we are memorizing scripture verses, it will yield an even deeper corporate peace and tranquility in our homes, in our church, everywhere. It will help us to be a more hospitable people.

Henri Nouwen, in The Wounded Healer describes why it is so necessary for us to develop our awareness of God. He argues that our central attitude should be hospitality and this is how he defines hospitality. The ability to pay attention to the guests. He says,this is very difficult since we are preoccupied with our own needs, worries and tensions. The way to overcome that is to become comfortable with ourselves. To pay attention to ones guest, one has to be at home in his own house. That is, he has to discover the center of his life in his own heart. Concentration on the Scriptures, which leads to mediation and contemplation, is therefore the necessary precondition for true hospitality. And William Butler Yates, listen to this,this is kind of hard to follow, but just listen. He speaks to this whole idea of what the Word of God can do in our souls for ourselves and for our relationships with others.

“We can make our minds so like still water that beings, others gather about us that they may see. It may be their own images and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.”

Where does that peace come from, that stillness? From the one who answered the questions of the chief priests, who gave you this authority? Who died and made you king? He said, “Well in case you are wondering, I am going to die. I died. I rose again. I will be raised again. I am king. That’s the seal of my authority.”

And so the question for us today as everyday, is will we let him rule our lives? As those who listen to him speak, and hung on his every word.

Let us pray. Gracious Lord, we confess again our proneness to wonder that we somehow think that there are words of eternal life somewhere besides Jesus. And I pray that you would help us again to remember that the reason that we draw near to you through your Word is so that we will experience you, not just gain knowledge. Help us to be more like Mary than Martha, to sit at your feet knowing that, that’s choosing the one thing that will never be taken from us and seal this word to our hearts Lord so that we might be peaceful in our spirit and soul and we might be a calm reflector to those around us of your love. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.