University Congregational Church
June 11, 2017
“Re-Imagine the World: The Parables & Jesus”
Matt. 11:1-6, 11-15
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.
Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?”
“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother! Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.”
The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”
The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.
About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge – a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all! And the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward them, his hand outstretched.
“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”
The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother. “I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”
This is a modern parable with a beautiful message. Jesus told parables and they are recorded in the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke – and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. It is important to note that parables were specific to Jesus… his disciples are not recorded as telling parables, and we do not have any other examples of parables from before Jesus’ time. The earliest rabbinic material (from about 200 CE) only has one parable. It wasn’t until the writings of the 5th century that parables were common.
Today, I am starting a new sermon series on Jesus’ parables. While the parables I am sharing today are modern, the rest of the summer we will look at the parables in the Bible. This series is taken from the book by Brandon Scott, Re-Imagine the World. Each week this summer, we will explore the meanings of a parable. Brandon Scott believes that the parables of Jesus give us an idea of how Jesus re-imagined the possibility of life and of being in the world.
Jesus called his re-imagined world the Kingdom of God. And his parables give us a narrative description of how that vision differs from our own constructions of society. Many of Jesus’ parables are subversive and in direct conflict with the ideas of governance the Roman Empire used… ideas that we have continued to use even today. Jesus’ parables re-imagine a world that subverts the status quo. That means that some of them are outrageous and offensive.
The English word “parable” comes from Greek – para means “beside” and ballein means “to throw”. So a parable is thrown beside our common understanding – side-by-side for comparison purposes. That is why many parables start with the phrase “it is like…”.
So, this summer we will take a closer look at parables known and possibly some unknown to you:
• The Lost Sheep
• The Mustard Seed
• The Empty Jar
• The Samaritan
• The Prodigal son
• The Unforgiving Slave
• The Dinner Party
Each of these parables will help us look at our own constructs of self, relationships with others, and our societal structure. Some of these parables are scandalous; others are shocking and offensive. It’s going to be a great summer! And all of them will help us re-imagine our world.
Another modern parable: It is a story of a climber, determined to reach the summit of a high mountain. After years of preparation, he began his adventure. Only he journeyed alone, because he wanted all the glory.
He began the ascent, and as daylight faded, he decided to continue until night fell.
The night fell heavy as he was overcome by total darkness. The moonlight and starlight were hidden within the clouds. There was zero visibility.
He was only a few yards away from the summit when he slipped climbing a ridge and fell off, falling at a frightening speed. While falling, he could only see shadow-like figures in the darkness and felt the tug of gravity sucking him down. In those anguishing moments, he saw his life pass before his eyes. He thought death was near when suddenly he felt the tightening of the rope around his waist that tied him to a peg embedded in the rock wall of the mountain.
In desperation, suspended in mid-air, he screams “GOD, please Help me!”
Then unexpectedly, a deep voice from heaven responds: “What would you have me do?”
He replies, “Save me!”
“Do you really think I can save you?”
“Of course, my Lord.”
“Well then, cut the rope.”
There was a moment of silence, then the man tightened the rope around his waist.
The mountain rescue team tells a story of a man they found frozen to death, his hands wrapped firmly around a rope tied to his waist…hanging two feet from the ground. So, how tight are your ropes tied? Would you let go?
As Jesus said about John the Baptizer in our traditional word for today: “Let anyone with ears, listen!”.