Scripture: Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25; 5:1-3
Tym and Hester, marriage is interwoven into many of our best stories. There are novels and short stories and movies and songs about marriage, about the quest for marriage, about the wedding itself, about all the different experiences of married couples.
A wedding is a great ending to a story. Prince Charming rescues Sleeping Beauty and marries her and they live happily ever after. And a wedding will be the great ending to this phase of our story. In the end, King Jesus is going to take to Himself His bride, the bride for whom He gave His life, and they will live happily ever after.
But a wedding is also a great beginning to a story. Your wedding is going to lead to challenges and trials and adventures and pleasures that you couldn’t have experienced any other way. Your wedding is the start of a new story. And a wedding was at the start of the big story, the story of God and His people.
Why is marriage so central to the stories we tell and the stories that most of us live? Why are weddings so prominent in the Bible? The reason is that marriage is never simply two people coming together. From the beginning, marriage has been a symbol of something greater.
The glory of marriage is that marriage is a reflection â€” a created image â€” of the Triune God. That’s what we see here in Genesis 1. Before He creates man, God first deliberates. He says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”
God didn’t say anything like that before He created the animals. He didn’t deliberate or hold a council before He created them. But He did deliberate before creating man.
But with whom is God deliberating here? He isn’t speaking to the angels. Man isn’t created in the image of the angels. He isn’t simply speaking majestically, the way a king might call himself “we” in some official document. God doesn’t speak that way anywhere else. Nor is He simply speaking to Himself.
Genesis 1 tells us that there is one God. But here it also hints that this one God is not merely one. He’s also three. That’s something we know more fully from the rest of Scripture. But already in this chapter, we’ve heard about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. We’ve encountered the Word of God, by which God created the world.
And now these three persons â€” Father, Word, and Spirit â€” deliberate together before the creation of man. That didn’t happen when God created the animals. It happens when He creates man. Why? Because the Triune God is creating man to represent Him and to share in His family life and family love.
In many ways, man is like the animals. He’s created out of the dust. He eats the same kind of food. He even receives a similar blessing. But only man is created as God’s covenant partner and only man is created in God’s image and according to God’s likeness.
But what does it mean for man to be “in God’s image”? We learn some of the answers by looking at what God does here in Genesis 1. God creates and man images God by creating, by making things. God rules and man is going to image God by ruling over God’s creation.
But that isn’t all that we learn here in Genesis 1 about how man images and reflects God. God deliberates before He creates man and He’s able to deliberate because God is not only one; He’s also three. And when God creates man in His image, He makes man into a creaturely copy of Himself. Verse 27: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Individual people aren’t one and three in the way that God is. But God creates one man and then He makes a distinction. He takes a rib from the man and forms it into a woman so that now the one man becomes two people. And then He brings the man and the woman together in marriage so that the two of them become one flesh, united covenantally, united as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united in love and harmony and communion.
Both men and women are created in the image of God. Both men and women represent and reflect God on earth. Both share in the calling to subdue and rule the world. But the two together in marriage reflect and represent God in a way that men and women don’t as individuals.
“It is not good that man should be alone,” God says. It’s not good because it doesn’t fully image the God who is never alone, the one God who is also a community of love. And so He forms a partner for man, a partner who is different from the man.
God doesn’t create another man to help Adam. Instead, He establishes sexual differences. He creates man male and female. He creates a woman, a person who is like man in many ways but who is also gloriously unlike him.
Why? Because that bond between two very different sorts of people â€” ? equally human, equally God’s children, equally created in the image of God, but very different â€” that union between two different people best reflects Him in His unity and His diversity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That’s the highest purpose and the glory of marriage, of your marriage: to reflect the unity and diversity, the union and communion, the covenantal love of the Triune God. And out of that union in love comes new life. And in that way, too, we image God.
Out of the union and fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit came the creation of Adam, whom the Bible calls “God’s son,” man who is created male and female in God’s image. And out of union and fellowship between man and wife come children, in their father’s image.
Tym and Hester, God has blessed you richly. Individually, you were created to represent God and to rule over His creation. But it is not good for the man to be alone and God has given you each other. Together, you will reflect Him in ways you cannot alone.
But that also gives you a calling. You know that not every marriage is a happy one. Not every marriage accurately represents and reflects the love and fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You know that from experience and you can trace that story back to the beginning.
Adam and Eve didn’t have a happy marriage. Adam didn’t protect his wife when the dragon came and tempted her. Instead of crushing the dragon’s head, he allowed him to deceive his wife. And then, when he saw that his wife ate the forbidden fruit and didn’t die immediately, Adam ate it himself. Adam was self-centred. He grabbed for glory for himself.
And that is the story of the human race. That’s who we are by nature. In Adam, we’re self-centred people. Our relationships are characterized by selfishness, by grabbing for our own glory. We use other people â€” husbands and wives and children â€” for ourselves. Sin defiles the image of God; it robs us of God’s likeness. In Adam, it is impossible to image God correctly.
But Tym and Hester, you aren’t in Adam any longer. You’ve been baptized into Jesus Christ. You’ve taken off the old man and you’ve put on the new man, who is being renewed according to the image of God the creator. In Jesus Christ, you are new creatures, recreated and being renewed so that more and more you do reflect and represent God. Christ has restored you and is restoring you to the image of God.
And that has everything to do with today, with your wedding, and with your marriage ahead. God calls you to reflect Him in the way that you interact with each other. What is the Triune God like? We know Him best when we look at Jesus Christ, who did not regard His equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.
Precisely because He was God, He poured Himself out, having become a man for that very purpose. He humbled Himself. He obeyed to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
That’s what our God is like. He’s the God who doesn’t look out for His own interests alone but who seeks the interests of others. He’s the God who regards others as more important than Himself. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are bound together in an eternal communion of love, a communion characterized by eternal self-giving, self-sacrifice, and service to each other.
And that’s the relationship that you are called to reflect together.
Tym, it’s going to be tempting to live as if you’re still single. You want certain things. You have certain goals. When you’re single, you manage your time and your money for yourself. But in a few minutes, you won’t be single anymore. You’ll be Hester’s husband and God calls you to love her with a love like Christ’s love, a self-sacrificing, self-giving love.
Sometimes that love will take the form of service, setting aside your priorities to glorify and beautify your wife. That love will take the form of protection as you lay down your life for her sake. That love will also take the form of headship and leadership as you lay down self-interest and take responsibility for her and for your family, even when it might be easier to let her make the tough decisions and bear the consequences alone.
Hester, you’ll be Tym’s wife, called to orient yourself toward him, called to submit to Him as the church submits to Christ and as Christ submits to the Father. God calls you to help Tym in his goals and his pursuits. And he’s going to need help â€” the particular sort of help that only you can give.
Sometimes that help is going to take the form of correction. He’s going to need your wisdom. Sometimes that help is going to involve humbling yourself to serve him when you’d rather not. But always that help is going to involve self-sacrifice, putting him ahead of your own inclinations and your own interests.
Every happy wedding points forward to the happy ending of our story, the wedding feast when Jesus Christ takes the church as His bride and no more sin interrupts our union with each other and with Him.
But every happy wedding is also the beginning of a story, as it was at the beginning with Adam and Eve. It’s a story that you are going to tell together, a story that you will live out every day of your lives.
You can tell that story one of two ways. You can tell it as the story of Adam, the story of self-seeking. But that story has an unhappy ending because it leads to death. Or you can tell the story as the story of Christ, the story of love, the story of self-sacrifice, the story that leads through humility and death to glory.
In Christ, you’ve been set free from sin, set free from the story of Adam, so that you can live in love. So live in Christ together. Trust Him and follow in His footsteps. And your story will reflect the glory and the love of the Triune God, who created you and who is renewing you in His image, according to His likeness.
Peter Leithart has been leading his Sunday School class through a series of reflections on Christian worship. The outlines are published on his blog and are well worth tracking down. (Well, actually, I think that everything on his blog is well worth reading.)
Here is his most recent offering on worship. Great stuff!
A SAVIOUR IN DAVID’S CITY
(December 26, 2004 Sermon Notes)
To many people, Christmas reminds us that the world is a nice old place after all. As Christians, however, we know that Christmas reminds us that the world isn’t nice, that we need salvation. The good news is that God has kept his promises and has given us a saviour, born in David’s city.
THE HUMBLE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS BIRTH (2:6-7)
Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the place from which God promised to bring forth a king (Micah 5:2ff.) We’ve expected the king’s birth all through Luke’s Gospel, but what we’ve seen is the power of Caesar Augustus.
Jesus’ birth isn’t extraordinary. Mary gives birth at full term and wraps him up, just like any other child. The only hint that God’s promises are being fulfilled is that he is a son. Jesus is a human baby. But that’s good news. We needed a saviour who was as human as we are. He had to be human to bear our suffering and to take away our sins.
His suffering starts at birth. Luke says that “there was no room for them in the inn.” The word usually translated “inn” is the word for a guest room (Luke 22:11). It wasn’t that the innkeeper was harsh or that no one cared about Jesus; rather, there was no room for Mary to have privacy because the place they were staying was too crowded and Joseph and Mary were too poor to get another private suite. So Mary has to lay her baby in an animal’s feed box out in the stable. It isn’t a pretty scene, but it’s the beginning of our salvation: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
THE GLORIOUS ANNOUNCEMENT OF HIS BIRTH (2:8-14)
Luke now shifts the scene to focus on some shepherds in the field. Suddenly an angel appears to them and they are standing in the midst of God’s glory, the glory that burned on Mount Sinai and flooded the Temple.
They are terrified but the angel comforts them. God is a consuming fire, but his glory isn’t deadly for these shepherds. On the contrary, they (and we) can now live in God’s presence. Why? The angel announces good news for all the people of Israel and for us as well: “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
The promised Saviour has been born! He is the heir to David’s throne, the Christ, the anointed king, and he is the Lord who will rescue and rule his people. To him, all the nations will bow (Ps. 72).
The angel adds a sign: the child will look like any other, except for his remarkable poverty. He will be lying in a manger. That poverty is, in fact, the sign of the salvation he will accomplish through his suffering.
And now the armies of heaven break into song. They celebrate even before the victory â€” that’s how certain it is â€” and their song invites you to join in. This child’s birth will bring glory to God in the highest and peace on earth for us. Through Jesus, God is showing favour toward men!
THE WORD BECAME FLESH
(December 19, 2004, Sermon Notes)
Before the world was created, God’s Word lived with God and had fellowship with him. But God didn’t keep his Word to himself. He sent him into the world to be his perfect revelation so that we could know him.
THE GLORY OF JESUS (1:14-15)
John tells us (1:1) that God’s Word is God. We might have expected him to enter the world with a blaze of light or thunder from above Instead, he became flesh. He didn’t just look human. He didn’t take a human body for a while. He became as fully human as we are. And he always will be.
John says the Word “dwelt among us.” Literally, the Word “tabernacled” among us. In the Old Covenant, God camped with Israel in the tabernacle and later in the temple. Because of Israel’s sins, however, God withdrew, but he promised to put his sanctuary in Israel’s midst permanently (Ezek. 37:26-27). Jesus is that tabernacle, the sanctuary, the place you meet God. He is God’s Word, who is God himself, tabernacling with us.
Jesus’ flesh didn’t hide God’s glory. John says that he and the other disciples saw the glory of God’s only begotten son. John the Witness pointed to Jesus and proclaimed his greatness (1:15). From then on, John followed Jesus. He saw his glory first at the wedding in Cana when Jesus turned the water of Old Covenant purification into the wine of New Covenant celebration. He saw it when Jesus healed people and raised Lazarus from the dead. And he saw Jesus’ glory above all at the cross (12:23).
Jesus’ glory is the glory of God’s son, “full of grace and truth.” Those words show up often in the Old Testament. They’re part of Yahweh’s name revealed to Moses (Ex. 34:6: “goodness and truth” in NKJV). God’s “grace” is his goodness to those who don’t deserve it. His “truth” is his faithfulness, his loyalty to his promises and his people. Jesus reveals the glory of God by embodying God’s grace and truth.
THE GIFT FROM JESUS (1:16-18)
Jesus is “full of grace and truth” and that fulness flows into our lives so that all who believe receive a share of it “and grace for grace” â€” that is, “grace instead of grace.”
The Old Covenant was God’s grace: it was grounded on grace, flavoured by grace. But the law couldn’t take away sin or bring people through death into glorified life. In Jesus, however, we have received a greater grace in its place. “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17).
“No one has seen God at any time,” John says (1:18). So how can we know God? We know him by his Word, and above all by his Word made flesh. Jesus has seen God. He is the son who is always “in the bosom of the Father,” the Father’s closest friend, and he reveals God perfectly. When you know him you know God and have fellowship with him.
On Thursday night, I watched The Deer Hunter for the third time.
Before I saw The Deer Hunter the first time, I was told by a friend that Michael was a “Nietzchean” hero, a man whose powerful will enabled him to dominate circumstances and other people and to perform heroic deeds. This made sense to me the first couple of times I saw the film. (We used this film in a Summer Institute I used to teach at, so I saw it several times.) It began to dawn on me, however, that Michael undergoes a transformation in the film, as a result of his Vietnam experience. In the first part, his heroism is indeed that of the will. At the end, however, his heroism is that of self-sacrifice. He has gone, essentially, from being a pagan to being a Christian hero. He has gone from being hostile to the Church to singing “God bless America.”Â
I agree, and every time I’ve watched the movie that impression has been strengthened. This time through confirmed something I had suspected last time: The Deer Hunter is structured more or less chiastically. (Spoilers follow.)
A USA: Friends sing together; wedding; hunting.
B Vietnam & Russian roulette
C USA: Incomplete return home; friends; huntingÂ
B Vietnam & Russian roulette
A USA: Funeral; friends sing together
The movie starts with a bunch of guys getting off work and driving to a bar, where they sing together (Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes OfF You”), as they prepare for Steve to get married and for Michael, Nick, and Steve to go to Vietnam. There’s also a very long wedding scene in the Orthodox church, which (I gather) bores some viewers but which I’ve always enjoyed. The music is glorious.
Michael, however, appears to be stand-offish, the guy who doesn’t need anyone else, the guy who doesn’t fit well into the community and who makes it clear that he has little use for God or the church.
Before leaving for Vietnam, Michael promises Nicky that he won’t leave him there. The men, except for Steve, all go on one last hunting trip together.
The B section takes place in Vietnam, where Michael, Nick, and Steve have been captured by the Viet Cong and are forced to play Russian roulette. I don’t know whether anything like that every happened in real life, but The Deer Hunter doesn’t claim to be a war documentary. It’s a story, and the Russian roulette fits somehow with Michael’s philosophy of deer hunting: “one shot.”
Already at this point, we see some growth in Michael’s character. He originally says that he and Nick have to leave Steve behind because Steve is too badly wounded to survive, but in the end he gives up his own chance at safety to rescue him.
C is the central section of the movie and it is the turning point. Michael has returned home, but Nick has gone AWOL and Michael has left him behind in Vietnam. The return home is awkward, but more than that, it is also a temptation. The temptation is to ignore his promise to Nick, to settle down with Linda, whom he loves but who is engaged to Nick, and to return to his old life. He tries. He even goes hunting again.
One might object that, if this movie is indeed a chiasm, the hunting scene ought to have been at the end of the movie. That may be true, but by putting it here and breaking the perfection of the chiasm, the director has managed to present this first return as a false return. The USA-Vietnam-USA chiasm which makes up the first part of the movie isn’t complete. Michael’s hunting trip clinches things for him and he decides to return to Vietnam.
In the next B section, then, Michael finds Nick and tries to persuade him to return. Nick has been playing Russian roulette for money and is so messed up that he can’t stop. At last, he does recognize Michael and he even quotes Michael’s old boast about deer hunting: “one shot.” But though Michael risks his life to save him, as he risked his life to save Steve, he can’t.
In the end, there is another A section. This time, however, it isn’t a wedding we see but a funeral, again in the Orthodox church. The movie started with a bunch of rowdy guys singing together, but in the end it isn’t just a bunch of guys; it’s a community, men and women, and they’re singing “God Bless America.” Michael has learned self-sacrifice and now he is part of the community and can sing a prayer with humility instead of scorn.
The structure thus contributes to the story. The first little chiasm (USA-Vietnam-USA) isn’t the full return; the deer hunting isn’t the same without Nicky and is a reminder of broken promises. The final return completes the big chiasm, though without the deer hunting now. Now, at last, Michael has become a true hero, one who lays down his life and his hopes for another, and now a new life can begin.
There’s a lot more going on in the movie than this brief outline shows. For instance, I’ve said nothing about Stan, another key character. Every time I’ve watched it, I’ve noticed more in it to appreciate.
Most medieval poetry is a reworking of older poems and stories and themes, and to many modern readers that sort of poetry might seem less than fully authentic or creative. Hearing that this poem by Chaucer is a rewrite of that story by Boccaccio sounds to our ears like someone saying that this movie is a remake of that one.
“Why don’t they come up with something new?” we might ask. “Why do a rehash of something that’s already been done â€” especially if it’s already been done well?” Would you want to watch a remake of Casablanca?
C. S. Lewis, commenting on the poetry of John Gower, responds:
Here, as everywhere in medieval literature, we must try to repress our modern conception of the poet as the sole source of his poetry: we must think more of the intrinsic and impersonal beauty or ugliness of matters, plots, and sentiments which retain their own living continuity as they pass from writer to writer. Trouvere as well as maker is the name for a poet (The Allegory of Love 209).Â
To put Lewis’s point another way (and without using the word “impersonal” which I don’t think gets it quite right): the medieval approach to the older poems and stories and themes was much like the approach jazz musicians take to the standards. There are probably hundreds of versions of “It Had To Be You” or “You Don’t Know What Love Is” or “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
But musicians keep doing those songs. Some versions are better than others, of course. Some sound very close to the original (which is not the same as saying that they are better); others are pretty far out (which is not the same as saying that they are worse). But all of them share the basic melody in common. All are recognizable as variations on the old original tune.
Does that make them mere rehashes of old stuff? If there’s already a good version of “When I Fall In Love,” do we need another one? Of course we do. It may even be better than the original.
There are jazz musicians who think it’s beneath them â€” a lack of authentiticity or creativity â€” to play the standards. But they’re wrong.
And what is true of jazz is true also, Lewis claims, of poetry. Good stories are worth retelling. Good poets aren’t just poets who invent something new; a good poet may also be a trouvere, a troubadour, a finder who sings the old songs and who does so in a way that is beautiful, creative, and new.
THE WORD IN THE WORLD
(December 12, 2004 Sermon Notes)
Christmas is controversial. Many people object to talk about “Christmas” or the singing of Christmas carols in public because it emphasizes the birth of Christ. They prefer you to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Such people may be ungodly cranks, but they do recognize that Christ’s birth isn’t a heartwarming event that appeal to everyone. Jesus’ Lordship irritates people who don’t want to submit. Jesus is the Light, but he came into a world of darkness.
THE TESTIMONY TO THE WORD (1:6-8)
The apostle John tells us (literally) “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.” We usually call him “John the Baptist,” but it might be better to call him “John the Witness.” He was sent by God to give testimony to the Word, the Light, before the court of Israel and the world.
From the beginning, Jesus was on trial. But John is the crown witness who identifies Jesus as the light and calls everyone “so that all through him might believe” (v. 7). And now, John the apostle adds his testimony so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
THE REJECTION OF THE WORD (1:9-11)
John calls Jesus “the true light … coming into the world” (1:9). As Jesus is the true bread from heaven (6:32) and the true vine (15:1), he is also the “true light,” the fulfillment of the Old Covenant light. Compared to him, the whole Old Covenant was darkness.
That Light “gives light to every man.” John doesn’t mean that everyone has some glimmerings of the light. In John, the light is linked to salvation, but John doesn’t mean that everyone is saved. Rather, he is saying that the light shines on everyone.
But not everyone wants to see it. Many love darkness instead (John 3:19-20). The light divides. Jesus came to the world he created, but the world didn’t know him. He came to his own people, Israel, but they didn’t receive him. They chose darkness instead.
That’s still true today. We shouldn’t be surprised that Christmas arouses controversy. The light shines on everyone, but many prefer darkness.
THE GIFT FROM THE WORD (1:12-13)
But the darkness cannot overcome the light (1:5). Some did receive the light, and “to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in his name.” The Jews thought they were God’s children (8:41), but John says that God’s true children are those who trust in Jesus. Jesus alone grants the privilege of being God’s children.
God’s children aren’t born through human reproduction or by the will of a husband or by any of the desires of fallen humanity (“flesh”). They’re born of God. He begot you by uniting you to Jesus, and he’s calling others to come to Jesus to share the Christmas gift: being God’s child in Christ.
THE GLORY OF GOD’S WORD
(December 5 Sermon Notes)
Where does the Christmas story begin? Many would say that it starts with Jesus’ birth. In a sense, that’s true. But the story of Jesus’ birth has roots in history. When John tells Jesus’ story, he starts in the beginning.
THE WORD AND GOD (1:1-2)
The opening words of John’s Gospel remind us of Genesis 1, but John doesn’t talk about creation right away. First, he tells us about the relationship between the Word and God. In the beginning, before creation, the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word is distinct from God (the Father), but he is also himself fully God.
The Trinity is the foundation of the gospel. God didn’t create or redeem us to fill a gap in his life. He already had perfect fellowship with His Son. But he wanted us to share in that fellowship with him. That’s why he sent his Son to become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In him, we also are “with God,” sharing in God’s family life and family love. That was the goal of Christmas, a goal God was aiming at already in the beginning.
THE WORD AND CREATION (1:3)
John tells us that all things were created through the Word. The Word himself, then, is not a creature. Everything else came to be, but the Word always was. Apart from him, no created thing has come into existence.
God created everything by speaking (Gen. 1; Ps. 33:6, 9; Heb. 11:3). Speaking has to do with relationship. The whole of creation was created in relationship to God, to be his obedient covenantal kingdom. It existed in response to God’s commanding speech, and it lives by his Word.
But now the Word through whom the world was created has come into the world to bring about a new creation, starting with those who believe in him. In Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And that Word will keep working with that creative power until all things are made new.
THE WORD AND HUMANITY (1:4-5)
John says that in the Word was life and that life was the light of men. Apart from the Word, who is Jesus Christ, there was no life or light. True life and true light are found only in Him.
Sin brings darkness (John 3:19-20) and people who love sin love darkness and hate the light. But that darkness isn’t the end of the story. In spite of the darkness, the light keeps shining (1:5) and the darkness cannot overcome it. The word translated “comprehend” (NKJV) could better be translated “overcome” (see John 12:35).
In the beginning, the light shone out in the darkness. Every day, the same thing happens. It’s happened all through history. It happened at Christmas and at the cross and the resurrection of Christ (Isa. 9:2). And the light still shines through us because we are in Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-6).
In The Allegory of Love, C. S. Lewis writes about the Italian poet Ariosto:
The power in which Ariosto excels all poets that I have read is one which he shares with Boiardo â€” invention. The fertility of his fancy is “beyond expectation, beyond hope.” His actors range from archangels to horses, his scene from Cathay to the Hebrides. In every stanza there is something new: battles in all their detail, strange lands with their laws, customs, history, and geography, storm and sunshine, mountains, islands, rivers, monsters, anecdotes, conversations â€” there seems no end to it. He tells us what his people ate; he describes the architecture of their palaces. It is “God’s plenty”: you can no more exhaust it than you can exhaust nature itself. When you are tired of Ariosto, you must be tired of the world. If ever you come near to feeling that you can read no more adventures, at that very moment he begins another with something so ludicrous, so piquant, or so questionable, in its exordium, that you decide to read at least this one more. And then you are lost: you must go on till bedtime, and next morning you must begin again (p. 302).Â
As if that weren’t enough to whet one’s appetite, Lewis later makes this comment about all the great Italian epic poets, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso:
Johnson once described the ideal happiness which he would choose if he were regardless of futurity. My own choice, with the same reservation, would be to read the Italian epic â€” to be always convalescent from some small illness and always seated in a window that overlooked the sea, there to read these poems eight hours of each happy day (p. 304).Â
Perhaps, then, I should be reading Ariosto right now. I’ve had his Orlando Furioso sitting on the shelf unread for many years, and yesterday I was struck by a rather nasty but short-lived flu from which I am recovering. Instead, however, I?ve been finishing Eugene Peterson’s Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, starting George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic, and delighting in Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander, the first of his Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin novels, not to be confused with the movie of the same name, which is a hybrid of this and some other O’Brien books.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel well enough to get some work done. But Lewis is right: There is some pleasure in being convalescent after an illness, at least for a time (his “always” I’m not so sure of!). Of course, there’s work to be done but it’ll have to wait till I’m well, and right now all I have to do is rest and read and recuperate.
Moriah has already announced it on her blog, so I should hurry to catch up and share the same news here: Moriah and I are expecting our first baby, forthcoming in early June. Rejoice with us in God’s goodness!
(October 24, 2004 Sermon Notes)
Mark’s Gospel tells how the anointed one became king. Jesus is a new Joshua and a new David. Like them, Jesus doesn’t stay all by himself. He gathers followers to share in his work and in his victory.
THE POWER OF JESUS’ CALL
Mark doesn’t tell us whether Jesus had met Simon and Andrew before. We know from John 1:35ff. that he had. But Mark doesn’t want us to miss the impact of the summons here. This isn’t one old friend asking some other friends to travel with him. This is a king whose summons comes out of the blue and whose summons must be obeyed.
Simon and Andrew were fishermen. But when Jesus called them, they dropped their nets and followed. Following Jesus is more important than the day-to-day work of earning a living.
Then Jesus finds James and John. Their father, Zebedee, was likely well off. He had a boat and hired hands. His family may have been fishing the Sea of Galilee for generations. But when Jesus calls, James and John leave their vocation and their father to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is more important than family ties.
What happens here is similar to what happened when Elijah called Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21). Elisha abandoned his family and his work and even destroyed his equipment to follow Elijah. So, too, Abraham left his father’s house to go where God led him (Gen. 12). The disciples are going to be like Abraham, a new Israel. And Jesus, filled with the Spirit, does what the Spirit does: He calls them from the water to follow, just as the Spirit called Jesus from the water first (1:9-11).
Jesus doesn’t call all of us to leave our jobs and families. This is a unique call for a unique task. These four will be the foundation of the church (2 x 2 witnesses). But Jesus does call all of us to put him first.
THE PROMISE IN JESUS’ CALL
If Jesus is like Elijah and the disciples are like Elisha, that’s a promise that like Elisha they will see their Master ascend, will receive the Spirit he had, and will do greater miracles.
Jesus promises to make these four fishermen into “fishers of men.” That image goes back to Jeremiah 16:16, where God speaks of fishermen bringing Israel back from exile, and to Ezekiel. 47, where Ezekiel sees living water flowing from the Temple and fishermen catching fish. The Temple is another Garden of Eden, from which four rivers flowed (Gen. 2:10-11).
But in the Old Covenant, the Temple water didn’t flow (1 Kings 7:38-39). Now, Jesus is promising, the rivers of life are going to flow again and these four men will be the fishermen catching many people, from the four corners of the earth, so that they share in God’s kingdom. That’s our calling, too, as the church built on these four fishermen.
Christianity is a distinct culture with its own vocabulary, grammar, and practices. Too often, when we try to speak to our culture, we merely adopt the culture of the moment rather than present the gospel to the culture.
Our time as preachers is better spent inculturating modern, late-twentieth-century Americans into that culture called church. When I walk into a class on introductory physics, I expect not to understand immediately most of the vocabulary, terminology, and concepts. Why should it be any different for modern Americans walking into a church?
This is why the concept of “user-friendly churches” often leads to churches getting used. There is no way I can crank the gospel down to the level where any American can walk in off the street and know what it is all about within 15 minutes. One can’t do that even with baseball!
The other day, someone emerged from Duke Chapel after my sermon and said, “I have never heard anything like that before. Where on earth did you get that?”
I replied, “Where on earth would you have heard this before? After all, this is a pagan, uninformed university environment. Where would you hear this? In the philosophy department? Watching Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood? No, to hear this, you’ve got to get dressed and come down here on a Sunday morning.”
It is a strange assumption for Americans to feel they already have the equipment necessary to comprehend the gospel without any modification of lifestyle, without any struggle â€” in short, without being born again.
The point is not to speak to the culture. The point is to change it. God’s appointed means of producing change is called “church”; and God’s typical way of producing church is called “preaching” (William Willimon, “This Culture Is Overrated,” Christianity Today 41.6 [May 19, 1997]: 27, originally published in Leadership).