Truth Sandwich: The bun matters

This Sunday I’ll be teaching from the timeless story of the shepherd’s encounter with angels, and their visit to Jesus.  Having been a pastor for 26 years now, there’s a special challenge to preaching during this season.  I’ve done everything: Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Herod’s jealous genocidal slaughter of children, along with all the classic texts.  But really, after 26 years, is there anything new to discover?

Always.  This week I’ve been pondering how truth changes our lives, wondering if words are enough.  I use words all the time to share what I believe God has revealed to us that’s life-giving, and it’s surely true that words are important.  But we live in an ocean of words.  People use words to sell us stuff all the time, sometimes lying to us in order to get us to buy.  Words are used to recruit terrorists, pass bad legislation, get a night of sex, start wars, end wars, and falsely frighten or comfort people.  Words are , in other words, dangerous.

It’s no surprise that younger generations are rightly suspicious of words.  So I ask the question: “What’s needed in order for Jesus’ words of life to be received, differently than the vast ocean of meaningless words?” Some light is shed on this subject in the story of the shepherds, where we discover words of truth, sandwiched between two experiences.

The words of truth: “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David.  He is Christ the Lord.”  These are profound words because the doors of salvation are flung wide open.  The good news is available “to all people”, and the good news is “Salvation” which means much more than a ticket to heaven, as I’ve shared elsewhere.  Salvation from addictions, fear, shame, greed, our propensity to make stupid and self-destructive decisions, boredom, consumerism, isolation.  Shall I continue?  What a great salvation is offered us in “Christ the Lord”

This is “the meat” of the good news, the profound life changing content.  And yet it wasn’t received in isolation.  The meat was wrapped in a bun of experience:

The experience of mystery preceded the revelation.  The Psalmist tells us that “deep calls to deep” and though that can mean many things, it surely means that there are times in our lives when all the longings and experiences of our lives converge to make us receptive to God’s revelation of truth.  Other than getting married, my biggest turning point in life came at a Christian ski conference.  The word delivered by the speaker became my “life verse” and is still a sort of ‘north star’ to which I return when confused and overwhelmed.

In retrospect though, I’m not sure I would have received that word had everything else not aligned to create a moment of mystery.  The snow and the smell of fresh fir and pine awakened something marvelous from my childhood, and it was the first time I’d inhaled that scent since the death of my dad.  I’d gone for a walk before the meeting that night, recalling how often my dad had driven me up to this very camp when I was a kid, how we’d play ping-pong once on the cement outdoor table, and then he’d drive away.  I remember staring at the table, now covered with fresh snow, and something happening inside me – some sense of longing – some hunger.  Then I went to meeting, and when the word was spoken, it changed the course of my life in every way.

We need to recognize our longings, our melancholy, our restlessness, our being struck my piercing beauty in a song, or a moment of silence under the stars.  These may be precursors to receiving God’s word.

The experience of “seeing” followed the receiving the word.  “Let’s go see this thing that has taken place.”  The words are of no value whatsoever if, after hearing them, we don’t respond.  That was what Jesus said over and over again in parables and stories.  Then James took up the same thing.

When I hear the word and file it away as something interesting, without allowing it to alter my priorities, I’ve deceived myself into thinking that I’m different for having heard.  I’m not different for having heard.  I’m only different for having “seen”, and I’ll only see, by experience, the profound liberating life and salvation available to me as I get out of my existential chair and take a real next step: generosity, sexuality, forgiveness, seeking help where I’m stuck, beginning to build new habits of intimacy with God.  Whatever it is, if I stay with my flocks of familiarity, the word will become stored away in my head, maybe even deceive me into thinking I’m better for having heard.  But I’m never better for having heard… I’m better for having responded.   What’s the response Jesus is asking of you today?

Truth sandwich means that revelation needs moments of mystery and response surrounding it, if our life if Christ is to be real.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://www.LRreteats.com Ricky Gregerson

    Thanks Richard for this well-written reminder. Very timely. I love what you said about taking the next step…”beginning to build new habits of intimacy with God”. That is always the path of most resistance. We are always more comfortable staying where we are at with what we know. The mystery of the unknown so often keeps us from the very experience of receiving the Word.

  • Margaret

    So true! This happened to me last night. As a group of us were praying over a friend I asked the Lord to give me a special word of encouragement for her. He then did- but it was in a song! I was so nervous that I almost didn’t heed to his prompting. Thoughts of doubt entered my mind, ‘interrupt a prayer circle with a song? How inappropriate!”, “That’s not really from the Lord”, “You can’t sing, you’ll mess it up!” But I had asked, then received, so I felt I needed to respond to his revelation. So I put the terror aside and sang the line of the song and we were all blessed.
    Stepping out is scary but what thrill it is to be caught up in his arms!

  • Lamont

    To answer the question…
    Q. “What’s needed in order for Jesus’ words of life to be received, differently than the vast ocean of meaningless words?”

    Scripture say’s….

    Grace!
    A miracle!
    Impartation from/by God the Holy Spirit

    Matt 16:17, … “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

    John 3:37 John answered and said, “A man can receive “nothing” unless it has been given to him from heaven.

    You must be “Born from above” Jn 3:3.
    3:7” Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    Matthew 11: 25-27 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

    Matt 13:11 Jesus answered them, ” To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.

    Q WHY?

    Dead (spiritually dead) people (Eph 2:1) must be made alive Eph 1:5 b. ….made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—

    1 Cor 2:14 But the natural man “does not receive” the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are “spiritually discerned.”

    Rom 8:7-8 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
    John 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. (*Note* Jesus “did not” say you are not my sheep “because you don’t believe!”).


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