whats up with the parables?

god be with you.

So Im feeling excited today,
a bit nervous and a bit sick too,
but mainly excited,
because today we begin our fall sermon series.

We do these every year.
Its a way for us to live into our belief that the faith and spirituality of Jesus centres around a particular way to being human and alive in this world;
its a way thats connected with God, each other, and with ourselves and a way towards a world full of justice and peace,
and because its that,
when it comes to things we talk about together,
it means exploring not just things that give us all the right feels,
but exploring all the intersections of life and faith,
and going into the very heights and depts of our humanity.

We’ve done that before by using protest songs to explore justice issues;
we’ve looked at love languages to explore not just what God’s love looks like but how we can better live it out;
we’ve looked at the Beatitudes and gone deep into what God wants this world to be like,
and for the next month or so,
we’re gonna keep it up through a series Im calling ‘ReWired’ and we’re going to explore the parables of Jesus,
and through each parable ask: “how does this help us understand what it means to be human and alive in this world?”

I think we’ll have lots of fun with it.

And today we start it off not with a parable,
but by coming to a place where we can enter into these parables boldly and openly by asking:
“what kind of faith needs parables?”

So to do that,
we’ll talk about:

my high school biology teacher,
the tension we live in,
and I think we’ll end talking about nose bleeds.

Are you with me?

Lets pray.

//

When I was in high school I had a teacher named Mr Myles.
He’s a very important person in my life,
especially in those awkward teenage years of figuring out self-worth, purpose, and belonging,
and because he helped me do all that I wanted to enrol in his class.
But the thing was,
Mr Myles taught biology,
and not just any biology,
advanced placement biology.

Now that’s a thing because,
as my partner and anyone on our Church Board can tell you,
when it comes to anything math and sciencey things,
things like, I don’t know, like church budgets,
my eyes glaze over and I find myself creating recipes for the perfect sandwich.

But I tell you all this because Im pretty sure the only reason I passed that course was because of how Mr Myles taught his class.

Mr Myles used haikus.

Haikus, you may know,
are japanese poetry
made up of three lines:

the first line has 5 syllables,
the second 7,
and the third back to 5.

He’d make us come up with stuff like this:

“Photosynthesis
is how plants get oxygen
from the atmosphere.”

It was his way of helping us not only memorize information,
but more to the point,
ensure we actually understood what we were talking about.

Because here’s the method behind the madness:
to write something complicated and nuanced like a haiku,
for us to be able to take something apart and put it back together in a poetic way,
we need to know the essence of what it was we’re talking about.

We needed to know,
in other words,
not just the facts,
but more importantly, the wisdom and truth underneath it.

Are you with me?

Now,
because my parents knew long before I did that being in medicine or scientific research wasn’t in my future,
they never really bothered to go any parent-teacher meetings with Mr Myles.
But other parents did, and I have no doubt at all that many of those meetings started off a lot like this old story that’s in the Bible.

//

The story is from Matthew’s gospel,
and as we enter into it Jesus has been out doing his thing for awhile now,
teaching people about God and inviting people into a new way of living, and moving, and being in the world.
And the disciples,
his students,
well, they’re a lot like many of us:

they’re finding in Jesus something reverent and deeply true, something that can only be of God,
and so they want to understand,
they want to be a part of something meaningful and beautiful,
they want to experience this thing Jesus calls ‘the Kingdom.’

But the thing is,
whenever they sat down with Jesus,
whenever Jesus would lean toward to lay down some truth,
whenever Jesus would say anything,
he always used a parable.

And so one day,
as they all hang out together,
and Jesus once again sits with them and once again leans in,
and once again begins with ‘Oh, well that reminds me of this story ..’
they just can’t take it anymore and they yell out:
“ANOTHER PARABLE?! Jesus, why do you always speak in parables?”

//

I mean, we get it, right?
We know that frustration, don’t we?

I feel it.
Its certainly what parents must have said to Mr Myles about his haikus.
No doubt the Mother Thunder had some choice words about parables hampering her kids ability to sit next to Jesus in Heaven. (Bible joke!)

Because the thing is …
when it comes to learning,
learning about anything, for sure,
but certainly when it comes to learning about sacred and foundational things like faith and what it means to be human and alive in this world,
we expect it to be taught to us in a manner that reflects that sacredness and importance, don’t we?
We want it to be taught to us clearly and concisely don’t we?
Parables and haikus just don’t have a place when it comes to passing on that kind of information.

Are you with me?

The disciples are no different.

So because we get their frustration,
because we live with it too,
because this story is our story,
lets ask that question:
“why parables?”

//

A parable is a short story with a big point.
It’s a teaching method whereby you take something people are familiar with and place it beside something they aren’t,
saying “Oh, its like this or Its kind of like when.’
Its something you use when literal language isn’t big enough and when facts simply won’t do.
Its something you use to provoke or challenge people to understand and see something in
a
brand
new
way.

Parables aren’t allegories where there is one correct interpretation.
They are meant to be stories you sit with,
stories that can go all kinds of places and have all kinds of endings,
stories,
like scripture,
that read you as much as you read them.

So, with parables the trick is to really listen,
to soulfully listen,
because,
as AJ Levine puts it,
we miss the point if we think just about what they say,
for the real point is in how they can provoke, confront, disturb, and inspire.

Which is why Kierkegaard called them ‘stories that rewire our brains;’
they are stories that help us encounter and behold the wisdom and truth underneath it all.

//

And its these kinds of stories,
out of all the different ways and methods to teach,
that Jesus chooses to teach us about faith and spirituality.

So again, lets ask that question:
“why parables?”

It has to do with the very nature of our faith and spirituality.

//

The more I do this job,
and certainly the more I journey into my own faith and spirituality,
one of the things Ive learned we need to be recognize and be aware of as church and as people of faith and spirituality,
people who,
just like those disciples,
are finding in Jesus something reverent and deeply true, something that must be of God,
is the tension we have to live within.

Its a very human tension,
but a really important tension.

Its the tension between the faith and spirituality we want and the faith and spirituality we get.

The faith we want is easy and straight path.
It’s one that nails down and narrows in.
It’s one thats neat and tidy.
It’s black and white.
We can receive and understand without thinking or feeling too much.
The faith we want is safe and comfortable,
its one that allows us to escape the messiness of our lives and world.

Anyone with me on that?

But the faith and spirituality we get?
The faith being offered to us by Jesus?

It’s one that’s difficult and full of twists and turns.
It’s one that’s liberating and expansive.
It’s messy and grows.
It pushes out and colours in.
The faith we get is anything but safe and comfortable.
Instead of taking us out of our humanity,
the faith we get takes us deep into it,
into everything it means to be human and alive in this world.

The nature of the faith and spirituality we’re after,
the faith and spirituality of Jesus,
it’s less about what to believe and more about how to truly live.

It’s about coming to know and trust in a particular way to be human and alive in the world,
a way that we can see in Jesus,
a way caught up in the God who holds it all together and moves it all forward,
a way that brings all of our humanity together with all of God,
for it’s there that we can find life as it was always meant to be.

Our job as people of faith is to live within that tension and resist the temptation to domesticate and tame our faith. Our job is to keep it wild. 

And I think Jesus knew we were inclined to do that,
and so to help us live in that tension,
to help us be pulled into the fullness of life,
to help us keep it wild,
he gave us parables.

He gave us these stories designed to shock and challenge us,
these stories that think us into new ways of seeing and being,
these stories that keep us honest and open,
these stories that help us become more and more human and alive in the world.

//

Its a lot like this old story about how a young man went to a wise woman to learn about life.
She told him to go and think about this question: “what is truth?”
So the young man went and did just that and when the woman came to check he was deep in books and she yelled:
“No! You’re doing it wrong.”
She came back some time later and the man was listening to a podcast furiously taking notes and she yelled:
“No! You’re doing it wrong.”
Days later the young man came to her and complained “Ive done away with books and listening to podcasts. Ive spent
days just thinking and feeling, so much so that Ive got a nosebleed!”
“Ah,” the wise woman said, “now you’re finally doing it right.”

//

This whole faith and spirituality thing,
this becoming more and more human,
its not supposed to be easy.

So as we head into a season of parables and wrestling with truth and wisdom,
may we enter into these parables boldly and openly,
may we let them read us as we read them,
and may we find ourselves being brought deeper and deeper into that Spirit that makes all things new.

You may get a nosebleed from thinking too hard and from feeling so much,
but the nosebleed will be worth it.

Amen.

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