Sunday, August 18, 2013

This Week's Sermon: "The Blog of Luke"

Luke 1:1-4

Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. 3 Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. 4 I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received. (CEB)

“The Gospel Gone Viral: If the Bible had been Written Online,” Week Four

The CT scan confirmed what might have been the worst possible news for the mother of a little two-year-old girl: this was not simply a stomachache, or a case of the flu, but a neuroblastoma tumor in the abdomen, pushing down on the kidneys and liver.  It meant months of chemotherapy and hospitalization for her little daughter, Hazel: months of worry and joylessness with no end immediately in sight.  Until they made a “send pizza” sign out of masking tape for the window in Hazel’s room.  Here, I’ll let Hazel’s mother, Lauren, tell the rest of the story:

This sign was up for several days without even a single phone call asking to send up a pizza (which we completely expected!).  Then, on Saturday, it all changed.  Aaron (her husband) had left the hospital, while my father-in-law stayed with Hazel, to go home and spend some time with me and our other children.  I would return later that night.  While at home, we began hearing news that several pizzas were being delivered to the hospital.  After only a few short hours, we were told that someone had taken a picture on the street of our sign, had posted it to, and it had reached #1!  Then, someone ended up posting a link to our Blog, Facebook, and donation page, which then all went bananas!  Hazel woke up from her nap to the smell of pizza and wa so excited to chow down!  Several other children and nurses came into the room, with music playing, and had themselves a wonderful pizza party.  As of yesterday, there were more than 20 boxes delivered and more was coming!  We had such a great time!  However, due to the sheer number of pizzas and inquires from the media, the hospital has asked that the pizza deliveries end and thank everyone for their support…

We’ve been absolutely humbled and surprised by the outpouring of love and support from the online community and can only hope and pray that this brings awareness to Neuroblastoma and the childhood cancer community.  Awareness and funding is severely lacking, and to help get better treatments and outcomes for our children, we need all the support we can get!  I truly felt that God used this wonderful day to help life, not only our families’, but everyone on the 4th floor’s spirits.  We all need a little hope up here.

This is a sermon series designed to take us through the month of August, and it is a slightly different one from many of the sermon series we have had here in the past, which often revolve around a theme, a chapter of Scripture, or a book by a contemporary author.  This sermon series isn’t about a substance so much as it is about a style: the style of communication that has taken the world by storm within the past 15-20 years via the internet.  And I adamantly believe that online communication and social media represent a tremendous opportunity for us to offer the Good News of Jesus Christ to a lot of people.  Which is exactly the same way, I think, that the writers of the New Testament viewed their Gospels and Epistles.  With that supposition, we will be spending these five Sundays tackling how we might write the message today, with our modern-day tools, and we began with perhaps the most basic: email and text messaging, before graduating last week to Twitter, and last week, we turned to a platform that I know is familiar to many of you because I am friends with you on it—Facebook—but now we arrive at another platform that you may perhaps follow, but not indulge in participating in yourself: blogging.

Blogging is itself an abbreviation—though not much of one, because it only drops two letters—for writing on a “weblog,” or a “blog,” an online diary of sorts that is typically public, but can on some platforms be made available to only a select audience.  Which really is  all there is to it: a blog is a public, online diary, except instead of the limitations of a traditional pen-and-paper diary, your online diary can also include music, videos, links to other websites…the sky really is the limit.  And unlike platforms like Twitter that include a strict word count on entries, entries to your blog can be as long or as short as you like—which has meant that for many people, blogs have become a terrific source of in-depth conversation on a particular subject matter.

And that is probably the biggest substantive difference between keeping a traditional diary and keeping a blog: instead of being a recounting of the day’s events, a blog will often recount events (both personal and public) with a tilt towards a particular subject matter: there are blogs devoted to sports, cars, politics, art, you name it.  Just as the sky is the limit for what you can put on your blog, so too is the sky the limit for blogs that specialize in reflecting on a particular subject.

And this seemingly infinite list of subjects most certainly includes Christianity and other organized religions.  There is a proverbial boatload of Christian blogs out there online, waiting for you to read them, and this is where Luke comes into play as a model for us to follow today.

Unlike Matthew, Mark, or John, Luke begins his Gospel with a formal preface to the Gospel’s original recipient: an otherwise unknown man named Theophilus, whose name literally means “lover of God.”  Luke, then, is not trying to write to a hostile audience, but to someone who already knows God and loves God, but perhaps does not yet know the truth about Jesus Christ.

Or, rather, perhaps Theophilus knows about Jesus, but only in incomplete and inadequate ways.  The first words of Luke’s Gospel are an acknowledgement that many others have undertaken to create this narrative of the events of Jesus’ ministry, yet Luke sees the need to create his own record, a record that, as he puts it, has been “investigated carefully from the beginning.”  Luke follows this Biblical seal of quality assurance by saying that he wants Theophilus to know the real truth about everything that has just happened in Israel in the years and decades prior.

Which, let’s be honest: speaking as a preacher, this really isn’t that innovative of Luke to do.  He is pulling the oldest trick in the book for fleshing out a sermon: outline the ways in which those who came before you got it wrong, and then proclaim how you have gotten right.  That’s Preaching 101.  It’s also a not particularly humble way of proclaiming the Gospel, but it is still an easy trap to fall into, because we want to be right.  If we felt we were wrong, we would get different opinions and different beliefs.  Luke is no different from us in that regard.

But speaking as a historian, which Luke in so many words claims to be—by noting that he is not himself an eyewitness, but a documenter of the accounts of eyewitnesses—what Luke says is absolutely clutch.  Luke is saying that he wants nothing but the truth for Theophilus…well, that implies that there are some less-than-accurate accounts of what really happened floating around.

And in this singular way, the internet—and the world of social media, and of blogging—is not unique in the slightest.  Wack-a-doodle theories and delusions will exist regardless of the era.

Put a different way: if Luke is the orderly, reputable scholar or journalist attempting to get his findings peer-reviewed and published in a journal of repute, then who he is warning us against is the crackpot End Times fanatic who listens to too much late-night televangelism while writing on his blog that we have to return to only coining money, lest the Antichrist use ATM cards to brand us with the Mark of the Beast after the government unleashes the Four Horsemen that they have been secretly hiding in Area 51 along with evidence of extraterrestrial life.

And plenty of theories abounded about Jesus after He ascended—the Romans, of course, had geo-political motive to discredit Jesus entirely, but even within the nascent Christian movement, there were different theories: that Jesus was never actually dead because one cannot kill a God, or that the Resurrection had been staged to cover up a tomb robbery, and so on.  Luke is aware that such theories exist, and is saying, in so many words, “Please.  I did the work.  Trust it.”

That is the test that we need to apply to our own writing, whether it is in a traditional pen-and-paper diary, whether it is in a letter to the editor, whether it is in an online blog, or whether it is not writing at all: but simply speaking the Gospel to one another.  Because as the story of Hazel and her impromptu pizza extravaganza demonstrates, word moves faster than ever these days.  The words we say, the words we share, on behalf of the divine Word, these are words that must be offered with care, just like Luke, because after all, what right do we have to tell others to trust us, when we ourselves and our words are not yet trustworthy?  How can we claim to offer hope to people who are worried that Christians are out to deceive or manipulate them instead?

Speaking of Hazel, there is an epilogue to the story of the joy in her internet-inspired pizza party in the midst of a childhood cancer ward…the joy continues.  About ten days ago, her mother posted on their blog that Hazel’s latest blood cultures came back negative, and so she was able to go home.  This is not the end for Hazel’s healing: she will be undergoing another surgery this Wednesday, the 21st, because the tumor, though shrunken dramatically, is still present and they need to remove the rest.  And so the “orderly account,” as it were, of Hazel’s odyssey continues, at least for the moment unabated.  You can follow her at

And so I, my dear fellow Theophiluses—fellow lovers of God—have sought to share with you my own account of one girl’s life and struggle as a microcosm of something far bigger than ourselves: that in pain, there can still exist relief; that in illness, there can still exist joy; that in weakness, there can still exist strength; and that in trials, there can still exist salvation.

These are all truths that are easy—sometimes too easy—to lose sight of.  We get distracted just as easily by our own hurts as we do by a harmful interpretation of Scripture because both prey on the same thing: our own short-sightedness.  In exhorting Theophilus, the lover of God, Luke so too also exhorts us all as lovers of God to look beyond our own narrowness for the Christ who taught us and healed us and died for us.  And we receive with each passing moment newer and more exciting ways to fulfill that charge.  The world may be growing smaller, but the ways of hearing God’s message are getting only bigger.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
August 18, 2013

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