bags of sugar

October 27, 2004

Thank goodness for packaging. It’s not reasonsable for any of us to go to the store and purchase sugar without it’s pretty packinging. It wouldn’t be convenient to transport it. Without the packaging, I can think of any number of rather ridiculous scenarios of what it would be like to purchase a handful of sugar and bring it home.

This is a good way for us to picture Jesus’ use of the parables, and also a good picture of how we should think of preaching, teaching, and even language. We are trying to take the deep truths of God and make them portable for people to take with them. It is almost a shame at times to try to reduce the concept of the Godhead to a word like “the trinity” or an analogy of ice, liquid and steam. Yet, this is a convenient and good way for us to transfer these deep truths to others.

Even more ridiculous, however, than the thought of buying sugar by the handful is the thought of a pantry loaded with sugar in packages that have never been breeched. I fear that much of our teaching in churches does just that. We package the deep truths of God for people to make it easy for them to take away. We use brilliant metaphors, fancy outlines and sharp looking handouts to assist people in taking it with them, and that is good. If, however, they don’t open up into that packaging and consume those truths, it is all lost. I’m not sure if the fault lies on the side of the teachers who aren’t compelling enough to open the packaging later, or on the listeners who are so preoccupied that they just stuff the package away never to be opened.

I have the advantage of being both a teacher and a listener at different times, and perhaps many of you do as well. As teachers, let us be teachers that leave time bombs in the packaging. Let us present the deep truths of God in a way that is so compelling that they aren’t easily dismissed. Let us present the truth in a way that is hauntingly beautiful, like a piece of art that just stays with us. Let us raise more questions than answers so that people are forced to grapple with those truths.

As listeners, let us not become content just to have a notebook full of outlines with every blank filled in. Let us not be happy just because we have yet another gold star of attendance next to our name. Let us ask God to connect the message with our souls no matter how well we connect with the messenger.

Note: Just so you don’t think that I’m far brighter than I am, I should point out that credit for this original analogy goes to NT Wright.

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