March 21, 2010: Don’t Get Lost in Translation

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today teach us to place ourselves into Your Holy Word and see that the stories and truths it conveys are meant for each of us. Teach us as well to heed the voices of those You send to us when they call us to account, repent of our malaise when it comes to our faith, and cling to You all the more for forgiveness, strength, and help. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO HAS CAUSED ALL THINGS TO BE WRITTEN FOR OUR LEARNING!

TEXT: Luke 20: 9-19

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Her name was Jenny. She was about 63 years old. And she was my very first hospital call. She had terminal cancer. As a result she had come to faith late in life. Greenhorn that I was, I hoped that my devotional words made some sense and comforted her. Finally, she asked “the question.” That is, “Why did God send cancer my way?” I tried the usual platitudes. I could see they didn’t mean much to her. Finally, I just plunged in headlong!—“Sometimes God has to hit us with a 2×4 to get our attention!”—That’s exactly what I said. She laughed, now fully engaged in my words. Then she said: “But did He have to hit me so hard?” From that day on we were fast friends. Later that winter I buried her into the surety of heaven.

I fear most people are exactly like Jenny was early in her life when it comes to hearing God’s Word. Somehow there is a disconnect between what it says and how they perceive or translate it into their lives. People fail to recognize that they are the players in Christ’s parables; that His miracles and the crowd’s reaction to them are microcosms of their reactions, and also that they are direct participants when it comes to His crucifixion. Somehow they don’t see themselves that way, because of sin, and thus they fail to take His truths to heart and personalize them unless and until He wields a 2×4! As we look at today’s lesson, keep that in mind. Yes,

DON’T GET LOST IN TRANSLATION

I

Let’s put this 2000 year old parable in modern language to avoid a mistranslation. A very wealthy man whose family had long owned a chunk of property outside a small town, decided to help out that dying community. His family owned corporation “put their money where their mouth was” and decided to develop the property for the good of that community. He engaged builders. Put up houses, constructed some new businesses, and told the poverty-stricken people of his old hometown that they could now move in and for a nominal fee they could live in this new, upbeat development. Everyone was happy. Everything thrived. That is, until the first rent day arrived. He sent an underling from the home office to collect. They people were greedy and distrustful. They beat up that man and tossed him out! The same thing occurred to the next man. Then a 3rd fellow was dispatched and they even drew blood in this altercation.

The wealthy owner had been extremely patient. “Maybe they just don’t understand?” So, finally, He resolved to send his own son to collect the rent. After all, the son would inherit everything. He was the direct representative of the owner. Upon seeing him, the people decided they would kill him and then by default the property and all its blessings would devolve to them! This they did.

II

Folks, story is all about you and me. It’s not just about the Israel of the OT or of Christ’s time and how they treated the prophets and ultimately Christ Himself. No, this is the reaction of people of all centuries, times, and places when it comes to the community of faith that God has constructed. We don’t like to pay Him homage. We think it somehow belittles us. And when His representatives come along to collect such homage, we disregard them, heap insults upon them, and ultimately when He sends Christ, we try to get rid of Him, too.

Obviously God is patient. Much more patient than any of us would be. Obviously He’s caring. Much more caring than we usually are. And yet, if you fail to see yourself here in this parable, then you’ll also fail to see yourself standing outside Pilate’s palace shouting: “Crucify! Crucify!” That’s because our sinful flesh shouts out that slogan every time we don’t listen to His Word and don’t apply it directly to our lives. If you crucify His Word on the altar of your uncaring nature, you’re actually crucifying Christ anew, Who is the Word made flesh.

III

Our natural inclination is to say: “I’m a Christian, I don’t act like that!” We join our voices with those hearers of our parable: “When the people heard about this, this said, ‘May this never be!’” And yet, how often do people leave church and say: “Well, so-and-so got put in their place today!” How often do you drift off during church because somehow “I’ve heard all this before and it really doesn’t apply to me.”? Everything in every worship service applies to each of us. The confession of sins is about you. The absolution is for you. The lessons are directly about your life and how you’re living it. In every sermon you should feel as if the pastor is directly talking to you. And if you don’t feel that way, either the pastor did a lousy job, or you somehow lost the truth of God’s Word as you translated it into your life. And the real heartbreak in all this is that you also lost the true meaning of the Gospel, that God forgave you despite everything you’ve done to thwart His plan for your salvation.

IV

Unless you really come to grips with your total worthlessness before God and your downright nasty nature; the good news of Godly forgiveness in Christ becomes rather “ho-hum” after hearing it a few times. In fact, people don’t have any real need for such forgiveness unless they first recognize their own sins and repent of them.

So when Christ now addresses the crowd about how the keystone of the archway leading into glory is Him, how He holds it all in place, and how they have sought throughout His ministry to crush that very stone, but how it will end up crushing them (think not of a 2×4 here but a mountain of stone); well the self-righteous religious leaders take affront and redouble their efforts to kill Him. O yes, they also kept this to themselves because they feared the people’s reaction to their treachery if it was made too public.

Folks, most average people have gotten lost in translation when it comes to God’s truths. Many long time Christians have also gotten lost when it comes to translating both God’s demands upon us, and His sweet forgiveness for our inability to always meet those demands. Often we simply take it all for granted. “O, that’s just church stuff.” As if it had no direct application for how we live every day. Don’t let that happen to you! Yes, don’t get lost in translation ever again! God is always speaking to you, whether you choose to listen or not. And most of all, each of us needs to listen up when He says: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” For, it is only Christ’s forgiveness that can allay the unanswerable hardness of life. Moreover, it is only that forgiveness which brings real peace and real blessing to each of us. Yes, only forgiveness makes reality bearable. Amen