Christianity, Travel Stories, Uncategorized

Parables with RVL and a few close friends

Heart of Jesus
Heart of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently returned from a retreat in Kalamazoo, MI. There were about 200 women/friends who attended, some from as far away as California. Wish I had words to explain how powerful the Coffee Break Ministries weekend in the Parables was.  The retreat leader was Ray Vander Laan, a teacher and preacher who has spent years studying the scriptures from a first-century Jewish perspective. http://rvl-on.com/about/

I have noticed in my reading of current Christian thinkers and speakers, that there seems to be a big focus on the importance of story in sharing the message of Jesus Christ. This weekend, Ray Vander Laan, also known as RVL, again brought up the importance of story, and especially that the Bible is ONE story. (This is also an emphasis in a wonderful book I recently reviewed in this blog by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet called Jesus A Theography. See link at the bottom of page).

Here is the scripture that united RVL’s  teaching over the weekend: Matt 13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”  RVL told us that the majority of the time when Jesus taught through parables, he used metaphors, symbols, types and motifs that his audience was well acquainted with from the text. Using parables, Jesus told stories that his audience thought they knew, but Jesus would change something in the setting, or expand the theme, or add a different character so that the parable took the listeners by surprise, and engaged their thinking. RVL taught that in the parables, Jesus would say in various ways that: 1. He is God 2. The kingdom of heaven is at hand 3. I am the Way, follow me.

RVL taught on three major parables, and a couple that are less well-known. He would give us the Jewish back story of each parable, then go through the text with wonderful pictures, maps or videos of the Holy Land so we could get the visual context – all of this was interspersed with Jewish phrases, words or scripture that we would that we repeat after RVL in Hebrew, jokes and short self-deprecating stories of his trips to Israel,  and words of wisdom from RVL’s  rabbi friends, etc. If I were to use one word to describe RVL’s teaching style it would be “passionate”. This man obviously loves the Lord and the text, and is very committed to inviting his students to share in the same “walk”.

One of the last parables we read was the Prodigal Son. At the end of the lesson, I lost my concentration  and composure.  I covered my face with my hands and sat there, unable to hear anything that was being said, although I knew RVL was talking. It wasn’t strictly an emotional response, but more of a realization deep in my core about how much it cost the Father (Jesus in this parable) to restore his lost son. All of this was my reaction to the phrase in the text that says (Luke 15:20) “he ran to his son”, which RVL had spent a lot of time and energy explaining to us earlier in the day. My view of the story of the Prodigal Son has been changed forever, I think.

Of course there was a lot more to the weekend, especially the fun of chatting with friends on a long car ride and being graciously welcomed into the home of Michigan friends who were as  generous as they were delightful to be with. Still, the take-away for me is the power of the stories in scripture. I believe it is through the reading of scripture and the revelation of the Holy Spirit that we experience not just the history or culture of ancient Israel, not just the content of black print on white pages, but we see the very heart of God, the One who loves us  here and now, and who wants us to return that love with all our  heart and soul, strength and mind.

http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-A-Theography-ebook/dp/B0078FA9OW

Christianity

Smile! It’s Gaudete Sunday!

Willis Patterson, John McCollum, Richard Cross...
Willis Patterson, John McCollum, Richard Cross with Kurt Yaghjian as Amahl and Martha King his mother in the 1963 production (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Icy conditions kept me home from church today, the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. How is this possible, you ask? Well, we do not park our vehicles in the garage (the explanation for this will have to wait for another blog entry), therefore the rain that fell all day yesterday, which turned to sleet and then snow when the temperature dropped overnight, produced a thick  layer of ice on the car and froze the car doors shut. It also turned our driveway into a frozen, lumpy, slippery obstacle course. The time I allowed myself to free  the ice-imprsoned  car was not enough to get the job done and arrive at church on time – not by a long shot. Very. Frustrating. Especially since this is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. Even as a kid I loved the third Sunday in Advent.  One reason was because it has a cool name; who can dislike  the  word ‘gaudete’? It is pronounced gow (as in cow)-  day tay.  Even saying it brings on a smile, which is very appropriate because the translation of the word gaudete is: “be joyful” or “rejoice”.

The second reason to love Gaudete Sunday was that it is the Sunday to light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. In our house we had a traditional advent wreath on our kitchen table. The wreath had four candles; three white and one pink. It was something to look forward to, this lighting of the pink candle. Finally – color and light together! Here was sparkling beauty meant to give relief to your eyes and heart during the long, dark winter days, while also presenting the promise of the coming spring.

The final reason to love Gaudete Sunday as a kid was that this was proof that we were actually getting close to Christmas. Somehow the  calendar  lacked the ability to measure time in an encouraging manner. Waiting day by slowly-dragging-day for the 25th of December to arrive was torture, where as counting by weeks using the Advent wreath was quite satisfying; “Three weeks down, and one to go until Christmas,” is what Gaudete Sunday made clear to me.

But what to do today, at home alone on Gaudete Sunday? After a few minutes of thought,  I lit three candles on the advent wreath, and found the CD of the one-act opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, called  Amahl and Night Visitors. This hour-long opera tells the story of a poor widow and her crippled son who welcome  three royal visitors who are on their way to visit the new-born King.  The CD is of the 1951 Christmas Eve production by the NBC Television Theater. You can see the entire 1951 performance, including an introduction to the opera by the composer, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzx-s46vjpY

In the past, the story and the music of Amahl and the Night Visitors had been be able to break through the icy condition of my heart, and warm it up to receive the good news of Christ’s birth with thanksgiving and joy, and today was no different. Happily, the beautiful little opera changed the frustration and difficulties of everyday life into a time of worshipping the Lord.  And I guess that  is the real meaning of Gaudete Sunday, isn’t it?

“You turned my mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”Psalm 30:11