Pastor’s Friday Comments (08.07.20)

In last week’s column I cited my “favorite” Scripture passage (Proverbs 3:5-6), while acknowledging the folly of limiting oneself to a single text. I also wrote that it might be more interesting to answer this question: “If you were limited to ten paragraphs from the Bible, which ones would you choose?”

Again, it is foolish to engage in a limiting exercise like that when you have the entirety of the canon at your disposal, but none of us know the whole Bible, and it could be beneficial to know some passages very well. 

So, here are ten I would choose today. Next week’s list might be a little different, but these are a good starting point. I’m not actually limiting myself to paragraphs, but what are known in biblical scholarship as pericopes, sections with a unifying theme. I hope this little exercise will prompt you to think about your own list and at least get you to reflect on some familiar passages of Scripture.

Genesis 1. I know, it’s obvious to start at the beginning, but recognizing that all things have their origin in God and that they are all good is an important premise on which to base your theology.

Psalm 23. Still no surprise. You have to include a psalm, and it should be one that provides hope and a reminder of our need for a shepherd who provides for our rest and refreshment. There’s a reason this one is just about everybody’s favorite.

Ezekiel 33:1-9. Maybe a little specific to those of us who try to preach, but Ezekiel’s parable of the sentry is a reminder that if we don’t give an honest warning about the dangers people face, their troubles are on us. On the other hand….

John 1:1-18. The prologue to John’s Gospel may be the most profound piece of theological thought ever written down. In its simplicity and poetry (interrupted by a few lines of prose about John the Baptist), it outlines God’s redemptive plan, from creation to completion, all coming together in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

John 3:1-17. I’m not choosing this for the obvious reason that it contains the one verse every Christian knows, but because in this brief dialogue Jesus sets out the nature of our relationship with God in terms that even an obtuse rabbi like Nicodemus can understand. “Being born from above” is a good place to start any conversation with an interested non-believer.

Luke 10:25-37. The story Jesus told about a Samaritan who went to great lengths to help someone, when the officially religious would not, is a cautionary tale for those of us who are so focused on the maintenance of our religious institutions that we lose sight of why they (and we) exist.

Matthew 25:31-46. In case you missed the point of the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus fills in the details of his expectations of his followers when he divides those who are going to heaven from those who are going to hell on the basis of how they treat “the least of these, [his] brothers and sisters.” I’ve been the pastor of four churches since seminary, and this is the first text I have used in each of them. If we can get this right, everything else will follow. If we mess this up, nothing else matters.

Luke 15:11-32. Mark Twain is credited with calling the story of the Prodigal Son the greatest short story ever written. I’ve probably preached on this text more than any other, usually focusing on the beautiful picture of the waiting father, occasionally pointing out the hope for the brother who went away, but most practically for those of us who are in church all the time, connecting us with the older brother who remained faithful but unloving. The Father can say to us, “You are always with me,” while still reminding us that we should rejoice when one who was lost is found.

Romans 8:31-39. One of the most important questions we can ask is, what shall separate us from the love of Christ? to which Paul gives a resounding “Nothing!” I read this text at almost every funeral I conduct, but it is an even more important truth for the living, especially in perilous times like ours.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Facing divisions and controversy, and even threats to his authority and apostleship, Paul spills a lot of ink on settling disputes and laying out rules. But then, at the end of what we call the twelfth chapter of this letter to a troubled church, he says, “Now let me show you a more excellent way,” and proceeds to toss out one of the most beautiful love poems ever written. It is often read at weddings, but there is not a relationship between human beings to which it does not apply.

That’s my list – at least for today. Why don’t you spend a little time thinking about yours? I’d be interested in seeing your list.