Sunday, June 15, 2008


Even though we've been doing series with sets and skits and videos for 2-1/2 years, I'm still asked from time to time why we have the style services that we do. Are we trying to be trendy? Are we trying to be different? What's the point of it all? Why do we need all this stuff to have a worship service?

There are a lot of ways to answer these questions, but I think the best way to say it is that we're trying to be like Jesus.

The Bible tells us that "Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world (Ps. 78:2)." (Mt. 13:34-35).

The parable is clearly Jesus' preferred mode of communication with the crowds that came to hear him, so much so that Matthew tells us Jesus did not say anything to them without using a parable. The Bible records 39 parables of Jesus in the four gospels (20 in Matthew, 8 in Mark, 25 in Luke, and 1 in John--some are duplicated in more than one gospel).

If you were to visit for a definition of the word "parable" you would probably read that a parable is "a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson." Although this is clearly an accurate definition, it doesn't give us a full insight into a biblical parable.

To better understand what a parable is, we need to investigate the origin of the word. The English word parable comes from the Greek word parabole which literally means "to place alongside." So a parable places two things next to each other for the purposes of comparing them. In Easton's Bible Dictionary this comparison is further explained as being a comparison of earthly things with heavenly things, making a parable an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. And that is exactly what Jesus did, in his parables he would compare an aspect of everyday life with a truth about the kingdom of God.

Why did Jesus speak to the people in parables? The Bible tells us there are two reasons:

  1. "So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world (Ps. 78:2)." (Mt. 13:35). The first purpose of Jesus' parables is to disclose what was previously hidden to people. How did the parables accomplish this? Parables are puzzles, whose purpose is neither to (only) entertain or to perplex their audience, or to give them games to play. But rather, they are stories at whose heart lays a metaphor, like a narrative poem. Jesus was not doing stand-up comedy, nor was he trying to be difficult. He used the language of parable because he was speaking of something that was intangible. He was speaking of something unseen. And like the poet, he had the difficult task of making the unseen, seen. The best way to do that is to use the familiar things of this world that people already understand, in order to help them understand the unfamiliar things of God that have been, up to this point, beyond their grasp.
  2. "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that though seeing, they may not see; though hearing they may not understand (Isa 6:9)." (Lk. 8:10). The second purpose of parables is to obscure and confuse. Often the meanings contained in Jesus' parables were left, for the moment, unseen. Even the disciples had difficulty understanding, and more than once asked Jesus to explain them. Scripture can be difficult. It takes work. Jesus wanted to reward those who wrestled with what he had to say, those who weighed his words carefully and pondered his message. For he knew that those who were engaged in the learning process would be better students in the end than those who had simply had their lessons handed to them.

It seems like these two purposes are at cross purposes with each other, but they actually work together. A minister once wrote, "Only the poetic imagination can understand the Bible. Like unsolved puzzles, the meaning of parables can lie hidden in the mind. Hindrances to our understanding abound--like bars on a door or locks on a gate. But one does remain curious about what lies on the other side." Parables open up new understandings for us that we had not seen previously, but only for those who are active, engaged participants in the learning process.

What does this have to do with our worship services? Our Sunday services are essentially parables. We take an ordinary, understandable, earthly theme and connect it with a heavenly meaning--an exercise gym (God's Gym), a movie (Marty Python), Commercials, a work environment (The Office), stock car racing (Driven). Every skit, every video clip, every set, most songs, and many messages are essentially parables--layered in meaning, providing us with the opportunity to see and experience God in a new and broader way than we ever had before, but only if we're willing to engage the eternal, spiritual truths that are hidden everywhere in the ordinary things of this world.

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