By Allison Trussell
FLORENCE—Working with the theme of “Making Space for God to Work,” Dr. Luther Smith led a Bible study on Luke each morning of Annual Conference.
‘Let the little children come to me’
Monday’s Scripture was Luke 18:15, the well-known rebuke of the disciples concerning children: “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them,” Jesus tells them.
The disciples didn’t want the children to interrupt the important work of Jesus, and don’t we all make those kinds of judgments, Smith asked. Just as the disciples were marginalizing children, so we marginalize those who come seeking.
“We all decide who gets to come into our space. Are they influential? Are they respected? What financial resources do they bring? How impressive is their resumé?”
But the lesson to take from this is not to act as children, to be free from concerns and responsibilities, Smith warned.
Jesus receiving children of how God is at work. Luke, unlike Mark, reveals that the coming and acceptance of children as a revelation that God receives us, not because we have merited God’s grace. We are received into his presence, into God’s work because we are cherished by him, Smith said.
“To interrupt God at work, sacred work, is to interrupt the sacred space of what God is doing through Jesus.”
How, Smith asked, are you and your church demonstrating this text by witnessing to all persons? How committed are you to making space for God to work within your life, your church and your community? “It’s not a challenge; it is an opportunity and our calling.”
Spaces of hospitality
Tuesday’s lesson dealt with spaces of hospitality illustrated by the feeding of the 5,000, Luke 9:1-17. The Scripture begins with Jesus giving the disciples power and authority and sending them out with nothing but faith and reliance on others’ hospitality.
Jesus recognizes that communities await the disciples, but the disciples must learn to depend on the community and engage it.
Smith noted that he doesn’t buy a lawn seeder because he’d only use it once a year and his neighbor has one. He doesn’t have a ladder, but his neighbor has one. If he bought either one, he would be depriving his neighbor of the opportunity to give, he joked. But what Smith also gains is conversation. Bonds are established, which is far better for the community.
Later in the Scripture comes the account of the loaves and fishes. Now, the community must rely on the hospitality of the disciples and Jesus. “The care of the disciples on the road is as much a mystery and miracle as the feeding of 5,000,” Smith said.
He quoted St. John Chrysostom, “Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead,” and then commented that poor people survive every day because of other poor people.
What might we behold when we give ourselves the living God’s desire to care for one another? What does it mean to be a church equipped with power and authority, which God has given us, and then sit on it? A Holocaust survivor once said, “Fear not your enemies, they can only kill you. Fear not your friends, they can only betray you. But fear the indifferent ones because they allow killers and betrayers to roam the earth.”
“Why are we waiting for more instead of using what God has given us?” Smith concluded.
Space for prayer
Wednesday’s focus was on prayer (Luke 11:1-13): How are you making space for prayer? Smith asked.
The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, and he begins with the word, Father. Smith notes the significance of this word because it shows the relationship between God and Jesus. God is a tender, loving parent. He waits and yearns for our prayers, but he is not some heavenly bellhop rushing hither and yon to give us things.
However, if we are persistent in our prayers then God will be responsive. Smith likened it to a child not coming home on time. We would ask the neighbors, and if the child wasn’t found, we’d ask strangers and call the police and we’d search until the child was found. “That’s the kind of seeking that prayer should be.”
How do you make space for praying? Some days, everything you do—eating, sleeping, working—is a prayer. “Prayer isn’t about coming up with elaborate speeches. I pray out of gratitude and need,” Smith said.
“It is my prayer that as we have studied together, we will also pray together, that we have wisdom and courage to live as a people of prayer. How dare we say that we are disciples of the one who could not live without prayer if we do not?”