This is a sermon I preached. If you prefer to listen to it, here's the audio.
If you've talked to me this week, I've probably told you about Malcolm Gladwell's book, Originals, which I can't put down.
In 1964 the Beatles came to the United States, and completely transformed the face of pop music. But do you know how long they had already been together before they got to the United States?They started playing together in 1957, 7 years earlier. And in 1960, while they were still just a struggling band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. There was a club that they played in that required them play for eight hours a night, seven nights a week!
Then between 1960 and 1962 they traveled and played 3 tours. 106 nights, 5 or more hours a night on the first trip, and 92 times on the second. On the third trip they played 48 times, for 172 hours total on stage.
By the time they arrived in the US, they had already performed 1200 times. Most bands today only perform 1200 times in their entire career.
Gladwell studies people who are exceptional: chess grandmasters, tech tycoons, professional hockey teams, and concert violinists. What has been discovered when psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, is that talent doesn’t play a very big role.
Success isn’t as much about talent as it is about preparation.
When looking at a group of violinists at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music, the violinists were divided into 3 categories. There were the ones who had potential to become world class soloists. The second group were “good”. The third were unlikely to make it as a professional, and were more interested in teaching music in public schools.
When they surveyed the violinists, they found that they all started playing at about 5 years old. In the first few years everyone practiced about 3 hours a week. But when the students were about 8, differences emerged. The students in group 1 began to practice 6 hours a week,
At age 9: 8 hours a week.
At age 12: 16 hours a week.
By age 20, they were practicing well over 30 hours a week.
The most elite had practiced 10,000 hours by the time they were 20. The students in group 2, had totaled 8,000 hours.And the future music teachers just 4,000 hours.
None of them were considered “naturals”. None of them effortlessly floated to the top while not practicing. Nor were there any who practiced 10,000 hours who weren’t ranked at the top. The research showed that it all depended on how much work the musician put into it.
Gladwell’s book chronicles the same thing for athletes and academics. The people who excel, are the ones who put in 10,000 hours. If you put in 10,000 hours you will excel, pretty much guaranteed. And if you don’t, you won’t. And that's pretty much a guarantee.
Researchers agree that 10,000 is the magic number.
Now, I want to talk about John the Baptist in Luke 7:18-35.
John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ”
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosya are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:
What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) Jesus went on to say, 'To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
John is in prison. And up to this point, we saw that John knew right away, while he was still in his mother’s womb that Jesus was the one everyone had been waiting for.
You see, it had been a very long time since the Israelites governed themselves. They hadn’t had autonomy in hundreds of years. Their history is littered with oppression and foreign occupancy and control. The Romans were taxing them upwards of 90%, most of the Jewish people were living in extreme poverty, without a lot of control over their own lives. They lived in fear.
John had spent his life preparing the way for the messiah to come. He was waiting for a radical revolutionary who would reestablish control over their nation. A messiah who would restore Israel, a messiah who would fulfill the words we heard Jesus proclaim in his inaugural address in Luke 4. Jesus stood in the temple, reading the scroll of Isaiah telling them that he was bringing good news for the poor, freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free.
Freedom for the prisoner. And here sits John in prison. Waiting to be released. Waiting to continue in his work. He’s looking for that king to rule the physical nation. In fact, after John’s messengers leave Jesus, he says, “What did you go to see in the wilderness? Someone in fine clothes dressed like a king?”
No, he says. You were looking for a prophet.
And there’s a difference between the role of a king and the role of a prophet, isn’t there?
When you were in prison in the first century, you weren’t fed. You weren’t clothed. You weren’t taken care of. You depended on others to bring you food and meet your needs. So John’s disciples are coming to him, probably bringing him a meal, and they tell him everything that’s happened.
He had just healed a Roman centurion’s servant, the enemy’s servant, who was about to die.
He had just raised a widow’s son from the dead.
John’s disciples are telling him about all of these things. And John wonders if he’s gotten it wrong. This is not what he was expecting the messiah to do. This was not what anyone was expecting the messiah to do.
This week I heard the same story over and over again. It popped up in my Facebook Newsfeed between political rants and drama, and it was the narrative at the coffee shop and on the bleachers. I hear it quite a bit, but right now, in the thick of February, I hear it more frequently and I hear it with more desperation.
Societal expectations are wearing you down. People expect a lot from you. Don’t they? Our culture has defined for us what a meaningful life is supposed to look like, what a successful person’s calendar looks like. We’ve talked about this before. It’s that idea that “busy” is a good thing. That if you’re “busy” you must be doing something right.
And right now. We are at the height of basketball and wrestling and meetings and planning and events and deadlines and projects and whatever else hits us right in the middle of a February that may be the shortest month of the year, but feels like it will never end. Everything is still dead. And dark. And dreary. We as far removed from Summer and birth and life as we are from it’s arrival. And we feel it weighing us down.
We reach this point where everything feels like it’s taking. It’s sucking the energy right out of us. None of it feels fulfilling.
But it’s the story most of our lives are telling. Its a story of hours being filled full and then being poured out and evaporating. Where do they go? What did they add up to?
Take a minute, and write down what you did this week. Where your hours went.
Now, back to Jesus. Jesus was facing extreme expectations from the religious leaders. A few weeks ago I told you about the Pharisees wanting more rigid rules. The Sadducees wanting to protect the temple. The Essenes separating themselves from the culture. The Zealots wanting to revolt.
A few weeks before that we talked about the way Satan tempted Jesus with 3 paths to quick and easy greatness/success? He gave Jesus 3 options- the way of power, the way of popularity, the way of security.
Everyone had expectations of Jesus.
Even John. The guy who was preparing the way. The guy who knew since birth that Jesus was the one. The guy who was so dedicated to the mission, he was in prison. Even he was starting to question whether Jesus was really it, whether Jesus was really the one, because Jesus wasn’t meeting his expectations.
He asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look to another?”
Are you the one? Or shall we look to another?
Voltaire wrote: Though God created humans in the divine image, we have more than returned the favor.
And we have, haven’t we?
We’re really pretty good at making God look like us. We’re really pretty good about making sure God likes the things we like and votes for the person we vote for and does the things we do.
Anne Lamott wrote, “The biggest difference between you and God is that God doesn’t think he’s you.”
We come to the text with so many ideas already made up. (STOP) We look to Jesus, with his image already formed.
And the scary thing about that is that while Christians believe they have Jesus figured out, recent studies report::
40% of regular church goers read the Bible maybe 1 time a month.
1 in 5 say they never read the Bible.
81% say they are highly knowledgeable of the Bible,
43% of that knowledgeable group cannot name the first 5 books of the Bible,
and only 1/2 of them know who John the Baptist is.
Do you know who John the Baptist is?
We have to look honestly at the things that inform our understanding of Jesus. There’s a whole industry, that is selling us a particular narrative about Christianity. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something I think we need to be more careful about. Its still an industry mostly interested in selling you a product, and sometimes what we crave and what we’ll pay for isn’t necessarily squared with the truth.
All the way back in Genesis 1:27 we read that we’re made in the image of God, in 2:7 it says that we are made in God’s likeness. To be made in the image of God is to be given a very particular purpose. It means that the whole purpose of our life on this earth is to reflect this image. To show the world who God is. And Jesus comes in flesh and blood to show us exactly how that looks. Jesus came to model life, words and actions, so that we can see and hear and know what it means to live into this divine image.
But if you’re going to devote your life to living in this story, you have to fight to become the kind of person you want to believe you are.
You have to know what it looks like to live this kind of life.
Look back at the things on your list. What did you spend your time doing? How many hours did you spend on each of those things? Are you working your way toward the 10,000 hour expert status? Do you have hobbies, skills, gifts that you’ve invested in to become an expert?
Are the things you’ve spent your hours doing this week, worthy of the hours you spent on them?
Now, write down how many hours this week you spent reading the Bible. Studying the life of Jesus. Learning about the life you your life is designed to imitate.
Let’s say you’re 40. You’ve lived 14,600 days on this earth. And let’s say at age 10 you started reading your Bible for 10 minutes a day.
10,950 days. 109,500 minutes. 1,825 hours. That’s 18% of the time it takes to be an expert.
Now, let’s be a little more generous. If you’ve read the Bible 30 minutes a day for the last 30 years, you’re almost to 5,500. You’re halfway there. If you’ve read the Bible an hour a day for 30 years, you’ve hit 10,000 hours.
This may seem overwhelming to think about spending more time in the Bible every day, but think about all of the things you do during a day, or a week, and what gets the majority of your time. If I were to ask you what the most important thing in your life is, you would probably tell me Jesus, maybe because I’m your pastor, maybe because it seems like the right thing to say, but I really think it’s what the majority of us would like to believe is the most important thing in our lives.
But does our time reflect this?
I know, 10,000 hours seems impractical. A concert violinist spends their working hours practicing the violin. I know 10,000 hours seems unrealistic. An hour a day might seem like an impossible place to start if you’re like the majority of church goers. So start with 10 minutes a day. 10 minutes a day. You can find 10 minutes that you’re wasting somewhere. I know I can!
Even listening to it audibly while you’re running kids to and from school, you can get your 10 minutes in pretty quick. What if you start this week with the book of Luke, since that’s what we’re reading together this season. Begin with Luke 1, and spend 10 minutes a day reading it. Really looking for the things that Jesus says. The things that Jesus does. The people Jesus says he’s come for, and how he goes about reaching them.
If you want to be a disciple:
Look at Jesus.
Listen to Jesus.
You’re only going to be able to do that, if you know who he is. What he’s about. Who he came to help. And what he came do. That’s what you’re made for. That’s why you’re here. You are the hands and the feet of Jesus. You are here on this earth. Right now, at this very moment. To imitate Jesus. So now’s the time to learn about Jesus.