Fishing for Men

fishing for men

Getting back into Luke, continuing to follow and attempting to understand Jesus more fully, to be more fully aware of who he was and the purposes for which he saw his own life and ministry. We are coming to the point in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is launching his movement. We’ve dealt with his birth and infancy narratives. We’ve seen Jesus baptized by John and tempted by the devil. We’ve seen Jesus beginning to preach, and the sometimes hostile reactions that might come about when you challenge people’s assumptions that those mostly like themselves are “good” and that those not like themselves are mostly “bad”.

Good n Bad

Now we get to see Jesus launch his movement. We get to read and respond to Jesus announcing and enacting the new government, the new social order from God. We get to see up close the new way God wants to arrange human living. It’s called the kingdom of heaven. But don’t get this twisted. The Kingdom of Heaven proclaimed by Jesus Christ is not a kingdom in heaven, but a Kingdom from heaven right here on earth. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heavenIt is this kingdom Jesus is announcing and enacting.

on earth as it is in heaven

As he’s doing this, announcing by preaching, enacting by miracle, he’s inviting people to join his movement. And it is a movement. It is a movement of people who will live their lives under the Kingdom of God. But it’s scandalous how he’s doing this, who he’s inviting into his movement. Jesus invites into his movement not the insiders but the outsiders. He calls not the righteous but sinners.I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

sinners to repentance

Rewind just a bit. In his hometown, Jesus had been well received until he began to challenge their paradigm of us vs them, the nucleus of their unity, the very glue which held them together, and they become willing to throw him off a cliff.

off the cliff

Having been rejected in his hometown Jesus relocates 40 miles away to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He is enacting the Kingdom of God, preaching and healing. Because of his powers of healing, people were often anxious to touch him. Hoping to be able to teach without being rushed by people trying to touch him, he asks Simon to use his boat. On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

Miracle-of-the-Fish

Simon (Peter) had been fishing all night, caught nothing, and is just trying to clean his nets so he can go home a get some rest. Jesus commandeers his boat for the purposes of preaching without getting bum rushed by crowds just wanting to touch him so that they might receive healing from whatever it was they needed healing from. When he’s finished teaching, he tells Simon to put his boats out and his nets down. And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”I don’t know if this is a sign of great faith on Simon’s part or not, but he does do as Jesus tells him. Maybe he’s just worn out from a long nights work. Maybe, like the crowds onshore, he’s heard of Jesus’s miracles already. Clearly Jesus has caused quite a stir and gained some notoriety. Either way, he does as Jesus tells him and let’s down his nets one more time, if only to humor this nascent rabbi, even if the guy doesn’t know a thing about fishing!

24_catching-many-fish

And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.Apparently this Jesus fellow does know something about fishing! Simon knows enough about fishing to know that he’s just witnessed a miracle from God. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”Simon immediately sees himself as unworthy of the presence of the man who had nearly sank two boats with the haul of fish. He falls to his knees and tells Jesus, “You don’t want to hang around me, I’m a bad guy…”

depart from me

In calling his followers, Jesus didn’t pay much attention to the categories of good and bad. We pay much attention to this, but Jesus, not so much. We consider ourselves very good at categorizing some people as good and other people as bad. Usually the way it works is that people who are like ourselves we call good, people not like ourselves we call bad. But as we look at Jesus, he’s not much interested in our categories. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. Simon tells Jesus that he’s a bad dude, Jesus just says Do not be afraid. Yeah, don’t worry about that Simon…from now on you will be catching men.

The categories Jesus is worried about are proud and humble. Peter humbled himself and saw himself, not all those other people (remember something about a log in your own eye?), as being sinful. Jesus tells him, don’t you worry about that,from now on you will be catching men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

All four, Simon, Andrew, James and John, gave up their fishing trade and became followers of Jesus. At the moment, maybe it doesn’t seem so important, but as it turned out, this is a BIG DEAL. This is the beginning of the world being changed. This little movement, begun with a miraculous haul of fish after a failed night of fishing for four young fisherman, would continue to grow. We continue to honor these first four disciples by all the things we name after them – churches, schools, hospitals, towns, cities. St. Andrews, St Peter’s, St. John, St. James. How many different things can we think of which bear these names. How many sons have born these names? How about San Diego (Spanish for James), St. Petersburg, Johannesburg.

Four simple fishermen, just trying to make a living. Not the right group of people to start a movement with. Just a bunch of sinners who couldn’t even catch fish on their own. Seems they turned out to be much better at catching men than fish…

John Lewis

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Leading By Example

It’s amazing sometimes how we miss the pieces of the puzzle coming together.  It’s all the more amazing to us when we have our eyes opened and can now see what we’ve always missed before.  I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s book “The Day the Revolution Began; Reconsidering the meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion”, and it’s bringing a lot of different things into clarity.  I will probably have read it a couple more times to understand that which I still do not, but I just got through a chapter in which the author ties together some of the stories from Jesus’s temptation in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 with some of the stories from His passion at the end of Jesus’s life.

We tend to see the temptation of Jesus out in the wilderness as an isolated event.   In a strict sense it was, Jesus was only fasting in the wilderness once, but as for his temptations, the Satan manifested these in his battle with Jesus many ways at different points throughout Jesus’s life and ministry.

The evil of man came up against the goodness of God at the cross, and lucky for all of us, Jesus had already faced the temptations accompanying his passion during his wilderness temptation, and already knew how to handle it.  For instance, after he was crucified, he was mocked and tempted by passers-by gawking at his suffering.  “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”” Matthew 27:39-40 ESV.  That phrase, If you are the Son of God, where did we (and Jesus) hear that before?   We saw this much earlier in Matthew’s gospel, during that wilderness temptation.   “And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Also…“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'””  Matthew 4:3, 6 ESV.  If you are the Son of God…prove it!!!    We see here the Satan, the accuser, appearing just as prominently at the cross as he did in the wilderness, tempting, poking and prodding the Son of God to show himself.  Yet Jesus, during his moment of greatest duress and tribulation, stayed true to the purpose of the Father and in doing so gives us, finally, the clearest revelation of who God is.   “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Satan had offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world.   We see this in both Matthew and Luke’s account of the wilderness temptation.  “And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”” Matthew 4:9 ESV.   And from Luke “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” Luke 4:6 ESV.  Jesus could have taken his power and authority through the means of man.  He could have conformed to the systems of this world.  It was right there for him to take.  But instead he responded by trusting in God the Father – “And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”” Luke 4:8 ESV

Don’t miss what happens during Jesus’s passion, in the garden as Jesus is arrested.  “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”” Luke 22:53 ESV.  The Satan had offered Jesus power and dominion over the very forces which arrayed against him both during his passion and at the cross.  But it would have been through the power of darkness.   The soldiers in the garden arresting Jesus, the high priest Caiaphas, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Satan offered Jesus power and dominion over all these forces.   Jesus never had to go to the cross.  All of these men who played such a large role in his suffering and death would have been under his power, if only he had given in to the temptation of the devil in the wilderness.   But, it would have been through the power of darkness.   

Lucky for us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 ESV. It certainly appeared in the darkness that the light was being snuffed out by the darkness.  Peter was having none of it – “And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:51-53 ESV.  We, like Peter, will have none of it.  We believe in and follow the powers of darkness.  Instead of the cross, we grab our swords every time.  But, as Jesus told Peter, we should Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.   

We’ve been taking, and perishing by, our swords ever since.  Until we can all accept the sacrifice of the Son of God, which he made willingly for each one of us, we will continue to sacrifice our own sons and daughters on the bloody battlefield of the world.  A battlefield which gets closer and closer to our own backyards every day.

It appeared the darkness was overcoming the light, but as John told us, the darkness has not overcome it.  Jesus was raised on the third day.  And notice what he tells his disciples the last time he sits with them after his resurrection.  “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18 ESV.   He had the satanic temptation to take his power through the force of man.  But He was the light that could not be overcome by the darkness.  He overcame those temptations all the way through the cross, was vindicated in resurrection, and has been given All authority in heaven and on earth.  Why do we claim allegiance to Him and not follow the teachings and example he gave us?

“…If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.””

Matthew 27:40 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.27.40.esv

“And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'””

Matthew 4:3, 6 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.4.3,6.esv

“When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.””

Luke 22:53 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.22.53.esv

“And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.””

Matthew 4:9 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.4.9.esv

“To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.”

Luke 4:6 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.6.esv

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Matthew 28:18 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.28.18.esv

John Lewis

What Have You To Do with Us?

Back in Luke, following Jesus as he has passed through the midst of his hometown of Nazareth and went away from them, forced to escape in order to escape a premature death by being thrown off a cliff.

Jesus had to escape because he did not participate in his hometown’s lust for vengeance.  They wanted vengeance, the vengeance of God, to set all things right.  And for all things to be set right, those Greek Assyrians, those people about 40 miles north of Nazareth, had to pay!!   So when Jesus comes along and reads his job description from Isaiah 61, he leaves out their favorite part.  The part of the vengeance of our God.   Not only did he leave out the part about God’s vengeance, he specifically made the point that not only would God’s vengeance not be brought to bear upon their enemies up north, but the favor of the Lord was just as much for them as for us.  He used two stories of Elijah and Elisha from the Old Testament, helping Gentiles (Greek Assyrian Gentiles to be specific) when there were plenty of good Jews around who could have been helped, to make his point.  A point which was not lost on those listening.  They heard loud and clear that God was not choosing sides, and they immediately tried to kill the messenger, their hometown boy turned Messiah of Israel.

As i wrote before – The easiest way to produce unity and sense of belonging among people is to share a common enemy, a common hatred.  To revile a common enemy and believe god hates them because we hate them.  The easiest way to unite a people is to share a common vengeance.   The people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth all shared a common enemy and hated, and when Jesus made it clear that their enemies were not his enemies, he was no longer their hometown boy made good.  He became one of them.  After all, if you are not with us, you’re against us, AMEN!!

We want unity, we want to belong.  We seek a togetherness, this is ingrained within us.  We are deeply conditioned to seek togetherness. And the easiest way to produce this unity is to be united against a common enemy.   We can all come together to hate that common enemy.

Our politicians know this, they understand this.  And by politicians, I mean the Republicans AND the Democrats.  (Of course I am writing as a good Old American here.  If you read this in another country, just insert whatever political parties you have!!).  Just stir up enough hatred and hostility in our group against them, and I mean, really stir them up!!  We gotta fire up the base, after all.  If we don’t fire up the base, we can’t win.  So we must manufacture our common enemy, someone we can all hate.  Then, we have to hate everyone who is for them, because if they are for the one we hate, then we hate them too, AMEN!   And we must be right, because there’s more of us than there are of them!!   Just wait until those polls open up, we will show them…

But – it’s demonic.  It doesn’t feel demonic.  It feels good, it’s cathartic.  It might even feel like the Holy Spirit is on your side, we get such a relief when we can align ourselves against a common enemy.   Especially when we win.

You can see it’s demonic, because when it’s challenged by the prophet, the prophet is attacked.  If you don’t believe god is on our side, you must be one of them.

So, Jesus leaves Nazareth, his life and mission still intact.

“And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.” Luke 4:31-35 ESV.    So Jesus leaves the crowd of would be murderers at Nazareth, a crowd of good people, a crowd of people who had known Jesus since he was a young boy.  He leaves and heads south to Capernaum, where he was in the synagogue (imagine that – Jesus, who is supposedly so anti-religion, takes part in every religious service) and is confronted by a man with a demon.  Pay attention to the words of this demon – “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”    Do you see where I’m going?    What have you to do with US???   Have you come to destroy US??   This demon is all about protecting its own US in the US vs. them paradigm of the world.   And for this demon, Jesus is certainly not one of US.

In the unity of us vs them…we, collectively take all our fear, anger, hostility and cast it on them.   It sure makes us feel good, it can even feel like the Holy Spirit is with us, we believe God is on our side.   Well, God is on our side.  But God is also on their side.   “”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”  Matthew 5:43-47 ESV.

Love your enemies.  Love even them.   Because our Father in heaven loves them just like he loves us.  He loves you just the way you are.  He loves them, just the way they are.   If we must destroy our brothers (even those we call enemies) to gain our victory, what have we really won?   Probably a lot more enemies.  Because, trust me on this, you will never be able to kill them all.

John Lewis

Freely Given

Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard, straight outta Matthew.  Jesus tells a story of a farmer who hired laborers in his vineyard.  Some he hired first thing in the morning, some he hired  about the third hourthen Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hourhe hired more laborers.   Finally, about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 

Everything was a-ok until quitting time, when it came time to pay all these laborers their wages.  The owner starts with those who had just arrived in the last hour, and each of them received a denarius.   Then those who had been there six hours, those who’d been there 9 hours, also received the same denarius.  Finally, those who had started first thing in the morning come, and they believe (as do we) they should receive more.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  To which Jesus’ farmer replies But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Jesus’ farmer just broke every economic rule, every rule of motivation,  every rule of fair compensation.  Yes, the union boss would have been running an investigation of these labor practices!

Think about it.  This last group of laborers had been standing lazily around all day – Why do you stand here idle all day?  It’s harvest season, if these guys had wanted to work, they could have found work.  The text doesn’t give them credit for doing any exceptional job in the hour they were there.  Yet the boss gives them the same pay as he gives those who’ve been sweating under the hot sun.

It makes no sense.  Seriously, it makes no sense.  Why would any employer give the same pay no matter the quantity, or the quality, of work done?  It makes no sense because Jesus is not teaching us about economics, but grace.  The grace of God.  Grace can not be calculated like a day’s wages.  Again, grace is not about finishing last or first; it’s about not counting.

This story Jesus tells is not about fairness.  In fact, the story is completely and patently unfair, and that is the whole point.  Grace is not fair.   By definition, it is unfair and undeserved.  It is, after all, grace.  You can’t earn or deserve grace.  I’ve heard it said of forgiveness that if you have earned it or deserve it, then it’s not forgiveness at all.  Forgiveness is freely given or it’s not forgiveness, it’s simply right justice.  You’ve paid back your debt, you’ve done your time, you did not receive grace or forgiveness, just that which you paid for.

I would say the same thing about grace.  If you’ve earned it or deserve it, if you’ve worked so hard for it that in receiving it you are simply getting what is owed to you, where is the grace in that?  Grace is either freely given or not given at all.

And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’   It is not fair.  We earned our pay.   Which of you reading this does not fall on the side of these 12 hour workers?  This is the way our world works, and believe me, sometimes you can be a 12 hour worker and it’s still not good enough.   No matter how hard you work to earn favor in this world, by the rules of this world, there will be someone there to tell you you’re still not good enough.

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”   Not so in the Kingdom of God.   The Kingdom of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord, runs on grace.  Two thousand years after Jesus, we still haven’t wrapped our heads around this yet.  We’ve got all kinds of rules, regulations, and lines in the sand.   But in Bible, even through the Old Testament but most glaringly in the “…Word became flesh and dwelt among us….” John 1:14 ESV, all we see is the grace of God.  Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God, never once turned away a sinner who came to him.  His only rule is grace and forgiveness.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15 ESV.  Ouch.  Didn’t see that on the Romans Road.

I may try to earn it.  You may try to earn it.  But the more we try to earn the grace and favor of God, the farther we move away from Him.  It is our world that runs on merit.  It is the spirit of this world that pits us against one another, makes us climb over one another on that ladder of success.  It is the spirit of this world that says if we would only do more, we might get more.  It is the spirit of this world that says that getting more is the goal.

In the kingdom of God, we can not do more to get more.  Twelve hour workers get no more than those who showed up just in time for dinner.  There is no more to get.  He’s already given it all.  All we can do is accept free gift of the grace of God, freely given.

“”For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.””

Matthew 20:1-16 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.20.1-16.esv

John Lewis

Ninety-nine Sheep

ninety nine sheep

Looking at the grace of God, a grace which surpasses all human understanding and comprehension.  A grace which just makes no sense to us, because the only ways we can understand are the ways of our world, the ways we have learned and lived our whole lives.  Consider this story of a shepherd and a particular lost sheep.

Lost-Sheep

“”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:4-7 ESV

open country

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting this one.  It seems simple enough, but when I really consider it, what about those other ninety-nine sheep?   Jesus tells us this man (God the Father) would leave ninety-nine sheep in the open country to chase after this one fool sheep who wanders away.   In the open countryunprotected, there would be thieves, wolves, and any number of other threats.  More could simply wander off.  What if he comes back with this one lost sheep, celebrating and thanking God, and twenty more are missing?  Then what?

wolves_at_2

It makes no sense to us (at least me) because I am too busy counting. I like to know I’m doing the right thing, making the right decision.  So why would I leave ninety-nine perfectly good sheep vulnerable to attack, unprotected, to go chasing after one scoundrel who never should have wandered off in the first place?   In trying to win back this one little sheep, I’m not going to risk losing any of my good sheep.

Name in 3D coloured lights

But here’s the thing about God and his grace – if you’re busy counting, doing the math, you’ve missed the whole point.  In the words of Philip Yancey in his book What’s so Amazing About Grace?, “Grace is not about finishing last or first; it is about not counting.”   God’s grace is a free gift, not something we can ever earn.

healthy people

God’s not doing the math.  God is not about making sure we have done ten more good things that bad things in our life so we can then somehow be found worthy of his love.  God is not even about distinguishing “bad” from “good”.  (What was that tree Adam and Eve were not allowed to eat from in the garden?)  If he were, he had ninety-nine perfectly “good” little sheep and would never have left them to chase after that one “bad” sheep.   But, as Jesus also says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”” Luke 5:32 ESV.  That one lost sheep is the whole reason Jesus ever came…

grace2

God did not come to us in the form of Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, because of how righteous we are.  He came to chase us down because we are all his lost sheep.  He comes out of heaven, walks with us on earth, joins us in our mess which we have made, and guides us back.   He is gathering his flock.  If we have been brought back into the fold, now we get to join Jesus in chasing down the rest of those lost sheep.  We are out in the open country, there are wolves watching and waiting.  If we are just standing still, how easy will it be for the wolves to pick us off?

jesus searching

So we don’t stand still.  We join Jesus in his search.  In our search, we draw closer to Him, we become more like Him.  As we become more like Him, we too begin to stop counting.  We too begin to see the value of one lost sheep.  We too will leave ninety-nine in open country to chase the one who has strayed.

harvest is plenty

There are so many lost sheep.  So many that, as Jesus tells us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Luke 10:2 ESV.   If you are that lost sheep, Jesus will not rest until he has tracked you down.  He’s come all the way from heaven to find you.  If you’re one of those ninety-nine in the open country, the wolves are watching and waiting for their chance to strike.   Quit standing still, go with Jesus, and find that lost sheep He is looking for.

John Lewis

A Prophet in His Hometown

prophet in his hometown.jpg

Back into Luke today.  After his baptism and testing in the wilderness, Jesus returns to Galilee.   He begins to preach throughout Galilee, especially around Capernaum.  After a few weeks, he finally returns to his hometown of Nazareth.  On the sabbath day he stands in the synagogue to read.

JesSynagog

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

scripture fulfilled

This is very dramatic.  Luke presents it in a very dramatic way.  News about Jesus had been spreading.  News about Jesus had come to Nazareth well before his homecoming.  Rumor was that he might be the One, the Messiah, the liberating king.  This news was well received in Nazareth.   For the backwoods town of Nazareth to have its own hometown boy actually be the chosen king, how big would that be?

So the hometown boy they’ve heard so much about has finally returned.  As is his custom, he is in the synagogue.  He stands to read, is handed the scroll of Isaiah, and reads the passage about Messiah and the year of the lords favor.  It is a very familiar passage in that synagogue.

Jesus-in-Synagogue

And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth – yes, it’s what you’re thinking.  Yes, I am Messiah.  I am the one.  Jesus gives a thinly veiled acknowledgement that, yes, he is the Messiah.  This was very well received, they were all speaking well of him, there was much excitement in the air.

throw jesus from a cliff

But within an hour, before the day was over, the people of Jesus’ own hometown would try to throw him off a cliff.  These same people in the synagogue, who know Jesus and Jesus knows them, who are speaking so well of him and marveling at the gracious words he is saying, will turn on Jesus and try to throw him off a cliff.  Why the quick change??

spirit of the lord is upon me

There is a hint of why they change tone so quickly in how Jesus reads the passage from Isaiah 61.    The full passage reads “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord ‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…” Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV.  Jesus stopped mid sentence.  He didn’t finish the sentence.  Jesus omits the part of about the vengeance of our god.   They didn’t get that, they missed it, but it was a hint at what going to go wrong.

vengeanceof god

What was Jesus saying in not saying something?  He’s saying – I’m going to proclaim the favor of god, but not the vengeance of god.  Notice how Isaiah 61 says it-  the day of vengeance of our God…  The implication is clear.  God is on our side.  He’s going to take vengeance, but not on us. He’s going to take vengeance on those who don’t have our god.  The dominant vision of Messiah was that of a payback messiah. Messiah was to be an agent of God’s payback, God’s smack down, God’s vengeance.

We have in American culture, mainly through cinema, the ingrained concept of hero justice.  Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Bruce Willis, Matt Damon, and the rest.  They come riding onto the scene with payback, they turn the tables, they get vengeance, set things straight, and smack down those who need smacking down.  We get excited over this, we will pay good money to see this storyline time and again.  We believe in payback…

judah macabbee

Two hundred years before earlier, about 167 BC, the Jewish people were oppressed by the Greek Syrians.  They were forcing the Jewish people to become Hellenistic, to adopt Greek culture.  They were being forced to do things like sacrifice pigs, eat pork, etc.  There was at the time a righteous priest named Mattathias from Modi’in who resisted and was executed.   As he was being executed, he cries out You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people.  1 Maccabees 2:67

His son Judah was there, heard the cry of his father for vengeance, and led a revolution.   Judah brought the hammer down on those Greek Syrians, and earned the nickname “Judah the Hammer”, or as he’s known to history, Judah Maccabaeus.   “The  Hammer” brought the hammer, and in so doing became the prototype of Messiah.  This is what messiah would,  could, and should do, be another greater Judah Maccabaeus , and exact the vengeance of our god.
Judah-Maccabee

Judah Maccabaeus was a national hero.  They celebrated holidays in his name.  They felt about him much as we Americans feel about George Washington.

Fast forward again two hundred years.  The gentile Greek Syrians still lived about forty miles north of Nazareth.  The Jews still hated them.  And so these in Jesus’ hometown, how they longed for the day of the vengeance of our god against those Gentiles.

Jesus had grown up with these people, he knew the people in Nazareth. He really knew them.  He knew how they felt.  He knew they were good people, but he also knew how they hated.   He knew the nationalistic vision of their god.  He knew how they hated their enemies, and how they wanted messiah to once again bring the hammer down.

But Jesus was not just Messiah,  but also a  prophet.  He’s a prophet speaking to his own hometown, and that’s hard.

2nd temptation

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘”Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 

luke_4_21-30_lg

Jesus knew they wanted to see miracles, to do tricks, to show them who he was.  But he’s already overcome that  second temptation, the temptation to spectacle.

Jesus didn’t want to do tricks or perform miracles on demand in his hometown.  He does want to speak as a prophet.  But he knows it’s almost impossible to be a prophet to his hometown.  Why?   Because the prophet always challenges us versus them thinking.  So when the hometown hears one of their own challenging the idea that god is on our side, they will turn.  Watch how Jesus speaks to them…

Elijah

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus rehashes and repeats two stories from the Old Testament, one from Elijah and one from Elisha.  These are two miracles by God from two of the most beloved prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Two miracles, not for Jews but for Gentiles.  Even a miracle for the general of Syrian army, the leader of those who had brought great harm upon the Jewish people.

Naaman the Syrian

Specifically, these two Gentiles were from the same people the great national hero Judah Maccabaeus had brought the hammer down upon, the Greek Syrians.   They are waiting for Jesus to do the same.  But in reading his job description this day in the synagogue, Jesus leaves out the vengeance

In their lust for revenge Jesus refuses to cooperate.  Jesus is revealing that God is not vengeful.  We think God is vengeful against people we want to be vengeful against.  But God doesn’t want to take the hammer to or take vengeance upon our enemies, he wants to bless them, he wants to heal them, he wants to show them favor…

gods-wrath

This is like telling crusaders, God is on the side of Muslims too.  Or telling 1950’s Americans that God on side of those Russians too.  Or telling Israeli’s that God on side of Palestinians, too.  Or telling 2018 Americans that God is in the side of all those immigrants, refugees, maybe even on the side of ISIS…

This is very radical, even dangerous.  How dangerous?  All are filled with wrath

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

After this episode, Jesus speaks in parables for the rest of his ministry.  Until, of course, he speaks openly again in the last week of his ministry and gets himself killed.

The easiest way to produce unity and sense of belonging among people is to share a common enemy, a common hatred.  To revile a common enemy and believe god hates them because we hate them.  The easiest way to unite a people is to share a common vengeance.

Why was Jesus attacked by his hometown?  Because he broke with solidarity of “us versus them”.  Their solidarity was that we are the people who hate those people up north.  We celebrate  holidays of the man who brought the hammer down.   We can’t wait for God to bring the hammer down again.  They believed in a just God, a God who would make all things right.   They believed that part of making things right had to include bringing the hammer down on those Gentiles up north.  They believed in a payback Messiah.  They believed in the vengeance of their God.

And any Messiah not interested in their bringing their vengeance was no Messiah at all.  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘”Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

Luke 4:16-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.16-30.esv

John Lewis

What about Grace?

What about Grace?

grace.jpg

I was just kind of ruminating while writing this, not sure I actually had a specific point to make.   I thought maybe I would figure that out as I was writing.   Hopefully I found a message worth sharing.

grace-and-truth1

This verse seems a fan favorite among followers of Jesus – For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17 ESV.  This is an interesting verse for us, because as Christians, no matter the denomination or background, you can bet that one thing we are all interested is our truth claims.  We know that Jesus was, is, and will be “….the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6 ESV.   Jesus in himself is the truth of God the Father, this we vigorously proclaim to the world around us, and rightly so.  In fact, the last thing Jesus said to his disciples was “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:18-19 ESV.   So, yes, we are commanded to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ into the world and make disciples of all the nations, and this does make it a worthwhile effort to be able to know and speak truth to those around us.

truth claims

But then we all have our own various, in house truth claims.  By in house, I am referring to those particular truth claims that might make one a Roman Catholic, a Southern Baptist, an Eastern Orthodox, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, an evangelical, a Protestant.  Through the centuries we Christians have spent enormous time and energy debating and decreeing our truths into the world and to one another, every church and every denomination defending its particular brand.

what about grace

But what about the “other” part of this particular favorite verse.   For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  We will spend untold hours and even invest our own treasure to defend particular versions of the truth of Jesus Christ.  But what about grace?

grace is enough

Yes, what about grace?   I suppose I have a point today after all.  What about grace?   Churches will argue amongst themselves that they have the best, most true version of the truth of Jesus Christ.  But why aren’t we competing with one another to see who can pour the most grace into this world we all agree is broken and in need of that grace?   Seems to me that the grace of Jesus Christ is a large part of his truth as well…

AmazingGrace

In the words of author Philip Yancey, “Grace is Christianity’s best gift to the world.”   In the words of our most favorite hymn,  “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.”   In a world dominated by the 24 hour news cycle, if it bleeds it leads journalism, in a world built on merit and earning your way, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and self made men, what do Christians have to offer that is more significant than the unearned, undeserved, unending grace of Jesus Christ?

un grace

Where else are we to turn for grace?   The world is full of un-grace, so much so that we just don’t even notice, we just accept that this is the way it has to be.  Our culture tells us we must look good, do good, and be good.  We have all sorts of rules for what can and can not even be said.  We try to earn favor with one group of people, only to lose favor with another.

standardied test

We start early setting up systems of acceptance for our own children. We test our children in preschool and slot them as “advanced”, “normal”, or “slow”.   Then we set up grading systems, test every skill, measure their performance in math, reading, writing, even their social skills and outlook.  We highlight and spotlight every wrong answer given, not the correct answers given.  All this we do in order to prepare our children for the graceless “real world”, the world we have set up, the world we have created.  The world as we would have it, a world of relentless ranking, a world where we fight as hard as we can to climb higher on the ladder, never mind those lost souls we knock down in our mad scramble to the top.

us-army-marching

The military has practices un-grace in its purest form.  Assigned a title, uniform, salary, and code of conduct, every soldier knows precisely where they stand in relation to every other soldier.  You salute and obey those who outrank you; you bark orders to those you outrank.

Corner-Office-Rendering

Corporations do the same, if just more subtly.  Corner offices or cubicles, private bathrooms or not so private stalls, special parking or commuter lots, it all depends on where you rank in the organization.  And we are always waiting for someone above us to fall so we might have the chance at what they have.  Meanwhile, someone else awaits our fall.

forbes-2013-the-worlds-richest-billionaires-list---1

Our world runs gracelessly, insisting we must earn our way.  Fortune magazine even runs its annual list of the 500 richest people in the world, and this we are fascinated by.  It usually even makes the evening news.  And what are the names of the 500 poorest?   I mean, who cares, right?

anorexia mirror

Think about the disease of anorexia.  This is a direct product of the graceless world we have created for ourselves.  We hold up our image of the beautiful, skinny models, and wonder why our teenage girls will starve themselves trying to fit into that image.  This is a phenomenon unique to our western civilization, it is a disease with no known history, which is almost non existent in places which have not taken to our western materialism and consumerism.

All these things take place right here in the USA, a supposedly enlightened, egalitarian society.  We all have our rights, and don’t mind standing up for those rights.  Even if it means stepping on someone else’s rights in the process.

accuser7

Unfortunately, the church itself has become known as a haven for un-grace.  The very sinners who once came running to Jesus now run away from his church just as fast as they can go.   If they have any interest in the church at all, they may feel they need to get their act together before they walk through those church doors.  After all, that holy water might just melt them if it were to land upon them.  And if anyone in that building actually knew our stories, we’d be the talk of the town.

The-Prodigal-Son-a

Gordon MacDonald once said “The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church.  You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.”   So, yes, what about grace.  What about the grace of a father who upon seeing his long lost prodigal son trudging home in the distance, could not wait but with glee sprinted out to meet him, clothed him again with his finest, killed the fattest calf, and had a party we still talk about two thousand years later?  What about the grace of a man shown to a woman by a well who was so ashamed of herself that she would only come to the well in midday when she was sure no one else would be around?   What about the grace of a good shepherd who, though he has ninety-nine other sheep, will leave them in the open country to go and search for the one who is lost?  Search, yes, and not stop searching until he has found it that one lost sheep…

jesus-lost-sheep

Yes church, what about grace?

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John 1:16-17 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.1.16-17.esv

John Lewis