Come to the Party. Please.

So, we’ve been looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son for the past few messages.   I have a question to ask, not just about this parable but Jesus ministry in general.  That question is this – What is Jesus doing?   What’s he doing in his table practice, excessive hospitality,  his parables, his life, his ministry, just what IS Jesus doing?   JESUS, IN ALL HE DOES, IS SHOWING US WHAT GOD IS LIKE.

This is so important, do not miss this.  Please don’t miss this.  This question has haunted humanity for millennia.   We are here, we try to figure things out, we discover fire, invent the wheel, indoor plumbing, then we’re going to the moon.  But through it all, one question remains, it hangs over us.  Is there really a God, what’s he like, what about God?   All kinds of theories spring up, all kinds of religions, some come close, some not so close.   But, FINALLY, the question gets answered – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV.  Can I get an Amen??!!   The logos, the logic of God becomes flesh, and in flesh and blood we can SEE what God is like.  Jesus is NOT saving us from God, that is bad theology.  Jesus is not saving us from God, He is revealing God.  Jesus is not saving us from the Father, he is revealing the Father.  Jesus never does anything but that which is an expression of the will of the Father.   Jesus and the father always act in concert with one another, never pitted against one another.  Jesus is showing us definitively what god is like.  Jesus is the true and ultimate word of God.

What is God like?  He is like Jesus. What does God do?  He does what Jesus does.   “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19 ESV.    Everything I do, everything I say, every time I heal, every time I forgive, I do that because that’s what God does.  I’m only showing you what the Father is like.  You haven’t known, but now you do, I’m showing it to you.  On his last day he has this exchange with Philip – Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” John 14:8-10 ESV.  Phillip says show us the father, Jesus says what do you think I’ve been doing for three years??!!   If you’ve seen me in what I am doing, you have seen the father.  That’s the message.  Jesus unconditionally receives the sinner who comes to him because that is what God is like.

Let’s try this again – Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God, not to change the mind of God about humanity.  Don’t get this twisted.  Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us – “well I guess they’re ok after all, if you say so Jesus.”   No, Jesus came to change our mind about God.  As we look at Jesus and learn from Jesus and listen to Jesus, we finally begin to know what God is really like.

In the parable, the father requires no payment (no blood) and issues no punishment.  The Prodigal has already been punished.  His punishment is, he’s in the pig pen.  Sin has a way of punishing us, we are punished by our sins.  Sin is taking its toll.  He doesn’t like it.  The wages of sin is death, and he’s dying in that pig pen.  So he decides he is going to go back to his fathers house.

The Prodigal goes home, arrives at the fathers house, and there is no punishment and no payment.  He’s just pardoned by a kiss.  That’s all that is going on.  The Prodigal, if he will come home, will be welcomed and pardoned with a kiss.

The elder son, the angry brother, wants there to be punishment and payment.  But – you can’t pay it.  It’s gone.  He sold the land and livestock for cash, wasted it on prostitutes, wine, women, and song.  Sex drugs, rock n roll, some of you will shout Amen to that.  He did a bunch of coke, had a bunch of hookers, lost it all in Vegas, that’s it, it’s gone.  You can’t pay it back.  It’s gone.

But – what can be recovered is the relationship!!!   So the older brother is fussing about “all the stuff is gone, the moneys gone, what about the stuff!  All the land, all the livestock”…the Father says “Shut up about the stuff!!  It’s the relationship that can be recovered!!  That’s what we are going to recover, the relationship,  because that’s what matters.

There’s no payment, no punishment, there’s only reconciliation and an extravagant celebration.   Meanwhile, the elder brother cries out “He broke the rules, he broke the rules Father!!!”   The Father says “Yes, I know.  He broke the rules.  But I pardoned him with a kiss.  NOW COME TO THE PARTY!!!”   He broke the rules, disrespected the father, lost all the stuff, but the father pardons him with a kiss.  He is forgiven.  He’s pardoned.

Come to the party.  But the older brother refuses.  What, exactly, is the older brother doing here?  He is consigning himself to hell, the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth…

They’ve both been in hell.  The Prodigal Son has been in the pig pen.  “This is hell.  I’m going back to my fathers house.  Even though I’m not worthy.”  He goes back, the Father says “I don’t care about worthy.  Worthy, not worthy, you’re  my son!   Robe, ring, shoes, fatted calf, let’s have a party!”

The older brothers been sweating in the field all day.  They’ve been laboring st home as well, they’ve got a BBQ going (beef not pork).  There’s a band, the sun has set, it’s dark, they’ve moved all the furniture, and everyone is dancing.  It’s a party!   The brother comes home, says “What’s going on?”   He’s told by one of the servants tells him “Your brother came home, your father pardoned him by a kiss, killed the fatted calf, he’s so happy to have him home safe and sound, we’re having a party.

The older brother is angry, he won’t go in.  He argues with his father when his father comes out to him.  So what do we have?   We have the older brother, outside, in the outer darkness gnashing his teeth (can you picture it?).   “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!!”    So, who’s suffering? The elder brother is suffering.

If you want to, you can call this the wrath of god.  What’s really going on is simply that God refuses to act in a manner inconsistent with his mercy.  If the older son refuses to forgive, he will be excluded from the party (the kingdom of god).  Not because the father excludes him, but because he excludes himself.  You can call it the wrath of god if you want to, but what really going on is the father says “If you’re asking me will I act inconsistent with my mercy and punish my son, I will not.  We are going to celebrate his reconciliation and you are invited.  I urge you, I beg you, I plead with you, come to the party.  But I will not be manipulated to act inconsistent with my nature which is mercy.

Either the elder brother is good with that and says “yes Father, you are merciful and that’s a good thing, I come to the party.”   Or he will stay out in hell, in the outer darkness.  You see how this works?   That’s why we are taught if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven.  “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. It’s not because god is petty and says “if you won’t forgive, I’m not forgiving you!”   It’s simply because when we will not cooperate with the nature of god, which is extravagant mercy, we exclude ourselves from God himself, and consign ourselves hell.

We must always position ourselves on such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes across to us as good news.  The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing and said ‘this is not good.”   The sinners and tax collectors said “this is the best thing I ever heard!

How do you position yourself in such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes to you as good news?   You stay poor in spirit and need of mercy.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.    Who’s more poor in being spiritual than the prostitutes, the sinners and tax collectors?   The get F – minuses at being spiritual.  Jesus says “Come to the table anyway!  This is for you too!”  REALLY?  “Yes, really.”   Sinners – “that’s the best thing I ever heard of!”  Pharisees – “that’s terrible, he’s compromising, he’s maligning the integrity of our faith.”  All those things Pharisees say.

We must always position ourselves in such a way that what Jesus announces in his beatitudes and enacts in his ministry strikes us as good news.  Be poor of spirit and in need of mercy, and it will always seem like good news to you.  But the moment you feel like a gatekeeper of the mercy of god, as though you are the immigration officer determining who gets in and who’s left out, who deserves it and who doesn’t, the moment you take up that position you’re about to miss the party and be left out in the darkness gnashing your teeth.

There are two kinds of Christianity in America.  There is compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  Both of the these have great energy.  Both can build churches, have movements, write books, have websites, podcasts, television programs, both have all of this.  Angry Christianity probably has even more energy, because it is easier to attract a crowd around anger than co-suffering love.

You find both kinds in this story.  The father and the angry brother in the story of the Prodigal son both have their sources of energy compelling them to act according to their own way.  The father in verse 20 saw his son from far off and was moved by compassion, co-suffering love, and he sprang into action, ran out to meet him, pardoned him with a kiss and threw a party.

In verse 28 the older brother heard this, became angry and refused to go in.  “I will point be a part of that!  That’s not fair, that’s not justice.  That’s not right, I won’t go.”

Two kinds of Christianity.  Compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  One says let’s kiss the leper, the outcast, the excluded, those who’ve been marginalized and told they don’t belong.  Let’s kiss the leper,  forgive the sinner, and walk the world as the pardon of a God.  Let’s have a party.

The other says let’s get mad about something and make sure the sinners know how mad God is at them.  Let’s have a protest, let’s protest something.

One says let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of god, and try to be a party of reconciliation.  The other says let’s get mad about something, tell sinners how mad God is at them, and have a protest.  Both can use the Bible.  Both have their bible verses.

There are a lot of energy in both kinds.  But only one gets endorsed by Jesus, only one reflects the Father, and only one gets to go to the party that is the Kingdom of God.  So, let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of God and make what we do feel like a welcome home party and not mandatory sentencing.

Amen

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis

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An Easy Yoke?

I’ve been working on this since Monday, guess I’m slowing down in my old age.  This may be something of a counterpoint to the point I made last time, about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   Or, at least part of a solution, a cure,  to the unholy lives we lead while claiming to have the Holy Spirit within us.  This, as always, comes from Jesus, the one who died, was buried, and was raised in resurrection on the third day.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV.    So the same Jesus who tells us “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14 ESV, also tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light.   The same savior who tells us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, do unto others, and don’t be angry, tells us that his is the easy yoke and the light burden.

But it doesn’t seem or feel so easy to us, does it?   As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”   Even those of us who profess faith in the risen Christ find his commands and teaching exceedingly difficult, difficult to the point that we just throw up our hands and declare ourselves to be “only human”.   And, being “only human”, Jesus couldn’t possibly have expected us to live as he showed and taught us, could He?   And so, we have our excuse and our reason for throwing up our hands, declaring ourselves “only human”, and not even trying.   And so we choose our heavy burdens, anxieties, and fear over his easy yoke and light burdens…

We lament the “cost of discipleship”, the high price we must pay as followers of the lamb.  But, as Dallas Willard points out in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, there is a far greater cost of non-discipleship, is there not?  As Soren Kierkegaard told us, “It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition!

It is in choosing non-discipleship, in choosing unrighteousness, that we choose a life of burdens, failures, and disappointments.  A life filled with toil, a life filled with endless problems which never get solved.  We choose to live this way.   We call it normal human life.   As Willard says, “The “cost of discipleship,” though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be part of his company in The Way of life.”   As Christ said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV.

Jesus gives us an alternative to this hard, burdensome life apart from God.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   As the apostle John tells us in 1 John For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  But do we take these statements seriously?  Do we believe them?   Do we believe that Jesus has the easy yoke and the light burden?   I mean, it may have been easy and light for Him, even all the way through the cross, but we are, after all, only human.  These things seem anything but easy and light to us.

We all know, no one denies, that the world would be a better place if we could all just start following the teachings of Jesus.   And just because we don’t understand, it doesn’t cancel his offer of an easy yoke and light burdens.  The offer still stands for our souls to find rest (here and now, not off into into the heaven we are just dying to get into).

Maybe the problem is, we try to carry out Jesus commandments, to live as Jesus did, on a case by case basis.  We read his word, we hear the sermons, we know we are called to love and pray for our enemies, and turn the other cheek, but then, when the time arises and someone offends us or sins against us or otherwise harms us, the phrase “what would jesus do” goes right out the window, and now I’m standing up for my rights, looking out for number one, and defending myself.  I turned the other cheek once, now it’s time to start knocking heads!!  Hurt me once, shame on you.  Hurt me twice, shame on me.   We get pushed around a little, and the real spirit at work within us shows it’s ugly head.  But it’s ok…all of our sins are forgiven, right…

We are saved by grace, amen!!??   Of course…but that does not mean the power to live as we now want to live is automatically infused into us.  We don’t say a sinners prayer and are instantly transformed into christlikeness.   Our salvation moment is just a beginning, not an end, amen!

Think about it like this – it’s like an athlete who wants to become better at his sport, whatever it is.  Michael Phelps did not decide he wanted to be a gold medal swimmer, then based on that decision show up in Sydney, hop in the pool, and win 8 gold medals.  No, he decided he wanted to be the best swimmer he could be, a gold medal swimmer, and hopped in the pool over and over again in training, with his whole life focused around that point, to every day get a little bit better.   And he kept training, he kept training.   And so every four years, we watch the culmination of the life led with that goal in mind, a life led with the point of becoming a great swimmer.

This is true for everything we do in life, is it not?   A teacher, an engineer, a public speaker, a musician, a surgeon.  If we want to get closer to that which we aspire to, we must adopt lifestyle practices which will allow us to get better at that which we want to do.  We must read, study, practice, submit to menial tasks which, at the time, don’t seem to have anything at all to do with the goal we have in mind (wax on, wax off!).

The same is true of the Christian life.  A baseball player or football player who expects to decide today to play without any practice or exercise in preparation for that game, who expects to excel at that game, is no more ridiculous than a Christian who expects to be able to imitate Christ when put to the test without appropriate exercise and preparation for godly living.

If you read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus himself had spent his whole life in preparation for his ministry.  Despite an audacious birth narrative, he grew up secluded in a lower class family in a backwater town.  Yet, at the age of twelve in the temple, “…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”,Luke 2:47 ESV.   There were so amazed that he immediately returned to Nazareth for eighteen more years of preparation, being subject to all the demands of life and family.

After he was baptized, he spent the first month in solitude and fasting.  During his ministry He alone much of the time, in solitude and prayer,  often all night, preparing to serve his disciples and the masses.

It was out of great preparation that Jesus was able to lead his public life of teaching and healing.  He loved his closest companions, his disciples, to the end even though they often disappointed him and at times seemed incapable of entering into the life he was calling them for.   It was out of great preparation that Jesus was then able to die his death unsurpassed for its great intrinsic beauty and historical effect.

So, what’s my point?  This is the key to the “easy yoke” Jesus talks about.  We can’t just try to live as Jesus did by the seat of our pants and call upon his power “in the moment,” or on the spot.  We will surely fail.  If we want to live as Christ did, we must live as Christ lived all of his life.   Like with any human endeavor (though this would not be an entirely human endeavor), if we want to become anything more than we are, we must undertake the disciplines and the lifestyle that will make us into what we aspire to be.   If we want to be better at baseball or basketball or any other sport, we must undertake the discipline of practice (we’re talking about practice!) and lifestyle to become a better athlete.  If we want to become successful in business, we must devote ourselves to the discipline and lifestyle associated with that goal.  If we want to be the type of people who become more full, devoted disciples of Christ, who react as he did in the moment, under pressure, then we too must give ourselves over to the discipline and lifestyle shown to us by our Teacher.

We can’t expect to become people who go the second mile, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, or suffer patiently and hopefully if we are living our lives just like everyone around us.  This is just as silly as thinking I can go straight from Pizza Hut to the swimming pool and swim like Michael Phelps.  If we try this, we are bound to fail and leave the way of Christ “difficult and left untried.”

Jesus never expected us to simply wake up one day and be the type of people who turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, go the second mile, or bless those who persecute us.  But Jesus does expect us to follow Him.  These responses are characteristics of Christlikeness which Jesus gave us as an example of the new kind of people we will become as we seek first the kingdom of god.

Jesus invites us to a life where loving enemies and turning the other cheek will seem like the only response we should make.  It will seem the only sensible thing to do.  For someone living as Jesus shows, the more difficult thing would be to hate the enemy, to turn away the one who asks, to curse those who curse us, to be un-Christlike.  True Christlikeness comes at the point where it is difficult not to react as he did.

Im going to finish here.  We must remember that the way to run a marathon is NOT to simply go out and run 26.2 miles.  You will never make it.  The way to become a great violinist in NOT to go out, buy a violin, and break into symphony #5.   No, to do these things we must enter into certain disciplines and lifestyles where we can become the kind of people capable of running 26 miles, hitting a baseball, or playing the great compositions.

Or, for that matter, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Becoming the kind of person who is moving from being only human to fully human.   I will be coming back to this periodically, to explain how activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, and celebration (some of which are activities I myself are have not yet tried) are an essential to our salvation journey and deliverance from the power of sin over our lives.  There is a way to the easy yoke Jesus is describing, but it will take some practice and discipline to get there…

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 ESV

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1jn.5.3.esv

John Lewis

Chills

Just had a random thought enter my mind during my prayer time this morning. I’ve never thought about this before, and this thought line may be totally undeveloped for now, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.

Just had a thought about this particular verse of scripture – Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. This same verse appears slightly differently in the gospel of Luke as well – “”And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Luke 12:8-10 ESV

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Ok, so here’s the thought I had this morning, and it’s a very serious thought. The one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven…if we are Christians, who claim to have been “saved”, who claim to have communion with the holy, risen Christ, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who claim to have been indwelled with the Holy Spirit, yet we walk in the world as the same angry, selfish, obnoxious person/people we were before…is that not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is not the worst blasphemy we could possibly make the blasphemy of an unholy life lived in the name of the Holy Spirit?

This gives me chills. People know who I am. They know that I am a Christian, one who believes in Jesus Christ, who believes he is the way, the truth, and the life. But – is what they see from me in my life and the way I carry myself on a daily basis blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Do they see me loving my neighbor, am I one who prays for those who would be my enemies? Do I even love my own wife and children, brothers and sisters as myself?

Chills.

How about the church as a whole?? Does the church blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in our day to day interactions with the “world” around us? Do we, as a church, walk in a spirit of protest and confrontation, or in the spirit of love and reconciliation?? Which of these spirits is of the Holy Spirit? Is one of these spirits a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

We think we know what “sin” is. But these are words straight from the mouth of the sinless one. These are not my words, they are the words of Jesus, the one we claim to follow yet ignore his teaching. All those “unwashed masses”, Jesus says all their sins will be forgiven them, but those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Again, am I guilty, in my own life on a daily basis, of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV. Sometimes we think we have all the answers, we know every sin known to man, and we can tell the “world” all the things they are getting wrong. But, as Jesus also said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 ESV. How many of us point out every speck of dust in the world’s eye, when we can’t even see past the redwood tree in our own eyes? After all, it may be we who are guilty of the only sin Jesus says is unforgivable.

Chills.

“”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.””

Mark 3:28-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.3.28-30.esv

John Lewis

The Prostitute, The Pharisee, and The Rabbi

who-will-love-him-more-by-james-seward-300x298

Finishing up this story of Jesus eating in the house of Simon the Pharisee.

TWO DEBTORS

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”    Jesus gives Simon a short parable, very simple.  Easy to understand.   One debtor owed $50,000, another $5,000.   The creditor cancelled the debt if both.  By the way – don’t get it twisted – forgiveness is NOT a debt paid.  Forgiveness is a debt cancelled.   Forgives is not a complicated exchange with somebody finally getting paid off.    Forgiveness is not a debt paid, but a debt cancelled.  Whoever is out is out, in this case the creditor, who just says, don’t worry about it, I cancel the debt.  That’s the parable.

christ-in-the-house-of-simon-the-pharisee-claude-vignon

Now Jesus asks Simon a question.  Now which of them will love him more?    Simon realizes he’s probably being worked into a corner, being set up.   He’s kind of hesitant.  The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.   To which Jesus says EXACTLY!!    And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.   Now, Simon has been judging the whole time.  He’s judged Jesus, not a prophet.  He’s judged the woman, sinner.  And he’s been judging wrongly on both counts.

Woman Opens Windows And Enjoys The Landscape

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”     

john-the-baptist-preaching-1733

Question – Why has this prostitute done this lavish thing?   Why has she shown up weeping and kissing Jesus feet?  Is it in response to a miracle?  I don’t think so.  But I think we get a clue if we look at preceding three verses in Luke, just before this whole scene at Simon’s house.  “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”” Luke 7:33-35 ESV.  Jesus is talking about how people ridiculed both John and himself in different ways.  John was austere, he neither ate nor drank, and they said he had a demon.  They saw Jesus, look at him!   Eating and drinking with the sinners, they said he was a drunkard and a glutton.  A friend of tax collectors and sinners.  But we’ll see, because wisdom is justified by its fruits, by what it produces, by the children it brings forward.

I believe this woman is responding to the love she has seen in Jesus.  She’s lived a life excluded from the wider society.  She’s always been ostracized and rejected, and Jesus, a prominent rabbi, is changing all that.  He is accepting, and loving, and willing to dine with people like her.  It breaks her.  She can’t stay away.  She’s risking much, as a prostitute you just don’t go into the Pharisees home uninvited.

labels

Up until now, Jesus has not referred to the woman.   He’s discerned the thought of Simon the Pharisee and gave him the parable which is a new lens to see the whole situation.    Then he says Do you see this woman?   Which is kind of comical.   You mean the woman at your feet sobbing hysterically with her hair down, kissing your feet and anointing them with perfume.   Yes I happened to notice her!! 

But the fact is that Simon had not seen the woman.  Simon do you see this woman?  Simon didn’t see a woman.  Simon saw a category.  He saw a prostitute.  Simon saw a sinner.  Simon saw a label.  Jesus saw a woman.  We don’t know her back story, we don’t know what led her into that life.  But Jesus saw her as a person, as a woman.  He’s trying to get Simon to see her as a woman.

your sins are forgiven

Strange thing is, because Simon saw this woman as a category and not a human being, he misjudged her.  The one who actually did act inappropriately in all this was…Simon.  Jesus brings that up, saying, you invited me into your house, as a rabbi, for your symposium, and you didn’t give me the customary basin with a towel for my feet.  We always do that, but you didn’t even do that for me.  But don’t worry, she had made up for your sin by how she has bathed my feet in her tears and dried them with her hair.  And, Simon, I arrived and you wouldn’t even give me the formality of the customary kiss on the cheek.   You were so suspicious of me, you wouldn’t even give me the customary greeting.  But don’t worry.  She’s made up for your sin, since I arrived she has not ceased to kiss, not my cheek, but my feet.

kiss on the cheek

I came to your house, you didn’t offer the customary, plain old olive oil for my head.  But don’t worry about it Simon, she’s made up for your sin by anointing my feet with costly perfume.   Jesus is giving Simon a new way of seeing this whole situation.  Was he capable of it?   Was he saying to himself, “Oh, my god!  I’ve gotten this all wrong!  I can’t believe, this blows my mind!”   Do you think Simon was saying this to himself?  Probably not…

pointing finger

When we are in the habit of labeling others and categorizing others and labeling ourselves, and having to live down to our label, we will constantly be misjudging situations and circumstances.  Jesus tries to save us from that by seeing people and not categories and labels.

There are two ways of looking at this story.  One is that this is the story of a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders.  This is quite clear from the story.    We have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, one a Pharisee and the other a rabbi.

forgive

The righteousness of one of these religious leaders requires him to categorically exclude the sinful woman.  He labels her, this woman is a prositure and a sinner, I categorically exclude her from my world.  His righteousness required him to do this, to exclude this woman from his world.

The righteousness of the other, though, compels him to receive and forgive this sinful woman.  Only one of them is enacting the kingdom of God and announcing the gospel.  You’ll have to decide which one that is.

Bible-Verses-about-Forgiveness

Too often we have heard it preached, proclaimed and enacted as though the gospel was how well we can categorize who the sinners are and who is to be excluded.  That is one approach, and one of these religious leaders took that approach.  Another religious leader, in the same situation, chose instead to receive and include the sinful woman, and also to forgive her.  Only one is an enactment of the kingdom and announcement of the gospel.

That is one, true way of looking at this story, but there is another way as well.  This is the deeper meaning of the story.  It’s not that we have a sinful woman in the presence of two religious leaders, but instead we have two sinners in the presence of Jesus.  One sinner refuses Jesus his due honor, then proceeds to judge and label others.

Open bible with man and cross

The other sinner makes no judgment about others, but simply gives Jesus extravagant love.   Only one of these sinners places herself in a position to receive the forgiveness of Jesus.

Jesus now speaks directly to the woman.  And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.   Her sins are forgiven.  Not paid off, but cancelled.  This brings a reaction, doesn’t it.  Now we hear from everybody else at the dinner.  “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”   Who indeed.  Who is this who forgives sins?  Jesus forgives sins because he can.  He can because he is the incarnate expression of the father.

This is what the father is like.  We haven’t always known that, but now we do.  We thought God demanded sacrifice.  It turns out he doesn’t want sacrifice, he wants mercy, because that’s who he is.

This is the. word, the logos, the logic of God, made flesh.  The logic of God says I will respond to sin with forgiveness.  Jesus only does what he sees the father doing.  Everything, every act, every miracle, meal, healing, teaching, and parable that Jesus did was an expression of the father.   Remember this exchange between Jesus and Phillip in the upper room.  “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:8-9 ESV   Jesus forgives sins because he can, because that is what God is like.

The only thing that keeps us from forgiveness is our refusal to turn toward the love of God, and our refusal to turn toward others in love.  This is why we always pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others…

Hell is to argue with love.  Don’t argue with God’s love.

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

John Lewis

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

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