Welcome at His Table

Welcome at His Table

Zacchaeus has something going for him.  Zacchaeus is fascinated by Jesus.  He’s heard of Jesus, he wants to just be able to see Jesus.  But Zacchaeus also has a problem.  The problem is the crowd.   And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.   Zacchaeus could not see Jesus.  Like the song says, he’s a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.  But he is, despite this, a chief tax collector.   Now being short won’t keep you from a parade.  You just gotta get up front.  Problem is, this is the righteous crowd.  This crowd is full of the fans of Jesus.  The synagogue attendees.  They have their perfect attendance pins on.  And they’re not going to make room for someone like Zacchaeus, wee little man or not.   They feel someone trying to push their way through, they say “Oh, it’s Zacchaeus,” they’re blocking him at every turn.  They’re not going to make room for someone like Zacchaeus.  The crowd of Jesus fans.   “He’s our Jesus.”  They were the good people.  They have their bibles, they pay their tithes.  They go to church.  “He belongs to us.  We’re pro life, we vote the right way.  We’re not going to let any sinners in here.”

Because of the crowd, Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus.  The sanctimonious crowd won’t make room for someone like Zacchaeus.  The sanctimonious, belligerent  crowd turned out to be very inhospitable ti sinners.   If we’re not careful, we can become a sanctimonious, belligerent crowd, we fans of Jesus.   Instead of helping people discover Jesus we become an impediment to them.  When we are a sanctimonious, belligerent crowd, we become an impediment.  They can’t see Jesus because of the crowd.

This is what happened to the American church when we started fighting for political power.  A politicized Church became a belligerent crowd preventing outsiders from seeing Jesus.  That’s a problem.

Fortunately Zacchaeus was not one to be easily deterred.  He was chief tax collector after all.   He was resourceful, a determined man, used to getting his way.  He was going to see Jesus.

So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  So he goes ahead in his Armani suit, his Gucci shoes (he is the richest man in town), he knows the route Jesus going to take.  He goes ahead and climbs that sycamore tree.  He’s got a perfect view of Jesus.  His expectations were modest, he only wanted to see Jesus.   And something wonderful happens.  And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  If you set your heart on seeing Jesus, you will usually get more than you bargained for.. not only does he see Jesus, Jesus sees him.   Not only does Jesus see him, he invites himself over for dinner.  He says I must stay at your house today.

No doubt the president of the synagogue had planned a meal, a dinner.  But Jesus must have dinner at Zacchaeus house today.  Why MUST Jesus have stayed with Zacchaeus.

Because tomorrow Jesus goes to Jerusalem and the deal is about to go down.  And ONE MORE TIME he wanted to enact the kingdom of god.  One more time he wants to show what it’s all about.  Maybe this time they’ll get it.  One more timr he wants to show them the Kingdom of God.   Who is the last person in Jericho people think will be a part of God’s new thing?

Zacchaeus.   He’s a tax collector.  He’s excommunicated.  He’s banished.  He’s outcast.   He’s a chief tax collector for crying out loud.   If you were to ask people is God on the move???   “Oh yes, yes.”   Do you feel the kingdom of god is on the verge?   Do you feel like God is about to break through as do a new thing??  Of course, yes, yes!!!

And who is not going to be a part of it??   Sinners!!!   Tax collectors, prostitutes.  CHIEF tax collectors!   We got one right in this town!!   He’s the richest man in town and he’s very wicked, very evil, and he will be totally outside of it.   Zacchaeus will not be a part of what God is doing.

That’s why Jesus says  I must share the table with that man, because I need to show the people what the kingdom of God is like.   I must share this table with the outcast for one more enactment of the kingdom of God.

As soon as Jesus says “Come on Zacchaeus, I want to go to your house,” the crowd began to grumble.  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”   They don’t like it.   He’s our jesus, what’s he doing going with one of them?

Luke’s gospel is all about the radical hospitality of Jesus in his table practice.    This just keeps coming up.  Jesus will share his table with anyone who will share it with him.  He lives in a culture that is very sensitive to these things.  It’s a taboo culture.  It’s a kosher culture.  It’s a culture where some are permissible, some are clean.  But some are impermissible, some cannot be allowed at the table, they are unkosher, unclean.  Jesus is crashing through all those boundaries.  Jesus will share the table with anyone who will share it with him, and this is radical.

Hear this – Pharisees, Sadduccees, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, prodigal sons, elder brothers, secularists, believers, skeptics, church goers, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Jesus doesn’t care!!   If you’re  willing to sit with Jesus, Jesus is willing to sit with you.

Jesus touches the untouchable.  The leper and the unclean, Jesus touches them.  Jesus loves the unlovable, the tax collector and the prostitute.  Jesus includes the excluded, the Samaritan and the prostitute.  Jesus welcomes the banished, the prodigal and the scapegoat.

He even welcomes you. But – are you willing to sit down with them?

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.1-10.esv

John Lewis

Advertisements

Little Rich Man

I’ve been working my way through the gospel of Luke, now we are into chapter 19. Ever since chapter 9, Luke has been retracing the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. From right after the transfiguration in chapter 9 to the triumphal entry at the end of chapter 19, Jesus is on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The story becomes more and more ominous as we go. There is a dark ominous cloud lingering over Jesus as he’s on his way ultimately to be crucified. He talks more and more about what is to happen once they get to Jerusalem…saying things like “”You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.””Matthew 26:2 ESV. And…“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.””

Luke 9:22 ESV

But today we have the final event before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. What Luke is doing today is once more showing us that salvation and the kingdom of god are expressed as radical hospitality.

Throughout his gospel, Luke shows Jesus as moving from table to table, meal to meal, announcing and enacting the kingdom of god. He wants to show us one more time, with the story of Zacchaeus, what that kingdom looks like. They are nearing Jerusalem, arriving at Jericho. They are one days journey from Jerusalem. The very next day Jesus will arrive in Jerusalem. This is the final event recorded before we move into the actual passion week, the Holy Week of Jesus.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

By now we are encountering what should be a familiar theme. Once again we have a tax collector, not just a regular tax collector but a chief tax collector. He is rich and he is despised. The Pharisees thought that land based wealth based on production of the land was a sign of being blessed by God. We saw before that Jesus didn’t agree with that. He didn’t agree with the assesment that you can determine God’s favor and blessing based upon wealth and riches. Nevertheless, the Pharisees thought that great wealth accrued through the production of the land was a sign of Gods favor, but wealth accrued by collecting taxes for the hated occupying gentile force of the Romans was seen as a great evil. Tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as the consummate moral outcasts, excluded from the synagogue and temple life. A chief tax collector would be seen as completely excluded from the covenant of Abraham. You might as well think of Zachaeaus as the chief of sinners.

Zacchaeus is banished from the synagogue, he can not participate from synagogue life. Being banished from the synagogue, he’s also banished from the Kingdom of God. There was a great sense of anticipation at this time. There was a great Jewish anticipation something big was about to happen. The Kingdom of God really was going to come. They believed that God was about to act decisively and definitively very soon, and would establish his reign, rule, and government among men. They were equally convinced that people like Zacchaeus would be excluded from it. They would not be a part of what God was doing. They would be left out.

But – by this time I hope you have learned that we must not be so quick to dismiss those who appear to be outside of the kingdom of God just because they don’t presently participate in accepted forms of religious life.

This is Zacchaeus’ situation. He is an outsider, an outcast. He is banned from the synagogue. Everybody views him as a despised sinner, and he will not be a part of what God is doing.

But Zacchaeus has something going for him. He is fascinated by Jesus. He has heard that Jesus is coming. Word of Jesus had spread, this prophet from Galilee who works miracles, heals the sick, helps the lame walk, the blind see. I’m sure that had gotten Zacchaeus attention.

No doubt he’d also heard about his table practice. He’d heard how this miracle worker from Galilee would also share his table with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and the outcasts, those who’d been banned from the synagogue. This is very fascinating to Zacchaeus.

We are told that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but not just as a celebrity. He wanted to see who Jesus is. He was fascinated by Jesus. I want to see who this guy is. What is he about? What’s he really like?

That kind of sinner is far more common than you think. Our world is filled with people who have zero interest in going to a church, but they are fascinated by Jesus. And if they see some means by which they really might actually know what Jesus is actually about and like, the are interested in that. That’s Zacchaeus…

Jesus is seeking and saving the lost. All those people that we think are on the wrong side of God, that don’t do things just as we do, Jesus wants to sit down and share a meal with them. And they are far more willing to sit down with Jesus than we, or even they, might think. Trouble is, the body of Christ in the world is far too often putting up barriers, putting conditions in coming to the table. Instead of putting up barriers, maybe we just need to wash the dishes, set the table, prepare the meal, and have a seat.

Yes, these people are messed up. But do we trust Jesus enough to simply allow him to sit down those whom we think are lost? Of course there is more to say on this, I will be back…

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

John Lewis

Standing Firm

Looking at a central scripture for those of us in recovery, especially if you’re like me and participate in the Celebrate Recovery ministry.  It’s a verse that reminds us all how close we are to relapse at any and all times.

That verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12, So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   This is part of a larger section which includes verses 11-13 – “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV.   Israel had a long history of rebelling against God and chasing after idols.   Paul points out several of these instances leading up to this passage, as well as the consequences suffered because of their idolatry.  Consequences such as being scattered across the wilderness, kept from entering the promised land until most of a generation had passed away.  Consequences like 23,000 dead in one day.   Dying by snakes.  It even recalls that some were killed by the destroying angel.  1 Corinthians 10:10.

As Paul says, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.  The consequences of sin, idolatry, our addictions, is real.  Sometimes, we forget this.  We get a little bit of sober time.  We get a lot of sober time.  We get clean, we stay clean.  We claim the victory over whatever ails us.  But we forget.  We forget that those consequences are still out there.  We forget that the wrath of God, aka the consequences of our sin, our wrong decisions and choices, await us.

We forget.  We forget Paul’s warning – So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We forget how close we are to falling.   In recovery, we call this relapse.   For me, it’s just one drink, one bet, one click away.  That’s all it took, was just one look.  That’s all it takes.

People ask me, how do I keep from drinking??   I don’t get asked about my other issues so much, maybe because they don’t relate or it’s just taboo.   But, I do get asked about the drinking.   Y answer is always the same.  It’s not a matter of never drinking again, or how do you deal with not drinking in a world where drinking is just normal.  I’m not not drinking 12 or 24 or 30 drinks.  I’m just not drinking one.   The first one.

Whatever your temptation (whether you’re “in recovery” or not),  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.   You are not the first, or the last, to struggle with that.   It may seem that way, that no one could possibly know what it feels like to be in your shoes.   And in a way, that’s true.  None of us walks the same walk.  Each of us has a unique story.   But our struggles, this is what we have in common.  We all struggle with something in our lives.   And very often, it is in this struggle that our greatest victories might come.     For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV.  But that, I suppose, is a discussion for another day.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.   We all struggle, we all have some form of temptation in our lives.   But God is faithful, we are not tempted beyond what we can bear.   Paul makes this clear, so does the apostle John is his first letter –  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV.   Paul says he will provide a way out of temptation and failure so that we may be able to endure it.  John tells us what that way is.    “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17 ESV.  Our way out of temptation, our way out of sin, is to confess our sins If we take the way out God has provided, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   

Want freedom from your temptation, from that sin that is overcoming you?   Confess it.  To somebody.   On this point, those of us in recovery  have the advantage, we have the support of others that we might be able to share with, whether it’s an accountability partner, or better yet a sponsor.  So quickly we forget that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   We think we have our time, we have the chips, now we have it all together.  Until we don’t.

Those consequences, remember them?   They are still waiting.  You might forget them, they will not forget you.  Relapse, a fall, is one drink, one hit, one click away.  Think you are standing firm?   Be careful that you don’t fall.  Find someone you trust, and talk about it.  Don’t hide.  “”Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18 ESV.  It’s those things we keep hidden that run scarlet.

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV

http://bible.com/111/1co.10.11-13.niv

John Lewis

Indiscriminate and Irresponsible

The parable of the Prodigal Son.   The greatest, most famous parable Jesus ever told.  It’s the gospel within the gospel.  This is going to take a while, so I will probably be in the story for at least a week.  At least it’s a story we all seem to like, amen!

This story still captures our imagination.  Shakespeare refers to this parable more than anything else in the gospels because Shakespeare knew a thing or two about telling a good story.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon chose the prodigal son to be the text for his much anticipated 1000th sermon.  Some of our greatest artwork has been inspired by this story, including Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story where we see the kingdom of God being announced and enacted.  That’s what is happening in the parable.  Jesus gives the parable to those who are angry with how he’s announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  The actions of the father in the parable are what Jesus is doing in real life.  Jesus is saying “what the father in my story does is what I’m doing because that’s what my father in Heaven is like.

Don’t forget context of the story.   “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” Luke 15:1-2 ESV.  This should be a familiar plot line by now.  This is a recurring plot that is what drives the drama.  First – in Luke Jesus is constantly going from meal to meal and table to table.  This is how Jesus primarily announces and enacts the kingdom of god – by healing people, casting out demons, and especially by sharing meals with all the wrong people.  Jesus is enacting the kingdom of God in this manner, and the Pharisees are constantly resisting it.  They don’t like it, they are uncomfortable with it.  They feel Jesus is acting inappropriately.  They see Jesus as offering an indiscriminate and irresponsible hospitality.  This is what created the drama and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.  He just eats with anyone.  (Amen to that!   Even me…) Even those who’ve been formally exiled, excluded from the synagogue because they are sinners.  Jesus is completely bypassing the prohibition against eating with those types of people and is welcoming them at his table.

Now, there were arrangements made in the law for restoring these people.  But they needed to go about things in the proper manner.  Go to the chief priests, go the temple, offer their sacrifices and go through the rites of purification.  But Jesus just ignored all this.  He lets anyone come to him, he eats with them, and then he even dares to proclaim them as forgiven.  He’s dangerous, he’s endangering our purity.  He’s compromising the integrity of our faith.  This is the argument of the Pharisees.

To which Jesus responds says once upon a time…and gives them three stories.   One about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, both of these are pretty good stories.  But then he gets to the story about a lost son, and it’s way more than pretty good…

It’s the gospel in the gospel.  It’s the finest story Jesus ever told.  It’s a three act play, each act focused one of the three primary characters in the story.  The Prodigal Son, the compassionate father, and the angry brother.

With this, I will stop for today, you can read the entire parable below if you like.  I will look at act 1 of this three act play, about the prodigal himself, next time.

“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

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

Go and Do Likwise

Finishing what I started the other day.   Some who read this, won’t like it.

Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

Jesus responds to the lawyer who’s asked him “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”   He responds “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  So, at this point, Jesus and this lawyer are in complete agreement.   The Torah scholar asks how he might inherit eternal life, Jesus answers his question with a question, and the lawyer answers perfectly.  Jesus and this lawyer are in complete agreement.  But now the lawyer is ready to get down to the real business of why he is engaging Jesus in the first place.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   And that is the question, isn’t it?   We all know Jesus taught us to love God and love neighbor.  Loving God is fine for us, after all we don’t actually see or know God anyway, so it’s easy to love him whom can’t argue with us or disagree with us or annoy us or embarrass us.   But loving neighbor, that’s a little different.  We can love our neighbor, right, but just so long as we can define who that neighbor is.  I mean, my neighbor is my neighbor, right.  He lives right next door!    But that guy in front of 7-11, dirty and disheveled, living in a tent in the woods because he’s not smart  like me, doesn’t work hard like me, that’s not my neighbor.  Those people I see in going into the local mosque to worship Allah, they are not my neighbors, they’re not even Christian!!  Those people in the local jail, they are not my neighbors, they’re criminals…

That’s  the thing about loving your neighbor.  You can see him.  He can annoy us.  He can lie to us, steal from us.  He can interrupt us.  He might not wear the right clothes, have the right job, the right address.  He might not have an address at all.

And so we come to the question  “And who is my neighbor?”   Jesus doesn’t just answer this and say “everyone is your neighbor!   Love everyone!”   He responds with a story.  A very famous story, a story with which we are very familiar with.  So familiar that for all our talk and knowledge about the story, we have totally forgotten, or missed altogether, the point of the story.

First…forget the phrase “Good Samaritan”.  This phrase prevents us from understanding the meaning here.  We all want to live as “Good Samaritans”.  Samaritans are good, we’ve never known anything but a Good Samaritan.  We want to be just like all the Good Samaritans in the world.  “Samaritan” and “good” are synonyms in our modern culture and language.  Someone calls you a Samaritan, you might think “Amen!

But Jesus listeners would not have felt that way.  Samaritans were the most hated enemy.   When Jesus told his followers to love your enemy, they were no doubt thinking, “sure, as long as you’re not talking about those Samaritans over there!”   For us today, it would be like being told to love and care for that ISIS member that you know has been car bombing people all over the Middle East.  As far as loving enemy, by the way, we might be ok with loving Ahmed as long as he keeps his butt over there.   Moving two doors down, coming to America, not so much.

Or we could think about it this way.  The Samaritans and the Jews hostility was very much like the hostility between the Israelis and Palestinians today.  Not only in its nature but even its geography.   So we could remake this story as the “Good Palestinian”.   Most of us, as we consider this conflict, tend to sympathize with the Israelis and be suspicious of the Palestinians.  But I will say this – in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Christians are not called to take Israel’s side, but we are called to imitate Israel’s Messiah.  And no Christian can argue with that…

Let’s look at the story Jesus gives us.  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 

Let’s look at what this story is and is not.  Like I said yesterday, what Jesus does here is brilliant.  Do you see what Jesus has done???   He does NOT give us a story about one of US doing good and helping one of them.   This story is not the story a good Jew, or a good Christian, or a good Israeli, stopping, loving, and giving extraordinary care for an enemy.

Jesus turns the tables, he turns our expectations upside down (as he so often does) and implies a very subversive question, if you read it right.  What do you do when your enemy acts in love and treats you like a neighbor?   We know Jesus calls us to love god and love our neighbor, to love our enemies.  We don’t like it, so we come up with all kinds of qualifications as to who is our neighbor.

Jesus turns the trap back on this lawyer.   And the lawyer has no choice but to acknowledge the point Jesus has made.   Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Remember this story is given in response to the question Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?    What do I have to do to enter into the age to come?   Well, what does the law say?  Love God, love neighbor, do this and you will enter into eternal life.  Yeah, but we have our defenses up.  We are going tell you why we shouldn’t love Muslims, Hindus, Palestinians, Mexicans, immigrants, gays, criminals…but Jesus flips it all on us.  What do you do when a Muslim loves you?    Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In other words, Mr. good Jewish Bible scholar, be careful that you are not outdone by people you have convinced yourself have no knowledge of God.  Jesus says, I have given you a way to imagine your enemy acting like a neighbor.  Now go and act that way to people who think you are an enemy.  Your enemy taking the initiative.  You know that’s good.  You can’t deny that.  Now go and do likewise…

Do we think Christianity is a superior revelation of god’s love than Islam?  Do you think Christ is a superior revelation of god’s love than Muhammad?  The answer should be yes, or else we should become Muslim.  Then prove it by acting in love and mercy toward every Muslim you meet.  Or else, shut up.  The point is not that my religious founder can beat up your religious founder.   If you think Christianity is a superior revelation of God’s love than Islam (and it is), then prove it by acting in love and mercy toward every Muslim you meet, or just shut up, because you just sounding like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Jesus calls us to the radical hospitality of extravagant mercy.  This is how Jesus enacts the kingdom if God.   He tells us in his sermon on the plain, earlier in Luke,  “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36 ESV

He also teaches us this.  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Luke 6:35 ESV.  God is kind to the ungrateful and evil.  

We think all we have to do is define someone as evil.  But even you’re right, they are evil, Jesus teaches us God is kind to them too.  And we should be like our father, that’s what Jesus teaches.

Jesus is very fond of this teaching from the prophet Hosea.  “Go and learn what this means.  I desire mercy not sacrifice.”   The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind.  But this is proven only by love of neighbor.  Without love of neighbor, love of God is totally abstract.

The apostle John says this –  “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 ESV.   If you say you love God, but you’ve never seen God, and you just make up God, God is an idea or concept, but you don’t love your neighbor, you are a liar and the truth is not in you.   That’s what John says…

The first commandment is to love God, but this is proven by our love of neighbor.  Without love of neighbor, the love of God is just an abstract.  We love our idea of God, and our idea of God oftentimes turns out to be suspiciously like us.   We end up, in the name of loving God, doing nothing more than loving ourselves.

If we define our neighbor as those like us, those who share our nationality, our ethnicity, our politics, our religion, if we define our neighbor as those, then we prove that we don’t really love God, we just love ourselves.

The biblical test for love of God is love of neighbor.  The biblical test for love of neighbor is love of enemy.  Remember that Jesus says God desires mercy, not sacrificial scapegoats.

I don’t  prove our devotion to Jesus by My level of hostility toward Muslims.  I prove my devotion to showing love and mercy to everyone.    That’s the Jesus Way.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by calling everyone neighbor instead of enemy.  I don’t prove my devotion to Jesus by how much I hate those I identify as enemies of the Christian faith.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by how I love and have mercy on everyone.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by calling my enemy my neighbor.

“You go, and do likewise.”

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-37.esv

John Lewis

Found Difficult, Left Untried

the-christian-ideal-has-not-been-tried-and-found-wanting-it-has-been-found-difficult-and-left-untried-6

Well, let’s finish up the sermon on the plain from Luke…

week-3-love-your-enemies

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

turn_the_other_cheek

Jesus is preaching on loving enemies, turning the other cheek.   We don’t much care for this teaching.  Pastors don’t want to preach from this.  It causes trouble for them, people get mad at this.  People leave churches because pastors preach passages like this…

violence

We live in a world built on a foundation of violence.  It’s the way the system is.  It’s violence we are taught to sanctify and cherish.  Even if we don’t sanctify and cherish it, we at least sanitize it and conceal it.  To critique the cornerstone of violence in our culture will draw the wrath of many.

Ukraine Protest

This is why pastors don’t preach from this.  But at least one pastor preached, and lived,  directly from this teaching of Jesus.  I shared from this sermon a couple of months ago, during the week in which we celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday.  I’m going to share it again.

dexter avenue

It was near Christmas in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Martin Luther King Jr was 28 years old, he was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  This 28 year old pastor in Dexter, Alabama preached a sermon from this passage called ‘Loving your enemies”.

cross burning

When Martin Luther King, Jr preaches about loving enemies, we must remember that for he and his congregation enemies are not theoretical.  They are not people who’ve said mean things about them on Facebook.   They have real enemies.  These are persecuted people.  Two years earlier, Mlk had his house bombed even while his wife and ten month old son were in his home.   These people have been beaten and unjustly dragged off to jail.   To preach a sermon on loving your enemies to that congregation has consequences, it has teeth.  It means something.  It’s not theoretical…

kkk

Here are some excerpts from that sermon –

bombed home

The evil deed of the enemy neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is.  An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.   We must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding.   Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Violence multiples violence.  Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies or else?   The chain reaction of evil hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.  

endure suffering

To our most bitter opponents we say we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We shall meet your physical force with soul force.  Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you.  Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you.  But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.

only love

That’s how you change the world.  But – you might have to die in the process.   Ten years later, Martin Luther king did.  If you’re going to change the world like that, you might have to die, which probably has something to do with why Jesus said take up your cross and follow me.   But that is how you change the world.

die trying

But here’s the sad part – Martin Luther King had to learn to use creative non violence to change the world from Ghandi, who used creative non violence to drive the British Empire out of India. Where did Ghandi learn it?  From Jesus.  So, a Baptist pastor had to learn from a Hindu how to live and change the world the Jesus Way.  Why?  Because Christians (now more that ever) have largely given up on the Jesus Way, exchanged it for sanctifying the ways of force.  We’d much rather change the world with bullets than the cross.  We much prefer other people’s suffering to our own.

Gandhi_smiling_R

We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We don’t want that.  We’re not interested in that kind of Christianity.  Those aren’t the promises we line up on Sunday to claim.

coercion

We must understand that the Kingdom of God is without coercion.  The Kingdom of God persuades by love, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, martyrdom, but never by force.   G.K. Chesterton once said the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, but difficult and left untried.

Kikuyu tribe members burn properties belonging to the Luo tribe during ethnic clashes in Naivasha town

Martin Luther King’s Sermon was not given in an academic, theoretical state.  Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you.  Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you.  But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.  Two years earlier his own home had been bombed while his wife and son were inside.    Think about how angry and retaliatory we become when someone cuts us off in traffic.  Or insults us in Facebook.  Martin Luther Kings very family was physically attacked.  He had enemies who meant he and his family physical harm.  Yet he still preached, and lived, by the ideal of loving them.  Was he a madman?  Or Jesus?

ChristLike

Changing the world by embracing suffering.  How very Christlike.  This sermon is nothing less than a call to live the Jesus Way, a call to live the sermon on the Mount.  And it changed the world.  We keep arguing that the Sermon on the Mount is not practical, it doesn’t really work.  We get to this part about loving enemies and we have all our arguments about why we can’t do that.  It is practical, it does work, it just takes more time than the way of Satan.  But the way of Satan doesn’t change the world, it only recycles the sin.

way of satan

Martin Luther King changed the world.  That’s why we have a holiday in his honor, because he changed the way we see the world.  He didn’t just liberate African Americans, he also liberated white Americans from out intolerable burden of enacting injustice upon other people.  He had the courage to follow the Jesus Way.  Do we?

jesus way

Before I wrap this up…from Matthew.

“”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? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 ESV.   Jesus is talking about loving enemies.  He sums it up by saying You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.    Keep that in mind as we wrap up the sermon on the plain in Luke.

merciful father

“”If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36 ESV.  Jesus says we will be like this because it is how we will be like god.  God is merciful.  In the sermon in the Mount it is ended with be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   We can misunderstand this as a call to some sort of flawless perfection we know we are incapable of.  But Luke helps us to interpret this a little better, Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  The perfection Jesus is calling us to is a maturity in mercy, where we are merciful because God is merciful.  We begin to have the supreme characteristic of mercy that characterizes what God is like, and what is revealed by Christ.  We begin to have that worked into our own lives.  Jesus says now, you’re becoming sons and daughters if the most high God, because you are mature and perfected in mercy.

mercy-and-grace-gods-way

The Jesus Way, the way of mercy, does work.  It’s been proven to work, from St Francis of Assisi, to Ghandi, to Martin Luther King, Jr, where it is tried, where it is practiced, it changes the world.  But it’s also difficult.  You might even die in the process.

Question is – are we even willing to try?

John Lewis