September 17, 2012

Making Room: At The Table With Jesus Part 1



I know some of you may not have noticed, but there is a political campaign going on right now. With only a short time left the ads, phone calls, yard signs, and Facebook posts are vying for our attention and our vote. Rhetoric on both sides is heated and willing to twist what the other says for their own political benefit.

Some of you are groaning because you thought you could get away from it for a little while at church. Hold on. This isn’t about politics.

They say the two things you should avoid talking about are Religion and Politics. When it comes to these two areas people become extraordinarily passionate about their chosen beliefs. They are very personal in nature, and engender aspects that are important to the very core of who we are as people. We attach so much of ourselves to our stated political and doctrinal beliefs.

What amazes me is the lack of humility, the quickness to judge, and the inability to truly listen to the other side when these two areas are discussed. When the discussions start the underlying assumption is, “I am right because I am an intelligent person. You are wrong because you don’t think like I do.” And because of this assumption no one actually listens to the other side. They believe they have it all figured out and there is nothing to learn from THOSE people who differ from them. There is also no thought given to the idea that I may be wrong.

For those who are following Christ...our standard is set much higher. Now, those in the Church have not always been any good at this. We have fallen prey to the idea that we have everything figured out and don’t need to listen to others...just convert them. But if we truly look at Jesus and how he deals with those around him, we learn that the way we practice our beliefs is just as important as the beliefs we hold.

We are currently in a message series called Making Room. We have been looking at what it means to make room in our church and in our lives for others. People who don’t look, act, or think like us. As Jesus’ followers our call is to live lives of hospitality that welcomes people into lives even and especially when they are different from us.

As disciples of Jesus we must first and foremost lead people to Jesus with the way we live our lives. No where is this more true than how we practice our most cherished beliefs. Whether you realize it or not 50% of the people you meet on a daily do not vote the way you vote. And, if statistics hold up, more than 50% of the people you meet do not hold the same religious beliefs you do.

The way we speak to and of those who disagree with us is so important in our ability to make room for others.  This week and next we will be looking at 2 different stories which are found in Luke 14 and come while Jesus is a guest at the home of a Pharisee.

Our story this morning comes from Luke 14:1-14,
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 
5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say. 
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Last week we talked about Jesus being the guest in the home of a Pharisee, and once again he is the dinner guest in a Pharisee’s home. This Pharisee is called a “prominent” Pharisee. He is one of the ruling class, and a leader in the Jewish faith.  He is part of the Sanhedrin and responsible for watching over the doctrine of the Jewish faith.

Luke tells us “[Jesus] was being carefully watched” by the Pharisee and his friends. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, I guess. They wanted to see if Jesus was teaching the right things.

One of the most cherished beliefs in Judaism is Sabbath keeping. Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” They did no work, and spent the day in rest and remembrance and worship. But what did it mean, exactly, to keep the Sabbath day holy? We need to define that statement. It was too general to say “Keep it holy” and then offer no guidelines for what that meant!

So, Moses gave instructions throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Rabbis, teachers of the Law, and the Pharisees expanded on those instructions for keeping the Sabbath holy. They listed what you could and could not do, how many steps you could take before it was considered work...the list goes on and on. So Jesus challenges their beliefs about Sabbath keeping.

There is a man with a severe physical disability, and Jesus simply asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” We can read in other biblical passages they do not believe it is right to heal on the Sabbath so they remain silent hoping to trap Jesus.

They already make allowances for other distresses. If their child or ox falls into a well, they would certainly help them out, right? So here is a man in obvious distress and need, and yet their doctrine keeps them from helping him. A good and beneficial doctrine about Sabbath keeping and rest has blinded them to the fact that God has called them to care for people above all else.

Those sitting around the table were more impressed with whether the T’s were crossed and I’s dotted in their doctrinal statement than whether or not this man was healed. Jesus was more concerned with this person than whether he kept the specifics of Sabbath keeping.

It is easy to do that today. To allow our doctrinal “rightness” to get in the way of doing the right thing. We see it over and over again that sometimes the people with the most biblical knowledge are some of the meanest people we could ever meet. They can quote Scripture after Scripture. They have a great knowledge of theology and what God expects. They have a vast amount of knowledge, but are just plain mean to others. They know the Bible says, “Love your neighbor” they just don’t practice it.

To walk humbly with our God we lead with love. 

I heard someone say, “Arguing about your beliefs doesn’t prove you love your beliefs more than me it just means you love to argue more than me.” So often we feel we are not standing up for what is right if we don’t say something, and there are certainly times when we should say something and stand up for what is right, but so often we are guilty of choosing the wrong times and places to stand up.

I recognize I am about to make a dangerous statement which can be misunderstood and misinterpreted, but I am going to risk it. I may not even say it the way I intend, but here goes: I believe God would rather us make a mistake in the name of love than make a judgment in the name of righteousness.

Does this mean God isn’t concerned with our acting rightly in His sight? Absolutely not.

Does this mean our doctrine and beliefs aren’t important? No way.

It means God is just as concerned with the way we practice our beliefs as He is with the beliefs we practice. Because it isn’t just about being right. It is about practicing those beliefs in the right way; with a spirit of humility and love.

1 Corinthians 13 is often used in weddings, but it is more than a wedding passage. Verses 1-3 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

No matter how right our beliefs are, if we do not come from a heart of love then we do not have the right beliefs.

John Wesley says, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite...”

Within the Church we have some scars in our past where we have not practiced our beliefs with an attitude of love...when judgment and condemnation were more the order of the day and we have committed a larger sin through our lack of love.

Sexual purity has always been an important part of our belief structure. We believe divorce should be avoid if at all necessary. We believe sexual relations are to be within the bounds of marriage. We believe in the value of life and that abortion is something we should not do as followers of Christ. But we have not always practiced these beliefs within the call to Love presented in 1 Corinthians 13.

There was a time when divorced people were expelled from the Church and treated as second class citizens by those claiming to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. My grandmother was kicked out of church membership because my adulterous, alcoholic grandfather divorced her. Their belief about the wrongness of divorce caused them to treat not only her but other men and women of that day with judgment and disgust rather than love. Thousands upon thousands of people were pushed from God’s presence because they weren’t treated with love in the midst of their divorce.

There was a time when unwed single mothers were kicked out of the church and rejected for their sin. As a youth pastor, I was part of a heated church board discussion about whether or not we would allow a baby shower in the church fellowship hall for an unwed single mother. Because treating the young woman with love would somehow be seen as compromising our belief that what she did was wrong. Beliefs about the wrongness of an unwed pregnancy were getting in the way of treating a person with the dignity and love expressed in the Gospel.

Those who follow Jesus should be concerned about the lives of the unborn and the defenseless, but we have all seen the angry shouts, the abortion clinic bombings in the name of God, and the horrible name-calling that certainly does not represent the love represented in the person of Jesus Christ. Hundreds of thousand of women are rejected and pushed away from God because of our belief in the sanctity of life rather than drawn to God through our love and compassion.

We still faced with sins and differences where our response of love must preempt our desire to judge. Who is it Jesus loves and would defend against our self-righteous attitudes and the rightness of our beliefs?

Rick Warren says, "Our culture has accepted two huge lies: the first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle you either fear or hate them. The second is to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate."

To love someone the way Jesus calls us to love does not mean we have compromised our beliefs. It means I have a stronger belief in God’s love than I have in my ability to judge who is and is not worthy of God’s love.

Walking humbly with our God means practicing our beliefs with love. But it also means recognizing we may not be as right as we think we are.

Jesus loved to watch people. He was the consummate storyteller and the master of observation. He watched as people took their seat at the banquet. The places of honor were those closest to the host and people fought to sit in those seats. Jesus uses this observation to make the point that we do not always judge properly.

The guests fought for the places of honor. They fought to be recognized for their right beliefs in the Judaic system. They wanted status and recognition, and in the Pharisee’s day as often happens in today’s church that comes with people perceiving you have the right set of beliefs.

This Pharisee and these guests were sure they knew who God loved and who would be welcomed into the Kingdom. They were sure it was them and sure it was not THOSE people. Instead Jesus reminds them, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Many of us know we don’t have everything figured out in the way we view God. We recognize we don’t have all the theology figured out, and the perfect set of beliefs. And yet we fight for the places of honor in the church through our beliefs....acting like we have it all figured out and that we know who God will judge and who he won’t judge.

God told the Prophet Samuel to look for the next King of Israel among Jesse’s sons. As Samuel stood there looking he was sure it was Jesse’s first born. Strong, handsome, and charismatic, but it was not that son. In fact, it wasn’t any of the first seven sons who passed before him. It was the last son, David. 1 Samuel 6:7 says, “The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Have you ever made a wrong judgment about someone? It might come from a bad first impression. When I was moving into MVNU in the fall of 1994 I met two interesting people. Frank and Mark. Frank showed up to move in day unshaven, smelled like he hadn’t taken a shower, and wearing rather grungy clothes. Mark showed up with shirts pressed and folded, adoring parents helping him move in, and a very quiet manner. Before leaving, my grandmother says, “I don’t like the looks of that Frank character. Something about him bothers me. But your roommate Mark seems like a wonderful guy!” Before the end of the semester my wonderful roommate Mark had been expelled and Frank turned out to be a phenomenal musician.

We make mistakes all of the time because we make wrong judgments. These dinner guests were sure of their beliefs and sure they were right about them a, but they missed it. They were wrong because Jesus could look at the heart.

Conclusion

We are able to walk humbly with our God when we care so much about knowing and loving God and loving our neighbor we forget how we are viewed by those around us and what we are “worth” in their eyes, and whether we are right or wrong in every detail of our beliefs.

This isn’t a call to discard beliefs and values. It isn’t a call for us to become wishy-washy people who allow anything to go. But it is a call for us to embrace the dangerous and revolutionary belief that God wants us to love other people the way he loves them. This belief in God’s love should precede and consume all our other beliefs.

It should change how we treat those on the other side of race and ethnic lines. It should change how we treat those who disagree with our politics even when they don’t return the favor. It should change how we treat those we live the homosexual lifestyle even. Love is so easily misunderstood as being permissive and condoning...rather than as a celebration of the high worth of the person and their humanity as created by God.

That day, the Pharisee was carefully watching Jesus to make sure he was “worthy,” and he failed miserably in their eyes. They eventually crucified him because he loved people the way God loved people. Because he forgave and welcomed people into the Kingdom of Heaven they wouldn’t even invite over for dinner. He was crucified because loving others; especially those on the fringes of society, was and still is dangerous.

We will be crucified for the same reasons. When you love people the way He loves them people will misunderstand and misrepresent you. They will accuse you of condoning sin and being a universalist or a liberal. But what is more important...the belief you hold or the way you practice that belief? I say we aim for both. Have the right belief and practice is rightly. But if we fail in our rightness? Let us not fail in our ability to live it out in love.

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