September 11, 2012

Making Room: Welcoming Jesus

Have you ever received a weird welcome?

When I was 18 or so, I was supposed to pick up a friend of mine from his grandparents home. He and I had been friends a long time, but I had never met his grandparents or been to their home. When I arrived the front door was open with just the screen door there. The room was dark so I couldn’t see inside. I knocked on the door and his grandfather suddenly appeared from around the corner with a beer in one hand and wearing nothing but his underwear.

That creates a weird sort of welcome when you go to someone’s home and they are in their underwear.

I have visited churches all over the place, and I have received a variety of different welcomes. Some are friendly. They shake your hand, help you find what you need, and are very nice. Some are cold. They ignore you and treat you like you don’t belong in their building.

Some are just weird. These church are all so really excited to get a visitor because they haven’t had one in a long time so they ALL come up and circle up around you to say hello and smile at you.

You are thinking to yourself, “This has got to be a cult!”

They really want to make you feel welcome, but instead they are just creeping you out. They are just desperate for visitors.

Sometimes even in an attempt to be normal we get weird.

I guess a weird welcome is still better than no welcome at all. How would we feel if we went over to someone’s house for the first time and after knocking they just opened the door and walked away without saying anything. Then went and sat down on their couch. That wouldn’t feel very welcoming.

When someone treats you badly they are at least acknowledging your presence. But when you get ignored...that is something different.

Over the past few weeks we have been working our way through a message series called Making Room. We are looking at what it means to make room in our lives for other people. People who are different from us. People who may not act like or think like we do. Some of them we may not even want around.

But what happens if the person being welcomed is Jesus, and no one bothers to welcome him.
John 1:9-13 says, “9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Today we are looking at a passage of Scripture where Jesus was invited into someone’s  home, and through their neglect of hospitality demonstrated they hadn’t welcomed Jesus into their lives. But another woman, despised by the world around her, was the one who truly welcomed Jesus into her life.

Luke 7:36-50
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” 
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said. 
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Jesus to be invited into homes for dinner. He was a prominent teacher, and would have received offers on a regular basis. Pharisees and Teachers of the Law would want to listen to what he had to say, ask questions, and debate. Others would be honored to have him in their home.

In fact, Jesus was often critiqued for his willingness to have dinner with anyone. Matthew 9:10-11 says, “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus, but if he was going to be any kind of respectable teacher he couldn’t be seen hanging out with those people. What would the good Jewish people think if they saw him eating with tax collectors and sinners? Anyone who spoke for God would know what God expected of his followers and they would certainly know these people didn’t fit the bill. And yet, Jesus ate with them.

Here in Luke, Simon, a Pharisee, invites Jesus into his home for dinner. Guests from all over the town would have shown up. Many would have just been looking in the windows to get a peek at Jesus whom they heard so much about. But one woman makes her way into the dining area to see be near him.

With her tears and hair she offers an act of hospitality that we learn a few verses later Simon failed to offer. It was customary to have water for someone’s feet so they could wash them after traveling on the dusty roads in their sandals and sometimes offer oil for the head. But Simon neglected to offer Jesus even a bowl of water. This wasn’t just an oversight. This wasn’t a mistake. Simon, by refusing to do this, demonstrated his hostility toward Jesus.

But this woman...a sinful woman...offered what Simon would not. But then Simon demonstrates his disgust for both Jesus and the woman by saying, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

The scandal of Jesus is that he is a FRIEND of the tax collectors and sinners. He didn’t just know about them. He didn’t just preach at them. He was their friend.

Simon should have been offering the hospitality to Jesus simply because Jesus was in his home. But it was this woman. A sinner. A prostitute most likely. Who genuinely welcomed Jesus’ presence that night. The woman is the real hostess of Jesus even though He is sitting in Simon’s home because Simon saw so little in Jesus to impress him, but this woman found everything.

To top it all off Simon couldn’t see the powerful example of grace and forgiveness in this woman because he had not yet received it himself. So often we are not able to welcome the work of God in others because we have not welcomed his work in ourselves.

Before we can welcome Jesus we must acknowledge that He is worthy.

Simon simply saw Jesus as a teacher. A spectacle to be observed. There are many today who like Jesus as a good teacher. They like his teachings on loving your neighbors, doing good to others, and finding God at work in the people around you.

Some like him as a prophet. Others like him as a good and holy man. Some in the church like that he can get them into heaven so they don’t have to go to hell.

But it isn’t until we acknowledge Jesus as more than all of that, that we can truly welcome him into our lives. Jesus teaching didn’t leave room for us to simply believe he was a good teacher or holy man. He declared that those who wanted to find God must do so through him. He taught that if you wanted to have a life pleasing to God then you had to follow Him, and take up his way of doing life as your own. He preached that forgiveness from our sins was found only in his sacrificial death. He claimed to be the incarnation of God. Those aren’t the teachings of someone who is just good or holy.

C.S. Lewis said,
 “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
This woman sought forgiveness in Jesus because she believed He was the one who could forgive her. She believed he was God’s Messiah.

There is a verse that often gets used in evangelistic settings. There is even a famous picture painted to represent the verse. Revelation 3:20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

People use that to talk with people about how they need to let Jesus come into their lives and forgive their sins and become a Christian. Which isn’t a bad thing to talk about. We need to do that. But in the context of what is going on around it, this verse wasn’t written to sinners. It was written to members of a church. It was written to people who claimed to follow Jesus already.

Because of their treatment of Jesus, they had come to the place where He was now standing outside the door of their lives seeking to come in. They were doing all the religious things right. They were doing all the right things. They had acquired wealth. They were “blessed.” And yet Jesus was on the outside looking in...knocking...waiting for an open door.

You see it is so easy for us to take Jesus for granted. It is easy for us to him out the door of our lives, and yet he will stand there knocking.

We get busy with work, school, family...many really good things, but in the clutter of the schedule Jesus has been pushed out. We don’t take time to spend in his presence. We get too busy to see the needs and hurts of people around us and do something about them. We don’t take time to spend with his people and serving others.

We get caught up in the expectations of society around us, and allow our morality to cave in a bit here and there. No one will notice if we fudge the numbers here or there. No one will care if I cover over the truth just a little...besides everyone else does it.

Tithing, for Jesus’ followers, is an example of pushing him out. It is easy to believe that I work hard. I have a lot of bills. I can’t possibly give.

In order for us to welcome the power of God in the lives of those around us...we have to welcome into our own life. And not just by doing what is expected. It is in going above and beyond the expected that the true heart is shown. So often we do only what is expected and no more. Simon could have done wonders just by offering a bowl of water and a towel, but this woman’s gratitude led her to weep on Jesus feet and clean them with her hair and put perfume on him...all because her gratitude at her forgiveness was so great!

The marks of a Gospel centered hospitality is that is goes above and beyond the expected, and how much more should it be so when we welcome Jesus into our lives?

When we truly welcome Jesus we receive release from our past.

Luke 7:47-48 says, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

I don’t know if you have ever had to carry something around with you that you needed to confess, but it is a burden. It is like you are carrying around a huge weight on your shoulders. Physically it can make you sick.

But then, when you confess it...there may be consequences, but that burden lifts, you feel lighter.

Both Simon and this woman had sinned. Both were in need of forgiveness. But this woman knew she needed forgiveness and was willing to seek it out. Simon, on the other hand, was pretty sure his religious-goodness was going to carry him through.

The difference between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and some forms of a religious-Christianity is the Gospel of Jesus Christ is based on who Jesus is and our willingness to allow him to be the sole means of our salvation.

Our temptation is to always add something to Jesus. We feel it has to be Jesus...and something else.

We have Jesus and doing good things.

We have Jesus and right theological doctrine.

We have Jesus and the right church.

We have Jesus and....

Jesus says simply...I am enough. When you follow me and seek after me...all of that other stuff will fall in line. But it certainly requires a lot of humility on our part. We have to give up on the thoughts that somehow my good deeds and right theological doctrine and my church make me better or closer to God somehow.

No, Jesus welcomes anyone who comes humbly to him and accepts his offer of forgiveness.

It has taken me years to get to this point, and I still have a ways to go. But I am beginning to realize that Jesus isn’t impressed with all I have done to get to this point in my life. He isn’t impressed with what I did to get out of my family situation. He isn’t impressed with my college degrees and grade point average. He isn’t impressed with how hard I work. He isn’t even impressed that I pastor a church.

I can pastor a church my whole life, pray for people, do good things for people, and still not be any closer to God than an atheist if I don’t welcome his presence into my life. None of those things gives me special standing with God. I have to humble myself and acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of God’s grace, and only in trusting and following Jesus can I find salvation.

What impresses him is when I simply welcome his presence in our lives. When I hear his knocking at the door and open myself to His presence and his activity.

This morning I want to invite you to welcome Jesus into your lives. For some of you this might be your first time ever. You have sensed a need for something else in your life.  You thought it might be Jesus. You have all of this stuff that you just need to unload and allow him to take. You need His forgiveness this morning.

For some of you, you have managed to push Jesus outside of the door of your life. You got busy, you allowed other priorities to take over, for some you may have begun to think that it is your good deeds or right theology or something else that makes you more loved by God...Somehow Jesus is standing outside the door, knocking, asking to come in and dine with you.

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