Uncomfortable Mission Luke 7:18-35 JoEl Rohrer December 11, 2016January 5, 2017
A retelling of the story:
“Are you the one or should we expect another?” John asked from prison. “Are you the one, I preached about on the Jordan River? The leader of God who would bring about God’s revolution? The revolutionary empowered by the Spirit? Are you the one I predicted would overthrow the oppressive empire, judge our wealthy corrupt leaders who care nothing for the common citizen, and punish the immoral. Are you the one would set up a godly nation?
I saw the Spirit come down on you after I baptized you. That was the sign, I had been told by the Spirit of God to watch for. But my disciples tell me that you do nothing but heal and teach. Where is the revolution we anticipates? Where is the godly nation we hoped would emerge? Are you the one who will bring about God’s revolution? Or are we still waiting?”
When John’s followers approached Jesus with the question, Jesus was in the midst of healing many, and continued. He healed the sick, freed those who were tormented by evil spirits, and gave sight to the blind. Then he turned to those who had brought John’s message and again re-explained his mission. “Tell John what you have seen today, “Blind, see. Deaf, hear. Lame, walk. The sick are restored. The dead are raised. Hope has come to the poor and the outcast.
Remind John of the two communities described by Moses – those who lived into the blessings of God by their obedience, and those who disobeyed and were cursed by God (Deut 11:26-28, Deut 28.
Tell John, if you want to be part of the blessed community, you will need to adjust your expectations, you will need to reimagine the mission. Don’t give up because I don’t look like what you expected. Don’t miss out on the move of God. I am the one. The revolution is at hand.
Then Jesus turned to the crowds. These were the same crowds that had flocked to the desert to listen to John. Many had recognized the truth in John’s call for generous and just lives. They had repented, been baptized and transformed their lives. They had waited with longing for the revolutionary John promised – the Messiah. Even many of the immoral and many criminals had accepted John’s message and changed the way they lived.
But not all. The most resistant were the most religious – the Pharisees. They were upstanding citizens, well respected, some well educated. They studied the Scriptures devoutly, prayed daily, fasted weekly, and gave tithes and offerings. They followed not only the law of Moses for the Israelites, but the stricter law for the priests on duty. Their hope and desire was that their good life would cause God to send a revolutionary, even the Messiah, to deliver their nation.
Yet they had resisted John. They had complained about John’s eccentricity – his camel’s hair clothing – his diet of insects and honey. (But what can you expect of one who preaches to share all but the clothing on you back and your next meal. – He certainly couldn’t have preached with integrity and had a freezer full of food, a closet full of clothes and large bank account.) The most religious had called him crazy and a messenger of the devil.
And they were no happier with Jesus, though he dressed and ate more normally. They complained instead that he partied too much, fasted too little, and associated to closely with the immoral, the criminals, and the addicts. They objected to his habit of eating with these low lifes – of welcoming them as full members of his community of repentance and mission.
And Jesus said of them, “What are you people like? You are like children sitting in the playground, refusing to play any game but your own. First John, now the one John promised. And in the process, you reject God’s leader, God’s mission, and God’s purpose for yourselves. You are missing out on the revolution of God in your midst.
Luke emphasizes that this hope, restoration and welcome is specifically for the sick, the poor, the prisoners and captives, the social outcast, the lost and the sinners(Luke 4:18-19, Luke 5:31, Luke 7, Luke 15, Luke 19:10.) This is good news. And our church has accepted this mission of Jesus as central to who we are as a church.
All are welcome as full members of Jesus community of repentance and mission. Hope and restoration is for all – addicts and drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps, abusers and abused, lesbians and gays, the incarcerated, their families and those with criminal records, singles, and single moms, foster kids, mentally impaired, and autistic. All are welcome.
As a result of adopting this mission, our church has prayed, planned and dreamed. We have invested time and finances in programs to show this hope to this community. Some of you have served on the board of the non-profit we created. Others have volunteered in the afterschool program, summer program, ESL or GED programs. Others have prayed regularly and given financially. Others have chosen to research, write, or advocate for justice nationally or internationally. Because we believe that hope and restoration is for all, particularly the poor and the outcast.
If you have been involved in any of these ways, would you please stand…. This is who we are. I am proud to be a part of a church that aligns itself with Jesus’ mission. (You may be seated.)
We have done this because we believe that Jesus restoration and reconciliation is for all – because we want to join him on his mission. We have intentionally obeyed. Intentionally prayed. Intentionally planned. And intentionally invested time and finances.
Yet Jesus mission goes beyond programs, it went beyond serving people. It was fully holistic. Jesus ate with them and welcomed them into his community of repentance and mission. And this is what the religious folk had issues with. They were fine with Jesus healing, serving, and giving to the poor and the outcast, but Jesus went and welcomed them as full members! And the religious found this too uncomfortable, too messy, too costly.
Now, I might be wrong, but I think we need to at least ask the question:
How well have we done at eating with those we serve?
How well have we done at integrating them as full members of our community of repentance and mission?
Why do I think we need to ask these questions? Over the last several years, we have served 1000’s with our programs. And many have visited us on Sunday morning. Some come once, some for a month, some for a year or two. Some are from this neighborhood. Can you picture their faces? Do you know their names? Did you ever eat with them? Did you welcome them into your small groups? Do you know where they are today?
You see, one of the things, I’ve noticed on those Sundays set aside for welcoming new members is this: 95% or more of those we welcome into membership are transferring their membership from other churches. That’s the majority of who makes it long term at our church – Christians from other churches.
Now this wouldn’t be a big deal, if our mission statement was – Empowered by the Spirit, we seek to to feed, nurture, train and equip Christians. If that was our mission statement – we’re doing a great job.
However, our mission statement is: Empowered by the Spirit, we present Christ’s message of hope to this neighborhood and beyond, by appealing to individuals to be reconciled to God through Christ Jesus…
We have obeyed God – even when it was costly – by intentionally praying, planning, dreaming, investing time and finances in physical, educational, and economical restoration in this community. And I think it’s time to begin asking. What does it mean to intentionally pray, plan, dream, and invest time and finances in spiritual restoration for this community. Because holistic restoration includes the spiritual.
And so I think we need to ask ourselves the questions:
How will we intentionally provide opportunities for those in our programs to engage with the story of Jesus? Some already have a church. That’s fine. Some won’t be interested. That’s fine. But do we have a plan to engage those who are interested?
How will we intentionally integrated those from this neighborhood who visit on Sunday mornings – how will we integrate them as full members of our community centered on repentance and Jesus mission? How will we welcome them, eat with them, do small group with them? You see, those who come from unchurched background or from other denominations don’t always know how to integrate themselves. How do we intentionally create a pathway for them?
Lastly, how do we intentionally equip our members to do what our mission says – appeal to their neighbors, co-workers, and fellow students to be reconciled to God through Christ Jesus? And by this, I don’t mean handing out tracts. I mean being able to talk about our faith in Jesus in ways that are engaging and create curiosity.
In addition, I believe we need to ask: Do we care? We can throw around a lot of excuses. “I’m an introvert. I’m not good at conversation.” (I used that excuse for 35 years). I’m too busy with my job, my children, my hobbies, my life. I don’t want to be politically incorrect. I’m afraid of rejection or of making mistake. I’m just tired – I’ve done that before, and I’m just tired.
But I think the important question is: Do we care?
This was a question God asked me several years back. “Do you care about your neighbors?” And I had to answer, “No, I don’t. I care about my family. I pray for my family. I spend time with them. I sacrifice for them. I care about my church family. I pray for them. I spend time with them. I sacrifice for them. But I don’t care about my neighbors. I know I should pray for them. But I don’t know them. And I don’t care to get to know them.
And I wondered how I could call myself a follower of Jesus and ignore what he said was the second greatest commandment – love your neighbor. And so I had to begin praying. “God, I don’t care, but teach me to. Change me. I need you to give me your love. I don’t have it on my own.” I had to repent. And then I had to begin asking him, so what do you want me to do. How can I obey? Because it was only as I obeyed, that God began to change my heart. And I’m still not there. I really stink at this. But I keep asking God to change me, and I keep obeying what I’m hearing. And little by little he is changing me.
I was talking with Lora last week. She said, “The other week, we were singing ‘I want Jesus to walk with me.’ And I couldn’t help but thinking that those are the wrong words.
And Lora got me thinking. You see, that is what the Pharisees were singing. “God send us a Messiah to walk with us. One that will meet our expectations.” But when Jesus came, they weren’t willing to adjust. They weren’t willing to recognize him as leader. They weren’t ready to eat with, to welcome the poor and the outcast into their community. It was too uncomfortable, too messy, too costly. But you can’t separate Jesus from his mission. And so, they rejected Jesus, his mission, and God’s purpose for them. They missed out on the revolution.
Lora went on to say. “I think the words we need to be singing, “Jesus I want to walk with you.”
I want this to be my song. I want this to be the song of our congregation:
“Jesus, I want to walk with you.”
No matter how uncomfortable.
No matter how messy.
No matter how costly.
Jesus, I want to walk with you.
And I know that I can’t have you without your mission.
And I don’t want to miss out on your revolution. The revolution of God.
Jesus, I want to walk with you.”