Jesus’ Guest List (Luke 14:1,7-14)

Luke 14v12-14 banquet 05

If you were throwing a party or having a dinner to celebrate a special occasion, who would you invite?

I’m guessing that there are a few different ways we might decide on a guest list. We might think about people who have invited us to their homes or special events, or people with whom we have a close relationship, or people from whom we might hope to get a return invitation. But would you ever consider inviting people who could never invite you back?

It is natural for us to want to invite people for dinner or to a party that we like, are close to or might hope for a return invitation. The same was true in Jesus’ day. As Jesus sat at a dinner with a leader of the Pharisees on a Sabbath day in Luke 14:1-14, he watched people turn an opportunity for generosity and community into an exercise in social status. Some guests tried to sit in the most prestigious positions. It seems like they were using the dinner as an opportunity to make themselves look more important and climb the social ladder in their community. It might even be possible that the Pharisee, by inviting Jesus, was trying to make himself look good in others people’s eyes by inviting the Teacher into his home.

However, Jesus used this as an opportunity to show that the Kingdom of God doesn’t work in the same way we do. Whatever the Pharisee leader’s reasons were for inviting him, Jesus turned the human desire to look good in front of others on its head by teaching that God will reward people who don’t invite friends, relatives or rich neighbours to a dinner. Instead, God will reward those who invite ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ (v13), in other words the people in society who are most destitute and in the greatest need. Instead of inviting people with the hope or expectation of receiving a return invitation, Jesus teaches us to invite people who have no hope of repaying us with a return invitation. In other words, Jesus is teaching us to make the act of giving generously without any thought of what we might get back in return our priority.

Can you imagine doing that? If you were going to invite someone over for dinner this week, who would be someone you normally wouldn’t invite? It might be someone you don’t get along with, someone from a different cultural background, someone with a disability, or someone who is socially isolated and lonely. There might be a range of reasons why we can find it difficult inviting people over for a meal. But if we are going to take Jesus’ message seriously, would we consider inviting someone with whom we would find it hard to share a meal, someone in need, or someone who couldn’t invite us back?

To be honest, I’m feeling a pretty uncomfortable as I write these words. In our home, with the number of evenings I’m out visiting people or going to meetings, we find it hard to invite people over at all. To then consider inviting people who we normally wouldn’t invite, then, is very challenging. But maybe that’s Jesus’ point.

One the one hand, like with all of Jesus’ teachings, we can hear these words as something we should be doing. Jesus’ teachings challenge our priorities and values as he shows us something deeper about ourselves through them. Jesus might be showing us that we naturally prefer to invite people we like or people who we hope will invite us back. To give an invitation to someone who might be hard to share a meal with is difficult and can go against our natural inclinations. We can’t ignore that and we need to take responsibility for that. The path to a better way of living begins with acknowledging that Jesus’ teachings confront our natural inclinations while at the same time pointing us to something better.

In this case, Jesus is pointing us to a better reality in God’s Kingdom.

When we gather in God’s house in worship, he is effectively inviting us into his presence to share a meal with us. We might like to think about ourselves as good people who somehow have right to share in the meal God invites us to. When we take Jesus’ teaching seriously, however, in all of its confronting brilliance, we can see that we can be the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind that Jesus is talking about. We can be poor in good deeds because we would rather share a meal with people we like or people we hope would invite us back. We can be crippled because we still tend to be tied up in our own self-interest rather than live in the freedom of faith and love. We can be lame because we find it difficult to walk in the way of life that Jesus teaches. We can be blind because we often can’t see others how God sees them, as valued and loved because of the presence of God in them and Jesus’ death and resurrection for them.

When Jesus throws the eternal banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven, he doesn’t invite the people the world would naturally tend to invite – the wealthy, the successful, the beautiful, the popular and the good. Instead, Jesus invites people who are in need of what he offers even though we can’t repay him for his generosity. Jesus invites those of us who are poor, crippled, lame and blind in body, mind or spirit. Jesus invites us to his table, to share his meal with him as he gives himself to us in self-sacrificing love, not because we deserve it or because he wants something from us, but because we need what he has to offer and because he wants to bless us with his gifts. He invites us as an act of complete and total grace because, not matter how poor or crippled or lame or blind we might be, Jesus reckons we’re worth it.

It would be easy at this point to throw out the challenge to think about who might be the least likely people you’d invite for dinner and then ask them over this week. I’d feel bad, though, if anyone in our church who has heard this message received that invitation and thought of themselves as ‘needy’ in our eyes. So I’m not going to do that, but instead ask you to consider a broader guest list than you have in the past next time you throw a party or hold a dinner.

I want to remind you, though, about who Jesus invites to his meal in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus doesn’t invite us to his table because we deserve it or because he wants something from us. Jesus invites us because he has something good to offer us – his own self as his act of self-giving, self-sacrificing love for us. As we join Jesus at his table, let’s remember that we come purely because of God’s grace for us in Jesus. And then let’s show that some grace to the people around us.

More to think about:

  • If you were going to have a dinner or party, who are the 3 most likely people that you would invite? Why would you want to invite them?
  • Who are the 3 least likely people you’d invite? Why would you not want to invite them? (you don’t need to share publicly if it will embarrass someone)
  • How is Jesus’ teaching about inviting people who are in need or who can’t invite you back sitting with you? Are you feeling comfortable with his words? Or are they making you uncomfortable? Can you explain why?
  • What do Jesus’ words tell us about the Kingdom of God?
  • When Jesus invites people to his table at Holy Communion (or the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, etc) do you think he invites them because they deserve it or he wants a return invitation? Or does Jesus invite those who need his grace? Maybe talk more about your understanding of the Lord’s Supper and what you believe happens in Jesus’ meal of bread and wine…
  • In what ways might you be physically, emotionally or spiritually ‘poor, crippled, lame or blind’? If this is who Jesus invites to his meal, how can sharing in his meal help to shape your understanding of God’s grace for you in Jesus?
  • How might you be able to show that same grace to someone else this week?
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Listening to Jesus – Again (John 10:22-30)

 

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A few months ago I flew to Melbourne for a day to talk with people about a position I was offered there. After arriving at the airport which is on one side of the city, I needed to drive to the church offices on the opposite side of Melbourne. I don’t know my way around Melbourne very well, so I hired a GPS with my rental car. I knew that I needed to listen carefully to the GPS as it guided me through the busy Melbourne streets if I was to arrive at my destination. If I didn’t pay proper attention to it, I knew I would get lost.

We can all feel a bit lost at times. Some can feel like there’s no way out of feeling lost and alone. There are a lot of voices in our society that promise to be able to lead us into a full and satisfying life. Any promise of help to guide us into something better can sound like good news to us as we search for meaning in our lives, or a sense of identity, belonging or purpose.

Jesus comes to us to lead us into a better life when he says, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life’ (John 10:27,28a NLT). Jesus knows that life can be hard and he also knows what it will take to get us through it, to be able to find ourselves, our place in the world and a reason to live. Like my GPS guided me through the streets of Melbourne, Jesus can guide us through the craziness and confusion of life to find security and peace. Jesus is able to do this because he has lived the human experience, he has suffered at the hands of the worst life can throw at us, and he has emerged victorious in his resurrection. As the One who suffered, was crucified and now is risen from the dead, Jesus teaches us to listen to him, to follow him, and to find the life that God intended for us from the beginning.

What makes the voice of Jesus different from the others I’ve heard is that speaks unconditional grace to me. Every voice I’ve heard which promises life has told me that I can find the life I want if I make my life all about me. They talk about what I have to do, how I can achieve what I hope for, what I can have if I place myself at the centre of my existence and make everything about me.

When we listen to the voice of Jesus, though, he teaches a different path. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus teaches us that the way to find life is to put God at the centre of our lives by loving him with all our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, and loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). In John’s gospel Jesus, teaches us to love others in the same way that he loves us (John 13:34,35). That means that we can only love others when Jesus’ love is at the centre of our lives, shaping us and all we do. Paul explains the way of Jesus as living in faith and love (Galatians 5:6) – trusting that God will give us with everything our hearts, minds and bodies need for life in this world and the next for the sake of Jesus so we can focus on the needs of others. The New Testament talks a lot about the way of Jesus to help us apply it to different situations of our lives, but it can be understood most simply as trusting Jesus with every aspect of our lives by keeping him in the centre of our lives, and learning to love others in the same way that he loves us.

What makes the way of Jesus so difficult for us is that it is completely counter-intuitive. The voices which tell us that we can do it ourselves connect with people because we like to keep ourselves at the centre of our lives and think that we can find our own way. Jesus is the only voice I’ve heard that offers to do for me what I can’t do for myself. Learning to listen to his voice and trust what he says enough to live like it’s true isn’t easy for any of us. That’s why living as a disciple of Jesus, following the way of faith and love he teaches, is really hard for us. However, Jesus promises that when we listen to him like sheep listen to their shepherd and follow in his way, he will lead us into a better life which will never end.

A couple of weeks ago we listened to John telling us that he wrote his gospel so that we might believe in Jesus as the Messiah and find life in his name (John 20:31). I asked how I can help you find that life. In John 10:27,28 Jesus tells us that finding life begins with listening to him. We’ve talked a fair bit about listening to Jesus in our congregation recent months. I wonder how many of us are taking the time to listen to him, or how well we’re hearing Jesus’ words of grace and truth to us.

So I would like to make an offer to people who are connected with our church. If you are feeling lost, or if you know someone who is feeling lost, or even if you would like to explore the life Jesus promises us more, I would like to start meeting with you to learn to listen to Jesus through the words of the Bible, so that we can be following him together as he leads us into the life he has for us. Of course, I can’t meet with everyone individually on a regular basis, but if you want to learn to listen to Jesus to follow him into the life he has for us, let me know and we can look for a way to do that together.

The GPS I hired in Melbourne got me to where I was going. I need Jesus every day to guide me in his way of faith and love so I can find the life God has for me. We can all feel a bit lost at times. As we travel through life together, by listening to Jesus’ words of grace and truth and following in his way of faith and love, God will bring us into his life which is stronger than death and which never ends.

More to think about:

  • Do you use a GPS to find where you need to go? Why / why not?
  • What are some of the ways you have heard people say we can find a better life? Do you think they are right? Explain why you think that…
  • Do you make time to listen to Jesus’ voice regularly? Why / why not?
  • There are different ways people say we can listen to Jesus’ voice. What might be helpful or not helpful about learning to listen to Jesus’ voice in the Bible?
  • I’ve suggested that the simplest way to understand the way Jesus teaches is faith in him and love for others. Do you think that is an accurate way of summarizing the teaches of Jesus and the New Testament? Explain your reasons for that…
  • How might your life be different if you put Jesus at the centre and learned to live in his way of faith and love? What might change? How might life be better? How might it be worse?
  • How can I help you to listen to Jesus’ voice and follow him…?

A Giving Culture (Luke 6:27-38)

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What do you think is more important in life – what you give or what you get?

When I posed this question to our congregation last Sunday, people replied in a variety of ways. One person said that while we know the ‘right’ answer is that giving is more important that getting, life isn’t always that simple. When we start thinking about ‘giving’ or ‘getting’ things can get a little complicated and the balance isn’t always easy to find.

This is an important question for me because I tend to hear more talk around the church about what we get than what we give. For example, I hear people asking how we can ‘get’ more people into vacant leadership roles, or ‘get’ people to fill the empty spaces on our rosters, or ‘get’ people to increase their financial giving. I regularly hear parents or grandparents whose children or grandchildren have disconnected from church asking how we can ‘get’ them back to worship. Even when we do talk about giving, it seems that the conversations are largely about what we’re expecting people to give to the church!
There is a big difference between these conversations and the teachings of Jesus. When we listen to Jesus in this week’s gospel reading (Luke 6:27-38) for example, I hear Jesus talking a lot more about giving rather than getting. He teaches us to give:

  • the kind of love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a to people with whom we are in conflict
  • good things to the people who hate us
  • blessings to people who might curse us, or say bad things about us or to us
  • prayers for those who hurt us
  • the other cheek if people slap us across the face
  • our shirt if someone demands our coat
  • to anyone who asks anything of us, and to not try to get back what people take from us

Jesus continues in verses 32-34 by saying that if we love people who love us and only do good to people who do good to us then we are no different from anyone else. Then, in case we missed it the first time, Jesus goes on to teach us to give:

  • love and good things to our enemies (again!)
  • loans without expecting to be repaid
  • compassion and mercy in the same way that God gives us his compassion and mercy
  • freedom from judgement and condemnation
  • forgiveness to those who wrong us

Jesus concludes this part of his teaching by saying that when we give to others, our gift will return to us so that we receive a lot more than we gave out.

If we read these teachings of Jesus through a ‘getting or giving’ filter, Jesus seems to be a lot more concerned with what we give than what we get. Each of these describe an outward flow of grace from the person who is ‘willing to listen’ (v27) to Jesus and live in the way he teaches. Whether the gift we are offering is love, goodness, blessing, prayer, compassion, physical possessions or forgiveness, Jesus is challenging us to see the needs of the people around us and be ready to give to others whatever their need may be.
Adopting this other-focussed, giving attitude does not come naturally for us. Our natural tendency is more towards what we get than what we give. For us to prioritise what we give over what we get is something that God’s Holy Spirit needs to be working in us as we come into relationship with the giving God and receive everything we need from him through faith.

We can see this in Jesus’ teachings in places like verse 35 where he says that when we give without expecting a reward, then we ‘will truly be acting as children of the Most High for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked’ (NLT). Jesus points us to the nature of God who gives generously to all people, whether they deserve it or not. God gives us what we physically need as our Creator. (I know this opens up the question about people around the world who are in need. There are no easy answers to this problem, but I need to ask if problems like poverty are God’s fault or humanity’s for not sharing what God has given us with those in need?) God gives us his life through Jesus as our Redeemer so we can have a new relationship with God as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. God gives us the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier so we can live in union with God in the life of the crucified and risen Christ. As Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can see that God’s nature is to give everything he has and everything he is to us as a pure gift with no strings attached.

What amazes me is that God doesn’t give to us expecting anything in return. Instead, God asks us to live out our identity as his children and give witness to his giving nature by giving what he has given us to others. When we trust that God will give us everything we need for life in this world and the next, and when we believe in the extreme generosity God has shown us especially in the gift of Jesus’ life for us on the cross, then giving to others will just come naturally. Giving to others grows out of the faith that we have a God who gives everything to us and promises to give to us more than we need for the sake of Jesus.

There are times in our church when people talk about ‘getting’ others to do things or things from others when I’ll ask them to rethink that from a ‘giving’ perspective. Some might say that I’m just playing with words, but I believe that the language we use goes a long way in communicating what’s at our heart. If we are to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, it’s important that we use the language of ‘giving’ much more than the language of ‘getting’.

So I wonder, to whom could we be giving this week? I have found it very helpful to read this passage slowly, asking myself who are my enemies to whom I can give love, who hates me to whom I can give good, who might be cursing me that I can bless, or who has hurt me for whom I can give prayers, and so on. When we are connected with the giving nature of God through Jesus in the Holy Spirit, then being giving people, living in mutually giving relationships as a giving community will show in everything we do and say.

Love Over-All (Colossians 3:12-17)

 

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How do you decide what to wear each day?

Some people are very careful when they choose their clothes each day. They might take into account the weather, what they will be doing, who they will be with, and possibly even what’s in fashion to decide what they will put on in the morning. Others don’t give it much thought and might just grab whatever is on top of their drawers or in their wardrobe.

No matter how we decide what clothes we are going to wear, we all have one thing in common – we all wear something.

In Colossians 3:12-17, the Apostle Paul uses the fact that we all wear clothes of some kind to encourage followers of Jesus to put on certain qualities each day with the same consistency and intentionality with which we put on our clothes.

The qualities he includes are compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He then encourages Jesus’ followers to put up with each other when differences arose and problems came up in their relationships, extending the same forgiveness to each other that God extends to us through Jesus. Paul then tells his readers to put on love over all of these virtues, binding them, as well as God’s people, in perfect unity and harmony (vv12-14).

In our congregation’s work with Growing Young, we have been challenged to be taking Jesus’ message seriously (core commitment #3). As we listen to the words of Scripture, we can hear what Paul is saying as coming from Jesus. God wants us to be compassionate towards others, which means to suffer together with others. This doesn’t just mean people who are in desperate need, but with anyone we know who is suffering. God wants us to be kind to the people around us, even if or when they might not treat us well. God wants us to be humble in our relationships with each other, not trying to be more important than others or wanting to get our own way, but making ourselves lower than others in the pecking order, willing to serve others. God wants us to be gentle in our dealings with each other, not rough or abrasive in what we say or what we do. God wants us to be patient with each other, even when others can frustrate us. God wants us to ‘make allowances for each other’s faults’ (NLT) and forgive others freely who might wrong us in any way. Over all of these, God wants us to love each other as we look and work towards what is in the best interest of others, no matter what the cost to us personally.

Have you ever tried living like this? If we are honest, we will probably find that living in this way is not easy. At times it’s just impossible. If you don’t believe me, here’s your challenge for the week: write these out as a list – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love – and put the list somewhere you will see it as you get dressed or undressed. Then, at the start and end of each day ask yourself how you’ve gone. During the day have you been compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient with others, forgiving those who have wronged you, and loving the people God has brought into your life? Or have you fallen short of living the life God has called you to?

Because, if you’re anything like me, living up to this standard is impossible on our own.
I think about this text a lot in my own life. I actually own a t-shirt with ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience’ written on it to remind me that this is how God wants me to live. To be honest, most days living up to the lifestyle God has called us to is out of my reach. I know this is how God wants me to be living, but it’s hard, and sometimes the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience I’m supposed to be putting on just aren’t there.

So where do we go to find these clothes Paul is describing?

We’re not going to find them in a shopping centre or online store. We can’t just buy them from a shop like normal clothes. Instead, we can find them in relationship with God who provides for us what he wants from us through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. This is one of the main ways I think about grace: God giving to us what he wants from us. In this text, then, God has everything we need to be able to grow in and extend to others the attributes Paul talks about.

When we are lacking compassion for others, God is always compassionate towards us. When we are unkind towards others, God never stops showing kindness towards us. When we try to get the upper hand in our relationships with others or to get our own way, God is humble towards us, becoming our servant to provide us with everything he wants from us. When we are rough and abrasive towards others, God is always gentle with us in return. While we lose our patience with others, God is infinitely patient with us. When we find it hard to forgive others, God is always forgiving us. When we are unable to love the people around us, God continues to love us with perfect and unlimited love. All this he does for us for the sake of Jesus who gave everything for us on the cross and continues to give the Holy Spirit to us so we can live each and every day in God’s compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love.

Earlier I challenged you to keep the qualities Paul describes in front of you to see how you live up to them. If you’re looking for them but can’t find them within yourself, keep the list where you can see it. Each morning, as you get dressed, ask God to clothe you with them through the Holy Spirit. Find what you need in Jesus’ relationship with you.

Being compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving and loving towards others doesn’t come naturally for us. When we’re looking for them, we won’t find them in a store or online. We find them in our relationship with God and his grace to us in Jesus. As we grow in our faith in God’s compassion, kindness, humility, gentles, patience, forgiveness and love in Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will produce them more and more in our lives.

Grace and Truth (John 1:1-14)

 

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There are times in life when it can be really hard to ask for help. Many of us have been taught from childhood that we need to be able to stand on our own two feet, not to rely on others, to be self-sufficient, and to learn how to handle any situation. There are many self-help plans and personal improvement programs what work on this same idea – that we should, although sometimes maybe with a little bit of help, be able to handle anything that life throws our way.

What happens, however, when we find that we just can’t do what we think we should be able to do? Where do we go when it all gets to be too hard and we can’t cope? When life gets too difficult and the stresses, demands or difficulties are too much for us, what happens then?

There are a range of ways in which theologians understand the idea of grace that we read about in the Bible, for example in texts such as John 1:14. It’s a word that Christians can use a lot. There have been a few times in my life when I’ve had to stop and really ask what we mean when we talk about grace.

After a lot of thought and contemplation, one of the ways I understand God’s grace at this point of my life is that God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and then gives us the benefits of what he has done so they become our own.

We read in John 1:14, and again in verse 17, that when Jesus was born into our world, he came to us ‘full of grace and truth’ (NIV). The way we can understand grace here is that Jesus came into the world to do for us what we are not able to do for ourselves. In Jesus, God entered into human existence to accomplish for us what we are unable to achieve because of our flawed and broken humanity.

For example, I often hear people say that we need to be able to love ourselves before we can love others. I understand what they’re saying, and it’s not a bad thought, but what happens if, for some reason, a person just isn’t able to love themselves? The good news of God’s grace to us in Jesus is that he does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. God loves us in Jesus enough to be born into the world, go to the cross and die for us. Whether we are able to love ourselves or not, this love remains true. In the grace of God who loves us even when we can’t love ourselves, then, we can find a love that makes us lovable, and then gives us the capacity to love others in the same way.

Another example is forgiveness. Again, I hear people say that we need to forgive ourselves before we can forgive others. I also understand this idea, but sometimes I’ve known people for whom this has been impossible. For a range of reasons, they can’t find within themselves the ability to forgive, either themselves or others. That’s when the grace of God in Jesus becomes so powerful as God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Because of Jesus’ birth and life, his death and resurrection, God forgives us. Jesus has carried everything that needs to be forgiven to the cross and nailed it there so we are free from it. By pointing people to the grace of God who forgives us even when we can’t forgive ourselves, we can find the freedom that comes through the forgiveness he gives us in Jesus, as well as the ability to then forgive others.

There are many ways in which God continues to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves as acts of grace for us in Jesus. God is patient with us when we lose our patience with ourselves or others. God is kind towards us when we find it impossible to be kind to ourselves or others. God is compassionate towards us when we are unable to be compassionate. God is gentle with us even when we are rough on ourselves or others. God sets us free, even when we can’t liberate ourselves from those things in our lives that bind and control us. Whatever we need, whatever our lives are lacking, God’s grace means that in Jesus he does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and then he gives what he has done to us as a free gift so they become ours.

This grace gives us the freedom to find truth. We don’t need to pretend to be anything we’re not. We don’t have to aspire to be anything different than what we are or maintain a façade of perfection or flawlessness. We can be truthful and honest with ourselves, with God and with others about our struggles and our weaknesses, our flaws and our mistakes, because we know that whatever we’re done, whatever we might be struggling with, whatever might be weighing us down, God gives us grace in the person of Jesus. As the body of Christ, then, we have the opportunity to bring God’s grace to each other as we forgive each other, as we love each other, as we are kind, compassionate and gentle with each other. We can extend God’s grace to each other in Jesus, just like he extended grace to us when we needed it.

When Jesus was born, he didn’t enter the world to give us a new set of rules to live by. He didn’t come as a self-help guru to show us a multi-point plan to achieving everything we hoped for. Jesus was born to show us grace, to do for us in his life, death and resurrection what we can’t do for ourselves, and then to give us the benefits of what he’s done through his Holy Spirit. Jesus was born to gives us grace and truth, so we don’t have to pretend any more, but we can rely on him and trust in the grace he gives.

Priorities (Mark 10:17-31)

 

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A couple of times in my life I have really wrestled with Jesus’ words in the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17-31. I was looking for God’s direction in my life and wondering if following a particular path would mean selling everything I had. That was hard to contemplate because I like my stuff – my books, musical instruments and motorbike – and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sell them in order to follow where God might be leading me.

So I can identify with the rich young man of the story and sympathise with him as he walks away sad. He couldn’t give away his possessions, and I’m not sure if I could either.

But maybe that’s the point of the story.

There are two main dangers we can face when we try to unravel this story. The first is taking Jesus’ words about selling everything we have too literally, and thinking that we have to do it to enter into eternal life. Monks and nuns have been doing that for centuries, but I’m not sure how many of them got closer to God by doing it. The second danger is not taking Jesus’ words seriously enough and ignoring what he’s trying to teach us. We can get lost collecting more and more stuff in a meaningless consumerism and miss out on the grace Jesus has for us in this story.

The third strategy of the Growing Young research from the Fuller Youth Institute is to take Jesus’ message seriously. As Christians who want to follow Jesus faithfully, taking Jesus’ message seriously might sound kind of obvious. But when it comes to stories like this with the rich young ruler, how do we do that?

Maybe taking Jesus’ message in this story might mean looking carefully at our priorities in life. When Jesus challenged the man to sell all he had, and when I was challenged with the possibility of selling everything I owned to follow God’s call, it challenged us ask to think about what matters in life. Is Jesus the most important thing to us? Or are the things we own more important? Do we love Jesus enough to be willing to give everything we have up for him? Do we trust him to provide for us each day? Or do we want to hang on to our possessions because we find a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and some sort of meaning for life in them?

Jesus is challenging us to reorganise our priorities around him, our love for him and our trust in him, rather than in the things of this world. There may be times when that might mean giving everything away, but it could also mean that we look for a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and what gives our lives meaning in our relationship with Jesus rather than the accumulation of material possessions.

This challenge from Jesus also teaches us something about ourselves. We all like to think that we’re good people. However, if Jesus’ standard of ‘good’ means giving everything away to help others and totally trusting in him to provide for us on a day-to-day basis, then who of us can live up to that? Remember that the man’s question at the start is what he did he have to do ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v17). He was thinking that he could somehow work his way into eternity. However, Jesus showed him, and us, that if we want to work our way in to eternal life, then it will cost us everything.

Can we do that? If we’re trying to work our way into eternal life as ‘good’ people, are we able to be so ‘good’ that we give away everything we have to others to provide for them in their poverty, and rely on God giving us what we need from one day to the next? Like the person in the story, I think this would probably be the point that most of us would walk away too.

But, as I’ve said already, maybe that’s the point.

The disciples were perplexed by what they witnessed as well, so they asked Jesus, ‘Then who in the world can be saved?’ (v26). And Jesus gives us the good news when he said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God’ (v27).

Jesus is telling us that it is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life. However, what is impossible for us is possible with God. Only God has the power to give us a life that is stronger that death which will last literally for ever.

This is one way we can understand ‘grace’: that it is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life, so God does the impossible for us by doing what’s needed and then giving it to us as a free gift.

This is the good news of the story: that Jesus came to do the work of salvation for us. While it was impossible for us to sell all we have and give it away, and when we recognize that it is impossible for us to live up to Jesus’ standard of being a ‘good’ person, then God did the impossible by sacrificing everything for us in the person of Jesus to save us and give us eternal life as the ultimate act of grace. We can find it hard to give up our stuff, but Jesus gave up his place in heaven, the thing every religious person in the history of the world is trying to gain. Jesus gave up all of his heavenly glory to be born as a humble and helpless baby in a manger. He gave up all his possessions to live homeless and unemployed. Jesus did the impossible when he gave up everything, including his life, and went to the cross to die in our place. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God did the impossible make it possible for us to live forever as his children in perfect relationship with him and with each other.

As people to whom God has gifted the eternal life of Jesus, we are left with the question of how to take this teaching of Jesus seriously. I’m going to leave that up to you to work out with Jesus. It might mean selling what we have to follow God’s call on our life. It might mean reprioritising our lives so we find who we are, what we’re worth and the meaning of our lives in our relationship with Jesus instead of our material possessions. It might mean seeing what we have as the way God wants us to serve others, such as our families, friends or church community. It might even mean accepting that we’re not as good as we think we are and trusting the goodness of God’s grace to us in Jesus.

No matter how we might interpret this story, one way we can all take this teaching of Jesus seriously is to live every day in the faith that with God, nothing is impossible.

Outsiders (Mark 7:24-37)

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One of the games we play on our youth ministry nights is to place some hula-hoops on the floor and play some music. When the music stops, the young people need to stand in one of the hoops. If a person can’t fit in a hoop, or if people fall out of the hoops, then they’re out of the game.

This game illustrates what we often do in our relationships with others. We can set up lines or boundaries that determine who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ like the hula hoop in the game. Those lines can be a lot of different things, such the way people look, how they dress, what they own, where they live, or even what football team they support. As I was growing up in the church, I saw some hard and fast lines being drawn based on the denomination of the church people attended, their theological perspective or the way they interpreted the Bible. I’ve even known people who have felt excluded from churches because their surname didn’t fit in with the church’s cultural origins.

People in Jesus’ day did exactly the same thing. In the time the New Testament was written, there were very hard and fast rules about who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’ based on their race and their observance of their religious laws. If people were descended from Abraham with a family history that proved that connection, and if they kept the rules and religious traditions, then they were considered to be in God’s chosen people. If not, then they were seen to be outside of God’s love and blessing.

The stories from Mark 7:24-37 are great examples of how Jesus crossed the lines the religious leaders of his time constructed to extend God’s grace and love to people who were considered ‘outsiders’. The first is a woman from the area of Syrian Phoenicia whose daughter was possessed by a demon. The second was a man from another non-Jewish area who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Both of these were considered outsiders for a whole range of reasons, but Jesus crossed the lines people had put up to give them freedom, healing and wholeness, and to include them in the Kingdom of God.

To what extent do we also construct lines or boundaries that distinguish between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’? Our culture talks about valuing tolerance and inclusivity, but I still hear a lot of talk about ‘us’ and ‘them’ from both the church and wider society. We can set up barriers that separate us from others based on our age, gender, cultural background or opinions about almost any topic. We still tend to construct lines that divide the insiders from the outsiders around issues in the church such as worship, ordination or even moral standards. We might be critical of the religious people of Jesus’ time, and we might like to think that we are inclusive and tolerant, but to one degree or another don’t we all set up boundaries between the insiders and outsiders?

Jesus deliberately crossed geographical, religious, socioeconomic and even moral boundaries in order to bring the life-giving and liberating grace and love of God to those who needed it the most. He met outsiders on their territory so they could find a sense of value and self-worth through their connection with him. When Jesus was crucified, he identified with everyone who has ever felt like or been judged as an outsider. When Jesus was nailed to the cross and left there to die, he became the ultimate outsider as he suffered a form of death reserved for the worst of the worst of Roman society. Jesus didn’t only meet outsiders during his ministry. Jesus became an outsider in order to bring all the outsiders of the world into a new relationship with God and make them insiders in the Kingdom of God.

This is so important for us because, according to the religious view of Jesus’ day, we are outsiders. I don’t know of anyone in our church who is Jewish by birth. None of us keep the religious law that the people of Jesus’ day were expected to keep. We can’t even keep the Ten Commandments the way we should. We like to think that we are good people, but when we construct lines that divide ‘insiders’ from ‘outsiders’ in any way, we fail to love each other the way Jesus teaches us to. We were all outside of a relationship with God until Jesus met us as the ultimate outsider, gathered us into himself and carried us as members of his body into a new relationship with God as our loving heavenly Father, a new identity as God’s children, and a new place to belong in the Kingdom of God, (see Ephesians 2:11-18).

As people who have been on the out but have now been brought in to a new life through Jesus, we are his loving and grace-giving presence among those whom the world considers outsiders. Jesus calls us to break through the barriers that are constructed to separate the insiders from the outsiders, no matter what those barriers may be.

This week, think about the ways in which you might consider people to be either ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’. Is it age, gender, cultural background or morality? Do our views on worship, ordination, interpretation of the Bible or faith generally divide us? If so, then break through whatever barriers might come between those who are considered ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Worship at a different time or place next week. Talk to someone who is one or two generations younger or older than yourself. Make contact with someone who you might not have seen for a while because of their moral or lifestyle choices and ask how they’re doing. In one way or another, recognize the boundaries that we, our church or our society have constructed, and spend some time with a person who exists on the other side of those boundaries.

Because when we break through the boundaries and sit with the outsiders, we just might find Jesus is already there.