Jesus & We - Week 5: "Anything Short of Sin"
We are at the end of a sermon series for the month of May, entitled Jesus and We.
The basic idea behind this series is pretty simple. We're wrestling with what it means to be a community of faith that lives into the hope of the Resurrection.
Christianity in America has become decidedly self-centered. Christian book stores are filled with all kinds of self-help books on all of the things you can do to become a better Christian. Far too many churches in America espouse a Jesus and Me kind of theology.
But what we know from Scripture, from the teachings of Jesus and from experience itself is that it's not all about Jesus and Me. The Church is about Jesus and We. Church is more than just a place you go, it's who we are.
Today we're going to be concluding our sermon series with a sermon entitled, "Anything Short of Sin," and we're going to be talking about what it means to do whatever it takes to reach people with the Good News of Jesus.
A couple of years ago, my soon to be 12 year old son was forced to accompany me to a presbytery meeting. Presbytery meetings are essentially the business meetings for the local body representing our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). At each of the these meetings there is usually a worship service to precede them.
To say that these worship services are boring is to insult things that are boring. You can literally feel yourself age while you sit through these things. And the fact that there are people who don't recognize how mind-numbingly boring they are is a referendum on why Presbyterian churches all over the country are closing their doors.
So my kid sat through the service. I would look over at him from time to time and would note the slack jaw, and dead eyes of a person in the throes of listlessness. When it mercifully ended, he leaned over to me and said, "That was the single worse church experience of my life."
I have a few years on him, so I've had my fair share of even more boring church services.
What's your worst church experience? Can you think of a word that describes it? Only one word, mind you.
I recently had a pastor friend say something to me that absolutely stunned me. He said, "I had these new neighbors that moved in across the street. They had a couple of kids and looked pretty friendly. I wanted to invite my neighbor to my church, but I thought about them actually attending and I was too embarrassed to ask them."
This pastor's church sucked so bad, it was so boring and awful that he was ashamed to invite someone to attend. R U Kidding me?
Here's the thing. We're not going to be like that at our church.
At our church we are going to be far from boring, far from predictable. We want people to be filled with wonder and excitement when they come to worship. In fact, in the words of Pastor Craig Groeschel, WE WILL DO ANYTHING SHORT OF SIN TO REACH PEOPLE WITH THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS.
In the Gospel of Mark 2:13-17 we have this passage that speaks right into this very idea:
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
So let's break this down a bit. Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector, but he was actually worse than a regular tax collector if you were one of the disciples. Matthew was a tax collector who worked on the docks--taxing all of the fisherman who came in after a long day of fishing.
Let that sink in for a minute. Half of the guys that are following Jesus were fishermen. Jesus’ adopted home town of Capaernum was a fishing village. These guys weren’t just familiar with Matthew, they hated this guy.
And Jesus went to this guy Matthew’s house for dinner. Going to a sinner’s house for dinner was kind of against the rules for faithful Jews in the first century. Going to a tax collector’s house for dinner was even worse. Notice how the Pharisees go to the disciples and say, “What the heck is your teacher doing? He’s eating with tax collectors and sinners.”
The New Testament always has a different category for tax collectors. I agree with that, honestly. There is a special category of reprobate for tax collectors.
You have to think that the disciples were having a really hard time defending him in this moment. This is not what a rabbi would do. But Jesus wasn’t any ordinary rabbi, was he? He also was teaching his disciples something important about what it meant to follow him. You see, Jesus went where the needs were. He did what no one else was doing.
All of the other religious types just complained—Jesus acted. The Pharisees and religious leaders could have cared less about redeeming the tax collectors and sinners. They didn’t want to be around them.
So what does this teach us about what it means to be the church? What does it teach us about living into the hope of the Resurrection? Of being the kind of church that knows and shows Jesus to the world?
It means, and we learn this from Jesus himself, if you want to reach who no one else is reaching, you have to do what no one else is doing.
Lots of people don't go to church anymore because they think the church isn’t just full of itself, and boring, they think it’s irrelevant. And you know what? They are right. We’ve lost our sense of joy and wonder. We’ve lost our ability to have fun, to actually act like being children of the Resurrection is something to celebrate.
There was a time when the Church was the center of innovation, art and culture. There was a time when the Church led the way in advancements in medicine, philosophy, science and so much more.
When did we become so boring? When did we lose our relevance? When did we become so angry and stodgy?
Listen to me. We have the greatest message of ALL TIME. The message that we have, my brothers and sisters is a message of hope and grace. It’s the incredible message that because Jesus is risen we are no longer defined by our past, we are not who we once were, we are not trapped in sin, we are not condemned. The message we have is of a world constantly being made new, that truth and beauty get to win over lies and ugliness.
It’s the message that sin and death do not get the last word. Come on! This is the greatest message of all time and it’s shameful the way we’ve packaged it.
I am going to tell you something right here and now. When my kid comes to this church—I don’t want him leaning over to me and saying, “Dad, that was the single worst church experience of my life.” I want him to say, “Dad I can’t believe what we did in church today.” I want him to be ruined for life—never satisfied with dead, boring, lifeless worship, lousy theology, and that he’ll never settle for a church full of angry, combative Christians who take the Greatest Story Ever Told and turn it into an afterthought.
Our Church will be different.
We bear burdens here. We won’t just invite people to church, telling them “hey, if you get around to it… if you have time… if you don’t have anything better to do… maybe you might come to church with me.” No! We bring them them alongside us. We do whatever it takes to share the story of our own redemption, our own burning hearts for the poor, our hope that every broken and wounded person in the world might know that Jesus saves.
And we do this by being joy-filled friends, by being loving neighbors, by being the kinds of people that embody the joy of the resurrection. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and we want to be a bunch of wild-eyed, Jesus followers who show how much we care for one another, and the world with unconditional and relentless love.
We break rules here. I love it when people say to me about something that we are doing at our church. “Old churches don’t do that kind of thing…” Oh yeah? THIS one does. We feed hundreds of people every week. We let those people into our church. We embrace teen moms without judgement. We do a small group in a wine bar downtown… and we’re planting more of them…. in other bars in other towns..
And we do unexpected and fun things on Sunday mornings because we’re not dead. We are alive in Christ and that should mean something. A former member of this church berated me once about using creative ways to teach, for doing unexpected things in the worship service, for doing anything short of sin to reach people for Jesus.
“You give really good funerals,” they told me. “You should do your sermons on Sunday like you do your funeral services.” I remember sitting there stunned and I asked them, “So, what you are saying is you want me to act like I am at a funeral on Sunday morning—every Sunday morning?” They smiled at me brightly because I finally understood them. “Yes! That’s right!” I thanked them for liking my funeral services. But I told them in no uncertain terms that there was no way… no way at all that I was going to act like I was at a funeral during Sunday worship.
We do all of this because when you know Jesus, you show Jesus. And the Jesus we want the world to see is not the angry, politicized, judgemental, intolerant version of Jesus that seems to be the one that so many churches are lifting up.
We want to show the Jesus that calls us to take up our cross and follow him. We want to show the Jesus who calls us to uncomfortable places, who leads us to irrational generosity. We want to follow the Jesus who went where the needs were, who did what no one else was doing to reach who no one else was reaching.
And we will do anything short of sin to reach people with the Good News of Jesus.
This is who you are. You are resurrection people. Now go and live like it. Live in joy, and abundance. Know and Show the Risen Jesus wherever you go.