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6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Why do you come?
Why do people come to church? Ministers and church growth experts have analyzed and classified the behavior or the typical churchgoer. I do not suppose their reasons would startle anyone. However, they frustrate most ministers. Preachers want people to attend church to hear inspiring sermons. Clergy types want the pews filled with committed disciples who are ready to be challenged to some great missionary endeavor. Sermonizers want a flock of members who are passionate for expository sermons that explore the great mysteries of the faith. Knowing how most clergy think, Peter Wagner, a leading church growth expert, would always include in his seminars the statement, "People attend church for all the wrong reasons1." Wagner tried to help pastors understand that most people come to church with a personal need. They are hurting in some area of their life. Their children are having problems, their marriage is in trouble, or the stress of their job is becoming unbearable. Underlying it all is a spiritual crisis that may or may not be recognized by the person. People come to church looking for practical answers to the practical problems of their lives, not to be challenged to change the world or hear a sermon on a profound (read obscure) point of theology.
People came to Jesus for a variety of reasons. As we consider each of their reasons, let us see if we can find ourselves in one of those groups and ask what this might mean for us.
Luke tells us that some people came to hear him speak. They were the curious. They were amazed at his message. In the gospel of John, the apostle records that the High Priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest Jesus (7:40-47). When the soldiers returned without him, they were asked why they had failed to complete their assignment. They could only respond by saying, "Never has a man spoken like this man."2
Somehow he made sense out of things that seemed too complicated to understand or too impersonal to embrace. Somehow, he was able to unlock the mysterious of the faith so that even a simple, uneducated person could understand the beauty of the message. Rather, than talk about a God who judged and condemned, Jesus talked about God as father, a caring loving parent. In the Lord's Prayer the word Abba which we translate "Father," but would be better translated "Daddy." It is the affection term that a young child uses to call their loving parent, an intimate, personal name that seals a relationship of love.
Another attraction of his message was its simplicity. In a time of social crises, the Pharisees had created a system of rules to restore order and ensure religious purity. The people had once enthusiastically embraced the laws. They provided guidelines and direction. They clarified the gray areas. But, as time went on, new rules were added. Each new situation required a new rule. Rules were being made to enforce other rules. The system of laws became complicated and unbending. The average person could not hope to obey even a portion of all the regulations. They felt condemned and judged, outcasts of their own religion. Jesus' message liberated them from a dungeon of legalism. He talked about the freedom of grace. He spoke words to lighten the burden of the faithful.
Maybe the time has come for you to put aside the memories of a legalistic system of rules and regulations. You may have come this morning to hear a message that would free you from a sense of never measuring up, never performing at an acceptable standard. Jesus offers a relationship with the Father not a regulation. My friends hear the message of a comforting God and a liberating grace.
People also came to Jesus to be healed of their physical aliments. They were the hurting. They came blind, lame, bleeding, covered with leprosy and all sorts of other ailments. And Jesus healed them. Healing became one of the trademarks of his ministry. Nearly one fifth of the entire text of the Gospels and the book of Acts contain healing stories. Even at the time of his birth, Jesus was associated with the healing presence of God. His very name rings with the message of healing. The name Jesus is Aramaic, the common language of the Hebrew people in that day. It means "Yahweh is salvation." The mindset of the people could not separate the soul from the body. They could not conceive of the salvation of the soul without the salvation of the body; saving a soul required the healing of a body.3
I believe that God still heals. A story is told about a physician who died after a long and successful career. When he arrived at the pearly gates of Heaven, he found that he had to stand in a long and slow moving line. St. Peter refused to be hurried. Impatient and accustomed to preferential treatment the MD pleaded his case a second time with St Peter. Once again, he was denied and told to take place in line. A moment later, the physician saw a man in a white coat, stethoscope dangling from his neck and beeper on his belt, charging past him and straight into heaven. The MD exploded and demanded to know why that MD did not have to wait. St Peter relied, "Actually, that was God himself. He enjoys playing MD.4
The story is not meant to be either sacrilegious toward God or disrespectful to MDs. It merely reminds us in a humorous way that God is still in the healing profession. Healing is an essential part of life. Sometimes it occurs through the skillful treatment of physicians and nurses. Sometimes it appears supernatural; occurring after a community of faith has pleaded with God for healing and somehow something happens that is completely unpredictable. The ways of God are beyond our feeble explanations. The skeptical attitudes of the cynic do not disprove divine possibilities. If a person's worldview has little place for divine healing, they may be suffering from spiritual poor health.
Hurting people came to Jesus hoping. He never sent them away without extending his hand of healing. I pray that those who have come with a wound in your heart will be touched by the anointing words of grace and forgiveness.
The curious, the hurting, the great crowd of people also contained many of his disciples. Luke tells us that before this story Jesus called all of his disciples around him and designated 12 to be apostles. These 12 represented the 12 tribes of Israel would form the inner circle. They would be given additional responsibility and enjoy more frequent and intimate contact with the Master. But Jesus continued to include the broader circle of disciples whenever he taught. He directed what we now refer to as the Sermon On The Mount to these disciples. This is quite significant. We are presented in the movies with thousands of people sitting on a hillside listening to Jesus deliver this sermon. There may have been thousands around him, but Luke wants us to understand that the sermon was not directed to the curious or the hurting but to the disciples.
Why, you may ask? Quite simple, the normal response to the Sermon on the Mount is despair. It appears to demand an unattainable ideal. How can a person truly turn the other check, love their enemies? The sermon requires an impossible standard. Exactly. The sermon is Moses quadrupled, Moses multiplied to the highest degree. This was the purpose of the sermon, to present a new law.
Martin Luther had another purpose for the sermon:
Christ is saying nothing in this Sermon about how we become Christians, but only about the works and fruit that no one can do unless he already is a Christian and in a state of grace.
Jesus pronounces four blessings; to the poor, to the hungry, to those who weep and to those who are persecuted. He wants the suffering to know that God is with them. This is a common theme in Scripture. The Psalms echo with the promise that God will watch over the suffering of the poor. Let us listen to a few reminders
Ps 68:10 Your people settled in it, and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.However, Jesus selectively applies these promises to those who are poor because they have chosen to follow him. He is not blessing the improvised masses, nor is he promising a blessing to poor in spirit here in Luke, but to those who have sacrificed material possessions to follow him. The cost of discipleship for Jesus was quite high. He would not accept a mere 10 percent of your income or your bank account. He wanted it all. Unless you were willing to pay the full amount you could not follow.
These were his disciples. People who left their family and their profession. They had no source of income. They were utterly dependent upon God to provide for them through the generosity of strangers. They were people who devoted their lives to helping others rather than to indulge in the pleasures of this world.
Before we consider how to apply this to our lives, let us consider the warning that Jesus offered.
In the crowd that gathered there were also the rich and powerful. They were the well off, members of the social elite. They had a reputation to protect, so they probably kept their distance from Jesus. They may have become interested by the rumors. Stories of the miraculous may have enticed them. They may have gone hoping to see a few signs and wonders themselves. Maybe they even wanted to enjoy an engaging dialogue on theology. Whatever their reason, very few of them made a committment to follow him. They never allowed his words to penetrate their insulated conscious. They never permitted his teaching to disturb their comfortable lifestyle.
His message to the rich and powerful was extremely harsh. He warned them. He was essentially telling them, 'Since you have already enjoyed your comforts. You have already feasted at the table and laughed at the parties. You will soon discover that there will be nothing else.'
Jesus had little patience for people who indulged in earthly pleasures. The lifestyle of the rich and famous infuriated him. He recognized that it was built on a labor of selfishness and greed. Unless there was a radical conversion, they were doomed.
The challenge for us today is how do we apply in a practical way the lifestyle of a disciple. Must we really sell all that we have and give it to the poor? Isn't the giving of a tithe or at least almost a tithe of our income enough?
I would like to answer these questions and make a practical application to Jesus words by telling a story about how one wealthy man became blessed.
HOW A WEALTHY MAN BECOME BLESSED
Malcolm Street grew up in a wealth Texas oil family and has always been financially well off. However, Malcolm Street is a testimony of someone who has attempted to live out the radical demands of discipleship.
During the` fifties while studying finance in college he had a summer job at a bank in Fort Wroth. The summer job led to a full-time position. Before Malcolm reached the ripe old age of 30, he had worked his way up the corporate ladder. However, the young banker was soon to have a conversion that would bring to life the Methodism of his childhood.
Malcolm began to observe that many of the economically successful people he counseled on financial matters had deflated, sometimes despairing lives. In his own words Street recalls:
All their lives they had focused on climbing the ladder, only to find when they got to the top that it was leaning against the wrong building5
This prompted him re-evaluate his priorities. He concluded that he had a calloused heart. He realized that in his affluence he had become disconnected from the pains and needs of the ordinary folk. So he rededicated his life to serving the poor. In the ensuing decades, he repeatedly exposed himself to the neediest of the needy manking mission trips to such places as Haiti, Liberia and Honduras. He now devotes 30 percent of his time to service. He has built and operated assisted living apartment for the frail and elderly and he even lives on the premises of a Fort Wroth complex where he leads a weekly Bible study for residents and meets monthly for breakfast with male residents.
Street maintains that generosity is a crucial life enriching habit for wealthy Christians. He states "Giving proportionately to your ability is a way to force yourself out of the insulation of affluence."
WHY DO YOU COME?Each of us comes to the Savior for different reasons, with different motives and for different purposes. Whatever the reason, Jesus expected some type of change, the same is true today. He does not really give us the option of merely listening to his message. He wants his message to transform us body, soul and spirit. I believe, Lloyd John Olgilve once said:
God loves us just the way we are...When the message of our Savior penetrates our hearts something should change. Bodies are healed. Broken spirits are mended. Shattered lives are restored. A selfish, self-centered existence is transformed into a sacrificial life. Will you allow that message to penetrate and make you whole?
1 C. Peter Wagner, from a lecture in Church Growth I, Fuller Theological Seminary.
2 Nova Gledenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, NICNT, (Eerdmans, 1951), p.208
3 Francis MacNutt, Healing, (New York: Bantam Books, 1974), p 34.
4 Glendon Harris, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 17, No 3, Year C, p 16
5 "Why the devil takes VISA." Rodney Clapp, Christianity Today, Vol. 40, No. II, October 7, 1996, p 30. Quoting Malcolm Street.
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