For the past few weeks, we have been on a journey together, looking at some of the characteristics of Jesus Christ. It’s all been with a focus to align our faith and the mission of our two churches with the identity of our Lord and Savior.
We began this series by looking at Christ’s nature as a servant. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to lay down our lives for others and see them as more important than ourselves. The call to be a servant in the name of Christ unites us in a mission and purpose as we go out in love to proclaim the name of Christ through our acts of service and mercy, and through our relationships.
We looked at the willingness of Christ to heal, and his ability to heal as the Son of God. As Christians, our mission is to be conduits of healing to a lost world by being a loving presence to those who need healing, whether physical or emotional, in their own lives.
Last week, we looked at Christ’s prayer life. We said that his entire ministry was covered in prayer. More specifically, that in the final hours before the crucifixion, Christ had each of us in mind. We were prayed over so that we might be the living representation of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our communities.
Over the next two weeks, we will take on some aspects of Christ’s characteristics that are challenging to hear. They will step on your toes, and I am certain that they will step on mine as well. That’s because these next two weeks will force us to look deep within ourselves, at our faith and our interactions with others. These next two weeks will challenge our comforts. They will ask us to see the fullness of Christ’s ministry and how Christ might be calling us in response.
Today, we will look at the radical and cross-cultural nature of Jesus’ ministry and teachings. His ministry and identity is wrapped in an acceptance of the other, those whom society has rejected and neglected. Christ routinely did that which we find difficult and challenging to do in our own time.
But, to fully understand the radical and counter-cultural nature of Jesus’ ministry and teachings, we need to walk through various Scripture passages that help us flesh this idea out. In our Scripture passage for today, Luke takes us into a dinner party that a Pharisee held for Jesus. While we read one passage, there are two stories that go together and tell us about Christ’s call to a radical ministry which seeks to engage the other and be obedient to the call of discipleship.
In the first story, Christ walks into the party and sees all the guests taking places of honor. In those times, the place of honor was the center seat on a couch-like chair that would be around the dinner table. Everyone was rushing to fill these places, and it gave Jesus an opportunity to teach. He says that everyone should humble themselves and take the lowest places. It gets back the servant nature of ministry. Life isn’t about us and our accolades, but about honoring God and caring for others.
Jesus also says something else. He looks around the dinner and takes notice of who has been invited. While Luke doesn’t give us much detail of who was invited, the mere fact that it was a dinner hosted by a Pharisee could tell us that it was dinner for the religious elites. Jesus says that when we host a party we should invite the hurt, the hungry, and the forgotten. This is coupled with the parable that follows immediately after. There Jesus tells of a man who had prepared a great feast. When the invitations were sent out, they were all returned with various no’s. They each had their own excuses, but none wanted to come. So, the man tells his servant to go out into the streets and invite the poor, the crippled, and the blind. They came with great enthusiasm to the feast.
When we take these two stories together, we see something significant about Christ’s character. Christ routinely takes up the cause of the lost and the forgotten, those whom society has disregarded. Jesus invites into discipleship the very people that society says have no place in God’s kingdom. He ate with the tax collector, who was one of the most despised people of the time, and invited one, Matthew, to be one of his disciples. He showed the value and importance of women by caring for their needs, and allowing Mary to sit at his feet, which was symbolic of being taught, instead of going back with Martha. He refused to allow cultural biases and definitions to impact his ministry. Jesus communicated with the Samaritans, whom the Jews refused to have relationship with because of religious differences, and helped open people’s eyes to their worth with parables, such as the Good Samaritan.
The Kingdom of God embraces the lost. It welcomes the forgotten. It cares for the poor and crippled. It gives identity to the outcast. Those whom society says have no value, Christ welcomes with open arms and calls them honored guests in the Kingdom.
My friends, this requires a question to be asked of us and our two churches today. As we hear Christ tell of the forgotten being welcomed in the Kingdom, who are we in the invitation? Are we the one Christ is inviting to the table? Or are we the ones who have put limitations and boundaries on who is in and who is out, just like the Pharisee in this dinner scene?
Our first instinct might be to say that we are the ones that Christ has invited to the party, and perhaps we were in that humble position at one time or another. But, we have to be willing to wrestle with the fact that we might be more identifiable with the Pharisee than someone who welcomes the lost, the poor, and the outcast into our communities of fellowship.
That’s a hard statement to think about – that we, in the church, might be more in line with a Pharisee than a disciple of Christ. We want to say that we get Christ, when in all actuality we don’t really understand Christ at all. Throughout the history of the church, especially in the United States and Western culture, we’ve made Christ fit our purposes and agenda instead of being aligned with Christ’s calling and purposes. If we’re conservative, we’ll say Christ is more like us. If we’re a liberal, we’ll say Christ is more like us. We will surround Christ in the values of the United States, and never question if our practices match with Christ’s command to, first, love the Lord our God. We come to church expecting to be made comfortable in our beliefs and our practices, instead of being challenged to grow in the depths of God’s love for us and align ourselves and our church with Christ’s mission to proclaim the Gospel to all the corners of our communities and our earth.
We don’t let Jesus be the Christ, because we are too busy playing the role of the Pharisee. Just like the Pharisee would put walls around Scripture so that no one would break the Law or how the Pharisees would determine who was in or out, we do the same today. We claim there is no way you can have any stake in the kingdom of God if you do not believe the same as we do, worship in the same style we do, or look like we do. By our words and our actions, we say, “Don’t come to church unless you have your life all together,” even though Christ himself came to be the physician to those in need. We yearn to be accepted and deemed relevant by a world that wishes for nothing but to see Christ as a great moral teacher, not as the living Son of God.
I don’t know about you, but these words strike me and cause me to ponder when I’ve denied sending someone an invitation to the Kingdom because I felt they weren’t acceptable. George Hunter writes that the typical church ignores two groups of people each year: The ones who are not refined enough for us to feel comfortable and those who are too out of control for us to feel safe. As the body and representation of Christ, who are we ignoring today?
You see, to follow Christ is to intentionally walk into the uncomfortable and the radical. We must seek to embody Christ’s mission for the church, because his very mission is to take on the radical and the counter-cultural. It is radical to claim that God lives and has a purpose for your life. It is counter-cultural to suggest that there is truth that we are called to place our trust in. It is radical to care for others and see them as more important. It is counter-cultural to be places of welcome that embraces those whom society would say are best ignored.
It is radical for the church to say, not just that it believes in Christ, but that it truly lives out the calling of Christ by inviting the lost into fellowship, regardless of others might think. C.S. Lewis writes, “The church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.”
Let us return to our calling as ambassadors of Christ, who seek to bring people into a relationship with Christ. This should be our mission, because it is Christ’s mission for the church.
The Methodist movement was founded by John Wesley as a reaction, in part, to the exclusive activities of the Church of England. Wesley and his Holy Club saw how the church refused to welcome the poor and the outcast. So, they took the message of Christ’s love to them. They went where the poor and outcast were, and we are living in the riches of the blessings of Wesley’s ministry. They didn’t see the outcast as someone to ignore or to only talk to when their life was in order. Instead, they saw the outcast as a Child of God who had been invited to the Kingdom by their Lord and Savior.
What would a movement in Mackville and Antioch look like if it did the same radical ministry in Mackville, Willisburg, Harrodsburg, Perryville, and Danville?