Big Idea: This Time is for the Least, the Last & the Lost
Intro: Morning friends, visitors and those joining us online. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Lukes gospel – thinking about how we should live between Jesus’ first and second comings. Today, Jesus explains that his followers should have a special concern for the poor, the crippled, the lame and blind during this time…
Well, the content of todays sermon is close to my heart – because it is talking about Christian ministry towards those at the bottom of society. In verse 13 and again in verse 21Jesus talks about the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Jesus says these people should be the focus of our hospitality and evangelism. Yes, the focus.
Many years ago – I heard a very prominent Sydney Anglican minister say that Jesus has no special concern for the physically poor, he only has a concern for the spiritually poor. The minister took Matthew 5 (Slide 2) where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” and he said that every time Jesus talks about THE POOR we should understand it in terms of spiritually poor. Jesus has no special concern for the poor per se. Jesus came to save everyone and anyone who recognizes their spiritual poverty.
Now as a youngster (with little life experience) that seemed logically correct (and I found myself nodding). As Christians we shouldn’t focus on ricjh or poor, just people’s salvation. But sadly (without an intentional focus on the poor) all our evangelical ministries have naturally gravitated towards the rich. The National Church Life survey (which many of you did a few weeks back) shows time and time again that Sydney Anglicans are decidely middle and upper class. The average income and level of education among Sydney Anglicans is NOT in the bottom third of society, but decisively in the top third of society.
Now I don’t think I would have ever noticed this PROBLEM – if God had not placed me as a minister in Redfern. It’s only since being here that Ive started to see some big problems. Many churches think they are entirely middle and upper class, simply because the suburb in which they live is entirely middle and upper class. This is rarely true. Sometimes its also said that the gentrification of churches in Sydney simply reflects the gentrification of our city? But is that true?
In some Bible passages we are told that the church’s care of the poor actually reveals the authenticity of our Christian faith. James says (Slide 3; Jam.1:27). Notice religion that God accepts as PURE and FAULTLESS has a concern for orphans and widows. James means the poor. He goes on to absolutely lambast the church because they are showing favoritism to the rich, and prejudice against the poor. This is an age-old problem.
So I’m going to ask you to try to step into what Jesus teaches about the poor in todays story. The opening verses set the scene for Jesus’ teaching…
READ: Lk.14:1-6 (READ)
Please notice this is a Sabbath meal in the home of a PROMINENT Pharisee. The word “PROMINENT” in verse 1 means top of the social ladder. It means first or king. And other significant Jews are there like the experts in the law. But somehow Jesus and a man with dropsy have been included.
The man with SWELLING in his body has DROPSY. The Jews believed dropsy came from an immoral or unwise lifestyle. This man was towards the bottom of the social ladder. He is an outcast. So people from the top of the social ladder are having a meal with someone from the bottom of social ladder. At face value – it looks like these Jews are already showing hospitality to the poor, which is the very thing – Jesus goes on to teach.
But appearances are DECEPTIVE. In verse 1; you’ll see it says Jesus was being “watched carefully”. The word CAREFULLY has negative connotations. It means watched with evil intent. Now remember – Jesus has already had fights with the Jews about healing people on the Sabbath. And all of a sudden, we find Jesus at a Sabbath meal, with very prominent Jews and one person who obviously needs healing. Many Christian scholars believe this is a set-up. The poor man with dropsy has been invited to the meal simply for the purpose of catching Jesus breaking the Sabbath.
AND WELCOME to our normal sinful world. How often do prominent, wealthy people use the poor for their own evil purposes. These people don’t see a man in need. They simply see a pawn, a thing, they can use to help them achieve their own evil ends.. They are simply using this man as a means to an end. But Jesus sees a real person, who needs help and heals him.
Apply: I wonder A) how often we view people as people AND B) how often we view people as means to an end? We all do this. Sometimes even with good motives. I mean I look at all of you and I see potential Sunday School teacher; Sunday school teacher. Sunday school teacher. I mean that’s what our church needs. So (if I’m not careful) I start looking at people as solutions to my problems. But when I’m looking at you – IN TERMS OF WHAT I CAN GET OUT OF YOU – am I really seeing you or loving you? And herein lies a real problem. We don’t really love people. We love what we can get out of people.
And so, against this TERRIBLE BACKDROP – Jesus says “Christians should not be like this…” Jesus tells us three banquet stories that I have summarised as follows; (Slide 4).
Point 1: Humble yourself Now for true Exaltation Later
Show: Lk.:14:7-11 (READ)
Explain: Well Jesus basically says; don’t fight for the seats of honor. The top seats were usually those that were closest to the host of the banquet. If you had a seat near the host it meant you had his EAR and the EAR of the other prominent people seated near him. Having one of these seats – meant you were a somebody. Not a nobody.
Now none of us wants to be a nobody. So naturally a certain amount of JOSTLING takes place to get the best seats. Now the pushing and shoving is not always obvious, because this game has a certain etiquette tht needs to be followed. But be assured this jostling for the best seats happens in the footy club, the workplace and even in the church. In fact, I’d say the church is sometimes the worst because people often chase the best seats while pretending to be humble. We often do this by claiming some HIGHER, NOBLE PURPOSE. The Pharisees noble prupose was to be protectors of the Jewish faith. Jesus was corrupting Judaism and they needed to stop him. So they weren’t really fighting for the best seats. They were just arranging themselves in the best way to achieve this noble purpose. RIGHT?
Every ten years or so Sydney Anglicans re-articulate their noble purpose. Reach 10% of Sydney. Plant more churches. Raise up more ministers. And once the noble goal is articulated the jostling for seats begins. Not everyone. But some people who think they have the most to offer push themselves to the front. Now if we’re not careful this can also happen in our church music ministry or our Friday food ministry, This is crazy.
Jesus is obviously the one worthy of the highest seat of honor. But as the matre-de announces dinner is served and everyone jostles for position Jesus and the man who had dropsy – end up in the lowest seats. Mmmm (PAUSE).
APPLY: Look again at verse 11 (READ). Jesus actually tells us to make it our practice to take the lowest seats at the metaphorical table. Those who take the humble seats will eventually be exalted, but those who exalt themsleves will be humbled…
Now obviously those who exalt themselves are full of PRIDE? The reason people exalt themselves is that A) they think they are better than others or B) that certain things and certain people are beneath them. And when such pride means we stop accepting the little humble assignments that God gives us – day by day – Jesus can’t exalt us on the last day. If we want to be exalted we need to be faithful in the little things and with the little people God puts in our life. So Jesus tells us to go to lowly end of the table, the Diocese, the church. But do you realise there may be MORE OPPORTUNITIES to really serve God and love people – at the dishonorable end of the table, than the honorable end of the table. In fact you might even find more 1) of Jesus and 2) more people who really know the power of Jesus (like the man who had dropsy) at the dishonorable end of the table. It all depends on what you’re seeking.
Friends, when I came to Redfern – I was still full of worldly pride and God had to teach me this lesson. ONE EXAMPLE is that every Friday and Saturday I found myself getting angry because people kept interupting my sermon prep. My sermon prep was my all important noble task. But I kept having poor, sick, drug affected people coming to my door, asking for help. It was a nuisance. Truth is – come Sunday – I wanted you all to think well of me and speak well of me. But the Holy Spirit was shouting in my ear; “No. These people are your noble purpose. See the person who is standing in front of you right now and love them.”
I’d say this is one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn in Redfern. Simply see the person in front of me (as a valuable person, regardless of how the world sees them). All too often we are so caught up in our own SELF IMPORTANCE that we fail to see our humble God-given assignments. We walk past the beggar on the street, rather than humbly sitting with him. We dismiss our neighbor who is crying out for help because we don’t want to humbly sit and listen. We even fail to humbly sit on the bed and pray with our children because we are so busy saving the world.
We waste a lot of time as Christians pursuing seats of honor and more noble tasks, rather than simply accepting the humble seats we are called to fill. But do not despise the humble seat. If it was good enough for Jesus. It should be good enough for you.
Point 2: Forgo Reward Now, for True Reward Later
Show: Lk.14:12-14 (READ)
Explain: Well Jesus speaks from the low end of the table telling the HOST at the top end of the table not to throw banquets simply for his family and rich neighbors. Rather, show hospitality (verse 13) to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Now can you feel the tension in the room?
How often have you seen rich prominent Christians show real hospitality to the least, the last and the lost. In fact, if you are a middle-class or upper-class Christian when was the last timeyou showed real hospitality to anyone at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder? And I don’t mean – buying the beggar on the street a hamburger as a kind of good deed? Jesus is talking here about real hospitality – to the least, the last and the lost of society?
Jesus’ main point is that most of our life is transactional. We give in order to get. We show hospitality to nice people with the expectation that they will RETURN THE FAVOR – because its nice and we all have a good time together. This is no different to people IN THE WORLD. Its not realy Christian HOSPITALITY or CHARITY. Its simply a transaction between people who like each other. And Jesus says – when the transaction is repaid – you already have your reward. Jesus’ says there is no heavenly reward for this sort of hospitality or love.
But there is one segment of society – the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind – where the chance of them returning the favor is ZERO. What’s more, relationships with those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder is often fraught with DIFFICULTY, or HARDSHIP, or ENDLESS NEED because that is their life. Their day to day life lacks the niceties and comforts that many of us desire. So those at the bottom of the ladder are not generally viewed as a good investment in terms of comfort or socialization or emotional return. The love is not and cannot be repaid in equal measure…
So let me be brutally honest. I believe this is why MANY PEOPLE do not last long in our church. Sure, all sorts of reasons are given as to why people leave our church. And perhaps there is a point where people get burnt out and need a Sabbatical. But very often people tell me it’s just too hard. They tell me they just want an easier, nicer church (either for themselves or their children) – where there are more people who will love them and look after them. Now I get that fleshly desire. But where would any of us be if Jesus only loved the lovely?
GOSPEL: Before we became Christians none of us were particularly lovely. We were all sinners. Some of us addicts. Yet, Jesus left his comfort zone, came to earth and died on the cross for our sin. Jesus loved us so much that he took all the consequences of OUR UGLY and OUR STUPID upon himself so that we can be saved. And if you believe Jesus took the punishment for your sin. If you believe Jesus took all your UGLY upon himself (because he loves you) and you ask God for forgiveness – God will forgive you. At that point – the Holy Spirit comes into your life and he begins the process of turning unlovely into lovely. Praise God for Jesus’ love of us.
Yet, how many Christians only want to serve and love where they are reciprocally served and loved? Or if they have to love and serve the unlovely – its from a distance with safe, sanitized hands through a third party like Anglicare or Anglican Aid. Friends, Jesus clealry says, that Christians who only ever love and serve those who love and serve them have already received their reward in full. But those who really do love those who can never repay – will be repaid when Jesus returns at the resurrection of the righteous. So I’d rather be here in our church – because despite some of the difficulties I think we are learning real sacrificial, Jesus-like, authentic love simply by persevering with one another. Yes. It’s not splashy and there are no great seats of honor. But when Jesus returns – there may be more honor for people in this church, than in many of the churches of Sydney.
Point 3: Recognize the True Nature of the Mission Field
Show: Lk.14:15 (READ)
Explain: Well sadly, we often take this well-known parable – out of it’s biblical context – and totally ignore what it says about the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. If you’ve ever heard this parable preached – you’ll know THE BIG IDEA is that when Jesus invites you into his Kingdom – you shouldn’t make excuses about why you can’t come. But in context – is that really the point.
Do you realise that the three people who all make excuses – come from seats of honor. They all come from the more affluent end of the ladder. How many poor people can afford to buy a field? (Mmmm. Not many). As for a person having 5 yoke of oxen – that is equivalent to having a personal lear jet. You have that many oxen and your Harry Triguboff. And even marriage itself involves a seat of honor. The bride and groom have the seats of honor at their wedding reception. And everyone toasts their happiness because marriage itself is a desired and honorable state. These three people all come from a position of privilege and honor in Jewish society..
And these people A) who all have seats of honor in Jewish society are making excuses about why they have to reject Jesus. So in the parable Jesus simply sends out his servants to the poor, the lepers, the crippled and the blind (who don’t have seats of honor) and they come in, without making excuses. Now is there something we are meant to learn from this about fulfilling the great commssion? Or is Jesus telling us to go to the other end of the table, to show hospitality and do evangelism with the poor, the crippled,the blind and lame – just a coincidence?
Apply: Now to be fair what this parable is actually saying is that if the upper echelons of Judaism don’t want to come into God’s Kingdom, that’s fine Jesus is willing to go to the dregs of Judaism in the back streets and alleys. In fact, not only is he willing to go to the dregs of Judaism – the final sending out of the servant to gather people from the raods and country lanes – is probably referring to Samaritans and maybe even Gentiles. The real dregs of Jewish society. Jesus is saying – if the wealthy, prosperous and prominent don’t want salvation – that’s fine there’s plenty of others that will be very willing to come in.
But is it perhaps possible that the very problem that existed in C1st Judaism may be the same problem that exists in C21st Sydney. Those who already have seats of honor – find it very hard to surrender their seats of honor to Jesus. They really don’t want to go from being the head of the table to the bottom of the table. And many of the prominent don’t really want to associate with the bottom rungs of society. What’s more, those with honor already have plenty of good excuses as to why they don’t have time for Jesus.
Yet, the poor, the lame, the crippled and blind – have no seat of honor to give up to jesus. They’re already at the bottom of the table. They’re already accustomed to taking the lowest seat. And when the poor show people hospitality they always invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind because no one else will come. And truly, while the propserous may have all sorts of good excuses as to why they are too busy for Jesus, the one thing the bottom of society has lots of – is time. In fact, for the bottom portion of society (that has nothing) – there is nothing but upside to Jesus. Why wouldn’the poor, ther downtrodden, the desperate come to Jesus for salvation? Of course, I know it’s a bit more complcated than what I am simply saying. But what is Jesus saying about the church and its attitudes towards the bottom rungs of society?
Would they actually come in droves if we saw them as people, showed them real hospitality and loved them like Jesus?
So much of our evangelical Christian ministry and church planting intentionally targets the most affluent, the most honored and most educated in society. We even justify this to ourselves openly saying the most affluent, the most honored and most educated have more to offer God’s kingdom. They bring a bigger and quicker return. Now I’m not saying – that the rich and educated don’t need the gospel. They do. But what is Jesus telling us in Luke 14 (and are we really listening).
I started this sermon today reminding us that James tells us that the way we love and care for the least in society says something about the quality of our Christian faith. But let me show you quckly what James goes on to say (because I believe Jesus is communicating something similar) but many don’t want to hear (Slide 15-16; Jam.2:3-7). Friends, I think Jesus is teaching us something similar. It was the affluent, the powerful and rich who rejected Jesus and put him to death. The poor, the cippled and the lame loved him. James says – that to some extent this is still the case. And yet, so much of evangelical Christian ministry is geared upwards, rather than downwards – and its worth asking are we really in step with jesus in this regard. I know our church is far from perfect and many things could be done better. But there is a Christian authenticity here that is seen as we care for oprhans, widows, the poor and the destitute (and maybe that itself) is keeping us from being polluted by some of the excessess and comforts of the world.
I look at Jesus’ teaching today – and I wonder how many of our best churches have lost the nature of true love? Do we feign love to achieve some other goal? Do we love simply in order to receive love? Or do we really love the least, the last and the lost – as Jesus loved us – and are we willing to count the cost – of true Jesus-like love?