Thursday, September 13, 2007

Living the Scandal (Luke 15:1-10)

Psalm 1

1 Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

4 But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
5 They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
6 For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

Ezra 9:1-4

1 When these things had been done, the Jewish leaders came to me and said, “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. 2 For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.”

3 When I heard this, I tore my cloak and my shirt, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel came and sat with me because of this outrage committed by the returned exiles. And I sat there utterly appalled until the time of the evening sacrifice.

Psalm 104:33-35

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
let the wicked disappear forever.

Let all that I am praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!

Proverbs 1:10 & 15

10 My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them! …

15 My child, don’t go along with them! Stay far away from their paths.

Luke 5:27-32

27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.

29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”

31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

Luke 7:33-35

33 For John the Baptist didn’t spend his time eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ 35 But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it.”

Luke 19:6-10

6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

John 8:1-11

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Special Song: “Words on the Ground” by Adam Smith

[Verse 1]
God came down from the mountain in the morning time
 
Sat like a man at the scene of an ancient crime
Crowd took its place as the lawmen's bright faces looked hard at his 
        eyes for a sign
And the girl on the ground with her red hands went down the parade ground of reason and rhyme
 
[Chorus]
There are words on the ground
There is rain coming down
There is life for the dust of the earth
 
[Verse 2]
God stooped down made no sound save for a steady hand
marking the dirt with some words none could understand
lawmen persisted and justice insisted and need made its righteous 
        demand
so the man on the ground broke his silence and sounded the sentence he'd set in the sand:
 
[Chorus]
 
[Verse 3]
God stood straight up and waited on the crowd of hands
broken stones for her bones stolen up from the land
They all heard his question and saw their reflection in the girl fallen 
        down on the sand
so the stones were returned and sweet justice was spurned and the 
        lawmen left hungry and sad
 
[Verse 4]
God stood alone with the girl on the broken ground
spoke in the stone-breaking rain that was falling down
the Girl heard his question and saw her reflection in the man with the 
        thorns in his crown
and the crowd and the lawmen the red-handed woman made a song from the 
        silence they'd found:
 
[Chorus]
 

No wonder they killed Jesus! You can’t just go around blurring the lines between right and wrong. You can’t mix religious folk and “sinners.” That’s like oil and water, acid and base. There’s bound to be an explosion somewhere. And that explosion hit Jesus in the face.

Read Luke 15:1-2.

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

Back in Jesus’ time, people used to say: “I saw them eating, and I knew who they were.”[1] For righteous Jews, eating a meal with others was a religious event. When they ate together, they celebrated their faith together. When they ate together, they were affirming the other person, saying something like: “You are valuable. We are united in life together.”

And there were some very important rules about religious eating. Cleanliness was very important: only clean food, only clean dishes, only clean hands, only clean people.[2]

That was Jesus’ big problem. He didn’t eat with the right people. The religious folk might be able to excuse the fact that sinners came to hear Jesus teach. “Those sinners could use a little religion – of any kind!” But what they could not forgive was Jesus sitting down at the dinner table with out-and-out sinners. They just couldn’t understand. It did not compute. They thought that anyone who unites himself with sinners must be a sinner too.

See, they lived their whole lives trying to move away from sin and sinners. They had long lists of rules to make sure they never, ever got close to doing something they considered sin. There were five kinds of people who were “on the outs” with Pharisees, five kinds of outsiders: people with dirty jobs, people with dirty sins, people who took the easy religious road, half-breeds (half-Jews and half-Gentiles), and Gentiles (weigookin).[3] Then, in a special side category, were the tax-collectors. They were the Jews who collected taxes for the Roman government, kind of like Koreans who helped the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation of Korea. The Jews hated the tax collectors.

So when Jesus was hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, this was like religious rebellion, maybe even treason. People would question whether he was a real Jew, a loyal Israelite. Had he no standards? Had he no morality? How could he eat with people like that?

To really get the picture here, maybe we should substitute some of our own outsider categories. Imagine a busy, popular restaurant.[4] At the center of the restaurant, there are several oddly shaped tables pulled together to make one central mess of a table that attracts everyone’s attention. There are lots of of people, roars of laughter, bags all over the place, lots of empty glasses and plates and bottles of different shapes and sizes, maybe a few too many bottles – if you know what I mean.

Sitting around that table are a strange assortment of people. There is a poor, single mother with four children gathered around her, running in different directions. There is a gay man with AIDS. There is a homeless guy, who still smells like last night’s beer. There’s one of those old men with the bent over backs who pull those carts to collect the cardboard. There’s a factory worker from Sri Lanka. Then, on the other side of the table are: an illegal arms dealer, an abortion doctor, a Muslim who looks very much like terrorist, and a child molester.

Right at one of the center chairs is Jesus. He is putting back a glass of wine, laughing at someone’s off-color joke, and passing the abortion doctor some cream for her coffee.

How do you feel about this picture? Do you feel uncomfortable? I do, but that’s exactly the point.

Read Luke 15:1-10.

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

“There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:7).

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

Watch this video: “Mercy Street Stories Part 1” at: http://theworkofthepeople.blogspot.com/.

Have you ever noticed that most people like Jesus? Really, most people, whether they are Christians, atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, whatever – most people, if they know anything about Jesus, they like him. They respect him as a teacher. They think he had some good things to say. They think the world would be better if most people kind of lived like him. Around the world, most people like Jesus. Have you ever noticed that?

Have you ever noticed that most people who don’t go to church don’t like church? Even a lot of people who do go to church, don’t like church! Have you ever noticed that? Really, most people all over the world, if they don’t go to church, but they know anything about Christians, think there’s something seriously wrong with the church. Have you ever noticed that?

So people like Jesus, but they don’t like the church. Hmm, do you see a problem here? People like Jesus, but they don’t like the one group of people who claims to follow Jesus. Why is that? What’s going on here? What happened to us?

Could it be that we – as the church – aren’t doing such a good job of following Jesus? Could it be that we, the church, are not so much like Jesus as we want to think we are? Could it be that we, the church, have become something far different from who Jesus is? Could it be that we have begun to live – and, in fact, have been living for many centuries – a kind of life that is far removed, far different from Jesus’ life? Could it be that we, the church of Jesus Christ, don’t even want to follow Jesus’ way of life any more?

Are we simply worshiping Jesus, instead of following Jesus?



[1] Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation, (Louisville, 1990), 78.

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Table Manners,” Christian Century, March 11, 1998, page 257,

http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=644. downloaded 9.13.07

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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