Monday, May 22, 2017

Jesus' Table

David Fitch writes these helpful words regarding the role Jesus' table is intended to play in our broken world:
We are a mass of disconnected souls with too many tasks to do and too much stress to do them. Nonetheless, our world starves for presence. After work is over, after we arrive home on the train, we swarm to restaurants and bars just to share a beverage or a meal in hope of making contact. Whole train cars on the Chicago Metro commuter train are segregated for those who want to bring a beverage and share a conversation at the end of a long day. It's not much but it's something. People everywhere long to be known. Our culture bears the signs of people wanting to share life meaningfully with one another. The world longs for Eucharist.
In our exploration of Jesus' Table in Luke 5.27-39, we learned that one of the things that got Jesus in trouble with the religious authorities was his table habits. It wasn't only his preaching that led to Jesus' crucifixion, it was also his eating. More specifically, the cast of characters with whom he chose to eat. Tables, you see, tell stories. They tell the story of who's in and who's out - of who belongs with whom - and the basis of our mutual acceptance. Think for a moment about the cafeteria tables in high school. The jocks sit with the jocks, the cheerleaders with the cheerleaders, the FFA students with the FFA students, the preps with the preps, the gothic with the gothic, etc. Jesus' table tells quite a different story. "For Jesus the table was to be a place of fellowship and inclusion and acceptance" (Scot McKnight). According to Jesus, if you have recognized your ultimate need, forgiveness and restoration to God and others, and have turned to him to meet that need, then you belong to Jesus, to God, and to all who have likewise turned to Jesus. This means that Jesus doesn't require purity or certain earthly identity markers before he will share a meal with us. Rather, when we share a meal with Jesus, the meal has a mysterious way of creating purity within us, of shaping us into the image of what God created us to be.

Indeed, "we are a mass of disconnected souls," What evidence of disconnection do you see in your life? Are you feeling disconnected in your relationship with God. What human relationships fee disconnected? Jesus responds to disconnection by inviting us to a meal. Most often that meal is what we call communion - bread and wine shared by Christians after the Word of God has been proclaimed. If you sense a disconnect in your relationship with God, Jesus is inviting you to this sacred meal that he longs to share with you (Luke 22.14-16). If you feel a disconnect in relationships with others, Jesus is inviting you to share a meal with those persons so that his healing touch can restore connection to those relationships. At both tables Jesus is present to forgive, heal, and restore. What's more, it is at these tables we learn to sense where Jesus is present elsewhere in this world. Be encouraged to perceive the restoring presence of Jesus among this mass of disconnected souls.
The next time you walk down the street, take a good look at every face you pass and in your mind say, "Christ died for thee." That girl. That slob. That phony. That crook. That saint. That damned fool. “Christ died for thee.” Take and eat this in remembrance that “Christ died for thee” (Frederick Buechner)
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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Gentleness Rules the World

Jesus was a gentle king.

In our text this past Sunday, Luke emphasized the authority of King Jesus who came into the world and through words wrestled this world back to God. As Jesus proclaims the reign of God in the synagogues of Nazareth and Capernaum, Luke reports again and again that the people were "amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority" (Luke 4.31-32). For our purposes it is important to note that in the same context Luke records that Jesus' authoritative words - words that can exorcise demons and restore life to an older woman on the verge of death - are also words that are full of grace (Luke 4.22). Brothers and sisters, Jesus' words changed the world. His life and ministry divide history into B.C. and A.D. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. And he was gentle. 

In the second half of Isaiah's ministry he promises a Spirit-anointed Servant who will bring justice to the nations in a quite unexpected way. Listen to the prophet's promise. 

He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope (Isaiah 42.2-4, NIV). 

Did you catch that? This King who will bring justice to nations like Assyria, Babylon, Persia, North Korea, and the United States, will do so through gentleness. In Matthew 12, this chosen and Spirit-anointed King is being chased down by religious leaders who want him dead (See Matthew 12.15-21). What does Jesus do in response to this threat? He withdraws. Why? In order to fulfill Isaiah's promise recorded above. 

Each of us inhabits a certain sphere of authority. Maybe in home, or school, or work, or a baseball diamond, each of us is blessed with the opportunity to influence others from a place of power. As followers of Jesus we are called to inhabit this place of power with gentleness. And that doesn't mean less influence. In fact, it means more, better, stronger, and more lasting influence. Dallas Willard helpfully writes: 
Is gentleness an absence of power or a power born through the spirit and found in wisdom? Matthew 12.20 says Jesus would not even break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick, and yet his gentleness launched a worldwide revolution. In many ways, Jesus' impact seems to be not in spite of his gentleness, but because of it.
May each of one us gently influence each one we encounter today.

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