Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Called & The Committed - Luke 6: 12-17; 9: 1-6

The other day I was driving down Centinella when I saw a sign in front of a neighborhood 7-Eleven.  It said, “Believe in Something Bigger.” My eyes widened with curiosity as I read the fine print and snapped a picture. That’s when I saw the word “Powerball” – the latest California lottery gimmick.  It’s amazing to me that the human capacity to believe in something truly bigger…like the fall of the Berlin Wall or sending a man to the moon, or the end of world hunger, let alone believing in the goodness and greatness of God, could be compared to believing that your one ticket in 175 million could be the lottery jackpot.  

In Luke 6: 12-17 we read about twelve men who were drawn to something, or rather Someone, truly bigger…One whose vision of the Kingdom of God, of justice, mercy, and love, of victory over evil, death, and hell, was so compelling that they left everything to join the first community of his followers…and together they changed the course of history.  To go back to the beginning and understand what that community of Jesus’ original followers was like is to know what we should be like if we are to fulfill our ancient calling.

i. It was a community that knew its Creator. 6:12 Now during those days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles:

After a night of prayer Jesus made the decision to form from among his many disciples a close knit community and to teach and train them to replicate his ministry. Mark put it this way: He “called those whom he desired to be with him.”  When we say the word “church” today, most people think of a building or a religious institution; but the word “church” is much more personal than that… it is derived from the Greek word kyriakon meaning “those who belong to the Lord.”  The church was not invented by Jesus’ followers as an afterthought when he died.  The church was a community created by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.  It was comprised of (1) disciples (mathetes) which means "learners, students, and apprentices"; and (2) apostles (apostolos) meaning “messengers, delegates, those sent on a mission.” We read in Acts 1: 21-26 that the apostles had been witnesses of Jesus from his baptism and were now called to join in his mission. 

But the key is to understand that Jesus called them to be with him, to learn from him, to share life with him.  He calls us not just to master his teaching, which is what the students of Rabbis typically did, but to the imitation of his life.  It’s something to think that as Jesus was praying about who would join him in his ministry and proclaim his message, that he was also thinking about you and me! Which is why, in John 17: 20, Jesus prays not only for his own disciples but for “those who will believe in me through their word!”  A lot of people today are in search of a good church.  But our job should not only be to find a good church but to know the One who created the church and chose us to make him known!   In the one case, the church is the place where I can get my needs met, in the other the church is where we meet the One who knows what I need, and join him in his mission. 

ii. It was a community of unlikely members. 6:14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 

The gospels state that Jesus called Twelve as apostles. This is not an arbitrary number.  In Scripture, 12 is a family number.  Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons…and those 12 became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.  When the N. Kingdom was destroyed in 721 BC, ten tribes were lost.  The remaining 2 formed the S. Kingdom, the ancestors of today’s Jews.  When Jesus called 12 to follow him, it signified Jesus’ hope for the restoration of the community of God’s people. In addition to these 12 men, the gospels name at least 3 women who followed Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Suzanna, “and many others who provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8: 1-3). All this is to say that when Jesus called his followers he intended to form a family (Matt. 12: 46-50). He formed a family (not a corporation, not a mortgage investment company, not a political party, not a religious institution) but a close knit group of brothers and sisters with whom he ate, slept and shared his life.

But like any family…there was great variety among them.  Who could have predicted that Jesus would have chosen as the original leaders of his community such an unlikely group of diverse and even antagonistic personalities? Churches often look for what Greg Ogden once called "the omnicopetent professional" (The New Reformation). They're looking for someone with great communication skills, pastoral sensitivity, administrative excellence and though the ability to walk on water is not required…it is preferred.  It’s interesting to see that Jesus did not choose for his first followers a group of rabbis or trained religious professionals - people like me.  Instead he chose unschooled men like Peter and his brother Andrew who had a fishing business with James and John.  Matthew, as a tax collector worked on the Sabbath and extorted money from the people…not exactly the resume of a spiritual leader, let alone the writer of a gospel.  Amazingly, this man was called to follow Jesus along with Simon the zealot, an anti-Roman revolutionary and an ultra nationalist. What a strange group to lead a movement.   
We’ve noted the diversity of our own church before, the variety of political and economic and racial backgrounds that make up St. John’s…but it’s really the unity of our church that should amaze us more, the forbearance, the endurance of our commitment to one another.  Such unlikely unity is a gift: it is only possible because of Jesus. 

ii. It was a community of redeemed sinners. 6:17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus came down, Luke tells us.  He came down from heaven to earth to walk among us, and now he comes down again from a mountain where he was in prayer with the Father to walk with his disciples, and teach them his ways.  He comes down to stand on a level place with us...the ones he came to save.  He is the one "who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God something to be grasped...he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross" (Phil. 2: 6-8).  

When we consider the names of Jesus’ new family and the stories behind those names, we’re reminded that he came down to call sinners to repentance and faith in Him.  Peter is always named first because he was first in faith…and first to fall on his face…denying he knew the Lord three times!  James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were nicknamed sons of Thunder because of their fiery tempers. Bartholomew (Nathanael) tended to say whatever was on his mind. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:47) Matthew the tax collector was despised by his own people as a ‘sinner.’  Thomas was the pessimist and skeptic of the group.  Judas Iscariot was the dishonest treasurer, and betrayer. 

Failure and forgiveness will always be the twin companions of Jesus’ church.  There will never be a time when we do not need them; never a time this side of heaven when we are free from failure or the need to forgive. The grace of God is the most transforming and healing power in the universe. Because of grace, Mathew began using his gifts to gather gospel material instead of taxes.  James & John saw their pride and anger transformed into compassion and humility. Thomas, discovered the reasonableness of faith. Simon the Zealot joined Christ’s revolution of love. Peter knew forgiveness after failure.   

Now, twenty centuries later, we are still called to love because he first loved us; and to forgive because we have been forgiven.  I once preached for an AP search committee and then met with the Senior Pastor.  He asked me with a smile: Are you a Team Player?  I sincerely answered, “Yes” and explained why.  To which he replied shortly, “Well, I’m not.”  “Oh." I was pretty sure that was the end of the interview! After speaking with a staff member I learned that this pastor liked to breed competition between his staff members rather than teamwork to encourage productivity.  It seemed to me that fear and intimidation was the motivating work environment he was trying to create. 

The foundation of Jesus’ community was not fear or intimidation, but grace and apprenticeship to Him.  It was Jesus who told the story of the prodigal son, forgiven and welcomed home by his father, to illustrate God’s love.  It was Jesus who said to the adulteress, “I do not condemn you…go, and sin no more.” It was Jesus who said, “I did not come for the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance.” The church is sometimes accused of being “hypocritical.”  In truth there is some hypocrisy in everyone of us.  The word “hypocrite” which was the name given to an actor who wore a mask over his face in ancient Greek plays…accurately describes how many of us attempt to cover up the true person inside.  The church was designed by Jesus to be a place where actors and actresses can come and finally remove those masks, admit their faults and find grace and healing.  

iv. It was a community with breathtaking orders. 9:1 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 

Just as Jesus called the twelve and gave them power and authority over evil and disease and sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God…so he has sent us. When the Secretary of State is sent on a diplomatic mission to negotiate a peace treaty or meet with heads of state, the Secretary represents the President and acts on behalf of and with the power and authority of the President.   Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Just as Jesus was sent by the Father on a mission to redeem this world, so he sends us into the world as his representatives.

Earlier I said that the word “apostle” means "one who is sent on a mission."  Now it would be easy to assume that only apostles go on missions… just as many assume that ministry is what we pay the pastor or missionaries to do. In fact, the apostles were the leaders of the mission…but not the only members of the mission team.  In Luke 10: 1-2 we read that Jesus sent out the 70 to do exactly what he tells his apostles to do here. So….there are no disciples without a mission!

Now when Jesus gave the Twelve a mission, he also gave them the power and authority to accomplish it.  People today are hungry for power and authority… for fame, influence, prestige.  The brothers that bombed the Boston marathon last week may have been seeking some kind of power and authority through violence and terror.  But this is not the kind of power that Jesus gives.  His power and authority are given in order that we might confront evil not do evil, heal the sick not make people sick, and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom…where what God wants done is done.

I was talking to a guy at the gym who has become disillusioned with people.  He doesn’t want to be part of a worshiping community because people have hurt him and disappointed him.  I’ve been trying to give him hope…that the community of God’s people is filled with imperfect people, but its also a place where we can experience forgiveness and find healing relationships.  He’s part of my mission.  Jesus invited us to be part of God’s advancing kingdom on earth and beyond through faith in Him.  Friends, our neighbors need, our co-workers need, our friends at school need what we’ve been given by grace through faith alone.  

The other day I heard a professor of choral music encourage singers at Palms Middle School with these words: “We have many people in our lives who can help us…mechanics to fix our cars, doctors to treat our aches and pains, attorneys to help us with legal problems, policemen to fight crime; but who do we have in our lives to help take care of the inside?  That’s your job,” he said.  “You are the artists and singers and music makers.  You help us to take care of the inside.  You are the “gardeners of the soul.”  I couldn't believe my ears. I walked down to him afterward and said, “As someone who cares about the inside of people...about the soul, I wanted to thank you for that.”  

Friends, regardless of what kind of work we do, Christ has called us to care for the inside of people as well as the outside, to commit ourselves to Him as the healers and proclaimers of kingdom hope, to encourage those around us to believe in the One whose grace is bigger than our sin and shame...and whose resurrection life is bigger and stronger than death itself.  This is the job of the church…not just a place that we go to, but a community that goes in His risen name. 

Risen Lord, we thank you for calling us to share life with you in the community of your people.  We also acknowledge that with community come the inevitable irritations of real life together.  Therefore, help us not only to confess our sins to you, but to ask forgiveness from those we have hurt; to practice the same forbearance that you have shown us.  Master, as much as we love this spiritual family and desire for it to grow ever deeper, may it not become an idol.  Forgive us when the familiar has blinded us to the unfamiliar, the unloved, and the uncommitted who are outside our church walls.  Help us to warmly welcome into our hearts and homes, and this church, those who need your illuminating truth and redeeming love as much as we do.  Amen! 

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