Continuing my posting of the Year of Mark!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 26, 2018
Gathering Around A Table Of Messy Authenticity
When I was growing up, my mom always did something that never made any sense to me. The day before the woman who cleaned our house came to clean, my mom would always make us … clean … the house.
I didn’t make sense. Wasn’t she coming to clean?
Fast forward 20 years and here I am. We have a company that comes in to clean the church during the week and what do I do every time I see their car pull in the parking lot?
Frantically clean my office before they come in.
I get it now. And it’s not just that I want things picked up in my office so our cleaning crew can do the deep cleaning around it, either; it is that I want to somehow give off the illusion that I am a much tidier and more put together version of myself than I actually am.
We do this all the time, right? We try to get in shape before we will go to the gym for the first time. We eat healthy right before our yearly doctor appointments. We scramble to complete half-finished projects around the house before our family and friends come over. For some reason we want people to think that we have it all together; heaven forbid we do not finish something or do something wrong or somehow fall short.
We continue in the Gospel of Mark this morning with a series of controversy stories, stories that later set Jesus up for the opposition against him that leads to his death. First Jesus sits down to dinner with tax-collectors and sinners; then he rejects the practice of fasting; and finally he and his disciples were found to be doing work on the Sabbath, first with gleaning in the cornfields and then by performing acts of healing, a story we looked at last week.
Jesus’ dinner with the tax collectors and sinners made me think about my mom’s (and, mine too, I suppose) insistence on a clean house before the cleaners showed up. When asked the question, why are you eating with the tax collectors and the sinners, Jesus responded by saying:
Those who are well have no need of a physicians, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.
In other words, Jesus is saying, I do not need to hang out with the perfect people. They are not the ones who need saving.
Jesus rejected this notion that, in order to be in God’s good graces, we need to somehow be on top of the religious totem pole, that we have to be without sin. When I read Jesus’ words, “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” I think the point he was trying to get at was, “Those who are without sin have no need for a Savior.” The purpose of Jesus was not to find the holiest of holy people and help them elevate their standing in society, but to find the messiest of grace-seeking people and invite them to walk alongside him in ministry.
But here is where we have to be careful not to be too self-righteous. I think it is easy to read the story of Jesus eating with the tax collectors and the sinners and put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, interpreting it as a call to reach out to sinners and invite them to be part of our ministry. But I think if we did that, we would miss the point; we would miss the point where Jesus called into question the religious practices of his time, the things people did that made them think they were somehow more in favor of God’s grace than other people. The stories that follow this narrative of Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners remind us that perhaps we, too, might be the ones that need saving.
The controversy stories continue, first with a question about whether or not Jesus’ disciples should be fasting and then with a question about whether or not they should be keeping Sabbath.
Fasting was a practice used for petitionary prayer, during times of mourning and repentance and in preparation for the day of the Lord. John’s disciples and the Pharisees were in a time of fasting – something that was not uncommon for their stature in society – and people asked Jesus why they were fasting and Jesus’ disciples were not.
A similar question was asked of Jesus when it came to working on the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a cornfield and the disciples were pulling off the heads of the grain. The Pharisees questioned Jesus, asking him why he was allowing them to work on the Sabbath.
And here is where the whole self-righteous thing comes into play. Because Jesus did not answer these questions of why his disciples were not fasting or working on the Sabbath by saying, “Well, yes they are sinning by doing these things, but I have been called to save sinners, which is why I am here and I am going to whip these guys into shape.” Instead, Jesus essentially held up his hands and said, “Let them feast! Let them work!”
Jesus said something new was happening; it wasn’t coming, it was happening right then and there. “The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?”he asked. A feast was happening in this ministry God created through the life and work of Jesus and there was no time to get caught up in the minutia of religious tradition; the stakes were too high.
Jesus said you should not put new wine in old wineskins because the skins will burst and all of that new wine will be lost. Through his life, Jesus instituted a new practice, one that shattered the old way of thinking, this idea that it is our rules and our religious structures and traditions that somehow erase our sins and make us worthy of God’s grace. Jesus said that, in fact, we were allworthy of God’s grace, no matter who we were and where we were on our journey through life. Rich or poor, Pharisee or tax collector, Jew or Gentile – Jesus said all were welcome at the table and that table was a place where no one was greater or less than.
As members of this church, this text challenges us; because it challenges the notion that we think we’ve got it right. We all love this church so much that it is hard not to look at another church or organization and have the same Pharisitic idea that we know the right way into the Kingdom and that everyone else is doing it wrong.
But remember – Jesus shattered the old way of thinking, the strong conviction that the Pharisees somehow knew better than God who was worthy of God’s grace and where that worth came from.
I think as we read this text today, we need to keep in mind two things.
First of all, as a church, we need to open ourselves up to the possibility that we might not always be right. OR we might be right, but somebody else who does things differently than we do might not necessarily be wrong, either. At our core, we are human beings trying to figure something out that surpasses human understanding. Before we stand so hard and fast in our convictions that the way we are doing something is absolutely, without question right, let us – just for a moment – open ourselves up to the possibility that God is writing a new chapter in the story of our faith.
It is a really exciting time to be part of the Church – and not just our church, either (although that is a sermon for another day, because I would argue that it is a really exciting time to be part of our church!), but the Church, as a whole. Because people are starting to not only question the status quo, but also in doing so seek a deeper and intimate relationship with God.
The kind of relationship Jesus invited us into.
The kind of relationship that salvation is built on.
The kind of relationship where grace is found.
The second thing I want us to keep in mind as we read this text today is that one of the reasons we create these religious structures with rules and traditions and practices is because we want to not only believe that we are doing it right, but that we are going to be okay in the end.
And that’s the thing – we are. That’s why Jesus came in the first place.
What it boils down to is this: God does not want to see some illusion of who we think God wants us to be. God wants to see us in all of our imperfections and faults. God wants to see the rawest, most authentic version of who we are. God wants to see who God created us to be so God can help us become who God is callingus to be.
So this morning I challenge to challenge the status quo and seek a deep and intimate relationship with God. Do not worry about getting right the religious practices that we have always been taught would somehow make up for our brokenness; remember that Jesus shared a meal with people who were, for all intents and purposes, broken, because he knew it was God’s grace, not their religious traditions and practices, that would make them whole. It is not about what we do; it is about who we are.
And we are all children of God; washed over by the living waters of baptism, created, redeemed and sustained, not in an image of perfection or hierarchy, but in an image of grace.
So don’t feel as though you have to clean yourself up for God. God wants to see the most authentic versions of ourselves in all of our messy glory. Don’t worry if you do not know all the traditions or practices of this church or if you do them wrong or even if you don’t like them; they were man-made, not God-made. Together, we will ask questions and share new ideas. Together – rich or poor, Pharisee or tax collector, Jew or Gentile, longtime member or first time visitor – we will pour wine into new wineskins and join Jesus around the table for beautiful and bounteous feast.
For all are welcome around that table.
Thanks be to God!