As we've been making our way through the Gospel of Luke on Sundays at Calvary, I've come to appreciate what a wonderful storyteller Luke is. He paints vivid pictures with his words. And I can actually feel his desire for us to identify with the characters. He wants us to get in their skins, and look through their eyes that we might experience the unique perspectives represented by the differing people. This last Sunday we listened to Luke tell the story of the calling and salvation of Levi the tax collector. Cast of characters? Jesus, disciples, Levi, Pharisees, and Levi's friends and colleagues. The setting? A tax booth, and a great feast set in Levi's home. The point? Jesus. Jesus eating and drinking. Jesus seeking and saving the lost. Jesus seeking and saving the lost, by means of eating and drinking with them. Uncomplicated missional living.
As part of the sermon, in hopes of driving the point home, we took apart my dining room table and reconstructed it on the stage. We set a feast out in the middle of the sermon. And at the end, I invited people to come up and eat, and talk about Jesus. And you know what? Somewhere around 20 people did! Married folk and little kids. College students. Regular attenders. Someone who was there for the first time. Laughing, eating, drinking...celebrating Jesus. It was a beautiful thing, with almost all of them expressing the desire to do it every Sunday! One of those there sent me this picture:
One of the glorious things that God is doing in this sermon series, for me and many others, is allowing us to walk closely with Jesus, through Luke's story, and come to know him in ways we never have before. We are observing how much he loves the lost. How willing he is to so freely give of himself for them. The extent and depth of his love for those outside the kingdom of God. The knowledge that he is probably the happiest man who ever walked the earth, because he is constantly bringing about the kingdom, and opening the eyes of those around him to the truth about himself, and the new way he is bringing. You see, he is showing us that in him, and in sharing about him, the greatest and most lasting joy is found!
And friends, as I watch him, and listen to him, as I see how he lives, I am struck by the beauty of Jesus. I am captured in new ways. To such depths that even as I sit here at the keyboard, I struggle with words to describe what I am seeing. What is happening in my heart. I think to myself that maybe this is a little bit of what John meant when he said, at the end of his story, "Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written." Isn't part of what he means by that, is that words can't contain, can't adequately express, and fall short when it comes to Jesus?
He is the incomparable Christ.
Alas, I know we must try. Find the words to use and ways to share the Jesus we know. It is what someone asked about this week, after hearing this story of Jesus and Levi. After thinking about it themselves, and trying to share a little bit with someone who didn't know Jesus. They asked,
What is this supposed to look like?
To answer, I want to share another story. A story from Tim Chester's book, A Meal with Jesus.
It's been a great privilege for me to know Saul and Pilar Cruz, and to participate in their ministry to the slums of Mexico City. Saul was brought up in a good and proper evangelical church. Pilar was converted through a Bible study he was leading, and soon they started dating. Saul's mother disapproved. Pilar to this day wears hight heels and short skirts - this is not how a good, middle-class, evangelical Christian is supposed to dress. Saul's mother noticed that Pilar had stopped attending church in the morning. Her suspicions about her son's girlfriend were confirmed.
So one Sunday Saul secretly followed Pilar. She took a bus across town to a poor neighborhood, where she met an older man, and together they held an impromptu Sunday School on the pavement for slum children. After a while Pilar came over to where Saul (who thought he was hiding) was and told him he may as well join in. Her explanation for her absence from church? "If Jesus is Savior, then he's the Savior of these people as well, and your church is doing nothing to reach them." Saul told me with a twinkle in his eye, "That's when I know for sure she was the woman for me."
They began working with a local church in a poor neighborhood. The church members were more affluent and came from outside the area. Saul and Pilar began reaching prostitutes and drug addicts, befriending them, serving their needs, and sharing the gospel with them. Some of them started coming to church. Then one Sunday morning they turned up to find the building locked. The members of the church didn't want prostitutes and drug addicts corrupting their children, so without any consultation they'd decided to move elsewhere. The culture gap between the church and the marginalized had proved too big for the church members.
So Saul and Pilar started again. Someone gave them a garbage dump in a slum area on which they built an "urban transformation center" called Armonia. They didn't call it a church because of the negative connotations people from the slums had for that word.
At one point they created a housing project. But when they came to hand over the new homes, they realized couples weren't properly married. It was simply too expensive for the poor to marry [not because they didn't want to, but] because of the certificates required and the cultural expectations of a lavish party. This meant the women had no legal protection.
The teachers of the law in Luke 11 would have wagged their fingers. Saul and Pilar lifted their fingers to help. They started organizing community weddings. They married ten or so couples at a time in the community center. They pulled some favors with a local judge to preside over the ceremony for free, persuaded wealthy churches to buy rings, and threw a banquet for all the community. On one occasion one man got married at the same ceremony as his grandparents.
How is Jesus calling you to reach out - in your sphere of influence, or, maybe outside of it - to live as he did for those outside the kingdom of God? I'm not sure what you think, but Saul and Pilar look a lot like Jesus to me. They know that "God is doing something new - so new it doesn't fit any of the old categories...something so gracious it takes us completely by surprise."
Which, by the way, is exactly what we are going to hear from Jesus this coming Sunday, as we listen in on the continuing conversation with the Pharisees at Levi's party.
See you then.
This article is part of a weekly series for Calvary Community Church, "Between Sundays." I include it here with the hope it may serve the readers of this blog.