“A Church Like Jesus: Invitation” by Rev. Cody Sandahl – September 10, 2017

Lay Reader = Acts 16:25-34

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Introduction

Last week we finished our series looking at the classic hymns, and we were encouraged to see God’s willingness to serve and sacrifice as evidence God’s greatness and to seek that in our own lives as well.

This week we are starting a series looking at the key ministries of Jesus. What things did Jesus do over and over again, and how can we pattern our church and pattern our lives on those key activities?

Last month we started our two year commitment to a church discipleship system called 24 to Double, and we’re going to keep watching one of those videos every month for the next two years. The next one is actually next week right after the second service in Ficklin Hall.

And we’ll see in those videos over the coming months that they recommend organizing our church around these key ministries. This should be the top-level stuff, not buried three levels of committees down the line. And these are also the key opportunities for people to volunteer in the church and make an impact. So if you care about this church, this is the series for you. If you want to have an impact on our community, this is the series for you. If you are hurting or questioning and want a way forward, this is the series for you. If you want to coast along without Jesus asking you to do anything, this is NOT the series for you.

Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Real Life

Well as you know, it has been a busy few weeks on the natural disaster front for the United States – fires, hurricanes, flooding…you name it and we got it.  And in particular Hurricane Harvey happened to roll along, over, and through a place I used to live – Port Aransas, TX.

Port Aransas is on one of the barrier islands near Corpus Christi, and as a barrier island it’s really just a patch of land slightly higher than sea level. That becomes problematic when you have a storm surge and tons of rain, not to mention catching the strong winds of the eye of the hurricane right on the nose.

My family have made a few runs down to help with the recovery efforts in Port A, and there are a two basic ways to do this. One is to load up everything you think people will need and scoot down there as quickly as possible. But in this case we know the people on the ground, so my brother asked his friend who is helping to coordinate things what they really needed. And he said firewood.

Come again?

Not 2×4’s to rebuild a wall. Not plywood to patch some roofs. Firewood.

Well it turns out, and I don’t know if you knew this, but people need food. It’s true. Read it on the Internet last week. And my brother’s friend had rustled up some barbecue smokers and they were just churning out the meat as quickly as they could. But they were running low on firewood to keep the smoker going.

So my brother had to scramble, because firewood in Texas in September is not exactly a hot commodity. Pun fully intended. But he managed to get half of the trailer filled with firewood, the smokers kept smoking, and the fine people of Port Aransas enjoyed cuisine far superior to the normal hurricane recovery faire.

But tell me this. If you were making a run down to Port A to help with hurricane recovery, and you didn’t check with the locals, would you have brought ANY firewood, let alone half a trailer full? If so I want you to check to see if your pants are on fire because I think you’re lying.

If you watched my video this week about putting together supply kits to send to the recovery area, you heard a similar story about Nepal. Find someone who watched the video and ask them. It’s quite an image.

Whenever there’s a disaster – natural or otherwise – it’s almost impossible to know what the locals need unless you ask them. And I guess they have to trust you enough to actually tell you what they REALLY need, too. But it’s almost impossible to know from a distance what the locals need without a conversation, without a relationship.

There’s some interesting research going on in Africa right now to find out the most effective way to help people. And in one village they are giving every person a monthly stipend of cash – no strings attached. And they’re doing this for 12 years to see the long-term impact.

And it’s been fascinating to see how people are using the guaranteed income. One man is entrepreneurial and he’s starting a lumber business that will take a few years to get all the trees to the right size. One family is using the income to send their daughter to school. But the most interesting one – at least to me – is Dancan Odero.

Odero was one of the brightest boys in the village until 8th grade – that’s when he suddenly developed seizures. Now he’s a young adult. Some of his needs are predictable – he uses the income to buy his medications instead of relying on friends and family. But other needs would have been impossible to see from across the ocean.

He wants to be useful, he wants to be independent, but every time there’s a job people are scared to hire him – what if he has a seizure on a ladder and falls? So these payments are his only way of having income. And that has some side effects.

Let me show you by way of analogy. On the geek websites that I frequent – I know you’re surprised to hear that – there’s a pretty common exchange of insults. It all starts when someone makes a pedantic comment about how stupid someone is for not noticing an obscure technical detail. And it almost always ends with a comment like, “Let me know when you move out of your parents’ basement and get a real life.” The caricature of geeks is that they are socially inept, and living in their parents’ basement is the quintessential evidence of that. Right? Are you with me?

In the same way, it was socially isolating for Odero to have to live with his family, to subsist on their generosity. He felt isolated and ashamed. Even when his brothers built him his own hut, he still didn’t want to invite anyone over because he had no furniture. Just the ground.

So one afternoon a little white taxi pulled up with a new sofa set he had ordered. And with a smile as wide as the continent he brought in the furniture and invited everyone he could think of to come over and have a seat. Unfortunately it only came with the wood frame, so he’s still accumulating the cushions as he can, but hey! It’s an upgrade!

Unless you knew Odero very well, you never could have guessed that what he needed in some ways even more than his medication was furniture – because that opened the door to relationships, to self-worth, to being a part of his community.

Whether it’s firewood or furniture or anything in between, it’s almost impossible to know what people REALLY need from a distance.

People Come to Jesus Because They Need

Unless, of course, you happen to be Jesus. He was able to spot Zacchaeus far away in that tree. And he knew what Zacchaeus needed to hear. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

Why did he need to hear this? Well skip forward another verse and we see, “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” Zacchaeus was a pariah – an outcast from his people. Hated even. Far more isolated than Odero in his African village.

Because Zacchaeus took a job as a tax collector. He would have been viewed like a Nazi collaborator in occupied France. He was with the Romans. To put this further into context, I can’t think of a single person in our community who could come through the doors of our church and make us as uncomfortable as the Jewish community was with tax collectors. I don’t think anyone is as universally HATED in our country as the tax collectors were in their communities. Whoever would make you uncomfortable to see inside our church, it doesn’t hold a candle to how scandalous it was for Jesus to dine with Zacchaeus.

So Jesus knew that Zacchaeus had a deep need. But Zacchaeus himself knew that, too. And he was willing to endure even more scorn on the off chance that Jesus could help him. We have the IRS, right, and the IRS sometimes audits people and organizations. It’s generally something you don’t look forward to. So imagine that you’ve just been audited by the IRS, and the auditor spent all this time poring over the tiny financial details and generally being a nuisance for several days. You get the all clear. And then two days later you see that IRS auditor up in a tree with some binoculars. What would you think? Hopefully first you’d check to see if there are any houses or apartments nearby and make sure he’s not a peeping Tom, but after that, wouldn’t you find that strange? I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing you’re not going to respect the auditor MORE because he’s up in a tree. In fact, I bet you’d think he was really weird for doing that – whatever the reason.

Zacchaeus isn’t going to be viewed more favorably for scurrying up a tree to get a look at Jesus. He’s going to have even MORE negative stories told about him. But he’s willing to endure that on the CHANCE that Jesus might have something to offer him.

Because Jesus was a known friend of sinners. Jesus was even known as a friend of a tax collector – the Apostle Matthew. So Zacchaeus was thinking – if he can be friends with Matthew, if he can save a woman caught in adultery, if he can cure the lepers and the blind, maybe he can help me, too.

Here’s why this matters to us today. Anyone who walks through the doors of First Pres Littleton, or any other church, is thinking the same thing. Maybe Jesus can help me, too.

People don’t generally come to a church for the first time because everything in their life is working out great and they just really needed someone to read the Bible to them this morning. You can get that on TV if you want. When someone comes to our church for the first time, it’s because there is something off. Something wrong. Something missing. Something needs Jesus.

Some come because they are hurting – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Some come because they are lonely. Some come because they are starting a family and they know that they’re going to be in over their heads. Some come because they’ve lost someone. Some come because they feel lost themselves.

People come to a church because, like Zacchaeus, they’re hoping that Jesus can help them. And that means that, like Zacchaeus, the faithful church-folk might find them uncomfortable. It’s not easy to interact with someone who’s hurting. Because they’re HURTING! Their hurt is more important to them than exchanging pleasantries. They are in NEED.

I used to work with people who had been burned by churches in their past. And almost without fail they were burned because the faithful church-folk treated them with judgment and scorn when they were in their painful life moments. Instead of being embraced in their hardest time, they were left out to dry, because they were hard to be around. Zacchaeus was there, too, and Jesus didn’t tell him all that he was doing wrong. He came over for dinner. He showed EXTRA COMPASSION in Zacchaeus’ difficult time of need.

Key Ministry = Invitation

The first key ministry of Jesus is invitation to relationship. Invitation to relationship.

Let’s start with the word “invitation.” Did Zacchaeus ask Jesus for help? No. He climbed a tree – that’s pretty weird, but he never asked Jesus for help. Jesus INVITED. Jesus took the first step. Jesus knew he had a need, and so Jesus INVITED Zacchaeus.

And that invitation was to a meal – a relationship. Zacchaeus changed his life – he offered restitution for his crimes – but that came AFTER the invitation to relationship, not before. Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus that he had to clean up his life before he would come over to dinner. Jesus coming over for dinner was what cleaned up Zacchaeus’ life.

So here’s what NOT to do. If you know someone who needs to clean up their life, DON’T say, “I know your life is really messed up, so come to church on Sunday and we can fix you.” That’s probably not going to be very helpful.

But let’s say you know someone who moved to our area to be closer to their grandkids. What about inviting them to the Senior Lunch for a good meal, some warm conversation, and an interesting program? That’s invitation to relationship. Or next week we have music dedication Sunday – if you know they like beautiful, uplifting music, that’s an invitation to relationship as well.

What if you know a young family who’s looking for a church? We’re putting together a simple picnic at a park pretty soon with other young families – I bet that’s an easier invite than trying to start with a Sunday morning.

What if you know someone who’s an empty-nester and they’re feeling like they want a church that meets THEIR needs, not the church that met their kids’ needs? Well how about inviting them to serve with you at the Community Dinner – you get to meet other people and find a bit of purpose now that the kids aren’t your 24-7 task.

Are you with me? Invitation to relationship was one of the key ministries of Jesus. And lives were transformed because of what happened after that.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, Jesus really summed this up himself elsewhere in the Gospels when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” If we are going to reach more people in the name of Jesus, then the people who are going to want to listen aren’t the righteous people with everything together. It’s going to be the people who are wondering, like Zacchaeus, if Jesus can help them.

That might mean people aren’t as clean cut as you would like. That might mean people who don’t look just like you. That might mean people who don’t know the “proper way to act” in the sanctuary – however you would define that.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – we are meant to be a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints. Hospitals aren’t always pretty. But they do a whole lot more to help people than country clubs.

But a hospital has to get to know the patient before they start treating. It is only through relationships that we can know if they need firewood like Port Aransas. Or furniture like Dancan Odero. Or forgiveness and inclusion like Zacchaeus.

May we be a church where our community thinks, “They might get who I am. I might be able to find what I need there.” That would make us a church like Jesus. Amen.