All Are Welcome – Not A Fan Series

All Are Welcome
2nd Wednesday in Lent, 03/-4/2015
Week 2 of “Not a Fan”
1 Timothy 1:12-16, Luke 14:15-24

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!

Welcome back to Not a Fan, everyone! To those of you who may not know, this Lent we are following the book Not a Fan. The author, Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, which is a really big megachurch. Anyways, last week Pastor Mary Ellen talked to us about the initial question that Kyle raises to us: Are we fans of Christ or are we followers of Christ? The difference is huge, because a fan is noncommittal, but a follower is “all in.”

This week, we get to learn about how we move from being a fan to being a follower. The title of the sermon for tonight is “All Are Welcome.” I really am sorry for that. “All Are Welcome” really is an overused phrase by churches. How many of you have seen a sign on a church that says “All are welcome?” It kind of is a loaded question, isn’t it? Does it “All are Welcome” as long as you look like us, or dress like us, or accept the same view of the Bible like we do. Churches are notorious for overusing this phrase, but we are hardly the only ones. How often do you get an invitation for a credit card in the mail that says “You are pre-approved! Just return this exclusive offer that thousands of other people got back to us and you will have the best credit card ever!” Then when you actually fill it out, you get denied or you get slammed with a high interest rate because your credit score is too low. So the next time you hear about a special offer for “anyone,” you may think twice, or at least look carefully at the fine print.

What about Jesus though? What does Jesus mean when He says “all are welcome?” Is there some sort of catch? What is the fine print?
Our Gospel reading for today sheds some light on this. In our reading, Jesus is telling a story in the form of a parable while he was eating dinner at the house of a Pharisee. Remember in Jesus’ time a Pharisee was an expert on the Jewish Law and the Old Testament, so he was a smart guy, but the Pharisees often opposed Jesus.

Anyways, about the story. In Jesus’ story, a man throws a great banquet. In the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, a feast or banquet is used to compare to what will happen at the fulfillment of all things. Theologians call this the “eschatological feast.” That’s my ten dollar word for the night, “eschatological.” The people Jesus ate with realized this, because at the beginning of our reading some anonymous guest piped up: “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” This makes sense to us, doesn’t it? There is something inherently intimate about sharing a meal together, whether that is a family dinner or a date. Something about eating together brings people together. The same thing happens with the Kingdom of God. Eating at God’s table has the same effect.

The host of the dinner in Jesus story has a guest list that he puts out. These are the people that the host wants to throw his party with. However, these people seem to be too busy to take him up on the offer. Since he needs to have people at this banquet, he tells his servants to start rounding people up off the street. Who does he find? He finds the sick, the lame, and the disabled. These people were the undesirables. In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus chapter 21, the one that no one likes to read, God tells Moses that priests cannot be disabled in any way. These priests were the ones who offered sacrifices to God in the Temple, that is, the people who would be eating with God. So what Jesus is saying here in the parable is that the ones that God is bringing to the party are the undesirable ones. The people who were excluded from the party before are now the ones that are invited.

In our first reading Saint Paul talks about these “undesirables” that were invited to the banquet. In our first reading for today, Saint Paul says that he was not a good person. Paul, by his own admission, was a bad man. He was a blasphemer against God, a persecutor of God’s people, and he was a violent person. He said that he was the “worst sinner.” Yet God still chose him to serve. To Jesus it did not matter that Paul was a bad person. Heck he was evil! As far as undesirable for church people went, Paul was at the top of the list of people to avoid. But Jesus still loved him and turned him into an apostle that would carry the Gospel across the whole Roman Empire and sent the Holy Spirit to inspire him to write a good chunk of the New Testament! If Jesus could love a person like Paul, don’t you think that Jesus would be able to love you too?

In the story of the banquet told, however, there are two types of people. There are people who like the host enough to be on friendly terms with him, but when it came down to it, they were too busy with life to have anything to do with him. That sounds a lot like the fans that we have been talking about during this series, doesn’t it?

The other category I think sounds a lot like the followers that Pastor Kyle is talking about. There is something special about them. Not only are they full of the “undesirables,” the people that you may think don’t deserve to be there, but they couldn’t come on their own. Jesus says that the host told them to bring them in. The host tells his servants to compel them to be there. There is something special about that. The undesirables didn’t crash the party. They didn’t decide to come there on their own. They were brought in. Sorry to everyone that thought they could decide on their own to follow Jesus! You can’t! It’s not up to you! Like the undesirables in the parable, we are blind and lame! We can’t get there on our own. Even if we chose to go, it wouldn’t mean anything. The only way to get in is by the authority of the host and to follow him in. The guests that were originally invited could have been led in too, but their stubbornness left them out.

Martin Luther taught the church about this in the Small Catechism, which if you don’t know is one of the documents that says what the Lutheran Church believes. In his explanation of the third section of the Apostle’s Creed, the part about the Holy Spirit, he wrote: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” It’s not about what we do or decide that makes us a follower; it’s what God decides and does.

So that leaves us with what kind of guest are you tonight to Jesus’ eschatological feast. Ha! I used it again. Are you the fan that is friendly to Jesus but really can’t be bothered when He asks you something? Or are you one of the undesirable ones; one of the people that realizes that you don’t deserve to be at the table with Jesus, but follows him in anyways, praising God that you had the opportunity to do be at the feast too?

Pray with me. Lord, you are the host of the great eschatological feast. We know that we are not worthy to be invited. We know that we are the undesirable ones. Thank you for inviting us to you table God, and enable us, O Lord, to accept the offer to come to the feast that you have prepared. Help us to keep the demands of this life from crowding out Your love for us. Holy Spirit, lead us into the feast; we know that we cannot enter it ourselves. This we pray in your Holy name, our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Shepherd Like Jesus

Intern Pastor Scott Adkins
Shepherd Like Jesus
3rd Sunday After Pentecost A, June 29 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, John 21:15-19

Good Morning everyone, and happy senior Sunday! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

I really like the fact that we are setting aside a day for the seniors in our lives. The seniors in our lives have been our parents, grandparents, and role models throughout our lives, and deserve our respect. It’s not in our readings for today, but God did tell his people something important about the seniors in their lives. Leviticus 19:32 says “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

When I was a little boy, I loved being with my Grandfather. When I was little, like 3 or 4 years old, we would visit him at his home in Michigan a couple of times a year. When I was there, I loved going on walks with my Grandpa, I would pull a little toy airplane around with me. This little toy airplane had a boarding stairway that would pop open, and it would do so when I pulled it across every crack in the sidewalk. Of course, a toy airplane can’t pretend fly with the boarding ramp open, so I would stop to close it on every. Single. Crack. My grandpa didn’t mind, however, even though that me closing the ramp meant that he had to bend down as well since he was holding me other hand. All I thought about then was how much I loved walks with grandpa. What I see now though, was just how much my grandfather loved me and how he led me around in a safe place, even though I had my own agenda.

I’d kinda like to use that as the launching point for our sermon today. My Grandpa led me around with love, even though I wasn’t particularly paying attention, and he didn’t let me go, much like a shepherd does.

Both of our readings deal with sheep and shepherds. In our first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, we see God as the good shepherd. It is a great passage; Israel or the people of God, represented by sheep, are lost and scattered across the land. God says that he himself will search after the lost sheep from the darkness. Once God finds the lost sheep, he pledges to take care of them himself. He takes them to the lush pastures on the mountains of Israel where they will be well-provided for and at home– the place where they belong in a world where they are scattered all over. God pledges to heal the injured and to implement justice among his sheep.

Sounds great? Doesn’t it? It makes me think of Jesus the good shepherd from John 10 or the parables of Matthew 18 or Luke 15. In fact, this passage of Ezekiel would pair very well with that passage. However, we have a different passage, one from the conclusion of the Gospel of John.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is risen from the dead, but he has not yet ascended into heaven. In it, Peter and John were fishing, and Jesus appeared to them one day. After catching a ridiculous amount of fish and eating some food, Jesus started talking with Peter. Their conversation I think is very understandable. Although Jesus was talking to the Apostle Peter, he may well have been saying these words to you or me. Because of that, I’d like you to imagine for a moment that Jesus is saying this to you.

After their breakfast of fresh fish, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, Scott, son of James, do you truly love me more than these?” Now, what are “these?” It could be the fish and tackle, which was Peter’s profession. Do you love Jesus more than you career? How about those around him, like his friend John? Do you love Jesus more than the relationships in your life? The 1st Commandment says you should love God above all things, and if you believe Jesus is Lord, then you know what that means.

In any case, Peter answered yes, he does love Jesus more than anything. What Jesus replies with is really unusual when you think about it. Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Peter is a little confused, so Jesus says it to him 3 times just to make sure it sinks in! Remember, these sheep are not literal sheep- they are the people that God cares about. They are everyone, all of God’s human creation. Jesus then tells Peter some details about his death, but then he finishes by telling Peter follow me

We are told to feed God’s sheep. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to take care of God’s people. Jesus is requiring us to take care of each other. Jesus wants us to follow him, but in order to do that we must take care of each other. We must be each other’s shepherds, our brother’s keepers. Jesus wants us to feed his sheep. For some, that may mean literally feeding them, taking care of bodily needs. For others, it may need walking alongside them in times of sorrow or need. Whatever it is, Jesus wants us to take care of all of God’s children, because each one is someone for whom the Son of God died to redeem.

This rings true in our Old Testament reading. While our reading seems all great and good, which it is, there is a little detail left out in the lectionary. Immediately preceeding our Old Testament reading for today, in Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a scathing criticism of the shepherds of Israel. That is why God’s sheep are scattered. It is because the people of Israel failed in shepherding each other and instead took advantage of one another. God says here that they, the sheep, were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. No one at all even bothered or cared that the sheep were missing. In contrast, Christ the Good Shepherd left the 99 in the flock to search out the one lost sheep and rejoiced .

God does look after the lost sheep, those that are scattered, lost, and in danger. However, Christ calls us to feed the sheep that we encounter. Don’t be like the shepherds in Ezekiel who abandoned their sheep and took advantage of them. When Christ calls to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” and if you say yes, be prepared to feed Jesus’ sheep. It doesn’t take much to follow Jesus. You don’t have to be a genius, or an athlete. What it does take is a heart that responds like Peter did when that question was asked. Peter said yes, and fed the sheep when Christ called: “Follow me!” Jesus Christ takes care of us, and we need to take care of each other. Amen.