Monday, March 27, 2017

to Seek and save the lost: the blind beggar, the short tax collector and us (luke 18:35-19:10)

Every where you go these days you have tag lines and mission statements telling you what the company or store or service or even church you are going to is all aboutand how it diferentiates itself from other organisations just like it. Some of them are good and helpful but other leave me wondering...
I came across an interesting App this week. It was a mission statement generator… you put in various keywords and it would turn them into a mission statement… Here is a couple it randomly produced.

"It is our mission to continue to authoritatively provide access to diverse services to stay relevant in tomorrow's world."  ..does that grab you… does it make things clear?

“Our challenge is to continue to seamlessly engineer quality meta-services as well as proactively synthesize best-of-breed infrastructures.” Wow that’s inspiring!

I think it’s supposed to be humorous and lampoon the way corporates and organisations articulate what their purpose is…  Columnist Minda Zetlin said the app takes verbs and nouns and adjectives and rearranges them into your typical mission statements delightfully full of meaningless corporate-speak.” They don’t say a lot but they use a lot of fancy words to say it… in that process real mission and vision can get lost. But not with Jesus…

We’ve come to the end of Luke’s narrative of Jesus journey to Jerusalem. It started way back in chapter 10 and it’s taken us most of a year to work our way through this central third of the gospel. Jesus finishes his ministry before he enters Jerusalem by giving what could be seen as his mission statement… “the son of man has come to seek and save the lost”… This does not come out of a corporate rebranding exercise, or an organisational restructuring process, or trying to differentiate oneself from the competition, but it comes straight out of two encounters with real people whose lives are transformed by meeting Jesus. It does not come out of an academic exercise or commercial reality or organisational necessity but from Jesus personifying the very heart of God in showing God’s love to a blind beggar a short tax collector and through his death and resurrection showing that same love to you and me; to us. ‘The son of man has come to seek and save the lost.’

Right at the start of his ministry recorded in Luke 4 Jesus stood and read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue of his home town… ‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has Sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the prisoner and freedom for the captives and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jesus concluded by saying this scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing. This was the mission that God had sent Jesus to do.  Now as he draws near to that missions ending we see all that incorporated in ‘the son of man has come to seek and save the lost’.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at this last section of Luke’s Jesus journey that focuses on how do you enter the kingdom of God and how do you respond to Jesus. It starts and ends with a parable Jesus tells to correct peoples thinking about the kingdom of God.  The parable of the two men who went up to thetemple to pray the Pharisee who thought he was righteous and looked down on others and a tax collector who knew who his need for God and asked for mercy, Jesus said the tax collector had gone home justified that day; put right with God. Then the parable about investing in the kingdom of God that we will finish this series with next week.  Then we had two encounters that showed a negative response to Jesus. The disciples tryingto keep the children away from Jesus because they didn’t think they were important, and the rich young ruler, who wanted to hold on to what he had and wouldn’t trust totally in Jesus, so went away sad. Today we are looking at two positive encounters that show how people respond to Jesus and are welcomed into the kingdom of God. Sandwiched in the centre of these two sets of encounters Jesus again talked of his death and resurrection. In the middle of these encounters is the central way in which Jesus would seek and save the lost.

We are used to looking at the blind beggar and the short tax collector separately, but today we are going to look at them together.

Firstly, both find themselves on the outside, and outcast. The Blind beggar is separated from his community, because of his disability, we see him sitting on the side of the road, he is outside Jericho. He is an example of the poor and marginalised, without family to help him, with no hope except for the alms of those passing by on their way to Jerusalem. There was also a religious stigma attached to his disability, that somehow this maybe God’s punishment for wrongdoing and sin. It is unspoken in this passage but in other places in the gospel it rears its head again and again. The man born blind in John 9… is a good example, the Pharisees write him off as being steeped in sin at birth. But Jesus never sees people like that. Zacchaeus, our short tax collector, is ostracised by his community, as a chief tax collector he not only was a quisling a traitor working for the Romans, but also would have been seen as undoubtable dishonest; making his money from unfair taxes, and getting richer and richer by extracting commission from those who worked under him. The fact that Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus in Jericho was not because of his stature but his disliked status. The crowd should have parted for this prominent man but they didn’t and wouldn’t.

We don’t like the term lost these days it implies that people are on the wrong path, have wilfully wandered off and gone astray, have no sense of direction or purpose for life.  for some that is an apt description. Many of us have found ourselves in dark places in our lives with no sense of how to get out. But in the gospels lost has more a sense of being missed, of missing. The parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and the lost son, focus not on the lostness of the coin, the sheep and the son but on the missing of the shepherd, widow and father. It says they are of value and loved by God who then set out to go and find and bring back, who looked longingly for the first glimpse of return to run and embrace. When we used to go shopping as a family one of the kids would keep and eye out for me. Because I could wander off on my own errand or be distracted by something, and they wanted to make sure I didn’t get lost and they could guide me back to the rest of the family. Elder care they called it. But a good example of how lost is used here, as missed.

While the blind beggar and Zacchaeus are missing they are not missed by Jesus. In both instances the crowd wants to keep them away from Jesus. The beggars cry for help is meet with hushing and be quiting and Jesus is too busy and too important for you. Zacchaeus is literally stone walled from seeing Jesus and then he is written off with muttering and being labelled as unworthy and a sinner. But they are not missed by Jesus. He hears the beggar’s call over the crowd and he sees the tax collectors enthusiasm over the crowd, literally over the crowd because he is up a tree… Jesus responds to their desire to meet him and their need for his grace.

It shows us that Jesus way of looking at people is so different than our own. In the eyes of the crowd  both these men were not worthy of Jesus, but in Jesus eyes he sees them in their poverty and in their humanity and brokenness and in their desire for God’s touch and help and reaches out to them. In our eyes we may not think we are worthy of Jesus, but he looks with different eyes and see who we really are and can be in relationship with him. We may look at those around us and make judgment calls on them, but we need to see them with the eyes of Jesus as precious and missed by God if they were not there. I went and listened to one of my heroes of the faith Shane Claiborne on Monday, and you guys missed such an uplifting encouraging challenging evening, one of the things Shane talked about was his sorrow that in a recent survey in all fifty states of the Us. America Christians were known primarily for their opposition to gay’s, for being self-righteous and stand offish and a whole lot more negative things. He lamented that they were not known as Jesus wanted us to be by our love. Do we see people through the eyes of Jesus. He also said that in New Zealand that we are such a post Christian culture that people don’t really have that preconception of Christians and we can forge a new consciousness of what we are like to the community around us.

Jesus responds to both the blind beggar and the short tax collector at their point of need. He asks the blind beggar what he wants and the blind beggar responds in faith. I want to see. He is an example for us of faith. It would have been easy to be pressurised by the crowd to ask for something simpler, food or money, but from what he has hear of Jesus he knows that he can ask for his sight. He calls Jesus the son of David, that is a messianic understanding of Jesus. The blind beggar is the one who sees Jesus for who he is and responds in faith. With Zacchaeus Jesus does not ask him what he wants rather he invites himself back to Zacchaeus’ place for a meal.  While it is Jesus who is receiving hospitality, it is Jesus who is being hospitable to Zacchaeus, welcoming of him as a son of Abraham. Zacchaeus we know also is ware of Jesus special place in God’s plans, when we finally have Zacchaeus speak he addresses Jesus as Lord.

Jesus still meets people at their point of need and brings transformation.  For the blind man it was sight and belonging again to God’s people who he had been estranged, for Zacchaeus it was also welcome back and a chance to be reconciled. They are both saved in the situations they find themselves. Jesus still meets us where we will come to him with faith, at our points and places of need. Jesus love calls us also to meet people at points of need in their lives with Gods love, be it their need for healing, or friendship or inclusion and welcome. People caught in their poverty and pain, both physical and spiritual, caught in life styles which separate them from their community and God.

Finally, both men find their lives transformed by encountering Jesus. There faith takes them from where they are and moves them on. We are told that the blind beggar follows Jesus, as I was proof reading my sermon I discovered It originally typed the blond beggar, he leaves where he is and joins those with Jesus. His life changes because he know focuses on telling people what Jesus has done for him and praising God. We see that people rejoice and praise God when they hear and see what has happened. But he goes from being a beggar to being a disciple.

Zacchaeus does not leave and follow Jesus, however his response to Jesus is to spontaneously do what the rich young ruler had not been prepared to do. Zacchaeus, gives half of his money to the poor, and uses the other half to pay back four times what he owed to anyone whom he had stolen from, which is the severest penalty for reimbursement in the Jewish law. He has received the generous gift of grace from God in Jesus and know he responds with generosity to others. It’s not the way he earns his salvation but rather how he demonstrates that salvation. Zacchaeus stays where he is, that is a difficult place for him, he has pressure from the romans to be a tax collector and he has suspicion from his neighbours, but he stays where he is to live out his transformed life, maybe he’ll have to down size his house, but he stays to witness to God’s goodness in that place.

Jesus comes to seek and save the lost means that he comes to bring transformation into our lives. That we no longer live under the bondage of our brokenness, lostness and blindness but rather we live out the transformed life he offers in knowing him. Be it in being prepared to follow him to new places or where we are and where it is hard, but we are called there to live out the kingdom of God. Telling of who Jesus is and what he has done for us and living that out in seeing what we have as being given by God to be used for his kingdom.

The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost. To find who is missing and bring them and us back to God to know God’s goodness and grace and to live out of that. To seek and save the lost the blind beggar the short tax collector and you and me.  Is not just a mission statement, an easily remembered tagline but the very heart of God, the very motivation that led Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross and which is so wonderfully made full of abundant and eternal life in the resurrection. It’s the Journey and mission that Jesus invites us on as well. The bind beggar, the short tax collector and you and me; to seek and save the lost.

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