Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Gracious Grace for All Wisdom’s Children

Luke 7:28-30 & 33-35

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

 

29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

 

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” 

 

For the season of Lent, we are focused on practical grace. How do we extend the grace of Christ to others effectively? How do we welcome people to our church? It grieves me when I hear of someone who does not feel welcomed when they come through our doors. I know we are a warm, welcoming church, However, not everyone experiences us like that. Why? How do we fix it?

 

I guess the first question we need to answer is why we need to be welcoming. The short answer would be because Christ welcomed us. But, let’s face it, we are special. No not really. You see, during Christ’s ministry on earth, the most outcast members of society were called to be baptized, forgiven, and made right for the coming Kingdom of God. We welcome all who come through our doors because Jesus welcomed all. If any part of our behavior is unwelcoming, Jesus would say do something different. As Pastor Javi said last week, we need to become what the newcomer needs. We need to adapt to the needs of the newcomer so that they feel wanted in our church—their church. Jesus shares Javi’s encouragement to become what others need.

 

In our story today, John the Baptist is the last great prophet. He heralds the age of fulfillment when God will establish God’s kingdom on earth. John the Baptist heralds Jesus, and it is Jesus who opens the way for people to enter God’s realm.  The healing powers of Jesus demonstrated the coming authority of God. John was the bridge between the old world and the new Kingdom of God. John was both the last prophet of God’s old age and the herald of the new era of grace. John the Baptist had one foot in the old age and one foot in the New Age of Grace. John was a great man and an amazing herald and prophet.  But, because John was still of the old age, Jesus said that everyone who was of the New Age is greater than John. That includes the audience for Luke’s message, and it includes us.

 

People were baptized into a new community that Jesus was bringing into the world. The old age belonged to those born here on earth. The new community belonged to those “born again” into heaven and accepted in the reign of God. In the reign of God, they had a new home and a new identity. The sinners and tax collectors were the shunned outcasts of society. Their shadows spread sin. These outcasts became greater than John the Baptist. They were still human and part of the human family, but they were sons and daughters of God’s family because they heard the message of salvation and acknowledged the wisdom of God. When Luke speaks of Baptism and a tax collector in the same passage, he wants us to understand that the change is much more than an inner change. It is a complete makeover. A radical makeover.

 

Back to, why are we welcoming? Because Jesus Christ wants us to invite as many people as possible into our family of God. Our church is part of that family of God. When we welcome others with energy and open arms, we continue the work of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus.

 

We encourage people to become family members of ours in the family of God. At the river, John the Baptist turned no one away. Jesus invited everyone into God’s realm. Many said no, but many said yes.

 

In the story, the Pharisees who failed to be baptized failed to accept the activity of God and missed the moment of their salvation. Their refusal of John’s baptism became a rejection of the will of God. They missed that God was dynamic and ready to bring about the salvation of the world.

 

The new era of grace was a celebration of the glory of God and God’s power to save us and restore us. Jesus came as one eating and drinking because it was a joyous occasion. The religious leaders called him a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus came in joy and liberation. He came proclaiming a festival of God’s grace.  Imagine the enthusiasm and initiative generated at that party!! Jesus did not follow the apocalyptic tendencies of his Jewish peers. Jewish writers proclaimed an end time nightmare. Jesus proclaimed a party that celebrated the earthly breaking in of the realm of God. The religious leaders were invited to the party, and they did not come.  

 

Jesus’ friendly association with tax collectors and sinners vividly expressed God’s good will towards all sinners and all of God’s people. It was not the religious that accepted the new plans of God. It was the outcasts, the shunned, the broken, the lost and those whom society had labelled as religiously dead. Luke told us that those who were wise were not the wise Pharisees, but the most lost and least wise of society–the sinners and tax collectors.

 

The sinners recognized the new moment of God’s Grace. They noticed the phenomenal change in the spiritual landscape. They heard their invitation, and they accepted their invitation. Ironically, those who gave their whole life to following God’s law missed God’s activity in the world. They missed the Kingdom of God breaking into their world.

 

The Pharisees preferred to predict the apocalyptic end of the world and the brutal fall of Rome than notice the celebration of God’s invitation to a new family. Divine wisdom ushered in a new age, and the least wise in society became wise enough to accept new life.

 

Take a moment and imagine the energy that existed around the places of Baptism. The formerly outcast, shunned and dead were now alive and accepted members of the realm of God. The energy must have been electric. The people were buzzing with newfound life. I can imagine a rush to the river and chatter as people came to be baptized.

 

Energy—when I imagine the ministry of Jesus, every encounter and every person who approached Jesus did it with energy and initiative. The sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus needed initiative and energy to enter a Pharisee’s house. There were four men who cut a hole in the roof of a house to get to Jesus. That took energy, initiative, and commitment. There was a centurion who wanted Jesus to heal his servant. He approached Jesus and demonstrated considerable energy as a pagan approaching a popular religious figure. Jesus and his ministry, John and his disciples who baptized sinners, generated energy, and those who came had conviction and verve.

 

Today, I want to discuss energetic engagement as a form of practical grace.

As an illustration of engagement lacking energy, I want you to consider the curing of bacon. Have any of you ever made bacon? I am talking about that delectable, most crave worthy cured pork belly. I make maple syrup and salt cured bacon from time to time. To make it you mix maple syrup, salt, pepper, brown sugar, a little pink salt, and water. Then you coat the pork belly in the mixture and let it cure for days. When it finishes curing, you smoke the meat in a smoker for hours. That rich sweet maple flavor soaks into the meat and gives you an amazing flavor. You can then cook it with a little more maple syrup for even a sweeter taste.

 

If you have been at Place of Grace Fellowship for very long, you have experienced the warm heart and sweetness of the community. You feel welcomed and known by the group. In a sense, you have been cured by Place of Grace Fellowship and it has sunk deeply into your experience of God and community.

 

Unfortunately, newcomers to the church don’t have the time or the immersion in the mixture that is Place of Grace Fellowship. It takes time to be cured. Newcomers may leave or not come back because they cannot experience the full curing process.

 

So, how do people experience the maple syrup sweetness of Place of Grace Fellowship with just one visit?

 

First, it is our responsibility to make sure that newcomers experience all our sweetness on their first visit. How do we do that? Some observations from our passage and some practical suggestions.

 

How many of you remember Winnie the Pooh? In Winnie the Pooh there is this sad donkey called Eeyore. He enjoyed being gloomy and sad. One Eeyore quote is, “If it is a good morning, which I doubt.” I once had an assistant, who was a good friend of Jan, give me an Eeyore doll. When I was a commodity options trader, I was an Eeyore. If I thought the day was bad, or about to be bad, I avoided trouble. Having an Eeyore attitude, I kept a level-head when the market was volatile.

 

In church though, Eeyore’s are visitor destroyers. People who come to church need positive, energetic people welcoming them into a new family. Some of you are naturally gregarious, while others here are more quiet and introverted.

 

I know, what some of you will say, “we are not sad, we are just not that energetic.” I agree with that statement. You are not sad; you are quite fun. But Newcomers do not spend the time to be cured in your sweetness and see your fun side. Newcomers may interpret people that don’t exhibit energy as Eeyore people and not return.

 

How does somebody who is not high energy become high energy? By intentionally increasing their energy. I have talked with many of you about fishing, hunting, the Cowboys, quilts etc. When you talk about something you love, your energy goes up a lot and you become energetic. I want you to channel that energy to newcomers. Can you buzz with excitement about the newcomer? Imagine you are a sinner, an outcast on the river Jordan. You were just Baptized. You can see God’s kingdom open up and welcome you in. Next to you is a newcomer. Share your newfound life with them!!

 

Listen to them intently and with enthusiasm. Let their words cause you to sparkle and shimmer. Ask what brought them to the church. Desire that they stay and join our family with your whole being. You cannot let them go. You need them in our family.

 

Enthusiasm generates energy. But because too much energy can turn people off, an important question becomes, “how much energy?” On a scale of apathetic to over the moon excited, your energy needs to be at 60%. Enough that people notice, but not so much as to overpower them or overwhelm them. 60% feels genuine and more feels forced and disingenuous.  We are a church with gracious hearts; we just need to show it.

 

Enthusiasm also creates initiative. If you care, you want to share and ask questions. Sharing and asking questions requires initiative. How much initiative do you exhibit in a conversation with a newcomer? On a scale of passive to dominant, you need to sit at about 60%. That is enough initiative to engage and ask questions but not too much. 60% communicates interest and warmth without being overwhelming.

 

Finally, when a newcomer walks through the door, they may be uncomfortable and talk only to the person who invited them. They may latch on to one person and talk a lot. It is good that they are talking to someone. What do the rest of us do when a newcomer is talking to another person?

 

We could be polite and let them talk. That’s not necessarily a good solution. When the newcomer leaves, they might say, “That church wasn’t very welcoming, only my friend talked to me.” It may seem like an odd thing to suggest, but interrupt. Say, “Excuse me, may I interrupt your conversation? Welcome to our church. We are glad you visited us. I’ll let you get back to your conversation.” Say hello and welcome them to the church. When it comes to newcomers, volume matters. The more people that welcome them, the more welcomed they feel. Quality matters less than volume. The number of welcomes matters a lot.

 

So let me recap our practical grace lesson. Jesus Christ pours grace out on us. We receive that grace and want to energetically share it with everyone.

 

Practically, grace cannot be shared by us if we exhibit personality traits that others interpret as Eeyore traits. No Eeyores. Generate enough energy to be engaging and a good listener.

 

Your enthusiasm matters. Be enthusiastic. A balanced level of energy and initiative to bring enthusiasm is 60% for both energy and initiative.

 

Volume matters, make sure to engage with as many newcomers as possible, even if just to say welcome.

 

We are a welcoming church who, if given the time to cure a newcomer, will cover them in all our maple syrup sweetness. Newcomers are not going to stick around long enough to marinade and cure in our sweetness. They need our sweetness on their first visit.

 

I want to return to an image I used a few weeks ago. Newcomers are like a stack of pancakes walking through the door. They are warm and all buttermilky. They are eager to have us pour our maple syrup sweetness all over them. If we don’t bring the syrup or if we bring a little plastic cup that covers a quarter of the pancake—you know the kind restaurants like to bring and you need to ask for at least two more—that newcomer will go cold, dry out and not come back. If we wait till the end of the service to pour our mapleness on them, it is too late, they are already cold and dried out. Newcomers need our maple syrup when they enter the door and are warm.

 

Even if the service has started, leave your seat and say hello to a newcomer. You can raise your hand and introduce the newcomer. Newcomers are a gift from God. Do whatever it takes to welcome them and keep them in our family.

 

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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