Kingdom Values (Luke 6:12-26)

I'm going to put up two groups of people. If you could choose to join either of these groups, which group would you pick?

GROUP A
Poor
Hungry
Tearful
Hated
Excluded
Insulted
Rejected

GROUP B
Rich
Well fed
Happy
Popular
Included
Praised
Accepted

So which group would you pick?

I don't think anyone in their right mind would want to pick the first group. The reason is obvious. These are not exactly coveted traits. When our children end up in this category we get concerned. The reason I know that none of us would choose this category is because none of us have chosen it.

If anything, we fall squarely in group B, and we aspire to become even more like the descriptors in group B. When we get a raise, we don't turn it down because we would rather be poor. We accept it and look for even more. When we're well fed, we don't see it as a problem until we're too fed. And nobody would complain about being appreciated and praised by others.

Everything in our society is about becoming more like group B. There's even an exotic car dealership just south of here where you can rent an exotic car to play the part of being an elite member of group B for a weekend. You can't afford the car, but you can play the part and make people think you're rich.

In fact, i can't think of any reason why I would want to be in group A. Group A just stinks. If anybody said they wanted to be in this group, I would really wonder about what they were thinking. It makes no sense at all.

We're not any different from anybody else. I don't think there's anybody in any society that wishes to be in group A. And those who are in group A would gladly move to group B.

It's a little bit disconcerting, therefore, that Jesus messes with our minds. If you've read the Bible, you know that there are times when Jesus turns our worlds upside down and says the exact opposite of what we would expect him to say. You may not be surprised that Jesus messes with our minds as we look at these two groups.

Let me give you a bit of background. Jesus has just marked a pivotal moment in his ministry. He's looked around at all of the people following him, and out of everyone, he's selected a group of twelve to be his apostles. These are his inner circles. They have been chosen to learn from him, to live like him, and to eventually become just like him.

There's a bit of a subtext here. Jesus called twelve apostles. Right away, that's a clue. Twelve apostles, twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is picking an Israel team. He's mirroring the founding of Israel in the ancient Scriptures. This group that he picks is going to be a starting point for a new Israel that Jesus is forming.

There's a second detail we're supposed to catch as we come to this account. Jesus begins by giving three or four things to remember. These three or four things come in the form of blessings and woes, four promises and four warnings. This also echoes back to the ancient Scriptures when God founded the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 says:

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.

So it's clear: Jesus is starting something new here. This is the start of a new thing, a new nation or movement, and Jesus is giving us the charter message. He's about to tell us what it's all about.

What he says, though, seems completely upside down. Let's turn together to the passage. It's found in Luke 6:12-26.

In verses 17 to 19, Jesus heals a large crowd of people from all over the place, including places that were outside normal Jewish territory. Then he turns away from the crowd and addresses his disciples directly. This isn't delivered to the crowds; it's given to the apostles that he's just chosen. It's a teachable moment to tell them what he's all about.

And here's what he says, in verses 20 to 26. If you belong to group A, you are blessed. Poor, hungry, sad, hated - you're living the good life. If you belong to group B, you're in trouble. Got money and food? Happy? Laughing? Popular? You're in trouble.

I don't want you to miss what this means. Think about how much trouble we're in here. Jesus would look at this crowd and pronounce a woe on all of us because we're more like group B than group A. Either we've got his message wrong or we're all in deep trouble. Which is it? How can we make sense of what Jesus said?

I'm not alone in asking this question. Once a preacher finished teaching on this passage. A mother came up and told the speaker that this passage, containing the beatitudes, is why her son decided not to become a Christian. He just couldn't accept that he would have to become poor and unpopular and weak if you wanted to follow Jesus. Does following Jesus mean that we all have to become losers?

I wrestled with this a lot during high school. Does it mean you have to become a complete loser to be a Christian? If kids aren't picking on you, does it mean you're going about it all wrong? At work, if they don't hate you for being a Christian, does it mean you're not being bold enough?

Not a lesson on how to be blessed

Let me tip my hand on this one. I don't believe this passage is a how-to lesson on how to be blessed. I don't think that the answer is to walk out of here with plans on how to become poor and unpopular and hungry and sad. Yet it's pretty easy to interpret the passage that way. Jesus says, these people are happy and these people are not. So you could easily include that the point of the passage is, "You should become like group A."

The main problem with thinking that this is a how-to lesson is that it makes the condition of being poor, hungry, grief-stricken, and hurt. That makes it there is some virtue in these conditions. It's almost like we become these things in order to get God's blessing.

But I think this is missing the point. These are not a set of instructions. It doesn't say, "Become poor, become sad, become hungry and become hated." So if you think you have to become these things in order to become a Christian, then you're misunderstanding this passage.

The real issue: Who can be blessed?

Let me tell you what I think the real issue is in this passage. It's not how to be blessed, so what is it?

You get a bit of a clue from reading what happened right before he gave these blessings:

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. (Luke 6:17-19)

Here's the real question I think Jesus was answering. It's not how to be blessed. It's who can be blessed? Jesus was skilled at using situations and people around him as ways to teach his followers what was going on. In this case, Jesus looks around him and uses the crowd as an example of who can be blessed in the new kingdom that he's initiating.

In other words, the kingdom, the new movement and nation that Jesus is starting, is available to everyone, including the have-nots, the poor, those who've never had a break in life. Those who, from a human point of view, are most hopeless, who are beyond the possibility of God's interest or blessing - they enjoy God's touch and abundant provision.

This goes against everything that we normally believe. It's completely upside-down - or, maybe Jesus would say it's right-size-up and the way we live is upside-down. Here's some of what it might mean as we think about our lives.

Who's On Your List of the Blessed?

You know who's normally on my list of the blessed. In Toronto Life this month, they have an article on people who earn six-figure incomes and are still broke. They may be broke, but what a way to live. I read about $25,000 annual vacations, twice-a-week trips to the finest restaurants in Toronto. They spend more on clothes than I make in a year. They have the cars and everything you could ask for. According to Jesus, though, they aren't blessed.

It's not those who have a lot of things who are truly blessed. When Jesus gave the other side of his woes, he mentioned that there are a whole host of people who have riches and food who aren't blessed. Some are, to be sure. But you can't judge from external appearances. To many of those who have a lot, they've received all that they're going to get.

If you want to see who is blessed, Jesus says, you may want to drive past Rosedale and head to the poorer part of town. Go to the people who seem most hopeless, the lost causes, and go with confidence to them knowing that Jesus says that they can now enter into a blessed life with God. This is for them.

Once again, it's not the poverty or hunger or sadness that makes them blessed. It's in spite of these things. It's not the rich who are blessed - they aren't successful in spite of all of these things. The only real measure of success, Jesus says, is that you're part of my kingdom.

Evaluating My Script

Earlier this year I sat down with a guy who was a financial advisor in downtown Toronto. He lived in Oakville and was already making tons of money. He wore Armani suits and had the nice house, the savings, everything that you would expect. And he walked away from it all.

I sat down with him at Jack Astor's on the Queensway and said, "How did you ever get from there to where you are today?" After a dozen years working on Bay Street, they packed it up and Mike began working at World Vision for significantly less money. Later on, they quit even that and chose to work for even less by starting a ministry dedicated to serving suffering women around the world.

I sat across from him and asked how in the world he ever made that move. A lot of people who know him don't understand. It doesn't really fit the way that we're used to living.

Mike sketched for me what he called two scripts. He said - and I think he's right - that everybody lives according to a script. We're scripted by TV commercials, movies, newspapers, by everything around us, that the way to be blessed is to earn more, to make a name for yourself, establish yourself, to have more.

Mike was living that script, and living it very well. But as he grew in his relationship with Jesus, he realized that it was the wrong script. There is another script, given by Jesus, in which it's not by accumulating more that you're blessed. It's by serving, by giving it away, by taking risks and living for others that we find success. In Jesus' script, many who look blessed are actually unsuccessful, and many who look like they've missed the blessing are blessed beyond belief.

The problem between the world's script and God's script is that they're not compatible. If you live by the world's script, God's script doesn't make sense. If you live by God's script, the world's script doesn't make sense. Jesus said, you can't serve two masters. You have to choose. You will either serve the world's script - mammon - or you will serve God.

As Jesus assembles his team and kicks off his new kingdom, he pulls aside his apostles and says, "I want to show you what's really important. I want to show you who can really be blessed. It's not the people you think. Don't ever make the mistake of thinking that this stuff - having stuff and happiness - don't ever think that is as important as having me. The poorest person who is part of my kingdom is more blessed than the richest and happiest person who isn't part of my kingdom."

So What?

Don't forget what I said. You don't have to go from group B to group A to be blessed. It's not by becoming poor and hungry and sad that you get blessed. It's by entering the kingdom that you receive true blessing and true success. Jesus says, the kingdom is available to everyone starting today. And entering the kingdom, and living by its values - that is true success.

Putting Religion in Its Place (Luke 6:1-11)

I want to begin this part of the service by asking you to get together with one or two other people to answer a question. The question is this: What observance or habit do you believe is necessary if you want to follow Jesus? If somebody asked you what you do in your life to follow Jesus, what one or two things would not only make your list, but you couldn't imagine not doing them?

Some possible answers:

  • Going to church
  • Reading the Bible
  • Prayer times
  • Sunday school
  • Small group

Now we're going to put that on the back burner like they do on the cooking shows. We'll keep this in the back of our minds, and return to it in a few minutes.

Now let me do something a little different, but also interactive. I want to ask you a few questions to determine what the right answer is.

  • Toilet paper rolls: over or under?
  • Do you wet the toothbrush before you put toothpaste on it, or after?
  • Do you take your shoes off at the door, or wear them in the house?
  • Do you eat with a knife and fork or just a fork?
  • Do you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?

I can see we are going to have a church split over some of these issues.

One more question: which of these questions are important?

Would you agree that things that really aren't important can become important to us? Anyone who's had roommates or gotten married knows that it's easy to think that we have the right answer to some pretty trivial issues. The sad part is when these trivial issues become important to us.

I've discovered that we are generally poor judges at deciding what's important and what's not.

Let's take this up a notch. I think we'd all agree that issues of toilet paper and toothpaste really aren't important, but that some things are really worth fighting for. Among the things that most of us think are important are the things that we believe God asks us to do. There are some things that are so clear to us, that it's more than a matter of preference. We believe we'd be letting God down if we didn't do these things.

The question I want to ask is this: When do these good things, things that we do to serve God, actually become bad things?

Is there ever a time that the things that we listed earlier this morning actually become bad things? Things like:

  • Going to church
  • Reading the Bible
  • Prayer times
  • Sunday school
  • Small group

To answer this question, I want to look at what Jesus said about the issue. We're going to look at a passage in which some people insisted on doing some good things that they felt were important to God. Yet according to Jesus, the good things they were doing, things that they thought were important not only to themselves but to God, actually became bad things. The good things got in the way.

There are two incidents in this passage, but one common theme. When we're done looking at this passage, I want to ask if we are ever in danger of doing the same thing: of allowing good things we do for God to become bad things. If you have your Bibles, let's look at what happened. It's found in Luke 6.

What's the Issue?

The first question I want to ask is, what's the issue in this passage? What is the good thing that Jesus is going to address in this passage? In one way, it doesn't matter what the good thing is. What Jesus is going to say about this good thing applies to all good things. They all can potentially become bad things. But it's important to understand what happened in this passage, because the good thing in this passage was really a big deal. It was a huge deal to these people.

We read in verses 1-2:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain-fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

At first glance, you might think that the issue is that Jesus and his friends were eating grain that didn't belong to them. That would be a good guess, but it would be wrong. You were actually allowed to do this. Deuteronomy 23:25 says, "If you enter your neighbor's grain-field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to the standing grain." So it was quite okay to go through and pick kernels, as long as you only used your hands.

The issue wasn't that they were stealing grain. The issue was the timing. The Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" Right thing, wrong time.

This has almost zero meaning for us today, because the Sabbath doesn't rate high on our list of things that are important to God these days. But for these people, the Sabbath was the chief badge that they were God's people in a hostile world. Out of all the laws that God gave, this made the Ten Commandments, God's top ten list, right up there with don't kill or commit adultery. It went back even further, to creation itself. This was a big deal.

They knew the Law off by heart, and they were probably thinking of Exodus 34:21: "Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest." Rubbing the kernels counted, so Jesus and his friends were guilty of doing something that violated their understanding of God's law.

Before we look at how Jesus responded, there's a second incident in this passage. We read in verses 6 and 7:

On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.

Different incident, same issue. This time it wasn't harvesting and eating on the Sabbath; it was healing on the Sabbath. What was wrong with that? They believed back then that you could help or heal somebody who had a life-threatening disease on the Sabbath day. It was okay to heal somebody if they were keeling over and about to die. This guy? He could wait until the next day. What's the rush? If Jesus went ahead, he'd be guilty of breaking the Sabbath - not just once but twice.

So there we have the tension. On one hand, a religious group of people who are trying their best to hold to God's laws the best that they knew how. They weren't making majors out of minors. They were concerned about something that God had been clear about. They wanted to do the right thing. It was as important to them as any moral issue you could think of today. To break this issue would be, in their understanding, to flagrantly disobey God.

Then, on the other hand, you have Jesus, who doesn't seem to care. He seems quite ready to completely ignore what God said about the issue. If you were to put white hats and black hats on these two groups, the Pharisees would be wearing the white hats, and Jesus and his friends would be wearing the black hats.

When Good Things Become Bad Things

What do you do when Jesus seems to be doing the bad thing? My guess is that you look for a clue to see if the bad thing was really a bad thing. The clue comes for us in the second incident. Here's how we'll know if Jesus is doing the right thing. Remember that at this point they don't know who Jesus is, except that he's a religious leader. So here's a test: if he can heal a man on the Sabbath day, it must mean that God approves, because the power to heal comes from God. If Jesus can't heal on the Sabbath day, it means that God is not happy, because Jesus is doing the wrong thing.

So what happens when Jesus goes to heal this man? Let's read verses 8 to 10:

But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Get up and stand in front of everyone." So he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?"

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was completely restored.

So there you have it. Jesus turns out to be right. This, of course, leads to the next question: what was Jesus right about?

What's interesting is that Jesus doesn't say that the Pharisees were wrong about the Sabbath. He doesn't say that the Sabbath is a bad thing. In fact, he admits that on the surface it seems to be a violation. He says instead that even good things can become bad things sometimes.

It's interesting that Jesus doesn't focus on the issue of Sabbath as much as he focuses the issue on himself. In the first incident, when Jesus and his friends picked grain on the Sabbath, Jesus drew a parallel between what he did and an incident that took place in 1 Samuel 21. David had already been anointed king, but he was on the run from Saul, who was still on the throne. Although David had been anointed king, he still looked like a common man, running around with a ragtag group of followers, waiting for his kingship to come true - kind of like Jesus. David did something that he technically shouldn't have: he ate bread that was reserved only for the priests. The real question isn't whether or not it was right to do these things on the Sabbath. The real question is, Who is Jesus?

Jesus tells us in verse 5: "Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." There's a bit of a play on words here. Son of Man was one of Jesus' favorite phrases. On a surface level, it just meant human being. But at another level, Daniel talked about the Son of Man being a divine figure. Jesus uses this term to identify himself as a man, but a different kind of man. He says that he has the authority to abrogate the Sabbath law, redefine it, and reinterpret its significance.

So let's try to understand what's happening here. Remember the list of all the things that we listed before? Things that are important, even indispensable, to what it means for us following God? Here's what Jesus says about these things from this passage:

He doesn't deny that they are good things - Jesus never denies that the Sabbath is a good thing. He never tells the Pharisees they were wrong to be concerned about the Sabbath.

He claims authority over the good things - Good things are nothing next to Jesus. Jesus has the power to redefine what's good and what's bad. Jesus can take anything on this list. He has the right to suspend or reinterpret any law as he sees fit.

He says that even good things can become bad things - Take a look at this list. Even good things can become bad things sometimes. There are two ways that good things can become bad things.

The irony here is that they were trying so hard to keep the Sabbath that they ended up breaking it. Verse 11 says, "But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus." They were beside themselves with rage. Evidently, it's wrong to heal a man on the Sabbath, but it's okay to plot murder.

What I want to do is to look again at the list of things that are on our list. These are modern day equivalents to their Sabbath.

  • Going to church
  • Reading the Bible
  • Prayer times
  • Sunday school
  • Small group

Do you really believe that even these things can become bad things sometimes? If you're like me - and like the Pharisees - you have a hard time believing that these good things can become bad things.

It's possible, Jesus says another time, for our traditions to nullify the Word of God.

Here are two tests to see if these good things are becoming bad things:

When the things we do to serve God get in the way of God - The Pharisees kept the Sabbath to serve God. But keeping the Sabbath made them miss God when he was standing right in front of them. The very thing they did to serve God got in the way of seeing God, of loving him.

Later, there were other things that God asked the church to give up because they were getting in the way - things like circumcision and eating clean food. These were good things, but God asked the church to put them aside.

When things we do to serve God get in the way of loving people - The Pharisees were so concerned with the Sabbath that the didn't care about the man with the withered hand. They say the issue but they didn't see the man.

This is dangerous. It's like the religious people who crossed the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan. There are times that the things we do to serve God get in the way of loving people as we should. Those times, we need to really ask if we are serving God by not loving people, or whether the best thing we can do is to serve God by loving those people.

This reminds us, of course, of The Jesus Creed - loving God and loving others; choosing to love God and others more than the things we do to serve God. It's a life oriented around God.

If you are task oriented, you've probably sometimes been carried away doing tasks for someone that you've forgotten the person you're doing tasks for.

Here's the list again:

  • Going to church
  • Reading the Bible
  • Prayer times
  • Sunday school
  • Small group

As important and as good as all of these things are, they are not as important as God. They are never an excuse for not loving others. Loving God and loving others trumps everything on this list.

So, when do good things become bad things? When they get in the way of loving God and loving others.

Invitation to Outsiders (Luke 5:12-39)

You may have heard somebody say, "I have good news and I have bad news. Which would you like to hear first?" Whenever I hear this, it is never a good thing.

Doctor: I have some bad news and some very bad news.
Patient: Well, might as well give me the bad news first.
Doctor: The lab called with your test results. They said you have 24 hours to live.
Patient: 24 hours! That's terrible! What could be worse? What's the very bad news?
Doctor: I've been trying to reach you since yesterday.

So you don't want somebody to tell you they have good and bad news.

The reason I bring this up is because the reaction to Jesus is decidedly mixed. When we get together to talk about Jesus, you can say that we have both good and bad news.
Jesus is one of the most controversial figures to have ever lived. He was when he lived, and he still is today when we really get to know him. He was so controversial that they ended up murdering him, they couldn't stand him.

The amazing thing is that the reaction to Jesus today is almost the opposite to what took place during his lifetime. There are two reactions to Jesus and his life: one positive, and one very negative. Today they're switched.

Today, if you went on the street and asked people about Jesus, you'd find some interest. If you pressed really hard, though, you'd likely find some suspicion about Jesus - if not for Jesus directly, at least about those of us who follow him. As somebody's said, "I like Jesus but I don't like the church." For whatever reason, what Jesus has to offer is now something that people aren't sure they want. If you walk up to the average person on the street and say, "Can I tell you what I think Jesus would say about your life?" I think you'll find the other person will say, "No!" or at least run. Jesus has become bad news to a lot of people.

On the other hand, Jesus is seen as really good news to those of us in the church. This is just what you'd expect. We sing about Jesus. We read stories about Jesus. We pray in Jesus' name. Churches and church people just love Jesus.

This is so matter of fact that it's easy to miss something important: this is exactly the opposite of the reaction that Jesus found when he was on earth. When Jesus was here, people who were outsiders to religion saw Jesus as being very good news. It's the exact opposite of today. When Jesus walked around, those who weren't religious, those who didn't darken the door of the synagogue and carry big Bibles, those were people who were amazed by Jesus and embraced them. More importantly, these were the people that Jesus embraced. The question for me is: why are outsiders, those who are far away from church, people we would never expect to darken the door of a church - why don't they see Jesus as good news for them? Why do they see Jesus as irrelevant, perhaps even hostile, to their lives?

Then flip it around. When Jesus was here, religious people found him very threatening. The people that Jesus confronted, the people that couldn't stand Jesus, the people who killed him - they were those who went to synagogue every week, who memorized the Bible, who prayed multiple times a day. The question is, why are church people never threatened by Jesus today? Is it that we are so much better than the religious people of Jesus' day, or is it possible that we haven't really understood who Jesus is?

To put it simply, why in Jesus' day was he good news to religious outsiders and bad news to religious insiders, whereas today it's the very opposite?

I'd like to look at some events in Jesus' life that give us the answer to this question. We're about to see some encounters with people that illustrate the two ways that people reacted to Jesus. We're going to see three outsiders who discovered that Jesus was radically good news for them, and we're going to think about outsiders today and how Jesus might be good news to them, right here and right now in our community.

We're also going to see how the religious insiders reacted, and we're going to ask how religious insiders - most of us, actually - might be threatened by Jesus today.

The passage we're about to look at describes the people that Jesus came to serve and liberate. It's about the people that we are called to serve today, because we're called to live like Jesus. If you have your Bibles with you, let's look at these encounters from Luke 5.

When we read this passage, we discover that Jesus is both good news and bad news. Let's look at the good news first.

The good news: Jesus welcomes outsiders

I don't know if you've ever felt like you don't belong, like you're an outsider. Sometimes I've felt alone in a crowd, like I shouldn't belong there. Usually it's because I guess wrong and under-dress for an occasion. I don't wear a suit jacket when I should. One time we were in London, England, and I was dressed very casually - jeans and a t-shirt I think. We ended up touring Buckingham Palace, and I remember feeling very strange in the palace in a t-shirt. It's strange to feel out of place.

Imagine feeling that way all of time. There are people who are always on the edge of society, who never feel like they fit. Think of somebody that you would be surprised to see in church today, or in a nice restaurant. It could be somebody with a severe disfigurement, somebody experiencing extreme poverty, maybe a drunk. It could be somebody who's dressed inappropriately or has a highly contagious disease, somebody that you would not only be surprised to see, but somebody that would make you very uncomfortable.

If you took that and multiplied the shock factor, you would come close to understanding how surprising it is that Jesus chose to associate with these people. In Luke 5, we read about three shocking people - outsiders - that Jesus chose to love and to serve. Let's look at them and try to understand why it was so surprising, and why Jesus was such good news to them.

Luke 5:12-13 tells us that Jesus met, touched, and healed a leper.

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said, "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him.

Leprosy was a powerful and highly infectious disease. It's more than what we call leprosy today. There were a number of skin conditions - psoriasis, lupus, ringworm, as well as Hansen's disease - that back then would have been called leprosy. Everybody knew that this man's body was full of leprosy. He lived away from his family and everybody. If people approached him, he would have to cover his mouth and yell out a warning that he was unclean. His family would probably leave out food for him, but stay clear when he came to collect it. Nobody had touched him in years. This was the ultimate outsider, a social outcast.

The leper comes to Jesus. By all rights, Jesus should have kept his distance to remain clean and to stay safe. He could have healed this man from a hundred meters away. To touch him would have been to risk becoming contaminated himself.

The heart of the story is the shocking action that Jesus took in verse 13. "Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man." Jesus touched a man who hadn't been touched in years. Instead of being contaminated by the leper, the cleanness and wholeness of Jesus cleansed the man. But as Jesus reached out and touched the man, you can bet that everybody in the crowd gasped. As we read later in the passage, it would take a week before the man would be pronounced as healed and clean by a priest. Jesus reached out to the ultimate social outcast and proved that there is no such thing as an untouchable person.

The second encounter Jesus has is with a paralyzed man. You know the story; we read it this morning. This man has a physical disability. The common view back then - of both lepers and of paralytics - would be that the illness and disability was a sign of God's displeasure. We live today in a society that views those with physical disabilities in a much healthier way than before, but back then, this man would have been somewhat of an outcast. He can't even get to Jesus on his own. Picture the clay and little pieces of the roof falling down on people in the room. Picture this man being lowered down from the roof ("Don't drop me!"), the crowd whispering and looking. Jesus looks at this man and not only heals him, but forgives his sins as well. He gets more than he bargains for.

Then there's a third encounter to cap it off. We read in Luke 5:27-28: "After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,' Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him."

I imagine that if you were an auditor with Revenue Canada, you would experience a little of the hostility that is directed at tax collectors. We don't like tax collectors even today. But take the feelings you have toward an auditor with Revenue Canada, and multiply that a number of times, and you understand how tax collectors were hated in Jesus' day. Tax collectors were extortionists, shaking people down for as much money as they could manage, keeping some of it for themselves before they remitted the rest. They were collaborators with the enemy, the foreign occupying government that went against their religion. They were unclean, because they were always in contact with Gentiles. They were also very rich, which would make people resentful. They were rich because they had dirty money.

So imagine Jesus going to this guy and saying, "Follow me." Then picture this guy throwing a party with all of his shady friends. "Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them" (Luke 5:29). There are a few things we need to notice here. Levi is throwing a party that is costing quite a bit of money, and he's doing it with dirty money, proceeds of his tax collecting career. How would you feel about that? Second, he's invited his tax collecting buddies. Of course, who else would he invite? They stuck together, because nobody else would have anything to do with them. You have a room full of shady characters. Third, Jesus eats with them. In that culture, eating with people implied acceptance of them. The Pharisees, some of the religious people of that day, wouldn't even eat with the average person, never mind tax collectors. They were afraid of being contaminated. The food might be unclean, and it might not have been tithed appropriately. Jesus is invited to this party, and - gasp - he goes.

So look at the people Jesus embraces, who see him as good news. He embraces outsiders. Not just any type of outsiders, either. He touches the most untouchable type of person. He forgives and heals someone with a disability. He invites an extortionist to follow him. It was scandalous. He ate with the wrong people. He touched the wrong people. He reaches out and touches people on the very edge of society. Jesus is good news to outsiders, to the very people who don't belong and don't fit. Jesus even says that's what he's here for. In Luke 5:31-32, Jesus said: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Now let's think about this today. I mentioned earlier that the average person out there isn't so sure Jesus is good news for them. Think about those who are modern day lepers - those who are on the fringes of society, people who are untouchable. Think about them - who are they today? The homeless, those with AIDS, alcoholics, those on drugs?

Think about those who are sick, and it's easy to blame their sickness on their lifestyle. Think about those with diseases that may have come from lifestyle choices. People (wrongly) thought that the paralytic was judged by God, just like sometimes we blame those who suffer from certain illnesses as being judged by God.

Think of those who are employed in immoral careers. I heard this week about a stripper who knocked on the door of a church and said, "I don't want to go to work anymore." Think of the person who works in the pornography industry. Think of the drug pusher, the pimp. Jesus is good news to these people. Jesus might even go to their house, hang around their friends.

Now ask yourself: if we understand Jesus, and follow him, then Jesus is going to continue to be good news to these same people. Jesus is going to have relevance, and bring hope, to be good news to those in the margins, those who are outsiders.

Now ask yourself, how is the life of Jesus in you going to be good news to those in the very margins of our community? If your life is not touching those who are outsiders, those who think Jesus is for them, then you're not living the way Jesus did. Same with me. How is our church loving and embracing people who are outsiders, who think that Jesus has nothing but bad news for them?

That's the good news. The Gospel is for the outsider. It's for those who are far away from the church and from God - for outcasts and outsiders.

The bad news: Jesus is potentially threatening to insiders

I told you there was good news and bad news. So far we've seen the good news: Jesus embraces outsiders. Now it's time for bad news. The fact that Jesus embraces outsiders is potentially bad news to us. If you read these encounters, you start to see people reacting against what Jesus was doing. Those of us who are religious are the most likely to struggle with Jesus embracing people in the margins.

This is the first time we meet the Pharisees. The Pharisees have a bad name today, but they haven't always been seen as the bad guys. Their specialty was observance of God's law. They emphasized obedience to God. It's hard to criticize that, isn't it? This is the group that went to worship services, read and memorized the Bible. They're also the people who had a problem with what Jesus was doing.

The Pharisees were so ticked by what Jesus did that they accused him of the most serious charge a religious person could bring, a crime for which death was the penalty: blasphemy. In Luke 5:21, they think to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Later on they ask Jesus, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (Luke 5:30)

At the end of the chapter, they ask, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking" (Luke 5:33). Jesus answers by giving three pictures with the same answer. Basically, the old ways don't work under a new system. The old ways of withdrawing and separation from sinners don't work under the Kingdom, which Jesus has inaugurated. If you try to fit the old ways of doing things into Jesus' ways, it just won't fit. We need to learn a new way of living life.

So that's the good news and the bad news. The good news is that Jesus embraces everybody, even (especially) outsiders. The bad news is that we don't always get it. Reality is that we may be the people saying, "Jesus, are you sure about this? Are you sure that we're supposed to touch that person? Are you sure I'm supposed to go to that party? To embrace that person?"

How I'd like to end this service is to ask you to take a few minutes to identify the outsiders in our community - people that are far away from God, the untouchables, the immoral. I don't want you to name individuals, but let's start to name the types of people that Jesus might be calling us to embrace in his name. These are the people that Jesus is calling Richview to love and embrace, just as he did, and continues to do.

[list them]

Now, what would it take for these people to see Jesus as good news for them rather than bad news? What would it take for us to show them that the Good News about Jesus rather than the bad news they're used to getting?

I'd like to pray for us. Jesus is already willing to go out there, to embrace and forgive and heal and love these people. The challenge is that we might get away. So let's finish today by praying that the good news doesn't become bad news to us. Let's pray that the good news doesn't become threatening to us, so that we can bring the good news to outsiders just like Jesus did.

The Peter Principle (Luke 5:1-11)

You may be a little surprised to see me here. I'm Simon Peter, former fisherman, zealot, and disciple. I know, you've read all about me, and you never expected to see me in person. Believe me, I didn't expect to see you in person either. I'm here on a bit of business, so I thought I would pop in. Hope you don't mind.

The business? They want me to write a book. You may have read some of my bestselling books already. Let's see, there's First Peter. Later on I wrote a sequel called Second Peter. Back then, we didn't really put as much work into the titles of our books. Some publishing executive here in Toronto is wanting me to write another sequel. Seems like a lot of books have been written about Fish! - Fish! Tales, Fish! Sticks, Fish! for Life. I guess they thought of me since I have a bit of background in the fishing business, and I'm already a bestselling author.

The Peter PrincipleThey want me to write a book, except they don't want to call it Third Peter. They said that wouldn't sell these days. You need a catchy title I guess. They want to get me on Oprah, get it in the business section, make it a crossover book, all that kind of thing. Want to see the title? It's going to be called The Peter Principle: Living Without a Net, but Simon Peter. To be honest, I kind of prefer the title Third Peter. Why mess with success, you know what I mean? But I guess you have to go with what the publisher says. Later on I'm going to write other books like The Prayer of Peter, The Peter Driven Life, Forty Days of Peter and Blue Like Peter's Vocabulary. But one thing at a time. We'll see how this one goes.

You'd think that by writing The Peter Principle, I'd have some secret to how to become a great follower of Jesus. When I'm interviewed, people always ask me the secret to what happened. I usually feel like I let them down, because there really is no secret. Okay, there is one, and that's what I want to tell you about today. But really, it had very little to do with me. When I say this, people nod and pretend that they understand, but then they ask me another question like could I explain what happened. Honestly, I can't. The one thing I know is that I can't take any credit.

It's always frustrating when I say this, because I think people are looking for some secret formula that will change their lives. Usually, if my wife is with me, she'll roll her eyes and say, "Oh please!" There's no formula. There's no secret. That's actually good news. If Jesus chose me because of me, well, then that would leave the rest of you out of luck, because you're not me. But Jesus didn't choose me because I was anything special. If anything, The Peter Principle is going to be good news for ordinary people, because I'm about as ordinary as you can get.

Don't believe me? Okay, let me tell you how it happened. This was the day that it all started. The guys and me, we had just finished working all night. I don't know if you've ever worked nights, but it's a strange feeling to be completely tired and headed home for bed while the rest of the world is just waking up. We'd been out all night, but it had just been one of those days. You see, we were fishermen, and we caught nothing. Nada. Talk about frustrating. I never enjoyed cleaning nets at the end of a shift, but I could at least tolerate it when we caught something. I was in a foul mood that morning, cleaning those nets, and frankly, I couldn't wait to go home and chill.

Little did I know my day had just begun.

I looked over and see a crowd and my stomach sank. Jesus. I know what you're thinking: I should be happy to see Jesus. Well, things were getting a little creepy, I have to tell you. I'd had a few run-ins with Jesus before, and I didn't really know what to make of him. My brother had introduced us, and sometimes I really wondered if that had been such a good idea. Usually, when you meet a guy, you say, "How are you, nice to meet you" and all that. My brother, Andrew, told me all about Jesus, how we was a cool new rabbi, and he took me to meet me. Right away, Jesus looked at me, and said, "You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas." No nice to meet you, nothing. Nice and all, but a little intense. How would you like if someone met you and said, "You are Joe, son of Frank, but from now on your name will be Rocky." Like I said, a little creepy.

One day I woke up in the middle of the day - did I mention that I worked the night shift? - and there was this crowd outside my house. I can't say that I was happy. My wife's mother, she had been sick with this fever. Jesus had been healing all these people. It amazed us. Sometimes you think that we were used to miracles, that it was no big deal to us. Well, let me tell you, it had us talking. We didn't know what to make of Jesus and all these healings. Some people thought he was a trickster. Some people thought he was a true healer. I don't really know what I thought, but when I woke up and saw the crowd outside, I realized Jesus was there. Andrew had talked the wife into bringing Jesus over to take a look at her mother. I couldn't wait to get my hands on my brother. To my surprise, though, Jesus came in, bent over my mother-in-law, said something, and before you know it, bam! She was up, fixing snacks for everyone. You know mother-in-laws; they can't rest until everybody's had enough to eat.

I was grateful to have my mother-in-law healthy again, but I have to be honest - it messed with my mind a little bit. Coincidence? Fluke? Or was Jesus someone with powers that I couldn't understand? I really didn't know - and I wasn't sure I wanted to know either.

So, you can understand why after working all night for nothing, I wasn't thrilled to see Jesus and a crowd. Jesus was preaching. I wasn't much of a religious man myself. Nothing against God or anything; it's just that I wasn't the type. I could hear a little of what Jesus was saying, but I wasn't the type to hang around and get preached at. I was also scared that Jesus would see me. So far I'd had two encounters with Jesus, and both were a little strange. I wasn't sure I wanted a third.

You know that feeling you get when you don't want to be noticed? You want to blend into the crowd, quietly slip away before you're seen? That's exactly how I felt. So I was rushing to finish cleaning the nets, just hoping not to be noticed, when I see Jesus walking to my boat. Not my business partners' boat. No, that would be too easy. He walks to my boat.

I headed over, not quite sure what to say. Jesus asked me to pull out just a little from shore. What am I supposed to say? The guy just healed my mother-in-law, or did he? I couldn't see any way out of doing what Jesus said, so I did what he asked. I don't mind telling you that I wasn't happy about it, though. I didn't say much, and neither did Jesus. The minute I got about thirty feet from shore, Jesus sat down facing the shore and started teaching the crowd again.

Great, I thought. So much for sleeping. It's funny what you think when you're trapped somewhere against your will. I looked at the water and found myself thinking about swimming for shore. Jesus can row himself back to shore, I thought. I started staring at Jesus' back and thought about how ordinary he looked. At one point I think I even started to nod off.

"Simon!" I heard Jesus boom.

Great.

"Simon, push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch."

Now, if I ever needed information on God, I'm sure Jesus would be the first person I'd ask. I'd even listen to Jesus for advice on carpentry. But at the time, I was thinking, "Jesus, leave the fishing to the fishermen." Everyone knows there's a time and place to catch fish, but it's not during daytime and it's not in the deep water. For a minute, I thought of saying, "Jesus, you stick to preaching, and I'll stick to fishing." But, well, I kind of chickened out.

"Master," I said, "we've been fishing hard all night and haven't caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I'll let out the nets." I'd just cleaned the nets, now we were putting them into the water again, and for nothing. I was hoping this would be my last encounter with Jesus.

Then it happened.

We threw in the nets. At first I thought something was wrong, like we'd hit a snag or something. But then I realized that we didn't have a problem. We had fish. Lots of fish, more fish than the nets were designed to catch. I signaled to the other boat, and they came to help. Between the two boats, we caught so many fish that the boats started to sink.

It should never have happened. It was the wrong time, the wrong place. We'd been fishing all night at the right time and the right place with no results. Now this - carpenter! preacher! tells us where to fish, and this happens.

Then it hit me. This was no mere carpenter, no mere preacher. I wasn't sure exactly who he was at the time, but I knew God was with him. I knew that he was, without a doubt, the holiest man I had ever met in my life. There, in the boat, surrounded by so many fish that we were almost sinking, all I could think about was how good Jesus was, and how I didn't fit.

I believed something. I had never really thought about it, but I believed it: God has no use for sinners. There in the boat, it hit me: all my doubting, my bad attitude. I wasn't even listening to Jesus when he preached - I was trying to figure how to get away and get home. Out of everybody there that day, I was sure that I was the last person who deserved to be in the presence of Jesus. And I haven't even told you about the other details of my life. Let's just say that I'd done some things I regretted.

So I'm in the boat, surrounded by all the fish, realizing how thoroughly I've blown it, and realizing finally that Jesus is the real thing. All of a sudden, I couldn't get away fast enough. God had no use for sinners. Jesus had proven he was aligned with God, and so it was obvious to me that the best thing for all of us would be for Jesus to go to people who were good enough, and to leave guys like me alone.

"Master, leave," I cried. "I'm a sinner and can't handle this holiness. Leave me to myself."

It wasn't just me who felt that way. I found out later that my fishing partners were feeling the same way. It didn't seem right. I wasn't a God person. Jesus didn't belong with us.

But Jesus said something that absolutely blew me away.

Jesus told me to get up. "There is nothing to fear. From now on you'll be fishing for men and women."

And then it hit me. Up until that point I had assumed that God had no use for sinners like me. All of a sudden, I realized that I had it wrong. I realized that very minute that people who understand they're sinners are the very people that God wants to use.

We didn't even think twice about it. We pulled our boats on shore. We didn't even take the fish. We just left them there. It didn't even occur to me until later that I'd have to home and explain things to the wife. "Guess what I did today hon? I quit the fishing business. By the way, do you mind going to clean the boat tomorrow? It might smell like dead fish."

So when people ask me the secret to my success, I tell them The Peter Principle. You could actually say that there are two principles. The first one is this: when Jesus tells you to do something, do it. It doesn't even have to make sense. I didn't even do it with a good attitude, at least at first. But my life since that point has been about following Jesus' lead. He asked me to do a lot of things that didn't make sense later. A lot. Walk on water. Start handing out a few scraps of food to thousands of people. Whatever, Lord, Believe me, there were plenty of times that I didn't want to listen to Jesus, to do what he said, but if I can attribute what's happened in my life to anything, it's that I started to learn to do what Jesus told me.

There's one other thing. People ask me if it was something about me that made Jesus pick me. I think there was, actually. It sounds like I'm bragging, but I'm not. I think the thing that made Jesus choose me was that I knew I was a sinner. I used to think that God has no use for sinners. Now I know the truth: people who know they're sinners are the very people that Jesus can use. If you are a sinner and you know it, then good news: God can use you too.

So when people ask if there's a secret, I say: buy the book. Heh, my publisher told me to say that. It was a lot easier in the old days. I never had a publisher tell me what to do with First or Second Peter.

No, what I actually tell them is this: Yes, there is a secret. If you think God is going to use you because you're good, then bad news: God isn't interested. If you think God can't use you because you're a sinner, you're dead wrong.

But if you know you are a sinner, then good news: you are exactly the type of person that God can use. Just do whatever he says, and follow his lead. And that, my friends, is The Peter Principle.

I Will Follow (Luke 4:14-44)

Subject What are we here for?
Object To follow Jesus by bringing freedom to the marginalized
Big Idea We're here to follow Jesus to bring freedom to surprising people in surprising places
Purpose To commit to follow Jesus into the margins

A young woman wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, "Are you a leader?"

Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, "No," and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower."

There are many questions you will have to answer in your life, but there is one major question that is of major importance: Will you follow Jesus? Not if you will lead - a leader who is not a follower is worth nothing. Will you, will we together, follow Jesus?

Of course, the question is "Where?" Where is Jesus leading?

Fortunately, Jesus does not do this. The passage we're going to look at today clearly describes the direction and the destination where he is leading us. The key question isn't going to be, "Is this the right way?" The key question is going to be, "Will you follow?"

Background: Jesus has just completed his preparation. He's now going public with his ministry. The passage that we are about to read is his debut, his premier performance, his announcement of what he is all about. If you want to know what the ministry of Jesus is all about, this is the passage in Luke that tells us.

This passage is going to tell us not only where Jesus was going in his ministry, but where he asks us to follow today. Please open your Bibles to Luke 4.

Everything I want to tell you from this passage can be stated in one sentence that I'd like to build as we go through this passage.

1. We're here to follow Jesus (14-15)

I was once in a convey following someone who knew the way. When came to a light that changed, he went through, turned, and left us all behind.

Key question: Where is Jesus going? Jesus was purposeful. When he began his ministry, he was clear about what he was going to accomplish. There is no mystery.

Verses 14-15 introduce us to Jesus as he goes public. In fact, the key question, from here to 9:50, is "Who is Jesus?" This is the key question that we need to be absolutely sure about. Unless we are clear on who Jesus is, and what he is doing, we will not be able to follow.

That's why this passage is so important. It reveals who Jesus is and where he wants us to follow. This passage is all about understanding what Jesus came to do, and the appropriate response. The church's call is an extension of his mission.

2. To bring freedom (16-21, 31-44)

It's cool these days to have a mission statement. Every business seems to have them, even small ones. Churches have them. Some of you probably have a mission statement.

Who invented this? I don't know, but I do know that Jesus had a mission statement long before mission statements even existed.

In synagogues, as part of the service, qualified men would read the Scripture and give instruction. Jesus, as a visiting rabbi, stood and quoted a passage from Isaiah 61 and announce this as his mission.

If you miss everything else, don't miss this: Whatever bad situation you find yourself in, Jesus came to bring you freedom (verses 18-21). Examples: good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the oppressed.

In the rest of the chapter (verses 31-44), Jesus puts on a clinic on what he means: casts out evil spirits, heals sicknesses, including Peter's mother-in-law.

Objection: evil spirits? Seems strange today, and raises all kinds of questions - but reminds us that this is real.

Objection: I haven't experienced complete freedom yet. Yes: but the kingdom hasn't come fully yet. You are participants in the in-breaking of the kingdom.

There's something that's easy to miss in this passage. Isaiah 61:2 says: Jesus skips the part about vengeance. The Gospel is good news.

3. To surprising people in surprising places (23-30)

What would make the people decide to kill him? That's exactly what they did (verses 29-30). They completely rejected his message (Deuteronomy 13:5).

God sometimes shows favor to the wrong people. He sometimes extends grace to those in the margins, rather than his own people.

Verses 22-27: Elijah sent to a Gentile widow; Elisha healed a Syrian

It was expected that God would liberate his people from their pagan enemies, not bless them. Jesus didn't come to inflict punishment on those we expect him to judge, but to bring his love and mercy to them.

People like Paul Croutch, a homeless man killed in his sleep in Moss Park on August 31. James Bartleman, Ontario's lieutenant-governor, says that Croutch's murder means that all Canadians need to ask themselves, "Who and how society failed Paul Croutch."

Croutch's former wife said:

"Unfortunately, he refused help at every turn," said Ms. Howard, who urged people to treat the problems of homelessness and mental illness more seriously.

"We need to talk about these [mental health issues]," she said. "We shouldn't pretend we don't see these people. Look them in the eye and say 'hello.' Just try to elevate people's lives. One person can make a difference."

We're here to follow Jesus to bring freedom to surprising people in surprising places
Imagine going for a drive with Jesus through our community. "Where are we going?" "To some of my favorite people." Drive past the mansions, drive past the church. Where are we going?

I asked somebody who's living this, and here's what she said:

I think Jesus would take us for a drive through North Etobicoke and ask us to look at the buildings with broken front doors, elevators that are broken and dimly lit dangerous stairwells -to  drive though Jamestown and look at the garbage on the streets, the cars breaking down, the garbage dumpsters overfilling.  He'd ask us to pick up garbage (as we think "how demeaning") to go into houses leaving our shoes at the front door even though by the time we leave there may be cockroaches inside.

Jesus would ask us to ride public transit and really look at peoples faces -and to smile more - shouldn't our faces reflect the Joy of the Lord?

Jesus would also ask us to meet the needs that present in front of us - help someone who has fallen or dropped something, the homeless asking for money, those lost looking for directions.

We should approach each day asking Jesus to help us to see those around us with His eyes - not as the annoying coworker, or the lady who took my seat on the subway or the homeless person pestering me. - we need to remember that those people are as much God's child as I am - He loves them as much as me.  I don't deserve to be born into the family, that I was born into, I don't deserve the job I have the money I earn.  It could have just as easily been me sitting on the curb asking for money or raising children while living under the poverty line.

One thing I do want to say is... I am totally hypocritical writing these things because I am the biggest sinner in these ways, it is so easy to get caught up in my own troubles, in my own life forgetting about those around me.  Honestly I need to hear this sermon as much as anyone.

Question again: Will you follow Jesus to bring freedom to surprising people in surprising places?