Take Them to Dinner

People at dinner
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonnygoldstein/5527073572/">Jonny Goldstein</a>

Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went back out to the seaside, where the masses reassembled around him. He started again to teach them. And as he went along he found Levi Alphaeus in the levy collection kiosk. Jesus said, “Follow me.” So Levi did. Then Jesus came to Levi’s house for dinner, where many other government agents and cheaters came to eat with Jesus and his students. (There were a lot of people following him.)

When the legalists’ brown-nosers saw that Jesus was dining with cheaters and agents, they asked his students, “Why is he dining with cheaters and agents?”

Hearing this, Jesus responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, just sick people. Likewise, my business isn’t with the goody-two-shoes people, but the cheaters.

Keep in mind that this was before doctors practiced preventative care. It’s pre-HMO, pre annual checkup. It’s still how most of the world goes to doctors: when they’re sick.

If you’re life is fine, you’ve got no complaints, you’re fat and happy and everything’s going your way, you’ve probably got no need for Jesus. You may have plenty of religion. But you’ve still got no need for Jesus. And, frankly, he’s got no need for you.

But if you’re like most people (in this passage, it’s mostly white-collar people at dinner) whose life is messy, Jesus is happy to have dinner with you. If you’ve got skeletons in your closet you’re ready to deal with, that’s when you need Jesus.

It’s tempting to see people who are part of the system we despise (state employees, teachers, librarians, the rank-and-file people behind the counter at the Motor Vehicles Office) as worthy of our anger. “Fill out this form.” “Pay this fee.” “That’s not in my job description.” “I don’t care that you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes. It’s 4:30 pm in my time zone and I’m leaving. Call back tomorrow.” Jesus sees them (if that’s you, Jesus sees you) as people caught in the same dehumanizing system as the rest of us.

When Jesus gets to the tax booth and Levi says, “Sorry, closing time. Come back tomorrow,” instead of getting bent, Jesus invites him to dinner. “Bring a few of your friends along,” he says. “We can talk better when you’re off the clock, out of the system.”

The upshot: People are pretty much people. It’s the context – whether they’re caught in the system or enjoying the company – that makes all the difference.

Jesus Will Set You on Fire

on fire
Photo credit: Eva Garmendia

Mark 1:1-8

It all started with Jesus, the child of God.

Isaiah the truth-teller wrote:

Watch! I’m sending it out on the early warning system so you will be ready –
A clear signal breaking through the noise:

“Get the road home ready.
Straighten up!”

So John showed up in the middle of nowhere, dunking people in a river telling people to straighten up because it’s time to break free. People came from everywhere, even from Washington DC, to renounce their misdeeds and get cleaned up in the river.

John dressed in ratty coveralls and leather suspenders. He kept to a strict vegan diet. And his message: “Get ready for someone so cool I’m unworthy to even tie his shoes! I just got you wet. He’ll set your life on fire!”

(See also, previous comments on this passage, October 6, 2011.)

The clear sign of Jesus being in the house is when people’s lives catch on fire. Not the kind of fire that gets people all hyped up for an hour on Sunday morning and then they can go back to whatever they were doing before. Not the flash-in-the-pan kind of fire, like your Uncle Max who always has a new thing that he’s really excited about, and everybody knows that nothing’s ever going to come of it.

When your life is on fire the way Jesus sets it on fire is when your inspired to do something great and stick with it for the long haul. Something that really will change people’s lives. Maybe even change the world. It could just as easily be teaching kindergartners at the school down the street as it could be digging wells somewhere in Africa. It could be feeding people dinner every night as easily as launching the next iPad. It could be getting on a bus to Washington for a demonstration, or it could be running for town board at home.

Like John, you show up. Maybe in the middle of nowhere. And you start helping people put their lives back together, or maybe build them for the first time. Wherever they come from. Whatever their patchy past may have been. Whatever your patchy past may have been.

And when that happens. It’s really cool.

Is It Kid Tested?

child hugging tree
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/andy_bernay-roman/5581295770/">Andy</a>

Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing children to Jesus for his blessing. But his students gave them grief for doing so. When Jesus saw what was going on he was infuriated, and told them, “Don’t stop them from bringing children to me. Let them come. The goal we’re trying to reach is for them. The truth is, if you can’t approach the goal as a child you’ll never get there.” So he embraced the children, and gave them his blessing.

It’s really very simple. You can gauge the merits of just about any endeavor by running it past the “will this make the world a better place for children” test. Not just your own kids or grand-kids, mind you. All children. Because if you’re really thinking and doing with the goal in mind, they’re all your children.

When Gustavo Dudamel takes kids from the slums of Caracas, Venezuela or South L.A. and turns them into an orchestra playing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 he is leading a revolution, with nothing short of the salvation of the world’s children at its epicenter.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amSqQ5XNaGE&w=550]

The next time you think about starting something, saying something, creating something – that thing you’re going to do when you get done reading this – do it for the children. Embrace them. Bless them.


You’ve Been Chosen

You've been chosen1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

A Letter from Paul (and Silas and Tim) to the church of the Thessalonians, who worship God and follow Jesus.

I wish you all grace and peace. We always thank God for you. And we constantly pray for you. We remind God of your faithful work, your loving effort, and your untrammeled hope – all of it for Jesus’ sake. We know that God has chosen you, brothers and sisters, because the story of Jesus affected you, not just superficially, but so powerfully that you committed to it with everything you’ve got. And you remember how we proved ourselves among you.

You, like us and like Jesus, happily committed your whole selves to the mission, in spite of people’s turning against you. So you are now examples to the faithful in Macedonia and Achaia. You’ve spread the Jesus story, not just in Macedonia and Achaia, but all over the place. Everywhere we go, they know about your faith. We don’t need to tell them, because they tell us the whole story of how warmly you welcomed us and how you turned from meaningless pursuits to serve a real God, and to wait for Jesus who was raised from the dead, who is going to rescue us from impending doom.

How do you know that you’ve been chosen?

Paul suggests that you might know you’re chosen when something grabs onto you in such a compelling way that you commit to it with everything you’ve got. You don’t choose it. It chooses you.

Music, literature, sports, science, politics, sculpture, mathematics, painting, spelunking…. the list of things to do in the world is endless. You may wish you could do one thing or another. You may admire people who do them well. But if you ask the people who do it as virtuosos they will probably tell you that they can’t not do it. “That’s a funny story,” they’ll say when you ask them how they got into it. But it’s not a funny story at all. It’s as serious as it gets. This is the meaning of their life they’re talking about. For them not to do it is to be lost to certain doom.

So, what (or who) has chosen you?

What are you going to do about it?
Are you ready to be affected by it, “not just superficially, but so powerfully that you commit to it with everything you’ve got”?

Hint: If you don’t know and you’re not already doing it, you might ask yourself, what’s the thing you’re most afraid of. More than likely the thing that you are most powerfully called to and the thing you are most afraid of giving yourself over to are one and the same thing.