Friday 9 August

The #NH2019 Media Team is delighted to bring you summaries of all the main sessions this week so you don’t miss a thing!  On the final night of this year’s New Horizon, Tim Chester…

Luke 14: 1 – 24

The other night I was given a crash course in Northern Irish culture.  I thought I would give you an introduction to English culture.

Anthropologist Kate Fox described how English people do greetings:  “The only rule one can identify with any certainty in all this confusion over introductions and greetings is that, to be impeccably English, one must perform these rituals badly. One must appear self-conscious, ill-at-ease, stiff, awkward and, above all, embarrassed. Smoothness, glibness and confidence are inappropriate and un-English.

“Hesitation, dithering and ineptness are, surprising as it may seem, correct behaviour. Introductions should be performed as hurriedly as possible, but also with maximum inefficiency  … Hands should be tentatively half-proffered and then clumsily withdrawn … If you are socially skilled, or come from a country where these matters are handled in a more reasonable, straightforward manner (such as anywhere else on the planet), you may need a bit of practice to achieve the required degree of embarrassed, stilted incompetence.”

How is your social etiquette?  Are you goo at these kinds of things?  I once attended a meeting at the offices of the World Bank.  As we arrived, we were offered coffee which I don’t drink (because I think it is evil!).  I said, “Do you have tea?”  To which the reply was, “We don’t serve tea in the mornings.”  I was firmly put in my place.

Meals are a wonderful opportunity for welcome, grace and love  But they can also be an opportunity for the opposite. They can be used to make people feel like outsiders by re-asserting the status and power.  The Apostle Paul had a disagreement with Peter when he stopped eating meals with Gentiles – meals had become an excuse for expressing exclusion.

Paul wrote the Corinthians because their Lord’s Supper had been a way of expressing their differences.  (1 Corinthians 11: 19)

Meals can be a power for inclusion but also a power for exclusion.

The etiquette of grace – humble yourself so God exalts you

Jesus gives a strange piece of advice (Luke 14: 8 – 10). It seems like He is giving us tips on how to get a social boost.  But He is using the meal table as a picture of something much bigger.  Right back at the beginning of the Gospel, this is what Mary sang:

Luke 1:52-53: God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

This is a picture of a coming day, a day when God is going to turn this world upside down. Those who think they are righteous will be condemned, those who think they are important will be brought low.  Those who are despised will be vindicated. Those who spend themselves in service of others will be filled with good things.

Jesus is saying serve others, suffer for Christ’s sake because one day everything will be turned upside down.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled… he is not talking about where you sit at a party but about the whole orientation of your life.  You need to live in the light of eternity.

The practice of grace – share a meal with those in need

What does that look like in practice?  Look at v12 – 14.  What is the great feat that you are going to be sent from New Horizon to achieve.  What is the great task (heroic act of service) that God wants you to perform?

Share a meal with those in need.

It is so simple, all of us can do it.  It may be costly but it is not complicated.  All of us can do it.  It is also powerful.  Around the meal table you provide for the physical needs of the needy but a meal table does so much more than that.

Think about the dynamics of a hand out?  What is the nature of the relationship?  You are the benefactor and they are the beneficiary.  It highlights your ability and their inability.  It may reinforce their powerlessness.

At a meal table, we sit at the same level. We are all together.  You become companions (not benefactors and beneficiary). The word “companion” literally means someone who eats bread with you.  A meal has the ability to provide for both physical and spiritual needs. Around the table we talk and share stories. We can tell the story of Jesus. I don’t think this passage means that we can never invite our rich neighbours or our family and friends.

But it might also mean inviting elderly neighbour or a harassed mother or a young person who needs mentoring.

What drives your guest list should not be self interest but a concern for others.

A couple from our church live in our street so my wife and the other lady leafleted the street to find out if anyone wanted to be part of a book club.  They would get together, eat cake, drink wine and (maybe) talk about books.  Then they started watching the Great British Bake Off together and someone would bake something for them all to enjoy. As a result one woman started reading Mark’s Gospel.

Another family in our church did pizza night.  So they made the dough and other people brought toppings and everyone had fun making pizza together.

Another family had a standing invitation for international students to come to Sunday lunch.

The point of these stories is not that they are remarkable. Our church is not big, the people are not super saints. There are none of those things that you could not do. The church will never out perform TVshows and music vidoes.  Zapping up your Sunday morning gathering is never going to work.  When U2 go on tour, it costs half a million a day! Your local church is never going to be as spectacular.

But there is nothing like the community life and love of your church. There is nowhere else where broken people find a home, where grace is experienced and where God is present by His spirit.

My wife and I were reading the Bible with a young woman called Hannah.  It was great fun because it was all new to her.  She kept saying, “You don’t really believe this do you?”  She told our church later, “I thought you were all crazy but somehow you all managed to hold down jobs.”

She was terrified of what her family would say but she could not keep away.  She loved the Christian community.  After a while she became a Chritian.

Hannah had been engaged and out of the blue her fiancé broke it off and she was devastated. Shortly before Valentines Day, my wife invited her over.  She came and joined us for a takeaway one Saturday night.  I don’t remember any great Gospel conversations. The next day she sent a text to my wife, “Your home and the people in it were a place of refuge.” That was her first contact.

Once she had smelt the fragrance of the Gospel, she could not walk away. Think about who you have had in your home.

What has been driving your guest list? Is it self interest or a concern for others?

How can we sustain this?  Maybe you’ve been fired up with enthusiasm to invite people around.  What about those awkward social moments?  What about when you are left clearing up after everyone has left?  How can we sustain this enthusiasm?  Jesus gives us two great reasons for sharing meals:

  1. The perspective of eternity

You have two options and both of them lead to pay back.  Do you want to be repaid in this life or do you want to be repaid in eternity? It is up to you.  You can be repaid by people or by God Himself.  If I might be so bold, Jesus is saying, “Put yourself in God’s debt.”

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lordand He will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17  

Everything you give away now, you get back in eternity. God will not leave you in His debt.

  1. The perspective of grace

We are to show grace because we have received grace.  We are to be generous to others because God has been generous to us.  We are to share hospitality because we’ve been shown hospitality.  We are needy people and God has welcomed us to His party.

In the story Jesus told, the invitations were sent out and then servants came to let those who had been invited that the banquet was ready.  Sending a double invitation was usual in this time the equivalent of a “save the date.” The excuses were pathetic… They were a brush off.

Remember who Jesus is talking to (the Pharisees and experts in the law). These are people who have reduced knowing God to a set of religious rules. Their main concern is to protect their status.  These are the people who are too proud to come to God’s banquet. They don’t want to mix with the other guests.

So who is welcomed? The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame (see also v 13). This is to be our guest list because it is God’s guest list. We are the poor, the crippled the lame and the blind. That is why we are to invite them because spiritually we are poor and blind.  We have nothing to contribute except to receive by grace the gracious invitation of God.

In Luke 15 the Pharisees say, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”  Who eats with Jesus?  Sinners. Who is attracted to Jesus?  Sinners. Who are offended by Jesus? Religious people.

Do you believe that you are spiritually bankrupt?  Do you recognise God’s generous grace to you ? Here’s the test. Who comes to your house for dinner?

Is it just people like you?  Is it your rich neighbours? Or is it the poor, crippled, bind?  Is it people from across sectarian divides?  Is it people from different generations?

The test is not whether you can articulate sound theology.  The test is very simple. Who eats with you?

Radical hospitality begins with radical grace.

It is not some ideal that we have to achieve.  It is what happens when you grasp your desperate plight and God’s amazing grace.

So we’ve come to the end of our week together and I wonder how God is speaking to you. On Wednesday were heard the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. She was overwhelmed by her shame and guilt.

Or maybe it is dawning on you that you are like Simon the Pharisee – confident in your own righteousness.  Today, who do you identify with?  Do you see yourself as spiritually poor, desperate, needy, helpless and hopeless?  Or maybe you are jockeying for positions of honour like the religious leaders?

The next thing that happens in Luke’s Gospel is that we get these three stories in Luke 15 – the lost sheep, the lost coin and the two sons.  Of course, the Father comes running to meet the Prodigal son and throws a party for him.

Meanwhile the older brother is outraged. Why would this feckless son be welcomed with open arms. He refuses to come in and the Father has to go out to him.

These two sons have a lot in common.  Both of them think of themselves as servants (slaves) not sons. The younger brother wants to break free.  So off he goes and he ends up in a mess.  The older brother also sees himself as a servant. He says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you.”  He sees himself as doing his duty, earning his way.  What neither of them realise is that their father is a loving, generous, welcoming  father and that is picture of our God.

And what does the father do in the story? He throws a party.  I wonder who it is that you identify with. Perhaps you are the younger son, living it large, trying to break free, living a life pursuing pleasure. But despite all of that you feel lost. Your life feels a bit of a mess.

The Lord Jesus Christ this evening is inviting you to come home. To come home to the Father who loves you. To feel His embrace.

Perhaps you feel like the elder brother, always diligent. You are there every Sunday, doing your duty but it feels like burden. You are trying to earn your way, to  prove yourself and it is crushing you.

The father goes out to meet the prodigal but he also goes out to the older son and urges him to come. Give up your pride and your efforts, your attempts to prove yourself and come to the embrace of a loving Father, to see His love writ large on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are so many blessings in coming to Christ.  But most of all we receive Jesus Himself.  He is my joy, my righteousness and freedom!