A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Today, we are wrapping up
our June message series, on the “The Kingdom of God is Like . . .”Jesus frequently taught in parables, stories,
and the most common subject he taught about was the kingdom of God.His stories made comparisons, using analogies
to help people understand what the kingdom of God was like by drawing on things
and experiences that were close-at-hand.We’ve heard over the last month how the Kingdom of God is Like a Party,
a Treasure Hunt, and a Good Story.
Today, we will hear how
the kingdom of God is like a friendly stranger.In a moment, I will read a familiar Bible passage – the story of the
Good Samaritan. Even if you’ve never
spent any time in church, you likely know something about the story of the Good
The difficulty with
familiar stories, of course, is laying aside our familiarity and allowing them
to speak to us in fresh ways.But that’s
just what I’m asking you to do today.With fresh ears, I invite you to hear the story of the Good Samaritan as
if you’ve never heard it before, as we turn to the Gospel of Luke, the 10th
chapter, verses 25-37:
25 A legal
expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain
replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
responded, “You must love the Lord
your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and
with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
28 Jesus said
to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
29 But the
legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who
is my neighbor?”
replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves,
who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31
Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When
he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went
on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the
injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his
way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the
man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34
The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and
wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and
took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’
worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and
when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36
What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who
37 Then the
legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Anumber of studies indicate that we
are who we are by about age 5.90% of
what makes us who we are – our personality, our temperament, our habits that we
will carry with us through life are imprinted upon us very early in life.Robert Fulghum made a fortune telling us, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in
Kindergarten, but it turns out we learned most of it even earlier than
One of the things that was drilled into my head at that age was “Don’t talk
to strangers.”Part of the reason this
was drilled at me is because I wasn’t very good at it. Mom said she would turn around for thirty
seconds, and I had wandered off and struck up a friendly conversation with some
unsuspecting senior citizen who thought I was just the cutest thing with my
chubby cheeks and dimples, and in reality, they were probably more in danger of
being taken in by me than I was in
danger of being abducted by them.
That, of course was the fear.Strangers
want to do us harm.Strangers =
danger.That childhood fear stayed with
us through adulthood.Don’t talk to
strangers – and believe me, I have spent enough time in waiting rooms and on
airplanes to have developed my own reasons for not wanting to talk to
strangers, although, truth be told, those reasons have little to do with a
concern for my personal safety.
We fear everything and everyone who is different from ourselves.Because that fear is based on differences, we
begin to notice those differences more.We begin to make value judgments and start ranking those differences in
terms of preferability, and history is a witness to that.
In a million different ways, fear gives way to judgment.And then judgment gives way to hate.Hate gives way to more judgment, which gives way
to oppression and exploitation and violence and death, which only feeds further
fear, and the never-ending cycle of fear, hate, and death begins all over
again, and friends, God weeps each and every time.
Fear, hate, and violence were all at play in the famous story Jesus told
about the Good Samaritan.A legal
expert, a lawyer, stands up to test Jesus.“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks.Jesus says, “You’re the lawyer.What does it say in the law?”
The lawyer gives the right answer, “Love God, and love your neighbor as
Loving one’s neighbor was not a new concept.Jesus didn’t invent it.The lawyer knows, as well as anyone, the
provisions in the Old Testament where the people of God are commanded to care
for those in need.To care for those on
the margins of society, to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for
This command is not just about being nice.No, caring for those in need was an integral act of worship and devotion
to God.Jesus would go as far to say
that if you claim to love God but don’t love your neighbor, then your religion
is phony-baloney.To love God is to also
love your neighbor – these two go hand-in-hand, they are inseparable like two
sides of the same coin, loving God and loving neighbor go together like peas
The lawyer has given the right answer.He has aced the quiz, but now he’s hunting for extra credit. As lawyers
are prone to do, this one starts hunting around for a loophole in the Law of
Love.He says, “OK, love God and my
neighbor.Got it.But WHO is my neighbor?”
You see what he’s doing here?To
define who is my neighbor also
defines who is not my neighbor, in
other words, who do I not have to love?
He’s asking about the bare minimum he can get by with and still pass the
course and graduate.What’s the absolute
least I can do and still get credit?
Think of that in the context of your own relationships, for a minute.
·What’s the bare minimum I have to do for my partner and
them not divorce me?
·What’s the bare minimum I have to do for my grandma and
still stay in the will?
·What’s the bare minimum I have to do for my kids and not
be arrested for neglect?
If you are asking, “What’s the absolute bare minimum I have to do?” then,
friends, that relationship is already in trouble.So it is in our relationship to God.
When the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor, he is asking, “Who are the
absolute bare minimum of people I have to love?”
Jesus answers with the story of the
Good Samaritan.Along a dangerous
highway, a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead in a roadside ditch.Two people come along.He doesn’t know either one very well, but he
recognizes them.They live in his
neighborhood.Their kids play soccer
together.They even go to the same
church.If anyone will stop, it’s these
two – but no – they cross to the other side of the road, going out of their way
to not help.
Along comes a third man, but he’s a Samaritan.The Jews of Jesus’ day hated the Samaritans;
even the word “Samaritan” was little more than a hateful, racial slur.The Samaritans looked different.Their beliefs and ways were different.To the people hearing Jesus’ story, they were
not “like us.”
And yet, who stops and shows compassion and cares for the half-dead man
along the road?The Samaritan.The one from the group everyone else hated –
the foreigner, the half-breed, the stranger.The one who, according to the prejudice of everyone hearing the story,
would be the least likely candidate to show some compassion, yeah, that’s the
one Jesus says was the neighbor.
Who is our neighbor?Anyone and
everyone is our neighbor.
Where do you place yourself in this story of the Good Samaritan?If you’re like me, maybe you’re asking
yourself if you would have been one of the people who passed by, or the one who
stopped to help?Which one in the story
would we be?
But, what if you and I are the fellow in the ditch – robbed, beaten, left
for dead?Who is my neighbor, now?Anybody who stops to help, and I likely won’t
care what color they are, where they are from, or what they believe about any
number of issues.At that point, all
that matters is the willingness to stop and offer compassion and care.
So, what if we are the one in the ditch, and what if Jesus is the one who
has stopped to help?It is Jesus who has
interrupted what he was doing, seen our problem and made it his problem.It is Jesus who stooped to our lowest
weakness, and raised us up to a height we cannot fathom.It is Jesus who saw us half-dead, and brought
us back to life.It is Jesus who gave
himself for us, while, as St. Paul says, we were still sinners.
While we were in rebellion, while we were unrighteous, undeserving,
sinners, Christ extended himself, inconvenienced himself, gave himself for us
to prove God’s love toward us.Thank God
that Jesus wasn’t asking about the definition of his neighbor, trying to calculate the bare minimum of people he had
to love, because, guess what, you and I probably wouldn’t have made the
list!Thank God that his heart of
unconditional love was open wide enough to encompass and embrace you and me, to
restore us, to place his life within us, and once we are alive again in his
love and have gained strength though his grace, he says, “Go, and do thou likewise.”
Every Christmas, we see the red kettles of the Salvation Army outside every
store in town.Maybe you fish in your
pocket for some change when you see them, maybe you pass them by.At one busy store, there was a man who came
and went several times a day.He wasn’t
particularly well-dressed, probably needed every penny he had, but he always
dropped something in that red kettle every time he passed.On one trip, he stopped, looked at the
Salvation Army captain ringing the bell, and said, “A few years ago, you helped
my wife and kids out when I wasn’t there for them.I’ve never forgotten that, and I want to help
the next family like you all helped mine.”
One who has received much also has much to give.One who has been loved has much love to
offer.One who has been saved by grace
also can live in grace toward others.
The lawyer who asked Jesus was looking for the right answer, which he
already had.As it turns out, just
having the right answer isn’t enough.Like
that lawyer, we can devote our lives to the right answer – getting our doctrine
straight, our beliefs in line, but unless our hearts have been transformed by
God’s love, it gets us nowhere.
This week, I’ve seen a lot of Christians offer their opinion about things
that are right and things that are wrong – scratch that, I’ve seen a lot of Christians
offer their opinion about what they perceive to be wrong, and how they,
themselves, must therefore be right.
Paulo Coelho says, “The world is changed by your example, not by your
Friends, Jesus isn’t going to ask us what we know.He’s going to ask us how we love.The Christian faith is not about having the
right answers; it’s about having the right heart.By the love and grace of God, the right heart
is learning to be grateful for what we have been given when we didn’t deserve
it, extending love and grace to every neighbor – every one – around us, seeing
people as God sees, loving people as unconditionally as God loves us.
Given the choice between being right and being loving, between having the
right answer and having the right heart, may we be the kind of people who err
on the side of love and grace.The world
has enough people who think they’re right.It needs more people who love and live like Jesus.
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus.“Teacher,” he asked.“What must I
do to inherit eternal life?He already
had all the right answers, but he lacked the right heart.It’s not enough to know that we’re supposed
to love God and our neighbor; to inherit eternal life, we have to actually do
kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which
someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and
bought that field.
45 “Again, the
kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. 46 When
he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought
What do you value the most?What is
most important to you – maybe a possession, a relationship, an idea that you
prioritize over everything else?What do
you value the most?
Several years ago, my car was broken into overnight, and when I came out
and discovered it the next morning, my first thought was, “My golf clubs!” and
I popped the trunk and breathed a sigh of relief to see that they were still
there, and then it took me several minutes to discover that my GPS and pocket
change in the tray were what had been taken through the smashed window.That incident helped me realize what, of the
contents of the car on that night, anyway, I valued the most.
We all love our stuff, don’t we?Our
possessions, our things, our stuff?Over
the last 30 years, the size of the average American home has increased by about
700 square feet.At the same time, the
number of people living in the average American household has continued to
decrease – we need bigger houses for fewer people – why? Because we love our stuff, and we have more
stuff than we used to, and we need more places to keep all our stuff.
And actually, even our bigger houses are too small, and so we rent storage
units to keep the rest of our stuff.If
I had known then what I know now, I would have invested early on in the
self-storage business! We pay every month for that unit to keep our stuff, and
occasionally, we drive over to the storage unit so we can visit our stuff.
That’s just the American way, isn’t it?Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been replaced by the
right to accumulate stuff.We think
having lots of stuff will make us happy, at least, if it’s the right stuff, but
it doesn’t give us the joy we think it will, and rather than granting us
freedom, it takes some of our freedom away, with the time and energy required
for us to obtain, store, and care for all our stuff.
One of the shows Ashley and I enjoy watching is Tiny House Hunters¸ capitalizing on the “tiny house” craze as
people look into moving into homes that are often just a few hundred square
feet.As people downsize and simplify
their lifestyle, they have to get rid of a lot of their stuff.They are forced to make some hard decisions
about what stuff they will keep, what stuff they value the most.It’s a task that seems daunting and
impossible, at first, but when it’s complete, there is a joy and freedom that
comes from living the simple life, and not having to look after all that stuff.
Jesus said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”
(Luke 12:15).Rather, the abundant life
Jesus desires for us and points us toward is a matter of knowing what has true
and everlasting value, and treasuring that more highly than the rest.
The kingdom of God is like a treasure hunt.We have read just a few, simple verses today – yet they tell us of what
matters most, and the lengths to which the faithful will go in order to grasp
it.I know you heard it a moment ago,
but I invite you to hear the story again:
The kingdom of God is like
this: there was a hired man who worked in this field and it wasn’t a very
good field either, with lots of rocks in it. Not a field worth
owning. The farmer was plowing along one day, with his wooden plow and
its iron tips, behind his own scrawny mule wearing a worn out harness.
And he kept on hitting rocks in this crummy piece of land. Clunk.
And the farmer would stop and dig out the rock. He would plow a little
more and another clunk. Another rock. And he would dig it out.
He dug out so many rocks,
that a rock wall surrounded this field, as is often true of ancient
fields. Plow, clunk, dig. Plow, clunk, dig.Plow, clunk, dig. Plow, thunk. Thunk?
That was a different sound? A thunk and not a clunk. He stooped
down, dug and there was, not a rock, but a treasure chest. He opened up
the box and it was filled with . . .
Incredible. His heart skipped a beat.
He looked around, but there
was no one nearby.He quickly covered up
his new found treasure and kept on plowing as if nothing happened. At the
end of the day, he went and sold the shirt off his back, sold his old mule,
sold the old harness, sold the iron tipped plow. In fact, he sold everything he
owned, and went back to the owner of the field, and as non-chalantly as
possible asks, "Ummm, how much would you like for that rocky, worthless, barren field
out there? Call me crazy, but I'd like to buy it."
Jesus says the kingdom of God belongs to people like that.
Jesus told another
riddle. The kingdom of God? It’s like merchant, a very wealthy
merchant, who owned fleets of ships that traveled all the seas of the
world. His ships went to the farthest ends of the earth in search of the
finest jewels the world had ever seen. His treasure chests were filled
with the finest emeralds, rubies, jasper. And one day, in his travels, he saw a
pearl like he had never seen before, a pearl of great price. Quietly, he
went and sold all his ships, his entire fleet of ships, all his jewels, all his
emeralds, rubies and jasper. He happily sold it all and bought this
one finest pearl the world had ever seen.
Interestingly, the emphasis is not on the finding of the treasure or the
pearl, but on what the person does when they find it: “he went and sold all he
had and bought it”. Taking hold of the treasure that God wants to give us
involves our whole person. We cannot search for the meaning of our life with a
bit of ourselves; it’s all or nothing. Now that sounds rather frightening for
us human beings: is it possible to risk everything, to “sell all we have”?
The merchant who finds the pearl of great value must certainly already have
possessed a collection of pearls.But
the pearls the merchant has also create a difficulty for him. He had invested a
lot of time and energy to collect them. Now he has to let them all go in order
to take hold of something more important, and this is hard. We, too, need to
discern between what is good and what is better. We have many things in our
life which in themselves are good.But
even good things can become distractions!We can spend our time doing good deeds, accumulating good experiences
and possessions, while the center of our life remains curiously empty.
How many of us have
devoted our lives to the pursuit of things and the accumulation of stuff?We have built a business, made a name for
ourselves, developed a reputation.We’ve
worked hard, been promoted, we have rank and title and privilege, we have
everything we’ve ever wanted, and yet, it’s not enough.Even through all the pursuit and accumulation
of that stuff, an emptiness remains inside of us, a longing we cannot fill.Perhaps the key lies in the joy which the man who finds
the hidden treasure discovers. When we discover a joy that comes from God, a
joy which is authentic, then our attachment to other things will be loosened,
our priorities changed.
The treasure of God’s
kingdom – now that’s the real deal!The discovery of God’s
kingdom fills us with a joy that changes us from the inside out.Those who come face-to-face with the love and
grace of God are changed!When we
genuinely encounter the treasure of God’s love and grace, and we will never be
the same old people, doing the same old work, pursuing the same old agendas
Fred Craddock tells the story of visiting in the home of one of his former
students.After dinner, the parents went
to put the children to bed, leaving Fred alone in the living room with the
family dog – a beautiful Greyhound who had spent a successful racing career on
the dog tracks of Florida before being adopted by this young family.
Right there in the living room, the dog eventually turned to Craddock and
asked, “Is this your first time to Connecticut?”
“No, no.I used to go to school up
“Well, you probably heard, I came up here from Miami,” the dog continued.
“Yes, I heard,” said Fred.“You
retired from racing?”
“Retired?Is that what they told
you?No, no.I spent ten years as a professional, racing
Greyhound.Seven days a week, I chased
that rabbit around the track.Well, one
day, I got real close and got a good look at that rabbit, and you know
what?It was a fake rabbit!All those years, and I’d been chasing a fake
rabbit!I didn’t retire, I quit!”
How many of us have spent our lives chasing a fake rabbit?Accumulating possessions, listing off
accomplishments, earning rank and title and privilege?Looking for happiness in the next job, the
bigger house, the fancy car, the next election, the new gadget, only to find
that we’ve dedicated our lives to chasing something that just doesn’t fill our
And yet we cling to these things, we prize these things, when the treasure
of God’s kingdom is just waiting to be discovered.We hold onto these things like they are the
treasure itself, when in reality, they are the rocks that need to be cleared
away in order for us to find the treasure.
The treasure is relatively small in size by comparison.A tiny box, in a vast field of hundreds of
acres.A priceless pearl is a small
thing in a world full of fakes and baubles, yet it has greater value than anything
we already possess.And a great
treasure, unexpectedly found in a seemingly worthless field full of rocks, will
require giving up everything we have.
It’s easy to give up what you have when you don’t have much.Easier to join Jesus on that adventure when
you don’t have much to lose.How much
harder that becomes when we have accumulated some things we’ve grown fond of.
There was a time in my life, maybe yours, as well, when I was up for an
adventure at a moment’s notice.But
then, I graduated.I got a job.A mortgage.Student loans. Health insurance.A retirement plan.I have
responsibilities, obligations, rank, privileges.I have a lot of stuff, now, Jesus, and I like
a lot of my stuff!I’d like to join you,
Jesus, but what should I do with all my stuff?
In these parables about treasure, Jesus says, “How about you stop chasing
that fake rabbit, and pursue God’s kingdom, instead? How about you let go of all your stuff, even
your good stuff, and reach for something greater?
Did you hear about the man who reached all his life’s goals by the time he
retired at 65? He spent the rest of his
life lamenting that he’d set his sights too low.Life is short.The only thing worse than not meeting your
goals is setting them too low, and reaching them.
God help us when we sell out too quickly, settle for too little, dream too
small.God help us when we give our
whole lives to make nothing more than money, and thereby miss the treasure.
Two men discovered treasure.One had
nothing.The other had everything.They both gave all they had in order to
obtain the treasure.The kingdom of God
is not so much in the prize, itself, but in what we are willing to do in order
to obtain it.
We discover the kingdom of God when we give everything – all we have, all
we are – to the One who gave us everything, and we find in him a treasure that
is precious beyond all measure.
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to share a meal in the home
of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely.
7 When Jesus
noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a
parable. 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration,
don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than
you could have been invited by your host. 9 The host who
invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other
person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. 10
Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important
place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a
better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow
guests. 11 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and
those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
12 Then Jesus
said to the person who had invited him, “When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t
invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich
neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your
reward. 13 Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor,
crippled, lame, and blind. 14 And you will be blessed because
they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are
Today, I am especially grateful for the teachers in my life.Those from whom I have and continue to learn,
and I am grateful for others who are lifelong learners, as well.
Right now, teachers and students alike are counting down the final days
until school will be out.Parents are
also counting down, though I don’t know that their excitement level is quite
the same.I thank God for teachers, in
part because I see aspects of Jesus in those who teach.Jesus was called “rabbi,” which means,
“Teacher.”He taught us about God – what
God is like, how we should live in light of who God is, how to experience the
fullness of new life in God’s love.
You can find the heart of every teacher’s passion by studying how they teach, and what they teach.Jesus’
passion was for ordinary, non-religious people to know how deeply loved they
were by God – a radical departure from the message of most of the religious
people.There was a sharp divide in
Jesus’ day, initiated by self-righteous religious people, saw themselves as
part of the in-crowd, and everyone else as outcasts, yet Jesus was deeply in
love with those who were excluded from the circles of the religious elite.
When Jesus taught these ordinary, non-religious people, he just told
stories – we call them parables – stories about ordinary and familiar things,
but they always had a twist, an unexpected turn from social norms, and in that
twist, some little nugget about God and life with God could be found.
His method involved stories.His
subject matter?Jesus taught about God’s
kingdom more than any other topic.
Even before he started teaching what the kingdom is like, Jesus first said,
“The kingdom of God is among you.”That
means it’s already with us, right here, right now.The kingdom of God is not just out there in
the future somewhere, not just the promise of heaven after earth, but that
heaven will come to earth, in and through us.
In the Scripture we’ve read today, Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a
party – a great, celebratory banquet.Meals, then as now, played a social role that often overshadowed the
food itself.Seating order was a
not-so-subtle way of determining rank and social hierarchy.The most important would be seated to the
left and right of the host, the least important down at the far end, by the
kitchen, maybe even asked to join in with the servants in setting the table and
cleaning up after the meal.
The guests jockey for the places of highest honor, leaving the lowly places
to someone else.It’s tricky to navigate
when everyone in the room thinks they are the most important one there,
everyone thinks they are entitled to
the highest place, and claim it for themselves, with little regard to the
others who are also invited.
Whether dinner for four in someone’s home, or an elaborate banquet,
everyone has to sit somewhere, and it is the host’s prerogative to assign who
sits where, if for no other reason, than to avoid confusion and help the party
run smoothly.But, there can also be the
perception of some social rank and hierarchy based on who is assigned to sit in
We’ve all shown up to a wedding reception and found our assigned
table.Every wedding reception has more
desirable and less desirable tables.Typically,
most of the guests have some sort of a connection to some of the other guests,
and you can group them together – out-of-town cousins over here, grandma’s
sisters over there, work colleagues at this table, friends from college you
barely speak to anymore at that table.Easy enough to make those groupings, but a bit more difficult as to
where in the room to place each group.
The reality of the situation is that someone will end up at the head table.Someone else will sit next to the
kitchen.Someone will be in the back,
someone next to the dance floor, someone will be next to the bar, someone will
be as far away from it as possible.
As Jesus watched guests jockey and elbow each other for the places of
highest honor, the best seats around the table, he taught that we ought not to
presume to take the best place for ourselves, or to be so prideful and
inward-focused as to assume that we are the most important person in the room.
Remember, the host of the party makes the seating chart.In the kingdom of God, Jesus is the host, not
us.In Jesus’ day, when the religious
folks looked over the guest list, they were appalled at the company Jesus
invited to his banquet.Tax collectors
and prostitutes. Social outcasts and misfits.All manner of unclean, unrighteous, undeserving sinners – these were the
people Jesus most desired to have as guests at his party. And if that weren’t bad enough, Jesus gives
these undesirables the best places around the table, much to the consternation
and fury of those who thought they belonged on the “A” list.Jesus was head-over-heels in love with
ordinary people, especially those the religious folks wanted to keep out of
their exclusive religious clubs.
The kingdom of God is like a party, but the surprising twist is that the very
people we try to keep out of our parties are the guests of honor.
Many have said that the Gospel has a way of comforting those who are
afflicted, while simultaneously afflicting those who are comfortable.The Gospel is, at the same time, both good news
for the unrighteous, and bad news for the self-righteous.
Perhaps this is why “party” is not the first word that comes to mind when
we think of Christianity, because of how the faith is practiced by so many
likes to masquerade as godliness.
On vacation one time, Ashley and I ended up sharing a breakfast table with
another couple.We sat down, the first
thing they told us what that they were Christians, and then the conversation
that ensued let us know that they were some of the meanest, hateful,
homophobic, racist, judgmental people I have ever had the displeasure of
meeting.It’s a good thing they told us
they were Christians, because based on our conversation, I would have never
been able to figure it out on my own!
They were not the kind of Christians who would fit in at Morehead, not the
kind of people who loved their neighbor into God’s family.So filled with hate, they were the kind of
Christians who give the rest of us a bad name.
Perhaps they would have benefited from the words of John Wesley, the
founder of Methodism, who said, “Sour godliness is the devil’s religion,” but I
thought better of dropping that little pearl of wisdom right then and there.
Their lives showed zero fruit of the Spirit.No love.No joy.No peace.No kindness.No gentleness.No generosity.I wonder if they had to tell everyone they
were Christian because the permanent scowl on their face made it difficult to
see Jesus within them, and the darkness of their own hate obscured the light of
God’s love.It made me wonder, when they
reached heaven, if it wouldn’t have felt more like hell to them, because it was
clear they weren’t interested in partying with the crowd Jesus would have
The kingdom of God is like a party. A great, celebratory banquet.Jesus wasn’t the first to pick up this
theme.Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah had said, “The Lord of heavenly
forces will prepare for all peoples a rich feast, a feast of choice wines, of
select foods rich in flavor, of choice wines well refined” (Isaiah 25:6).
A good party is a sign of
the kingdom of God.A good party is a
foretaste of heaven.
Lest we miss the point, Jesus
played on this theme in performing his first miracle, at the wedding where he
turned water into wine, and kicked an already good party into an even higher
In the Bible’s final book,
Revelation, this theme of a party is picked up again.“Blessed are those who are invited to the
wedding banquet of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).Jesus, the Lamb of God, after evil and death are finally defeated once
and for all, throws a never-ending feast, and invites and blesses everyone.
When we throw a party, some make it in, many get left out.When God throws a party, everyone gets
invited.Genteel, Emily Post culture is
replaced by a scandalously inclusive invitation to sinners and unrighteous and
undeserving people – which is good news for people like you and me.Before we judge others, may we remember what
we’ve been forgiven.
None of us deserve a place at
God’s table.None of us have earned a spot.None of us are entitled to an invitation.God
doesn’t welcome us because we are good, God invites us because God is good.God has given us all good things for no good
reason, and invites us to do the same for others.
Friends, God is having a party, and the invitations have gone out to
everyone.All are invited!Man, talk about loving our neighbors into
God’s family.God has prepared a table
for all, laden with bread and wine, where God’s love and grace are actually the
main course.God invites all to a table
where love is served in heaping helpings, and where grace is as tangible as the
bread you will soon hold in your hand.
No matter our station in life, whether we fancy ourselves on the A-list,
the B-list, the hit list, or some other list, we have an invitation to a
party.After all is said and done, our
worthiness is not the thing that matters most to God.God’s unconditional love, expressed in
Christ, for us and for all is what matters more than the rest.
Jesus bids us to come up higher than our self-absorbed and judgmental
natures might allow. He beckons us to sit at the head table with him, right
alongside all the rest of humanity whom God has exalted through Jesus' love.Jesus invites us today to remember that all
people have the potential to be lifted up and exalted by him who loves us.
Jesus calls us today to come to the Lord’s table to understand and accept that
we are all, first, last, and always, God's beloved people.
And Jesus tells us to live our lives like we believe it.