Seven disciplines for joining in God’s mission

Some of what I will share with you today will be familiar. And that for two reasons:

  • Back in July I taught on this topic of joining in God’s mission.
  • And since then, I have refocused the teaching and have been putting it up on the screen before our services for the last several months.

I want to share it in this form, this morning as we relaunch, as it were, our efforts to connect with our neighbors and others.

I am taking a cue from Peter when he says in, 2 Peter 1:12 – “I intend always to remind you of these (things), though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” And so I am here this morning reminding you of some things.

God’s mission

As we read the Bible we come to understand that God is on a mission, stretching all the way back to Abraham, through Moses, Israel, the prophets and culminating in the coming of Jesus. God’s mission is that every single person will be transformed and made whole through Jesus; that each person will become a part of his people and serve him, and eventually will be raised from the dead when Jesus returns and rules on this earth in righteousness and peace; when he makes all things new. And God’s mission is to be our mission, for we are his people; it’s to be our priority.

The title says, “disciplines” of joining in God’s mission. And that’s because –

It takes work!

– to accomplish God’s mission. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 3:6-9. Here Paul is talking about how he and Apollos are both working together on the same team, fulfilling God’s mission to the world. And notice the language that’s used. Paul speaks of “planting” and “watering;” that is, farming language. He says in v. 6 – “I planted, Apollos watered.” This continues in vs. 7 and 8. And then in v. 9 he says of himself and Apollos that they are “God’s fellow workers.” Being a part of God’s mission is real labor and it is hard work and toil.

And so what I am sharing with you are seven disciplines for joining in God’s mission. These are practices that we have to work at for sure, but they allow us to be used by God to accomplish his mission in this world.

1. Let your life be a witness to others

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14, 16

And who wants to hear people ‘go on’ about a topic when you know full well that they don’t put those things into practice themselves? The way you live your life is foundational. No Christian is perfect, but we must be about the business of living the Christian life ourselves, to join in God’s mission. And then if you fail, be a model for others about how to confess, repent and get back on your feet.

Our lives are our most basic witness to what we believe about God and the saving work that he is doing through his Son, Jesus. Let your life be a light to this. Be disciplined in your walk with God.

2. Build relationships with the lost

Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners – Luke 15:1-2. He engaged those who needed God’s love and grace. As he said in Matthew 9:12 – “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

And we must also relate to those who need God’s saving grace, and not just fellow believers. But this takes time to invest in people’s lives. It means making room for them in your life – beyond your family and current friends to love them and to serve their needs.

And everyone is so busy today! Will we make the effort? Will we make the time? This takes concerted effort.

3. Regularly ask God to give you compassion for the lost

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” – Matthew 9:36.

We need Jesus’ compassion in our hearts. This should be our true motivation. We should not be motivated by just getting people to come to our church. Who knows where they might end up? This church won’t be right for everyone we relate to.  The point is that we care and love those we relate to and seek what is best for them.

We also need Jesus’ compassion because we easily fall into self-righteousness. Some people’s struggles and failure we judge and then we hold them at a distance. But Jesus has compassion on each of us no matter what our struggle; and we have all failed God terribly.

This will stretch us; but it’s the same grace that allowed us to be saved and to be a part of his people. And so we must give it to all.

4. Regularly pray for someone who is lost

Pray for God’s will, who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” – 1 Timothy 2:4.

Ask God to bring about his will that all people be saved. This is what prayer is all about. As Jesus says in the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Prayer brings about God’s heavenly purpose here on earth.

Ask God to put someone, or several people on your heart. Who does God want you praying for regularly?

5. Be alert for opportunities to share

“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” – Colossians 4:5-6

 God is working all around us, and we need to open our eyes so we can join in and contribute to God’s work in the lives of others. God wants to work through us. So we need to hear and be led by the Spirit.

Ask God to show you even this week, someone to get to know; someone to share with.

6. Invite people to be a part of the kingdom

Jesus said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and urge people to come in, that my house may be filled” – Luke 14:23

I recently gave a whole message on this passage. So let me share with you a short video on inviting people, focused on Easter.

Who can you invite???

 7. Welcome with love all who come

“Don’t forget to welcome outsiders. By doing that, some people have welcomed angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2. To be hospitable means to be warm and friendly, to make room for someone, to include someone among us.

Let me share this with you again: According to the experts a person decides if they like a church and will come back within their first 11 minutes, which may well mean even before the service starts.

So we need to be a warm and welcoming church. And we need to be proactive about this.

Again I say This is work! It can be hard to make sure your own life is right, to relate to new people, to be stretched to act with compassion, to pray regularly, to keep alert during the day for opportunities to share, to invite and to welcome. That’s why I am using the language of “disciplines.” These are things we do that are good, but don’t necessarily come naturally to us.

We have these kinds of disciplines in many areas of our lives. So, for instance, if you are in school you need to do things like attend class, study and finish your assignments, if you want to be a good student.

And with all disciplines, the point is that they become second nature, so that we don’t even think about it. They just become a part of who we are. We become people who are compassionate toward those who don’t know Jesus. We just regularly pray for those who are lost. We become inviters and welcomers and so forth. This is the goal.

Let me end by saying – 

It is God who gives life

Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, because it also makes the point that, even with all our work, in the end it is God who counts, for God gives the growth.

6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

God is the key. Nothing we do apart from him will yield any results; nothing of eternal value. But God does ask us to do our part because he wants to work through us to bring new life and growth.

So during this year that we have set aside to focus on connecting with neighbors and others let’s each one join in God’s mission and work hard at it. And let’s each pray that God will move among us to bring new life and growth.

Out to the streets and highways. Luke 14:15-24

The literary structure of Luke 14:15-24

Our Scripture today is sometimes called the parable of the great banquet. It’s part of a larger set of material in Luke 14 where Jesus is at a banquet or fancy meal in a Pharisee’s home.

And there is some tension. Have you ever been at a meal where there was tension? Jesus has just healed someone on the Sabbath right in front of them, which we know wold make them unhappy. Then he went on to criticize how they all wanted the best seats at the banquet. And then we come to our passage, where the tension increases even more.

The parable of the great banquet

Eating bread in the kingdom.

15When one of those who reclined at table with Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

“Eating bread in the kingdom” is a reference to the end time banquet that will take place on the final day. This is talked about in several places in Scripture (e.g. Luke 22:16; Revelation 19:9) but the root idea comes from Isaiah 25:6-8. This Scripture talks about how, after the resurrection, all God’s people will gather and have a great feast of celebration of God’s salvation and love.

Now, those at the table with Jesus were all assuming that as outstanding people of Israel, the chosen ones – and Pharisees at that, the best of the best in their minds, they would surely be a part of this. But Jesus’ parable challenges this assumption.

 The story.

16But Jesus said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

Giving “a great banquet” was a practice of the upper class in this part of the ancient world. It would have been an important social event where connections were made and strengthened.

This double action of inviting people, and then going to summon them when the meal was ready was common practice for such a banquet (for a biblical example see Esther 6:14). So the food is on the table, as it were.

By way of interpretation, here Jesus is talking about many in Israel, especially the leaders and other outstanding members of the nation, who have been invited or chosen, if you will, to take part in the kingdom banquet and God’s salvation on the final day.

18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21So the servant came and reported these things to his master.

These three representative excuses are all inadequate:

  • The one who bought a field could have seen it another time.
  • The one who bought the oxen could go examine them at another time.
  • The one who just got married wasn’t forbidden to come to a social event.

In any case, none were forced to accept the invitation in the first place, so to bail out at the last minute is a rude rejection of the host.

These verses speak to how many in Israel, including the leaders and other important people, didn’t have time for Jesus. Why didn’t they have time? Because they were caught up in their earthly lives with  finances and possessions – the first two examples are of people  who are relatively well off, and family with getting married and the responsibilities of family life. They were so immersed in this life that they rejected his call to the kingdom banquet.

And this is exactly what was happening in Jesus’ ministry at this stage.

Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’

He is angry at their unjustified rejection. Yet he has a meal ready and really wants to share it, so he instructs his servant to go find some other people. And the servant is to do this “quickly,” because the meal is ready.

This second round of summons focuses on the city. The “streets and lanes” refer to city streets and back alleys. More literally, both wide roads and narrow roads.

The servant is to bring in “the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Since in this day these would have relied on begging, it makes sense that they would be found on the streets and lanes of the city. (These are the same people that Jesus teaches us to invite to banquets that we give – 14:13). Those who were more upper class rejected the invitation, so now those who are rejected by society – the lowly, needy and broken are invited to come.

These verses speak to how the elites of Israel by and large rejected Jesus, despite his calling them to come. And how those who were outcasts have responded to him, those thought to be rejected by God. (Luke 7:22)

22And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and urge people to come in, that my house may be filled.

The master really doesn’t want any empty seats. And so he sends out his servant a third time. If before the focus was on the streets and lanes of the city, now “the highways and hedges” seem to refer to the more rural areas outside of the city. “Hedges” can also refer to fence rows or dividers between fields.

Some translations use the word “compel,” but certainly there is no idea of force here, just as the original invitees were not forced to come. Rather the idea is that the servant is to urge them to come, perhaps especially since these others would not usually partake in such a banquet and would need some encouragement.

By way of interpretation, here Jesus speaks about continuing to find whoever to bring them in to the banquet – whether others in Israel, or later on as we see in the book of Acts, Gentiles.

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees.

24For I tell you (all), none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Here we see that the story has ended and Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees. The ‘you’ here is plural. (There is only one servant in the story and so the master’s speech is singular). Although the parable has ended, we learn here that Jesus is the master or literally “Lord” of the story. And the great meal at the end of the world is, in his words here, “my” banquet.

Can you imagine? This guy talks about the end time banquet and the host of that is sitting next to him at this earthly banquet?

Jesus is saying here that those who were chosen to be invited, who assumed they would attend, certainly the leaders and supposedly devout ones of Israel, people like the Pharisees – they refuse Jesus’ invitation. And having rejected him, they certainly won’t taste of his kingdom banquet on the final day.

What we learn from this

1. Don’t make assumptions about your place at the banquet. I won’t say much about this. But anyone can fool themselves. The key is simply this, how have you responded to Jesus’ invitation to repent and be a part of the kingdom of God?

2. Jesus’ really wants his house to be full (v. 23). The ultimate reference is to the final day and the great feast. But for now it refers to his churches, the community of his kingdom people, who celebrate his meal, the Lord’s supper, as an anticipation of that final feast.

Jesus wants every seat filled on that day, and every seat filled among his congregations who await that day. And so we have some work to do.

3. Our job is to invite people to the banquet. We are the servant in this story. As we close, let me highlight four things about being Jesus’ servant.

  • To invite we must “go out.” This phrase is used in vs. 21 & 23. We must go out into the streets and lanes; and into the highways and hedges. Into the city; and into the country, that is, all over. We can’t stay to ourselves. People will not come to our congregation if we stay to ourselves. We have to go out to them.
  • We invite all.  In the first and second summons we get the two extremes – those who are doing well on the one hand, and the poor, crippled, lame and blind on the other. These should be seen as the two extremes which include all the others in between (a merism). And the third summons doesn’t specify who is invited. The point is that no one is excluded from the invitation.
  • We are to keep inviting, even if those we most expect to respond reject the invitation. And the special emphasis of this parable is on inviting the lowly, the needy and the broken. Just as in the parable, those who are doing well in terms of this life (finances and family) often don’t see their need because they are caught up in the things of this life and thus will reject our invitation. So when this happens we make sure we are inviting those who know their needs and are more likely to come.
  • We are to urge people to come. Encourage them to come and receive of the blessings of the banquet that Jesus is giving.