When I was in Litchfield serving as the associate minister, I was leading a Bible study for women. We were studying this passage and talking about what it meant to be with sinners. I said, “I’d like to go hang out with some sinners.” Someone at the table said, “Honey, you are. We’re all sinners. The church is a hospital for sinners.” I didn’t have the gumption to tell her that many of the people in the church, including herself, were self-righteous and hadn’t considered their sin in a very long time. Many were too busy judging everyone else in the church to consider their own sinfulness, let alone reach out to unchurched sinners.
There was a sin problem in that church. Even the confession that she was a sinner revealed that she was focused on herself. She didn’t want to consider the need to hang out with people outside the church who were sinners. I was what some would refer to as a keeper of the sheep. I was expected to focus all of my time and energy on the church. I was not encouraged to spend my time out in the community, with unchurched sinners.
That’s the point of today’s text. Jesus was out among the sinners, calling sinners, and dining with sinners. When we call ourselves sinners, we’re not the type of people this story is about. This story is about Jesus being among “those people”, the people with whom good people didn’t associate. Jesus came to call “those people” and save “those people” and be with “those people.”
What I love about you is that you encourage me to be out and about with people who aren’t church going people. You like that I’m with people who don’t know Jesus. I’m with people who need to know Jesus loves them and that there are people like us who are willing to show them that love. You’re what I would call righteous sinners. You know your sin and are humble in your faith and service, unlike self-righteous sinners who sit in their church judging one another.
In chapter 1, Jesus calls his first Disciples Simon and Andrew who were respectable fisherman. In chapter 2, Jesus calls Levi to be His Disciple. Levi was a tax collector, one of “those people.” He was of a dishonest profession, thought of as a thief. One wouldn’t expect someone like Jesus, an authoritative teacher and healer, to be seen with the likes of tax collectors and sinners. But, not only did Jesus eat with sinners, Jesus called one of them to be His Disciple.
This calling meant a new way of life for Levi. He had been sick, but he was now well. He had been a sinner, yet now he was forgiven. He had lived a life of deceit; now, he had to make an effort to live honestly. That’s what these metaphors of old garments and old wineskins are about, a new way of living. The Gospel could not exist within old ways of living. The Gospel truth was meant to tear apart your old habits and burst out of old patterns. The Gospel requires a change in how one lives. Levi and others who accept the Gospel are given a new life and that new life requires a new way of living.
Many of you have been Christians for as long as you can remember. You were raised to live life differently, as one set apart for the Gospel. Others, like myself, lived a life before knowing Jesus. We weren’t necessarily bad people and didn’t necessarily do bad things. But, now we live differently, as one who has received the Gospel.
All of us are different, because we are Christians. Sometimes, it may be hard to recognize how we are different, because we live in a town that has Christian values. Our Christian living isn’t exactly counter-cultural. Yet, we are different. We make our decisions rooted in our faith. We do certain things and don’t do other things based on the conviction of Christ.
I think there are 5 practices of a Christian that set us apart from non-believers. There’s a saying that goes, “if you were convicted of being a Christian, what evidence could be found?” These 5 practices are the evidence of you being a Christian. I think they are the challenges of being a faithful Disciples, because they are not easy callings. I shared these 5 practices with you last year. I think they’re worth repeating once a year so we are reminded of what the life of a Christian is like.
First, we attend worship. Eleanor Snyder taught her great niece and nephew that you should go to church to start the week off right. Some go to church to get some inspiration for the week. Worship is about putting ourselves aside and focusing on Jesus. We give thanks for all He has done and pray about all He will do. We sing hymns of praise and devotion. We often “get something” out of worship, but worship is not about us. It is about God. We start the week off putting God first.
Attending worship needs to come with the challenge to make it a habit. We should attend worship regularly. That hopefully means every Sunday. It might mean once or twice a month. Whatever regular attendance means to you, it should be more often than Christmas and Easter.
Second, we should invest ourselves in spiritual growth. There are many things we can do to grow spiritually. We should read our Bible. We can go to Sunday school or Bible study. We can read devotions or books about faith. We can share our journeys with one another and pray for one another, maybe start a small group that you can do things to grow together. We can join the prayer chain or come to prayer group.
I think prayer especially is worth a few comments. Prayer is more than talking to God. Prayer is also listening to God. Try meditating. Just sit quietly and listen. Or go to a happy place in your mind. Maybe think about a Scripture or say your star word a few times. Prayer is looking around to see signs from God and recognizing what God is doing. Prayer is setting aside your emotions and listening to “your gut”. One preacher I heard recently said that sometimes God doubles a word to speak to you. So, if you hear a word and it sticks out to you then you hear it again and it sticks out to you, God has doubled the word meaning it’s something to consider.
There are signs to look for in your life that reveal you are growing. When you are faced with crisis, think about how you respond; then, think about how you would have responded at a different time in your life all factors being equal. Look to your relationships; are they better? Are you less likely to invite people into your drama on Facebook? Do you love yourself and trust yourself more?
Based on last night’s trivia game, I’m going to start my spiritual growth with learning the kids’ song about the books of the Bible in order. I missed the question about how many books are in the New Testament because Pastor Ted and I were both trying to make a list of the books and were scribbling over each other’s list. I counted wrong and our team got the answer to how many books are in the New Testament wrong.
Third, we should live generous lives. We just finished up our stewardship campaign and began the new year of our planned giving. Giving is not just about funding the budget. Though, we did have to bring the budget into our campaign, because we didn’t meet our goals last year. Our offerings determine what we can do as a church. Our offerings are an investment of our money in the life and ministry of the church. Giving is a spiritual practice that shows you are willing to make sacrifices in order to honor God with your money.
Beyond our giving to the church, you can also live generously. You can be for-giving offering grace in order to mend relationships. You can offer love generously to those you love. You can offer your time generously to the ministries of the church and also to helping and caring for the people in your life. You can bring food to the food pantry or donate clothes or household items to charities like Blessingdales or Habitat for Humanity.
Fourth, we should serve. We are a church that serves others well. We are all plugged into different ministries in which we can share our spiritual gifts. Everything from folding newsletters to folding chairs or changing the marquee and changing light bulbs. You count money and play music or sing. You serve communion and serve meals. You decorate for the holidays and keep the front steps clean.
This summer, we’re going to have the opportunity to serve the kids in a different way. Instead of doing vacation Bible school, we are going to do a fun day at the park for the kids. We’re going to have a praise band and inflatables. We’re going to do it up big and we’re going to need lots of help from all the churches in the ministerial alliance to plan it and pull it off.
Finally, we need to share our faith. I think this can go 2 ways. We need to share our faith with others, other believers and non-believers. Fellowship is the times we gather to enjoy the company of other believers. We get to know each other by sharing stories about our life and faith. We have lots of fellowship opportunities with our church, like the Fall Weiner Roast or potluck dinners.
Another way we share our faith with other believers is through fellowship in the ministerial alliance. We may have different beliefs or doctrine or creeds, but we share faith in the one Lord. We can gather for worship and singing with the other churches. As we are a smaller alliance, it is important for us to attend the ministerial alliance gatherings. 4 churches can gather a big crowd if we’re all committed to the shared faith of our community and the fellowship enjoyed.
Sharing our faith with non-believers is how a church grows numerically. I’ve seen and research supports that the best way to get visitors is to have a member extend a personal invitation. I recently said that in the past several years most of our new members have had some personal relationship with someone already in the church. Even visitors that didn’t become members, most of them came because they knew someone in the church.
That church in Litchfield started growing in the past couple years…because they got past themselves. They started reaching out to the community and making efforts to do evangelism. They stopped thinking of themselves as the only sinners in need of healing in their hospital for sinners. They realized that they could be caregivers to new patients.
We already know that we can give care to new patients in our hospital. We just need to admit some new patients. I’d like to challenge the Board to think about evangelism. Our outreach team was very busy last year and they have lots on their agenda for this year. I don’t want Outreach to bear the brunt of the work of evangelism. I’d like us to make evangelism the work of every committee and every member. So, be thinking of ways we can do evangelism. Talk to a Board member or me about your ideas.
This will require us to go out to “those people” and invite them to come with us on a journey of faith. Then, we can introduce them to these 5 practices of Christians and start them on their way to a new life.