Throw a Party

Here is the message and discussion questions from our Veritas gathering yesterday. So this morning we continue looking at our series called Scattered and Gathered, looking at the Scattered Nature of the church, (when we go out into the world. When we go to work, school, hang out in our neighborhood, etc… we are still church). And also looking at the Gathered nature of the church (when we are together for worship, prayer, service, community, etc..). We are looking at these two natures through the 3 relationships that each and every follower of Jesus should have. The OUT Relationship (living a missional kingdom life), the IN Relationship (living in relationship with other followers of Jesus or community in Veritas language), and the UP Relationship (living in relationship with Jesus through prayer, worship, meditation, etc… or truth in our language)

Two weeks ago when we started this series we looked at Mark 6:6b-13 where Jesus calls his disciples to himself, then sends them out two by two. And in that text, we see the 3 relationships played out. The UP..calling them to himself. The OUT…sending them out. The IN…two by two.

Last week we talked about the encounter that Jesus had with a Leper found in Mark 1:40-45. We talked about what leprosy was, and how radical an act it was for Jesus to touch him, and how we as follows of Jesus need to “get our hands dirty” so to speak and realize that in one way we all have spiritual leprosy.

Today we are looking at a passage in Mark 2:13-17 about an encounter that Jesus had with another person who many consider to be unclean, repulsive, and unredeemable. The passage in Mark 2:13-17 recounts the story of Jesus meeting and calling Levi (Matthew) the tax collector, and the response that Matthew had to that call, and the response of both the Pharisee’s and Jesus.

Let’s look at the text, “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” What does this say to us this morning, gathered together 2,000 years after this story took place? Why is this story so radical in nature and what kind of radical life does it call each one of us too? This is what we’ll look at together. The first thing we see in this text is that Jesus went out to a lake, where a large crowd gathered around him, and since the large crowd was there, Jesus began to teach them. Mark doesn’t give us any clue exactly what that teaching might have been, but we can probably infer the teaching matter, due to the fact that most of Jesus teaching dealt with the Kingdom of God, where God’s rule and reign was a lived out reality, both now and in the future. So either after teaching or in the midst of his teaching, Jesus walked along the beach. As he walked he saw Levi (or Matthew which is his apostolic name) as his tax collectors booth and called out to him, “Follow Me” and Levi got up, left his tax collectors booth, and followed Jesus.

Now it was remarkable, that Levi got up and left his booth and followed Jesus, but it is also very remarkable that Jesus called Levi in the first place. You see Levi was a tax collector, which was almost the worst thing a person could be in Jesus day, in 1st century Israel. You see Tax collectors were despised as traitors and extortionists. They were the most visible collaborators with Rome, the enemy who were occupying their land, so they were traitors. And extortionists because they kept what they over-collected.

Let’s dig a little deeper into those two accusations, being a traitor and an extortionist. When a Jew entered the customs service he was regarded as an outcast from society. He was disqualified as a judge or witness in a court session, was excommunicated from the synagogue, and in the eyes of the community, his disgrace extended even to his family. So Levi and his family, would have been pretty much cut off from relationships with others in his community, due to the fact that he worked for Rome. So the only people he could hang around with was his family, and other “sinners” like himself. Also, a person could be a tax collector in a community by having the highest bid for the responsibility of collecting the taxes. The tax collector with the highest bid, would have to make up all that amount of money to pay the Romans, but to make any for himself, he would then extract from people as much as possible. This of course led to abuse and people ripping off the neighbors, and others within their own community. No wonder they were often hated and called sinners. Not only were they traitors to their country by working for Rome, the evil occupiers, but they also extorted their own flesh and blood to make a living. So there is something that each of us can pull from this part of the text. Maybe you feel like a Tax Collector this morning. Like you can’t be a disciple of Jesus, because you are a “sinner” and that you are broken. But I’m here to tell you today, that if Jesus called Levi, a sinful tax collector, to follow him, to be a disciple who makes other disciples, than each of us are being called as well. Jesus uses flawed, broken vessels to bring about his Kingdom. Whether it is a tax collector or a teacher or a church planter or you name it. We are all sinful, broken people who God is calling, so that we would follow him, devote our life to him, be a disciple, and then go and make disciples who make disciples.

I find it so awesome what Levi did next. Most of the time in modern Christianity, when someone begins to follow Jesus the church tells them, explicitly or implicitly to stop hanging around their old community and let the church become their new community. It seems like within 2 years most new Christians are barely connected with their old friends.

Levi, after having decided to leave the life of a tax collector, and follow Jesus, threw a party at his house. And because he was an outcast, the only people Levi could invite to the party were his family, Jesus, the disciples, and the many “sinners” that he did life with. And so Levi, invited Jesus to this party/dinner, and of course Jesus accepts the invitation. (As an aside, if anyone invites you to something, you need to say yes. All too often we invite people to our Christian things, but when we are invited to things we tend to say no. Say Yes next time you are invited.) So Jesus shows up and begins to eat with Levi and the “sinners” gathered around the table. Now you see in the culture of 1st Century Israel, eating with someone was a serious matter. To eat at the same table with people was a sign of friendship and relationship. Jesus was truly saying, by this eating at this party, that he was a friend of sinners. He gets attacked by the religious leaders because of the very fact that he was sent to call not the righteous but the sinners (which is a funny comment because it means all of us, but the religious leaders didn’t see it that way.) Jesus understood the power of eating with someone and what hospitality could mean in the life of someone. He understood that by eating with these tax collectors, and sinners, that he saying that I accept you, love you, and want to be your friend. I want to do life with you, and be in relationship with you. Jesus again realized the power of relationship. Do we? Jesus was known to be a friend of sinners? Are we? To live a Scattered Church life (a missional Kingdom life) we need to be known as friends of sinners. Let me close with a quote from a book called Untamed by Alan and Deb Hirsch about the power of hospitality and eating in living a missional kingdom life. “One of the most significant ways we can start changing our world is by practicing simple kindness and hospitality. We remember clearly when our friend Nick Wight suggested that if every Christian household regularly invited a stranger, or a poor person, or a work colleague into their home for a meal with the family once a week, we would literally change the world by eating. At first we thought that this was an overstatement, but upon reflection we actually believe it is true.” What would happen if we made a commitment to practice regular hospitality? What would happen if we made a commitment to table fellowship beyond the nuclear family three times a week? One time with people inside the community of faith, one time with people outside the church, and one spare? Just a thought…. So let’s unpack this in a deeper way in our time of conversation and dialogue.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc... do you have regarding the Scripture text and the message?

2. What do you think God is saying to you? What do you think he is saying to us as a community?

3. What are you going to do about it? What do you think our community should do about it?