Monday, April 21, 2014

A Community of Grace

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. —Luke 6:12-16 (NRSV)
Church, why do you suppose Jesus chose those particular 12 men to be His apostles? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I would have chosen those 12. I don’t mean to question the Son of God or anything, but I think I could have chosen a much more “effective” group of people. Jesus surely knew these “apostles” would be men of importance. These 12 men would finally establish His church! Why do you suppose Jesus chose these 12 men to be His apostles?

Have you ever taken a close look at this motley crew? Simon: Christians throughout history have long remembered Simon (or Peter) as the foremost apostle. Jesus said of him: “On this rock, I will build my church.” Peter is one who preached the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the date most give for the foundation of the church! Peter, you know, was not always a rock. A rock is firm. A rock is strong. A rock is stable. Peter was, well, he wasn’t a rock many times. Do you remember what happened on the night Jesus was arrested? Peter was with the other apostles at the Last Supper. There he was dipping bread in the same bowl with Jesus and other members of Jesus’ community. Jesus, as He was often prone to do, made some remark about death and spoiled the entire meal. But there was the rock! “I won’t leave you, Jesus!” “Jesus, if everyone leaves you, I never will.”  Do you remember how that story ended? When the fire came later that night that “rock” was reduced to a small pile of gravel. The same one that said, “I’ll never leave you…” He said, “I don’t even know this man!” Now why do you suppose Jesus chose Peter to be one His 12 apostles?

Or, what about Matthew? Now Matthew was a fine, upstanding member of the Jerusalem IRS. A tax collector. But most Jews would never have considered a member of his profession “fine” or “upstanding.” Some of you may have seen the movie, The Pianist, a few years ago. It is a movie about a family of Jews living in Poland during WWII. Many of us are familiar with many movies depicting Jews caught and sentenced to life and often death in a concentration camp. The Pianist is the story of a man who escaped the camps, but at points in the movie you begin to wonder if life outside was not just as bad. In that movie, one of the most hated groups of people, even more than the Nazis, was a group of Jewish police, because they handed their fellow Jews over to the Nazis. They were “traitors,” and the Jews HATED them for it. Jewish tax collectors were kind of like those Jewish police. They worked for the Romans. In the minds of many Jews, those tax collectors were worse than the Romans themselves. They cheated and extorted money from their fellow Jews, and the Jews HATED them for it. Matthew was a tax collector and they hated him. Now why do you suppose Jesus chose Matthew to be one of His 12 apostles?

Or, what about the other “Simon,” the zealot? We hear “zealot” and we think: Simon must have been a very passionate man. Well, finally, one that makes sense. Surely, Jesus would want a passionate man as a member of His community. Think of the way “passion” could translate into a long evangelistic campaign! I think sometimes we miss the meaning of “zealot” here. A zealot back then was a man who killed Romans for a living. He was really the exact opposite of a tax collector if you think about it. He hated Romans so much that he would carry a short knife in his robe, and when he got close enough to a Roman in a crowd, he’d stab him. Now you may never have thought about this, but how do you suppose ol’ Matthew and Simon the zealot got along? Do you think an argument ever broke out between those two? Do you think Matthew ever had to sleep with one eye open as long as the zealot was around? Why do you suppose Jesus chose Simon the zealot to be one His 12 apostles?

I don’t know why He chose these 12 men. But I know He thought a lot about that decision. Luke tells us that the night before he chose these 12 men to be His apostles, He spent that night in prayer. Do you think it’s possible that Jesus chose these 12 people to be a part of his inmost community for a reason? Do you think it’s possible that Jesus knew Matthew and Simon the zealot would be so different? Do you think it’s possible that Jesus knew how unfaithful and cowardly Peter would be on the night of his arrest?

I think He did know. More than that, I think Jesus chose those particular 12 people. I think He chose these 12 men, with all of their problems, to teach them and us about grace. Because if Jesus did anything while He was alive and walking on this earth, He showed grace to those 12 men. Jesus modeled grace to those closest to Himself and also to us. If anyone had a right to turn His back on a coward and a traitor and a zealot, it was Jesus. But he never did.
Instead, inside that community, Jesus offered grace.

Have you ever seen grace like that?

I know a young man who has spent his entire life testing the limits of grace. He comes from a good family, a church-going family, a family that taught him right from wrong, and a family that brought him to church every Sunday. When this young man became a teenager, it was like a light went off. Like someone just turned a switch. Before, everything he did just made his mom and dad so proud. After, he couldn’t do anything right. His adolescent years were just one long string of bad decisions.

I know his father. He was just beside himself. “What have I done wrong?” “What can I do to make my son turn his life around?” One day things got so bad, this young man moved out of his father’s house. It was a really bad scene. The kind of scene you see in the movies. He said, “I hate you,” and he left. Three weeks later in the middle of the night this father received a phone call. It was his son. First words in three weeks between father and son. “Dad.” “Yes.” After a long pause… “I’m sorry. Can I come home?” Before he even got those words out, “Yes, son, we’ve been waiting for you.”

Grace. Grace doesn’t mean all of the problems go away. It just means, I love you, I accept you, and I know you’ll mess up again, but I chose you anyway. Suppose that father had answered differently. Suppose he had said, “No, you’ve messed up one too many times…” But he didn’t. He offered love even when his son didn’t deserve it. Church, that’s grace. I wonder how that young man will end up. The jury is still out on that one. I often wonder what are the long-term effects of grace in a community, a church, a family, and a group of 12 apostles…

That group of 12 men that Jesus chose… they experienced the grace of Jesus over and over and over again. He accepted them when no one else would. He accepted others in their presence, the ones that no one else would accept, and here we find them together, Jesus’ small community, on the night before His death.
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”
He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” —Luke 22:14-38 (NRSV)
Did you notice? Even in these last moments, Jesus was still extending grace. They are fighting like brothers do over who is the most important. They still have no idea what His kingdom is about. “See, Jesus, we have two swords.” “We’re ready to go to war with you.” What do you do with a group of such ignorant, stubborn, and sinful people? People who mess up again and again, people whom after three years of close, intimate relationship with the Son of God, people who still just don’t get it? I’ll tell you what Jesus did with those men. He invited them to His table, one of the surest signs of acceptance in the ancient world. To be invited to one’s table said, “I accept you.” It said, “You are my friend.” It said, “I chose you.”

All around the city of Tyler, small communities of this family are meeting in homes. More than any other place, certainly more than in this place, we see each other in all of our faults. In our connection groups, we become vulnerable with one another. We share our fears about raising our kids. We even talk about the ways we mess up in our lives. If you are in a connection group, let me encourage you to take a page out of Jesus’ book. Extend grace. Receive grace. Become a community of grace. Maybe you’ve had trouble finding a grace-filled community in your life. If so, let us help you find a community who will model Jesus’ grace to you.

Going back to my original questions, why do you suppose Jesus invited those particular 12 men into his community? Maybe—I don’t know, but, maybe—he was trying to teach them and us about grace.

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