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Radical Love

"Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.'  So he told them this parable:  'Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?" - Luke 15:1-4

We had a wonderful conversation in our Bible study yesterday, and one of the things I took away from that conversation was Jesus' own radical care for people outside the church and - consequently - our own call to do likewise.

It has me thinking this morning of one of Jesus' more famous parables:  the parable of the lost sheep.  Set as the first of three power statements on Jesus' radical love for the outcast (the lost sheep/the lost coin/the lost son), Jesus wants to make one thing absolutely clear:  there is a tremendous difference between being kingdom-minded and being church-minded.

Being kingdom-minded means having a heart for those whose lives have taken a wrong turn either by their own decisions or by the brutalities of poverty, bad breaks and bad luck.  Being kingdom-minded means not just wanting to do charity for the sake of proving that one is a good Christian.  It means seeing ministry to sinners and social outcasts as the very basis of what it means to be a Christian servant in this world.  This is a far cry from being church-minded.  The church-minded Christian or pastor has his mind on what it takes to justify himself in the eyes of others.  He grows content with surrounding himself with a group of like-minded individuals who are well practiced at demonstrating their positive social qualities:  their courtesy and kindness, their reasonable, practical nature.  The church-minded pastor is concerned with trying to add quality new members to his church:  members who can help pay the church's bills and who can add to the church's status amongst the community.  And, whether it is intentional or not, the end result is an insulated community.  Even if it has a great deal of love for one another, and often it does, it doesn't really have a great ministry to the community that surrounds it.

Jesus worked very hard to overcome the church-minded tendencies of those who surrounded him, including the Pharisees and scribes.  And he had to be intentional about it.  There is tremendous social pressure to play by the rules, to stick to the script.  Without intentionality, by sheer force, the dominant culture of playing by the social norms will prevail.  And so Jesus made a point of being around sinners - surrounding himself with men and women either wrecking their own lives are caught up in lifestyles or occupations that would wreck them for them.

This, of course, begs a question - especially since one of our major points of focus is to study and try to follow the way of Jesus this year.  What does it look like for us to engage in ministry with the sick and with sinners?

Answering that question no doubt should lead us individually to a closer study of Scripture as well as to prayer, but it should also be a question we ask one another.  In order for us to be truly intentional about it, we will probably need to be encouraged and challenged by our community of faith.  But, one way or another, it comes down to one simple thing:  we can't just keep to people and places that are "safe."  We have to go beyond the flock in order to encounter others.

I mentioned yesterday that several churches have attempted to extend its ministry to those outside of the church by offering addiction recovery programs as well as other programs aimed at liberating people from their own places of personal bondage.  Financial debt recovery programs are another great example.  For us, this is definitely a step of faith that we can and have not yet taken.  We can move beyond merely offering our church space for groups like AA and even the daycare.  We can begin to interact with these communities more - getting to know them personally, hearing their stories.

Jesus' love for the world is a radical love.  His compassion for the world pushed him to move beyond the religious circles of his own day.  No doubt:  he could have played their game, spoken their language, and - surely - he would have been their superstar.  But, that was not his Father's plan for his life.  He came to seek and to save the lost, and so he risked the scorn of the religious community so that he might enjoy seeing the beauty of a soul set free and a life that found traction and hope again.  He left the ninety-nine in search of the one.


May we do the same.



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