And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Luke 7:37-38 NIV
As with many of you, I have been struck by the revival at Asbury University as well as around the nation. The simple exuberance and humility of the mostly young people there has touched my heart and it reminds me of this story that Luke tells in his gospel. Sadly, I feel a lot more like Simon this morning than the woman and wonder what has happened to my heart. You see, Simon asked Jesus to his house, thinking that Jesus would be impressed by the invitation, much like I head off to church on Sunday mornings. Though Simon wasn’t one of those plotting to kill Jesus, he did have some serious reservations about what Jesus was teaching. The encouraging thing to me is that in spite of Simon’s shortcomings, Jesus accepted his invitation. But that day turned out to be a lot different than Simon had expected.
Simon’s problem was that he thought that he was in control of how things ought to go, much like I feel when the church service flows according to my expectations. But just when everything seemed to be going smoothly, a strange woman showed up at his door. She just came in uninvited and began washing Jesus’ feet. That unsettled Simon much as an altar full of weeping people upends our schedule. A lot like me, Simon defined his faith by his doing things to impress God, yet all the while remaining in control. But the faith of this woman was about more than just giving Jesus a seat at the table. Her faith saw Jesus for who He truly was! Think of all that Simon missed that day. He could have been one of those few throughout all of history who had washed Jesus’ feet, anointed His head with oil and given Him a kiss on the cheek. Instead, Simon contented himself by just inviting Jesus over for a visit. Is all that our Sunday services are anymore? Are we just inviting God to stop by for an hour? Or are we like that sinful woman whom Simon was very uncomfortable with? Will we receive something that Simon did not? Will we go off to lunch unchanged, or will we go home forgiven, blessed and at peace? Simon stuck to his plans but missed out on all that Jesus could have done for him. Let’s not miss our opportunity as Jesus is passing by today. Let’s not just spend our time trying to impress God. Instead, why don’t we wash the feet of the least of those who God puts in our path, pour oil on the wounds of those around us and give Jesus a kiss and worship Him for all that He has done?
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NLT
Have you ever started a conversation by saying, “You know the problem I have with our church is!”? Of course, there may be serious issues relating to personal misconduct or false doctrine, but more often than not our problem is that we may all be connected to the vine, we are at many different stages of growth. Some of us have been around for decades, but it has been so long since anyone harvested any of our fruit that it is overripe, mushy and a bit smelly. Then, we might find in the seat next to us Sir Jumps-a-lot, because he just became a Christian recently and His fruit is…well still a little bit tart! So, how in the world does Jesus expect us all to get along? The answer lies just a few verses ahead-
This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. John 15:12 ESV
And how exactly has Jesus loved us? Well, according to verse one, it is by staying connected through thick and thin. Even on days when we are pretty lousy branches, or when our blossoms are frost blighted or when old age has weakened a few of our limbs Jesus sticks with us. Then, He tells us that our only job is to stay connected (abiding) in Him. As long as we do that, He steps in and lovingly prunes us back when our head grows a few sizes too big, He waters us when we are dry, and He feeds us when we are hungry for His word. His love connection is not determined by how well we are doing today, or our stage of maturity. Then Jesus asks us to do the same with other people at our church, in our families and with our friends. As branches, it is not our job to accept or reject the branches growing around us. Our job is to love them just as Jesus loved us. Then, when someone who is not a believer shows up, they just may be so amazed by that loving connection, that they want to know more. Ours may not be a “Perfect church” but I believe that it is exactly the kind that God has in mind. So, whatever our stage of growth this morning, let’s just stay focused on staying connected to Jesus. Then, just as He promised, He will be faithful to stay connected to us and see to it that our branches are filled with delicious fruit!
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.Matthew 16:18 ESV
That afternoon, I sat with my shotgun in hand, waiting and watching to catch the perpetrator of the recent crimes, but the sly fellow never appeared. Nevertheless, by morning the evidence of his skullduggery was again on display, and my zucchini squash plants lay in ruins. Mr. Groundhog never showed his head, but the evidence of his deeds was a clear reminder that a mere garden fence would not keep him at bay. Yet, I did not give up on our vegetable patch. I replanted and strengthened the fence and was delighted to discover that though the zucchini crop was a bust, we reaped tomatoes, peppers and green beans in abundance that year. In the same way, when we grow spiritually fatigued, discouraged and disillusioned by scandal among church leaders, fellow church members, or ourselves, we must not give in to despair. Instead, remember that attacks are not a sign of defeat. Rather, the impact of our spiritual garden attacker does not, will not and has never destroyed the success of all the crops.
After all, it would be no miracle if God’s church grew unimpeded throughout the centuries because all Christians were perfect. The miracle is that, in spite of our glaring shortcomings, scandals and weaknesses, God has continued to build His church, and after two thousand years she remains alive and well. Each time the enemy has broken through the garden fence, God in mercy knelt down and went to work in His garden. He didn’t tell Peter He needed a perfect church to build His Kingdom. Instead, God’s promise was that by the miracle of His grace, He would rebuild the garden fence, replant the damaged rows and in the end reap an abundant harvest that no power of hell could ever destroy!
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