Reprocessed anger

We’ve been talking here about God’s kingdom. God’s plan is to bring everything under his sovereign rule, but God has been doing it slowly, over centuries, so everyone will have the chance to come in.

One of the Bible’s enduring images of the kingdom is of a feast, where everyone will sit down to eat with God at the end of history. In Luke 14, Jesus builds on this image with the parable of a master who held a great banquet. Invitations had gone out and been accepted. When the big day arrived, guests were invited to take their places, but one by one they began to make excuses. The excuses were calculated to insult the host and keep the banquet from taking place.

What would the master do?

Instead of retaliating for this public humiliation, the master sent his servant out to bring in the poor, the blind and the lame. The master commanded this be done until his house was full.

Middle Eastern scholar, the late Ken Bailey, said the master “reprocessed his anger into grace.”

I just checked several news websites, and there were at least a dozen reports of insults along with the inevitable angry responses. Anger is the air we breathe.

The thing is, genuine injustice is a legitimate cause for anger; the master in Jesus’ parable had every right to retaliate. Instead he opted for costly grace. He used the anger generated by the insult to reach the folks who never could have imagined being invited to the feast. 

Jesus has sent out the invitations and the kingdom feast will soon begin.

Could it be that we are so used to anger, and being angry, that we don’t know how to respond when we experience his costly grace? 

Wild kingdom

Back in 2005, soon after I’d made the decision (momentous for Jana and me) to sell our home in Montgomery and move to Pittsburgh to attend seminary, I heard a talk by Ted Wardlaw, President of Austin Theological Seminary. Dr Wardlaw said something startling. He said the church most people had been raised in had served to “inoculate us against the real thing.”

The church most of us grew up in was safe.

The church was where you went to experience religious programs, take part in religious services, be inspired.

Yet the church Jesus gave the world was anything but safe.

Jesus came to bring a new kingdom to all of creation. Jesus was the intersection between his kingdom and the kingdom of the world. Everywhere Jesus went, life as God intended was breaking in.

The early church was wildly countercultural.

The church most of us were raised had become the culture.

It felt safe, but was it what Jesus intended?

Every now and then you meet a Jesus follower who has a quiet calm about them. They’re secure in their person. They don’t need to win every argument. Change doesn’t bother them. Maybe it’s because they’ve had a glimpse of life as Jesus intended.

Maybe they’ve seen the new kingdom breaking in. 

They know that the only safe place is where Jesus is.

Glimpse of the kingdom

This week I happen to be preaching on the story of Jesus engaging the “woman at the well” in a town in Samaria. For this meeting to take place, Jesus had to cross racial, religious, cultural, and even gender barriers. When the disciples found Jesus talking to the woman, they were shocked. Yet the meeting transformed the woman and her town.

Last Tuesday evening, I helped greet about 140 folks who came to take part in the weekly meals we’ve been serving through our partnership with our friends at Outreached Arms. There were about 100 guests who came to eat and about 40 volunteers who came to serve.

It was a glimpse of what Jesus was doing that day so long ago.

An executive from England in town for a corporate meeting spent the evening chatting over a meal with the homeless from Pittsburgh.

A company president so enjoyed engaging the guests that he forgot to have anything to eat himself.

Volunteers who spanned three generations served guests who spanned three generations.

Some guests who came to eat helped serve.

Others stayed late to clean up.

Lawyers and engineers stacked tables and chairs.

First time volunteers from the suburbs came because they had heard what God was doing here. They experienced the wonder of sitting down with the downtown homeless, and discovered they had more in common than they imagined.

It was a glimpse of the kingdom.