Come As You Are

Sean McMahon

September 27, 2020

Community Baptist Church of Gay Head (Aquinnah)

“Come As You Are”

+Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

    “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms.” Being a part of the Christian community is meant to be a joy. And to submit to the rule of Christ is meant to be a yoke that’s easy, and a burden that’s light. 

    In the Summer of 2018, my wife Katie and I drove down to Hot Springs, North Carolina, right between Asheville, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee, one of my favorite places in the whole world. I went to take part in a special annual happening called the Wild Goose Festival. We were planning on doing the same this past summer, but man makes plans and God laughs, and while God’s laughing the devil slips by a worldwide pandemic. 

    So it goes.

    The Wild Goose Festival’s motto is simple: Spirit, Justice, Music, Art. So my job was to bring the music. 

    The festival was high up in the Smokies, deep in the woods. Everyone set up their own little tents, everyone from vendors to storytellers, not to mention churches. Katie and I must have been two of a relatively small smattering that had come all the way from the Northeast. There aren’t many Christians in the Northeast, don’t know if you’ve noticed. I didn’t grow up one and I didn’t grow up around any. 

    I met a lot of Christians who weren’t sure if they were Christians anymore, but they said they were hanging on for dear life to Christ. And even among them, there were some who weren’t even sure anymore who Christ was, but they were hanging on anyway.

    When I talked to these folks, I was pretty surprised by their stories. A lot of these folks needed healing, and that’s why they were there. One woman said her church had failed her, and when she left the church, her family left her. I’d read about things like that, and certainly growing up in Western Massachusetts in the early oughts, where there weren’t many born again Christians but there was plenty of talk about the born again movement that was then exploding across the Bible Belt, I’d heard that that’s the kind of hateful stuff you can expect from Christians. 

    But I’d never met anyone who went through that. In fact, never meeting anyone who went through that, and never going through it myself, helped me check myself when I was finally coming to faith in Christ in my early 20’s. I told myself, “Hey — if you’ve never seen evidence of that kind of stuff, maybe you need to rethink your prejudice against the church. Church is a place where people try to learn about Jesus and follow him, and that’s what you’re trying to do now too.” It was that logic that finally got me going to church, something I thought I’d never do.

    I’ve been in the churches for over a decade now, praise God. But I do know a bit better now. That stuff does happen.

    Two weeks ago, we talked about forgiveness. And we talked about what happens when people in the church fail to be accountable to one another after someone in the church is harmed by another member, whether leader or layperson: they never say, “Someone in the church hurt me,” they say “The church hurt me.” And it’s not untrue.

    Now, in the days of the New Testament, the religious authorities of the day were not pleased with Jesus. Jesus held them to account for their ways, which was maybe the work of a Prophet, but worse, he did so while fulfilling the prophecies of the Messiah. Not only did Jesus raise his voice, then, but he spoke as one who expected to be listened to, and obeyed. He taught with “authority” — that is, he taught as if he were in charge. Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was something the Prophets had said the Messiah would do, the King, the Son of God. Jesus acted and taught as if He was the Son of God.

They asked, “On whose authority do you say and do these things?” They should have known better. They knew what time it was: Prophet Daniel had laid out the calendar for them hundreds of years before. Let’s go on a quick prophetic and mathematical detour here:

In the time of the Babylonian Exile, the angel Gabriel told Daniel that “Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city to stop their transgression, to put an end to sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. From the issuance of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until the Messiah the Prince, there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.” That’s sixty-nine weeks. And by weeks, Gabriel means, groups of seven years, which were the Jubilees we learned about last week. So sixty-nine weeks means seven years times sixty-nine, which is 483 years. A little more math: a Jewish year was a lunar year, a bit different from our solar year. Lunar years are 354 days. When we do the math, 483 lunar years is more like 468 solar years. Well, King Artaxerxes sent out that decree in 444 B.C. 468 years later brings us to about A.D. 20., and if we count all of Daniel’s Seventy weeks, that brings us to A.D. 31.

    All this math, which I am not great at, is to say that discerning Jewish people would have certainly been expecting “Messiah the Prince” at the time when Jesus started his ministry in A.D. 30 or so. In fact, that seventieth week, was a Jubilee, a very special Jubilee. This is the  “year of the Lord’s favor” that Jesus announced, freshly baptized by John, at the start of his ministry, when he said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,

because He has anointed Me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The common people of faith knew what time it was, so they looked to Jesus with expectation. But the religious authorities couldn’t admit it. This is why Jesus said to them, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but not the signs of the times.”

Why would Jesus bother them so much? If he was the Christ, shouldn’t that have been something to celebrate? They’d been waiting so long for the Christ to come and fulfill the mystery of God through all the ages. “I know that when Messiah comes,” said the woman at the well, “he will explain everything to us.”

And that he did. He explained everything to the woman at the well. He said, “You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” It was permitted for Jewish men to remarry as they wished, but women, not so much. This woman was a Samaritan — Jews did not consider Samaritans to be part of the family of God, and they considered the Samaritan’s holy mountain an abomination. “Salvation is of the Jews,” Jesus said, and the Jews of his time believed that their God lived in the Temple of Jerusalem. But Jesus said, “The time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him.”

This Samaritan woman, given her ethnicity, her religion, and her relationship history, should not have been someone with whom Jesus would speak or go near, by the religious standards of their day. And yet, before Jesus told anyone else that he was the Messiah, before he told even Peter the chief of the Apostles, he said to this outcast woman, “I who speak to you am he.”

Those chief priests and elders who were set against Jesus may not have even known about this particular meeting. What they did know is that he spent time with lots of people like her, people whom they considered themselves too pure to spend time with — unclean people who would make them unclean.

We can easily put ourselves in their shoes right now. They would understand our world very well: do not stand close together. Wear a head or face covering. Everyone and everything must be regarded as potentially unclean. “Do not handle! Do not eat! Do not touch!” They sound like recommendations from the WHO and the CDC, but they were the religious regulations of the Jews, which Apostle Paul calls “human commands and teachings. Such restrictions indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-prescribed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body; but they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

But Jesus of Nazareth broke these regulations. He considered them traditions that were beneath the commandment of God, man-made rules that were subordinate to the Law. This exalted view Jesus had about the Law made him something of a fundamentalist, and is part of why he attracted Zealots like the Apostle Simon the Canaanite — it was not unlike those types of patriotic Americans who in our history and modern day are happy to bend or break certain rules a bit if they think that the rules are “Unconstitutional”. Jesus was like that.

But — the form that attitude took was nonetheless as challenging to patriotic Zealots as it was to religious Pharisees. He touched the untouchables — and the untouchables were not just the sick like lepers, and the demon-oppressed, but people who were sick with sin, Law-breakers, who had made bad decisions, who may have seemed like or actually been rotten people. We can’t be sure how rotten they were, or whether they were misunderstood — we don’t know all their names, all of their stories. All we know is that many of those types of people spent time with Jesus, and Jesus ministered to them. We know that many of those people would go on to follow Jesus. But maybe some of them didn’t. We may not know the answer to the question. What we do know is that Jesus kept “unclean” company. And that was very upsetting to the religious authorities.

What kind of attitude do we have toward people? Is it informed by our faith in God? Do we, like Jesus, believe that the highest standard given by God is the most necessary standard to live by, to the demotion of any man-made rules that might get in the way? Jesus was asked about this by one of these Pharisees, 

“Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” Jesus declared, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    Jesus is not shy about singling out the most important commandments. And yet, Jesus was impeccable in his observation of the whole Law. Though he said these were the greatest commandments, he never broke lesser commandments. In fact, he was completely without sin. He was the only man to ever receive the Promise of the Law because he never broke it. He was an expert lawyer! Every tiny inconsistency which the religious authorities thought they’d caught him in turned out to be their error, due to their lack of understanding about the Law of Moses. 

Jesus was a man of liberty, but he was not libertine. And that is how he desires us to be as well.

    Writing to the Church in Phillipi, Paul makes a beautiful statement about Christ and our communal life in him. Paul was inspired by the same Holy Spirit that ministered through Jesus to those outcasts, and which brings us all into fellowship with one another. Here it is in full:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death–

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    Such beautiful words. “In humility, regard others as better than yourselves.” This is truly the sweet, sweet Holy Spirit that bowed down Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, at the feet of his students, so that he spent his last moments of fellowship with them, before his death, washing their dirty and smelly feet. It is the same spirit where we read about in John, that when he saw his friends mourning the death of Lazarus “he was deeply moved in his spirit…Jesus wept. By the same spirit, he called Lazarus out of the grave. How amazing. The Holy Spirit has the power to raise the dead, and yet is also moved to tears.

    This spirit is like water, it fills wherever it goes and takes the form of its container. This is what the Spirit did, filling the the form of the human being, in Jesus. This is what Paul calls “emptying”, Jesus emptied himself. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    We who are born of the Spirit share in Christ, and are partakers of God. “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

    Perhaps this is what Jesus saw in the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritans, the pagans.

    Perhaps this is what Jesus sees in us.

    Perhaps this is what we should see in ourselves, and in one another.

    We are all here for the same reason: to partake in Christ. To share in the love of God. To receive it, and to give it.

    Come as you are. 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Let us pray:

The Lord searches the heart and examines the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man

whose iniquity the LORD does not count against him,

in whose spirit there is no deceit. 

Blessed are You, our God, King of the Universe,

Who has given us the blood of the Lamb

In which we are cleansed from sin

And presented before you as sons and daughters in the heavenly places,

That we may come before your throne as we are.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

Thank you. Worthy is the Lamb.

In the name of Jesus we pray.

Amen.

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