Monday, October 2, 2017

2017-10-02 [Month of Mission 2017] Levi's unique outreach programme

Levi's unique outreach programme

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." 14 Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 15 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. 16 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."      (Matthew9:9-17)
When Matthew gets called to follow Jesus, he immediately throws a party and he invites all his friends. As a tax collector, your friends are few and certainly not going to come from the righteous, pious, upright citizens of society. Tax collectors were outcasts in their own community, considered turn-coats and extortionists. So as we are told Jesus and his disciples are invited to this party filled with other "tax collectors and sinners".

This -- unsurprisingly -- throws off a number of people. Firstly the Pharisees bent on being seen as righteous and honourable cannot understand how Jesus can be publicly seen eating with this riff-raff. And then John's disciples also cannot understand the partying... where is the religious fasting?

Jesus finally tells a parable of wineskins in the hope of creating understanding. He tells them of something they would all have understood in the culture of the day. Wineskins were made of animal skins, skins that would become brittle and hard as they aged. New wine ferments and expands -- and so if you put new wine into old wineskins, the wine ferments, expands, puts pressure on the skin and it breaks. New wine skins are needed for new wine.

But what is he really saying?

The new wine is the gospel. The gospel of Grace that requires trust and faith in Christ as Lord, trust in His saving power and a realisation that we cannot in our own strength save ourselves. The wineskin is how this message is carried into the world. The legalism displayed by both the comments of the Pharisees and John's disciples are old wineskins -- they cannot carry this good news in the format of laws and moral behaviour.

The mission of Jesus was to be the doctor to those who needed new and he brought it to them in the wineskin of grace and acceptance: Eating and drinking with the outcasts and misfits of society.

This is what Luther recognised as well as he nailed his 95 theses to that door five hundred years ago. The wineskin of the church had gotten old. The message of Grace had been lost and new wineskins were needed.

Today the challenge for us is -- how are we bringing wine to the world? What do our wineskins look like? Are we reaching out like Jesus did? Do we meet with and connect with people who look different and act different to us? Do we extend love and grace and acceptance even where it isn't earned?

I pray that this mission month God may open our eyes to see possibilities and places where this beautiful wine of the gospel may be shared.
Jackie Barker is a wife to Tim and mom to her sunshine daughter Christine (3) and her gorgeous son Jesse (1). She is blessed to minister to the congregations of Emmanuel and Grace Presby in Pretoria East.

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