This is an outline of a sermon given by a New Zealand minister named Peter Renner. The sermon is about his first experience in a Community Building workshop held on Easter Sunday in March of 1997. This was a somewhat "raw" workshop based on some of the language used and some of the stories told. Peter had difficulty staying in the workshop, but went home with a beautiful lesson, knowing that Jesus would have been more than comfortable in the CB. His sermon tells this in biblical terms, perhaps like Jesus might have related it to his followers. Peter went on from this experience to study the ways of Church of the Savior in Washington DC. Instead of returning to New Zealand, he felt "called" to a special place in Australia. Peter has since become a successful author of many Christian books. See below for more about Peter and reviews of three of his books. Peter also wrote an article for his local paper about his community experience and you can find it at this link: Peter's Newspaper Article about Community
Levi (Matthew) becomes a Jesus-follower.
Matthew, by vocation, was a tax-gatherer, a pariah, someone generally despised, an outcast. This was the type of friends he associated with.
His first response: how to introduce his friends to Jesus
- Levi was not a speaker, he could not share his experience.
- Not the synagogue
- Not a Bible study
- Not an evangelistic meeting
- Invite them to a dinner at his place
"Matthew parties" come in many shapes, but they can be recognized: they are made up of Jesus, some Jesus-followers and others.
Example of this Matthew party:
- A lesbian and a gay man
- Some property developers
- A transvestite
- A woman who was like a group wife, who had several children by several men
- A person living in a commune who indulges in group sex
- A highly educated psychiatrist
- A few disciples
- A recovering substance abuser
- A prostitute
- A number of people who were suffering marriage breakdowns
- A person into Gnostic wisdom and philosophy
- There were "straight", ordinary citizens.
- And Jesus.
Take your place at the table with me. Be prepared for this party to go on for several days.
You may be unwilling, like I was. You may find yourself doing something you don't feel good about, hearing stuff you don't want to hear, from people you don't want to be with. However, you somehow feel that this is where God wants you to be and so you give everyone there a second look.
Ken Gire: "The way to show respect is to give it a second look, a look not with the eyes, but with the heart. But so often we do not give something (or someone) a second look because we don't think there is anything there to see.
"To respect something (or someone) is to understand that there is something there to see, that it is not all surface, that something lies beneath the surface...
"Jesus lived his life that way..."
[E.g. The 12 disciples, rich young ruler, Zacchaeus, Nicodemus.]
So, we are here now, at the table, and although we feel we have nothing in common with these people all around us, we are prepared to give them that second look.
We are amazed to find that we have more in common than what we first imagined.
As the conversation grows we discover our common humanity. The same issues affect all of us: acceptance, self-hate, marriage problems, gender issues, children hassles, hurts, longings, joys, chaos among our relationships in our various communities.
Whoever we are, wherever we come from we have brought our humanness, and therefore our sinfulness with us. I look at them again and I see myself mirrored in their faces. I am awed and humbled. I learn to respect them, this diverse group of humanity sitting at the table with me.
But I am careful not to say too much, it's too risky. I am challenged. They want to know me, really know me as another human being. They have talked about themselves. Should I risk it? Will they accept me? I risk a little. They respond warmly and affirmingly. I risk a little more. We grow together. We laugh together. We embrace each other.
But it is not all nice. There is sin there. There is a lot of need, a lot of hurts. Real, raw, life at this table.
And Jesus is there.
I see that we are all humans struggling to find meaning, happiness and fulfillment in life. We have chosen different ways, but the issues are all the same.
And they all meet Jesus. Jesus with skin on. I am the only Jesus they know at that time. There are other Jesus-followers there, but they look to the official representative of Christianity. The only person there who is a Christian teacher/Pastor. They ask questions. Some tell me how much they appreciated me coming, not leaving, staying on with them. Some describe my presence as giving purity, of feeling safe with me, of bringing a different quality, of listening and sharing myself.
Criticism comes, but not from the people at the table.
"Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and other outcasts?" they challenge.
Jesus' answer is simple, yet profound. (verses 31,32).
Could any other place be more appropriate for Jesus to be at?
Doctors find their real meaning among sickness.
Sick people desperately need a doctor.
It makes no sense at all for these two groups to be separated.
The "doctors" from the synagogue added to the wounds by sniping from the sidelines, rather than mixing with the sickness, bringing healing.
I invite you to this table. This is an inclusive table, all are welcome. Not all will come.
To my shame if I had known what was going to take place at this party, who would be there, I would not have accepted the invitation. Now that I have been I am glad.
This is the table of life. Today you and I are holding an invitation to a party at Levi's house.
What will it look like for you? What is Matthew's house for you?
- Our family and relatives.
- Our place of employment or business.
- Our place of study.
- Our place of recreation: tennis, golf, cricket, rugby, soccer or many other clubs and hobbyist groups.
Will we accept the invitation?
Who is there? What is our reaction to them?
Are you prepared to give them a second look?
Will we become exclusive by excusing and excluding ourselves? Will Jesus be there?
Will we be a Matthew, who understood the issues of getting his friends and Jesus together?
Do they know you? Are you sharing your life with them, or are you projecting an image that you are better than them, that you have nothing in common with their humanity?
Will you be there...be there as Jesus with skin on?
1. What experiences have you had of a "Matthew party" (at least a weekend event) where you were invited to be part of a group which was mainly non-Christians and went beyond the superficial attendance at a wedding or funeral or business outing or neighborhood get-together ? What were your feelings? What was your response to other's differences? How well did you get on?
2. Have you run, or could you run, a "Matthew's party" for your business, work, club or study friends?
3. In the light of this story, who would Jesus prefer to mix with as the "Divine Doctor?"
4. How much risk are you prepared to take to mix with non-Christians? Analyze why you answered the way you did. What will it mean for you to do/not do this?
5. Be completely honest, what are you afraid of when it comes to associating with non-Christians at any length? What will you do to face this fear and deal with it?
ABOUT PETER RENNER
Peter Renner is the author of many fine books. My favorites are:
The Church Of The Savior -a radical experiment- a Church that dared to stand against the status quo. This book chronicles the philosophy and vision that has taken a small group of Christians on a journey of discovery and discipleship that has attracted interest around the world. This is about how one church in Washington DC started small with a vision to be of the people and grew to be an international model for building relationships among its people for God.Contains many of the founder, Gordon Crosby's words of encouragement and guidance. 269 pages
The Light Carrier -This book contains the combined stories of all four of the New Testament gospels in one continuous narrative. The original writers select and scattered their material for their own purposes with double or triple recounts of the same events. The Light Carrier has harmonized them in one chronological story. It is also historical, geographical presents cultural background in a natural and interesting way in each story. Its presentation is brisk, easy-to-read and know what Jesus said and did. Characters come alive with faces, feeling and personality. Its a book you can open almost anywhere and read a delightful store of Jesus. 345 pages
Cores and Edges -is a guide book for every Christian to take with them as their church is reshaped by either deliberate restructuring or by relentless forces and pressures placed upon it. Whatever your church is becoming it must face the need to deal with its Cores and Edges. A core is that vital shape around which all the rest must hold together. The edges are the interface with the world. The core is the only really important structure a church must have. If it is mushy, or soft, or rotten, or scared, or hard, it will not produce the edge that Jesus showed to the world. The author maintains that a solid core and soft edges is the 'Jesus shape' for you as a Christian, and for your church.
In this book, Peter offers examples of churches that have been very successful and some of what has made them the way they are.
Peter Renner brings insight and practical wisdom to what is a perennial for the Christian faith the church. His incisive look at the relationships between core and edges highlights an underlying dysfunction which inhibits mission and maintains the church as either insular or insipid. This book challenges existing patterns and brings the hope of a more faithful following of Christ in the world. Mike Riddell Author. 223 pages
I've personally read Cores and Edges several times and belie it has much to offer in the way of guidance for today's church.
Both book are available from:
The Potter's House Bookservice
1658 Columbia Rd, NW
Washington DC 20009
email: Potters House Bookservice