I’ll never forget the first time I heard that question from a leadership consultant. He used the illustration of broccoli in your teeth—everyone else knows it’s there, but you don’t see it until you look in the mirror.
I’ve spent the better part of the last 25 years learning about leadership. I’ve read many books, attended many conferences and taken many courses. Most of what I have learned, however, has been on the ground—learning through experience—allowing others to speak into my life while sharing successes and failures with others. Unfortunately for some who have worked with me, you know I continue to learn from my mistakes.
I don’t like making mistakes, but I know they are part of the learning curve of moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence—moving from not knowing what you don’t know to leading almost instinctively. While we all like to learn from our mistakes, none of us likes it when our mistakes cause confusion, offense, or hurt to others. My prayer is that I never graduate from the school of self-awareness. My goal, and the goal of each of the US Regional Directors is to know ourselves better in order to lead more effectively.
When the consultant asked the question, “What is it like to be on the other side of you?” I had to stop and think. I’d never asked myself that question or even considered it. He continued by talking about tendencies we all have that lead to patterns of behavior (good and bad), which determine the actions we take. These actions then lead to consequences—again, good and bad—that shape our reality. Here’s a graphic that illustrates the point:
Let me give you an example of how this works. For years I’ve practiced what is called autobiographical listening. You are telling me a story about how you broke your leg, and in my effort to show I can relate to your story, as soon as you finish, I share a story about how I broke my leg in three places and it took months to heal. This tendency toward autobiographical listening had become a pattern in my life, which led to an action of interrupting the person speaking and/or failing to ask follow-up questions.
As a result of these tendencies, you quickly conclude that I am more concerned about sharing my story than about listening to yours. You can see how this could lead to a negative conclusion: “Rick doesn’t care about me; he is only interested in himself.” As a result, you share less and withdraw. This changes my reality: “Hey, I’m a friendly guy, why are people withdrawing? Perhaps I need to be more open, share more about myself so others can see I really do relate to them.” And the sequence continues.
Once I was made aware of the broccoli in my teeth, I learned to start asking follow-up questions and to not share my stories unless asked to do so. When I do this, you begin to conclude I’m interested in you. This action leads to positive consequences and a healthy reality. The infinity circle in the graphic above makes the point that we never graduate from the school of growing self-awareness.
What is the broccoli in your teeth? Are you willing to ask those you work with? Those you lead? A word of caution: before you point out the broccoli in someone else’s teeth, either wait until you are asked, or until you ask the important question, “May I raise a challenge for you?” If the answer is in the affirmative, you know the person wants to grow.
What kind of leader are you? Are you a healthy leader? Do you want to become a healthy leader? Before you can effectively lead others, you need to be a healthy leader yourself. A follow up question would be this: is the congregation you lead team-based and pastor-led, or is it pastor-led and team-based? There is a difference (click here to read an article in this issue describing the difference).
In GCI we believe that healthy ministry is Team Based Pastor Led. This is practiced at the top levels of our denomination and it is our goal that our congregations will practice a team-based, pastor-led form of ministry. GCI President Greg Williams has been working with Church Multiplications Ministries National Coordinator Heber Ticas, the U.S. Regional Directors, and the GCI Media team to find the most effective means of sharing what team-based, pastor-led ministry looks like. In this issue of Equipper, we share illustrations to help make our focus as clear as we can. We will be unpacking these illustrations in the year ahead. We have also included in this issue an article that describes the three venues of ministry that we believe should be the primary focus of a team-based, pastor-led congregation.
This issue of Equipper provides a brief outline of where we’re headed in 2019. I hope you enjoy the journey as we move toward our vision of healthy church where each congregation becomes the healthiest expression of church that it can be.
Praying for Healthy Leadership,
Rick Shallenberger GCI Equipper Editor-Publisher and US Regional Director
Healthy Leadership is Team-Based, Pastor-Led
Is the leadership in your church pastor-led, team-based; or team-based, pastor-led? Though the difference between these two models of congregational leadership may seem to be semantics, as we’ll see, there’s more to it. Here’s a related question for lead pastors: is your approach to leading your church primarily hands-on or is it primarily eyes-on?
Pastor-led, team-based churches
Most GCI pastors have been primarily hands-on in leading their churches, utilizing a pastor-led, team-based model of congregational leadership. With this approach, the pastor worked under a heavy burden of responsibility, some of it imposed by old denominational paradigms, some imposed by the pastor. If the church succeeded, the pastor received praise. If attendance or income declined, the pastor was responsible, and received blame. Reaching out to the community was the pastor’s responsibility, as was anointing the sick, visiting members in their homes or in the hospital, answering all questions and leading Bible studies. Many pastors took responsibility for the worship sequence, planning special events such as Christmas and Easter, and putting together and printing the weekly bulletin. No wonder many of our pastors have been in danger of burnout!
Note: the description of the pastor-led, team-based model is general. There is no intent to assign blame or to infer bad motives. Rather, the intent is to give a general picture of what this approach to congregational leadership looks like.
Believing a team-based approach was good ministry practice, some pastors formed teams to help them with the work for which they felt responsible. Deacons and deaconesses (now called ministry leaders) were set apart for works of service. Elders were ordained to aid in visiting, preaching and teaching. Some larger congregations assigned someone to be the youth pastor. In a few congregations, an elder served as the associate pastor and others served as assistant pastors.
While these teams were helpful in many areas, the pastor still carried the burden of responsibility and felt the need to be intimately involved (hands-on) in every aspect of ministry. Ministry leaders, elders and worship leaders still needed the pastor’s approval for most of the ministry initiatives and programs they planned.
In a pastor-led, team-based model of leadership, the pastor, being hands-on, likely put the worship team together, determined what outreach should be done, lead most of the discipleship classes and Bible studies, and had his or her hand in every aspect of ministry. A clear sign that this model was being utilized was that everyone felt they needed the pastor’s approval for any new idea or ministry initiative. There was an overall fear of disappointing the pastor or, worse, getting on the pastor’s “bad side.” In business terms, this is referred to as micro-management.
Team-based, pastor-led churches
This is the leadership model we urge GCI congregations to use. As shown in the infographic below, though the lead pastor still leads, they do not micro-manage. With this model, the pastor is much more eyes-on than hands-on. Yes, there are times the pastor needs to be hands-on, but a healthy pastor is eyes-on much more than hands-on. In other words, the pastor’s primary role in a team-based, pastor-led church is to provide an overview for the elders and ministry leaders to follow, rather than dictating their every action. We want our pastors to set the pace through this overview by helping their congregations achieve health through what we refer to as the three venues of ministry:
Love venue(witness)—mission and outreach—identifying a target community, building relationships, missional events.
Faith venue(discipleship)—discipling people in the faith—small groups, discipleship classes, Bible studies, missionary activities and events.
For an article in this issue on the three venues of ministry, click here. We will expand on this material in future issues of Equipper.
In a team-based, pastor-led congregation, there will be multiple ministry teams, with each one led by a ministry leader who is commissioned to build a team to provide services related to a particular area of responsibility within one of the venues of ministry. Though the lead pastor provides each ministry leader with clear guidelines for how they are to carry out their responsibilities, the pastor does not micromanage.
The pastor works with and encourages the team leaders to stay true to the congregation’s core values, vision and mission. Providing this sort of eyes-on (vs. hands-on) oversight frees the ministry leaders and their teams to creatively use their gifts and talents in serving the church.
The infographic above shows how team-based, pastor-led leadership functions in a healthy church. Note the connections between the lead pastor and the three venues, and also among the venues themselves. Note the calendar in the background—it’s a reminder that it takes time to build healthy ministry teams. Note also the piggy bank—it’s a reminder that team-building must be a priority in the congregation’s budget.
In the team-based, pastor-led model of congregational leadership, the primary role of the lead pastor is to Engage, Equip, Empower and Encourage. We’ll discuss these roles in detail in the February Equipper. In the meantime, click here to listen to a GC podcast about team-based leadership with GCI Superintendent of North America Michael Rasmussen.
Three Venues of Ministry
Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)
At the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and told them to serve others in like manner. He then said he was giving them “a new command.” I’m sure that perked their ears. He already had talked about the two great commandments of the law—to love God and to love others as yourself—but now he introduced something new:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)
You can be sure the disciples paid close attention to what Jesus said, and we should as well.
Jesus’ new command poses an important question: If we are to love others as he loves us, how exactly does Jesus love us? The simple answer is that Jesus loved us by coming and meeting us right where we are. He shared his life with us, died for us, included us in his ascension to the Father enabling us to join him in worship, and now lives in us through the Holy Spirit.
The greatest gift we can give others is to follow Jesus in laying down our life for them. We do so in many ways, including by sharing with them the faith, hope and love of Jesus given us by the Spirit. What is our motivation for doing so? Note what the apostle Paul wrote:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…. (2 Cor. 5:14-16)
As followers of Jesus, we no longer live for ourselves. Motivated (“compelled”) by our Lord’s sacrificial love, we reach out to others. As a congregation we engage the community around our church. We do so knowing that these people are God’s beloved—though most don’t know they have a Father who adores them, an elder brother who has paved the way for them, and a Holy Spirit who teaches and comforts them by pointing them to Jesus.
Our outreach, along with our worship and discipleship, occurs within and through what we refer to as the three venues of ministry: the love venue (witness), the hope venue (worship) and the faith venue (discipleship). By venue, we mean the environment where a particular aspect of congregational ministry occurs. Taken together, the three venues constitute the whole of what we hope to see in our churches through their expressions of love, hope and faith.
The three venues are interconnected, with each being an integral part of the whole that makes up a healthy congregation. Rather than functioning independently, the three venues work together in unity, being integrated into a congregation’s overall participation with Jesus in his disciple-making ministry in fulfillment of the Father’s mission to the world.
The imagery of love, hope and faith speaks loudly to the nature of the Christian journey, including the way a healthy local body engages its community with acts of love, as it creates an inclusive celebratory Sunday environment that inspires and brings hope, and as it creates an environment for discipleship where participants grow in faith. The word venue thus speaks to the whole of what we do, where we do it, and who we do it with (thus reminding us of why we are a church).
The love venue
Love is the foundation of everything we do. When we consider faith, hope and love, love is the greatest. The love venue is about our witness. It includes our outreach and other forms of missional work. It helps us identify our target community and build relationships through missional activities and events. The venue for sharing this love starts outside the walls of the church and continues inside.
The hope venue
As we build relationships and become known within our target community, we want to offer hope to our new-found friends. The hope venue is about our worship. Because our hope is in Christ, our worship services are centered on him. In healthy churches, worship services don’t just happen, they result from intentional, thoughtful preparation. In the hope venue the focus is on inclusive gathering and includes being intentional about making guests feel welcome and appreciated. Within the hope venue we offer inspirational worship services that focus on proclaiming Christ and his gospel in word (scripture reading and preaching) and sacrament (the Lord’s Supper and baptism). The focus of this proclamation is on inspiration that leads to transformation more than on mere information. The scope of the hope venue primarily involves what goes on within the church walls.
The faith venue
New and existing members need to be discipled. The faith venue is about our discipleship—it is where teaching takes place through new member classes, Bible studies, youth and family ministry gatherings, small groups, and various missional activities. All these involve building within people the faith of Christ. The activities and programs within the faith venue occur at church, in members’ homes, and at other discipleship locations.
All three ministry venues are vital for healthy church. For an infographic that provides a detailed summary concerning the three venues, click here. We will explore the details beginning with the April Equipper.
Congregational Brochure and Postcard
Brochures and postcards are effective ways for congregations to make their presence known in the community and connect with visitors. Below are two GCI-branded templates for postcards, and two for brochures. Click on each image to download a template and instructions for use. To download GCI’s standard type font (GCI), click here.
Brochure #1: Brochure #2:
Prayer Guide: January 2019
Join us this new year in celebrating how God is working in and among our fellowships. To download and print the January Prayer Guide, click on the image below. (For a copy in Spanish, click here.)
Your Greatest Gift
This Kids Korner article is from GenMin National Coordinator Jeffrey Broadnax.
By now the tree has been taken down, the boxes and wrappings placed at the curb for garbage day, and the glow of Christmas is fading. What if I told you there is still more for you to give, especially to the young people in your family, congregation and community? In fact, I believe your greatest and most lasting gift has yet to be given. That gift? PRAYER!
Those around you
I have spent the last month praying for a young teenage girl who is in the fight of her life with an eating disorder. I have also spent the last two weeks praying specifically for twelve high school students who recently joined me at our Home Office in Charlotte for a weekend leadership retreat. There is also the teen in my local church performing in the Nutcracker and several boys and girls whose parents are unfortunately going through a divorce. I’ve also been praying for a college athlete who recently lost a friend in a tragic motor vehicle accident and the young person caring for his father’s horse as a way of honoring his memory. There are young people all around me. Not only has God blessed me to be able to see them, but He has challenged me to regularly pray for them. Let me share what I have done and suggest that you do something similar.
Create a prayer calendar
Why not grab a blank calendar or create one on your phone, tablet or computer. Write the name of a young person on each day of the week (see the example below). Some of us will be able to fill two weeks or even a month, while others may only be able fill a week. Then pray for that young person on that day of the month.
What to pray about?
In your prayers for these young people, pray that they be blessed and directed spiritually, pray about their school activities, pray their relationships with their parents, or even their friends. You can even ask the Lord to show you what to pray about for them. One of the best ways to figure out how to pray is to reach out to them and say, “Hey, I spend time praying for you and other young people God has placed on my heart—is there anything you’d like me to specifically pray about for you this month?”
Oh yeah, don’t forget to pray for the kids’ parents and all the others who will be influencing them.
Will you commit to taking a year and praying at least once per month for the young people in your sphere of influence—everyone from your own child, to the kid who helps the ushers collect the offering, to the kid who serves you at Starbucks? Give them a great gift—talk to Jesus about them!
To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. (2 Tim. 1:2-3, ESV)
Readings: Jer. 1:4-10; Ps. 71:1-6; 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30.
The theme this week is Jesus is Our Hope. Psalm 71 shows that Jesus is both our hope and refuge. 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) reminds us of what is truly important (love) and describes Jesus, who is love. In Luke 4, Jesus announces that he is the One who brings hope. The sermon this week from Jeremiah 1 focuses on the nature of our calling as bearers of hope to a hurting world.
Tend to Your Calling
Introduction: Talk about your calling to pastoral ministry—what did it look like? Who affirmed it? What did you believe God was saying to you at the time?
Maybe you’ve heard people say they have a calling from God, and you’ve wondered what that means. “I’ve been called to serve,” or “I’ve been called to preach,” or “I’ve been called to be a prayer warrior.” How does God call people? What does he look for when he calls someone for a special purpose? Our first response might be, well, the Bible says, God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance. And that’s true.
Given the talents and abilities some people have, we might be tempted to think it’s obvious why God called them to do a particular job; they seem perfectly fitted for it. But would God call someone without a particular set of skills? Would he call someone who has not yet learned how to follow him? Could God have a purpose for someone who hasn’t done well and who hasn’t shown what sin tendencies he or she has? Would God call us without really knowing what we are going to do with our lives? Let’s get a bit crazy—would God call someone who has not yet been born?
The Bible tells us God sometimes does just that. In fact, when you look through the Bible to see how God calls people, you won’t find a definitive pattern or even a list of prerequisites for those God chooses to call. We do know he doesn’t discriminate as he has called men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. In our Old Testament reading today in Jeremiah, we find an example of a calling that took place before birth. First, a bit of background:
Jeremiah was born a Levite—into a Levitical priestly family. His father was a priest, his grandfather was a priest, and so was his great grandfather. Even as a youngster, Jeremiah didn’t have to wonder what his life’s work would be. He knew he would most likely be a priest. That was the calling he fully expected.
But God had other plans for Jeremiah:
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:4-5)
Wow! What would be going through your head if you heard God say this to you—that he “formed you in the womb and set you apart before you were born”? Would that make you feel secure—knowing God had something significant for you to do? Would it give you the courage to do what God asks of you?
Jeremiah always thought he would be a priest—serving in the temple. But God called him to be a prophet. Being a prophet was a much more difficult task than being a priest. The priests knew what their duties would be. They were all written down and had pretty much been the same for centuries. Not so for prophets.
Prophets could be called upon by God at any time to speak to a group of people or to whole nations; and let’s be honest, some of those messages from God weren’t always well accepted. They could include good news or not-so-good news. It wasn’t a life’s work for the faint of heart. It was often dangerous work. Being a prophet was definitely taking Jeremiah out of his comfort zone.
So, what does Jeremiah have to do with you? I believe if we think about how God works with us, we can see some parallels in Jeremiah’s story and in our story. More on this later. First, let’s notice Jeremiah’s response.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jer. 1:6)
It’s estimated Jeremiah was probably in his late teens or early 20s. That’s young to take on such a responsibility, and Jeremiah knew that within his culture he would be considered too young for anyone to pay much attention to what he would have to say. His response may have been just a concern for his age, but I would suggest it’s more than that. I suggest Jeremiah might be looking for a way out of this calling.
Have you ever done that? I have.
Personal anecdote: This is a good place to share a short example of God prodding you and you not responding well.
Sometimes I know what God wants me to do—go make peace with someone, go bring a challenge to someone, share some bad news, give some gentle correction, change something in my life—yet I can come up with all kinds of excuses. “Lord, that person isn’t ready for a challenge. If I make peace with that person, I’ll look foolish. I’d rather just love people, rather than challenge them or give them gentle correction. And Lord, I kinda like the way I am—don’t you accept me just the way I am? Is change really necessary?”
God stopped Jeremiah before he got too far into his excuse, and I’d suggest he stops us as well:
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 1:7-8)
Too young is just one excuse. We can come up with several—and it’s because we don’t like to come out of our comfort zones—and we certainly don’t like to face the possibility of rejection.
Notice God’s words: “Do not be afraid! I am with you! I will rescue you if you get in a bind!” Note the similarity to the words Jesus gave the disciples at the great commissioning: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”… and “I will be with you always.” Or in the words Paul tells us in Romans 8 when he reminds us that nothing can separate us from God and his love.
Sure, we can start out like Jeremiah and be a bit fearful and timid at the beginning, but if we believe God and take him at his word, we can also be strong and powerful and impactful like Jeremiah, who became one of the bravest of God’s prophets, facing down powerful leaders of nations. God was with Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s words would be God’s words. God is with you—your words can be his words.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:9-10)
When God calls, he empowers us with what we need to fulfill that calling. He doesn’t call you to be a leader and not give you gifts of leadership. He doesn’t call you to be a pastor and not give you gifts to be a shepherd leader. He doesn’t call you to be a prayer warrior and not give you the ability to pray with and for others. Whatever God calls you to do, he gifts you to do.
He reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth—letting Jeremiah know that he would be given the words to say as he prophesied. Again, God is saying, I am with you—I will never leave nor forsake you—I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.
And because of this, Jeremiah was able to uproot and tear down things that were not of God, to destroy and overthrow things that were destroying God’s people, and then to build up and to plant.
We could share similar stories from Scripture: David and John the Baptist were both chosen from the womb, and you were chosen before the foundation of the earth to participate in the uprooting and tearing down that Jesus is doing in this world as we share his love and his life with others. You are participating in destroying and overthrowing the lies people hear about who God is and about what he is doing. Jesus has invited you to join him in building and planting—building his kingdom, and planting good fruit through your life.
God didn’t call you to himself because of your great talents and abilities—(he gave you those talents and abilities)—he called you because of his great love for you. Like Jeremiah, David, Samuel and others, we are often taken aback by God’s calling. “Why me? I’m nothing special. I can’t do this. I don’t have any talents.”
To this God replies: “I make you special. You can do this because I am with you and in you and I will even tell you what to say. You do have talents and abilities. I know, because I formed them in you when you were in the womb. I have been with you, and I will be with you always.”
Jeremiah and David lacked the qualities and experience necessary for their callings. Jeremiah was young and fearful and hadn’t a clue as to what he was supposed to say. David spent his youth, not in a palace, but out in the fields herding sheep. Did these factors stop them from fulfilling their callings? No.
God was not unaware of who they were. As with all those he calls, God fills in the gaps. He gave Jeremiah the words he should speak and promised him protection from those who would seek to harm him. God was faithful to Jeremiah, to David, to Jesus, to Paul, to many, many others, and he is faithful to you and to your calling.
It’s obvious most of us haven’t had the kind of callings that Jeremiah and David had, but we’ve all been called by God. He has called us into a special relationship with himself. He has called us to join with him in sharing what we have with the world—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is that dangerous work? It could be. It has been for Christians historically, and still is. Many Christians are being persecuted around this world.
Maybe you feel too young or too old for your calling. God has called you anyway. Are you introverted and shy? God has called you anyway. Maybe you’ve made some pretty bad mistakes in your life that you’re not proud of. Not a problem. You are forgiven! God has called you anyway. Trust God to supply what you lack.
While we haven’t all been called to some special vocation like Jeremiah or David, we have all been called by God to share his good news and to be the light and salt in this dark world. Tend to your calling. Look at the people God has placed in your life and ask God who he wants you to spend more time with. Then build relationships with them so you have opportunity to share God’s love and life. Do what God has called you to do—join him in the great commission of bringing his light and truth to others. You’ve been called, and God doesn’t make mistakes, so ask him where he is asking you to participate. Let’s tend to our calling!
Small Group Discussion Questions
Have you ever felt called to something—ministry, service—like God gifted you to do something specific? Share. Have you wondered if you have a calling? Do you wonder what God has called you for? To do?
Put yourself in Jeremiah’s sandals. How would it feel to have God tell you he formed you in the womb and had appointed you to a particular calling before you were even born?
Jeremiah said he was too young. What reasons (excuses) do you hear people using to get out of serving in the church? What excuses have you given?
What do you think it means, “When God calls, he empowers” Share an example of someone you know, or share an example about yourself. Do you feel God has empowered you?
Take a moment and think about the things you enjoy doing. How can these be used for God’s glory and service? What are you passionate about? Who gave you that passion? Why?
Psalm 71 reminds us that Jesus is our hope and refuge. It also says he is our confidence. What does that mean to you?
In the love chapter (1 Cor. 13) Paul describes the perfect love—many say he is describing God. What attribute of God’s love means the most to you? What attribute do you try to live out in your life? What area do you struggle with?
Readings: Isa. 6:1-8; Ps. 138:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11.
The theme this week is Proclaiming the Gospel. Though Isaiah in chapter 6 proclaims “I am unclean,” when God asks, “Whom shall I send?,” the prophet replies, “Here am I. Send me.” Psalm 138 proclaims the good news of God’s unending love and 1 Corinthians 15 proclaims the power of the gospel. The sermon this week from Luke 5 asks if we, despite our failures or successes, are willing to go where God leads.
Peter—the Rock (?)
Introduction: If you had to choose which of Jesus’ disciples you identify with, who would it be? It’s amazing how many people identify more with Peter than any other disciple.
The apostle Peter—Shimeon Cephas Petroas—gets the most air time of any of the original apostles. Like many celebrities of today, his life was on display. Every time he stumbled in a doorway or spoke before thinking, someone was around to record it!
Ironically, that’s what makes Peter so identifiable, and probably the most popular apostle. We can all see ourselves in him, and we love him as much in his mistakes as we do in his victories.
This is a good place to talk about which disciple you identify with, and why. Here’s a sample anecdote from the author:
Personally, I’ve always envied Peter—and the different folks in my life who would come up “Peter” on a personality test. I hedge my bets far too much, or I don’t take them at all. If I were to be one of the disciples, it might be John—in the shadows, holding back from the fray. One of the things I’m working on, that I’m learning from Peter, is speaking what I feel when I feel it. I’m one of those who’s a little too lost in himself. “I would be the one trying to keep everyone happy, weighing every word for maximum charm and minimum in-trouble-ness, finding it hard to say what I mean. I choose diplomacy over directness any day of the week, and I’d rather hold a grudge than get in a fight.
Most of us are likely thankful Jesus chose Peter and didn’t wait for us. Thankfully for all of us, Peter’s skin seemed to be as thick as his skull, and when his mouth outran his brain it often spoke something everyone else was afraid to say. He is the disciple of the people, a man who sinned and sinned boldly, and yet was a good representation of humanity.
So today let’s look at Peter, or as Jesus called him, “Rocky.” We’ll look at the way his close-to-the-skin temperament was cherished and changed by the Lord. We’ll look at how his great mistakes, and his amazing insights, were fingers on the same hand. Finally, we’ll look at how an uneducated lower-middle class-redneck became the focused, bold preacher who walked through hell and high water to lead the church.
Let’s start with Peter’s calling—or his early life. We know from John 1 that Peter, like his brother Andrew, was from Bethsaida. Bethsaida means in Hebrew “house of fishing,” and it was on the shores of the sea of Galilee. Peter would have grown up fishing, probably learning the trade from his dad. In the village, there were people from all kinds of worldviews and backgrounds. An early chore for young Simon was probably to sort out the non-kosher catfish from the nets to sell to the Gentiles. The clean fish would then be sold to Jews.
Peter likely spoke Greek, and Aramaic, but probably couldn’t read or write much. He would have been in what was called the “am ha’aretz”—the people of the land—a derogatory term used by the educated classes to talk about the blue-collar working men and women.
He lived on the sea. Peter is usually in the water up to his neck or on a boat through much of the Gospels. People who make their living on the water, like farmers who make their living off the land, sometimes have a bit of magic in them. They do a lot of studies of waves and weather patterns and statistics from last year versus this year, etc. Yet when it comes right down to it, there’s still an X-factor. There’s still a gap that has to be bridged by intuition, instinct, and plain old gut feelings. This is the kind of man we see in Peter. He isn’t the educated finery of Paul, nor is he the mysticism of John, he’s a guy who calls ‘em like he sees ‘em and trusts his instincts. Notice what Luke tells us in today’s Gospel reading:
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. (Luke 5:1-3)
Let’s set the scene. Jesus is being surrounded by a crowd so he notices two empty boats and steps in one of them and asks the owner to put out from shore. If you don’t think this is a big deal, the next time you see a shiny Harley at a store, go sit on it. We can only imagine what Peter was thinking. This guy just got in his boat—his working transportation—and asks Peter to row away from shore so he can teach the crowds.
Personal example: Talk about how you might feel if someone decided to sit in your car, truck, boat, or get into your RV, or plop themselves down in a chair in your backyard.
If that is not enough, after being rowed off shore so he can teach the crowd, Jesus looks at Peter and tells him how to do his job:
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:4-5)
Something in Peter responds to this. Perhaps he was moved by what Jesus had just taught. Perhaps he was thinking, “If this guy’s bold enough to jump in my boat, I might as well give it a shot. Nothing else is working.” He and his partners had been mending their nets, which was a laborious part of every day. They were cleaning their tools when Jesus tells them to get dressed and go back out.
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (Luke 5:6-7)
The catch is unbelievable – so unbelievable they knew it was supernatural – telling them this Jesus was someone special. Peter’s reaction is so, well, Peter.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)
What a response: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!,” and then dropping everything to follow him.
Once again, I come back to envying Peter. How many times has Jesus come and sat down right in the middle of the place where I believe I’m “in charge,” where I’m the man, and tried to show me a better way? How many times has he come to you like that?
What about today? How is Jesus interrupting you today? What is the Lord throwing off balance that you need to be paying attention to? Had Peter not been the impulsive, drama-hungry guy we all know and love, he might never have become the great apostle Jesus intended. What might be preventing me or you from being the disciple Jesus wants us to be?
And this is just the very beginning of Peter being Peter.
He also had those wonderful moments where his mouth outran his brain, sometimes with great errors, sometimes with great truth! Let me briefly share two examples – found right next to each other:
In Matt. 16:13-16 we find Jesus and his disciples coming to Caesarea Philippi when he asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They provided a few answers, and then he said, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” And Peter was the one who responded. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Notice Jesus’ response:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt.16:17-19)
Caesarea Philippi was a place with a large temple to the Greek god Pan. This was a place full of idols, people dancing, partying and offering sacrifices to their gods. As usual, Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing and was intentional in bringing them here. If he was going to be a political hero, he might have taken them to the senate building; if he was going to be a military hero, maybe to a battlefield. But he takes them to a place that is aching with the human need for the divine. And here Peter blurts out what is probably based on a gut-feeling and hope and impulsiveness and says, “You’re the guy! You’re God’s man!”
It is here that Jesus gives his boisterous, unpredictable friend a nick name that doesn’t fit him. Better to name him “short circuit” or “hothead” or “firebrand” but he says you are “rocky”—strong and stable, and worthy to lead my church. From his own murky brain, Peter blurts out what his heart has to say, right near the place of idols.
In the next example, Peter’s lack of impulse control gets him into a jam.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matt. 16:21-26)
This may not have happened directly after the conversation at Caesarea Philippi, since the Gospels don’t always tell us when some time has elapsed, but the contrast is meant to be made. Peter triumphs for a moment, having more insight than any of the other disciples, and then he quickly fails.
The main problem here is that Peter is trying to apply his old understanding to a new thing. We see this happening all the time. The disciples saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the dreams they grew up with. If he was the Messiah, he would obviously be a political warrior king—he would re-establish the nation of Israel, restore the nation to its old glory. Is it any wonder Peter felt strongly that Jesus could not die—how could anyone kill the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?
Poor Peter, one moment being referred to as the Rock, the next being told he is a stumbling block and acting like the accuser. It’s interesting how quickly this contrast comes up in the narrative. Jesus doesn’t give an easy answer. Sometimes Peter’s impulsiveness is exactly what is needed—he’s the only one with the guts to speak out. And yet other times it’s off the mark—Peter isn’t paying attention here, he’s not seeing that Jesus is doing something else entirely.
One commentator called this the “looking-glass reality” of the kingdom of God. When you’re trying to do something in a mirror, your perception is off—you think you’re moving right when you’re actually moving left. It takes a minute to get reoriented. Peter is using the old paradigm to understand Jesus as Messiah—he’s thinking, Jesus is going to be a warrior and the reason he wants to go to Jerusalem is to take it over—what’s this about dying? What’s this about suffering and defeat?
How often does God upend the old paradigms we try to bring him under? How often does he turn our small view of reality on its head? We think, “This is the way that would be best, Lord, if you’d just sign off on this, things would be great.” And God says, “Get those dumb ideas behind me! Get that narrow view out of my way! My way of doing things is different than yours, my kingdom is different than yours.”
It takes Peter, and all of us, a long time to understand this.
Peter’s hot temper sometimes ran against Jesus’ kingdom. Think of the night Jesus was arrested. That night a whole troop of soldiers is dispatched to take down four scared guys in a garden. What a contrast! Dozens of soldiers, armed to the teeth, carrying torches, sent to arrest a carpenter and three of his buddies. We remember what Peter did, he drew a sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). Jesus intervened and healed Malchus.
Then Peter did the same thing all the disciples did—he fled. However, Peter turns and discreetly follows Jesus to the courts. It is there that Peter faces his most embarrassing time in ministry and denies Christ—not once, but three times. This is the Peter we know—this is the Peter we’d rather not identify with, though we know we do.
Though let me bring a different point of view into this story of denial. If you recall, after Peter’s third denial, Luke tells us “The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61).
Peter was there! He was apparently the only disciple close enough to be seen by Jesus! This “Rocky”, this imperfect, unpredictable man, is known for his denial because he was the only one strong enough to stay near the spotlight. The rest were off in the shadows, far away and out of danger. Peter, though, was there.
Soon after, of course, Jesus asks his three questions to Peter, one for each denial. Peter, son of Jonah, do you love me? He calls him by his full name. Jesus knew the answer already, he wanted Peter to know it.
Many speculate that Peter and Paul were both martyred during the persecution of the early church. Tradition has it that Peter was crucified, but he asked to be on an upside-down cross, declaring he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord died. But before that, the Romans crucified his wife right in front of him as he yelled to her, “Remember Christ! Remember Christ!”
What can we learn from our brother the rock? What can we take home from his amazing story? What does his story teach us about Jesus and our relationship to him?
God has great dreams for you—Jesus saw very quickly what kind of man Peter could be and God used him in powerful ways because Peter desired to follow Jesus—no matter what. Remember that God has great dreams for you, and great plans for you—he didn’t choose you because he had nothing else to do. He saw you struggling, he saw you in your sin, and he sees what you will become in this life and the next. Let him dream and share his dream with you.
Second, God accepted Peter just the way he was, and he accepts us just as we are. We don’t have to change to get God’s attention, but once he has our attention he starts to change us—often through the mistakes we make. Peter learned from his mistakes and embarrassing moments, and we can, too. Jesus wants to make you new—to transform you – but he also loves who you are. He made you who you are, and those traits and trademarks are his doing. Peter was still Simon, the fisherman, even when he took leadership of thousands of people.
And finally the great lesson of Peter: put yourself out there. You might make great mistakes, but at least you will do something. Peter’s great example to us is that he kept going. Even after all his blunders he was still there until the end. He taught us to get up, dust yourself off and move on. That is a great lesson. And through it all—through all the mistakes and blunders, we know Jesus is faithful to us as we are reminded to always, “Remember Christ! Remember Christ!”
Small Group Discussion Questions
Have you ever taken a personality test online (ex. Which member of the A-team are you? Which president are you?) If there were such a test for the apostles, which one do you think you would be and why?
Luke 5 talks about Jesus getting into one of the boats of the fishermen (v. 3: He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.) Has God ever “jumped into” a place where you thought you were in charge and thrown you off? Maybe a difficult co-worker at the job? Or a chance to talk about Jesus to a fellow employee (whether by words or actions)?
Matthew 16 presents us with the profound contrast in a man like Peter. Jesus calls him “the Rock” and “satan” within the space of a few verses. Do you think that God can love us and work with us and use us for the kingdom even when we have conflict within ourselves? Can we love others even with they have conflict within themselves?
Peter is known to be hot-blooded, close-to-the-surface. He has profound insight and makes profound blunders, often at the same time. How can we learn from Peter to put ourselves out there? Can God use even our mistakes for his glory—such as telling his most famous denier that he will use him to found the church?
We talked about Peter cutting of Malchus’s ear (John 18) as a contrast to the way Jesus wanted to bring in his kingdom (through sacrifice and obedience). Have you ever seen the contrast between our way, (the human way), and God’s way in your own life? In the history of the church?
Read Isaiah 6:1-8. Notice verses 5-6. Do you see any parallels with your life? Have you ever felt you were too unclean for God to use? Now read verse 8; are you willing to respond the same way?
Read Psalm 138. Now read it with conviction. Notice the difference
Paul summarized the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Write down your own summary of the gospel. Don’t use Paul’s words—use your own vernacular.
Readings: Jer. 17:5-10; Ps. 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26.
The theme this week is Blessed by Knowing Christ. Jeremiah 17 declares that our blessings come from knowing and trusting Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us that, without Christ, we have nothing. In Luke 6, Jesus describes the blessings of knowing him. In the sermon this week from Psalm 1, we look at the identity of the blessed person.
Who’s the Blessed Person?
Introduction: Read the first couple verses of Psalm 1 and ask what people notice about this passage? What jumps out to grab their attention? What does it mean to be blessed? What other passages use the phrase, “blessed is…”
Who is this?
In some translations, Psalm 1 begins with “Blessed is the man…” Before reading further we may want to keep a question in mind. Who’s the man? It may be tempting to see “the man” in verse one as a generic person—inclusive of all people. In fact, some translations treat it as such by making it more inclusive with “Blessed is the person who….” Even the conservative English Standard Version gives a footnote here that “The singular word for man (ish) is used here to portray a representative example of a godly person.” We may never fully know who the original author had in mind, but in light of the New Testament we get a pretty good picture of WHO this Psalm is pointing to.
Let’s look at this Psalm with the perspective that the “Blessed Man” is Jesus, in whom all blessings have been poured out on humanity.
So, what does this Psalm tell us about this man?
He is different from the first man
This blessed man does not follow the pattern of the first Adam. He does not “walk in the counsel of the wicked.” He does not “stand in the way of sinners.” He does not “sit in the seat of mockers.”
These three postures serve as a progression of the fall from believing to (mis)behaving and ultimately to an allegiance or belonging to wickedness. We see this progression carried out in the Garden and we see Jesus reversing its curse in his life, death and resurrection.
Adam listened to the counsel of the wicked serpent and believed his lie. Adam behaved out of this belief by taking the forbidden fruit and ultimately hiding from God because his identity is now focused on self rather than belonging to the Father.
The Son of man, Jesus, becomes the second Adam for us as he lives his life not following this progression of the fall. He believes, he behaves according to his belief, and he completely rejects wickedness. Further, he takes the fall of the first Adam to the cross to reverse the curse.
Jesus heard the wicked counsel: recall it was a council who convened to hand Jesus over to the authorities. It was the crowd who stood and called for his crucifixion and it was the mocking (scoffing) soldiers who carried out his death. Jesus did not walk the way of this counsel, but he did submit to its wickedness. The nails through his hands and feet demonstrate his willingness—even desire—to nail the progression of the fall to the cross, thus reversing the curse and becoming the new Tree of Life bringing blessing to all.
This man delights in the law
In verse 2 we see that this second Adam “delights” in the law of the LORD. In the New Testament, we see Jesus summing up the “law of the LORD” as loving God and loving neighbor. So, this man who is blessed is a man who delights in this relationship of love toward God and love toward neighbor.
Humanity was created in the image of God therefore we were created to love. The fall in the Garden is essentially having our love turned in on ourselves. We didn’t cease being lovers but rather the focus of our love got distorted and twisted. We ceased “delighting” in being lovers of God and others and instead became lovers of self. As the apostle Paul put it in 2 Timothy 3:2-4 (ESV), “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
Jesus, as the second Adam, has undone this distortion of the first Adam by recreating this “day and night” love relationship. He even referred to a “new commandment” to love others as he has loved us—with a love that is focused on the other.
This man is a tree planted
We also see that this blessed man is likened to a “tree planted by streams of water.” The writer here may have had the Garden of Eden in mind with its river and Tree of Life. Jesus is our life. In Jesus, we find that we are not self-planted creatures, but we were created for the Gardener’s delight.
We are not trees in a garden that need to be uprooted and removed. We were planted and therefore wanted. We were planted with care and given whatever we need to flourish. We have a Gardener who nourishes us, waters us, fertilizes and prunes us to bear “fruit in season.”
Whatever this man does prospers
He is the Son of the Father; he is the ransom paid; he is the Savior and Redeemer, he is the way, the truth, the life and the resurrection. He is the reconciler—as we see him hanging on the cross in death, we realize he did that to reconcile all creation back to the Father. He came for us, lived for us, died for us, rose from the grave for us, and then ascended to the Father for us and with us. Indeed, we find the “whatever he does” to have no limits.
The Psalm ends contrasting the “wicked” to this blessed man. This is not the way it is with wickedness but rather all that is against our blessing gets blown away with the wind. Only the good remains. Our judgment in Jesus does not allow for any wickedness to take a stand against us. The Father does not give the floor to the accuser. Our judgment and blessing is sealed in Jesus. Jesus is The Blessed Man.
Do you know him? Are you walking with him? Are you joining him in sharing his love and life with others? Who will you introduce to the blessed man?
Small Group Discussion Questions
Do you feel blessed? Explain. How would you define blessed? What does it mean to be blessed?
When we read Psalm 1 by seeing Jesus as the man who is blessed, how does this change the way we understand this Psalm?
Jesus reverses the curse by not walking, standing or sitting in wickedness and sin. How can we participate in this reversal in our own lives?
Why would having our love turned toward God rather than self, be a life of delight and blessing?
What is the good news for us when the Psalm speaks of “the way of the wicked will perish?”
Jeremiah 17:5-10 says it is a curse to trust humans, but a blessing to trust in the Lord. Put this in your own words. Is trust and confidence the same thing?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. How would you describe the resurrection in terms of being blessed?
In Luke 6:17-26 Jesus talks about being blessed. Pick one of these “Blessings” and explain why it means something to you
Readings: Gen. 45:3-11, 15; Ps. 37:1-11, 39-40; 1 Cor. 15:15, 35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38.
The theme this week is Christ Turns Things Around. In Genesis, Joseph assures his brothers that what they meant for harm, God turned to good. Psalm 37 is a reminder that evil has no future—God will turn things around. 1 Corinthians 15 assures us that Jesus makes the corruptible incorruptible—he changes things, always for the better. The sermon this week from Luke reminds us to respond to life with this Christ-centered, hope-filled outlook.
Off the Mad Carousel?
Luke 6:27-38, ESV
Introduction: Ask the congregation if they remember a time when people put their political positions and other differences aside to focus on just getting the job done. Ask for specific instances or illustrations.
When Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in 2012, people’s lives were devastated. Homes were destroyed, businesses flooded, electricity down for whole counties for some time, and over 100 deaths reported. In the middle of that aftermath, the photo below surfaced all over the internet. Barack Obama, then U.S. president, was embracing a crying woman. Standing at his shoulder was Chris Christie, then governor of New Jersey.
Shortly before Hurricane Sandy, Christie had endorsed Mitt Romney who was Obama’s opponent in the 2012 election, now only a week away. Though Obama and Christie had heated differences, they were able to stop everything and rise above the fray. They were able to meet together to address needs and appear at the place where there was great pain. They both lost supporters and got bad press because they were with each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, standing up for hurting people.
I am neither endorsing nor not endorsing anyone’s politics today. What I am endorsing is the humanness of a moment like this—us at our best, reaching out to those who are broken. For just a moment, stepping out of the constant back-and-forth grind of Washington and American media (if you push me, I push you back), there was a moment of peace and connection. They stepped off the swirling merry-go-round of the world to be still for a moment, to listen to a higher call and a higher voice, which was God himself.
The English poet TS Eliot called Jesus the “still point of the turning world.” The still point is where there is peace and clarity; it is not defined by the constant noise of events. The still point is where you see God’s greater plan at work, where we hear his voice and his music behind it all. That still point is on display in pictures like this one, where people walked out of their own politics, vying for attention and money and power, and simply served, simply gave a hug.
I don’t claim to know what Obama or Christie’s religious connections are; that’s not important to this point: Christ can shine through anyone; every person is created in God’s image and that image can gleam in moments such as this. I’m reminded of the Pope forgiving his attempted assassin—a moment when a person stepped off the constant turning of conflict and revenge to connect with another human being, despite their differences.
Jesus talked about these realities in our Gospel reading today. He said that we are to love our enemies—showing that his upside-down kingdom is built on different coordinates. He says to do good to those who hate you—showing that his kingdom will run on different values and go toward a different end.
Turn the other cheek, he says. In other words, don’t live your life by reaction. He calls us out of the endless grinding traffic of human culture to step into the still point, cease from striving, and know that he is God.
I can’t help but wonder if we’ve gotten so used to hearing these beatitudes that we really don’t see them, or hear them as we should.
There’s a famous scene in the movie Life of Brian, which was made by a wacky group of British comics called Monty Python. It’s about the life of Jesus, or rather a guy who was born down the street from Jesus named Brian. There’s a scene in this movie where people are watching Christ give the sermon on the mount, but they are seated a little too far away and can’t agree on what he’s saying. Blessed are the cheesemakers?! What’s so great about the cheesemakers?! Well, I think he’s referring to all manufacturers of dairy products. Blessed are the Greek—what’s so great about the Greek? The Greek is gonna inherit the earth, did he say which one? I know a lot of Greeks!
Kind of a silly example, of course. But it seems like that sometimes with Jesus’ words. It’s like we’re just out of earshot, and we hear what we want to hear. Or, we are so familiar with the passage, we don’t even hear it anymore. It’s so in our face all the time that we get a case of what has sometimes been called the “yeah, yeah, yeahs.”
That’s very much OUT of the spirit of what Jesus is saying here. He is telling us to wake up, to be aware of how we move in the world. The beatitudes are about breaking through our natural reactionary reflexes and working by heaven’s value system. Such as Obama and Christie serving with each other to help those who are hurting.
Remember a couple weeks ago when we talked about Luke 4 and referred to it as Jesus’ inaugural speech—where he laid out what was going to happen throughout his ministry? This sermon is a continuation of that theme—and our participation in his ministry.
Luke’s major theme is the poor—reaching out to the poor, lifting up the poor, giving the poor a voice. But the definition of the word poor is much wider than we are used to. Poor doesn’t just refer to those who are financially challenged, but it refers to someone who is outside on the margins. Those with special needs and disabilities were considered poor. Prostitutes were considered poor. Even tax collectors, who were drowning in money, were considered poor because they were viewed as traitors to their own people and therefore not allowed relationship with the community. So, in this beginning part of Luke, Jesus is hanging out with the poor as broadly defined in the way Luke sees it.
What we’re seeing here is classic Luke. Luke talking about Jesus as a revolutionary in society who wanted to redo things in the way that God sees it. So what he does in this sermon on the plain is to lay out the values of the kingdom that he is meant to bring—values that God wants us to make our own.
Values are what drives a community. The values are the things that bring us to make certain decisions in certain ways. Many churches stake a value on eating together. Most churches have a fellowship hall or a kitchen, and some of the most expensive equipment in the building is there. There is a value that drove money decision making, energy and time. That is how values work. What Jesus lays out in the sermon on the plain are the values of his kingdom, the values of his community. These are values the people of God will put their energy and time and money toward. These are not as much rules to be followed to be good, as a portrait of what it means to be God’s people. These are the values that drive us.
And the Sermon on the Plain is about stepping into the still point—off the mad carousel of you hurt me and so I hurt you. You insulted me and so I insult you. You owe me, so I chase you down. The values of the kingdom bring us away from that into the still point of the turning world.
Let’s look at these values:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28, ESV)
He doesn’t say, “Feel great about your enemies.” Like what your enemies are doing to you. Think that your enemies are fantastic. Feel great about your enemies. He doesn’t say any of that. What he commands us to, in this next group of phrases, is ACTION.
Do good to those who hate you. Do good. That is a choice and an action.
Bless those who curse you. Bless them! That is an action.
Pray for those who abuse you. Pray for those who hurt you. Do good, bless, pray.
Nowhere in here does he say feel spectacular about your enemies. Nor does he ever say don’t be angry about what’s happening to you. Don’t be mad when someone hurts you. Jesus never says that. He commands us instead to action.
This is what we see in this picture of Chris Christie and Barack Obama working together. No, they’re not mortal enemies, but they are political enemies. They disagree with each other deeply. But they put it on hold so that they could reach out and help people.
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:29-31, ESV)
Here Jesus gets specific.
Turn the other cheek. Roman soldiers could slap Israelites, and slave owners slap their slaves. Slapping was part of the culture—the “necessary violence” of that kind of world at that time.
Give your tunic as well as your coat. A soldier could come up to you and demand your coat from you. These were daily occurrences. Jesus says to give your sweater vest as well.
Do to others as you wish they would do to you.
Jesus is talking about how we react. He is again drawing out the values of the kingdom. Slapping your slaves was a common practice. It was like whipping a horse. And it was done like this: you would stand in front your slave and with your right hand you would give them the back of your hand to the right side of their face. That was the socially acceptable way to do it. People would see it and they wouldn’t even bat an eye. The slave would just stand there.
And Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Now, if I turn the other cheek, can you slap me in the acceptable way? No. What comes up here is this awareness of what’s going on. When you show them your other cheek, you are implying it would be a special act of cruelty for them to slap you again. As one of God’s people, you are exposing the injustice in society. You are exposing that this master-slave relationship is not the way the kingdom looks, not the way things were meant to be. You revolutionize against the “acceptable violence” of society by your own sacrifice. That’s what Jesus did.
What about the coat and tunic? A soldier could walk up to you and say, “Give me your coat. I’m cold” or “I like your coat give it to me.” Again “acceptable violence”—this was the kind of extortion the soldiers were involved with regularly. It was considered part of life. The thing that Jesus says is to give them your tunic as well. ALL you were wearing was a coat and a tunic! So if you gave them that, you would be standing naked in the street next to that person. You would expose not only yourself, but also the injustice in that society. Jesus is revolutionizing society with love. Revolutionizing war by waging peace. Revolutionizing greed by generosity. Revolutionizing hate by love.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36, ESV)
What is Jesus saying here? He’s calling us off the mad carousel of you hurt me, I hurt you; you owe me, I owe you; you offend me, I devastate you; even you scratch my back, I scratch yours. The central problem in the human world—tit-for-tat, quid-pro-quo. Off the carousel, into the still point. Before you react, before you give into the impulse of what’s in it for me, step away.
The resurrection is our reminder that the mad carousel will not take the day. The resurrection is the promise to us that death itself, the ultimate tit for tat, the ultimate revenge, will not triumph. Jesus threw his own body into the grinding gears of sin to stop the cycle, and the mad carousel is at last destroyed. Let’s live in that reality.
Three thoughts today to put in your pocket.
Be the wrench—Be the wrench in the system that stops its grind. Be the fly in the ointment, the one who says that the mad carousel won’t take you with it. You hear a rumor, let it die with you. You are offended by someone, be the shock absorber, the one who stops the chain reaction.
What’s your “acceptable violence?”—the things that Jesus spoke against here—slapping slaves, stealing coats, making people carry your equipment, were considered acceptable at the time. A lot of pain went by before these things became unacceptable. What’s our “acceptable violence” today? What are the things we need to raise our awareness to? Excluding someone from a social circle, sharing gossip, not helping when you could help—all these things are considered “acceptable” in our society. Let’s wake up to that. Let’s step off the carousel.
Welcoming the poor—Jesus starts his ministry in Luke with his inaugural address welcoming the blind, the imprisoned, the oppressed, and the poor. Remember that the definition of poor for Luke reaches far beyond money. He’s talking about the outsider. We all know people who have more money than any of us, and yet are “poor” in their spirit. They are “poor” in their hearts and sick with loneliness. How can we welcome these? How can we welcome those who don’t look like they are supposed to?
Wake up, church. Wake up to constant cycle of give-and-take around you. Very soon in the story here, Jesus went to give his life to stop that cycle, to stop that mad carousel from going around again, and to become the still point of the turning world. We are called to join him.
Small Group Discussion Questions
The sermon began by referring to the famous picture of then president Barack Obama (Democrat) and Governor Chris Christie (Republican) helping people side-by-side during Hurricane Sandy. They both lost support and were heavily criticized for appearing there with each other. Can you think of another example where people reached across party, ethnic, or other lines to help those in need?
Luke’s major theme is Jesus’ interaction with the “poor,” whom he sees as broadly defined including those who are physically disabled (disabled, chronically ill), marginalized by society (prostitutes), and morally bankrupt (tax-collectors). Jesus called these people “blessed” (Luke 6:20). Why? How can we welcome these people as he did?
Jesus talks about how to treat our enemies. Notably, he never says to “feel great” about your enemies or “be glad” about how you are being hurt by them. He calls us to action—do good, bless, pray for (Luke 6:27-28). Why is this distinction between feeling and acting important? How does this change our response to Jesus word to “love your enemies”?
Jesus calls this society out on its “acceptable violence”—slapping slaves and soldiers extorting people. What is the “acceptable violence” of our society? What actions that are considered “acceptable” (gossip, greed, grudge-keeping) in society are unacceptable for children of God? How can we swim against this tide?
What does it look like in our daily lives to get off the “mad carousel” of eye-for-eye in our society? How do we stop the cycle of sin-for-sin, revenge-for-offense in our own lives and world?
In Genesis 45 we see Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and telling them this was all part of God’s plan. Describe a time in your life when you saw later how God had planned things out for you.
Psalm 37 reminds us to be patient and to trust God to work things out. Share a time you’ve had to trust God and you’ve seen his hand in your life.