“Healthy Spirituality: Intentional Community” by Kenny Green

“Healthy Spirituality: Intentional Community” by Kenny Green

Today we continue our Healthy Spirituality series… and I know for some of my friends in this community, you’re here exploring faith, who God is and what the church is all about.  Our hope is that this series allows you to see from your vantage point, what it means to engage with God and grow in your faith.

So, if you’ve found yourself exhausted or overwhelmed or ready for a new start… this series is designed to help you develop four practices to help you get and stay spiritually healthy.

Week one, Carlos talked us through following the Spirit in our lives, last week Eric discussed the power of reading the Bible and applying what we read to our lives, and today… applying what we’ve learned so far to living in intentional community.

There’s a couple of questions I want you to be asking throughout this message.

  1. Who is this Good News really for?

…and in the context of talking about living in intentional community…

  • What does community look like?

I feel like the best place for us to start to understand creating & living in community… is to ask, how did Jesus do it?

The Table

This might not look like much to you… it’s a table… certainly not anything revolutionary.

But historically… the table has been loaded with meaning…

  • “who’s in?” “
  • “who’s accepted?”
  • a place of warm invitation and cold rejection.
  • a place where marginalized people groups have had to ask, “do we have a seat at the table?”

And in Jesus’ day, back in the first century, this was a something of a battleground.

This table would’ve looked a little different then.

When we think of sitting around a table and eating a meal together, we picture something more like this…

Or if you’re fortunate enough to be invited to our friend, Shah Mahmud’s home… A group of people sitting on a couch with food on it

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In Jesus’ day it would’ve been very low to the ground and probably kind’ve ‘u-shaped’.

You didn’t sit at the table, so much as you reclined on cushions… leaning in on your left arm so that you could eat with your right arm.

And these meals would last for hours!

Just a little backdrop…

The Romans were in power over Israel and so the question that haunted so many of the Jewish people was, “How did this happen?”

  • Some of the Jews were pushing for armed revolt
  • Some said, “if you can’t beat ‘em… join ‘em!” and just got in-bed with them politically or started working for them.

But there was another group of men who were the most zealous about religion… they were advocating that the problem with the Romans is not a military problem… it’s a spiritual one.

Many of them believed that the reason the Roman empire was occupying Israel was because the Jewish people were not “holy” or “godly” enough.

This group was called the Pharisees.

To fix this “spiritual” problem with the Romans, what the Pharisees did was they took the, more than, 600 laws and commands of the Hebrew Scriptures… intensified them… and took a very heavy-handed approach to, not only applying them, but enforcing them for everybody… even ones that applied to how priests were supposed to eat sacrifices in the temple.

See friends, the table had become a place of profound meaning because in Jesus’ day, who you ate with showed who you accepted or rejected. Who you deemed “clean” or “unclean”.

If you shared a meal with someone in the 1st century it said you accepted them… you saw them as equal in status… you saw them as your community.

The Pharisees taught that if you ate with someone who was religiously unclean… you became unclean. So, one of their pet-peeves was that you never ate with sinners… you never ate with the people who were unclean. Why?? Because they were trying to prove to God how holy & righteous they were… in hopes that God would come & wipe out the Romans, once-and-for-all.

You say, “yeah, but what does this have to do with Good News or living in community?”

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. – Mark 2:13-14

So again… Jesus comes up to a guy who’s collecting money and quite literally stealing from the people. What does he say to him?

“Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners’ were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. – Mark 2:14-15

Who do you think were the only people willing to hang out with a tax collector?

Lemme give you a hint…

So when Levi began to follow Jesus, and is now associated with a rabbi who is growing in popularity… he gets excited and invites his friends over for a party. He wanted to show off.

Again… according to the Pharisees, Jesus should’ve never stepped foot in that house.

In fact, there were other rabbis in Jesus’ day that taught, if you even enter a tax collectors house… that would automatically make you unclean.

…but here’s Jesus eating with people thought to be the worst of the worst.

16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:16-17

It’s always so fascinating to me that when Jesus walked the earth, the people that were the most attracted to him were usually the people who were marginalized or abused by the powers-that-be and especially the religious establishment.

The people who were threatened or offended by him, were the uber-religious of his day.

This was revolutionary, friends.

If Jesus would eat with tax collectors before they even got their act together or had it all figured out… then who would Jesus eat with today? People who don’t have our acts fully together and who don’t have this life all figured out yet. ALL OF US!

You say, “yeah, but what does this have to do with Good News or living in community?”

  • So, if you’re here and you don’t believe in God… Jesus would eat with YOU.
  • If you’ve been judged, marginalized, or rejected…  Jesus would eat with YOU.
  • If you’re life has been deemed religiously, socially, or culturally “unacceptable”…

Jesus would eat with YOU.

  • If, like me, you’ve ever carried the weight of the shame of feeling like the biggest sinner in every room you walk into…

Jesus would eat with you!

This Good News is for you!

And this Community is for you!

This whole thing called The Church began as a bunch of outcasts, screw-ups and misfits gathering around tables with Jesus and with each other… This Is For You

This is a good place to share a story that will encourage your campus.

There’s another story I love, where Jesus is eating again… this time at a Pharisee’s house

In the ancient near-east mealtimes came with a level of hospitality that was customary and expected. You would typically do 3 things to welcome guests into your home for a meal.

  • You would offer them water to wash their feet.

Most of the floors and streets were dirt. The streets were full of animal and often human waste. Your feet were literally the dirtiest part of your entire body on any given day.

  • You would greet your guest with a kiss (on the cheek or on the hand)
  • You would anoint the head of your guest with olive-oil

Now picture our 1st century table again…

One more bit of background…

Meals were more public than private, and this was often why Jesus got into trouble.

A middle – upper/middle class home wouldn’t have a dining room.

You’d have more of a courtyard attached to your home… with at least one opening to the surrounding town or city, where invited guests could come to the table.

  • Anyone walking by would have a pretty clear view of the gathering and could certainly watch the festivities.
  • If you were poor or hungry, disabled and unable to hold down a job… or just an undesirable person socially… you might be waiting around the outskirts of the courtyard in hopes of some scraps or leftovers.
  • On a good night, you might even get to hear some really good conversation or some good teaching from the religious elite.

But again, only invited guests were allowed in and no one from the outside was allowed to come in and interact with the invited guests.

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume. – Luke 7:36-37

The author wants us to know that this is not a woman who’s just made a couple of bad decisions. This is a person whose life has been marked with immorality in the eyes of the people of this town. She is more-than-likely a prostitute… She’s there to see Jesus.

Now remember… it’s acceptable that she would come and hang outside with the rest of the undesirables… but she appears to have a different plan.

And the author tells us that she brought with her an alabaster jar of perfume.

This was a tool of her trade. In a world without deodorant, this is how you would make yourself smell nice before engaging in her profession.

Somehow, she’s heard about this Jesus or perhaps she’s already experienced him somewhere.

So, she comes to him with the only thing has to bring… this jar of perfume.

38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. – Luke 7:38

It’s hard for understand this scene and how offensive this woman’s actions would’ve been to these religious people.

  • Rule #1 – someone from the outside never approaches someone on the inside.
  • She sees the feet of Jesus and how filthy they must’ve been after walking all day
  • She pulls up behind him, reclining at the table, and begins to wet his feet with her tears.
  • She lets down her hair… which was very risqué culturally… and she begins to wipe the tears that have turned the dirt to mud.
  • She kissed his feet and poured her perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”“Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:39-50

Let’s not miss what Jesus is doing here.

How does Simon (the Pharisee) see this woman? Sinner… (unacceptable & inappropriate)

He sees her through a religious lens and though a lens of judgement.

How does Simon see Jesus? A fraud who’s soft on sin. (unacceptable & inappropriate)

How does Jesus see the woman? As a human being who has a story.

He sees her through a lens of love and compassion

It’s so important to know that religion is one of the best ways to hide from God.

Convincing yourself that you’ve got it all together and that you’re believing and doing all the right things is sure-fire way to convince yourself that you don’t really need Him.

In the context of Jesus’ story of the two debtors:

  • This woman loved so extravagantly because she knew she needed rescue… and now she’s found forgiveness with Jesus, not in the hands of the religious.
  • The Pharisee doesn’t think he needs forgiveness in the same way that she does and so he shows Jesus no love or courtesy at all.

Such an amazing story!

You say, “yeah, but what does this have to do with Good News or living in community?”

Friends, there is no sin… there is no stain… there is no thing you’ve ever done in your life that should prevent you from coming to Jesus. When you or I come stumbling into a community where Jesus is present… the message is simple, This Is For You and you are welcome here!

  • Some of you have felt judged or been wounded by religion…
  • Some of you have been told you’re too religious
  • You’ve been cast out of community or disowned by family…
  • You’ve been told you’re not clean…
  • You’ve been told you’re not faithful enough…
  • You don’t have the right answers…
  • You stand for the wrong things or vote the wrong way…

Brothers & sisters… we’ve all experienced these things at some point… to one degree or another… man, I get that.

I also get that, for some of us, those experiences were in the context of a church.

… and that makes sense because a church (any church) is a community made up of imperfect, broken people… just like you and me, right?

What we need to understand &/or remember is that those experiences aren’t a reflection of God’s heart in any way… they only demonstrate the brokenness of people.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-17

My friends, that’s the Good News . . . and who is this Good News for?

All who are hungry and thirsty… all who are broken and desperate… all who are addicted and ashamed… all who are marginalized and disenfranchised… all who are mourning and who’s hearts are broken… religious… atheist… wealthy… poor… gay… straight…This Is For You!

This Good News is for you!

And this Community is for you!

… the invitation is to come to know and love this Jesus as we live in community together.

Earlier this year, John shared a message with our leaders here at Gateway… and he highlighted 3 key elements of creating and cultivating healthy spiritual community together.

  1. There’s no condemnation
  2. No more hiding and pretending.
  3. Walk in authentic, confessing community

By the way, a great way for you to take a next step and put this into practice is to consider checking-out one of our Community Groups this summer. There are lots of open groups and this could be a great point of connection over the summer.

Pentecost Sunday

Today is Pentecost Sunday on the Christian Calendar… commemorating the decent of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus while they were in Jerusalem celebrating Pentecost together. In Acts 2, the author tells us the story of the incredible things that happened that day… miraculous events that led to about 3000 people coming to faith & being baptized… considered by many to be the birth of The Church.

The passage ends, with the author giving us a description of what that first Church community looked like…   

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

What a beautiful snapshot of new believers living in intentional community together… and more than a building or a sermon… it all seems to center around a table…

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