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Come as You Are


One of the things Callie and I have missed most over the course of the last couple years is having people over for dinner and sharing a meal together. The first year we were here we were having people over all the time, or so it seemed. Yet, the past couple years, well, not so much. One reason for that is rather obvious with the on again off again nature of all things Covid, but the other is more a factor of our own family realities, where with two little kids crawling and running around like a couple of petri dishes, it feels like one of us is sick all the darn time, whether it be with a cough or stomach bug. All this to say, sharing meals with others is something we love and something we hope to do more of in 2022.

Now, one of the themes that you’ll begin to notice time and time again as we continue through the gospel of Luke is that Jesus is constantly eating and drinking. Time and time again he’s at a party or sharing a meal. And so, if you too, like me, enjoy hosting and hospitality or love food and sharing meals, or by chance even consider yourself a “foodie,” well, then, Luke is the book for you. From here on out, Jesus is going to be doing a whole lot of eating.

And yet what you’ll notice about the meals that Jesus eats is that what he is eating is rarely ever described – almost never are we given a menu or list of entrees of what Jesus is eating at any given meal. Rather, what Luke really wants to draw our attention to and notice about these meals is not what Jesus is eating, but rather who he eats with. Because what we’ll notice in today's story and in future stories is that sitting around the dinner table with Jesus are the very kinds of people that you’d least expect.

Where rather than eating and drinking with the priests and religious leaders, the rich and famous of the day, instead he eats with those are on the margins of society - poor and the prostitutes, the sick and unclean, the outcasts and ordinary fisherman, and yes, even one of the most hated groups of all, tax collectors.

Which is what Levi was. He was a tax collector. And what probably began as an ordinary day like any other, Levi was at his day job sitting at his tax booth.

And Jesus, having already called Simon Peter, James and John, three ordinary blue collar fishermen as his first three disciples, now calls Levi to follow him as well.

And Levi takes Jesus up on the offer, getting up from his tax booth, leaving everything, and then following Jesus. And then to cap it all off by hosting a great banquet, a massive party in honor of Jesus. He invites all of his tax collector friends to share in the festivities together, they’re all enjoying the night together, partying, celebrating, eating and drinking, and one way or another word gets out, the Pharisees and teachers of the law catch wind of all this, and likely incensed and appalled, they ask Jesus’s disciples this pointed question:

Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?

Again, in the minds of the Pharisees and teachers of the law the problem in their eyes was not that Jesus was at a banquet, enjoying great food, having a great time. Rather, to borrow a phrase from Pastor Tim Chester, their problem was not with the party, but rather who was on the guest list.

And in order to understand the urgency and frustration behind the Pharisees’ question, here we must understand two things in particular. One being the role of a tax collector in Jesus’s day, the other being the significance of meals in Jesus’s day.

To say that tax collectors were hated and despised would almost be an understatement. It’s one thing for you and I not to be friends with the IRS, but yet tax collectors in Jesus’s day were on a whole other level. They were hated for two reasons in particular, and that is, they were seen as both a traitor and thief. A traitor, because as Jewish people, they were collecting taxes from Jewish people, on behalf of the Roman empire that was in control over them. They were sellouts. And yet they were also thieves, because they would often collect more money from their fellow Jewish people than they had to in an effort to get wealthy themselves. Meaning, if they were asked to tax each person 2 dollars, they might tax them 4 dollars, give 2 to the Romans and pocket the other two for themselves. They were sellouts, and also scumbags.

And yet where do we find Jesus in our story today? Well, he’s at a party, eating and drinking with traitors and thieves, sellouts and scumbags. Have you ever seen the party scene in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street? Jesus is there.

And yet, even more preposterous and scandalous than that, Jesus is sharing a meal with them. New Testament scholar Scott Bartchy says this about the significance of meals in Jesus’s day: Mealtimes were far more than occasions for individuals to consume nourishment. Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy, and unity.

To share a meal represented friendship, intimacy and unity. And if that sounds a little dramatic or making too much out of a mere plate of food, consider the fact that it’s really not all that different today. Walk through a middle school cafeteria today and you’ll see clear dividing lines and markers signaling who’s friends with whom, you’ll quickly determine who the popular boys are because they’re the ones sitting with the prettiest girls. Instantly, you’ll get a sense of who’s a part of the inner circle and who’s looking on the inside out.

Meals signified friendship, intimacy and unity. And so when Jesus is at a party eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, it’s a sign that he welcomes them. He accepts them. He chooses them. He invites them to follow him. And the Pharisees and tax collectors can’t even begin to understand why because it’s shattering all their paradigms and beliefs about who’s in and who’s out.

And so it’s at this very moment that Jesus shares them these famous words:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Now notice the connections that Jesus is making here. He’s comparing himself to a doctor. And of course the role and purpose of a doctor is to work alongside and help bring healing to sick people. And yet, Jesus is a different kind of doctor altogether, as here Jesus is making the connection between physical health and spiritual righteousness, between physical sickness and sinfulness itself. And so in summary, Jesus is drawing some dividing lines as he speaks with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, essentially saying, so long as you see yourselves as healthy and righteous apart from me, well, you don’t need me. You must recognize your need for me and come to me for the healing of your sin sick souls.

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Altogether, this brings us to what understand to be the main idea of our passage for today:

With Jesus, his invitation is to come as you are, though like the great physician he is, he will not leave you as you are.

That phrase bears repeating and it’s what we’ll spend the rest of our time together unpacking …

With Jesus, his invitation is to come as you are, though like the great physician he is, he will not leave you as you are.

This is in many ways the central heartbeat and essence of the call to discipleship, when Jesus calls Peter, and all of us for that matter, to follow him.

With Jesus it’s come as you are, and yet he will not leave you where you are. Or as Jesus puts it, he’s calling “sinners to repentance.”

So from here on out, let’s unpack this main idea and the heartbeat of discipleship and begin to apply what this scripture means for you and me, first on a personal level, what this means for us individually as followers of Jesus, as well as corporately, what this means for our common life together as a church.

First, personally.

The invitation from Jesus to each of us is to come as we are. Come as you are, whoever you are, however you are. This is the stunning, counter cultural, beautiful promise that Jesus makes to each and every one of us.

Come as you are. It’s a message that flies in the face of every other religion out there. A message of clean up before you show up. Friends, with Jesus it’s just the opposite, come as you are.

Those words that I often say at the beginning of a worship service?

To all who are weary and need rest

To all who mourn and long for comfort

To all who fail and desire strength

To all who sin and need a savior

This church opens wide her doors with a welcome from Jesus, the mighty friend of sinners.

That’s not cute window dressing to begin the service. I really mean them because I believe Jesus means them.

Are you feeling guilt and shame right now because of some sin you’ve committed or something scandalous about your past? Jesus says, “Come as you are.” He called Levi, the tax collector for crying out loud, a traitor and thief, a sellout and scumbag. If Jesus invites Levi to follow him, he invites you as well.

Are you tired and burnt out? Overwhelmed and exhausted? Jesus says, “Come as you are.”

Do you keep making the same mistakes and committing the same sins over and over again? Jesus says, “Come as you are.”

Are you mourning and grieving and don’t want to be seen grieving in public? Jesus says, “Come as you are.”

The invitation from any bible believing, Jesus loving church is and should be: Come as you are. Whoever you are. However you are. (Unless you have the stomach flu – then for the love of all things good and beautiful please don’t come as you are, come as you are next week when you’re feeling better). But aside from that, come as you are.

After all, does a doctor turn away sick people? No way, in fact it’s part of the code of ethics to treat everyone in need that walks through their doors. Friends, the same is true with Jesus. Come as you are.

And yet, at the same time, Jesus does not leave us as we are or where we are. Notice that phrase, “I have come to call … sinners to repentance.”

That word repentance is crucial to Jesus’s ministry and calling. Though the word repentance sometimes gets a bad reputation and can seem like a negative thing, repentance simply means to turn around. To turn away from our sin and everything in our life that separates us from God and to turn towards him. To turn around. To change direction.

For example, Levi the tax collector doesn’t stay a tax collector. When Jesus calls him to follow him, he’s leaving his corrupt life behind. Levi is turning from his ways of sin and corruption and greed and following Jesus from here on out.

Even more, it’s not as though, it’s not as though Jesus is looking around the party that night thinking, wow, we made it. We got all the sinners in one room here. My work here is done.

In a similar way, It’s not like doctors believe that the goal of medicine is to simply get people into a waiting room endlessly reading mediocre magazines like Good Housekeeping. No way. A doctor who’s worth his or her salt and a patient who’s truly in need, wants you to call them back and help them find lasting healing.

With Jesus, his invitation is to come as you are, though, like the great physician he is, he will not leave you as you are.

The call of discipleship is a lifelong journey of ever so slowly becoming more and more like Jesus. Becoming more loving, more joyful, more resilient, more patient, more gentle, more courageous. When we walk with Jesus over the course of many years, we should not be the same people that we were 10 years ago or be at the same level of spiritual maturity.

And like the great physician that he is, Jesus, through his word, will often give us commands that are initially painful or unpleasant, but yet for our ultimate good and long term healing. No patient loves hearing from their doctor that they need to transition to a more low fat diet, but yet they’re telling us this for our good, just as Jesus speaks hard truths like, “Love your enemies ” or “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

Following Jesus may not always be comfortable or pleasant, yet it’s always for our ultimate good. And by God’s grace, our doctors and Jesus, do not leave us as we are. They point us on the road to healing.

With Jesus, his invitation is to come as you are, though, like the great physician he is, he will not leave you as you are.

That’s some of the personal application we can make, here’s some of the more corporate application we can make as well as it pertains to the life of our church.

There’s at least 10 people who this quote is attributed to, so I’m not exactly sure who to give credit to, but here’s a quote that applies this passage to the life of church.

“The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”

I think that’s right. The church is not meant to be a place for perfect people who have their act together, but rather for sinful people with sin sick souls who are in need of help and healing and forgiveness.

And so here’s the question I’ve been pondering this week. Is our church a safe space to confess sin and expose our brokenness or is it a place where we have to put our best foot forward and hide the less desirable parts of who we are? Do we know we can confess our sins and receive grace and gentleness or do we have to hold back out of fear of being found out as a fraud?

I don’t mean to suggest that you have to have this kind of relationship with each and every person in this room, but I do hope you have that with at least one other person in this room.

“The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Even more, if this quote is true, then we should expect and anticipate things to get a little messy here at church from time to time.

For example, Karl Vaters, is a small church pastor in Southern California, he shares the story about how he was standing with one of the church’s founding members after a mid-week Bible study, when they heard a commotion. They looked up and saw two teenage boys about 30 feet away fighting – fists flying and mouths cursing. Karl looked at the dear, senior saint standing next to him, and she was pale – not with fear, but with surprise. Karl looked her straight in the eye and said, “This is so cool.” Her surprise then turned to shock, but he continued. “Imagine,” Karl said to her, “sinners in the church.” He then used that opportunity to remind her of what we had just been talking about in the bible study – that unbelievers won’t act like believers, and we need to love them anyway. Then he pointed out that, within seconds of the start of the fight, two youth leaders were separating the teens and would tell each of them that they were banned from youth group for two weeks, and if there was another fight, they’d be banned for good. Karl concludes by saying: “Did you ever think we’d be able to build a youth group at our small church that teens loved so much that boys like that would consider it a punishment that they couldn’t come to church?”

Oh my gosh, I love that story so much. If indeed the church is a hospital for sinners, then we should be ready for things to get a little messy from time to time.

Alright, friends, we’re running out of time, so for today, I’ll leave you with a couple questions to reflect on:

How is your relationship with Jesus rubbing off on you and changing and transforming you for the better? Do you see evidence of it? And where do you need to repent, where do you need to make the turn? Where do you need to turn from your sin, and fix your eyes on Jesus?

If the Kingdom of God is like a party (or banquet), and if Jesus welcomes tax collectors and sinners on the guest list, then what kinds of people in society today should we be inviting to church or going out to and inviting ourselves?

What are you leaving with this morning? Are you leaving encouraged or challenged, or both? Does this story comfort or convict you, or both? Why?

With Jesus, his invitation is to come as you are, though, like the great physician he is, he will not leave you as you are.

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