2009-09-27 (am) Mark 2:18-22 New3
Those Pharisees were a piece of work, weren’t they? I can picture them going up to Jesus on that day. Holding their stomachs, face all disfigured, looking like they’re in pain and agony. Showing off to everyone how pious they were. Proving their dedication to God through fasting.
And as is typical of self-righteous people, they couldn’t figure out why no one else was fasting as they were. Well, John’s disciples were also fasting, whether that was because John was in prison, or because John had been killed. Or maybe they fasted because John taught people to repent. So maybe, like the Pharisees, they fasted as a response to anguish over sin.
That’s the great temptation of church, isn’t it? A meaningful response to God becomes a standard for everyone.
I remember while I was studying for them ministry at Calvin College, this is before I met Renee, a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred at Wheaton College in Illinois. The reports were fantastic. It transformed the life of the whole college. And it all started with a prayer gathering.
So, naturally, people at Calvin tried to recreate it. We wanted to experience it as well. Try as they might, the experiences at Calvin paled in comparison to what had happened at Wheaton.
We see this also in church programming. The Holy Spirit blesses certain churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback, and other churches try to recreate it. They copy their methods, they pray for the Holy Spirit, they do whatever it takes, and often the results are poor.
But the leaders insist that this is the way. We have to recreate what was elsewhere. We have to prove our faithfulness by showing it.
But when we come face to face with Jesus, we’re forced to think differently.
The Pharisees came to Jesus with growling stomachs and agonised faces and they asked him why his disciples were laughing and feasting.
They didn’t get it. They took God’s commands literally. Just as we saw last week, the Pharisees literally tied scriptures to their foreheads and wrists and affixed them to their doorposts and gates. But that wasn’t a literal instruction. It was a figurative instruction. They were supposed to make God’s word such a part of their lives that it ruled over every aspect of what they did.
It’s funny, I thought I made my point clear, but I guess I didn’t. Last week, some people overheard other people saying, “Wow, Pastor Paul really wants us to come to the second service.”
That wasn’t my point at all! My point was, grow in your relationship with God by seizing every opportunity to learn from Him! A second service is a second opportunity to spend time with God! It is provided for your benefit! I can’t make you come to the service. And I really can’t make you come to the service if you think it is about being here, or about me taking attendance, or about fulfilling an obligation to the church, or about making me feel better.
It isn’t about that at all! It is an opportunity for you to learn. And I know; some of you have heard it all before, so you don’t bother coming a second time. I’m sorry, that is closed minded. God can always teach you something new, and believe it or not, he might even use me to do it!
If that attitude were true, then there’d be no need to read your Bibles every day. There’d be no reason to read it from cover to cover more than once. But I tell you the truth. You can read the same passage several times and still learn something new. Why? Because we’re in flux, we’re constantly changing, learning, growing and maturing.
I love church. I have for a long, long time. Growing up in Kamloops, Sunday was my favourite day of the week. I loved going to church. I went with my parents. They still go faithfully even though their church has gone through some difficult times. They were always passionate about going.
It is weird, really. Even when I wasn’t living a very Christian life, I still always went to church. Even in college, I attended church faithfully; of course, by then I knew God had called me into the ministry. But I didn’t go out of obligation. I went because I wanted to go. I went in order to spend time with God and God’s people. I went to church in order to grow in my relationship with God.
It wasn’t until Seminary that going to church became more difficult. You’d think the opposite would be true, but as a family, we had a hard time finding a church. And even though we did choose one, we never really connected with it. Even after being there over a year, even though we were visibly involved, people still asked if we were visiting. It was weird.
Though we did not have perfect attendance, we still recognised the importance of going.
“‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isa. 58:6-7).
And “‘this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other’” (Zech. 7:9-10).