Beyond the Church

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Sometimes we can become so inwardly focused that we forget that the church exists for those beyond its walls. Pastor Ryan looks at the parable of the Great Banquet and how Jesus wants us to go far and wide and invite people in.

Discussion Questions
    What keeps you from being more willing to talk about Jesus with others? Limited contact with non-christians, fear of what they will think, fear of what to say, something else?Why are you a Christian? What value is there for YOU in following Jesus?Who are you praying for to come to meet Jesus? Ask God to give you opportunity to speak into their life?

Message Manuscript Below

Old School Ghosting

Working with teenagers, it’s always interesting to me how slang terms come and go. One terms that is being used a lot right not is called Ghosting. Ghosting is when you cut off communication with someone your’re no longer interested in.

And while the word is new, the concept is as old as time. We’ve all had people cut off contact from us – sometimes disappearing altogether, but most times just finding ways to make excuses every time we try to meet up with them. Maybe you’ve had friends that stop being available. Or maybe held a party or get-together only to have people decline at the last minute – much like I often experience when scheduling a youth event.

Ever since the time of Jesus people have been backing out of their commitments if something better comes along. In fact, Jesus tells a story about that exact situation to teach the religious leaders something about the Kingdom of Heaven. Before we dive in, I have to tell you that Luke 14 begins with Jesus attending a party of a leader of the Pharisees, so he’s surrounded by the religious type. Now lets take a look at Luke 14.

Parable of the Great Banquet

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”

Luke 14:15-24 (NIV)

So the story starts off with a proud religious leader making an off-handed comment about how good it will be for those (like them) when they get to eat at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to make a point. He tells this parable about several characters:

Cast of Characters

Master – Jesus

Now the master has already sent invites for the party and people have RSVP’d. But its at the last minute, when everything is all ready that people begin to make their excuses.

Original Guests – Jews

These guests who find reasons not to come represent the Jews – the family God chose to bless the whole world with beginning with Abraham. These are the people God has redeemed over and over after they foolishly wander away from him. And as the Kingdom of God is approaching with the arrival of Jesus, they are finding all sorts of reasons to not join the party God is inaugurating. But lets be honest, they aren’t unique. People from the time of Adam and Eve all the way through to today have been making excuses to walk away from God. It’s like we really don’t know how good he really is or we are tempted to believe there is something better for us away from God. So let’s not get to judgmental here – we all do it in our own lives. Praise God for his grace and forgiveness!

Anyway, because the guests don’t all come, the master tells the servants to go out and bring in more people. You see a party isn’t a party without people to share in it. I know, I had an incredible birthday surprise form my 40th this year. A group of amazing youth leaders snuck into my office and filled it with black balloons. And it was incredible. Except for Brent was on vacation and Amy doesn’t come in on Thursdays. So I had a birthday celebration full of decorations but nobody to share it with. If ANYBODY had been in the building, I would have dragged them to my office to see it. Because without sharing the moment, a celebration feels empty.

Streets and Alleys – Outcast Jews

The first group of people he tells his servants to go invite are those in the streets and alleys. He describes these people as the poor, crippled, blind, and the lame. These would have been Jews in the town, but not the Jews anybody ever paid attention to. Certainly not the type of people who would be invited to a rich masters banquet. This begins to show the great reversal Jesus teaches us about the Kingdom of God – the self-righteous religious leaders, the obvious choice by God, are going to miss his invitation and they will instead be replaced by the lowly outcasts. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Roads and Country Lanes – Gentiles

But even after inviting all these people, there is still room in the house so the master sends the servants further out – into the roads and country lanes. Outside the city, to the non-residents. In this way Jesus is pointing to the fact that while many Pharisees will miss him, even the hated Gentiles will be found and brought in. He is much less concerned with the status of the guests so much as with the fact that he wants his house full! He wants all to come and be a part of the great celebration!

Essentially, the point of this parable is to show how far Jesus is extending the invitation to join his Kingdom. While we might call this parable the Parable of the Great Banquet, it could just as easily be called the Parable of the Unexpected Guests. At the end of Jesus sharing this parable, the religious leaders probably weren’t thinking about how great the feast in the kingdom of God is going to be but about that guest list! And I doubt they were very happy!

We are Both the Invited and Inviters

Today as we apply this lesson to ourselves, we must see ourselves as both those in the country lanes and the servants to bring in others. You see, if you’re not Jewish, then you’re a gentile. And by God’s good grace, all of us are invited, through all time, to his banquet table. The servants have been going out for centuries now, telling people about the Kingdom and inviting them to join the banquet that we will one day all share in the Kingdom of Heaven. And all of us, after receiving the invitation to follow Jesus, have had to decide – we will join Jesus or will we be like the original guests and make excuses not to show up? There is a decision that needs to be made. And if you haven’t made it yet, or if you have been making excuses – I encourage you to stop running and to turn around and join the party with God!

And for those of us who have chosen to join Jesus. We also have the opportunity to join this team of servants inviting still others. In thinking about inviting others to the banquet, one point this parable makes is to reach beyond the expected to the unexpected guests.

The banquet is for those beyond the church

Too often, Christians only invite people like them, or maybe people who are already Christians but who aren’t currently attending church or who don’t like their church. But they make the safe invite. They invite “church folk”. They don’t think the guy covered with tattoos or the woman who cusses like a sailor would be interested in Jesus. But that’s the point.

God doesn’t want us just playing it safe and only invite those who have their lives together already. He wants us GOING BEYOND. He wants us to reach out to the modern day poor, the crippled, and the lame. He wants us to be willing to share the message of Jesus far and wide, with people who are very UNLIKE ourselves, with people who honestly might not feel comfortable at all coming to church. Church isn’t for those on the inside, its a place of hope for those on the outside. We all need to remember that and let it drive our willingness to tell others.

And even though a lot of the people we talk with about Jesus will not be interested and will make excuses, we can’t let that deter us. Just like the parable of the sower, our job is to spread the seed of the message about Jesus. We trust God to cause the growth. The servants in today’s parable were told to compel people to come to the banquet, but they weren’t held responsible if people said NO. They just moved on.

One thing we have to remember as we go beyond safe, church-type people is that just like the outcasts of Jesus time would never have felt comfortable attending a party at a rich rulers home, many people we know today have no interest in attending church with us. All the rituals, as informal as they are here at Ashworth, are completely foreign to many people and makes they uncomfortable.

Fortunately, we are called to invite people to fill God’s house, his kingdom, not our own church. The problem is that many of us don’t feel like we know how to invite people to God’s kingdom. So instead we invite them to come to our church where the pastor can do the teaching. But remember from last week – part of being baptist is the understanding of the priesthood of all believers. And that means you need to know how to share your faith yourself.

A Primer on Sharing your Faith

So today I want to help you with that. I want to quickly help you think about what you can say to help somebody see why you follow Jesus and why that might be good for them too. One of the easiest ways to do that is to tell people what Jesus has done for you. If you can’t explain what he has done for you, then how could you ever explain what he can do for them?

    Give your life purposeGives meaning to life’s trialsProvides acceptance and forgivenessCreates a family connectionWhat else does it mean for you?

Now that we all have a primer in how we can tell people about Jesus and what he has done for us, the question is, like the servants in the story, where can you GO to invite people to the Kingdom?

    Daily Interaction – Your family, friends, and coworkers Infrequent but Regular Interaction – People you encounter at kids events or shops you frequent Social Media Connections – People spread out all over the world from a diverse background, some of whom you may have never met face-to-face
Jesus in the Digital World

Now if you’re like me, you probably have a love / hate relationship with social media. It has some great benefits but some real drawbacks. And I don’t want to get into all of those, but I will tell you, over the past year we have been blown away by the reach we can make over social media.

We have a web page called “Why did I give up on God?” where nearly every week somebody angry at God reads a message Brent gave 4 years ago and comments about why they are angry at God. And Brent takes the time to respond to almost all of them.

We also have been trying to be more active on our Facebook page in and some private groups. And people have responded. We have people joining in conversations who we didn’t even know were still associated with our church.

We’ve found people are watching our online services because they haven’t found a church to connect with in their own areas. And God is using Ashworth to be part of their journey – from afar.

And it’s for all these reasons that we decided we wanted to more fully invest into our digital ministry. If Jesus wanted his servants to go out to the alleys, roads, and country lanes, then if he were around today, surely he would be using social media. It’s one more way to reach further, out to more and more people.

So in a bit over a month we will be launching a Facebook campus, called Ashworth Church Online where we want to build community with those who are unable to attend because of distance or comfort-level. This is NOT going to be another Bible Study or place for you to be fed spiritual nuggets throughout the week. This isn’t for everybody! This is going to be an intentional place for people who want to be social media missionaries – servants who are actively trying to connect with people they know in spiritual conversations in a safe place they can meet.

In addition to the church launching our own online community, it’s important for each of you to understand you can use your own social media accounts to invite people as well. You can speak of the goodness of God in a non-judgy, non-pushy way that compels people to want to ask more questions. And I hope some of you will begin to see your social media as more than a place to lament the politics of the day and instead as a platform for ministry.

And that leads me to my final point. If you use social media to mock the other side, whatever that is to you – recognize that we are all creating an online reputation. If the master in the story had a terrible reputation, that would impact whether or not people would attend. In the same way, if you have a bad reputation for being mean spirited and always controversial, it will build a wall between you and those you want to invite.

Conclusion

For the past year, we’ve been told to STAY. Stay at home. Stay safe. But now it’s time to GO! It’s time to go out to the streets and alleys, roads and country lanes to tell people they are invited to something Beyond what they can imagine. They don’t know what they are missing, and they won’t unless we tell them.

So as I conclude here today, I want each of you to take a moment and consider, who or what is your Go? Who do you need to pray for and start spiritual conversations with. And breaking my rule about inviting to church, who can you invite to join you for Easter Sunday next week or share the link so they can watch online. The instructions to Go are too broad for most of us to do anything about it when we walk out of here, unless we focus it on a person or on a method like creating an amazing Pinterest board for Jesus. So that’s your homework. This is your opportunity. The master desires to have a full house – let’s help him fill it!

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