Meal

Meal

There are few things that I appreciate more in life than enjoying a meal with good friends and family. As an intentional way of sharing our lives with one another, it is unparalleled. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a high pressure situation. In fact it can be quite a casual act (unless you happen to being to a Michelin Starred restaurant!). We invite whom we like and spend the time in whatever way we want to.

This wasn’t the case in 1st Century Palestine during Jesus’ lifetime. In that culture sharing a meal with someone had significance that it is difficult for us to imagine today. It was not a casual act. Rules surrounding meals were deeply embedded in the religious purity system that dominated society at that time.

These rules governed not only what might be eaten and how it was to be prepared, but also with whom one might eat. Refusing to share a meal was a form of social ostracism. Pharisees (and others) would not eat with someone who was seen as religiously impure.

In Matthew chapter 9 we read the story of how Jesus called the disciple of the same name, and then was invited to his house for dinner. Now Matthew, as a tax collector, would have been a social pariah. He worked for the hated Roman occupiers, and he probably ripped off his countrymen in order to line his pockets.

No good Jew would have been seen within a mile of Matthew if they could at all avoid it. They definitely would not have eaten a meal with him. The religious culture of the day would have seen that as a tacit endorsement of the tax collector’s behaviour. It would have made them as ‘impure’ as Matthew by association.

Therefore when Jesus accepts Matthew’s invitation to his house for dinner, he was doing something no other Jewish religious teacher of that time would have done.

He was putting relationship ahead of rules. People before dogma. Love over law. He was causing scandal amongst the establishment and destroying any chance of his movement being acceptable to the status quo.

More than that, by choosing to eat with these ‘tax collectors and sinners’ Jesus was enacting a powerful message about the Kingdom of God, and indeed God himself. He was demonstrating God’s unwillingness to exclude anyone who welcomes him into their life, regardless of religious taboos or societal expectations.

He was demonstrating that love trumps law every time.

This really goes to the heart of what Jesus ministry was about. This is the inclusive Kingdom of God he taught about and demonstrated through his actions.

Are there people we as Christians in 21st Century Britain struggle to relate to? Are there social groups that we consciously or sub-consciously exclude from the Kingdom of God? Do we ever put law ahead of love when dealing with others? Are we more worried about our reputation than those in need around us?

The church needs to demonstrate the love of Christ, not the law of the Pharisees. We have the most incredible, life-changing, joyous and liberating message to share- let’s not limit it’s reach!

Hound

Hound

There have been 3 or 4 times over the years when I have been ready to give up my faith.

I have walked away from God, not prayed, not read the bible, not gone to church.

I have made a conscious choice to live a godless life.

There have been different reasons why; life circumstances, emotional responses and intellectual questions.

This has gone on for weeks and on one occasion, months, at a time.

I share this with you because I think it’s important that as Christians we are real with one another.

It isn’t all mountain-top moments and seamless travel from glory into glory. Being a Christian can be hard, and sometimes we are left peering over the edge.

The last time this happened to me was about 3 months ago. I won’t bore you with the details, but it would be fair to say I was making pretty concrete exit plans. I even got as far as sharing how I was feeling with a couple of close friends.

It didn’t stick.

Francis Thompson called God The Hound of Heaven in his remarkable poem of the same title, and I’ve found that to be a very apt description.

Whenever I’ve decided to walk away from God, there’s always been something (or someone) pulling me back.

He’s done it through the Bible, through my friends and through my thoughts and feelings.

His grace is irresistable.

On the most recent occasion I began walking away, I experienced a God-given dream for the first time in my life. God literally jolted me out of my sleep in the middle of the night. This dream was vivid, visceral and real in a way I’ve never experienced before. I have no doubt it was God calling me back.

The skeptics among you will probably just say I convinced myself to return to faith because I was scared of the alternative, because I didn’t have the courage to follow through on my conviction, or perhaps my subconscious couldn’t cope with the change, but that wasn’t the case.

Life isn’t the same without God. Life isn’t as good without God. It isn’t complete.

Jesus said he came to bring life in all its fullness (John 10:10) and I can testify to that. 

So often the Christian faith is portrayed as an escape route from hell, and heaven to look forward to in the future, but when we read the words of Jesus, it’s so clear that he believed the Kingdom of God was for living in the here and now. 

This is why when I walked away from Him, it felt like a core part of my life was missing. My life was no longer being lived as it was intended to be. This is also why when I returned I felt joy, relief and fulfilment.

I’m sure many of you can identify with these experiences and can tell a similar story.

If, on the other hand, you have chosen to be far from God at the moment, the life-affirming, liberating truth is that he is waiting for you to return with his arms wide open. There is no judgement, no condemnation, no cold shoulder.

He loves you and He says to you…..

“…Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”