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Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

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Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

intro -
[thanks]
Before we begin, I want to let you know that today is not the typical Thanksgiving message. That will happen next week. Today, I need to take a moment to “meddle” a little.
Have you all ever been in a situation where things are just going along and then suddenly someone gets absolutely irate? They go from 0-100 in an instant! And all you can think to yourself is, “well that escalated quickly.”
You ever wonder why? Such a simple question, and really, it has a super simple answer. The answer?
Civil, adult, conversation.
That is it. You would be surprised how many of our problems that little answer can fix! And I want us to look into that answer today...
Matthew 9:1–13 NIV
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man. As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matt 9:
[pray]
[firstpicslidehere…whispering secrets]
Perhaps one of the truest, if not the most timeless, aspects of the human condition is on full display in this text. You see it right? Now don’t look at Jesus if you want to see it, no you need to look at those people who play our role in this text - the Pharisees. They are showing us ourselves in this moment.
So if you look back in your Bibles, what do you see about them?
Matthew 9:3 NIV
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
This is what I see. These teachers of the law, these folks who profess to be closer to God than those other people in their community, if not the world; they see Jesus - who they know as someone who has been walking around healing people - they see Him doing His thing, and how do they respond?
They talk to themselves.
And not just any talk. No, I imagine that if they were saying positive and praiseworthy things to themselves that this story might not even be in the Bible!
No, they weren’t saying good stuff, really, as much as they were forming a negative opinion based on their disagreement. But that really isn’t the worst part. You see we all have doubts about the actions of others, and even God! We all have moments when we just don’t understand, or even outright question.
[talk about shooting in Texas…my questions…violence in general?]
So we all question. And for our modern day teachers of the law - us pastors - most of those questions can never be audibilized for fear of causing someone else to lose faith!
So I get it. I really do.
So that is where these men are right now. They are letting these thoughts, whatever they might be - maybe thoughts of anger over process or procedure - concerns over the words used instead of concerns of the message or of the actions, they were letting those things fester in their minds.
They allowed their idea of how something should be done to cloud their vision from the way that God wanted it done and in fact did it. And more telling, they were dwelling on those thoughts instead of the thoughts of joy and wonder that would have been there had they not been so intentionally negative.
And every time he gets frustrated, he escapes by reminding himself Jesus Himself could only round up 11 people who were fully on board with what God was doing.
Matthew 9:4 NIV
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?
You know the feeling too, don’t you? Those moments when you see the good that is supposed to be done, or worse yet, that has been done, but you disagree with the way it was done, or the person who did it, or whatever - and that clouds your vision of the miracle that happened right in front of you.
Why do we let those thoughts even enter into our minds?
I wish I had an answer, I really do. But I don’t.
But you know what’s worse? What’s worse in we don’t just let those thoughts in, just like these Pharisees, we actually entertain them as well!
No what do I mean by that? Well I mean that we dwell on them. We give them room to grow. Instead of thinking them and then immediately reminding ourselves to have grace or to allow God room to grow in that situation, instead of that, we nurture those evil or hurtful thoughts and help them to grow.
[picoftwowolves]
That reminds me of my favorite Native American parables.
An old grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice; he said, “let me tell you a story.”
“I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking a poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.” He continued, “It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of anger. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because of his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.
Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked deep into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins?”
The Grandfather smiled lovingly and whispered, “The one I feed.”
[fuzzypicofpeople]
That is us too. And that is these pharisees here. Our anger can blind us to the truth that is all around us, just as it did for these men who stood in the presence of a miracle.
But there’s more. There’s more, because honestly, just hearing that we do this once isn’t enough. And to be fair, the lesson hasn’t really yet been given!
No the real lesson comes next. Jesus goes on from there, our text says, and sees Matthew, and He calls him to follow. And then, church, Jesus is immediately seen going over to the house of this new disciple.
No big deal. Just going to have a little dinner. What’s there to be mad at?
But those old Pharisees, playing our part in this story, they come back with a vengeance.
Seeing that Jesus was doing something they didn’t agree with, those same evil thoughts came in their hearts. I mean why wouldn’t they? There is Jesus, reclining around a table full of sinners! I mean why would God ever want to be around a bunch of sinners? Why would God come to earth just to talk with those awful folks?
This was the last straw. So they marched right over…well not to Jesus…but over to His disciples. I mean, they wouldn’t just talk with the one they were mad at. No, much easier to go talk to someone else, and make them mad too! Then maybe they could all gang up on the one doing God’s work! That’ll teach Him!
Matthew 9:11 NIV
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
matt 9:
Church, just what do they, and we at times, think should be going on? Should the Son of God only sit with those who are worthy to be in His presence?
Well that would be a sight, wouldn’t it? Empty chairs at empty tables. The Savior of the world just waiting for someone to talk to. Just waiting to have someone speak to Him, but there is no one to be found!
The pharisees, like us at times, become blinded to reality because we are feeding the hate that lives in us! It is almost as if we need that drama, we need that tension, we need SOMETHING to be wrong, because when we look in the mirror of our souls we know the evil thoughts and intentions that we can have, so surely everyone else has those too!
The pharisees, like us at times, become blinded to reality because we are feeding the hate that lives in us! It is almost as if we need that drama, we need that tension, we need SOMETHING to be wrong, because when we look in the mirror of our souls we know the evil thoughts and intentions that we can have, so surely everyone else has those too!
Like these pharisees, we lack the backbone to have civil discourse with those with whom we might disagree, conversations that just might end all the drama! And because of that, we speak in the shadows. We whisper awful thoughts, petty thoughts - thoughts that are intended to make us look so wise and holy, but only serve to feed that evil wolf that lives in our hearts.
And we don’t just do this with faith. We do this with everything!
[p
We are constantly fighting off the feeling that our way is naturally better than anyone else’s. When you see someone driving, you know you drive better. Men, you know that your shortcut is the best way to go! Ladies, your recipe is better, right? We always know the best way to do something, and whenever any else does it differently what do we do?
We whisper to anyone who will listen how much better our way is, or at the very least, how substandard theirs is.
Way back in 1980, the author and scientist, Isaac Asimov was speaking to a magazine about the state of education, and society in general, in America.
He said, “It’s hard to quarrel with that ancient justification of the free press: “America’s right to know.” It seems almost cruel to ask, ingenuously, ”America’s right to know what, please? Science? Mathematics? Economics? Foreign languages?”
[pharsieeswhispering]
None of those things, of course. In fact, one might well suppose that the popular feeling is that Americans are a lot better off without any of that.
That is this text!
These men thought that they understood everything there was to understand about God! They just knew that they held the keys to the kingdom, and if you were going to be considered a messiah, or even a man of God, you had to do it just the way they thought was right!
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
Now just for me, remove the Godly parts of that, and ask yourself if that is you from time to time. I know it is me. We think we are right more often than not. We think we know everything about something. We think our way is the only way!
Well I have it. Well that isn’t exactly fair or honest.
Jesus had it. But I don’t think they, or we, are listening.
Matthew 9:12–13 NIV
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matt 9:
And then there is Jesus, reminding us that He alone is God.
Now I want this verse to sink in for a second, because it is more important than you may give it credit for. I know that we know it. I know we gloss over it. But here is what that verse means to me in this moment.
I know that we know it. I know we gloss over it. But here is what that verse means to me in this moment.
Think about it this way. Jesus is telling these pharisees - people who are double minded and whispering evil thoughts in the shadows - that God has come for those people.
God came for sinners.
Real profound right?
Now what do I mean? Well hear me out on this.
There, sitting around that table and eating, is a picture of what God does for us every single moment. You see, there at that table, the Savior of everything, God in flesh, sat and listened to sinners.
That should have a profound impact on us. Listen, those sinners, just like you and me, live our lives every single day as sinners. And sin, church, is anything that is in direct opposition to God. So it naturally follows that those who do things in opposition to God are, in fact, themselves in opposition to God! At the very least, they have a vastly different opinion on a great many things!
But hear me out. He didn’t just come to save you, He came to speak with you, to know you, to be with you, to coexist in some way with you!
But there we see God, not closing Himself off to the world, but directly modelling how we humans are supposed
Hea
Isaiah 1:18 ESV
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
He came to reason with us. He came to, in some way, live in relationship with us, right smack in the middle of our day-to-day lives.
Unlike us, God wants to sit and talk with those who disagree with Him. He wants a conversation. Civil discourse. He doesn’t want empty chairs around an empty table. No He wants people who are willing to speak to Him! People who are grateful for His presence and who are willing to listen! And He models for us the grace we need to ourselves be those people for others!
Church understand, if God treated us like we treat those with whom we have a minor disagreement then there would have been empty chairs and an empty table in this story! And hear this clearly, if we continue to treat others like the Pharisees here, there will be empty chairs around our empty tables in our homes, and in our church, both the little “c” and the big “C” - wherever we are in life we will find ourselves sitting at empty tables if we don’t live out the same Grace that Jesus gives to us!
This story shows us people who feed that wolf, the wolf of envy and fear, and pride. We see in them an unwillingness - whether born of fear, or laziness, or pride, or whatever - we see an unwillingness to approach someone with whom we might disagree over some trivial matter - and in so doing, church, they, and we would cause another issue, perhaps even a larger one, just because we are too afraid to have an adult conversation, either with them, with God, or with ourselves.
[thanksgivingpic]
Many of us will see that this very week. We will sit around our tables, and remind each other of the rules. No religion. No politics. No this or that. Whatever your rules might be.
But there are other rules too. You know those rules - the ways in which we treat those with whom we hold a disagreement at social gatherings. Rules that, if we are completely honest, look EXACTLY like what these Pharisees did!
Maybe someone in your family has an issue that everyone just accepts silently, while they are together, but whisper about it in the shadows to any one who will listen and agree.
I can hear them in this story today. “Can you believe He is eating with sinners?” “You’re following Him! Your savior is hanging out with tax collectors. You think God would do that?”
But us, after dinner is done, we might say: “They aren’t even married. They’ve been living together for 5 years.” Or maybe, “Can you believe her mom let her wear that?” “I heard someone say that there is a reason he is single.”
We are all guilty. And we all need to stop.
And all they had to do - all WE have to do - is just look at the example of Jesus!
We need to stop not just because it is what God wants us to do, but because when we whisper in the shadows, eventually, we will find that there are no people left who we haven’t slighted in some way! There will be no one there to fill our chairs, and sit around our tables!
Empty chairs at empty tables, where once sat people like us! People who needed hope. People who needed love. People who needed healing. People who are sick, just like us! People who, like us, carry the full weight of all their shortcomings and sin who just need someone to listen to them and love them!
Church, that is our chance to be a part of God’s work, and to do that, we need to look at the example of Jesus!
We need to understand that God surrounded Himself in this moment, and in too many other moments to count, with people who lived in direct opposition to Him! He didn’t want, in fact, to be around people who claimed to somehow agree to everything He said. He didn’t surround Himself with the holy, whether they could truly exist or not! No, God sits and befriends those whose lives are in DIRECT opposition to Him, and then models for us the ultimate example of a living and practical Grace!
A GRACE THAT HAS EARS TO HEAR! A GRACE THAT SEES BEYOND OPINION, AND LIFESTYLE, AND POLITICS, AND PERSUASIONS - BUT THAT SEES INTO THE HEART OF EVERY PERSON IT TOUCHES! AND IN THAT HEART, CHURCH, THERE IN THAT HEART LIES A FELLOW CREATION OF GOD! A WONDERFUL VESSEL OF GOD’S POTENTIAL! AN INSTRUMENT WAITING TO BE USED BY GOD! BUT IF YOU AREN’T WILLING TO HAVE CIVIL DISCOURSE WITH THEM, IF YOU AREN’T WILLING TO TREAT EVERY PERSON ON THIS PLANET AS IF THEY WERE THE VERY PERSON THAT JESUS NOT ONLY CAME TO SAVE, BUT CHURCH, THEY ARE THE VERY PERSON HE DIED FOR! IF YOU CAN’T TREAT EVERY PERSON LIKE THAT, THEN WE CAN NEVER EXPECT TO HAVE ANYONE UNDERSTAND JUST HOW DEEP, AND WIDE, AND ETERNAL THE LOVE OF CHRIST REALLY IS!
WE CAN’T JUST FACTION OURSELVES OFF INTO OUR COMFORTABLE CLIQUES! WE CAN’T JUST COMPARTMENTALIZE OUR FAITH TO CERTAIN MOMENTS AND NOT OTHERS! WE HAVE TO LIVE OUT OUR FAITH AT OUR TABLES, AT WORK, IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS - IN OUR OWN HEARTS - IF WE EVER EXPECT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THIS WORLD!
1 Tim 1:
1 Timothy 1:15–16 NIV
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
[jesus at the table]
“Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst,” Paul says.
But for that very reason we are shown mercy so that in us - you and me, the worst of sinners - Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life!
“Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst,” Paul says.
Christ’s Grace, church, demands that we live out lives that don’t whisper our disagreements, but that move beyond the petty and the superficial so that we can together move toward the eternal! And to do that, we must be willing to be heard and to hear.
To love beyond disagreement, and color, and politics, and personality, and lifestyles.
If Christ came for all people, and sits around the table and talks with sinners, then church, I pray that is right where God finds us every day.
You see, we have all been called. Not just by the example of this text, but called directly by Jesus! And not only have we been called, but most of us here have accepted that call, and now profess to be a follower of Christ!
[move toward stuff below]
And if a follower, we must do what He does.
Steve Godfrey put’s it this way: “I profess to be an ambassador of the kingdom of heaven, carrying the best news that anyone could ever hear, that there is a God who created them, understands them, and offers them forgiveness and a new life.  He commissioned me to advance this message before he ascended to heaven.  He’s coming back and he’s going to ask me what I did with my commission.”
[be sure to include Asimov quote about ignorance…saved the pic of it]
[talking about civil discourse. Using Jesus as the example of surrounding Himself with sinners. Setting up the idea that sin is in direct opposition with God, so these people were in direct opposition as well, but still God wanted to be where they were so that they could somehow understand God and not live a life of willful ignorance…we need to copy that…otherwise Jesus would have sat with empty chairs at empty tables and if we aren’t careful, we will do the same thing…]
And when He asks, church, what will we say? Did we sit with sinners? Did we whisper in the shadows? Did we live out Christ’s example?
[use proverbs and psalms liberally to talk against ignorance and for conversation]
Matthew 9:13 NIV
But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matt 9:
Did we live with mercy? Did we live with Grace? Because that is what God is demanding from us. Not sacrifice. Not phony righteousness.
“He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
[quote to use from Steve Godfrey about the talents…(probably need to set it up or change the last line to fit what you are talking about). “I profess to be an ambassador of the kingdom of heaven, carrying the best news that anyone could ever here, that there is a God who created them, understands them, and offers them forgiveness and a new life.  He commissioned me to advance this message before he ascended to heaven.  He’s coming back and he’s going to ask me what I did with my commission.  Will I be one who acts with “entrepreneurial boldness” (R.T. France again) or one who buries what I have in the ground?”
So as we gather around our tables, and as we move forward with our lives beyond Thanksgiving; I pray that we can do it following Christ’s example of love for all people. A love that can be lived out, if only we stay grateful to Him in all things. And by feeding on His Spirit.
The spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control.
If we just feed ourselves those things, in all situations, we will find ourselves sitting around tables not with people with whom we disagree, or worse dislike, but with a family of God, that holds God to be bigger and more important than ourselves.
And when we feed those thoughts, church, evil loses and the whole world wins.
Invitation.
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