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Jesus the Game Changer  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Jesus shows us what it means to truly see everyone as being born in the image of God

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An allusion of equality

The notion of equality is well entrenched in our western society. It’s the notion that every person, regardless of religion, race, gender, or whatever other category you can think of, fundamentally have the same rights that we’ve come to accept. While I recognise there are some exceptions, I suggest you would be hard pressed to find someone in our society today that would openly admit that this fundamental right does not exist.
But while I believe that is true, what we seem to find is that we have a hard time working this out in practice.
It’s interesting to think how different parts of society try to work it out.
If you consider for a moment the left-right divide in politic, a divide which I personally think is not always useful, but it’s interesting to consider because on both sides, you would see a commitment to equality but worked out quite differently.
On the right side of politics, there would generally be a greater awareness that people are going to play different roles, particularly in the economy, and that individuals will be best served when each person plays their role in the economy. Some critics might call it inequality because of the differences, whereas it could be construed as not being inequality, but rather just differences. And remember, equality does not mean that everyone is the same.
On the left side of politics however, equality is generally seen in a different light. The left side are often seen as more working for the working class. They are often seen as trying to address the imbalance, and therefore addressing the inequality.
Both sides would say that they are working towards equality, but coming at it from very different points of view.
The reality is, when you start digging a bit deeper, regardless of which view point you come from, you start to see holes in the logics and assumptions.
You see, whatever your view point, it becomes really easy to move from a great ideal of equality, to favouring one group of people unfairly over another.

Allusion of equality with the Jews

This is actually exactly what happened with the Jewish people that Jesus came up against.
I read a moment ago from the parable Jesus gave in which we often refer to as the parable of the lost sheep.
If you look at the context of this parable we find it in the first two verses where it tells us that the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus and this was of great concern to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
Now there is something interesting that we need to consider about the Pharisees. These Pharisees, despite their faults, were actually people who genuinely wanted to honour God. Unfortunately, their fervour was often misplaced, but they at least wanted to honour God.
And so, as people who knew their scriptures well, which of course we need to recognise that their scripture is our Old Testament, they should have been well aware that right at the start of their scriptures, when they got to the bit about God creating the world, their was a strong verse stating:
Genesis 1:27 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
The implication being that everyone, regardless of race, gender or anything else, was created in the image of God, and therefore was worth the same sense of dignity that comes with being a human.
Now often it is easy to see the Old Testament as being essentially racist with the big emphasis on the nation of Israel, but while this emphasis exists, it is in order that there will be an effective carrier for the gospel, not because people from other nations were somehow less valuable.
So, we have Jewish teaching which states that everyone was made in the image of God, and yet here we have these learned Jewish people who just don’t get it.
For them you could well imagine them saying: yes, we agree everyone is made in the image of God, but...
…but some are made with more value then others
…but some are just not deserving of God’s love.

The exceptions

This is exactly what we do. We say, yes of course we believe in the equality of everyone, but...
And this is where depending on who you are you will probably put a different but in here.
…but not the dole bludgers who never lift a finger.
…but not immigrants who are causing nothing but trouble
You know we can come up with great reasons why we want to place less value on someone, and we will most likely argue that it’s not because we see them any less equal, but somehow I think there is more to it then we admit to ourselves.
Well, it is with this background of value judging others that Jesus then gives the parable that I want to look at today.
The Pharisees didn’t want Jesus to spend quality time with the sinners because they weren’t worth it.
So as I explore the parable, my intention is to first consider how revolutionary this teaching was, but also to consider how we can be just like the Pharisee, to hold some vague idea of everyone born in the image of God, but fail to actually live like it.

Parable of the lost sheep

So let’s look at the parable. It starts by imagining 100 sheep, and then it says that one goes missing.
Now it is necessary to understand what it looked like to be a shepherd during this time. You see, it’s quite different to how sheep are kept today. The shepherd would wander around with them and leads them to various pastures where they can be well fed. There were various pens where they could be kept safe, but quite often there was nothing stopping them from wandering off, other than the shepherds watchful gaze.
So we’ve got this scenario given to us by Jesus. All of the sheep are safe except one.

Two options

At this point there are essentially two different ways you could approach this problem.

Rationalist approach

The first approach I might call a rationalist approach. It’s the approach that recognises there is going to be some loss.
As an example, when I previously worked at a BP service station, those lollies they place at the height of small children would often go walking. As much as the owners wanted to prevent that theft, it made economical sense to do it, because after cutting their losses, the increase sales that came from the practice, made it worth it.
A similar approach could be taken with the sheep. You’ve still got the vast majority of them. Going after the one would be risky, quite possibly the sheep would be dead, and also a distinct possibility, you could put your own life at risk to go after it.
A few times I became aware of when children took from there without paying, but I suspect there were many
If you are going to make an economic rationalist approach, then cut your losses and move on.

Irrational approach

The second approach could almost be seen as been irrational. It is the approach where nothing can be lost.
Sometimes this approach can end in disaster. How many times have we heard of stories where a child is drowning in the ocean and a parent, or someone close to the family jumps in to save the child only to drown themselves.
But while this is a tragedy and I would counsel wisdom in such situation, what it demonstrates is how the rationalist approach just doesn’t work when it’s someone we love.

The shepherds choice

And it is this approach that we see the shepherd take.
Now to understand why the shepherd makes this choice, you need to understand the mindset of the shepherds back then.
You see, these shepherds had a bit of a reputation. They had a reputation for putting everything into the care of their sheep. Sometimes this got them in trouble - because they could be quite rough to others if needed. In fact, people didn’t always trust these shepherds as being nice to other, but what nobody ever doubted was a shepherds focus in looking after every sheep.
When a sheep died, it wasn’t a matter of just brushing it aside as if it didn’t matter - it was a big deal.

The shepherds joy

In the parable we get a sense of just how much value each sheep had when we see the joy the shepherd has when he finds the lost sheep.
We’re told that after he puts the sheep on his shoulders and goes home, he then calls his friends and neighbours together and has a party.
You don’t do that for something that is not of value.
Economically, it wouldn’t really make much difference if he had the sheep or not. It might have affected his profits a bit, but it would have been hardly noticeable with the fluctuations of the economy. But the value of this sheep is more than just the money he can make from it.
We can all think of things that are worth more than the economic value. Take my wedding ring. To buy a replacement might set me back perhaps a few hundred, but if I were to lose it, the lost money would be one of the least of my concerns.

Reflection on the context

So let’s bring this parable back to the context it’s told in.
Remember we have the Pharisees concerned with Jesus spending time with the sinners and tax collectors.
The easy thing to do is to take the rationalist approach. You see, people are either going to accept God or they’re not. They are either going to live a life worthy of God or they’re not. We can provide a space where people make this choice, but once they do, well that’s it, there is no point wasting your time any more.
This is really easy for it to play out in the church. There are all of you who have come to church, and then there are all those who are sitting at home, or doing whatever, but not coming to church.
So let’s focus on ourselves, and not worry about any one else.
But this was not the attitude of Jesus. That’s because everyone is worth it. The inherent value that is on everyone means that we have to treat them as such.

Putting it in practice

Now this is a great truth to hold to. The real difficulty however is putting it properly into practice. I started by mentioning that in our Western culture, it is generally accepted that everyone has inherent worth, but that for most, if not all people, we fail in putting it into practice.
That’s largely because life is full of various practicalities that we need to work through to make life manageable.
For example it is one thing to say we should never give up on someone because they have inherent value, but if they are constantly working against you, your approach will have to change.
We even see Jesus taking this attitude. You might remember the instructions he gave to the seventy-two that he sent out to share the good news () - if you are not welcomed in a town, then shake the dust off your feet and leave.
So the application to this message is not that you have to run yourself into the ground just so you can show another person love.
While this might be a problem for some people, I think for the vast majority of us, the reality is that too often we overlook people because it’s just too hard, or too risky. Perhaps we’ll get caught up in a bigger drama that we just don’t want.
While I’ll maintain we have to be wise in what we get involved in, frankly I think our wisdom is over-run by self-protection.


While we’re thinking about the practicalities of putting the truth of the equality of all into practice, I just want to highlight a few difficulties we come up against.

Equal doesn’t mean same

Firstly, being equal doesn’t mean being the same. The apostle Paul gives us a great analogy of a body in . In the body we have many different parts. There are hands, feet, eyes, ears, a nose, a mouth - the list could go on. Each body part is important and necessary, but they all serve different purposes.
We can describe them all as equal because without any of them, the function of the body is deficient.
Now certain parts are going to have greater relative importance for certain functions, say for the purposes of seeing, the eyes are more important, but that’s only for that purpose.
So while we are not all the same and we each bring different gifts and talents to the table, everyone is equal in the worth that God has given them.
Every body

Disagreeing with the ideas of others

But another difficult that arises, mostly out of misunderstanding the idea of equality, is when disagreements occur. The recent case of the same-sex marriage debate is a case in point.
You see, Christians were often pictured as being against equality in this debate because they didn’t stand for same-sex marriage. Now it’s not my intention to get into this debate now, other than to say that treating everyone equally is not the same as agreeing with everyone.
The difficulty that was found in that recent debate on same-sex marriage was that for some people, their identity was wrapped up in their homosexuality and so in their eyes, opponents of the new definition were not treating everyone with equality.
I want to suggest that this actually skews the notion of equality and makes it something altogether different. Being equal does not mean the same and it does not mean that all ideas are equal.

Treating as equals

So with those qualifications in mind, what we do need to affirm for us to do, is to treat everyone with dignity, no matter who they are. On the issue of homosexuality, it means that even with a conclusion that it goes against the nature of God, we still treat them as humans who have dignity and need to be cared for.
For the prisoners in our prison system, it means recognising that they too have rights. They may deserve to be there, and for many, it might be the most fitting place for them, but that does not mean they don’t have rights.
For the refugee, they too deserve our attention. Personally, I don’t know what the exact policy should be for our government to take. I recognise that we have to be discerning in how we go about the whole matter, but we can’t just write it off as if it doesn’t matter. These people have been created in the image of God, just like you and me and they deserve to be given the same level of dignity.
I could go on and point out many different groups of people. The message that Jesus gave doesn’t always tell us the precise nature of how to deal with each situation, but it does tell us that everyone is of worth, even if they have done horrible things in the past.

Jesus the Game Changer

As I draw towards a close, I want to bring it back to the fact that this message I’m giving, while it might be in some ways a fashionable message to give today, it was actually very revolutionary in the day of Jesus.
What I just said about the prisoner and the refugee just wouldn’t have been said back then.
Once someone has brought dishonour on themselves, whether their fault or not, there just was not the need to give them the same sense of dignity. Even still in many parts of the world today this still exists.
For those who did the study throughout the week, this is what we looked at. That it truly was Jesus being a game changer who showed us that there was a better way.
This sense of everyone being equal and each having worth doesn’t come through any other system of thought.
The Greek philosophers certainly disagreed with it.
The ancient religion of Hinduism certainly disagrees with it.
The more modern thought of evolution does not lead to that conclusion, and you just have to look at white people coming to Australia who justified atrocities against the Aboriginals by evolutionary principles, and Hilter who used evolution to justify some of his mass murders to realise that.
The conclusion can only really come from concept that God made humans and made them each special, that we come to the conclusion that every human is equal and should be treated with dignity.
Before going through this series I don’t think it really dawned on me just how remarkable this is. Today, in our western culture, most non-Christians would subscribe in some ways to this notion, but it is really only through the teaching of Christ that it first came.
Jesus truly is a game changer.
Let’s pray...
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