Teaching & reflection material based on Matthew 11:20-30                                                                                                  

We’re developing our church’s welcome ministry over these next few months. So what does such a ministry look like? It’s not just about getting one or two things right to help feel welcome & integrated into church. It’s not about getting more ‘bums on seats’! It is rather something that comes from the depths of God’s heart. For Jesus, to welcome and receive someone was not a way of winning friends and influencing people, it was the good news that God is like this – a welcoming presence for all. Welcome is not a ministry of attraction! It’s a movement of inclusion! It’s a movement to create a different kind of human community. Matthew 11: 20-30 expresses this precisely and beautifully. But does it? What about v.20-24? Not much welcome there!

Human belonging systems: in or out

Jesus’ mission was to re-form our human world with its mash of ; to shape it differently because it’s become badly skewed. Our human world is full of belonging systems. Now this is fine if you belong. But it’s not so good if you don’t. Belonging systems give us identity but at great cost. It creates insiders and outsiders. The song by Flanders & Swann song from my childhood is a fun take on this. More seriously our Parliamentary democracy is based on this foundation. Witness the weekly knockabout each Wednesday morning at Prime Minister’s Question Time.  This is why it’ll never produce God’s kingdom. And Christians use their faith and turn it into a belonging system. You must believe this, then you’ll belong, as long as you behave. Plus Christianity has the additional catch-all of a final judgement. Jesus may have come as a helpless baby but he’ll return as vengeful Lord. And then all the wicked unbelievers will fry! And today there are plenty of targets for God’s vengeance: there’s Islamists (muddled with all Islam), the gays, then there’s always Dawson or anything else that’s not understood. This is fear-based, identity and security generating religion. And it’s ugly and nothing to do with Jesus. But what about verses 20-24?

Jesus’ invitation movement: longing to include

When we have such a tender & appealing invitation in verses 28-30, what do we make of the blasts of ‘old religion’ judgement in verses 20-24? How do you hear Jesus’ tone in uttering these ‘woes’? What was Jesus’ spirit as he spoke? Is this just one more hurt and rejected preacher/wonder-worker going off in sulk using God to blast his enemies? This is where words mislead. The word ‘Woe’ conjures up images of ‘turn or burn’ open-air preachers angrily berating the passing public who ignore him. But when you take into account Jesus’ use of many woes in Matthew 23 you come to this amazing switch in 23:37-38. It’s one the most tender expressions of Jesus. His passion is to gather even those who appear as his ‘enemies’. This is echoed by Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-42. And even when it comes to those detested Samaritan outsider he’ll have nothing to do with the disciples call for vengeance.  The same tenderness that appears in his beautiful invitation motivates the woes! How do your hear Jesus tone? What comes from Jesus’ spirit?

A way for the humble

Only now can you hear precisely what’s going on in verse 25-30. What makes a truly welcoming church community or person? It’s not just a church with an effective ministry to welcome people but a community formed in the spirit of this tender, barrier leaping Jesus. That is it’s made up of people who have learnt to see the human story differently and who are being transformed by it. In other words it bring us to people with:-

  • A beginners mind: ‘Hidden from the wise and intelligent and revealed to infants.’ I’ve found this is to be true. The problem is not learning in itself but the tendency of the learned to trust in their learning & knowledge. I’ve found people of little intelligence with penetrating insights into deep truth. The beginner’s mind is full of wonder, openness and desire to grow; that is like a child.
  • A submissive spirit: ‘take my yoke’ is an image of submission as an ox becomes productive energy. Submission to Jesus’ yoke leads to productive energy. But Jesus taking an amazing leap and connection here. In a book written a little before the time of Jesus, there’s a beautiful open celebrating wisdom and in it there’s this. ‘Put your neck under her (wisdom’s) yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.’ (Sirach 51:26) Jesus makes himself the Wisdom of God. And humble, submissive souls with open and questing spirits have proven this so time and again.

Jesus started an invitation movement: ‘Come’. But his movement of inclusion didn’t involve an ‘anything goes’ easy tolerance, but a deep commitment to values from the very heart of God, that was able to name the tragic ‘woe’ that lies over human life. This Jesus we follow & say to all: ‘Welcome.’

 

FOR REFLECTION

 

  1. Share experiences of times when you’ve felt welcomed and others where you felt excluded. Describe what each is like. What happens to you as a person in each environment.
  2. Where do you see belonging systems at work in today’s society and world i.e. systems that create insiders and outsiders? Why do human beings invariably behave like this?
  3. Where have you seen Christian faith into a similar belonging system? Chat about ‘believe, belong, behave,’ and the order in which they should come in a healthy church that reflects Jesus.
  4. How should we understand the judgement of Jesus in verses like Matthew 11:20-24? What do we mean by God’s ‘wrath’ and God’s ‘anger’. Is it like a human being getting angry? Does God switch between love and wrath?
  5. What do Matthew 23:37-38 & Luke 9:51-56 & 19:41-42 reveal about the judgement, the anger and the wrath of God?
  6. Why is kingdom life revealed to ‘infants’? What is Jesus trying to tell us? Why are wise and intelligent people unable to get it? Why is kingdom stuff not down to intelligence?
  7. What does it mean to ‘take my yoke upon you’? How does this throw light on Ephesians 5:21?
  8. What’s the link between Matthew 11:25-26 & 28-29 verses and cultivating a welcoming culture? In other words why do a beginner’s mind and a submissive spirit create a welcoming culture?

To hear me talk more about this, you listen back to the podcast from that sermon.