I owe a debt to Amos ‘n Andy.
No, not the controversial radio and TV characters. Cursillo brothers of mine here in Calgary, who recently pointed me in the direction of California clergyman Francis Chan.
I reached out via Twitter a few weeks ago for recommendations for new podcast preachers. I follow the gangs from Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, but I’ve caught up with their online libraries, so I thought it was time to mine new territory to supplement my weekly listening.
Andy recommended a bunch of preachers, and Amos only mentioned one – Francis Chan, and Andy also offered a follow-up endorsement of Chan as well.
Amos ‘n Andy did not steer me wrong.
Francis Chan (not a Franciscan despite the obvious monikeral pressure) is a powerful preacher. I’ve listened to three of his podcasts so far, but the first of them had the most impact. At random (it seemed at the time), I chose a sermon he gave last June called The Thrill of Obedience at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, and was struck by a number of the teachings it contained.
At one point, he talked about the Popeye Moment, when people hit their breaking point – ‘I’ve had all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!’ on something that’s bothered them for a while, and make a change in their lives. That prompted the semi-related epiphany contained in last week’s Disciplehood entry, Popeye Syndrome. (Never realized what a spiritual treasure trove the Sailor Man was before!)
But what struck me the most in Chan’s sermon was his take on the stories of two rich guys in Luke 18 and Luke 19 – the Rich Young Ruler (sometimes called the Rich Young Man, or simply ‘a certain ruler’) and Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector.
This wasn’t the first sermon I’ve heard contrasting these two dudes and their interaction with Jesus. Meredith Dancause of Mars Hill Bible Church gave a great sermon in September called Zacchaeus: the Mean Little Man.
If the rich young man, who has kept the Law all of his life, can’t be saved under his own steam, then no one can, Dancause says in summation of Luke 18:18-26. But if the vile, scheming, traitorous, cheating tax collector Zacchaeus can be saved by the grace of God, everyone can! she summarizes Luke 19:1-10.
She spends most of the sermon focusing on Zacchaeus. She explores the uncomfortable reality that grace is equally available to people we don’t like – even a mean little man like Zacchaeus, or a petty landlord from her own past or many of the villains we all encounter in our lives. It’s a great sermon, and I highly recommend giving it a listen sometime.
But back to Chan, who points out the fact that in Luke 18:24, Jesus says, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ but in Luke 19:9 – less than a chapter later – ‘Salvation has come to this house’ (the house of a rich guy).
What gives? Two rich guys both met with Jesus. Both were confronted with an uncomfortable truth about themselves and both were convicted by the encounter. Why did these stories end so differently?
The difference, obviously, lies in their response to the Gospel. Zacchaeus repented and changed. The rich, young man went away sad.
And as I listened to Chan’s sermon, I was convicted about how often my response to a conviction involves going away sad, rather than repenting and changing. (Wow. I can’t even feel bad about myself properly. Sounds pretty Charlie Brownish, doesn’t it? Good grief.)
I was tempted, after listening to Chan’s sermon, to go away sad about the fact I too often go away sad.
But I find comfort in another detail of both of the rich guys’ stories, and I think it’s worth mentioning.
Jesus became friends with Zacchaeus and invited himself to his house before he repented. Similarly, in Mark’s description of the encounter with the rich young man, Mark 10:21), Jesus ‘looked at him and loved him’ beforetelling him to give everything to the poor. And when it became clear that the RYM wasn’t prepared to do this, Jesus didn’t send him away, he left on his own.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying Jesus is content with whatever meagre portion of our lives we feel like giving Him. He wants it all, He wants it now and He has every right to it. But He knows it’s not that easy for some of us, so he doesn’t send us away while we’re getting our act together. He wants to help us get our act together. He knows that on our own, we’re not capable of full-fledged repentance – and that whatever percentage we can manage without Him, we can do more with Him.
There’s no doubt that Jesus can stand to be with us before, during and after our failures. The question is if we can stand to be with him. To know where we’re lacking, to know what needs to change and know that we’re not willing to change that today – and to know that Jesus loves and accepts us anyway. A pretty uncomfortable spot to be in, methinks.
I think that’s why the rich young man went away sad. Not because he thought Jesus was giving him an ultimatum, but because he knew Jesus wasn’t giving him an ultimatum. He just couldn’t bear the shame of being in the presence of infinite patience and grace, while being overtly aware that he had no business being there – and yet, was entirely welcome there.
But Jesus makes the same demands of, and offers the same amnesty to, you and to me.
Mötley Crüe sang, ‘Girl, don’t go away mad. No, just go away.’ But Jesus says to each of us, ‘Child, don’t go away sad. No, just don’t go away.’
Peace be with you.