Sligo18: Radical Grace

Tuesday 10 July

Simon Guillebaud has lived and worked for most of the last 20 years in Burundi, the second poorest country in the world.  He shared at Tuesday evening’s celebration at #Sligo18.  Here is a summary of his message:

It is a treat to be with you guys here at New Wine.  I have just finished 19 years and 10 months in Burundi.  It is a new chapter for us.  Burundi is the hungriest country in the world and, during my time there, we saw a genocide for 13 years with "only" 300,000 people killed. 56% of the population is malnourished. Then fighting broke out again in 2015. We are in the battle for the long haul and the last few years has been a time of grieving as we saw a lot of great work undone.    

We've sent out thousands of evangelists over the years into the bush.  We’ve seen the Acts of the Apostles brought to life (demon possessed people healed, people’s lives transformed, etc.).  That is our Jesus! It is the same Jesus (as in Bible times) and He is powerful and He wants to use us but we have to step out of our comfort zones.  The Africans say, “We don’t see loads of miracles in our churches. The time when we see miracles is when we go out to share the Gospel.”

Our daughter Grace is named after a baby girl who was found abandoned in a toilet. She survived because her head was caught in the U-bend.  She was rescued and adopted and given her name.  Today, Grace has graduated from university.  That it what God does!   

A few years ago, I hired out two prostitutes.  I realised it could go horribly wrong because I am well known.  I got a friend to negotiate for two girls for the night.  We arranged the hotel and I sat down with then and I said, “Ladies I want you to have a night off.  Eat, rest and enjoy the hotel.  The only thing I ask is you don’t try to solicit business. I’ll come back in the morning.”  We returned the next morning and as we talked, we discovered they were orphans who had fallen through the cracks.  I hope we don’t judge prostitutes.  They were dealt the worst cards in life.  Today they are both following Jesus. They are both in discipleship groups.  One has started a business.

Reading from Luke 7: 36 - 50 

The first time I fell in love, I became obsessed with a beautiful girl.  I found out everything I could about her and I thought about her constantly but there were two massive hurdles.  The first  was that she already had a boyfriend.  The second problem was that she was 13 years old and I was 5.  I got to know everything about her but I never spoke to her, I didn’t know her!

In Luke 7, Simon was like that.  The Pharisees confused knowledge with intimacy. They knew about God but they did not know God.  Jesus should have been the guest of honour.  It could be that Simon was the "doctrine police" checking out Jesus’ teaching. 

There were certain rules of etiquette at that time.  A guest should be greeted with a kiss. You had to wash the guest’s feet or a slave would do it.  For a distinguished guest, you would anoint them with oil.  Jesus was deliberately overlooked - no kiss, no foot washing and no anointing.  Notice the irony of that moment.  Simon who has spent his whole life studying the scriptures and here is the Messiah right in front of him and he has completely missed it.

In French there are two words for the verb "to know".  "Savoir" is to be acquainted with something or to know about stuff.  "Connaitre" is to be intimately familiar with or to know (a person). I don’t want anybody to be stuck in this room knowing about Jesus.  Don’t confuse knowledge with intimacy.  

Simon knew the scriptures but he didn’t know God.

The best Biblical word for intimacy is the Hebrew word yaddah that is to know completely and to be completely known.  The same word is used for God’s relationship with us.  It is a glorious word and it is the same word that is used for the intimacy between a man and wife .  You understand that you are a follower if you “yaddah” Him.

Into this situation where Jesus has been dishonoured and ignored, a woman comes into the room.  She comes in uninvited and breaks all the societal taboos.  Maybe she had encountered Jesus earlier that day.  Maybe it was something He said.  Maybe it was the look in His eyes that communicated her value and worth.  She wasn’t just a sinner to Him, but she was a beloved daughter.  It took incredible courage to enter that courtyard. 

Reckless Love

What she does next is reckless and it is exactly the kind of discipleship Jesus is looking for.  The men were reclining at table with their feet sticking out.  She approaches Jesus' feet and the table grows silent.   Everybody was watching. People would be looking at her with contempt and revulsion or with lust.  She feels that familiar glare of condemnation and then she looks at Jesus and He seems to know what is going on in her heart.  He looks at her as a loving Father watching His beloved daughter coming into the room - she has never had a man look at her like that.

She begins to kiss his feet and to cry and wet His (still dirty) feet with her tears.  And she lets down her hair (in Middle Eastern culture this was a total taboo in front of a man who was not your husband) and dries His feet with her hair.  She had an alabaster jar of perfume.  It was costly and she would have used one drop at a time to mask the stench of multiple encounters with men and she empties it out because she is not going to need it any more.  She pours out the perfume. 

Jesus turns to the woman and says to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”  The religious leader with all his knowledge has missed it and the prostitute gets it!  We mustn’t patronise Jesus.  Either we have to believe with the woman or be offended with Simon.  When was the last time, if ever, that you had an encounter like that with Jesus.  

You will do so if you get v46.  Whoever has been forgive little loves little.  We have all been forgiven much.  If we truly get that, we will love much.

During a mission, an old woman found faith.  The tradition in that place was for people to bring a gift to the front to show the gratitude (maybe a yam or something similar).  This woman was so passionate about Jesus but she was so poor that she could not show her gratitude publicly because she had nothing to give.

On the last night, she brought forward a valuable silver dollar.  The  missionary thought she must have stolen it but when he spoke to her afterwards, she said, "This week has changed my life.  I was crippled by fear of the ancestral spirits.  I was hopeless and you brought me Jesus.  I’m so grateful.  I so wanted to contribute so I went to the plantation owner and sold myself for life as a slave for that silver coin so I could give my gift to show my gratitude."

The biggest test of a healthy church or a healthy individual is love.  We can all love.  You can do that.

One morning a preacher prepared a sermon on the love of God but as the worship leader ended, he stayed in his seat.  There was a long embarrassed silence and eventually he stood up and said, “Love one another.” And then he sat down.  After a pause, he stood up again and said, “Love one another.” And then sat down again.  A third time, he stood up and said, "Love one another." When he sat down someone on the front row turned to his neighbour and asked, "Is there anything you need?"  All over the church, others began to do the same.  Twenty-eight unemployed people int he congregation left with a job that day.  The pastor preached that sermon for three months.  Many people left the church but others were putting the message into practice. They started getting phone calls at the church office, “Are you the church that cares about people?” 

Some of us need to move from Savoir to Connaitre.  Some of us need a fresh touch of God's grace.  May none of us miss it this evening.  He wants to pick you out of the toilet and clean you off and show you His radical grace!