June 12, 2022
Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:5-15, 40-42
I wanted this sermon to belong to two ideas:
1) The commission of Jesus to Peter in the Gospel of John by the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection. This is the place where Jesus is defining his expectations for his followers after he is finally gone. “Peter, do you love me?” Peter: “You know I do.” Jesus: “Then feed my lambs, tend and feed my sheep.”
2) The results of the Visioning Team in which you said that you think we should focus in the immediate future on two facets of our ministry: One – the little ones. The Lambs. Two – outreach into our immediate community, our neighborhood.
I am in full agreement with you on both counts. So, it seems so clear to me that before we start on this mission, we need to consult our leader and teacher. We might say to Jesus: “We notice that you had these same goals. You had a preference for the ‘little ones.” Not just the children, but all sorts of little ones who tend to get ignored and bypassed. And, you were always out and about sharing the good news with your neighbors – with anyone who would listen. So…how did you do it?”
The answer to that question is in Matthew 10 where Jesus sends his disciples out into the neighborhoods and he carefully prepares them for that work. It is critical that we listen in! What he says to them is what he is saying to us.
What he asks of them is to go out among your neighborhood with all of the compassion you can muster. The compassion of Jesus: Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick; raise the dead; cleanse those with a skin disease; cast out demons. Or, as The Message says: Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons.
What does that mean?
A. I don’t think it means we all become door-to-door evangelists! Maybe there’s a place for getting out and meeting people face-to-face, but that’s not for everyone. What I do think it means is turning out eyes and our hearts outward toward those around us.
B. We meet people where they are. We begin to figure out what their deepest needs are and we address those needs.
What is the lostness in our neighborhoods? How do we tell them that in spite of what they may have heard, God is alive and well in this neighborhood. People care here. What are the illnesses right here? Not just physical? Who are the untouchables that we are to touch? And what are society’s demons that must be exorcized?
Now, translating the issues that Christians in Jesus’ time were to address into the issues that we today on the corner of Walnut and Canal must address is a big task. And we can’t do it locked within these walls. We can, of course, invite them IN, but that kind of sanitized outreach is not enough. We have to go OUT to where they are. We have to meet them where they are comfortable which may not be in the church building.
We must see for ourselves, we must listen, we must let them be our teachers and we must act, give, and serve in ways that make the love of Jesus real to those we encounter.
This takes continuing the loving things that we already are doing at St. Johns and moving it to the next level.
Moreover, Jesus says: You received without payment; give without payment. The New International Version says it as I remember it as a child: Freely you have received; freely give.
This means we must learn to give with no strings attached. The ministry of Jesus was never about any kind of profit! Jesus never asked the woman at the well for an offering nor Zacchaeus for money to build a wing on the synagogue. Jesus never set up a stand hawking his healing touch 3 for $1 or $10 if you get 12! Why? Because we have been so blessed – undeservedly so – that we are compelled to reflect the generosity of God in our generosity to others.
Jesus calls us to a radical generosity – both us individually and us corporately. We go out into our world to serve and we go out committed to a life of trust. We go out in the spirit of Jesus like the saints before us ready to give generously and at the same time, trusting in the good and gracious hand of God to supply our needs. Holding loosely to our abundance to “spend and be spent” for God.
So what we give, we literally give freely. I mean, we don’t offer the playground space behind The Gathering Place with the caveat that they will feel grateful and return the favor by coming to church and dropping something into the offering plate.
What they do in response to our generosity is entirely up to them and their God. We are the sheep of God’s pasture and we have learned that our shepherd provides our every need – not those we serve.
That is the most freeing thing! Our money, our property, our love, our gifts of time and service are free from those subtle expectations of some sort of gain. We don’t look to our financial advisor to tell us how to be generous. We look to our provider. It is not our ADVISOR but our PROVIDER who is in charge.
FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED, FREELY GIVE!
Now the first time you stretch to literally obey that call of God, it will seem quite uncomfortable. But it is amazing what God does for those who learn to trust.
And this kind of generosity can absolutely take his or her hands off of the results. We can gradually wean ourselves from the tourniquet of being results-driven. One eye on the bank balance, one eye on the success barometer. That’s so exhausting!
And that frees us from comparing our generosity with anyone else. We are in no competition. Jesus said elsewhere: “Don’t let even your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” The Message: “This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”