Galatians 6:10, Matthew 12:46-50 & John 13:34-35
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 1, 2017 – World Communion Sunday
Whenever I preach, I want to give a keen, clear sense of what God wants from us. But sometimes all I have to share is my own bewildered wondering about what exactly God wants – and an invitation to prayerfully wonder along with me.
The three scriptures just read fit World Communion Day, that special day each year on which we make a special effort to grasp fully the biblical idea that the church is a world-wide family of love. The idea is both a beautiful one – and an unsettling one!
Galatians 6 says we are to take advantage of every opportunity to “work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Matthew 12 says “whoever does the will” of the heavenly Father is a member of that family. John 13 says we are to love our faith family members just as Jesus has loved us. Together these scriptures mean we’re to have a deep and active concern about Christians everywhere on earth.
This thought is as scary as it is stirring. It is scary because it sets the standard of caring so high, and the breadth of caring so wide. It sets the standard of caring so high because it asks us to imitate Christ in His unrestrained, self-sacrificing love, and it sets the breadth of caring so wide because it asks us to imitate Him in drawing a circle of concern that exceeds all geographic, national, cultural and historical boundaries. It declares that we are to work for the good of even those who, in the far corners of this big world, suffer worse levels of poverty than we ever see in this country and worse levels of persecution than we’ve ever come close to experiencing. It tells us we have a responsibility toward the most desperately needy in the world.
This call to Christ-like caring haunts and disturbs me. It leaves me to wonder what is mine to do, within the limitations God has given me and the priorities God has assigned me. Obviously, I can’t do much, but should I not do something for the family of faith in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Iraq and the Sudan? While I must avoid allowing myself to be overwhelmed and undone by the horrendous magnitude of their suffering, I cannot turn a blind eye, develop a calloused heart, and do nothing. But beyond that I don’t know much.
But I do know a few things. I know I must turn to prayer and the Holy Spirit to lead me. I know that whatever I am led to do for my needy brothers and sisters, the Lord will take as a personal favor done for Him. I know that any gesture of kindness or generosity I bring to those He calls “the least of these my brethren”, He receives as a gift to Him. I know I love Him best when I love them much.
Well aware that I cannot actively love everyone whom Jesus wants loved and helped, I have to find what is my specific contribution as one soldier in Christ’s great army of the caring. While I have to respect the limitations and priorities the heavenly Father has given me, I also have to refuse to use them to rationalize my way out of meeting the heaviest demands of love.
Jesus Himself had to stay within the confines of His prescribed assignments and to stay true to the foremost purposes for which the Father deployed Him on earth, even as He had to love all people. That put Jesus in a position where, while He loved the whole world, He was pretty much to keep to just Israel; and while everyone mattered to Him, He was to pour Himself primarily into just twelve men.
By the way, lest anyone thinks from Matthew 12 that Jesus was disrespecting the fundamental institution of society, the family, it sure looks like Jesus had a special place in His heart for His family of origin and that it hurt Him to have to put them in second place for larger concerns. For, though they were not His first family in terms of priority, they were still His first family in terms of chronology – and I suspect He never got over the feelings of appreciation and affection He had from childhood. That is admittedly speculation on my part, but there is this fact from scripture: When He was suffocating to death on that cross and every breath He took pulled His bones further out of joint, wracking His body with ever greater pain, He spent one of His last remaining breaths to bellow out instructions and make sure His mother would be taken care of after He was gone.
The point of Matthew 12 is not that blood and bonds of sentiment are nothing, but that the plans and purposes of the heavenly Father are something higher. Jesus could not miss that God was building something between Him and His followers that didn’t exist between Him and at least some members of His family of origin who, Mark 3 tells us, once thought He’d gone off His rocker and needed hospitalization, and who, John 7 tells us, couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe in Him.
Believing in Him of course involves a lot more than just coming to certain opinions about Him. It means trusting Him enough to change one’s lifestyle for His sake and to love others as He loved us.
Shame on us when we fail to bear in mind that true faith in Jesus always engages a person in Christ-like action of helping and blessing. Biblical faith is not the kind of lazy, feel-good believing which comedian Louis C.K. speaks about in self-mockery, saying, “I have a lot of beliefs….And I live by none of them….I just like believing them…They’re my little ‘believies’. They make me feel good about who I am. But, if they get in the way of what I want, I sure as heck just do what I want.”
By contrast, the kind of believing which we see in those who belong to Jesus’ true family inspires them to work for the good of all members of His family.
I heard of a church that boasts that they take such good care of each other that they have not one needy person among them. I was initially impressed – until I realized that the church is located in an exclusive suburb and has relatively few needy persons among them.
There is an old saying: If you choose to keep the company of Christ, you can’t choose the company you keep. God has put Covenant Church, not only in a world where there are a lot of needy people we only know from afar, but also in a locale where there are a lot of needy people with whom we keep company. Why, just this past week I was approached by six different families and individuals for financial help to stay in their homes.
Half the time, I don’t know what I can or should do. But I know from these scriptures that God wants me to do all He’s enabled me to do without violating the rank order of priorities He has established for my life.
I also am well aware that I cannot, apart from Jesus, figure out the specifics of how I should live. I am well aware as well that, when I turn to Him, I gain from Him something far better to share with people than more money, more time and more ability to meet their material needs.
I give what I have received from Jesus; and the more and more I receive from Him the more and more I will have to give to others from Him. It all begins and ends with Jesus. I don’t do good, I just pass His along.
I am so glad that I can keep receiving from Him by word, Spirit and Sacrament, and thereby keep taking better and better care of the first family of the faithful. Won’t you join in me gratitude? Let us pray.