Share this message with a friend!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on google
Share on email
Play Video

My friend Jake from seminary comes from a long line of pastors. His dad and his grandfather were both senior pastors at prominent Presbyterian churches. Big congregations with large staffs and even larger budgets. Jake fought against following in his dad’s and grandfather’s footsteps, but he couldn’t shake the call to become a pastor. But his call to ministry looked much different than those of his dad and grandfather. Jake had lived in Cameroon before coming to seminary. He fell in love with the people and the culture. So when we graduated, Jake was thrilled when a small struggling church where many Cameroonian immigrants attended wanted him as their next pastor. His Dad and Grandfather were not pleased with his choice, as they expected him to end up at a big, wealthy suburban church much like the one he grew up in. Jake was willing to give up approval by his dad and grandpa in order to serve the people God was calling him to serve. Matt and I visited Jake’s church and it was one of the most diverse churches I’d ever stepped foot in. It was a great example of Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Our passage today seems to convey the opposite. This passage has never sat well with me. Specifically chapter 10:5-6 where Jesus tells the disciples to “go nowhere” among the Gentiles and Samaritans, but proclaim the Good News only to the Israelites. It sounds like Jesus is putting one people group above all others. It appears that Jesus is favoring one ethnicity over all other ethnicities. Jesus’ words seem to be in direct opposition to what is happening in our world today. Is Jesus about exclusion rather than inclusion? The short answer is “no.” Our passage today is a great example of why it’s important to read scripture in context. It’s important to take a step back and figure out how this passage fits into God’s plan for his people. One way to do that is to allow scripture to interpret scripture. What I mean by that is in order to answer the question of why Jesus’ first concern was the Israelites before any other nation, we have to flip back to Genesis and revisit God’s covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 22:17: God tells Abraham: “I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven…and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing…” Abraham’s offspring becomes the nation of Israel. And it’s into the nation of Israel that the Messiah would be born. That was one way Israel was to be a blessing to all people. The other way Israel was to be a blessing was to proclaim to all other nations that Jesus was the Messiah. But in order to do that, Israelites themselves needed to be convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and this is why Jesus sends the disciples to do mission among the Israelites before anyone else. To accept Jesus as the Messiah means to care about what Jesus cares about. Matthew tells us in 9:36 that Jesus cared deeply about the crowd who began to follow him. He had great compassion for them because they were “harassed and helpless.”  Lost sheep without a shepherd. No one was leading them. No one spoke up for them. Before Jesus arrived in their towns and villages they felt that no one cared about them. They’d been living for years under an oppressive system that kept them poor and powerless. Having lived under a system of oppression for so long they felt completely forgotten about perhaps even by God himself. It wasn’t until Jesus came along that they finally had hope. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was near and that God’s kingdom was devoid of any system that continually kept people down. God was not just concerned about their spiritual needs, but their physical needs as well. It’s why Jesus cured the sick and the diseased. To know that the Messiah was concerned about their whole being both the spiritual and the physical, was good news. To know that God’s Kingdom looked nothing like the lives they were currently living was good news. So to accept Jesus as the Messiah is to share in his compassion for the poor and the oppressed.  But there weren’t enough people who shared in Jesus’ compassion. The “plentiful harvest” Jesus talks about is made up of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. There were so many of them and not enough “laborers:” People who shared in Jesus’ love and care for them. People willing to serve and minister to this group in the same way Jesus did. To not just tell them that God loves them, but to also show that God loves them by addressing their physical needs such as their health and their poverty. Just as Jesus did. People who were willing to speak and stand up for them. People who, because they believe Jesus is the Messiah, and that oppression has no place in God’s kingdom, are willing to risk their own comfort in order to speak for those whose voices have been silenced for so long. There were many in Israel, however, who didn’t want to care for the oppressed because this meant speaking out against a system that they themselves had benefited from. A system that gave them a lot of wealth and power. The irony is that these individuals were supposed to care for all of Israel. Many of them were caretakers of the Temple in Jerusalem, the most holy site of worship for Israel and the place that united them as a people. Instead, they chose to partner with an empire that oppressed their own people. These Israelites did not accept Jesus as the Messiah because Jesus challenged the system and therefore was a threat to their privileged place in society. The Messiah they had in mind would overthrow the current Empire and put in place a new one where they would still be at the top. Essentially, they wanted a Messiah who wouldn’t change things too much. One who wouldn’t rock the boat. A Messiah who wouldn’t ask them to give up their earthly privilege in order to fully own their privilege as God’s chosen people. The privilege of being blessed to be a “blessing to all nations.” When we share in Christ’s compassion there is always an element of sacrifice and discomfort. After all, the disciples left behind homes and livelihoods to follow Jesus. We often pray that we would care about who God cares about. That what breaks God’s heart would break our hearts. It’s actually a dangerous prayer because what and who God cares about often goes against the status quo. Jesus was for the oppressed and the poor. To be for the oppressed and the poor is to address the systems that perpetuate such oppression. We can expect pushback when we do this.  About 30 folks from our church are participating in the “21 Day Race Challenge” where we read, listen or watch materials about or by people of color for 21 days. And wow has it been challenging. To learn about how certain systems were built solely for the purpose of keeping our country segregated. For example, within the housing market there was something called “redlining” that was in practice for decades. Certain areas were color coded by banks and developers. Those living in the green coded areas were always approved for loans to buy a home. Those in the red coded neighborhoods, however, were almost always denied loans. The red neighborhoods were mostly made up of African-Americans and other minorities. And it was all legal. The federal government, realtors, developers and the banks were all in on this together, and it went on for decades.  So families living in the green zones were able to build wealth because they owned their homes. They were able to profit from increased property values by either selling their homes to buy larger ones, to send their kids to college, to pass money on to their kids, or all of the above. Because they weren’t able to own their homes, families living in the red zones weren’t able to accrue wealth like families in the green zones did. Eventually “redlining” was made illegal, but by then there was such a great disparity in wealth between whites and blacks and other minorities, that we still see the repercussions of redlining today.  I only learned about redlining in the last 10 years. Someone else in the 21 Day Race Challenge group shared: “I only learned about this in the last 5 days.” Someone else said: “The more I learn the more hopeless I feel about real change actually happening.” I can say with 100% certainty that there is no red lining in the Kingdom of God because it’s an unjust system and injustice has no place in God’s kingdom. The word “justice” in some Christian circles tends to turn people off. It’s because many think that for one to be about justice, one needs to be less about how Jesus died for our sins and restored our relationship with God. Now it’s time to realize we can and need to be about both. Justice can no longer be separated from the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus is for justice because Jesus is for all people.  So what are we to do? As disciples of Christ we are called to speak and stand for the poor and the oppressed. We are to speak out against injustice. This is what Jesus did and he’s empowered us to do the same. It won’t be easy, it will be uncomfortable and we won’t be popular for speaking up. Perhaps even among other Christians. First and foremost, as with all things, we start with prayer. Start with two prayers actually. Pray Christ would show you how he is calling you to stand with and for the oppressed. And also pray that Christ would show us as a church how he is calling First Presbyterian Church of Grand Haven to stand with and for the oppressed. As I said earlier, this won’t be easy as we will be pushed out of our comfort zones. But it’s not about our comfort, it’s about Jesus Christ. Christ will show us a clearer picture of what his kingdom here on earth could look like. People of different backgrounds and races coming together in spite of all of the unjust systems that kept us apart. The crazy thing is that God wants to use us to make that happen. And that, church family, is a privilege and a blessing.