Across the Street

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(Photo:  our street)

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Being a missionary is weird.

So, what do you do?” “I’m a missionary.” “Whoa!” The converstion changes. People treat you differently. There’s now this distance between you and them.

People ask where you live and you tell them and even that changes the conversation. You don’t have to admit what you do and you still get the “you’re a different species” response. They say things like, “I could never do that,” and “You must be so…” and then fill it in with something you know you’re not, like brave or faithful or fluent in Spanish. (Okay, Kim is.)

The flip side is that people have strong opinions, stronger perhaps than with other vocations, of how you should be spending your time and money at the job that they “know” they could never do. Going to a movie in Nicaragua costs about $4, and any time I mention going to a movie I feel a need to explain how cheap it is because people do—I’m not speculating here, these are real conversations—say things like “You can afford to go see movies? I don’t even get to go to the movies here!” Of course, that’s in addition to the people who are shocked that we have movies or electricity or indoor plumbing…

Imagine having a whole bunch of people who are all part of giving toward your paycheck and they all have an opinion on how you should do your job. Just imagine that, Pastor Tim.

Here is a truth that might offend you–and as I say this I’m remembering both that New Song may be our most faithful supporting church and that this is the church at which I once was shouted at while I was preaching…and not even by Tim.

So that’s your warning; here’s the offensive truth:

It’s not okay that people are poor. It’s not. It’s not okay with God. The Bible is all about justice for the poor and God’s care for people suffering poverty. “You matter to God so you matter to us,” says the sign as we enter New Song’s building. God’s not okay with people being poor so we’re not okay with people being poor. Same reasoning.

When Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you,” he didn’t mean, “You know, that’s just gonna happen, may as well accept it and move on, no fixing a big problem like that.” Jesus wasn’t a fatalist. He never says anything else in the Gospels that we read as fatalistic. In fact, Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”


Concerning people who are poor, Jesus meant the opposite of “No biggie, don’t worry about it.” Jesus meant, literally, “You’ll always be with poor people; of course you will, because you’re my followers. I’m with the poor, in fact I identity myself as the poor, and because you are my disciples, my sent ones, you’re going to be with people in poverty also.” Jesus doesn’t describe loving or helping people who are in need as some project for us to get done. In Mathew 25, Jesus says helping them is helping me; loving them is loving me. It makes no sense to say, “I love Jesus but I won’t love people suffering hunger or thirst, I won’t love strangers or sick people or prisoners.” Jesus says, “I am those people. When you love them, you love me. When you don’t love them, you reject me.” It’d be like saying, “I love Tim, but I do not love Royals fans. I will not love a Royals fan.” But…Tim is a Royals fan. That doesn’t work. They’re inseparable.  “I love Jesus, but those dirty, stinky, irresponsible people who are hungry and thirsty and refugees, I will not love them.” That doesn’t work.  It doesn’t make sense.  

When Jesus sends us, we get going on following Him, doing what he did, loving whom he loved, letting God’s spirit flow through us so that now God is incarnate in the world through us. HE sends us. And we go because we love him; we go out to love him.

It’s not okay with God that people are poor; we are God’s plan to do something about it. You and me. That’s a big job and we’re a small church. But that’s the deal. God never promises we will eradicate poverty in the world. But God just doesn’t tend to give us a lot of the specifics about how any of this will all play out. We know the big picture: God will redeem and restore, and there will be no more death, God will wipe away every tear, no more cycle of poverty, no more children going hungry. For now, we get very clear directions from Jesus—you might even call them “commandments”–about loving other people, caring for people suffering poverty, not letting money become our master, not being anxious about what we have, using what we have to love and bless others and advance God’s Kingdom.

Those are our directions from Jesus about people living in poverty around us, whether “strangers in the land,” people living in other countries, or people living across the street. A lawyer tries to dance around what Jesus means by “Love your neighbor,” and Jesus defines it for him with a story: “Those people whom you hate and fear, the ones you judge and believe God judges, let’s start with them.” But Jesus, being Jesus, doesn’t tell a story about how a good Jew is supposed to love a wounded, hated Samaritan. No, Jesus being Jesus tells a story about how a hated Samaritan loved a wounded Jew after the “Good” Jews showed apathy toward him as he’s lying there dying by the side of the road. The Jews crossed the road to avoid their fellow Jew.  The Samaritan crossed the road to get to him, to save his life. Apathy is the opposite of love. And neighbor becomes the opposite of enemy.

So, if you’re tracking with me, what I’m telling you so far is that: God loves all people, including people living in poverty; Jesus commands us to love other people, specifically people suffering poverty, and loving them is loving Jesus. As you can tell by Jesus commands,“love” means a lot more than “feel warm and fuzzy toward.” What exactly does “love” mean? For our purposes today, we’ll say love means, “treat the way God wants them treated.” That’s not bad, right? Does God want them judged or hated or ignored by us? Or does God want us to care for and share with them, empower and encourage them and tell them about his astounding, endless, grace-filled love for him? That’s a rhetorical question.

Now I’m guessing if you’ve been at New Song longer than 2 weeks, you’ve heard most of this before. Pastor Tim, one of my favorite people in the world, visited us last year to see our place and meet some of our neighbors across the street. We were talking about New Song’s work in India and Ensenada and the Wenatchee Valley. I asked some question about “How does it work with New Song’s other missionaries?” and Tim said, “You’re the only ones, you and Samuel and Sarah.” Because all of New Song’s ministry in countries suffering extreme poverty is directly with the leaders in those countries. The orphanages and schools and pastor trainings you folks support are all with the people who live there. You are part of making their calling possible. New Song is loving Jesus in those places.

We’ve been in Nicaragua for six years now. We went there because Jesus said “Go.” Actually, Jesus was there before we were and he said, “Come, join me.”  But why did he say that to us? If I really want it to get tense in here, why didn’t he say that to you? Or has he?

Why did Jesus say “Come love these people in Nicaragua with me?” Why did Jesus say, “Cross this street, love these neighbors?”

Well, obviously, God said that because these people are poor and need our help. There’s a problem so God sent us to work on it.  Right?

No, I don’t think that’s the main reason. As a high school science teacher of mine often said, “That’s the right answer, but that’s not the answer I’m looking for.”

Well, obviously, God called us because we are exceptionally gifted, capable people who can have the biggest impact in Nicaragua. Right?

Wrong.

Okay, last try. Why did Jesus invite me and Kim and our family to love people in Nicaragua, some shockingly poor, some wealthier than we are (whoa, that wealthy!), some Nicaraguan, some Chinese, some Korean, some gringos from Canada and the U.S, a few Germans and a family from Zimbabwe?

I believe the primary reason Jesus called us there is the same reason God has us do anything.  It’s why we come together in this building on Sunday morning or gather in someone’s house during the week.  It’s the same reason you spend time praying.

God invited us to Nicaragua to be with us. We gather in worship on Sunday morning because we believe God is present here when two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name. We come because God’s here.  I hike so much when I’m back in the Pacific Northwest because that’s where it’s easiest for me to experience being with God.  

To be clear:  God doesn’t call us to Nicaragua because we’re good at being Christians, or even because we have the specific spiritual gifts the people of Nicaragua need. God calls us to Nicaragua so we will be with him. When God calls us to be with him, he doesn’t just call us to hang out. God calls us to be with Him and being with Him changes us. Specifically, being with God changes us into the image of Jesus.

I want to make certain you’re getting what I’m saying here: God loves people in poverty and God shares with us His love for them by making us part of His Kingdom work to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Loving them isn’t a job we do for God; loving them is loving God. Our calling is not merely the task God give us, it is the way God has designed us to be with Him. God is not one of those bosses that just wants the work done and considers the workers interchangeable parts with no value other than completing the work. NO, God love us and calls us to be with him because he loves us.

There’s a funny moment in the Gospels that I’d always wrestled with. The story is in Mark 5 and Luke 8. Jesus heals a man who has a LOT of demons. Jesus casts all of those demons out, frees the man, restores him, and then sits and talks with him. Listens to him.  Loves him.

The village people freak out a bit because when Jesus cast out the demons , they begged Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs. Jesus did. Then the pigs did a swan dive off a cliff and plunged to their death. You can see how that passage could raise some questions, though if you are offended about the pigs dying, let he or she who has never eaten bacon cast the first stone. Side point. No, the question that’s always bugged me about this passage isn’t about pigs or even about how people can see such an awe-inspiring, life-restoring miracle and ask the miracle doer, “Please go away?”

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

What, Jesus? I thought your ministry was “Come, follow me.” “Drop those nets, follow me, I’ll teach you to catch folk, not fish.” “Leave your tax collecting and follow me.” “Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and come, follow me.”

So here we have Jesus casting out a Legion of demons, the guy says, “Can I come, too?” and Jesus tells him, “No. Go tell everyone what God has done for you.”

That used to just drive me nuts. What? If anybody was ever in need of a little new believer care, it would be this guy, right? Does Jesus just not like him as well as everybody else? Doesn’t particularly want that follower?

This passage finally made sense to me in Nicaragua.  Jesus loves this guy. Jesus came to that specific beach in Gentile territory (pigs, remember?) to heal and restore this particular man. But Jesus has a different calling for him, a different direction for him to go in order to be with God. “And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.This man has a wild testimony. He has been through some awful things, to put it mildly. To know God better, to draw closer to God, this man needs to go and tell the people in the Decapolis what God has done for him. “Deca” means ten, so ten Gentile cities.  He becomes the first evangelist in gentile lands.

“But Mike, look what this guy’s been through! Why would God send someone so unequipped?” Let me answer your question with a question: Why would God send a forty-something year old man who doesn’t speak Spanish and who is not particularly gifted at learning Spanish to a Spanish-speaking country? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked God, “Why didn’t you send someone from here who was already fluent in Spanish?”

God loves us. He does what he knows we need, he treats us how he knows we need to be treated to know him. He draws us to him and through that he makes us more like him.

God’s desire for us is to be with him. I John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” God’s commitment to us is that he will make us like him, that he will be faithful to complete the work he’s started. And God’s means to do this work in us is our calling. Let me say that again: Our calling is what God uses as his means to bring us closer to him.  We are called to be with God and through our calling God transforms us to be more like Jesus.

Here are a few implications. I’m not answering these, but I’m leaving them for you to ponder.  The joy of being a guest preacher is that I get to make the mess and then leave it for Pastor Tim to clean up.  

1)We kinda gotta know our calling.

How has God made you? How does God want you to know him better? What is God saying to you? Are you following your calling now? Are you knowing God through that?

2)Our callings don’t necessarily entirely make rational sense to us.

Funny thing about God is, he’s God. My friend Pastor Bismarck and I have developed this saying: No soy Dios; Dios es Dios, Gracias a Dios.  I’m not God.  I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know all the reason.  What God does will not always make sense to me, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t calling me.  

Jesus identifies with the poor. There are many kinds of poverty all around us. One out of five kids in Wenatchee lives below the poverty line.  There’s also severe poverty in Nicaragua and North Africa. God can call us anywhere. He can send us to the Decapolis to proclaim what God has done. He can send us to a Spanish-speaking country when we are Spanish-language challenged. He’s God. We know that God calls us to love the poor in some form, all of us, because that’s whom Jesus tells us he is. And our calling is to be with Jesus.

3)Mileydi and Juan Carlos live across the street.  Kim and Mileydi have become sisters.  The family who sells tortillas for six cents a piece have their driveway directly across from ours. What God has called us to may seem crazy and foreign and you might even leave here saying, “Thank God that God isn’t calling us to go there!” When we were training in Honduras to go to Nicaragua, Samuel and I saw pictures and heard stories of a certain country in North Africa and afterward we literally said to each other, “Well, at least we aren’t called there!” Then Samuel and Sarah fell in love and now Samuel is there. Because God’s funny like that. If I’ve learned anything from these six years, it’s that God loves us so much that he does whatever it takes for us to be with him. Go to Nicaragua…and then cross the street.

So where is Jesus?  Where is he waiting for you, calling for you to join him?  Where is he calling you to cross the street?

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