Are We There Yet?
Serve Pt 2
Thanks to all of you who have sent in your road trip stories so far. I have one I have received that I would like to share with you today, where I am sure at least one person was asking “Are we there yet??”
“I was 9 or 10, and my parents were recently divorced. My cousins had a trailer across the border in a small town called Birch Bay. It was my week with my dad, and I was invited to spend a couple of days with them. We were waiting in line at the peace arch border crossing, which is one of the busiest in BC going into Washington state. Dad was in the front driving, and I was sitting behind him in the back coloring…or ummm writing letters. I decided to write “HELP” and hold it up to the window while waving at the cars beside us. Unbeknownst to my dad, the car beside us alerted border patrol, which caused us to get pulled over and put in separate rooms, and interrogated separately. They thought my dad was abducting me and fleeing the country. After about 3 hours of interrogation, a phone call to my aunt to confirm we were indeed going to her trailer, and a phone call to my mom to confirm that yes my dad does have permission to cross the border with me, we were free to go. From that point on, I was never allowed any writing utensils while traveling with either parent.”
I am sure that dad was asking “are we there yet??”…
As a church, in this age of COVID, isolation, and all the other oddities of it, some of us are asking the same thing. Life as the church has been completely turned upside down. We can no longer do what we were doing, and we keep hearing that when things do relax, everything could look different for us. It feels like a crazy journey. Who would have thought six months ago that church services would be completely digital? How many of you thought it would be accepted to sit on the couch sunday morning, in your PJs, with a coffee, participate virtually in our gathering with many other families who were doing the exact same thing? Who would have thought that in a matter of a couple weeks, all of our ministry plans would be turned upside down?
In the midst of all the crazy journey that is the church in this COVID era, what can we hold on to? Is there something about our life as a family that remains constant regardless of what is going on around us? Well, God’s plan for us is steady. We believe that He is asking us to be Generations Following Jesus Together. I am not going to unpack that this week, but if you want to know more about what that means, check out the last few Sundays. We believe this is achieved as we Gather, Grow, Give, and Go. We spent a fair bit of time talking about the first two. I want to again look at the third mission value: Give.
Last week we talked about how when it comes to serving others and giving of ourselves, God gives so you can give it away! God gives everyone abilities, talents, and resources so that we can invest in the lives of the others, and in doing so bring God honour, and build His Kingdom here on Earth. This week we are talking about how:
Faith and humble service go hand in hand
These two things truly are are the perfect pair. They go together naturally. When we think of faith, we should also think of humble service being an expression of it.
Please turn to Matthew 25:31-45. I want to give you some context. This passage is written in the setting of the church age. What this means is that Jesus’ earthly ministry is done has left Earth to be in Heaven with the Father. He has left His Holy Spirit to empower and commission followers to do His work while He is gone, to be the church. Like parable in prior section we looked at last week of the master who takes a trip and gives his servants responsibility over his wealth while he is gone, Jesus is gone but coming back at some point, and wants to see when He returns that His Church is carrying on His work, in His absence. This sets the tone for the next passage – what we are about to read is what Jesus expects of His Church.
1) Jesus looks to the intentions of the heart
The context here is future, when Jesus comes back to give final judgement for humanity and usher in eternity. He says that all the nations will come, and then He will separate the people, much like the shepherd separating the sheep and the goats. Important because: i) Goats and sheep would be in same flock, and would need to be separated as they were put in the fold to rest ii) Goats and sheep resembled to the point that only shepherd could see difference. There was something beyond the surface that they shepherd had to look to. It is similar to how only God can judge our heart and truly see if we are His. Only He can see the motivations behind what we do. Jesus looks to the intentions of the heart.
In the Bible, followers of Jesus are called sheep. As He prepares to judge humanity, sheep sit at the right, and goats at the left. That is important because right is always sign of blessing and the left is a sign of conflict and curse. There was something at a heart level that separated them as sheep, which allowed them to be on His right hand side. Is there something that sets you apart at a heart level? What is it that Jesus can see at a heart level that separates you as a sheep?
What characterizes those who are sheep?
2) The compassion you show reveals the nature of your faith
Jesus teaches that compassion and faith have to go together. Jesus invites those who are sheep to enjoy the eternity of the Kingdom that God had designed and intended for them to enjoy since before time began. Then He lists why they have proven themselves to be sheep.
Notice the characteristics that Jesus lists. They were not overly or overtly religious (such temple visits, observing religious traditions, or observance of ritual and laws – all be it very important. Jesus adhered to those same laws, rituals, and traditions). It was the everyday stuff. It was the stuff that came as they loved their neighbour as themselves because they loved God. It was the care and compassion stuff (food, drink, clothing, hospitality, visiting those in need).
Notice also how natural it was, and how every day it was for them. They didn’t do it because Jesus was there watching, or because He was specifically the beneficiary. Quiet and humble service was the right and natural thing to do as followers of Jesus. Jesus tells them that they fed Him, clothed Him, showed Him hospitality, and visited Him. Note their response in VS 37: “When did we see you?” They were so busy doing what came natural, and they didn’t do it because they saw Jesus as the physical beneficiary.
Yet Jesus says something: you may not have saw me, or thought of me as the beneficiary. But I was. Whatever you do the least, you do for me. The compassion you show reveals the nature of your faith. How they lived was important. It said a lot about their love for God.
Was Jesus teaching that in order to be accepted by God, it was all about their own good deeds? Was He teaching a works-based gospel? No. He was not contradicting the heart of the Gospel, and what would soon be written in Eph 2:8-9. Instead, He was confirming something similar to what His brother James would soon write in James 1:27, 2:14-17. The idea that Jesus was teaching was that their faith (what brought about a saving relationship with God) was based on grace, mercy, and choosing to place their trust and belief in Him. Yet the reality of their faith would find expression in their actions.
Who were the “least of these”, the ones that we should even be willing to serve even though it may not be comfortable, or be the people of prestige, position, and influence? There are different ideas among scholars. Some think that this refers to fellow believers who are in need. I agree with other scholars who tend to think it is a reflection on those who were marginalized, outcasts, the lowest of the low. The ones that no one else would associate with. In those days, they would be the poor, the disabled, the lepers, Gentiles, women. This interpretation reflects the ministry and heart of Jesus, where it seems Jesus did the most ministering and had the deepest compassion.
What is the application to us as a church in 2020? Your faith is not measured by how often you attend church, how much $$ you give, how much you read, how much you pray. Yes we need all these spiritual disciplines. They are valuable and are of crucial importance to help you grow in your faith. But where the rubber meets the road, where we see the outward proof of your inward faith is in your acts of compassion and love for others. Faith and humble service go hand in hand. The compassion you show reveals the nature of your faith.
How can we exercise compassion and love to the least of these? Who can we serve? HMC is trying to grow in this within our community. We see this evidenced by our involvement with Hanover Heights School, the warming center and use of our showers, gift bags given to some of our seniors, annual gift baskets at Christmas to those in the hospital, and our food pantry. How can the universal church be better? How can we personally be better on a global and local level? We have to stop thinking of those in need with an “us” and “them” mindset. We need to be willing to step out of our comfort zones, especially when it is inconvenient to show compassion, care, and love.
How will the church be relevant moving ahead? What sorts of things will impact the community at large for Him? Yes, our meetings are important to us and to our spiritual growth. But at the ground level, in our community, I propose that it is how we love the least of these that can help make the biggest impact. Our message gains credibility when people see it in action in our lives first. When they see us living out the teachings of Jesus, they are more inclined to listen to us.
Compassion and loving the least of these is modeled for us by Jesus Christ. It is ultimately how Jesus reached us who were “the least of these” by giving up His life for us.
Faith and humble service go hand in hand.