Matthew 28:18-20 – Where Will We Do Our Ministry?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (New International Version)

We will do our ministry by going and jumping into the people’s lives who are in our neighborhood and community. To “go” doesn’t exclusively mean to travel to another place. It mostly involves the willingness to get up, go, and walk across the street, or even just across the room.

Tony Campolo is a Christian preacher, professor emeritus, and author. He tells of once being in a city doing some business and could not sleep. So, he found a greasy spoon diner that was open all night. He retells his experience this way:

“As I sat munching on my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door of the diner suddenly swung open and, to my discomfort, in marched eight or nine boisterous prostitutes. It was a small place, and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was loud and crude. I felt completely out of place and was just about to make my getaway when I overheard the woman beside me say:

“Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m going to be 39.”  Her “friend” responded in a nasty tone, “So what do you want from me, a birthday party?”

“I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”

I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the large man behind the counter named Harry, and I asked him, “Do they come in here every night?”

“Yeah!” he answered.

“The one right next to me, does she come here every night?”

“Yeah!” he said. “That’s Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why do you want to know?”

“Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday,” I told him. “What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her—right here—tomorrow night?”

Calling to his wife, who did the cooking in the back room, Harry shouted, “Hey! Come out here! This guy’s got a great idea. Tomorrow’s Agnes’s birthday. This guy wants us to go in with him and throw a birthday party for her—right here—tomorrow night!”

His wife came out of the back room all bright and smiley. She said, “That’s wonderful! You know Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind, and nobody does anything nice and kind for her.”

“Look,” I told them, “if it’s okay with you, I’ll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I’ll even get a birthday cake!”

“No way,” said Harry. “The birthday cake’s my thing. I’ll make the cake.”

At 2:30 the next morning, I was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe-paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” I decorated the diner from one end to the other.

The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in the city was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes and me!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open, and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready, and when they came in, we all screamed, “Happy birthday!”

Her mouth fell open. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter, we all sang “Happy Birthday”‘ to her. As we came to the end of our singing with “happy birthday, dear Agnes, happy birthday to you,” her eyes moistened. Then, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, “Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles!”  Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, “Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I keep the cake a little while? I mean, is it all right if we don’t eat it right away?”

Harry shrugged and answered, “Sure! It’s O.K. If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to.”

“Can I?” she asked. Then, looking at me, she said, “I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, okay? I’ll be right back. Honest!”

She got off the stool, picked up the cake, and carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all just stood there motionless, she left.

When the door closed, there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, “What do you say we pray?”

I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her.

When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, “Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered:

“I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”

My friends, that’s the kind of church Jesus came to create!  We may not know any prostitutes, but there are people around us who need basic human kindness expressed in basic caring actions, no matter who they are.

Many people want nothing to do with church or Christians because they believe they’ll be given judgment instead of justice.

Its important where we are located. God has sovereignly placed us there. So, we need to be attentive and listen to the people and the neighbors God put around us, no matter who they are. To ignore them is to treat the Great Commission of Jesus as if it were the Great Omission.

One of the best ways to be missionally rooted in the place we are planted is to walk the community, be in it, and hang out. Developing an understanding of what’s going on and being connected to the issues a neighborhood is facing, is key to building neighborhood credibility and demonstrating that we really do care about the people, whomever they are.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

Discovering what people care about doesn’t necessarily mean we need to do something for them but with them. To go most often involves going where the people are – getting to know them and being a friend.

Whenever a pastor or parishioner becomes someone the community knows, neighborhood residents will share their hopes and concerns. The church can be the center of community life, going out and opening up to the neighborhood.

Often, we might focus on what’s lacking, what’s not there, the deficits within a person, family, or community – instead of looking for the assets, what is there already, and what is going right. It’s wise to begin with the good things already happening, the potential which already exists, and the dreams people have for the future of their place.

In focusing on what’s already there, here are some things we begin to see:

  1. Each person having a contribution to make, no matter who they are.
  2. Relationships building the community.
  3. People being active participants in developing what is good, right, and just, rather than passive recipients.
  4. Everyone can get involved because everyone has a meaningful place in the community.
  5. People caring and not apathetic about the neighborhood.
  6. Making decisions with everyone’s voice being valued.
  7. Asking for ideas is better than giving solutions.
  8. Folks doing the work are given authority and power.
  9. People mentoring others and building into their lives.

All of this requires getting to know local businesses, neighborhood associations, healthcare institutions, places of worship, schools, and cultural groups, as well as the individual talents of those within them.

We are to serve others, rather than imposing our own agendas on them. This is how we begin making disciples, that is, developing people who follow the words and ways of Jesus.

And it all begins with the command by our Lord to go….

Lord Jesus Christ, let your presence fill our hearts and overflow through our actions so that we may proclaim the good news of your Kingdom. Fill us with your compassion and insight to respond to human need with loving service. Let the fire of your goodness and justice burn into us and through us so that we may seek to transform the unjust structures of society. Guide us to renew and sustain the life of your creation.

Almighty God, in our baptism you adopted us for your own. Renew us by your Spirit in body, soul, and mind so that we may worship you in sincerity and truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1 Timothy 3:1-9 – Be, Not Just Do

Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. (New International Version)

For the Church everywhere, Jesus Christ is to form and inform everything we do – including leadership.

This is why character formation is at the core of being an elder and a deacon in Christ’s Church – because the elder’s ministry of oversight, shepherding, and discernment of God’s will comes from the inner resources of knowing Christ; and a deacon’s ministry of outreach and service comes from a close walk of faith with Jesus, who desires to work through those individuals. 

Church leaders are to be the light of Jesus to their congregations. It is a high calling. The Apostle Paul gave to the Church seven requirements of Christian morality and seven requirements of a daily walk for leaders. Together, these fourteen requirements are the basis for Christian leaders so that the responsibility of the Church’s mission might be kept on track of bringing people to Jesus and bringing those who know Jesus to know him better.

The first set of seven requirements have to do with the morals of the person. A church leader is to:

1) Be trustworthy. Have a good reputation in both the church and the world

2) Be devoted in the marriage relationship (This doesn’t mean that a church leader must be married, because then even Jesus wouldn’t qualify as a church leader!)

3) Be clear-minded, even-keeled, and consistent

4) Be self-controlled (and not controlling others)

5) Be brave, possessing moral courage, through speaking truth with grace and not being a complainer

6) Be a friend of strangers through practicing hospitality

7) Be an able teacher, gently and carefully instructing others in a way that builds them up and does not tear them down 

The second set of seven requirements have to do with the ethical conduct of the person in everyday life. A church leader is to: 

1) Be sober and not a drunkard, conducting oneself in all moderation

2) Be respectable and not given to anger outbursts and constantly carrying a chip on their shoulder about something

3) Be gentle with everyone and in all situations

4) Be cordial and foster healthy relations, and not always picking a fight about something

5) Be generous and not thinking about the all-mighty dollar in every decision

6) Be caring in the family and give rules with relationship, so as to curb rebellion in a child

7) Be mature and not a novice in the faith so that those outside the church can see there is something wonderfully different about the way things are handled and done among those who profess Jesus Christ.

In addition to this, we have seven related requirements for deacons: 

1) Be dignified in every kind of relation, a person worthy of respect

2) Be sincere and not double-tongued, saying one thing to one person and something different to another

3) Be moderate in all things, especially when it comes to drink

4) Be benevolent and altruistic, and not greedy for either stuff or attention

5) Be holy and pure, keeping very close to faith in Christ with a good heart

6) Be a servant who is able to handle attention without falling apart

7) Be faithful, keeping promises and vows, especially in marriage and with family

God calls and sets apart individuals for service so that the Divine presence might be manifested among the people. Jesus Christ wants the church to be built up through faithful service. Notice what today’s New Testament lesson does not say about church leaders:

  • Be a listener to complaints.

Do everything without complaining or arguing (Philippians 2:14, ERV)

  • Be a representative of the people. Nowhere in Scripture do we find church leaders are supposed to operate like an American form of democracy. Instead of being representatives of the people to do their will, church leaders are rather representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things. 

Guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. (Acts 20:28, NLT)

  • Be ingenious. Church leaders are not called to be the smartest, most creative, and best idea people in the room. They are to be servants, leading others in prayer, outreach, and acts of mercy.

I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. (1 Peter 5:1-3, MSG)

These requirements of Holy Scripture are not just for leaders; they are to be sought after by every member of God’s holy Church. We are all together to aspire to the highest of ideals of Christ in the way we operate in the church and in the world. 

Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Godly leaders help us to maintain that biblical mandate.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV)

Luke 4:38-44 – Every One of Them

“Healing” by Ivan Filichev, 2014

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So, he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the most fundamental truths about the person of Jesus is that he heals all kinds of people. 

Even people who know very little about the historical Jesus know that he was a guy who brought healing to people while he was here on this earth.  For many Christians, the fact that Christ healed people is almost a “ho-hum” moment because we are so familiar with the Gospel stories about him doing the supernatural. 

Observation: Christ Healed Every One of Them

Yet, as with most Scripture stories we encounter, we really need to slow down a bit and let the story sink in. Then, we are likely to make simple but profound observations of the text. One of those observations is this: When people brought the sick and infirmed to Jesus, he healed every one of them. Christ laid his hands on each and every one of them and cured them.

Every one of them, Jesus healed. There is apparently no disease, no infirmity, no sickness, no malady, and no situation too much for Jesus to heal. Without exception, no matter the problem, every individual who came to Jesus was healed by Jesus. 

Observation: Every One of Them Were Healed Through Others

Here’s another simple but profound observation of the story: All those who had any who were sick brought them to Jesus. In other words, those needy folks didn’t come to Jesus on their own. It was their family, friends, and neighbors of the sick persons who brought them to Jesus for healing.

It is good to care for the sick. It is also good to encourage them to look to Jesus for their help and healing. Yet, it is also very good when we bring them to Jesus ourselves. 

Perhaps one of the main reasons we are not seeing more healing and new life in the Western church is because we are not bringing the needy to Jesus. Maybe it is our lack of faith and action, and not the sick person’s, that prevents healing from being realized. 

Methinks that a profound dearth and lack of prayer for others might be at the core of all the physical, mental, and spiritual sickness that abounds in this world. So, let us bring people to Jesus so that he will heal and cure every one of them.

A mosaic of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, from a Byzantine Church, c.1100 C.E.

Observation: Christ Cares about Every One of Them

Jesus accepts, heals, and cures those at the margins of society. The sick, infirmed, and demon-possessed were the most marginalized people in the ancient world. They were at the mercy of a caring relative, that is, if they had one. If not, the only way of making it was to beg and rely on public charity. Yet, that was difficult because, in many cases, depending upon the illness, they were considered impure. No one would get near them. They couldn’t participate in the community.

But Jesus welcomed them. He took the time and attention to place his hands on each one of them. Their divine healing was much more than physical; being cured meant they no longer needed to be at the margins, unaccepted and unwanted. Jesus was giving them full inclusion to society.

The good news of Jesus Christ consists of meeting the holistic needs of people for health and community. Our Lord desires to integrate excluded people into society. If that takes the miraculous healing of sickness to do it, then Jesus will make it happen.

Observation: Christ Looks to Heal and Care for Every One of Them, Besides Just Us

It can be a real temptation to believe that our little group has the corner on Jesus. We don’t. Jesus was given for the life of the world – not just a few people who look, think, and act like you and me. In today’s story, the people didn’t want Jesus to go. That’s understandable. Yet, Christ left them because there were others in need of healing of both body and soul.

Christ’s mission is so much broader than we sometimes see or expect. Evangelical Christians camp on saving the soul. Progressive Christians hang their hat on social justice and the real physical needs of people. In reality, the gospel involves both body and soul. To only focus on one aspect is to truncate the gospel as only okay news, not good news.

I would argue there is far too much proclaiming of okay news today. Christianity needs a full-orbed gospel that addresses the holistic needs of people, just like Jesus did. It needs a robust Trinitarian theology with the love of God the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit delivering souls from spiritual death and saving bodies from worldly injustice.

Anything less is simply picking and choosing what we want and trying to keep Jesus to ourselves. Let’s not do that. Instead, let’s preach the gospel, a kingdom message in which the power of God comes upon people – transforming them from the inside-out and bringing them from the outside-in.

Healing God, we bring to you all those who are discouraged, depressed, diseased, disordered, and damaged in some way by the sin of this world. Cure them by your mighty power so that they will be included into our communities, as well as your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

1 Timothy 5:9-16 – A Ministry of Giving and Receiving

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus, they bring judgment on themselves because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So, I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. (New International Version)

The subject of widows is throughout all of Holy Scripture. Since well over half of all women in the ancient world above age 60 were widows, there were continual and ongoing needs to be addressed.

Women were mostly dependent upon men in the biblical world. So, whenever a husband died, this put the widow immediately at risk. The children and other extended family needed to step up and care for her. And, if this didn’t happen for whatever reasons, then the church would fill the void of caring for them.

Because of their vulnerable situation, God especially cares about widows. This is made evident by the many instructions and exhortations of the Lord to Israel:

The Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, CEB)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:5-6b, NIV)

Jesus maintained the stance of care and concern for widows in the Gospels:

 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he came near the entrance to the city, he met a funeral procession. The dead man was a widow’s only child. A large crowd from the city was with her.

When the Lord saw her, he felt sorry for her. He said to her, “Don’t cry.”

 He went up to the open coffin, took hold of it, and the men who were carrying it stopped. He said, “Young man, I’m telling you to come back to life!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (Luke 7:11-15, GW)

So, it is no wonder that the Apostle Paul gave his young protégé Timothy some detailed instructions on how to handle ministry to widows in his church at Ephesus. The gist of that instruction is to encourage younger widows to remarry so that they would be properly cared for and enrolling older widows on a church list for support.

These widows within the church were expected to have a ministry of prayer and good works. This is truly wise counsel from Paul. Good relations and lifestyles require a healthy rhythm of giving and receiving. Widows are honored by having their needs met, as well as providing opportunities for them to give in ways they are able.

Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help, and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence.

James 1:27, NCV

Whenever widows are only on the receiving end, they tend to become busybodies and gossips. And whenever they only give, then widows can be overlooked, and their daily needs neglected. All this is to say that there really needs to be thoughtful and intentional ministry to the widows among us.

Although in today’s modern society the status and station of many widows is different from the ancient world, there are still widows who need a life-giving ministry of both giving and receiving.

For this important dynamic to be successful, it’s necessary that adult children care for their elderly parents. I can testify firsthand as a hospital chaplain that there are many sons and daughters who fall woefully short of providing basic help to their aging mothers through a failure of consistent relational interactions, following through on needed paperwork, and answering calls in a timely manner.

Also, far too many aging widows are lonely with little to no resources and support in the form of both relationships and basic necessities. A truly Christian community is aware of the widows in their parish and seeks to honor them through establishing a ministry of giving and receiving.

Learn to do good.
 Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.

Isaiah 1:17, NLT

Families and churches have a responsibility to the elderly in giving sufficient financial help, practical assistance with driving to appointments, and consistent companionship. They also have a responsibility to arrange opportunities for widows to give their time in prayer and helping out others through good works and good wisdom.

If we ourselves who are not widows have healthy rhythms of giving and receiving in our own lives, then we are in a position to help the elderly establish healthy rhythms, as well. Perhaps it is telling that any lack of attention to widows reflects our own personal neglect of spiritual and emotional health.

May God be in my head and in my understanding. May God be in my eyes and in my looking. May God be in my mouth and in my speaking. May God be in my heart and in my thinking. May God be at my end and at my departing. May God be with us, in all things and in every way. Amen.