“To the Streets”

Message Manuscript for “As You Go”   Matthew 9:35-10:8
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, June 14, 2020

This past week, as I read about Jesus’ compassion for the crowds in our gospel text this morning, there was news breaking of what President Trump was saying about compassion. He was at a church in Dallas, describing how he and his entourage left the White House and went out into the streets and walked through Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church, saying that they went through the crowds of protesters like a knife goes through butter. He talked about dominating the streets with compassion. Compassion? With tear gas and military force? What a very different kind of compassion Matthew spoke of as he described how Jesus walked through a city.

Matthew’s description of Jesus gives us a very different picture of how to enter the streets of a city, as Jesus had compassion for the crowds in the cities and villages he entered. His compassion resulted in helping and healing the people on the streets, bringing the resources of the government of  heaven to the people of earth. What we have heard also informs us how we have a call to share his compassion with practical expressions of it for the people in our city.

That compassion is shared when we go with it out into our world. Jesus said to his disciples, “As you go, . . .” It’s clear that he wasn’t expecting them to stay where they were and do God’s business nor was he intending for them to wander off in the desert somewhere in isolation to get away from the distractions of the world and grow closer to God. No, they were to go, to be in motion just as he was.

As followers of Jesus today, we are to be on the go with his compassion for the world. One of our great temptations as followers of Jesus is to get sedentary. We’ve lived with this temptation since Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine. The tendency we have is to coast in our faith. Why exert the energy going when we can expect–or demand–that everyone come to us, to a building, to connect with God? Why get messy with the world’s filth when we can shelter inside the walls of a church and delight in Bible study, Worship, prayer, and fellowship? Why go? Because Jesus did and that’s what he’s called us to do. Going right now is difficult during this pandemic, so you might have to be creative, going online to people and places where people are hurting, going out to leave food for someone, going out with comments for causes you care about in social media, going into the streets for a peaceful protest, or going out of the doors by the gym to hand out meals for lunch or on Thursdays for Highland Blessing Dinner.  If we aren’t living an “as you go” kind of life, then we aren’t following Jesus and we aren’t showing his compassion where it’s needed the most.

As we go out with Jesus’ compassion, we are to proclaim good news to our world. Jesus gave the disciples specific instructions on what to say was the good news, telling everyone, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” I like how the Message translation puts it, “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here.” The kingdom is here. In other words, everything they had been hearing about and waiting for was arriving for them now. For people who were in captivity, sickness, oppression, and poverty, this was indeed good news.

Good news is what we ought to be sharing with our world. If ever our world needed good news it is now. What followers of Jesus must realize is that if our good news isn’t good for people of color or people who are oppressed or in poverty, then it’s not good news at all. It’s not the good news of Jesus. We are to proclaim that what God is doing in the world identifies and puts an end to systemic racism, all forms of oppression, and economic practices that are good news for the rich but not for the poor. The good news of God’s kingdom is proclaimed when we say to our world and its powers that Black lives matter, that LGBTQ people should have protections against discrimination, that poor people have a right to health care, that we can make our environment better, that love overcomes hate, and that good will win over evil. 

Proclaiming the good news is not just with words, though. Jesus also called the disciples to show compassion to the people with actions, saying to them, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Doing all of this would be an application of the good news they were proclaiming; visible signs of the reality of heaven intersecting with the needs of earth. What an amazing thing for the disciples to hear; that Jesus was empowering and authorizing them to do these things for other people. Their actions would complete their words.

Our proclamation of the good news of Jesus isn’t complete unless it is accompanied by healing actions. As followers of Jesus today, we are to bring a cure to what ails our world as co-laborers with God in bringing a bit of heaven here on earth, to the people and circumstances that are much in need of tangible expressions of good news. But how do we even begin to heal and cure the sickness of our society? Doing so may not be as terrifying a task as you may think. We already are doing this in many ways, like partnering with other churches and organizations to serve a hot, delicious meal to people who are hungry, provide clothing closets for all ages, prepare tax returns, make an alternative to payday lending, and help first time homebuyers become homeowners. We heal our society when we celebrate birthdays with veterans, work in programs with people in our city who have chronic mental illness, and when we help at risk children with their homework. But there is more for us to do, especially with the immediate needs in our nation and local community right now. God wants us to go out into the streets of our city with the compassion of Jesus that counters racism in all its forms, speaks out against discrimination of LGBTQ persons, decries excessive police force and creates alternatives, demands healthcare coverage for all people in our nation, and works to promote and perpetuate laws and policies that ensure equality and justice for all people. When we do these actions, we are doing what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

One of my favorite stories of compassion on the streets in cities  recently was of a man in DC who opened his home and sheltered 70 protestors, many of whom had been pepper sprayed by the police. The man, Rahul Dubey, saw them in their distress and kept letting them come into his home for the night. He said the first hour or so after they arrived was pure terror. He stayed calm, helping them wash the pepper out of their eyes, provided them safe shelter, and gave them pizza and ice cream sandwiches for them to eat as they stayed in his home for the night. About this, the New York Times wrote, “Over the course of the night the protesters, whom Mr. Dubey described as a mix of all ages, races and sexual orientations, talked extensively with one another. “They were talking about where they had been that night, where they were peacefully protesting,” said Mr. Dubey, who is of Indian descent. “It was just beautiful.” Beautiful indeed.

That sounds like the kingdom of heaven kind of compassion Jesus showed to the crowds; the kind we must show in the streets of our city today.

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