I absolutely love that I have the privilege of serving a church like Concord that is mission-minded. When faced with a challenge–whether that be hungry families, flooding in Arkansas, or school children in need of supplies–our church rushes to fill those crucial needs and provide out of our own resources. Which all of this is important to reiterate because we often need reminding about why all this is important. Why do outreach and missions at all? What does scripture have to say about serving neighbors in need?
In the many religions of our world, one common ethical theme is that people believe that good deeds lead them to be like God or some other divine figure. By fasting, giving to the poor, or being compassionate, religious folk all across the globe believe that doing these kind actions will lead humans to achieve some degree of perfection. We’ve even seen this in our 7 Churches of Revelation series and how it is tempting to boast about our accomplishments, rather than pursing a deep love for Jesus Christ. Churches often struggle with this prideful temptation, too.
But we in Christianity have a much different approach to the matter. Of course, we believe that doing mission work allows us the privilege of being Jesus’ “hands and feet” in our broken world, but the message of Matthew 25 paints quite a different picture.
As we explored on Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on the separation of the sheep and the goats reveals to us the true nature of God’s judgment. God is not like what we find in cartoons with fiery judgment. Instead, God’s judgment is one that primarily examines our hearts. God judges us according to what we have on the inside. Likewise, as Jesus taught in Matthew 25, if we reach out in love to the oppressed, disenfranchised, and strangers in need, we welcome Jesus himself.
In other words, Jesus’ sense of ethics is flipped. Instead of doing good deeds to earn our way into heaven or to become like a god (as other religions might presuppose), Jesus commands us to welcome those who are poor and lost simply because when we do that, we welcome Jesus himself. Jesus isn’t something we become by being good people. Jesus is located among the broken parts of our world, and by preaching the good news of the gospel message, we participate in God’s resurrection of all that is dead.
It is remarkable that when God speaks of judgment, he often refers to our calling to help the marginalized. If we don’t do this and worship worldly wealth or ignore the cry of the needy, then God’s judgment is rather harsh for us for failing to be true disciples. During a speech several years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast, Bono of the band U2 offered these words about his work with AIDS victims across the globe (he actually did a bit of preaching!):
It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time. You know, the only time Jesus Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor. “As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” I believe that’s Matthew 25:40.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.
We can experience God in so many different ways. Perhaps you feel God’s presence during your favorite hymn at church or when that one Christian song plays on the radio. Maybe you encounter God when you witness a sunrise or experience the wonders of creation. But we should never forget Jesus’ teachings about where God truly is. Jesus is with those who are broken. Jesus is with those who are hungry or thirsty. Jesus is in the prisons, hospitals, or anywhere people people need hope. And Jesus calls us to be a beacon of light to those dark places.