A Common Ministry, Mission, and Message

My friends, we live in a world that is weary. And many of you, I know, are weary.

With words like “zoomed out” and “screen fatigue” entering our lexicon, we’re finding our work is harder, takes longer, and often leaves us depleted.

The home school and virtual classroom meetings which finished this past week for many students and parents-turned-teachers have left families worn out.

Many of us admit that we haven’t really gotten much better, despite all the practice, at the mental and emotional calisthenics it takes to manage our new hybrid, virtual/physical distanced lives.

In cities across our country and in countries around our world, since Memorial Day, there have been marches, protests, and gatherings of people carrying signs and shouting slogans to give witness that white supremacy and unapologetic racism is evil and must be named as the central, critical issue of our time, and many of us are waking up to this reality even as our brothers and sisters of color could’ve told us the sad truth that they have been living for a lifetime with systemic racism that has left them exhausted.

Our text from Matthew’s gospel today tells us that after ministering to people in his hometown Jesus went to all the cities and villages around Capernaum proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Literally, the text says, he looked at the crowds and saw that they were “weary.” The people were tired and worn out.

Collectively and as individuals we are weary…and scared and frustrated and grieving.

And, my friends, there is a danger in a climate such as ours, where in addition to all this, news is filtered to support one’s already held biases, where our critical institutions have become suspect, and where people seem more divided than ever…

There is a danger that we could turn on one another.

I have noticed this past week more posts on Facebook than I have ever seen before that essentially say, This is what I think and if you don’t agree, unfriend me because I don’t want you in my life anymore.

We may all feel the desire to check out at points, and to lash out at each other…but, because God never stops loving us, never stops caring for us, and never stops sending us into a larger mission, which is to bear witness to the Kingdom of God, and the peace, the healing and the compassion that Jesus intends for the world God loves… we would do well to remember that Jesus calls us to love one another and to bear with one another even and especially in our differences and especially in difficult times.

It is God’s larger mission that holds us together…

…just as it held the first disciples together — people who, in some ways, couldn’t have been any different from one another:

You have Matthew the tax collector, with ties to the Roman Empire and Simon the Cananaean (also called the zealot) who was a part of an anti-Empire movement,

You have the redeemed (Peter), on whose confession the church was built and who was prominent in the ministry of the church after Jesus’ ascension and the betrayer (Judas), who actively did what he could to ruin Jesus,

And you have James and John, (who at least according to Mark’s gospel) were at each other’s throats fighting over who was higher in the pecking order of the group.

These twelve would never have found themselves collected into one mission, with the same message, and a shared ministry, except that Jesus is at the center of this little ragtag band.

For all their diversity and differences, Jesus calls them TOGETHER and gives them authority so that they are able to do the exact same ministry as Jesus: just as he preached the kingdom come near, they are to preach the kingdom come near. Just as Jesus healed and took care of the sick, they are to heal and take care of the sick, even while enduring the stress and chaos of persecution and the opposition they were facing.

Like Jesus and these disciples, we are called to a ministry of healing and reconciliation, and I wonder if part of our healing ministry these days could be, in our relationships and friendships, to remember that everyone else is just as weary we are.

What would it look like for me to acknowledge that everyone else – even people who frustrate me – are just as weary as you are and as I am, and to make space for that, allowance for annoyance, to give some grace, and see the giving of that grace as an opportunity to remember Jesus words: “you have received without payment. Give without payment”?

This past week Sarah and I watched the film “Just Mercy” and I recommend you watch it and talk about it and I hope to read the book in the coming weeks as well.

The film depicts the life of Bryan Stevenson, a young African-American Harvard law school graduate who moves to Alabama and takes up the case of Walter McMillian, who goes by the nickname Johnny D: an African-American man who has been wrongly convicted in the murder of a young white woman and sentenced to death.

The film follows Johnny D and his lawyer, Mr. Stevenson, as they work and fight together against the wrongful conviction, as they encounter microaggressions and systemic racism, and as people blockade them and are unwilling to see them, because of their dark skin, as fully human.

These two men fight these powers and fight in court until their case is taken to the Supreme Court, which overturns the circuit court’s decision and grants Johnny D his retrial, where the charges are ultimately dismissed entirely.

In a touching scene just before that final session in court, Stevenson, who is Johnny D’s lawyer, drives to the home of the prosecuting attorney, a white man, who has fought to keep Johnny D in prison even though he knows of his innocence, and stands on his front porch and tries to convince him to join the motion to free Johnny D, but the attorney angrily ejects him from his property.

But in a shocking moment, in the courtroom at the final day of arguments, when Stevenson appeals to the judge as he has throughout with compassion and dignity, asserting Johnny D’s innocence, the prosecuting attorney is swayed to join him in his motion after all, realizing there is no evidence of Johnny D’s guilt.

With a look on his face as if to say, what else could I choose, the prosecuting attorney who has supported racist policing and knowingly helped keep an innocent man in jail, has a change of heart.

And the case is dismissed, and Walter McMillian, Johnny D, after six long years of being wrongly incarcerated is finally given his freedom and reunited with his family.

God sets us free.

That is grace.

But… we are not like Johnny D.

We are *guilty* of the crime of selfishness, loving comfort more than justice, wanting the best for ourselves and being slow to help others,

And yet, as Paul says, while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person— (and you might say rarely will someone actually put their body and money and reputation on the line for someone else) But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

And so we are justified by faith, and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.

These are words from the man who was the greatest persecutor of the church, who had Christ-followers jailed, stoned, and watched as they were killed.

These words are proof of how God can take our worst and transform it through the power of the cross.

Paul’s heart is changed because he knows he’s been set free.

And you are set free. You are forgiven. You are united with a family – a family scattered to homes across Richmond and beyond, a family held together by the love of Christ, a family sent to a weary, weary world in need of the reconciliation Jesus gives.

Jesus sends us out, not to judge but to bring peace, not to say “Never talk to me if you don’t agree,” but expecting to be disagreed with or worse, not to push our own agenda but with a ministry of grace.

You received without payment, give without payment.

God calls us to be gracious with each other, not because people deserve our grace or kindness but because God has been gracious and kind to us.

And remember Jesus says, “I am with you always even to the end of the age.”

And remember Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful.”

And remember Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”

God is so compassionate to us.

God doesn’t get “prayer fatigue” from listening to us call out in need, asking for guidance.

God is patient with us. God delights to take the energy we would waste in castigating and reprimanding one another and bend that energy to listening, to accompanying, to healing, and to supporting one another.

God does not grow weary of being present with us. God is coming to us again and again in word and sacrament and gathered community.

God gives us this gift of peace we need so desperately right now and which needs so desperately to be shared right now.

So, may we take up the cross of Jesus and give witness to the peace God has for the world.

May we see as God sees, that black and brown and white faces belong to bodies that stand in the grace of God.

May we know that we are in the presence of God when we gather with another people, because in each person who stands before us, we see a sinner who has been forgiven, an imperfect person who God loves perfectly, and someone for whom Jesus Christ gave up his life and breath, just as they see all these things in us.

And may we share the hope of God’s glory filling our homes, our congregation, the city of Richmond, and the whole world.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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