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Ministering on the Margins

Acts 2:1-21 Zion Lutheran Church

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b Proper 5

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 Year A

John 20:19-23 June 11, 2023

Ministering on the Margins

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

Now that the pomp and circumstance of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost are now complete, we enter into the season of the church year that tends to be my favorite time of the year to preach. This is a season of growth where we ponder not so much the chronological teachings of Jesus life, death and resurrection but rather, now we will contemplate the lessons and teachings of Jesus: the miracles, parables, the sayings.

Matthew’s Gospel is unique compared to the others. Matthew might be the first in the canon but not first to be written. Most scholars put Matthew being the second composed gospel around 75/78 CE and believe the Gospel of Mark was written first. Luke, as compared to Matthew, has more parables compared to Matthew. Matthew follows a lot more of Mark in terms of stories and in some ways, takes the time to explain things that Mark glances over. What Matthew is known the most for is his instructions for discipleship. Matthew reads as a Discipleship Manual so for all those who simply want to be told what to do, read Matthew. But I gotta warn you, Matthew has some difficult lessons—Most of which we dive into come October/November. Matthew begins his discussion of discipleship in this idea of Emmanuel—God with us. Throughout the gospel, Matthew demonstrates how Jesus is present with us. The culmination of Matthew’s Emmanuel dissertation comes in the very last line of the gospel. And lo, I am always with you, to the end of the age. Matthew does not have Jesus ascend into heaven because Jesus is God with us. Matthew doesn’t want us to focus on the fact that God left us, but that God is with us.

Which leads us to today’s gospel reading: The calling of Matthew, the healing of the hemorrhagic woman, and the resurrection of the Synagogue leader’s daughter. On the surface, I am a little annoyed that they lumped these two pericope’s together and skip over a two parables. Granted, the parables are a little weird and a little hard to preach on but I do like a good challenge every once and a while. But upon further examination, I think the creators of the lectionary were onto something by including these three stories together.

Both of these passages describes an important part of Ministry—the art of following. Jesus calls Matthew to follow him but notice, after Jesus calls Matthew, he follows Matthew to his table. And along the way to eat, Jesus encounters a “desperate ruler and the suffering woman who prevail upon Jesus to win his touch. Jesus reaches out to the toll collector, but he finds himself apprehended by those seeking his healing touch. So it may be with the church’s ministry: sometimes we go forth and identify ourselves with those on the margins; in other cases the needs of others draw the church beyond its comfortable boundaries.” In thinking then about these pericopes, I find myself thinking about what it means to follow as a disciple and how the church needs to cultivate the art of following.

“Jesus is notorious for his companionship with toll collectors and other people classified as sinners in the First Gospel.“ I once saw a meme that said, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough time with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.” Jesus does things the unconventional way—the politically suicidal way. The kind of way that costs you your job…gets you assassinated (both figuratively and literally). Typically when people start question my associations as a Pastor, I know I am doing my job well but I also know that at that moment, my job will also become 10 times more difficult. The gospel calls us to the people on the margins that our word and society often overlook. I believe it Bishop Desmond Tutu that once said, “Every church should be able to get a letter of recommendation from the poor in their community.” Yet, how often do we feel obligated to meet the needs of those who contribute the most in our community. A little “Quid pro quo.” “You scratch my back, pastor and I will make sure there is enough money to pay the light bill.”

Yet, that is not how Jesus acts. “Jesus is notorious for his companionship with toll collectors and sinners the like. In Matthew 11, is opponents scorn the company Jesus keeps (11:19), yet Jesus makes much of these toll collectors. Later in chapter 18, Jesus admonishes the church to relate to unrepentant sinners as if they were Gentiles or–gasp!–even toll collectors (18:17). In Matthew 21, confronted by hostile temple authorities, Jesus puts them in their place: even toll collectors and prostitutes enter the realm of heaven before these enemies who speak the will of God but do not live it out (21:31-32). Jesus says the healthy do not need a physician while the sick do, that he has come to call not the righteous but sinners (9:13). That sinners need the help. Yet Jesus’ companionship with sinners appears to be just that, companionship and not treatment. Jesus is not trying to cure them of their sin, of their sickness by naming their wrongs or tell them to go and do some kind of retribution. Jesus has many harsh words to say in the First Gospel, but he directs none of them at sinners. His inaugural message is a call for all to repent (4:17). He does not criticize them nor does he demand their repentance from their work as tax collectors. He simply eats and drinks with them.”

Jesus actions today teach us that we are called to follow. We believe that the Holy Spirit leads us to where we need to go. Matthew doesn’t seek Jesus. Jesus find Matthew and calls him away from his life into a new life. Jesus himself doesn’t seek out the young girl who had died nor the hemorrhagic woman. He is led to them by the Holy Spirit. Where is the spirit leading us to minister?

When thinking about our own ministry of hospitality, how many of them are set up in order to welcome people in and how many are meant to people where they are already at? I think we do a decent job in making sure people feel welcome once they come into our space. Statistically speaking, the hardest part of someone new entering into worship is the trip from the car to the sanctuary. I actually witness this first hand at our vigil. A couple was 5 or 10 minutes late for worship. They came in mid-prayer only to turn around and leave because they didn’t want to interrupt. It is why we place so much importance on our greeters and ushers—placing them in strategic places and only opening certain doors so that we can make sure everyone who comes into Zion has been welcomed and made to feel welcome. But how do we get them to the parking lot?

“If you build it, they will come” is a false narrative. Listen, we built it. We are an icon of Middletown, MD. Our steeple is even a part of the town’s logo. We have built it, but they aren’t coming like the movie might suggest. Where is the spirit leading us to be Christ in the world, in Middletown today? You all are fed Christ’s body and blood for this very reason—you are our lord’s hands and feet. Where is the Spirit leading you this day?

Statistically speaking, people are more likely to come to church if they know someone already there—if they have someone to sit next to in worship. They are more likely to get out of their car, go through our ramp, enter our hallway, and walk into the house of the Lord if they know YOU—if they know you will sit next to them. I can sell all the facebook ads in the world, craft the best constant contact emails, have all the state of the art live stream equipment, the best website money can buy, the most up-to-date newsletter—we can have all of this—but 80% of people who are looking for a church give credit to them joining a church simply because they knew someone who was already there. Where is the Holy Spirit leading you today?

Pray about that. Sometimes it might be obvious like it was with Matthew and Jesus but sometimes, the people you are called to find might seek you out to follow them. “Rather than waiting for people to come in, perhaps the church should follow our neighbors out into the world, responding to their needs as they emerge. Rather than complain that families attend summer soccer games, we might offer clinics on parenting and sports. Rather than puzzle over why the multi-ethnic community in our neighborhood doesn’t visit us,” we might find ways to meant them where they are at. Rather than be puzzled why our youth, young adults, and young families feel out of touched with the church, we might go to them and see what they need. How are we at encounter people on the margins? Do we engage with them spiritually or simply put something in the hands but never invite them in to relationship? “Sometimes the church needs to learn the art of following, as Jesus does in Matthew’s Gospel.” Where are we being led and who is leading us? That is something which is good and holy for us to pray for today. Let us pray for that guidance and maybe also for the kick in the pants to go to places and people we do not know exists.

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

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