Justice and Mission: It's Who We Are (Sermon on Matthew 22:34-40; 28:16-20)

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This is the fourth sermon of a six message series written by Pastor Jack Van de Hoef based on the book Live Just.ly by World Renew and Micah Challenge. Click here to learn more and order your copy of the book. This sermon was originally given January 15, 2017; Bethel CRC, Brockville, ON

You have probably heard of NIMBY. The letters of NIMBY stand for “Not In My Back Yard.” It’s often used as a label for those who oppose some kind of new development because it is too close to them. For example, a skate board park is a great idea, but build it across town, and “not in my backyard.” Or we need more cell phone towers, or that factory is a great idea, but build it somewhere else and “not in my backyard.”

In the spirit of NIMBY, I would like to make up a new saying. When we talk about the idea of justice and mission it is sometimes labelled IFTOP, “It’s For The Other Person.” It’s for someone else to do. I’ve got enough things to do in my life. I’m involved in enough activities. I’m too old for this. Justice is not my thing. It’s for people who are politically minded, or social activists, or those who are more involved in community agencies. Missions is not my gift. That’s just not me. IFTOP, “It’s For The Other Person.”

It’s actually an expression of an approach to mission and outreach that has been common in the history of the church. Traditionally we have considered mission or evangelism as something for an evangelism or missions committee to take care of. It’s a particular thing that some people, or some churches do. But not everyone or every church is involved in evangelism. Some are just good at that and so they should do it. Other people or churches don’t do evangelism.

It has also been said that only certain people are missionaries, and they usually go to another country to do mission work. It’s like there are “missionaries,” and there are “ordinary Christians.” You are a missionary, or you are not. And mission work is something that typically happens in other countries, not here. We are the ones who have a message that we bring to a “pagan country.” We also bring our ideas of justice to these countries, because we know what is best for them.

In recent years, that view of mission and justice has been shifting. It has moved to an approach of working more with people, rather than imposing our standard on them.

That makes sense as we listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 22. In his response to a question about the greatest commandment, Jesus gives a two-part answer: Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Then he says that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

If all of God’s instruction for his followers, all the Law and the Prophets, are wrapped up in these two commands, then they will apply to everyone. All of us are to love God with all that we are. All of us are to love our neighbour as ourselves.

This is what the life of a believer in God is all about. IFTOP, “It’s For The Other Person,” does not apply here. This is not just for some specially gifted leaders or missionaries. Walking with God includes a life of love for God and for our neighbour.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. That’s a lot of love and a lot of ways to love God. That’s a love from every part of who we are. It’s a love with our heart, from the centre of our being. It’s a love with our mind, our thoughts and ideas and decisions. It’s a love with our soul, our very identity.

Love your neighbour as yourself. It’s easy to hear this and think only about our neighbour. We need to love our neighbour, whoever that is. But before we talk about our neighbour, let’s not overlook that last phrase, “as yourself.”

We are expected to love ourselves. And why not? God loves us. How do you love yourself? You feed yourself and wash yourself and dress yourself and take care of yourself and accept yourself for who you are. That gives a good idea of how to love your neighbour as well.

How would I like to be treated? We can look at this summary as directing us in two ways: To look up, and to look around.

Look up. Love God, because he is the only God there is. There is no other god who has power to make the world or care for it. There is no other god who can take care of us. God is the one true God. Look up, and believe. Knowing God as the only God, we respect him and use his name with respect. We worship God and think about him every day. We thank him for food at our meals. We trust him to take care of us. Look up, and honour the one, true God.

Look around. Love your neighbour. Love your family members and say kind words to them. Love your friends and help them. This means sharing with those around us. Look around and see the people around you as your neighbours. These are people that we love and care for.

Look up, know God and be like him.

Look around, to be the presence of Christ to others.

Look up, and realize how we are not like God. Confess sins. Commit to being more like God.

Look around, see the cross and forgiveness. We don’t live with the guilt of sin, but we see the love of God to forgive us.

Look up, see what God has done. He has paid for our sins. He has adopted us into his family. We are his sons and daughters.

Look around, see how we can help others know and experience this love of God.

This moves beyond limiting mission or justice to be the work of a few. It is the work of everyone. Everyone who follows Jesus is called to live this life of love for God and neighbour. Everyone of us is involved in sharing good news and working for justice and right living for those around us.

This greatest commandment to love God and neighbour is connected with the great commission, to go and make disciples. Again, this has often been understood as bringing people to faith in Jesus. But it is much more than that.

Living a life of love for God and neighbour is about making disciples. This is much more than simply sharing the good news of salvation. It is living a life of the principles of the kingdom of God, a life of love and justice and mercy and right living.

Living a life of love for God and neighbour is a life of word and deed. It’s sharing the good news and a cup of cold water. It’s talking about God’s love, and working for justice for the poor.

The command to love our neighbour has a singular, individual reference. It’s not some sentimental humanitarianism about loving all people. To go and make disciples of all nations starts close to home. Love your neighbour, in a particular, singular way.

Let me share with you a story about Wayne, to show how this can happen. I met Wayne in a previous congregation when I was asked, as volunteer chaplain, to visit him in the hospital. He was suicidal and the nursing staff wanted someone to talk with him. I listened to his story and told him I cared.

After Wayne was discharged, I continued to visit him. If I meant what I said about caring for him, I needed to show it. A sense of obligation or duty to visit developed into a love for my neighbour.

Wayne taught me many things about loving my neighbour. Being seriously overweight and confined to a wheelchair, Wayne asked if he would be welcome and accepted at church, or if he would be stared at because of his size or clothing. Would he be able to get into the church with his wheelchair and would there be a place where he could park his chair in the sanctuary?

Wayne had food allergies and needed certain foods, which were not available at the Food Bank. These foods were expensive and hardly affordable for someone on social assistance. This was a justice issue.

Being in a wheelchair, Wayne needed para-transit to go for groceries or doctor’s appointments. This special transit was more expensive and had limited availability. It was more limited on Sunday morning, if he wanted to go to church. Transportation became a justice issue.

As a church, we helped him get out of a rent-to-own contract which was charging exorbitant interest for a simple purchase. The item would cost far more than necessary. That, along with payday loans, was a justice issue.

Wayne asked me, “If Jesus said to go and look for the lost sheep, why didn’t the church look for me? What took so long? Are you looking for others like me?” Great questions. This was a question of mission.

I could tell you more stories about Wayne. It’s about getting to know your neighbour. It’s about getting beyond labels that we so easily apply to people on social assistance, or people who look different. Get to know their name and their story. Take a walk in their shoes and hear about the challenges and complications they face.

To go and make disciples is to go into the world with the principles of God’s kingdom, that others may know the gracious rule of God. The kingdom of God is a place of justice and right living, in relationship with God. We do not merely talk about salvation. We live a relationship of respect for all people. We seek to bring hope into their lives. To go and make disciples is to bring deliverance from injustice.

As God’s people, we communicate the good news of the gospel in everything we do. The goal is not to become large numerically, nor to be a church that is materially rich, nor is to gain political power. Our purpose is to live the values of the kingdom of God and witness to the love and the justice revealed in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We do this for the transformation of people’s lives as individuals and in our community.

Again, IFTOP does not apply. “It’s Not For The Other Person.” Each of us is commanded to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. Every one of us is commissioned to go and make disciples. This will look different from one person to another, depending on the gifts that God has given us. But it is an integral part of who we are. It is our identity as children of God, to love God, to love our neighbour, to go and make disciples.

We are not told to love out of guilt. Nor are we given a long list of things we should do. We love God and our neighbour with all that we are in Christ, wherever that takes us each day. And relax. Let God work, through us.

Amen.

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