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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott


The readings for Sunday, January 23, 2011:

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4

Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 5-13 (Psalm 27:1, 4-9 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

Here we are this week, still in the early days of Jesus' ministry. We see him call the disciples with that famous offer to make them fishers of people. He goes out to preach and teach.

But notice that early on, he's also ministering to the physical needs of people. He's not here to talk to them about their spiritual ailments. At first, he doesn't go around haranguing people about their selfish natures and the need to pray more.

Notice that his fame spreads, and it's probably not because of his brilliant teaching. People will come from far and near if one of their physical ailments can be lessened.

Jesus also addresses, at least indirectly, their emotional ailments. As he heals and teaches, he's creating a community. It's exhausting work. But again, he knows that people aren't going to overthrow their established way of doing things unless they get something substantial in return.

His ministry addressed the very real, the very physical, the very present needs of the people around him. It's an example we should keep in mind, as we order our own lives, and as we think about the future of our individual church and the larger Church.

Notice that Jesus doesn't talk in terms of eternal salvation, at least not in this part of the Gospel. He doesn't promise a place in Heaven if people will just endure their ailments during this life. He doesn't tell people that they'll be popular in Heaven to make up for being outcast on earth.

No. He creates a community and includes all of these people.

I went to a strange high school in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Young Life folks had been busy, and most of the popular, in-group types had been saved. And they were all too happy to tell you about it (and to point out the ways the rest of us were doomed). But did I see anything concrete that would convince me that their lives had changed? No. They still sat at their tables at lunch time, and the rest of us sat at ours. They didn't reach out to invite any of the really outcast to their parties (or maybe they did--I don't know--I wasn't invited). Meanwhile, new kids like me were adopted by the Drama groups and the Band and Choir (those strange high school intersections where all sorts of kids could coexist).

As we think about outreach, we should keep the example of Jesus in our mind. We should ask ourselves what our lives show others about Christian life. As we think about our individual lives and about what God has called us to do, we should keep God's example in mind. What is our larger purpose? How can we effectively minister to a broken and hurting world?

Many of us aren't comfortable talking about our faith, and perhaps that's for the best. Nothing turns of an unbeliever more than someone who inserts faith into the conversation too early ("Hi, I'm Cindy, and I'm saved. If you died tonight, could you be sure you'd be going to Heaven?" I wish I had $5 for every time I heard a variation of this in high school). Instead, we can help out our coworkers who need it. We can invite lonely people over for dinner. We can be the person who always has a smile ready. We can be the person who's willing to listen. We can be the light of the world that God needs us to be.

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